Monday, March 31, 2014

Pour Decisions Maroon & Bold DIPA

Pour Decisions Maroon & Bold Double Infuriating Passive Aggressive Ale. 9.0% ABV.

Appearance: dense and opaque, cast in a magenta hue, tight off-white ring atop.

Aroma: …getting some hoppiness, here, rather indistinct, though, and swiftly swallowed up by malt. Fruit notes. Not much else. hm.

Taste: A crashing wave of big hoppiness splashes the palate, matched at once with massive malt. This is that kind of "DIPA", then, the one that doubles up doubly, giving us twice the hops and twice the malt, making for one fierce and formidable brew. Nearing barley-wine territory.

Lots of fruit notes bouncing around in this, blueberry, raspberry, cherries galore. Not your typical DIPA profile. It lacks the bitterness you'd yearn for in a DIPA, but provides plenty of other hoppy delights. Citrus notes are smothered by the massive malt.
Sweet malt kept well in check, leaves a tasty playing field. Hmm, mmm…not bad.

What's the label tell us? "Expertly crafted from Minnesota-grown hops and Minnesota-malted barley, the 2012 edition of this Infuriatingly Passive Aggressive ale nearly didn't happen. Wind storms. Severe drought. Grasshopper hordes. Mother Nature really wanted to keep us from you your M & B. Toasty malt, spicy citrus and piney hops, with a tannic pithiness running right through the end. Crisp, hoppy, and entirely Minnesotan!" Brewed and bottled by Pour Decision Brewing Company, Roseville, MN.

I don't think it's all that, but it's not bad. But, once again, I don't like when the craftsmen tell me how expertly they crafted it.
The name of this beer suggests that the brewers are alumni of the University of Minnesota, whose colors are maroon and gold. The recommended glassware implies that they are still nostalgic for frat parties.
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Borealis La Lune

Borealis Fermentery La Lune Belgian-style Special Ale Brewed with Spices. 750 ml.,…no ABV given, that I can find. Knife River, MN.

Appearance: clouded, murky, dark amber cast. Slim white head of foam.

Aroma: dark fruits, spice, and Belgian yeast. Authenitically arousing and rustic.

Taste: The funk comes first, the twisted Belgian saison yeast, with traces of cocoa, raisins, cloves, ginger, and a slight citrus twang. I wrap it all up and I call it "yum." Very satisfactorily flavored. Bright, buoyant fruitiness, with a minimum of hop bitterness, that flashes on the palate, then fades out with grace. Long, malty/fruity/spicy finish, that just keeps on giving the goods. Absolutely delicious.

One more example of why Borealis is one of my favorite Minnesota breweries. Only problem with this bottle was the price ($14), but we all know that nothing good is cheap.

Hey, what does the label say? "La Lune Belgian style special ale is a full bodied, golden ale brewed with spices and a hint of wheat malt. Chill before serving, pour into your favorite glass, and enjoy this wonderful compliment to the loon, and the moon."

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ommegang Hop House

Ommegang Hop House Dry-hopped Pale Ale. 6% ABV. Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY.

Clear, bright golden hued, with a glorious, pure-as-the-driven snow-y white head, stays long, leaves lace. Looks great.

Aroma: soft, floral, fruity, lightly spicy. Some Belgian yeast at work here, for sure. Just enough bitter, just enough fruit. Right on the money.

Taste: Nicely hoppy at the fore, plenty of abrasive hop bitterness, which hangs hard on the palate, and never seems to quit. Bitterness last a long time on this, does not fade away. body is soft, smooth, easy drinking here, low alcohol, (-ish), too. Citrus zest, lemon and lime, some pithy pine, but the Belgian yeast really brings it home. This is more in line with a Belgian IPA than any simple pale ale.

Also, it is delightful. Despite some aspirin-y astringency. Or, maybe, because of it?
No matter, it's another win for Ommegang. And me.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Summit Unchained #15: Fest Bier

As you may or may not recall, I had announced my intention at the start of this year to gain more ground, shall we say, in my coverage of the local scene. I have faltered a bit, here and there, and here are a few reasons. In order to review beers that are only available at the brewery/brewpub, I have to do two things: 1. write comprehensive notes and take the photo on-site, which I do not like to do, and 2. bring home a growler. Some establishments make that a chore, by limiting the amount they sell per day, no matter how many they have on hand. Also, more of them are raising their prices. Some are as high as $16 for the fill, which amounts to $4 per pint, for a serving size that has to be finished in two days, tops. If I'm watching my money, which I am, paying $16 to add one beer to this list is not worth it. This became especially clear when I began picking up those sampler 12-packs, paying $1- $1.30 for a package that would get me 2-4 new beers, if I'm lucky. Yes, I could also count off the benefits of beers in growlers, the freshness, etc., but when the cost goes up, I have to draw the line.

Also, I stumbled some last week, when I went to the beer store and did something rare. I actually made a purchase that did not result in new beers to add to this blog. You see, it was snowing again, after there was a brief promise of spring's return, a slight thaw, a small visit from the sun. My spirits were laid low, and when I visited the local store to replenish the fridge, the appearance of Summit's newest Unchained offering did not appeal to me. There was nothing else new or untasted that I could see that might suit my mood, either. With snow all around, and my heart darkened, a lager was not what I wanted. I came home with a 6-pack of Indeed's Stir Crazy Winter Ale (my first time purchasing cans of this one, although I've had many pints this winter), and a 4-pack of Sierra Nevada Narwhal. Winter Ales and Imperial Stouts were more in line with my desires

This week, it feels closer. Close enough. So, I grabbed a 6-pack and here are the notes:

Summit Unchained #15, Fest Bier, by brewer Nate Siats.

Clear, rich amber hue. Slim white head atop.

Aroma: herbal, malty nose. Minor hops. Lightly floral. I'm gonna guess they're European in origin.

