White Birch founder Bill Herlicka
Josh Smith, our beer guy for the last 18 months, has passed me the gold-plated bottle opener (follow him at joshsbeerblog.blogspot.com). So let's dive in.FRESH BEER! While folks are still lamenting the departure of Dogfish Head, Avery, and Great Divide from Rhode Island stores (psst: those brews are still available just across the border in the Commonwealth of Massachu-setts, y'know), there's reason to be cheerful with the recent arrival of these noteworthy brands:
• FIRESTONE WALKER. Seek out and savor the Double Jack Imperial IPA, and hope that six-packs of Union Jack IPA arrive soon.
• SIXPOINT CRAFT ALES. Straight outta Brooklyn (love their motto: "Beer Is Culture," and their striking 16-ounce cans), the brewery has four top-notch offerings: The Sweet Action cream ale is sublime and easygoing; the Righteous Ale is a terrific rye beer, bursting with the personality of its distinctive grain; the Bengali Tiger American IPA goes relatively light on the hop assault but doesn't sacrifice flavor; and the Crisp is a pilsener which will renew your appreciation for the oft-maligned, subtle style (and the Diesel stout was a rich treat served from the cask at Julian's last week).
• WHITE BIRCH BREWING's wonderful small batch ales, including the Belgian Style Pale Ale, Hooksett Ale (named for their New Hampshire home), and Hop Session. I did a brief e-mail interview with White Birch founder Bill Herlicka:
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH A CRAFT BEER? I was drawn into better beer by a great Guinness Extra Stout. From there it was Sam Adams and the 1994 Boston Beer Festival that really opened my eyes to craft beers and home brewing.
WHICH BEER WOULD YOU RECOMMEND AS A "STARTER" FOR SOMEONE INTRIGUED BY YOUR BREWS? If you like hops I recommend either my Hop Session or Hooksett ales. Great hop flavors and a balance in the beer which make it a great drink. If you're not a big hop person and want a flavorful beer, I highly recommend my Belgian Style Pale Ale. Soft malts, a bit of spice, and a nice saaz finish — it just works.
HAVE YOU HAD ANY BEERS FROM TRINITY OR NEWPORT STORM? ANY FAVORITES? I try to get the Newport Storm [Annual Release Series] each year. Just enjoyed an '07 and I have an '09 in my cellar. I have not tried a Trinity beer yet.DO YOU READ YOUR REVIEWS AT BEER ADVOCATE? I do read my reviews. Great, good, indifferent or dislike, I read them all. There's something to learn any time someone puts an effort into telling you something.
You can meet Bill and sample his beer on Thursday, August 4 from 6 to 8 pm at Nikki's (33 Smithfield Road, North Providence).
But the big new news, from Chuck Borkoski of Elevated Spirits, is that "the beers of BEAR REPUBLIC will finally be coming to Rhode Island by mid-August. All items will be available in package and draught. I have actively been courting Bear Republic for almost four years. Proves the saying that good things are worth waiting for!" Be on the lookout for Racer 5 IPA, Red Rocket Ale, and Hop Rod Rye (a powerful and satisfying rye IPA with "dual overhead hop injection") — all three are extraordinary creations by the celebrated California brewery.