Beginning the craft beer journey

Let me be clear: all beer is good beer. There are merits to a nice cold Budweiser (or other light American lager) on a hot summer day … it’s crisp, refreshing, and inoffensive. Nothing wrong with that. But drinking just Bud/Miller/Coors is like only eating Quarter Pounders or Big Macs and never having a cheese steak sandwich, never having a sloppy Joe, never trying steak tips.

Why avoid a whole world of flavors? The same concept applies to beer … there are, at last count, approximately two bazillion beers to try. These brews range the spectrum from ultra-light and crisp to tongue-scalding bitter, from deep black depths of roasted coffee and chocolate to fruity banana and clove flavors. Heck, there’s even the surprisingly excellent Wells’ Banana Bread Beer!

I’d like to introduce you to this world, but let’s take it slow, OK? If a Bud drinker were to try my current favorite style (Russian imperial stout) or a sharp IPA, they’d swear off it forever. But if they worked up to it, they too could love a rich, roasty, bitter brew like North Coast’s Old Rasputin or Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal or a beautiful IPA like Ithaca’s Flower Power or Troëg’s Perpetual IPA.

“Gateway beers”

As I mentioned in the last column, there are definitely some local brews that could help ease someone from the kiddie pool of beer into the deep end. Berkley’s Golden Ale is eminently drinkable, but you can actually TASTE it. Goodfellows has a similar offering – Frugal Farm Light – that hides it’s 6% ABV well (most light beers are ~4%). Don’t drink it at the same speed as a Miller or you’ll find yourself in a strange town the next morning.

Other, more easily-found offerings in the golden beer field include Buzzards Bay’s Golden Flounder, which adds just a bit ‘o bittah to the palate, while Cape Cod’s Beach Blonde is lovely yellow beer that anyone could appreciate. Finally, if you can find it, make sure you pick up Berkshire Brewing’s truly amazing Gold Spike Ale. THIS is what light American beers should aspire to.

A common way out of the snare of golden brews is through wheat beers and white beers like the common Blue Moon or the less-common but significantly better Allagash White. From Portland, ME, Allagash produces top-notch beers, with the White being their world-class flagship. Make sure to check it out if you have the opportunity – it’s crisp, refreshing, and packed with flavor. Harpoon’s UFO is another white ale worth trying.

A different route to flavortown, or a second-step if one has already explored the wheat beer world, is to try a good pale ale. The best local pale ale is either Cisco’s Whale’s Tale Pale Ale (from Nantucket) or Mayflower’s Pale Ale. Another easy-drinking choice is Wachusett Country Pale Ale – a solid, but light-flavored “beer I can taste”. There are much hoppier pale ales, such as the top-notch offerings like Dale’s Pale Ale or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but I’m trying to stick with the easier-drinking brews for this column, so hold your horses on the outraged emails!

Where to find Beervana on the SouthCoast

While many local pubs and restaurants carry excellent brews, there are really five places for the budding beer geek to check out, two in New Bedford and three (*gasp*) in Fall River. The local king of the taps is downtown at Rose Alley Ale House, which features a whopping 40 beers on tap. They also have a quite good menu with top-notch wings and fries and a decent sandwich selection.

Also downtown is the more intimate Pour Farm, which features 24 brews on tap and a slightly smaller menu. I haven’t had a full meal there, but their appetizers are excellent.

Fall River features three excellent beer-focused restaurants – Battleship Brewhouse (40 taps), Taphouse Grille (24), and the brand-new Jerry Remy’s (20). All three have good food, with Taphouse Grille and Remy’s being favorite dinner spots of Mrs. Hunting and I.

All of the beer-focused restaurants tend to hire beer geeks as servers and bartenders, so feel free to show up and ask them for suggestions based on beers you already enjoy.

Finally, most local corner stores carry at least a few craft beers by this point, so start there. If your local packie doesn’t have much worth picking up, try Wines and More in Wareham or Yankee Spirits in Swansea. Both are, quite literally, in old department stores and carry thousands of brews with well-educated employees to help steer you in the right direction. Other excellent choices include the beer-focused Lakeville offerings: Muckey’s Liquors and Tamarack Wine and Spirits, or Lees’ Market in Westport. I’m sure there are more great beer places… feel free to send me an email with suggestions.

Originally published on 4/7/2013