Stop Trying to Create National IPA Brands

As craft breweries become larger, there is a temptation to grow their brands and distribute beers into all 50 states. The problem is that at a certain scale quality drops off and beers deteriorate in shipping or on the shelf. Even if the quality is still there, because the batches are so huge, it is rare to taste a beer at peak freshness.

The best example for people in the West Coast is Dogfish Head. They brew some amazing IPAs and 60 minute IPA is delightful when fresh at the source. By the time it reaches San Diego it tastes like a malty mess. The difference is night and day. Not only is it disappointing to those who know what it can taste like but it may give people the wrong impression of what the beer tastes like. I had assumed the talk of it being amazing was all hype until I visited the brewery directly.

Or consider Maui Brewing. Their West Coast style IPA is crisp and delicious at the source but once it is shipped across the ocean it loses its kick. I didn’t expect much during my recent visit but at the source their IPA was excellent.  The same thing can be said for Lagunitas, Green Flash, New Belgium, Stone, and Sierra Nevada. Now that Lagunitas is owned by Heinekin, you find it on tap in bars across the country. But it is hard to keep the quality when you are brewing massive batches of IPA. The difference is also quite noticeable with Alpine beers that are now brewed in large batches at Green Flash. While they are fantastic when fresh and on tap they are brewed in such large quantities that it may sit in kegs or bottles for months after brewing.

Admittedly, some of the larger breweries are attempting to improve the quality and freshness of their beers in areas far from their home town by opening new breweries in other parts of the country. Stone, Sierra Nevada, Green Flash, New Belgium, and Ballast Point have all either opened or are in the process of opening new locations. Green Flash, Stone, and Ballast Point have opened spots in Virginia. Sierra Nevada and New Belgium have opened in North Carolina. Stone also opened a brewery in Berlin, Germany. Green Flash is also opening a brewery in Nebraska. Some could say that this makes them more regional but they are still making beers in massive batches.

For a while Alpine kept things small and quantities were limited. I lamented the difficulty of finding the beers at the time and the lack of six-packs. I wondered why people regularly drove to the source to buy the beers by the case. You can now buy Alpine beer in the grocery store in six-packs but it often lacks that explosive hop kick that made it worth seeking out. A similar thing can be said for Toppling Goliath where in an effort to meet demand they started contract-brewing with a Florida brewery to distribute outside of their local Iowa market. Fans agree that it isn’t close to the stuff brewed out of the brewery in Iowa. I have yet to taste the beers myself but I will be visiting the brewery in November.

Together, these breweries teach us a lesson about the importance of focusing on your region and growing within reason while keeping the quality the same. As the craft-brew explosion continues, there is room for a lot of regional leaders in beer. But do we really need IPAs from Founders and Bells distributed to the West Coast? Does the East Coast need Green Flash, Ballast Point, and other West Coast brands? They may draw interest initially but then that interest wanes and they get lost in the sea of local options. As big breweries focus more on growth and less on quality they lose the quality that brought visitors to seek the beer out at the source.

Independence is important in many ways but ultimately large craft breweries abandon quality in their search for ever-growing profits and lose some of the spark that made craft beer exciting. As more and more breweries are bought out things will only get worse. Up-and-coming breweries should focus on serving a region and not allow the search for expanding profits to leave behind the quality beer that brought them a following in the first place. The trend of limited-release cans direct from the brewery is a good response to this, but larger breweries are so big the limited releases are just peanuts to them.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Toronto Ontario Breweries Part 1 – Bellwoods, Niagara, Nickel Brook, and Great Lakes

Bellwoods Brewing

I didn’t have anything on tap my first visit to Bellwoods because it was late in the evening and they were quite crowded at their restaurant. Thankfully I saw the shop outside and was able to grab a few bottles. I got their Jutsu, hazy pale, Jelly King, hazy sour, and farmhouse classic, each in 500ml bottles.

The Jutsu was thick yellow haze that was more green at the bottom half of the bottle with all the yeast and hops. The beer had a grassy hop character and other tropical fruit hops that ended with a strong hop acidity like drinking pineapple juice. If drinking it again I would probably pour the dregs into a separate glass and not drink it. I liked it better with what I poured out first.


Jelly King I assumed would just be a clear kettle sour with mild hop kick but it was almost as hazy as Jutsu. It was fruity with notes of grapefruit, mild tart kick and mild hop acidity, much less than Jutsu. The farmhouse classic was a good funky saison that clearly should have been bottle conditioned longer as it erupted when I opened the bottle and spilled all over the table. It had hints of vanilla and a dry finish, reminding me of a muffin or light white cake.

I returned to Bellwoods some days later and tried two tasters of some beers that I hadn’t picked up in bottles the first time. I was very glad I did because I got to taste Runes and Witchshark. While Jutsu was great it was also ridiculously acidic, so it may have been just extra fresh. But Runes was soft, thick, and creamy without that acidic bite. It had tons of tropical fruit and citrus notes and mild caramel on the finish. It is a great example of the modern hazy IPA. Witchshark was a nice balanced double IPA though a bit maltier than I like and compared to Runes, I didn’t finish the taster. It was bitter with mild malt, mild pine and some candied fruit notes at the finish.

