Saturday, September 29, 2012

Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet Black India Pale Ale

Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet Black Ale, Ipswich, MA.

Hey, I've heard about this Clown Shoes business, and guess what? Now, we're getting it. Here's Hoppy Feet Black India Pale Ale (black and pale, eh?), Mercury Brewing Company, Ipswich, MA. 7% ABV.

Dark brown, just about black, beautiful creamy tan head, lace-leaving. Gorgeous brew.

Aroma: grassy hops, subsumed by rich, deep malt. Hints of cocoa, spots of coffee.

Taste: more of that on the tongue, the depth of the dark malt, with the high hops on top. Nicely roasted malt character, riddled with hop bitterness, up an down, and back of the throat. Flavor continues, never quite quits. Gets brighter and brighter, hoppier and hoppier. Stays long through the finish.

The battle continues, and a question arises. Did this style arise out of need or necessity, was it a desire to produce something great, new, & intriguing? Or did people tire of porters, and demand they get hopped up, or else? I'm still asking.

Smooth, rich and malty mashes up with leafy, green, and hoppy. Bitter much? Just enough.

Olde Hickory Death By Hops IPA

Old Hickory Brewery Death By Hops India Pale Ale, Brewed and Bottled by Olde Hickory Brewing, Hickory, North Carolina. 7% ABV.

Light haze. Golden hue, large white, lasting head.

Bracing bitterness hits the nose, waves of pine and citrus wash over, hit after hit of hoppy goodness. Nice.

Tastin' it: Bittersweet and resiny. Juicy, hoppy, and yum. Hopped up and ready to go. Medium body and mouthfeel, leaves plenty of room for hops to do their dance. Plenty of lemon, lime, spots of pepper. Stays just short of astringent. Well, it gets a little in their, in the back of the throat.

Easy drinker, for the hopheads among us (raises hand). Top notch IPA all the way. Hey, what does the label say?

"Death by Hops double IPA is the winner of Olde Hickory's first Pro-Am event. This beer was designed by Alex Buerekholtz, award winning homebrewer & proprietor of Hops and Vines, Asheville, NC. DbH is brewed with 3 row barley, hopped with 5 different West Coast ops, then twice dry hopped. The net results an amazing aroma of ripe juicy fruit mixed with a bouquet of spring flowers. Death by Hops makes an impact you won't forget! Cheers!"

That sounds about right. But I wouldn't have picked it as a double IPA. Most go above 7%, and with a name like this, you'd expect a bit of punishment. This one is mighty hoppy, but doesn't push it too far, doesn't take it over the edge. Nothing wrong with that.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Surly Fiery Hell

Surly Fiery Hell. Hell, the Helles lager, with a ton of peppers in it. I had this at All Pints North, avoided it at Autumn Brew Review. Now, I can finally get a full pour (didn't know they were releasing kegs of it. )…so, let's have one, though I know what I'm in for.

Hazy dark golden hue, small white head above.

Aroma: Peppery flavor (without the heat) resting over a basic pilsnery malt nose.

Taste: Ow! Ow! yew! The peppers are in full effect. Ooo, ooo, ooh! yeeeow! But, you know, ..ow! Yeow! It keeps biting!

What can I really say about this? It's my evil antithesis. Long ago I learned that a light lager plus hot chilis does not equal pleasure for me. I'd rather it were done with an ale, with more flavors to compete and contribute to this mess. But a light lager will only give the pepper so much more room to shine, and while that may be ideal for some, it is not for me. I skipped this at ABR, having had my fill at APN, but couldn't resist the chance to "tick it", in this sort of fashion.

from Acadia's flier: blah blah (about Hell)...and then..."Cask conditioned and aged on Hickory wood and Puya chiles for a slow burn on the back of the tongue. 4.5% aBV, 12 degrees Plato, 20 IBU.
Yes, I will suffer through these 12 ounces, and enjoy it for what it accomplishes, but  for the long haul? Not for me…at all. Yow, though, yeeeow! Add to that: boomshakalakka…but, as we said, not for me. ooh, wee, too hot!

Foothills People's Porter

Foothills People's Porter. Apt name, for porter was once named for the working group that drank it up in London pubs. Why not reclaim it as a beer style for the common class? Ain't no reason, that's why not.
Foothils Brewing, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 6.25 % ABV , 42 IBU.

This is the first of many North Carolina beers, from a recent beer trade, the first trade I've done in years. I noticed that there are many states unrepresented on this blog, that we can't get here in Minnesota, so trading time, it is.(Correction: It appears that I've listed one N.C. beer on here, from Duck Rabbit, but it's clear that I haven't had enough.) I intend to keep up with trading for various states and get back in the game, cover some ground, try more breweries I haven't had the pleasure to taste yet. Exactly the reason I went into it nearly 10 years ago.

But, let's get with the beer, alright?

Dark brown, with ruby highlights, lightly toasted tan head of foam above. Leaves some lace, looking great.

Aroma: Roasted, earthy dark malts, notes of cocoa, and a small hit of espresso.

Taste: Full-bodied, meaty mouthfeel, plenty of roast and toast. Moderate bitterness makes for excellent balance. Everything is exactly in order and in the right spot. Plenty of play on the palate, make for easy drinking, and rich rewards. Alternates between spots of mild sweetness and judicious bitter hoppy feel. End dryly on the palate, urging an elongation of this particular porter session. Good thing this one's in a bomber. I can go for this in the long haul, before becoming tired of it. In fact, I'm way down for it, this is tasty, tasty stuff.

What's the gobbledygook on this? "People's Porter is a robust, English-style brew, with a dark, ruby hue. Complex chocolate, coffee, and toffee notes give way to an herbal bitterness, finishing with a pleasant hint of espresso."

Fat Head's Head Hunter India Pale Ale

Fat Head's Had Hunter India Pale Ale, 7.5% ABV, 87 IBU. Brewed and bottled by Fat Head's Brewery, Middleburg Heights, Ohio.

Clear, golden-amber color, almost tangerine, with an enormous, thick and sturdy, creamy white head. Looking great.

Aroma: leaps on on first pour and slips into the nose. All our favorites are inside, we get the citrus and the pine, there's the bitter grapefruit, some pineapple, maybe a whiff of mango. Pleases the olfactory organ in all the best and most appropriate ways. Smelling great.

