Lawson’s Double Sunshine IPA Completes the Holy Trinity of Vermont Beers

No world class beer comes without a storied journey.  Whether it’s a Pliny the Elder being smuggled to the east coast in a suitcase, a trip to the heart of Vermont’s North East Kingdom for a taste of Hill Farmstead Abner, or a well-packaged six-pack of Zombie Dust arriving in the mail, getting your mitts on top-shelf beer is no small feat.

Lawson LabelLawson’s Finest Liquids Double Sunshine IPA is no exception.  I’ve heard stories of people standing in line for hours at a Vermont farmer’s market just to get denied when the beer is sold out.

My Vermont friends have been swearing that when I finally try the Double Sunshine IPA, it will become my new favorite beer.  Bold statement, knowing my deep affinity for Heady Topper.

It’s the nature of human desire to want what we can’t easily have, thus, I began my onslaught of begging my brother to bring a bottle to Maine so I could toss it down my beer hole.  And being the good brother he is, he came through with two bottles.

But before I get to the beer, I’ll give you the story of those two bottles.

Andy’s Lawson’s dealer is the beverage warehouse in Winooski.  (I should add that this is the same beverage warehouse where I used to buy 30 packs of Busch Lite in college.  Thank the good Lord those times are over!)  Like any good world class beer drinker, Andy has a plan.  He knows the exact time Lawson’s are delivered to said beer store.  He calls to verify the goods have been delivered.  Upon receiving confirmation, Andy convinces a co-worker to drive to the beer store with him during their lunch break because each customer can only buy one twenty-two ounce bomber.  They drive.  They buy.  Andy packs the beers along with his family in the car, and four and a half hours later, the beer is in my refrigerator in Maine.

Sometimes I think I like the stories surrounding these beers almost as much as I like the beers themselves.  Almost.

Lawson's BottleAfter ripping through the classy gold foil covering the top of the bottle, I pop the top, and put my nose to the bottle.  Holy shit.  This beer smells fresh and clean with citra hop aroma.  I believe the difference between a world class beer and a really good beer is that every part of the drinking experience in a world class beer comes through cleanly.  The Double Sunshine IPA pours a golden color, releasing more of that beautiful citrusy bouquet.  Given the choice to drink an ok beer or just smell a Double Sunshine IPA, I might be tempted to smell away.

Now to the taste.  Holy shit again.  The grapefruit, mango, and pineapple tropical fruit salad glides over the tongue.  There’s an earthy pine taste at the end of the taste wave that is perfect.  That’s the best word for every moment of this beer: perfect.  The brewers at Lawson’s Finest Liquids have absolute control over this beer from aroma to appearance to taste to finish.

I’m placing Lawson’s Finest Liquids in the holy trinity of Vermont beers: Heady, Hill Farmstead, and Lawson’s.  Get to the 802 area code, do your research so you can find these beers, and indulge in the trinity!

Cheers!

Seven Local Beers for the Christmas Season

‘Tis the season for family feasts, yuletide gatherings, and Christmas mayhem.  What better way to celebrate the season than by imbibing in locally brewed beers from around New England?  Instead of showing up with a bottle of Cabernet to this year’s Festivus party, grab a 22 oz. bomber or a growler of the brilliant beers discussed below.

rising-tide-ursa-minor

1. Ursa Minor — Rising Tide Brewing Company

Do yourself a favor and drive to Rising Tide’s tasting room in Portland and fill up a growler of this wheat stout.  You can get bottles at Hannaford, but at the brewery they have a nitrous hookup that makes the brew extra creamy like a Guinness.  It’s a full-bodied stout that will hit the spot as we find ourselves in the darkest days of the year.  (Also try: Zephyr (IPA) and Daymark (APA).)