Taste: crisp, clean, malty. Again, small hop presence, but they're doing their thing, adding just the right amount of bitterness for balance. They're there on the tongue, too, and last through the finish. This feels like a much less sweet version of an Oltoberfest, especially Summit's, which rings in higher on the rich & malty scale.

Top-notch lager, this one. Good one to have around to offer those who aren't into ales.

Here's some stuff from the 6-pack holder: "The first lager in the Unchained Series. Fest Bier was brewed with Czech and German malts and hops, then lagered for 8 full weeks, to provide a crisp, clean full-flavored beer.

Profile: malty and sweet, Czech-German fest lager.
Color: Golden amber
Malts: Czech Pils, Czech Munich, Cara Munich
Hops: Saphir, Sladek
IBU: 30
ABV: 5.5%"

Boulder Shake Chocolate Porter

Boulder Shake Chocolate Porter, porter with natural flavors added. 12 oz. bottle, alc. 5.9% ABV. Brewed and bottled by Boulder Beer  Company, Boulder, Colorado.

Appearance: solid brown body, utterly opaque, with a rich, frothy tan head. Very tempting.

Aroma: bittersweet cocoa, and nothing but. If I added anything else, I'd be lying.

Taste: dark, rich, and slightly sweet. Full-bodied, and perfectly drinkable. Ever more so, with this delicious added chocolate flavor. We don't get too many chocolate porter, as the stout gets that treatment more often. This one does it all, holds it's own in the depth and body department, never quits on the flavor, lasts a long, long time.

I'm glad I bought a single of this, though. A little bit of cocoa goes a long way for this guy, and I might have grown weary of it if I had a whole 6-pack to go through.

Let's see what the label tells us: "Our twist on the traditional robust American Porter, Shake Chocolate Porter is black in color with rich, dark chocolate aromatics and flavors and subtle coffee-like notes. This unique beer blends five different friars, including Chocolate Wheat, that along with cacao nibs create e a devilishly delicious chocolate finish with a velvety mouthfeel."

Sure, I'd go for that. Chocolate fiends, get this one, it's good.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Peace Tree Hop Sutra Belgian-style Double IPA

Peace Tree Hop Sutra Double IPA, Peace Tree Brewing Company, Knoxville, Iowa.

Hazed, dark amber, deep apricot hue, under a lush bone white head.

Aroma: prickly pine, resinous, and certainly citric. Grapefruit, lemon, and lime. Bold and brash.

Taste: more big citrus, more powerful bitterness, slight astringency, washing over …juicy…pithy…mmm. This is possessed by what I can only call an ineluctable Belgian yeast quality. It permeates everything, to the benefit of all. Absolute yummitude, that's another way to put it. Hop bitterness meets completely oddball Belgian yeasty weirdness. And everyone's a winner.

If anyone's still missing out on the joys of a Belgian IPA, American-style or Belgian-style, well, my heart goes out to you. This guy digs 'em. Fullish body, longish finish. Great hop presence on the palate,...I am enjoying the heck out of this one. More Hop Sutra, Peace Tree, more, more, more!

It's as if someone found the "love this" button on me, and won't stop pushing it. (This is the doubled-up version of Hop Wrangler, which I thoroughly enjoyed, as well.)
By the way, I often credit Peace Tree's presence in Minnesota to the public's knowledge of the homebrewing done in President Barack Obama's White House. It was my friend Bradley Magerkurth's visit to Knoxville, Iowa, which I presume was to seal the deal for distributing their beer here,  that brought him in contact with the President, and his chance mention of his profession that prompted Obama to fetch some homebrew bottles from the van. Brad shared this with friends via facebook, and eventually auctioned off his White House homebrew gift for charity. I wondered, while I tell people this, if that can be true, but here's one piece of evidence, right Reading that article, though, .., come on, "campaign prop?" Bullcrap. Brad said "I sell beer", and Barack said, "hey, Michelle and I brew it in the White House, let me give you a bottle"...jeezus, that's not a campaign prop. It would only be public knowledge if Brad hadn't wanted to share this with his friends and colleagues.

Hinterland Maple Bock

Hinterland Maple Bock. Beer brewed with maple syrup. One pint. Brewed and bottled by Green Bay Brewing Company, Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Dark auburn hue, slim tan head.

Aroma: sweet and malty, earthy, nutty….maple-y.

Taste: all that from the nose climbs on board the palate. Mild and subtle, smoothy and easily consumable. Medium-bodied. Sweet, maple-y finish. Hops are muted, malt is king. Absolutely approachable and fairly pleasing to the tongue.

I don't mind this one, but it's clearly outside my bag. Not in my wheelhouse, as some are fond of saying (I'm not.). No ABV given, but I'd put it around 5.5%, maybe. This has to have it's fans out there, but as for me, I think one is good enough.

Thanks, though, to Mike from Hinterland for the sample.

Hinterland White Cap White IPA

Another bunch of sample goodies came my way this week, more from Wisconsin. Two bottles and a can, one bottle which I'd already tried 3 years ago (Luna Coffee Stout). So, let's check out the first of 2 new brews from Green Bay, Wisconsin's Hinterland. And once again, it's a style I'm still "iffy" about.

Hinterland White Cap White India Pale Ale. One pint, can. No ABV found, if it's given.

Hazy, clouded, pale yellow, beautiful, crystalline snow-cap head, lace-leaving, long-lasting.

Aroma: Lovely blend of coriander and citrus zest. Ah! Belgian yeast funks it up, too. Not getting anything in the way of hops, really.

Taste: Okay, here they are. Hops are bouncing on top, with the Belgian yeast character and witbier flavorings keeping them company. Medium-bodied, smooth, wheat, malty, with hop bitterness laying low after it's initial pounce. Refreshing, easy-drinking, with enough of a hop bite to keep my taste buds tingling.

Okay, here's another one I liked. More of these, please.

