Growlers and beyond: raising the beer bar in Rhode Island

8009185-sideFreedom of choice / Is what you want
_Devo

You can’t always get what you want
_The Rolling Stones

On October 30, 2014, two days after the launch of this enterprise, we received our first email, which included a question about growlers. In February, when we introduced the “Ask Bottles & Cans” series, five questions concerned growlers — and frustration over the 72-ounce limit was cited in most of them.

Why the 72-ounce cap? Let’s turn back the clock a bit…

On July 16, 2013, Governor Lincoln Chafee signed S 0236 Substitute A, “An Act Relating to Alcoholic Beverages — Manufacturing and Wholesale Licenses,” which allowed breweries and distilleries to “provide to visitors in conjunction with a tour and/or tasting, samples, clearly marked as samples, not to exceed 375 ml per visitor for distilled spirits and 72 ounces per visitor for malt beverages at the licensed plant by the manufacturer of the product of the licensed plant to visitors for off-premise consumption.”

Translation: Rhode Island breweries [Bucket, Foolproof, Grey Sail, Newport Storm, and Ravenous when the bill was passed, since joined by Proclamation, Whaler’s, Crooked Current, and Tilted Barn; Revival and Narragansett don’t have their own shops] could finally “sell” beer at their facilities and you could take it home [or wherever] and enjoy it. The “72 ounces per visitor” equals a six-pack, three 22-ounce bombers, a conventional 64-ounce growler, or two growlettes/howlers [or a combination of those formats]. The “sale” of the “sample” would be allowed as part of a tasting and/or tour.

It was a long-sought and hard-fought victory. The battle began around 2006 when Newport Storm — then the state’s lone brewery — started the push to legalize growler sales. The proposal was met with firm resistance from wholesalers [and their lobbyists], who touted the venerable merits of the established alcohol distribution system. After years of frustration, the fledgling breweries joined the cause and the beer-to-go “clearly marked as samples” law got the green light.

Even the smallest change is a large accomplishment. Liquor laws are a hornet’s nest, a can of worms, a confounding tangle of red tape — choose your metaphor. All 50 states have different sets of rules and regulations and restrictions — and some of those three Rs differ in a given state’s cities and towns. Many of the laws have been on the books since the repeal of Prohibition and the establishment of the three-tier system of alcohol distribution in 1933. But eight decades later, the proliferation of small brewers and consumers’ passion for supporting local beer and businesses means its time to make significant updates to the established alcohol distribution system.

•    •    •

Rhode-Island-600
Image courtesy of CraftBeer.com

Rhode Islanders’ aversion to traveling “long distances” is well-known. Local beer lovers would be much more likely to make the round trip from Warwick [80 miles] or Woonsocket [114 miles!!] to get fresh beer at Grey Sail in Westerly if they could purchase more than one growler. With beer tourism on the rise, the limit will discourage visitors to “Discover Beautiful Rhode Island,” as the signs urge drivers at the state’s borders, and encourage informed travelers to head to breweries in Massachusetts and/or Connecticut. There is no limit to the number of growlers you can purchase in the Bay State [though breweries must fill their “own” growlers, emblazoned with their branding; in RI, some brewers will only fill their own glassware; call ahead!]; in Connecticut, customers can buy 288 ounces per visit — aka, four growlers [and one quart].

The 72-ounce limit at breweries is even more irksome since there is no limit on the number of growlers that can be purchased at brewpubs [and you can buy multiple cases of wine at local vineyards]. And there is no limit on the number of pre-filled growlers [from Bucket, Berkshire Brewing, and other area companies] that can be bought at stores. That playing field needs to be leveled!

There is a lot of potential upside to lifting the restriction: it would boost sales [um, duh] which would lead to increased production — and more jobs! Win-win-win! Readers also mused that an increase in growler sales would boost the state’s sales tax, but that’s not the case. S 0236 authorized breweries to “sample” growlers — but by law they are selling the tour and/or tasting, not the beer. Because they are selling a service, there is no sales tax [though there is a tax paid for the glassware — it’s always something]. OK, add a tax fix to that ounces amendment!

