Scroll through any of the posts at Aleheads.com and you’re sure to find a few references to Harpoon Brewery. One of our most viewed posts is of course the debate over the merits of their beleaguered Winter Warmer (Hate is a strong word, which is why I choose the word “Hate” to describe my feelings over that beer). Throughout our Podcasts and other posts we discuss their flagship IPA and even get into some reminiscing about their seasonal beerfests that bring good craft beer to the masses (By masses, I mean drunk chicks). One area I don’t believe we’ve jumped into is their more esoteric 100 Barrel Series, a lineup that puts out a new offering every few months in very limited batches for a one-time release (Although they have re-released a couple here and there). For a fairly large outfit, this series gives individual brewers a chance to test out a recipe and stamp their own signature on the bottle.
With the purchase of Catamount Brewery in Windsor, VT in 2000 and the expansion of their Boston Brewery in 2003, Harpoon has become a major brand that’s available all across the country. Once you take Boston Beer Company’s easily recognizable Sam Adams out of the picture, Harpoon is the largest craft brewer in all of New England. While it’s always great to see the local guy making it big, it’s even better as a craft beer fan to see that Harpoon hasn’t lost touch with their loyal beer geeks. If you like the experimental side of beer, look no further than Harpoon’s 100 Barrel Series. To give you an idea of what they’re cooking up, I’ll start you off with brewer Kate Tame’s offering of the Harpoon Island Creek Oyster Stout. Tossing some fresh oysters into the boil? Yeah, I’d call that experimental.
The Island Creek is the 30th installment in the 100 Barrel Series and it’s certainly an interesting take on the English Stout. I’ve heard of a couple of beers brewed with oyster shells, which lends a nice mineral quality to the mouthfeel and taste, but this is the first beer I’ve come across that’s brewed using whole Island Creek oysters from Duxbury, MA. My 5.5% ABV stout was poured from a 22oz bottle into a tulip glass.
This brew comes at you with a dark-brown to nearly black body with an off-tan head that rises halfway up the glass before dissipating into a thin wisp. The nose is fairly typical for the style with roasted coffee and chocolate notes, but the most present smell is an abundant earthiness. On the taste front there’s not much in terms of bitterness, except for maybe some dark chocolate. Hop presence is minimal, which tells me that the brewer knows exactly where to hit their notes and make an appealing stout. Mouthfeel is probably where the oysters come in, as there is a mineral presence with a balanced smoothness. Most of my notes from the tasting seem redundant and really smell, taste, and mouthfeel can all be interchanged on this one. Seems strange, but it fits. The overall feel of the beer is fairly light and it goes down quite easy.
Mrs. Van Drinkale gave me a rather lengthy stare when I explained to her what I was drinking. Oysters aren’t exactly a traditional ingredient in modern brewing, but I do throw some odd things into my homebrew like seaweed and fish bladders so I guess it shouldn’t seem too strange (Seaweed = Irish Moss, Fish Bladders = Isinglass – Both are used as finings to clear the beer and are commercially used in cask-conditioned ales among other things). Bottom line, this is a well crafted English Stout and worthy of a 3 hop rating from me. Highly drinkable, good interpretation of the style, and a good use of experimentation that doesn’t completely kill the beer in the end. Nicely done.
If you want to read about another offering from the 100 Barrel Series, please feel free to ask the good Baron to post his notes on their Ginger Wheat. Quite a brew in my mind, but I’ll let Sudsy Von Brue take this one at a later date.