Taste: Bam! A fierce assault on the palate, delivering massive bitterness, a hefty spank on the tongue. A powerhouse blow, staying long and laying in hard. Full-bodied, immense presence on the palate, long finish.

I can go through every superlative in the thesaurus, and just keep going. This one really has it all, and it ends on a moderately mellow mood, with that high bitterness and incredible flavor level never really tapering off. There's a strain of astringent, aspirin-y character that hangs in at the back. But some of us love that and this is for us, clearly.

Unrestrained, unabashed, unhinged. But damned delicious. Incredible IPA, deserving of all kinds of praise.

"Uncivilized & Aggressive. No other ingredient stirs the passion of a master brewer like the hop. Inspired by this legendary flower we challenged ourselves to create a world class IPA. Head Hunter is an aggressively dry-hopped uncivilized, West Coast-style IPA with a huge hop display of pine, grapefruit, citrus and pineapple. A punch-you-in-the-mouth brew for those who truly love their hop! Love the lupulin. Dig the dank. Respect the resin. Do not age, Hoppy beers are best consumed fresh."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hoppin' Frog Barrel-aged B.O.R.I.S. Oatmeal Imperial Stout

Hoppin' Frog Barrel Aged B.O.R.I.S., Oatmeal Imperial Stout, stout aged in whiskey barrels. 1 pint 6 fl. ounces (22 fluid ounces) 9.4 % Alc/Vol.

Cast in the starkest style, ebon as the night, black as the raven, with a richly roasted  dark tan head, which slims down to nil in a quickness.

Aromatics: The bourbon barrel hits at once, boom! bam-a-lam! All the big boys come out swinging, all the molasses, and the cocoa, the coffee, the sweet ichor, the richness of life, it's all swimming in this. Just right.

Taste: Slick, smooth, rich, and delicious. All that wrapped up in a tidy, tasty bow. The plain and simple qualities of the luscious and lovely oatmeal stout, dipped in the everlasting wonderfulness of an imperial stout. Got To, Love. It. Deep and delicious. Did I say that already? Smooth and slick, substantive and sumptuous. And the bourbon wraps it all up, the oatmeal and imperial, swept up in the vanilla and the sweet and rich whiskey flavor. Love. It. Yum. Deelish!

Friday, September 21, 2012

He'brew Bittersweet Lenny's R.I.P.A. (rye malt double IPA)

Here's one I first sampled from a bottle, June, 2006. I'm drinking now from a freshly tapped keg. 10% ABV. Notice how this is, if you read the label, #1 in the series of Jewish Stars. One and only, so far. We've yet to sample Wood Allen witbier, Eddie Cantor eisbock, Mel Brooks barley-wine, and so on and so forth...

The ale named after the former Leonard Alfred Schneider departs the bottle and enters the glass a robust red, shadowy, clear, with a high head, creamy/tannish toned. Looking lovely.

Aroma: Fat malt, outsized yeast, liquid this a doppelbock? But there's so much hop!...sniff again... Wow! Loud hop, rich, burnished, barleywine-like. Grapes and other dark fruits are at hand, feeling like a burgundy wine, perhaps due to the high alcohol, or the huge maltiness.

Now, let's taste...Woo! Bam! Whap! Shamalam! Enormous malt floods the mouth and is assisted in it's it's efforts by the blazing sidecar of hops. Big, big, big on the palate, outsized all the way, spilling flavor all over the place. Delicious dark fruits, grapes, cherries, more...Reminds me very much of a Bigfoot or similar barleywine-style ales. This is where the line between "American Double IPA"s and barleywines really blurs, the malt is as big or bigger than the hops in this one, and the flavor is almost the match for a barleywine.

And the 10% doesn't hit...right away..oh, no, you'll feel it, though...

I didn't really taste the rye at all, but it works so damned well, it doesn't matter.
(Wait,, I'm tasting it...yup, it's discernible...)

I love it. I think Lenny would love it. Rest his smutty soul. R.I.P. (A. true American hero.)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Autumn Brew Review 2012!

Autumn Brew Review, September 15, 2012. One the banks of the Mississippi river, in the parking lot and surrounding grounds of the historic Grain Belt Brewery in North East Minneapolis.
The biggest yet, getting bigger all the time.  My eleventh in a row. I long ago vowed I'd never miss it, and I also vow to visit every brewery, not to miss the special releases, stop and talk to the new breweries, brewers, staff, etc. And each time that is harder and harder to do. But, I try. And I try, try, try, try, try....
One note: This year they returned to one session, instead of last year's two, but also it seemed shorter. This year it ended at 5, instead of 6, and I could swear it used to be 7pm. Really, 4 hours is not enough for a festival like this. We need another to review the autumn brews!

Award for most inauspicious and un-ostentacious booth display goes to Olvalde Farms, who apparently has a completely blank banner. (I kid.) Here's where I finally got to meet the very talented Joe Pond, brewer and owner, and got to tell him how much I admire his beers and brewery. And pester him a little about someday releasing kegs into the market, and to my bar in particular, of course. You can't tell from this pic, but he's wearing traditional German lederhosen. 
Local Odell representative Todd Ewing is all smiles. I skipped many national breweries, because they didn't always bring anything I've never had, but I surely hadn't had anything like Haven and Hale Peach Ale from Odell. Sweet, and tart, and yum.
Borealis Fermentary debuted at this ABR, with the same great wooden booth, with the stained glass logo that they had at All Pints North, as well as some new, excellent beers. I made sure to re-connect with brewer/owner Ken and talk about getting some kegs some day.
Deb has decided that hops belong not only in beer, but also in her hair.
Michael Agnew lets his hands do the talking on the subjects of IPA s inside the education tent. I wish I'd caught the other presentations, but it was too much to keep track of, and have to travel over the span of this huge event, to make it there on time. At right, a cask of Tallgrass Buffalo Sweat with vanilla beans and ..some kind of fruit...?? Help me remember, Rob Shellman!