•    •    •

Given the struggle that finally yielded the 72-ounce “compromise,” as one brewer called it, there is some resistance to fighting that battle all over again with the wholesalers and retailers — and their lobbyists. Another brewer said: “It was a [long] fight to get the 72 ounces, and a big concern that we had to overcome was that if we were allowed that much, we’d start looking for more. It is frustrating that just about any other business can manufacture and sell their product, while alcohol producers need to do business with one hand tied behind our backs.” And presently, the state’s breweries are at distinct tiers, vis-à-vis on-site vs. wholesale purchases: the more established beermakers — Newport Storm, Foolproof, Grey Sail, Bucket — have a growing foothold in the marketplace, while the nanos and micros could see significant gains with increased in-house sales.

It’s a tricky balancing act for all concerned. Six of the locals [Bucket, Foolproof, Grey Sail, Newport Storm, Proclamation, and Revival; the latter enjoys unlimited growler sales through its partnership with the Brutopia brewpub] are sold in stores — and distributed by the tier of the industry that fought the growler law. All of the breweries [except Tilted Barn, for now] are available in bars. But with the dramatic rise of craft’s share of the market, finding a way to share the increasing revenue should be mutually beneficial at all the levels of the three-tier system.

•    •    •

State_houseWe’re sure there were some legislative struggles in our neighboring states, but we’re hoping that the old saw about a rising tide lifting all boats can be embraced by the lobbyists and that the potential for increased sales at local breweries isn’t seen as a threat to sales at liquor stores.

We reached out to some folks who know how the sausage gets made at the State House for some advice on how to start pushing for change:

 Nothing will happen before 2016 when new legislation can be submitted to the House and Senate [S 0236 Substitute A was introduced on 2.6.13, passed the Senate in April, and was signed in July], but the campaign for better beer laws needs to start in the fall.

Congressman James Langevin with Wes Staschke at Whaler's Brewing
Congressman James Langevin with Wes Staschke at Whaler’s Brewing

 The crux of the matter is that beer is a business, and changing the laws will be good for the economic growth of a small but thriving local industry. Contact your lawmakers [especially those who represent the breweries’ home cities and towns] and express your support for the state’s hard-working and ambitious beermakers. [S 0236 Substitute A was introduced by Senators Louis P. DiPalma, M. Teresa Paiva Weed, Dennis L. Algiere, Erin P. Lynch, and Dominick J. Ruggerio; they can be reached at sen-dipalma@rilin.state.ri.us; sen-paivaweed@rilin.state.ri.us; sen-algiere@rilin.state.ri.us; sen-lynch@rilin.state.ri.us; sen-ruggerio@rilin.state.ri.us].

 The brewers need to do a PR campaign. The first step should be the long-overdue launch of a RI Beer Trail/Brewery Challenge/Passport project, modeled on the programs in Massachusetts and Vermont. It’s simple and fun: participants get a T-shirt [or other promotional swag] when their passport is stamped by all of the breweries and brewpubs on the Biggest Little map. It’s a simple and very interactive way to promote the profile of RI beer in-state and beyond. A subsequent campaign trumpeting the benefit of increased sales and jobs would raise awareness and support the cause.

Local brewers need their own lobbyist to make the case that outdated laws are restricting business and potential job growth. Working the corridors of power at the State House is another playing field that needs to be leveled.

But the wheels turn slowly everywhere. Here’s a prime example: in April, after three years [and more than $1 million of lobbyist to-ing-and-fro-ing], Florida passed a bill that allowed sales of industry-standard 64-ounce growlers — changing the law that had limited sales to quart and gallon [!] containers. Governor Rick Scott’s comment should be espoused as an inspirational rallying cry for all of these proposals: “By making the sale of 64-ounce growlers legal in Florida, we are eliminating another burdensome regulation and allowing more Florida businesses to succeed. We are pleased to create a world-class business environment where all businesses, including breweries, can succeed.” Huzzah! We’ll drink to that!

•    •    •

Beyond growlers, another key legislative focus is on approving tap room status for breweries, like they have in [wait for it…] Massachusetts and Connecticut. S 0236 specifies that the manufacturer’s license “does not authorize the sale of beverages for consumption on premises.” In Connecticut, a Manufacturer Permit allows growler sales, while a coveted Manufacturer for Beer and Brewpub license adds pint sales in the tasting room. So we’ll need yet another law to enhance the brewery experience — and boost the aforementioned beer tourism. Win-win!

