Friday, November 29, 2013

Town Hall Cranberry Abbey Ale (dubbel)

The last beer of my pre-Thanksgiving night, fourth of the Town Hall beers in a row, with a Schell's and a Summit tossed in there. Here comes Cranberry Abbey Ale, a fruited-up Belgian-style dubbel. (Alcohol is listed on BeerAdvocate as 5.8%, although the Abbey Ale is listed at 7.2%. Huh.)

Town Hall Cranberry Abbey, Abbey Ale (dubbel) with cranberries. I think. sounds right, doesn't it?

Clear, bright crimson coloring, slim head, while it lasts.

Aroma: The distinctive touch of Belgian yeast hits first, followed by the unique notes of special B malts. Dark fruits, rich malts, and, hey, here come the cranberries. And with them the sour notes. Little bit of sweet, more and more sour.

Now, to taste: Much complexity here, lots of flavors happening. Fruit stays on top and keeps an even balance. Dominates the dubbel flavors, but, otherwise, like I said, balance. Much, much, much, and terribly tasty. Mmmm, yah, I'm pretty happy with this one. Good balance, plenty of deliciousness.

Town Hall Chocolate Pumpkin Ale

So, here's the thing. This beer, which I don't think I've ever had, was only available in growlers as part of a 3-pack, which got you a dollar off on each. Also, the Cranberry Abbey Ale. However, I didn't realize until I got my bill that those two were $19 each. Did I really want to pay that much? Well, you know what they say...YOLO!
Ahem. So, I purchased those two, and the Autumn Blaze, and also had a Dark Krystal that I had purchased the week prior and hadn't touched, all of which I intended to take to Thanksgiving dinner with my family. Now, I'd never written about any of these, and if I'm spending almost $20 on some, I'd better get some reviews out of it, so I took out a 12 ounce pour of each to take my notes on them all. Took me up until about 2 a.m. (kind of early for me), along with the Schell's and Summit beers I recently posted. All was well, I got plenty of sleep and woke up ready to go, on time, took my growlers to the gathering, and here's what happened. Everyone enjoyed the beers, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, Mom, and while I didn't get a ton of specific feedback, I found that they drank all of the Cranberry Abbey before I got any (good thing I took my notes last night!), and the only one with any left was this one. I don't think the words Chocolate next to Pumpkin really sold the deal for anyone.

I looked on and found four reviews. In 2013, 2 raters gave it a 3.7 and a 3.8. Five years ago, 2 reviews in 2008 gave it a 1.3 and a 1.5 and said some damaging things about it. Over on BeerAdvocate, 2 reviews from 4/5 years ago gave it a more charitable 3.7 average.

What did I think? Check it out:

Town Hall Chocolate Pumpkin Ale.

You put your chocolate in my pumpkin! YOU put your pumpkin in my chocolate.

Clear, dark russet brown, head starts out okay, but disappears with a quickness.

Aroma: Pumpkin hits first, swallowed by chocolate. Chocolate maintains it's dominance, though it's more cocoa powder than anything else. Nice.

Taste: Mmm! Wow! This is nearly a perfect marriage of these two flavors, big and bold, flooding the mouth of flavor. Big-time choco-tastic flavor-iffic. Yum. Did I say that, yet? Fullish body, fastastic-al flavor.

Apparently, they got it right this time. Or those ratebeer reviewers are nincompoops. And some people get scared off when they think of chocolate and pumpkin. Wonder why? 

Town Hall Autumn Blaze Fall Ale

Town Hall Autumn Blaze. Described to me as like an ale version of an oktoberfest. Similar to Capital Brewing's Autumnal Fire? Or, something else? Nothing a ton of other info available right now, so, let's jump into it.

Clear, bright and burning crimson, hue, small to no head on top.

Aroma: rich, dark malts, some, small sweetness. Oktoberfest meets doppelbock, wit more of the hearty fruity notes of an ale.

Taste: Rich fruity flavors rise to the top. Cherry jumps out hardest? Apple and berry, a little bit oaky, a touch of tobacco. Something like that. Even it's not accurate, there's plenty of complexity. This is ever so tasty. About medium-bodied, delicious fruit/malty finish. Mmmm, mmm, good.

(I can't find any further info on this one. It's no longer listed on their site, not on ratebeer, but it is on BeerAdvocate, without the brewer's description, and is called a Fall Ale, categorized as an American Brown, listed as 6.4% aBV, and reviewed by one person.

Town Hall Dark Krystal Filtered Dunkel Weizen

Town Hall Dark Krystal, filtered dunkel wizen. Purchases last Wednesday at Town Hall, with a "best by" date of 11/27. That's today! Let's drink some.

Clear, dark mahogany hue, nearly crimson, very small head whittles down to nil.

Soft banana in the nose, slight cocoa. "Muted" is their word, and it's the best one. What would be bursting out in an unfiltered version is playing it nice and cool. Minor amounts of clove.

Taste: Smooth on the palate, light-medium bodied, small, but fruity finish. Ends a little dry, sharp, succinct. The only problem is, is that I'm missing what I want from a dunkel wizen. I need the yeast flavors. Got to have them. If I know they 're not there, and they should be, I keep on wishing for them. Very clean, snappy, nice and drinkable. Ain't nothing wrong with it….except for all the things I wish it was.

Here's the brief description from Town Hall:
Brewed in the same fashion as a Dunkelweizen. Light banana, clove, and chocolate characters. But we filtered this beer to give it a very bright and Krystal look. Smooth, refreshing, and a great body.

Summit Union Series: Rebellion Stout

Summit Union Series Limited Edition(is this supposed to be the opposite of Unchained?) (or what?) Rebellion Stout, Export Double Stout.

I'm quite a fan of this style, and am glad to see Summit attempt it at last. It helps that they have an Irishman with a history of brewing in England, and just a good lot of history in his head, on hand to brew this one. Talking about Damian McConn here.

How limited? Many stores got merely one case, but everyone got some. And the most popular stores sold out quickest. I looked at three stores today, and finally found it at the last one. One the other hand, I didn't see the latest Unchained beer at any of them. Saw the last one, though, and witnessed a clueless staff hunt for it. The search continues. Odd, isn't it, chasing after Summit beers?

Well, let's get to it. What else should we know? "Color: coal black. Bodiciea hops from the U.K., Stout malt from Ireland, 8.5% ABV., OG: 19 P, IBU: 70." This may be the strongest Summit beer yet, if memory serves me. {Edit: Not quite, the Belgian-style Golden Ale of a few years ago was 8.6%.}

Coal black it is, with a toasted tan head on top.

Aroma: very vast, deep and wide, rich dar malt is the key component, and all flavors fall out from there. Espresso and chocolate first, with anise coming in behind. A touch of molasses and treacle a little bit further back. Dry as charcoal.

Taste: Dry, roasty, toasty, deep and satisfying. Full bodied, long, malty finish. Very small amount of sweetness, quickly enveloped by dry, roasted malt flavor. Flavor is developing half-way through the glass, widening, growing in malty deliciousness.Nothing but excellent, this one. Nothing but.

August Schell Stag Series #8: August's Bock

August Schell August's Bock, Stag Series Limited Release Batch No. 8. A Collaborative Brew between August Schell Brewing, New Ulm, Minnesota, and Gold Ochsen Brewery, Ulm, Germany. No ABV given, but there is some gobbledygook, which I'll get to later.

