Monday, September 30, 2013

Tyranena Rocky's Revenge Bourbon Barrel Brown Ale

For this one, we're looking at notes from December, 2004:

A bourbon barrel brown, eh? About time, I've had it with the whiskey-fied stouts and barleywines...feh! Time for a change.

Clear, bright red/nearly brown color, with a slim, fuzzy tannish head.

Nose shows the whiskey right off the bat, rustic, leathery, roasted nuts, fermented fruits,oak and vanilla, slick, wicked, delicious, and deep.

Poweful mouthfeel, smooth and substantial, but overly felt. Feels rather light, but maintains a significant presence. So, what am I trying to say here? Let's luxuriate in it for a moment and consider a more cogent summation...

Medium bodied, with a long,fruity, nutty finish...this is exactly what it ought to be, and utterly unique: a light, yet fully flavored, smooth-drinking brown ale, with a whisper of whiskey-ness filling out the edges, and occasionally floating on top.

Certainly the greatest bourbon barrel-aged brown ale named after a legendary lake-dwelling dinosaur, known to man!

Tyranena Chief Blackhawk Porter

Met a new Tyranena rep the other day, the poor kid was sent to ABR with a couple kegs having no idea how big the fest is. He stopped by Friday afternoon, and gave me some sample bottles, a few of which are beers that have not made it onto the blog. First up, Chief Blackhawk Porter. For this one, I turn to notes from May, 2003, slightly edited:

Appearance: deep, fully black color, with a huge, lush, creamy tan head.

Nose is all cocoa and cream, notes of coffee, and bits of bitterness. Lovely.

Bitterness continues through the palate, but mildly. Malt is thick, mouthfeel lush, smooth, relaxed, but still hearty as any porter ought to be.

Well-rounded as can be, this is my idea of a session beer, full of character and flavor, easy to down, but rewarding with flavor.


10 years later? It's still a damn fine porter.

Autumn Brew Review 2013

Just as the swallows return to Capistrano, so does the Autumn Brew Review revisit the Grain Belt Brewery grounds in North East Minneapolis each late September. This was my 12 th year of attendance, and the festival's 13th year. I l vowed ong ago to the Beer Gods, Kinkasi and Gambrinus, that I should not miss this event, which focuses on American craft beer available in Minnesota, and which grows and grows every year (I think the first year I went there were 30-some breweries. Now, we're up to 105). But there were a few circumstances beyond my control that conspired to make this year's experience different from last year's, which I chronicled here as well. First, I did not get to sleep until a wildly unreasonable hour, and slept in until 2 PM (the fest went from 1 -5). A quick lunch and a 40-minute bike ride meant that I missed half of the fest. I also missed the rain, so, hey, there's something.
Also, I forgot to keep my iPod, whose camera I use to create these photos, charged up and it began failing after about 45 minutes. I also started noting which beers I'd sampled, but after awhile I gave up that practice, and just jumped from beer to beer and booth to booth, without geeking out on notes and such. There are magazine and blog articles you can read about how to best enjoy a beer festival, but I normally ignore that good advice. For me, it's mostly about the socialization as well as trying new beers, but I keep finding more friends and spend valuable drinking time talking with them, so my vow that I take every time that "this time I'll try them all!" is usually for naught. I check to see what the beers to seek are, and just bounce around, seeing friends and grabbing what I can.

So, here are the photos of most of my experience of ABR 2013.

The first friend that I met at the Grain Belt Brewery grounds was Megan, who is holding a Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, obscured by her sample glass coozie. Or is that a can coozie that she re-purposed? I never got any of that beer, but I 've had it before, so, no loss.
Here we have the back of Todd Haug's head, which was kind enough to pose with my glass of El Hefe Negro, a Surly brew which debuted at ABR. Here's the full description: "Imperial Black Weiss-beer Black wheat ale brewed with Mexican cone sugar and fermented with Bavarian Hefe-Weizen yeast, and then dry-hopped." 8.1 % ABV. What, wheat beer from Surly? Bring on the flying pigs!
Shaun "Wolfy" Wolf, local Duvel USA rep, with the Ommegang Take the Black Ale that he poured for me. It's okay, Wolfy, I don't mind a little head. Nice, rich, malty Belgian ale that I look forward to trying in a bottle.
Like IPAs? How about that Mango Mama from Town Hall? Forget about that, have a Beach Therapy, Banana Mango Coconut IPA, which was as delicious as it sounds. But the umbrella was not a wise choice for a garnish, as the paper didn't pair well with the ale and the wood hurt my throat on the way down.

