Friday, January 31, 2014

Day Block Northern Discovery India Pale Ale

And now on to the newest Minnesota brewery of 2014, the first and certainly not the last. This year looks to possibly outdo 2013. In the past few weeks, I've learned of four new breweries getting ready to open. Who knows how many have yet to show their hand?

So we turn to Day Block Brewing Company, 1105 Washington Avenue South (mere blocks away from Town Hall Brewery, right next to Grumpy's Bar) which is in the street level floor of what I never knew, until I heard about this business, to be the Day Block Building. What an odd name for a brewery. A block for the daytime? A block full of days? Blocking days? No, it's named for the building, because it's original owner, Mr. Leonard Day, once owned the entire block. One has to wonder what happened to the rest of the block, for the other buildings are clearly of another, more recent,  era.

 It was the home of Frank Plumbing for many decades, and was purchased in the 2000's by the current owners, who leased the space to a restaurant called Spill the Wine. That relationship ended some time ago, and the owners, who house their internet business on site, as well as an event center on the top floor, followed their passion for home brewing into building their own brewpub. This plan fell into my focus when my friend Paul Johnston informed me in spring or summer of last year that they hired him on as their head brewer. Paul worked for Harriet for almost a year, his first professional brewing job since receiving training at the Siebel Institute. This was followed by a short stint at Lucid Brewing, in Minnetonka. With the opening of Day Block, Paul at last gets to show the beer lovers of Minneapolis his original recipes, a proud time for him.

My first taste of his beers was Saturday in St. Paul at the Winter Carnival Beer Dabbler, a bit of the Black IPA and the scrumptious Coffee Porter. I made it down Monday for the very end of their grand opening Monday night, and had a Northern Discovery IPA with Paul at the bar, following that with a Porter. I popped in again Tuesday for a Bahn Mizza (yes, I forgot to mention that the restaurant for this brewpub is a pizzeria), their pizza version of a Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwich, and 3 more pints to fill out the range of their offerings. I took home a growler of the IPA for a full review. Forgot to take notes, or copy from the menu, so I'll feel in the details on this brew later. I remember Northern Discovery is new variety of hop, grown in the Mid West.

Some of the staff have been shortening it to Northern Disco. That's cool, I guess. This is what's written on the tape over the cap. Also, "11/27", the date it was filled, I presume. (Others, like Town Hall, use a drink by date).

Clear, amber/orange hued, under a full flush of chalk white head, drifting down, but staying put.

Aroma: fresh, vibrant citric hop notes. A little bit floral, though not overtly bitter. I keep wanting to say "creamy"…what is that exactly?

Taste: Once again, when it hits my tongue, "creamy" jumps to the front of my mind, keeping up with "fruity." Is there lactic yeast at work, somewhere? Interesting combo. Further sips in reveal a clean, even mouthfeel, with moderate hop bitterness. No "palate buster" here, just smooth, easy-drinking hoppiness. There's enough bitterness on the palate so that you know it's an IPA, but it's not a punishment, it's just a solid treat. Now here's where I wish I'd taken the notes, on the IBUs and ABV's. I'm gonna guess, and we'll see how I do when I next go on their website, or peek at the menus. I'd say 5.9 % aBV. 60-some IBUs. (I'm way off: 5.5%, 45 IBUs)(They label it a session IPA, and describe it thusly: The unique hop character comes from the Northern Discovery hops, a rare breed grown in Western Wisconsin. With a low bitterness and lighter alcohol, this sessionable IPA is great any time of year.)

The main thing I get from this is flat-out tastiness that would pair excellently with their bill of fare. Pizza and beer are a classic combo, and I see this as a go-to match-up with any of their offerings.

Bad Weather Ominous MidWest Warmer Ale

Bad Weather Brewing Company Ominous Midwest Warmer. Alcohol 7.5% by volume. Proudly brewed in Minnesota, Est. 2013. Bad Weather Brewing Company, Minnetonka, Minnesota.

Bad weather is all we've got these days, so it seemed appropriate to tackle this one. Leaving me one from this brewery to try, if I can get my hands on it. (Nope, two: Firefly, the rye, and a blonde ale called Migration.) Without further ado, away we go, into the Ominous. I have had this one on tap at Acadia Cafe, but it didn't make a big impression on me. Perhaps the bottle will turn the tide?

Solid black body, with ruby highlights, and a roasted tan head above. Looks just fine.

Aroma: dark fruit, plums and raisins, slightly tannin-y, a touch of sweet, and a trickle of sour. Further sips in, more hoppy bittersweet notes clash just a bit with the chocolate malt tones. Mostly harmonious. Good depth, good flavors, without too much complexity. Just enough, perhaps, to make this an easy drinker, albeit with a slightly higher alcohol level.

Very nice wintry seasonal ale. Does the trick. I'll finish the 6-pack with no complaint.
Clouds grow dark, the winds pick up, a chill sets in--the weather is not looking good. Thankfully, our cold weather seasonal OMINOUS is the perfect beer for this situation. Warming from the inside out, it's a good reason to stay indoors. At 7.5% ABV, this Midwest Warmer has layers to stand up to the most frigid of winter nights or rain-soaked spring days. American, English, and British malts come together to satisfy the soul with rich, nutty roasted flavors. Dark candi sugar brings out  hints of dates, raisins, plum and chocolate, OMINOUS is a dark storm of a beer--big, intense and something to keep your eye on."dygook from the 6-pack carrier:  "

Robinson's Old Tom Chocolate

Robinson's Chocolate Old Tom. Now, I hope that this isn't like Old Tom Ginger, by which I mean to say that I hope it's not Old Tom mixed with chocolate milk. Or something. "Malt beverage with chocolate added. 6.0 % Alcohol by volume." Made with the World's Best Ale." Okay, not promising. But, away we go…

Dark brown, with reddish highlights, under a light brown head.

