Fourth of July beer

All-American craft beer

There was always something about cracking a Budweiser on the Fourth of July. Don’t deny it, it felt good to grab “the King of Beers” as you celebrated our country’s independence. You could basically hear the chorus, “I’m proud to be an American,” in the background the second you took a sip.

I made that last part up, of course, but obviously Budweiser was effective for years in marketing its beer as the most American beer you could drink. I’m not really sure the beer changed but the whole thing where it’s owned by a company based in Belgium now does take away some of that ’Merica feeling when you drink one.

Budweiser is crisp and refreshing — it tastes like a beer — and especially when you’re enjoying a Fourth of July cookout, I think we all just want a beer that tastes like a beer.

There are countless craft breweries cranking out all-American lighter brews to whet your whistle on the Fourth of July and really all summer long.

Might I also add that while the price of IPAs and other craft brews has continued to climb to unprecedented highs, lighter styles, like Pilsners and kolsch, have remained closer to what I would call reasonable, when it comes to price.

Lighter brews in the mold of Budweiser, if I’m allowed to say that, are also lower in calories and in alcohol, making them more sessionable than a double IPA. Plus, on a screaming hot summer day at the beach, beside the pool or in the backyard, light and refreshing is the name of the game.

Here are three New Hampshire craft brews you can proudly crack on the Fourth of July as you watch the fireworks or listen to “I’m Proud to be American.”

Dad Reflex American Lager by Portsmouth Brewery (Portsmouth)

This “is a macro-style American Lager brewed in honor of the superhero dads out there who deserve a cold one after a long day of saving lives without trying, or mowing the lawn,” according to the brewery website, and while I haven’t actually had this, that description spoke to me as a dad. I keep reminding my wife I’m basically a superhero but I do think the third-party validation here might have more of an impact. Cold and refreshing, that’s what beer is about on the Fourth of July.

Beer Hall Lager by 603 Brewery (Londonderry)

Get out the frosted glass; this features your classic straw-yellow pour. The brew is light, crisp and flavorful with some lightly sweet fruity notes, balanced by subtle breadiness. Picture yourself with a hot dog in one hand and this brew in the other — it’s a good picture, aside from the mustard on your cheek. This one goes down very, very easily.

Lady of the Lake New England Lager by Able Ebenezer Brewing Co. (Merrimack)

Celebrating “the 150th anniversary of the M/S Mount Washington, and the history of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region,” according to the brewery, this brew stands out for its simplicity. You just don’t have to think about it. It has a touch of citrus and fruit but it’s really all about being crisp, bright, refreshing and, well, pleasing. I think it would be best enjoyed lakeside, of course, and it would be a perfect accompaniment to a fireworks show.

What’s in My Fridge
Santilli American IPA by Night Shift Brewing Co.
(Everett, Mass.)
The brewery’s flagship American IPA, Santilli combines bright citrus, including grapefruit, and pronounced notes of pine. Every time I have one I wonder why I don’t keep this in my fridge at all times. I still don’t have an answer to that question. It’s just a terrific all-around IPA that you can drink anytime. Particularly with the prevalence of hazy, juicy New England IPAs, this is a refreshing change of pace when you want the hops but would like to hold the orange juice. Cheers.

Featured photo. Lady of the Lake New England Lager by Able Ebenezer Brewing Company. Courtesy photo.

Fishing for smallies

Smallmouth bass provide an angling experience like no other

“Make him go where he doesn’t want to go,” fishing guide Mark Beauchesne said as I tried to reel in what could only be described as an aggressive fish on the Merrimack River in Concord a few years ago.

The fish in question, a smallmouth bass, dove under the boat and then suddenly sprinted toward the surface, leaping from the water, shaking its head from side to side feverishly. Then it was diving again in relentless, explosive bursts. It felt like it took all I had to keep hold of the rod, never mind figuring out how to make the fish go anywhere.

But as I reeled it closer to the boat, Beauchesne calmly and expertly slid a net into the water, securing the fish and ensuring this would not be a story of the one that got away.

While I was certainly pleased with the size of the fish — probably four pounds or so, Beauchesne guessed — it was more the sheer ferocity and energy the fish exhibited when hooked that I’ll never forget.

“Inch for inch, pound for pound, the gamest fish that swims,” wrote Dr. James Henshall in his 1881 book, The Book of the Black Bass.