Milwaukee Brewing Outboard Cream Ale

Milwaukee Brewing Outboard Cream Ale. 5.0% Alc. by Vol. "That's local flavor!"

Last of the samples from MKE. Cream Ale is one of my least-liked beer styles. I'll strive to overcome that prejudice in order to discover whether this is a good one or no.

Clear, golden colored, sizable, staying crown of milky froth.

Aroma: Creamy. (Imagine that.) Negligible hop presence. Smooth maltiness. Pleasant enough stuff.

Taste: Open wide and down the hatch. Lands on the palate and spreads along nothing but smooth and creamy malt flavor. No need for anything else with this style. Easy drinking defined. Light-bodied and pleasing all around. Soft finish.
Good name for this one, as I can see this being adequate sustenance for a day on the lake.

So, with my ninth MKE beer down the hatch in total, I've come to realize that they do really well with styles that I would rarely, if ever, personally choose for myself.

And there ain't nothing wrong with that.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Furthermore Full Thicket Double IPA

Furthermore Full Thicket Double IPA.

Slightly hazy, light amber coloring, thick, bone-white head, leaving lace.

Aroma: dank hops, dark malts. a little sweet and fruity, but hop bitterness on top. a bit of a muddle, though, nothing really stands out and takes attention.

Taste: Bold entrance on the palate, fresh hoppiness, and then swiftly fading back. Medium-bodied, with a blase' finish. No ABV given, doesn't feel too high, though…could be wrong. The soon-gone hop attack is a disappointment. In general, I'm feeling disappointed. There's some caramel and chocolate malt flavor appearing on the palate that don't quite mesh well with piney, citric hop presence. Again, it's a mixed-up meddle that doesn't come together very well in the mouth. Leaves me feeling unfulfilled.

Blah. I don't enjoy saying it about a Furthermore beer, but this is one of the least satisfying double IPAs I've ever encountered. If I could turn back time, I'd have found something else to spend $9.99 on than this 6-pack. Curse this desire of mine to "try 'em all"!

Hey, what's the label say? "Local hops added for extra Wisconsin-ness.--A Furthermore Beer brewed and bottled by Milwaukee Brewing Company, Wilwaukee, WI." Oh.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hammerheart Olaf the Stout

This is the second time I've tapped a Hammerheart brew at the Blue Nile, but the first time I've reviewed their beer from our taps. The first one was British Invasion, and I reviewed that from a growler that I received from Dave A., and opened before I tapped the keg. Other HH brews I reviewed were from the growlers I picked on my visit in late December.

Here are the notes I took on Olaf the Stout (such a great name, by the way):

Hammerheart Olaf the Stout. Rye malt, oak-aged Imperial Stout, 9% ABV.

Solid blackness, with a lush dark tan head, lasting long and leaving lace. Beautiful.

Aroma: Has it all going on. Deep, dark, massive malt, flavors of char, molasses, espresso, chocolate, and peppery whispers.

Taste: Thick, rich, mouth-filled texture. Floods the mouth and tantalizes the tongue. All those flavors found in the nose unload on the palate. All manner of dark, rich flavors fall out, the chocolate, the toffee, all ending on a pleasant dry note. Great balance, perfect attenuation, with a lovely bittersweet finish. This has everything I want in a stout, imperial or otherwise. One righteous stout form Hammerheart. Mmm. I'll say it again: mm. Wait, one more: mmm, mm.

and here are the words from the brewery: 

Named after the brutal Norwegian king who ended the Pagan-era in Norway, Olaf the Stout is a rye stout with distinct malt character, hopped with Cascade and aged in Oak. It's color is as black as Olaf's heart.

Odell Wolf Picker Pale Ale

Odell Wolf Picker Experimental Pale Ale, Roots Release. 5.5% Alc./Vol.

Appearance: Clear, very pale amber coloring, small white head, trims down to a tight collar.

Aroma: Bright hops, tropical fruit notes. Citra-like. Really hard to pin down the flavor notes in this one, very unique bouquet. Vanilla beans in a fruit medley. Best I can do.

Taste: Clean, fresh, light-bodied, amazingly consumable. Lightly spicy, with a terrific blend of citric and tropical fruit notes, as well as a sizable dose of that unnameable, but very pleasing, mystery note. I could drink this by the bucketful. Wonderfully hopped, delightfully flavored.  You could say I like it.

The label say what? "Inspire by our small-batch pilot system, the Roots RElease series honors our experimental brewing roots and invites you to sample some of our favorites. Named in honor of our hop growing community and the harvesting  rig many use, Wolf Picker is brewed with varieties so rare they haven't been named yet."

Cool, thanks!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Milwaukee Brewing O-Gii Double Wit, tea-infused

O-Gii, A monstrously tea-infused wit. Ale brewed with spices and flavored with tea. 9.2% Alc. by Vol.

O.G., as in Original Gangsta? Orginal Gravity? Or, as in Godzilla who seems to be appearing on the label with a giant pint in hand? Or is there some other reason for the odd spelling?

Poured into a big, Wittekerke glass. Hazy, pale yellow with a large white head.

Aroma: Orange and wheat discernible in the nose, not so much the spices. I'm picking up on the tea, though, rather than any kind of coriander, which is the typical witbier spicing.

It's even more evident in the taste. And, in exchange, I'm not getting a lot of else. Wheat texture, yes, some citric notes, light spices, and the premonition of booze to come. Juicy, slightly sweet, and altogether odd. I just don't know what to think of it.

I wonder if the gobbledygook on the can will tell me anything? "Herb-In Legend is our series of adventure brews. Created by our brewer Kurt Mayes, O-Gii is a collaboration with Milwaukee's own Rishi Tea, infusing organic tea character to this wit beer. The name is our nod to the brewing abbreviation OG which defines the potential for alcohol level prior to fermention. Enjoy this monster fusion of balance and aggression."