Top 2:
Runes – Hazy IPA
Jutsu – Hazy Pale

Niagara Brewing

Niagara brewing is a total gimmick of a brewery that gets a lot of traffic by being so close to the falls. They have a restaurant and both indoor and outdoor seating. I tried four beers while I was there and some were quite drinkable. The Blood Orange Berliner Weisse was a great low alcohol kettle sour with orange flavor, light tart kick, and effervescent carbonation. This was my favorite from this brewery.

The lager was fruity and thin with a mild sweet corn finish. It is a standard lager. The Schwartz was quite nice with a medium body and flavors of thick molasses and sticky burnt toffee. It tastes more like a stout than a schwartz but is quite good. The IPA was very sweet and heavy on the caramel from malts. It was too sweet and not particularly hoppy. I would have preferred to have it on cask being this style.

I wouldn’t recommend a trip out for the brewery alone but since Niagara is such a popular destination, it is a good enough stop for a pint after you are done walking. I did not have any food there.

Top 2:
Berliner Weisse with blood orange
Schwartzbier, black lager.

Nickel Brook

Nickel Brook brewing is in Burlington in Ontario Canada, about an hour west of Toronto. They don’t yet have the license to have a tasting room so you can try free tastes and buy bottles to go. I won’t get too critical of any of their beers since I only had a small taste of each of them. They had a good variety of options including tasty low malt hoppy beers that had a great balance to them. My friend swears their double IPA is one of the best hes ever had but they didn’t have it for tastes at the time I visited.

What stood out to me the most was the cherry dark sour I had. It was fantastically balanced and jammy with mild sweetness, low acidity, and mild oak. I enjoyed it so much that I bought bottles of the cherry dark sour, cherry blonde sour, and Flanders red style to bring home with me. I wasn’t originally planning on packing beer back but at $5 Canadian a 375ml bottle I couldn’t resist.

I got to try the Flanders at a bar later that evening and really liked its mellow flavors. Many beers in the style are either too much like vinegar or too acidic but this blended very nicely just like the cherry dark. It had good flavors of dark fruit and mild biscuit malts with a mild oak character. I will enjoy sharing these bottles with friends after I return but I would also recommend everyone try these delicious sours if you are in the area.

Known for:
They have a wide variety of beer but I would recommend coming out for IPAs or barrel aged sours. They also have some solid stouts available and lighter kettle sours.

Great Lakes Brewing

Compared to some other breweries I visited, Great Lakes Brewing isn’t doing anything hyper modern but the majority of their beers were quite good and to style. They have a good sized tasting room with outdoor seating and sell most of their beers in cans.

I enjoyed their pompous ass, a hoppy version of an English mild with a mild malt backbone and some citrus hops and a dry bitter finish. Their session IPA was a classic example of the style, lightly bitter with notes of resin and pine and a crisp finish on a light body. The red lager was nice and fruity with notes of currents and a dry finish.

The blonde lager was crisp and delicious, an excellent example of the style with light fruit and a dry finish. The IPA was lightly sweet and mildly bitter with lots of citrus and pine. This is purely classic west coast style. The pale ale was also low on malts with a bitter finish and notes of citrus and pine.

Come to Great Lakes Brewing for standard examples of styles done excellently well or look for their cans in the market.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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Boston Brewerires – Cambridge Brewing and Lamplighter

Cambridge Brewing Company

I visited Cambridge brewing on a previous trip where I tried their hoppy offerings and found them to be solidly old school, (read not particularly interesting). This time I stuck to some other styles but only tried a couple because they don’t serve tasters. The Grisette was pretty average for the style, with notes of biscuit malts and mild fruit.

Gin barrel sour.

I also tried the Hendrix, a gin-barrel-aged sour with cucumber. It was an interesting beer and nicely balanced but I didn’t particularly care to drink a full pour of it. Rather than gin I tasted more tequila with some mild oak notes. Word online is that some of their limited-release sours are fantastic but once again I can’t verify that. Based on their offerings on tap, I would suggest a visit to Trillium for sours over Cambridge Brewing.


Lamplighter is about half-mile walk from Cambridge Brewing. They thankfully offered tasters because I only liked two of the four beers I tried. Sadly the taster flights are set and you can’t build your own. I opted for the hoppy flight.

The Watchman, hoppy wheat, was creamy and soft with minimal bitterness and notes of citrus and guava. I could see myself ordering a pint of this one for sure. The Chief Hopper had strong esters on the back and a strong bitter finish. I didn’t care for this one at all. The Lion Eyes Hoppy Brett IPA had a ton of floral hops and brett on the nose with a strong herbal hop character and strong bitter finish. Once again I was reminded I don’t like beers bittered with Azaca hops.

The Double IPA was soft with notes of mango, tropical fruit, and honeydew melon with minimal bitterness. I quite enjoyed this one even if it was a bit sweet. The porter was solidly average with notes of dark fruit and roast with a medium body and dry finish.

Top 2:
Double IPA,
Hoppy Wheat

Both Lamplighter and Cambridge brewing make solid beer though I would recommend Lamplighter simply because you can order a flight to find out what you enjoy and order that. Lamplighter also had a few beers that were available to-go in cans but that you couldn’t taste. I didn’t try any of those.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

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