ABV 7.0-7.9

White Birch Hooksett Ale

White Birch Hooksett AleBeer No. 67 – White Birch Hooksett Ale

Sometimes life just gives you lemonade. And it’s hard to accept when you spend too much time in your own head, selfishly believe others are evil or stupid and simply have few friends to show for it. But there’s no other way to put it, except maybe as, “Sometimes life just gives you friends – and beer.”

Smuttynose Gravitation, a Belgian Style Quad. White Birch Rusalka, a Milk Stout. Moat Mountain Oktoberfest, Shipyard Blue Fin Stout and Allagash Interlude, a Farmhouse Ale aged in red wine barrels. These and seven more, including this Belgian IPA with a pineapple nose.

At 54.5 degrees it’s perfect. Muddy grass, kumquats, with a very light and nice peppercorn finish.

But this isn’t as much about a malty and well-bodied brew as it is about a budding friendship and a generous act that’s opened my mind, and heart.

A few weeks back at our national sales meeting we invited a handful of vendors to discuss their views on the marketplace for used equipment. These presentations are about what you imagine, ranging from yawn to “please tell me more about rising prices where supply is low.” And then something curious happened. I checked my cynicism at the door and quietly laughed when a linebacker-sized bald dude from Portsmouth, New Hampshire started his presentation with questions.

I can’t be more clear about this: Laughing in this moment means something in me circumnavigated every defense mechanism I’ve worked hard to cultivate over the last 33 years. I was supposed to think this guy is a try-hard, maybe even an asshole. I was supposed to think he likes network comedies and Miller Lite. But no. He seemed decent even if I couldn’t put my finger on it. So I sort of sat there for the rest of the day wondering what had gone so horribly wrong.

Now apparently Portsmouth, New Hampshire is right next to Boston and has a killer craft scene. Smuttynose, White Birch, Allagash and more. I know this because Andy knows this. And I know that he knows this, not because I’m telling this story Fight Club style, but because I tried something new this day and struck up a conversation with a near-complete stranger at the bar, even opening with the mildly pathetic but straightforward “I liked the way you started your presentation today.”

So we get to talking and – surprise – he’s a beer geek with a shared “disdain” for fruit beers. Slumming it at the post-meeting restaurant bar, where the selection varied from Light Lager to Euro Pale Lager, this was a revelation. If we couldn’t drink good beer, we were damn well going to talk about good beer.

Allagash Tripel (Beeradvocate 93, ratebeer 99) was his chief recommendation, and I knew then that we were on to something. A few months back during our babymoon I had my first Allagash at Gramercy Tavern in NYC. The Curieux (Beeradvocate 95, ratebeer 99) was divine. A proper Tripel, sweet and malty and even orange peel, it was disappointing to find out they didn’t distribute to lowly Cincinnati.

At least not directly.

For whatever reason – maybe the openness of an evening fueled not by sticky nine percenters but by a charitable mindset – Andy offered to personally send the Tripel, the Curieux, the “other ones I want you to try.” Keep in mind this is exactly the kind of thing you expect someone to say who has no intention of following though. Because that’s the way people are: lazy, poor communicators, desperate for immediate approval. In other words, like me on a regular day.

But that day. That day was different. And I swear on anything and everything that I nearly slipped on my own tears when a few days later not one, not two, but twelve big bottles of Tripels, Imperial Stouts and other personal favorites arrived at my front door, packed carefully in several boxes and layers of popcorn to protect the sweet, sweet goodness that Andy, the linebacker-sized near-complete stranger, wants me to try.

It’s not easy to put in context, mostly because I’m the type of person who itemizes each old t-shirt in the Goodwill bag to maximize my tax deduction. A sort of me-first charity. Understanding what it is to take a real interest in someone else, that’s still pretty new to me. It would be ironic, and wrong, to say beer is the lubricant that brought twelve fine brews to my house. No, it was something else. And even though I don’t have it all figured out – and might not ever – I’m pretty sure there’s much to be said for making, and keeping, new friends. Andy, can you send me your address?

Beeradvocate Rating: 87

ratebeer Rating: 69

Hayward Abbey Rating: 89

Uinta Hop Notch IPA

Uinta Hop Notch IPABeer No. 58 – Uinta Hop Notch IPA

If they made beer cologne – and if they don’t they should – this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

STYLE: American IPA

ABV: 7.3%

LOOK: Creamy head sits nicely atop a surprisingly clear amber, more vinegar than oil. Slow but persistent carbonation up the gut. I can tell already, the lacing, it’s there.

NOSE: Classic West Coast IPA. Sugared grapefruit right away. Also orange. Also pineapple. And also nectarines. There’s a wonderful little piney note, like if you took a citrus cocktail and stirred it with just a needle or two. Tempting and coy.

MOUTH: It can’t replicate the nose, and that’s a shame because I had orgasmic hopes for a mouth parade. What I need here is some sweet honey tang and something that sticks in my gums for a minute. This, I’m afraid, is too light to be excellent. But not to get too caught up in the negatives, because there are some, let’s cover the positives. Because there are just as many. Sharper pine without being overwhelming. Clever bitterness. And a nice malty gulp.

Beeradvocate Rating: 89

ratebeer Rating: 96

Hayward Abbey Rating: 86

Ommegang Hennepin

Beer No. 57 – Ommegang Hennepin

I keep a bit of everything in the house because you never know when a summer craving will come a little early.