This was described to me, if I remember right, as unique, being a "double wit." Not true, there have been plenty of double wits, and I'm not especially fond of doubled-up versions of styles that shouldn't be anywhere near so strong. Their strength is in their delicacy, and moving up the booze factor robs them of their special qualities. I've only liked a few of them, and somewhat reluctantly.

I'm just as baffled by this as I was by their tea-infused double IPA. The tea doesn't deliver anything particularly rewarding, and the booze is way higher than it should be, for the body and the flavor. Is it malt liquor? Monster might be right, but more Frankstein's than Godzilla. This doesn't taste like a wit, the tea-infusion just mucks it up and dilutes it, and the high alcohol content does nothing but make me want to knock over some buildings.

Milwaukee Brewing Louie's Demise Amber Ale

Louie's Demise Amber Ale, Milwaukee Brewing Company. 5.5% ABV. And now we have the flagship of the MKE line. Maybe I'll like this one?

Deep amber/nearly red in color, very short head, slims down to nil.

Aroma: rich and malty sweet, tidy hop presence.

Taste: It's a mostly malty affair, hops are here for balance. Stays just short of sweet, with a flavor an equal dose of fruit and grain. Medium-bodied. Long, malty finish. On the whole, wholly unremarkable.

There are words on the can. Let us read them: "Our flagship brand, this medium bodied amber ale starts with a rich malt flourish that kept in perfect balance by a smooth hop finish. This MBC original is similar to a German style alt bier."

So there we have it. It does taste like an alt, at that. And it's beer, and you can drink it. Not bad, but I'm not thrilled. Go back to step one: acknowledge that it is beer, admit that you can drink it. Prepare to not be impressed, and carry on.

Note: early today, I sampled the Booyah Farmhouse Ale and noticed (but did not note in my notes) that it had a copyright date of 2011. This can has a copyright date of 2013. Did I get a 2+ year old sample bottle, or do they just take their time updating the labels?

Odell Runoff Red IPA

Odell Runoff Red IPA. 6.5% alc. by vol.

Clear, bright crimson appearance. fluffy white head, leaving lace. Looking good.

Aroma: Beautiful hoppy nose. Nicely balanced citric hop flavors mixing with malt notes. Just right.

Taste: Hop attack is mild, malt presence is solid. Long finish, medium body. Fruity flavors on board the palate, but balance is the key here. Hops up top, malt all the way through, and the two kept in perpetual check. Tasty, too.

Nice, easy drinking IPA. I'd call it sessionable, if that wasn;t against the rules. ("Over 6%? That's not sessionable!")Delightful ale, this. I'd expect nothing less from Odell.

I got 3 of these as 1/4 of an Odell "Montage" sampler 12-pack, this one costlier than the others I've been touring through lately ($20). 3 bottles of IPA, 2 of 90 Shilling, their flagship Scotch Ale, this, and another one I wouldn't have had the chance to try otherwise. I'll leave that one for tomorrow.

Hey, before we're done, let's read the label!
"this time of the year in the Rockies, one day can span all four seasons. Morning snow turns to afternoon sun, sending fresh snowmelt into our rivers and into our mash tun. Runoff REd IPA is how we honor the shoulder season. {Someone tell me what that means, please?} With a complex malt backbone dry hopped for notes of citrus and pine and an alpen-glow red hue, it's as surprising as the season itself."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Barley-wine

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Barley-wine Ale, malt beverage aged in bourbon barrels. 2013 release.12.1% alc. by vol. "Brewed and bottled by Goose Island Beer Company, Chicago, IL. Develops in the bottle for up to 5 years." I wish I had more than one bottle, but as it is, I have one, and I'm drinking it now.  (Thanks to Brandon for the sample bottle.)

Strictly black. No head. Very still. Deep and mysterious.

Aroma: bourbon first, massive, thick, viscous, bourbon-y aromatics. Charcoal, vanilla, whiskey, chocolate-covered cherries….there's bound to be a barley-wine under there, too.

Taste: In the mouth, immense-ness, huge-osity, and mucho massive. I'll bring them back: thickness and viscosity. Giant. The bourbon covers everything in this, and I'm getting no flavors of the barley-wine below. Fullest of bodies here, long, long finish, stays forever in the mouth.

I do wish I'd have been able to taste the base beer in this one. Without that, I'm tasting tons of bourbon barrel effect over some kind of barley-wine that's not showing itself. What it is, though, is very tasty. It's the perfect beer for right now, my last of the night. Good way to go out.

Cigar City Jai Alai India Pale Ale

Cigar City Jai Alai India Pale Ale. 7.5% Alc. by Vol.

Second of two cans brought back from Florida by Dave Anderson. Thanks again, Dave!

Hazy, amber/apricottish hue, long-lasting white head, settles into a tight ring.

Aroma: vibrant citrus and pine. ripe and resin-y. Right on the money.

Taste: BAM! A powerhouse on the palate. Bright, citric hops pounce right out of the gate. Juicy, plump, bitter, joyous. A multitude of malt keeps it grounded and balanced. Good drinking, with a flavor and high hopping that never quits.

There's no information on the back about the beer, beyond why they called it Jai Alai or what food pairings you should try. Fine. Who needs gobbledygook? This is a class act IPA, all the way. Belongs up there with the best of the them. Sure wish I had another.

Jai Alai, a game native to the Basque region of Spain, is played on a court called a fronton. Jai Alai players attempt to catch a ball using a curved mitt whilst the ball travels at speeds up to 188mph! Proving they have a sense of humor the Spanish dubbed this game, with its ball traveling at racecar speeds, “the merry game.” Tampa was once home to a bustling Jai Alai fronton but sadly all that remains of Jai Alai in the Tampa Bay area is this India Pale Ale that we brew in tribute to the merry game. The India Pale Ale style of beer has its roots in the ales sent from England to thirsty British troops in India during the 18th century. Pair Jai Alai India Pale Ale with beef empanadas, deviled crabs and other spicy dishes.

