Bottoms Up

The Northeast was once the heart of America: Massachusetts was host to the famous Boston Tea Party and the “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”; Philadelphia hosted the Constitutional Convention and is home to the Liberty Bell; and New York is clearly the greatest city in the world. This part of the country is – or at least was – steeped in heritage and respect.

But these days the Northeast is getting no love. UConn was dismissed (embarrassingly) from March Madness; Eliot Spitzer was dismissed (embarrassingly) from his post as governor of New York State; the Empire State Building is about fortieth on the list of the world’s tallest skyscrapers (behind half the hotels in Dubai); and the Liberty Bell is cracked right down the middle.

To help bring back respect to this historic region, we decided to compare Northeastern springtime beers to Northeastern cities. The beers we picked are all from Vermont. “What about the Philly beers?” you ask? Judging by the selection available at The Spirit Shoppe, Vermont is the only state audacious enough to unveil a spring beer in this weather. Armed only with our livers, we set out to return an American region to prominence.

First up was Magic Hat’s spring offering, the HI.P.A. The name is pronounced “high-P.A.,” which made us quite confident in this beer’s status as a Vermonter (we really liked HI.P.A’s artistic label). We had “high” expectations based on this beer’s name, but were slightly disappointed. The smell is bitter and crisp, and the taste is, well, bitter and crisp. Overall we found this to be a pretty average IPA (India Pale Ale), and at this point realized that the “high” referred to the stoner in the brewery and not the beer itself. This is a standard, passable beer, but it failed to inspire. Much like scenic Hartford, Conn., this beer is functional, but is defined by what it isn’t: New York or Boston.

Up next was Long Trail’s Belgian White Spring Ale. Lemon and spice dominate the nose in this ale. The taste reveals something like nutmeg for the spice, and a lingering, lemon sweetness. Initially this sweetness was refreshing, but it stuck around too long, making us kind of sick – we found it difficult to finish an entire bottle of the stuff. This beer is too sweet for too long, and deserves to be deported – to Troy, N.Y.

Our expectations thoroughly lowered, we moved on to Otter Creek’s Special Release Spring Ale, a German, Kölsch-style ale. Kölsch is a kind of light ale, akin to a “weiss,” or white ale. Another white ale? We are in the Northeast after all, but we were hoping for a little diversity. Unfortunately at this point we seemed bound for Portland, Maine. But after pouring a glass, we knew that this was a very different brew. The aroma is dark and roasted, with nutty flavors throughout. The taste is surprisingly sweet, with notes of honey and walnuts. However, it finishes clean, as the bold flavors settle nicely and don’t linger. This beer impressed us. It has something for everyone: complexity, drinkability and a fantastic finish. Drinking this beer took us far away from Troy, and conjured up images of glory and “brother”-ly love from our former capital: Philadelphia.

Finally we cracked open our last candidate, Magic Hat Odd Notion. For some reason, the folks at Magic Hat have two spring offerings – two spring offerings? Might Magic Hat be trying to appease the gods? We were especially intrigued by the bottle, which features an Alice in Wonderland-type scene but no information about the beer itself. Our friendly Spirit shop-keeper informed us that Magic Hat makes the “Notion” brew from time to time, and that each batch is unique. The batch for Spring ’08 is a spiced, red Irish ale. Although unfamiliar with the domestic spices of Ireland, we do know that many things Irish are ginger. Sure enough – although this beer has neither freckles nor a bossy Catholic mother – Odd Notion does taste eerily like Schweppes. This beer is significantly darker than the rest. The caramel and ginger aromas strengthened our suspicion that this might be a mislabeled winter beer (stoner in the brewery?), but the taste proved us wrong. It is crisp and has a caramel sweetness that lingers, but not for too long. We found Odd Notion to be refreshing and anything but ordinary, much like our bohemian neighbor, Providence, R.I.

Whether it’s a scenic drive through Hartford late at night or a casual stroll through west Philly, we suggest that you find something that proves all the bad publicity wrong for yourself. For us, we like beer. Although the HI.P.A. and the Long Trail hurt our cause, the Otter Creek and the Odd Notion made up for it, and restored our faith in this beautiful part of the country – at least for the next five weeks.

Prices per 6-pack:
Magic Hat’s Spring H.I.P.A. – $8.99
Long Trail’s Belgian White – $6.99 Otter’s Creek Spring Ale – $8.99
Magic Hat’s Odd Notion – $8.99