Security! Cut this guy off! It's only 3:30 and he's so blasted he's showing me his tits! I didn't even promise him beads or anything.
 Derek is taking a break from the Surly booth and enjoying a cask version of Haywire Imperial Black Ale, while standing before evidence of how I failed in a very important task. I'd already had Haywire, but there are two beers I never did go back to sample, the Mole' Midnight Ryder and something called Polka Pils. 
Indeed had a fun little board where festival goers could pose as the characters from their cans. The gentleman at right is pausing to contemplate the contents of his glass. Is it Midnight Ryder? Or maybe Haywire? I forgot to ask him.
One of the most important parts of a festival like this is the ability to try new beers from new Minnesota breweries that I wouldn't get to sample without making a special trip. Enki Brewing opening in June, in Victoria, Population 7, 235. They're making beers that anyone can like. Here, I'm holding a smooth and tasty Auburn Kolsch, which Smilin' Dan over there poured for me. 
Here's Jodie (or is it Jody?) with a Citric Journey Pale Ale from the Enki Brewing Company. I like it, it was good, but the description in the program was misleading. "Pack your bags because this enjoyable beer will take you around the world in 16 oz!" No way, guys, you're about 14 oz short on this pour.
Lori's got something good in her glass. I've totally forgotten what it was, but she seems pleased with it.
In this glass, I've got a light and scrumptious Levity Golden Ale on cask from  Odell Brewing of Fort Collins, Colorado. It was poured for me by Julianna, of Acadia Cafe, who is to the right of Odell's MN Representative, Todd Ewing.
Nick has poured me a 2X Steam from Souther Tier , one of two beers  from  that brewery that I hadn't had before. Nick is assisting his friends, and not acting in his official capacity as sales representative for Artisanal Imports. How he wished he could pour me a La Trappe, but imports are forbidden at Autumn Brew Review. 
Here's an example of when I break the cardinal beer fest rule of drinking beers you've already had or can easily find, but how can I resist stopping by the Harriet Brewing booth and getting a glass of delicious, malty Marzen from the lovely Ashley? I can't resist, it's that simple.
This was the last picture of the day, and this moment on, my iPod's battery had lost it's charge. I went on to drink beers from Olvalde Farms, Bad Weather, Barley John's Bell's, Borealis Fermentery, Canal Park, Dangerous Man, Fitger's, Founders, Fulton, Hammerheart, and who know what else? It's a faded memory, all I recall  is the fun and the friends. Like I said earlier, I took a free-wheeling approach, and paid the price by reading the program afterwards and noticed all the treats I'd missed. Ah, well, life does indeed go on, as surely as the beer keeps flowing, inevitably.
Brad the Beerguy should change his name to Brad the Mead Guy. I found him sitting happily with glass in hand at a table with no kegs or jockey boxes, no banners or even bottles. What happened?, I asked him. They drank all my mead, he replied. Apparently, the mead fans of ABR made a bee-line to Brad's booth. See how I made a funny, there? Mead? Bee-line? How I slay me.
Here's the cover to this year's program, a lovely work by Adam Turman. Hey, Craft Brewer's Guild, why isn't this on a poster or t-shirt?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Bruery Hottenroth Berlin Weiss Sour Wheat Ale

The Bruery Unfiltered Bottle-Conditioned Hottenrith Berliner Weisse, Barlin-style Tart Wheat Ale. "Sour = Yum!" Alc. 3.1% by Vol. Orange County, CA. "Brewed in memory of Fred & Sarah Hottenroth, this traditional ale can be served with raspberry or woodruff syrup, or simply enjoyed as is." No woodruff syrup on hand, I'm drinking this as is. Thanks to the low alcohol content, I'll be able to tackle this one solo with no trouble, and move on to another beer tonight. Another Berliner Weisse? Maybe.

So. Clear. Golden-hued. Smallish head that dies off quickly.

Aroma: Tart, sour notes at the front, with lemon and lime notes right behind. Plenty and citrus, vegetal, herbal, and just the right touch of cat pee. There, I said it. Refreshingly sour and pissy.

Taste: Bracingly tart at the front, tremendous puckeration, spicing the palate, flooding the mouth. Lean bodied, merest malt, heartier hopping, with sourness taking over all in the flavor profile. Piercingly sour on the palate, pausing after the sting for a blast of refreshment. Goes down very easy, if you're really into the sour. (Which, of course, I am.)

Let's see what the label informs us: "Our Berliner Weisse is suitable for aging up to one year when cellared properly…." Ah, it's all technical mumbo-jumbo, "Don't leave the yeast in your glass" and stuff like that, put it in a tulip, etc. etc. Gotcha pal, no problem.

Ah, I do like this. I'm still trying to peg this style, though I've never had a truly authentic version from Deutschland. The last one I had from Three Floyds was outrageously tart, this one seems slightly less so. Next up, I'm trying another, this one still not authentically teutonic, more locally brewed.

Ballast Point Big Eye IPA

San Diego invades the Twin Cities! In the past two weeks, Ballast Point and Green Flash have entered the market through the same distributor. No more picking up GF when I visit Wisconsin (every month or two) or BP when I cruise through Chicago (every 20 years is the current average, right?). For their standard IPA, I'm cheating and using a review from February, 2007, and a bottle achieved through a trade.

Clearish, golden/amber hue, fiercely carbonated, under a slim ring of creamy foam.

Hugely hoppy aroma, grassy, piney, bursting with fruit, orange and apricot, lemon zest...lime peel...fresh, and inviting.

Full-bodied, juicy, delicious. Fresh, invigorating, with brash and bitter hops, matched well with judicious malt. Toasty and sweet. Constant deployment of tastiness, jettisoned again and again onto the tastebuds. Tangy, tart, and well-tempered. Sticky puckering bitterness never quite quits. Citric feel remains dominant, hops ever-lasting.