Clear, amber-hued, creamy white head holds forth above.

Aroma: Lightly sweet and malty, …that covers it.

Taste: More sweet from more malt. More in line with a blonde doppelbock in flavor, without the same color. Not as dark and rich as many other db's. Medium-bodied, light, malty finish.Toasty and caramel-y.  Through it all, great balance, never too much of anything.
I'm enjoying this, though it doesn't seem especially special. Sometimes good is good enough.

What does the label tell us? "August's Bock is a blonde doppelbock beer collaboratively brewed by two 5th generation breweries in the sister cities Ulm, Germany and New Ulm, Minnesota."

Well, now we know.

Bocks and doppelbocks are the styles of beers that I enjoy drinking without having much to say about them. They are what they are, and they are good.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Westmalle Trappist Tripel

Here's one of the good old good ones. I had my first bottle of this in one of my first ever trades, many years before the beer was available for purchase in Minnesota Took these notes in February of 2003, and I'm sticking with them:
Westmalle Tripel Trappist ale, 9.5 % ABV, 33 IBU, Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle, Malle, Antwepen, Belgium.

When many a brew are lauded for their boldness and brashness, it's wonderfully refreshing to sit down and savor a perfectly balanced product that soothes and mellows. Westmalle triple is just such a delightful ale.

Color is a hazy orange, and the head's a full, towering stack of crackling, lacey, creamy foam.

 Aroma is led by sugar and spice, followed by everything nice.

On my first sip: sublime! Utterly heavenly! Light, smooth, uplifting, dazzling in every way.
Some fruitiness comes through in the middle, peaches, orange, slight citrus. Hops are lively, malt is solid, and delivers more than sufficient sweetness.
My satisfaction grows with each rewarding sip. I feel that I ought to re-consider every beer I deemed "perfect" prior to this. Soft, smooth, mellow, with a dominant and delightful finish.

Can a beer be better than this, be more perfect than perfect?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Squatters' Hop Rising Double IPA

Squatters' Hop Rising Double IPA, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Cast in a clear, amber/bronze hue, lush, large creamy white head. Looking great.

Aroma: Bitter-sweetness. A whole lot of everything in here. Plenty of fruit, some heat, some spice, pine and grass in places. Big time resiny hop presence. Nice.

Taste: Big bitterness greets us first, blazing the palate, leaving sweet remnants all over the mouth. Malt more than adequately keeps up with the beefed up hop quantity here. Nine percent alcohol in this one, and it starts to show. Sticky malt floor holds it's own, while hops bounce everywhere. Any dyed-in-the-wool hop freak should like this one.

Here's what the brewery tell us about it: "Big hop, big malt, big beer. One of the most aggressive beers ever released in Utah, Hop Rising a double India Pale Ale, clocks in at 75 IBU's and 9% alcohol. We use three different malts to create enough flavor to perfectly balance three varieties of hops, then we dry-hop it; resulting in an amazing two pounds of hops per barrel!  Hop lover's dream."

I wouldn't put this up in the far echelons of double IPAs, but it certainly is one of the good ones. Enjoy without reservation.

Moylan's Dragoons Irish Dry Stout

I was a bit surprised to see only 2 Moylan's entries up here on the Bitter Nib, so far, but I guess it makes sense. I haven't picked up any bottles in quite a while, it seems, and since adding reviews to this blog, I've tapped their beers at the Blue Nile only three times. The last one was Hop Craic XXXX Double IPa, which was part of August's Hop Heads Only Volume 5, and when it went back on tap after the event, I never got around to taking notes on it (it was draft only, I'd never had it before), and it ran out very quickly. Here's a quick review for you: it was hoppy as heck.

So, here's one from the archives that I've just re-tapped from the StoutFest from earlier this month. I first took notes on it in October of 2008, from a bottle. Here they are:

Dark brown, nearly black, under a thin ring of cocoa-tan head. Nice.

Aroma: Cocoa, cream, coffee, a whiff of anise and a glimmer of vanilla.

In the mouth: much chocolatey goodness. Beefy malt, then smooth and super drinking. Moderate, if not mild, bitterness. Sweet, then dry. Great balance. Great drinking. Plenty of flavor, but not too complicated.

Medium bodied, medium finish. A nice stout that delivers flavor, but doesn't stick around too long, or make any kind of fuss. Still, keep you reaching for another sip. Then another bottle.

....or another pint.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Bad Weather Schocko-Weizen Dunkel-weizen with cacao nibs

Bad Weather Schoko-Weizen Dunkelweizen with cocoa nibs. Storm cellar series #1. Brewed and bottled by Bad Weather Brewing Company, Minnetonka, MN. ABV 7.0% ABV.

Total blackness, under a full, 1/2 inch creamy tan, looking good from where I sit.

Aroma: chocolate and dark fruit notes come through first, spices, banana a little bit. Creamy, milky-ness, too…lactose in this? there's more than the straightforward dunkel weisse aromatics here. Something different is going on, an unusual yeast strain, maybe?

Taste: Chocolate hits the palate first, followed quickly by the wizen yeast character. There's banana, and spice, clove. Medium-bodied, full-flavored, and fairly unique. Plays rich on the tongue for a while, and ends on the dry side, with a lingering chocolate-y finish.

I'd like to see what they tell us on the label: "Schoko-weizen kicks off our limited edition Storm Cellar Series. We use classic Hefeweizen yeast to give this brew rich banana and clove flavors, with notes of toasted bread from the dark wheat. Schokolade is the German word for chocolate, so cacao nibs are added to give SCHOLO-WEIZEN it's rich, chocolately finish. A fitting style of beer to launch this limited series, Dunkelweizen was the first style of beer co-founder Joe ever brewed. Enjoy this one of a kind beer while it lasts…Prost!"

If this wasn't supposed to be so la-de-da, if it wasn't wax-dipped, in a big bottle, with a price tag of $9 or so, maybe I wouldn't be disappointed. It just doesn't deliver enough. Nothing wrong with it, nothing bad, just not good enough.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Southern Tier Warlock Imperial Stout with Pumpkins

Southern Tier Warlock Imperial Pumpkin Stout. 8.6% ABV.
A left over from StoutFest Volume six. I have to take notes on this one quickly before it's gone.

Dark as sin, this one, under a vast, thick, creamy-toned head. Looks fantastic.

Aroma: there's pumpkin here, but it's a little hard to find. At first. Give it time and it starts to follow, though still held back a bit but other stout-y aromatics, like a complementary helping of cocoa and coffee. Pumpkin spice notes are here, as well.

Now, to drink. Full-bodied, plump and thick in the mouth, with the pumpkin flavor fairly spilling all over now. End dryly with a slightly bitter touch in the finish. Tasty blend of the stout and the pumpkin. Sweetness is kept at bay just by a hair, a delicious tango between scrumptious flavors.

Do I like this? Yes, I do.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale

Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale 2013, Wet Hop Ale, , Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, California. Alc. 6.7% by Vol.

Clouded, with crimson coloring, under a rocky, boisterous head, leaving lacing.

Lively hoppiness marks the aromatics, of course. a beautiful showcase of piney and floral goodness. Ahhh….gorgeous.