“They just don’t have any quit,” said Beauchesne, who, in addition to being a fishing guide, is advertising and promotions coordinator at the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. “They spend a lot of time airborne. They’re just a very exciting fish to catch.”

The smallmouth bass, also referred to as black bass or a “smallie,” is the most popular game fish in New Hampshire, recently surpassing trout, according to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, which surveys its license holders, Beauchesne said.

“The accessibility that we have to them and with the tackle that’s available here now that’s accessible and easy to use, it just makes it easy for anybody to get into bass fishing,” Beauchesne said.

New Hampshire historian Jack Noon, who wrote the book The Bassing of New Hampshire, noted smallmouth bass were introduced in New Hampshire in 1864 in Rust Pond in Wolfeboro, which is right next to Lake Winnipesaukee. New Hampshire fisheries commissioners began stocking smallmouth four years later, ultimately introducing smallmouths to 140 lakes and ponds in New Hampshire, Noon said.

“The immediate reaction was incredibly positive,” said Noon, who also noted smallmouths had a less than positive impact on native trout populations upon introduction. “Smallmouths were very popular in New Hampshire, as they were a species that could be caught in summer when tourists were present and had leisure time. They were just very important for the tourist season.”

They still are, anglers agree, and the species can be targeted with a variety of tactics.

Stick baits, which are torpedo-shaped lures that mimic small fish, are popular lures for targeting smallmouth, as are soft plastic lures that take a variety of forms, including worms and crayfish. (I caught my smallmouth with Beauchesne right up against a cement piling with a plastic worm the fish hit as it dropped to the bottom.)

While live bait is effective for both largemouth and smallmouth bass, using live bait to target largemouth or smallmouth bass is prohibited from May 15 through June 15. Anglers must use artificial lures during that time period.

“They eat a variety of foods,” Beauchesne said. “Crayfish are common, the young of the year, yellow perch, sunfish, insects are often overlooked. People catch them with frogs coming out of their mouths. They take advantage of available food sources.”

Smallmouth bass thrive in rivers, lakes and ponds, though they prefer hard-bottomed areas, whereas the abundant largemouth bass tends to prefer softer, muddier bottoms, Beauchesne said.

An average smallmouth bass comes in at about 1.5 pounds and 15 to 16 inches. The state record is 7 pounds, 14.5 ounces. That whopper was caught on Goose Pond in Canaan in 1970.

Smallmouth bass are a warmwater fish and tend to be most active when the water temperature is between 55 and 75 degrees. Beauchesne notes rivers tend to stay in that range throughout the summer.

Beauchesne suggested using a 6-foot spinning rod with medium or medium-light action with eight-pound monofilament line.

Noon recalled fishing for smallmouth as an early teenager.

“I was fishing at night with a jitterbug, [which is a type of hard plastic topwater lure that chugs along right on the surface],” Noon said. “You just get a huge kick out of casting it out. It makes this glug, glug, glug sound and then all of a sudden [when the smallmouth hits the lure] it sounds like someone just threw a 20-pound rock into the lake.”

Be Prepared
As soon as you make that first cast, you need to be prepared and ready to handle fish, said Mark Beauchesne, advertising and promotions coordinator at the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. Beauchesne shared some advice:
Have needlenose pliers handy for removing hooks; don’t be digging them out of a tackle box once you’ve landed the fish.
Handle fish as little as possible; don’t let them flop around on the ground.
If the fish is deeply hooked, it’s better to cut off the line at the hook. It has a better chance of surviving with the hook in its mouth than if anglers cause more damage trying to remove it. “Smallmouth bass are set up to eat fish that have spines, like crayfish and other fish, after all,” Beauchesne said.

Featured photo: Mark Beauchesne with his catch. Photo by Mark Beauchesne.

Refreshing the love for IPAs

We all keep coming back to them

Sure, I go through spells, often even prolonged spells, where I’m focused more on Pilsners or stouts, or brown ales or just trying new things.

Then I take my first sip of an IPA in a while, and it’s like that moment in a murder mystery when the detective puts all the pieces together — sort of an explosive epiphany. A classic “a-ha” moment.

It’s hard to describe that first sip but I think all IPA enthusiasts appreciate that moment after taking a break from the style. And I think we all have to take a break from time to time.

After a recent hiatus, I took a sip of an IPA called Lucidity by Greater Good Imperial Brewing Co. in Worcester, a brewery that is well-worth seeking out if you’re a fan of big IPAs, and it blew me away. The beer is super juicy up front but fades away into a clean, crisp and almost dry finish — it’s the kind of beer that refreshes any beer-drinkers’ love for IPAs.

