Saturday, November 29, 2014

Town Hall Luthius Single Hop Scottish Pale Ale

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery Luthius Single-hop Scottish Ale. Warrior is the single hop. I have no clue what a Luthius is.
(Town Hall no longer gives out lengthy descriptions of beers, and the menus don't say much, nor is this listed on their website anywhere, yet.)
Appearance:  clear, amber hue, frothy chalk white head.

Aroma: soft, slightly sweet and malty, just enough hoppy…floral and fruity and lovely.

Taste: Mmm, hops are really coming through on the fore-front of this one. Fresh, zesty, and lively. Little citrus here, and there, in the flavor, a touch of pine. I've had plenty of beers with Warrior in them, but can't say for sure what their defining character is, but in here it's nothing but lovably fruity and just enough bitter.

Nice, soft malt backbone on this one, sweet and, I'll say it again, lovely, like the song says. normally, I don't like Scottish ales, but, normally, they don't use Warrior hops. This is one of the good ones.

Schell's Snowstorm 2014: Grand Cru

Schell's Snowstorm 2014: Grand Cru, Ale Brewed With Spices. August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, MN.

Appearance: clear, deep amber, nearly crimson, under a dotted, white head, leaving some lace.

Aroma: sweetness and spice, fruity esters and Belgian yeast character aplenty. Just my style.

Taste: First sip: bright malty flavors, apple, cherry, maybe grape in the flavor. nice sweetness, just delightful spices on the side. Warm malt, mild hops, hits the right notes as an interpretation of many of the Belgian brews calling themselves Grand Cru.

I love a good Grand Cru, if brewed to style, …and here are my top 5, in ascending order by closeness to style:

Not exactly. There are no specific guidelines you need to follow when you make a Grand Cru, because the style name basically means "our best", (it's French for "Best Growth") and different versions can vary quite a bit. But, Schell's has made a valid attempt to replicate the flavor profiles of the best from Belgium. And it is delicious.

This is bottle 5 of 6. I'm going to have to go back for more.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Summit Union Series 3X Mild Ale

It's time for another Summit Union Series beer, and this one is a mild ale, a 3X mild, to be exact.

Appearance: clear, deep amber, slim white head.

Aroma: earthy, herbal, malty. Low hops in this, minor fruit notes, definitely English hop character.

Taste: clean, smooth, and brimming with flavor. This is how you want your dark mild, a kind of brew practically unknown to the average craft consumer. If Surly Mild where ever canned, the local yokels would know a little more, but since it's so infrequently represented, it's a secret to most that you can have a dark, delicious, lighter bodied, and lower alcohol ale like this. Long, malty finish, medium body, very tasty.

Where's some info on this? The 6-pack carrier: 7.2% ABV. (What? That's not "mild"! Oh, yeah, it's "3X" mild, now I get it….but I didn't taste it.), OG: 17.5 Plato, 38 IBU. Expedition Base Malt, USA, Mild Ale Malt, UK, Amber Malt, UK, Experimental 06300 hops, USA.

Nice one. This is one to have around for Thanksgiving, sure to please the crowd.

Dogfish Head Midas Touch

Dogfish Head Midas Touch. Handcrafted Ancient Ale. with barley, honey, white muscat grapes, and saffron. 12 fl. oz., 9% ABV. Brewed and bottled by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, Milton, Delaware.

This is one I haven't had in a while, and first wrote notes on in December, 2002. I last mentioned a few days ago that there are times that I'm fine with my notes of over a decade ago, and there are times that I'm not. I've decided that this goes in column B.

What's the story on this? It was released initially in 2001, first in 750 ml bottles (which is how I first tried it), and is briefly described thusly: "This sweet yet dry beer is made with ingredients found in 2,700-year-old drinking vessels from the tomb of King Midas. Somewhere between wine and mead, Midas will please the chardonnay and beer drinker alike. 12 IBU."

I'm going to try this one as if fresh, then bring out the old notes. Okay? Ready? Here we go!

Appearance: hazy, golden hued, brief white head.

Aroma: grape must and honey notes greet the nose first. Lightly spicy and fruity, with alcohol creeping into the aromatics.

Taste: Minor hops (if any?), but significant bitterness at first. Funky fruit associations flood the palate next, sweet honey notes hanging on the sides. We've got a honey ale, a fruit ale, and some odd blend of a white wine and a mead, that has the alcohol strength of a Belgian triple or such. I don't drink either wine or mead, but I have no problem with this.

I wrote a bit about cider a few weeks back, without actually drinking one, and decided that they didn't do it for me. If I like this, I should like meads, right? And then, why not ciders, while we're at it. This isn't really beer, not like we know it today, and yet I'm finding it quite delicious. It doesn't replace beer for me, though. Honey and grapes may be an occasional diversion, but won't really replace hops and malt, no sir.

So, here are those notes from 12-04-02: "A recreated ancient ale, using such offbeat ingredients as white muscat grapes, and saffron. Pours a big, bone white head, gorgeous amber/orange color, soft, sweet aroma. Lovely texture! It just rolls off your lips and floods your mouth with pleasure. Warm, glowing, the grapes are evident, and, soon enough, the honey comes shining through. Perfect for summertime picnics, of around the fireplace. Fresh, sparkling, very mead-like...I've never had a honey beer quite like this. There is no beer like this, that's for sure.
Great stuff, and reminds me of the best Belgians I've enjoyed."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Founders Dark Penance Imperial Black India Pale Ale {sic}

I know that beer geeks as a community are supposed to love, crave, and trade your favorite limb for the beers of Founders, but I have to break from the pack, and admit that I found one that left me cold.

 Founders Dark Penance Imperial Black India Pale Ale. 100 IBUs. 8.9% ABV.

Appearance: very dark. nearly black, lots of reddish highlights, round the edges, with a slim dark head.

Aroma: citrus-y, piney, and plenty malty. Here's the perfect nose of a black ale ( I just hate calling them 'black IPAs'.) high hops, raisins, grapes, …etcetera.

Taste: In the mouth, thick, rich malt, bright hoppiness,  an interesting mix. Now, the booze rushes in, okay it's imperial now, is it? There's a blast of bitterness on the palate, a full body, a long, malty finish. …it is tasty, and it's good, but I'm not crazy about it.

Here's the thing: I've never had an Imperial Black IPA. Not sure how many of them there are, and I'm not sure if I'm in favor of them. I'm all for Imperial IPAs, stouts, porters, but why not this? The problem is that I'm tasting the booze in it more than anything else, more than the hops even. It seems as if the malt involved was merely an afterthought.

There's positively no gobbledygook on the label, so let's check the carrier for copy. "A heavy malt foundation includes crystal malt for sweetness and just enough midnight wheat malt to push the color to black. The bitterness is huge, but balanced by malt sweetness and alcohol burn. The hop flavors and aromas range from citrus to floral to pine, thanks to a delicious blend of hand-selected Chinook and Centennial hops."

Okay, I've never heard of "alcohol burn" being a source of balance. There's really no balance to speak of,  the hop bitterness doesn't match the malt at all.

I like hoppy-as-hell IPAs, I can take higher alcohol brews, and I do like 'em dark. But, this is kind of mixed up and I'm left less than delighted. I'm going to have a big, brassy Belgian or maybe a rich, hearty Imperial Stout to lift my spirits.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Piraat Triple Hop

Piraat Triple Hop Dry-hopped Ale, alc. 10.5% by Vol. Product of Belgium. Brewed & Bottled: Br. Van Steenberge. Ertvelde, Belgium.