Tasting it: All that glorious hop bounty arrived on the tongue with terrific aplomb. Extraordinarily generous hop delivery is the hallmark of this historic brew. The back of the label boasts it thusly: "Our Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale was the first American beer ever brewed with 100% fresh-picked "wet" hops. In one day, we harvest hops in Yakima, WA, ship them the same night to our brewery in Chico, CA, and into the brew kettles at dawn the following day. This extraordinary effort creates a beer unmatched aromatics of fresh pine, green grass, , and citrus--with layers of spicy bitter-sweet notes that hop fanatics like us dream of all year."

Man, that takes me back. I remember when word of this beer, originally just called Harvest Ale, first started spilling out, and how you could only get it in limited markets, and on draft only. Eventually it found it's way here, and I managed to get a keg in -(I'm gonna guess 2005? maybe?)----. This was before others got into the act, before Town Hall started the Fresh Hop Ale, before Surly did their Wet, before Indeed began their project, and if you're in a different region, you can just adjust  according to your geographic circumstances. There certainly wasn't anything like this, until Sierra Nevada got the ball rolling. I have to admit that I completely forgot about SN's Harvest ale in the intervening years. Not that it's not as good, it's just not necessary, since we have all these locally brewed version. (And, I presume, so many other communities have theirs.)

Medium bodied, hop forward, malt does it's thing, which in this circumstance means letting the hops take a bow. And they do, but how.

There's more of what I mostly refer to disparagingly as gobbledygook on the front: "Each fall, hops reach their peak flavor--bursting with aromatic oils that five ales layers of complex flavor and aroma that can only happen at harvest time. For us, fall comes twice a year--once in each hemisphere. This Harvest Ale features "wet", or un-dried whole-cone hops from Yakima, WA, that are plucked from the bine and delivered to our brewery within 24 hours of picking."

I looked it up on, and here is my original review, taken from a pint at some unidentified bar, before I could get my hands on a keg. It was very limited availability, then, and I didn't sell enough (or any!) SN to warrant getting one of the few kegs. These notes are from November 9, 2004:

Appearance: clear and bronze, under a light, thin, creamy tannish head.
Aroma: now, we're getting somewhere, fresh, fruity, ...citrus, grapefruit, peach, apricot, ...piney, floral, complex, and arousing.
On the palate, brisk and bold, grabbing and dominating the senses,a great hoppy blast with every swallow. Warm and toasty on the tongue, palpable hoppiness, hops never stop popping!
Great tasting, full bodied, with a long, fresh, hoppy finish.
My first encounter with this brew that I thought I'd have to travel to California to try, and now I'll have to return to the pub to satisfy this hop-craving I've developed!
In fact, it reminds me of the time two years back when I bought a new acquaintance a beer, and he had no choice, offered that he'd have whatever I had. So, I bought him a SN Celebration. Before he was halfway done with the pint, it started gurgling out of his mouth, and he offered no explanation for why it fled his lips.
Next time I saw him, he was drinking Rolling Rock.
If I bought him a pint of this, I'm thinking he would've hurled when it first met his mouth

Schell's Fresh Hop Mosaic Pilsner

Schell's Mosaic Pilsner, Fresh Hop, August Schell Brewing, New Ulm, MN.

Appearance: Clear, bright, golden, big, blooming snow-white head, leaving a little lace.

Aroma: Mosaic. What are you, man? Everybody's using you like you're the new hot hop. What are you giving us, what are you bringing to the table, what do you add? It spills out bitter, it busts out sweet, and it gives forth a mind-boggling melange of fruity esters. Maybe Mosaic is an appropriate appellation for this hop, because I can't find one single thing to pin on it. Blend of tropical and citrus.

Taste: Nice fresh bite of hops at the forefront, then all is smooth and easy. There's a little wheat-y texture in the body, some malty sweetness takes over the flavor, and great balance is the end result.

Hey, they have some gobbledygook on the label. " Schell's Fresh Hop Pilsner is made with freshly harvested hops. They are quickly shipped and put in the kettle, preserving their aromatic oils and resins. Contains wheat."

This is pretty tasty stuff, and drinkable as heck. Mmmm. Man, can you drink this one!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bad Weather Windvane Minnesota Red Ale

Hey, guys, where are we in this Minnesota beer boom? Anyone know? Are we still at the spark or are we about to hit plateau? How will history tag 2013, the year that brought us 612 Brew, Dangerous Man , Enki, HammerHeart, and this one that I'm reviewing for the first time, Bad Weather? Did I miss anyone? Bang Brewing? Burning Brothers? Anyone else? Help me out here. {How could I have forgotten Bent Paddle in Duluth, finally sending cans down here, a place I really have to visit!}
While you guys scratch your noggins, I'll throw out these notes I wrote earlier tonight:

Hey, guess what, Bad Weather, the third brewing company making beer out of the Lucid facility, has bottles now, all right!

Bad Weather Brewing Company, Minnetonka, Minnesota. Windvane Minnesota Red Ale. Alc. 6% by Vol. So, not an Irish Ale? Not an American Red Ale. Just good ol' Minnesota Red Ale, which means??? I guess we'll find out, once I open the damned thing…

Appearance: Dark red, deep and murky,  slim, but tight, off-whitish head.

Aroma: malty stuff, some hops, fruity esters. Some bright citrusy hop character mixes in. This is a very nice meeting of malt and hops, good balance, none taking spotlight.

Taste: Huh. That's a hoppy red, all right. The harmonious marriage of malt and hops detected in the nose seeming like it's gong through a stormy stage as it rages in the mouth. (I swear to keep the weather related jokes to a minimum.)
Bit of a dry, copper-y feel in the flavor, as sweet malt is check in check by hops, but in the end I'm not feeling anything especially distinctive results.
Some fruit notes, apple, cherry, and it is tasty, for sure, …however, I'm still on the fence here. There's nothing to not recommend it, but on the other hand…eh.

There's no gobbledygook on the label, but there is on the 6-pack carrier. " Our flagship year-round release WINDVANE stands strong through all types of weather and is a great fit for all seasons. Pouring a deep brilliant red, this is your go-to beer. If you want something hoppy, you definitely have it. America hops give WINDANE a swift bitterness with piney, citrus and resinous flavors. If you want something with strong malt shoulders, you have that too. Roast malt layers add complexity and keeps the beer dry to showcase the hops."

Okay, sure, but still…eh.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Southern Tier Plum Noir Imperial Porter with Italian Plums

Southern Tier Plum Noir, Imperial Porter with Italian Plums.

Dark brown color, utterly opaque, big, creamy tan head, leaving lace, and looking lovely. Looking good.

Aroma: dark, rich, roasty, coffee and toffee, with dark fruit rising up from below. Slightly sweet, slightly tart. Definitely plummy, but it's more delicate, and in no way a fruit-forward thing. Don't think that's either possible, or wise, if you're going to do this right. Great complexity here, I like it lots.

Taste: Brisk, bright, and fruity, though floating over a dark, malty morass. An intriguing mix, to say the least. Rich and thick, some bitterness, small sweetness, great balance. This is not a typical imperial porter,  just enough of this, plenty more of that.

Is it silky smooth? Almost. Is it fruit-tastic? Pretty much. It's all these things, and more. bright and fruity…some bitterness, massive malt, and extra deliciousness.

…a little wine-y...a little plummy...plenty richness. Good stuff, Southern Tier, keep it up!

Big Wood Bark Bite India Pale Ale

Big Wood Bark Bite India Pale Ale. 6.6% Alc/Vol. 66 IBUs. 16 ounce "pounder" can.