Aroma: Malt and cocoa. Not much else. Huh.

Taste: Hmmm. Well. Yeah, chocolate. And beer. But not the best I expect when I see the words "Old Tom". What did they do to it? Is it watered down, when they add the chocolate? There's really no resemblance to the old ale it's named after. So sad. Sigh…

What's the label say? Blah, blah, blah…"In this ale, we have blended OLD TOM with delicious chocolate, specially made by the renowned chocolatier Simon Dunn. The result is a deliciously indulgent drink--warming and velvety smooth. If you like this ale, you should try OLD TOM Ginger."

Well, I didn't and I won't, because I don't. Or something. Yeah, it's "smooth" and "velvety", …sure…sigh…except that it's nothing like Old Tom. And even if it weren't called Old Tom, I'd be disappointed, still. Blah. Phooey. Me no like.

Lesson learned. Kind of. What did I spend on this, $5 or something? I want it back.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Summit Great Northern Porter

A few weeks ago,  I entered the IPA from Summit on this here blog, and noted that the Great Northern Porter was the only other regularly brewed offering from that brewery that has not been listed here yet. (Although another new one appears this week, the Frost Line Rye. Had a taste on Saturday, but wasn't able to snag a bottle.) I picked a 6-pack today in an effort to close that circle and dot that i, and now I re-visit the old notes.

But, first. My, oh, my, how like opening a time capsule it is when I check out an eleven year old beer review. You'll know what I mean when you're done reading this one. I gave it a whopping 4.58/5, a full 19.9% deviation from the standard mean, back on January 9 of 2003:

Someone once asked me what would be the one beer I'd choose if I can only have one for the rest of my life, the old desert island query. They were surprised when I chose this, and I had to bring out my rationale. But first...

Big, bubbly, cocoa-colored head, dark brown color.

Aroma comes out with fresh roasty flavors, toasty flavors, some spiciness, chocolate, espresso, etcetera.

 Darkens in taste as you go, with a thick full, well-balanced mouthfeel, but still sufficient bitterness. Marvelous and mellow, slips down the throat nicely, but still with a bit of a bite.

If Summit ever dropped it, I'd have to break down and sob.
Not as powerful as many other porters, but reliably flavorful. Why do I choose it for this "last and only" choice?
 It's excellent for my kind of session ale, not too strong or powerful, just right in hops and malt. And it's local, from just across the river, and I don't have to mention how important that is...
From the perspective of eleven years later, I can honestly affirm the rightness of my thinking. A mere three years later, along came Surly and the game began to change forever. This year looks like it will beat last year, with more and more new breweries being announced. It was important to support the one from across the river eleven years ago, but now I have the option of supporting the one from a few blocks away. Summit Great Northern Porter, one of their first offerings ever, is still an excellent example of an American version of a robust English porter. Nothing spectacular at all, as evidenced by how my wild enthusiasm veers so far from that of rational thinking people, obviously, but a good old stand-by.

So, the final question is would it still be my "desert island beer", the last one you could drink for the rest of your life? I remember once answering that with Anchor Porter, for the exact same reasoning, and I have to re-agree with myself. It wouldn't be an Imperial Stout or Imperial anything. As much as I like them, I can only have one or two a day. If it were an IPA, would I get bored by too much hops, and they would lose their luster? Would I be over-whelmed, not able to stomach too
(Note: check out the glass: something I bought at the Summit Brewery gift shop many years ago. One of the oldest glasses in my collection. Compare it's logo to the bottle. Then consider that they're re-branding currently, and both of those logos will be out-dated soon. That is all.)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Stone Punishment

Let's follow Patience with Punshment. Wait, that makes no sense. But, I did it, anyway, and learned a lesson: Don't spend $17 on a bottle that you're probably not going to like. Notes, ahoy!

Stone Punishment, 2013 Double Bastard Ale, Ale brewed with peppers and aged in bourbon barrels. 12.0% ABV.

Highly hazed, dark , rich amber hue, under a slim, whitish head.

Aroma: high peppery heat, little bit of chocolate. Actually, a lot of bit. I like this.

Taste: Boom! Whoa! I was not ready for this! Ho! Ha! Hee Hoo! Scalding on the palate, overwhelming heat. What? Whoa! Maybe you'd think  that'd come in handy, after the sub-freezing temps I've been dealing with, but it's not my tongue that's been frozen, it's my toes.

Ow! What? How? Why? No, really, Why?

I have to say that this is not particularly enjoyable. For me. And I don't have any lesser beers to mix it with. I'm pouring it down the drain, I'm not mixing it with any non-beers…so, I might have to mix it with what I'd have …which is a good beer, a bottle of Fulton's The Libertine. I need some rescue from this, this…monstrosity. Punishment is the absolute best word for this. It's too, too much.

I wonder what the label tells us? "Punishment was born as Double Bastard Ale, a heavy bitter beast of a beer. It was already not for the timid, but with the addition of jaw-dropping quantities of freshly harvested local peppers, including mid-level heat red and green jalapenoes and ultra-hot  black nagas, Caribbean red-hots, Moruga scorpions and fatalis, it morphed into a a truly punishing brew.  Aged in  Kentucky Bourbon barrels. 82 IBUS. 12.0% Alc. by Vol.

I just had to try it. Had to grab it while the grabbing is good, but it wasn't for me. Who is this for? It's nearly undrinkable. Terribly unbalanced. Too much fire. Not for my tongue. Adding the Libertine is bringing it down some, but not a lot.

Ahhhh!!! Whoa! Wow!
Come on! for the love of Christ!

