McNeill’s Brewpub and Brewery, Brattleboro, Vermont

July 20, 2010

Mr. JK’s teenage son, Lee Harvey TK, has taken to calling me the ‘Brewpub Wizard’.*  The nickname is based on a single fortuitous happenstance which occurred a few weeks ago up in Vermont.

Lee Harvey TK, seventeen years old and the proud carrier of a learner’s permit, was itching to drive, and Mr. JK and I were perfectly content to let him play Hoke to our collective Miss Daisy.  We needed beer, food and fireworks for the Fourth of July, and decided to go to the food co-op in Brattleboro for the beer and food.  In the days leading up to the Fourth, we had been drinking beers from McNeill’s Brewery in Brattleboro.  Their beer ranges from good to great, and at $3.99 for a bomber bottle, their brews are certainly cost effective.  I insisted that we also stop at McNeill’s for a beer while in Brattleboro.

I had never been to McNeill’s, but that did not stop me from telling Lee Harvey TK how great the cheeseburgers were at the brewpub as we drove to Brattleboro.  Our normal route to Brattleboro was blocked off due to a July 4th Parade, and the detour had us all twisted around.  I was in the backseat barking directions to Lee Harvey TK, even though I had no idea where I was going.  Mr. JK was shouting contradictory directions, with about as much idea of where he was going as I did.  He shouted “Left!”; I barked “Right!”  For some reason, Lee Harvey TK ignored Dad and turned right, and as we turned the corner, McNeill’s was in front of us. I cannot emphasize this enough:  This was sheer dumb luck.  I had absolutely no idea where the brewpub was located.  As we parked, Lee Harvey TK turned to me and said, “These cheeseburgers better be good.”

When it comes to food, brewpubs generally fall into a few broad categories.  There are those that serve high end gourmet food;  There are those that serve glorified pub grub; And there are those that are run by hippies and serve sprouted mung beans, hummus and baba ganoush (all ingredients locally grown of course).  Guess which category McNeill’s falls into?  Let’s just say that Lee Harvey TK did not get any cheeseburgers, and he really hated the hummus.

The bar at McNeill's

Mr. JK and I had a few beers at the bar while Lee Harvey TK sullenly drank his club soda, and whupped us at the various bar games they had.  We had the cask conditioned Warlord Imperial IPA, which was outstanding, and a few others.  Unfortunately, the taps were not working properly, so the selection that day was extremely limited.

On to the bombers we tried over the course of a few days:

The Champ Ale (named after the Lake Champlain monster, America’s very own Nessie) was light and refreshing, perfect for the blazing heat we had in Vermont.  It had a nice yeasty tang to it, very low hops bitterness, and a low 5.5% ABV.  The Champ Ale bills itself as an American Pale Ale, but it tasted somewhat Belgian to me.  Whether Belgian or American, it was still good, 7.5/10.

The Firehouse Amber is one of the better amber beers I have come across.  Amber Beers are like Brown Ales.  They are usually not bad, but they are almost never great.  The Firehouse is not great, but it comes closer than most amber beers I have tried.  It poured cloudy and amber, and had a nice fruity maltiness with a touch of hops bitterness.  This was one of the more pleasant beers of the weekend, 7.5/10.

Speaking of Brown Ales, McNeill’s Professor Brewhead’s Brown Ale, like the Firehouse Amber, is one of the better examples of the style that I have tasted.  It poured a light brown with a decent head and lacing.  It smelled yeasty and bready, with more hops in the taste than in the nose. The hops had a mild orange and apricot flavor to them, and balanced the malts nicely.  While brown ales are not my favorite style of beer, this is a good one, 6.5/10.

The Blonde Bombshell was a highlight of the blistering hot weekend in Vermont.  Hoppier than most golden ales, and certainly hoppier than I expected, this had a refreshing citrus flavor which was helpful on the one hundred degree days we were sweltering through, 7.5/10.

The Dead Horse IPA was a bit disappointing.  It was not awful, but considering how good the other beers were, and considering that IPAs are the bread and butter beers for most craft brewers, this should have been a home run.  Instead, it was a ground rule double.  The hops were not distinctive, and the beer just did not come together as well as the others we tried, 6/10.

*Lee Harvey TK’s nickname needs a little explaining.  As loyal readers know, Mr. JK has a BB gun at his house in Vermont, and we occasionally engage in shooting contests when we are up there.  I continued my Mr. Magoo like tendency to hit everything but what I was aiming at, while Mr. JK was humming along at a .500 clip.  Lee Harvey TK simply did not miss anything.  At first I thought he was lucky, but when he knocked down twelve cans in a row, and hit the bottle cap on his first shot, I realized it was not luck.  A few years from now, when he takes out both Osama Bin Laden and Kim Jong Il with a single shot from two miles away, remember who was the first to tell you about him.

However, it was not all driving and shooting cans for Lee Harvey TK.  We were watching the Spain-Germany World Cup game, and as the clock ticked down and Spain advanced to the final game, he said, “Break out the PASTA! Spain is going to the Finals!” Mr. JK and I both looked at him with that “You Did Not Say Something That Titanically Stupid In Front Of US, Did You?” look on our faces, and Lee Harvey TK immediately tried to backtrack, but it was too late.  For the rest of the week, we kept offering to make him “Pasta de Espana” or “Fettucine de Madrid” for dinner.  He replied “shut up, they have pasta in Spain” but he knew he had put his foot in his mouth, and that we were not going to let him forget it.

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