Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Boulevard Long Strange Tripel

So, here I am drinking a 12 ounce bottle of Boulevard's Long Strange Tripel, the Smokestack Series beer that really sealed the deal for me on this run of brews being nothing but solid, if for a time, and I'm looking back on the first time I had one. Notes were taken while I put away a 750 ml bottle,in August of 2008,  but they were sparse.  Did I need new notes? Here they are...

My notes are minimal, but my enjoyment was full.

Long Strange Tripel, Boulevard...

hazy golden hue, huge white head...

 sweet and spicy aroma...right on for a tripel.

Lemon, lime, orange, and more in the flavor, with a spicy kick.

Delicious stuff...perfect fit for the tripel style.

That's all I had to say while I drank it, but it says it all.

What more should I say? Light bodied, long, fruity finish, ending crisp and dry. Beautiful yeast character throughout, zesty and spicy...absolutely lovely. One of the best American-brewed Belgian-style tripels ever. Hands. Down. Let's just say I recommend this one.
There, that'll do.

Dave's BrewFarm Nelson Sauvin Single Hop Saison

Dave's BrewFarm Nelson Sauvin Single Hop Saison, 7.2 % ABV. Pale, Rye, and Ashburn Mild malts…and hopped with two additions of Nelson hops. Fermented with French saison yeast.

Lightly hazed, bright beautiful golden hue, head of long-lasting, lace-leaving ivory shade.

Aroma: Fruit forward nose, leading with the hops, all manner of citrus, leaning to the tropical, pineapple, mango, tangerine. Little bitterness, mostly soft and yeasty.

Taste: Here's where the bitterness hits, at least for a bit. Juicy-fruity hop blast , brace of bitterness, then soft and mild. Hop character mellows out, and the yeast character takes over, citrus-y, leon-y and a little touch of spice. Malt is crisp and cool. All together, it's delicious and downable.

Saisons are great food beers, and this one would be good with anything, I'd think. It's has plenty of flavor up front, will meet and match the flavors of most foods, and eases up a little on the end, finishing dry and spicy.

Another tasty saison from the LaBrewatory. Mmm-mmm.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout

Sierra Nevada Narwhal Russian Imperial Stout. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, California. At last, after 30 years, an imperial stout from Sierra Nevada. Is it any good? Is there any doubt? Let's find out.

On tap. My second keg of the stuff, finally taking a moment to sit down and take notes on it.

Black as sin, under a lush, creamy brown head, leaving lace. Beautiful.

Aroma: plenty of cocoa, espresso, molasses, anise. Deep stuff.

Taste: Floods the mouth with thick, viscous, lush dark malt. Anise sparks up and leads the pack of the flavors found in the aroma, chocolate second, smoke and char are in their, too, amid espresso and the like. There's a fierce tug of war going on between bitter and sweet in this (plenty of hops below the massive malt.) Layers upon layers, wave after wave, intriguing and delicious. Vast, complex, richly rewarding.

Full-bodied, long, lush malty finish. With dark delight after dark delight. A sure hit for the stout fanatic. If you don't dig this, my friend, there's something wrong with you.

Although one thing I'm not entirely keen on is this: I can't think of the name of this beer without thinking of "Rock Lobster" by the B-52's.

John Courage Russian Imperial Stout

Some years ago, I got a visit at my bars from some self-proclaimed beer geeks associated with one of the beer geek websites who were eager to taste some Surly Darkness. When one of them expressed his lack of enthusiasm for the imperial stout he's heard so much about and just sampled, I wondered what his favorite RIS was, and what about it was missing from Darkness. His reply was John Courage, which I knew to be currently unavailable, and hadn't been brewed in many years, and the flavor he wished he'd tasted was "a little more grape." Yeah, that's what the whole beer world is clamoring for, more grapey imperial stouts.

It seemed like a perfect sketch of the ultimate beer geek, comparing something in the here and now unfavorably against something long gone and unattainable. I thought I'd never get my hands on this legendary stout, when what do you know, I found a bottle, currently brewed by Wells & Youngs. I cracked it open last night, and here are the notes:

Courage Imperial Russian Stout, Vintage 2012. Alc 10% Vol., 9.3 fl. oz. "brewed to perfection only once a year. Enjoy now or age up to 13 years." Clearly, I've chosen now.

