Thursday, May 31, 2012

Summit Summer Ale

Summit Summer Ale. No information at all on the 12 ounce bottle's label, just a picture of Minnehaha Falls and the promise of an ale for summer. So, let's check it out.

Clear and yellow, with a small white head.

Floral aromas, light citric nose, without a twang, bright, wide open and pretty.

Taste: Clean entry on the palate, very light in body, with a short finish. Whispers of wheat below the surface, but not much. Smoothness personified, but at what price?
Expertly consumable, and tasty, too. Before too long, along comes a hit of sour, and just the merest kiss of hops.
Next time it's in the 90's, this will go down great, but, so does water. I'm not trying to knock Summer Ale, because it's not aimed at me, but I will miss the Hefe Weizen considerably, if this is it's replacement.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rogue Dead Guy Ale

I'm digging through some old stuff, cluttered on my desktop. One is a bottle given to me by one of my bartenders. "Hey," he said, "my friend says if you have this on tap, he'll be here every day." You know, people say that, and they never follow through. Anyway, it turned out to be Rogue Dead Guy Ale, which, of course, I've had/heard of/tried many times/used to love/once had on tap.

Here are notes, from the first time I tapped it, back in December, 2002. Yeah, it's an early one, and it's a gusher, and a bit self-serving. But, here it is:

I'm drinking this fresh from the tap--my second,now--while I peruse my notes on a review from a bottled serving. So what do I think now and what did I say then? We'll put the two together..

First off, like with any brew, this is 100x better on tap, the flavor explodes. Any time you can find it on draft, reward the operation,please, for their boldness and their taste, and order a Dead Guy instead of your usual local micro pale ale. But about the beer...

Beautiful, big off-white head, gorgeous amber/dark orange color.

Aroma: bright, fresh fruitiness, vegetableness, it's a veritable garden in here.

Great hops, just mild enough, with loads of malt. I was confused about the style for a long time. I was led to believe that it was an Oktoberfest, but aren't they usually lagers? A recent trip to Oregon and a visit to a Rogue Ale House set me straight about the DG's true genealogy. An ale-style maibock! These guys are geniuses! Spicy but soft palate, very pleasant finish, an utterly delicious drink!
Unfortunately, this brewer is acutely under-represented in this region. We even lost Shakespeare Stout, thanks to the distributor's bean counters!
All hail Dead Guy, Long May He Rest!

When I returned from that Portland trip, I met a manager from that distributor and asked why Shakespeare Stout, one of my favorites, was no longer available. I was selling it in bottles, at the Nile, and they cut the whole line back to just three beers, including Dead Guy, Mocha Porter, and Honey Cream Ale. His response was: "We know what we're doing." Followed by: "You're a beer geek, aren't you?" This distributor lost their contract with Rogue once the brewery found out they were selling a slim segment of the line-up on purpose.
But, while I can find them these days, it's hard to get an affordable 6-pack and the bombers are always expensive. Kegs, too. I'm unlikely to turn to them very often, and it has to be something special.
Voodoo Maple Bacon Porter, on the other hand, that's one I was afraid to spend hard-earned cash on. If I ever see it again, though, I probably will pick one up. Just to do it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Summit Saga India Pale Ale

Let's tell the tale of Saga India Pale Ale. Actually, I'll let Summit owner  Mark Stutrud tell it here.

As for me, I can tell you that Summit's India Pale Ale was the first beer I ever fell in love with, and out of love with. I never liked any beer until I tried hoppy ones, as I'm sure I've said before, and with my first taste of their IPA, I was smitten.   (This was probably in 1993. I discovered Summit EPA in 1992, the same year they first released IPA. It took me until the next year to try it out, if I recall correctly.) The color, "bouquet", and the flavor unlike any beer I'd had before. Until I had a lot more beers. The more IPAs I tried from all over the country, especially the West Coast varieties, or imitations of them, the less appeal Summit IPA had for me. English-style IPAs in general have fallen out of fashion, and the beer world in general has been hooked on the bitter grapefruity, citric spank of American hops. Summit IPA is now something I'll take in a pinch, or buy if it's on sale and no other IPA is, but it's not something I'll go looking for.

And along comes their 25th anniversary ale, which I reviewed here. The cries came out among the beer geek crowd to make this one year-round, and lo, and behold, the prayers have been answered. We're told there were tweaks that make this distinct from Silver Anniversary, but I haven't figured out what those are, yet. Nonetheless, the general consensus is that this is a definite hit. I'd be happy to have it on tap now, but I have to wait for the next batch, there just wasn't enough to go around with the first run.

So, I picked up a 6-pack for myself, sat down with a bottle, and these were the notes:

Summit Saga India Pale Ale.

Clear, pale peach/apricot appearance; slightly off-white head. long-lasting, lace leaving. Lovely stuff, looking good in the glass.

Fresh and lively aromatics, giving off fruity esters like pineapple, mango, tangerine. A well-tempered citric hop explosion, with tropical fruit joining the mix. Exquisite.

Taste: Mmmm! Hops hit the palate right from the start and a mild, fruity bitterness takes over, but doesn't overtake. Fades back and hangs out in the corner, until the next sip. Put the glass to the lips again, and a burst of bitterness grips the tongue once more, a mild astringency is evident, but never too much so.

