The Beer Nut: Arcadia rising to prominence

Norman Miller

Arcadia Brewing Company has come a long way.

In 1996 Arcadia was a tiny fledgling started up by Tim Surprise, a man with no brewing experience at all, just a love of beer.

Now, though still small, Arcadia Brewing has carved a niche for itself from its Battle Creek, Mich., home and has worked its way east, hitting Bay State stores for the first time last week.

"I was inspired by just being a fan of the better beers I was encountering throughout the U.S. and overseas," said Surprise. "There wasn't a beer that I didn't find some kind of redeeming qualities in."

Arcadia has sent seven of its beers to Massachusetts Cereal Killer, Cocoa Loco, Big Dick's Olde Ale, Hopmouth Double IPA, IPA and Imperial Stout.

All are brewed in the English tradition, which makes sense. Surprise got his start by visiting Alan Pugsley, the brewer at Shipyard Brewing Company in Portland, Maine, who happens to hail from England.

Pugsley brought a special variety of yeast to the United States called Ringwood, which many breweries, including several in Maine, use. Most of the breweries that use the yeast brew English styles.

Some people are not huge fans of Ringwood yeast. It's popular with brewers because it ferments quickly. That quick fermentation leaves a buttery flavor that is hard to overcome because of diacetyl, a chemical byproduct of fermentation.

However, Surprise, for the most part, does a good job of dealing with the Ringwood.

"I'm obviously aware of the prevailing opinion of Ringwood yeast, but I like to refer to what we're using as our own strain. We've been using it for 11 years," he said. "Some styles lend themselves to diacetyl characteristics the pale ales, the bitters. The truth of the matter is, we work our beers a little different than Alan (Pugsley) does at Shipyard. Some of our alcohol percentages and our process helps us get the best out of our yeast strain."

For the most part, he succeeds. The only beer in which the diacetyl becomes a distraction is the Cereal Killer, which is an English-style barley wine. The Cereal Killer is a hate-it or love-it type of beer, Surprise said.

"The people who love this beer, they love the British, or English-inspired, barley wines," he said. "Those who don't, it's not big enough, it's not over-the-top enough for them, which is more of an American style."

The Hopmouth Double India Pale Ale is a unique brew. Most double IPAs are American hop bombs, with an in-your-face hop bitterness. The Hopmouth, though, is a double English-style IPA, where the bitterness is a little more restrained.

"That's not an American-style at all," said Surprise. "If you get into a double IPA testing with the West Coast IPAs, ours is not in that category. Ours is really well-balanced with good solid malts and solid hops. From my point of view, that equals drinkability."

Not that he does not appreciate American double IPAs. Coming out in December, Arcadia will begin selling the Hop Rocket for its 11th anniversary, which Surprise calls the quintessential American-style IPA.

Big Dick's Olde Ale is a decent attempt at the style, although most old ales, a British-style strong ale, are meant to be aged, and this one does not seem like it would hold up to prolonged time in the cellar.

Both the IPA and scotch ales are also decent choices, but the two highlights of Arcadia's portfolio are the Imperial Stout and the Cocoa Loco.

The Imperial Stout pours out jet black and smells like roasted coffee. The 8.4 percent alcohol by volume is barely noticeable, and the drink itself is very smooth and creamy, with a nice, roasted malt flavor.

The Cocoa Loco is a different type of stout. At only 7 percent ABV, this is brewed with three different types of chocolates. The chocolate smell is strong, but the flavor does not overwhelm you when you drink it.

"One of the things I like to tell people is it's not a Hershey bar in a bottle," said Surprise. "I like beers that taste instinctive and unique, but we want a beer that people want to drink more than one. It's probably the most complex beer we've made, but it's probably our most drinkable."

Currently, Arcadia beers are only available in 12 stores throughout the state, but more are expected to begin carrying them. In this area, the beers are available at Power's Package Store in Natick, Friendly Discount Liquors in Whitinsville, Marty's Liquors in Newton and Julio's Liquors in Westborough.

Norman Miller is a Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, e-mail or call 508-626-3823. And check out his blog at