Craft Beer Advent Calendar - December 2015

On the first day of Christmas my true love got me drunk...

So a mutual friend and fan of Malts in Your Mouth asked us to put together a custom Craft Beer Advent Calendar for him and his girlfriend to enjoy this holiday season.  After putting some thought into it we created a list that we are very happy with.  We had enough positive reaction to it that we decided to share it with the whole MiYM community and see what everyone thought.  We hope you like it as much as we do! 

Notes on the beer selection methodology:  The methodology revolved around the fact that we wanted to make a list that was Christmas-y and season appropriate (and a personal request from the friend who didn't want anything with "a ton of hops").  As a result, we steered away from anything that as has a high IBU.  This excluded most IPAs, IPLs, many variations of Pale Ales, and basically anything with ton of hops (there might be a few that slipped in, but that’s just how we do).  Instead we focused on lighter citrusy, fruit flavors and a light taste to start off the countdown and then we moved into heavier, dark beers as the season approaches draws to close. 

There are over 24 unique breweries and beer styles (sometimes if we think a beer might be particularly difficult to find we double-up on options) that comprise this calendar list PLUS a bonus barrel-aged beer for Christmas Day itself (gotta get festive up in here). 

The majority of the beers we selected for the list were brands that we could find in our local liquor stores and craft beer sellers (note: these were New England stores and results may vary by location).  If you are unable to find the particular brewery or beer that we called out feel free to substitute for something similar based on the flavor profile.   The secret is to not stress out about it and just go with what you think you would most enjoy, while trying to expand your horizons.  After all, this is supposed to be an enjoyable experience!

If people are interested in this we will certainly consider doing another one for 2016.

Let us know what you think (feedback@maltsinyourmouth.com or comment at facebook.com/maltsinyourmouth)!

HO! HO! HO!

 

DAY 1  - December 1st

Style: Lambic

Brewery:  Brouwerij Lindemans 

Beer:  Lindemans Framboise

Flavor Profile:  I have  been trying to get more into Lambics the last couple of years.  One of the ones that has become very popular over the last several years are the Lindeman lines.  Lindemans is a good start for anyone not overly familiar with this style.  It is an approachable drink with a low alcohol content.  It has more of a champagne/wine flavor to it than that of your standard beer with little to no carbonation to it. 

 

DAY 2 - December 2nd 

Style:  Pilsner

Brewery: Wachusett Brewing Company 

Beer: Bella Czech Pils

Flavor Profile: This is one Pilsner that I have enjoyed a few times now and is a very solid choice for in a world of watery, flavorless pils.  It is a traditional style Czech Pilsner and is brewed with all German and Czech hops. The combination of European hops and malts help create a noble hop type flavor with an additional spiciness of Czech Saaz. 

 

DAY 3 - December 3rd

Style: Blueberry Ale

Brewery:  Wachusett Brewing Company  

Beer:  Wachusett Blueberry Ale  

Flavor Profile: I know, I know, another two beers made by the same brewery, side-by-side. But that's only because these guys, in my opinion, have the best blueberry game anywhere.  It has slight aroma of blueberry, balanced by a subtle flavor of malt and light effervescence that ferments into one delicious wheat ale. 

 

DAY 4 - December 4th

Style: Cranberry Ale

Brewery: Harpoon Brewery

Beer: Grateful Harvest Ale

Flavor Profile: Harpoon Grateful Harvest is a beer brewed with Thanksgiving celebrations in mind, which is why we're including it early on in the list. It uses a puree of freshly harvested cranberries, donated by local cranberry farm AD Makepeace, which lends a subtle tartness to the beer. The cranberry flavor complements the malty characters derived by the combination of Munich and Vienna malts. An addition of CaraMunich malt enhances the beer’s reddish hue and adds a touch of sweetness, while Northern Brewer bittering hops complement the slight cranberry tartness. 

