Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Minnesota Breweries One by One #94: Lake Superior Brewing Company with Deep Water Black IPA

Well, it's nearing the end of October, and I've made it to 97 Minnesota breweries. 97!Whew! In a few days, I will attempt to get up to 100. Then, we have 2 months to get to the remaining dozen. I've only written up 50 of these visits, though, so it's catch-up time. Now, here's #94, Lake Superior Brewing Company in Duluth, visited last Wednesday. First, let me set it up for you....

On the last day of August, Dave A. and I set out on a North Shore adventure that would take us to as many "up north" breweries as we could take in. (Unfortunately, I have only gotten around to writing up one of those visits, (Bent Paddle) although I keep promising "soon, soon", and I always mean it.) On the first day we hit up Canal Park in Duluth, Boathouse Brewery in Ely, and Voyageur and GunFlint Tavern in Grand Marais. Thursday, September 1 found us at Castle Danger in Two Harbors, Bent Paddle and Fitger's in Duluth, with a sneak peek at the upcoming Blacklist location thrown in the middle. We made it Superior,Wisconsin and Thirsty Pagan for lunch the next morning, then headed homeward.

Despite all that, there were still three Duluth breweries we did not see. There was a call made to Lake Superior Thursday morning. Their stated taproom hours are Fridays and Saturdays, which was making it hard to include them in our travels. So far this year, we've been able to get to most of the breweries on Sundays and weekdays. The only times I've had to take a Saturday off of work were for Surly Darkness Day and the Summit Anniversary party. But when Dave called and asked if they were open, the answer went: If you bring some money, we'll let you in and pour you a beer. Huh. Okay. However, our day was too full, and we never made it over.

So, another trip was planned with Jason B. seven weeks later, to try to catch those missing three breweries, even if it meant bothering the brewers during non-taproom hours at Lake Superior. We left my home in  Minneapolis just before 10 am, and arrived in Duluth around 1pm. Our motel check-in time wasn't until three, so we got the bikes off the back of his car, and went two blocks for a quick beer at Fitger's Brewhouse, then pedaled about 3 miles to 2711 West Superior Street, approximately 31 city blocks south of where we were staying. We stood in front of the building and read the taproom hours, wondering if we should just walk in, when an employee on a smoke break called out to us from the loading dock, "hey! you looking for the taproom?" We followed him over to the back, waiting for him to let us in, until he told us, no, just go in the front. And walk right in we did, into a brewery crew working away, with a small section set aside for stools, and couple enjoying some pints.

Lake Superior Brewing has appeared only twice in the Bitter Nib, with reviews of Special Ale, the English pale ale, and Old Man Winter Warmer, their English-style barley-wine, long a favorite of mine. During the past 6 years, then, those are the only LSBC bottles I've picked up. Over on BeerAdvocate, I've reviewed 8 of the 20 beers listed there. Only 20 different brews in 22 years in existence? Perhaps that may be why they're nowhere near the forefront of Minnesota breweries, why hardly anyone thinks of them anymore. There are other reasons, too. I'll get to those later. Back to our visit.

So, it was true. If you go into the brewery while it's open, one of the employees will stop what he's doing and pour you a pint, fill a growler, sell you some merch. A chalkboard on the wall behind a merchandise shelf informs you of the offerings. My first pint was the St. Louis Bay IPA, a brew I wasn't sure I'd had before. Clear, bright golden/ nearly amber colored, with a sharp hoppy twang, citrus and tropical fruit notes, and quite drinkable. Good IPA, nothing wrong with it. Had I heard of it before, had I had it? The walls of the hallway as we entered showed off a label for the beer, but it's not listed on the website. Checking BeerAdvocate, I found it listed under "retired/no longer brewed", with the latest review from 2007, and the earliest from 2003. I reviewed it in November of 2003, and I didn't not like the bottle I had at all. Gave it a 2.9 out of 5.

Clearly, what we had was a resurrection of this abandoned beer, but somehow corrected. I would happily have another of this one. Did they fix the recipe from 13 years past? I wonder. Meanwhile, Jason was having a Deep Water Black IPA, which I later chose to take home in a growler, and he followed that with the Oktoberfest, the only other LSBC beer available then that I'd never tried. For my second pint, I chose the Sir Duluth Oatmeal Stout, which I'd had many times, and had on tap several times at the Blue Nile (I recall tapping Kayak Kolsch, Special Ale, Mesabi Red, and Old Man Winter Warmer, as well). I wrote the following on BeerAdvocate.com when I first tapped it in January of 2003: "Never had an oatmeal stout, one of my favorite styles, on draft before, and now that I have, fellows and ladies, let me say it can't be beat! Totally black in color, with a fine, tan head. Aroma is soft and sweet, with notes of cocoa, vanilla, and cream. Some bitterness on the palate, but nothing harsh. Not quite as roasty as the benchmark for this style, Samuel Smith's, but what is? Goes down extremely well, with plenty of body, texture, and bite. Gritty, substantial, but quite quaffable. An outstanding stout!"