That's where my notes stopped. I added as much of The Libertine as I could, and didn't make it through the combination of the two beers. Not for me. Now we know. (But didn't we already?)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Fulton Patience Barley-wine

So, we're looking at looking breweries and how I've cataloged their beers here on this blog. As for Fulton, I've logged five of theirs here, from growler, bottle, and on tap. What have I missed? Tap-only beers, taproom-only beers, one-off casks and such. Beers like Batch 300. Two Gingers Barrel-aged Libertine, Expat Rye Saison, Insurrection, and The Ringer. If I were a better customer of Fulton, I might've snagged some of those. Ah, well, life goes on ...And here's a new one in a bottle, and I got one, and I drank one...Here it is, and here are my notes...

Patience. Clearly, I have none.

Fulton went and made a barley-wine. Very small batch. 200 cases went out to stores. Don't know how many barrels that is. And I like the barley-wines, so I can't wait, I'm gonna drink it. (This was purchased Saturday last, was released that week.)

Dark ruby coloring, hazy, with active carbonation, very little head.

Aroma: sweet and fruity, deep and complex. Oak and orange. Leather and lime. Malty meets hoppy meets everything.

Taste:  Full fruitiness floods the palate, buoyed by hop bitterness. A beautiful blend. But, you've got to up for it. 13.2% alcohol by volume. That's a touch on the high side. Never really leaves the stage, but the fruity malt flavors, and the bold bitterness try their best to match it. Big stuff, amazing ale.

Let's read the label. "Garage Series. It's been said that in addition to malt, hops, water, and yeast, a fifth essential ingredient is required when crafting a barley-wine: time.  Time to brew, time to ferment, time to condition. Enjoying barleywine calls for the same deliberation. So slow down, Sit down, Power down. Set the world aside. Sip, reflect, and repeat. Your patience has been rewarded."

So, yeah, I wanted to drink this "young" and judge it as it was turned in to market. But, I really ought to show some patience, after a find another bottle, buy it, and sit on it for another year or so, and see how it cools, and mellows. It's pretty "hot" right now, as it is. I used to love big, burly, massive malty monsters like this, young and fuzzy, growling and hissing. Now, not quite as much, not as much as I'd like them to cool and hum and purr. Big, but not punishing, not overbearing, not smothering.
That's what patience will do.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Third Street Brewhouse Sugar Shack Maple Stout

Third Street Brewhouse Sugar Shack Maple Stout, brewed by Third Street Brewhouse, Cold Spring, MN.

I'm still on the fence with these guys. Not in their court yet, not even close. Some are good, none are great, I'm kind of like, "eh", is how I am. So, here's another, and it's something I've never had before…a stout with maple. Huh. Well, here we go.

Full-on blackness, beneath a rich roasted tan head, lasting long. Looks good, looks good.

Aroma: dark malt, chocolate, …dark fruits..-ish? Beyond that, I'm getting an empty set.

Taste: Okay. Malt. Bitter hops, a bit. Sweetness, for a bit. And then…suddenly, in rushes the maple sweetness. Not too sweet, thankfully, but there's the flavor, kept in check with hop bitterness. Nice balance. More cocoa rises out of the flavor, matched by the maple, …and then not much. I imagined that I was in for a strong maple flavor, overwhelming all else, dripping with the syrup-y stuff. Maybe that's a pessimistic viewpoint? That I expected more than I wanted, and yet wound up with less? Huh…

Okay, now it's time to turn the label and find out what it says: Again with the all caps. Here we go…"Tucked in the backwoods of the legendary Saint John's Abbey, the Sugar Shack is operated by monks passing on century-old secrets and providing some seriously sweet history. These guys take maple syrup making as seriously as we take great beer making. These discerning monks have given Third Street Brewhouse exclusive rights (yep, that means just us) to pair their notorious sweet blend with our perfectly crafted beer so we can bring you the Sugar Shack Maple Stout."

So many problems with this overblown copy. "Perfectly crafted"?Don't ever say that. Good lord, never say that you are perfect. Once you tell me that you are perfect, I stop listening to you. Is there really a Saint John's Abbey somewhere, (if it's so legendary, why haven't I heard of it?) or is this more bullcrap? I'd love to be proven wrong, but it just feels so very fictional. The whole yarn is well-spun malarkey, and the end product is rather blase.

(Okay, I'm wrong. But, still.)

I didn't buy this beer, I waited until I got a sample. I'm glad I finally tried, and I'm grateful for the freebie. But this is unexceptional, at the very least, and the overblown puffery in "The Story" really turns me off. I have to say that we're stuck here. I will continue to try these guys for free, but I'm not spending any more of my own money on them. It's all a lot of "so what." nothing that they've brewed has done anything for me, especially when compared to what they themselves say about it. So. Keep trying, Third Street, and I'll keep trying to like your beers.

Robinson's Old Tom Ginger

Robinson's Old Tom Ginger, Ale with Ginger Root and Pear Juice. "Made with the World's Best Ale.11.2 oz. 6.0% by Vol." Isn't that lighter than regular Tom?

Dark brown, nearly black coloring, smallish, off-whit-ish head.

Aroma: Ginger roars on in, loudly and proudly, with fruit just behind. Yeah, pears, I hear you. Ginger and pears, ain't that something? Well, guess what, I like it.

Taste: sweet and spicy, and …interesting. The fruit and spice lord over all, and dominate whatever is underneath. Can I taste Old Tom under the ginger and pear? No. Do we know what part of Old Tom was used (remembering this is much weaker than real Old Tom?) in infusing the pear and Ginger, here?

I find this irresistible, yet hard to handle. It's not special enough for the price (I think I paid about $5 for a small, soon gone, bottle.), yet it is delicious. However, despite that, nothing too special. I'm interested in the label gobbledygook:

"Old Tom is a legend amongst ales. First created by the Robinson family in 1899, it has won almost every brewing accolade including being voted THE WORLD'S BEST ALE. In this ale we have blended Old Tom with the famous Fentiman's Ginger Ale. The result is a wickedly indulgent drink--silky smooth with surprising ginger burn. If you like this ale, you should also try Old Tom Chocolate."