IPAs greet your taste buds with bright, exciting flavors that seem to jump around in your mouth, providing almost like a cascade of flavor. The style can feature a wide range of flavors, including tropical fruits, citrus, pine, floral notes and so on, along with a bitterness that can run from mild to full-on bracing.

It’s also a style that perhaps stands to benefit the most from being enjoyed fresh, preferably right at the brewery or poured from a growler filled right at the tap. You can taste the freshness.

Yes, IPAs are a dime a dozen right now, and sometimes that’s frustrating when you’re looking for literally anything else at your local beer store, but there’s a reason why that’s the case.

Here are four New Hampshire IPAs to refresh your devotion to the style:

Safe Space by Concord Craft Brewing (Concord)

This is your classic New England IPA: juicy, hazy and smooth. With big notes of tropical fruit and citrus, this is a crowd-pleaser for sure. One of the things I like about the New England-style IPA is that it tends to come in at a bit lower ABV, just making it more approachable. This one sits at 6 percent ABV, which seems to be a very nice sweet spot for this style of IPAs.

Dwayne’s World by Stoneface Brewing Co. (Newington)

This is another New England IPA but this hits a different end of the spectrum, featuring big, bold flavors of mango, grapefruit and orange, in a package that comes in at 9 percent ABV. Go easy on this exciting brew, because it absolutely does not drink like it’s 9 percent ABV.

Long Brothers American IPA by Flying Goose Brew Pub (New London)

It’s difficult to describe styles within the IPA realm — seems to me there’s a good bit of overlap — but this is an American IPA, which I think tend to be a bit more intense on the palate. You’re still going to get big flavor notes from the hops but it’s a little more bracing and a little less what you might call juicy. This is extremely well-balanced and features some nice complexity.

Miles and Miles by Henniker Brewing Co. (Henniker)

This is a perfect session IPA, giving you just enough IPA character to satisfy your taste buds, in a lighter, lower ABV package. It’s drinkable, it’s tasty and you can have more than one.

What’s in My Fridge
Bourbon Barrel-Aged Framinghammer by Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers (Framingham, Mass.)
This Baltic porter is luscious, rich, decadent — pick your descriptor. This is a beer worth savoring. It’s also super boozy (12 percent ABV) and filled with deep notes of bourbon, chocolate, oak and maybe some vanilla. The brew is quite complex, boasting layers upon layers of flavor. The brewery puts out a number of versions of its barrel-aged Framinghammer, including salted caramel, French toast, coffee and tiramisu versions; every version I’ve tried has been delicious. Cheers.

Featured photo. Lucidity by Greater Good Imperial Brewing Co. Courtesy photo.

Fishing and beer

They go together like peanut butter and jelly

Years ago, I would team up with my brother and two close friends for an annual fishing trip, a true “guys” weekend, bringing together a day of fishing and, you guessed it, beer.

We’d camp the night before, cook dinner (hot dogs) over a fire, share stories and drink some beer. We’d awaken in the still-dark hours the next morning and board a boat, coolers in hand, and we’d spend the bulk of the day trying to catch fish — and drinking beer.

How early is too early to crack a beer? Does time even exist on the water?

We’d troll for stripers and bluefish for hours, taking turns reeling in fish and passing beers and more stories. Aside from just enjoying fishing and beer, there was something therapeutic about being on the water with good friends and some good craft beer.

In what can only be described as a stunning development, particularly with all that beer involved, we no longer go on these fishing trips due to fairly consistent seasickness.

Whether you’re on land or on a boat or wading in a river, and whether you’re by yourself or sharing stories with friends, there is just something about fishing and beer. I’m quite certain beer doesn’t help you do a better job of catching fish, but I’m just as certain beer does, in fact, help make for a better overall experience, in moderation of course.

For me, enjoying a beer while fishing does help me ease up a bit on the rod, as I can sort of lose myself and grip it just a bit too tight otherwise — so that’s something.

This might be a touch of bologna, but when I’m fishing, I feel like I’m more in touch with my surroundings. I’m paying attention to the conditions, the flow of the water, the breeze, the scenery and so on. I’m trying to spot fish or bait or any activity that might point me toward fish. The slightest ripple or splash could be the indicator.