Once again, a label-less sample can from the distributor. This one is stamped 6/01/13. So, 5 and 1/2 months old, not nearly a year, like the Morning Wood Coffee Stout I just had. Also unlike that beer, it has a name that does not allude to erections, although I just don't get it. Two words that are both verbs and nouns, when taken together lead to confusion. Is the bark biting, or has the bark been bitten? Do I think too much about this? Was anyone thinking when they wrote the promo copy? I'll let you read it yourself and tell me if it's just nonsense, or what.

Let's drink it.

Hazy, golden appearance, vast, white, lacy head. Looks good.

Aroma: pineapple, lemon, and grapefruit. The copy won't tell us what hops used, only "citrus" is what they say…Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo? I'm no expert on that, I can only guess. Prickly pine, just a little, but all in all, bursting with citrus in this nose.

Taste: All that citrus flavor from the nose is shining on the palate now. Fairly sparkles on the tongue. Little bit of sweet starts before the bitter. Medium bodied, malt is here to hold the floor, and set the stage for hops to blaze. Mellows some and eases out. Bitterness lasts long on the palate, happiness trails right along with it.
A sessionable IPA, for sure. And a good one, but several  shades short of superior.

Big Wood Morning Wood Coffee Stout

Here's the thing about samples: sometimes they come in unidentified packages. While that is factual, as this evidence bears the truth, it does not happen very often. I have in the past received samples of products that have not yet been released to the public that were not cast in their perfect plumage, but this is the first time I was given a label-less sample of a beer that's already on the market. Which makes me wonder how old the can is…which makes me wish there was a born-on dat…wait, there is…11/26/12. Whoa. Not so fresh. I should have checked that earlier. I suspect this was given to the distributor for samples before the labels were designed and they took their sweet time handing them out. (I, in turn, took my sweet time opening it.)

No matter, let's drink this before I have to throw it a birthday party…

Morning Wood Coffee Stout, Big Wood Brewery, White Bear Lake, MN. It may not have a label, but I do have sell sheets, and am including images from them, free of commentary. 5.5% Alc/Vol. 35 IBU.

This was the brewery's first beer released, and won them some awards at local festivals before they ever had a commercial product ready for the public.

Cast in solid black, with a dense, rocky tanned head, actively carbonated, leaving lace.

Smells like coffee and cream. At nearly a year old (I received this can months ago, but no where close to the canning date.), it feels like some of the coffee aromatics have fallen off, so I can't fault this for not being bolder. Sweet and…here I want to say "creamy", again, I've got a good hunch there's oatmeal in this (checked the info, yes). Cocoa coming through. Very likable.

In the taste, it's right at the front, gets in there good, then fades back. Substantial dark malt body, superbly drinkable, fine tasting'. Coffee and chocolate jump back on board with each subsequent sipping, flavor lasts long on the palate, a very mellow, easily appreciated stout.

I can't stop finding fault with the marketing and copywriting efforts, no matter how hard I try. "Morning Wood….adds hints of oatmeal and malt…" I hope you're not hinting at malt. What a shame of a stout that would have been.

No, this is nice. And I'm trapped, unable to compare it, without a fresh sample to consider how coffee-forward this should be.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Bitter Crocodile (The Tale of the Screaming-hot Cocktail I Created and the Homebrew it Inspired)

I've got to play catch-up, friends, and correct my procrastinating ways. One of the tales I've been meaning to tell has been rattling around since July. I teased it on my personal facebook page, and some friends asked when I'd get around to doing this one. And that was months ago. So, at long last, the Tale of the Bitter Crocodile.

First off, a cocktail. Many years ago, when I was still very fresh at my current job, bar manager at the Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant and Lounge, I did much more with cocktails than I do now, long before it became the craze that it currently is. (There are certain bars around the city known for their cocktail culture and creativity that I just never enter, because I fear them looking down on me for ordering a lowly beer. And that's what I almost always what I want to drink.) Once upon a time I was one of those creative cocktail types, but dropped that stuff when I got more serious about beer. (I didn't have a fancy moustache, but I did wear a vest from time to time.)
And one of the things I did way back then was design a way to infuse vodka with berberre, the special spice blend (made up of more than a dozen different chilis and paprikas) that is an essential part of Ethiopian cuisine. It took me months, if I remember correctly, to get the method down perfectly. I read magazine articles and chapters in books, but none of that had a recipe for infusing anything that came in a powdered form. The methodology has never been written down, and in the past 13 years or so since I invented it, only produced by yours truly.

Right from the start, I used this spice-infused vodka to make two drinks, which have always been on our cocktail menu, although sometimes under different names. The bloody mary version is now simply called the Barberre Bloody Mary, and it has had it's share of devotees over the years. One customer could even tell the difference when I hadn't had the infusion steeping for the full week, merely five days, when she ordered it, so I comped her the drink. I've taken care to be well ahead on my batches since then.

The second drink is now known as the Crocodile Smile Martini, after the Nile crocodile, and the menu description ask: "When does a crocodile smile? When it's ready for lunch, and this is the drink that takes a bite out of you!" It's similar to a pepper martini, or cajun martini, any cocktail made with pepper vodka, but instead one using a vodka infusion that tastes just like our food. It's not for everyone, to say the least, and I've strived to warn people on the menu, for I've seen too many return unfinished by people who had no idea who hot, peppery, and incredibly flavorful it was.

Since we never got much attention for our cocktails, I was surprised when an editor at City Pages alerted me to the news that Crocodile Smile would make an appearance as the Drink of the Week, back in May of 2010. The writer didn't bother to contact me or ask any questions, and simply inquired to the bartender on duty, who decided not to call me (it was a day off for me when they decided to take the photo) and just make up stuff. The infusion does not sit for "A whopping two months." That would be undrinkable. Even a batch I made that went a few days too long was too hot, and had to be diluted to be drinkable. I wrote her to inform her that instead it was a mere seven days in the cooler. The bartender explained that he wanted it to sound more impressive. Maybe it's more impressive that only a week's infusion gives such strong flavors?

The press that it received didn't result in any extra fame for the drink. I remember one man who visited the bar because of the article, anxious to try the tastes he's read about, even though he confessed that his favorite cocktail is a bleu cheese-stuffed olive martini. Needless to say, he found it weird and didn't finish it. So, I continue to create batch after batch, just to supply the curious and the diehard fans, and there are some. Including a few who were inspired to make a beer with berberre.

Let's just start out by saying that I have some fans who I never see, even though I serve them. They're in the other room, sitting at tables and booths, ordering their beers and cocktails through the server on duty. Some of them step over to the other side and meet me, though they don't often, or ever, hang out at the bar. Some thank me for doing what I do, some just want to say hi, and I may or may not remember their names, but I'm good with faces. Such is the case with Brad and Katie. One day this summer, Brad came over to the bar, shook my hand and asked if I remembered him. Sure, I said, though not entirely, though his face seemed familiar. And didn't he look like someone who once just wanted to say "hey, good job with the beers here, keep it up." Sure, he was. And then he pulled out a bottle. His wife was a homebrewer, and her experiences drinking Crocodile Smile martinis gave her the idea to buy some berberre (not difficult to do, you can buy it online from WalMart, if you want.) and put it in a beer. They saved a bottle for me to drink. And I was kind of blown away.

Here's the very plain brown bottle, with a note of explanation tied around the top, identified on the cap with the letters BC for "Bitter Crocodile."

