Saturday, February 6, 2016

Alpine Pure Hoppiness Double India Pale Ale

Here's a beer I was excited to get a keg of (less than a dozen available to the state), jumped at the chance, and finally hooked it up a few days ago. Looking back, it seems that I'd had it for the first time over 11 years ago. Holy ---! It was November of 2004 that I first got my hands on this beer. I took a picture of the glass that I enjoyed on tap today, and now I share those original notes:

This beer's reputation and the exhuberant exultation of the label description have me greatly anticipating this bottle...hell, I'm glad the hunt is over and it's in my mitts at last, now all that's left is the experience..let it begin...

hey, I just cracked the crown and the happiness, and hoppiness has begun, it's freed from the bottle and into the glass...pure honey gold, fine head of pure white froth bobbing on top...

the nose, that's the treasure! Piney and sprucey, sweet tropical/citric fruits...gorgeous!...hop oils aplenty, raw and delicious, this is a heavenly thing, a halo fit for a hophead...I don't want to disrupt this lovely thing by drinking it, but I have no choice...the beer beckons..will it be as savory once past the lips?

A blast of bitterness, a phalanx of fruit, creamy and juicy, with an enhanced hop profile. Some what lightish in body, but the flavor is so high to render that moot, too huge in hoppiness, buzzing every inch of the mouth with the tasty hops..which ones? Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial? How'd I do?* Maybe more, maybe less, but whatever they are, they're there in plentitude.

this is an experience in a bottle, a very happy thing to have in the mouth, I'm an instant admirer, and have a new favorite to add to my must-drink column, ...although that reputation had already put it that it's been in my lucky stomach, it's assumed a rightful place among the greatest IPAs I've ever known. A real humdinger,...which means, literally, as far as humming and dinging goes, it's the real deal!

*I know know it's Cascade, Columbus, and H-something--whoops, I lost...

Lupine Murder of Cranberries Oatmeal Stout

A story: I had a tasting with a rep from this brewery months ago. The samples were all from a rec-closable swing-top bottle. None of them did anything for me. There was talk of other beers, but how could I trust their quality, if the samples sucked? Well, maybe sucked is a strong term, but they weren't impressive. Then, I heard good things from friends who visited the taproom, or who had tried beers like this one at other bars. I simply had to try them again, right, give them the benefit of the doubt.

So, I'm drinking this growleretterino of Murder of Cranberries before I write up Lupine for Breweries One by One, because I can't wait, and I want to drink it. One thing that confused me was the name. There are cranberries in it, but Murder of...? Well, that's what a gathering of crows is called, and why? Because of the Crow River. Of course.

Full and complete blackness, lovely brown ring of foam on top, slowly drifting down to nil.

Aroma is right on for an oatmeal stout, perfectly roasty and toasty, loaded with chocolate, coffee, caramel malt, beautifully burnt. Bitterness balances with malt sweetness. Nice.

Taste: Sweet caramel-y malt starts if off, rich roastiness keeps it rolling. Lush and luscious, great bitterness, excellent stoutiness. Fruity flavors enter the palate, cranberries adding a subtle tartness to the mix. Excellent play on the palate, keeping it tart, dry, complex and terribly tangible. Coffee and chocolate malt flavors keep tantalizing the tongue, richly rewarding, lasting long.

This is just about perfect, and downright likable, too. I'm going to try to drink as much of this as I can, just you watch me. It's perfectly delicious. One of the best locally brewed oatmeal stouts I've ever had.

From the website: Our Stout can be enjoyed by many more than just dark beer drinkers. Subtle coffee notes balance nicely with the cranberries, which give it a slightly tart finish. The deep, rich flavors, body front to back, and smooth tastes linger making you want more. The coffee and chocolate roasted malts give this beer its rich color and never-ending flavors.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Destihl Saint Dekkera Reserve Sour Ale Flanders Oud Bruin

I've been putting this off for way too long. Bought at the Normal, IL brewpub in early October, 2015. Sour Belgian-style ale aged in oak barrels. Alec. 7.2% ABV. Brewed and bottled by Destihl Brewery, Bloomington, IL. Batch year 2013. Barrel #s 25-27, 35, 36.

Dark burgundy coloring, slim light brownish head.

Rich, dark fruit pops out of the nose, plums, raisins, figs, etc. Cherries, date. And along comes the funk, the funk, the funkitty-funk-funk. Down deep and oaky as heck.