Happy to talk about their beers are BJ and Kristen of Pour Decisions, of Roseville, MN, who at last are selling beer after a grand introduction last April 1. Last, as in 2011. Some of my friends will not stop talking/joking about the long slough to production after a grandiose and blustery beginning, even on that day. "Did you ever think they'd ever get off the ground?" Yes, of course I did. And this was also a popular spot for members of the home-brewing community to hang, for that's where the owners and brewers originate. Always good to see one of your own make it on the commercial level. I particularly liked Infidelity, a Burton Ale, Acerbity, a Berliner Weisse, and La Catin, a dark farmhouse ale. Loved that last one.
Joe Falkowski, who may be the Illustrated Man of Minnesota beer, gives the day his personal thumb up.
Here's Cinnamon catching up with Gera, both suffused in sunlight. this was a problem with taking pictures, outside was too bright, inside the tents was too dark.
At left, Bob DuVernois, of Excelsior Brewing, formerly of Great Waters, and other breweries, over the years. I believe I tried the Bitteschlappe Brown Ale, but did not keep track for certain, and in fact lost the program where I was trying to make those notes. For reference, I'm checking the program online as I write these captions. In the middle, a tuba! This was the first years did away with bands performing on stage, and instead had roving musicians, some German style, some New Orleans. I applauded this move, since watching bands isn't really the point of these events, and none of the groups seemed to draw the crowd they deserved.
At left, Bryan Hoffman gives an lesson on beer to some Fulton fans.
In front of the Boom Island booth, Deb chats with her former boss, Julianna, of Acadia Cafe, while husband (of J) Ted talks to owner/brewer Kevin Welch. I got a Hoodoo, but didn't tell him it was me who called him up a couple of months ago about the possibility of carrying his beers sometime. Oh, well, next time I'll speak up.
It was a bright, sunny mid-September Saturday, so naturally Margarita is carrying an umbrella to shade her hubby Nate.  What, is he a rajah or something?
Brian lifts a glass in cheers, happy as can be. After all, nutrients are right around his neck, and in his glass. I never did find where they sold those pretzel necklaces, but then I didn't make it over every inch of the place. That was damned near impossible. I didn't even go near probably half of the brewery booths. There were 108 breweries represented this year1 Amazing! This was my 11th, haven't missed one since 2001. I think there were 25 that year. And the local scene grows and grows...
Here's Todd Haug, pouring away at the Surly booth. They've outgrown the whiteboard or the chalkboard, and have some fancy signage advertising the special releases. Note the sign over a departed beer, marking that it is: "Gone! Just like your favorite childhood pet!" Another read: "Gone! Go ahead with your diminished life." Surly being surly. Note that the 3rd Anniversary beer, 3, has a graphic for the first time in it's life, provided by artist Michael Berglund, the artist-in-residence for the past year, designer of the syx label, Darkness 2011, and Pentagram. His tenure has come to a close, but we talked about his efforts to continue to archive and promote the art of Surly, a subject near and dear to me. I still remind people that my design for Surly Two remains their only painted label art.
This is as close as I could get to Omar Ansari, who was way too busy running this thing to spare a moment for the likes of me.
See the guy in blue, at right? Deb commented on his headwear, wondering why you would wear that silly thing made of non-craft beer cans to a craft beer festival. Same goes for guys who go in PBR t-shirts. Really, come on. There are enough craft beer cans where you can make the same thing with those. And surely, some friends of mine were wearing Surly Furious hats in that style, made by one of their wives. 
Farmer Dave, pouring away the BrewFarm brews. Regular readers already know of my admiration for his brewing skill, imagination, and damned delicious beers. He brought 8 beers, though I can't remember them all, but won't forget the divine beauty of SOB OMG! I've already been a fan of that one, and called it my favorite of the day, to all who would hear my voice. 
Lanny Hoff, of Artisanal Imports, and Heather Christian, of Hohenteins, Inc., insisted that I snap the two of them together, as they took a break inside the Dave's BrewFarm booth. This was Farmer Dave's first time back at the ABR in several years, and his was a welcome presence.
My companion for this ABR was my friend Deb, looking lovely while holding a Brett Bandwagon,  a new twist on the IPA Surly makes for the Twins Target Field. How about Barnyard Bandwagon? One of the best beers of the day. We're hanging out in from of the row of foot trucks and vendors, which was the usual assortment from years gone by, Stanley's, Ngon's, Pizza Luce (our choice), Chef Shack (I eat from them every Wednesday at Harriet), Barrio, Foxy Falafel, and A Cupcake Social. Yes, a cupcake food truck at a beer festival. But, they had White Russian and Stout flavors, so it all made sense.
The time when I remembered to start taking photos coincided with a visit to Chisago Lakes Alley. That's what I called the string of tents all occupied by the products of one particular distributor. There was J.J. Taylor Alley, Hohensteins Alley, etcetera, although it seemed that MN Craft Brewers Guild Members were all together, no matter who their distributor. Here, my friend Jeff Halvorson volunteers for Chisago, pouring Jolly Pumpkin beers, and answering the question for the 500th time, no, it's not a pumpkin ale, no, it's not a pumpkin ale, it's a sour Belgian-style ale, do you like sour beers?....

Birra del Borgo My Antonia Imperial Pilsener

My Antonia, continually-hopped imperial pils, product of italy, 7.5% ABV. Brewed and bottled by Birra del Borgo, in collaboration with Dogfish Head Brewery.

Beyond that, only legalese, not a drop of Gobbledygook.

Appearance: Dark, clouded amber hue, large  chalk white, long lasting head.

Aroma: Delightfully sweet and floral (rose petals), fruity, citric, lemon and orange. Just plain ol' gorgeous.

Taste: Smooth and malty. Impressive hoppy edge at the top. Nice, hoppy buzz on the palate, excellent malty texture. Pretty tasty stuff. Fruity, citric bitter flavors still up on top and all over the palate. A maltier, hopper, boozier pilsner, but not too strong and not too thin.

I wish I knew more about this Birra del Borgo. I know to trust Dogfish Head, and know I've got a new Italian brewery to look out for.

