Friday Froth: Expand Your Horizons

James Gribbon

Have you ever noticed that most people think music radio is terrible? iPods, Pandora, LastFM and SiriusXM have pretty much taken over the listening landscape. Listen to one station for more than a few hours, and you’ll start to hear the same songs over and over again. Multiply these hours by days and weeks and the audience becomes absolutely stultified. It’s the same with beer. We need variety to keep ourselves involved in what we consume, and this column is all about variety’s special spice. As such, we’re going to take a three-stop trip across the country this week to expand our horizons.

We’ll travel with the Sun and start on the East coast, specifically Ipswich, Mass., where we’ll find Mercury Brewing and Distribution Company, a small batch brewer officially born in 1999, but in operation since ’91 as Ipswich Brewing Company. Mercury is one of the few contract brewers in the northeast, and was contacted about ten years ago by one Bill Hodkin to produce a beer for Connecticut under the Farmington River Brewing Co. brand. Farmington River Hop River IPA is a strange one, but not in a bad way. It pours a nearly opaque brown color, very unusual for an IPA, and considerably muddier looking than most of its namesake river, which is often gorgeous.

The pour tops off with a light head, and the most prevalent aromas are from the malts, but with a slight hint of raisons. The beer has deeply malty flavors that ensconce the hops and smooth everything out. That’s is the strange part. Most American IPAs wallop the drinker with strong, bitter hop flavor and aroma. This offering is decidedly milder; almost a cross between brown ale and the more subdued English-style IPAs. It’s a good reminder of variations inside a style, less we become too hidebound in our thinking regarding what an IPA should be. But it’s time throw on our capes and fly to the next destination.

Boulder, Colorado is home to Boulder Beer Company, which stakes claim to being Colorado’s first microbrewery, having been established about 1979. It’s a long flight from the East Coast, we’re thirsty, and that last beer has us a little confused – so now it’s time for some hops to get our minds right. Enter Hazed & Infused, a dry-hopped American Pale Ale. Crystal and Centennial hops are dropped in during the fermentation stage of brewing, giving this beer a big, fresh, hop flavor. H&I pours a slightly cloudy red with a thick head and lace. The light aroma is redolent of those hops, plus the Nugget and Willamette varieties added earlier in the process. 

Hazed & Infused is a beer done right. I don’t say “right” because it fits smartly into our notions of what this style should be, but because it’s just a good, tasty beer. H&I exhibits a finely balanced blend of hops and malts that behave so well together they seem to have been to finishing school. The brewery celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2009, and this flagship beer is a big reason for that longevity. One of these almost invariably leads to another, I know, but we really do have to go. You in the back, chug. It’s a snowy evening, and we have miles to go before we sleep.

Yeah, the in-flight entertainment options are scarce up here, so here’s a little story to pass the time. I had my first Rogue beer, a Dead Guy maibock, at the Vortex at Little Five Points in Atlanta. The skeleton on the label clutching the beer mug got me, and I’m grateful he did. After that I wanted to try everything I could from the brewery on the bay in Newport, Oregon, which is where we’re landing right now. 

Speaking of getting our minds right, some of you may be familiar with Valium. This tranquilizing, little, yellow pill was marketed early on as “mother’s little helper” and immortalized in the Rolling Stones song.  John Maier, brewmaster at Rogue famously allows no chemicals, additives or preservatives in his beers, so diazepam is pretty much right out. His solution is called Dad’s Little Helper Malt Liquor. This beer is dedicated to Henry Jackson Smart, the inspiration for Father’s Days, and dads everywhere.    

It may be odd that I would choose to a malt liquor, a style mostly associated with Billy Dee Williams and stores that sell individual cigarettes, but “This ain’t your Dad’s malt liquor” as the bottle says. Said brewmaster has created a recipe that is 60% grain and 40% flaked corn. Corn is used as an adjunct to raise the fermentable sugars in the beer, but not fully fermented, adding sweetness to the aroma and flavor. This little helper weighs in at fairly hefty 17º Plato*, a measurement of the fermentable sugars in the liquid before fermentation, and finishes brewing at over 7% ABV. 

It pours a cloudy gold, almost like honey, with a thin head and no lace. There is a huge sweetness to the aroma with a slight hint of hops. The malt liquor itself is quite sweet, with a prickly carbonation, and best consumed good and cold. The brewery recommends it be paired with pork or spicy foods, and to help Dad make it through his busy day.

Ok, folks – that was our quick cross-country tour. I hope you enjoyed it. Rogue’s Bay Front Brew Pub is right over there, and we can, of course, find all these beers back home in Connecticut. See you all next week, and check out our resource guide to great beer bars and retailers in Fairfield County below.  

If you have a favorite retailer or beer, let us know. 

* known as “degrees Brix” in the wine industry

Bars Serving Great Beer:

Monster B's in Stamford

The Ginger Man in South Norwalk and Greenwich

Retailers Selling Great Beer:

Wines Unlimited in Stratford

BexMax in Stamford

Saugatuck Grain & Grape in Westport

Castle Wine & Spirits in Westport

Ancona's Wine in Ridgefield

Port Chester Beer Distributor 

Fairway Wines & Spirits 

Stepney Wines & Liquors in Monroe

Harry's Wine & Liquor Market in Fairfield