I've been a fan of Piraat for quite some time and now, at last, there's a triple hop, dry-hopped version? Sign me up!

Appearance: lightly hazed, bright golden amber hue, snow-white, lacy head. Beautiful.

Aroma: dry, spicy, floral, bristling with noble hops. Gorgeous.

Taste: Bone-dry. Ultra-hoppy. Or, uber-, that works. Citrus notes abound, little traces of pine, all types of spicy delights. Pear, apple, pepper. Mmm. Long, spicy, hoppy finish. Lean-bodied, light malt character. Goddamn it, this is good. It hits me right where I live.

Any gobbledy-gook on the label? Nary a whiff of it. It is what it is, and it is wonderful. More, please!

Goose Island India Pale Ale

Goose Island India Pale Ale, Alc./Vol. 5.9%. 55 IBU rating. Serve in a thistle. Contains: Wheat (Is that a new thing? Have they always used wheat in this?)Brewed and bottled by Goose Island Brewing Company in Baldwinsville, NY and Fort Collins, CO. (Not Chicago, IL? Ah, that's why they sold out to Budweiser, eh?)

Every now and then, I re-visit a beer that I'd first taken notes on many years ago, back in the infancy of my beer reviewing life. I just bought a 6-pack of Goose Island's India Pale Ale, a brew I've always enjoyed, and looked back on the old notes. Know what? They hold up. So, here they are verbatim, from January of 2003:

"Pours a pure amber color, topped with a plump, lacey milk-white head.

Vibrantl aromatics, displaying a bold, bracing bouquet of hops. I'm no walking encyclopedia of beer ingredients, but I'd guess at Cascade as the chief hop in use. Evocative of some fruits, peach, pineapple,citrus, notes of herb and pine. The hop sensation buzzes and bristles, a sensation close to stuffing your face in a big bag of hops, and inhaling deep!

Sharp bitterness on the palate at first, ultimately, but not immediately, mellowing out. Excellent texture for the hopheads, as each individual sip requires one to stop, savor, swallow. The hop attack is huge, and clearly, not for everyone. I enjoyed the hell out of this tasty IPA. Puts others to shame."

This was almost 12 years ago, and I would no longer say that this one puts others to shame. It's still a terrific IPA, but the game has changed so much in the past decade plus, and much more has been accomplished in the field of IPAs.

Why did Anheuser-Busch purchase Goose Island? They've got plenty of money as it is, they hardly need more. Now that they own the GI brand, the beers are being brewed at A-B facilities nation-wide and reaching markets that GI never could before. But it's not really Goose Island anymore, is it? Is it still craft beer if it's owned and brewed by big bad Budweiser?

There are so many questions to face when you're trying to be a politically correct beer drinker. What it comes down to is, yeah, I do feel guilty that the $7.99 I paid for this 6-pack didn't go to a craft brewery that get where it is on it's own terms, without a leg-up from the Evil Empire.

You will still see GI beers here from time to time, but not much and not often. Other breweries will take priority, it's just the natural way I roll.

Hey, what's the label say? "English style IPA. Our IPA opens with a fruity aroma set off by a malty middle and long hop finish." Sure, why not?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bauhaus Brewlabs Jingle Fever Baltic Porter

It's that time of year, when store shelves are stocking to brimming with beer labels adorned with  all manner of holiday references. And we're doing it locally, too, evidenced by the latest release from Bauhaus, their first bottling.

Bauhaus Brewlabs Jingle Fever. 8% Alcohol by Volume. 35 IBU. 22 fluid ounces. Baltic Porter. Limited Release. Bomber for $7.50 at Lake Wine & Spirits. So glad to find a bomber for under $10.

Appearance: dark brown, with bright shining crimson highlights peeking through, slim brown head.

Aroma: Earthy, malty, lightly spicy.

Taste: Got to tell ya, parts one and two didn't thrill me. Part three, once it's in the mouth, it's a wonderful thing. Delicious. Sweet, sweet dark malt. Caramel and toffee. Gingerbread. Toasty and tasty. Medium-bodied, long, sweetish finish. Low bitterness, just enough for balance.

I wonder what the label can tell us? Got to get the glasses out…"Smooth & silky." "A toast to all that's good in life!" "Gemutlichkeit!" "When the fluffy white stuff starts falling, this Baltic Porter is all you need to get into the holiday spirit. Jingle Fever has a rich, complex blend of malt flavors expressing caramel and dried fruit with an oh-so-smooth roasty finish. One sip will have you coming back for more."

Great to see another Baltic Porter being locally brewed. I hate to disappoint them, but this brew won't achieve it's goal of giving me "jingle fever." That's never been my style. It is a hearty remedy for wintry maladies, though.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Stone Coffee Milk Stout

Stone Coffee Milk Stout, Ale Brewed With Roasted Coffee Beans. ENJOY FRESH. 2014 release. 4.2% Alc./Vol. B & B b. SBC, E, SDC, C.

Solid blackness, rich tan head atop.

Low espresso notes in the aroma, cocoa, deep dark malts.

Taste: Smooth and creamy. We're getting some hop bitterness, just enough to tamp down the sweetness. Lush malt, great balance. Solid stuff.

I like coffee stouts. Not so hot on milk stouts. Nothing wrong with them, just don't thrill me, that's all. Put them together, and …I'm still not thrilled. It's fine enough stout, but I probably won't pay $11 for a 6-pack again.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Surly Eight (Rye Barrel-aged Oat-Wine)

Surly Eight. The eighth Surly of them all. Oat Wine style ale aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels. I'm going to let you in on a little secret. (Or is it a secret? Maybe not.)Why were both the anniversary beer and Darkness barrel-aged this year? So they could get the beer out of the fermentation tanks and into those barrels that they store in a warehouse in St. Paul, and use those tanks to brew more Furious.
Soon, soon, there will be more tanks at the new facility. Soon, and getting sooner!

So, this is the first time that I haven't poured the Surly anniversary beer for the thirsty beer nerds of Minneapolis. I've accepted the fate that I've foisted on myself, but there's still that wistful twinge. Ah…yeah… I remember One, in 2007, and from 2008 through 2010, I was proud to host the release of Two (which will always have special personal importance, you know, because of this, Three, and Four at the Blue Nile. Those were exciting days, weren't they, friends? And, they usually happened in late January or early February, because that was when the anniversary occurred. I know for a fact that the first kegs of Surly Furious and Bender rolled out on the last week of Jan./first week of Feb. in 2006. For Surly Five, in 2011, it took a few months more, and then they started the mantra: "when it's ready." That was at Republic Seven Corners, and Six (or, Syx) was also released in the summertime at Aster Cafe along the river. For Seven, I'm sorry, SeViin, they rented out the Varsity Theater in Dinkytown and that was in late Autumn. Eight is the latest of them all. This was released at the Dakota Jazz Club a few weeks back, cool, I wish I'd been there. I really do! The only one I've missed! (There was no release party for One. They didn't do that then.)