Hoppin' Frog Hop Heathen Imperial Black Ale

Hoppin' Frog Hop Heathen Imperial Black Ale, Hoppin' Frog Brewig Company, Akron, Ohio. Here comes the gobbledygook: "An uncivilized amount of American hop spiciness along with a chocolately malt mix of dark roasted flavors create this inventive and tasty new beer style! What you get is the best of both worlds, a flavorful brood of dark malt and satisfying, assertive American hops. Raise you glass in a toast--to the Hop Heathen within you!" Just one note: are they using word "brood" they way they think they are?

8.8% ABV, 83 OG, 70 IBU

Appearance: fully black, brown head, settles down in no time.

Aroma: Big, grassy hops leave up, out, and in your face, surrounded by dark, roasted malts.

Taste: Warm, roasty, bitter, sharp and strong. Citrus-y hops are fairly smothered by the dark malt. Oddly enough, the flavor starts out big, then peters out. There's just not much "there" there. Or, any "here" here. Another hoppier porter, but not quite hoppy enough, and the high alcohol starts to intrude.

Huh. There's nothing really wrong or bad out of this. It just doesn't do anything for me. The body is full, but the texture is too blase, and the mouthfeel nothing but dull.
A bit of  a let-down, since I like the last Hoppin' Frog so well, but the next should be better. Will that be my next beer? It's an imperial stout, …maybe not...maybe for my nightcap...

Shipyard Monkey Fist IPA

Shipyard Monkey Fist IPA, Shipyard Brewing Company, Portland, Maine.

I haven't anything from Shipyard in quite a long time. What caused me to buy this one? Maybe it's the Monkey. Everyone loves monkeys, and I'm certainly not immune. Although it's a bit too pervasive in the beer world. There are actually two beers out there called "Monkey Knife Fight IPA". I'm not sure which one is supposed to be "the good one".  But, back to Shipyard…

Hazy, coppery/amber coloring, big, white head, slims down slowly, leaves lace.

Aroma: Particularly pungent hoppiness, plenty of grapefruit, citrus, pine, all the usual suspects. Aggressive, lively, likable.

Taste: In the mouth, all that and more. Bitter, even tart, hop attack fairly pummels the palate. The mouthfeel and the texture is a bit too thin to sustain the assault, however. It all comes of as watery, to it's disadvantage. There's a funky twist to this, something from the yeast, as well as hops, perhaps. Here's a bottle where I could use some gobbledygook, for I'd love any kind of additional information.

A bit too acerbic and astringent in the finish. Lighter than medium bodied. hmmm, it's not bad, really, but I'm having a hard time liking it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Lift Bridge Farm Girl Saison

I have a confession to make.

This beer is one that I've had a history with, a tentative back-and forth between wanting to like it, and needing to understand others' love for it. Also, I strive to avoid referring to the beer as a woman, which is a common and easy trope that I refuse to fall into (see the can copy referring to in the Lucette Farmer's Daughter entry).

It was one of the first beers from the Lift Bridge Brewery of Stillwater back in 2008 when they emerged, if not their very first beer of all. The were really the third entry in the modern craft beer revolution in Minnesota. Modern meaning not this current generation, but right now. Surly in 2006, Flat Earth and Brau Brothers in 2007, Lift Bridge in 2008, Fulton in 2009...(did I miss anyone?)...and then the floodgates opening in the past two years: Harriet, Steel Toe, Boom Island, Lucid, Olvalde Farm, Indeed, Badger Hill, Borealis, Castle Danger, Dubrue, and more still coming.

So, in those early months and years, some of my friends became attached to the brand and the beers and got to know the owners, and became Lift Bridge boosters. I see this quite a bit with my friends in the craft beer community. We so want to help the growth of this world and this industry that we latch on and become cheerleaders for our favorites, but as the numbers grow, where do we draw the line? Do we cut some off from the love? Do we start making hard choices, let some in, keep some out, rationing out our favor? Yes, we still love Surly, but now we love this new one, and hey, here's a new, new one, do we love them yet? How much do they need our love? Who gets more, who gets less, when, where, and how? Which hat do I wear at the beer festival, whose t-shirt do I don?

Maybe I'm getting off track, but you see my point. I saw the love of my friends for this brewery, and as I met the owners and brewers found them to be fine, affable fellows, but struggled to find a fondness for the beers themselves. After about three tries at Farm Girl at different bars around town (usually Acadia Cafe, where it's sometimes a fixture), I finally decided that I just didn't like it. Didn't work for me, not enough of the true saison character. And all the while I watched people drinking it up like water. I never tapped it at the Nile because I wasn't a fan, but also because it only came in 1/2 barrel kegs, but also due to my allegiance to Surly CynicAle, another saison, which I felt better captures the essence of saison. I never, however, wrote the brewery off, always kept trying each new one, and gave them the benefit of every doubt, but usually after my friends raved about it and demonstrated their loyalties to these new brews.

I kept hemming and hawing over my opinions, even as my friends reacted with jubilation over every new development, each new release, all the fresh bottle releases. I tried them, too, and found good things in them, too, but just did not rise to the same enthusiasm that they did? More questions emerge. Am I just not sharing in the same enthusiasm for the brand, the same cheerleading? Did I not sign up for the team early enough? Why do they rejoice over these brews that I couldn't muster the same joy over? Are they more invested in the people and the company, where I simply wasn't? Was that necessary? Couldn't beers exist on their own, and earn respect and admiration on their own? Shouldn't they? Couldn't they?

I held off on my opinions until finally a brewery employee, a brewer and salesman got me on the phone and arranged a tasting at the Blue Nile with me (Hi, Brian!). We went through Farm Girl, Crosscut Pale Ale, Chestnut Hill Brown Ale, and Minnesota Tan (if I recall correctly). I held onto some extra bottles for reviews and wrote nice things about those middle two, was still conflicted about FG, and decided to give MN Tan a whirl on our tap line. I liked it, but it wasn't a terrific seller. The next spring, I tried out their terrific IPA, then called Hop Prop, now known as Hop Dish IPA. That may still be my favorite of their offerings. Though, if you look at the entries here, it's the very special bomber offerings that I've rated the highest. Biscotti, the Irish Coffee Stout, and I recently received a gift in the form of a bottle of Commander Barleywine, which will be reviewed here soon, probably not tonight, though. Can't wait. I've sampled it before, it's nice. Very nice.

