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2015 Year in Review, Just the Facts (Mostly)

As I take care of some year end wrap-up type stuff, I figured I'd take a look at the best sellers for the year. I thought I had a good handle on what they might be, but it never hurts to check the facts, even if it's just to confirm your hunches.

But first, I'd like to speak for myself and the cast of characters that have worked the shop over the course of 2015 in saying thanks for shopping with us. This thing doesn't work without the interest you've all shown in what we do here. We work hard to make sure everyone who patronizes the shop has a great experience both in the shop and with the liquid you take home, and we'll continue to strive toward the same goal in 2016.

Next, if I may be so presumptuous,  I have a challenge for you, and the challenge is twofold. In 2016 make it a point to return to a few old favorites and also try to some things out of your comfort zone. The first part should be easy, you remember the beers or wines that began, or were somehow instrumental in your journey towards better drinking, these drinks are very likely still worth checking back in on. Revisiting both your personal classics and classics that you haven't had can be a great way to re-calibrate your palate and glimpse in on the drinkers we used to be. As the saying goes, "How can you know where you're going, if you don't know where you've been?" The second part is tougher. As you will clearly see, the 2015 top 20 list is hop heavy. You guys clearly like hoppy beer, but there is a whole other world out there! Venturing to parts of the shop you may not frequent can be intimidating, but don't forget, we're here to help! While you may not be wild about everything on the shelf, you can rest assured that each item has something good to offer. You never know when that next "Aha" moment is going to come!

So without further ado, here are our top 20 of 2015:

1. Stormalong Cider - Legendary Dry (My jaw dropped when I saw this, you guys really support local producers!)

2. Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin IPA (My reaction: the opposite of #1, saw it coming a mile away.)

3. Switchback Ale

4. Jack's Abby - Hoponius Union IPL

5. Maine Beer - MO

6.Firestone Walker - Union Jack IPA (My personal biases may be at play here)

7. Marisco - "The Ned" - Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (Wine! Let's keep that going!)

8. Schoferhoffer - Grapefruit (Everyone's guilty [or not so guilty] pleasure)

9. Ballast Point - Sculpin IPA

10. Brewmaster Jack - Hoppiness is a Warm Pun Double IPA

11. Maine Beer - Peeper

12. Sixpoint - Resin Double IPA

13. Firestone Walker - Easy Jack IPA

14. Allagash - White

15. Singlecut - Bon Bon Double IPA

16. Brewmaster Jack - The Little Brother Double IPA

17. Evil Twin - Molotov Lite Double IPA

18. Wormtown - Be Hoppy IPA

19. Sixpoint - Bengali IPA

20. Singlecut - Billy Full Stack Double IPA

Honorable mention: #21 Pretty Things - Jack D'Or (Couldn't leave this one out)

Some of these surprised me, others most certainly did not. How many have you had?

Finally, in the realm of year end wrap up, I came across this great infographic about craft beer acquisitions in 2015.  Lot's of movin' and shakin' going on, for good or ill, and I don't think it's going to slow down this year. Whatever you're thoughts are on these developments, let's just hope that the movement that does occur lands our old standbys in responsible hands. I'll leave it at that. :) Image Courtesy of Vinepair.com.


Until the next time I feel like blogging... happy new year!

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If we're not going to blog for Thanksgiving, We'd better not blog at all.

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If we're not going to blog for Thanksgiving, We'd better not blog at all.

With Thanksgiving coming up, you must be asking yourself 'What can I drink at Thanksgiving to make the day an absolutely unparalleled success?" (if only our drinks choices were the lone determining factor!) and even if you weren't, I'd bet you are now. Well your prayers have been answered! In what's sure to be a highly anticipated annual event, we have blogged some incredible pairing advice for you! So without further ado...

Brasserie La Choulettes - Les Sans Culottes

 A French Biere de Garde (beer for keeping), think saison with a slightly darker malt character, and a little bit of a floral aspect. The darker malts and the earthy yeast play so nicely with roasted poultry, root vegetables, and all of the other autumnal flavors you find in a classic Thanksgiving meal. This is the beer that will be on this raging beer enthusiast's Thanksgiving table.