Summit is a brewery of balance. Perhaps someday that create something really out there, but I can't see them brewing anything outside the limits of drinkability, or that tips the scales too far beyond the norm. Just not going to happen. With Saga IPA, they've embraced the West Coast IPA style, which has become incredibly popular all over the country, and kept it smooth and very easy drinking. Certainly a sessioner, one the hop freaks will take to their bitter bosoms, and probably gulp down by the case-ful.

Finishes with bitterness lingering lightly, hop presence never too subdued, and never too intrusive. Just right.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sand Creek Noir Black Belgian Barley-wine Style Ale

Noir Black Belgian Barleywine Style Ale, Sand Creek Brewing Company, Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Product of USA, 12 fluid ounces. That's all I have.

Let's look at it, smell it, and drink it.

Yup, that's black, all right! With a neat cocoa ring of foam.

Aroma: charcoal, figs, and fried bananas. Not really. I'm not getting anything really specific out of this. Besides "dark", which isn't a flavor. There's some fruit, dark malt, but nothing really jumps out.

Taste:  Here's what's odd. I get the "black", but nothing particularly "Belgian", or "barley-wine". Dry, smooth chocolate malt, and little else. Rather thick and full in the mouth, good balance, with nothing too this or too that.

Odd little number. It provides no particular delights for me, there isn't any one ounce of sweetness that scream out and brings a smile to my lips. In that, it does recall some Belgian-style ales I have enjoyed, and I'm thinking particularly of some from Unibroue.

This is just fine, but doesn't really move me, what can I say? Ain't nothing wrong with it. Wait, hold on…okay, I'm liking it a little more. It's feeling like a dry porter, but lacking a lot of the inherent promise of the blackness, and the Belgian-ness, and a little of the barley-wine.

Mikkeller Beer Hop Breakfast

Mikkeller Beer Hop Breakfast, Oatmeal Stout brewed with Coffee, 7.5% ABV, product of Denmark, brewed at Amager Bryghus, Bryghus, Denmark.

Utter blackness, large, rich, roasty tan head. Lace leaving. Looks great.

Aroma: ah! there we have it, a quintessential oatmeal stout nose, starts smooth and roasty-toasty, nice and malty, topped off with grassy hops. I like this.

Taste: more of that going on in the mouth, but lacking some in the body. Smooth, tasty malt, with a big, lively blast of hops. So we've got an "IBA" or a "black ale" or a "black ipa", but with an oatmeal stout. I'm still not totally on board with this cross-pollination. Still feels light in the body, not giving the proper oatmeal stout experience, but never stopping with the hops. Non-stop hop. Very dry, plenty of manageable bitterness.

Do I like it? Maybe. Do I love it? Not really. But, keep at it, Mikkeller, you've more hits than misses, and your misses are interesting enough. (But, perhaps not exactly worth the price.)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Steel Toe Provider

Steel Toe Provider. Steel Toe Brewing, St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

Clear, golden hued, under lace-leaving pure white head.

Soft, floral nose. Wheat and hops at work. Citrus notes. Delicate and delightful.

Taste: Spank of hops up front, the sharp, citric twang of wheat malt, a little extra spritz of something else. That all comes on the first sip, and it gets mellower from the very next moment. Smooth and creamy. Light bodied to the point of medium. Plenty of flavor in this very quaffable brew. Lots of action on the tongue here, in an ale that doesn't seem to easily fall into any one slot. Definitely wheat based, definitely hoppy. Exceedingly easy drinking.

Great sessioner, appropriate summer drinker. "Provider" may mean how well this brew's profits will fill Steel Toe's coffers. The IPA will hear the hosannas from the beer geek crowd, but this one will suit everyone else.

I put this growler down easily in one sitting. I wish it were on the lakeside, in the heat of the sun, that's the only thing that would make this better.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Avery India Pale Ale

Here's a first, my first canned beer from Avery, an IPA I've enjoyed many times before (and tapped at the Nile). Here are my first notes from a bottle, June, 2003:

Appearance: clear, pale orange color, fine, if short, off-white head.

Aroma: bristling with pine, citrus, grapefruit, pineapple. Quite a bit of hoppiness in this nose!

Taste: fierce and fiery hop bitterness right up front on the palate, but much appreciated and quite delightful.

Body is about medium and of sufficient heft, although malt is a bit lean in this IPA, abd the hops continue to stand tall in the saddle throughout the drink. But that's what I like, li'l ol' hophead, me.

Relentless flavor, tasty, tasty.
Real humdinger of an IPA that I'd gladly return to, anytime.

Summit Pilsner

Notes from April, 2003:

When Summit announced this, their first year-round lager, 2 years ago, I was skeptical. I'd long enjoyed their pale ale, IPA, porter, and more. Why do they need to mess around with a pils? I was more reassured when I found that their new brewmaster had come from Jamaica's Red Stripe, one of few pilseners I can happily toss back.

Color is a clear golden hue, head is chalk-white, large, loud, and bubbly.

Aroma is fresh and clean, zesty, dryly hoppy, with small notes of citrus, straw, sea-foam.

Lively and hoppy palate, short, but pleasant finish. Crisp, snappy, and perfectly balanced. Everything is in proper order, and if I had nothing heartier at hand, this would easily be a lager of choice.

Very tasty, with a touch of underlying sweetness. A perfectly put-together pils.