So, back to the questions. Obviously, a change of brewers brought on better quality. If they'd entered the market with something like Hop Prop/Dish, I may have had a different opinion all along. But entering with something which, in my opinion, was rather lackluster and a bit watery, soured my opinion some. Unless you were a cheerleader. We want them to succeed, so we raise the glass high and say it is good, even while it is not great. And here's where I'll hold my tongue, because I don't like to join in with those who wish death on those who brew beers they don't like. I, too, want everyone to succeed, but can only really raise the lanterns high with those who consistently make beers I can actually cheer about. And here is another conundrum. I don't want to be one of those who says: "Their special beers are great, but their stable is mediocre." The stable (flagships? whatever your term) is what pays the bills, keeping people buying and drinking them day in/day out. You can't exist without them. Sorry, Surly can't exist without Furious, can't only brew Darkness...wait, who's complaining about Furious?

Maybe I'm making my point there. Or not. A brewery needs those workhorses in their stable that keeps the customers coming, and drinking bottle after bottle, pint after pint. The special, expensive, quirky offerings can't keep the lights on. The workhorses have to have fans with loyalty who will keep the place humming, so the brewers are free to experiment and reward the faithful. And I was never one of the faithful. One of the hopeful, perhaps, but not, necessarily faithful. Wanting to be, however, because they are good people, and likeable, and nice. You can't keep a brewery going on that, but, doggone it, you can try.

So, I was still stuck in this netherworld of like, and not-love, and wanting to wish for better and better, and a funny thing happened. I made my first visit to their brewery and taproom (Lift Bridge originally contract-brewed at several locations for their first two years, and opened their current facility in 2010. Their taproom opened in late 2011, the first in the state.) Here's the weird twist. For the first time...I liked Farm Girl. Something grabbed me, something pleased me, something satisfied me. And here are more questions: Did it just get good enough for me to like it, or did I catch up to it? So many ponderables.

Anyway, here are my notes from the growler I took home:

Lift Bridge Farm Girl Saison, Lift Bridge Brewing Company, Stillwater, MN.

Appearance: pale golden color, transparent, short head, slims down to nothing.

Aroma: Light citrus notes, and hits of spice. Clean and crisp. Mild and mellow.

Taste: An easy-going ale, smooth and highly consumable, very snappy and enjoyable. Slight wheat texture on the palate, small amount of hops, nice, if minor, spiciness, and plenty of fruit tones, orange and lemon, apricot, apple. Very flavorful, and flush with spicy notes throughout the length of the drink.

One minor tick against it, just for me, mind you, is that this falls too hard on the side of "watery." If I could taste more yeast and more malt, this would be a more successful attempt at a saison. On the plus side, the flavor that is there never quits, is pleasant, and continually delivers satisfying tastes.

and just for perspective, here are my notes from September, 2010, two years ago, from the sample bottle I took home, after my tasting with Brian:

Out of the bottle, and into a Saison Dupont glass, why not.

Clearly cloudy, pale straw color, small to no head, but with intensive carbonation, streaming up from above.

Aroma: wheaty nose, pleasant fruity esters, orange and lime, floral and sweetly tart. Promising.

Taste: Spritzy mouthfeel, tartness grabs the palate first, then all fades back. Flavor doesn't last long in the mouth, but does linger a bit in the back. What flavor there is, though, I'm not a fan of. Malt is very light, pilsner-y, bit like a witbier, quite delicate, but doesn't have the character I'd like to get from a professed saison.

Halfway through, the mouthfeel seems creamier and not as tart & spritzy as in the start. Gets easier to down, but I remain unimpressed by the flavor, and find it comes quite short of a true saison character.

Little sweet, little sour, little cider-ish. And I'm glad so many people like it, and it's doing well for these guys, but...not for me.

This has been a long, ponderous, rambly post that touches on many topics, but in this case I think beer has gotten better and I needed to give it proper attention. Maybe being at the brewery changed my perception, but I still think positively, and believe Lift Bridge will continue to create great brews for Minnesota to be proud of for years to come, while brewing satisfying "drinkers" that'll keep the coffers filled so that the fun stuff can continue.

P.S. I tried a can of Cynic to get my noggin around why I like one better than the other, and result is ...flavor. Cynic just has a bit more of it. A little more in the fruit and spice department, but both are quenching, refreshing, and, yes, watery. I just like one more. No fault on the other. There, I said it.

Corsendonk Abbey Pale Ale (Tripel)

Here's a great, classic Belgian beer that doesn't get the respect it deserves. Called alternately "Monk's Pale Ale" or "Abbey Pale Ale", it's really right in line with the Tripel style. And it's a very friendly, affable, approachable, even loveable example. It's not hot, sexy, or exciting, but it's wonderful in it's own way. I remember the last time I had it on tap, several years ago, and a beer geek friend came to visit, saw it was Corsendonk, and asked "Is it the know what, I told that story in the entry for the Christmas Ale, go back and read it there. Now, I'm embarrassed and feel foolish. Well, no better cure than more of this delicious Belgian ale, nice and warming at 7.5%. And I'll share with you notes from a bottle, way back when, as I drink a glass from the tap in a cool Corsendonk glass. Here you go, notes from May, 2005, of Corsendonk Agnus, aka Abbey Pale Ale, aka Monk's Pale Ale, aka Tripel. Seek it out, drink it, enjoy it, share it, give it the respect it deserves.


And, away we go, the trap is off, the corkscrew in...POP!, and there she goes...misty straw appearance, delicate, snowy white pillow of foam, leaves lovely lacing...leads the eye to urge on the appetite...

Nose: gorgeous, an ethereal whiff of citrus, spice, and fairy dust, or something.

Peaches and pears, ginger and cardamom, coriander and orange rind.. Beautiful.
taste: a great spritz on the palate at first, a blast of lemon peel, yeast, and gritty spices all over the tongue...a sour, citric bite dominates the start, then it slides off and relents to easier pleasures.

This would act as an excellent aperitif, as I'm finding my tongue yearning for certain foods...too bad it's 4:45 am...I'll make a note to match with fine dining in the future, though.

Medium bodied, with a light, dry, certainly citric finish.