That's it verbatim, friends. I loved to effuse and issue out exclamation points back then, didn't I? It's a habit I've effectively corrected. On nitro for this visit, it was as satisfying as ever. Just right, nothing wrong with it, a good ol' drinkable pint of stout.

Did this end our visit? No. While our friendly attendant Noah rang us up, I inquired about coasters, for their were none to be seen. He went into the office to look and returned empty handed, though he would toss in a patch for free, and with the offer to chat with one of the owners. Of course, and into his office we went for a nice little conversation, though I can't remember his name. Was it John? Or Don? Not Vaughan....Oh, well, it will come to me. Like I said, a nice little chat about the history of the brewery, and then we had to take off, for we were late meeting my nephew Aaron at Bent Paddle.

Speaking of Bent Paddle, how does one brewery in Duluth start up three years ago and immediately excites the beer community all across the state, while "Duluth's original craft brewery" is largely forgotten after 22 years in business? For one, they have very little presence outside the Duluth/North Shore community, and their Twin Cities distributor doesn't really promote them much. Their beers are here, yes, but you hardly ever see them on tap, and no one talks about their beers. Also, the packaging and branding feels like it's still stuck in the 90's, with nothing really modern looking about them. The beer styles, too, while admirably traditional and to-style, don't reflect current tastes or new trends. They really don't put out much that's new or interesting, beyond the same stable of styles they've been doing for years. Also, LSBC  is one of the few breweries who has never been a member of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, hasn't appeared at their events, and has at times lobbied against some of the Guilds' goals, which doesn't help their image among craft beer fans.

That said, their output is solid and enjoyable, and look, they brewed a black IPA, and I took home a growler and drank it, notes below. I can't really criticize their taproom, because they're doing the best they can with the space they've got. You can really compare it against breweries that opened after taprooms were a reality.

Lake Superior Deep Water Black IPA.

Dark brown coloring, slim brownish head.

Citrus and pine in the nose, smothered by dark malts. "You put chocolate on my pine cones!"

In the mouth: Bright hops start it off, and quickly matched with cocoa and coffee. Medium-bodied, long malty finish, with hops hanging on. This, like most of the LSBC output, is a well-balanced beer, nothing special, but tasty and drinkable, for sure. I finished off a growler with nary a care in the world.

Sapporo Premium Black Beer

Sapporo Premium Black Beer. Imported by Sapporo Brewing Company, La Crosse, Wisconsin. Brewed and canned by Sapporo Brewing Company, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. (But originally, this was made in Japan, right? Right.) 22 fl oz.

So, I got a sample from The Sample Man of what he called "the new Sapporo Black". What new? Didn't they have this already? No, that was "stout draft", but it wasn't a stout. So, is this a new beer or a new name? Either way, it's new to me, so let's crack it open.

Dark brown coloration, not quite black, with a nice cocoa-tinted head, lasting long, though thinnish.

Aroma: sweet and malty, creamy, nutty, lovely.

In the mouth: smooth and creamy, lovely dark malts. Low to non-existent hop bitterness. Lightish bodied, but not necessarily thin. A little nutty, and ultimately dry, despite initial sweet notes. Nice, drinkable, tasty schwarbier, here.

Go ahead and drink one.

NorthLoop BrewCo Foto #Fresh

Lucid, I mean, NorthLoop BrewCo Foto Fresh, I mean, Foto #Fresh (?) IPA, brewed and bottled by NorthLoop BrewCo, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.  (I mean, Inbound?)

Clear, amber-hued, lush, long-lived white head. Looking good.

Vibrant aromatics, flush with the freshness of citrus and pine. Flagrantly fresh and lively. Nice.

In the mouth: There it is, caramel malts lurk beneath the barrage of fresh hop bitterness. Fresh and tasty. More malty than most fresh hop ales and IPAs. But plenty tasty, and definitely delicious. Good beer, and I can drink it. In fact, I recommend it. Go ahead and drink one.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Wild Mind Lese-Majeste Wild IPA

Wild Mind Lese-Majeste, the beer formerly known as Wild IPA. 8.2% ABV. 75 IBU. Wild Mind Artisan Ales, Minneapolis, MN.

