Harpoon's beers at octoberfest

By Hairee Lee A tour with Jon Schwartz

For more photos of Harpoon Octoberfesters, go to Harpoon Octoberfesters.

Were you there on Friday or Saturday? Then you were probably as impressed with the with the tight organization and scale of Harpoon's Octoberfest and shouldn't come as no surprise that our beer guide, Jon Schwartz, Harpoon’s National Account Manager, was just as impressive when he gave us a tour of the beers of Harpoon.


Harpoon IPA is where we start and where Harpoon finishes the strongest. If you haven’t been in New England that long then you’re forgiven for not knowing that IPA stands for India Pale Ale. The high hop content used in making IPAs gives it not only the the bitter/hoppy taste, but was also what preserved the beers during the transportation of the beers from the UK to India by the East India Company for consumption by the British colonialists. Thus, India Pale Ale.

Harpoon makes a fine IPA. It’s my go-to, drink-with-anything-anytime beer.

Harpoon makes a fine IPA. It’s my go-to, drink-with-anything-anytime beer and thankfully popular enough that if there isn’t anything else on tap that looks strange and interesting, I can always order a Harpoon. If the bar doesn’t have it, I go somewhere else.

The IPA is Harpoon’s best selling beer. No surprise. “It’s a traditional English style IPA," says Jon. "It’s about 60% of our beer sales and what Harpoon is best known for.”

This is Jon’s 13th year at Harpoon and his 14th Octoberfest. He looks a little too young to have been working anywhere for that long, but his engaging and professional demeanor, the wedding ring on his left hand, and his easy and knowledgeable tone of voice all belie his youthful appearance.


We move one to Harpoon Belgian Pale Ale, one of Harpoon’s newer beers, only 2 years old. It’s brewed in the tradition of American style pale ales, but fermented with Belgian yeast, which gives it a “unique, Belgian-y character to it.” “Belgian-y” is John’s word. “Banana-y, clove-y” are other John words.

I love this one. It’s still hoppy like the IPA, but has a rounder mouth feel. He’s right. It is Belgian-y or what I expect from Trappist beers.

The difference between the IPA and the Belgian Pale Ale is the yeast. For the Harpoon IPA they use house yeast, which is used for all the other beers they brew at Harpoon. The Belgian Pale Ale uses Belgian yeast. The result is a fruity taste from using Harpoon’s yeast whereas the Belgian yeast produces the “banana-y, clove-y” taste, typical of Belgian beers.

I’m not sure what I like more: the Belgian Pale Ale or the adjectives.

[Harpoon Belgian Pale Ale] is brewed in the tradition of American style pale ales, but fermented with Belgian yeast, which gives it a “unique, Belgian-y character to it.” “Belgian-y” is John’s word. “Banana-y, clove-y” are other John words.


Harpoon UFO Hefeweizen is next. Hefeweisen, for those of you who aren't German speaking or ever bothered to find out, stands for wheat and yeast: weisen means wheat and hefe means yeast. I learn that from Jon. I love learning stuff like this.

“We’ve been making this [hefeweizen] for 13 years," says Jon. "It’s an American style hefeweizen. Hefeweizen is typically German style, but this one is an American take on a German hefeweizen: it’s light, very easy to drink. We recommend serving it with a lemon. It’s got a very mild flavor, but nice light, refreshing, great in the summer time. It’s the lighter Harpoon beer. We don’t do a light beer. So folks who come in who like drinking lighter style beers, this is the closest thing we have. “

Have you had Coors Light? Bud Light? Miller Light? Water Light? The UFO Hefeweizen is a far cry from those beers or “beers”. Still light and refreshing as Jon says but still full of flavor.

Have you had Coors Light? Bud Light? Miller Light? Water Light? The UFO Hefeweizen is a far cry from those beers or “beers”. Still light and refreshing as Jon says but still full of flavor.


UFO White is like Bluemoon so I'm not too sad we didn’t get to taste this one with Jon. He did say however, "I think it’s better.”

UFO White is an unfiltered wheat beer like hefeweizen, meaning the yeast is left in the beer, which is what give it the cloudy rather than transparent appearance of, say, the pale ales.

