Past Due Beer Review: Sebago Bonfire Rye

Well… I’m writing again, which I suppose is a start. It took months of prodding, some beer and an unreasonable amount of patience on Tom and Carla’s behalf, but I picked up the computer.

So onto the beer!

Bonfire Rye by Sebago Brewing Co.

Sebago Bonfire Rye

Sebago Brewing is based out of Gorham, Maine so this is really more of a beer tease unless you summer in New England.

First impressions are a deep copper color that was pouring clear until I hit a bit of sediment in the bottom of the bottle. It has a nice tan head with small bubbles that linger. There was also a big whiff of hops that I wasn’t expecting from a beer named “Bonfire” although in hindsight the words, “Rye Ale Stoked With Hops” on the front of the bottle probably should have had some bearing on my expectations.

It has a crisp rye aroma that is packed with citrusy hops and a hint of caramel. Hmmm…  smells light and refreshing but still not quite getting “Bonfire” branding.


Big rye flavor, nice and dry, with a big citrus hop profile and a punch of roasted malt (Oh there you are Bonfire!). Usually when I’m sitting around a bonfire I’m holding a glass of a nice stout, maybe a porter, a winter warmer, or an old ale but usually the malt is the main player and the hops are often left out in the cold. The touch roasted malt plays well with the hops and give this hoppy rye beer a nice Autumnal twist.

HOMEBREWING SIDEBAR: This beer actually reminds me a lot of a beer I brewed. It was an aggressively hopped ale which was supposed to be pale but the couple ounces of chocolate malt I tossed in at the last minute turned it into a roasty American brown ale.

Over all, it’s a great beer and a good excuse (not that you really need one) to bring the hops fireside.

If it sounds good and you aren’t planning a trip to Maine anytime soon, hit up your local beer store and grab some American style brown ales to try and see if you can find some fire friendly hops.



Traveling Tuesday: Asheville, NC Part 1

I had the pleasure of spending a couple of nights on a business trip in Asheville, NC. It just so happened to be located exactly in the middle of the two locations that I needed to visit so it seemed in the best interest of the company that I minimize my gas consumption and maximize my time by staying in Asheville. It’s a new concept that I’m looking to trademark called “Brewsness Tripping”. The definition of which is, “Utilizing work necessitated travel to hunt down every local brewery and beer not available in your permanent place of residence.” I’m pretty sure it will catch on.

I’m going to attempt to break the trip down into three parts and cover the 6 local establishments that I visited.

Part 1

Greenman Brewery

Tucked away on an unassuming street in a business district you can find Green Man Brewing. Despite it’s location it’s only about 1/2 mile from  downtown Asheville. This is a cool little brewery with a pretty decent tap list. They have about 5 house taps and 10 guest taps available.

This place has a slight British pub feel and seems to cater to local soccer and sports fans who love a good pint of beer. There is a nice patio area and it’s open to pets as well. The bar is directly attached to the brewery and the beers are quite good. The ESB in particular is very tasty with a malty body rounded out by a nice hoppy bitterness. If you are looking for nice laid back place to have a great pint of ESB then Greenman is a can’t miss in Asheville.


Thirsty Monk (Downtown Location)

Thirsty Monk is best described as the kind of place that if I lived in proximity to it would account for a large portion of my monthly beer expenditure. This bar / brewery / restaurant has two floors. Upstairs is the American Craft Beer Bar and downstairs hidden away like a well kept secret is the Belgian Beer Bar. Between the two floors there are more than 62 continually rotating draft lines and according to their website they tapped 1075 beers in 2011!





When I visited in June it just so happened to be sour beer week and my sampler was quickly filled with relatively exotic Belgian sour beers that I had never tried. The beer list is dizzying and it’s a bad place to be indecisive, but if you are having a hard time choosing the bartending staff was very helpful. It’s no wonder that this place was rated as Ratebeer’s #45 best beer bar in the world and listed as one of Draft Magazine’s Top 100 Beer Bars in America.

Needless to say the beer experience is one that should not be missed but what about the food? I had the Highland Mocha Stout Beef Sliders topped with poblano relish and white cheddar cheese. Everything is a take on the classic “Bar Food” but it’s bar food on flavor steroids with nice presentation as well. Yum!






Thirty Monk is now a can’t miss for me when I visit Asheville again and my current favorite beer and food location in the Asheville.

