Saturday, August 27, 2016

Minnesota Breweries One by One #71: Lake Monster Brewing, St. Paul

You know, it's been awhile since I've been to a St. Paul brewery for this project. It's been months, it seems. And it's a nice day, why not bike to Lake Monster, for my second visit ever. I went there once with Dave A. in late December of last year, but I really couldn't tell what part of town we were in. Would it be easy to get to by bike? It was incredibly easy. I took Lake Street (and I had business there anyway) all the way across the Mississippi river into St. Paul, where they change the name to Marshall Street, then take that to Cretin Avenue, and take a left. From there it's a short trip over another bridge which spans 94, and you're almost there, inside an industrial complex called Vandalia Towers at 550 Vandalia Street.

Lake Monster has appeared in the Bitter Nib twice before, you can read the reviews of their contract-brewed bottled products here. The IPA and Pilsner are still the only products that are in the market, though some of their other beers make it into bars in keg form. I had the sour brown at Acadia for our Minnesota Wild & Funky event in May, but never got around to taking notes. Well, this time I took out the old trusty notebook and sat down to examine my beers at the taproom.

Berliner Weiss. 
First up, Berliner Weiss, their take on the tart German wheat ale style. At 4 % aBV, it's a hazy gold, and refreshingly tart and quenching, and ultimately dry. It was just what I needed after a bike ride of nearly 5 miles from my home, simple, easy drinking, nice. 

Irish Red.
Next up, and Irish Red Ale, at 5.3% ABV,  called Kelly's Red, which they referred to as a "hop-forward amber ale" and I couldn't argue with that. There was rye malt employed as well, contributing to the spicy notes in aroma and flavor. Sweet and malty and hoppy, with a long, bitter finish. Continuous snappy, hoppy twang on the palate. I liked it quite a lot, and would gladly have another. 

For the third pint, I went with the IPA on cask, with Centennial hops added. Fresh, lively, beautifully bitter and green. Just right. 

Cask IPA with Centennial hops.
Murmur Milk Stout.
About the taproom itself, it's spacious, warm, and comfortable. Typical elements about: here's your chalkboard with the choices, next to that the merch, and there's the TV (thankfully off), over here's your board game shelf, over there's your water station. Off to that side, a group is gathering for some women's history trivia, for some reason. And outside, the well-used patio. Almost all of the elements in place (what, no free popcorn?), and to go with, some damned fine beers. 

I decided to have one more, and made it the Murmur Milk Stout, on nitrogen, a dark and dreamy pint. Cocoa and coffee in the nose, a smooth but substantial ale. Just about note perfect for a nitro milk stout. Not the sort of thing I normally choose, but they nailed it. 

I while away a nice little evening at Lake Monster.
Great space, good service, and excellent beers. My only complaint is hardly one at all. Just make more great beers, and don't stop doing it.

Oh, no, sorry, one real complaint: coasters, people! You've been open long enough to afford to order and use some coasters. And not just to add to my collection, you need something in between the glass and the wood. Even napkins would be nice, if you can't be bothered to do coasters. It's just civilized.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dave's BrewFarm Jimmy Thinks You're Hot

Forgive the background, if you will, please. Sonny Boy the Cat
just wants to photobomb them all. 
Dave's BrewFarm Jimmy Thinks You're Hot. 6.9% ABV.

Deep amber/crimson coloring, lush and long-lasting creamy, off-white-ish head. Looking great.

Aroma: little bit from fruity malt, some hop bitterness, excellent balance, and a hint of a Belgian-twist from the yeast (I'm thinking, just a guess). All in all, gives off a feel of a Belgian amber ale.

In the mouth: Mmmm. Big 'n' sweet, lush, malty, turning dry in the end. Big caramel and toffee. Nothing but delicious, truth be told. The Belgian yeast thing is bringing it big time, malt is lush and lovely, hop bitterness remains minor.

I had this at the taproom, I read the description, and I forgot it all, as I forget just about everything these days, and opened my growler with a clean slate of mind. Now, I've unearthed the menu and can divulge the official word of Farmer Dave: "A nod to all the third person people! Pale, Caramel 120 malts, and Flaked Oats, Select and Azacca hops, fermented with a Belgian-lineage yeast. Dave hopes you enjoy it..."

It's a beer whose name has nothing to do with the beer (inspired by a Seinfeld character), and a beer that fits no mold you've ever known before, like so many other LaBrewATory beers before it. This is so nice, also like so many BrewFarm beers before it.

Great Dane Saison

If you read this thing with any regularity, you know that I love the wonderful, recyclable crowler. In Minnesota, though, they can only come in one size: 750 milliliters, or 25 ounces. Why? Because that's what the damned law says. There's really no reason, the legislature just wants to tell brewers what to do. Over in Wisconsin, their crawlers go up to 32 glorious ounces. When I was in Madison a week and a half back, I wanted to bring a beer home from the Great Dane with me, but didn't want to pay a deposit on a glass vessel I might not use again for a few years. (Of course, most WI brewers will fill anything, but I didn't think to take one with me.) My heart leapt with joy when I saw they did crawlers, and I decided to bring their saison back, and reviewed it last night.