Valdinera - Roero Arneis 2014

A little bit of an obscure grape variety, Arneis is a white grape hailing from the Piedmont region of Italy, a region that typically makes one think of red wine (Barolo, Barbaresco, Langhe, etc). What you get with this wine is a remarkably complex, dry white wine with a beautiful peachy quality, slightly rounder and floral honied aspect, and a faintly nutty finish reminiscent of almonds. A very nice wine for a number of reasons, but it's the nutty quality that makes it shine on the Thanksgiving table. Bring this one on Thursday and look like a pro.

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Mayflower - Thanksgiving Ale

A somewhat obvious choice, but this beer just nails it. What we have here is a robust (7% abv), but dry brown ale, with a little bit of rye thrown in the mix and then aged in barrels for several months. There's great dry malt presence, a spicy, earthy rye finish, and it's all tinged with a soft toasted oakiness. Pitch perfect for this time of year and compliments a turkey dinner like it's it's job (which it kind of is).

Illahe - Pinot Noir - Willamette Valley

Pinot noir is the quintessential Thanksgiving pairing, so let us recommend to you one of our favorites. This Illahe has a pleasant strawberry type fruitiness, a bit of chocolate, tobacco, and that requisite earthy leafy quality that we love in pinot noir. The vineyard is certified sustainable through LIVE, certified Salmon Safe, and all the grapes harvested are brought back to the winery by resident horses Doc and Bea to reduce use of fossil fuels.

The Beers of Transmitter Brewing Co.

Out of Long Island City in NYC, Transmitter makes some wonderful, precise, but rustic farmhouse beers. We currently have on offer seven varieties. Their distinctive labels detail the various differences between them. Without exception, all of these beers have qualities that will be right at home on your holiday table.

Hardwick - Massetts. Cranberry

A fun one for the season, this is a local white wine with Massachusetts cranberry juice blended in. It comes across light and fruity with a nice tart cranberry finish. This wine is surprisingly satisfying and is a no-brainer pairing. Locavores take note, everything in this wine is Massachusetts sourced!

Clown Shoes - Coffee Pecan Pie Porter

Taking their Pecan Pie Porter to the next level, this year Clown Shoes has added locally brewed cold brew coffee from Atomic Cafe in Beverly. As the name might suggest, what we have here is a slightly sweet robust porter that's big on roasted malts, has a nice chocolatey aspect and a subtle nutty coffee character. Dessert, coffee and after dinner drinks in one place!

Have a favorite Thanksgiving pairing of your own? Use the comments button to let us know! Most of these are available on the barrel at the shop, so stop in a grab a few if you still have yet to nail down the drinks list on Thursday. We're open regular hours (until 8pm) everyday up until Wednesday evening. We'll be closed Thursday and back at it at noon on Friday! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone!

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Craving Pumpkin Beer Yet? Me Neither.

Pumpkin beer, HA! Get it?

Pumpkin beer, HA! Get it?

A new blog post?!

I know this is a very neglected portion of the website, but I was having some pertinent thoughts, so I'd thought I'd share in blog format, because that's what attentive peddlers of potent potables do.

Seasonal creep, it's well worn territory in the craft beer world, but if you're not familiar, seasonal creep is a term used to describe the phenomenon by which seasonal beer (and other seasonal specialties) are reintroduced earlier and earlier in the year, until you see them popping up on shelves months before they become relevant to your drinking habits. This happens as breweries et al. try to capture those early sales ahead of their competitors, and hence, release beers earlier and earlier in the season. Seasonal creep is never more acutely felt than at the time of year when fall beers begin to replace summer beer on the shelves.

So in the spirit, Crafted will not be putting beers of autumnal leanings on the shelf or in the cooler until September 1st. We're not not breaking new ground in doing this, we've seen others take the same route with their seasonals and heartily agree with the sentiment. Please don't get us wrong, we're not looking down at pumpkin beer. We like pumpkin beers and Oktoberfests just as much as you do, in fact we'd count Oktoberfests/Marzens among our favorite beer styles... just not after we mow the lawn in August.