 

DAY 5 - December 5th

Style: Gingerbread Ale 

Brewery: Shipyard Brewing Company

Beer: GingerBreadHead

Flavor Profile: 'Tis the season for sugarplum fairies, snowball fights, and gingerbread, which is why these guys made the list.  It's a really unique brew that, surprisingly, does in fact taste like gingerbread cookies in a bottle.  There are a lot of molasses and brown sugar flavors to be had in this beer along with a strong presence of ginger (obviously), cloves, and cinnamon.

 

DAY 6 - December 6th

Style: Sour Beer

Brewery: Boulevard Brewing Company 

Beer: The Tell-Tale Tart

Flavor Profile: Like most good beers this one is based on the concepts of madness and murder...wait a second.  Seriously though, this is a solidly good beer and is named in honor of the Edgar Allen Poe short-story, "The Tell-Tale Heart".  If you like your sours to pucker your face and take away your ability to breath (like some people we know) then this one might not meet that bill.  BUT, if you like a beer with complex flavors and a nice tartness that enhances the flavor then you will be a happy camper.  The Tell-Tale Tart is a solid introduction to the sour ale style for anyone who is looking for a gateway beer. It has a nice acidic flavor that is complemented by the biscuit-y malts used during fermentation.  It'll be a nice tart addition to your Christmas wishlist. 

 

DAY 7 - December 7th 

Style: Kölsch

BreweryDown The Road Brewery

BeerRasenmaher Kölsch

Flavor Profile: These guys might be relatively new to the beer scene, but they have hit the ground running .  Everything I have had from is absolutely top notch and this Kölsch is no exception.  They brew using German hops and malts to create a crisp, clean taste that is both light and smooth.

 

DAY 8 - December 8th 

Style: Hefeweizen

Brewery3 Floyds Brewing Company

BeerDrunk Monk

Flavor Profile: There are a lot of really good Hefes in the market today (for which I am particuarly thankful) and 3 Floyd's brew certainly rises to the top.  This is an aromatic Bavarian-style beer with mild herbal flavors, banana, and a light honey sweetness. 

 

DAY 9 - December 9th

Style: Witbier

Brewery: Clown Shoes

Beer: Clementine

Flavor Profile:  There are a few wheat beers on this list, but sine we've already enjoyed aGerman hefe, let's blitzkrieg eastward towards Belgium.  Witbier literally translates to: Wheat Beer.  But the primary difference between a Witbier and a Hefeweizen is that the Witbier is crafted in the Belgian-style. Clementine is a light and crisp beer and has a nice zesty flavor to it. And instead of an extract, it is brewed with actual clementine peels in it.  That little bit of extra loving really comes through in the flavor and is complimented by the addition of coriander. 

OR 

Brewery: Allagash Brewing Company 

Beer: White

Flavor Profile: Another tremendous option is Allagash White.  Slightly clouded with yeast goodness and packed with HUGE flavor.  Allagash is one of my all-time favorite breweries and this is one of their best beers.  But you have probably had this, while Clown Shoes is a little less main stream.  So I will let you decide what you want, comrade." 

 

DAY 10 - December 10th

Style: Saison

Brewery: Ommegang Brewery

Beer: Hennepin

Flavor Profile: This a Belgian-style Saison, which makes sense since these guys are inspired by all things Belgian.  What this means for us the honored beer drinker is that we get a nice spice that you don't always see it the French-styles.  It has champagne-esque qualityto it and is packed full of ginger, orange, and toasted grains.  Honestly a fantastic beer.  Ommegang is just one of those breweries you can't go wrong with.

OR

Brewery: Down The Road Brewery 

BeerFée des Fleurs

Flavor Profile: This is a French-style Saison and is one of my all-time favorite Saisons (check out our podcast review).  The only that this is a secondary option for this style is because we had already included Down The Road earlier in the list.  It has a high alcohol content and very cloudy, yeasy finish to it.  If you don't like yeast in your beer then you might not enjoy this option.  Because you will definitely get the yeast.  I personally recommend agitating (basically rolling it gently in your hand at a 45-degree angle before opening....that's what she said) the bottle and saving the very last pour in a separate glass as a taste comparison.  Doing this will really help to give you an appreciation of how much yeast can affect the flavor.  