A quality craft brew isn’t going to enhance my senses, of course, but I think in that frame of mind, I’m able to enjoy and savor the beer perhaps more than usual. Maybe it’s just because I’m doing something I love.

There’s no right or wrong beer when it comes to fishing, but here are three New Hampshire brews I would certainly enjoy while fishing.

8 Weight Double IPA by Northwoods Brewing Co. (Northwood)

It just feels right to kick this off with a beer from a brewery whose logo is a fishing fly and with a beer named after a fishing rod. As the brewery points out, eight weight fly rods are generally used in saltwater to handle big fish. This brew is bold, but as the brewery notes, it “balances bitterness, sweetness and booziness.” Still piney, this beer is big on citrus flavors and booze as it comes in at 8.6 percent ABV. This would be a great one to enjoy as you wrap up a day of fishing.

Hoppy Saison with Mosaic & Ella by Stoneface Brewing Co. (Newington)

Saisons are just interesting. They feature such a range of flavors. They can be fruity, spicy, earthy — and they can be all of those things at once. This one features some pronounced fruit notes up front, but finishes crisp and dry. Fairly light-bodied and sessionable at 5.5 percent ABV, this is packed with flavor and complexity. This would be perfect to enjoy during an early summer afternoon streamside.

Four Rivers Red by Concord Craft Brewing (Concord)

I just love the deep color of this brew. While this is extremely drinkable, it has a richness to it that sets it apart. It’s malty, just a tiny bit sweet and very smooth. It gives you a touch of complexity to ponder as you fish New Hampshire’s many lakes and ponds.

What’s in My Fridge
She Sells Seashells by Throwback Brewing (North Hampton)
This salted blond all is crisp, flavorful and refreshing and perfect on a screaming hot summer day. Cheers.

Featured photo. Courtesy photo.

Cookout season is here

Long weekends await; get your beer cooler ready

When I opened up the lid, something flew out or scurried out. I’m still not totally sure. Was it a bird or maybe a chipmunk or something else? The movement was fast, apparently too fast for me to realize what I was seeing.

Regardless of what it was, I think we can be fairly sure it was a pretty good indication I’d left my grill unattended for too long.

Usually I grill pretty much all year long, but for whatever reason, not this past year, and the grill remained dormant for the entire winter and the bulk of the spring. I deserved my rude greeting when I peered inside the lid.

This is all to say that, yes, cookout season is here and you should definitely get your grill ready to go if you haven’t already. You should also start thinking about the beers you want to enjoy during the many, many cookouts you’re likely to attend or host, formally or informally.

Is it a cookout without beer? Only you can answer that question.

Of course, we have Memorial Day weekend bearing down on us and the Fourth of July will be here before we know it, even if it doesn’t seem that way right this minute.

Year-round, I think weather plays a major role in your beer choices. I don’t want to speak for you but on a hot day you’re going to want something light and refreshing. On a cold day, you’re more apt to pick something a bit heavier, a bit more robust.

That goes for cookouts, too. Especially this time of year, the weather is still a crapshoot. Last Friday we were in the 80s but just days before that it was cold and raw as we all tried to properly celebrate our moms.

Your beer choice also depends on time of day, food choices and, you know, what’s in the cooler. A midday cookout generally screams, “grab something light,” to me, whereas an evening cookout calls out more subtly, “go for the double IPA.”

It’s more complex than that, though. How long are you planning on staying? Are you going to eat something while you’re there? (You should.) Are you going to be participating in activities, such as Wiffle ball or volleyball, or maybe something less active, like cornhole?

I tend to think that as your activity level increases at a cookout, the ABV of the beer should decrease. (Do you want to just play iffle ball or would you like to win?)

And, what’s on the menu at this cookout? Are you digging into burgers and dogs, marinated steak tips or chicken breast, or maybe you or the host is grilling up spicy Italian sausage. Give it a second to consider what might be best paired with the food you are eating.

Don’t overthink it, though. You’re at a cookout, after all. Relax and grab a beer.

Here are three New Hampshire beers to enjoy during cookouts this year:

Tie Dyed Dry-Hopped Pale Ale by Great North Aleworks (Manchester)

Light, crisp and hoppy — this goes with everything.

Prater Vienna Lager by Henniker Brewing Co. (Henniker)

As the brewery says, this is “bready and crisp,” and perfect for sipping in between Wiffle ball at-bats.

