Friday Froth: Crossing The Line To Find Some Rare Beer

James Gribbon

We can't always get what we want in Connecticut. Somewhere in the stone paved and torch-lit corners of our state's liquor legislation sit musty arcana which chased my beloved Avery brewing out of state, banned Festbier for two inexplicable years, and didn't allow Yeungling into town until at least fifteen years too late. It was the second decade of the 21st century before Connecticut blue laws - enacted circa 1655, and the scourge of mid-90s Jon Favreau - allowed Sunday sales, and package stores were allowed to stay open later than 8pm, in fear of a man who got the electric chair in 1960. "Steady habits," indeed.

When we couldn't get what we wanted, we took part in the grand American tradition of law-skirting, and just drove to New York. After all it's, like, right there. I was on no such quest when I found myself in midtown Manhattan a few weeks back with two hours to spare, and two blocks from The Ginger Man in the lower 30s. You want Hill Farmstead? They have Hill Farmstead. 

And we'll get to that, but first: story time! This is a story about how to make brown ale not-boring. Many moons ago, I told you about Barrier Brewing, "a small new brewer in Oceanside on the south shore of Long Island just inland of Long Beach." Then hurricane Sandy happened, and the parts of Barrier which weren't  launched into orbit were drowned. Nature killed Barrier before its fourth birthday, because nature can be a real dick.

This was a bummer, because their Evil Giant rye IPA was a winner, but many things have happened since then, and I had completely forgotten about Barrier until I saw their Barnacle brown ale on the menu at the G-Man. I was stoked just to see they were back among us, and I'm a huge fan of zombies in pretty much any context, so I couldn't order it fast enough. 

Brown ales tend to line up somewhere aft of hind teat in most modern beer drinkers' mental lineups. They're viewed as one-note and stultifyingly similar. Yeah, hi! My name's James, and I don't care.

Barnacle poured a very deep ruby red with a medium head which dissolved into a thin band around the glass. The roasty, caramelized nose carried right over into the flavor. Slightly rich, but without the weight, it was easy to take big swigs of this one, and the hops were light to nonexistent. If you've had enough hops to know you don't like them, or just aren't in the mood and want a solid, 6+% dark beer, this is for you. I can absolutely see drinking a few of these outdoors as smoke from a backyard fire soaks into my sweater.

If you're a bit more adventurous, you can utilize the wormhole of New York's more varied distribution to gain yourself some Perennial Hopfentea. Perennial Artisan Ales is a St. Louis brewer who unhelpfully describes this as "Berliner Weisse with Tropical Blend." The menu at The Ginger Man said it is made with tea, which makes sense based on the name, but yeah "tropical blend" is all you're going to get. There's a papaya,  hibiscus, and maybe some rose hips on the label, but I've no idea if that's what's in the beer or not, and those are all the clues you're getting. It's not much, but Dr. Livingstone sailed up the Zambezi with less.

Hopfentea pours a slightly hazy orange color with zero head and tiny ring of bubbles around the rim of the glass. The nose is all tart, with hints of orange and cinnamon. Big sourness and orange flavor follow on the first sip. The citrus stays through a dry finish, and remains as the predominant flavor while the acid remains to poke at your tongue. I didn't get much tea, maybe a ghost of tannins, but they were difficult to distinguish in the bath of lactobacillus. I wasn't enthralled but, as a new experience, it was rewarding.

Drink Hill Farmstead beer whenever you get the chance. Seriously. This is my rule, hard and fast, and one I followed as soon as I saw Grassroots Brother Soigne on the tap list. The name is a little confusing, as you won't see "Hill Farmstead" anywhere on the label. If you recognize the red chalice on the green background, then bully for you. This will be another example of a brewery not bothering to tell you sh*t about their beer, though. Here is HF's web page regarding Grassroots Brewing, and godspeed on finding out the connection, or why they're named that. Anyway, the short version is Grassroots was an existing brand name from Shaun Hill's time in Denmark, they're mostly collaborations with other brewers, and this one was accomplished with input from Luc Bim Lafontaine of Brasserie Dieu du Ciel in Quebec. 

Brother Soigne ("elegant" or "well dressed" more or less), is a 5% saison, and in the glass it's a bit like the color of cooked acorn squash. In more conventional terms, it's a hazy orange which glows when held up to the light. It has a thin head, but it stays. There is a slightly tart aroma, with a bare hint of Belgian yeast. Tartness vanishes on the tongue midway through the first sip, and there are floral yeast and stronger grape notes to the flavor. Lively and pretty big for a saison, it is outstanding as a standalone drink, but would make an able replacement for wine when paired with lunch or dinner, cheeses, or charcuterie. My notes close by calling it "a singularly remarkable table beer."  

The closest point of entry for obtaining these beers is the literal one, Port Chester Beer, directly across the border in Byram, or places like the Ginger ManRattle'n'Hum, or the Blind Tiger in the city. Go forth, be fruitful, and multiply your check-ins. See you out there.