Zesty, if I had to keep it to one word.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Steel Toe Sommer Vice Hefe-Weizen

Steel toe Summer Vice, Hefe-Weizen Ale, brewed and bottled by Steel Toe Brewing Company, St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

Poured into a Weihenstephan Weissbier glass, it looks fantastic, clouded orange coloring, enormous, prodigious, Brogdignagian, booming, looming, flowering snowy-white head, leaving lace.

Heavenly aromatics, plenty of wheat feel there, a big slap of orange, lemon, and, sure, banana, with lightly spicy hits on the side. soft, slightly sweet, and utterly lovely.

Taste: Mmmm. Boards the mouth mildly, gently, and exits smoothly. Small hop factor, tasty wheat, citrus and spice flavors. Medium-bodied, soft, wheat finish. Yummy yeast. Mmmm is what I say, in other words, yum.

Pitch perfect hefe-weizen. Another knock-out from Steel Toe.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Steel Toe Rainmaker Double Red Ale

Steel Toe Rainmaker Double Red Ale, 6.5 % ABV. Brewed and bottled by Steel Toe Brewing, St. Louis Park, Minnesota. "When you find yourself parched, Rainmaker brings refreshment. Brewed with caramel and dark roasted malts then doused with a torrent of hops, this double red is sure to please, no dancing required."

Beautifully burnished crimson coloring, nearly opaque, under a full 1/2 inch cream-toned head, long lasting. Looks great.

Aromatics are outstanding, billowing out far afar, an utterly enriching and invigorating blend of hops and malt. Ripe fruit, citrus, prickly pine, a little apple and cherry, all spill forth. Absolutely inviting.

Taste: Past the lips, On the tongue, and down the throat, it is all that and more. Refreshment first of all, followed by wave after wave of deliciousness. Hops are on top, with caramel malt and cocoa flavors emerging at their heels. Delicate bitter bite nips at the tastebuds with each new sip, sweet malt providing smoothness and succor on the way down.

This reminds me of a milder Surly Furious. That's a good sign that I like it. Ah, this is nice stuff. Deee-lish.

New Glarus Staghorn Oktoberfest

Notes from November, 2003:

Appearance: clear, bright red color, good, 1/4" white head.

Subtle aromatics, malty, yes, but not scraming about it. Some fruit notes, a touch coppery, and a bit toasted.

Taste: nice little hops up front, soon settling back, very tasty. Medium bodied, lingering finish. Quite a different Oktoberfest, goes farther in some ways than others, more restrained in other ways. Still, owns it's own unique complexity, less overtly malty-sweet. A bit metallic in the taste, with a very subtle, snappy malty flavor, ultimately crisp and dry in the end.

Staghorn embodies a beautiful contradiction, a malty beer that's not treacly-sweet. In a class of it's own.

Hoppin' Frog Hopped Up Goose Juice Rye IPA

Hoppin' Frog Hopped-Up Goose Juice Rye IPA. Brewed and bottled by Hoppin' Frog Brewing Company, Akron, Ohio.

Clouded, amber/reddish hue, small off-white head.

Aroma: Boom! There's the rye, giving off the scent of whiskey more than merely malt. After that first blast, hops take charge. Beautiful. Good and grassy. Nice blend, a potent foreshadowing of drinks to come.

Taste: Bam! Now it's working in tandem, both sides hitting at once. Lush malt, nice and spicy rye, tasty as it gets. Here comes the grapefruit, here's the orange and lemon.

Time to take a break and hear their tale: "America hops dominate this Rye IPA, creating an assertive citrus and passion fruit character. An old-world flavor from rye malt adds the perfect complement to Goose Juice's big, satisfying hop flavor and aroma. Originally home-brewed by our beloved brewer Goose, it's wonderful combination of flavors inspired us to brew this specialty IPA. 7 % ABV. 73 OG, 60 IBU."

It's a damned tasty combo, a magnificent marriage of flavors. Might be my favorite RYe IPA so far. Single RyePA, might you. I have a fondness for Bittersweet Lenny's, still. This, though, might have no equal.

Great River Farmer Brown Ale

Great River Farmer Brown Ale, Great River Brewery, Quad Cities, USA. AKA Davenport, Iowa.

rich brown, nearly black, with a thin cocoa toned ring of foam, soon gone.

Aroma: ah, lovely stuff: cocoa, nuts, rich malt, little hints of coffee and toffee, sweet and malty.

taste: More of the same, now in the mouth. A little bit of bitterness bumps up into the sweet malt. The ballet continues, with sweet flavors of mocha and caramel in command. Full-bodied, long, malty finish. Rich and complex, satisfying all the way through.

What do they say? "These days, people are more and more concerned about the food and drink they are consuming, what's in it and what the origins might be. For our Farmer Brown Ale, we use honest, wholesome ingredients like 2-row barley and dark crystal, chocolate and biscuit malt rom people we know and trust. The result is robust, rich and nutty brown ale dominated by a complex malty flavor."

Well put. But, does anyone really say "wholesome" anymore?

Lucette The Farmer's Daughter Blonde Ale

Well, it finally happened. I poured a beer into a glass, posed it next to the container, started taking notes, and after finishing the beer realized that I'd forgotten to take the photo. This has actually occurred before, but in that case I had another bottle of the beer. In this one, I do not, so enjoy a photo of an empty can of Lucette Farmer's Daughter, and an empty glass, and let me note do the talking. Notes, do your thing...

Lucette The Farmer's Daughter, Craft beer, hand crafted {is that how they do it?}, Blonde Ale Brewed with Spices, 1 pint can, 4.8% ABV., Lucette Brewing Company, Menomenie, WI.

Clear, golden color, thin, soon gone head.

Aroma: clean, fairly simple, some citrus fruit, some spice, a touch creamy.

Hey, if it's a "blonde ale", why is the titular Farmer's daughter in the label illustration a brunette? I like her fine like that, but it just seems a more natural choice to picture here as a blonde.

Anyway! The taste! Here we go!
Wet, soft, smooth, easy drinker. Light body. Faint finish. There's mildness all over here. Very light spice (whatever they are), very light hops. Creamy and sweet. But…not for me. Too far on the side of safe and insipid, although I'm sure it's exactly what they want it to be, and I'm sure it's a heck of a hit, for what it's worth.