•    •    •

A growler fill station in Oregon
A growler fill station in Oregon

And while we’re shaking things up, let’s add another spoke to the better beer wheel and make the case for growler sales of local and national accounts at retail locations. Thirty-five or so states fill glassware at grocery and convenience stores, gas stations, and liquor stores. We recently visited a package store in upstate NY whose dozen taps were pouring the likes of Jack’s Abby’s Hoponius Union, Evil Twin’s Imperial Doughnut Break, and Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout in your choice of container — 64-, 32, or 16-ounce [a growler of BCBS was $37.99; that’s not a typo]. Consumers would love that option here, and retailers would benefit from adding the draft format — but bar owners would likely frown on the addition [though in PA and other states you can buy growlers-to-go at taverns]. [When Bottles in Providence opened they had a growler station, but it was quickly removed as it was in violation of a state law and/or health code.] Maybe we can add this to the 2017 legislative calendar…

•    •    •

Is any state a true brewtopia — with growlers available at breweries and retail and taverns? With a more-options-are-better mindset? With a why-can’t-we-all-get-along? attitude? Nah, it’s always something. But we hope that Rhode Island will make strides to help small breweries thrive, to have more choices at stores, and to motivate a beer lover in Woonsocket to drive allll the way to Westerly — and to explore and enjoy our many other hoppy stops in between.

Mega-thanks to everyone — at all the levels of the three-tier system — who provided data, guidance, advice, and feedback. Please add your input in the Comment section!

Get your beer on this weekend!

beer_oclockWe gave you an early heads-up for beer events on Saturday [follow the links for the full reports]: the Record Store Day/Dogfish Head bashes at Pour Judgement, the Scurvy Dog [with a vinyl swap], and the Ocean Mist [their celebration stretches to Sunday] — short take: buy a Dogfish beer and get a raffle ticket for a sweet limited edition mini-portable turntable by Crosley — and the debut of ’Gansett’s Innsmouth Olde Ale, with a walking tour of Lovecraft historical highlights, followed by a first taste [or two] at the English Cellar Alehouse [though on Thursday ’Gansett was retweeting photos of the tallboys already arriving at stores in MA]. And don’t forget the Boston Beer Summit at the Park Plaza Castle today [6-9:30 pm] and on Saturday [12:30-4 and 5:30-9], with nearly 60 brewers pouring more than 200 brews [tix = $55].

Here are some other destinations to head to on this beauteous weekend: Bucket Brewery [100 Carver St, Pawtucket] will host its monthly Friday Night Sound Check today [4.17] from 6-9 pm, with music by the roots-rockin’ Little Compton Band, beer samples and free raffles. Admission is $15; if you bring non-perishable food items for the Rhode Island Food Bank, you’ll get more beer! And you can ooh! and ahh! at their shiny new cans. Do it!…Tilted Barn Brewery is bursting with brews on Saturday from 1 to 4 pm, with Chinook IPA and Raffi, a Oatmeal Stout brewed with coffee from Updike’s Newtowne Coffee Roasters available for tastings and growler fills, plus tastings-only samples of First Harvest Mosaic, Equinox, and Sunrise…Grey Sail is open today from 3 to 6 pm and on Saturday [with tours] and Sunday from 1 to 5. They’ll have Flagship Cream Ale and Flying Jenny, plus Leaning Chimney Smoked Porter, Captain’s Daughter [limited], 3rd Anniversary IPL [limited], and they tell us “we’re down to our last 10 gallons of the following specialty beers for a while/permanently”: Mary Ann’s Ginger Spice [until the fall], Dynasty Imperial Cream Ale [forever], and Pour Judgement IPA [temporarily]…And you can map out the first leg of your own version of the Rhode Island Beer Trail/Brewery Challenge, with a route that runs from Ravenous Brewing in Woonsocket to Foolproof and Crooked Current in Pawtucket to Proclamation Ale Co. in West Kingston [update from Dave: “tonight 5-8, tomorrow 1-5 pm. Tendril available for growlers, Plattelander bottles. Derivative all gone, but we have Peachlander, remaining anniversary and maybe some other random stuff for tastings…(shhh)” to Whaler’s in Wakefield [and the aforementioned breweries]. Follow the links for updates on what you can taste and take home.