I was at the Nomad last Wednesday  for their MidWeek Beer Geek release of Eight, and Michael Berglund, master of Surly imaging and branding,  mentioned that I hadn't written about it yet. Well, now, this was my first full serving of it, and bottles just went out to stores earlier that week, and I didn't go chasing the trucks for it. If you're not aware, here's a little lesson about the hardcore beer geek crowd. They follow brewery/distributor delivery trucks to chase the release of the new, hard to get beers. Yeah, they do. And I don't.

I did pick one up last week, but didn't open it right away. I wanted to make sure I could have another to sit on before I cracked open the first. And I bought that other one today. Maybe, someday soon, I'll be able to afford a few more, and I'll visit those liquor stores that the beer geeks pass by, and I'll find some more for my cellar.

Right now, I'm in between jobs. I don't have the cash to buy a bunch, and I wasn't haunting the store aisles when it was first released, but more significantly, I'm not managing a bar that gets a keg, and can't hook one up just to pour some out for sampling. (Ah, those were the days. Well, you made your bed, now, lie in it!)
No, I've got to pay $20 a pop like every other schmuck.

Enough of that jibber-jabber, now it's time to lock in and sit down a big ol' bomber of Eight. Sorry, it's late, everyone, but here we go…

Appearance: utter opacity, dark, rugged, rustic burgundy coloring, under a lush, off-white, creamy-toned head.

Aroma: comes screaming out of the glass…. whiskey all over the place. Vanilla, coconut, oak, …huge, vast, immense, …all the adjectives. The richness wraps over all other flavors, but that's alright, I don't mind.

Taste: yeah, let's…mmm, bright, bold, vibrant, and incredibly complex. Whiskey tones (more vanilla, more sweetness, still some coconut) are king of this jungle, standing tall above all, …and making me wish I could get a taste of the original, pre-High West barrel-aging to compare them. An oat barley-wine, rich, fruity, delicious, and strong. But, not too strong. Some have been reporting this as "hot", but having tasted it, I am here to declare them to be positively pussies. "Waah, wah, it's 'hot'!" Get over it, it's a barley-wine, it's supposed to be strong, be a man, and drink a beer! (Or be a woman, too, either way. How about this one: "person up!" Okay, I'll keep searching for the politically correct term.)

I'm barely halfway into this and it's tasting better and better, and feeling stronger and stronger. Pro-tip: share this one. Not wise to drink it alone. But, that's what I'm here for, taking it for the team.

An oat wine. How many of those are there? The wheat wine is a thing, sure, but Todd has always been pro-oat, and mostly anti-wheat. Smooth and supple and utterly delicious. Once the whiskey barrel-aging effects wear away, the brew below shows it's stuff, and it's goddamn gorgeous.

We're getting towards the end, and I'm close to surrender. This is the best way to enjoy this beer (screw sharing!)…late at night…got nothing to do tomorrow…let the time pass away, and accept every beautiful moment.

Here's where I read the label to you: First off, Omar: "When it's done is a phrase we've used to describe release dates for our beers for many years. When you're putting the beer first, it just makes sense. Our anniversary is technically in February, but this unique Oat Wine style ale needed to age in High West Distillery Rye Whiskey barrels until well…until it's done. Here's to eight great years, and we'll all be celebrating soon in our all-new Destination Brewery. …The idea behind our anniversary line-up of beers was to give Todd, Surly's Head Brewer, fee rein to use whatever ingredients and methods he wanted to brew the beer. This year's bottle artwork is a one-of-a-kind illustration collaboration between Todd and local artist Josh "Jawsh" Lemke." …and then, Todd: "This beer was designed for barrel-aging, so it's been a great opportunity to work with our friends at High West Distillery, in Park City, Utah. Brewed with Golden Promise and Aromatic malt, and milk sugar fermented in stainless steel, then aged in high West Distillery rye whiskey barrels, this golden-hued Oat-Wine style ale summons notes of spicy vanilla marshmallow and aromas of honey and whiskey."

Wait, there's information missing…why can't I find the ABV? Odd…well, I heard that it's 10.7% ABV. It's got to be on there somewhere….nope, nowhere…oh, well, worse things have happened.

Okay. This is incredible now. And it could be different later. I say get as much as you like, but drink it fresh, then stash some away and break it out on special occasions, but don't freak out about aging it. Probably the best advice anyone can ever give you about beer: don't freak out about it.

Postal Script: You many have noticed that I provided links to the blog posts about 5 of the previous anniversary beers from Surly. One and Three were reviewed before I began using this blog as the space for my beer reviews, and I'm not likely to come across them again. By the rules of this blog, they shouldn't appear here, but I'm going to break that rule this time. Here's what I wrote about One, a 9% ABV dark lager that we decided to call a doppelbock, on January 10, 2007:
""One", an anniversary lager. ("But don't call it a doppelbock.")
Brewed July 2006, with a blend of 7 different malts and candi sugar. 9% abv, 28 IBU.

(this was hard to categorize, as it's not a double pilsner, not a malt liquor,...I thought I'd err on the safe side and just enter it as an all-malt lager.)

Sample bottle poured into a wide-mouth Belgian chalice.

Deep mahogany hue. ("Tawny brown", says the brewer, but we're both right.) SLIM whitish head.

Aroma: nice and malty, lightly spicy, with prominent notes of raisin and PLUM. Molasses isn't far off, either. Delicate sweetness.
And, though I tried not to copy the brewer's notes, yes, there's vanillla and licorice in there, too, can't deny it.)

Taste away: Mmmmm. That's all I'll say: Mmmm



...okay, seriously, this is quite a slick, delicious treat, and they're right it's not a doppelbock, it's unlike anything I can think of at the moment, and I think it's brilliant.
Those dark fruit flavors ride on top, coated with a candyish sheen and it's jostles the realm of the syrupy, but not quite. It grabs hold of the palate with each new sip, drips this sweet concoction all over the tongue and it splashes the roof of the mouth, coats the senses, then softly fades back, though the beautiful flavor never quite quits.

Alcohol is not as forward as you'd think, going into a 9% lager, but I still would advise against tippling too many!
Finish is long, body is medium to full, and the taste is well-tempered, very sweet, but not too much so, at least not to me. Those who can't stand a touch of sweetness may not like it. Their loss.

Happy 1st Anniversary Surly!
Here's to many more!"

I wrote this about Bourbon Barrel-aged One on July 13, 2009:
"Surly Bourbon One

First had this at the Surly Beer Dinner at Cafe' 28 in early 2008. For my 40th birthday in June, 08, got a bottle from Todd, lucky me. SAved it 10 months, broke it open for sampling with friends, here are my notes:

Dusky brown, SLIM head...

rustic nose...fat malt mixed with whiskey...leather licks, bourbon takes command of flavor in this...holds down over the huge malt. One by itself was super-malty and sweet, this, perfection...

Taste: sweet and scrumptious, PLUM, dates, raisins, carob and nuts...sweet googly moogly...huge, expansive flavor...spreads out and envelops the senses...

Good Lord...

holy fuck.."

I wrote this about Cranberry One in April of 2007:
"On tap at the Blue Nile.

Thoroughly darkened appearance, a solid brown, with a sturdy, if SLIM head of cocoa-tinged foam riding on top.

Tart fruit starts the nose, then molasses, sweet caramel malt...the cranberries merge well the other great flavors found in One, and hold ground above. But there is no single dominant factor, instead, a brilliant blending.