STYLE: Saison / Farmhouse Ale

ABV: 7.7%

LOOK: Less than yellow, refreshing. Ideal one-finger head that doesn’t resist a subtle sip.

NOSE: It won’t shine here. And that’s OK because that rather misses the point. Loafy and dry.

MOUTH: White pepper, nonfat butter, bitter salad greens. It’s not – memorable. On the front, too much rind and not enough zest. On the back, a quiet lagerish coat.

Beeradvocate Rating: 93

ratebeer Rating: 97

Hayward Abbey Rating: 83

Hoppin’ Frog Hopped-Up Goose Juice Rye IPA

Beer No. 55 – Hoppin’ Frog Hopped-Up Goose Juice Rye IPA

No, I didn’t get a case of Westvleteren XII, but I did snag this limited-issue, better-than-expected Rye IPA from Akron.

STYLE: American IPA

ABV: 7%

LOOK: The kind of beer you want to drink. The kind of beer you need to drink. Orange and mellow maroon with a deceptively medium body that from some angles boasts a jelloy consistency. I wish there was more to the head that fizzles quickly as the carbonation, what there is of it, races to the top.

NOSE: Stinky cheese, heavy rye, dog park, and pent-up pine. A more sophisticated Rogue Dead Guy Ale.

MOUTH: It might be the mood I’m in. I don’t miss the hops, even though I was promised – indeed, induced by – an aggressive dose. It’s smooth, earthy, smooth. And I think I’m starting to fall for All Things Rye. There’s more here of course: grass, chives, and balance. The texture, among other things, will bring me back, somewhere in the fine line between wholesome and chewy. Excellent.

Beeradvocate Rating: 85

ratebeer Rating: 98

Hayward Abbey Rating: 91

Cellar Rats The Piper’s IPA

Beer No. 51 – Cellar Rats The Piper’s IPA

I get it. If you’re not experimenting, you’re not trying. It’s not avant-garde. It won’t make the beer magazine cover. Still, I can’t wrap my head around these sugar-sweet IPAs.

STYLE: American IPA

ABV: 7.3%

LOOK: Root beer float head, it comes quick. Looks a lot like Buffalo Bill’s Alimony Ale. There’s a nice roasted color beneath it all, if it would just come down so I can drink the stubborn thing. It defines retention.

Cellar Rats The Piper's IPA  NOSE: Flat Christmas cookies. One-dimensional.

MOUTH: Brown sugar and gingerbread, especially on the lips. Malt for days, a hit of copper bitterness right in the middle. The texture is there, clinging in the right spots for the right amount of time. It just isn’t calling me back for more.

Beeradvocate Rating: 74*

ratebeer Rating: 28**

Hayward Abbey Rating: 72

*18 reviews

**15 reviews

Sint Canarus Tripel

Beer No. 45 – Sint Canarus Tripel

Massive fan of this style. When done right, there are few better. This one, however, simply fails to wow.

STYLE: Belgian Tripel

ABV: 7.5%

LOOK: Poured into my Orval goblet. Years after my first experience, I’m still fascinated by these cloudy Belgians. The color, a dirty orange.

NOSE: Atypical. And I’m not sure I mean that in a good way. It reminds me more of a Euro Pale Lager than a sweet, complex treat. I might have wasted the wide glass on this one. Bready, canned, and light earth. Really really surprised by the lack of fruit, sweet malts, and general balance.

MOUTH: Unsweetened banana bread, lagerish, soggy. If people are harder on those they expect more from, maybe I’m not quite the cynical contrarian I fancy myself to be. Again, I love this style. But I honestly feel like I can say this tastes too much like the brownish water in canned green beans. The rest is maybe irrelevant, though the curious might want to know anyway: medium weight, decent mouthfeel, dry finish. There, am I done now?

Beeradvocate Rating: 81*

ratebeer Rating: 78

Hayward Abbey Rating: 68

* Based on a relatively insignificant 29 reviews.

North Coast Pranqster

Beer No. 35 – North Coast Pranqster

My glowing and pregnant wife’s favorite beer, she might literally kill me for reviewing it before she pops. All the more so since I think I technically stole it, the two four packs undeservedly collecting dust in the back of the fridge, gifts from her baby shower and thusly for her to enjoy when she is allowed to imbibe. I love you b, but the temptation was too great … and the payoff definitely worth it.

STYLE: Belgian Strong Pale Ale

ABV: 7.6%

LOOK: Light, shimmering orange. Not nearly as pale or cloudy as expected. More interestingly, it has the appearance of heft though maybe not actually so. More on that later.

NOSE: Like a haystack filled with peppered apples. Dash of champagne vinegar and worcestershire sauce, now that’s outstanding.

MOUTH: Can I start with a critique that maybe isn’t fair? It’s so so drinkable, I hesitate to say it’s even quaffable. The latter seems to imply a sipping, or at the most moderate, pace. But for a relatively high-alcohol-content pale ale you could annihilate a few of these frat boy style without picking up much of what’s to be had. If you lack patience, that is. Slow your roll with this one. Buttery and white wine but also peppery, maybe meaty. All somehow packaged in a lighter-than-it-should be mouthfeel and soft, barely there finish.

Beeradvocate Rating: 89

Hayward Abbey Rating: 93