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Info overload: Newport Craft Beer Festival, King of the Yahd, new Ballast Point brews, Hop Hunter arrives, and much more!

A whole lotta beer news has piled up in the last week or so. Let’s dig in:

The date for the 4th Newport Craft Beer Festival was finally announced: it will take place on Saturday, May 9 on the lawn at the Great Friends Meeting House [we guessed right about it moving to May, since the 9th Great International Spring Beer Festival usurped its last-Saturday-in-April slot]. Newport-Craft-Beer-FestivalThe fest is produced by Newport Storm and Pour Judgement Bar and Grill and features 30-plus breweries pouring during two sessions [12-3 and 4-7 pm]. And new this year: a VIB [Very Important Beers] Event on Friday, May 8 at Newport Storm HQ, with exclusive beers that won’t be poured at the Fest and the chance to chat with the brewers in an intimate setting. Tickets will be available soon; check the website and/or Facebook page for updates.

Speaking of Newport Storm and Pour Judgement, the former is releasing Rye of the Storm IPA. The 8%ABV brew is made with a huge helping of the spicy grain and a mix of Cascade, New Zealand Orbit, and German Tradition hops. Four-packs are in stores now…And Pour Judgement IPA, which is made for the bar on Broadway by the folks at Grey Sail, will be hitting the market in 12-ounce cans.

And King of the Yahd, Foolproof’s Imperial India Pale Ale [8.5%], has made its annual appearance. This year’s batch is made with Green Bullet and Southern Cross hops from New Zealand.

  Quick sips: Ballast Point’s Sculpin and Big Eye have been very well-received since their triumphant return, and more beers from the San Diego brewery will arrive next week: Even Keel, a seasonal session IPA [3.8%, in cans]; Victory At Sea, an exalted imperial porter [10%] made with coffee and vanilla beans; and Grapefruit Sculpin, brewed with grapefruit rind [if you see that one, don’t hesitate — the supply is very limited; we wrote, “The tartness of the title fruit adds another delightful component to the sumptuous Sculpin. You must try this beer”]…Sierra Nevada’s Hop Hunter has finally reached our tiny state. It’s a groundbreaking IPA made with steam-distilled hop oil. The aroma is a blast of hop manna, and it’s a piney taste treat. After 35 years in the better beer business, it’s even more impressive that SN continues to up its game…The latest offering in Heavy Seas’ Unchartered Waters series is Phantom Ship, a tripel aged in bourbon barrels [9.5%, in bombers]…The folks at Founders describe Blushing Monk [9.2%] as “essentially an ’Imperial Rübæus,’ [made with] four times the amount of raspberries as Rübæus and fermented with a Belgian yeast strain.” It’s the first 2015 release in their Backstage Series, which shares the Michigan brewery’s experimental brews in 750ml bottles…And mark your calendar [no foolin’]: Founders’ KBS [Kentucky Bourbon Stout] will hit stores on Wednesday, April 1…Three of Firestone Walker’s superb brews will soon be available in cans: Union Jack [IPA, 7.5%]; Easy Jack [Summer Session IPA, 4.5%], and Pivo Hoppy Pils [German Pilsener, 5.3%]…Stone’s next batch of Enjoy By4.20.15 — will be available in six-packs [!] for the first time…And CraftBeer.com, the Brewers Association’s website, has produced a Beer Styles Guide, with visual representations of the wide world of brews, a “concise and systematic” tasting sheet, a text guide with “an alphabetical list of triggers — from alcohol to yeast variety — to help describe possible characteristics of a specific beer style,” and more engaging Beer 101 info and fun.The BA folks note that “the list was pared down to 77 common US beer styles inside of 15 style families with unique information added specifically with the beer lover in mind.” Cheers!!

New brews from Foolproof and Grey Sail, and the obligatory Super Bowl item

Football-DraftWe’ve assembled a few brief items, while working the beer list for the [sold out!] Rhode Island Brew Fest and trying to figure out how to sample a third [half? a quarter?] of the 225-plus pours [full disclosure: we’re looking into cloning but don’t think we can get that done by Saturday . . .].

