Well, this didn’t last long.
Less than two years after I started writing about beer, I’m calling it quits. This is my last 99 Bottles column. (The reason: I’m leaving the Globe, and Boston, to take a position with another media company. My colleague Gary Dzen, whose knowledge of beer runs deep, will take over this column as well as the 99 Bottles blog on Boston.com.)
When I started 99 Bottles in the fall of 2010, I thought I knew a lot about beer. It turns out that wasn’t true – I’ve learned far more since. I’ve gotten to know many great people in the craft beer community — from the people who run big breweries like Samuel Adams and Harpoon to the folks behind great new outfits such as Slumbrew and Notch to the owners and managers of excellent craft beer bars and shops. At the same time, I’ve had many rewarding exchanges with readers, and learned from them.
And I’ve tasted some outstanding beer.
Over the past few years, the beer scene in Boston has undergone a mind-blowing transformation. New brewers, crafting quality beers, are setting up shop left and right. The past year alone has ushered in Jack’s Abby, Idle Hands, Slumbrew, Night Shift, and others. More are coming on line soon.
It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to sample some of the new beers that are constantly arriving as well as the old stalwarts. As I put away my tasting notes for the last time, I thought I’d reflect on the question I’m most commonly asked by beer drinkers and readers: Which one is your favorite?
The truth is, I don’t have a favorite. I could go on about the great Belgian ales — Orval, Rochefort, Chimay, Westmalle, Gulden Draak, St. Bernardus, Piraat, Houblon Chouffe, Pannepot. I could talk about some of New England’s finest — Allagash Four, Baxter Stowaway IPA, Smuttynose Robust Porter, or anything from the Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project.
But I don’t even really have a favorite style. I love super-hoppy beers — The Alchemist’s Heady Topper, Weyerbacher Double Simcoe, Moylan’s Hopsickle, Avery Maharaja, Stone Ruination, Dogfish Head Burton Baton, Troegs Nugget Nectar. Yet in the winter I gravitate toward dark, chewy stouts — Oskar Blues Ten Fidy, Hoppin’ Frog D.O.R.I.S. the Destroyer, Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti, North Coast Old Rasputin.
So where to begin? And where to end?
With so many great new beers made by Boston-area brewers, it’s probably most apt to end right here. Limiting myself to one selection per brewery (and in no particular order), I leave you with my favorite beers that have come out of Boston in the past few years:
Backlash Declaration: An assertive citrus bomb from Backlash Beer, Declaration marries a Belgian IPA with an American double IPA. Hazy orange with scents ranging from passion fruit and mango to banana, pine, and clove. Grapefruit is at the forefront of a profile that’s dry and spicy. 7.2 percent alcohol.
Mystic Saison: Darker than most other saisons and higher in alcohol as well, Mystic Brewery’s outstanding saison is vibrant, robust, and full of flavor, with a pleasant aftertaste. The Belgian yeast is very much present in the aroma, which suggests bananas as well as pears. 7 percent alcohol.
Idle Hands Triplication: Unexpectedly dry and citric, this tripel from Idle Hands Craft Ales is a unique take on the style. Cloudy orange with a billowing head, Triplication has a subdued aroma and a tart taste. Oranges, pink grapefruits, and pepper intermingle with the grain bill. 9 percent alcohol.
Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union: Jack’s Abby calls Hoponius Union an “India pale lager,” and indeed it tastes more like an India pale ale than a pale lager, which is what it is. Intensely hopped, it has an amazing aroma: grapefruit, lemon, grass, and bits of tropical fruit. Crisp and light with a dry finish. 6.7 percent alcohol.
Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer: Pitch black with a thin brown head, this is a serious Russian imperial stout. Pungent espresso notes spill out of this thick, viscous malt monster. It even tastes black — bittersweet chocolate, French roasted coffee beans, smoke. Yet it’s smooth, with an ever-so-slightly bitter aftertaste. 10 percent alcohol.
Mayflower Spring Hop: An amber ale with a small head, Mayflower Brewing Co.’s spring seasonal actually smells and tastes like a spring day. Loaded with four varieties of aromatic hops, it emits an aroma of flowers and fresh-cut grass. Dry and earthy with citrus overtones. 5 percent alcohol.
Cambridge Brewing Co. Bannatyne’s Scotch Ale: Cambridge Brewing Co. has been making this wee heavy on and off for more than a decade but began bottling it only this year. Dark brown with mahogany accents, Bannatyne’s explodes with flavor (molasses, brown sugar, fig, prune) and aroma (dark fruit, vanilla, cherry). 9.2 percent alcohol.
Pretty Things Jack D’Or: Pretty Things’ flagship beer has been around since 2008, but it’s the best beer in Boston. A hoppy saison with a complex but subdued aroma, floral overtones, and a pleasing amount of bitterness, Jack D’Or is a delicious take on the style. I almost always have a bottle in my house. 6.4 percent alcohol.