Stone Imperial Russian Stout

One of the biggest, boldest Russian Imperial Stouts out there, I'd say. But, wait, Al, you say, isn't it a "Imperial Russian Stout?" I don't know what to tell you there, pal. "Russian Imperial Stout" tells you the style is related to the favor it found in the court of Catherine the Great and her Russian Empire. The way Stone puts it implies it's a stout from Russia, and...I just realized it sounds silly, and doesn't really matter.

But! What else I was gonna tells ya! The first time I had this was in the fall of 2002, bought it in Portland, OR, took it home, wrote notes, and considered it "too much." Found another bottle over a year later and revised my published opinions. Finally bought one at home for the first time, at Chicago-Lake Liquors, and it drinks down like a thick, luscious breeze. Funny how your palate twists and turns, expands and adapts.

Here, now, my December, 2003 notes on the Imperial Stout of Escondido, CA.


Color is as black as sin, thoroughly opaque, utterly dark, and well-endowed with a full, thick, lush roasty-toasty tan head.

Aroma: Oh, goodness, gracious, golly! Sweetness, rich, lush, chocolatey, and burgeoning with a myriad of further flavors, dates, raisins, anise, molasses, maple syrup, dark, twisted, delicious...I've compared certain other Imperial Stouts to candy bars (Bell's Expedition, to name one, whose glass I drink this from), and this goes a touch beyond that, without testing the boundaries of sweetness. Magnificent.

Taste: No body could be fuller, no taste could be richer, the malt is thick and juicy, even, and the hops keep the tongue busy and happy. A complex melange, a viscous mouthfeel, constant tussel with the palate, insistent pleasure on the tongue.

Now, the thicker, slicker, motor-oliy feel kicks in, but by now, you love it, or you're out. Strength, too, sets it's feelers out and begins to trickle into the feeling and the brain, as well. Sticky and treacly, though dark, and thoroughly delicious, if your tastes run like mine.

It rolls around and around the mouth, washing all the senses with this rich, dark, utterly decadent flavor.

Oh, what dark malts can do, for this flavor is so rich, so thick, so fully flavorful, this is decadence, indeed.
Finish? There ain't none! It just keeps going in the mouth!
Mouthfeel? It is utterly dominant, thoroughly covers every inch of the amazing beer!

I'm going to close on the note that this is my second bottle of this incredible beer, and second review, for when I first cracked the cap on this monster over 15 months ago, I might not have been prepared for the totality of this experience, despite my past love and appreciation of Imperial Stouts.
Now, later, I acknowledge what an astounding bad boy this one is, and I LOVE IT!!!


't Smisje Great Reserva

't Smisje Catherine the Great Imperial Stout Man Cognac Barrels. (Wait, that doesn't make sense.)

't Smisje Great Reserva, brewed & bottled by Smisje, Oudenaarde, Belgium. No other information. Except, 10% Alc/Vol.

Well, let's find out what it is by drinking it, shall we?

Dark brown body, small, cocoa-tinged head on top, slims down to a tight ring.

Aroma: Ooooh! Aaaah! That's whiskey-up, people! Deep, dark, dank, rich, ridiculous! Maple, licorice, molasses, vanilla, and the darkest chocolate. Incredibly indulgent. Bourbon and brandy are running rampant here. Whoa.

Taste: Pow! Alcohol is not hiding, fairly prominent, practically biggish. Getting bigger, rising higher, getting stronger. Full-bodied, but not quite as full as I'd like to keep up with every other big thing in this beer. Large amount of sweetness here, terrific bourbon-y flavor.

 What's the base beer? I can't say, but it's not evident, doesn't show, it's pretty much covered by the barrel-aging. Not that I care too much, it's terrifically tasty. Oh, it's just damned delicious.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cerveza Tecate

I'm going all-out, doing two in a row, filling out the three I've previously reviewed. The next two, I've got to put my thinking cap on for, and I don't feel like doing that tonight. This one was specifically asked for by the promoter of the Latin Night, and we sold probably two. Oh, well, if we keep this up for another 23 events, we'll unload them all, right?

I'd like to share these notes, from January, 2009, for I am especially proud of this ramble that fills a lot of space while avoiding talking about the beer, about which there is very little to say. Notes, away!


I am in possession of a can of Tecate, because I bought some for my bar for a new Latin night on Sundays. Although, actually, the Ecuadorans who are promoting it only told me to make sure I had bottles of Modelo (and, oddly, the main promoter did most of the drinking. Sold lots of Heineken.) and Corona. They never asked me to get Tecate.

So, what possessed me? I think I may have been influenced by the great scene in Hellboy 2, when Red and Abe get drunk on this beer, whine about women, and sing along to Barry Manilow. I used to love Barry Manilow, back when I was a teen. Why? Obviously, I wasn't very cool. I was into oldies and easy listening...not a rocker by a stretch. Maybe influenced by my girlfriend of the time. I was a sponge. Lord knows, I had no good music influences in my life at the time, that would come later.

Actually, I was a jazz guy in waiting. Loved anything that came close to it on the radio. Adored that Sonny Rollins sax solo on "Waiting on a Friend" by the Rolling Stones before I ever knew who he was...but I grew up in the suburbs! It took until senior year until I came close to knowing jazz, discovering KBEM 88.5 FM, finding some Miles Davis albums in the library.
 But, actually, Barry got me closer, can you believe it? In 1984, he made an album called "2 a.m. Paradise Cafe", with such luminaries as Sarah Vaughan, Mel Torme, Shelly Manne, and Gerry Mulligan. Of course, I had no idea who they were at the time, but it was a great record. A lyric by Johnny Mercer was given music by Manilow and turned into "When October Goes", which existed as a theme song in my sentimental heart for a while. I loved that record as a weird, nerdy 16 year old.

