Let’s start with a joke.
“Why did the hipster burn his mouth on the slice of pizza?”
“Because he ate it before it was cool.”
This joke, of course, is applicable to some members of the craft beer set. You know, the ones who look down on the newest trends, the lines that begin at dawn and wrap around city blocks and nets cases over over-priced and over-hopped double IPA. Oh, right, that person is me. Maybe I’ve grown a bit curmudgeonly in my craft beer ways, preferring beer that I can purchase off shelves at a local store (gasp!).
Having said that, I’m just going to recall a short story. Saddle up by the fire at grampy’s feet.
In the fall 2012, I was traveling out to western Massachusetts to meet up with some friends at the old alma mater for a football game. Significant others were included, and our trip was the shortest, so my then-girlfriend suggested a brewery visit. This, in the days before kids, was a commonplace suggestion. She did some Googling and came across a small brewery making beers out of a small red barn in Brimfield. It was called Tree House Brewing Company. Their website promised snacks and I like snacks.
We sat by the fire pit and koi pond with one other couple. We sampled three beers: a milk stout, a bitter, and an IPA named Julius. I did a short little interview with their brewer that I wrote up for an alt-weekly. The people were nice. The beers were different than anything I’d ever tasted. We promised we’d be back.
Each time we did, there were more people at the barn. Unless you’ve been living under a discarded fermenter for the last few years, I don’t need to tell the rest of their story.
It’s a full-bodied beer that finishes cleanly and delicately with a pine bitterness that’s potent enough.”
Since, they’ve expanded and moved three times, I’ve gotten married, and have two kids. I don’t get to as many breweries as I once did, but once a year, I’ll make the trip out to Tree House. This time, it was at their newly built mega-facility in Charlton, Massachusetts.
Sap is an American IPA brewed with Chinook hops. It’s a beer that I’ve had just once before, many years ago at the old barn in Brimfield. Those expecting one of the worst terms (see? curmudgeony) in craft beer “a juice bomb” won’t get that with Sap. This is a more traditional, intricately woven west coast style IPA ripe with piney notes and potent bite. At 7.3%, the beer pours the color of dark, golden straw with minimal head.
The body of the beer is soft, balanced with notes of melon and cantaloupe. It’s a full-bodied beer that finishes cleanly and delicately with a pine bitterness that’s potent enough to remark upon, but subtle in a way that doesn’t overwhelm or brace.
It’s a Christmas beer, appropriately enough with all that pine, that worked it’s way into the year-round core lineup. It’s definitely not a beer I’d crush in a sequence of more than two. It’s more to be enjoyed and considered then you move on to something else.
For me, what separates the truly great breweries from the average ones is mouthfeel. This sounds pretentious to say. I want my beer to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There should be something new and distinct on every level. You get that when you drink Tree House or breweries like Hill Farmstead or Allagash. You’ll never get a beer with only a great nose and no finish; You won’t get something with a great finish, but no body.
There’s a chance I’m biased here, but I can’t say that the Sap I’m drinking now in 2017 isn’t just as great as the Sap I drank some time near the conclusion of 2012 by a fire in a small Brimfield barn. You know, before all the kids found out about it.