Killer diller IPA. Reminds of Two -Hearted, no shocker as they're both all-Centennial. But, still quite it's own beast. Sure to please any hoppy ale afficianado. It just never stops tasting good!

Beck's Oktoberfest Bier

September! Oktoberfest Season! And I've been lucky to receive a nice little sample pack of beers I probably would never want to buy on my own. Thanks to my new Wirtz beverage sales representative. Hooray, Katie!

So, that brings us to Beck's Oktoberfest Lager, Brauerei Beck & Co., originated in Bremen, Germany. Product of USA. Brauwerie Beck & Co, St. Louis, MO. A true sign of the times, the most popular German beer in America, now brewed here. Where do they stand in Deutschland, I wonder. (Excuse me while I go to Google…)

Clear, copper-y, auburn hue. Slim, but staying, creamy white layer of foam.

Aroma: Grainy, fruity, low hops, clean malt bill. nice balance.

Taste: Moderate bitterness tingles the tongue at first arrival, stay on the palate, while the tongue enjoys the sweet malt just below. Tasty malt flavor hangs in there tight. Medium body, decent flavor.

In all, I'm a bit surprised by how much I didn't hate it. I've had this before and been very disappointed. The question I have is: Did it improve somehow, or have I become less critical? I don't think it's the latter, for my dislike of their products has been so strong in the past, it can't have been a mistake.
There's something about this bottle of Beck's Oktoberfest that I just don't dislike. And I don't know why that is.

It's a decent beer, and I can drink it. Won't go back for more, though. Just not quite my style.


Hey, guess what? Turns out that I've had this already, back in October of 2007, also a sample from the distributor. Here's what I wrote back then:

I can't believe I've never reviewed any Beck's! How'd that happen?
Well, I've got a sample bottle here, haven't tasted one in years...let's do it!

Into a squat Warsteiner glass mug she goes...

Clear, coppery/amber hue, huge head, fluffy, cream-toned foam. Not bad.

Sweet malty nose...I can almost taste wort, weird as it seems, Then, grainy and dry. Grain mash more than anything.

Dry and flat in the mouth. Light bodied, with some grainy mouthfeel, thin and watery. Bright and lightly sweet, turning dull and pedestrian. Does nothing for the tongue. Very dumbed-down delivery of flavors.
Gets flinty and metallic...water wins the day, and the brew leaves the mouth with no impression left behind.
Since knowing better marzens with beefier bodies and more powerful flavors, this one has been passed over year after year...and tasting this bottle, I remember why. Thank goodness it was free.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ballast Point Sea Monster Imperial Stout

Since my visit to Chicago in June, it seems that we now have Ballast Point available here in Minnesota. I'm over-stuffed with IPAs now, so I'm not buying any kegs for the Nile for the time being, and I haven't gone beer shopping in weeks, so I have no bottles to bring up for review, of the last from that Chicago visit, Sea Monster Imperial Stout. Here come the notes...

Ballast Point Brewing Company Sea Monster Imperial Stout. San Diego, California. 10% Alc. by Vol.

Solid, inky blackness, the backside of a scurrying squid, with a big, tan head on top. Looking the part, setting the scene.

Aroma: charcoal and anise, molasses and ash. Deep, rich and roasty.

Taste: In the mouth, it's a beast, indeed. Full-bodied, vast flavors, big hoppy bitterness matched with massive malt. All those dark flavors from the nose come roaring back. Slightly ashy, rich espresso character, filling the mouth and coating the tongue. Multiple complexities at large and in charge. We're down in the depths here.

I'm wondering what the label tells me…"From the deep dark depths of our Brewmaster's imagination comes this rich and monstrous oatmeal stout. Our sea monster embodies all that the true dark beer aficionado will appreciate; roasted coffee notes, with hints of bittersweet chocolate and currant flavors all brought together by a perfect hop balance. Don't fear the monster!"

I don't actually. The alcohol isn't making itself know quite yet…wait, here it comes…doesn't it, always?

Okay, I'm liking this. It's getting better, deep, and delicious-er as we go further in.

Dave's BrewFarm Columbus Single Hop Saison

Dave's BrewFarm Columbus Single Hop Saison, ABV 6.4%.

Clear and golden-hued, under a light, soon-gone head.

Aroma: Fruity esters shine, mingled with Belgian funk. Saison yeast is strong here, and the Columbus hops bring the citric notes, the lemon and orange. A little sweet, a little bit bitter, and just enough of the wild. Mmm, nice.

Taste: It's here on the palate, bright citrus-y hop goodness, and the saison yeast. Whole lot of yum in here, simply put. Lean body, long hoppy finish. Lot of interplay on the tongue, many intermingling sensations. Stays fruity and bitter, ultimately ends on the dry side.

Here's a little description from Dave the Farmer man himself: "Showcasing a single hop variety in a Saison yeast. Two separate additions of Columbus hops, Pils, Cara Red and Caramel 20 malts."

This is a good one, perhaps my favorite single hop saison from the DBF, perhaps because this is one of the classic C hops (i.e. Centennial, Cascade, etc.) that delivers that citric hoppiness I enjoy so well.

Central Waters Hop Rise Session Ale

Central Waters Hop Rise Session Ale. Brewed in Amherdt, WI. "Ale, Sun, Earth and Sky", it says on the label, not sure what that's about. 12 ounce bottle. No ABV given.