Stay tuned as I attempt to put together parts 2 and 3 of my Asheville visit.




Follow me on Twitter @jrodwhalen

Adventures in Growing Hops

I think it’s best to share my stories like this on Hoperatives because the general reaction is one of eyes glazing over and looks of confusion, at least here I have a fairly captive beer audience. I have many hobbies some of which I take much more seriously than others but there is always that point where your hobby goes from tinkering and fun to obsession and strange looks from the neighbors. That’s the step my beer brewing hobby took last year when I tilled up a 25ft swatch of my front yard and erected two 20ft 4×4 posts in the yard.

Brewing beer is one thing but growing hops is another. It’s really not that much different than if you had a salsa making hobby and decided that growing fresh cilantro and tomatoes in the yard would be a logical next step. Tomatoes and cilantro are however a bit more accepted in the suburban agricultural landscape and fit nicely in pots and hanging baskets. Hops can grow up to 25ft tall, require direct sunlight, plenty of water, and well drained soil. They are often trained to grow up trellises or along fences and can become quite invasive if their roots aren’t managed properly. I’m not sure what prompted the idea but it may have been this video from Sierra Nevada about their wet hopped Harvest Ale I suppose the origin of the idea is not that important but here is how year one went and we are now well into year 2.

Hops aren’t grown from seeds but rather rhizomes which for all intents an purposes are root clippings from the plant. I purchased mine from and they were delivered quickly.








The next step was preparing the ground and getting the rhizomes planted. The second picture below shows where the hops had begun to sprout and I put down a soaker hose covered by weed barrier and mulch.












Planting the hops was the easy part. Now they needed something to climb on. The goal was to design something that they could grow on but that I could easily lower when it came time for harvesting as climbing ladders and drinking homebrew are the best of concurrent activities. I mean you have to drink beer when you harvest hops… I swear that is in the book somewhere.

So after a trip to the hardware store with my son and a little digging.












I constructed a two post trellis that has a main rope that runs across the top and down through an eyebolt and attaches to a cleat on each side. It allows me to lower either or both sides. Small strings run down from the main line and the hops grow up these smaller strings.












The first year was a pretty meager harvest, hopefully this year will be better.








I’m always looking to learn more about beer and learning about the ingredients has been a great way to do just that. Growing hops is relatively easy if you have the space and time and it’s a great way to gain a greater appreciation for what all goes into beer. It should be noted that I don’t foresee a return on investment for at least another 15 years so if you are looking into this for fun I say go for it. If you are imagining all the free hops you can brew with then it’s best you just keep buying them from your local homebrew store. If you have any questions about hops or hop growing I’d be happy to share my experiences in more detail just hit me up in the comments section or on twitter @jrodwhalen.



Tasting Notes: Cincinnati Beer Week 2012 Barleywine Ale

I was privileged enough to make it down to the tapping of the 2012 Collaboration Barleywine at Rock Bottom Brewery ( ) and just wanted to share a few quick tasting notes I jotted down in between all of the great beer conversations I was having with the local brewers.

The appearance is ruby red with a light tan head. It has a strong hop nose with floral and citrus components.

There is a lot of ripe citrus flavor up front followed by some caramel and dark sugar. It’s slightly warming and you can tell the alcohol is high but the malt and strong hop flavors mask it nicely.

It’s not what I would normally think of when I hear the term Barleywine (I think I heard the term Barley IPA thrown out) but a great beer none the less. Take these notes with a grain of salt because it was a pretty green beer and could probably use a little age on it. When the hops mellow just a bit this will be a really excellent beer. I can’t wait to try it again.


-Jared Whalen



The Holidays: A Dark Time of the Year. . . for Beer!

The calendar rolls past daylight savings and the collective joy of summer is snuffed. Awake in the dark, commute in the faint light of morning, return home from work just in time for the last rays of the day to taunt you from the horizon, and eat your final meal under a false fluorescent glow. The crisp glory that is fall weather becomes gray as the frigid air makes it’s annual descent from the great white north and the vibrant colors of fall have turned brown and clogged your gutters. Gone are the gentle refreshing rains, replaced by cold storms, snow, and ice. As we slog through the gloom of winter and the holidays approach, humanity is forced into retreat. We wrap trees and even our houses with lights in an effort to pierce the stagnant night and find our way home. Darkness has descended.