Mountain Priest by Portsmouth Brewery (Portsmouth)

Dark and earthy but surprisingly light and dry — nice for a relaxing evening cookout or some smoky, sweet barbecue.

What’s in My Fridge
Daytime IPA by Lagunitas Brewing Co. (Petaluma, Ca.)
This comes in at 98 calories and just three carbs and as I’m a man of a certain age, I apparently need to pay attention to such things. And, as such, I decided to give this a try. It was perfectly fine! I mean, this isn’t going to satisfy an ardent IPA enthusiast. But if you’re intrigued by a very light beer with just a touch of hop bitterness, this is worth a shot. It’s only 4 percent ABV so I think you’re allowed to have several. Cheers.

Featured photo. Cookout season is here. Pair with beer. Photo by Marek Mucha.

An ode to Land Shark

Keep it simple on vacation

It had been a long day. My wife and I, together with our three children, packed our bags, got ourselves to the airport, made it through security unscathed, successfully boarded a plane, flew to points south without delay, procured our bags at the baggage claim, secured a rental car and drove to our final destination while my kids screamed in unison about the severe hunger from which they were suffering.

At some point during that rather lengthy sentence, you have to have been thinking, “This guy needed a beer.” And I did, very much.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes in moments like those when you’ve just had yourself a day, you really don’t want a brew that’s especially unique or that requires your consideration. You need something predictable, something you can count on, and definitely something you don’t need to think about.

I didn’t need a quadruple dry-hopped IPA or a stout that’s been aged in brandy barrels and finished with vanilla beans and cinnamon.

I know I overuse it but I just needed a beer that tasted like a beer. I sprinted to the closest convenience store and was actually pleased to see the establishment had very little to choose from. As I was in vacationland, I paid what can only be described as a premium price for a six-pack of Landshark Island Style Lager, which is apparently brewed by Margaritaville Brewing Co. in St. Louis, Missouri, and I never looked back.

The beer is simple yet so pleasing. It’s light, refreshing, easy to drink and just enjoyable. No one could drink this beer and say, “That tastes bad.” Some would, I know, but they’d be lying.

As beer drinkers today, we have an incredible array of options to choose from. Brewers are doing some amazing things and perhaps above all else, as far as I can tell, we’re all within a short drive of fresh, on-tap beer right from the brewery. Think back 10 or 15 years and it’s hard to fully appreciate how the craft beer scene has evolved and grown since then. The variety and the quality is off the charts today and that’s a great thing for beer drinkers everywhere.

But sometimes all you need is something pleasing and simple. I think vacation, and the first couple days of vacation in particular, is often one of those times. You’re visiting new places, experiencing new things, getting yourself settled, and yeah, you’re probably a little stressed from the travel.

For me, beer is one thing I really don’t need to spend a whole lot of time considering when I arrive in a new place. So keep it simple, stupid.

Sure, after you’re settled, by all means, try some new things and explore some local breweries. I’m never going to tell you not to do that, but Day 1, grab a Landshark and relax.

I’m not suggesting you have to stick to mass-produced brews like Landshark, but I do think it makes sense to lean toward brews that offer pleasing simplicity, like Pilsners in particular. Most local craft brewers wherever you are will have something simple, light, refreshing that you can embrace without thinking.

For example, Liar’s Bench Brewing Co. in Portsmouth was pouring a John Grady Kolsch and a No Dice Pilsner as of last week, while Kettlehead Brewing Co. in Tilton was pouring Nuevo Fresco, a Mexican-style lager. You’ll have easy-drinking options wherever you go.

All of this said, you should probably also think about ordering a margarita if I’m being completely honest.

What’s in My Fridge
Green State Lager by Zero Gravity Brewing Co. (Burlington, Vt.)
Speaking of beers that would work on vacation, this would be perfect. Light, crisp, flavorful and refreshing, this brew is delightfully easy to drink. I had a couple of these after a long afternoon of dethatching my lawn and let’s just say it was the right choice. Grab a chilled glass for this one. Cheers.

Featured photo. Go ahead and have a Landshark Island Style Lager. Courtesy photo.

Beer-braised carnitas

The best tacos on the planet?

Imagine crispy, yet tender, bits of pork exploding with savory, sweet flavors in every bite. Next, imagine a super-simple cooking process that is borderline impossible to mess up and results in perhaps the best taco base in existence.

