Despite a proliferation of breweries not seen in this country since before Prohibition, today’s beer market is filled with one-note beers. Bitter. Watery. Malty. Yeasty.
There’s nothing wrong with a good India pale ale, but there’s no shortage of them, either. With thousands of IPAs saturating the market, it can be easy to mistake craft beer for “hoppy” beer. It can take some digging to realize that not all well-crafted beers are bracingly bitter.
At the other end of this spectrum are easy-drinking wheat beers like Blue Moon and Shock Top Belgian White. They eschew any attempt at bitter for banana notes and light spice. Again, the range on the palate is limited.
As I continue my beer journey, I realize that the best ones keep me guessing. To make Troublesome, Chicago’s Off Color Brewing takes “a somewhat uninteresting wheat beer” and blends it with a sour beer described as “an overly acidic and funky beer fermented solely with lactobacillus,” a bacterial spoiler. After blending the two, Off Color adds coriander and salt “to create a mild, lemony tartness and a fuller sensation of mouthfeel.”
Troublesome is a beer of the Gose style, an unfiltered wheat brew made with a majority of wheat malt with salt added. At 4.5 percent alcohol by volume and 10 international bitterness units, it is decidedly not an IPA. It also ends up a long way from “somewhat uninteresting.”
My single bottle pours a cloudy, pale yellow into the glass. The aroma doesn’t overwhelm, but sniff hard and long enough and you’ll get some grassy, spring-like notes as well as orange peel.
Based on smell alone, my best guess on what this beer will taste like falls somewhere between “yummy” and “not quite sure.” It takes a few sips to figure it out. This is a wheat beer, but not one where yeast or citrus overpowers. Sour lemon, pepper, and farmhouse basement funk float in an effervescent bath. The beer is only slightly tart, which I love, balancing out the sweet and spicy character of the ingredients. There is plenty interesting about this beer on the palate despite it not being a hop head’s dream. More and more, these are the beers I like to drink.
Berkshire Bourbon: Sheffield’s Berkshire Mountain Distillers is collaborating with craft brewers around the country to release batches of limited-edition, cask-finished bourbon. Owner and distiller Chris Weld takes recently emptied beer barrels and adds his Berkshire Bourbon. The bourbon itself is four years old and will sit for four to nine months more in the barrel.
“I’m a huge fan of craft beer and what the craft industry has done,” says Weld. “I think it’s brought a lot of new flavors into the arena.”
The distillery is collaborating with brewers from as far afield as Big Sky Brewing in Montana and as close as Boston’s Samuel Adams and New Hampshire’s Smuttynose. The Samuel Adams collaboration is special, using a barrel from the $200-a-bottle, spirit-like beer called Utopias.
I sampled the bourbon aged in the Utopias barrel. In addition to the expected bourbon-y vanilla, the dark fruit and sherry notes from the beer were subtle but present. This was brighter on the palate than any bourbon I’ve ever had.
“The project allowed me to work with a bunch of fun people, to take advantage of what they’ve done to influence our bourbon,” says Weld. “It’s nice to have a little fun thrown in the mix.”
I remain curious about the bourbons aged in barrels coming from hoppy beers like Smuttynose’s Durty, a brown IPA. Weld describes the spirits as “kind of floral and a bit bitter.” Patrons should be able to sample these whiskeys and more when Berkshire opens a new retail location in Sheffield this summer. The distillery, located at 356 South Main St., is expected to open in time for July Fourth weekend. Details at berkshire
Smuttynose change: Speaking of Smuttynose, the New Hampshire brewery is discontinuing Star Island Single and will introduce Vunderbar Pilsner and Bouncy House IPA as full-time offerings.
Trail launch parties: On May 9, the Massachusetts Brewers Guild and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources will be officially launching the newly created Massachusetts Craft Brewers Trail to the public. The trail will act as a guide to sampling the products of more than 60 breweries and brew pubs across the state. Launch parties will take place at five locations. Details at www.massbrewersguild.org.