It’s in these darkest of times that we search for warmth and dare I say joy, and in these moments we find beer! Gloriously dark, rich, and full-bodied holiday beers provide a beacon for humanity! Bold flavors of chocolate, coffee, spices, and fruits not fit for warmer climes migrate home to roost for the winter in your fridge.

When all hope for natural light is gone and winter breathes an icy chill down your neck what beers do you enjoy roasting your chestnuts with?


A few of my favorites:

Great Lakes Christmas Ale – Cinnamon and ginger are the highlights of this winter warmer

Moerlein Christkindl – A subtly spicy and malty winter warmer

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale – Hoppy holiday goodness

Delirium Noel – Spicy, Fruity, and Roasty all rolled into a 10% ABV Belgian


The holidays are a great time of the year for beer but don’t forget that most of these are seasonal so get them while you can.

Add your favorites in the comments section!

Happy Holidays and Cheers!

– Jared


Yeah, We Tried It! : Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat

So what is a “Yeah, We Tried It!” post? In general it has come to be something of a running joke where we sample a beer from one of the larger brewing companies whose names shall most times not be mentioned unless I want to hotlink or tag their name in a shameless attempt to garner more hits. It oft times results in nothing more than a slam fest where I bash the beer, the company, curse fizzy yellow American lager, and invoke brand names that attempt to crush the heart of all things that are “Better Beer”.

This one is a little different, maybe not so much in conception, as it was based on a bit of Twitter goading from fellow Hoperative John Lavelle, but perhaps in outcome. It would seem that I have become the guy who will try any beer and that’s not far from the truth as it’s not hard to twist my arm into drinking a beer. In fact out of the thousand beers I have tried I would say that there is probably only one where I couldn’t finish a glass, but that’s a story or post for a different day.

Now that I’ve stated my intentions and preconceptions, let’s move on to the beer.

Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat

Belgian-Style Wheat Ale Brewed with Pumpkin and Spices

Appearance: 2/3

It’s slightly hazy with a light orangish color. The head retention was poor despite my best efforts to froth it up.

Aroma: 3/3

The main aromas are sweet caramel malt, pumpkin, and nutmeg. It’s nice a festive but not overpowering.

Hop Malt Balance:3 /4

It’s very sweet but I guess that’s what you are aiming for when you are looking to mimic pumpkin pie in light form. The main detractor is that it’s called a Belgian style wheat but it doesn’t really hit that mark for me with any yeast and refreshing citrus tones covered up by the pie components.

Aftertaste: 3/3

The aftertaste is reminiscent of pumpkin pie with a nice faint pumpkin flavor and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Mouthfeel: 2/3

Medium bodied and easy to drink but seems slick. Perhaps that’s the creaminess that my wife perceived when she said “It’s like they added the whipped cream too”.

Overall Impression: 3/4

It’s a decent pumpkin beer and my wife liked it, which is saying a lot considering I’ve never seen her take more than two sips of most beers and she drank almost half of one of these. It plays to the light American beer palate as you might expect but it is better than most of the big brand forays into different. If my wife will drink it and I’m willing to drink a 6 pack then “Yeah We Tried It!”, but we kind of liked it. . . this time.







Traveling Tuesday: Liberty Street Brewing – Plymouth, MI

Liberty Street Brewing is tucked away in Plymouth Michigan’s historic Old Village. It’s a neat little brewery with limited food selections and a nice relaxed atmosphere. I slipped in here one night on a business trip to sample their wares and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. It was quiet on the weekday night that I was there making it a great place to unwind.

The nice shiny brewery








The tap list












The friendly wait staff








I tried the sampler of what they had on tap at the time.








I sampled the Clementine Lemon Thyme (wheat),  Rye PA, Red Glare Amber Ale, and the Foreign Extra Stout.   The Rye is really sweet almost fruity but not extraordinarily bitter like I was expecting. All in all a very easy to drink rye pale ale. The Red has a nice caramel flavor with a light body and smooth finish.  The Stout has a smokey nose nice full Flavor of toast and chocolate with a medium body. The revelation of the evening was the Clementine Lemon Thyme wheat beer. It was a fruity ameican style wheat with a lot of citrus upfront but the addition of  thyme is amazing and something I never expected when I took the first sip. The beer all seemed to have almost a house flavor that could have been from some sort of house yeast. It was sweet but I had a hard time placing it.

I wish I had more time to spend and could have sampled some more but it was late and time to roll back to the Hotel. If you ever find yourself near Plymouth Michigan be sure to roll in for a pint. You won’t want to miss out on this unique little brewery.