 

DAY 11 - December 11th

Style: Amber/Red 

Brewery: Wasatch Brewery

Beer: Evolution

Flavor Profile: I have always found that Ambers and Reds can be, in general, very hit or miss in regards to overall flavor and complexity.  To me, Evolution is definitely a hit.  It has a beautiful amber coloring that grabs you immediately and the aroma of malt that melds together in a complex, though not overpowering experience. 

OR 

Brewery: Maine Beer Company

Beer: Zoe

Flavor Profile: If you can't find Wasatch (they're out of Utah) grab Zoe.  This brewery is awesome. All their beers have super simple designs on them and are complimented with great flavor.  This one is no exception and is one of my favorite ambers. It is named in honor of the head brewer's daughter, Zoe.  You will get raisins and chocolaty notes as well.  

 

DAY 12 - December 12th 

Style: Brown Ale 

Brewery: Smuttynose Brewing Company 

Beer: Old Brown Dog 

Flavor Profile: I am putting in a brown ale to break up the yeasty beers we have had the last couple days with something a little darker and maltier.  This is an American-style brown ale fits the bill. Because it is an American-style you'll get additional hops and a fuller-bodied beer.  It is a rich, flavorful brown that is at once comforting enough to get your through the cold winters, but not so heavy that you can't put away a six-pack.

 

DAY 13 - December 13th

Style: Bock

Brewery: Troegs Independent Brewing 

Beer: Troegenator Double Bock 

Flavor Profile: You couldn't have a complete holiday list without Troegs to round things out.  This is an independent brewery that is within spitting distance of Hershey Park in Hershey, PA.  They put out some darn fine brews, if I do say so myself.  This is a strong lager that has flavors of caramel, chocolate, and fruit.  It feels so indulgent that you'll think you opened your presents early. This brew comes highly recommended. 

 

DAY 14 - December 14th 

Style: Dunkelweizen

Brewery: Brauerei Aying

BeerAyinger Ur-Weisse

Flavor Profile: Dunkel-what? A dunkelweizen is a Bavarian-style beer and while similar to a Hefe, in regards to yeast, it uses far darker (and often roasted) malts.  In this beer you should get deep notes of caramel and perhaps a little smokiness.  And while it features yeast heavily it tends to have a far more prevalent malt flavor.

OR 

Brewery: Spoetzl (Shiner) Brewery

Beer: Shiner Dunkelweizen 

Flavor Profile:  If you have problems finding Aying (they're out of Germany after all), then try something a little closer to home.  The Shiner Dunkelweizen has a very similar flavor profile, but is much more readily available in the continental United States.

 

DAY 15 - December 15th 

Style: Porter

Brewery: Mayflower Brewing Company

Beer: Porter  

Flavor Profile: Pain and simple, Mayflower Brewing is awesome.  If you haven't had anything by them then do yourself a favor and get on right now.  In fact, you should get this one.  The Mayflower porter is a very dark, comforting beer with a hint of smokiness to it.  It will have tastes of coffee,  chocolate, and caramelized sugars.  (note: there are a couple stouts and porters on the list, but they have different emphasis on an element that they feature (e.g. coffees porters are more coffee and chocolate porters is more chocolate).  The majority of the flavors that you are getting on this one come mainly from the the roasted grains and types of hops that are used.)

 

DAY 16 - December 16th

Style: Chocolate Porter 

Brewery: Boulder Beer Company 

Beer: Shake Chocolate Porter

Flavor Profile: Named Colorado's first craft brewery, these guys have been churning had delightful drinkables for years.  The Shake Chocolate Porter? Well, it's a chocolate shake masquerading as a beer.  It is incredibly rich and creamy.  The flavors are milk chocolate, milk chocolate, milk chocolate.  So if you don't like milk chocolate…well I feel sorry for you.  Also, don’t drink this beer.  But it is one of my all-time favorite porters and hopefully (soon) will be one of yours.