On Monday, as a pre-Juno treat, Foolproof did a sneak peek of its new Valentine-themed release, Shuckolate, the chocolate-oyster stout was made with Garrison Confections and Walrus and Carpenter Oysters. If you didn’t get there on the 26th, you can try it this weekend at the brewery [241 Grotto Ave, Pawtucket; today 5-7 pm, Saturday 1-5; $10 includes three samples and a glass] and at the Brew Fest on Saturday. Bombers and draft starts shipping on Monday.

Grey Sail [63 Canal St, Westerly] encourages you to challenge your palate in their tasting room this weekend [today 3-6 pm, Sat & Sun 1-5]. They have Guess the Hop DIPA; a Smoked Porter with ? [the first person to ID the mystery ingredient gets a free growler fill]; and they’re debuting “I’m In Love with the Cacao” Stout. There are other treats on hand, too. And they’ll be at the Brew Fest, natch.

And here’s the obligatory Super Bowl entry: USA Today says more than 50 million cases of beer will be consumed in the US during the Big Game. Forbes offers these factoids: “The 325 million gallons of beer that will be drunk during Super Bowl XLIX Sunday is more than a gallon per person in the United States. Almost as much as the amount of water that will flow over Niagara Falls during Katy Perry’s halftime songs.” [Men’s Fitness has a few reasons why you should not drink a gallon of beer during the Super Bowl: “Assuming you consume the brewskis over a 5-hour span, (a) 185-pound man’s BAC would be .135 – legally unable to drive, physically unable to do just about anything besides sing loudly and take a nap on the couch.”]

So try to stay on the responsible side of a gallon — pace yourself and delve into the suddenly-ubiquitous session brews from the what-are-we-calling-them-now-since-we’re-not-supposed-to-use-the-word-“craft”-right? beerists. There are great and flavorful and below 5% ABV offerings from Founders [All Day IPA — a bargain in 15-packs], Heavy Seas [the new CrossBones], the classic Anchor Steam, 21st Amendment’s Bitter American, Goose Island’s Honkers Ale, Firestone Walker’s Pale 31, locals Foolproof [Barstool] and Grey Sail [Flagship Ale], and many more.

Or just open one bottle of Dogfish Head’s Raison D’Extra, and nurse that 18% ABV Belgian-style strong brown ale [brewed with raisins and brown sugar] from pre-game to trophy presentation…

Local winners in RateBeer’s Best of 2014, and more

rbbest-2015A few random notes and reads…

RateBeer has been rolling out its Best Awards for 2014, with lists of Top New Brewers, Best Beers In the World, and more. The results were calculated from scores posted by the site’s reviewers; two more lists are will be revealed on Thursday and Friday.

In the Best Places for Beer by Subregion category, three Rhode Island establishments took top honors: Julian’s [restaurant], Nikki’s [bottle shop], and Track 84 [bar]. [A brewpub winner was not included; brewer tap room and grocery don’t apply in RI.]

And in Top Beers, Brewers, New Brewers by Subregion, Foolproof’s Raincloud Porter was cited as top beer and Narragansett as top brewer [there was no entry for best new brewer].

Fresh beer: Rev up the sled and head to Exeter to get growler fills and tastings at Tilted Barn Brewery. They’ll have Half-Mile IPA and Winter Sol [a brown ale] for your sipping and purchasing pleasure.

And two diverse reads, if you have more Juno-related time to kill today:

How Great Divide and Sam Adams Decided Not To Fight Over the Whitewater Beer Name, by Jonathan Shikes @ Westword [“ ‘We’d always rather work together with a fellow craft brewer to come to an amicable solution and we were both able to do so here in a spirit of good will.’ ”]

And in case you missed it, the times they have a-really-changed: Bob Dylan Does the American Standards His Way, an exclusive interview by Robert Love from AARP The Magazine [“ ‘I don’t work at Rolling Stone anymore,’ I told them, thinking it was a case of crossed wires, since I put in 20 years there. No, they said, there’s no mistake; he wants to talk to your readers.”]

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The Rhode Island Brew Fest: By the numbers

We were happy to see the Rhode Island Brew Fest release its beer list a few hours ago. It gave us the opportunity to break it down, and an excuse to put off heading outside with the shovel…

Sixty breweries [including three ciderists and one meadery] will share 228 different samples of liquid goodness at the Pawtucket Armory on Saturday, January 31. [See below for a few notable new releases; we cited other highlights  in our January 13 entry on the Fest.]