Very clouded, copper-colored, with a smallish white head.

Aromatics: hoppy, oily, pine-y and citrusy. Fresh and lively. I like it.

Taste: Plenty of hoppitude happening here. Big, bitter bite up front that lasts long through the drink. Bright  and vivacious. Medium-bodied, lean and easy-drinking.

Let's read that label description: "An explosively hoppy yet sessionable IPA, bursting with a citrusy array of mango, orange, and pineapple pleasantries. Hop Rise is a brewer's beer for one and all. Generously hopped throughout the boil, then dry-hopped at the tail end of fermentation for a large bouquet."

Hey, guess what, I liked it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Brasserie d'Achouffe La Chouffe Golden Ale

It's Gnome week, and the Nile is participating, so we've got some chouffes back on tap. The last time we had La Chouffe on tap, I forgot to take the notes and shoot the pic. The last time I took notes on La Chouffe was from a bottle, and it was in December of 2003. Here they are:

Hazy golden color, fantastic, fluffy, frothy white head...poured into a Duvel glass, (appropriate, in that I'd previously pegged this as a Duvel imitator) which uses all it's powers to hold it up, and it works.

Nose, spice, and fruit, and everything good, vibrant, sophisticated, transcendent, uplifting, delirious...

Taste:...nice, fresh, hoppy, but lacking in a powerful ZAP! on the buds that I was yearning for after being teased by the aroma. Okay, I'll try it again...nice, fruity (peach, apricot, orange), some hops (English Golding and Saaz, they say), reliable malt (Pilsner, the label tells), abundant sugar, coriander pleases the tongue quite assuredly...this is a very smooth, mellow, yet lively and flavorful ale that should please any real beer lover.

A very likable product from one of the smaller Belgian brewing concerns that I fully admire.

And now that I'm drinking it on tap once more, I think it's better than ever. They called it a blonde ale for so long, but now they're calling it a golden ale. Both work.

Founders Bolt Cutter 15th Anniversary Ale

Founders Bolt Cutter Barley Wine Ale, our 15th Anniversary Ale, 15% alcohol by volume. I don't have time, money, or transportation to get to the right stores at the right time to snag beers like this. i've certainly heard all the hoopla, but couldn't participate in the frenzy. Finally got my first taste at HopLeaf in Chicago, but couldn't take notes, because I was with friends, having fun. I don't pull out the notebook in such situations. I got my hands on a bottle through good ol' Joe, who brought it to my birthday gathering a few weeks later, and since we didn't get to it, he let me keep it for myself. So, now, at last, here we have it:

Clear, bright crimson hue, short white head, looks great.

Aroma: Bold fruit flavors, cognac, leather, big, huge, fat, fantastic. Someone told me this was a bourbon-barrel barley-wine. They must have been wrong, I'm getting none of that, just an overly boozed-up version of the classic English-style barley-wine.

No gobbledygook on the label so I'm on my own here. Despite the hotness of this, it's surprisingly smooth, and astonishingly consumable.

Very rich and fruity, very strong and hearty, but I don't feel the full 15%. 15 % for 15 years. What will they do for their centennial?
Oh, me, oh, my. Toasty, malty, tasty, big fat toffee and caramel.

Northbound Smokehouse Wild Rice Amber Ale

Like I said in the last post, I took a week (or 10 days) off of doing this stuff due to liquids getting into my laptop. There were a few ways I could have continued doing this without it, such as plugging in my old gigantic eMac, adding an external keyboard (which, come to think of it, is what I used with that anyway), save the notes and transfer them via flash drive (which I no longer have, those pesky things get lost so easily!), then upload them later. Too much hassle, I thought, and just took a week off of notes taking. Meanwhile, I started to run out of just regular drinking/non-reviewing beers. I had to get creative, or start drinking less. Chose the latter, which is good to do, once in a while.

So, we're looking back at notes from last week, a seasonal from Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub in South Minneapolis. I really do need to get there more often, it's so close to my home. Actually, I've got to make a routine, so I remember to get out and visit some of the ones I forget a bit more often. It's a hard life, this beer reviewin'.

Northbound Wild Rice Amber Ale. 6.6% ABV.

Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub Wild Rice Amber Ale. This one debuted right around when the brewery opened last year, and i passed on it that visit. Next time I stopped in it was gone, and I was disappointed, after hearing so many accolades from others. "Don't worry, we'll make it next year," I was assured. It's next year, now, and I took home a growler, ready to check it out.

Clear, dark amber, nearly copper coloring, with an off-white head that starts flush, then slims down to a tight ring.

Aroma: sweet, malty nose, earthy, grainy, herbal. Minimal hops.

Taste: Mild hop bitterness hits the palate first, swallowed up by a rich of malty sweetness. Between light and medium bodied, supremely consumable, and just tasty enough. Hop bitterness returns to the taste from time to time, keeping a very fine balance.

I'm afraid I'm at a loss to describe what the wild rice contributes to the flavor, but it certainly doesn't detract. Actually it's really quite delicious, well-made amber. Good show, Jamie.

Speaking of Jamie, here's how he describes it:

An American Amber Ale brewed with Minnesota grown wild rice.  5% of the grain is wild rice giving this beer a unique flavor of nuttiness, earthines and a hint of vanilla.

