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Drips & Dregs: Salem, MA

Dawn patrol and coffee. A beer in the cooler at the end of a day outside.

Cut open those who love outdoor adventure and you’ll find they’re fueled by coffee and beer.

Drips & Dregs captures the residual drops from the tap of local fermented beverages and the ground laden slurry from the bottom of the carafe. This is where we’ll inconsistently rate what we’ve tried based on these limited engagements with our favorite beverages.

Visiting New England Part 2: Salem, Massachusetts

Morning Dregs

I’m back in the lobby of the same Medford, MA Hyatt drinking the same coffee this morning as I did in the last entry of Drips & Dregs. But that’s just because I chose to stay here for a second night. The good news is that yesterday I found some decent coffee in Salem, MA.

My oldest daughter and I have traveled to New England to spend a day in Salem during October which, as Halloween folk, has been something she has wanted to do for years. Upon arriving in Salem for their annual Haunted Happenings, and feeling significantly under-fueled from Medford’s disappointing coffee scene we found Life Alive Organic Cafe which is apparently a local chain and features healthy bowls, salads and plates.

And coffee. They also have coffee.

I ordered an acai bowl and a cold brew. Not sure why I opted for a cold brew when it was a damp, gray day that chilled this southern Californian to the bone,

maybe it was because it was the first coffee drink I saw on the menu and I just stuck with it, I don’t know. What I do know is that I find cold brew to be a tricky thing.

I’ve had many underwhelming cold brews in my life. I don’t know what to attribute this to and if anyone out there has any knowledge of why cold brew can be so inconsistent I’d love to hear it.

Is the offending purveyor of coffee just bad at making coffee in general?

Why can’t people who own and operate coffee houses be consistent about serving good coffee?

Some pursue answers to the history of the universe, I’m simpler and just want perfectly roasted, ground and brewed coffee beans.

The good news is that not only does Life Alive Organic Cafe make a hell of an acai bowl (one of the best I’ve had on the east coast) they know how to make cold brew because this was the coffee I needed to get ready for spooky Salem.

And shout out to the nice person who was running the register who recently moved to Salem from Indiana. Big cross country moves are scary and awesome. Just by trying…you’re doing it right. High fives.

Dregs Rating

Life Alive Cafe Cold Brew, Salem, MA:

3 out of 4 mugs

Lunchtime Drips

If there is one reason and one reason alone for me to revisit old haunts in New England that one reason is Flatbread.

If you know Flatbread you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t…I just feel bad for you.

Flatbread is a locally sourced pizza(ish) chain that originated out of Vermont and now has multiple spots throughout New England and even one location on the island of Maui. I say pizza(ish) because while yes, the main dish is technically pizza in that it is thin dough with sauce and toppings, if you come to a flatbread looking to do a one on one comparison with a more traditional pizza you’re going to be disappointed.

Flatbread is different. But it’s also one of my all time top 10 favorite places to eat.

I didn’t know that Salem had a Flatbread so the stoke was high when my daughter and I, running on fumes from haunted houses and endless opportunities to buy Halloween themed crap stumbled upon the Salem location while in town for the Haunted Happenings.

Flatbread strives to use local ingredients and they also strive to serve local beers so as we ordered our pies I also ordered (keeping in the spirit of why we were visiting Salem) a True North Ale Season of the Witch IPA.

Before I talk about this beer let’s talk for a second about IPA’s.

The IPA has gone on a journey that all popular brands go on and if you think for a second that the IPA, a type of beer, can’t be a brand you are sorely mistaken. If I say IPA you will likely have a visceral emotional reaction that ranges from ‘meh’ to ‘used to like them but now they’re overrated’ to ‘I’ve never liked them’ to ‘I liked them before everyone else’ to ‘my god pour that goodness in my face hole as quickly as possible!’

The IPA has become the Tom Brady era New England Patriots of the beer world. Always there, always competitive, you’re likely sick of them but they’re so good sometimes that you have to respect them.

I think the real problem is that once the IPA got popular every brewery (craft or otherwise) started pumping out as many IPA’s as they possibly could because having a beer branded as an IPA equaled more sales. This has resulted in a lot of IPA’s that are just outright bad.

I still order more IPA’s than any other type of beer because when you do get a good one, they’re transcendent. So when I sat down at the Flatbread in Salem and perused the beer list (mostly IPA’s btw) I picked the Season of the Witch for two reasons:

1. The name (I was there on Halloween business after all) and

2. It was only 5.9% abv. I had a lot of day left in front of me at the time and didn’t feel like going into a pizza and beer coma because I couldn’t say no to an 8.2% beer.

Well score one for not overthinking it because holy shit was this beer good. Like all time good. Like hit the perfect balance of everything I want from an IPA good.

First of all it was hazy and I loved that it was hazy without having hazy in the name. Hazy is another marker of the IPA phenomena that drives me crazy because I’ve ordered hazy’s and gotten a crystal clear beer. Maybe that was a mistake on the part of the server or the barkeep, but whatever. I’ve had many overrated hazy's. But when the hazy hits right, it’s probably my favorite feature of a beer.

Also the best IPA’s should have a kind of chewiness to them. That may sound weird but I'm guessing some of you out there will know what I'm talking about. Also, the bitter thing. There is good bitter and bad bitter and I think most of the hanger on IPA’s, the ones quickly brought to market after the IPA boom began, screwing up the bitter part is where they’ve gotten it wrong. Because when you nail the bitter part of something that is supposed to be bitter it’s amazing. When you screw it up? It’s undrinkable.

True North’s Season of the Witch is a revelation. The kind of beverage that has the potential to get me into trouble because of how drinkable it is. You blink and 4 of them are gone and I’m a puddle.

Fortunately that didn’t happen at Flatbread in Salem. I managed to keep it to a single serving which was better for all involved. But later that night we popped into the Mercy Tavern for a bowl of chowder after the New England weather gods thought they should show these tourists that October may have the nicest days of the year in the northeast, but a little cold and rain can still blow through to ruin an otherwise perfect day. And as I was enjoying my soup I noticed that they too were purveyors of Season of the Witch so I gladly ordered one…because you never know when you’re going to find that perfect IPA again.

Drips Rating:

True North Ale Season of the Witch:

4 out of 4 pint glasses


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