Taste: Yum. Just yum. Dark, sweet, and lightly tart, the better parts of a rich malty lager given an extra fruity zing. Or zang. Or zabbityzazz. Take your pick.
Sip again, and it's scrumptious once more. Full bodied in the mouth, long, sweet, fruity finish.
Terribly smooth, no rough spots here at all. Tastiness all around.
an excellent dessert beer, or an exquisite closer on a night's imbibing.
Any way you try it, please do. Another winner from Surly."

And on February 24, 2009, I wrote this about the braggot (half cider/half dark lager) they called Three:
""Black Braggot" they're calling it, and it's pretty damned black, under a creamy tanned head, about a 1/4 inch, long lasting in my Darkness goblet.

Sweetness hits the nose, you get the honey tone, then it opens up for vanilla, cream, cloves, and more delicate spices. Very pleasant.

Tasting it, and the honey hits again. It leaps up and slides all over the palate, coating the tongue, and dripping delight all over the mouth. I like honey, and I like honey beers. The taste starts off with loads of honey, then leans back, as caramel and cocoa malt flavors fill in and temper the sweet stuff some. Still sweet, but far from treacly. Very mellow.

Full bodied, to say the least, finish is solid, sweet and mellow, not too short, not too long...doesn't overstay it's welcome. I find this one irresistible, but it be wisest to control consumption and keep this as a lovely nightcap.

Cheers to Todd and Omar for another remarkable, utterly unique brew, and to three great years of Surly beers!"

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Dave's BrewFarm Gravity Sux Lager

There are all kinds who visit Dave's BrewFarm, plenty of interesting characters, including some who love to sky-dive. On many occasions, they've chosen the BrewFarm as their landing site, and I've been there once for the drop. Imagine that, someone falls out of the sky and comes up to the bar for a beer.

Well, they talked Farmer Dave into taking the plunge with them, a surreal experience, he called it, and he brewed this beer in their honor.  Gravity Sux, it's called, and it's 6.9% ABV. I've seen it called an "American Pale Lager" on Untappd, and having had it at the BrewFarm last Saturday, I wouldn't agree, but like I said about the last one, you gotta stick it somewhere (for those websites, anyway). This one, too, I'd call an amber lager.

Appearance: crystal clear, bright golden/amber hue, slim white head.

Aroma: mild, fruity hops, light spice, then malt.

Taste: Sweet malt and minor hops greet the tongue at first, sweet biscuity, bready malt reveals itself behind that. Medium-bodied, light finish. Little bit of peppery spice in the flavor, little bit of stone fruit, apricot,  peach, a touch of citrus. Smooth stuff. And tasty as they get. Here's where I stop with my lager-bashing and just enjoy.

Here's what Farmer Dave has to say: "Gravity Sux: Brewed for our favorite group of jumpers who like to "drop in" for a beer at the BrewFarm! Smooth and easy drinking--Pils and Caramel malts, Cluster and PErle hops, and fermented with a lager yeast. For those who like to jump out of perfectly good airplanes!"

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sierra Nevada Coffee Stout

Sierra Nevada Coffee Stout. B & B b. SNBC, C, CA. (You know what that means.)

It's still what you could call the middle of November and it is god-damned freezing out there. I am in deep need of something hearty, rich and warming. Well, at 6.2 % ABV, it's not that warming, but it is the first two, so here comes Sierra Nevada Coffee Stout.

I let this one warm up to almost room temperature.

Solid blackness, with ruby-tinged edges, A rich tanned head stands guard on top.

Aroma: Espresso and cocoa and nothing but, deep and dark and wonderful.

Taste: Pretty much everything you want in a coffee stout. Full-bodied, full coffee flavor, long, rich malty finish, while still fantastically drinkable. Mild carbonation, low hops, strong coffee…beautifully balanced.

Deee-licious. It's is very hard to find a Sierra Nevada beer that doesn't deliver. That's all I'm saying.

Hey, what are they saying, I wonder? "A cup of joe and a bold beer can thwart the winter cold, so we blended them for the ultimate warmer. Our Coffee Stout is a fusion of dark roasted malts and rich, cold-brewed coffee for layers of bittersweet, fruity, dark chocolate and caramel-like flavors."

I've got to tell you, though: I'm not getting the dark fruit or the caramel-like…wait, okay, now I get it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bent Brewstillery Rose Gose

Bent Brewstillery Fall 2014 Rose Gose, Where The Wild Beers Are, Leipziger Gose with Jamaican sorrel, allspice, and roses. Alc. 4.6% by Vol. This bomber set me back about $9 at Elevated.

What's a Leipziger Gose, you ask? Read about it here.
Appearance: lightly hazed, amber/golden hue, slim, soon-gone head.

Aroma: crazy sourness at first, a little funk, then band-aid. Intentional? Can't be sure with these guys. A little bit of fruit, some malt sweetness, but most of all band-aid.

Taste: Ooooh! Ow! Okay, first of all: sour, then comes the salt. Wincing, grimacing, head-shaking, squinting, teeth-gritting, lip pursing, all part of the pleasure that comes with the pain. I think. And more band-aid. I'm frowning in disgust more than anything else through this experience. But like a good soldier, I forge on.

Light bodied, lean and drinkable…-ish, but for that horrible taste. Sigh…Just not into this at all.

I'm going to take a break and read the label for a spell: "Notice: traditional high carbonation, chill well….A spice bazaar, a gentle sea breeze, intoxicating musky Rose fields, MOUTH PUCKERING SOUR! That's right baby, a smackdown for your senses! Spicy, flowery, musky, sour, salty, inviting and sensual, charming and dashing, bottled class. For all you discerning Mensches. Unpasteurized. Bottle conditioned. Decant when serving."

Part of me is saying "pour it down the drain" (what some would refer to as a "drain pour"), but I'm going to see if I can make it through this 750 ml bottle. And after a bit, the bandaid is less discernible, but it is there, it hasn't gone away. And with each new meeting of glass and lip, it's there again. With the salt and the sour, you know it's intended as a Leipziger gose, the rose aspect definitely shows itself, and I'm not sure about the Jamaican sorrel. There's definitely the sourness there, as well, and the bandaid is getting dimmer as we go along, but it's never forgotten.

I'm not adverse to sour ales by any means, and I enjoy most of this, but that band-aid infection still sticks the the palate and is inextricably married to the memory.

This one is going in the minus column. And so far, the BB brews are not working out for me. I might have to hold out for a free one before I try another.
Postal Script: I did not actually finish the remains of the glass, and the final few ounces did find their way into the kitchen sink. I tried, Lord, how I did try.

Stone Go To IPA

Stone Go To IPA, a Vibrant, Hop-bursted Session IPA. Ale-Brewed and Bottled by Stone Brewing Company, Escondido, San Diego County, CA. 4.5% Alc./Vol. Enjoy Fresh.

Appearance: Lightly hazy, bright golden hue, slim white head.

Aroma: As advertised, very vibrant and utterly bursting with hops. Bold and bright citrus and pine. Ah, so nice.

Taste: More of that big, fierce and shining hop flavor, with just enough juicy malt below. Lean bodied, with a dominant buzz of hop bitterness. Drinkable, yes, also refreshing and tasty, too. It's good beer, and I can drink it, but…just doesn't thrill me. I really don't desire the session IPA. I like the regular ones just fine, thank you very much. Faced with the choice of this or a regular Stone IPA, I know where I'm going.