 

DAY 17 - December 17th 

Style: Coffee Porter 

Brewery: Atwater Brewery 

Beer: Vanilla Java Porter 

Flavor Profile: One of the best things coming out of Detroit in these days.  Atwater produces some solid beers, but this is by far their best.  It is a robust brew with hints of chocolate.  They brew using actual coffee beans and it really shines through.  The vanilla helps to balance everything out and avoid bitterness.  Pro-tip, it mixes really well with chocolate porters.

OR

BreweryBerkshire Brewing Company

BeerDean's Bean Coffeehouse Porter

Flavor Profile: This beer is difficult to compare to Atwater because it is just so different.  It is a rich, dark porter that is both robust and aromatic.  If you can't find the Atwater this is another great beer option.

 

DAY 18 - December 18th  

Style: Chocolate Stout

Brewery: Harpoon Brewery

BeerChocolate Stout

Flavor Profile: When I first started drinking beer, back in the day, I didn't care much for porters and stouts.  I preferred IPAs, wheat ales, and brown.  At that point, super dark beers were simply outside my wheelhouse.  This is the beer that changed all that.  It got me into stouts and porters and made me realize that there are some really great dark options out there.  This is a tremendously tasty beer and the chocolate come right through.  And here is another pro-tip: try mixing Harpoon's Raspberry Hefeweizen UFO with this Chocolate Stout.  It will change your life and make you question everything you have ever believed in.  Give it a try and thank us later.

 

DAY 19 - December 19th

Style: Coffee Stout

Brewery: Founders Brewing Company 

Beer: Breakfast Stout

Flavor Profile: The Breakfast Stout is brewed with oatmeal so don't drink this with a big meal; you will get full.  That being said, this is a hearty and delicious beer that gives you a hint of oatmeal, malts, and chocolate.  It's flavored with coffee beans from Hawaii and Ethiopia and can substitute as a meal.  Best enjoyed with  friends!

 

DAY 20 - December 20th

Style: Oatmeal Stout

Brewery: New Holland Brewing Company

BeerThe Poet

Flavor Profile: Ah, another homage to Edgar Allen Poe. There seems to be a theme here.  Does the dead-poet inspire the artists within brewers themselves or is his brooding literary machinations present a template best enjoyed whilst drunk?...Anyways, as you've probably guessed from drinking the Breakfast Stout beers made with and/or from oatmeal can be quite filling.  You're not going to be drinking a six pack of it, but you will enjoy it.  It's dark and creamy, with a taste reminiscent of toasted marshmallows.

 

DAY 21 - December 21st

Style: Scotch Ale 

Brewery: Oskar Blues Brewery 

Beer: Old Chub

Flavor Profile: Not to be confused with a Scottish Ale, this is a strong, dark, and slightly slightly sweeter beer.  Old Chub is pretty unique and they brew it with beechwood-smoked malts.  This gives it an unexpected smoky flavor that's really quite good.  Goes great with bar-b-q.

 

DAY 22 - December 22nd

Style: Milk Stout

Brewery: Left Hand Brewing Company

Beer: Milk Stout Nitro

Flavor Profile: If you're asking yourself if milk stouts (also called cream stouts) are brewed actually using milk, the answer is:  sort of.  They use the lactose that they derive from milk in the brewing process.  Because the sugars in lactose don't ferment (unlike most other types of sugars) it allows for greater control in overall sweetness (fun history fact: milk stouts were originally consider to be "nutritious" and were given to nursing mothers).  Left Hand's Nitro is a pretty intense, but delicious beer.  It has an aroma and taste that is brown sugar and vanilla cream.  It is very low in bitterness and is fairly heavy.   

 

Day 23 - December 23rd

Style: Oyster Stout

Brewery: Flying Dog Brewery 

Beer: Pearl Necklace Chesapeake Stout

Flavor Profile: Flying Dog may have won the "Best Pale Ale in America" award at one point, but we're focusing in on one of the more interesting styles they brew:  oyster stouts.  So believe it or not this beer is made with actual oysters.  The briny, saltiness works surprisingly well with the maltiness of the grains and subtle hops.  It is definitely dark and smoky with a bit of a bitter finish.  Plus all proceeds from sales go towards the Oyster Recovery Partnership.  So you can get drunk knowing you contributed to a good cause.     

