The Beer Nut: Degrees of difference with McNeill's Brewery
There was a time that I didn't drink beer from McNeill's Brewery.
The first few times I had this Brattleboro, Vt., brewpub's beers, I thought they were great, easy drinking beers at a good price.
But, after awhile, I noticed a change.
The beer had off flavors and there was no pleasure in drinking them, so I stopped buying them and the bottles disappeared from the shelves.
Luckily, I noticed McNeill's back on store shelves, and I decided to give the brewery another try. The pleasure of drinking them is back.
The reason for the off flavors is simple, brewery owner Ray McNeill said. The brewpub's basement, where the beer was produced, got too cold to brew the styles they were making.
"The floor below the brewery is not really heated," said McNeill, a classically trained cellist. "Immediately to the south of my building, there was a parking lot and the town built a parking garage. It did not occur to me how much heat we were getting from the sun. The temperature in the brewery and the floor below that probably dropped about 30 degrees.
"It was very difficult to make beer here, and as time went on, it got more so."
Now, instead of trying to brew numerous beers in the basement both for the brewpub and to sell in stores while hand-bottling thousands of beers, McNeill opened up a brand new production facility where all the beers are brewed and bottled.
The results are fantastic. The beers are great to drink again.
"We should have never done the things we did," said McNeill. "I had been planning on opening a manufacturing facility for some period of time. I never did it because I kept running into roadblocks, but it was finally time."
McNeill's currently bottles 10 of its more than 35 beers. Among them are Blond Bombshell, Firehouse Amber Ale, Ruby Ale, Dead Horse IPA, McNeill's ESB, Professor Brewhead's Brown Ale, Pullman's Porter, Oatmeal Stout and the Warlord Double IPA, the only "high-octane" beer currently available.
"I personally don't drink a lot of high-octane beers because they get me smashed," said McNeill. "I rather stick with something that's 5.5 (percent alcohol by volume) and take the long route, rather than the 8.5 (percent ABV) and you're smashed by the time you finish the second bottle."
I do drink a lot of high-octane beers, and the Warlord Double IPA is a well-above-average version of the style. And, what makes it even better is the price tag less than $5. Most 22-ounce bottles of double IPAs easily cost $7 or $8 each.
McNeill said more high-octane beers may be bottled in the future, kind of like a rotation. He said his Sunshine, a "fairly high octane organic IPA," will be in stores in six to eight weeks.
Other higher-alcohol beers, such as the imperial stout or the Bucksnort Barley Wine could be bottled in the future, he said.
The rest of McNeill's beers are definitely worth buying.
They are closer to "session" strength (beers you can have several in one sitting without worrying about becoming intoxicated), and are all (or at least the ones I've had) extremely full-flavored, easy-drinking beers.
The Oatmeal Stout is probably the best brewed in New England (competing with the Portsmouth Brewing Company's version of the same style). It is exceedingly smooth and is a great beer to drink on a cool evening.
McNeill's ESB (extra special bitter), has a nice, hoppy flavor without crossing into bitterness. Like the Oatmeal Stout, it is easy drinking and well-balanced.
The rest of the beers I've tried Firehouse Ale, Dead Horse IPA and Pullman's Porter are all definitely worth trying. I don't think you'll be disappointed with any of them particularly for less than $3.50 per 22-ounce bottle it will cost at most retailers.
Norman Miller is a Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 508-626-3823. Check out The Beer Nut blog athttp://blogs.townonline.com/beernut/.