Anchor California Lager

Anchor California Lager.

Clear, pale yellow, slim, white head.

Aroma: simple and clean, cereal grains, light, floral hoppiness.

Taste: small hop presence at the fore, then sweet malt fill in. Exquisite balance in this light-bodied, zesty lager. Supremely drinkable. Light, grainy malt flavor stays just shy of sweet, finishing dry and refreshing.

Excellent lager. Seek it out.

MKE Booyah Farmhouse Ale

I keep hoping for something I'll like from Milwaukee Brewing. I keep hoping...

On to the next Milwaukee brew, this one a self-described Farmhouse Ale. Makes sense to pour it into a Belgian glass, right? No ABV listed, and as free of gobbledygook as all the rest of their labels.

But before we start, "Booyah"? I don't know if I've heard a dumber name for a beer in recent times. It used to be a marines saying, right? But now it's adopted by the bros and dbags. Not a good sign.

Clear amber appearance, slim head.

Aroma: soft, slightly (ever-so slightly) spicy, Belgian yeast and malt. They're going in the right direction. It at least feels like they know what they're doing.

Taste: light bodied, with stone fruit (apricot, peach) and some citrus notes, sweet malt,and more of the distinctive saison yeast. Ends with more sweetness lingering on the palate than it should. Lower attenuation in this one? It ought to be crisper, cleaner, drier. Bubblegum is starting to show up, or at least a hint of it.

In all, a misguided, but well-meaning, attempt at a saison ("let's call it Farmhouse Ale so we don't scare anyone way.") Perhaps better than Lift Bridge Farm Girl, but not by much.

I just know that I much be calling for a Booyah at the bar any time soon.

MKE (Milwaukee Brewing) Little Bitta White IPA

This new style called "white IPA" has led to some confusing interpretations. This one of the most confused.

Milwaukee Brewing Little Bitta White India Pale Ale. "That's local flavor." 6.5% Alc. by Vol.

Appearance: hazy & yellow, small head.

Aroma: soft, slightly sweet, with very little hop bitterness, if any. Also missing are any of the hallmarks of a witbier. Often, this style is interpreted as a wit with more hops. Is this merely an IPA with wheat? Let's taste it and see…

Taste: smooth, creamy, and lightly hoppy. I can taste the wheat in this, and there's a certain amount of spice, but this is from the hop character, I think. Hop bitterness continues, then a wave of sweetness comes in, from malt. They do a bit of a shuffle, a dance for dominance, and the sweet comes out the conquerer.

This feels like the last "white IPA" I tried, with this blend of a white ale and an IPA being less than the sum of it's parts. I'm not getting the particular spicy, fruity delights of a wit, or the bracing, refreshing, thrilling aspects of an IPA.

Not sure what this is. It's not bad, but not for me. This is a very confused and confusing beer. And calling it an IPA just makes me yearn for a real one.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

The constant search for the new keeps me from re-visiting the old favorites, this is my curse. I've never purchased a bottle of Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter since this blog began, can this be true? Alas, it is. But, lo, and behold, I did purchase some kegs, and tapped the first today, and with this pint of porter, I revisit my old notes, from my first bottle, back in June of 2003, received via trade (about 7 or 8 years before it was available here).

Appearance: solid brown body, with a lush, flowing head of tannish foam atop, though in a hurry to settle down.

Aroma: mild at first, creamy, with hints of nuts, vanilla, caramel, with slowly the better earmarks of a good porter emerging, and we're getting the roasted coffee, getting roastier and bitterer as we go, and as it unfurls we can detect things weightier, headier, more thick and viscous: molasses, syrup, motor oil.

On first sip and gulp, I was magically lifted up and removed from the mundane and the everyday. Mouth-filling, rich, powerful, flavorful, and full.

Nothing loose or limpid here. Bitterness is just so, and soon turns to the sweet. I don't know what exactly to liken it to, but it seems to tread a middle ground: no too bitter, not to smooth, juuust right.

Finish is fine and long-lasting, settles in to occupy the mouth and endear itself to all the senses.

This is one that I'd put at the top of the list for American porters. Can't go wrong here.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Rubicon Monkey Knife Fight Pale Ale

Of all the things that "The Simpsons" has brought us over the last 25 years, the evocative concept of a monkey knife fight is the one that inspired the names of two (count 'em, two) different beers. The other one is at Nodding Head Brewery in Pennsylvania and is an IPA. Here we have California's version, from Rubicon. There's nothing like the joys of a monkey knife fight pale ale…maybe…let's find out…Sacramento, CA…5.4% ALC./VOL.

Hazy, pale amber coloring, (unfiltered?), lovely white head, drifts down while leaving lace.

Aroma: nicely hoppy, slightly spicy, pitch perfect pale ale nose. Floral, and herbal and everything nice.

Taste: Medium body. Mouth filling hoppy goodness galore. Clean and refreshing. Judicious hopping. Just about everything you'd want from an exceedingly drinkable pale ale. nothing wrong with that. There's always a need and a place for such a thing.

Hey, let's read the label: Nothing but legal mumbo-jumbo and factual ephemera. Not a drop of gobbledygook about. Cool with that.

Rubicon Monkey Knife Fight Pale Ale will not knock your socks off. What it will do is exactly what it's supposed to. All right by me.

Cigar City Florida Cracker White Ale

Cigar City Florida Cracker Belgian-style White Ale, 5.5% Alc. by Vol.
White Ale brewed with curacao peel and coriander. Canned by Cigar City Brewing (not "brewed and canned by…"?), LLC, Tampa, FL. Drink fresh! Do not age! Pour gently into a glass.
Good idea, think I will…

Clouded, pale yellow coloring. Nice white head, slips down to nil.

Aroma: There it is, citrus and spice and wheat. Note perfect witbier nose.