 

Day 24 - Christmas Eve

In preparation for the big day, let's get a our formal wear on and head over to visit our good friends, the Czars. 

Style: Russian Imperial Stout 

Brewery: North Coast Brewing Company

Beer: Old Rasputin 

Flavor Profile: As we know from our podcast on this style, Peter the Great loved him some English-style stouts that he discovered while traveling there on diplomatic functions.  But he found that when he tried to ship them to Russia they always spoiled first.  In a stroke of genius, they discovered beautiful solution.  In went hops, along with their preservative qualities; up goes the lifespan of the brew; and Russian Imperial Stouts were born.  Old Rasputin represents the very best things about this style.  It is a complex beer with rich flavors that will warm you in the coldest Siberian winters.  Drink and enjoy, comrades.     

 

BONUS BEER(S) - Christmas Day!

We've finally arrived!  Presents are under the tree, cookies in the oven, and Santa left a cask of barrel-aged beer. So let's crack the cask and get the festivities going.

Style: Bourbon Barrel Aged

Brewery: Allagash

BeerCurieux (Bourbon Barrel-Aged Tripel)

Flavor Profile: Pretty much everything from the wizards at Allagash is going to be fantastic.  Honestly, you really can't go wrong.  But their crowing achievement is their barrel-aged Curieux.  They age their already delicious Tripel Ale in Jim Bean bourbon barrels and then blend it back with a portion of fresh Tripel.  This way they infuse a smoky, barrel flavor to it without it becoming overpowering.  It is super smooth and features flavors like coconut and vanilla.  Over the years it has become much easier to find, but it is super popular so they go fast.

OR 

Brewery: Jack's Abbey Craft Lagers

BeerBarrel-Aged Framinghammer

Flavor Profile: If you can't find Curieux then Framinghammer is a fantastic runner up.  Jack's Abbey brews exclusively Lagers (which in the commercial beer world is extrememly rare) so this is a barrel aged lager is a rare treat (due mostly to the length of time it takes to complete).  The flavor is roasted malts, bourbon, and vanilla.  It's incredibly good, but again can be hard to find.  

OR 

BreweryAlltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company

BeerKentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale

Flavor Profile: If all else fails this Kentucky aged beer is a solid third place.  They age their ale for six weeks in bourbon barrels from all over Kentucky.  While I would take the first over this any day of the week this is still a very solid contender.  In this instance there are no wrong choices.  It's just that some choices are more right than others. 

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Hope you enjoyed this calendar.  Please feel free to leave us feedback on what you thought.  Did you think maybe should do something else?  Did you have trouble finding something?  We want to hear it all. 

Cheers,

Malts in Your Mouth 

 

Pretty Things: Retiring or Pushed Out?

Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project announced in a recent blog post that after seven years of crafting some of the best craft brews in the Boston region will be getting out of the beer game.

While not well known outside of the state of Massachusetts, Pretty Things has steadily grown in popularity among its loyal, local following since debuting their very first beer at the Publik House in Brookline, MA.  Since then they have created lines of complex beers including their flagship Jack D'Or,  Baby Tree, and American Darling.  They were a local favorite and huge proponent of building a community beer culture.  Eclectic, fun, and not ones to take themselves to seriously.  This was a big part of their charm and one of the reasons many beer drinkers would actively seek them out.

So the question on many people's mind is why did these guys go out of business? 

For the casual beer drinker the shuttering of Pretty Thing's doors probably comes as a huge shock.  However, for Massachusetts bar and liquor store owners, the closure has been a little bit less of a surprise. 

If our sources are to be believed, the beginning of the end all started a year ago.  In October 2014, Pretty Things co-founder, Dann Paquette, tweeted series of accusations that certain breweries were using "pay-to-play" tactics to get their  lines into certain bars.  Pay-for-play being the practice of breweries offering payment or bars requesting it in exchange for a coveted space on the barroom taplines.  In a crowded and competitive beer market having your beer on tap can be a huge difference maker.  As  a result, pay-for-play can be a very effective tactic.  It is also extremely illegal in the state of Massachusetts.   Dan's tweets included one saying "Right now one of the hottest newish brewers in MA pays for lines all over the place" and specifically called out Bukowski Tavern and The Lower Depths, both of which are owned by the Wilcox Hospitality Group.  