The style indicated is: "Premium Ginger Ale." So now I wonder, did it lose alcohol content because it was blended with a non alcohol ginger ale, rather than having ginger added to the brew itself? I think so. I should pay half as much per bottle then, I think. The more I drink this, the more it tastes like ginger ale, and the less it tastes like the old ale, the Old Tom that I like. I bought a shandy without knowing it.
(I should have known, though. The label does read, "Made with The World's Best Ale.")
I say Boo on this. Boo.

Ballast Point Victory at Sea Imperial Porter

Ballast Point Victory at Sea Porter with Coffee & Vanilla, Imperial Porter, Handcrafted & Bottled by San Diego, California. Dedicated to the craft. 1 pint, 6 fluid ounces, alcohol 10% by volume.

Okay, Victory at Sea, it says, but the illustration depicts a pirate's skeleton. Doesn't look like any victory to me. But, whatever, let's drink it up.

Solid blackness, under a lush, tan head. Looks the part, very inviting.

Aroma: Boom, big coffee in the nose. Sweet malt is king. Bittersweet espresso notes rule over all. Cocoa and vanilla roar in next. Love it.

Taste: This time, chocolate takes command. then, vanilla creeps in. All the characters have made the stage, they're hitting their marks, and putting on a tasty show. Delicious stuff. Full bodied, good and hoppy, everything you want.

So, San Diego's a port town, Ballast Point is a nautical name, it's natural they give this an oceanic-based name. Perhaps the side label gobbledygook will tell us more?

"Our Victory at Sea Imperial Porter is a bold, smooth brew with just the right amount of sweetness. We infused this robust porter with whole vanilla beans and San Diego's own Caffe Calabria coffee beans. The subtle roasted notes and minimal acidity of the cold-brewed coffee balances perfectly with sweet caramel undertones of the malt, a winning combination for your palate."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Samuel Smith's Yorkshire Stingo

Now, here's a beer I really like. Don't care for the price-point, though, at $12 a bottle. For the flavor, it just might be worth it. I had my first one in November of 2010, just a week or so before I started posting reviews here. I had my second one a few days ago, and present those notes from '10 to you now:

Samuel Smith's Yorkshire Stingo, Ale aged in oak ale casks, matured for over a year.

Gimme some sting.

In a nice Imperial pint glass, ruddy brown appearance, crimson highlights...thick, rich, creamy beige head, lace

Aroma: nuts and caramel, big into the malt, deep and rich, dark fruit and leather, burnished wood, brandy...gets bigger and deeper the more we sniff in. This is a barleywine in wolf's clothing, as it takes time to emerge, and reveal it's full flowering.

Taste: all that and more, rich roasted malt, full fruity flavoring,raisins, dates ,fig, cherries, port wine, deep and dark, intense alcohol levels (9% is a bit high for the Samuel Smith's brand) Feels like an English barleywine in almost every way. Full-bodied, full-flavored, and incredibly rich, long lasting finish, unending taste.
Dangittigang, so rich, sweet, deep, and delicious. Too, too tasty.

Damn! I have been waiting for a Samuel Smith's beer like this for, since forever...just wish it weren't so terribly expensive.

But, still, it's ridiculously tasty. Way too much goodness. Mmmm, give me more, give me more, give me more.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Pour Decisions The Scythemen Piwo Grodskie

Pour Decisions The Scythemen Piwo Grodziskie Soecialine (I think).4.0% ABV.  Brewed and bottled by Pour Decisions Brewing Company, Roseville, MN. "Innovating Tradition."
And here we have a collector's item, with the recent news of the merger of PDBC with Bent Brewstillery, a distilling concern which had been sharing the facilities of PDBC. The new name of this joint effort will be …Bent Brewstillery. Did Pour Decisions decide that their name was a poor decision? Hmmm, good question. But, let's drink a beer, already.

First off, this was the first time I'd seen a bottle of PDB for sale, and I grabbed the cheapest bomber. I think this one was eight dollars. Others were 12-18, if memory serves correctly. I picked it up at Elevated Wine & Spirits, which I hadn't visited since last May (through no fault of theirs).

Having poured it, I have to say that I have't seen a less attractive glass of beer in my life. It's an utterly odd coloring for a beer, a weird mixture of pale grey and dull orange. Highly hazed, with a short, but staying head that's just a shade short of cream. The color, though, repels, rather than draws in the eye.

Aroma: sour and strange. But not in any enticing way. What am I getting? Wheat. Sausage. Sauerkraut. Dirty socks. Hey, I'm not trying to be mean here, I'm just struggling with this one. There are so many weird notes, it's really hard to get a handle on. Something like a Berliner Weisse, but damned muddy and mucked-up.

Taste: We're goin' in. …Huh. All that notes from aroma comes plopping on the palate. Strange stuff. They put a sausage in some socks, introduced the funkiest yeast they could find, tossed in some old mashed potatoes and mixed it up. Strained it through a dog blanket and here we have it.

Light-ish body, long-lasting tart twang on the tongue. This may please some of the die-hard sour-heads out there, but I'm having a rough go of it. And I wonder if the gobbledygook on the label will clear things up. Let's read it shall we?

"The Scythemen is our ode to a famous Polish infantry unit who charged Russian cannon fire with nothing more than a straightened scythe. This traditional Grodiskie is an eccentric, hoppy smoked Polish ale made entirely with wheat malt. Mouthfilling smoked, spicy, tannic hops, rich bready wheat, Light and refreshing, yet fully flavorful. A proper drinker for the bravest among us…scythes nor cannons included."