This being said, if you find yourself with craving for something brewed with squash and allspice, or a tasty brown lager, just let us know, we've already collected a bunch in the back, so just ask! We're here to sell you the beer you want after all.

Cheers!

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A Sad Day For Belgian Beer

On January 6th, tragedy struck small Belgian farmhouse brewery Hof ten Dormaal.  Overnight, a fire started in the 14th century barn that houses the bottling line and spread to the adjacent brewery building destroying most everything, including a significant amount of beer yet to be shipped. 

 

 
 

Due to their small size,  they could use some help getting back on their feet.  A page has been set up to help on Go Fund Me, to do just that. In solidarity, and to do our part to get this great little gem of a Belgian brewery back up in running, for the next week, 50% of the profits from the sale of Hof ten Dormaal beer on our shelves will be donated to them via the Go Fund Me site. Drink some funky farmhouse beer for a good cause!

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Drinks to Pair With All That Romance

Hey gang, Valentines Day is coming up, so as your friendly neighborhood beer and wine shop owner, let me do a little legwork for you.  Below are some of our most holiday appropriate drinks, guaranteed to not only be "on theme" but also taste pretty good too.  Come find them on the barrel in the shop along with a few other holiday appropriate options.

Il Cuore - Chardonnay - Mendocino

 

Valentines Day Tie In: It's got a heart on the label.

What's in the bottle: A lightly oaked Chardonnay with a nice balance between the toasted oak, tropical fruit and more more tangy fruitiness like green apple.

Pairing Suggestion: Grilled shrimp.  The fruity aspects of the wine will work nicely with the delicate flavor of the shrimp, and the lightly toasted oakiness will work well to compliment the blackened and seared flavors from the grilling.


Jean Vullien - Brut Rose - Savoie

 

Valentine's Day Tie In: It's pink, and fizzy.

What's In the Bottle: An awesome, supremely drinkable dry sparkling wine, with lots of great light berry fruit.

Pairing Suggestion: Chocolate cake.  The berry flavors will play off many chocolate based desserts very well.


Clown Shoes - Date Night - Hoppy Saison

 

Valentine's Day Tie In: Name of the beer + smooth looking operators on the label.

What's In the Bottle: A beer with floral and spicy hoppines with some nice yeast driven earthiness.

Pairing Suggestion: This beer has a lot going on, so something bold and flavorful will work well.  For a simple but great pairing, try pizza with mushrooms and spicy sausage.


Foolproof - Shuckolate

 

Valentine's Day Tie In: It's a chocolate stout made with oysters (yes oysters), and you know what oysters are don't you? Oh yeeeah, that's right, an aphrodisiac.  Great pre-gettin' down quaff.

What's In the Bottle: A silky smooth chocolate stout with just a touch of brininess, sweet, salty, yum.

Suggested Pairing: Go with one of the ingredients of this beer, oysters.  Stout is a very traditional pairing with raw oysters, and a very good one.  The roasted bittersweet aspects of stout somehow work very will with the briny rich flesh of oysters.


Moonlight Meadery - Desire

 

Valentine's Day Tie In: The name and color (deep purple) are sexy as hell.  Plus do you know why honeymoons are called honeymoons? Meade.

What's In the Bottle: A very fruity and sweet, but well balanced blend of dark fruit flavors and floral honey characteristics

Pairing Suggestion: Being essentially a dessert wine, something chocolatey would work here too. I might even go with a few assorted chocolates from that great big heart shaped box.

 

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Shacksbury - The Basque

Hailing from the Basque region of Spain, one of the traditional cider regions of Europe, Shacksbury’s “The Basque” is pressed and fermented by father and daughter José Joaquin and Ainara Otaño at Petritegi Sagardoa, a cidery founded in the 16th Century.  Basque Country sits on the western portion of the Spanish/French border, but lying mostly on the Spanish side.  A largely agricultural region, Basque Country is know for it's grilled meat and fish, sheep's milk cheese, and it's cider. Tart and dry, this cider would be an absolutely a great crossover beverage for any of you gueuze and lambic drinkers out there (these are Belgian sour beers, more on these another time). 