Solidly Stygian hue, with a slim cocoa-tan hue, thin but for the center, a creamy nucleas adrift in a sea of black.

Aroma: roasted malt, molasses, char, smoke. Dark, deep, devilish. Even demanding.

Taste: Dark roasted, toasted malt, thick, rich, a little viscous. Dark fruits abounding, fig and raisin, ultimately dry, no sweetness, with minor bitterness, just a touch of hops. A torrent of flavor, wave after wave, depth of taste returning, nothing but darkness, ending dryly. Quite complex, rich and rewarding.

What else does the label say? "Enjoys a rich, espresso body with pear overtones and an intriguing fresh smokey, fruity finish." Don't know about the pear (?), but the rest sounds pretty close. Also, "No. 70, 610 of 210, 000."

Is this truly the original Russian Imperial Stout, or Imperial Russian Stout? I thought that was Le Coq? This one claims it was originally brew in 1795 for Catherine the Great of Russia. Who knows for sure?

It definitely tastes like an original article. Fruity flavors are becoming more prominent through and through, halfway into the bottle. More chocolate, more coffee, more of everything you want from an Imperial Stout, with less of the hops you get from American versions, and much less sweetness. This is almost perfect, actually. Too bad it's so small, rare, and expensive. Alas and alack.

Kona Pipeline Porter

Kona Aloha Series Pipeline Porter, Porter with 100% Hawaiian Kona Coffee.

Solid black appearance, under a small roasted tan head, leaving lace.

Malty nose, minor coffee notes. Not getting much out of it.

Taste: malt-driven, roasty, fullish-bodied….with the coffee at last coming through on the palate. But it doesn't do much. What can I say? It sits in my mouth and I'm left wanting. Wait, it's getting better. More coffee flavor coming through. Porter base is adequate, a little roasty. coffee coming on strong.

Nice. But…

Hey, what do they say? "Pipeline Porter is full-bodied with a rich, smooth dark-roasted malt flavor. A selection of premium hops and 100% Hawaiian Kona coffee complete this limited brew."

It's…okay. It's nice. But I can't love it. I hardly like it. I tried, though.

Green Flash Rayon Vert Belgian-style Pale Ale

Green flash Rayon Vert Belgian-style Pale Ale, Green Flash Brewing, San Diego, CA. "If Green Flash were founded in historical Belgium, Rayon Vert would be our flagship brew. A bold layering of hops finds balance from traditional malts. Bottle conditioning with fresh ale yeast and Brettanomyces finishes the beer, adding a delightful effervescence, dryness and continuously evolving character. Rayon Vert IS Green Flash."ALC. by VOL. 7%.

Highly hazed, golden appearance, beautiful, gigantic white head, overflowing effervescence. Leaving loads of lace.

Aroma: laden with spice and fruit, flush with Belgian yeast character. Invigorating. Angelic. Impressive.

Taste: Ah! That's the first thought that drops into my mind, nothing but "ah!" Light -bodied, lean, but tons of hops, loads of fruity/funky/spicy yeast character. We've got peach, tangerine, orange, lemon, all ending up dryly on the tongue.

Juicy, malty, delicious. Here's a Belgian pale ale done right, one of the best American versions I've ever tasted. These guys know what they're doing!

New Glarus Thumbprint Winter Warmer

New Glarus Winter Warmer. Ale 12 Fl. Oz. No ABV given. Brewed and bottled in New Glarus, WI.
Called a Scotch ale on the label, which I will fend off copying for you until I've done my own notes.

Clear, caramel-toned coloring, with a lush, looming white head, leaving lace.

Aroma: Sweet malt hits the nose first, some toffee tones, a bit of fruit, nice hop notes. A bit of complexity here, if on the quiet side.

Taste: malt forward, well-balanced, clean, and drinkable. Toffee and caramel malt tones aplenty, but rather thin compared to many other winter warmers, specifically the kind I prefer.

I don't know what to tell you. This is a nice beer, but it fails to impress, or even delight.

Let's look at the gobbledygook: "Indulge in our heady Scotch ale. This "winter warmer" is a celebration of roasted toffee notes wrapped in rich tawny tones and toasty palate. Two months in the making insures an incredible silky finish."