Well, I got a few things right, and in some cases I'm still plain ol' puzzled. I'm not getting the hops at all, although I am picking up on the tannins, just a little bit. And it is refreshing and tart once you get through the sausage and the sauerkraut. Once you get over the terrible look and the odd gumbo of flavors, it's fairly drinkable and partially enjoyable. It's a lot to get over, though.

Samuel Adams Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout

Samuel Adams Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout. Ale brewed with spices. 9% alc./Vol. 1 pint, 6 fl. oz. Special ingredients: Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Hops: East Kent Goldings and Fuggles. So, we're in for a English-style winter ale, with gingerbread spices. Brewed and bottled by the Boston Beer Company, Boston, MA, Cinncinnatti, OH, and somewhere in PA.

It's a rather macabre scene on the label, actually. Like something out of a Charles Addams or Gahan Wilson cartoon.
A trio of gingerbread men out for some jolly sledding fun, while the one in back reels in agony as his foot flies away. Jingle all the way, kiddies.

Solid blackness here, with a dark brown, roasted head.

Rich aromatics, flying out of the glass, spilling out spices. Bready sweetness. Nice stuff.

Drinking it: Dark, delicious malts are in command here. Just about full-bodied, with a sweet, spicy flavor that pleases the palate, but never quite cloys. And the heat is rising now, the 9% ABV is warming me up. Just what I need in this freezing January. But it's not quite the stout I want. It's not enough of the stout, and too much of the ginger, with more of the booze than the body warrants.

I like this just fine, but I don't love it. Won't be returning to it, alas.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Lake Monster Empty Rowboat India Pale Ale

In my efforts to close in on the local scene as tight as i possibly can, I picked up a 6-pack of a beer I'd never seen before from a brewery I've read of, but don't remember much about. Lake Monster, it's called, and I grabbed their IPA, of course, called Empty Rowboat, because that's what happens when you encounter a Lake Monster.

And that's it, for the run-on sentence portion of our program. Now, on to the beer:

Clear, bright, amber-colored ale, with a snowy-white, lace-leaving head.

Nice and hoppy aromatics, mildly bitter, fruity and piney. Grapefruit and lemon. Floral.

Taste: Nice bitter bite in the front, then smooth and clean. Light bodied, easy-drinking. Snappy hop attack occurs in every new sip and swallow.

Let's find out what the gobbledygook says: "Brewed with a unique blend of classic and American hops, our India Pale Ale has a firm bitterness, intense citric-hop aroma, and enough flavor to knock you overboard."

Okay. No ABV is given here, nor any other information. Also, no base of operations for this new Twin Cities brewery (Which one?), but we know this: "Brewed and bottled by Sand Creek Brewing Company, Black River Falls, WI, for Lake Monster Brewing." Ah, so, it's a contract brew, so we really don't have a new brewery, but a new brewing "concern".

I checked the 6-pack holder for more info, and found none, but some garble-garble akin to a mission statement: "Founded by three Minnesota natives who share a passion for great beer, Lake Monster Brewing is dedicated to exploring the depths of beer flavor {eh? eh?}, making unique versions of classic beer styles."

Well, it's good beer, and you can drink. This is an IPA I'd drink any time. I'll check out their other brews at my next opportunity. Cheers!

Central Waters Glacial Trail IPA

Central Waters Glacial Trail IPA. Why has it taken so long for me to get to this? It's been around about 6 years. Good question. Well, we're fixing that right now. It's from Wisconsin and it's an IPA.

Hazy amber hue, lush, creamy-toned head. Looking good.

Aroma: Pine first, then all kinds of citrus. Bright and resiny. A beautiful bounty of bitterness. Mmmm. I like it.

Taste: Bitter hops hit first, once more the one-two punch of pine and citrus, leaving bitter trails on the palate. Bright, bold, and brilliant. Medium-bodied, easy drinking. This one's got it all.

Glacial Trail is good go-to IPA. Go to it!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Central Waters Mudpuppy Porter

Central Waters Mudpuppy Porter. It's a porter called Mudpuppy. Whatever that means. Like all the other CW brews, not much more information. So, away we go…

Dark brown coloring, under a slim, cola-toned head.

Aroma: Some small suggestions of espresso, with faint hints of coca, with the slightest bit of roast. Eh.

Taste: There's a that lackluster dark malt from the aroma arriving on the palate, and it's staging a very mediocre performance. All the typical players are involved, but giving the performance of no lifetimes, …shall we say. Medium bodied. Flat finish. We're getting parts of a porter, but not the good parts. Not the best parts.

All in all, this Mudpuppy is a humdrum affair, a porter of the shortest order. Central Waters makes many good beers, but this one isn't among them. Blah.

Central Waters Shine On Ale

Central Waters Shine On Ale. No style designation, no gobbledygook, no nothing. Except, of course, brewed in Amherst, WI, as well as "Ale, Sun, Earth, and Sky", whatever that may mean. I got this in a sampler 12-pack, and there's no further information there, either, it just says "Shine ON" (any significance to the capital letters?).

It's a cloudy reddish amber, with a slim, soon-gone head. I suspect it's unfiltered.

Aroma: malt all over. Bold fruity, nutty malt nose. On the sweet side.

Taste: All that and more re-appears on the palate. Rich, generous malt flavors tend toward lushness. Moderate bitterness holds sweetness just a little bit in check. Long, malty finish, excellent balance of malty sweetness and hop bitterness.

I would not have guessed based on the label that this would be a rich amber / red ale, and it makes me wonder why they're reluctant to give it a style name, that might aid in getting the proper audience to this beer.

Or, perhaps they want to drive customers to it who might pass on an amber? One never knows.

Grand Teton Trout Hop Black IPA

Grand Teton Trout Hop Black IPA, Black India Pale Ale brewed and bottled by Grand Teton Brewing Company, Victor, Idaho. 8.5% ABV. An Imperial Black Ale, shall we say. IBUs 117.