Taste: Smooth, sweet, lightly hoppy, turning dry in the end. Light bodied, crisp, refreshing, comforting. Orange and lemon flavors match beautiful with the spice and roll off the tongue with the wheat. Tastes just like a wit should.

Much thanks to Dave for the can.

About that can. Let me get out my glasses…(sigh)…you know what, forget it, it's too long for me to type. I'll find a link to it, so you can find out the historical background for the name. It's not just a pun on white folks? Well, thank heavens!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Milwaukee Brewing Hop Freak Double IPA (infused with tea)

The other day I met a man from Milwaukee Brewing Company, and his name was Mike. After he told me about his beers, and presented me with seven samples, I paused, as often happens, not sure what his name was anymore. (It takes me a bit before I remember people's names. I have to have to hear it at least three times.)
I thought it was Mike, but as I looked at his shirt with the "MKE" logo, I thought…"nah, that can't be right, that would be too convenient." As is often the case, I was right, after all.

So, I had six beers to try, actually, for I'd bought a 6-pack of Hop Happy IPA last year on an excursion to Wisconsin. Now, they're in our market. And I'm going to start this survey of MKE, or MBC, with one of their bigger beers, the Hop Freak double IPA.

Brewed and bottled (or canned) by Milwaukee Brewing Company, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 8.7% Alc. by Vol. 1 pint can.

A scaly green monster lurks on the label, hops at his feet, pint of ale in hand. "Born big & bitter."The logo of "Rishi tea" sits off to the right of the beast. That's one curious thing about this D.I.P.A. Can't seem to remember another tea-infused DIPA. Let's go ahead and drink it:

Lightly hazy, apricot-hued, smallish white head. Enticing enough.

Aroma: Not getting hardly any hop bitterness, but I can smell the tea, alright. The aromatic delights of a big, bold bitter DIPA are largely missing here. Was this intentional? A DIPA without a flowering, engaging aromatic element is not a thing of joy.

Taste: Fruit, citrus, grapefruit, and then the big, bold hop bitterness, which hangs on the palate for a time. Hop bitterness lays long on the palate, but subsides enough for smooth malt to take over for a time. I'm still, though, puzzled about the idea of infusing tea into a beer of this kind, wondering why, and for what purpose.

Maybe the copy on the can will tell me? Here it is: "Herb-In Legend is our series of adventure brews. A collaboration with Milwaukee's own Rishi TEa, this IPA is infused with organic Jasmine, lending it a sweet, floral aroma. Strong citrus notes come from a generous amount of American hops. Hop Freak was born big and bitter but a sizable malt bill adds balance to the beast."

Well, a beast with a name like this should be more unbridled, I should think (and do, actually).The tea-infusion doesn't seem to add anything, instead it seems to dilute it. It certainly drinkable, and even enjoyable, but you keep missing something as it travels down the throat. You keep wondering if it could have been better. Every brewery should strive to bring it's fans one really great double IPA (okay, not every one, I'm not going to demand that of August Schell, for instance), and this is not that one from MKE. Maybe they've got another up their sleeve?

New Belgium 1554 Black Lager

As previously noted here in TBN (yeah, I'm calling this blog that now, life is short, got to cut it down to the nib), I've been using sampler 12-packs as an inexpensive way to get to some beers I might not otherwise try. My second New Belgium sampler is in the Folly series, with a revival beer from 2007, the Mighty Arrow pale ale, entered here a few days ago. There are 4 other beers, 3 of which have made it on this site (and two of them are probably perennials in these assortments), Fat Tire, Ranger IPA and Trippel, which is now decorated with 3 chickens. (I liked it better when it was three dancing maidens.)

The fourth one is confusing me. The label calls it 1554 Black Lager. I always remembered 1554 being categorized as an ale. Did things change, or is my memory so poor. So, I'm writing new notes, and away we go…

New Belgium 1554 Black Lager, 5.6% ABV.

Dark brown, very nearly black coloring, with slight shades of crimson peeping through the edges. Small, cocoa-tinged head. Looks good.

Aroma: roasty dark malts, very dry, some espresso notes. Hardly a smidgen of sweetness. Hops hand in there in good stead.

Time to drink up…Smooth, clean, malty, and flavorful. Very easy-drinking, medium-bodied, quick finish, but full-flavored. Traces of cocoa, and judicious amounts of coffee in this malt character. This recipe keeps all manner of sweetness at bay, without pounding away with the hops. Excellent balance. Tasty, tasty stuff. (But I still wonder what it's supposed to be. Schwarzbier? Is there a historical precedence for a Belgian black ale that can also, many years later, be a lager, also?)

It's good beer and you can drink it. Cheers to that.

Let's read the label: "A Belgian book from 1554 would inspire this Black Lager{Wait…it "would" or it "Did"?} recipe. Brewed back to life, 1554 immediately made fans with it's surprisingly light taste and dry, chocolatey finish."

I'm still perplexed. Did they switch from brewing it as an ale to a lager, and leave that fact out? Good question. has three listing for New Belgium 1554, one called Enlgihtened Black Ale, listed as a Belgian Dark Ale, and entered on the site in 2002. This is the one I reviewed in February of 2003, which I share at the end of this post. There's also another name, Brussels style Black Ale. This new name, the Black Lager, now finds it listed as a "Euro Dark Lager."

While we're scratching our heads, I'm going to go back in time and uncover my first notes taken on the 1554 when it was a Black Ale,
from Feb., 2003:

"Black ale? A new appellation for me, but after tasting, it's more accurately a brown ale painted up in blackface, ...not that there's anything wrong with that.

Dark brown in color, more reddish when seen through light. A full, frothy, creamy off-white head towers on top. Powerful aromatics waft out, fruity and floral, soft, sweet notes of toffee, cream, and nuts. Bold brace of hops jump on board the palate and carry through the finish. Excellent texture, chewy and substantial. Hops start to bow out, as they are muted by the full feeling of the powerful malt presence. Very satisfying, and a superior choice for a session ale. I have to wonder if they didn't blacken this brew, which otherwise tastes like an excellent example of brown ale, to avoid comparison to the inferior Newcastle."