Hill Farmstead Sign2. Everett — Hill Farmstead Brewery

This one’s tougher to acquire than the other beers on this list, but if you’ve been nice — or extra naughty — there’s a chance this one could end up in your gullet this Christmas.  You’ll have to drive to their brewery in Greensboro, Vermont to get it, but it’s worth the trip.  Actually, saying it’s worth the trip is a vast understatement.  This porter has the Hill Farmstead signature crisp freshness that is a direct result of their well water and yeast.  It’s robust with heavy notes of fresh coffee.  Show up with a growler of this brew, and you’ll be the hit of this year’s ugly sweater party.  (Also try: Abner (IPA) and Edward (APA).)

3. King Titus — Maine Beer Company

Though by nature I’m a Lunch guy (mmm, Lunch), I’m going to highlight this porter offering from Maine Beer Company.  It’s a roasty, malty beer that’s a perfect match for combating the cold days of December.  There are some serious coffee notes, but it’s also got enough hops to offer some bitter at the end.  (Also try: Mean Old Tom (Stout) and Mo (Pale Ale).)

4. Allagash Black — Allagash Brewing Company

I’m not normally an Allagash guy, but I’m going to give them some love with this winter choice.  It’s a Belgium Strong Dark Ale that is absolutely brilliant for a dark offering.  It’s not overpoweringly malty, and it has the right bite to make this guy want to go back for more.  And with the cork top, it’s sure to make you look like a classy Steve when you walk into any gathering.

celebration-label5. Celebration Ale — Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

Ok, ok, ok, I know this isn’t a local brew.  I catch a lot of flack for being a Sierra guy, but, come on, it’s one of the first microbrews created for this time of the year since the Homebrew Act of 1979.  Its hop/malt balance of sweet and bitter and walloping alcohol content make this brew perfect for Uncle Leroy’s Yankee swap shindig.  Just look at the label.  Don’t you want to imbibe? (Also try: Sierra Nevada Porter.)

6. Winter Warmer — Harpoon Brewing Company

As my wife likes to say, “This beer tastes like Christmas.”  I concur.  I only drink about one bottle per year, usually around the time when we put up our Christmas tree, but I enjoy the heck out of that one beer.  Harpoon beers have been off my radar for a long time, but I still come back to this nutmeg and cinnamon delight for a taste of the Christmas season.

7.  Heady Topper — The Alchemist

Of course, any New England beer list wouldn’t be complete without adding Heady Topper.  I’ll put that one to the ‘wish list.’  Like when you were a kid and you wanted a bike, but you also wanted a Nintendo, you tossed both on the list just in case Santa was feeling extra generous. (Also try: more Heady Topper.)

Remember, the artisan beer is the new bottle of wine — you can still be upper-crust and show up with beer to a Christmas party.

Cheers!

Lost Beer Passage from Kahlil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’

The ProphetThen an old man, a keeper of a bar, said, Speak to us of Beer.

And he said:

Would that you could live simply on the fruits of the earth and be sustained by wine.

But since you were born to drink delicious craft beer made locally by brewmasters who harness the powers of grains and hops and yeast, let this be an act of worship.

Let your palate be an alter on which the pure and innocent cascade and centennial and citra and amarillo and warrior hops are sacrificed for that which is purer and still more innocent in man.

Lunch LabelWhen you crush a succulent can of Heady Topper or a Rising Tide Daymark or a Maine Beer Company Lunch, say to the brewer in your heart, “By the same power that draws you to the fermenter, I too am drawn to your frothy brew.  As the brew is consumed, I too shall be consumed.

“My blood runs thick with golden malts and hazy wort.  Your malty blood and my malty blood is naught but the sap that feeds the tree of heaven.”

Hill Farmstead SignAnd when you drink from a growler filled past the brim with Hill Farmstead Abner, say to it in your heart, “You have harnessed the secrets of God’s great teet and fit it within a glass bottle.  Your brew shall live in my body, and the yeast of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart, and your dry-hopped fragrance shall be my breath, and together we shall rejoice through all brewing seasons.”

And in the winter, when pale ales and IPA’s turn to Sebago Brewing’s Lake Trout Stout and Sierra Nevada’s Porter, say in your heart, “I too am a chocolatey grain, and my dark roasted malt shall be gathered for the fermenter, and like new beer I shall be kept in an eternal growler.”

