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Not the Beer Bubble of College Days

When drinking any adult beverage, I usually wipe the inside of a glass with a clean towel regardless of when last washed.  This is especially so for my first time trying a beverage or if I’m doing so for “tasting” purposes.

For whatever reason I didn’t follow that rule for my first taste of the Boatswain Twin Screw Steamer Double IPA.  So when I immediately noticed a bouquet reminiscent of soap suds, as Jimmy Buffet sang, I thought it was “my own damn fault”.  Although smell doesn’t always equate to what you taste, in this case it did.  Soap suds, blech!

Fortunately the Boatswain comes in a 22 ounce bottle and so I had a full glass remaining.  Polished up a clean glass and gave it the no-dishsoap-sniff before pouring in the rest of the Boatswain.  Ahh, hitting the reset button resulted in discovering a bouquet and corresponding taste of [insert drum roll please] . . . soapsuds!

 I’ve “experienced” a lot of beer styles from Flemish sour ales to motor oil thick stouts aged in bourbon barrels.  But the soap suds smell and flavor profile wasn’t in my India Pale Ale file-o-facts.  To ensure that I didn’t get a bad bottle (or that my local TJ’s didn’t get a defective batch), I purchased another from a store in a different locale.

Alas, I don’t think it would’ve mattered if I drank directly from the brewmaster’s tap at the alleged brewery in Monroe, WI (more on my ne’er-do-well conspiracy theory below). New bottle gave same sensation of licking clean the top of a Palmolive bottle.

The Boatswain is a case of outward appearance belying inner nothingness.  Bomber sized bottle with quirky name from a brewery in Wisconsin.  Labeled as a DIPA (Double IPA) with an alcohol content of 8.4% and International Bittering Units of 75 (“IBU” scale measures hop bitterness in beer).  It doesn’t scream DIPA sitting in the glass, but the golden orange hue, half inch head and thin lacing allows for the possibility.

Just like a Chevy Corvair looked intriguing, but driving it was a rolling coffin experience, the Boatswain’s DIPA curb appeal crashes when it crosses the lips.  Putting aside the dish soap sensations, there are weak metallic aromas and some sweet maltiness.  Barely any hops on the nose.

And “Tastes Great” isn’t a slogan that would stick to the Boatswain.  Its thin mouth feel and barely there hops aren’t the hallmarks of a DIPA.  Some spice and malty sweetness on the front are followed by nothing in the middle and finishes with an unpleasant after taste.  And if you can blow smoke rings, you’ll feel like you can blow soap bubbles while drinking the Boatswain.

I found the Boatswain for $1.99 at Trader Joe’s.  An entry level microbrew DIPA is usually at least twice that price.  Although the adage you get what you pay for generally prevails with adult beverages, a value priced find makes my heart sing like the Polyphonic Spree.  But that doesn’t mean I’ll choke down liquid drek and rationalize that it cost less than a latte.

The label says the Boatswain was brewed by Minhas Craft Brewery in Monroe, WI. But curiously its website doesn’t include the Boatswain in its lineup.  That leads me to believe the Boatswain is being made just for Trader Joe’s similar to the Charles Shaw wines (aka “2 Buck Chuck”).  And that usually concerns me with adult beverages at this price point.  Why? Oh let me count the ways:

-A captive audience (TJ’s faithful), guaranteed retail shelf placement and no need to compete for such in other establishments equals lesser motivation to produce a quality brew.  Additionally, the brewer isn’t following a loss leader approach (i.e., selling to TJ’s at breakeven or less) for access to TJ’s faithful so as to create buzz for the product.

-The profit margins on a 22 ounce bottle retailing for $2 have to be waif supermodel thin.  This may be the land of the free, but raw materials, overhead and labor aren’t included.  So economies of scale must be involved leading me to believe its contracted out for industrial brewing (and not via a small craft brew operation in Monroe, WI).

-The $2 price tag can lead to the troubling consumer sentiment, “Well, it’s good enough for the price.”  TJ’s plays on that with many bargain adult beverages.  I understand that marketing tactic of enticing customers to visit so they might also pick up the more pricey Gluten Free Wasabi Potstickers.  But generally the rock bottom priced adult beverages are a “you get what you pay for” proposition.

Hey, I know for me that discovering a value priced wine that’s “yummy” is almost as good as drinking it.  But the hit and miss nature of TJ’s is frustrating to many.  They would rather pour half a bottle down the drain instead of choke it down just because it was a bargain.

Bringing us back to the shipwreck that was the Boatswain.  I was in TJ’s recently and heard a crew member touting it to a customer as a “really good value brew”.  He appeared sincere and simply promoting the Boatswain since it was featured by TJ’s that week.  He also recommended to me the Mission Street Anniversary Ale 2012 saying it was similar to the spicier Winter brew (Mission is a TJ’s brand contracted out to various breweries).   

At $3.99 it was double the price and better than the Boatswain.  But saying that non-offending is better than soap sudsy doesn’t make a value find.  At least it didn’t end up cleansing the plumbing.  And as is the case with all completed adult beverage experiments (even those with pedestrian results), my “efforts” resulted in a warm fuzzy feeling inside. 

Essential Wine Co.

Carpe Vinum!..