Silky finish, perhaps. Indulgent, heady? No. This is a fine Scotch ale, or Scottish ale, but it's a pretty feeble winter warmer. Oh, well, you can't please everyone, right?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Gouden Carolus Cuvee van de Kaiser Blau

Here's a classic Belgian ale I've got on tap for the first time in several years, and which I wrote about for the first time way back in August of 2004. It's the Blue (Blau) version of the Cuvee van de Kaiser, aka Grand Cru of the Emperor, from the Het Anker Brewery, of Mechelen, Belgium. 11% ABV.
Ignore the stuff about corks, etcetera. The rest transfers well.

Pop! Goes the cork...pours a dark, plummy, raisinish color, with a small-to-nonexistent head, poof!, she's gone....

Aroma is a heady blend of dark fruits, the aforementioned and more, cherries, etc., and a rich, sweet, molasses-like component that soon blends together to provide a brandyish feel. Dark and mysterious, urging me to finally put lips to cup.

Huge mouthfeel, lush and delicious, and...hooo! It's happening, that uncommon feel from an ale that washes a sort of wonderfulness all throughout the senses, lays waste to the skeptical mindset, the analytical eye, and provides nothing but pleasure...whoa...sweetness resides in every sip, but never cloys, malt is large, and the texture is so rich and warm, the ABV appearing in full force, that the flavor never leaves the mouth.

Oh, wow, this is good. goodness upon goodness, tasty to the max...I haven't said yum yet, but it'll come in handy here!

Dave's BrewFarm Mocha Diablo

I was preparing for my latest visit to the BrewFarm the other day, looking through this blog to see which beers I've reviewed, and amazed to see that Mocha Diablo, one of the most beloved and requested brews at the LaBrewTory was missing. How is this possible? Finally, a look at my beeradvocate reviews and what do you know, there it was, but it was from November, 2010, just a bit before I turned this blog into a beer review site. So. looking back at my original notes from 11/29/10, with this freshly cracked growler of Mocha Diablo.

Dave's BrewFarm, Mocha Diablo, chocolate and peppers, (3 of them)9.3% abv. In the brand new 1 Liter, swing top growler, filled sometime Saturday morning, being consumed Sunday night.

Utter blackness, with a nice, tight cocoa-tinted head nestled on top.

Aroma spins out chocolate in the atmosphere, before we even go close up. Let's do that now...sweet, but mild, chocolate, with hot and spicy pepper flavors behind. Sweet and hot, with sweet on top.

Taste: sweet cocoa on top, again, with rich, roasty stout below. Good hopping, mild bitterness lays long on the palate and in the back of the throat. Very smooth, no rough spots here. Spices start to show and intrude upon the profile, slowly, though. Heat is kotura climbing, ever incrementally. Stay sweetish and roasty, moreover, with the pepper staying subtle on the side.

Medium body, nearly full, with a strength that remains unobtrusive, until...wait, now it's showing up...hoo daddy!

I have to imagine some geeks might demand more heat, more fire, more punishment than this provides, but I think that doing everything to extremes misses the point. Sometimes subtlety is just right. Just a hint. A taste. A tickle. And this is a great brew where you get that. Way to go, Dave!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Minneapolis Town Hall Wee Heavy Ale

Here's one that goes back eight years, with notes from January, 2005, the 8.5% Wee Heavy Scotch Ale from Town Hall. It's gone on to become a big favorite at the pub, and I remain a fan. Here's what I thought on it's initial release:

Dark plummy color, with cherry edges. largely opaque, with a thick at first, though thinning, yet durable tan head atop.

Roasty, bittersweet espresso in the aroma, quickly eclipsed by molasses and dates, a rich, sweetness,sticky, sappy (not in the sense of being maudlin or trite, but being like the leaking of a maple tree), and nearly indulgent, ...avoids resembling treacle, comes off sophisticated and very inviting.

The indulgence begins for real in the flavor, malt is king here, dark chocolate and toffee tones are felt foremost, carob, molasses, very full on the tongue, and tangy. This one washes luxuriously, almost sloppily around the mouth, but it's a so delightfully pungent in taste, I take pleasure in the mess. The 8.5% abv shines a little half-way into the glass, but doesn't stick out too clumsily. The warming attributes are well-appreciated,and expertly timed. (Mid-January in Minneapolis...it gets a little cold, you know.) Whiskey tastes come to mind, a little cognac, but the real flavor is a cross between dark Jamaican rum and port wine.