The Bitter Crocodile in close-up. Unfiltered and bottle-conditioned, it's color nearly matches that of the  drink.
I'm not especially a fan of pepper beers, and only really enjoy them in ales, where the body of the brew stacks up against the heat of the spice. But I'm always to willing to give a weird beer a try, especially one that I inspired.
I decided not to drink this one by myself, and saved it for my next visit to Dave's BrewFarm in early July. David Anderson is a man well known for using unusual ingredients in his beer recipes, although he's not one for going to extremes. And he's an excellent judge of beer, so why not get an expert's opinion?
Seen here, the note in it's entirety.

In Figure 3., we see Farmer Dave pouring out the Bitter Crocodile,  one for him, one for me.

I pulled out some paper and pen, and took notes on it, for posterity, something I don't always do. But when will I have something like this again? Here's a transcription of those notes, verbatim:

"cloudy amber, cream-toned head, low retention.
Big, hot & peppery aroma, all kinds of spice..

Taste: wow, all matter of spice, sitting on top of bready malt, but never too much, not undrinkable in the least. slight malt sweetness, fairly smothered by berberre heat, a manageable complex…(trails off, what?)

---not a summertime quaffer, or a refresher in the smallest way. would work well with food, definitely. after-dinner treat? hops are also hidden, malt holds it's own."

As for Farmer Dave, he found it a bit imbalanced, connoisseur of subtlety that he is. But he found it a well-made beer, all the while, and an interesting experiment.

So, thanks, Brad and Katie, I did enjoy. Don't forget me when you make your next batch, okay?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Surly Cacao Bender

I've written about Bender, Coffee Bender, and Moe's Bender. Apparently, Cacao Bender is actually different from Moe's Bender, and I don't know how, but they keep saying it is. Vanilla beans and cacao nibs added to coffee bender. Here's one description: "Mahogany hued ale infused with coffee, vanilla beans and cacao nibs. 45 IBUs." Here's how I described it: "Take Surly Bender (oatmeal brown porter) , add Coffee from Guatemala to make Coffee Bender, bring in African vanilla nibs and Guatemalan cacaoa nibs, and that equals utter deliciousness. That's Cacao Bender." I 'm not sure if I didn't use my Moe's Bender brief description, and replace it with Cacao. Anyway, let's drink some….

Deep, dark brown body, creamy head, lovely soft tan colored, long-lasting, lace-leaving.

Aroma: here it is. Coffee first, then cream, vanilla next, and cacao (cocoa?) all the way home. Perfection.

Taste: Lands on the palate all full of flavor. Small but palpable bitterness, gives way to intensive, sweet, but balanced malt. Coffee and chocolate stay on top of the flavors, with vanilla showing itself at the sides. A ton of stuff gong down here, and the caffeine isn't going to interrupt too much with my sleep schedule, I keep telling myself….

Guess what? I like Bender, I like Coffee Bender…I love Cacao Bender. Mmm, mmm good. Beautiful stuff, Surly. It's a tasty treat that can't be beat.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Grand Tetons Bone Warmer Imperial Amber Ale

Grand Tetons Bone Warmer Imperial Amber Ale. Grand Teton Brewing, Victor, Idaho. Cellar Reserve. Alc. 8.2% ABV.

Appearance: thoroughly hazed, deep crimson hue ("amber" is not a clear indicator of color, here), slim, soon-gone head.

Aroma: big & boisterous, deep & delirious, very enticing. Tremendous malt aromas, dark fruit, spice.

Taste: Bone warmer is right. Starts big, rich, vastly malty, and only mellows just a little. Full-ish body, long lasting finish.

Only caveat: could be fuller, could be richer, just a tiny bit too thin for a real winter warmer. Maybe it really is an amber ale juiced up, and it only resembles a barleywine? It's a case of mistaken identity. Bit of a style-buster here. Boozed-up amber that crawls towards a barley-wine in many ways, but doesn't get there. In the end, it does feel like a cheat. Why make an imperial amber, why not go bigger?

Whatevs. It's nice enough. Another quality effort from Idaho.

Ale Asylum Ballistic IPA

Ale Asylum Ballistic I.P.A., Best Enjoyed by 12/31/13. India Pale Ale, Net Contents 12 fluid ounces, Ale Asylum, Madison, WI. No ABV given.

There's a sexy silhouette of a woman shooting a hop cone in our general direction. Sharp graphics, and design, as always.

Vastly clouded, deep amber hue, white head of froth, leaving a little lace.

Aroma: bright ,fresh and zesty. Pine needles and grapefruit. Just want you want in an IPA. Beautiful.

Taste: The citric hop assault really delivers on the tongue. Slips effortlessly over the palate, leaving trails of fruity bitterness in it's wake. Medium bodied, long, bitter finish. Not too heavy, not too light. I have to guess about the ABV, probably 6-ish or so. West-Coast-style with a Mid-West sensibility. Plenty of juicy malt holding it down. A session-er for the dyed-in-the-wool hophead.

Hey, I found some gobbledygook!
" This American-style IPA has a mountain of Amarillo hops for explosive citrus aromas and aggressive bitterness with a clean, robust finish. Ballistic is brewed with passion and is best enjoyed that way."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Weyerbacher Heresy (Oak-aged Imperial Stout)

It started on November 1, 2008, when I decided to celebrate the birthday of a keg of Bell's Expedition Stout (dated 11/01/07, and kept in the basement of the Blue Nile), as well as have our own release party for Surly Darkness. And all of our other taps turned to the dark side, as well as some extra kegs I managed to sneak in, via jockey boxes, and the occasional cask ale. That was the year that Summit heard about the party and wanted to get involved with a firkin of Great Northern Porter, with black treacle, never before released at a bar. It was called Ale Saint's Day, on account of the fact that November 1 is known as All Saint's Day, and it was a roaring success. Even got interviewed by the Star Tribune for that one. I've learned a lot since then, like how to do sample sets (or as some call them, flights), what works, what doesn't, etcetera.

The second year, the event fell on Halloween and was called Ale Hollow's Eve. The big draw that year was a quarter barrel keg of Surly Darkness that had also been aged for a year, on tap alongside the current year, 2009. And so continued a tradition, where every year on the Saturday following Darkness Day, all of the taps at the Blue  Nile turned over to porters and stouts. They became StoutFests, since I couldn't keep coming up with clever names for events that fell on Nov. 2 or October 30. Some obscure brews were tapped on those days, like Salopian Entire Butt English Porter, Sinebrychoff Finnish Porter, and Troubadour Belgian Stout. What else? New Holland Dragon's Milk, Founders Breakfast Stout, Odell Bourbon Barrel Stout, Flying Dog Gonzo Barrel-Aged Imperial Porter, Deschutes Abyss, North Coast Old Rasputin, Brooklyn Black Chocolate, Tallgrass Buffalo Sweat, New Belgium Clutch, ...I could list them all, but I won't...or will I? Widmer Raspberry RIS, Stone Belgo IRS, Sierra Nevada Narwhal RIS, Central Waters Satin Solstice, Leinenkugel's Big Eddy Baltic Porter, Alaskan Baltic Porter, Flying Dog Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout, Bell's Kalamazoo Stout, Left Hand Smokejumper Smoked Imperial Porter, Lucky Bucket Certified Evil, ...Great Lakes/ Deschutes Class of '88 Imperial Smoked Porter, Left Coast Voodoo American Stout, Moylan's Dragoon Irish Dry Stout, Southern Tier Plum Noir, Southern Tier Warlock, Stone Espresso IRS, Surly Cacao Bender, ...that's SurlyFests 2011-'13...let's see if I can find the list from the other, found the list from 2009!...Tyranena The Devil Made Me Do It Coffee Imperial Porter, Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence, Bell's Rye Stout, Flat Earth Black Helicopter Coffee Stout, Nogne-O Porter, Southern Tier Oat Imperial Oatmeal Stout, Lion Stout, Bell's Expedition 2008 (another aged one), Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, Surly Bender...must find the 2008 and 2010 lists...