Solid blackness in the glass, with a tannish brown head holding firm on top, leaving lace.

Aroma: Mild hop bitterness, muted by malt. Little grassy. Little bit of bright, piney hops. Again, held back by the dark malts.

Taste: Chocolate hits first, very rich and malty mouthfeel. Bits of molasses, even treacle, with a touch of roast. Full-bodied, well-balanced, just the right mix of malt and hop, for this weird hybrid style. Silky smooth. Despite the higher alcohol and the higher IBUs, this is remarkably easy…wait, there it is. Yep, it's creeping up. And the high bitterness is kept in check by the rich, sweet malt. I can still drink it down with ease, but wouldn't want to have more than a couple.

Once again, I find a "black IPA" that I actually like. The hops aren't overwhelming, and don't confuse the flavors. Although, I'm still stuck in the same situation, where I wish it had more hops and were less hoppy, or less hoppy, more dark malts. One of the other. This one is just fine. Good beer, and I can drink it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Surly El Hefe Negro Imperial Dunkel Weizen

surly el hefe negro

In my last entry, yesterday, I tried to find which Summit beers that I had not entered notes for into this blog, at least the ones it's still possible to find and drink.
Today, I'm looking at Surly, and I've covered a lot of ground there, except for "tea-bagged", oak- and barrel-aged cask offerings, which I never take notes on, and what else? Dampfbier, the German steam beer originally made for a sausage fest (no, really), and only on tap at rare events and at the tap room. Dumpster Fire, the pepper IPA, which I haven't taken notes on for the same reasons. Oh, and Misanthrope, the sour-ed Cynic. Wish I could get a keg of that one. (I'll try, I'll try)
There's something showing up on BeerAdvocate called "SYX variant" that I've never heard of, oh, well. That's it for the beers listed under "current" on BA, I'm not even going to think about "retired". That's it, except for this one, El Hefe Negro, which I just tapped today, and am taking notes on right now…

But first, here's the first take of a menu description for the Blue Nile, to fill you in on it, just a little...

Surly El Hefe Negro Imperial Dunkel Weizen (Surly Brewing, Brooklyn Center, MN)
After nearly eight years brewing, Surly is still a newcomer when it comes to brewing with wheat malt. But they have to do everything with their own style, so this one is a bit bigger than normal, hence the imperial, and is in the less-explored dunkel weizen (dark wheat) category. The name is also a typically Surly-ish puzzle, as "negro" is black in Spanish (and though the color isn't exactly black, it's close), and "el jefe", Spanish for "the boss" sound a like like … ("like like"?)

I abandoned that draft for a terser version that explained the name in tidier fashion. Imperial refers to it being 7.5% ABV, bigger than a normal dunkel weizen, and the Spanish words refer to the Mexican cone sugar, or "piloncillo", added. And the joke is also that "hefe", the German word for yeast, as in "hefe weizen", sounds like the Spanish "el jefe", or "the boss/chief/ big man on campus/quarry foreman, etc."

Enough of that, let's get to the beer. It ain't black, but it's very dark brown, with reddish highlights, nearly impenetrable. Small, but staying cocoa-tinged head atop.

Aroma: bittersweet cocoa notes first, then toffee, caramel, followed quickly by banana and cream, with a little bit of spice on the side. Dark fruits, like dates, are suggested, as well. It's a nice, measured Bavarian dunkel nose, without going over-board. The Surly signature move of dry-hopping probably has something to do with that.

Taste: Banana hits big at first sip, but muffled by modest hop bitterness. Creamy tone in the mouthfeel, very smooth on the palate. All the great hallmarks of a dunkel waxen. Second sip, we're getting the cocoa tones, the chocolate, the dark fruit, the banana, the spices, yeah there's traces of clove, spruce. It's an interesting mix, and it goes down wonderfully. Interesting and wonderful, I like that combo. The sweetness of the malt is kept in check by the hops, but neither side dominates. Despite what it's detractors have said over the years, there's a lot of balance going on the beers of Surly. This one is never too much of anything. Rather, it's a whole lot of right on the money.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Summit India Pale Ale (with ruminations on my New Year's Resolutions)

Well, gang, here we are in 2014, nearly halfway into January, and I'd like to reveal my New Year's Resolution to you all. Here it is: to continue this blog! Though, perhaps not at the rate I originally envisioned. When I started this thing up in earnest over three years ago, I intended to do a beer for every day of the month, every month of the year, probably inspired by a blog called 90 Beers in 90 Days. (Which I never read, but I'd heard of it.) Or was it 30 beer in 30 minutes? I can't really remember. Since I'd done 3,000 reviews so far on the other sites (,, I thought it be a cinch if I revisited beers I'd already reviewed, using those old notes, as well as keeping up with new releases (and there are more than ever these days!)

So how has that worked out so far? In 2011, I had 447 posts (included ones which weren't beer reviews, but that would only be less than a dozen, maybe), so good score there. In 2012, it slid back to 383 posts in total, so we still hit more than 365, made the goal and then some. In 2013, not so much. "Only" 352 post in total. But, who am I complaining to, and about what? That's a ton of beer, no doubt about it. My New Year's Resolution, then, is to try, but not to worry about it. (Although, of course, I do. It's day 13 and this is only post #5? I'm 8 behind! Oh, no!)