And when the brewing is completed and the beer is drawn through bar taps, let there be in your heart a song for each glass.

And let there be in the song a remembrance for the fields of grains and hops, and for the brew kettle, and for the noble brewer.

Cheers!

(Yup, Kahlil Gibran even said “Cheers.”  What a visionary!)

Kahlil Gibran

Hill Farmstead Brewery is a Microbrew Dream

You find yourself in Burlington, Vermont, and you don’t know why. You’re not frightened. You’re where you’re supposed to be.

It’s night. You walk down Church Street and get a Bombay Grab IPA at Vermont Pub and Brewery. This is delicious, you think.

After tipping the angelic woman behind the bar, you walk up St. Paul and take a right on Bank. You push through the doors of the Farmhouse Tap and Grill. When you get to the bar in the back, you know you’re going to ask the bartender for a Heady Topper, and you know he’s going to say they’ve sold out. But you ask anyway.

“We’ve sold out,” he says. Without waiting for your reply, he pours a beer in a glass and pushes it towards you.

“What is it?” you ask.

Hill Farmstead Sign“Abner. Hill Farmstead Brewery,” he says and floats away to the next customer.

You drink. Good God. It’s fresh. Piney. There’s tropical citrus. And the finish. Smooth. The words ‘world class’ ring in your head.

You try to catch the barman’s eye. You want another. A man, three feet tall, maybe less, tugs on your shirt.

“Go there,” he says.

“Where?”

“Go there,” he repeats. “Greensboro, Vermont.”

Then he’s gone. You drive to your hotel. You dream of rolling mountains and endless farmland.

You awake with singular purpose. It’s a sunny fall day. A day that feels infinite.

The houses along Route 15 gleam. After forty-five minutes, there are more cows than houses. You see a winery on your left, but you don’t stop. This isn’t about wine; it’s about beer.

Your car soldiers up 15, through towns that seem impossible.

There’s a sign for Greensboro. You turn.

No signs for Hill Farmstead Brewery pop out of the bucolic landscape. You’re lost, but you don’t panic. A woman wearing a full Carhart jumpsuit leads a horse along the dirt road. She’ll have answers. And she does.

“Turn around, just passed the next bend,” she says.

You thank her and she smiles. Maybe you could live here forever, burn your old life and move in with this woman and her horse. You shake the siren song of the landscape and turn the car around.

Hill FarmsteadOne bend and there it is. Out of this landscape appears a building with cedar shingles so new they’re still yellow.

Through the construction, you find the hobbit door. You push into the tasting room. Your brother’s there.

He says, “I’ve already paid for your tasting.”

Hill TastinLike all dreams, the tasting is temporal, fleeting. The Double Citra IPA is a citra hop manifesto. The Edward is an everyday APA dream. The Harlan IPA is clean and dry — yeasty. The Abner IPA already tastes like an old friend. There’s one more beer to taste. A porter. A dark beast named Everett. It’s roasty. Malty. Yeasty. You imagine that somewhere on this land there’s a living culture of yeast that brings all these beers together, creating the Hill Farmstead experience.

You buy a bottle of Abner. Your brother rides shotgun in your car and you both marvel at the moon.

“How does life after this go on?” you ask.

“You live your life, and you come back here for more,” he says.

“Oh,” is all you can say as the moon seems to nod in agreement. You clutch your bottle of Abner to be sure it’s real.

Always Remember, It’s Just Beer

To some people, the title of this blog might be blasphemy.  Like when Mick Jagger sang through those big puffy lips, “I know, it’s only rock and roll, but I like it.”  A lot people were up in arms.  Only rock and roll?!  How can Mick be saying this only five years after Woodstock?  How?!

Well, easy, because it is only rock and roll.

And that’s where I’m at right now with beer.  Whoa, I know, I’m the guy who keeps touting this as the greatest beer renaissance in the history of humanity.  I still assert that this is the most wondrous time on earth to drink beer, but as I imbibe on the most brilliant beers being brewed in the U.S. right now, I keep coming across a certain sanctimonious attitude that I think is the wrong way to approach something as simple as beer.