Basque Country, idyllic, like most European places from which tasty things come.

Basque Country, idyllic, like most European places from which tasty things come.

This is what the bottle looks like so you don't have to bother me with questions about "that cider I saw in the blog on your website."

This is what the bottle looks like so you don't have to bother me with questions about "that cider I saw in the blog on your website."

The aroma has got lots of green apple-y characteristics as well as some red baking apple, and a bit of lemon or grapefruit.  You’re also going to find something else in there… a mustiness, a sort of hay or horse-like quality.  Might not sound appealing, but it’s a great subtlety that those gueuze and lambic drinkers I mentioned earlier love in their sour beers.  It's a fantastic layer of complexity that takes this from being a nice tart apple drink to something worth sitting with and contemplating. These aromas and flavors comes from the wild yeast that this cider is made with.  Rather than just fermenting the juice and belching out CO2 and alcohol, wild yeasts, when compared to their more conventional, domesticated cousins tend to impart rustic flavors and aromas by fermenting less "cleanly" and producing other compounds, in this case only to the benefit of the finished product.

The flavors echo the aroma, but with additional levels of funk and white grapefruit. Tart and slightly puckering, there’s not much residual sugar here, I would say it might be fermented completely dry. It’s got just the faintest hint of spritz to it, which adds some textural interest, and you’ll also notice a small amount of tannin along the sides of your mouth. It has a pleasantly tart lingering finish, that leaves you with less of the citrus and funk, and more apple flavors.

The Shacksbury website recommends serving it lightly chilled with grilled foods, I also think that this cider in particular would work very well with cheese and charcuterie.  The wild yeast component could play very well with cured meats for sure.

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Fantome de Noel

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So excited to be giving you the low down on Fantome de Noel.  I was very happy to get a couple of Fantome offerings in the shop so soon after opening (the other I have is their Hiver).  They're notoriously hard to get a hold of regularly, so if your a fan of the saison style of beer, and you don't mind a little rusticity, be sure to grab Fantome when you see it.

Tucked in a small village named Soy in the Ardennes region of Belgium, Brasserie Fantome is housed in a small stone barn not far from the village center.  Brewer Dany Prignon produces his unique beers on a small 750 liter system, many of which are only brewed once a year.  Known for using a variety of herbs and spices in his beer, he's developed something of a cult following around the world.

Please note: when opening a bottle of Fantome, be careful. they're known to gush occasionally.  Make sure you're not far from the sink when you pop the cork!

In the glass Fantome de Noel pours a somewhat murky brown with big, but not very dense head.  Once the beer gets a chance to release some of it carbonation, the head doesn't stick around.

On the nose, you're greeted to notes of caramel, spices, particularly clove and cardamom or coriander, a bit of tropical fruit, and perhaps some cherries and white vinous qualities.  Some rustic breadiness there too, like a crusty pumpernickel, undoubtedly contributed to by the suspended yeast that you may see floating in your glass.

This picture is here solely for the purpose of showing off my favorite piece of glassware.

This picture is here solely for the purpose of showing off my favorite piece of glassware.

In the mouth, it's drier than the aroma suggests, but not entirely dry.  You find subtle tropical fruitiness, think along the lines of roasted pineapple, but also has a darker quality that brings dates to mind.  While you will undoubtedly think “sweet” when you see these words, to be sure, this beer would not be considered sweet.  There’s athe spiciness from the aroma as well, something like Vietnamese cinnamon, clove and cardamom; these are all relatively subtle mind you, but they’re there.  There also both tart and bitter aspects to this beer.  The tartness is reminiscent of apple skin with a subtle white vinous quality.  The bitterness is herbal and rather hard to define.  Finally some earthy characteristics that bring to mind damp earth, or damp hay, odd I know, but that’s why I love Fantome. 

A true beer geek's beer, the beauty of Fantome's offerings are in the subtleties, and idiosyncrasies; no two bottles taste the same.  As ever, Fantome is at the wild frontier of what it means to be beer. 

 

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