There is a New Year's Resolution #2, as well, as concerns this blog, and that is that I will strive to tighten my focus on the local beer scene. This means that when I go shopping at the local beer store, I'm picking up anything made in Minnesota first, until I nailed them all. It means making an effort to visit more local breweries, brewpubs, and tap rooms. And that may mean taking notes while there, which I normally don't do, in order to include material on those beers here in this blog. I can't take home growlers sometimes, and can't afford to, other times. It's amazing how much bigger last year was than anyone expected, and I can only wonder if 2014 will surpass that. I'm ashamed that I still haven't visited every brewery in Minneapolis, the city I live in, but it shouldn't take too much effort to close that gap. (Boom Island, I think, Northgate, plus the newly opened Freehouse. )

To this effort, I look ask myself the question of which beers haven't I posted notes on from which breweries, and when the brewery is Summit, I can come up with these: Hefe Weizen (which they haven't released locally in years), Maibock (I had some last year, but never bought any, nor took photos of the ones I did drink. Note to self: take care of that this year), India Pale Ale, and Great Northern Porter. (There are also beers listed on BeerAdvocate that were special limited taps, like 10 Cubed, Tudor Ale, Hops Like A Kangaroo, and 2 Gingers Barrel Aged Oatmeal Stout...come to think of it, Oatmeal Stout, too, but that's tap only. Anyway, I can't be at every special release party/event, scribbling notes. Not.gonna.happen. So, who cares?)
Anyway, to make an effort towards this end, I went in search of a Summit Sampler Pack. The current Winter edition includes the flagship EPA, Horizon Red, Winter Ale, and IPA. Why no Porter? That one must have been in the Autumn Sampler.

Enough of my pointless palaver, here's where I talk about the beer: (with more rambling. I wouldn't short you on that end.)

Summit India Pale Ale. I'm just going to jump right in and share the notes that I took nearly 10 years ago, in June of 2004, unedited and uninterrupted:

"Caveat to any concerned: this is a long-time favorite, and one of the first beers I really fell in love with, long, long ago. However, I've had many other, sometimes better IPAs since, and must strive for objectivity in this examination.

Appearance: cast in a bright, ruby-red hue, with a 1/2 " layer of fizzy off-white foam, leaving small traces of lace.

Aroma is at first bitter, coppery, but boldened by an enticing dark fruit character, over all big and spicy, though less like a Pacific Northwest hop profile, closer to an English-style.

The tastebuds are led by the nose, urging my lips closer to the glass...Taste is bitter, yet slightly sweet, with a caramel-y essence, perhaps the malt speaking up. Tons of fruitiness, cherries, and berries, but almost candy-fied with the sweetness. Body is medium, finish more mildly bitter, but persistent, riding comfortably along on the palate, never quite quitting the mouth. A thirst-quenching, totally tasty treat, even if it's no longer my favorite IPA, I'm still plenty pleased any time I'm in it's company.

I thought that this more recent examination would cause a decline in my ratings, especially as other, hoppier offerings have seen higher rankings from me..however, I can't find find flaw in the numbers, it still pleases, and I'm always happy with it, and will quaff them aplenty, for as long as I can!" (Again with the exclamation points!)

Now, an examination of those notes: There's a chill haze that I didn't note there, nor did I mention anything about the clarity. Don't know why I said "dark fruit" character, clearly I didn't have a handle on that yet. I did have the English versus American IPA aspect nailed, though. Other than that, I stand by this one, though I can't say it thrills me as much as it used to, for I'm just like all the other beer geeks, seduced by the citric west coast hops. English IPAs are fine, and they were my first, but they don't grab like they used to.

Finally, just a little more background. The first beer I ever like was Bass Ale, for it was the first beer I ever had with any kind of hop flavor. I stuck with that and Guinness Stout for a while, until I discovered Summit Extra Pale Ale. The India Pale Ale was released in 1992, shortly after I became a Summit fan, and it pleased me in every possible way. I was fascinated with the color, entranced by the hops. The fashion of the day favors less malty, more hoppy IPAs, and the Saga IPA fits that bill so well that I'm surprised that it (meaning this one, the original, now sometimes called True Brit) is still around. If this one every gets discontinued, I'd be saddened some, but not surprised.

Halfway into the glass, I'm liking it more and more. Beers don't have to be mind blowing, we have to remind ourselves, they can just be reliably delicious. Nothing wrong with that.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

La Trappe Jubilaris

La Trappe Jubilaris, for the 25th anniversary of one of the monks. I'd read the label but the type is so small, and I didn't bring my glasses. Let's just open up this bottle and see what's inside.

Bold, bright amber coloring, slim, off-white head. Looks every bit like a Belgian-style pale ale.

Aroma: First sniff: Banana cream pie. Spice. Fruit. Belgian trappist yeast. Yeah, it's got it going on. Just lovely.

Let's taste it: Little bit of grit. Lush, tasty, smooth malt, Minor hops. Very nice, indeed. 6% ABV. Smooth and delicious. Yum. It's a good trappist beer, and you can drink it.

Wish I had more to say, but what I said says it. Enjoy, but don't go in expecting anything awesome. Just really good. And sometimes that's good enough.

Northbound Solstice Wheat Ale

Northbound Smokehouse Solstice Wheat. Don't know much about this one, just saw it on tap, got me a growler. I do love surprises.

Very clouded, dark reddish, not-quite brown. Big, puffy, proud, cream-toned head, leaving lace.

Aroma: slightly sweet, lightly wheat. Lingering spice, some fruity esters.

Taste: Medium-bodied, fairly clean, with sweet, lightly fruity malt flavors. I'm not getting any of the hallmarks of the classic weizen styles, not finding any citrus notes, no specific clove or banana trails. Was another yeast strain used? Since I don't know that this was intended as a dunkel weizen, I certainly can't fault it for not tasting or smelling like one.

What it is, is a dark wheat brewed for winter. Caramel and toffee linger on the palate, cola and coffee get a bow. It drank down pretty good. I approve.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Hammerheart Djevelen Munnvann

Hammerheart Djevelens  Munn
vann. AKA the Devil's Mouthwash. In Norwegian, naturally. Old Ale, or some variation on that. 11.5% ABV. Or is it an Imperial Stout?