Zombie Dust SixerHere’s an example.  Recently, I was lucky enough to have some Zombie Dust come my way. (Thanks again, Jeremy!)  When it arrived, my friends and I treated every bottle like it was nectar poured straight from the good Lord’s teet.  I found myself thinking, Only drink one a day and make sure it’s at this temperature in this kind of glass.  Shit, I was tempted to wear the white gloves those guys don when handling Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Guess what, at the end of the day, it’s just beer.  It’s made from water, grains, malt, hops, yeast, and, of course, love.  Those are some pretty humble ingredients.

Maybe what I’m asking is that we not do to beer drinking what wine connoisseurs have done to wine.  Let’s have some dignity.

My friend who works for a wine distributor told me they have a nickname for buyers who over-think every bottle of wine they order: cork dorks.

Let’s not be the beer equivalent of cork dorks.

In a lot of ways, though, the hop head might just be beer’s cork dork.

Here’s an SAT analogy:

Cork dork is to wine as hop head is to beer.

I’m a hop head.  Guilty as charged.  And I love talking and writing about the beer making process and what hops were used at what time of the boil.

But what I’m asking for, ladies and fellas, is that we don’t over-think our beer drinking. It’s just beer drinking.  You know what, let’s call it what it truly is: beer drinkin’.  Let’s lose our pretensions along with that refined ‘g’ at the end of ‘ing’ words.

Heady ManI’m going to make three promises to myself and the world right here on the internet where everyone can hear me.

Promise One: If I have a Heady Topper (or near equivalent) in my fridge, I’m going to drink it when I feel like it.  Even if my palate doesn’t feel fully cleansed and the beer is below 65 degrees.

Promise Two: The next time I see someone drinking a Sam Adams, I’m not going to berate them and explain that it’s not really a microbrew.

Promise Three: I’m going to stop trying to sound like the smartest beer drinker ever when I’m in a beer conversation.  Instead of talking, I’m going to fill my mouth with beer.  Delicious beer.

Let’s keep the beer drinkin’ simple.  It’s beer, for God’s sake.

Cheers!

Why I Write About Beer: A Manifesto

1. I love the words I get to use when I write about beer.  Look at the names of different types of hops: Amarillo, Cascade, Citra, Kents Golding, Bravo, Apollo, Zeus, Cluster, Nugget, Chinook.  The hops alone are a verbiage gift that keeps on giving.  How about the words associated with the brewing process: mash, alpha acids, wort, original gravity, yeast, fermentation, racking.  Holy mash tun, I love these words.

2. Have you ever seen the documentary How Beer Saved the World?  Because it did.  Beer saved the world.  That’s some noble shit right there.  Something worth writing about.

Maine Beer Company Lunch3. There are endless types of beer.  So much so, that Charlie Papazian boldly asserts in his iconic Joy of Homebrewing that no one should ever be allowed to say, “I don’t like beer.”  I agree, Chuck!  There is a beer for everyone.  It’s a drink for the boozy people, by the boozy people.  We’ve got brown ales, pale ales, India pale ales, porters, stouts, saisons, lagers, fruity ales, altbiers…ok, that’s it.  We’d be here all day if I listed the myriad of beers on this planet.

4.  Beer is a force in any local economy.  I’ve claimed before that drinking beer can save your community.  It’s a bastion of everything good about the thriving local economy movement.  Since I’m all-in for this local economy revolution, drinking locally produced beer is a delicious political act.  Just think, somewhere within miles of your home, someone is turning your local water into beer.  Sounds like a miracle you should get in on.

Rising Tide Growler5. Writing about beer gives me an excuse to drink beer.  Oh, I want to write about Heady Topper?  Then I need to drink me some Heady Topper!  Now!  And can I write accurately about Rising Tide’s Daymark if I only drink one?  Heck no.  I need a few to really get to the bottom of this beer’s essence.

6.  Beer is communal.  What has brought people together historically more than a pint of ale?  That’s right, nothing.  I picture our forefathers chipping away at the language of the constitution belly-up to a bar, muckling on to frothy steins of pre-Revolutionary beer.