Clear, bright golden hued, slim white head.

Aromatics are bursting with all manner of hoppiness. Citrus notes, pine, tropical tones, pungent, juicy.

In the mouth: Sweetness and sumptuous at first, but swift and soon, the bitterness rises to ravage the palate. Intense bitterness tears across the tongue, thrilling hopheads like myself. Light bodied, leaving the stage to hops and hops alone. The palate ripping continues. Underneath, the malts remain juicy and delicious.

A pause while I read from the menu: "Brewed with pilsner malt and over 3 pounds per barrel of Cascade, Citra, and Azacca hops, this beer is then fermented with locally harvested Minnesotan yeast making it insanely attenuated for an IPA. Notes of citrus, peach, pineapple, clean grass, and rich earth."

This is just right. I am in awe of this one. Dry to the point of brittle, over-flowing with fresh and juicy hoppitude. Right up the ol' alley and down my driveway, this one. Keep making great beers like this, guys, and I just might like you even more.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Minnesota Breweries One by One #87: Insight Brewing, Minneapolis, with Siren Song for a Lost Satyr

October. My favorite month of them all. After April, actually. And all the warm months, I think I like them better. But, yes, October, still my favorite U2 album, and song.

"October, and the trees are stripped bare, of all they wear....do I care?"

Ah, Bono, the Bob Dylan of the 80's. And today!

Insight Brewing, 2821 Hennepin Avenue N.
So, it's October, and I've vowed to close the gap on the local breweries I haven't visited yet for this project before it becomes too difficult to bike to them. And on Sunday, October 2, I got on my Raleigh and rode to Insight Brewing in NorthEast Minneapolis. I took a different route this time, choosing wisely to avoid my previous method of going through downtown to Hennepin Avenue and all the way to 2821 Hennepin. This time I took the river trails all the way to the Dinkytown Greenway bridge into Dinkytown, 15th to Como, then a few blocks to...poof, there it is, Hennepin, and look over there, it's Insight.

Under the steel renditions of the logos,
colorful paintings of adventure join the scenery.
This was probably my 4th visit to Insight, my first being on opening night in the fall of 2014. It was an impressive space, and clearly well-funded, with brand-spanking new tanks and a spacious taproom. I liked the beers then, but didn't return again until the next June, where I took home a growler of one of their beers, and you can read about that here. But the next time I stopped in that September, they'd changed their logo (and I can't think of anyone who didn't hate it) and the beer names had changed and the look of the branding had gotten a full makeover. It was then that I reviewed the cherry saison, Doe Eyes, readable here. Around this point, the canning began, and I've been trying to keep up with them, but have missed a few along the way. (Next time, Phantom Taxi.) And if you sort through the list of beers I've reviewed, you'll see that some have come from samples I've received. I like the beers of Insight, and I try to include them among the rotation on tap at Acadia.  They're about overdue to return, it's just hard to juggle all the locals that I like.
equipment and a vast taproom. I tried a few beers in the company of my niece and her fiancé, and I liked them, but wasn't wowed. So what, things can be good and not wow you. My second visit was the following June, where I tried out a growler for the first time, you can read

The Bedeviled Gourd
And, naturally, there are beers that the taproom that you just can't get elsewhere. With that in mind, I settled into my stool at the wide, curving bar and choose a little something called The Bedeviled Gourd, a smoked pumpkin beer. I took the following minimalist notes: "Smoked veg, big smoke, rich malt, dark fruit fighting with smoke. Hm." I drank it, but I didn't really enjoy it. I tried to find a trace of it on their website, but it's missing. Have they decided to wipe it from existence? I found this on rate beer.com: "Apart from many pumpkin beers produced today, we brewed up this smokey brew and added fresh pumpkin and just a small dash of pumpkin spice to let you know that Fall is on the way. Crisp, clean, and unique." I don't know about crisp and clean, but it was bit too unique for me. Ah, well, they can't all be winners.

Next on to a raspberry infused saison called Fungivorous. This one had much more appeal. Blessed with a pinkish tint, it tasted fresh, lightly tart, fruity and flat out delicious. Here's their official gobbledygook on it: "Pouring with a deep ruby hue and an off-white head, the raspberry is dominant in this brew. Aromas of sweet berries and fruity Belgian esters dance in unison as they lead toward a sweet, fresh raspberry flavor, finally finishing slightly tart and crisp. The overall body is dry, leaving you wanting your second sip faster than you could reach for your first."