A few years later, I took that record to a Manilow signing at a Minneapolis record store, with my funk-loving best friend. We were the only males who weren't wearing store tags. Now, that I'm feeling nostalgic for that record, I'm going to have to have to start scouring the used LP shops of the Twin Cities...why did I ever sell my signed Barry Manilow album...the only really good record he ever made?

Oh, but about Tecate!

yellow. clear. foam, white, .... smelly.. .corn... ew! not good...
Taste: not flavor...nope...blah! Yuh! Yick.
Pretty not much. Huh...I'm yearning to switch this for a real beer...ah, real beer...I just can't LIVE! Without You!

Grupo Modelo Corona Extra

Against my better judgement, the parade of Mexican beers continues. To make things fair, I tell you what, I'll find some good Mexican beers after we wade through these. #2, Corona, with notes from May, 2003, ...and nine years later, I haven't changed my opinion much. But I have learned that, yes, those pieces of fruit make all the difference.


I swore that I wouldn't review any crap that I knew to be crap unless a sample was provided gratis, and guess what? Providence provides.
I will begin my scrutiny by violating several rules of the sacred canon of Corona consumption: 1: I pour the "beer" from the bottle into a glass, 2: WITHOUT ANY LIME! And so...

appearance: totally transparent, color matching that of a very pale urine sample, head exists, is frothy and white (has anyone, ever, conceived of Corona's head?).

Aroma: stinky, skunky, suggesting nothing beyond the liquid leavings of sick, sad, rabid animals. Foul, rancid, polluted, poisonous.

Now to drink: harsh, sour, cornish, wince-inducing, not-the-least-bit-good. Possesses none, absolutely not a one of the qualities we would want to find in ANY beer...body, character, finish (oh, no!), hops, malt, texture, flavor, ad infinitum...but wait, I didn't give it the benefit of the doubt, employing the preferred method, inclusion of lime...why, I have some wedges right here!
Mmmmm!!!! Limey! Yep, you can really taste the lime, oboy! Boy, I can drink a million of 'em now! Ahhhh! Give me a bucket of Coronas, some limes, the beach, and volleyball, ..and then kill me...
This is the best selling imported beer in America. Have mercy on us all.
(I wish there were negative points available. One star seems too charitable.)
Wait, did I get this wrong?It's a lemon, right? No, a pearl onion...a watermelon slice....a cherry tomato?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cerveza Modelo Especial

Why am I drinking Modelo? There's plenty of reasons, and you can guess all day, but I'll go ahead and spill. Another Latin Night at the Blue Nile. They love this stuff. And I'm looking back on notes written in January, 2009, the last time we had a Latin night. Here's what I said then:

Into my finest chalice, I discharge the contents of the bottle...etc., etc., blah, blah...

Clear, pale yellow, rudimentary rings of suds above.

Smell... like beer. A little dry. Rather plain. Insipid.

Drink it: ...wetness, then dry. Perfect lack of flavor. It's there and it's gone, and it leaves nothing behind.
But, it isn't horrible or offensive.... just completely lacks taste.

There's worse things you can toss past your throat. But I don't recommend them.

These notes were from a bottle, I don't think there's a dramatic difference from the can.

Fitger's Superior Trail IPA

Here it is, the last of the 4 Fitger's growlers, but not the last of the beers from the Duluth trip.

Notes: Away!

Fitger's BrewHouse Superior Trail IPA.

Clear, apricot/amber appearance, smallish white head.

Mild hoppy aromatics, fruit, mellow, s little herbal none too bitter. I like it, nice enough.

Taste: Nice and gentle hop presence greets the palate at first, dazzles the tongue, and slowly fades back. Then the malt takes over, it's medium and smooth, with hop spice keeping pace on top. Bright and sunny, with plenty of malt character. Good mid-range IPA, no match for their El Nino, which I put in the upper echelon.

Two Brother Domaine DuPage French Country Ale

Domaine du Page, French Style Country Ale, Two Brothers Brewing Company, Warrenville, IL. "This food friendly ale is deep amber in color, with a toasty, sweet caramel start. It finishes with just enough hops to clean off the palate. Bon appetite!" Ha, they made a funny there.

So, what do I have to say? Let's find out, won't we?

Dark amber, nearly crimson coloring, lightly toasted tannish head, soon to disappear.

Caramel malt aromatics, minor fruit, even more minor hops. Apples and nuts with a side of toast.

Taste: More of the same arrives in the mouth, with an added dose of spice. Little pricks of spice and heat jab the palate, then duck away as all is smooth and malty. Just a dash of hops, for a minute or two, to match the Belgian yeast character. Warm and welcoming, expert censurability, and, yeah, a fantastic food parer, to be sure. Fruit, spice and bread are already in the mouth, let's let some more flavors in to join the merriment.

Okay, I can see how as tasty and easy-drinking a brew like this should be their flagship ale. Nice stuff, indee

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Alaskan Barley-wine Ale

Alaskan Barleywine, 10.7% ABV. Alaskan Brewing, Juneau, Alaska.

Dense, opaque, dark plum/ magenta hue, off-white cappucino-like head, leaving lace.

Aroma: Beautiful. Perfect. Lush, rich malt, overtones of dark fruit, cherries, blackberries, ripe plum. Cognac and port wine. Dark and dense, sweet and strong. Right on.

