Years ago, It was always a
treat for me at Christmas time to take a ride to Connecticut and pick up
several six-packs of New England Brewing’s Holiday Ale. Now, I enjoyed their
beers throughout the year to be sure. The malty, clean and delicious
Atlantic Amber was a wonderful take on a California Common, otherwise known
as steam beer. Gold Stock ale was a tad fruitier, rich and delicious.
Oatmeal Stout was silk and smoothy, rich and roasty. Great beers all.
Still, if one beer among all of the beers New England produced was my
favorite, it was the Holiday Ale. This gem was roasty and toasty, nicely
spiced, a dark and delicious eggnog of a beer. It just wasn’t Christmas
without it. Sadly, for the past several years, all of the bottled New
England beers have suffered from a distressing problem: bacterial infection.
I have visited the combination brewery/brewpub in Norwalk, Connecticut a few
times. I can say that this is one of the most beautiful breweries I have
ever set foot in. A giant copper brew kettle sits as decoration when you
first walk in, towering from the first level up to the second. Breweriana is
scattered throughout the building. The bar is long and elegant, and situated
next to the bottling line. The draft beers here are a true delight, but
somewhere out on that bottling line lurks a problem that ruins the beers
going out the door: bacterial contamination.
When bacteria infect a beer at some point during the bottling process, they
will sour it as they have been doing to the beers New England Brewing
bottles. Some beers, like Belgian reds (Rodenbach) and Berliner Weiss (Schultheiss,
Berliner Kindl) are deliberately infected and soured. Stouts can pick up
character from a bacterial sourness. Famed Austrian beer writer Conrad Seidl
once expressed his fondness for sour stouts to me. Still, I feel New England
Brewing has dropped the ball with their bottled brews, allowing them to go
out the door this way for as long as they have without addressing this
New England Brewing’s Holiday Ale pours to a jet-black color with a thick
creamy head and a sour, vinegary nose. The palate is slightly roasty and
strongly flavored with spice: nutmeg, ginger, orange and cinnamon are
strongly suggested. The finish is sour and acetic, quite vinegary, and
actually balances off the roasted character nicely. Still, I’d rather the
beer was not infected, so that the malt and spices might be better
Ok, I have to admit, I like the beer this way too. Can I recommend it
though? Sadly, no. I have been drinking infected beers from New England Brewing for a
few years now, more than enough time for the problem to be solved. It’s sad
to see old favorites in this condition.
And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.
*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For
reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.