Northbound Light Rail Pale Ale

 This review was lost in limbo for a week. Stuck inside my laptop after a spill was giving it trouble. Wasn't even beer this time, but the cocktail of cranberry & pineapple juice with ginger ale that I have with my dinner, every night at work. A week and too much money later, we're back in action, with the hard drive miraculously unscathed. That wouldn't have been a big deal, losing the notes on this one and the next review, but the following two would be hard to replace.
So now you know the details of why the normally prolific Bitter Nib came to a temporary screeching halt. We're back on track, and keeping liquids away from the hardware. This time, for sure!

Light Rail Pale Ale. Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub, growler dated. 9-14 (so this growler has 4 days to go.}

Clear, copper-y color, dark amber, with a small head, slimming down, settling out.

Aroma: highly hoppy, with plenty of fruity associations, loads of bitterness.
More fruit climbs on board, orange, lemon, grapefruit, mango…wonderful stuff.

Taste: Plenty of rich, dark, coppery malt flavors, with tons of hops on top. Loads of fruity flavor, tons of bitterness, much hops, all over the place. Medium-bodied, huge bitterness, easy-drinking.

Here's the official word from Jamie: This is a lightbodied, hop-forward pale ale.  Copious amounts of Cascade hops late in the brewing process, and another huge dry hop addition in the fermenter will remind craft beer lovers what they love about this style.  The intense hop aroma will make you think IPA, but the bitterness is dialed back to showcase the characteristics of this classic hop varietie.  And at 5.5% ABV, you can enjoy a few of them.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Stone R & R Coconut IPA

Stone R&R Coconut IPa, India Pale Ale brewed and flavored with coconut. 7.7% Alc. by Vol. Robert & Ryan, Stone, Rip Current. Collaboration 2013.

Bright golden hue, stable and sizable head, looking good.

Coconut flavor hits the nose first, with hop bitterness crawling out from underneath. Citrus and tropical fruit notes are loudest, though still muffled under the coconut.

Taste: Hops take over the stage, spilling forth flavors of pine, citrus fruit, pineapple, and the coconut has switched places and now lays on the bottom. Medium bodied, with a long finish. Bitterness is in for the long haul, and has stolen the spotlight. Cocowho? It's only a glimmer of a ghost of a whisper in the memory of the palate. Still there, but way in the background, which is fine by me.

When I first heard this, I thought "what?", like the notion of a coffee IPA, which I still haven't wrapped my head around. "Coconut IPA? What?" There's just little enough where there's no real clash, and you get all the IPA flavors you're looking for.

The R&R relates not only to the names of the homebrewers who created this recipe, but also, I assume to the notion of rest & relaxation that tropical flavors suggest. One of the brewers involved, Paul Sangster of Rip Current Brewing, has a blurb on the back that concludes, "…you feel like you're drinking a tropical drink on the beach." Lord, I hope you don't. No, it's a beer, with hints of tropical fruit flavors, that never lets you forget it's an IPA. If there were more fruit sweetness to  compete with hop bitterness, you might think you were having a Sex on the Beach, sure, but, gladly, that isn't happening.

A fun little experiment that I enjoyed drinking, but won't return to, not if there's Ruination around.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Crazy Mountain Hookiebobb I.P.A.

(Edit: 1/8/2017. Having a fresh bottle (with a new label), it seems that the previous sample was a bad or old bottle. Drinking one given to me a few days ago from a distributor, yes, I'd say bright and citrus-y. The elephant is gone from the label art and replaced with a better illustration of a human-handed bison with antlers. And the beer inside is an excellent example of just the kind of IPA I like to drink. Either it was re-formulated, or I did not get the best bottle available for the prior review.)

If there's anything bound to drive me to purchase a bottle of beer, well, if there are TWO things, it's this: a picture of an elephant, and a nonsense word. If there's a picture of an elephant, that means India Pale Ale, and just like every other sucker on the vine, I'm drawn to try them all. As for the nonsense word, it usually points to hippies and jam bands, and though I don't like their music, or their body odor, they usually make good beer.

We got both on the label of Hookiebobb IPA  (6.7% ABV, 87 IBU) from Crazy Mountain Brewing Company, of Edward, CO/Vail Valley, CO. I'd like to share more information from the label, but they chose to use blue colored type over a black background. Not that easy to read, fellas. Did you run out of white ink, or what?

So, let's open up a bottle and sample our first Crazy Mountain beer. (I have had another of their beers, over a year ago on tap at a downtown Minneapolis bar, and I wasn't thrilled, but I'm also not a big fan of ESBs, so there.)

Murky, opaque dark magenta coloring, with a solid white head, lasting and little bit lacy. Not especially to my liking.

Aroma: sweet and first, with bitterness beneath. Dark fruits, apples, and cherries. Definitely more in the English-style framework.

Taste: Tingly, tangy hops bite the palate just a bit, and the flavor is swallowed up by a balanced sweetness. Bits of caramel-y malt underneath, with the same darker fruit notes found in the nose making their mark in the mouth. Medium-bodied, overall hop bitterness is on the low side, but this hits all the right notes for an English-style IPA. It's a good beer, and you can drink it. I just wouldn't return to it, too often.

