A trip to Philly sets in motion my seemingly inevitable souring on beer…

Towards the end of last winter I was in Philadelphia for a family wedding. Having never been, I scoured BeerAdvocate and Ratebeer for a good spot to try a few beers that aren’t available in Massachusetts. If you’ve ever been or are lucky enough to be from the area, you won’t be the least bit surprised that I ended up at Monk’s Cafe. The draft and bottle list was on par with any I’ve seen and I was able to sample a couple of IPAs from local brewers, Victory beers that don’t make it to Massachusetts, and one of my all-time favorites, Mongo from Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey. So how did this seemingly blissful hoppy experience sour me on beer? For the answer, we have to fast forward to last Sunday at Western Mass’ slightly superior, vaguely secret craft oasis the Moan and Dove in Amherst.

It all started innocently enough, a fantastic glass of Wormtown’s Be Hoppy a Baxter Brewing Stowaway IPA… good times. And then it happened. I noticed on the board there was a beer called Monk’s Cafe. I inquired of the barkeep, what is this beer and is it from Philly? The answers to both led me to immediately order a pint. It’s a sour beer, a Flemish Sour Red Ale brewed for Monk’s Cafe in Philly by a very well know Belgian Brewery Brouwerij Van Steenberge. I enjoyed it a lot. Having to this point avoided the building craze over the buzz words Sour, Wild and Brett, I now was getting a  sense of what all the fuss has been about. Which brings me to today and the moment I’m writing this piece. I’ve since hunted down this beer in bottles at Table and Vine in West Springfield and while there picked up two other higher rated beers of the same style and origin.

At this point in the sour experience I don’t feel ready to try to critique or really value the style as it relates to the building craze. I will however add a few more comments before delving back into my tasting. This style of beer is brewed with a wild yeast or airborne yeast as well as an acidifying bacteria that is primarily responsible for the sour factor. Nearly all available examples are blended meaning a very young beer was mixed with a fully aged version to produce the desired level of flavors, sourness, etc. They are all aged in wood barrels. This is primarily due to the barrels providing the seemingly perfect level of porosity providing the perfect levels of O2 over the long aging process. Most add copious amounts of cherries during the aging process though I don’t believe they are ever used during the brewing process. To be frank, I’m not overly fond of most Wild Ales or Brett creations that I’ve tried. All the more reason I was astounded to enjoy a Flemish Sour Red. If you’ve yet to venture into the world of sour beer or found it wasn’t for you, give Monk’s Cafe a try and be prepared to pucker a little and surprise yourself at how fast you drain your glass.

 

 

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My top rated beers by style

Over the last few years I’ve rated dozens of beers from all over the US and beyond. Some were great and became instant classics, while others not so much. Below you’ll find a complete list of all the brews I rated an A or A- overall. I’ve listed them by style, but I’m sure you’ll notice I don’t venture far from the hop bombs. If I could have a constant supply of these beers I might even consider giving up tasting new beer and just revel… nah. Try more beer!!!

Double/Triple IPA

Victory DirtWolf Double IPA  – The aroma and taste are heady peppery hops with hints of pine resin. The malts and ABV nicely balance with the big bitterness. Almost too easy to drink.

Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey Mongo  – One of the original DIPAs and still my all time favorite. The aroma is pungent citrus with some slight tones of booze. The flavor is the same, big dank Cascade/Centennial/Simcoe hoppiness. If you find this beer, buy it

Sixpoint Resin  – A very dank herbal and resiny DIPA . The hop flavors are big and bold, and diverse.

Wormtown Buddha’s Juice – I’m a big fan of this newly released DIPA. The aroma is very floral with vague hints of citrus. The flavor is packed to the gills, dank resiny floral citrus grapefruit with a crisp bitter finish. It’s essential to let this warm in the glass for 10-15 minutes before enjoying. The only thing preventing a perfect score is the use of Chinook hops which unfortunately tends to exaggerate the illusion of dry pith.

Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15 – Resinous aroma with lots of pine & citrus. BIG bitter flavor is peppery, oniony with a nice bite and kick

Wormtown Hopulence – The aroma and flavor remind me a bit of Port’s High Tide IPA which I tend to hunt down every fall. This beer is monstrously bitter with notes of citrus dominating the hop profile. Very crisp and clean, there is no noticeable malt flavor and no harsh aftertaste.

IPA

Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey High Tide – The aroma is packed with citrus and floral notes, while the flavor is a nice balance of bitter and pleasantly grainy sweetness from the malts. At only 6.5% ABV this is almost too easy to drink. Buy this fresh in late October/ early November.

Maine Beer Lunch – Freshly bottled this beer is sublime. The aroma is very dank herbal and floral with subtle notes from the malt. The flavor has a lot going on. It’s spicy and herbal while also floral and earthy and finishes cleanly bitter. Over time on the shelf or in the cellar, if that’s ever allowed to happen, the hop flavors soften leaving a more pronounced sharp bitterness. This is a beer I’d love to see released in cans, adding additional stability to the flavors!

Boulevard Mid-Coast IPA – An epic blend of hops gives this IPA a world-class flavor. Currently only sold in a mixpack, this beer warrants individual release.

Wormtown Be Hoppy – Fresh bottles released nearly every month. Continues to impress and solidly holding a spot in my top five IPAs of all time.

Wasatch Beers Ghost Rider White IPA – Mild citrus aroma, creamy & refreshing with a hint of lemon/lime flavor. Nice bitter finish.

Sweet Stout

Wormtown Norm Chocolate Coconut Stout – Pronounced chocolate and coconut aromas and flavors dominate this oatmeal stout. Nicely rich and just shy of too sweet, the flavor is very comparable to a Mounds candy bar.

Samuel Smiths Organic Chocolate Stout – Bordering on perfection, this sweet stout is sublime. The aroma is strictly cocoa, sweet but not cloying. The flavor follows with added drinkability from notes of coffee and a vague but distinguishable bitterness.

Lager

Jack’s Abby Mass Rising – Hoppiest lager I’ve ever tasted and the best tasting Jack’s Abby brew I’ve had except for possibly Kiwi Rising. Fresh, there’s plenty of bitterness and a very pleasant aroma, but it’s the peppery hop flavor that really impresses. DMS flavoring is minimal. This beer is very bright, crisp and almost too easy to drink considering the ABV

Jack’s Abby Kiwi Rising – Another masterpiece DIPL from Jack’s Abby. The Kiwi hops add an absolutely delicious spicy pepper flavor. The palate and body are solid despite the beer looking very pale in the glass.

Sierra Nevada Hop Syndicate – This is a great tasting super hoppy lager… that’s right lager! Enjoy!

Light IPA

Wachusett Light IPA  – Best “light” beer ever??? I’d say! Lots of hoppy flavor, decent bitterness, lighter alcohol and body.

Fruit Beer

Westfield River Banana Bread – Fantastic aroma! Sweet but balanced, big spicy banana taste. Hope they bottle this beer

Porter

Otter Creek Stove Pipe  – Smoky malty goodness. Best served just below room temp. Sadly, this beer has been retired by their new brewmaster.

Smuttynose Satchmo Porter – My new favorite porter??? Perfect blend of smoky and chocolate flavors

Black Ale

Element Dark Element – Super smoky, malty, chocolaty, hoppy perfection. This is a must try

ESB

Green Jack Gone Fishing – Notably underrated, I found this to be very enjoyable. Mildly bitter & slightly sweet, very easy to drink

Harpoon Midsummer Fling – Light and refreshing, big lemon notes in the aroma and flavor, could be a summertime hit

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