– Jared


Review: Great Crescent Brewery – Dark Lager

Great Crescent Brewery is located in beautiful downtown Aurora, IN. About 10-15 minutes south of I-275. It’s not as far as it seems and I promise the beer is worth the drive. Take the family out on a Sunday drive, you come off as the All-American parent and get to fulfill your ulterior motives of hunting down great beer.

I’ve had a number of their wonderful beers recently but somehow I had managed not to try the Dark Lager. It was purchased in a 4-pack of pint cans and poured into a standard pint glass.

Appearance: 3/3

It’s a dark caramel reddish brown with a tan foamy head. The head dissipates quickly and doesn’t leave behind a lot of lacing on the glass.

Aroma: 3/3

The first thing that hits your nose is dark chocolate and roasted coffee and that is followed by some sweet caramel and maybe a hint of hops.

Hop Malt Balance: 3/4

The sweet roasted malt is up front but there is a hint hops that keeps it from being overly sweet. I’ve been on a hop kick for a while now and I think I’m a bit biased against beers that feature malt so predominantly like this one does, although a full flavored lighter bodied beer like this one might be enough for me to reconsider my Hop Malt allegiances.

Aftertaste: 2/3

The roasted malt and cocoa flavors linger on with a bit of astringency that makes you want to keep drinking.

Mouthfeel: 3/3

Nice and light very easy to drink.

Overall Impression: 4/4

A great local example of what a full flavored sessionable lager should be.




– Jared Whalen

Twitter: @jrodwhalen

Review: Samuel Adams – East-West Kölsch

East-West Kolsch is a part of this years summer 12 pack sampler from Samuel Adams.

I always enjoy grabbing these sampler packs so that I can give the two new beers a taste, I just wish that it didn’t include Boston Lager and Sam Adams Light. Give me more of the summer specific beers, don’t just round out a 12 pack with things I can get all year long.

According to the label: “Our version of the traditional German Kolsch is fragrant and complex. The Alsation hop we chose imparts a subtle citrus note. Jasmine Sambac, a night blooming Southeast Asian flower, adds a delicate floral aroma and flavor to this layered and refreshing brew.”

Appearance: 3/3

Golden yellow in appearance. It’s almost the same color as the stupid brass door knobs throughout my house, while not appropriate for my contemporary style it suits this type of beer quite well.

Aroma: 3/3

It has a sweet citrus nose with with sort of a spicy dry white wine smell that’s all sort of mixed up with flower shop. Not traditional but I rather enjoy it.

Hop Malt Balance: 3/4

The malt body is very light, almost like an untoasted oyster cracker. The hop flavors are subtle and spicy with a little bit of citrus. The floral component combined with the spice keeps making me think of white grape juice. I personally think it is a bit sweet and any toasty flavors are lost in the beer but I still enjoy the spicy floral flavors that are upfront.

Aftertaste: 2/3

The finish is spicy like a dry white wine. Exhaling through the nose really brings out the floral component. Overall it lacks that great aftertaste that begs you to take another drink.

Mouthfeel: 3/3

It’s a very light bodied beer with a good amount of smooth carbonation and a slightly dry finish. Super easy to drink.

Overall Impression: 3/4

I enjoy the way the floral component plays with the citrus flavors in the hops. The spicy floral notes almost mimic more traditional hops used in the Kolsch style.  It’s easy to drink but a bit sweet for my taste.  Overall, I think it’s a good beer and perfectly suited to the Summer Sampler.




– Jared Whalen

Twitter: @jrodwhalen



We’re Taking It Back!!!

I made a comment on Twitter awhile ago about how I wished Inbev had a Death Star with an open ventilation shaft. A strong if not nerdy statement.

I immediately thought of the conversation from the Kevin Smith movie “Clerks” where they discuss all of the innocent contractors that were killed in the explosion while working on the uncompleted Death Star in Return of the Jedi.

It made me ask the question, “Which beers are the innocent contractors in the evil intergalactic war?”

If you could say “I’m taking it back!” what beers would you snatch from the evil grasps of the giant conglomerates and bring back to the light?

Franziskaner and Hoegaarden are the first two I would save.

Now it’s your turn to comment.


– Jared


(I operate on a fairly high plane of nerddom so if you got all the references then we definitely need to have a drink together.)