So, it happened again on the 2nd of November, last weekend, and I didn't do quite so much promotion, not that far ahead of the event, but we still had about 30 people waiting outside to come in when we opened. This is one event I've done that has always drawn a good crowd. And once again, there were no kegs that ran out during the event (actually, we ran out of Darkness the past two years, but that had been on tap for days earlier), which isn't surprising, since most people were enjoying the sample sets, and only taking 4 ounces out of those kegs at a time. You can get 150 four once pour out of a 5 gallon keg. (And we're only doing small kegs these days. There's a very good reason for this.) Don't think we had 150 visitors, and not everyone tried every beer, though some tried. Good fun, great beer people with great beer taste. And then we have an African DJ event and we're only making mixed drinks and opening bottles of Heineken and Guinness. Night and day. At least we have Darkness to drink at the end of the night...night and day. I'm indulging people in beer geek heaven in the afternoon, and suffering under the rudeness of besotten Kenyans at night. My life, welcome to it.

Enough of that, here it is, one of the most popular kegs of that night, Heresy, the oak-aged version of Old Heathen, the Russian Imperial Stout, from Weyerbacher, of Eaton, Pennsylvania. And guess what, I wrote about it from a bottle, back in September of 2004. Here are those notes from then:

heresy, 9/26/2004

Deep ebon hue, nearly all light is trapped inside, with mere crimson glimmers at the cracks...nice, though brief, cocoa-colored head.

Aroma is a bit on the shy side, not quite unfolding all the delights I anticipate from a top-of- the-line RIS. Molasses, maple, anise, espresso, the usual suspects.

Taste: nice, and rich, and very good in the mouth, but fairly underwhelming, compared to the better IS's out there. Cocoa gets thicker in the texture...alcohol, also, seems humble at first, though speaks up later in the game.

A bit hoppier than I expected, as well, and it all feels on the whole, mellow and smooth, despite the jumped-up flavor characteristics. Tasty, and not too overbearing. Gets thicker, richer, tastier as we go further in, but not too much so. A milder, mellower, balanced RIS than those I'm used to, but there's nothing wrong with that, is there? I didn't think so...

The more I drink of this, the more I like it. Doesn't blow me away, but that's okay.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Grand Teton Pursuit of Hoppiness Imperial Red Ale

Grand Teton Pursuit of Hoppiness Imperial Red Ale, Bottle Conditioned Beer. IBUs 100, 14 deg. Lovibond. OG 18.5 deg P. Alc. 8.5 % by Vol. Bottled on 8/13/13

Highly hazed, mostly murky, dark red coloring, with a slim head.

Aroma: Pine and citrus hoppiness paced equally with massive malt. Clearly, this Idaho brewery does not do things the west coast way, for all of their beers that I've tried yet so far have been well-balanced and boast hops and bitterness, but not at the expense of malt body.

Taste: Just like the APA from them that I just tried, this big, fat, hoppy wonder widens with time once again. It unfolds like flower with hoppy bitterness, and in time I find it's like an explosion than a flowering. Mmm. Yum. Full bodied, fruity malt and bright, piney hops make a wonderful marriage.

I'm getting a handle on this Grand Teton brewery. English-style all the way, bold but balanced. This one is big, loud and tasty, but not out-of-bounds. Yu-um.

Grand Teton Sweetgrass Pale Ale (APA)

Grand Teton Sweetgrass American Pale Ale. OG 15.0 deg. Plato, Alc. 6.0% by Vol. Bottle-conditioned Beer, IBUs 60, 8.4 Lov. Bottled on 9/3/13. Brewed and bottled by Grand Teton Brewing Company, Victor, Idaho. Government gobbledygook, and none other.

Slightly hazy, bronze-colored, with a lasting, snowy-white head on top.

Aroma: bright, citrus-y hops are well-matched by malt. The hop presence grows, opens, widens with time. Not too bold, not too shy, just right.

Taste: Mild on the palate, for a minute. Then comes a snap, a little hoppy bounce, landing right on a bed of sweet, smooth, tasty malt body. On the first sip, I was on the fence. Several more in, it's brighter and juicier, and I'm liking it more and more. The bottle conditioning really helps this one out, blowing the flavor up big.  I can taste the yeast, and I'm loving it.

Excellent ale, thank you, I'll have another.

Green Flash Green Bullet Triple IPA, New Zealand Dry Hop

Another sample! Very fortunate, as recent samples had been beers I'd previously purchased. In the end, this is one that I would have gladly spent money on, but never forget: free is good.
Here are the notes:

Green Flash Brewing Company, San Diego, California.
Green Flash Green Bullet Triple India Pale Ale, New Zealand Dry Hop, Alc. by Vol. 10.1%. Besides all the legal mumbo-jumbo, refreshingly free of gobbledygook.

Hazy amber, slim white head.

Aroma: Fresh and vibrant hop nose, clean citrus and tropical fruit notes. Spins out wildly hoppy and delightful.

Taste: Intensely and refreshingly bitter hop bite right at the top. Medium-bodied, moderate malt base, leaving plenty of space on the stage for hops to shine. Citrus notes are increasingly bitter, bright, clean and tasty. Pungent is another word to use on this one, extra-zesty is another, and strong is useful, as well.

There's a very unique flavor in this Green Bullet, and I've used all the descriptors I have on hand. This something I can't pin down about it. I said "clear" and I want to add "crystal"…what else works? Some of the words I want to bring up might not make sense…"scintillating?" Does that work? "Sizzling?" What is it that is so unique to this hop and this big bomb of a triple IPA, such as it is?

I may not know what it is, but I know that it works.

Third Street BrewHouse Rise to the Top Cream Ale

Once again, horray for samples! This here beer is one I was holding back on, because of my dislike of the "cream ale" style. Luckily, their distributor came through and I got a 4-pack of samples, which included 3 I've already written about here, purchased with my own money. This one, I really didn't want to spend my own dime on. The only other one I'm missing is their pumpkin ale, which I might be able to still snag. Nonetheless, here are tonight's notes on what might be their most popular beer, the cream ale from Third Street BrewHouse, aka Cold Spring Brewing, Rise to the Top:

Third Street BrewHouse Rise to the Top Cream Ale, Alc. 4.1%.

Hazy, pale yellow cast, small white head.

Aroma: soft, citric, lightly floral, a touch of sweetness.

Taste: Starts with a tidy hop snap (not quite a bite), here comes a squirt of lemon, a bit of bitterness, then it's all smoothness and light. Faint finish, light body.

Cream ales are all fine, but they'll never be a choice for me. You may have seen my review of Anheuser-Busch's Natural Ice, which won the gold medal at this year's Great American Beer Festival in the Cream Ale category. If that's the best that a cream ale can be, this is way off of the mark. And, still, I find no special thrill in it. It's decent, you can drink, and it's beer. But…blah.