Taste: more of that and then some. Bursting at the seams and spilling over with malty goodness, oozing rich fruit and a tidy hop buzz. Plenty of alcohol phenols brimming over. There's some balance, but plenty of bombast, which is just want I look for in a barley-wine. Starts out big and burly, plump with deep dark fruit, then mellows out, but never without a fierce alcoholic kick.  Boom, boom, boom, it comes a knocking'.

This one I call yum. One of the better put-together barleywines I've had in a while. Color me impressed.

Fitger's Starfire Pale Ale

Fitger's Starfire Pale Ale, #3 in a series of 4 growlers from the Brewhouse.

Big, blooming head, clear, light amber color...let's call it apricot.

Lightly hoppy aroma, little bitterness, but a lot of fruit. Citrus is taken care of, but we get peach and apricot, as well.

Taste: finally, bitterness comes in, right at the first swallow, and linger on lightly in this medium-bodied ale. Small astringency on the palate, light malt body, easy-drinking and mellow, with no hindrance to consumption and enjoyment. Unless, that is, you are impervious to the pleasures of hops on the tongue.

An utterly delightful pale ale, that I hope to send down my throat again, without too much delay.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Flat Earth Two Fingers Double IPA

Flat Earth Two Fingers Double IPA. I know practically nothing about this beer. It was offered up in growlers, and some kegs were available, but not a tremendous amount. I looked all over for information, and, for a 5th anniversary beer there's strikingly little known about this. Looking on the two major reviewing sites, it's only listed on BeerAdvocate, with the sole review coming from my friend Cal, who reviewed from a growler.(He gives it a straight 3/5, which is as average as average gets.)
 So, I got a keg to include with our upcoming hoppy beer events, and I'm at a loss for how to describe it. It's big, it's strong, bitter and hoppy. right? What are the hops, what are the malts, how strong is it? Nothing anywhere, we have no way of knowing. It's as if they were forced/coerced into making a 5th anniversary beer, but didn't care about telling anyone about it. Which is kind of weird. 

Let's just drink some…

Clouded amber-y hue, large, lush, nearly-white head. Looks nice. But doesn't fit neatly with the look of so many other well-known double IPAs, doesn't shine like some golden jewel, etcetera, etcetera.

Aroma: nice and piney, plenty of citrus, lots of loveliness. Everything the hop head desires. Right?

Taste: Big time bitterness, ripe fruit, overwhelming attack on the tongue. Much malt in the mouth. If anything is lacking in this, it's in comparison to leaner DIPAs that have a brighter, hoppier attack and have less malt happening in the mouthfeel. As it is, there is really nothing lacking or wrong with this particular attempt at a DIPA. Why do they all have to be Plinys or Dreadnaughts, or HopSlams or Abrasives? There's room for many types of interpretations, and this one has plenty of bitter hop punch going on, for hop heads to enjoy.

There's a good amount of consumability in this, and even though I don't know the number, a good amount of alcohol keeping that factor down a bit. however, it doesn't impede enjoyment, not one tiny bit. Plenty of hops, plenty of bitter, lots of ale.

Whatever you do, though, don't ask me about what's going on at Flat Earth right now, I really don't know! This might be a nice cap to 5 years of brewing, but you never know, there could be better things on the horizon for the owners of this brand. 

Here's what's extra-odd about this entry, though. I can only recommend you try it where I work, for I have no idea who else might have it, and there is no where else you could pick up a sample, outside of a very slim selection of bars. Growler sales are done, and it won't be bottled. You'll never see it again, it was a one-time only thing. And so, it exists here as a yes, I -had-it, and, no you won't. That's no attempt to make you feel small, it's only history, that's all that it is. 

Aside from that, it's an interesting entry in the Flat Earth line, but perhaps not the last like this, and we can never be sure, can we?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Fitger's Homegrown Hempen Ale

Homegrown Hempen Ale, Fitger's BrewHouse. "Herbed/ Spiced Beer." 6.1%. Brewed once a year for the Homegrown music festival. Not much is said about the "hempen" part, however, so I don't have much to go on about that part. We'll just have to imagine, perhaps. Or is it evident in the flavor? Let's find out, but…first…Wait, I found this on the website: "The 14th time we have brewed this special beer brewed only once a years. Hoppy, malty, hemp goodness." Doesn't tell me much.

Clear, dark amber/bronze color, ample, creamy-toned froth atop.

Soft, herbal nose…heh, heh…"herbal". Just slightly sweet, and mostly malty. Hardly any hops.

Taste: Clean and smooth on the palate, with just a little bit of coarseness in the end.  Medium bodied, malt-forward, but without a lot of flavor. Just that little bit of grainy coarseness riding almost bitterly on the palate, buoyed by the barest amount of sweetness from malt.

