Monday, September 29, 2014

The Post Where I Tell You What's Up With My Life...and Talk About Harriet Sour Divine Oculust.

Hey, everyone. I wrote this many weeks ago, and saved it, didn't publish it, wondered about it. One thing I found out was that I'd actually written about the sour D.O. before, but since this is a new blend, I'm not going to worry about that. Another thing I want to say is: I had a very interesting time at this year's annual Autumn Brew Review, meeting friend after friend, with some unaware that I'd left the Blue Nile, others still thinking I was at Northbound, and so many who knew through facebook that I'd found new employment, and gave congratulations. (Although, this will not happen for several more weeks.) Rollercoaster. And yet others who wished I was doing what I was doing at the Nile, once more, and I could only say, yes, me too, some time soon, eventually, I hope. I won't go in depth about what it was that made me leave after 15 years, but part of it is wanting to focus more intently on craft beer service, which means getting out of a hip-hop and reggae nightclub business, and another thing is that my bar regulars were not largely composed of the great soup of our local craft beer loving aggregate, but instead the close community of alcoholic African immigrants. I had many hair pulling shifts wondering "why me, oh, Lord, why me?" And it doesn't matter what Lord I was talking to, I'd take refuge in any of them. Close to 100% of the people who admired me for what I was doing were not aware of the bulk of what I put up with, day-in/day-out. I'm still hoping to find that bar that I can run, just me choosing from all of the greatest beers available. One day we'll get there, again. for now, read this (remembering that it was written about 5 weeks ago):

Harriet Sour (Barrel-aged) Divine Oculust, Belgian-style Golden Ale, 8.5% ABV., Harriet Brewing, Minneapolis, MN.

Before I get to the beer, if the reader would allow some indulgence to the author of this beer blog, I'd like to give you an update on my personal and professional life. (If you don't care, skip down five paragraphs.) Perhaps you read the posts in April when I announced a major change, as I left the bar where I made my name and left my mark, the Blue Nile, and went on to take a management position at a well-regarded south Minneapolis brewpub. There were many perks and benefits to this new role, despite all the things I would miss when I changed jobs. I was no longer in charge of the bar, nor making any real decisions about it. That was a little frustrating, but I knew what my station was, and what I was asked to do. I chose that position because I needed a transition away from the Blue Nile, because, as I believe I previously stated, there were just too many things I had to deal with there that left me utterly exhausted, and had nothing to do with craft beer.

I really enjoyed myself at this new place, and I especially appreciated the excellent staff, without whom it not be the success that it is. But I did I miss my old role, and so did my former customers and my friends. Some wondered why I wasn't pouring their beers, some wanted me to talk beer with them, while I found the bartenders would rather take that on themselves. I saw myself sticking around for quite some time, at least a year, perhaps, in order to enjoy the perks and benefits, perhaps taking on new responsibilities that I was better suited for, and then I was shocked when I was dismissed without warning on returning to work after a 3-day vacation to Madison, Wisconsin for the Great Taste of the Midwest (only one day of which was part of the 5-day paid vacation I had earned after 3 months on the job.)

I'm putting a firm leash on my personal feelings about this, or my ideas about why they acted in this way. I can say in all honesty that our management styles were not in synch. If I were to elaborate further, I'd be making a very unwise move that I may regret. I was left unemployed for the first time in 25 years, and spent my immediate time after walking out their doors visiting my favorite places, and received some sympathy, a few beers on the house, but no job offers. Three weeks later, I'm still waiting for unemployment benefits to arrive, and I'm still looking for that next full-time job that really lets my talents shine. I've sent out resumes and taken some interviews, but nothing yet. The question persists: do I take the first, best, closest bartending gig I can find just to fill my wallet as fast as I can, or do I hold out for another bar management job? Without money in my pocket, it's hard to argue for the latter, opposed to the former. Without money in the checking account, it's hard to pay the rent. Clearly, I can't just look, I have to find. The time has come to really get out there and find something, somehow, somewhere.

