Bottom Shelf Beer: Trader Joe's Boatswain IPA and HLV

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor you don’t have to.




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Bottom Shelf research director Emily grew up along the Boston Marathon route, which means she's one of those odd people who think it's fun to watch tens of thousands of strangers jog until their nipples bleed. I certainly respect the dedication and athleticism of anyone who can run 26.2 miles in the same calendar month let alone one hot morning, but just because a thing is impressive does not mean the thing is entertaining. I don't want to watch people marathon any more than I want to watch people perform surgery or conduct themselves with dignity and restraint around Swedish meatballs.

But Em's good company and she likes to watch them run, so I figured we'd do so again this Patriots' Day (the made-up Massachusetts holiday that justifies shutting the streets down for the marathon), but instead she surprised me with tickets to the Red Sox game. Baseball is the opposite of marathoning in that it is perhaps not so impressive but is wildly entertaining to me nonetheless. The Sox play at 11:00 a.m. every Patriots' Day and hooray for socially acceptable outdoor drinking on a Monday morning, so I was very excited to have brunch at Fenway Park that day.

The Sox lost but they had the courtesy to do so in a timely fashion (as these things go), so we escaped a mere $34 lighter in the beer wallet. If it were a slower, duller game, I would have caved and bought another round, but things moved along at a crisp enough pace that we got by with just four beers between us, which is still a few too many when you're paying 60 cents an ounce for Bud Light.

I realize that beer's not a necessity, even on a sunny day, and I'm no more responsible with money than I am with meatballs, so I'm rarely inclined to complain about beer prices. But at a certain point the gouging goes so far that it's offensive. I didn't walk away from beer line angry that I was out $17 for two luke-cold cups of mediocre beer; I walked away angry that there exists a cabal of human beings who think that's a reasonable amount to charge. Losing a $17 bill in the wind doesn't bother me; I'm too stupid to care. Trading that same $17 for a couple of Bud Lights pisses me way off, though.

Because we were able to stretch each beer out for 90 minutes, we didn't leave the game with an unduly high tab, but I still intend to spend the rest of the drinking week trying to get my average price per beer back down where it belongs.

The best way to drink cheap is to drink at home, and the best way to maximally encheapen your couch party is to get your beer at Trader Joe's. I've already extolled the house label cheapo lagers and today I have the great pleasure of telling you to stock up on their new Boatswain line of fancy high-test beers.

The Boatswain American IPA will frustrate some serious hop-chewers because it doesn't burn your mouth like it's supposed to, and some beer boards question its right to call itself an IPA rather than an American strong ale. You know how I love a good pedantic beer definition fight, but in the interests of time I'm going to have to zzz ... wait what, are we drinking beer here? Yes? OK, let's drink beer then. This one's pretty, with a deep copper color and a small, persistent head. It's somewhat sweet and malty for an IPA that goes 6.7 percent ABV, with more caramel and bread than resin and weed, though there is a bit of spice on the back end. It's not a particularly compelling beer, but it's deep, strong, and clean enough to justify its price tag of $2.29 for a 22 ounce bottle. It's not a top-tier beer by any means, but we've all done worse playing "Ooh, cool name, and I've got $9 to gamble!" IPA roulette at the liquor store.

The Boatswain HLV (Heavy Lift Vessel) is a straightforward but somewhat watery version of a typical American brown ale. The alcohol (7%) is more apparent than the IPA's, but otherwise it's a pleasant simpleton that tastes like roasted cocoa and root beer. I preferred the IPA, but the HLV is just as credible an option depending on your style preferences. Again, nothing special overall but a fine deal for $2.29 a bottle.