So, what is it I'm tasting here, hemp seeds or something? And what style would this be, exactly? Exactly, schmactly, who really cares. A dark ale, with a hint of something extra. But, not enough to make it really memorable.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fitger's XXX English Ale

Back from Duluth, with four Fitger's growlers, 2 bottles from Borealis Fermentary, and 1 from Thirsty Pagan. I'll give a look, via photos, of the other beers I didn't, and couldn't take notes on, tomorrow, perhaps. Notes on the first Fitger's Brewhouse growler, consumed early this morning, commence currently:

Fitger's Brewhouse XXX English Ale. 6% ABV (I think.) Extra Special/Strong Bitter Ale. All English hops and malt in this, or so I hear.

got this one fresh off the tap this morning, once the pub opened. I brought with me to Duluth 3 glass growlers and one nalgene plastic "adventure" growler, that someone got for me many years ago, and once held (according to the sticker on the cap) "IPA." Took all for of them to the BrewHouse Beer store, only to be told that they couldn't swap out the plastic nalgene growler, I'd have to get it filled upstairs at the pub. Walked along the lakeshore until Fitger's opened and here we have it, and I'm going to get to it.

Appearance: Clear, with coppery/bronze coloration, half inch of of off-white head.

Aromatics: lightly sweet and malty, a little floral and fruity, showing restraint from hops, pleasantly placid.

Taste: All malt flavors at play here, just a little grainy, a touch sweet, and ever-so-slightly fruity. Toasty, with caramel and toffee malt flavors, and just the slightest edge of bitterness. Touch of roasted malt. Malty flavors keep getting rich and deeper as we drink up, and I like it more and more. Earthy, nutty, with just enough caramel malt sweetness and just enough bitter hops to offset it.

Denser and richer than a typical ESB. That means I like it. I still haven't started liking bitters and ESB, not significantly. Oh, they're okay, but I can never really LIKE-like them, you know.

This 64-ounce vessel will pass the liquid through my innards with the greatest of ease!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fitger's Apricot Wheat

Another one on tap (I'm fairly sure this is a regular) that I've had in a growler before. Really bad picture due to terrible lighting (again, the 10 seats at the bar were taken, and there is awful lighting everywhere else, especially at night), but, hey, just let me have this one, okay?
Notes from a growler in February, 2007:

Hazed dull orange, or more correct, apricot, under a 1/2" of bone white foam. Looks the part.

Straight up apricot aroma, with glimmers of citrus on the side, a trickle of lemon and orange.

Smooth, sweet, soft and fruity flavor. Mmmm, wheaty. Nice, creamy texture. That about says it all.

Light bodied, tasty, and terribly drinkable. I like this. Not my style so much anymore, but come July I'd fairly toss 'em back.

Fitger's Wildfire Lager

My last beer of the night last night was one I didn't want to have, but had to have. Just in order to share these notes with you. As you may or may not know, my intention with this blog is to share what I'm drinking now, even if the notes were originally written long ago. Doing this means that I'm not going to post any reviews of beers I'm not drinking currently. All of the notes have to be accompanied by a photo of the very beer I'm drinking now. So, I had to have a glass of this stuff. Told the bartender of my voyage and the long years I've waited to get here, and he insisted on buying me the beer.
Almost seven years ago, June of 2005, a friend, Paul, if I remember correctly, brought me a growler of this, and here is what I wrote:

I had the previous version of this at the Autumn Brew Review 2004, last fall, and it set my face on fire! Supposedly mellower, this is the new brew, courtesy of a growler delivered by fantome, bless his heart.

Peppers peek out on first pouring the brew, hot, hot, hot!!!

Clear amber/crimson color, no head at all...
Aroma: ow! Hot, hot, hot!!! 100% peppery! wow, what a mix!
Taste: AAAHHH!!!! OWWWW!!! OH, JEEZUS!!! AH, AH, AH, Ah, A?HHHH!!!!@HOLY F*@$!!! SH*%!!!
...take a drink of water...does no good...MY MOUTH IS ON FIRE!!! AGAIN!!!

I think I'd prefer this as an ale, actually, with a bit more going on in it, to provide some balance, something else going on to contend with the heat...the HEAT! WHOA< GOD, IT's STILL ATTACKING MY TONGUE@!!! AAAHHH!!!!

I swear to God, I will finish this pint...on this, I swear...OW!!! I really mean it!!!
Holy F*^&..pant, pant...wheeze, wheexe...Holy m%th#rF87=ng H#((!!

Better than Crazy Ed's Cave Creek, but still suffers by lacking the body and flavor it would get just by being top fermented with ale yeast, I think, ever humbly...

more water, gulp, gulp, cool down, cool down...

I loook at the 1/2 pint left, and fear it...what will I do with the rest of the growler?
water, water, water...yet temperature still rises...

read fantome's review and hear of the peppers employed to learn of the intensity...Great Vishnu, Almighty Zeus, Most Honored Mohammad, Towering Jupiter, Blessed Buddha...someone save me!!!

...the drinkability is impaired because it can't be called "average" or anything higher...what can it be compared to? Nothing!

and, yet it's quite good, for what it is, which is nothing like anything lips are ablaze, and I haven't touched it in 5 minutes...Oh, please, most benificent Odin...Jesus, Buddha, help...

This was almost my exact experience last night, but in this instance I had water constantly coming, and half a pale ale at my side, and there weren't 64 ounce to contend with. And what's more, I could still feel the flavor on my tongue nearly two days later.

Fitger's Big Boat Oatmeal Stout

My first beer of the day yesterday was Fitger's Big Boat Oatmeal Stout, on cask. I first wrote notes on it from a growler in July of 2006. And here they are:

Once again, I call the Brewhouse, am told the Stout isn't available in growlered form, and yet somehow my friend returns with a growler for me. Did he just know the secret handshake, or what?

Pours solid stygian, under a thinnish, though staying slab of cocoa foam.

Roast coffee hits the nose from the start, hints of chocolate, very earthy, yet invigorating...