This is so tasty...so very nice...there, I've run out of things to say, and will simply state the obvious.

Due to it's strength, this one is being served only in 10 ounce portions at the pub, yet here I sit at home with a whole growler to myself...how much damage can I do?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Kona Koko Brown

Kona Aloha Series Koko Brown Ale. Ale brewed with toasted coconut and natural flavor added.

Clear, russet brown, slim tanned head.

Aroma: sweet juicy coconut hits the nose right from the top. It's the dominant flavor in the nose, and nothing but nothing is getting out from underneath. We know from the start that if you are no lover of coconut, this is one to avoid. If you belong in the set that adores it, get ready to fall in love.

Taste: The toasted cocoanut is still large when it lands on the tongue, small dark malt backs it up handily. Minor bitterness. long, malty finish. Small sweetness. Utterly likable, easily approachable.

What's the neck paper read? "Koko Brown's distinctive nutty aroma and flavor comes from real toasted coconut blended into each brew. One sip of this roasty, smooth, mahogany colored ale and you will feel like you are on a warm, sun-drenched beach in Hawaii. Alohoa?"

If you like coconut in a brown ale, this is where you go. If you don't, stay the hell away.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Widmer Brothers Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout 2012

On tap. Russian Imperial Stout, with raspberries. 9.3% ABV.

Cast in solid ebony, with a lush, creamy, meringue-like dollop of froth capping it off, leaving lace. Looks utterly lovely.

Aroma: fruit greets the nose right off, with cocoa, raisins, and other dark fruit sensations coming right behind. Slightly tart, a little sweet, while still rich and malty in the nose.

Taste: Mmm, there it is, again, gripping the palate, true raspberry flavor, sliding over a coating of chocolate and coffee. More tart, more sweet, more rich and delicious. A little rum in here, some molasses, a trickle of anise.
This works together. They really deliver. This has subtle, wonderful interplay, and, damn it, it really rocks.

Yum. I like it lots.

2012: The Year Gone By, Part Two

We're back, with the remainder of the year in beer gone by. In Part One, we looked at events in January through July. For July through December, there are two events I will skip, for I used up all the good pics in the posts that I did for them. These would be the first annual All Pints North beer festival in Duluth, and the 13th Annual Autumn Brew Review in Minneapolis, in September, the one local festival I haven't missed once, since my first visit. But, there are other events I never devoted a blog post to, like my first visit to Madison, Wisconsin in 4 years for the Great Taste of the MidWest, in August, and this year's Darkness Day, which took a different turn for me this year, but one I enjoyed immeasurably more. Plenty of other exploits along the way, so enjoy this peek at my life in beer, in the year gone by, 2012!

July 2. After a Bill Frisell show at the Dakota for  my birthday, Deb and I visited a new beer bar downtown called Devil's Advocate, with 40-some taps and a menu comprised entirely of meatballs. We didn't eat (she's a vegetarian), but had some drinks, and she found herself drawn to the La Chouffe gnome statue in the window, and the bartender kindly took it down for us to play with. I'll get my own someday, I've supported La Chouffe plenty, after all, but don't know where I can display it without it getting stolen. The gnome got Deb's phone number, but he never called.

August 28. I tried to host a gathering for our initial release of Indeed Brewing Company's beers, with all of their first 3 beers on tap at once. Perhaps because they'd already debuted at other bars, or even more, because the taproom was open and drawing a crowd night after night, the turnout wasn't great. But, I did have some friends show, including Tim Johnson, at left, Rita and Dean, and in the right corner, Tom Whisenand, one of the 3 Indeed owners.

August 8, my first visit to the Indeed Brewery. The other pictures I took weren't that great, just the same old tanks and racks and canning lines. This one clearly shows off their allegiances, which only goes to explain some of the beer names.