I had another question on my mind, as there was a beer that was released 5 days before I lost my job, and a growler of it sat in my fridge. I spent so much time mulling over whether I should write about their beers while I worked there, and now I had to consider whether I should include their beers here in the future. In April, in between the transition, I started writing a history of my time at the Nile and how I turned, to the best of my abilities, an Ethiopian restaurant and nightclub into some kind of a beer bar. I had another idea for a post consisting of a pictorial essay leading up to the end of my Blue Nile tenure. And I thought perhaps part three would be that review of the Bridge Hanger Belgian strong dark ale, with a note about this news. I nixed that notion and chose not to write about it, and not to write about them again. I drank down the growler, and took no notes. Am I bitter? A little. Who wouldn't be? (Those two posts mentioned above will be here, some time soon.)

Meanwhile, I have found some part-time work with my friends at Harriet Brewing Company, which long-time observers may have noted is a brewery I have a long and close association with, since their inception. I hosted their initial tapping at the Blue Nile on February 9, 2011, as well as their 1st anniversary in 2012. March of 2012 brought the opening of their taproom, and I played DJ all day for that, and continued to play records there, sometimes for pay, always for fun. I've been pleased with all of their beers, although there have been rough patches along the way. I still believe that they are making some of the best, and most interesting beers in the state of Minnesota, and their identity remains intact. They have continued to make authentic interpretations of European style ales and lagers, with an occasional twist. I do sort of wish they'd break that mold just a bit, or maybe even try some English-style beers, but Jason's doing what he wants to do, and that's fine. Nothing wrong with having a solid identity.

Now, finally, on to the beer, one of the rare ones I haven't written about here. The barrel-aging program at Harriet is over two years old, and has produced sour versions of the saison, dubbel, and this, the Belgian-style golden ale. All in the series have been aged in used wine barrels, and have been inoculated with wild yeast strains for further souring. In the past, I've asked for growlers and been told no. Since I've started at the taproom, I have seen them filled, and so I filled one for myself, enjoying it at home for the first time. So, here we go….

Appearance: clouded, bright golden hue, large, looming snowy white and staying head, looking good.

Aroma: light spice and citrus fruit, overcome by the funk and the barrel. A celebration of the sour and the wild. I'm digging it.

Now, to taste it: a flash of the sour blazes the palate, grazes the tongue, and lingers long. The work of the barrel (used Chardonnay) and the wild yeast dominates over the mellow flavors of the Divine Oculust, and there may be a case made that it improves on it. Not by me, though, I like D.O. just fine as it is. Now and then, the flavor of the wine left behind shows up and adds to the deliciousness. My, but this is tasty, tasty stuff, currently only on tap at the taproom, though it may occasionally show up at selected bars and restaurants. I'm thrilled to have it in my home and my ready disposal.

Okay, so I am admittedly biased, but it's solid stuff. Fresh, zesty, lively and amazing. Maybe the best thing they've produced, with the sour saison close behind.
No, Harriet doesn't have custom growlers. I took a sticker for the 750 ml bottles of D.O. and stuck it on a generic Harriet growler.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Odell Fifty Niner Brett Golden Ale

Odell Fifty Niner Brett Golden Ale, Odell Brewing, Fort Collins, Colorado. 10% Alc. by Vol. 100% Bottle conditioned.

Appearance: Hazy, orange-ish hue, no head at all.

Aroma: Fruit, sour, ….not too wild, not too funky, not really much….hmmmm….

Before I get into the taste, I want to say that I was looking forward to trying this for many reasons, one is that I respect and admire Odell a great deal, and try to enjoy every new beer they make. Two is that I've been drinking and serving Harriet's Sour Barrel-aged Divine Oculust quite a bit lately, and am intrigued by something similar from another brewery. A soured, brett-ed up version of a Belgian golden isn't the normal thing. So far, in looks and aromatics, it's lacking in comparison to Harriet's. But, perhaps in taste, it'll come forward…

Taste: big fruit jumps out, swiftly overtaken by complex souring and brett effects. Medium-bodied. Low bitterness. Mild sourness. Peach and apricot, with a twist of the sour. Little bit of spice,

"Brett or Bust! 1859 was the peak of the Colorado Gold Rush. Prospectors and dreamers, later dubbed 59'ers, journeyed across the land with the hopes of striking it rich. In that spirit of adventure, Fifty Niner, a Golden Ale aged on oak staves and bottle conditioned with Brettanomyces, a yeast as wild as the new frontier. The lustrous golden brew shines with hints of lemon zest and pear accentuated by a rich vanilla and almond oak character and a subtle earthy spiced pineapple Brett finish."