For it's part Wilcox responded in an open letter in less than complimentary terms; calling Pretty Things "inferior for the price" and swearing never to carry it in any of their establishments. 

As a result of Dann's tweet the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission began statewide investigation that included a issuing a summons to the massive beer distributor,  the Craft Beer Guild and five other Massachusetts bars.  A lawyer for the Craft Beer Guild, J. Mark Dickson, admitted that the practice of pay-to-play is widespread in the industry and that his clients had participated.  Coincidentally, the Craft Beer Guild was also Pretty Things distributor. 

Now, what does this have to do with Pretty Things going out of business? While talking to industry insiders, MiYM discovered that after word got around about Dann Paquette's tweets many liquor stores and bars refused to carry any Pretty Things brand.  One source noted that "...it really screwed a lot of people over.  You don't do that to your own." 

This raises the question:  is Pretty Things ceasing brewing operations to "pursue other adventures," as they say in their blog post, or were the pushed out by an inability to actually sell their product due to being blacklisted in their industry?   

We will be trying to get in touch with Mr. Dann Paquette for comment and hopefully get a little better understanding of the situation.  Stay tuned for more!  

 

Part II: Old England vs. New England

In Part I of this two-part series we talked about the cultural aspects of British booze consumption – in this article we’ll be focusing a little more on taste and flavor (flavour?).

With that in mind, it’s time for a few drinks:   

My original plan was to compare basic and reoccurring notes in both popular and craft beer styles found to England to those of the US.  However, that ended up being slightly more difficult than I had originally planned as there is a fairly clear divide between traditional “ye olde” England beer/liquor drinkers and the craftier microbrews.

That being said, when trying out the wide offering of traditional beer styles I noticed a fairly consistent trend:  much like their food, weather, and temperament – British brews were inclined to be very mild.  They were tended to be mellow, medium bodied, though very drinkable and were often brewed from a barley mash.  There were very few beers I found in the average pub scene that exceeded 5% ABV with low carbonation. The low carbonation has to do with the fact that they use primarily top fermenting cask beers that finish maturing in the cellars of the pubs and are served with only natural carbonation – though I found this not to be the case with their ciders.  For the most part the beers are, as they have been for generations, geared towards drinkability and community than in the United States.  While we have our share of mellow, low ABV beers designed for huge quantities of consumption they tend to be “light”, low calorie pilsners.  One of the differences in the British beers was that this seemed to be fairly consistent throughout their traditional lager and ale offerings in almost every style we tried.  Not to say that I did not I didn’t enjoy these beers, far from.  In fact, one major benefit I found for these mild beers was that they tended to be exceptionally well suited as an accompaniment to food.       

That is, of course, until you get into the modern British microbrewery scene.  Microbrews are exploding in popularity at an absolutely astounding rate [insert citation].  One of the leaders of this beer-centric revolution are the mad geniuses over BrewDog.  These guys are a little crazy (in the best way possible.  These are the same guys who brought you the formally highest alcohol, most expensive beer served inside a taxidermy squirrels, weasels, and hares (no seriously – check it).  Now I don’t want to offend anyone over at BrewDog by calling them an English brewery – they’re Scottish – but what they do is really serve as a bright example of what is going on in the microbrew scene today. 

These new microbrews have taken the traditional styles of beer and turned them so completely on their heads that it is almost a jarring experience to go from one to the other.  They have taken the traditional beer making approach of the island and flung hops, citrus, and smokiness at it; they’ll barrel age it and then turn the ABV up to eleven.  Flavors such as these are simply par for the course with this new age – and I’m both loving and fearing it.  Where many of the traditional brews are medium bodied, low hops and geared towards drinking in bulk these microbrews reject that approach to the nth degree.  A lot of the flavors were actually quite similar to those you might find in some eccentric beer styles from craft breweries in the states, but they had the options for some unusual beers and I loved it!

