White Birch Brewing hails from Hooksett, New Hampshire, a town famous with college students across New England for its barn-sized and criminally cheap New Hampshire State Liquor Store. For the last three years, though, the Manchester suburb has been building a reputation for an entirely different libation, as White Birch founders Bill and Ellen Herlicka have steadily grown their still-intimately sized project from a half-barrel nanobrewery to a locally fabricated seven barrel system.
Transcending the limits of its scale, the brewery boasts an impressively extensive lineup focused primarily on traditional European styles. Belgian abbey ales and saisons accompany English barleywines, bitters and stouts, but White Birch has also made a strong push into sours with a set of well-regarded wild ales. You'll find their offerings throughout the New England and Mid-Atlantic states, as well as in--of all places--a small corner of Southern California.
This one shot out of the bottle like a rocket, instantly filling our glass with a pillowy three-finger head atop an ever-so-slightly hazy light orange liquid punctuated by huge bubbles. Grass and lemon filled the nose, while the upfront bitterness, which reminded us of Eastern European hop varietals, gave way to a moderate body and a sweeter finish. More recent batches of the beer have increased the alcohol content to over nine percent ABV, which we'd be eager to try, while a few of us thought the beer would be well-suited for an addition of Brettanomyces.
Along with the Belgian Style Pale Ale, this Belgian IPA is one of White Birch's few year-round flagship brews. It poured a copper caramel color with only the slightest head and some obscuring haze. The aromatic hops combined with scents of caramel malts, brandy and light alcohol, setting the tone for what was generally a hoppy but well-balanced beer. The impact of the Cascade and Columbus hops was easily felt through a bitter and dry finish that contrasted with the sweeter malt flavors that arrived up front.
White Birch's take on the Belgian Dubbel is a clear mahogany brew with a quickly dissipating head. The nose included some lightly roasted malt aromas, but more than anything it smelled like a mild tequila--and that wasn't a bad thing. Seltzer-like carbonation quickly struck the tongue and was followed by drier chocolate flavors, while the beer's high alcohol content was especially well disguised.
We know firsthand that smoked beers can be divisive, but this smoked brown ale might be just the thing to enlighten the unconverted. Designed as a tribute to an 18th century New Hampshire pub, Tavern Ale is one of White Birch's most acclaimed offerings. The beer is a dark brown that shows hints of red in the right light and pours with a fluffy two-finger tan head. The aroma is full of the expected smoked chocolate malts and charcoal, but the smokiness of the middle is sandwiched by sweeter malt flavors and a roasted finish, making Tavern Ale an accessible and forgiving introduction to the style.
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