Also available was the blackberry saison, which I brought home and took notes on below. Maybe the fruity saison will prove to be Insight's forte'? After all, the white wine grape infused saison In The Halls of the Sunken City is one of their flagship brews.

Banshee Cutter Coffee Golden Ale. 
Phil rings up orders under the vast collection
of Minnesota's growlers. 
Next up, I went with a new beer that they've released in cans, but I've not yet picked up (nor received a sample, ...ahem...), the Return Voyage of the Banshee Cutter, a coffee golden ale. The light colored coffee beer style (if it is such a thing) was something I first encountered at Birch's on the Lake back in May (I promise, report coming very soon!...I know, I always say that, but this time I really mean it), and was amazed by, then shocked and awed by Modist's First Call soon after. As for this one, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but took no notes of any significance. I was distracting by conversations with the people I knew behind the bar at the time. Time to get a can and give it my full attention, I think.

I finished off my visit to Insight with a glass of the raspberry saison, Lost Satyr, or "Siren Song for a Lost Satyr" (they've got to give them all those exciting chapter names). I'm going to skip the notes taken then and defer to those written when I opened up a bottle a week later. Despite this, I'll share the picture taken of the beer, because it looks better than the one I took at home.

Lost Satyr blackberry saison.

It's a cool place, this Insight taproom, and it draws in a lot of people, with a wide range of activities, from music to trivia and such. And the requisite board games stacked on a shelf over by the restrooms. Ever wonder why the board game thing got so popular at taprooms, but not so much at bars? What's the thinking there, that taproom-goers need an activity to engage with one another, but bar patrons are content to wallow with their booze or stare at the ol' boob tube? These are the questions that puzzle my mind, you know.

On such a sunny October Sunday, why am I inside?
Perhaps I just didn't want to walk in and back out to
get my beers? That's gotta be it. 
I know a lot of folks at Insight, and I think they're doing good work and having fun doing it. I'm anticipating more, though.  I believe they've only scratched the surface of what they're capable of producing. And I'll keep checking them out to see how they get there.

Notes on 750 ml bottle of Siren Song for a Lost Satyr, Saison & Blackberries, 2016 Vintage. 7.5% ABV, 35 IBU.

Perfectly plummy, raspberry-ish hue, pleasantly pink foam above.

Nose: not too sweet, not too tart, just right, nice and fruity. Altogether lovely.

In the mouth: big blackberry, slightly sour, just a touch. Medium bodied, long bitter/sour finish, and never-ending fruit. Pretty nice. Good work, Insight. Tasty stuff. I'll be back for more.

Here's their gobbledygook: The sweet fruitiness and hint of spice from the saison mingle with the tartness of the blackberry to create a unique and wonderful blend of flavors. No expense was spared with this celebration of blackberries.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Breckenridge Vanilla Porter

Thanks, Sample Man! Once again, a bottle reaches my hands that I haven't touched in many years. For the Breckenridge Vanilla Porter, we go back to notes from February, 2006, nearly 11 years ago. I think I knew what I was talking about then, so let's hear what I had to say:

An interesting label on this one, with some obtuse, too-clever-by-half phrasing. Beneath the words "Vanilla Porter", they proclaim: "Seldom Seen. Never Duplicated." Huh? Does that even make sense?
And, bookending the larger body of the design, at top and bottom, two words that try to belong together and prove the writer's great wit, yet fall flat. "Remarkable" ..."Partakable"...oh, kay...is partakable a word, even? And, do they know these words don't rhyme, exactly, for that seems their only purpose in pairing them.

Basically, they want to say, "It's different, and you can drink it."
So, let's see about that...

Big vanilla aromatics waft out from first crack of the crown.

Pours out a deep, dark brown, with a sliver of crimson at the sides, a meager, but loyal cocoa / tan head. Good.

Roasty nose, swiftly dominated by sweet vanilla. Light hints of coffee below, glimmers of chocolate. Pleasing, yes, but not overpowering, nor especially outstanding.

Chalky, flaky cocoa feel from the start, like a dusting of chocolate powder...rinses the mouth with a smattering of sweetness, then dashes away. Medium, at best, in body, a bit too light for me...vanilla bean flavor clings to the palate and pushes away the other flavors that may reside in the taste. Gets sweeter as we go in, a bit too much for me, actually.