Now, I enter the dilemma at hand. I bought this at the brewery on Saturday, with the intention of bringing it to a party on Monday. But, I started feeling ill Monday and knew I couldn't attend the party and enjoy the festivities to the fullest. On the other hand, there's not a lot of carbonation in these Hammerheart growlers, so I don't trust keeping them until the next party, and  I believe that I will crack it now, that I am finally out of the grasp of the cold that had me, and I will strive to down it in all the consecutive evenings, gatherings be damned. My worries about the length of the growler has been assuaged by the fact that the Jormungandrs Blod growler that I opened on Sunday and didn't touch again until tonight was still fine. And so…

Let's drink up the Devil's Mouthwash….

Solid darkness, black as all evil, the color of sin and soot, with a slim, dark brown head, starting thick and rich, turning to a tight ring.

Aroma: roast and toast, deep with cocoa tones, espresso hints, echoes of molasses. Don't think these words mean I'm damning with faint praise, only that there are hints and echoes of these flavors, but they're not right there in person, so to speak. nothing wrong with that. I quite like it, actually. There's bittersweetness and deep maltiness, and it's quite lovely.

Taste: Big and beefy, massive in the mouth. All those flavors return with hints and echoes of more, anise, char, …everything you want in a big, dark malty monster. I'm a sucker for them, like everyone else. So deep, so rich, full of everything. Is this bourbon barreled? No? Then, it's not as good, right? (inside joke with myself).
Damn, this has got so much. Smoke, chocolate, coffee, dark rum, molasses, treacle…man, oh, man…

I will digress for a second. The latest Vita.MN mag/paper has an article on the year in beer, and what a year it was. It talks about new breweries in Minneapolis, Dangerous Man, 612, Sociable Cider Werks, plus outside the twin cities breweries in Moorhead (Junkyard), and Victoria (Enki), plus the expansions, then growth in Duluth, St. Paul, and what's in the future. But, to leave out Hammerheart is a gross mistake. These guys are head and shoulders above a lot of other breweries, but, alas, they are not in NorthEast Minneapolis, so, there. There are other breweries skipped in this article as well, like Bad Weather, …Northgate? gad, there are so many, I can't keep track of where they are and when they came to be!

I'm still drinking, though it's way past time for bed, and I'm still soaking this in. It's pretty amazing.

……..a day later, I'm on line, looking up "Djevelens munnvann", and after the, untappd, and ratebeer listing, the next mention is a twitter pic of a A&W root beer can. Huh? Then, something associated with a 3-pack of Belgium's Satan ale. and it goes on and on. It seems that the norse really love this phrase. It's certainly not as popular in English, and it's a pity. Funny concept, though. How stinky was his breath before?

In all, wow. Massive. Immense. Big, bad, and beautiful. I vow that I will at last finish this beast.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Stone Crime

Stone Crime, Lukcy Basartd Ale, ale with peppers added & aged in bourbon barrels. 9.6% alc./Vol. Brewed and bottled by Stone Brewing Company, Escondido, CA. 2013 series, batch 08.

I balked at this bottle at first, due to the price ($17 for the bomber), although the call of "try them all" had me in it's sway. Then, I found out that the rarer Punishment was available to me. Can't pass it up. Wrap 'em both up!

Deep, impenetrable reddish hue, under a thick, lasting tannish head of lace-laving foam. Looks gorgeous.

Aroma: sweet and creamy at first, vanilla? chocolate frosting? (no, I'm serious), …it's the most unusual aromatics I've encountered in quite some time. What's wrong with me, all I'm getting out of this is candies and cookies? Sweet, but moderately so, and ever so intriguing.

Let's taste it…Boom! Hot, hot, hot, hot, hot!!! Someone said there were ghost peppers in this. Are they ghost because they can't be detected in the aroma, but pounce on the palate? YoW, ow! ow! The heat of the peppers has taken command of my tongue and crawled all over the mouth.

Damnit, it's hot, hot, hot, and nothing else. And if you've ever paid attention to the history of this blog, you'd know my trials and tribulations with the pepper beers.
Currently, I'm struggling to find other things around to temper my tongue and help me get through this ordeal. (and that's what the consumption of this brew certainly is.)…calmer down some, getting slightly cooler…but the heat continues. And it obliterates everything else in this ale. I can't take about the hops, or the malt, or the yeast, the carbonation, nothing…only this pepper-y heat that takes over all.

Let's read the label copy if it's not too much fuss (although, with Stone, it very often is) "On Arrogant Bastard's 13th birthday, we threw all our Bastards together--Arrogant Bastard Ale, OAKED ABA, and Double Bastard Ale--to create Lukcy Basatrd Ale. Later, a crime was committed against this gorgeous beer by adding an absurd amount of freshly harvested local peppers, including mid-level-heat red and green jalapenos, and ultra-hot black nagas, Caribbean red hots, Moruga scorpions and fatalis, and thus Crime was born. In the mash: CLASSIFIED. In the boil: CLASSIFIED. In the whirlpool: CLASSIFIED. Drawn off: Aged American Oak Kentucky Bourbon Barrels. IBUs: 102. Bottled: October 2013. Cellar notes: Ultra-hot with fruity flavors from the peppers up front, along with notes of green jalapeno. Flavor of caramel, hops, and oak, come through mid-palate, followed by a ton of pervasive, long-lingering, fiery aftertaste.

Okay, yeah, I can peek through the fiery mess to get a taste of caramel, but the oak makes no impression…maybe I'm not trying hard enough? It is a deep, complex affair, with the pepper heat covering over it.

And it's not a beer I'd ever choose to drink again, at least not on my own, in it's entirety. Not as many beery pleasures, and too much heat. For me.

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...