Let's read more into the label: "Lucette…Lucette is a hand-crafted by guys and brought to life by the artistry of a woman. Don't be offended or embarrassed by her voluptuous curves of stunning assets--she isn't. Lucette is an image of revolution and evolution, much like experiencing a non-macro beer for the first time.
{Odd choice of phrase, that, for "macro" was coined by the macros themselves to oppose to "Micro."}
Okay, there's more…"And what's more, she is created from the finest ingredients of the hands of our own brewers, at our own brewery, and not by some mysterious brewery far away from "home." In other words, she is not fake, diluted, or overproduced--she is 100% Lucette.
Enjoy her with friends. Enjoy her with family. Just enjoy the $#!@ out of her 'cause to us Lucette represents two things: A GREAT BEER AND A GOOD TIME."

I'm just going to leave that with no comment. Except that I left one thing out. One top of that copy is the phrase "Friendly with a glass", which I suppose means you should pour it into one, but a very odd phrase.

Very blase' brew, for me. Maybe they'e got something else up their sleeves, though? I'll check it out, if they do. This? Eh….

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ommegang Abbey Ale

Here we are, almost two years into the re-start of this blog as a platform for my beer reviews and I still find some of my favorites haven't found their way on here yet. Can it be so long since I've had an Ommegang Abbey? Shocked I am, about as shocked as I am when I realize that this is the first time I've tapped this one, which has been a favorite since I first tried, probably 13, or 14 years ago. Maybe more? (This is the 15th Anniversary of the brewery.) I've been drinking their beers since I've been aware of their existence, and I've been selling this by the bottle at the Blue Nile for as long as I've been able (though, for reasons I have yet to understand, it isn't a swift seller).  A major reason I've been slow to tap Ommegang Abbey is that until recently it has only been available in 1/2 barrel kegs, and it would be very boring and tedious to describe the situation that makes that a problem, so just imagine the thought turning over and over in my mind, through the years: "One day, one day I will get a keg, just not now...the time's not right..."

So, of course I've reviewed it, naturally.  I logged onto to find my old review, and discovered that when the reviews for Cave-Aged Ommegang were merged with the regular issue the powers that be kept those notes, and deleted the original. I looked on, and there it was, from April, 2004, my notes on a bottle of what was at the time my favorite American version of my favorite style, the Belgian abbey dubbel. Notes, do your stuff:

If anyone stuck a shiv to my ribs and make me squeal out my one and only favorite beer, I'd yelp the name "Ommegang!" (Actually, it would probably sound more like "Ommegod, this guy's killing me, somebody HELP!", but that's getting off track..) Why? 1. It demonstates best my personal belief that the best beer in the world is coming out of American craftbrewers, and the greatest brewing nation, for that reason, is the good ol' U.S.A. If you have a friend who is an import beer snob, loves Belgians, but gives micros the air, let them try this blindfolded and watch 'em eat crow! 2. It tastes so good!

Color is dark amber to a rich, rustic brown. Hue of the head leans toward a dark orange, and is mighty and boisterous--I can hear it across the room! {Note: this is from when I emulated the great beer writer Fred Eckhart and attempted to listen to the beer, as well as see, smell and taste. I don't do that much anymore, but, hey, you give it a try!}

Aroma makes itself known from far off, too. It's utterly luxurious: toffee, chocolate, plums, grapes, dark fruit, leather, tobacco, flowers, sugar and spice and everything nice! A thick, musky, full aroma.

On the lips and over the tongue, it's smooth, mellow, and extremely flavorful. Warming, deliciously hopped, tingly and enticing. Goes down so nice, and makes you feel good all the way. Everything I ask for in beer, and more!


Just for fun, here are the notes from Cave-Aged Ommegang Abbey, which I received in a trade with an East Coast Beer Advocate member, from June, 2003:

I'm a great big fan of Ommegang, and now I have the Cave-Aged at hand ready for inspection..

.Appearance: same dark, muddy, burgundy brown, more reddish in direct light, and with a small, dunnish head.

Aroma: a touch more mellow than the fresher version, (which I've just consumed, by the way, for the purposes of this study, of course!) but a magnificent melange, even if it does need time to unfold. Rich, dark, fruity flavors present themselves, raisins, plum, fig, grapes, spices, chocolate. It's a deep, dank morass of fruity goodness. And now to taste...

Mouthfeel is unwordly...thick doesn't start to describe it! This beer takes over the mouth, the tongue, the apex of all senses is overcome. It commands, and must be paid tribute to! ...I'm still reeeling! I initiate another sip with I ready? Yes, I am...Hops are a large, fruity charge,then malt takes over, occupies, dominates, fully engorges everything in ways only pleasant! Again, I must pause, reflect,, to sip anew...thick, lush, full, intoxicatingly flavorful sensation! I'm in too much pleasure, to be sure! I've got 1/2 the bottle to go? Wished I'd saved it for another, more communal, convivial occasion, to make more people happy. Maybe some other time, if it's possible?

It's an incredible mix of all things dark and beery and fruity and alcoholy and...really, my question is thuswise: if I gave regular Ommegang 5 stars, can I give this one 6?

No? Why not? Oh, it's amazing! Not merely the strength and potency gives it it's formidable quality, but the everflowing flavor! Ranks among the finest brews ever brewed, alongside every trappists monk's secret concoction. Hail to thee, Ommegang!
Once again, you knocked my every sock off!

(So much thanks to purplehops for the oppurtunity to drink this ambrosia!)
The Cave did it's work well. This is one kick@$! beer!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dave's BrewFarm Temporum Apis

Temporum Apis, "Season of the Bee", 7.7 % ABV. Pale and Caramunich III malts. Phoenix and Select hops with a late addition of clover honey and fermented with a Biere de Garde yeast.

Appearance: Clear, deep crimson coloring, light tan head, well-dotted, lacy.

Aroma: malty and sweet. Dark malts with honey on the side.

Taste: Ah! Beautiful! Here's where the Biere de Garde yeast comes into play. Fruity flavors reveal themselves, and flower along with the honey. We've got some apple, some raisin, a bit of grape and berry. Orange, too. A little lemon. Oh, this is tasty stuff.