August 10, Dexter's Pub, Madison, Wisconsin. Here's Margarita and Nate, who were kind enough to give me a ride en route to my first visit to the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival in 4 years. Jason and Angie were the ones who got me the tickets, and secured the lodging. Dexter's was our fist stop on the night before the fest, an evening which is full of brewery events at bars all over the city. We eventually made it into downtown Madison proper and had some free-wheeling fun mixing it up at beer bar and non-beer bar alike, up and down the avenues. A fun night of misbehaving.

The beer event at Dexter's? Why, they were hosting Toppling Goliath Brewery, of Decorah, Iowa. Who was sitting right next to Jason when N, M, & I arrived? Why, my old friend Bob Slack, who is a brewer at TG. Here's Bob, gasping in awe at the Mornin' Delight Imperial Stout I'm holding in my hand.
August 11. We took a shuttle from Ale Asylum, which was wasn't far from our Motel 6, to get to the festival in downtown Madison. I couldn't help snapping a shot of this misguided man who is celebrating his imminent arrival at a major craft beer fest sporting a hat made out of a Coors Light box. Mixed signals.
At the bottom of the hill, way back of line. Some people camp out for hours to stake a good place at the front line, and get into the fest first. I don't see the point. We're all getting in eventually. What difference do those few minutes make?

One of the best things about these festivals is trying new breweries you've never heard of, might never visit, and who probably don't often go outside their home territory. I tried quite a few of those, but at the same time, needed to visit my friends, as well. I don't think I have photos of those breweries, I was too busy taking pictures of people I knew. Here are Ryan and Val helping pour at the BrewFarm booth, with Farmer Dave hanging out in back (identified by his cowboy hat.)
Here's a Schell's fan posing with the Schell's man, owner Ted Marti, outside the  Schell's van. What do you know, another example of me taking a picture of someone getting their picture taken.
At left is Jason, at right Meagan, who's working this one, representing Tallgrass Brewing, who brought some excellent derivations of their regular beers. You know, I'm going to break out that program, and tell you all about them...later...
The Surly booth was always busy, and very well-manned, with brewer Jerrod Johnson ready to serve your needs.
But he's too late, for Linda Haug has already poured me a beer. It's probably a Three. Why do I know that? Because...