Let's see if my eyes are up to reading the gobbledygook. "A Colorado approach to an American take on an English classic. Three aggressive yet floral American hops and one hop from Down Under team together to make a bright, citrusy and floral India Pale Ale. A deep caramel malt helps to balance the bitterness of the hops and lets the complex hop bill shine."

Some of that is simply not true. At no point does my mind reach out for the words bright or citrus-y. Well, maybe a little, but not much. Certainly could be brighter and citrus-ier, if it wanted to be.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Finch's Pig in the Wood

Pig in the Wood, Ale Aged in Whisky Barrels, Finch's Beer Company, Chicago, Illinois. Alcohol 8% by Volume.

One of my last Chicago bottles. This is one brewery I was aware of before visiting the city of broad shoulders, but could not find them on tap at any of our stops, outside of a pizza place that had their blonde ale on. I thought that was odd, but there are many bars in Chicago, and we only saw a few. The same thing would happen visiting the Twin Cities, of course. "where's the 612?" one might ask, if one were looking. "Where's all the Northgate? you may wonder. I dunno, somewhere.

I only took one bottle of Finch's from the shelves of that Binny's in Shaumberg, IL. That's probably all there was. So, let's open it up and see what it's all about.

Dark magenta coloring, slim, negligible head.

Aroma: ah! There's the stuff. All that bourbon, the vanilla and cherry, the sweet and the strong, bourbon all up in here. Nothin' but.

Taste:Several sips in, the word continues to be "nothin'but". Let's try again. Plenty of whisky flavors holding court over a lean bodied ale. nothing too big, thick, rich, or strong. Whatever lurks below, the whisky overcomes it all. All the components of the whisky take command, and nothing competes. Be that as it is, it's delicious. Mmmm, nice and nice.

Is there gobbledygook? Let's find out. "A deep red malt forward ale brewed with plenty of caramel malts, and a touch of rye and dry-hopped with Palisade and Zythos hops and aged for over six months in Noval barrels, a local Chicago distillery. SRM: 14, IBU: 72, OG: 18.2, FG: 2.9."

Terrifically sweet, full of bourbon-y flavors, rich, tasty and vastly rewarding. I like this. (I don't get the pig reference. Maybe the answer is somewhere.)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale

Long, long ago, the flagship brew of the New Belgium Brewing Company of Fort Collins, Colorado, the amber ale called Fat Tire, was a thing of mystery and wonderment. Those who'd tried it and loved it spoke of it in a manner almost magical, desperately demanding that local beer purveyors find this rarity  for them. I knew one man who worked in beer retail and was subject to so many calls for Fat Tire that he found his every attempt to provide these seekers with a replacement of any excellent amber that was just as good, and easily available, were to no avail. There was no replacement for their desires, they only wanted the elusive Fat Tire, and it didn't matter that there were no plans for it's legal dispersal. This retailer friend of mine got his mules to transport cases of it up from Colorado in order to satisfy the fanatic ones. A local bar did the same with a keg of the stuff, and illegally tapped it on the sly.

Why? What was the point of all this? Was it really all that great?

I finally got my hands on a bottle in February, 2003, and wrote these notes:

Fat Tire has a bit of a hype around it, especially in regions, like mine, that do not receive this Colorado amber. What could be the reason, I wonder, why do so many rhapsodize so dreamily about it? Is it the equal or better of world classics from Europe, or does it stand out against America's legendary micros? I was determined to find out...

Fine, bubbly, but brief, head, over a bright amber color.

Nice fruity touches in the aroma, and the more I "drink in" the nose, the more I seem to find...tropical fruits, mango, banana?, peach, apricot, a hint of gentle spices, and a whiff of flowers, even.

Nice grainy, gritty texture, but overall, very smooth palate. Hops seem to be lying low, and malt does it's part, without taking the spotlight. Slight sourness in the finish, later absorbed by tasty sweetness. Well-balanced, and enjoyable. I can imagine a pleasant session with these.

So why the cult status? I have a few theories. 1. Funny name. 2. There's a bike on the label. 3. It's an easily consumed, delicious ale that accompanies fond memories of seeing jam bands in Colorado, and the perfect thing to stock in the cooler at the post-show drum jam. Enjoy, all you hippies, enjoy!!!

That was then. New Belgium entered the Minnesota market only a few years after that, to much hoopla. There was even a TV news spot about the lines that went around the building of local liquor store Surdyk's, of all the cars waiting to buy cases of the stuff on the very first day it was available. Did they do this the first day that cans of Surly Furious hit the shelves? Not so.
So, now it's here, and everywhere, and no one cares, pretty much. Are all those Fat Tire maniacs still drinking it, and considering the best thing on Earth? It's hard to imagine that uproar anymore, with the way the local scene has turned to local beers, and taprooms, etcetera.

Well, now it's in cans, and I couldn't pass up a 12-pack case for only $11.99. I needed to "tick" this for the blog, and I need a good ol' drinking beer from time to time. But I didn't expect to be so disappointed in it. I found very little charm in this one from the can. Was there a reason I liked it better 10 years ago from a bottle, and am utterly blase' about this in it's new aluminum state?
More questions!
One answer is that after these cans have been emptied and crushed, you won't catch me taking it home again. Some day I'll drink it again on tap if I'm stuck somewhere with nothing better, but how often does that happen? And if there are people our there that still think this is the end-all/be-all, based on that time they got high in the woods with their smelly college pals, keep waving your freak flags high! Shine on, crazy diamond, shine on!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery Royal P.I.A.