I'm not the biggest fan of Bluemoon. I loved it and then got tired of it. But if Jon thinks Harpoon's is better, I’ll give it a shot later this week.


Harpoon Octoberfest is John’s favorite Harpoon beer.

“It’s real malty, sweeter beer, but there also is a pretty good hop character to it, which balances it out. So it’s a nice full flavored, a garnet red color, brewed in the tradition of the Munich style Octoberfest. And that tradition goes back 225 years.”

And this is when I find out what Octoberfest is about. Why beer, why October, why OKtoberfest sometimes instead of OCtoberfest all the time:

“Traditionally Octoberfests were brewed in March in Germany (thus Oktoberfest, German for Octoberfest) right before the weather got real warm. They would sell it in the kegs through the whole summer and as the weather started cooling down and they were going to start brewing again, they would have to empty out all of the big barrels filled with beer so they would have a big celebration, drink all the beer that’s been sitting there and just a big party around it.”

 


Harpoon Cider is an all natural cider, 5-6 years old in the Harpoon family. By all natural, Jon means that it’s made of two ingredients: freshly pressed apple cider and Harpoon’s yeast.

“And that’s it. We don’t do any sweeteners, preservatives, colors, which most ciders on the market have. Ours is very light because of that, all natural, and basically gluten free.”

Like fizzy apple juice, but not as sweet, which is nice. This is dangerous stuff.I mean, I could chug this stuff down like Gaterade.

There’s some legal barrier that keeps Harpoon from advertising their cider as gluten free, but for those looking for a beer alternative because they want or need to avoid gluten, reach for Harpoons Cider.

But how does it taste? Like fizzy apple juice, but not as sweet, which is nice. This is dangerous stuff. I mean, you can really chug this stuff down like Gaterade.

And in true Bostonian, local food loving, whole food embracing, small farm supporting form, they get their apples from orchards in Massachusetts and New York state.

One of my favorite things about this Harpoon beverage is the beer tap handle: it has a little stem and leaf at the top of the handle which itself is shaped like a red apple. So cute!


Harpoon 100-Barrel Series is Harpoon’s answer to craft beer lovers. This limited edition series comes out with something new 4 to 6 times a year.

“Every 2 or 3 monthsa different brewer will produce a beer. They get to pitch the idea to our VP of brewing. They source the ingredients, do test batches, and if theirs is chosen, they get to scale it up and produce a full scale hundred barrel batch. We put a limited number in 22 ounce bottles, limited number in kegs. And when it’s gone it’s generally gone forever. A few of them have come back for a second time. But it’s usually a one and done thing.”

"We put a limited number in 22 ounce bottles, limited number in kegs. And when it’s gone it’s generally gone forever. A few of them have come back for a second time. But it’s usually a one and done thing.” - Jon Schwartz

The one on offer today is the 38th entry in the 100-Barrel Series: Dočesná, Czech Hop Harvest Ale.

It’s...distinctive. I’m not sure I would buy it to drink at home or order it on tap. It’s got a vegetable-y aftertaste that I’m not too crazy about. It’s not unpleasant, just unfamiliar enough to make me pause after every sip and wonder about it. Maybe I just don’t like to think too much about my drinks. But if you do then this one's for you.

What I do like about this one is the concept. Harpoon mass produces beers to exact standards for their IPA, et.al. But there’s a whole market of beer lovers who seek out craft beers--the hard to find, the small batch, limited number of bottles beers. Harpoon is targeting that market of beer drinking while continuing to enjoy a growing fan base of their everyday stuff. It’s smart, especially in Massachusetts where craft brewers occupy an impressive square footage of real estate in local liquor and wine stores.

As I finish up the interview and move out of the tent to mingle, the clouds part and the sun shines down on Harpoon. The symbolic quality of the serendipitous meterologic event isn't lost on me. Harpoon's where it's at this Saturday and even God knows it.

A big thanks to Jon Schwartz for his time and a great review of Harpoon beers. And thanks to Merrill Maloney, Harpoon's Communication's Manager, for getting us into the fest free of charge. Looking forward to next year.