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA

Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA. Bend, OR. Ale Brewed with Spices. 5.6% aBV.

This is one of those I should have gotten around to long ago, it's been around long enough. I'm a big fan of Deschutes, I like everything they do, what took me? Eh… "white IPA"? Really? Not sure on that one….That's why.

Well, I bought a single bottle, just to try it and check it off. Maybe after I've finished it I'll wish I had bought a six-pack?

Hazy, pale yellow appearance, beautiful, big white head, leaving lace.

Aroma: spice and citrus, the very staple of a witbier. Floral hoppiness. Light, airy, and lovely.

Taste: Mmm, delicious. Light-bodied, clean and crisp. Easy drinking, for sure. Smooth, with wheat malt sweetness. What I'm not getting is the promised hops. Is this merely a slightly hopper witbier? Is that all it is? Is it that the craft beer crowd eschews the wit as a "chick beer" or whatever, and will flock to anything called an IPA? Is that it?

I'm gonna read me some label gobbledygook: "What if wheat wasn't the goal itself? But a route to something absolutely new?" That's up on top. On the side: "You pair wheat, hops and Belgian yeast {can you "pair" three things?} and suddenly Bingo, a wheat like nobody else's. With real depth, coriander and sweet orange peel, it's citrus-packed and silky smooth going down."

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Borealis Raisin Liaison Saison

Borealis Fermentery Raisin Liaison Saison. Knife River, MN. Belgian-style Saison Ale. 1 pint, 9.4 fluid ounces.

At last, at last, Borealis is dropping by the Twin Cities and bringing their beers to us. I haven't been to the Duluth area since the All Pints North fest in 2012, and haven't had a chance to pour one of their beers into one of their glasses since I brought bottles back home in May of 2012. Another trip to Duluth is long overdue, but I don't need to make that journey, for now their beer is at Zipp's and a few other stores in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Enough blah, blah, blah, I'm ready to crack this open!

Appearance: dark amber/ hazy burgundy coloration, with a sizable, staying head of white froth. Looking great.

Aroma: Ah! Utterly lovely. A lot of yeasty notes in this nose, some citrus fruits, more dark ones. Minor hops, major malt. Creamy, rich, beautiful.

Taste: Smooth, mellow, and malt-tastic. Hops are very low, spices are felt, and dark fruits maintain a delicious presence. Perfect integration, magnificent melding. I'm not really getting what I would from a normal saison, the fruit additions transform it a bit.
 Saisons have been turned into a rather malleable style these days, a platform for tossing about other flavorings. I wouldn't have guessed this as a saison, more of a Belgian pale or, no, a strong dark, with the raisin additives.

Hey, you know what, maybe the label will make things clear….First paragraph is the same as all the others…then "Raisin Liaison is a Franco-Belgian-style Saison of "seasonal" ale that was served up to summer field hands to keep morale high and the work flowing. The traditional spiciness of a Saison with a hint of darker fruitiness imparted from our friends, and liaisons, the raisins."

No ABV listed. I'd guess it at 8.5 or 9%, maybe…maybe more? Higher than an average saison (6-7%), is what I'd assume.

What this is, though, is terrifically delicious. It makes me very happy. Mmm, smooth, malty, well-rounded, and all kinds of wonderful. Love it.

New Belgium Mighty Arrow Pale Ale

New Belgium Mighty Arrow Pale Ale. 6% ABV. Looking at notes from June, 2008:

Clear, pale orange appearance, big, lacey white head, high carbonation.

Highly hopped aromatics, citrus & spice. Cascades? Really lively, clean, piney. Lemon zest & orange rind.

Soft and lovely on the palate. Lush, tasty malt holds it down, a tender pillow for the hops to spring off of.

Nice and smooth, tasty, hoppy, light bodied, and easy drinking.

Clown Shoes Muffin Top Belgian-style Triple IPA

Clown Shoes Muffin Top Belgian-style Tripel India Pale Ale. Mercury Brewing company, Ipswich, Massachusetts. 1 pint, 6 fl. oz. Alc. 10.5% by vol.

Clear, golden-hued, slim white head.

Aroma: Spice and fruit (citrus, stone), with with alcohol lurking in the background. Floral hop notes.

Taste: Bright and bubblegummy. Moderate hop bitterness meets Belgian yeast. Do we have triple that meets an IPA, or is it a "triple IPA" vs. a double? I'd think a "triple IPA would have to be stronger, richer, danker. Leaning hard on the former choice.)
Tangerine, mango, grapefruit blends with Belgian candy sugar and yeasty funkadelica. Fruit flavors hang over the hops, with booze roaring in.
Medium-bodied, drinkable in spite of the high ABV. A bomber may be more than I need of this.

Let's look at the label and see if there's any gobbledygook:
"Intense flavors, reminiscent of candied fruits, mix with American hops and sweet orange peel to create a unique take on a Belgian-style ale. Disclaimer: no muffin tops were harmed in the creation of this label."

Seef Bier

"Seef Bier, the Original Antwerp Ale. Brewed by Antwerpse Brouw Compagnie. 11.2 fluid ounces. 6.5% aBV. Serve Cold. Swirl bottle while pouring."

Cloudy, golden coloring, lush, looming head, leaving lace.

Aroma: lightly hoppy, slightly spicy, with sour traces, floral notes, vegetal tones. A curious blend, in Belgian fashion.

Taste: It's there again, and in that order. Uniquely Belgian hop flavor, little touches of indecipherable spicing, a hint of wheat, distinctly Belgian yeast flavor, and then a whisper of sour and funk. Light bodied. Clean, crisp and refreshing, with the sour kick never quitting.

This "Seef bier" is a style unto itself…let's look over here and let the importer tell us all about it.