In the mouth, intense puckeration, fierce sour, mouth-gripping tart. Lush fruit, Sweet and sour mouthfeel. Ends on a dry note, sends the thirst rushing back to the glass, quenching the palate anew. Beautiful rich, tasty malty dark body, long sourish finish. Refreshingly delicious.

Mmmm. Ahhh. Right on, man. This is doing it to it.

Town Hall '97 Masala Mama (Batch 2000)

Town Hall 1997 Masala Mama. Re-brewed from the original recipe by John Haggerty in honor of the 2000th batch at Town Hall Brewery.

Clear, pale copper appearance, slim head, drifts down quickly. Leaves a little lace.

Spicy/fruity hop aroma, citric blend, orange and grapefruit, nice, but restrained. Not as out loud as the current crop.

Tasting....Big hop attack right at the front, brisk and bitter. Again, nice mix of fruit and spicy notes, pouncing on the palate. Lean-bodied, light finish, but lingering hop bitterness. Hop flavor never goes away, just fades a bit, after every swallow. Cascade and Centennial, the classic West Coast hops, are the two in this, rather than the larger bouquet of the contemporary recipe (I've forgotten the other hops in the current incarnation....they've got to be around here somewhere...). A bit sweet on the way down.

Not the fierce hop assault of our modern mama, but it was probably good enough for '97. They kept the name of the original IPA, but it got quite a tweaking when Mike Hoops came in the door and got his hands on the mash paddle.

I sort of wish I'd brought home a growler of regular Mama, the one that I fell in love with back in '02 and set me on my long history with this brewery, just to try them side by side. But while it isn't as intense or full-bodied as this year's model, '97 Mama was not bad, not bad at all.

This information is lifted from the world wide web dot com: Darker, sweeter, and far less hoppy than the Masala Mama of today. The malts used in '97 Masala are similar to today's Masala Mama, however the ratios are very different. Hopped with Cascade and Centennial.

Tin Whiskers Barrel Shifter Porter

Tin Whiskers Barrel Shifter Porter, 1 pint, 8 fluid ounces, 7.5% alc. by vol.

Sometimes the sample man brings you stuff that you are too polite to say bad things about. That happened when a plain brown bottle of this was brought to me and I drank it with Sample Man and others. I couldn't say why it left me unmoved, and thought about going to the taproom for a growler. Glad I didn't. I did give it a second chance, picking up a bomber at a store (why didn't he bring this, instead of a bottle filled from the tap the day before?), putting eight dollars of my own money into the effort of giving this beer a fair shake.

Dark brown, opaque, small head turns to nothing in no time. Eh.

Aroma: Barrel tones, whisky, vanilla and such, plus dark malt, cocoa, coffee, sweet dark malts, molasses. Pleasant.

In the mouth: ah, I don't know about this one. Whisky-ish elements board the tongue, and little else. There's not much porter-y below. The barrel doesn't really embellish a fine beer beneath it, it seems to cover up not much of anything. My tongue is left wanting. In full truth, I am left very unhappy with this unpleasant flavor in this disappointing beer. There's nothing here, and I'm sad that they sent it out into the world. Each new sip confirms it: there's not enough of a good beer here to stand up with the barrel-aging (honeycomb spirals, I was told). It's weak in body, lacks real integrity, and feels limp and sad in the mouth. how else can I put this? It's bad covered in bad.

Some chocolate malt flavor comes through with confidence later in, but it's wasted bravado. Too limp, too weak, too sad, and lacking in what we want in either a porter or a barrel-aged beer.

Aaargh! I hate to hate a beer, but I hate this beer. I got a sample of this from the brewery, and it don't move me at all. So, I gave an $8 bomber a chance, and it's just as bad, if not worse. Argh! Don't sell this, Tin Whiskers! And don't buy it, people!

Ah, man, I don't know if I sold this one hard enough, but...drinking this is no joy. In fact, it makes me sad. I don't turn to beer to make me sad.

Sigh...The website says This: An oak-aged porter with strong vanilla notes and just a hint of cherry • 7.5% ABV.

