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Brewing in Mass.: Jack’s Abby and Night Shift

Steve Greenlee for the Boston Globe

Beers from Jack’s Abby Brewing.

Hoponius Union, made by Jack’s Abby Brewing, has become my first-choice beer when I’m out at a pub. So imagine how happy the Framingham brewer made me when it recently began bottling this fine beverage.

It’s an innovative beer. Jack’s Abby, a three-brother operation that launched last year and has carved a niche by focusing on lagers, calls Hoponius Union an “India pale lager.” Indeed, it tastes more like an India pale ale than a pale lager, which is what it is. And that’s because it’s intensely hopped — this beer measures 65 IBUs, bitter even by IPA standards.

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I poured a 500-milliliter (16.9-ounce) bottle of Hoponius Union (6.7 percent alcohol) hard into a nonic pint glass, creating a big, fluffy, longlasting head that captured the beer’s amazing aroma: grapefruit, lemon, grass, and bits of tropical fruit. Crisp, light, and highly hopped, like an aggressive IPA, it’s one of the most satisfying, refreshing beers I’ve ever had.

Thanks to Jack’s Abby’s new bottling line, I don’t have to go out to a bar to get it, either.

Steve Greenlee for the Boston Globe

Beers from Night Shift Brewing.

Hoponius Union isn’t the only Jack’s Abby beer to go into bottles. The brewer is now putting all of its year-round lagers in 500-milliliter bottles, along with some seasonals. Each retails for about $2.75 to $3.50.

Jabby Brau: Known as Jack’s Abby’s “session lager,” this beer is only 4.5 percent alcohol. Sparkling golden with a huge foaming head that resembles meringue, it’s highly carbonated with an aroma of tame hops and light grains. Mildly bitter with hops upfront, this is a perfect beer for a hot summer day.

Maibock Hurts Like Helles: A Munich Helles lager, this is Jabby Brau with more attitude and more alcohol (6.5 percent). Deep golden with an earthy aroma suggesting grapes and grains, it’s a bit peppery with a bitter finish. It tastes darker than it looks.

Smoke & Dagger: Brewed with beechwood-smoked malt, Smoke & Dagger (5.8 percent alcohol) falls somewhere between a schwarzbier and a smoked porter, according to Jack’s Abby. It tastes closer to the smoked porter. One might be tempted to call it a rauch-bier, but that would be misleading, since it doesn’t taste as smoky as it smells. Dark brown with a coffee head, it smells like barbecued ribs. But rather than tasting like a bonfire, there are pronounced notes of bittersweet chocolate.

Now comes word that Jack’s Abby is bottling a summer beer called Leisure Time Lager, a wheat beer brewed with lemongrass, coriander, citrus peel, and chamomile. Bring it on.

Night Shift

New nanobreweries are popping up in the Boston area all the time. The latest to attract attention from the craft beer community is Night Shift Brewing, founded by three friends. They set up shop in Everett and this year began putting out 750-milliliter bottles, priced roughly from $9 to $13.

Night Shift has five different beers on local shelves, and all of them put distinctive twists on established styles. Interestingly, these guys are altering the recipes from batch to batch, obviously in an effort to perfect them. One of their beers — a Berliner weiss, or sour wheat beer, called Somer Weiss — is apparently already so popular it’s difficult to find. I tried three shops before giving up and resigning myself to trying only the other four:

Trifecta: An outstanding rendition of a Belgian pale ale, Trifecta is the best of the four. Made with vanilla beans and fermented with three strains of Belgian yeast, it’s dry and peppery, with hints of orange and mango poking through the surface. Everyone at my tasting loved it. 7 percent alcohol.

Taza Stout: Brewed with chicory root and ginger, this stout is not as thick as some, but it’s very chocolatey, owing to the cacao nibs that are added. The aroma has a lot going on — dark chocolate, licorice, molasses, wood — and coffee accents peek through at the finish. Another winner. 7.2 percent alcohol.

Bee Tea: This is a wheat ale, but it’s like no wheat ale I’ve ever had. Brewed with sweet orange peel and orange blossom honey, and aged on green tea, it smells clean and tastes tart, with an astringency that lingers. Herbal notes abound. Hopefully the recipe will be tweaked for the next batch, because none of the folks at my tasting cared for it. 7.6 percent alcohol.

Quad Reserve: Another iconoclast in terms of style, this is not a traditional Belgian quad along the lines of St. Bernardus Abt 12, Rochefort 10, or Chimay Bleue. This is more vinous, no doubt because it’s fermented with grape juice (and brown sugar). It smells like grape juice, has the mouthfeel of grape juice, and tastes like grape juice with a big dose of warming alcohol (10.5 percent). Some of us enjoyed it, and some didn’t, but all of us found it interesting.

Now, if I can get my hands on some Night Shift Somer Weisse . . .

Steve Greenlee can be reached at greenlee@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGreenlee.
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