As if you needed a reminder, last weekend’s blizzard left no doubt that we’re still in the heart of winter beer season. Stouts, porters, and barleywines can provide a momentary safe haven from the storm, no matter how fleeting those moments may be between bouts of shoveling.
It can be difficult to navigate the world of winter beers, and I often grow weary of trying myself. But Salt Lake City’s Uinta Brewing Company has released a particularly good one. Sea Legs Baltic Porter is worth a history lesson. The beer is more like the porters of the 17th century than those of today. A Baltic Porter was a more robust version of the popular beer style brewed stronger for journeys across the North Sea. The style was a favorite of Catherine the Great. These beers range from 7 to 10 percent alcohol by volume, which falls more in the range of today’s stouts.
Sea Legs adheres to this seafaring tradition. It’s aged in bourbon barrels and weighs in at 8 percent ABV. There’s a mermaid and a pipe-smoking fisherman on the label of the 750ml bottle.
The beer pours eye-patch black with a stormy brown head. I smell bourbon, vanilla, butterscotch, and chocolate.
Uinta calls this beer “a seductive offering.” I’m no Odysseus, but I was steered toward this one based on the smell, and I was not disappointed. Sea Legs is drinkable, with a medium mouthfeel. There’s lots of chocolate, with a hint of charred wood from the bourbon barrels. It tastes like a milder version of Founders Backwoods Bastard, which is possibly my favorite barrel-aged beer. It’s harder to taste the alcohol in this beer than in some others; it has the flavor of a stout without the bulk. The beer retails for around $14 a bottle.
Battle Road Brewing has been a long time coming. Business partners Scott Houghton and Jeremy Cross have 35 years of industry experience between them, but when they ventured out to start their own company in 2007, the economic recession hit. Their own brand would have to wait for the time being.
Battle Road is finally off the ground and selling beer in Massachusetts, a state the company celebrates with its mission statement. Tapping into the region’s rich history, each beer they brew will revolve around an event in the Revolutionary War.
“The branding comes from our love of history and our desire to tell the story of the birth of our nation through our products,” said Cross.
The brewery’s first beer is 1775 Tavern Ale, a pale ale with a back story.
“We named it this because every great story starts with a beginning,” said Cross. “April 19, 1775, was when ‘the shot heard ’round the world’ rang out and started our fight for independence from Britain’s rule.”
Battle Road is just starting out as well. Their website is a work in progress, as is a list of places to get the beer. I found some at Social Wines in South Boston, and Cross and Houghton promise to have a more complete list soon. (Update: I’ve been told that the beer is available in about 75 locations statewide, including the Boston Wine Exchange, Foodie’s Urban Market, Social Wines, the Hub, Blanchard’s, and Martignetti’s). The duo has experience at Salem and Boston Beer Works, where Houghton used to be head brewer. With that knowledge in their back pocket, they took liberties with their first beer, not adhering it to any particular style.
1775 Tavern Ale pours a dark amber with a head the color of the fringe on a faded army uniform. The beer is a little hazy, not unlike my knowledge of the American Revolution.
The nose provides the first hint that the brewers aren’t ready to fall in line. It’s malt-forward, with just a twinge of hops. The first sip suggests a beer that’s sweeter than both an American Pale Ale and a British one. Biscuits are balanced by herbal hops, but this beer almost drinks like a lager. The finish is bright, with subtle spice inviting you back for another pint.
The duo has several other beers on the way, including Barrett’s Farmhouse Ale, named, according to Cross, “after the farmhouse where the American rebels were hiding a cache of weapons. It was discovery of these weapons that sent the redcoats to Lexington and Concord [along the Battle Road] to disarm the Patriots.” The next two beers will be Lexington Green India Pale Ale and Midnight Rider Tavern Porter.
It’s a great concept for a brand, and the beer is good enough to back it up. 1775 Tavern Ale retails for around $7 for a 22-ounce bottle. If you pick some up, let me know what you think.
99 Bottles column. He can be reached at Gdzen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globe