And it lands on the palate fully in command, take no prisoners, storms the bastions, plows on through...big, forceful, but smooth...

Full bodied, to say the least, but not too thick, and very balanced in flavor, some bitter and some sweet, but not too much of either...just the right pithy mean. This is stout to be reckoned with, not too smooth, or bottomed out, it's sturdy, substantial, delivers consistently with flavor...and I've only finished half my first pint!

Damn, this is good stuff! I must make it up to Duluth and try it straight off the tap!

(looking at other reviews,well, I definitely am not drinking anything "light" or "watery". Either this is a better batch/new recipe, or it's better from the growler than the nitro tap!)

Finally having it at the brewery, I was more than satisfied in each and every aspect!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fitger's Brewhouse El Nino IPA

There's a "Feiffer" comic strip from the 1950's with a an embarassed man and a confused woman sitting at a cafe table. She asks him to repeat the incredible information that he'd sheepishly revealed. This dance goes on for several panels, until he's ready to finally spit it out once again, and in the final panel he whispers the scandal to her: "I've never been to Europe."

I think of this strip whenever I tell people I've never been to Duluth, and they can't believe their ears. What can I say, neither school, or work, or family, or friends have ever provided the opportunity. No kayaking, or hikes, or any kind of visit to the north shore of Lake Superior. 
I don't drive, or own a car, I'm not married, or have a significant other. The situation just never presented itself. There's no rapid transit light rail line to carry me there. I would say to the amazed ears of my friends, "hey, next time you go, take me with you." 

This approach finally worked, and my friend Ed Jackson had time off in the middle of the week, during my two usual days off, Tuesday and Wednesday. He got us a motel room, and drove us on up, so now, finally, I'm in Duluth, and a few blocks from the renowned Fitger's Brewhouse.

In the past eight years, I've reviewed 25 growlers from Fitger's, brought back by generous friends from their travels to Duluth, leaving me with four empty growlers to finally fill this week. Immediately after checking into the motel, we headed to the the pub, and I had my first ever pint of Fitger's beer at the location. I chose a Big Boat Oatmeal Stout on cask for my first, and El Nino IPA for my second. Here, then, notes from June, 2005, of Fitger's El Nino India Pale Ale:

Appearance: clear and deep-orange to ruby in tint, with a slim, but stable layer of foam keeping guard on top. 
Aroma: raw, piney hops at the fore, revealed in full after a few sniffs...vibrant and abundant in deep, dark fruit. Herbal...piney/sprucey..Dry-hopped? this is an aroma that needs time to open in order to fully spill forth all of it's delights. 
Big, bitter hoppy bite, quite a way to start, mellowing å bit as it's time to swallow. Bitterness lingers. Taste gets juicier with the next sip and gulp, bitterness hangs more on the tongue. Very tangy, with a simmering citric character, grapefruit, grape, berry, but raw, potent hops rubbing up against everything and utterly coating and dominating the palate...not that I mind. I like that kind of thing, mind you... 
Sweetish caramel malty background provides excellent support...very yummy, with the bitterness...this is "double-hopped", if I recall correctly...never settling down...balance schmalance, I say, leave these to professionals and go get yourself a "bitter". 
Damn this is nice. Like others have commented, it almost reminds me of Mama...almost, but I quite approve the effect and the intentions, and will enjoy the rest of this growler for sure, and look forward to more (on cask?) when next I visit Duluth. (....someday?...)

To think, "some day" took nearly 7 years!
More Fitger's beers to come!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Harriet SolBock Maibock

Harriet SolBock Maibock. Available only at the brewery, debuted at SolBock Revival 2012, April 21, (unfortunate that there was virtually no "sol" that day), the official "hard open" of the Taproom, and for sale currently in growlers or on tap in aforementioned room.

I do like a good maibock from time to time, but would never consider it a "go-to" style for me. I'll still turn to one if the time is right, and it's well made. So, let's look at this one:

Bright golden color, slim white head. This is the second day for this growler. I opened it last night, but didn't feel like writing just then. My memory tells me that the head was larger in a fresh pour.

Aromatics: a mostly malty affair, with plenty of cereal grain, and whiffs of honey. Traces of malt sweetness.

Taste: Bright, full of flavor on the palate, big, shiny hops, and major malt, but all done in light, sunshiny fashion. Medium-bodied, light and highly drinkable, but with constant flashes of tastiness. After a while, it comes back to me, and I get it, as the hop bitterness gets more prominent, and stays long on the palate. This is not even close to a "traditional" maibock in any sense, and Harriet calls it a "Harriet-style" maibock, as the single hop employed is the tropical fruit-y American hop Amarillo. Long lasting bitter touch to match the buttery sweetness. German-style IPA? Or just a  clean malty lager, with persistent hoppiness? Mmmm and ahhh, zesty, malty, and a joy to consume.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Monschof Kellerbier

Kulmbacher Monschof Naturtrubes Kellerbier. I recall buying some Monschof beers domestically, but this one was imported "by hand" directly from Deutschland. Nothing but Deutsch on this label, so will pass on repeating it to you. ("Unfilterierter Biergenuss!") Oddly, the label info is in several languages. Did you know this is bier, beer, bier, birra special, cerveza, as well as miiypa? I could go on, but will not, so let us enjoy this product of Bavaria. 

Clouded, opaque, dark amber, nearly brown, with off-white head, leaving lace.