Fourteen of the Ocean State’s 16 breweries will be representing, pouring 57 varieties. Here are the details, with styles added when they’re not part of the beer’s name on the #RIBrew beer list — extra value from the Bottles & Cans desk!:

Brutopia: Never Ender [IPA], Valhalla [amber ale], First Coast [Belgian double IPA], Munk [Belgian-style abbey ale]

Bucket Brewery: 9 Men’s Misery [IPA], Park Loop Porter

Crooked Current: Kickback American Wheat, Immortality Pale Ale

Foolproof: Barstool Golden Ale, Backyahd IPA, La Ferme Urbaine Farmhouse Ale, Shuckolate Stout, Raincloud [Robust Porter], Revery Imperial Stout

Grey Sail: Captain’s Daughter [double IPA]; Leaning Chimney [smoked porter], Flying Jenny [extra pale ale], Maryanne’s Ginger [spice ale], Flagship [cream ale]

Narragansett: Lager, Light, Coffee Milk Stout, Lovecraft Honey Ale

Newport Storm: Hurricane Amber Ale, RI Blueberry, India Point Ale, Winter Porter, Spring Irish Red Ale

Proclamation Ale: Tendril [“not quite an imperial IPA”], Derivative [American pale ale], Anniversary [Belgian dark strong ale with plums; some details from brewer Dave Witham: “The keg I am bringing to the RI Brew Fest is the base beer. It’s the only keg I have of it, because the rest of the beer got put into whisky and bourbon barrels at the brewery. 2 whiskey barrels full are aging and 1 bourbon barrel with brett and another 40 lbs of plums”], Harper [sour beer with apricots], Plattelander [saison]

Ravenous: Blackstone Pale Ale, Bienvenu Red Ale, Coffee Milk Stout

Revival: Fanny Session IPA, Conga [imperial IPA], Burnside Pale Ale, White Electric Coffee Stout, Elder Strong Cocoa Stout, Zeppelin [Hefeweizen ale]

Tilted Barn: Half-Mile IPA, First Harvest Pale Ale, Raffi Coffee Oatmeal Stout, Winter Sol [brown ale]

Trinity Brewhouse: Barleywine, Russian Stout, IPA, Gingerbread Man, Tommy’s Red, Scotch Ale

Union Station: Citra Big Ass Down [IPA], Providence Pale Ale

Whaler’s: American Strong Ale, Hazelnut Stout, White IPA

Of the 171 offerings at the New England/national tables, there are some new entries: you can get a first taste of session brews from Oskar Blues [Pinner Throwback IPA], Green Flash [Jibe], and Heavy Seas [CrossBones]; take a virtual getaway from the snow with Baxter’s Window Seat, a new seasonal porter made with coconut and almond; Sierra Nevada will showcase its new Nooner Pilsner and one-time-only Hoppy Lager; and Founders will unleash its Black Rye. You can see the complete list here; it notes that beers are subject to change. And that’s true, here’s a change now: Stone will bring Enjoy by 2.14.15 and Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean to vie for your attention with Bourbon Barrel-Aged Arrogant Bastard Ale and Double Bastard. And check out the floor plan too.

Even with unlimited — and responsible — sippling, you can only sample about one-seventh of the tantalizing treats [our math is based on 32 two-ounce pours, aka four pints; your mileage may vary]. So plan ahead. Work the list! [And designate that driver, and/or take advantage of the Brew Fest’s Uber offer].

As we said two weeks ago: The Rhode Island Brew Fest is a  very welcome winter warmer — the Big Beer Event to circle on your calendar during these cold, cold [and now snow-caked] months. You can enjoy the bounty of local brews and chat with their creators! Compare notes and swap ale tales with fellow beerists!! Discover a few new favorite brews to enjoy year-round!! Wear pretzel necklaces!!! Huzzah!!!!

Today around noon @RIBrewFest tweeted, “Get your tickets to session two ASAP. Only a handful remain.” There were at least 10 left when we hit “Publish” at 3:44 pm… Get ’em here!

New year, new beers from Sierra Nevada, Founders, and more

There’s a blizzard of new and seasonal beers arriving soon on shelves and taps. And, yes, one of them says “Spring Seasonal” on the label.