This one is merely "okay", and that's not what I expect out of Stone. Low on my priorities.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dave's BrewFarm: Reflections, Past, Present, & Future (with notes on Azacca Single Hop Lager)

The dream is done, long live the dreamer.

Cal snapped this shot of Farmer Dave and I at the first taproom weekend, five years ago, December, 2009.

If you look to the right side of this beer blog, there is an alphabetical listing of tags, or labels, and each is followed by a number. A quick glance through them will show that among the breweries most celebrated here, Dave's BrewFarm ranks up at the top. When I publish this, it will be tag #51. (Only one other brewery beats that number, Town Hall, at 58, which is only about 4 miles away from me, rather than the 60 miles to the BrewFarm) and I've been writing about their beers for over 12 years).With this one, I'm not just writing about one of the latest beers from the BrewFarm that I'm trying out, I'm also giving a brief, personal history, as I mourn it's eventual passing.

Ever the individualist, always contrarian, Farmer Dave's version of a harvest beer is called Carrot Fest. This was taken last October; the beer was on tap again this weekend.

I've known David Anderson for about ten years now, and I've known of his history in brewing, and of his ambitions of starting up his own brewery. For so long, in what we'll call the mid-oughts, whenever I saw Dave, I pelted him with more questions about how his dream was coming along, when would it happen, where, what beers, when, when, at last, when? (Keep in mind that this is long before the current bold burgeoning of breweries, where it seems like they're opening locally once a week.) This was casual encounters, bumping into him here and there, and in official capacities while he was briefly my salesrep for a distributor. Eventually he met and married Pam Dixon, and they devised the current incarnation of the BrewFarm (which was originally conceived almost 20 years ago as a brewpub in a northern suburb), and in late 2009, it finally opened to the public. I was excited to be there for the open house, and eagerly anticipated the bottled version of Matacabras and the canned lager, BrewFarm Select. (Early on, he had t-shirts and such with the original BrewFarm logo, as well as a beer designed for it, Cow Pie Stout, which hasn't returned as often as the other BrewFarm favorites.)

Here was the home to Dave's masterful brews, in a brewery taproom that occupies the building which also houses their living quarters (clearly separated), in rural Wisconsin, nestled near the tiniest town (Wilson, Wisconsin, population: 180.), with nothing else around it. A proud windmill flies heartily in the breeze, but there are no other landmarks nearby to pronounce it's presence. You really have to be looking for it, searching it out. And it was built by them from the ground up.

Here's Pam happily pouring while the folk band Holy Sheboygan, (from Somerset, though) plays away.

The year 2010 found me enjoying those contract-brewed bottles and cans, and serving them at the Blue Nile, but not visiting the LaBrewTory, and instead jealously viewing evidence of my friends' visits via the modern-day wonder of FaceBook. It drove me nuts that Dave was continuing to create these beers you could only have on premise, and i wasn't there. I finally decided to make the time, and reached out to the right friends, and started taking that trip, usually on Sundays (the taproom has been open mostly on a bi-weekly basis, for four hours at a time, Saturdays and Sundays.)

Now, here's what's magical and untouchable about Dave's BrewFarm: it's Dave's plaything where he makes and serves his beers, his way, when and how he wants it. Should he be open every single week, seven days…or maybe more than weekends? No, he doesn't want to. But what if, why doesn't he, shouldn't he…? No, he doesn't want to.  Isn't that what all of us should strive for, to create what we want, and live how we wish? It's a quixotic dream, and it's rich and beyond admirable. It's exactly what we all wish we could be.

Through a glass, wistfully.

One of my first blog posts in early 2011 about the BrewFarm was when he first started selling growlers-to-go (and no, even though it was Wisconsin, you couldn't just bring in any growler, and he wouldn't fill it off of what was on tap, it was what he wanted to growler, and how much he wanted to growler, and in his chosen vessel, because that was the way he wanted to do it.) That was for the Rye Knot saison, which was on tap for today's visit. I did another post, declaring Matacabras to be my favorite beer of 2010, (an award I did not go on to grant on an annual basis)….
And over the next four years, I would try as many of his beers on tap at those visits, usually driven by good pal Jason B., and write about the ones I could take home in growlers. Sure, this is beer #51 on this blog, but how many more did I never get the chance to chronicle? Plenty, that's how many.

Looking at Dean through Big Red-colored glasses.

I could say it again, though I've said it before: The BrewFarm is a very special place, it's never just about the beer, and it's not entirely about the people, but it's all that and so much more. The fact that you're there to enjoy the creations of this very singular mind is just one important portion of the BrewFarm experience, and the company you share is another large component, but I can't fill in all the others for you. That's something you have to do for yourself. I apologize if you feel that this is overblown hyperbole, but you don't know for real until you're there.

At what other brewery will you meet cute little ducky wuckies? 

Evidence of this is that in 2013, when good ol' Jason wasn't going on a BrewFarm weekend, I found other friends to take me out to the BrewFarm, and they took friends, too, and everyone had the same feeling. And they came back, with more friends, and they wanted to keep coming back. And they would say that I took them there, even though it wasn't my car, and I didn't do the driving.

And that's why I was shocked and saddened in early October, when I first heard that Dave and Pam wanted to sell it off and close this chapter of their lives. No, it can't be true! We love it, it can't die, it must remain forever! Shock, sadness, and, in time, resignation, acceptance, and understanding. It was their decision, for their reasons, and what was, will never be again. Someone will buy it, make their own decisions about the land and the equipment, and they'll create something new. That thing called Dave's BrewFarm will become a memory, and pass into legend, and we will not visit Wilson, Wisconsin like we once did. Dave and Pam will do other things than brew and pour us these beers, but they will remain our friends. Maybe we'll get a chance to drink new David Anderson beers, under a new name, somewhere, somewhen, but not in that room, under those lights, at those tables, with these friends.


Another snapshot from that first snowy day that thirsty travelers entered the Labrewatory.

And so, I jump back just a minute. When I was at the Blue Nile, I worked most Saturdays, and tried to take Sundays off, and that's when I was at the BrewFarm the most. When I left, and was to start at Northbound, I went to the BrewFarm on the Sunday before my first day there. Once at NB, I was always scheduled Saturdays and Sundays. A month passed and I finally requested a Sunday off in early June, visiting the BrewFarm with my sister Lynn. I kept working that schedule until leaving that job, and once I started at Harriet, they had me there every Sunday, and some Saturdays…it just never worked out, and I hated it! It's been five months since my last visit!

Today was my first opportunity to visit the BrewFarm since the news got out about the beginning of the end, and a good portion of my friends made a special effort to get together, bring the potluck, play the games, and goof around with great beer, brewed by our friend and humble brewing genius.

I went with Joe and Liz, this time and we arrived about two hours after they opened, and there were already a few beers gone from the printed list. A quick glance showed that there were three beers of the eight that I'd never had, and I decided not to do the "flight", or even the "Al flight",(that's half the beers, but twice the liquid in the glass) but go with full pours for a select few. And when it came to take-home growlers, there were three I'd not written about here yet…until I asked what was available. Alas, BrewFarm Funk 3 was already sold out! So I got some BrewFarm Funk 1 & 2 to share with friends, and 2 other beers to share my impression with you, here, and I start with…

Enjoying an Azaaca from a growler at home.