Malt and yeast-forward aromatics, some cereal grain, some sweetness.

Taste: again, yeast and dark malts are in large supply. Lightly fruity, just a little bit juicy. I'm immediately reminded why I like kellerbiers, that yeast really brings a lot of flavor. 

Goose Island Demolition Belgian-style Golden Ale

Goose Island Demolition Belgia-style Golden Ale. "Brewed to honor the brave souls who kept our brewpub open while wrecking balls tore down the mall around us. Cheers! Greg Hall, brewmaster." 7.2% ABV . Will remain fresh 180 days from the bottled on date. Bottled on: 8/10/11. Ooops. We're a bit off on this one. Well, let's find out the only way we can.

Bright golden color, beautiful white head, starts big and settles down to a slim layer.

Aroma: Spice hits the nose right off, quickly matched with citrus fruit. Cracked pepper and orange peel, under the glimmer of hops.

Taste: Sweet malt and zesty hops start us off.  Spicy, sweet, and sharp. Light body, malt flavor that's both crisp and juicy, ending just short of dry. Expertly consumable. And without the roar of high alcohol, although…just about.

Very likable Belgian Golden ale, but somewhat short of impressive.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lift Bridge Irish Coffee Stout

Lift Bridge Irish Coffee Stout. Stout brewed with coffee. Brewed and bottled by Lift Bridge Brewing Company, Stillwater, Minnesota. "Irish Tales add to the flavor. They're practically ingredients." Oh, wait, more. "Inspired by the delightful combination of whiskey, sugar, and coffee, however, you don't have to be Irish and it doesn't have to be morning to enjoy this labor of love. Our Imperial Stout was aged in whiskey barrels, then blended with a big milk stout, and finally infused with locally roasted cold-pressed coffee. It's a complex beer meant to be shared with friends over an Irish toast." Maybe I'll get another to share with friends, this one I'm taking on solo, cause that's what I do. Also, this is 8% Alc./vol, and the bottle is 1 pint 9.4 fl. oz., 750 ml.

Full ebony appearance, lovely toasted tan head, looks fantastic, the best looking stout among they three I've had today.

Aroma: subtle wisps of whiskey at first, flavors of vanilla, toast, anise, bourbon. Then cocoa and cream.

Tasting it: Dry, lightly bitter, with the whiskey coming in quick and in full force. Blending an imperial stout, with a milk stout, great idea, actually. Sweetness comes in and dries out in a snap. Cream stout is in front now, roasted malt rises up, a thickness, a brilliantly dry, bitter end.

Balance is key, here. None of these essential ingredients dominate. It's overpoweringly coffee, or incredibly whiskey. But it's smooth, smooth and tasty. In the end, a subtle sweetness and mellow whiskey in on top. Very satisfying, very delicious. Another unique and impressive creation from Lift Bridge.

Stone/Troegs Cherry Chocolate Stout

A Collaboration by Jason Fields & Kevin Sheppard, Troegs, & Stone: Cherry Chocolate Stout. 12 fluid ounce bottle. 7.3% Alc/vol. Brewed and bottled by the Stone Brewing Company, Escondido, San Diego county, CA.
I will not repeat here the story told by Mitch Steele, Head Brewer, Stone Brewing Company, April, 2011. But it tells the tale of the brewing of this beer with gusto and enthusiasm, with none of the nonsense and hyperbole normally found on this bottles.

Intense black, thorough opacity, slim cocoa-tinged head, starts proud and dies down.

Roasted malt and espresso in the nose. Not much more, but we'll give it time. Let it open up. Hints of fruit, chocolate's starting to show. It's there, but not terribly loud, erring on the side of subtle.

So, drink up, already. Ah, here we have it happening in harmony, the rich, roasty malt, the mellow cherries, the sweet but serene chocolate. All in there at once, with no one side dominating another. Sweet chocolate and cherries never quite cloy, but close to it.

Full-bodied, rich and thick, beautifully layered, and delicately flavored. Medium length finish, and all in all, not too anything. Balance with complexity. Excellent combination.

The dry sour/sweet cherry flavors rolls back in, taking turns with chocolate. This one keeps growing and changing, and I find myself liking it more and more.

Thanks to Dennis Skrade for this gift.

New Glarus Cherry Stout

New Glarus Cherry Stout. Brewed and bottled in New Glarus, WI. On the side of the label, some of the same blah-blah-blah, then, "This is Dan's Gold Medal winning "Cherry Stout." This ale is aged in oak barrels to promote the spontaneous fermentation. Eight Wisconsin malted barleys combined with Wisconsin Montmorency cherries make for a complex and subtle taste experience that you may never find again. Discover why Dan is repeatedly recognized as the Best Brewmaster in America."

Dark brown color, mostly opaque, some clarity in spots. Pink-ish brown head appears, then slims down with certainty.

Ripe, vibrant cherry aromatics, happy mix of sweet and sour, rounded out by the oak barrel action.

Taste: Once in the mouth, more sweet and sour, more flashes of fruity brilliance. Not too much happens underneath, however. I feel that if this hadn't been called a stout, I'd find some way around this disappointment. As it is, I find it lacking a a "stout." Tell you what, I'll forget it as a "stout" and think of it as a dark version of the Wisconsin Cherry Red. If I didn't, I'd find the malt too mild, lacking roast, lacking a lot of stout-y elements. Removing that aspect of my expectations, I'd be very fond of the flavor.

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...