Geary’s Hampshire Special

April 2, 2013

It seems as if there are – in proportion to the rest of the country – a large number of breweries in New England paying respect to the beer history of Britain. As American craft brewing advances and grows in a Fibonacci Sequence of new brewery openings, we’re actually seeing less and less of these traditional styles being represented. Blame it on advertising, blame it on the hops, blame it on puppy love; I’ve got something to say about all three.

When most of us first discovered craft beer, it was usually something hoppy; the floral, piney, citrusy scents and flavors juxtaposed against mainstream macro beer’s dull and lifeless form. The relatively newer hop varietals being utilized in craft brewing were mega-acid hybrids of traditional ingredients. The experience, for most, was akin to having lived in a light-less cave one’s entire life and suddenly the roof splits open to reveal a dramatic vista of light and contour. People were hooked.

The advertising side of craft has developed into one of artistic creativity mixed with brash petulance and sardonic wit all of which is reflective of the so-called maverick brewing scene alive in America today. One ad reads, “Like a Craft Beer Fist in Your Face.” 21st Amendment Brewing demands we “Grab Life By the Boulders,” in what I’d like to believe has something to do with Colorado, but they’re from San Francisco.

What do the other guys have? Idiots and Spuds McKenzie.

America is truly the land of large ideas and our new-found love of craft beer became no exception. Hop monster beer began to rear its leafy head over the land like a huge mutated beast. It was no longer enough to have a Russian Imperial Stout unless its International Bitterness Unit was 112. Triple IPAs with 9 hop varietals. Enough! I’m getting palate fatigue!

So now we’re back to we started this conversation. New England brewers, most likely due to proximity and personal genealogy, either continued with tradition or traveled to Britain to study this almost dying art for us. Much of English brewing is restrained and sessionable in comparison with what their unruly cousins in the colonies are making.

Let’s baby step everyone down from their haywire beverages towards a rational choice without sacrificing flavor or punch. Geary’s Brewing has been doing British beer before Sierra Nevada introduced the world to the Cascade hop and out of Portland, Maine, no less. Their Hampshire Special is a world-class Strong Ale dark brown in appearance with big, slippery scents of butter-cream caramel, biscuit and honey. Some banana ester present but is overshadowed by the rich malt and toffee. What is normally a thick mouth feel for the style is tempered by lively carbonation.