I’m talking about pork carnitas and while we’re at it, let’s make them with beer. Beer adds complexity and flavor to the meat as it cooks slowly, tenderizing in its own juices. Also, I think, and I can’t promise this is accurate, beer actually aids in the tenderization process, helping the meat get where you want to go faster.

Making carnitas, which translates to “little meats” in Spanish, is really more process than recipe. First you braise chunks of pork until tender, and then you crisp up the tender chunks. My understanding is that traditionally the meat is fried in its own fat until tender before it is deposited into tacos.

I’ve followed a bunch of different recipes and I’ve never been disappointed. I’ve made them with a variety of seasonings and braising liquids, including chicken broth, beer, white wine, cider, and a mixture of orange and milk — they’re all winners.

If you choose a lighter brew like a Mexican lager, such as Revuelta by Able Ebenezer Brewing Co. in Merrimack, it will impart some pleasing funkiness. A hard cider, such as Wild Thing by Contoocook Cider Co. in Contoocook, adds a little fruitiness and acidity that helps balance a pretty rich final product. A stout would impart more richness but I’d lean toward a drier stout so it doesn’t overpower the dish.

For carnitas, you need to use pork butt, which is actually pork shoulder. The meat is quite fatty and filled with connective tissue, which requires long cooking times to break down.

Start by searing the meat in a big Dutch oven, add the seasonings you like, add your braising liquid, and then either slowly simmer it on the stovetop, or cook it covered in the oven or in a crockpot until the meat is tender.

Once the meat is tender, you drain off the braising liquid and either fry up the tender chunks until crispy on the stovetop or, and this is what I prefer, crisp up the meat in a screaming hot oven or under the broiler. It’s just easier, more consistent, and less messy.

Smash your crispy bits of pork into a warmed tortilla and top with whatever you want: salsa, fresh lime juice, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, pickled onions, and so on. I do think less is more when it comes to toppings here.

Here’s just one way to make carnitas.

Pork Carnitas

  • 3 to 4 pounds boneless pork butt, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt, probably more
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 12 ounces beer, preferably craft-brewed in New Hampshire
  • Vegetable oil, for searing

Heat a pot with a heavy bottom over high heat. Once hot, add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil. Sear chunks of pork in batches, don’t crowd, until browned all over. Add all ingredients and bring to a simmer. Maintain a simmer, either over low heat on the stovetop or in a 350-degree oven, for about 3 hours until the meat is fork tender. Strain meat and remove garlic cloves and bay leaf. Arrange meat in a broiler-safe pan, drizzle over a few tablespoons of the braising liquid, and broil on high heat for about 10 minutes, turning halfway, until the meat is richly browned and crispy. You could also do this last step in a super-hot oven if you don’t have a broiler. Smash 2 or 3 chunks into a warm tortilla and top however you like.

What’s in My Fridge
Double Clip Double IPA by Stoneface Brewing Co. (Newington)
I’m sure I’ve had this before but somehow, maybe not? As my brother-in-law remarked as we cracked open a couple of these, “This is delicious.” It’s big, juicy and bold but the finish is quite smooth. Cheers.

Featured photo. Make pork carnitas. Photo by Frankie Lopez.

Have a kolsch

It just tastes like beer

“I thought it was time to shake things up,” my friend said as he walked back onto the patio somehow hanging on and balancing several hefty, frozen steins full of borderline overflowing suds.

“I just asked for something light and crisp — and really good,” he said.

This instance occurred during a gloriously sunny afternoon this past September, just a perfect day for relaxing with a few beers and some friends. We’d had a couple big IPAs and frankly, he was right, it was time to shake things up.

Lifting the stein with some trouble, I took my first sip. It was certainly light and crisp, but it was also quite flavorful. A light golden pour, the brew had a dry, extremely refreshing finish with minimal bitterness. This beer was begging for mouthfuls, not just little sips. It was incredibly drinkable.

Sure, some of it was the bracing, welcome change from a super-hoppy IPA to something much, much lighter, but it was also just a tremendous reminder that sometimes there’s nothing more pleasing than drinking a beer that tastes like a beer.

On the way out, we asked the bartender about the beer style and determined it was a local, craft-brewed kolsch.