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery Royal PIA. Pale India Ale. Why not IPA. Because the production of this beer was a royal p--- in the a--, or that's what I've been told.

Clear, deep amber coloring, nearly crimson, slim white head.

Aroma: Big, fat hoppy nose, bold, robust, brimming with bitterness. Bright and ripe with fruity esters, slightly sweet and utterly enticing.

Taste: In the mouth, bustling flavors mingle and meld. Tasty, sweet, warm malt holds down the fort, never-ending bitterness bounces on the palate. Big and bold are the words of the day.

What are we getting here? Apple, cherry, going from bright to burnt as the alcohol rises in prominence. I'm getting the feeling of an English-style IPA, done double, which is starting to resemble a barley-wine, or sorts. And it is delicious. Have I mentioned that? Man, is it ever!

Hey, here's the full story, straight from the brewery: "This coming monday 9/2 marks a special beer release. Aware that it is Labor Day, we will open at 4pm.....just in time to release our Royal PIA at 5pm. As we are all aware, Duluth has been declared the Beer Capitol of we see "North Shore" style pale ales developing. These tend to be dry finishing hop forward beers loaded with flavor. In honor of our friends to the north we decided to brew one of these.
Royal PIA - is a strong pale india ale (nearly 9%abv) that features Mosaic hops....a bunch of them. Now another faction of North Shore style beers is the great Lake Superior water these northern brewers are lucky enough to use to make their beer.......well, we went far offshore in Lake Superior and got some of our own to make this beer.
 Come and get some, it will go fast."

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Surly Urine Trouble Imperial Brett I.P.A.

Here's a funny little ale that was originally a collaboration between Surly and Three Floyds, intended as a special beer at a Big Cat Sanctuary benefit at Northdown Taproom in Chicago, back in July, called Lions, Tigers, and Beers. I was in Chicago the week after and had a few glasses at Northdown, and took a photo, but no notes. (I also have completely procrastinated doing parts 2 and 3 of the beer-centric Chicago trip. Soon, soon!} Surly did their own version which debuted at the taproom, and I enjoyed a couple pours at my inaugural visit to the taproom in July. Soon, kegs started appearing at local bars, and I got one of my own for the Nile to include in our 5th version of the Hop Heads Only event, on August 24. Which brings us to today, when I finally sit down to write notes.

First a note on the name. Initially, I thought it was horrible, but no worse than other Three Floyds names. It is a bit odd for something you're about to push down your gullet, named it after something you'd rather you didn't but there are two meanings. One is that the hops utilized, Simcoe and Chinook, have, according to the brewer, and his wife, "that 'cat peed on the Christmas tree' aroma'."Linda has said before that she told her customers at their sadly-gone restaurant, Cafe 28, that Furious has a "your cat ate a grapefruit and peed on your Christmas tree" smell. I don't always get that, but if you have 5 cats, I'm sure you do. They also own hybrid cats, crossed between African servals and such and domesticated felines, but these beasts retain some wildness, hence the "urine trouble", therefore the benefits for wild cat sanctuarys. Some cannot handle the "urine trouble" and give the cats up or abandon them, and they have to find shelter in sanctuaries. It's not as simple as adopting a stray, or an unwanted kitten. I have only two cats, so I have just an inkling of what they go through. Linda once told me that they are part of the problem (not really], so they try to be part of the solution.

Here's the description I used in the menu for Hop Heads Only, which includes the official Surly description: "Originally brewed in collaboration with Three Floyds Brewing of Indiana, for a Big Cat Sanctuary Benefit (one connection for the unusual name). Says Surly: "Imperial Brett IPA fermented with the unique strain of yeast Brettanomyces Lambicus. This yeast creates earthy barnyard notes along with pineapple-cherry pie aromas and flavors. Of course with the "IPA" style it’s hopped heavily. Simcoe and Chinook are the culprits for the "Cat peed on the Christmas tree" aroma." (there's the other one.)"

And here are the notes I took earlier this afternoon:

Surly Urine Trouble Imperial Brett IPA, 9% ABV. Imperial IPA with Brettanomyces.

Clear, brilliant golden hue, slim, white head, leaving lace.

Aromatics: Fresh, wild and lovely Belgian funk keeps perfect time with citrus notes, tropical fruit, trickles of pine, and, sure enough, faintly though, a association with the litter box for those intimate with them. I think it's wonderful.

Taste: Bitterness greets the palate once the liquid goes past the lips, stays astringent and aspirin-y, while the weird Brett notes creep in underneath, spilling strangeness on the tongue. Sour and bitter, not in that order, remain the key notes through the life of the ale. Light-bodied, with a long, bitter finish, and astonishingly consumable, despite the high ABV. Wait…here it comes…nope, not yet. Soon, though...soon.