Two is out! Boo hoo, no more Two!
Here's August Schell Brewmaster Jace Marti hanging out behind the Surly booth, chatting with Surly brewer Derek Allmendinger. 
Surly artist Michael Berglund (Darkness '11, Syx labels) has volunteered to pour, and told a funny, apparently to Joel and Aleah.
I don't have a caption for this one. Maybe you do?
Here's Surly head brewer Todd Haug enjoying the fruits of his labors, while Omar takes a shift.
Some brewers don't just bring beers, they also deck out their booth or tent in some manner of theme to grab the festers attention. Bell's had a super-hero them going this year, giving out these capes that everyone seemed to be wearing. If I recall, there's a contest for best booth dressing. don't ask me who won.
New Holland Brewing's theme was "Zombie Prom." All of the brewery employees and volunteers were decked out as  zombies who are going to the Prom. Which explains the black balloons. Isn't anyone else tired of zombies or am I really the only one?
The theme at Tyranena Brewing Company was Santa Claus. Not pictured: Owner Rob Larson dressed as Santa, asking the young hotties to sit in his lap and tell him if they were naughty...or nice.
I was thrilled to meet up with my old pal John "Woody" Chandler, of Lancaster, PA, who I probably haven't seen since 2008. Woody makes the scene at many events all over the country, decked out in a monk's robe, it's heavy cloth and his vast beard not deterring him the least in this summer heat. He's even added a crown of hops to his sartorial repertoire. (When not in monk attire, he wears a heavy coat loaded with brewery patches.) I first met Woody in person back in 2006, when he crashed on my couch during a tour of Upper Midwestern breweries.
A very bad photo of the bar at the Great Dane in dowtown Madison. After taking the bus back to our motel, me dined, then took a cab back downtown. Even after  a big beer fest, I wasn't going to go to sleep at 9pm, with the wonders of a foreign town at my disposal! We hit various spots, and ended at the Dane, lounging the night away in their garden, I enjoying a quadrupel with the droll name of MidWest-veletern. End of a great weekend in Madison, WI.
September 4. My fist visit to the Lift Bridge Brewery in Stillwater. Brad Glynn is showing Dean, Brandon, and me what is in all those cool barrels.
October 27. My sixth time at Surly Darkness Day, and this year I have no photos to share of freezing fans waiting in line early in the morning. I actually strolled up around 2pm, with Dan, Beth, Brian, and Erin, completely sober, and left that way (give or take). Why didn't I take basically an entire weekend off of work just to buy 6 bottles of beer? Gosh, why would I? It was fun when could leave early Friday night (when I had someone who could close the bar for me), sleep, and then wake up early enough to get a good spot in the line. But, every year there are more people and the line is longer earlier. Last year, I got no sleep, arrived around 6 am, and barely made the cut-off. This year, I paid attention to facebook, twitter, and BeerAdvocate, and listened to the people saying there were 500 in line by 6pm, 800 by 8, etcetera. It was pointless. I wanted to sleep, but I still wanted beers. Eventually I decided to go the next afternoon and hope for some left-overs. 
If you looked carefully in that last photo, there was a face looking towards me. That belonged to Nils, seen here, approaching me with a bag of goodies from a tasting table still standing hours after the Surly event officially began. There are really two things going on at Darkness Day. The camper-outers are celebrating their comraderie in craft beer by treating each other to untold rarities, all shared freely, but among variously located outposts. Some of this was documented in my post about last year's Darkness Day. The other event is the one that Surly actually hosts, which is the bottle sale, the food vendors (some of which is available to the campers), the live music and games, and the special beers for sale. Very often these two events only intersect in this way: the campers enter the gates, get their beer, and go home with their bottles. For a lot of them, Darkness Day is only about all those rare bottles passed around with friends and strangers, and little interest in what goes on inside the gates, besides their bottles. Nothing wrong with that. This year was the first time that I did not participate in both parts of the event, only the Surly-sanctioned one. And I enjoyed it. 
Ohmigod! Look who it is, Jeff and Shelly! Remember them from last year? And here comes a little bit of irony. All that chatter on the internets? It was wrong. They counted wrong, or whatever, but they were wrong. J & S arrived at 11:30 A.M., and easily got wristbands. If I knew, we would would have left hours earlier, still gotten sleep in our beds, and received 6 bottles, rather than 4. Oh, well...big deal... I guess...
Perhaps that explains why I look less than delighted in this picture with Omar that Shelly took?
Although I had no problem smiling in a picture with Jeff, however.
Since it was the weekend before Halloween, costumes were not out the ordinary. But this couple, with their can of Furious and can of Wet attire really went the extra mile. 
Top right, Todd Haug shreds with his band, Powermad. Bottom right, in fur cap, his wife Linda bangs her head.
October 31. Halloween fell on a Wednesday, and I dj'ed at Harriet's Taproom, at least until a band came on. I peppered my usual funk/soul/fusion/hard bop/be-bop/swing set with scary sound effects and Halloween-type songs. People seemed to dig it. 
November 3. Place: the Blue Nile bar. Event: the 5th Annual Stoutfest. Dave is taking a break from his samples, while I snap this, with Jay and Julie sitting to his left. These guys have been making it to most of these events. I think it was the 4th StoutFest in a row for J & J. got to love them for that.
My friends Dean and Rita are at the bar, choosing their stouts and porters, while one of my Somali regulars, who drinks only gin and tonics, looks at the list with utter bewilderment. This is my world, ladies and gentlemen.
November 27. Another Surly Darkness Vertical Epic Tasting, this one a bit more collaborative, as I brought some, and others brought the rest. Rollie the cat looks on and approves. 
Jay and Julie deep in thought, contemplating the Darkness. 
Matthew's awfully excited to have so many years of Darkness in his hands. We found that the 2009 & 2010 were tasting best, and while the 08 and 07 were not bad, they hadn't improved appreciably. Perhaps 2 or 3 years is as much as you should age these guys. Don't go overboard people, they won't turn amazing at 10 or 20 years old. You can try it, but we warned you!
Bryce gives his glasses some very close scrutiny. Andy was the sixth member of the group, but he really didn't want his picture taken. Another fun night of drinking Darkness, where once again strangers become friends through beer tasting!

And you know what? No much happened in December! (That I didn't already report.) Here's to more beer in 2013!

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...