Boy, I don't know what to tell you. That's a mouthful and it tries, but it oversells what actually comes out of the bottle. There's some of that in here, but not much, and it lays too low. I wish it was bigger, bolder, more outspoken. This is tasty, and it has character, but it could be a whole lot more than it is. I like what's here, but I keep wanting more, knowing that it's possible.

One thing I know for sure is that I wouldn't spend $14 on this bottle if I knew how unremarkable it was.

New Glarus Oud Bruin

New Glarus Oud Bruin, New Glarus Brewing Company, New Glarus, WI. "Drink Indigenous."

Clear and bright ruby red, with a full, off-white head, leaving lace, looking good.

Aroma: the sour hits first, and then the sweet, with cherry the biggest part of them both. Mostly malt below. Beautiful.

Taste: first sip and the sour takes over, rushes over the palate, dominates the senses. Brown ale beneath holds it down firmly, with the sourness never quitting, delivering the pucker with each new sip. Bracingly sour, deliciously sour, refreshingly sour. Moderate bitterness, slides just along the palate. Sour, bitter, sweet, all good things at once.

Wonder what the label says? "Our brewmaster Dan launched his Wild Fruit Cave this winter brewing Oud Bruin, a Flander's {sic} style ale that is immensely complex, both tart and sweet. Soft toffee notes lead with a blend of Wisconsin, British and German malts that first rested in the Coolship before spontaneously fermenting on oak in the cave. Hallertau hops, matured in the horse barn, elegant support sparkling fruit notes that frolic before a punctuated oak finish. 100% naturally fermented in oak vessels, this is an elegant beer that can be enjoyed now or the patient few can lay in their personal cellar to age."

So, it's "elegant."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Excelsior Bridge Jumper IPA

Excelsior Bridge Jumper India Pale Ale, Excelsior Brewing Company, Excelsior, MN. IBU 98. 7.5 % ABV.

Appearance: hazy, orange tinted, slim, but staying layer of milky white head.

Aroma: Popping with citrus fruit, orange, grapefruit, lemon, plus tropical tones, some pineapple, mango. touches of pine behind. Bursting with hoppiness. Loving it.

Taste: Hop attack on the tongue, coating the mouth and throat, as it goes down. Blitz of bitterness. Juicy malt bottom backs it up. Oily, resiny hop bitterness grabs the palate on every sip. Delicious and refreshing, but for the dedicated hop head only.

I'll let you in on a little secret: This is exactly how I like my IPAs. Good work, Excelsior, I'll be returning to this one again.

Hey, don't we want to find out more? Yeah, let's read the label. " "According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during…" No, not that, other side…"A malty IPA brewed with a ship load of raw, whole hops. It's always been easier to stay in the boat, stand on the shore or wonder 'what if?' For all those who have allowed their toes to bend over the edge and made the leap, we celebrate you with our inaugural brew. Face life head on and jump in with both feet."

I have mixed feelings about that copy. It's always great to be celebrated, but I still hate it when people tell me what to do.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Brau Brothers ALTernative Imperial Alt

You know what? It's time to drink some Brau Brothers beer. They no longer list their home as Lucan, MN, for they have a new facility in the nearby town of Marshall, MN. This bottle came to me in a sampler pack that held 3 beers I haven't covered for this blog, plus Moo Joos, which I always enjoy. So, let's go ahead and crack open this ALTernative Imperial Alt.

It's a muddy bronze, with ruby edges, and a slim beige head. Looking the part.

Aroma: rich malt hits first, with fruity associations, and a good amount of sweetness. Mild, floral hops. Detectable alcohol presence lurking behind, as well. It's big and complex and it's leading me to drink.