Azacca Single Hop Lager. ABV 6.4% ABV.  With a description I won't get to until later…

Appearance: crystal-clear, nearly crimson in coloring, slimmish off-white head.

Aroma: soft, malty, fruity.

Taste: It's in the mouth, and it's a fruity thing, it's a malty thing, and it's sweet, but balanced and beautiful. Bold, brilliant citrus-y notes and flavors. Forced to pick a style, I'd have to say amber lager, vienna lager or such. Dave's always been anti-style, but you have to stick it in somewhere. Really delicious, and expertly drinkable. Medium-bodied, and tasty as hell. Did I say that already?

It steers just away from sweetness, and never delivers any untoward bitterness, and is an utter model of balance. Farmer Dave strikes again.

Post-Script #1: I have a friend that I've invited to visit the BrewFarm who told me: "Don't they mostly do saisons and lagers? I don't like them!" And he's more the poorer, because what Dave does debunks your personal myths about those styles, and he makes better, more interesting beers than you ever thought you'd drink. And he does more than that, too. (And if you know me, you know I'm not pro-lager.)

Post-script #2: I talked about D.A.'s rugged individualism, his talent, his innate curiosity, and indomitable integrity, but how I wish I could make him do what I want him to do! Please, Farmer Dave, I want you to create a metropolitan craft brewery taproom and take these new kids to school! No one is doing anything like you, FD, and they're getting away with mediocrity, sometimes. We need brilliance in the big city, it can't be all kept away from us, among the cows.

And finally, what did Farmer Dave say about Azacca Single Hop Lager? "Pils, Cara Red and Caramel 20 malts, and hopped with three additions of Azacca hops. Fermented with lager yeast."

Sigh, the dream continues…a genius of Dave's level, off the field and in the city. Some day.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bent Paddle Cold Press Black

Bent Paddle Cold Press Black, Coffee Ale featuring Duluth Coffee Company, Craft brewed in Duluth, MN. Contains: water, hops, yeast, malt, coffee. 6.0% alc./vol.

Utter blackness fills the glass. Rich, roasted tan head holds court above.

Aroma: Ah! Dense, intense espresso notes combine with cocoa, minor hop notes just below.

Taste: Mmm. Smooth. Glides on the palate effortlessly, spreading the coffee goodness. Mild hop bitterness makes perfect peace with the forward coffee component. Long finish, full body, terrifically tasty. My favorite coffee-infused "black ale" so far.

Hey, what do they say? "A local infusion of flavor--Bent Paddle Black combined with Duluth Coffee Company's cold press coffee. Smoother than campfire coffee without the mess of the grounds."

I like all the beers from Bent Paddle, but all the camping references do as much for me as sports metaphors and boat puns. Now, when beer labels mention biking in the city and collecting jazz records or obscure cartoonists, that's when they're talking my language.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Sisyphus Double IPA

I have a confession to make.

The Sisyphus Double IPA (Sam doesn't give his beers
 particular names beyond the style designation).
I had not heard of the French philosopher Albert Camus (his name, correctly pronounced, suggests two animals: Al-bear Ca-moo) until, as a teenager, I read a music review in Rolling Stone magazine, regarding the English band The Cure and their song "Killing An Arab", inspired by the events of Camus' major existentialist novel, "The Stranger." Once aware and intrigued, I set about reading his works. My interest in Camus has lasted much longer than my interest in The Cure. I gobbled it all up, the novels, short stories, plays and philosophical essays and treatises.

(That's not such an embarrassment, after all, considering how little the average American knows of Camus, or Sisyphus.)

the Sisyphus logo as it appears on the wall behind the bar.
At the far left, the  TV screen which lists the beers on tap.
One of the latter is a short tome titled "The Myth of Sisyphus", published in 1955. My paperback copy had a cover illustrated with a Rene Magritte painting of a boulder floating in the air, which seems to suggest a misreading of the myth. (Or does it? Who can tell with surrealists?) Those well-versed with Greek myths already know that Sisyphus was a man condemned by the gods for various crimes to roll a boulder up a hill, only to have gravity laugh at him, as it rolls back down again, and the process is repeated, for all time. If you'd like to know more about how Camus references the myth with his thoughts on the absurdity of human existence, I'd suggest you read the book, dummy, this isn't Cliffs' Notes, over here! (or, go here, if you can't get to the library.)

In July of this year, Sam Harriman, whose name is only one letter apart from one of my favorite cartoonists , and his wife Catherine Cuddy opened the Sisyphus Brewing Company in a building among the Dunwoody campus at Aldrich and Ontario, not far from the Walker Art Center's sculpture garden and the basicila of St. Mary's (from a different direction). It may be a little difficult to find at first, but once that task is accomplished, it's worth the struggle. And once they began their operation with four rotating beers on tap, they initiated two Sisyphean tasks: one, the eternal struggle of having to explain to visitors and patrons who the heck this Sisyphus guy was, and two, the never-ending challenge of keeping the taps flowing with a 2-barrel system, the smallest in the region.

Confused visitors have this handy flier
at the bar or table
to explain everything,
with Adam Turman's illustration above
 (you'll find it adorning the east wall
of the building) and a pertinent quote
 from Camus below, with more on the back.
You thought you were going out for a beer,
 you got a free philosophy lesson!
I've been trying to make it there on a bi-weekly basis ever since, but one reason they haven't appeared here yet is my reluctance to takes notes at a bar. Sam wants to keep everything at the taproom, with no interest in selling kegs or bottles. (Actually, because he's serving from the brite tanks, rather than kegs, he's registered as a brewpub, and according to our ridiculous Minnesota laws, he can't sell a keg to a bar or restaurant.) He may do growler fills some time, due to over-whelming demand, and I will certainly be there when he does.

I've had everything they've been pouring on my visits, and liked them all. (But one, but I'll keep that one secret.) I'd count the Brett IPA and the Oaked version among my favorites, and I've also enjoyed the double rye, imperial brown, black ale, oatmeal stout, oatmeal pale ale, English bitter, and Black Ale with coffee. I've missed maybe a dozen more, as he keeps on brewing. But I broke down and finally took notes when he had his second batch of the double IPA on tap (I'd missed the first batch.) Here are those notes:

Appearance: Lightly hazed, bright amber hue/nearly crimson, with a slim white head.

Aromatics: soft at first, then in come the fruity notes, the mango is there and  is more tropical goodness, some peach and such, more pleasant than bitter.

Taste: then comes the hop explosion, but not overloaded with bitterness, with a persistent hop buzz that doesn't tire the tongue. Deliciousness continues on through, with out any harshness, or any acerbic hop kick.. no astringency…incredibly smooth and tasty, fruit swirled delight.

As for ABV, this one rung in at about 10%, and according to Sam, the credit for all the hoppy goodness goes to the Nugget hop. I enjoyed this one immensely, but it was consumed early in October, and the notes waited in my laptop until I got this blog post out. So, don't show up just expecting it to be on tap. Keep tabs with their facebook, check their website, give them a call.

There's much more to Sisyphus, and this post is not intended as an over-view or a review of the taproom as a whole. Sam is a stand-up comic and his hosting a monthly comedy night, among other events, though the long range plan for the space is to create an actual theater with a large stage for comedic as well as musical performances. The funding for the construction of this theater comes from the taproom.