I’ve written about Pilsners before and have always kind of pretended Pilsners and kolsches are the same thing, and while they’re similar they’re not the same. Pilsners tend to be a little more hoppy, a little more bitter. Kolsches tend to be even lower in ABV but they still feature plenty of flavor. tells me the kolsch is technically a hybrid style of beer that marries elements of ale and lager production. also tells me the style “pairs best with bratwurst, nutty cheeses, and even lighter desserts like apricot cake,” and while I’m sure that’s on point, I think it pairs best with sitting outside on a warm, sunny day and a giant, frozen stein.

This is a style you can drink any time of the year but I think it’s best to get it onto your radar now, because I suspect you’ll be drinking it at cookouts and at the beach all summer long.

The reality is the kolsch is particularly versatile: it goes well with just about any food and any circumstance.

New Hampshire craft brewers haven’t ignored the style, which is great news for beer enthusiasts.

I loved the Herkules by Schilling Beer Co. and the Henniker Kolsch Style Ale by Henniker Brewing Co. is another wonderful rendition of the style. Perpetual Grüven by Great Rhythm Brewing in Portsmouth is terrific as well, as is Paradise Valley by Granite Roots Brewing in Troy.

The kolsch is the quintessential “better grab a frozen glass” beer, so get some glasses in the freezer, preferably steins, and get ready for some mouthfuls of bright, crisp, refreshing beer.

What’s in My Fridge
Grolsch Premium Lager by Grolsch Brewery (Netherlands)
OK, not a kolsch, but a couple weeks back I had one of these for the first time in I have no idea how many years. Honestly, as I think about it, my dad used to have Grolsch in the house when I was a kid but I have no recollection of ever having a Grolsch myself. I’m sure it happened at some point. I remember my dad letting my brother and me try a sip of Grolsch when we were little and I distinctly remember not liking it at all. My brother, on the other hand, had a more positive reaction and there’s photographic proof of him tilting the bottle way up to get that last sip. This features a zip of bitterness in an overall light, refreshing package. Here’s another beer that tastes like a beer.

Featured photo. Get the frosty mug ready. Photo courtesy of Jeff Mucciarone.

Pizza and beer

You can’t overstate the perfection of this pairing

After a quick glance at the beer menu at Cornerstone Artisanal Pizza & Craft Beer in Ogunquit, Maine, a couple weeks back, I ordered the Forklift Unicorn IPA by Stoneface Brewing Co.

The bartender-slash-server said “It’s good,” and while that might not have sounded like an overwhelmingly ringing endorsement, I can tell you that based on the complete interaction, it was, in fact, the equivalent of a five-star Yelp review.

With good reason, too. The New England IPA was delightfully juicy and hazy with big hop flavors, pronounced tropical fruit and citrus notes, but with what seemed like zero bitterness. Plus, it lacked the heft of many of today’s IPAs, which was great because I was about to eat a lot of pizza.

The beer was secondary on this particular occasion, however. My wife and I had somehow found a way to take a weekend away and Friday night was my night to pick dinner. After a traffic-filled drive, we were famished and craving more carbs and cheese than our bodies could actually handle. (Is there anything that gets you craving pizza and a beer like a frustrating car ride?)

As I said, the beer delivered on the server’s promise, and so did the pizza. We went with a barbecued pulled pork pizza and a sausage, pepper and mushroom pizza.

Sipping on a delicious beer and biting into a savory, cheesy, meaty satisfying slice of pizza may not be the height of luxury, but let me know if you can think of a better combination. There’s just something about it. I swear it’s good for your soul, if not for your gut. I’m craving it right now and it’s 10 a.m.

My grandmother is 90-something years old and she still will not eat pizza without having a beer. She gets it.

Now, the type of beer matters. You want to put a bit of thought into the pizza you’re eating when selecting a brew. A coffee porter probably wouldn’t have been a great pairing with the pizzas we chose that night. Something drier, like an Irish stout, probably would have been just fine with the earthiness of the mushrooms.

IPAs stand up to just about anything but they’re so intensely flavored themselves, they can overpower your palate while you’re eating, which is why I tend to stay away from big double IPAs when I’m eating. They just offer too much flavor and too much heft for my palate.

Pilsners, like the Alexandr by Schilling Beer Co. in Littleton or the Beer Hall Lager by 603 Brewery in Londonderry, are perfect for pairing up with pizza, as lighter, crisper brews provide a perfect counterpoint to the combination of chewy dough and rich cheese.

Sours — and I would suggest sticking with lighter varieties, like a Berliner weisse — also pack a tart counterpoint that can be very nice with a slice of pizza. That said, sours vary quite a bit, so again, you just need to think about flavor combinations when you’re ordering.