Taste: Imperial Alt is right. Big and beefy, mostly sweetly. Moderate hops, mostly malt, bulging over, mores than the average alt. Lingering sweetness in the finish. It's a meaty one, and I'm digging it.

Here's what they say: "authentic German malt & hops build this ale fermented very cold and allowed to cellar." Alc 8.5% by Vol. 23 IBU.
"Brewed in the Parti-Gyle Tradition." I don't know what that means. But I'm liking the beer.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Brasserie Dupont Monk's Stout

Monk's Stout Dupont. I saw this at Elevated the other day and thought to myself, damn, why haven't I tried this beer? I've had almost everything from this brewery, I like to sample every Belgian beer that exists…why? Why not now? So, I bought it, then I brought it home and I chilled it. Now, I'm going to drink it.

Brasserie Dupont, Tourpes, Belgium. Some stuff in French that I don't understand. 5.25% alc. by vol. time to release the cage and the cork and let the dark stuff flow out of the green bottle.

Appearance: dark brown, very nearly black, in color, with a majestic head of soft, lithe brown/tan foam, leaving lace, staying strong. Beautiful.

Aroma: Cola. Cocoa. Coffee.Raisins and plums. Spice. Sweetness. So, unique and ingenious. Every note delivers the essence of the Belgian stout.

Taste: Jumps on the palate with spice and dark malt, plus the terrific treats that Belgian yeast brings on. Spice leads to minor heat. Body is medium at best, malts are nice and roastyl. Not as full bodied as the English or American stouts, but tasty as heck. Pepper and chocolate, and coffee, with an echo of the barnyard funk. Sweetness turns to dry off the palate.

Gonna read the label. "From the recipe archives of Brasserie Bupont comes this remarkably refreshing, bracingly dry Belgian stout. Originally brewed in the late 1950's by Sylvia Rosier, today's Monk's Stout captures the intense Dupont style in a dark beer--deep aromas of black coffee, roasted bitterness and sharp, clean finish."

Sierra Nevada Vienna Lager

Sierra Nevada Vienna Vienna-style Lager, SNBC, Chico, CA. Alc. 5.2% by Vol. Final beer from the fall seasonal sampler pack. I kind of wish, though, they hadn't included SNPA, and tossed in something else, like their Stout. Hasn't everyone had SNPA by now?

clear, bright amber coloring, fierce carbonation, brief white head.

aroma: sweet, grainy malts, mild hop bitterness. slight fruitiness.

taste: crisp, clean, lean and sweet. Just like you'd expect from any Vienna. Noble hops appear on the palate to contribute to balance and do a little waltz on the tongue. Nice and crisp tingle keeps the sweetness to a manageable minimum. Lean-bodied and extra-drinkable. No doubt about, it's another classic rendition.

Let's gander at that label copy: "This amber lager is one of the world's most balanced beer styles. Nuanced flavors drift from semi-sweet,  bready malt notes to a floral and spicy kick from whole cone European hops." And more: "Vienna style lairs were on the brink of extinction until American craft brewers helped revive the style. It's a good thing they did. These delicate beers lean on light and bready malt flavors. =, but walk a fine, balanced line with whole-cone European hops contributing a dry finish."

Nebraska Cardinal Pale Ale

Nebraska Cardinal Pale Ale, Nebraska Brewing Company, La Vista, NE. 6% ABV, 48 IBU.

Here's my first entry from this brewery. I've seen their bottles on sale in Wisconsin liquor stores, but the prices that exceed the 25 dollar mark have scared me away. At last, they're here, and they're in cans. And I owe this one to my neighbors at the Beer Dabbler St. Paul event at Midway Stadium, a few weeks ago. I was representing Harriet with Joe and Jody, and at closing time for the festival, some of the other breweries didn't feel like bringing home their leftover wares. Lucky for us, they were giving them away. I never say no to free beer. Especially when cash is short and thirst is long.

Appearance: Clear, bright golden coloring, slim white head.

Aroma: floral, citrus-y hops and nothing but. touch of pine, too. Grapefruit and forest floor, my, oh, my.