Until then, the struggle continues.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bell's Venus, The Bringer of Peace

Bell's Venus, The Bringer of Peace. Malt beverage brewed with apricot juice and honey with cardamom and vanilla beans added. Brewed and bottled by Bell's Brewery, Comstock, MI. Alc. 7.5% by Vol.

Slightly hazed, bright golden hue, slim white head.

Aroma: fruit, honey and spice. They're all there, beautifully blended.

Taste: Mmmm. Much sweetness up front, with a twist of tart. Fruity to a fault, with the spice adding some temperance. The fruit never falters, just fades some on the palate. With each new sip, the bomb bursts anew. Juicy fruit, with a blast of cardamom, then the fade-away.

This is one that I'll file under the "interesting" folder, the kind of beer I don't mind trying out, but would rarely return to, and am glad it exists. A fan? No, but neither a hater.

I'm curious why this recipe was used to honor the Venus passage of Holst's The Planets suite. Unfortunately, I'm still unfamiliar. Need to get to the library and borrow a copy. I'm still consulting Sun Ra in the meanwhile: "Rocket Number Nine take off for the planet, for the planet Venus."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Summit Unchained Batch No. 17 Fresh Harvest IPA

Summit Unchained Series Batch No. 17: Harvest Fresh IPA. Tom Mondor, brewer. Best Served in a Pint Glass. What do you know, I have one. Let's put some beer in it.

Appearance: clear, bright amber hue, beautiful creamy white head, leaving lace and looking great.

Aroma: delicate floral notes and fresh fruitiness.  Nice.

Taste: First word: yum. More words? Okay…fresh stone fruit flavors, apricot and peach, now here come the tropics, pineapple and papayas…hop bitterness grows on the palate, but stays on the mild side. Flavors grow and grow and I'm left with yum. This is not an overpowering, punishing, in your face kind of fresh hop IPA.

Medium-bodied, long finish, supreme drinkability. Veers slightly on the sweet side, with a healthy malt body to match the high hops.

What kind of details can we get from the label? Not much, so I'll check the 6-pack carrier…"Profile: Pine, resin, grapefruit, citrus, strong malt backbone. Color: golden amber, malts: full pint 2 row, Munich, Caramel Munich, Best Caramel Malt Light. Fresh hops: Centennial, Cascade, Chinook, Wet Hops: Chinook, IBU: 70, ABV: 7%."

Monday, November 10, 2014

Engelszell Benno

Engelszell Trappistenbier Benno. Ale brewed with honey. 6.9% ABV.

Here we are with the other Austrian trappist ale, the brother to Gregorius.
Appearance: dark, murky, reddish-brown, slim, off-white, lace-leaving froth atop.

Aroma: Sweetness itself, with the extra Belgian edge. Bananas flambe' and chocolate fondue. Cookies and cream, with strawberries on top. Sweet malt mixed up with spiced fruit. Somethin' else.

Taste: Smooth entry on the palate. Smooth, fruity, sweet and malty. Low hops, low bitterness, great balance. Not too sweet, not too strong, not too anything, but plenty tasty. Doesn't fit into any category that I can think of....honey Belgian strong-ish dark, maybe?

Hey, I found more information: "Named after Abbot Benno Stumpf who arrived at St.Engelszell after being expelled from Abbey Mariastern during World War II. Under his leadership Stift Engelszell renovated its buildings and church which was built in the mid 18th century in a Rococo Style."

Well, that didn't tell me anything. I'm left with little more than my taste impressions. So, what is it? It's good beer and you can drink it.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Flat Earth Hep Cat Blonde Ale

Flat Earth Hep Cat Blonde Ale. Brewed and bottled by Flat Earth Brewing Company, Saint Paul, MN.

Full disclosure time: Blonde Ale, the American kind, ranks among the bottom-most of beer styles for me. But, as I continue my survey of Minnesota-brewed beers, I simply have to try them all, whether I care for the style or not. I have the ability to appreciate all styles, whether I'd choose to enjoy one or not.

I recall when this was first produced, and then-owner Jeff Williamson tried to get me to buy a keg for the bar I was managing, perhaps knowing of my fondness for jazz. (Or my love of cats? Or he just wanted to move some beer?) Since I didn't think I could move a 1/2 barrel of blonde ale, I passed, and tried it later at another bar and
was disappointed. Now, here we have it in bottles. Has the new brewer done a better job of it? That's what I'm trying to find out, so let's get to it!

Appearance: lightly hazed, bright golden hue, with a slim, lace-leaving snow-white head.

Aroma: Mostly malty, cereal and straw, …low hops. Little else.

Taste: A little smack of hops greets us first, tiny bursts of citric fruit, alpha acid bitterness, then cool and easy. Very lean-bodied. More sips in, hoppiness remain higher than I'd think. I only wish there were more going on with the malt character. Actually, I'm not minding this at all. Soda cracker on the bottom, soda pop on the top. Bitterness lays low in the end, but lingers through the finish.

I wonder what the label will tell us? "Pilsner, carapils, and honey malts. Northern Brewer, Saaz and Hallertau hops. American ale yeast and St. Paul water. IBU-26. Alcohol 4.5% by Vol. …A Hep Cat was the original hipster. The coolest, craziest, avant-garde Jazz aficionado. These cats knew who was who, what was up, and if it was happening, where it was going down. Originally brewed for the Saint Paul Jazz Fest, this lightly hopped, malty session ale won't leave you too tired or full to make the after party. A refreshing beverage for anyone who loves good beer, whether you're enjoying while out and about with friends on a long, hot summer day or staying in on a cool fall night, if you have one of these in your hand you're definitely where the party is at."

Talky things, ain't they, these beer labels….at least they give out enough information. The Saaz and Hallertau really set this American blonde ale apart.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sierra Nevada Boomerang IPA

Sierra Nevada Boomerang IPA.

Appearance: lightly hazed, bright yellow hue, vast ivory head, leaving lace.

Aroma: None too bitter, but highly hoppy, giving off notes of tropical fruits and flowers.

Taste: Bitter at first, slightly tart, for a second, then the fruit takes over. Prickly pine makes time with pineapple and other fruity flavors, turning dry in the finish. Crisp, light malt backbone lets the hops shine. Lean-bodied, easy-drinking, refreshing. Hop bitterness remains strong on the palate, a delight to the true hophead. Long, dry, lingering bitter finish. If you love hop bitterness just laying on the tongue and all over the palate, this is for you.

"Boomerang", eh? What's that all about? "boomerang is an American IPA that slings fruit-forward and floral flavors of Australian hops for an assertive, intercontinental escape from winter's grasp." Wait, there's more? "Over the years we've developed a love for hops from the Southern Hemisphere. These "down under" varietals taste like no other, and we've thrown heaps of them into Boomerang IPA to showcase their unique tropical floral and fruity aromas."
Alc. 6.7% by Vol.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Town Hall Harvest Fresh

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery has gone all apple-happy. They're now pouring ten different ciders on tap on a daily basis, and inaugurated Cider Week earlier this year. And this season, they released a second fresh hop beer, this one celebrating not just the hop crop, but guess what else? Apples! It's called Harvest Fresh, and I took home a growler last week. Let's it open it up and see if I'm going to enjoy 64 full fluid ounces.

Appearance: clear, bright golden color, slim white head.