Here's another unique one from Surly(/Three Floyds} that doesn't quite seem like anything else you or I have had before. Unless you know something I don't?
I could drink this and drink this if it wouldn't get me going goofy…you don't want that, believe me.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Bitter Nib has a Bitter Nibble at the State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair. The Great Minnesota Get-Together. Perhaps I hadn't attended in over 15 years because I'm not that much of joiner, that i don't really want to get together? Actually, I can break it down to 5 basic reasons why I've never been much of a Fair person (because some of us really are and some of us really aren't). 1. I did the rides when I was a kid, and now that I am an adult, I no longer want to become anxious and nauseous if I can help it. 2. I believe that the games of the Midway, whether considered to be of chance or of skill,  are excellent opportunities to part one from hard earned dollars if only to add more useless junk to your lives. 3. The staple foods, the mini-doughnuts and corn-dogs,etc? I appreciate in small, occasional doses. Not to dine on. 4. most important of all, I detest crowds. People, if it can be helped, en masse are to be avoided. 5. You've seen one prize pig, you've seen them all. (That's a lie, I love the livestock, especially chickens and ducks. Anything that doesn't poop everywhere.)
But, you know, I felt that it was time to end my streak of non-attendance, especially since beer had become a better part of it than ever before, and my friends Jay and Julie came to the rescue this past Saturday, August 31. I didn't ride the Tilt-a-Whirl, or go down the giant slide, or get my face painted, or beg my parents for an inflatable Dora the Explorer, or eat cotton candy, or eat walleye on a stick, (I did eat bacon-wrapped shrimp on a stick, or eat cheese curds (wait, I did do that), or listen to horrible sales pitches ( another big pet peeve of mine...I guess I don't hate carnival barkers so much, but ComCast barkers, accosting me on the street? Nyet!) I did eat other things, and look at livestock, and scope out the beers, and here's where I tell you about it (in wacky reverse order, because I still haven't figured out how to arrange photos yet!):

We're back at the Ball Park Cafe', Jay, Julie and I, to try out the Indeed Day Tripper Onion Rings, along with some Surly and Steel Toe beers. They were gooood!

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barley-wine Style Ale

A few random reflections before I get to the (old) notes: 1. It is a testament to the amount of new beer enticing me at all times that the old favorites fall through the cracks. Can it be that I haven't had a Bigfoot since December, 2010? Well, maybe I did, but not to review it here. I never bought one at a store? Either I never saw it, or passed in favor of some other new, fancy thing I had to have, that wasn't a classic that I've been enjoying for nearly 20 years. I hadn't tapped it, either? Nope. Maybe earlier in 2010, but not in the past 2 years, for sure. Oddly, a found 4-packs (didn't they used to be 6-ers?) on sale at Chicago Lake Liquors, right next to the Hoptimum. Had to make up for the lack of Bigfoot on this blog.
2. This is blog post (for now, at least, as of this writing) #1100. Most of those are beer reviews, probably 1,060 of them are. And this is still only the 12 th from Sierra Nevada. I only recently added the pale ale. And I've had more entries for Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery than any other (which is still a fraction of the reviews of their beers I've done on the websites). Is it so much easier for me to visit the pub and get a growler, than to pick up a 6-pack of SN Stout or Porter? These things prey on my mind.
3. My first review online of this beer was in early 2003 (February) of the 2002 edition. Later that year, I found a bottle of 1999 and added those notes, as well as reflections on the new bottling. Since this beer doesn't change from year to year, I present those notes now, after consuming a 2013 bottle. Maybe I can put the other 3 away...maybe not...

Dark purplish color, beneath a tan head.
Aroma is fantastic, fresh, roasty, spicy, full of notes of caramel, toffee, nuts, berries, a beautiful blend.
The alcohol content, also, is evident in the nose. Thick texture, not to be approached lightly. Take care, good friends, when confronting the species Bigfooticus Barleywinicus.
Very warming, very friendly, heat and flavor floods and fills the mouth., hell, it takes over your entire head. An everlasting spark carries through this classic brew, loads of hops, backed up with a full load of malt.
 Always formidable, always enjoyable. I'm glad we can always count on finding Bigfoot at least once a year.
2002 edition.

Found a bottle of the 1999 edition at a store, Wow!, pre-cellared, so why sit on it longer, it's nearly 5 years old already, let's crack it and see...beautiful, bright crimson color, full, thick, fresh, bubbly, creamy head. Roasty, rich, fruity, yeasty, bread-y, biscuit-y, just amazing, uplifting, alive and luscious and lovely and ...surprisingly smooth on meeting the tongue, yet full of amazing flavor, and incredibly drinkable, fully fruity, woody, nutty, boozy, let's not forget...
hmmm, while I'm at it, why not review the 2003?
Eh, this is devotion to Bigfoot is again justified, and I've kicked up the rankings a notch or two, for I've had further reason to bow down before it's greatness...certainly, I've never been able to "cellar" this brew this long on my own, for it's pull is irresistible, and I've always been pulled to drink it fresh down my gullet...oh, it's a mighty and a beautiful thing!
To answer myself so quickly, the 2003, after nearly a year is magnificent as you'd expect, full of rich flavor...yum, yum, yum...I'm sorry did I say "yum" yet?

Minnesota Breweries One by One #16: Forager Brewery, Rochester

For the second stop in Rochester we chose Forager Brewery , as our collective stomachs were rumbling, and this one is a brewpub with food ...