Great Dane Saison. 6.5% ABV.

Clear, light golden coloring, slim white head, active carbonation.

Aroma: Bubblegum and candy floss. Bananas and spice. Coconut macaroons with cream filling. I kind of like it. Not a classic saison nose, kind of all over, but I like it.

Taste: sweetness and spice and big flavor from the start, then quits the palate quickly. Starts out sweet, turns out dry. Clean, lean, light-ish bodied, easy-drinking. Carries some of the hallmarks of other Belgian style, not necessarily in line with the classic saison profile. But, what ever is? The more I drink it, the more I like it, the more it makes sense. Not bad, not bad at all. And it's all coming together. Starting to collect. This ain't that bad. Actually pretty good, then. You betcha.

(Wait, why did I start doing a bad Minnesota accent. Sorry, I was watching "Fargo: The Series" in the background.)

F-Town India Pale Ale

F-Town India Pale Ale. F-Town Brewing, Faribault, MN.

Lightly hazed, bright golden hue. large, lovely ivory head, lasting long and leaving lace.

Aroma: bold and hoppy, tangerine, grapefruit, orange and pine aplenty. Little bit of lemon. Quite nice, and not too bitter.

In the mouth: Bitterness smacks the palate first, matched by some sweet, fruity malt. Medium-bodied, lean, clean malt flavor. Bittersweet fruitiness continues in the drinking.

 Not a bad IPA. Which is good. Not bad is better than bad, every time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Millstream Fuzz Peach Kolsch

Millstream Fuzz Peach Kolsch. Amana, Iowa. Kolsch-style Peach Ale.

Lightly hazy appearance, golden hued, slim white, lace-leaving head.

Peach to the extreme in the aromatics, big, fruity and sweet.

In the mouth: Peach hits the lips from the start, light to no bitterness, nicely balance, light malt character. Clean, and easy-drinking, light bodied. Peach flavor never quite quits. Kolsch flavors, though, seem utterly subsumed. Just a touch of tart to match the sweet.

I kind of like this. It's a good beer, and I can drink it.

Friday, August 19, 2016

F-Town Faribo Lager

F-Town Brewing Company Faribo Lager. 4.7% ABV. 40 IBU. Faribault, Minnesota.

Around the top of the can, these words: "Formed. Founded. Fermented. F-Town Brewing Company." Not sure if I get it. They just wanted to throw some f-words together?

Clear, light golden coloring, slim white head, active carbonation.

Aroma: soft, floral, hoppy. Nice enough.

In the mouth: wet, clean, lightly malty, slightly sweet. A little fruity. More citrus-y flavors than I'd expect in a lager. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Light, easy-drinking, but not particularly remarkable. Nothing wrong with that either. I guess.

What's the gobbledygook? "Bright and crisp, with a refreshing citrus profile. This simply satisfying pale lager is perfect for every day." I wouldn't call it "crisp" though, it's lacking in that. More soft than crisp. Drinkable, though. Not bad.

And I'm curious why they misspell the city in the name. Hometown pride, for the people who hate their French name, and don't like spelling it? Oh, whatever.

Minnesota Breweries One by One # 63: Nutmeg Brewhouse, Burnsville

Some breweries start off with seasoned professional brewers, level-headed owners and managers, and a well-hewn plan. There's a wisdom and a system and a course from the start. And others, not so much. A few establishments open up and there's a whiff on them of the coat-tail rider and the johnny-come-lately. Rather than fulfilling a pent-up passion, they seemed to be in it for the money, and jumping on the bandwagon.

This was the perception of the Nutmeg Brewhouse restaurant and brewpub in Burnsville, which opened earlier this year. Many reported that their beers weren't very good, and the complaints fell on the management's deaf ears. "You need to have the beers with our food," they said. But, good food doesn't make up for terrible beer. (Were they saying "terrible"? I think they were.) We judge every new brewing concern on their beers, not on their food. And as we planned our trips in this project, Jason suggested that if we put off Nutmeg indefinitely, the market forces would perhaps eliminate them from the running and we'd be off the hook. But we didn't shy away from Kinney Creek, or Maple Island, or that other one I haven't written up yet, or Sidhe. We soldiered our way in, and we drank the beers, damn it.