I do like this. It's a little weird, but that's what's special about the Belgians.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Bell's Midwestern Pale Ale

Bell's Midwestern Pale Ale, Brewed and Bottled by Bell's Brewery, Comstock, MI. Alc. 5.2% by Vol.

Clouded golden hue, snowy white head, settles to a slim collar.

Aroma: Large citric notes, some spice, plenty of yeast. Hops and yeast, that's what we've got.

Taste: Full-bodied, full of yeast-y goodness, with plenty of vibrant, citric hop notes bouncing on the palate. Much maltier than the average pale ale, and as it's unfiltered, so much more yeast-ier. I have to wonder, though, if this is different that the other Bell's Pale Ale? Is that retired, and this is it's replacement? Good questions. I'm searching for answers.

Without those, I'm still enjoying it for what it is. Hey, there's gobbledygook on the label, and as it's Bell's, it's probably terse, mysterious, perhaps poetic? Here it comes: "A blond ale reminiscent of the golden fields at harvest--made with Michigan-grown barley and a delicious blend of pale malts with a distinctive spicy, floral aroma and taste. We invite you to reap what we've sown."

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale

Cross one brewery off the ones to shop for in Wisconsin Trips. Oskar Blues of Colorado is now in Minnesota, kegs and cans. I noticed that their groundbreaking pale ale, the first craft beer in cans, hasn't appeared here, and brought a can home. The notes are from my first taste of it, in March of 2005:

I have to tell you, the rhyming name reminds of the Preston Sturges classic film, "The Lady Eve", where Henry Fonda plays a herpetologist who also happens to be heir to a brewing fortune. In one scene, a waiter onboard the ocean liner "Hopsy", as he is nicknamed, is traveling on, dryly intones the following line: "They only want Pike's Pale, the Ale that won for Yale. Rah. Rah."

But how about Dale's Pale Ale, "A Huge Voluminously Hopped Mutha Of A Pale Ale", as the can said a mouthful, bub. Let's crack the snap-top, and dig in...

Hazy, crisp amber color, good chunk of cream-toned foam above.

Aroma, plenty of hops in there, the piney, juicy, grapefruity, zesty, tangy kind. Puts me in mind of Alpha King and others of that sort. Big citrus...I like it!

Taste: zing, zing! Nice, pungent hoppy taste in every bite, but not too bitter. Flavor slides along the mouth, with a neat resin-y edge, loads of alpha acids, abundant fruity flavor. This one is right up my alley.

Body is medium, but the flavor is full, and the finish is bitter, hoppy, fruity. Taste is long-lasting in the mouth. This would definitely be a regular buy for me, if it were available here.
tasty stuff, with plenty of hops...just what turns my crank.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome

I've got something to say that will not surprise you: This post is far too late. Right now, winter has worn out it's welcome. How about a Winter Goodbye?

Okay, on with the beer...

Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome. Here's a brew that once upon a time, way back when, I would look forward to every year, and anticipate the changing of the labels. I haven't touched a bottle in years. Why not revisit it? And will it be another case where my 11-year old notes are still satisfactory? I decided it was not.

So, I'm opening a recent bottle, and taking new notes…here we go…

the 2013/2014 edition once again, as always, features the quote from W. Shakespeare, "Blessing of your heart you brew good ale." New this year, a depiction of one the shire horses of Samuel Smith, being fed.

Clear, light amber/caramel-toned appearance, under a lush off-white head.

Aroma: Uniquely British. Fuggles? East Kent Goldings? wormwood? It's a malty nose, yeasty, caramel and toffee notes. Hops are low.  Nicely balanced.

Taste: Hop bitterness comes to the fore here in the taste, shines for a moment, then fades as malt takes over. From their, it's nothing but balance. Nothing dominates, nothing goes forward. Sweet malt and bitter hops keep things going on the tongue.

Now, the problem I'm having is that this is an utterly English ale, but it doesn't seem especially special, and hasn't any particular qualities that set it apart as a winter seasonal. I feel that it ought to be bigger in one way or another, maltier, hoppier, stronger in some way.

Let's pause and read the label: "This seasonal beer is a limited edition brewed for the short days and long nights of winter, the full body resulting from fermentation in stone Yorkshire squares, and the luxurious malt character, which will appeal to a broad range of drinkers, is balanced by against whole-dried Fuggle and Golding hops with nuances and complexities that should be contemplated before an open fire." 6.0% ALC./VOL.

Yeah, except it's not really all that. It's tasty, it's delicious, and satisfying, but nothing more. And I want it to be more. I also wonder what it was in the past. The last time I published notes on this beer was back in February of 2003. I didn't rely on those old notes to represent this bottle, because I can't find any resemblance. Here they are, for old times sake:

2001 bottle, reviewed in December '02. Now why is it I never saw the '02 anywhere? So, the question is :how does it hold up after a year?
Thin white head, dark reddish appearance. Vinous nose, raisin, reminds me of a barleywine, but just a smidge. Spicy, aromatic, with notes of vanilla, sweet and malty. Smooth, and quite downable, with just enough flavor.
This used to be a wintertime staple for me, but I've fallen for the darker, bolder type of winter ales.
Quite good after 12 months, nothing wrong with it at all, though it tastes maltier than bottles I had last winter.

Lake Superior Special Ale

More looking back, this time on Special Ale from Lake Superior Brewing of Duluth. And, once more, notes from that magical month of April in 2003:

Color is cloudy bronze, showing a clearer orange at the bottom of the glass, and the head is a thick, fluffy white.

Aroma holds traces of spice and fruit, is fresh and largely clean, resembling an ESB in that regard.

Hops give a full attack on the palate, and texture is smooth, but spicy. Fair enough finish, with a distinctly citrusy aftertaste.

Malt is adequate, hops are ample and tasty, beer was fully enjoyed. More hops than a bitter, and less than an IPA (at least, an American craftbrewed IPA), and quite a drinkable ale.

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...