Notable standouts and must haves:

BrewDog – Dead Pony Club

BrewDog – Vagabond Pale Ale

BrewDog Punk IPA

BrewDog Five AM Red Ale

Moore Beer Company Dark Alliance Coffee Stout

Lynestyle Brewery Ein Stein

Samuel Smith Pure Organic Lager

Aspall Suffolk Cyder

Black Sheep Brewing Golden Sheep English Pale Ale 

St. Austell Brewery Tribute Cornish Pale Ale 

 

Part I: Old England vs. New England

Destination:  London, England.

The country of England enjoys a long and renowned beer brewing – and drinking – history.  In fact, many of the local communities are set up specifically around pubs being within walking distance of your home – usually no matter the direction you head. There are breweries operating in England today that have been making and selling beer since before the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock.    

Having never been to this lovely country before it wouldn’t be far off to say I was giddy to try a few of beers straight out of the tap.  And of course, as a red-blooded American – and a native New Englander to boot – it is my civic duty to test how the Brit’s fares stack up against the U.S. of A’s.  As a man with colonial beers and spirits running through his veins I would be remiss if I didn’t imbibe, at least a little. Because, as we all know, beer and liquor tourism is the best kind of tourism. 

So what were my criteria?  During this trip I tried to rate my experience based on two very basic categories:

1)      Culture – This is ambiance, drinking environment, expectations, etc. 

2)      Taste – This is the aroma, style, flavor, mouthfeel, and so on.

As a cultural outsider looking in, the traditions and expectations that exist, in comparison to that of the United States, is really quite fascinating. For instance, post-work drinks with coworkers seem to be the norm rather than the exception.  In the US, you might go to get drinks with coworkers after work and, while you’re there, grab a bite to eat as well.  In England, on the other hand, we found it was customary to have a couple of drinks at the local pub for a couple hours before heading home for supper (we even ended up at a restaurant that didn’t even start serving dinner until after 8:30PM!).  This seems to be one of the reasons that many of the traditional British beers tend to be lower ABV and less carbonated than the ones you find in the US.  When I asked one of the barmen at a pub we were at he told us that these characteristics are remnants of working days past and are that beers were meant to be drinkable and enjoyed as a community.

One fascinating element I found while doing research (aka drinking) and chatting to a couple locals is that over the last several years subtle divisional lines have been drawn in the sand of the English pub scene. As I mentioned a little bit earlier in the post, there is a distinct difference between traditional brews and microbrews – at least in regards to taste.  England’s traditional brewing culture has been for many years been dominated by a few large brewers.  Large breweries such as the popular Fuller’s brand – which has been in business since 1816.  However, in recent years, a strange phenomenon has begun taking place.  Craft beer mania has begun to infiltrate even this stoically traditional bastion.      

In fact, if you were to look at today’s England you would not be remiss in identifying three basic types of pubs/breweries: 

PubCo's – these are pub chains that have no loyalty to any one particular brewery, beyond what sells (it’s a poor comparison, but this would be like your British Beer Company or Yard House in the US).

Microbreweries – these are the exhibitionists; they are looking to push the envelope, trying new brewing technologies, and combining flavors to reinvent classic styles.

Small Pubs and Breweries – while they may not be mainstream or large brewers or beer purveyors they are also not microbrewers.  Rather, they are a collection of small institutions that operate within their communities and tend to offer more traditional options that can vary widely in style due to location and the cultural expectations of the patrons.           

Sometimes the lines between the three are finer than one would expect, but the differences remain an important distinction to keep in mind when traveling this new beer world.  When you take the time to stop and look around you will see a society that enjoys its traditional brews, but it is starting to accept a new breed of craft brewing.  The dichotomy of tradition meeting modern style is at once fascinating and inspiring to me as an avid beer lover.

But at the end of the day it's all about how good the beer tastes, and the bottom line the Brits know their beer.  There are some pretty darn good brews out there; so do yourself a favor and book a flight!