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Brew Review: Sam Adams Cranberry Lambic

2010 April 9

Brewery: Boston Beer Company Boston, MA

Style: Fruit Beer

ABV: 5.9%

Served in pint glass from 12 oz. bottle. Purchased at supermarket at $12.99 for their seasonal mixed 12-pack.

Sam has often been hailed as the retroactive godfather to the now quarter-century old craft beer revolution. And in some respects, it is deserved. I believe they are still the only brewery that has bridged the gap between the mainstream and niche beer cultures, and kept the integrity of their product. But their success, while widespread, is not uniform.

This “lambic” (more on this later) pours a thick, cloudy coppery red. This isn’t much crown to speak of, though considering other reviews I’ve read of this beer, that may be unique to this bottle. Aroma is heavy on the fruit punch, light on ale. The sweet, harsh acidity on this nose is more reminiscent of a flavored malt beverage than something out of a brown bottle. Taste is juicy, thin, and overly sweet. Finishes with a whimper.

The body of work Sam has produced over the years keeps my opinion of them high in spite of this beer. That said, my respect for them doesn’t extend far enough to curve my grading scale in their favor. This is not a true lambic, a style which is known for its tangy apple and berry overtones caused by a special strain of bacteria during the fermentation process. No fruit is actually involved, unlike Sam’s Cranberry Lambic. This is akin to a mediocre wheat ale mixed half-and-half with store brand fruit juice. Like someone tried to spike a punch bowl, but forgot to buy hard liquor. Avoid. D

Brew Review: Smuttynose Farmhouse Ale

2010 April 7

Brewery: Smuttynose Brewing Co. Portsmouth, NH

Style: Saison

ABV: 8.8%

Served: Pint glass from 22 oz. bomber. Purchased at Bert’s Better Beers for $5.99.

Warm weather and baseball are here! Time for me to put away the chewy dark ales and pop open something a little lighter on the tongue. I love Smuttynose. It’s my desert island brewery (you know, if I had to pick one…). Their year-round brews all strongly represent their styles, but the big beer series is where they make history.

Their farmhouse ale pours a slightly hazy golden, with an EPIC 4 finger crown that shows no signs of backing off. The aroma is very fruity, tons of berries, pine, and mineral water. Spring incarnate. The first sip is an instant flashback to a tasting I had of La Fin du Monde by Unibroue, itself actually a Belgian style Tripel. Spices, banana, apples, and moderate carbonation on the tongue. Clean, tangy, and slightly malty finish.

This is a highly drinkable ale, and a wonderful addition to a warm afternoon. This style was created as an inexpensive beer by farmers along the French-Belgian border, who would brew it in the winter to have on warm summer afternoons. Smuttynose once again does not disappoint. I won’t put this in my keepers category, simply because the style isn’t hugely appealing for me. But this is a great ale, one worth trying. A-

Brew Review: Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron

2010 April 1

Brewery: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Inc. Milton, DE

Style: Brown Ale

ABV: 12%

Served: Chalice from 12 oz. bottle. Purchased at Julio’s Liquors for $3.75.

Apologies for the slight hiatus. Pasta dinners and turning in early do not lend themselves well to beer appreciation, so I eschewed the brew review the last few days. Even getting started on this review was interesting, because Dogfish Head, BA, and RateBeer do not agree on the style. One says Brown Ale, one says ‘American’ Brown Ale (apparently distinguished from English), and another says American Strong Ale due to the alcohol content. I will side with the brewer on this one.

The style doesn’t specifically call for chalice glassware, but I wanted the high ABV to open up a little. Pours a dark “Grade B” maple syrup brown (New Englanders will know what I’m talking about). Quite opaque, and just from observation this is a more oily Brown Ale than I’ve tried before. Thin but persistent dark buttery crown. Smells of raw nuts and damp earth. Vanilla, woody spices, and dark chocolate follow in the nose. First sip in a deep, rich, dark chocolate experience. Woody, almost whiskey-like qualities. Sweetness and booziness are understated, but a proud green apple zing stands out. Mouthfeel is thick and creamy. Harshness of the alcohol is tempered by its richness. Finish is quiet, with dried apricot and apple tartness, with a toast of coffee.

There are plenty of brown ales to be found, even at your local supermarket. This one is quite unique. It being a few hours since dinner, I am feeling the 12%. But the richness and complexity of this dark ale are not to be missed. Not a session ale, not even an every-so-often brew, this is nonetheless a Keeper in my cellar. A

Brew Review: Pennichuck Feuerwehrmann

2010 March 28

Brewer: Pennichuck Brewing Co. Milford, NH

Style: Schwarzbier

ABV: 5%

Served: Pint glass from 22 oz. bomber. Purchased at Table & Vine for $5.49.

Schwarzbiers (German for “black beer”) are near to my heart. Just a few years ago, Sam Adams’ Black Lager was my first exposure to anything outside my palate’s typical beer purview. My gateway beer. I’d go on to more complex and challenging brews later, but the experience stays with me.

Pours thin and fairly translucent for such a dark beer. Medium-dark brown with non-existant crown. Through a spring cold, I got crusty bread, licorice, and burnt roasted malt in the nose. Taste is dry, bready, with a touch of coffee, and very subtle. Mouthfeel is exceptionally thin as compared with porters and stouts, but style appropriate. Finish is slightly bitter, but understated.

I learned after I bought this beer that Pennichuck shut its doors this past November. Sad to see a small New Hampshire brewery fold. So, you may be reading one of the last reviews of a new relic in beerdom. Overall, a good example of the seldom seen Schwarzbier style. I prefer Sam over this I think, but it is a drinkable lager. If I had tried this in 2007, it would have been a bit more eye opening. As it is, a bonnie blue-collar effort. B

Brew Review: Berkshire Imperial Stout

2010 March 27

Brewer: Berkshire Brewing Company South Deerfield, MA.

Style: Imperial Stout

ABV: 8.5%

Served: Pint glass from 22 oz. bomber. Purchased at Table & Vine for $3.99.

I was pretty excited to launch my beer reviews with a Berkshire. They’re a regionally well-known outfit, but impossible to find in NH. Seriously, I can’t be more than 50 miles from their brewing premises.

Dark pour, but not viscous. Held up to sunlight, it shows a deep walnut brown with red tinge, almost like cola. Very thin crown, and what of it there is quickly dissipates. Nose is subtle for an Impy. Dried fruit and dark chocolate present. Missing are the usual deep roasted notes and wafting brandy booziness you’d expect. First taste is molasses and stone fruit. Raisins and plums abound. Mouthfeel is equally thin as the pour, though the alcohol is well hidden. Finish has a cherry tang with just a little black coffee bitterness.

Overall, a competent and highly drinkable offering from Berkshire. But I wonder about the Imperial Stout tag. This was more reminiscent of a schwarzbier or saison noir. Enjoyable, but not exemplary of the style. B-