The Erie Brewing Company in Massachusetts is perfectly fine being a malt-centric brewery in the hop-dominated world of craft beer.

The Erie Brewing Company is perfectly fine being a malt-centric brewery in the hop-dominated world of craft beer.


"We have a lot of malt bombs," said Jim Hicks, manager of the small Pennsylvania brewery. "We feel the city of Erie, the people are kind of reserved. They like classic styles, and we feel malty beers are a little more accessible to people."


The Erie Brewing Company first started as a brewpub in the town of the same name in 1993, but converted to a full-time brewery in 1999. They started distributing in Massachusetts and Rhode Island for the first time right around Thanksgiving.


The brewery's top-selling beer is the Railbender Ale, Hicks said.


Although it's called an amber ale on the label, Railbender is really more of a Scottish-style ale. It won a gold medal in the 2009 Great American Beer Fest in Colorado for best Scottish ale.


"It's not a traditional amber, but if you tell people it's a Scottish ale, they're expecting something a little bigger," said Hicks. "It's pretty drinkable, but it's not as heavy as some Scottish ales. It's meant to be a beefier, heartier beer than the typical amber ale. People get a nice, sweet caramel flavor with some toffee. It's a nice, balanced beer."


The Railbender comes in at 6.8 percent alcohol by volume, which is higher than the average amber ale. Despite the higher ABV, it is really an easy-drinking and flavorful beer.


"Our Railbender is a malt bomb," Hicks said.


The Ol' Red Cease and Desist is Erie's winter beer. It's a Scotch-style ale and it comes in at a hefty 10 percent ABV.


"That just has a big caramel flavor, a sweet ale with just a hint of alcohol," said Hicks. "Overall, it's an easy-drinking beer, at least for a 10 percent ABV beer."


Next month, Erie's spring seasonal beer, the Drink Crude Oatmeal Stout, will be hitting shelves. Hicks said it is another malty beer. It's also higher in alcohol (7 percent ABV) than a lot of oatmeal stouts, many of which come in at less than 5 percent ABV.


"It's oatmealy, chocolatey, smooth -- a nice, perfect stout," said Hicks. "Our brewer (Shawn Strickland) loves oatmeal because it's not a traditional malt. It's a little high in alcohol, but smooth and creamy."


Just because Erie enjoys malty beers, does not mean they ignore the hops.


The Misery Bay IPA, named after a bay in Erie, is a hoppy, bitter beer that comes in at 6.5 percent ABV. However, it's made with a little twist not usually found in India pale ales.


"Our secret is we use oatmeal in it -- it gives it a nice creamy head," said Hicks. "That's one of our favorites here. It's hop-balanced. Our brewery's philosophy is to be balanced. None of our beers are huge hop bombs."


Also available is the Mad Anthony's APA, a 5.5 percent ABV American pale ale.


"That's our introduction to what beers with hops are," said Hicks. "It has a nice hop profile, but not too bitter."


Mad Anthony's had a different flavor profile than expected. You get the piney, grape fruity flavors you often get from the hops, but I detected a hint of something that tasted like mustard. It wasn't unpleasant, but unusual.


Also on its way to Massachusetts will be the Golden Fleece Maibock, which is a "not at all traditional," Hicks said. Although it has the typical malt profile of a German Maibock (a German beer brewed for release in May), they use a Belgian yeast strain to give it a unique flavor.


In the summer, Erie's Derailed Black Cherry Ale will be available. It's a lighter ale brewed with fresh black cherries.


"It's a nice, easy-drinking ale," said Hicks. "When you pour it, you'll get some little pink floaties, which are parts of the cherries that we don't filter out."


Also, keep a look out for Erie's experimental beers, such as beers aged in oak, which may make their way up to the Bay State.


Norman Miller is a Daily News staff writer in Massachusetts. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, e-mail nmiller@cnc.com or call 508-626-3823. Check out The Beer Nut blog at http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/beernut/ or follow the Beer Nut at his Twitter page at www.twitter.com/realbeernut.