Sierra Nevada is introducing two new year-round beers: Nooner Pilsner [5.2% ABV] and Hop Hunter [6.2%]. The former is a German-style brew; it will be available in [ahem] bottles and cans. The latter is a groundbreaking IPA made with steam-distilled hop oil. And that spring seasonal is 2015 Beer Camp Hoppy Lager, a collaboration with San Diego’s Ballast Point which was part of last summer’s Beer Camp Across America box [former name: Electric Ray]. The India Pale Lager, whose ABV has been cut down from 8.5% to 7%, was one of the highlights of the mega-limited sampler and does right by its sublimely simple name. [The release is taking Ruthless Rye’s place in the seasonal rotation, but RR will be in the new 4-Way IPA box.]  Nooner and Hoppy Lager are on shelves now; Hop Hunter is due on February 2, and you can read about it here.

Black_rye_bottle_web Founders is greeting the new year with Black Rye, a “dry-hopped dark ale [7.5%]  brewed with copious amounts of rye malt.” It was first made in 2006, but the recipe has been locked away since then. Dave Engbers, Founders’ co-founder and vice president of brand and education [who spoke at Beervana in October] said, “Because of how quickly the craft beer enthusiast community has grown, most people drinking craft beer and even Founders beer today have never tried Black Rye. Officially, this beer is a re-introduction. But for most, it’s a new Founders beer.” The seasonal release is out now.

Victory Brewing is celebrating its birthday with Anniversary 19 Ale, a session IPA [4.5%] made with Simcoe, Citra, and Chinook hops. And we know a few folks who have been jonesing for the return of Hop Ranch, an extraordinarily well-balanced and ultra-delicious Imperial IPA [9%]; four-packs are hitting stores this week.

durty I’m super-psyched for Smuttynose’s second annual batch of Durty Mud Season Hoppy Brown Ale. The potent [8.4%] brew does justice to both elements in its name — a massive hop presence blends beautifully with rich caramel/chocolate malts. It’s shipping this week!

Narragansett Beer is getting into the literary spirit with the PR for Lovecraft Honey Ale, which debuts on January 19 [Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday]: “When the brewery was shut down, the spirit of Narragansett never died; it went underground, to a deep and dark place. Since reclaiming our beer in 2005, we’ve worked hard to stay true to our roots. But after being in that dungeon for so long, we came back with some baggage. Just like the nameless protagonist from Lovecraft’s ‘The Outsider,’ we emerged in the light a little different. A little…strange. Think of this brew as our bold, our obscure, our tampered-with mind. It won’t be for everyone, and if it isn’t for you, you’ll know exactly who it IS for. This is OUR Lovecraft. The stars are right on 1.19.15.” On Tuesday at Boston magazine’s website, ’Gansett prez Mark Hellendrung elaborated on the news he shared with us on December 29: “We’re celebrating our 125th anniversary here and this is kind of an extension of what we’ve been trying to do at the brewery, bringing back this great brand through a historical lens and local authenticity. One of our ’Gansett Girls is actually a librarian and she had this idea, knowing that Lovecraft’s birthday was in 1890, the same year our brewery was founded. We thought it was a great way to give Sean Larkin, our brewmaster, a platform to really experiment with different styles of beer.”

Mark said the next entry in the series will be Innsmouth Old Ale [after Lovecraft’s novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth]; it’s due in April.

And Foolproof will help you make Valentine’s Day truly special with the release of its first collaborative beer, Shuckolate, a stout [6%] brewed with cocoa from Garrison Chocolates and oysters from the crew at Walrus and Carpenter in Ninigret. The label notes that the “two natural aphrodisiacs . . . lend a creamy silk mouthfeel [and] slight brininess” The limited release will be available soon in 22-ounce bombers.

Clearing the desk: My newest Twitter follower: Mahatma Gandhi, “The preeminent leader of Indian independence movement in British-ruled India” . . . And the most-searched article in the Bottles & Cans archive is our November 11 entry on Grey Sail’s Captain’s Daughter. On Tuesday, someone found it by Googling “what is captains daughter liquor.”

NOTE: This entry was updated on 1.7.15 @ 3:29 pm. The earlier version incorrectly stated that Nooner Pilsner first appeared in the 2014 4-Way IPA sampler; Nooner Session IPA was in that box.