The bottle says: Appearance: Deep brown with a light tan head. Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with a lower carbonation. Taste: Malty chocolate with notes of oak, vanilla, and cherry. Aroma: Strong vanilla and malt aromas with a hint of cherry.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sisyphus Safe Lady Peanut Butter Stout

Went to Sisyphus last week in search of Isaac the Fax Man. But there was another new beer on, Safe Lady PB Stout. What the heck? Description on the board (Aka TV screen) read: "Making a peanut butter beer in this town can be Dangerous, Man...." Ah, ha. Dangerous Man, Safe Lady. Okay, Sam, you are now the "Weird Al" Yankovic of local brewing. Don't fight it, embrace it. Keep the puns and parodies coming.

Now, about the beer:

Dark coloring, rich brown head, leaving lace, looking great.

Peanut butter pops right out of the nose. Bam! there it is. Sweet, nutty, creamy, yeah. I like it.

Taste: PB is big in the mouth, too. Chocolate and coffee notes lurk just below. Full body, full, rich mouthfeel. Moderate hop bitterness on the palate. Peanut butter flavor stays on the palate, and never quite leaves. Bitterness adds excellent ballast and balance. Tasty stuff. I can drink this and drink it.

I overheard some commentary and read some online that said "not as good as Dangerous Man's Peanut Butter Porter." I beg to differ. This is superior to that.

Schell's Snowstorm 2015: Wallonian Brown Ale

And now, another case of tardiness on my part. Snowstorm 2015 has been out for quite some time, and I went through a half-barrel keg of it at Acadia well over a month ago, and I never took notes. So, I bought a 12-pack, went through 11 bottles and kept the last one for this occasion. Our first really big  snowfall of the season. Winter Storm Kayla, they call her, and she dumped nearly a foot of snow on us. Blustery winds, too. It wouldn't have felt right to drink it the other day when it was in the 40's, or when it was sub-zero, but without much snow on the ground. Now we have snow, and it's time to break out the 'storm. This one is called a Wallonian Brown Ale, whatever the heck that is.

6.2% ABV.

Clear, reddish brown coloring, small dark head, soon disappearing.

Sweet, fruity aroma, laden with Belgian yeast character. Malt-forward, traces of bubblegum and banana, plus cocoa and caramel.

In the mouth, sweet malty flavor is on top, some hop bitterness, but it's low and aids the balance. Cocoa and caramel meet Belgian yeast yumminess. More of that banana and bubblegum mixing with the toffee and molasses. Medium-bodied, easy-drinking. I like it.

Now, this Wallonian Brown Ale thing. I know that Wallonia is a region of Belgium, but I didn't not know that was a stylistic designation. So, I googled it. The first thing that comes up is this beer. Next, we get a reference to Rochefort 8. The, Caracole Nostradamus. These are significantly stronger "brown ales" that I would actually call a quad, or at least a Belgian strong dark ale, though not quite a dubbel. And this version is significantly weaker than those. I wouldn't mind seeing Schell's go the distance on something like that, but that's not what the Snowstorm series is for. It seems as if they made and intentionally weaker version of what is supposed to be a deep, rich, complex and strong brown ale. Just for fun, do a Google image search on "Wallonian brown ale", and you'll see that it's mostly about this beer, with some McChouffe and Nostradamus tossed in, along with other non-Wallonian "brown ales."

Here's what Schell's says on their website: The Snowstorm of 2015 draws inspiration from the artisinal and experimental traditions of the Wallonian brewers to create a malt-focused brown ale with hints of nut, biscuit and stone fruit.

That sounds about right. In any case, it's a good beer and I could drink it. I'm glad Schell's made it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Minnesota Breweries One by One #7, Spilled Grain Brewhouse in Annandale

Spilled Grain Brewhouse, 300 Elm Street, in beautiful
downtown Annandale, where, a highway sign informs us,
Jesus is the Lord of. 
There have been six installments of this series so far in January, and I spent the final day of the month collecting data on breweries 7, 8, 9, and 10. That will make ten for January, getting slightly ahead of the stated goal of eight per month. And when Jason and I went north-west of Minneapolis this past Sunday, it marked the first time the project ventured outside of the City of Lakes. Sunday, January 31, 2016 was our day to review the breweries of Wright County, Minnesota.

So, we left my home in Minneapolis, and went about 50 miles, a trip of roughly an hour and some, to the sleepy little town of Annandale, population 3, 228, to visit the Spilled Grain Brewhouse. I don't think about the town of Annandale much, but I'm pretty sure they don't think
A lovely mosaic of vintage plate
in the men's room.
about me, either. The farther we get away from the big cities, the more likely I feel like I may stick out as "city folk." And the taproom at Spilled Grain has the feeling of "small town pride" all over it.

Every sign is hand-painted, even the tap handles. Country music fills the room. Pictures of old trucks and license plates on the wall, along with every kind of Annandale ephemera and memorabilia.  And it's a friendly feeling, for sure, although we interacted with no one but our server. Groups had brought their own pizzas, but Spilled Grain provided chili on Sunday afternoons, and we gratefully obliged. ("Complimentary while you watch football on the biggest screen in town!")

Did you know that Annandale has 26 lakes? And has been dubbed "the Heart of the Lakes" because it has so many lakes within a 10 miles radius? Did you know it was incorporated in 1888? Or that it's population is 96.3% white, 0.5% African American, 0.2% Native American, 0.3% Asian, 1.5% from other races, and 1.2% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.1% of the population? I love Wikipedia.

My flight of four, kolsch and IPA in back, oatmeal
chocolate stout and SMaSM in front.
There are six beers available on tap, a nice range going from an easy-drinking light kolsch up to the current release, 9.8% Imperial Brown Ale made in collaboration with Big Lake's Lupulin Brewing. This one, the beer that sounded most interesting to me, was not available in growlers and I had to
This is not what Bobby McFerrin sang,
but it's what he meant to sing.
come to a new decision about this project. I previously said that each entry would include a review of a single beer from each brewery, most likely in a growler I bring back home. If I was to do this at each stop Sunday, that would easily cost me $75-$100. Growlers at SGB were $20, including the glass. At our next stop, that price would be $25. Nope. I'm not funded for that, nor do I want to build up my growler collection to the crazy size it was a year ago (over 50 if you remember). I didn't bother to call ahead and ask if they fill other people's growlers. I'd be forced to take notes or just give the general gist. Maybe that's enough.

I ordered a flight of four, and so did Jason, with our selections covering all the bases. First up, Crooked Rafter Kolsch (5.5%, 19 IBU), soft, lightly bitter, smooth and expertly down-able. Their best-seller, our friendly tap-tender told us, and it's no wonder. I've worked in a couple of taprooms, and I can say that when they're at their busiest, the second most-asked question, after "where are the restrooms?" is "what's the lightest beer on tap?" In a community such as this, it's probably even more frequent. And this is not a bad rendition of the style. Not perfect, but not bad.

Chalkboard full of choices.
I moved on to their first SMaSM (single hop/single malt), which they call Small Town. You don't say. Maris Otter malt, Citra hops, 5.9%, 39 IBU. Very clean, with tropical hop notes, a delicate bitterness. Jason liked this quite a bit, but it didn't move me more than normal. Just alright. Third, the Highest Point IPA ( 6.8% ABV, 57 IBU), called "American IPA at it's finest. I don't know about that, but it was a fine effort.  Chinook and Galaxy hops for that "Piney/dankness", so they say. They also say "we did not forget the malt, however, for it provides a strong backbone that does not allow the hops to overpower the drinker." Good thing they didn't forget the malt, or they wouldn't actually have any beer. Quibbles aside, it was an intensely bitter beer that hit this hophead where he lives. I would make this a staple of drinking if I were here with any amount of regularity.

To finish the flight, I picked up my sample glass of Short Temper Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, 5.9% ABV, 29 IBU, aged with fair trade cacao nibs for Ghana. Pronounced chocolate and caramel malt flavors in this one, but less full-bodied than I'd like from a stout. Overall, I liked it, and would have a pint.

Best of the bunch, Operation CoHopearation
release #1, Imperial India Brown Ale.
That ended my flight, but not the beers I wanted to drink. I took a sip of the Apiary Ale honey nut brown (5.7%, 30 IBU, "back by popular demand!")from J.'s sampling, and it was okay. Probably pretty popular, but nothing I would choose. And that left one more, the Operation CoHOPeration that was released the previous day, the collaboration with Lupulin. I ordered a 12 ounce serving of that one. 9.8% ABV, 70 IBU. Reading the beer list description, we are treated to tales of the friendship between Jacob of SGB and Matt and Jeff from LBC. Without such material at hand, you'll have to
This place loves exposed rafters as much as I
hate shaving or smiling.
just imagine what wild adventures and late night revelry these three have enjoyed. The beer, though? Rosy brown colored, fruity-malty nose, rich and sweet malt flavors, with enough hop bitterness to provide great balance. Fiercely hoppy, in fact, with a lot of depth and complexity and a long, malty finish. Dry-hopped with Simcoe and Amarillo. "Loads of malt and loads of hops come together to form a concoction of epic flavor." Me, I proclaimed it "delicious." The best beer there, from a beer geek perspective, and it only made me more excited to check out Lupulin in Big Lake.

So, we drank all the beers and we listened to all the country, and we soaked up all the down-home-ness, and it was time to move on down the road, in the other direction, heading back home and hitting every brewery we could on the way back. And we left charmed by the space and fairly impressed with the output at Spilled Grain, with hardly a concessionary beer in the bunch. You've got to make them fairly safe and drinkable for a crowd such as this, which may not have a lot of access to craft beer where they are, but none were "too safe." In fact, I learned from their website that if we'd been there the week before, the line-up would have included a 7.5% stout and an Imperial Black IPA, at 9.7%. More importantly, I got the feeling that the brewers really know what they're doing here.
Good beers, Spilled Grain, next time I'm in Annandale, I'm coming back for more!

Bent Brewstillery Dark Fatha Barrel-aged American Emperial Stout

Bent Brewstillery 2015 Barrel-aged Dark Fatha American Emperial Stout (whatever that is). Bent Brewstillery, Roseville, MN. Alc. 9.3 % by Vol. IBU: 57.

Solid blackness, thick and rich, large creamy, cocoa-tinged head.

Aroma: vanilla and cocoa are here. Nice oak-y tones, too. Huge aromatics. Very nice.

Taste:  In the mouth, it's ....barrel-y. Vanilla-y, oak-ish....and, just like the non-Barrel-aged version, on the thin side. Blah. I don't go to stout for "lightness". Somebody on the internet told me that I didn't get the Darth Vader reference resonates (not his word) because the lightness of the body and the darkness of the color suggests the balance of the Force, requiring both light and dark sides. Yeah, and I'm a Wookie's grandpa. 

Once the special treats of the barrel diminish and wear off, we're left with what we had originally, a weak and watery "Emperial" stout, that doesn't taste much like anything but a mistake. There's the promise of something rich and full-bodied, but the rug is pulled from the palate. It's just not...that...good. Eh..........

After this experience with the "non-BA" version, I wanted to give them another chance. Maybe this one was better? No, it's just bourbon barrel-aging covering up a very disappointing, mediocre stout. Eight dollars down the drain, lesson learned.

They say this on the website (and it's similar to what's on the label, but I'm not getting out my reading glasses): This distinctive hybrid beer style combines the crisp, clean feel of a light ale with the dark, cocoa, roasted smoothness of a stout. Big and booming with a delicately light soul.

Nope, I still ain't buying. What on earth would ever be what they describe above, and who would want it? 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Day Block Gentleman's DIPA

Here we have one 750 ml "crowler" of 99 IBU, 9% ABV Double India Pale Ale from Day Block Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Filled and purchased on Wednesday, January 27, 2016. Drinking it now.

Crystal clear, bright golden color, slim white head.

Brilliant citric and tropical nose. A touch sweet and honey-isn, and not too terribly bitter. Nice.

Taste: more tropical than citric on the tongue and past the palate. More sweet, like melon and banana. Not literally, of course. Smooth and delicious. Slides down like a champ. Oh, me, oh, my, oh, mmm, yeah. Lean malt flavors, just holding it down. Goes down way too easy. F* it all, I'm drunk already.
Not quite. I do like this, though. Pretty nice, DIPA, though. Why the name? Let's check the website...

Batch number 10 in our Bands That Brew series, this ale was made especially for the Gentlemen's Anti-Temperence League. Brewed with English Maris Otter pale ale malt and loads of Nugget and Chinook hops, this beer is a beast of an IPA. Huge notes of hoppy pine and citrus are supported by a delicate bready malt backbone. 99 IBUs for hoptimum enjoyment.

I know that band, they play at Acadia sometimes. They sing about whiskey, and drink cider. But, apparently, also home-brew. Hmmm. Maybe that's why this tastes like a double IPA crossed with a cider?