Probably the best vanilla porter I've tried, but I'm still not crazy about the style.
I like more porter, less vanilla.

Editor's note: I wrote this way before the vanilla/coconut craze. These days, any infusion drives the geeks crazy, lord love 'em.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Sixpoint Tesla IPL

Sixpont Tesla. 7% ABV. 40 IBU. Lager. Six point Brewery, Brooklyn, New York.

Crystal clear, bright golden hued, large white head, leaving luscious lace.

Aroma: big, loud, and hoppy. Vibrant citric fruit notes, some pine, orange zest, grapefruit peel, tangerine. Nice.

In the mouth: Bitter bite at first, crisp bounce on the palate, little bit of honey, then smooth thereafter. Lean, clean, and lively. Tasty stuff, indeed. Quite delicious.

Yes, I'll have another.

Some gobbledygook? Sure, let's: 
...It was said Tesla would visualize
fully-functioning inventions in his mind before even setting pen to paper. To start with a realized formulation in the mind's eye— see it, smell it, and taste it, then harness the right materials to create it? Now that's Mad Science.

Think the juicyness of big doses of American Hops, with that clean snappiness of a cold-fermented, meticulously-lagered beer.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sisyphus Mrs. Sisyphus

Sisyphus Mrs. Sisyphus. Part of the employee designed beer series. We can assume this came from the mind of Catherine, then. No idea what the style might be, so I'll just go ahead and try and find out.

4.5% ABV. 40 IBU.

It's clear and yellow, with a slim, soon-gone head.

Aroma: Sweetness, fruit. Apple and peach. A touch of honey. Tea-like. Lovely stuff.

In the mouth: A cider-y snap at the front, crisp, lively, with little hop bitterness. Lean, and clean, and very smooth. Beautiful, bright, sweet fruit flavors persist on the palate. Now, the ginger kicks in, nicely spicy. Light bodied, easy finish. Quite likable.

This is a very nice beer, but it's not the type I'd pick again and again. That's just me.

Here's a little gobbledygook:
Part of the employee designed beer series. This light ale has notes of apple, peach and a hint of ginger. Honey malt beings or some added sweetness just like the real Mrs Sisyphus.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest brewed in collaboration with Mahrs Brau. 2016 Oktoberfest Lager.
6 % ABV. 30 IBU.

Clear, golden-hued, slim white head.

Clean aromatics, floral, herbal, a touch grainy. Malt-forward. Low hop bitterness.

In the mouth: clean, crisp, smooth, malty. Well balanced, easy-drinking, downright chuggable. Lighter bodied and less rich than my favorite oktoberfests. But this is firmly in the Festbier style. Good beer and you can drink it.

Here's a little gobbledygook from the website: We’re exploring the roots of Germany’s famous Oktoberfest beers. Each year, we partner with a different German brewer to explore a different approach to the style. This year we’re working with Bamberg, Germany’s Mahrs Bräu on a new version of the classic style. This authentic version of the festival beer is deep golden in color with a rich malt complexity, but with a noticeable spicy hop character from the use of the nearly forgotten Record hop varietal.

Deschutes Sagefight Imerial IPA

Deschutes Sagefight Imperial IPA. 8% ABV. 75 IBU. Bend, Oregon.

Clouded amber coloring, long lasting white head. Looking great.

Aromatics: very distinct, more lemon and lime than anything else, plus plenty of spice. That's where the sage is coming through. It's an unusual element in a beer, and really stands out. Nice.

In the mouth: Before I imbibe, I want to quote this from the website gobbledygook: Citrusy hops go head to head with resinous sage and juniper in a flavor battle royale.

Why not more? Malt Pale, Crystal, Munich
Hops Millennium, Bravo, Amarillo, Centennial
Other Sage, Juniper Berries Cert.
Alc. 8% IBU. 75
Available September – February.

The main event for hopheads has arrived! In the right corner we have lively botanicals hailing from the high desert; in the left, heavyweight citrus hops are looking for a knockout. Get ready to take a punch and keep on swinging with this bold Imperial IPA brewed with sage and juniper berries that’s best shared with those in your corner.

Huh? What? Okay, I guess. 

Anyway, back to In the Mouth: Sage and spice hits first, with hops following after. Malt lays low, leaving this to be all about the hops and those interesting adjuncts. Piney, resinous notes and super citrusy stuff does battle with the extra, unexpected ingredients. In addition to sage, also juniper berries, so there. It's a weird one, but I like it. Tasty, refreshing, bitter and odd, all at once. I said "tasty", right? Well, it is.