Monday, July 16, 2007

A Bad Beer at the Italian Oasis

I don't like to trash a brewpub or brewery, especially on the basis of one visit. I'm just passing through, most times, and only stop in once, maybe twice. What if it was just a bad day, a bad batch, or a lax moment? I know, excellence -- or even competence -- is a full-time thing, something that shouldn't have bad days...but it happens. So I try to make allowances, and check as deeply as I can on those short visits.

Most times. But sometimes the signs are all in alignment, and a place just does not feel right. Such was the case at the Italian Oasis in Littleton, NH, on Friday night. I really wanted this place to be good, because it's right across the street from Thayers Inn, the old inn where I always stay when I'm up in this part of New England (really, I've been staying at the Thayers since 1989), and I like Littleton, it's a neat New England town. A good brewpub in town would have made things just so much better.

But the danger signs were there. It's a small place, there's an O'Doul's neon in the window, there's a fogbank of cigarette smoke when you walk in, and on a Friday night, over 3/4 of the customers were drinking bottled macrobrewery beers or mixed drinks. I saw only a couple folks drinking the house beers. Not a good omen.

I ordered a Black Bear Stout. Cathy thought a bit...and ordered a glass of shiraz, what turned out to be a very smart move. When the beer arrived, she immediately said, "That's not very dark for a stout." It was mildly sour, and what flavor did get through the sour, cheesy wrongness was not very stout-like: very little roasted malt or barley, no bitterness (from hop or roasted barley), no coffee or chocolate notes, no dry finish. It was the worst brewpub beer I've had since Gettysbrew closed. I left 3/4 of the beer on the table, and I only drank that much to complete my notes...and confirm my disbelief. No wonder everyone was drinking Lite.

I cannot believe that while Philadelphia was enjoying Friday the Firkinteenth at the Grey Lodge, I was stuck at this miserable excuse for a brewpub. It just baffles me how anyone can brew or serve beer like this and not know that it's so bad. Moat Mountain in North Conway has good beer, I got a nice Trout River Rainbow Red in St. Johnsbury, hell, the local deli next door has good bottled beers (and an amazing selection of non-cigar smoking shtuff), it's not like they can't know. What's the deal? Too cheap to throw out bad batches? Too gutless to take the steps needed to make sure bad batches don't happen? Maybe some bad business decisions on the quality of the system in the first place?

Brewers and owners should taste their beer every day, preferably with a control beer alongside to avoid 'crap creep,' when you've had off beer so long it starts to taste normal. Beer this bad is obvious, and there is simply no excuse for serving it.

That said, did I say anything to our waitress about how bad it was? No, I did not, because the service was almost as bad as the beer -- she was pleasant, the few times she did pay any attention to us, but we couldn't get her attention for ten minutes -- and all I wanted was to get the hell out, go back to our room, and get out a bottle of the Berkshire Brewing beer we had in the cooler.

12 comments:

Loren said...

Should've asked to see the brewer who is also the owner. The one time I visited I thought the beer was decent for a 2? bbl "homebrew" style system. Pretty sure I had the Stout too...and it was OK, if unmemorable. Weird place though, like you said. And stupid smoky. Shame to visit Littleton though and NOT see the old Clam Shell restaurant with Franconia Notch Brewing Co.'s little shed out back.

Cheers!

Lew Bryson said...

Like I said, Loren...talking to the waitress was almost impossible, and it was 10:00 on a Friday night; not the time to be bugging owners or brewers. If we'd been in town during the week, I'd probably have said something.

Andy said...

Wait ... you went through Littleton and St. Joe and failed to STOP BY MY HOUSE?!?

I'll bet my three beers were better than then IO beers, and I'm pretty modest about my brewing "skills."

okbrewer said...

So Lew? Was this place worse than Bricktown!!?? They still haven't got the clue and they are under new ownership. Still serve more macrobrewed stuff than their own!

bill mc said...

aw, too bad you didn't like that place, the pizza was really good (I'm married to an Italian and she loved the pizza there).

The beer there was unfiltered and it did make me wonder a little bit, it seemed to me to be all pretty mild, no bitterness like you mentioned, the lighter beers were palatable.

According to the woman i briefly spoke with, they brew the beer in small batches and go through it quickly..perhaps it was a wretched batch..

Lew Bryson said...

Andy...
Your beer would probably kick the ass of the brewery in question. I'm sorry I pulled things together at the last minute! Cuz it would have been good to come by and see you guys. As it was...I was flying by the seat of my pants. I'm still trying to put together brewery visits for tomorrow. Nuts, lately. Sorry!

Lew Bryson said...

Might've been a bad batch, Bill, but...why not taste it and pull it? We didn't have anything to eat, and the food may have been good, dunno. And we weren't really going to get into it with a waitress or owner at 10 PM on a Friday night. Best I could do, especially when I'm ... on vacation!

Jessie Jane said...

Is it possible that this place is simply an example of a business that's in business strictly for the business and not for the love of the product?

Seems to me that some folks just want high turnover no matter how they get it, and the quality of the product is secondary. It's a shame to waste a brewery on swill, though, that's for sure.

bill mc said...

Lew, your point is well taken and you are dead on about the quality control it is/was obviously lacking.(btw, i had a rueben pizza and it was really good, i've got the weight to prove it...:))

Sadly, that is what is lacking in so many places today, pride in your work and quality control (and i'm not just talking about beer).

Oh yeah, i concur with not wanting to fight on vacation, need to relax...

Lew Bryson said...

JJ,
I suspect high turnover would be a plus for these guys: their beer's probably sitting in the tanks too long. But you're probably talking about tables, right? Yeah, the intersection of business and passion is a sweet place to be, and when it misses, things get iffy.

Tony said...

Not sure we went to the same place as you, but here's my story. We were on vacation in Littleton in August, 2006 and late in the afternoon stopped by the Italian Oasis, but they weren't open for dinner yet, so we went upstairs for a drink to a place called Elliott's Tavern. I got the impression this was connected to Italian Oasis somehow. Anyway we had an amber ale and a hefe weisse that we thought was good enough to compliment the bartender (John Morello), who happened to be the brewer (newspaper clipping on the wall from 12 years before proved it). Not disputing your experience at all, but rather wondering if the beer that Italian Oasis served was made by Morello. Regardless, sorry to hear you had such a bad time. We never did eat at the Italian Oasis and ended up that night at the Woodstock Inn (had their Pig's Ear Brown Ale and Red Rack Ale). I have your PA book and love your site!

Lew Bryson said...

Tony,
That would be the same place. Didn't find out who the brewer was, though. Hey, maybe it was a bad batch, but...bad batches shouldn't be served. Glad you found a good place to go.