My wife enjoyed the Dichotomie Saison Inspired Cider by Austin Street Brewery and the beer’s fruity, funky flavor worked really well with the pulled pork pizza, which included a topping of crunchy, sweet coleslaw.

Saisons can be spicy, which makes them an interesting choice for pairing up with pizzas that have a little spice as well — think banana peppers and pepperoni.

I finished up my Forklift Unicorn and ordered an Irish red ale by Geaghan Brothers Pub & Craft Brewery out of Bangor, Maine, and I found the light body and flavorful malt a nice pairing with both of our pizzas.

The core message here: Be like my grandmother and don’t eat pizza without beer.

What’s in My Fridge
Guinness Draught Stout by Guinness & Co. (Dublin, Ireland) It was Saint Patrick’s Day last week after all, and of course Guinness is a fitting choice. There’s nothing quite like watching a Guinness cascade in the glass as you prepare to enjoy a meal of corned beef and cabbage. Dry and drinkable, Guinness is a perfect change of pace. Cheers.

Featured photo: Forklift Unicorn IPA by Stoneface Brewing Company. Courtesy photo.

Drink these three beers now

These are worth tracking down

I’ve said this before but walking into your local beer store is downright overwhelming these days. How are you supposed to make a decision?

Even when I know exactly what I want to buy as I walk in, I inevitably get sidetracked. Just going to pick up a six-pack of this or that, but really, who knows what I’ll walk out of there with and how long it will take me to make a decision? I certainly don’t. I don’t have a clue how it’s all going to unfold.

Sometimes it’s helpful to just have someone tell you what to do because thinking is hard. Your life is hard enough and your mind deserves a few minutes without needing to make critical decisions.

I just don’t want you to be that poor, lost soul in your beer store, floundering around from aisle to aisle, shelf to shelf like a rudderless boat. You’ll probably be saying “excuse me” one million times and maybe bumping into others as you start to sweat from your inability to make a decision. No one wants that. It’s depressing to see, honestly.

You deserve a break from thinking, so here are three New Hampshire beers I think you should drink:

Coffee Porter by Northwoods Brewing Co. (Northwood)

I’m falling in love with this brewery; let me start there. The Coffee Porter is silky and smooth and sweet and rich and decadent — it’s just a wonderful beer drinking experience for those of us who appreciate the coupling of beer and coffee. It’s not just a coffee beer, though, as there are pronounced chocolate flavors as well. It comes in at just 4.7 percent ABV, which is tremendous news, as I hereby give permission to have more than one. Random, but Northwoods also has a beer called Magnetic Sense, which is a dry Irish stout, and I guess what I’m saying is, maybe have one of those on St. Patrick’s Day.

Citrillia by Great Rhythm Brewing Co. (Portsmouth)

This double dry-hopped double IPA is a quintessential example of this style: hazy, hoppy and delicious with big tropical fruit flavor — think grapefruit and mango, and maybe a touch of lime. At 8 percent this packs a bit of a punch, but this is what your taste buds want so you should give it to them. Plus, there is just something about a super hoppy brew that brightens up what can, well, kind of be a bit of a dreary month. This doesn’t disappoint at all as the flavor just explodes in your mouth.

Erastus by Schilling Beer Co. (Littleton)

I saw a recent piece in the Boston Globe calling Schilling’s brew Alexandr, a Czech-style Pilsner, the best beer in New Hampshire (while also lauding its pizza). Tough to disagree because the brew is tremendous (and so is the pizza). But, if you’re going all the way to Schilling, you would be a fool not to give Erastus a try. This Belgian tripel is just packed with fruity, spicy flavor. It just seems to hit you with layers upon layers of flavor and complexity and just begs for another sip. Situate yourself alongside the Ammonoosuc River, order up some pizza and dive into this brew. I literally have goosebumps as I write this.

What’s in My Fridge
Peroni Nastro Azzurro by Peroni Brewery (Vigevano, Italy)
Honestly, I’ve probably had this before but I have no recollection of having it previously. It’s light, crisp, bright and refreshing — pretty much exactly what you want when you are craving something lighter. The brew has some delightful citrus and spice notes as well that make it interesting. There are so many IPAs and so many big, rich stouts, it’s definitely worthwhile to be able to turn to some quality lighter brews. Cheers!

Featured photo: Coffee Porter by Northwoods Brewing Co.

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