Medium finish, medium body, easy drinker. Nothing too crazy and complex, just your average crazy hybrid honey Franco-Belgian (-German-American??) beer from the LaBrewatory. My favorite kind.

Schell's Emerald Rye Lager

Schell's Emerald Rye Lager, August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota. Best by January 3, 2013. Beyond that, no other information. Gratefully, too, no gobbledgook.

So, then, let's crack 'er open. And see what we find.

First off, what's "emerald" about it? This is no green beer. It's poetic license, the green standing for hops, maybe? It's a clear, rich, amber brew, close to crimson. Sizeable, cream-toned head sits atop, leaving lace.

Aroma: Hops are here, and grow louder with time. Grassy, grapefruity, lime and lemon, …lovely, lovely stuff.

Taste: Spicy rye malt greets the tongue first, tasting like liquid pumpernickel. Which hops are hanging on top? Can't tell, don't know, but it's keeping things tasty. Some caramel malt flavors shine through, a trickle of cocoa, traces of toffee.
Medium-bodied, but fully flavored. Sturdy mouthfeel. Solid. Absolutely solid. Soft, malty finish, hops hang in there through it all, without sticking out or making a scene.

This one's a unique effort from August Schell. It fits no particular style, and doesn't try to …there's nothing to say but, "it is how it is." And it's sessional and delicious. That fits into their wheelhouse, as people like to say these days.

Mmmm, mmm, good beer and you can drink it.

Flying Dog Wildeman Farmhouse IPA

Flying Dog Wildeman Farmhouse IPA, ale brewed with spices. Brewed by Flying Dog Brewery, Frederick, Maryland.

"His axe is stained with the blood of a thousand adversaries. We fall in behind him as he leads us into the darkness, He turns his gaze on us. "Tentanda via est!" The way must be tried."  Whatever that means. 7.5 % ABV.

Crisp, clear, golden appearance, under an enormous, brilliant white head. Looks fantastic.

Smells incredible, too. Aburst with vibrant hops. Brimming with citrus fruit, lemon and honey, with Belgian yeast lurking beneath.

Taste: Hop bite hits hard at the start, then flushed with fruity flavor, bitter meets sweet, then swept up with the funk. There's a party in my mouth and everyone's invited. An intriguing mix, a flavor unlike any I've had in a while. I've been skeptical of many of the "innovations" in the craft beer field lately, most of which seem to be little more than "let's make it hoppier". You know, the "white IPA", black IPA, etcetera. Farmhouse IPA? Don't care for the name, particularly, but I'm liking the hell out of the taste of it.

Medium body, excellent drinking, slide down good and carefree, while leaving traces of bitterness in the wake. You get the feeling of a saison overcome with hops, and, damn it all, but I like this one/ I like a lot.

Only bought one bottle, so I'm on the hunt for more, or more of it's like.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Indeed Midnight Ryder Black Ale

Midnight Ryder American Black Ale, Indeed Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Avid readers of this blog will know that I've had an on-and-off, back and forth, love-it/hate-it relationship with this new-ish style of ale that I am only comfortably calling Black Ale. It seems that Indeed agrees. And here we have a unique occurrence, where a new brewery rolls out a flagship brew of this style (along with their American Pale Ale) as one of their introductory beers. Does this mean the style is here to stay? Will this prove successful enough that it sticks? How now, black ale? Indeed, indeed.

Enough of my jibber jabber, though, how is it?

Solid black appearance, under a lush and lovely cocoa/tan head, leaving lace. Looking good.

Aroma: Chocolate and coffee enter first, then swiftly surrounded by grassy hops, but it's a fine blend, and none sticks out over the other (which is the error in many entries in this field, I think.) Malty, nutty, slightly sweet, with citrus fruit and pine rounding it out. A masterful tango of competing flavor notes.

Taste: More of that in the mouth, a big blast of malt at the top, with hops creeping up from below, with neither side in charge, a happy cohabitation. Tasty stuff, the bitter hops keep giving flavor, and the malt holds firm, releasing it's own deliciousness.
I just keep liking this the more I drink it. In this Black Ale, the promise of the style feels fulfilled. I don't miss the heavier malt profile of a porter or stout, and the higher hopping doesn't clash with the darker flavors, as in the versions I've given the down thumb to.

To reiterate: Tasty stuff. I like it. Rewarding, satisfying, and one to return to again and again, with many pleasures to return on each new trip. I'll be doing this one again and again.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dave's BrewFarm Centennial Single Hop Lager

Centennial Single Hop Lager. 6.4 %. I'll keep the other info for later.

Clear, amber-hued appearance, flush white head, long-lasting, and lace-leaving.

Aroma: floral hoppy notes first, followed by tropical fruit, citrus. Starts small and builds up beautifully. Ripens ad flowers as the minutes go, revealing more hop loveliness.

Taste: Warm, malty, toasty. Clean, medium-bodied, zesty. Bready malt, graham cracker-y, with fruit atop, with hops bursting aplenty. Fresh and drink-tastic, smooth-alicious,  consumable- acious.

This is a slight adjustment for me, as I've never really had Centennials in a lager, that I know of. Ales, sure enough, there's many a single-hop ale, such as Bell's Two Hearted Ale. There's something different in an ale, more than we get from a lager.
Experiments like the BrewFarm single-hop lager series serve to blow the lid off the presumptions we have of lagers, when using hops with more flavors than those normally employed. The hops bring this, but the yeast and fermenting bring something else.

It certainly changes things for this non-lager-lover. I do prefer a fully body, but the high hopping changes the game. Someone who swears they don't like lagers, may have to change their tune, when they sample the deliciousness in this. And this may be described ( see below) as a "pale lager", but the malts are not the same as a typical pale lager, it's much more flavorful and colorful than what we expect from a "pale lager."

I'll take a moment for the true story from Farmer D: "From the series of single hop lagers showcasing a single hop variety in a pale lager. Three separate additions of Centennial hops. Pils, Cara Red, Carmamel 20 malts."

Just what I was talking about cara red and caramel 20 aren't really the ingredients in a pale lager. And when does Centennial show up in the hop bill of the pale lager? This one is a freak all around, but the type that shows how crazy "normal" really is.

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...