Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Harpoon Brewery

At the Harpoon Brewery, in the Seaport District of South Boston, they don't make you bother with the tour and information session. No, they realize that you just came for free beer, and free beer, you shall receive. A lot. They bring you in, and have an open tasting for 40 minutes. That's pretty much it. And I'm okay with it. They take a break in the middle to explain things a bit, but you've probably already had a few drinks by this point (or maybe you've come directly from the Sam Adams Brewery AND have had a few drinks at this point *cough*) so you don't really listen. I've broken down a few of my favorites from the day; also available were Raspberry UFO, Brown Ale, Cider, and their original Ale.
First, the special--the 100 Barrel Series. Every few months so, to break up the monotony of brewing the same beer every day, Harpoon selects an employee—past or present—to brew 100 barrels of anything they’d like. The 100 Barrel Series brews are available only for a limited time, and once the 100 barrels are all gone, these beers become only memories to those that tasted them. The current offering, Steve Stewart’s Firth of Forth Ale, is a twist on traditional Scotch Ale made with American ingredients. Its mahogany-amber color and thick creamy head give way to a smoky aroma of hops that is pleasantly light and unobtrusive. The taste harkens back to that of the air around a campfire on a late summer night; though initially bitter, it is not overwhelming, and the caramel flavors aid the nutty undertones to balance it out. It is a thicker beer, with a slightly chewy mouthfeel that leaves a nutty, smoky aftertaste in your mouth, and the abundance of thick Brussels lace is indicative of its fresh ingredients.
Harpoon recently stumbled upon one last barrel of their previous offering, a Weizenbock, which they are gracious enough to offer to their visitors. Although not traditionally a bock—bocks are usually made using lager yeast, and Harpoon only uses Ale yeast—this dark wheat offering is easily the most unique beer of the day. A cloudy amber color, much darker than your typical wheat beer, gives way to a buoyant, foamy, cream-colored head with an aroma that screams banana and cloves. Unfortunately, the head retreats rather quickly, but the flavor of bananas and cloves do not; instead, they lead an explosive charge in the mouth before giving way to a laudable balance of malt and hops, with a slightly heavy emphasis on the bitter hops notes. Banana and malt flavors linger on your tongue, with the cloves hanging on in the back of the mouth. Much like the head, however, the lace diminishes rather quickly.
Harpoon’s seasonal offering is an Irish-style Red Ale. The Hibernian—after the Romans’ name for Ireland—does not give off much of an aroma, but pours a beautiful amber red with an almost translucent glow, and a steady white head that’s perfect in size. While there are no unique flavors as above, the Hibernian’s softly chewy mouthfeel gives way to plenty of sweet caramel flavor, balanced with just enough hops to keep the malt from overwhelming. The flowery tones of hops rule the aftertaste, and the lace is plentiful and consistent; it could easily be described as a more distinct, robust, and flavorful version of the Sam Adams Lager.
The India Pale Ale came into being when beers from England were infused with extra hops that were intended to act as a natural preservative to help the beer survive the long trip to India. Harpoon’s IPA is the most popular in New England, and accounts for 65% of their sales. The body shimmers with a clean golden sparkle and a voluptuous head of white home that releases a crisp waft of hops into the air; it smells almost like springtime. Slightly heavier in mouthfeel than the typical American beer, it goes down smooth nonetheless. The flavor is undeniably hoppy, as IPAs should be, but it is hardly overwhelming; the flowery tones of hops almost seem to balance out their own bitterness more than the malt does. This pine-like crispness is consistent all across the tongue, and lingers even after the drink is gone, much like the steady Brussels lace that remains in your glass.
Next to the IPA, Harpoon’s most popular beer is a wheat beer, cleverly titled UFO-for UnFiltered Offering. Similar to the Sam Adams White Ale, though without the overabundance of spices, UFO pours a cloudy yellow color, and though its aroma is not too strong, it is quite pleasant, with the zesty scent of lemon and pine. The first flavor to hit the mouth is crisp and citrus, with a surprising robustness as it gives way to the taste of hops. The malt flavor sneaks in as you swallow, and stays around to satisfy the tongue in the aftertaste. The lace went unnoticed, unfortunately, as this was the last of seven beers sampled. The body of the beer wasn’t all that was hazy at this point.

No comments: