Sunday, February 27, 2011

St. Bernardus Pater 6

Halfway into the St. Bernardus 4-pack, for the abbey dubbel, a meager 6.7% this one, and this time going back to notes from April, 2005:

"Beautiful deep crimson, near-mohagony color, huge head, cocoa-toned, dripping lace on the glass.

Nutty aroma, cola-ish, deep and earthy, some spices, hints of chocolate...nice.

Taste: yum, more of the same nuts and cocoa from the nose, very tasty, like a mellow dubbel, or a more lofty brown ale. Delicious. And that's only the start of it...this is simple and complex at once, a very deceptive ale, almost light and unassuming, but ultimately stirring with character, the flavor getting livelier and more exceptional the further in we get.

Given time, I could think of a million uses for a beer this great, but the best one is as an active ingredient to an oncoming case of happiness.

I'm going to have to make this beer a more intimate part of my life, and keep it well at hand, for anytime I need a jolt of delight and deliciousness."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Boulder Obovoid Oak-Aged Oatmeal Stout

So, it looks like I took 3 days and nights off from posting, and it's true, but not from drinking great beer.
Tuesday, I covered the bar for a sick bartender, and when I was finally relieved it was off to Town Hall for the only night of Barrel-aged Week that I thought I would get to visit. Honey V was on, a honey wine barrel aged Belgian-style abbey tripel. Got a ($25!) growler of that, and I'll probably open it and write about it tomorrow night. Stopped by Acadia on my way home to find that they were doing a special on Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout, for $4 a 12 ounce pour. That price is insanely low, so, naturally I had to have three of them. That was enough for my evening.
Wednesday, I stopped at Harriet Brewing for some West-Side growlers and to drop off some jazz records for Jason. "A Love Supreme" will sound great played loud in the brewery! Of course, I didn't anticipate a possible dilemna. That comes up later. Off to Bryant-Lake Bowl to play sardine for a while at their Surly 5th Anniversary Party. Mole Smoke, Moe's Bender, Abrasive Ale, Cherry-wood Aged Abrasive Ale, and of course, at least 2 servings of Pentagram. It was there that I told Todd the bottle illustration should be Baphomet (he corrected my pronunciation) holding a malt shovel and a glass of beer. Told me he was getting that (or just the goat-headed idol?) as a tattoo on his cat. That is to say, calf. Now I'll always think of him getting a tattoo of a demon on his cat.
Dean and Rita gave me a ride home, with first a stop at Town Hall for some Wee Jack, the Scottish Wee Heavy in Jack Daniels barrels. Back home, where I foolishly opened a growler of Masala Mama for a pint before slumber. It was later that I realized my mistake.
I fully intend to visit Harriet tomorrow for their first sale of Dark Abbey growlers, but I had no empties, only two full ones. Do I want to get fills, without empties? And if I don't, I have two days to empty them. But it I do, that opened growler of Mama might go bad? So, my solution is this. I had the West Side growler after getting home from work (around 4 am!), while watching some missed episodes of the Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Thought about also tackling one of the ten beers in the fridge I haven't covered yet, wisely declined and off to sleep. So, I finish the Mama tonight, (leaving early today, before midnight!) and I'll pick up one growler of the Dark Abbey. I'm sure there will be some left for later purchase, but there will be plenty of beer to enjoy after Sunday's fun day, another visit to Dave's BrewFarm, if all goes well.

And that is why I didn't touch any other new brews, or do any new posts. My original goal of doing one a day has been supplanted by as many posts as there are days in the month. So, we've got that covered. And why should I worry, really, I've no one to disappoint but myself.

And today's...Boulder Obovoid, 8% abv, oak-aged oatmeal stout, from a keg filled in October 2009, tapped at the Blue Nile in October 2010, taken off after StoutFest 2010, now back on til it runs out, tasting great, not any worse for the wear. And the notes are from from first taste of a bottle, January 2008. Now that that's out of the way...

"Very black, with cocoa-tan head...nice lookin'...

Rich and roasty nose, loads of espresso & cream, bittersweet, with caramel & chocolate hints, too...

Creamy, chocolatey flavor, yum...Cadbury's chocolate easter egg, that's it! That's where the name comes from...LoL!
Milk chocolate. Delish! Fullish bodied, moderate length finish, and altogether pleasing....sweetish taste, but good texture, fine and easy drinking....and loads of smooth, reassuring oatmeal. A big, burly oatmeal stout. And at an abv reaching up towards an RIS. Love it, personally.
This one's right up my alley. Good stuff."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Deschutes Black Butte Porter

Deschutes is another great regional brewery not known in our market until just last summer. I'd had Black Butte several times in visits to Oregon or Washington, and got my first bottle during the reviewing day in December of 2003, from a trusted trader. Just tapped my first keg at the Nile, and here are those notes from then. Every word still holds true. Classic American porter in every way, with enough of a snappy hoppy bite over the roasty malt. Wait, when am I sharing those notes, anyway?!

"Deep, dark brown color, showing crimson edges, with an active, fizzy tan head, though quick to settle.
Aroma: smooth, creamy, with a whiff of bitter hops.
Taste: nice, gritty texture, but smooth thereafter. Little hop presence on the palate, but full malt, full body, and rich in cocoa, coffee flavor. Very sweet and fruity in the end, with ultimately excellent balance, and thoroughly accomplished drinkability.
Overall, an excellent, everyday, workhorse porter, with no overboard flavors, just smooth, tasty, thirst-quenching and solid. One I've enjoyed before and would happily employ again as a session ale, if I could. "

Monday, February 21, 2011

St. Bernardus Prior 8

The story remains the same. Another beer that was elusive to me, until I began trading, and now, it is somewhat commonplace, and, yet, not nearly commonplace enough. Got it in a sampler pack, and the reason for my purchase of this quartet of excellent Belgian ales, is earnestly and honestly because, not merely because I honestly and fervently support these brews, but that it was a sampler pack, with an altogether new St. Bernardus glass inside. I have a large goblet, and i have a smaller chalice-style- colored glass, but this one seems to bridge the two and I had to have it!

So, here, my thoughts from my first tasting, June of 2004 was when I first acquired a bottle, and we go...

"750ml bottle, which uncorked with great enthusiasm on untwisting the wire cage, with utterly no assistance, spilling ale everywhere..
Dark mahogany brown color, full, fervent foam, a bit beigey in color, slowly simmering down.

Aroma, spice, nuts, fruit, faint cocoa, more spice, cinnamon, clove, very carbonated, very enticing, uplifting, arousing, even...a lovely snootful, me likey.

Very lively, zesty taste, the mouth swims with this pruney, raisiny, vibrant flavor...I'm liking it more as it nestles in the crevices of my tastebuds.
Bursts afresh on the tongue again and again. Full-bodied, long, warm, lovely finish.

Goodness aplenty in this bottle. A keeper if ever there was."

And I feel the same way now, and glad that I can have it any time, and not worry no way.

De Dolle Stille Nacht

I had to do a lot of trading in those bleak years when I knew what great Belgian ales I wanted, but couldn't find them locally. A trading partner in Florida sent me one of these back in July 2003. And I can't believe I could still find some at Zipp's in February. Is there a large lack of knowledge about how delicious this 12 % a.b.v. seasonal Belgian barleywine is? Ah, well, more for me, I guess.
Here are those notes for nearly 8 years ago:

"Hazy golden orange color, large and lasting head, solid, but creamy.
I put my nose in this soft, enticing foam and was exulted: fresh, fruity, dazzling, sugary...I'm thinking "tripel" but I know that there's more in store...slightly spicy, light, elegant, ethereal, divine.
Taste has a zing and a zip and dazzles with intense fruit flavors (orange, peach), so rich, juicy, and tangible that I can nearly taste the pit and the seeds!
I'm put into heaven's simply sublime...malt is huge with sweetness and fruit, perhaps too much so, and there's not a nod from Mr. Hops. A pity for that would have provided sufficient balance and given an extra dimension to this ale.
As it is, it's still amazing. Ah, there's nowhere to go from here...a perfect nightcap... a suffficient summation of goodness in a glass.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

La Chouffe Houblon Dobbellen IPA Tripel

#6 in this round of Belg-a-Rama. Let's peek at my notes from May, 2006, from a bottle.
Off comes the crown, and out wafts sour citrus and pine, plus prickly spices. Haven't even poured it, though.

Thickly hazed, pale gold coloration, huge head, a fluffy slab of angelfood cake, leaving loads of lace. Poured just right, it features a beautiful cap emerging from the glass, like a dish of ice cream.

In the nose: ah, this is a saison! I mean, a tripel! No, wait a Belgian double IPA, right?...what is it, now?
It's zesty, lemony, sour and spicy, yeasty, funky, deep, delectable. An enticing, entrancing blend of flavor, every bit Belgian.

I'm still only smelling. The label refers to "the overwhelming aroma of Tomahawk, Amarillo, & Saaz hops..." Well put.

Taste it: Bracingly bitter entry on the palate, then kindly backing away.Sip again, and a mix of fruit and spice blasts through the palate anew, then gently subsides on the tongue. Definitely drinkable, despite the uniqueness of the flavor, or the size of the strength. Full bodied, for a tripel, but rather easy in the mouth.

This ale hangs tight on the palate, sticking it out, giving a kick every inch of the way, but downable and delicious. I'm liking it, and I think I'll like it again and again. But then again, I've never met a Chouffe I didn't like.

Russian River Pliny the Elder

A bottle courtesy of Jeremy, once again, what a heck of a guy. (Hmmm, is he bribing me or buttering me up for some ulterior motivation?)
I've only had a few of these in bottles before, and didn't take notes, because I knew I'd reviewed it years ago. Before going any further, let's look at the label. Russian River was warning people against aging hoppy beers long before Surly did so with Wet. Here's a taste of that:

"If you must sit, sit on eggs, not on Pliny! Do not save for a rainy day! Pliny is for savoring, not for saving! Consume Pliny Fresh or not at all! Does not improve with age! Hoppy beers are not meant to be aged!Keep Away from Heat! Respect your Elder: Keep cold, drink fresh, do not age! Pliny the Elder is a historical figure, don't make the beer inside this bottle one! Not barleywine, do not age! Age your cheese, not your Pliny! Respect hops, consume fresh!"

We're not done yet…

" "Pliny the Elder, born in 23 A.D., was a Roman naturalist, scholar, historian, traveler, officer and writer. Pliny and his contemporaries created the original botanical name for hops, "Lupus Salactarius", meaning "wolf among scrubs." Hop vines at that time grew wild among willows, likened to wolves roaming wild in the forest. Pliny the Elder died in 79 A.D. while saving people during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. This beer is an homage to the man who discovered hops and died while being humanitarian. "

Wait, there's more!

"Unlike many Russian River Brewing Company beers, which are agreeable, the beer inside this bottle is meant to be consumed fresh. Keep Pliny the Elder refrigerated and consume fresh to experience the explosive hop character."

I don't know how old this bottle is, but there was explosive hop character aplenty, just like when I had my first glass on tap at O'Briens Pub in San Diego, the Hoppiest Place on Earth, way back in December, 2004. This was one of those legendary brews I'd heard that I had to have, and as soon as I saw it on the chalkboard, I got my glass and found a little spot, excused myself from my friends, and jotted down some words.

"This will be a bare bones review, based on brief jottings made in the noisy environs of O'Brien's pub, in the company of others, but tingling with the excitement of tasting this much anticipated ale, trying my best to capture the experience. When they bottle this nectar, I'll attempt again to encapsulate it's wonder.
Orange is the color, head is white, full, fresh.
Nose is lovely, floral, fruity, just absolutely aburst with pineapple, peach, grapefruit, tons of citrus...absolutely excellent!
Mouthfeel is slick and run over with hop oils. Taste is exhilirating, a blast of hops on the tongue, medium bodied, with a long, sticky, citric finish, and an utterly tangy texture. This seemed to fulfill whatever desires I'd need in a Double IPA, though the 8% abv didn't really make a dent in me...(or did it?)...this was one of the must-try's of my recent California visit, and I had several more samples on the next two days at the Strong Ale Fest just to be sure of it's worthiness. Yes. Yes, indeed. Very much so, and then some.
I'm in twitchin' anticipation for the day their bottling line runs, then this cult IPA can get even better recognition in the world at large!"

Those notes will stand, because it's just as amazing, even now that it's reputation has been dwarfed by it's bigger brother (son?), Pliny the Younger. That one is only on tap or growlers (which is how I've had it, haven't been back to California since...but now that I think of it, what a great idea!), and ranks in at 14% a.b.v., and has a deserved reputation among hop-addicted beer geeks.

Sierra Nevada Hoptimum

Hoptimum. Sierra Nevada. Whole Cone Imperial IPA. The Ultimate Whole Cone Hop Experience. …and that's it, amazingly nothing else about where it was grown, or why, or how or the awesomeness of it. Just…hey, it's gonna be great, thanks for the $9.49. I guess. Okay, I'm ready for my Hoptimum.

Clear, coppery-amber coloration, solid, pillowy beige head above. Fits the basic look of an IPA. Yeah, mmm-hmmm.

Aroma: Pleasant, perfumey, leafy, grassy. Little bits of citrus, lemon, lime. Nice, nice.

Taste: Big fat bitterness, huge-ass hoppiness, great grit on the palate, nice …wait, "Hoptimum"…that's like "Optimum", but with "Hop" in it! How did no one get at that yet? Why is that the final, last, exactly ultimate hop-based pun? I don't believe it, someone must've had this one first, and got bought out.

Let's go back to taste…pretty smooth for a highly hopped IPA, big citrus, fat bitterness…but not tongue punishing. Just enough sweet malt keeping everything in balance. Balance, such a nice word, a credo, a code which I feel Sierra Nevada will never betray. I can't imagine them ever doing a Maharaja, a Dreadnaught, a Pliny the younger, name your favorite carazy-over-the-top super-hoppy, palate-ripping double IPA. They'll never do it. Which means that Hoptimum will remain their very cute and delightful name for something that will never be what it is.

Despite that, it's damned delicious, super-hoppy, tangibly tasty, remarkably bitter, but not, no, never overwhelmingly so. It's never going to be the Optimum of Hops. They can keep the obviously cute name.

It's an essentially smooth, tasty, but hoppy, and very drinkable ale, despite the, what the!!!, 10.4% a.b.v??? Okay, it's big, but balanced, and lovely.

Fullish body, mildly bitter finish. Super duper beautiful.
(but the label art reminds me of something...)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Weyerbacher Tiny Russian Imperial Stout

Here's one I had a few weeks ago, but didn't post because I didn't think the notes were complete enough. I think as I was writing them, I realized it was time for bed, and was sober enough to remember to save. In retrospect, I've decided "they'll do." So, here we have Weyerbacher's oddly named Tiny, Russian Imperial Stout:

""Weyerbacher Tiny, Belgian-style Imperial Stout. This velvety concoction excites your senses with bottomless roasted, earthy, and vinous notes."

The name, obviously ironic, I note, before delving in…750 ml bottle, let's do it, ….

Dark as sin, small, roasty tan head…looking good.

Aroma: cocoa is king, some anise and molasses, rich spices and more…beautiul, truly…mmmm…

Taste: very rich, super chocolatey, super-delicious…mmmm, …ultra-tasty. hits all the right notes. "

Duchesse de Bourgogne Flanders Red Ale

April, 2005 was when I first sat down to transcribe my experiences with this very popular Flanders Red from Brouwerij Verhaeghe. Last night was my most recent experience consuming one, from the tap. (Belg-a-Rama #4, beer 5, and, yes, this may be the first one that contains no beer I've never had.) I share with you now those nearly 6 year old notes.

Sits in the snifter a a clear, deep ruby hue, nearing on brown, with a toasty, fizzy head holding down the fort.
Spicy aroma, and plenty sour, replete with associations of dark fruit, grapes, dates, blackberries, and a twisted hint of licorice. Wicked mix in this nose. I like it.
Oooo, puckeration! Mega-hit of sour on first sip! Backwash of sweetness, cherries and plums, but the tart stays on top. Next sip: Ooooweee, it's at it again! Molasses-like, and treacly in the taste, thinning out by the time the flavor leaves the palate and I'm ready for another, quit doing that!
Around this time, the intense tartness mellows a bit, and the brew plays a little lighter in the mouth. Sweetness glides arm in arm with sour, and they play a tight ping pong match.
body is medium, lightly fruity, long-lived finish. Tasty thing, despite the challenges that must be met in approaching the brew. I'm going to relax with the remainder.

Oddly, it seems like I'm a novice at reds and sours, although I'd been drinking them off an on for many years.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch

Beer Geek Brunch…Weasel. 10.9% abv.

This Imperial Oatmeal Stout is brewed with one of the world's most expensive coffees, made from the droppings of weasel-like civet cats. The fussy Southeast Asian animals only eat the best and ripest coffee berries. Enzymes in their digestive system help to break down the bean. Workers collect the bean-containing droppings for Civet or Weasel Coffee. The exceedingly rare Civet Coffee has a strong taste and an even stronger aroma.

Brewed and bottled by Mikkeller at Nogne-O, Grimstad, Norway.

Let's forego trepidation and reservation and crack that crown…

Thoroughly black, sizable head, rich and toasty brown. Nice looking stout.

Aroma: right on the money. Lovely, lovely stuff. Soft, but roasty and toasty, a trifle burnt, but overall smooth. Every inch and every way, what a good, bold oatmeal stout should be…wait, "bold" oatmeal stout?

Taste: huh. Interesting. Not too sweet, not bitter in any inordinate degree, just balanced enough. There's rich malt, but not too thick, there's some bitterness, some sweet malt, but ….dang, balanced is the word I keep coming back to…weird. Tasty cocoa flavors come through, yummy coffee notes…very strong and undeniable flavor, long finish, full flavor. But there is absolutely nothing unusual, or to be true, interesting about this one. We can't taste the civet cat, nor his droppings. It's only disgusting if we dwell on it. You could have gotten a good imperial oatmeal stout, without scooping the pooping. Sorry. I'm just saying. Really, no one wanted this to taste like poo. But, on the other hand, it doesn't deliver anything extra. There's a grit, there's a grab, there's something, ….

I did it, and I won't spend the extra coin to do it again. Mark this in the "did it" slot, and I will grab another oatmeal stout, imperial or not, that did not arise out of a weasel's back slot.

La Rulles Triple

#4 in Belg-a-Rama #4, La Rulles Triple (Biere de Gaume) from Brasserie Artisanale De Rulles, an 8.4% abbey tripel, with American Pacific NorthWest hops, and a yeast strain from the Orval Trappist brewery. I first had this in February, 2005. Here are those notes from a bottle:

"An attractive ale, lovely orange hue, gushing carbonation, lush, large head, fluffy white.
Aroma, wondrous spice, tantalizing citric flavor, outsized yeast...seems the very picture of the biere de garde style. quite arousing.
Taste: plays easily on the palate, smooth and tasty, yum...big citric fruit, substantial spice...all in a very nice example of the style. Big mouthfeel, extremely drinkable, medium bodied, with a long, fruity, lemony, spicy finish.
I can easily recommend this one."

Drinking it on tap, and with the new perspective of the hops employed, I'd call this more of a Belgian Golden Strong IPA Tripel. Or something along those lines. Wouldn't you?

De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva 2009

When I grabbed this one at Zipp's, the clerk wondered if it was really $9.50 a bottle, or was that some crazy mistake. I assured her that the price may be high, but it's worth every cent. Finally, busted it open last night, and didn't take notes. Instead, I'll share what I wrote in August 2008, about the Reserva 2006. What a wonderful beer...

"De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva 2006, ...consumed in me...

"I ain't crazy. I just don't give a darn"...Daffy Duck

Hazed, deep purple to brown coloration, good head, soon to nil...a creamy tan...

Gorgeous aromatics...barleywine meets Belgian strong...plums, raisins, peppers and spices...cognac meets whiskey, dark rum, with more of the sharp to match the sweet. Big alcoholic content ( 13%? Yes!) isn't hiding. Rich malt, funky yeast, flavor out the hay, nonny, hey.

Bam, bam, bam...Good God! An explosion of grape and berry in the mouth, met well with all the best a beer can bring. Sharp and tangy, bright alcohol, with warm flavor. Spanks you on first sip, floods the mouth with flavor, warms every crevice, tantalizes the palate, ...this would be magnificent with food, but tonight, I'm just drinking. Next time, next time...cheese, sausage, rich meats and pasta...?

One of the best, and most wine-like quadrupels I've ever had. Ingenious. I need a case of this to hold me for a decade. Who am I kidding, I'd drink it in a week!"

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Deschutes The Abyss

That Iniquity wasn't enough of a nightcap last night, so I felt it was time to crack open the one and only bottle of The Abyss I've been sitting on. This year's "vintage"...I'm terrible at cellaring. It's a wonder I've been able to hang on to my 2007 Darkness. I see the beers, and I want to drink them, not save them in a closet.
So, here are my notes from the first time I ever had an Abyss, procured through trade, for Deschutes has only been available here since last summer. (I was lucky enough to get a keg, but may not tap it for many weeks away.)

"Dense blackness, dark as you get...huge head, burnt tan, slowly crumbling, leaving lace...

Roasty, toasty aroma, chocolate and espresso, yes, and more...carob and raisins, dark rum, and molasses...ah! Dark and lovely!

Whoa! Once in the mouth, it's a delivery of rich, thick, deliciousness....whiskey-toned, a bit, mixed with dark chocolate...indulgent, decadent...full, but surprisingly smooth. Velvety...someone should paint a portrait of Elvis on this. Here comes the whiskey kick comes the blackstrap...

I'm only halfway through the bottle, and I'm feeling mighty satisfied.
Do I wish I'd saved it for friends? Maybe, but I'm too content to worry about them now.

As the great Maple Syrup (David Cross on "Mr. Show") would say" "it's wonderfulrissimal!"

I do wish that one-off David Cross character had taken off, and his catch-phrase had become commonplace, so I wouldn't have to explain it. If only "wonderfulryssimal" were another "more cowbell" or, I don't know, "for me to poop on!"

Southern Tier Iniquity Imperial Black Ale

Despite what I said earlier in the Stone/BrewDog review, I don't really hate black IPAs, Cascadian Darks, whatever they're called. There's a few that are alright with me, especially if the citrus hop character is downplayed, such as in the first one I ever had, Southern Tier's Iniquity. Good ol' Jordan gave me a gift of one the other day, what a heck of a guy he is, and I threw it down my gullet with affable aplomb just last night. These are my notes from when I first tapped it, June, 2009:

Yep, it's black, all right, thoroughly opaque, nothing but nothing but darkness, and a cream-toned, tanned head atop. Looking good.

Aroma is fresh and lively, pine and citrus at play, but matched with dark malt, a bit of chocolate and caramel. Odd, but true.

In the taste, it's utterly indescribably delicious. Tasty dark malt, chocolate and toffee, met with a blast of hops. What is this? India black ale. Damn, but it's good, though.

With each sip and gulp, I wonder if I'm downing a porter or stout, but the brash hoppy twist takes it to another level, and we have to reckon with that. Still, despite the confusion, it's nothing besides delicious. Really.

So unique, so unusual, so really delicious. The best of malt, the best of hops. Damn, what is up with these guys...? Just keep making the great beer, Southern Tier!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Delirium Nocturnum

Number 3 in this Belg-a-Rama series,and much like Delirium Noel, it's one I've wanted to revisit, due to the over-exhuberance of my old review. I won't waste your time with that one. Forget it exists. Maybe I'll delete it.

Here are my current notes, written now, from the tap:

Lush creamy head, meringue-like, banana cream pie, with dark reddish coloration in the body, clear at the edges, fully dark in the middle.

Aroma: sweet and spicy, dark fruits aplenty, very vinous, quite wine-like. Bright and deep at once. Cherries, berries, grapes, sweet malt, utterly lovely. Beautiful.

Taste: Big malty flavor, great tingling on the tongue, tidy hop delivery, just enough, with fruity flavors, matched with lightly roasty malt. Raisins, plums, dark cherries, blackberries. Mmmm. Good balance of sweet malt and bitter hops, with nice spiciness ripping along the palate.

Nearly resembles a dubbel, without the complexity I'd expect from that style. Spice, sweet and sour, light bitterness, good drinkability, despite the 9%, which will start ringing in, in full force very soon, if I don't watch out.

Such a nice Belgian dark ale. Not the "best in the world", mind you, but tasty and satisfying.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Urthel Hop-It

In 2005, I first heard about the oncoming release of this beer, and expressed my intention to Lanny Hoff about getting some kegs for the Nile. Before that happened, he was hosting Hildegard and her husband Bas, she the brewer, and he the designer of the "erthel" gnome-like creatures of the label and the lore, shortly after a visit to the Great American Beer Festival. I was asked if I was working that night, and he wanted to bring them in to meet me. At such short notice, I only got about three friends and regular customers to stick around when they arrived, the two of them, Lanny, Dave Anderson, and Corey Shovein, of Hohenstein's. Everyone who was there still talks about it. They brought us bottles of Hop-It (kegs were yet to arrive), and a bottle of Bock for me, as well as a t-shirt which they both autographed, and Bas sketched on. Should have put it away for posterity, don't you know, it got stolen in the laundry.) Aside from a promotional tapping at Monk's Cafe, I was the first to tap Hop-It, lo, those five years ago. (I was also first in this market to tap Stella Artois, but you don't see me bragging about that.)
It's been on=again/off-again, bottles and tap over the years, but I always return to Hop-It. It's part of this month's Belg-a-Rama, and I will refer to my notes from that evening, October 4, 2005, from a bottle. (Had that bottle after going home that night, live online, added it to the BeerAdvocate database ( a ratebeer user, Joris Pattyn, had already rated it on that site), blown away that I'd added a Belgian beer from my apartment in downtown Minneapolis.)

"From the front of the silk-screened 750 ml bottle, the phrase "Superior Hoppy Belgian Ale" sits above the logo, complete with the Erthel gnome, wearing a wreath of hops around his bald head, smiling with beer mug in hand. Below the "Hop-iT" logo, the words, "Brewers Excellent Selection of Hops", amid graphics of hops. Hops used: 50% Magnum, 32% Spalt, 18% Saaz. 80 IBU. Pilsner malts.

From the back of the bottle: "Following a visit to American Northwest in January 2005, Hildegard returned to Belgium enthusiastic about all of the different IPAs she had tasted. She knew that she wanted to brew an IPA of her own, but it had to be with a real Flemish touch. Her touch!"

Cork comes off almost on it's own. The pours into an Urthel Pache' glass a hazed, pale gold, with a prodigious head, captured well by the glass, a huge, puffy white cloud, leaving loads of lace, slowly settling.

Aroma is brilliant, spice and citrus zest leaping from the glass, finding happy haven in the nose...lemon, apricot, pineapple, ...the Saaz really comes through, emitting a distinctive floral beauty, along with the spicy spark.

That zest continues it's attack once it climbs on the tongue. Moreover, the mouthfeel is almost ingenious, as the flavor sticks to the palate tenaciously, clinging and delivering bitterness and deliciousness.
Full bodied, with a long, fruity, bitter finish.
Each new sip grants more of this intractable potency, until you slowly realize the strength of this one (9.5%)...but it does take awhile, and meanwhile, it's damnably drinkable. Puts many a Belgian golden ale or tripel to shame.

I think Hildegard struck a homer on this one, her intentions were successfully made reality. It reminds one of an American DIPA, until you taste and feel all the parts that are uniquely Flemish. A stunning accomplishment. I like it more and more as the glass drains and my stomach fills...I will be enjoying more and more of this in the future, that is a guarantee!

Although I review this from a bottle at home, I was granted the rare treat of having my first taste of this fine beer in the company of Hildegard herself, as well as Bas Vas Ostern, the man behind the Urthels, and several other fine folks, as well. Many thanks, Hildegard, keep on brewin'...or, should I say, "Pache'!"

Cuvee des Jacobins Rouge Flanders Red Ale

What does a guy have to do get a beer around here? I mean, specifically, what is so hard about landing keg after keg of an excellent Flanders Red that you know you can safely and swiftly pour to rabid aficionados? Why so difficult to get a distributor to carry a beer so successful in markets all over the U.S. of A? Long story, my friends, long, frustrating, sad and ridiculous story. Maybe I will tell it one day, but, oy, I just don't feel the need to type the words this moment.

Still in the "prove it" mode, apparently, though the last, and first time, I had a keg of this, it was done in six days. Here are my notes from that tasting, back on October 20, 2010:

"Freshly tapped keg, poured into a Jacobins snifter, different logo than the one on the new tap handle. (Might need to hold onto this collector's item?)

Deep garnet hue, dusky crimson, with a slim, slightly pinkish head, like puree of raspberry.

Aromatics leap out of the glass and run around the room. Sweet and sour dance around each other in kind of tart tarantella, raspberry, sour cherry, and grape and assorted other dark stone fruit mix it with the intoxicating otherworldly Belgian yeast funk. Little sweet, little sour, little funk, little fruit.

Taste: Here it boards the palate with pistols blazing, barrels are spilled over in a terrific melee, invaders pounce on the taste buds with ferocity. Fruit and bold tart flavors make their mark and spread deliciousness and refreshment far and wide, up and down, in and out. Medium body, adequate malt, wondrous oak effect, fantastic belgian flavor.

I could empty the dictionary in further attempts to outline the exact over-pouring of tastes encounter and experience felt upon the senses, but let us make it simple, shall we?
Sharp. Tart. Zesty. Fresh. Inviting. Refreshing. Vibrant. Puckering. Uninhibited. Un-compromised. Full expression of the Flanders Red style. Impossible to find a flaw.

Fruit flavor lingers long on the palate, finish is near interminable. Won't quit, hangs hard in the mouth, but you don't want it to leave. The berries are never gone, tartness never flags. If you can't get it sour enough, here's your beer.

This is a satisfying Red indeed, one that begs more and more consumption, if your pocketbook is fat enough.
Could be wilder, wickeder, but then it wouldn't be this. And this is fine, fine stuff.
I'm on snifter #2 as we type. This stuff is truly irresistible."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Town Hall HMF

Town Hall HMF. Happy Minded Fool. I think? Hapless Mouthy Fulcrum? horrible manufactured filigree? Hoppy Mater Pater? Not sure, they've been mum on the meaning.

There's hops in here, I heard which ones, but forgot. Usual suspects, pretty much.

Let's open up this growler, and drink 'er up.

Clear, pale amber/crimson coloring, huge head, creamy, rocky, lacy.

Aroma: Very vibrant, lively panoply of hoppitude. Gorgeous, lightly sweet, lightly citric, fruity. Apples and cherries. Nice.

Taste: Pleasant bitter buzz on the palate, hangs in with tenacity, stays friends with the mouth. Light malty flavor, slightly sweet, caramel-y, tasty. Malt is holding down the fort, but barely; HMF is a showcase of hops, a bright, beautiful flowering of hoppy deliciousness. Long-lasting bitter finish.

Hop-forward all the way. I'd go for an ale like this one any ol' time.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Harriet Brewing West-Side Belgian-style IPA

What a day was Wednesday! You may have noticed that I didn't have time to do a post. (So, too, last Wednesday, with the Surly event.) Way too busy all day long with the Harriet release. Huge turnout, although it appears I ordered too much beer, which now means that the Nile is the only account until another batch is turned out. I can't complain about that, especially when interest is high, and I am very proud of the product, and happy to pour it. Who can say exactly how many folks turned out for the initial draft release for the first Minneapolis brewery (not brew-pub) in almost a decade, and truly a micro-brewery in every sense.

I just did my first notes (maybe they'll be revised if I have more to say?)now, Friday night.

West-Side Belgian-style IPA.

From the website:
Harriet's West Side is an eclectic ale 
brewed to balance the brightest West Coast hops with a prolific Belgian yeast strain. It pours light copper with a vigorous white head. Subtle malt gives way to a fruity, citrusy, and slightly spicy aroma and flavor. Light bodied, effervescent, and seductively approachable.

ABV 6.5%, IBU= 40, OG, 15.5, TG=3

On tap in a swell Harriet Brewing glass, casts a pale apricot hue, hazy, under a solid creamy-toned head, starts big and slims down, stays solid.

Left: Jason Sowards, right: Me.
Beautiful citric zest aroma hits right off the bat, high alpha acid bitterness, but not too much, just right. Some lemon and orange, a splash of pine, light and lovely.

Taste: Hoppy bitterness grabs immediately, pins down the palate, delivers a jolt of vibrant hop bitterness, in the famous Pacific Northwest variety (I know there's Cascade and Amarillo in here, forgot the third hop.) It pales just a bit, and then the lush malt, and the unique flavor of the Belgian yeast kicks in, delivers just enough of a funky twist. Spins deliciousness throughout the palate, hoppy flavor never quits, good mouthfeel and texture, light-bodied, with a soft, long, hoppy finish.

In conversations, Jason often compared this to Raging Bitch from Flying Dog, and I definitely get that now, though I'd be curious to compare it to others in this style, like Victory Wild Devil, and the like. I do prefer this approach to the one taken by Belgian brewers, for it feels more like a true Belgian pale ale, in flavor, with the extra touch of American hops up on top.

Wonderfully drinkable, with a consistently delivery of hops throughout the drink. This is a treat for hop-heads, as well as Belgian beer lovers, the best of both worlds. An excellent flagship brew to represent Minneapolis latest micro-brewer, bent on putting out excellent interpretations of Belgian brews.

Schell's Schmaltz' Alt

I've always been fond of this one, whether because of the rhyming name, or the ol' man Schmaltz on the label, or the story of how he taught Ted Marti's Dad how to shoot rats in New Ulm. The beer's nice, too. Got a sample bottle recently, and instead of relying on ages-old notes, wrote some new ones. Here they are:

"Schell's Schmaltz's Alt…the Schmaltz is back!

Dark brown, color, creamy light tan head, with…very strange things on top. What is this? Spices? Herbs? Malt, hops? It ain't no bugs, I hope…

very mellow and even-tempered, warm and nutty, clean and malty. Nice.

Taste: Big, rich, chocolatey malt flavor. Fills the mouth. Brisk carbonation. Taste arrives at delicious rumminess, but a sidecar of raisins. Yum, this just gets better and better. Clean, even finish."

What the heck, here's what I wrote back in April of 2003:

"I've enjoyed this brew many times over the years, but never truly stopped to consider it. There's something irresistible about the rhymy name and the label photo of sour Old Schmaltz sitting on a keg, stein in hand.
Color is a dark brown, almost black, with a fine, 1" creamy tan head. Aroma is largely clean and airy, but there are traces of cocoa and nuts. Hops are there, too, but laying low. On the palate, though, they reveal themselves in all their might. Big burst of fruitiness (bananas,and citrus, primarily!), that soon smooths out bigtime. The malt contingent is firm and swiftly becomes large and in charge. That doesn't stop an overriding fruitiness to continue to ride throughout the flavor and the finish. The rest of the drink is a well-rounded, and fruity flavor, with a slightly coppery edge. I'm no expert on alts, but I know what I like, and this is that.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Left Hand Fade to Black, Vol. 2: Smoked Baltic Porter

I really enjoyed last year's volume one of this stout series, a foreign export stout. Did many kegs at the Nile. Here are my notes on this year's, from a few weeks ago:

Full ebony appearance, nice roasted tan head, copious bubblation, leaving lace. Good looking' stout.

Aroma: beautiful, cocoa and light espresso give way to smoked malt. Full and sturdy meets soft and creamy. Dry, roasty, with the essence of smoked meats and fish in the air.

Taste: A bit rough and thick up front, rather chunky and powerful on the palate. Rich and chocolatey, with some dark fruit mixing it up with the salmon and ham. Smoke is rising high in the flavor now, taking over. It's kind of a strange mix, but tasty, smooth, and easy-going. I'm liking this. Just enough hanging in the end. Long, tasty, smoky finish.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ommegang Three Philosophers Belgian-style Blend

Enjoying this on tap at the Nile lately (Almost gone!), but I have to reach back to August, 2003 for my first notes on this one:

"Appearance: dark plum to eggplant in color, with visible "floaties" swimming about, a bit lighter near the bottom and around the sides, so far a very good approximation of the trappist abbey dubbel look, with a small, dunnish head, settling swiftly into a negligible collar.
Aroma: sheer intoxication, the first sniff brings such myriad complex flavors that I have to reel back from it...rustic, raisins, cured meats?, dark spices and fruits, soft leather, moss...deep, dank, and transendently indulgent..oh, goodness, oh, WOW! much going on here, that's it's extraordinarily difficult to pretend to be detached or objective, this beer unfolds and envelops me, it knows it has me where I want to be had!, how about a taste of it? Simply amazing! A sweet, treacly dose of fruit (grapes, plums, cherries) welcome hops, and a thick, powerful malt backbone, pulling it all together.
Can't quite taste the "dried apricot in the nose" and "pear on the palate" as noted on the label, at least I can't claim to have discovered it on my own.
I now relax, sit back, sip, savor...full-bodied as can be, long, rich, residing, "finish" is incorrect, for it never leaves the mouth, and I would never wish it to!
A beer so powerful and seductive it consumes every sensory receptor, every inch of the head, all across the brain, down the fingers and toes...I nearly want to "cut & paste" my review of Westveleteren or St. Bernardus, for this experience so closely resembled that which I had with those fine Trappist ales."

This is a fresh tapped keg, vs. a bottle shipped from across the country, so no "floaties" on this one.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Surly Mild Ale

I remember when Todd first told me he was going to brew a mild ale, and it was jokingly going to be named after a vociferous homebrewer who had numerously attacked Surly for being over-hopped, overly-alcoholic, overly-everything. A great brewer like Todd Haug doesn't like to be put in a box, and this was his response. Wouldn't you know it, many voices in the local homebrewing commmunity claimed it to be his best beer ever. Would that that had shut them up.
First wrote about this back in January of 2008, here are my notes, three years later:

Semi-clear, reddish brown, with a nice, tight, light tan head.

Mostly malty aroma, caramel & chocolate, toasty, solid. smooth, creamy. Nothing jumps out, but it isn't supposed to.

Taste: It's all about the smooth, and it's all about the malt. Hops are here, and higher than other milds, (25 IBUS, if I remember right), and you can just taste them on the tongue, but they're playing it cool, too. Crisp malt flavor, judiciously applied, lies right underneath every gulp & swallow.
Body is medium light, not anywhere near watery, but surprisingly thin for a Surly brew. Well, this, I guess, is their notice to us, saying, "Watch out, don't categorize us, we can be boring, too!"

I can't help but like Mild, it's easy to drink and easy to enjoy, and the malt profile is tasty. There's just enough flavor to make you happy. And yet, it wasn't designed with my palate in mind, for I keep wanted a bit more...I keep missing the Belgian malts of Bender, or the hop attack of Furious. I got that from my customers, too. Many had a sample and went back to Bender...or Furious.

Nice low, languid finish, malts hang tight on the tongue and the deliciousness sticks around.
I take back what I said. This is not a boring beer, just a bit more mellow in flavor than their usual entries. That's one thing I don't think Surly is capable of: brewing a boring beer. I don't think, like any true artist, Todd has it in him to do so.
Mild does serve a nice niche, though, and I hope to see it again in the future, ...but not at the expense of Furious or bender!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Surly Coffee Bender

Staying in a Surly mood for a bit, but not so "surly" in light of their latest new, revealed tonight.

Here's Coffee Bender, and my notes from May 28, 2006, the first time I put it on tap:

Surly Bender infused with coffee. Beans are from the Vinca Vista Hermosa plantation located in Agua Dulce area in Huehuetenango,Guatemala.
Grown by the Martinez family.
Full City roast by Coffee &Tea Ltd.,Linden Hills,Minneapolis. Cold-steeped.)

Solid ebon color, browish at bottom, with a beautifully hued head, a deep cocoa tan looking for all the world like a shot of espresso, with a generous dollop of froth.

Aroma's where it's at, wide open and long-lastin, rich with coffee, with a hint of cream.
Herbal, nutty, chocolatey, brimming with coffee essence. A treat to drink in with the nose.

But now let's let the lips and tongue go to work. More delights. The coffee has overpowered the subtler parts of Bender's character, but there's no sorrow in this, as the coffee flavor that controls it now is an exceptional playmate for the palate. Really sticks to the tongue and lays long in the finish.

Medium to full body, long, coffee-tinged finish, unflinchingly flavorful, and still an easy treat to drink down. This has met with near unanimous praise among those I've witness enjoy it, and I can only hope it's attempted again and again, so that more may discover this jolt of joy for java freaks, and beer geeks alike.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Harriet Brewing Divine Oculust

Harriet Brewing Divine Oculust, whatever that might be, (some kind of spiritual opthalmologist?)Belgian-style Strong Golden Ale.

In my new black & white Harriet growler, (maybe I'll get another green one, next time I go back for an exchange), pours a hazy dark golden, it's too laden with yeast to cast a true golden hue, somewhere between amber and orange, this with a nice, big pure white head, that slims down, but stays steady.

Aroma: some sweetness, but mostly Belgian yeast funk, and malt. Fruity esters, some apricot and peach, orange rind riding under, minor hops, very much in the style of a Belgian pale ale.

Taste: Big and fruity, large malt flavor, really dominates the palate with light but predominant fruit character. Some bitter hops character rides the palate, but doesn't intrude or take charge, just sits in and says a few things. Yeasty, malty Belgian character is the main factor, the body is medium, and it's leaning on pretty damned tasty. That's the thing, truly. Although, not quite as crisp and delicate as a real Belgian golden, like Duvel, and really leaning towards a triple. Above all, it's definitely delicious. Sweet-ish, wild, crazy, funky, fresh, and zesty, too. I come close to calling it yummy. Heck, who knows, I just might. Yum, yummy, yum, yum. Me likey.

Alcohol peeps up and gets noticed soon enough, though drinkability suffers not in the least.

Here's what I love. They 're causing a genuine stir, and getting neighborhood folks in their doors to pick up a growler of a beer like this, many of whom may not understand the style, or perhaps have never taken the plunge into Belgians. This is their stepping stone. They are brought in by the idea of partaking in the new local good and service, the novel idea of an actual brewery in their neighborhood, but making these somewhat esoteric styles. Someone takes one home for the family dinner because they heard about it, and thinks, "this is beer?" It's their first Belgian style ale, and maybe they'll check out the real stuff, and keep going back to Harriet and fostering their progress, and allowing them to keep making great small batch Belgian-styles, just for this community.
I love the idea of new brewery making very small batches. Not available in stores, only at the brewery, and a small number of bars. You have to be here. You can't get it where you are, if you're not.

There were hundreds buying growlers today, of Divine Oculust. How many of these customers are trying this style for the first time, I wonder? How many may try other great Belgian brews, of at least break away from whatever rut they are in.

I was surprised and not surprised by which bars where among the chosen few, and honored that I was the first. Wednesday the 9th will be quite a night. Can not wait for the crazy excitement.

(Although, I don't think I did a first-rate job on these notes. May have to re-review with another growler. Consider this a work in progress.)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Weyerbacher Verboten

Weyerbacher Verboten Belgian-style Pale Ale, Bottle Conditioned. 12 fl.ozs, 5.9% Alc. by Vol.

Very plain packaging, no illustration, no other verbiage on the label, no problem, let's pop this open and see what's in there.

Hazed, deep amber, huge head, lots of big, rocky, lace-leaving foam. Looking nice.

Aromatics: fresh, lively, hoppy. Plenty of Belgian yeast character, in pale ale form. Citric fruit and light spices. Scintillating.

Taste: Medium-body, nicely hopped, good match of toasty malt character and hops bitterness. Bit of a toffe/caramel taste, laying low, keeping it in control with the tasty hops on top, and Belgian yeast keeping it nice and funky.

Yum, nice stuff, good and bitter, easy drinkability, perfectly sessional. But why is it so Verboten. Why forbid this? It's so nice.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Surly Wet

Last night, Wednesday, the occasion of our 5th Anniversary party for Surly at the Blue Nile, was fun, exhausted, joyful, and painful. I'm getting old, and I worked hard, so in the end, I pay the price. But, it was good times and good beer. Great to have Todd and Omar, as well as some other hard-working Surly-ites there, and the many fervent followers I've known through the years. From 6 0'clock until half-past, I was a cask cherry-wood Bender pumping machine. From 7pm until all the tickets were honored, I was a Imperial Brown Eye pouring machine, and from 8 o'clock until all the red ones were collected, Pentagram glass-filling was my only goal. I didn't sell any more after that, because there were some ticket holder who weren't going to make until 10, and I had to save the beer for them. There was just enough in the keg for theirs, and a little left over for us, for both the brown and the Pentagram. It was very satisfying to be able to actually drink and enjoy the beer we'd been pouring, after our long day was over. Happens so rarely, actually. Most of us didn't get any Moe's Bender, and none of us got any cask cherrywood Bender.
(The posts of the other day, actually were tasted Tuesday, an advance tapping that I did just to make sure I got some, in case I didn't. Have to prepare for those eventualities.

So, while we're still in a Surly mood, here's Wet. I actually did something similar to that Andescher and held on to a can of Wet for way too long, not for 3 years, but for 3 months or so, I have no idea why. Here's what the can reads:

"Get Surly! You are about to drink a wet hop beer - brewed with American hops so fresh they've never had the chance to dry out. Day 1: picked. Day 2: shipped. Day 4: tossed in the brew. The only delay from the field to your glass is the time it takes for fermenting. The hop varieties vary, but you can always expect the intense resinous character that only comes from the fresh hops. This ain't a beer for aging. The beer quickly loses its aromatics. So invite your friends over and enjoy this West-Coast Style"

I always found that "now" kind of funny. "Now! It's no good if you wait! Now, shchnell, Achtung!" People started to speculate, "this is a week old, is it still any good." That was really funny. "No, it's crap now, don't buy it."

Well, after months...yep, it lost it's luster. Nothing bad about it, just not as fantastic as it was.
Anyway, here are my notes from my first serious sit-down sampling back in October of 2009, very shortly after I first sampled it.
Check the note about how many I had at the initial release. Five just because I couldn't help myself, another because Omar ordered one for his wife, and it was too hoppy for her, so he gave it to me, and the last because it was on happy hour, and I couldn't help myself.

"1400 Pounds of hops in one batch. One small batch. 50 barrels, was it? Centennials and Chinooks, picked in Yakima, WA and shipped off to Brooklyn Center, MN, tossed into the brew kettle a mere three days after the picking. Wet as in not dry, not old, fresh as they get. Big, bright, bold, brash hops up in there and all over. So good I had 7 pints in a row at it's release. Two nights later, I sit down with one to investigate it.

Appearance: clear, bright crimson...dazzling...big, creamy beige head, rocky, lace leaving, ...lovely....great looking glass of beer.

Aroma: pine needles, lemon zest, orange rind, grapefruit, bright, fresh, lively, beautiful. Hop lovers rejoice, this is heaven, here in the nose.

Taste: Bam! Big fat hop blast on the palate, fresh and fruity, gobs of resiny hop oily goodness dripping all much transferred from the leaf, the cone, the plant...the flavor swims around, the bitterness spills and clings to the corners. Sticks and survives. Hangs on. Nothing but the essence of the hop here. Big and juicy. So tasty. Mmmm...yu-um.

Hardly any malt feel in this one, just barely enough to keep it beer, but there's no complaints here, and the hop bitterness keeps grabbing, keeps holding it's ground. Hangs on, clings, stays, survives. Lays in. Blends in. Fades back and becomes part of the background. Never leaves.

Yum, I say. I say, Yum. Such a treat in the mouth, for the afifcciando of the hop. Gets no better than this.

I know that Fresh Hop/Wet Hop isn't a style, but if it were, it would be my favorite. Bar none. Hands down.

Drinkability is amazing, actually. I forgot to ask about the ABV on this, but it's not much. I'd guess 6% or so. If it were more, I couldn't drink as much as I can. It's amazing. Mmmmm. Love me the hops. Mmmmm."

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Surly Imperial Brown Ale

Imperial Brown Eye

Muddy brown color, ruby tints behind and at sides, slight ring of dirty brown head.

Bourbon hits the nose first, sweet and powerful, lush malt looms beneath.

Taste: Yum, great big mess of richness, in malt and whiskey. There's a brown ale down here, toasted and roasted, then kicked up with a funky beat, twisted around with the barrel-aging.

This is a weird one. Strength really shows in it, big boned, intensely flavored, long, rich finish, great complexity. Very flavors, very deep, vanilla and cocoa coming through…dark rum. Very delicious. If a bit of a complicated muddle. So, it's not clean and smooth, so what, it's got what it takes.

Love to see Surly do things like this more often, on a limited basis. More! Less! More! Less!

Surly Pentagram

Pentagram, early kegging of the still-maturing Surly Five. Brettanomyces yeast and pinot noir barrel-aging in a brown ale. Hey this sounds like a Rodenbach.
Advance tapping courtesy of me, because.

The photo is not indicative of the beer's appearance at it's peak. I should know tonight, since I poured over 100 glasses. Yikes.

Murky brown, nearing black, with ruby tints at edges, …got a big head on first pour, but it slims down to a tight brown ring.

Perfect funky/wild/sour aroma, very reminiscent of Flanders Reds. Slightly sour cherry & grape notes, plum & raisin, blackberries.

Taste: sharp, sour snap right up at the top, big puckeration, small bitterness. Sears the tongue and palate with twisted fruit flavors, nice brown ale buttress below. Holy heck, this is good, and is sure to make the soreheads drool. Wonderful blend of the barrel and the yeast. Excellent mouthfeel, great grippoing texture. Raisins and port wine character begin to dominate the flavor, along with sour cherry and grape. Malt feels richer further in, all in all, the various parts pull together to create something sublime. Lovely, lovely stuff that is tasting better as the glass empties out.
I would love to swim in this, or at the very least, take a bath in it.

Here's to five years! Was it all working up to this?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rush River Lyndale Brown Ale

The Wisconsin fans of Rush River must be scratching their heads about why they named a bar after a Minneapolis street. I've got it figured out, though. Not telling. About the beer:

Lightly hazy appearance, dark ruby red coloration, far from brown. Great topping of bubbly, creamy froth above.

Aroma: nice, toasty roasty malt flavor, biscuity, with a bit of fruit, some apple and cherry. Very nice.

Taste: good balance, great combo of light hoppiness and deep maltiness, warm and toasty. Hops are at play, but not adding considerable bitterness, malt isn't too sweet, but has a tangible fruity character. Full bodied, long, rich and rewarding finish, that ends hoppy and dry.

Yeast character lends a lot to this one, though it doesn't clearly fit the notion of a typical American brown ale, or even an English one. But dang, it is good. Wonderful flavors, good drinkability, excellent session ale choice. My faith in Dan and Nick is restored again. Very nice, I'd love to see this return.

Big Sky Olde Bluehair Barleywine

With my faith in Big Sky restored (see Ivan the Terrible), I dropped some coin on this oddly named barley-wine ale. Rather weird verbiage on the label, too. I'm supposed to think of a sexy dance, and then an old lady? Hmmm. But, dammit, if the beer isn't fine enough to obliterate this flaws. Took it down the other night, here are my notes:

Limited Edition Olde Bluehair…Big Sky Brewing, Barrel-aged & Bottle Conditioned. Ale Aged in American Oak Bourbon Barrels. 10.5% above.

Number 1307 of 3000. "Imagine a tango: a man and a woman dancing, their eyes locked upon one another, then take your first bite of Olde Bluehair, Big Sky Brewing Company's Barley Wine. A taste of apricots, honey flavors, a sliver of vanilla, and a hint of caramel round out this barley wine. Like so many things in life, Olde Bluehair just gets better with time."

Thoroughly hazed, magenta hued, thick, wonderful, rocky, lacy, off-white head. Big, lasting, very impressive. So far, so good.

Aroma: whiskey hits first, leather, vanilla, dark fruits, cherries, sweet, bold, rich, huge. I'm getting it, both parts of this beer are working well, in full effect. I'm getting the barleywine, I'm getting the bourbon barrel.

Now, what's it taste like?

Boom, boom, here comes hops, next bourbon, then alcohol. Bam! Immenseness and richosity. A flash of hops, then a blitz of bourbon, then the caramel malt, and, yeah, I can detect apricot, sure….honey, yeah, a little. Getting drier now, not so juicy, well rounded, not too over the top. I'm kind of loving it. Big plum, date, raisin-y, dark fruits aplenty, sweet a bit, then dry, and, yeah, rounded. Good balance, for such a big one.

Hey, now, this is several varieties of yum, yes, it is. Now, it's getting woody oaky, that part is coming into play. The thicker parts of the bourbon character have given way for other pleasures.

This works. This is good. This is Mmm + yum, plus, oh, yeah.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

One That's Not Done (Harriet Batch One)

Last summer, I got a message at the Blue Nile that some one named Jason Sowards was trying to get in touch with me about his upcoming Harriet Brewing Company, right here in Minneapolis. It means a lot to me when people reach out to me about their beer & brewing ventures. We set up a meeting at the Nile,and finally I met the man behind this upstart venture, and we had a tasting session with his homebrews. I was seriously impressed by his skills, and soon learned of his reputation among the home-brewing community. He planned to brew mainly Belgian-style brews, in small batches, which makes him a brewer after my own heart.
I was excited to watch his progress on getting a brewery going, even changing the city's laws to allow breweries to sell growlers or large bottles without having a restaurant attached (weird, right? Why would you need to sell X amount of food, when the customers are taking the beer home?). And more excited when his brewery site turned out to a mere ten blocks away from the Nile. I was quick to get on board, and called him about a tour of the brewery, once I knew he was starting to brew. In the course of that conversation, he offered me the opportunity to host the first tapping of the West-Side Belgian-style IPA. It's thrilling to be involved in the start of a new, great brewery. That's what happened five years ago when Surly debuted, and this week we're doing an anniversary party of the little- brewery- that- could I've been watching grow all these years. One week later, we debut the Harriet line. An exciting February, to be sure.

Last Saturday, the brewery opened to the public for the first time, and sold had their first day of growler sales. About 350 left their doors, I heard. Couldn't make it myself, but got one, still. My notes from tasting that night

Harriet Brewing West-Side Belgian-style IPA, …no, wait, it's not really West-Side, not the one you'll find on tap soon. Not the one I had months ago, or even the one just about a month ago. Is it the one I had from the fermenter? Well. what it is, is Batch One, the first beer to come out of the working brewery at Harriet, over at Lake and Minnehaha.
I didn't get the whole story from brewery owner Jason Sowards about how he missed the mark on the alpha acids and the bitterness quotient, but it has something to do with underestimated the mash…malt…something. He does like the Belgian feel of this version, and the alcohol level seems higher than it was supposed to be. I'm fine with the 6.5% he's shooting for. We don't get the bitter hop feel he wants, and it comes out a bit sweeter. So, like I said, this is a test batch.

So, let's look at it.

Slightly hazy, crimson hue, slim head, rests as a ring around the edges.

Aroma: little bit of citrus zest, quite a bit of unique Belgian funky yeast flavor. Sweet malt has taken hold, and sublimated the bitter spunk I've tasted in this before, and that Jason is certainly aiming towards.

Sweet malt flavor is swimming boldly about, the yummy yeasty Belgian flavor, reminiscent of a good Belgian pale ale is well appreciated. Misses the bitterness, though, and, yeah, it's sweeter than it ought to be.

Alcohol moves up in there, rising high in the mouthfeel, kicking in.

Harriet didn't have a perfect first batch. It isn't exactly what they want to produce as West-Side IPA. But it's a fine ale, nonetheless. No one who picked up a growler should be unhappy, no one should line up for a refund. And there is still time to get it dialed in in time for that release in under two weeks. That I'm hosting. Really nervous about it. A lot riding on this. Gonna be press, and pressure and I, yi, yi, yi…

Okay, jokes aside, a beer was made and sold, and it tastes fine and drinks down lovely. Bit on the sweet side, especially for an IPa.
But beer was sold, money goes in the coffers, capital rests, ready to pay those bills, and this next version will be the one, we hope.
Next up: Winterfest, in St. Paul, and I believe Jason will bring more beers for that, and then on the 9th, we host the final version of West-Side at the Nile, plus maybe more…?

Town Hall Masala Mama IPA

I'm still scratching my head over what took me so long to visit the Town Hall Brewery. It had been in business five full years before I...