7.  Beer makes you feel good.  Damn good.  My wife and I like to achieve what we call the two-beer-buzz.  You don’t get drunk, but you put enough tasty ale inside your paunch to make everything around you sparkle and shimmer.  It’s a poetic experience.

Wort Chiller8.  Beer is easy to make.  At least on a rudimentary level.  Without too much effort, anyone can make a darn good glass of beer.

9. And finally, Benjamin Franklin may or may not have once written, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”  Whether or not this Founding Father actually penned this, it’s the freaking truth.  And I always strive to write about the truth.

So, cheers to beer, my muse!

Pliny the Elder Vs. Heady Topper: A Fight for World Dominance

Heady v PlinyDrinking Pliny the Elder a few weeks ago with Tim, we got to musing over whether or not there’s any reason to rank beers.  If a beer kicks your palate’s ass, then why start rating it against other beers?  Why do humans feel the need to categorize and make best-of lists?

As humans, we like to order our world, even if our orderings are erroneous. Just look at how many times science has had to correct itself over the past 10,000 years.

Being the human I am, I’m going to try to answer the question: Which beer is better, Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Elder or the Alchemist’s Heady Topper?

In recent posts, I attempted to pin down each beer’s respective taste notes.

Here’s a recap of my Pliny experience:

Pliny Label 1The best way I can describe the drinking experience of Pliny the Elder is saying that there is a taste wave the drinker experiences.  First, of course, is a hop insurgence that gives a full-bodied citrus wallop to the tongue, but not an obnoxious wallop.  There’s a moment in Pliny’s taste wave, like when a surfer first hits a big wave, where everything feels like it might go wrong.  I’ve had plenty of imperial IPA’s that start off magical only to land hard on a sour taste note.  Not Pliny.

The next part of the taste wave is a fresh bittering flavor that lingers on the back of the tongue with a clean pine taste.  It’s different than that first citrus hop hit.  What you’re left with is wonderfully different than the taste you started with.

The citrus-to-pine taste wave makes you want to go back for another flavor ride.

Now for my summation of the Heady Topper taste ride:

What hits your tongue first is a hop wall.  Like the brewer decided to bring in all of the artillery in the first lines.  As the flavor spreads across the tongue the finish is clean.  The hop feel at the back of the tongue lasts long, but isn’t offensive like some over-the-hop West Coast IPA’s.  Every moment of this drinking experiencing is world class.  Comparisons with other IPA’s is challenging, because this beer truly deserves the nods it’s getting for originality.

Heady ManI poured my second Heady Topper into a glass.  It has a yellowish color and is filled with sediment.  I wonder if they want you to keep it in the can not to maintain the “essential hop aromas that [they] have worked so hard to retain,” as the can suggests, but, rather, to keep the feint of heart from seeing the unruly brew they’re imbibing.

Now that you’ve read the two descriptions, here’s my choice as the tastiest imperial IPA in all the land.  It’s an East Coast vs. West Coast showdown.  A battle of two beers nearly impossible to stockpile in your fridge.  Beers whose tales of unavailability make them mythical in the beer world.  It’s 8% alc/vol vs. 8% alc/vol.  Goliath vs. Goliath.  It’s…

Ok, I’ll stop.

The winner: Heady Topper.  It’s more unique.  It’s stranger.  It’s got a little bit more magic.  For me, these factors inch it past the mighty Pliny.  It’s a photo-finish, and the Topper just noses past the Elder.

Of course, being from New England I’ve had many more cans of Heady than the one bottle of Pliny I’ve imbibed.  Oh, and I grew up in Vermont.  So, like any best-of list, you should take my answer with a grain of hops.  I’m just another human trying to make sense of the beer world he lives in.

Both beers are first-rate.  Both beers are worthy of putting on a last-meal list.  You know what, for my last meal, I’ll have a Pliny for dinner and a Heady for dessert.

My suggestion?  Drink as much of each of these beers as you’re able to get your hands on.

Cheers.