Spring beers in winter
Several readers wrote me to express their disappointment after ordering a Samuel Adams Winter Lager and being told by their server that the establishment had already moved on to Samuel Adams Alpine Spring. One Boston reader even said the bar he was at stopped serving Winter Lager on New Year’s Eve.
Boston Beer Company founder Jim Koch explained the early release of his company’s seasonal beers in a statement to the Globe:
“The timing for brewing our seasonal beers isn’t as simple as matching dates to a calendar; we listen to our drinkers and brew to reflect their preferences. In New England, we tend to look forward to next season, especially the end of winter! Sometimes on a cold day, there’s nothing better than sitting inside daydreaming about less dreary weather, longer days, and spring training, which also actually begins in the winter. But it just doesn’t seem right to call it “winter training.”
Samuel Adams Alpine Spring, a crisp, unfiltered medium-bodied lager, matches that sentiment and is one of the reasons we make it available to drinkers earlier in the year, offering them a refreshing change of pace and a hint of what’s to come.”
Samuel Adams is far from the only company that sends their seasonals out early. I happen to love winter beer, but even if I didn’t, New Year’s Eve seems very early to me. So does pumpkin beer in July. At the time of this writing my thermometer reads 27 degrees. A little leeway on timing, however, seems fine.
Later this month, Mystic Brewery will open a brand-new tasting room in Chelsea. There, you’ll be able to sample the beers of one of the more innovative brewers in the Boston area.
You can sample many of Mystic’s beers right now in local stores and bars. Founder Bryan Greenhagen takes the brewing arts seriously. He’s particularly obsessed with fermentation, experimenting with various yeasts, including some from nature. Mystic Brewery specializes in saisons, or farmhouse ales, and their winter offering is a particularly good one.
Named after an ancient druid festival, An Dreoilin is the winter version of Mystic’s saison, brewed to celebrate the winter solstice. “We let the cooler temperatures influence the brewing process,” Mystic says in their description of the beer. “The result was a remarkable variation on Mystic Saison. The hops are brighter, the drinkability fantastic, and balance of flavors intriguing.” The beer is re-fermented in the bottle and brewed with a dry saison yeast called Renaud.
Pop the cork on this one and start your night. The beer pours a cloudy yellow with a rapidly vanishing white head. It’s difficult to see the tiny carbonation bubbles through the muck, but they’re there. Belgian yeast, apples, lemons, and dandelions make up a familiar nose.
Saisons are some of my favorite beers to review because there’s so much going on in terms of aroma and flavor. One sip is sweet, the next tart. Spice and subtlety mix in a way that’s hard to find in any other beverage.
I love this beer, which retails for $9.95 for a 750-ml bottle. At 7 percent alcohol by volume you can share it with someone special over a good meal.
Stray Dog Lager
Contrary to popular belief, there’s civilization west of Framingham. You can even drive past Worcester and not tumble over the edge into the abyss. I grew up in Connecticut, about 20 minutes south of Springfield, so Western Mass. is familiar to me. If you’re a fan of good beer, it should be familiar to you, too.
Brewmaster Jack was founded in Northampton in 2011 by Tyler Guilmette. The company currently brews three beers: a lager, a double IPA, and a chocolate rye porter. I was recently able to find the first two in the Boston area.
Stray Dog Lager is Brewmaster Jack’s flagship. In a world of big, boozy craft beer, it seems both risky and prudent to put a lager out there as the face of your company. In theory, it might be hard to make a lager stand out in a Budweiser-filled world.
More practically, Stray Dog Lager is brewed with two-row barley and crystal and Munich malts. Twenty-five percent of the grain used in this beer is locally sourced. A high mash temperature allows for the extraction of non-fermentable sugars and creates a thick body, and four varieties of hops are added in three steps (these details are all paraphrased from Brewmaster Jack’s website).
The beer pours a light amber with a fluffy white head. It smells doughy, like a good baguette. The first sip packs tons of biscuity, malty flavor. You can parse the various grains on your tongue, unlike with some commercial lagers. Another very welcome aspect of this beer is the crisp bite it finishes with. There’s nothing here to make a drinker grow weary, and at 4.5 percent alcohol by volume you can put away a few of these in one session (in the craft beer world the term for this kind of beer is in fact a “session beer”). Stray Dog Lager is exactly the kind of beer you wished every local bar or restaurant of yours would carry. I bought a six-pack for $10.50, though I think you’d get it for well under $10 in the western part of the state.