Taste: Brisk hop attack up front, with slightly sweet malt flavor just below. Clean, smooth, and delicious. Tasty, tasty hop-kissed goodness, and supreme ease of drinking. Right on the money pale ale, right here. Clean finish. Good beer.

Hey, what's the gobbledygook? Around the neck of the can, the slogan: "World class in every glass." More: "Our pale ale is deep golden in color and characterized by a huge citrus-like aroma, with medium maltiness, and elevated bitterness. Cardinal Pale Ale, the heart of Nebraska Brewing Company, is where it all began so many years ago."

Friday, September 19, 2014

Summit Unchained #16: Herkulean Woods

Summit Unchained #16: Herkulean Woods. Lager brewed with Maple Syrup and Spruce Tips. Proudly brewed in St. Paul, Minnesota. Christian Dixon, Brewer. 8.2% Alc./Vol. 77 IBU.

Clear and copper-colored, with slim, off-white head, leaving lace, looking nice.

Aroma: hops make a bright, bittersweet appearance, but are swiftly subsumed by the maple syrup and the caramel malt. Spruce tips are hinted at, just behind. A delightful blend in the nose.

Taste: In the mouth and on the tongue, it's a tempting treat that starts highly hoppy and find itself a mixed bag of malt and woodsy trimmings. Higher than normal alcohol content starts to make it's presence known, but is kept at bay by the delicious blend of malts and hops. I'm going to take a short break to read about the recipe…."Profile: Malty, caramel backbone with a pine, resin, and citrus hop flavor and aroma….malts: Harrington, Lacey, Caramel….hops: Herkules (hence the Herkulean, then woods for the maple syrup and spruce), Northern Brewer, Experimental 05256" Anything else? "Inspired by the natural beauty and ingredients of the upper Midwest" You don't say. Well, that's different. Don'tcha know.

This is a terrific brew for the kind of season we're stumbling into, and a great choice for those who are tired of pumpkin as the compulsory choice of fall flavors. Nice dessert beer, good for 'round the fire. It's also a great representative of what makes for a good entry in the Unchained Series and why this program continues to be successful. Keep making the offbeat beers, Summit, keep stretching and inventing, and you'll always a place in my beer-y heart.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Blacklist Or de Belgique

Blacklist Brewing Or de Belgique. Brewed and bottled by Dubrue Brewing, LLC, Duluth, MN for Blacklist Brewing, Duluth, MN. 9.5% alc./vol.

Based on the name, I think we have a Belgian Golden Strong on our hands. Looking at it, smelling it, we may have a bit of a funky, rustic version to contend with. But, let's go in for a closer look…

Very clouded, bright golden appearance, slim white head on top.

Aroma: Belgian yeast is all over this one, with other elements of spices, citrus fruit, and a whiff of the ol' horse blanket. Intriguing.

Taste: Once more, the Belgian yeast is foremost on the palate, with the spark of the Belgian golden ale swift on it's heels. More citrus zest and peppery spice spank the tongue. Just enough sweet to match the spice. Crisp, lush maltiness. Medium bodied, fully flavored. This is an unfiltered ale, perhaps bottle conditioned. I'm enjoying it, that's for sure.

Now's the time I want to read the label and find out more. The type is so tiny, and I'm only getting older, but I'm giving it a go. "Honoring traditional Belgian processes, Or de Belgique is the "Gold of Belgium" made here in Minnesota. Bursting with tropical fruit flavors and rich aromas, this sophisticated and balanced beer is the perfect beverage to accompany a special night out. Lending a touch of sweetness to acidic or bitter dishes and cleansing the palate between bites of rich meats and desserts, Or de Belgique sparkles with food."

The spice and acidity is growing and growing as the alcohol rise, too, as it grows larger and larger in the mouth. It's ending dry on the palate, but this rich blend of flavors continues to delight.

This is my second Blacklist beer, and if they're all this good, I'm just going to keep on drinking them. You should, too.

We're bursting with breweries around here, and I've got no problems with a few more of them devoting themselves to Belgian styles. We've got Olvalde Farms, Borealis Fermentery, Boom Island, Harriet, and now Blacklist. Keep 'em coming, guys, and I'll keep drinking 'em.