Something better than that happened, though. The brewer of the bad beers went away, the restaurant poured only guest taps while they figured out their next steps, and found a new brewing team, led by JT Dalton, formerly of Barley John's Brewpub, and Brewing Company. New reports came out from friends and other trusted palates that everything was fine. And so, a plan was formed for the first Sunday in August, and we went out to the southern suburbs, starting with Nutmeg Brewhouse, 1905 County Road 42 W, eleven miles south of Minneapolis, population 60, 000-some (10th largest city in Minnesota!), a mere 77.5% of them of the caucasoid race of peoples. (I feel that I have to get all this information out there, after I've established it as one of my rituals, of sorts.)

At the brewpub, which prides itself as much for it's food, if not more, we met with our old friend Ryan Gregory, a current Burnsvillian. (Okay, that sounds weird. Burnsville-ite? Burnsygander? That's a particular nod to former Michigander Ryan.) We contemplated the current list: Banyan Summer Ale, a Belgian Pale Ale, the same on cask & dry-hopped, an Imperial White IPA, a California Common, and an IPA. Oh, and Founders Mosaic Promise IPA, if those weren't good enough for you.
Carouser Belgian Pale Ale. 
I went with the Carouser, 6.5% ABV, 31 IBU, and found it malt forward with an appropriate abundance of Belgian yeast, malt and spice. Smooth & slightly sweet, this hit all the right notes for an amber-y Belgian pale. Couldn't find a fault, but wasn't the type I'd return to twice.

Flintlock Imperial White IPA.
Flights are offered at Nutmeg, as well as smaller pours. I kept turning to the 10 ounce pours whenever possible, because we had two more breweries to hit up after this one. I picked the Flintlock Imperial White IPA for the second beer (10.3% ABV., 91 IBU), and that was a doozy. Hazy, amber-hued, nicely hopped, bright and loaded with citrus notes. Big and bountiful. Audacious, even. I kind of liked it.

Plank Walker IPA. 
At this time, our food arrived. We'd all arrived, independently, at the Chicken Tikka Skewers, and they were delicious. The culinary program at Nutmeg is squared strictly at the cuisines of former British colonies, for reasons unexplained, so that means Indian, Canadian (they have their version of poutine!), New Zealand, Australian (?), Taiwanese? , Maylasia, Scotland, etc. The menu has always been focused, it's the beer that needed real professional help, and so far, it's working.

I had one more, and that was the Plank Walker IPA (76 IBU, 7.5% ABV). Big hoppy nose, nice and fruity, big malt meets big hops, while remaining balanced. Definitely in the English-style of IPA. Tasty stuff. My kind of IPA, through and through, a beer I truly enjoyed. This is one I would choose again and again.

We had our beers, we had our bites, and it was
time to close this little chapter in our adventures and move further south to more new breweries in the not too distant suburbs. As for Nutmeg, hey, if you're in Burnsville, go for it, they've got good beer brewing!

Town Hall Galaxy Session IPA

Galaxy Session IPA. 4.6% ABV.

Clear, bright golden color, slim white head.

Aroma pops with grapefruit and lime. Tropical tints come on board after, pineapple and mango. Nicely balanced and bitter.

In the mouth: Big citric bitterness starts it out, then it's smoothness and cool. Light bodied, low alcohol, lean and clean. Goes down like a dream. But, a bit one-note and unfortunately unmemorable. But, it's a session beer.  That's where they succeed. Nice and hoppy and forgettable. Good beer, and you can drink a lot of them.

Gutenberg American Pale Ale

I'm still trying to wrap my head around gluten-free beers. In the service of that endeavor, I decided to drink a can of Gutenberg American Pale Ale. 5.5% ABV.

Clear, amber-toned, slim white head.

Lightly hoppy, mildly fruity....nice.

In the mouth: Huh. I still don't know how to judge these. It lacks so much in what I'd want from a pale ale, but how does it succeed as a gluten-reduced pale ale? I'm really missing a lot in what I expect out of beer, in terms of flavor. Whatever replaced the malt, it's not doing it for me.

But what if I had to drink this beer? Would I be somewhat satisfied, because I had no choice? It's a little off, a bit weird, but does it have to be?

There's some malty-ish sweetness, but I'm not sure where it comes from.

I'm not mad at it. I can drink it just fine, but it's not really an American Pale Ale, sure as heck doesn't taste like one. Well, if I had to drink this in order to drink a beer, I wouldn't hate it.

Sisyphus Black IPA

Sisyphus Black IPA. 6.4% ABV. 70 IBU.

Full ebon hued coloration, cocoa-tinged head, leaving lace, lasting long.

Rich, malty aromatics, plus grassy hops. Hop bitterness at play with malt sweetness.

In the mouth: big, rich malt, with cocoa and coffee tinges starts off at first, with grassy, citrus-y hops. Bitter and sweet keep on their tango, back and forth, and up and down. Bitter, sweet, malt, dark, hoppy, yum. I can dig it.

Wait. Did I say Yum? Did I also say that I can dig it? Yeah, I thought so. It's true. This is delicious.