Hey, there's a story! How about some gobbledygook?
"Wusses need not apply. In the quest to be the best, obstacles are obliterated. Like a barrel-chested brewer lets nothing stop him in his journey to reach the top. {huh? That's a sentence?} We've bottled that don't-hold-back, bar-none, full-flavor into Rise to the Top Cream Ale, and nothing says manly like cream on top." {What?}
That's right, we said it. We mean it, You like it. We know you do."

Oh, please. This puffery is only slightly true if your target market happens to have previously believed Miller Lite to be a macho drink. I wish I could get over the poor writing, and awful marketing, but the blase' beer doesn't help, either. I'm still hanging on for Third Street beer I might actually be able to say  that I like.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Unibroue La Fin du Monde

Man, does it take me a while to get to my favorites here on this blog! Why? Because I keep trying to tackle all of them, especially all the new, local ones coming out, and even the ones I don't like! They keep getting in the way of my faves, man! So! Here's a fave, and I'm looking at notes from February, 2003 for La Fin du Monde, the Belgian-style tripel from Unibroue of Montreal (-ish), Quebec, Canada, 9% alc./vol.:

Huge, billowy, lace, white-as-driven snow head, atop a perfectly golden, clear body.

Aroma is a sweet array of fruit and spice, coriander and clove,
standing far above any other particular aspect. Delightful and heavenly. Is it "the End of the World", because it enters us into the next?

Citrusy flavor stands on top, with dazzling hops and a marvelous sparkling sensation on tastebuds. Body is light, and extraordinarily uplighting. This brew handily earns it's rep as the Canadian stand-in for Duvel.

 A terrifically engaging, hoppy mouthfeel, and an exceptionally warming feeling make this ideal beer for any sort of celebration, such as Anniversarys, holidays, Wednesdays, midnights, 2:45 A.M.s, anytime you're exultant that the world hasn't ended, didn't get fired, dog still loves you, etc., etc....

Michelob Golden Draft Light

I am so behind with the products of Anheuser-Busch. But, you know what? I haven't reviewed that many beers by this great brewing concern, because, really, you know what? They suck. We all know it.

I've done four of theirs so far here, Natural Ice, Budweiser, Bud Light, and Bud Light Platinum. What have I written about already, yet not included here? Spring Heat Spiced Wheat, which is now known as  "Shock Top", I do believe. Michelob Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale and Michelob Celebrate Vanilla Oak...when will I see those again? Okay, O'Doul's Amber, we can get to that...and, Michelob Ultra Fruit Lime Cactus??? Did I drink that? Whoa! Would I ever wish to again???

The only one left, that I have easy access to, and have already written about is Michelob Golden Draft Light, which I am drinking now from a bottle, but which I first took notes on, for some reason, from a plastic cup, on tap, in a VFW lodge at a family wedding, which seems to happen a lot, lately. As I suffer through this damned thing, look at these notes on that terrible cup, from June of 2005:

There we are at the Buffalo, MN American Foreign Legion Lodge for my niece's wedding reception, and the common misconception is that the only beer that is provided gratis is this, the most popular beer in Minnesota, and the only thing on tap. The tap handle said "Michelob Golden Light", no "Draft", which made me wonder if it was another beer...nope, just more confusion.
Pale yellow, in the plastic cup, with a slim head.
No aroma.
All water, all the time....a glint of beery flavor appears, then blinks away in an instant..this is definitely for people who don't care what they put in their mouths, and haven't a clue, nor care, how much better beer can be...
...anyone who thinks they're drinking beer when they drink this?...I just pray for them...
...just picture the clamor when we realized the whole bar was free, and there was no need to stick to this swill!

It's just bad. And I feel bad for anyone who chooses it. Why drink this, ever? Come on, people!

Tallgrass Zombie Monkey Robust Porter

Tallgrass Zombie Monkey Robust Porter, or as it's also called, Post-Apocalyptic Porter. 6.2% aBV. 35 IBU. Notes: "A relentlessly tasty beer inspired by approximately true events." (?) Brewed and canned by Tallgrass Brewing Company, Manhattan, Kansas. Est. 2007.

This is the debut of the Tactical Grip Can, to prevent slippage while fleeing. So, that while we run from zombie monkeys, we're not dropping our cans o' beer. Sigh…(Is that really a problem, dropping beer cans? Even outside of the zombie apocalypse?)

Maybe I've already mentioned how bored I am by the ubiquitous zombie thing. Perhaps I am the only one? …sigh….
Also note that the name "zombie monkey" puts this very close to filling out the pantheon of internet meme characters. Next up: Robot Ninja.

Solid blackness, roasty brown head atop. Looks nice.

Aroma: chocolate, coffee, and caramel, richly roasted. Butterscotch. Dark fruits, plum, fig. Just enough sweet, just enough roast. Nice.

Taste: Deep, rich, and delicious. Full-boded, and surprisingly smooth. All the flavors from the nose return in the mouth. This one has it all, and it all adds up to yum. Quite nice. Solid stuff. All kinds of tasty.

More like this, please, Tallgrass!

A Tale of Three Shandies

Remember how I told you how much I love samples? Boy, howdy, do I! Even when they are products I'm not likely to love. I get to try something new without paying for it. Not long ago, I received a 6-pack of samples from a sales-rep that included a "pumpkin shandy" from the Traveler Beer Company. Just the other day, I got a special visit from a representative of that company who gave me three more of their beer-like products for me to sample. And sample, I will, while trying to keep an open mind out of respect…who knows, maybe I'll became a shandy fan? Maybe…

A caveat: In transit from work to home, one of the bottles leaked a little, and possibly lost carbonation. I'll open that one first. Looking at it, it seems like it lost about 2 ounces while it shook around the back of my bicycle, and this one is Time Traveler Shandy, Ale Brewed with Lemon Peel and natural flavors added. 4.4% Alc. by Vol. Brewed and bottled by the Traveler Beer Company, Cincinnati, Ohio and Brenigsville, PA. Again, the label doesn't tell you what a shandy is, and describes the product only as an ale brewed with lemon peel, and which natural flavors? Not a word about blending the beer with soda.

It also oddly leaves out the natural flavor that is added, which is puree of strawberry. Malts: 2-row barley, malted wheat, hops: Hallertau Mittelfruh,.

Appearance: clouded pale golden color, slightly pink, small head (that I blame on the leakage, all my fault.)

Aroma: Sweetness, very lemon-y, swiftly overtaken by strawberry. A little bit tart.

Taste: Sweet and strawberry-riffic, with that small jolt of tartness. Citrus pops up, and then the carbonation and the soda fizz dominates. Strawberry jumps in here and there, but isn't the dominant note.

"Time Traveler" is a beer truly ahead of it's time. A vibrant wheat beer brewed wit real strawberry for a subtle yet complex flavor. Open one up for "A Taste of the Future!""

Fruity and refreshing. Okay, yeah, it's nice. Now, on to….The Curious Traveler, Ale Brewed with Lemon peel and natural flavors added. Those being, lime. Also 4.4% ABV., same malts and hops. Basically we've got a German-style wheat beer, though not sure what yeast they use. We do know the IBUs: 7. Same as Time Traveler.

The lookin': Highly hazed, golden-hued, slim white head.

The smelling': Lemon and lime are largest, with notes of honey, slightly tart. I kind of like it.

The tasting': Lemonade spritzer through and through, on top of a smooth wheat ale taste. Still some semblance of beer here, but …hell, it's exactly what it's supposed to be, it's a wheat ale with lemon lime soda added in, it's tart and refreshing, and it/s not the sort of thing I feel like drinking in November. It is what is, and I can't it for that. And I will finish the bottle, and I will drink the next one…

And that one is Tenacious Traveler, the winter seasonal, brewed with ginger and honey…

Lookin': Exactly like the last one.

Smellin': Exactly like a can of Schweppes ginger Ale, or Canada Dry. There's ginger, and plenty of lemon and lime. Nice.

Tastin': Alcoholic ginger ale. No real beer flavor …you'd have to search for it. Wait, there's some, sure if you squint just a little…brings to mind the British term for "malt-ernatives" that says it best: Alcopops. It's fizzy, it's ginger-y, and, again, it ain't for me. Someone's got to like it, but not I.

In the end, I gave up and tossed out about 1/3 of the glass, down the kitchen sink. Out of boredom, more than anything else. It was getting later, I was yearning for a real beer before I closed out the night, and in the end, finishing the whole 12 ounces meant tossing back more alcohol with no pleasure, and I was no longer interested in that.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Surly Pentagram (bottle)

Surly Pentagram Flanders Red Ale, I mean, American wild ale, 6.66% ABV (naturally) was first released in kegs and bottles in February of this year. My earlier posting on a Beer called Pentagram was the unblended version from 2 years earlier. I bought a few bottles and opened one up finally last night. Here are the notes I took:

Surly Pentagram, bottle, aged, what? 10 months, nine? Not sure. I wrote about a beer with this name when we tapped it in 2011, as part of the Surly 5th anniversary celebration, when it was one of the threads that would later become Surly Five. IS this the same beer, or a new one? Whatever it is, it's called Pentagram.
I bought a bunch of these when it was released in, again I ask, what? January, February? I forgot. But I haven't opened one since. Until tonight…

Deep magenta hue, with ruby-tinged highlights. Small brown-tinted head rests above.

Aroma is flush with wine-like flavors, which are swiftly subsumed with sour. Each new sniff (shout out to D L-H), the flavors widen, deepen, grow in complexity.
Deep malt, chocolate tones emerge just to be cover by the wine barrel's work. Just plain ol' gorgeous. I could drink it in deep all night long.

Now, to taste: Ah! Starts out bright, fresh, vibrant, bursting with bold flavors. Sourness isn't overbearing and is exquisitely balanced. Lush, juicy dark fruit flavors continue on the palate, some oaky/woody-ness, a bit of caramel malt, but mostly the sour cherry. All together it's a lot of mmmm, and a good dose of ahhhh.

Let's read the label, shall we? "Beware! This arcane seal guards an enigmatic brew that is FUNKY, DARK, and SOUR. If you choose to break the seal, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! 100% Brettanomyces Dark beer fermented in stainless and aged in used red wine barrels. "Brett" is a unique yeast strain that produces flavors that would be considered offensive if they were not intentional. Flavors of sour cherry, tobacco, oak, and classic "Brett" barnyard funk balanced by dark Munich malt chewiness. Enjoy immediately or age at cellar temperature for a couple years."

What it is, is rather remarkable and definitely delicious. I have two more bottles that I intend to age even longer. What will it be like at one and a half years? Two? But right now I can't wish for anything better.

Stone Suede Imperial Porter, Collaboration 2013

Stone 2013 Collaboration w/10Barrel & Bluejacket (whoever they are), Suede Imperial Porter, Ale Brewed with Calendula Flowers, Jasmine, and Honey. 9.6% Alc. byVol.

Purple ink on a black bottle, impossibly small. I ain't reading' that. I'm just going to crack it open and see what's inside.

Deep, impenetrable blackness, under a slim ring of cocoa-tinged head.

Aroma: light floral & honey notes dance on top, hovering over dark fruit and chocolate.

Taste: Sweetness and fruit (currant, berry, raisin, fig) grows and grows, tempered by hop bitterness and roast character. This is what they mean when they say complexity. Fullness of body, depth of flavor, a tremendous amount going on in here. Dark and smooth, supreme drinkability. Lots of richness, with delicate floral flavors that somehow comment with all the heavier flavors.

I like this. Unique creation, outstanding collaboration.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lucid Duo Double IPA

Lucid Duo Double IPA. 9% ABV. Lucid Brewing, Minnetonka, MN.

"DUO is a double hopped sledgehammer. Sky high IBUs hammer your palate and break down your beer boundaries with each face-slapping sip.  Great beer from the North that is far from Minnesota Nice!"

Clear, amber-hued, big, lasting, creamy white head, leaving lace.

Aroma: bitter and slightly sweet, resin-y, pine and citrus. Honey and grapefruit.

Taste: Astringent and bitter at first, the way all good double IPAs should be. Slightly abrasive, good amount of grit on the palate, just short of aspirin-y. Bitterness subsides just a touch, and the fruit rises and shines. Lot of hoppitude happening. Gets more mellow in the mouth, smoother and tastier. I like this one.

As I looked for info on this for this post, I saw a note on their website that this brew is on hiatus until next spring due to "over-consumption and limited availability on hop contracts." I was hoping for some specific information on the ingredients and the hops, only to find that they aren't making it anymore. Clearly, they have a hit on their hands, that they can't turn out currently. (Although, I still have a keg on hand, how did that happen?)

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery Anniversary Ale

I've discussed this previously, but it bears repeating that the brewery with the most number of reviews on this blog is Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, 1430 Washington Avenue South, in the Seven Corners neighborhood. I actually counted the number of beers I've reviewed of theirs on when a thread asked users how many beers they'd reviewed from a single brewery, and was a bit surprised to see that I'd done just over 200 from them. (Pretty sure that I won that one.)Over on, they actually keep track of that for you (if you're in the top) and rank the users with the most ratings. I'm at #1 with 148 on that site. (Currently, my reviews go here first, then on BA, and then maybe some time after I put them on ratebeer.)

But, enough of the blah, blah, blah. The point I'm getting at is: In nearly 3 years of this blog, I haven't added their perennial offering, Anniversary Ale. Last year, I included the 15th Anniversary IPA, but that's a different beast entirely. Nothing like that was offered this year, but once again, the IPA styled after Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale (often referred to by the brewery as a "Celebration-style ale") was among the treats for Anniversary Week. Even though I'd reviewed it before, I took home a growler and wrote fresh notes. Here they are....

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery Anniversary Ale.

Looking: Clear, dark crimson coloring, slim, whitish head.

Smelling: Sweet and malty, and also bittersweet, lots of hops.

Tasting: Caramel malt hits first, followed by wave after wave of citric hops. For years this was described as a "celebration-style" ale (and maybe it still is), which means that it is modeled after Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. It does a good job of imitation, and in fact, I can't tell the difference between them. Rich and malty tangoes with citric hoppy.

Tasty, tasty stuff. Very satisfying.

Here's the odd thing: people keep adding it into Beer as a different beer each year (they don't do this on ratebeer, though). But it's always the same recipe, same SN Celebration clone. I wrote notes on it and published them on BeerAdvocate in 2003, '04, '05, and '07, until at last I threw in the towel. I can't keep repeating the same descriptors over and over again. 

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...