Aroma: bright, vibrant and fruity, some stone fruits, like apricot and peach, a little citrus, more smooth than bitter. Some hops are here, but on a very mellow scale.

Taste: On first sip, there a bitter hoppy bite, then a fruity flush. Sip it again, there's a return of the hoppy smack, then brisk carbonation, next come the apples. The come in with more tart on the third, until that's all I'm tasting. By the fourth gulp, we're in Cidertown, my friend. The hop bitterness and the apple-y tartness go hand in hand. Body is medium-low, leaving the main ingredients to do all the talking. Tart apple flavor is turning a degree sour, subsuming the parts of the ale. It finishes crisp, dry, and refreshing, a unique and intriguing drink.

I'll finish this, and I will enjoy it, but it's not the sort of thing I'd ever choose over an IPA, a stout, or a Belgian single. Sorry, appleheads, not gonna happen.

Here's the official word on it: "The second fully fresh hop beer we made in 2014. Fall is the harvest season for many things…hops and apples to name a couple. We worked with Milk and Honey Cidery and received 3 BBL of fresh pressed apple juice to use in this beer, it is fresh hopped with Equinox. A relatively new hop that gives off a strong apple and citrus character. 5.7%"

So, why is a well-regarded, award-winning brewpub showing such devotion to cider, I wondered? The answer came back to me that the owners feel that cider is the next big thing, and they want to be ahead of the curve. At the risk of being on the wrong side of history, I just don't see it. Cider has it's charms, of course, but I remain immune to them. As for it's champions, the only ones I know personally also happen to sell it or make it, and I just can't be turned over to their side, try as I might. There simply isn't the diversity of flavors that beer has, and what there is, it's so delicate in distinction, it honestly doesn't register with me. Maybe I need to try harder to like cider, but more often I find my time pre-occupied in pursuit of beer.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Westward, Ho! (A quick breeze through some of the breweries of southwest minnesota, with a ramble in the middle.)

This map was handed to us at Enki Brewing when we told the staff of our trip. We didn't begin, as they suggest, with Lucid in Minnetonka. Maybe next time. 

Keen observers of The Bitter Nib are aware that from time to time, we take a break from strict beer reviews and instead offer reports on my various adventures in beer, near and far, often illustrated with photographs. But, let it be known that not all of my jaunts and journeys get chronicled here. I visited Madison, Wisconsin for the Great Taste of the MidWest in August, but was disappointed with the quality of the photos I took, and have been so slow to write up a report, it seems pointless at this time. In September, I made it to the Autumn Brew Review for the 13th year in a row, and it was a blast as always, bigger than any of them before, but I was too busy hanging out with friends and family to even think about composition, framing and content. Sometimes, I just have fun going out drinking and neglect my part-time position as a self-directed amateur beer journalist.

It's time to get back on that horse, and I'll start with a little trip through the breweries of the southwest suburbs with my old pal Jason Braunwarth, four weeks ago. Jason lives in the SW town of Norwood Young America, (it used to be Norwood and Young America, now it's Norwood Young America) and has invited me to his family farmhouse for beer tastings for years now, but the logistics simply didn't work out for me getting a Saturday off to join the party. These days, I have more Saturdays off than I want, so that was no longer a problem.

Jason had a particular schedule and agenda in mind, and it meant doing one-and-dones, having one beer each at the breweries & taprooms on the way, so that driving under the influence would not be a problem, and that he was fit for the events of the evening. Well, since I was the passenger, I suppose I could've gotten wasted, but that wouldn't have been cool. (I must remind the reader that I neither own an automobile nor possess the ability to operate one.)

As we entered the Excelsior brewery, Jason with his Schell's jersey, and I in my Steel Toe cap, one of those young ladies walking down the lane wondered aloud: "Do you guys like beer much?" Just a little.

Our first stop was Excelsior Brewing, of Excelsior, MN, a 20-barrel brewery established in 2012, not far from Lake Minnetonka. The multitude of nautical puns they employ puzzled me at first, until I realized how important boats are to the local culture. In the taproom, the four main beers were on, but I skipped them in favor of something new. I've had three of them before (see my reviews here), and the fourth, the Blonde Ale,  is easy enough to find.
A sneak peek at the hub of activity at the Excelsior Brewing taproom, that magical center where courteous servers are eager to fill your cup.
Written on the oar below were the seasonal offerings, the Port Side Pilsner (a style I usually skip), the pale ale called Biscuit Pants (also referred to as a "session ale" as is current custom), which J. chose, leaving for me the Heavy Weizen Imperial Hefe Weizen, at 6.8% ABV. It was exactly what it was supposed to be, and it didn't change my opinion of the "style." I much prefer hefe weizens that are as light and easy-drinking as they're supposed to be, and don't feel the need for Imperialization. Of course, I can assure you, there have been versions I've tried and liked, but that doesn't keep me from sneering away at all new attempts I find.
Gleaming silver vessels at the Excelsior  Brewery.

Let that not be seen as any manner of unkind commentary towards the brewery itself. Quite the contrary, I've been very happy with their offerings so far. I began to muse during this visit on the concept of the "me, too" brewery, usually floated about by one who feels that are above such things, and are accomplishing the opposite, a criticism against their un-esteemed competition. This concept describes the entrepreneur that longs to build a brewery, just like everyone else, yet does not offer beers of quality and distinction, instead putting forth the same styles and flavors. I contend that there's nothing necessarily wrong with such a brewery, if their beers of high quality and the community embraces them. You certainly don't need these types of brewers on every block and neighborhood in a large metropolitan area, and the Twin Cities is doing a good job of harboring a wide variety of distinctive brewing concerns, each with their own unique angle. When we get further away from the metropolitan areas, you'll find communities yearning to have their own brewery they can call their own. Excelsior's community is certainly embracing them, and they are bottling some fine, if not especially ground-breaking,  brews.
Here's the garage door at Excelsior, decked out with nautical flags, which spell out XLCR, nautically, that is.

If a brewery exists that doesn't make quality beer and isn't embraced by the community, that's not a great problem, just a waste of some people's time and money and unfortunate use of valuable brewing equipment. These operations will simply cease to exist. There is going to be an issue, though, when a brewery makes poor quality beer, and is supported by the locals. The growing segment of neophytes seeking out their local craft beer ceases to be discerning and lower quality beer is given a pass, all in the name of supporting the home team.

Which brings us to our next stop, the Enki Brewery in charming Victoria, Minnesota, (a town of some 7,000 persons, in Carver County)housed in a former creamery, built in 1914. The name of the brewery comes from the ancient Sumerian goddess of water and fertility, and is also an anagram for the company where the owners and brewers first met, Nike.
Enki Brewing from the outside, in charming downtown Victoria, MN.

I first tried their Citric Journey Pale Ale at the Autumn Brew Review last year, mere months after they established themselves. (Re-visiting that post, it seems I also tried the Auburn Kolsch then, before I took issue with the appellation.) I found no fault with it, but this was one small sample at a festival; I was neither turned off or blown away. The next beer I tried from them resulted in this review, in which I concluded that while the Auburn Kolsch may be an adequate brew, it defies all sense to call it a "kolsch." When Jason and I sat at the bar at Enki, he chose their Oktoberfest, called Enki Fest, and I decided on their Tail Feather IPA.  J. got the better beer, a defensible stab at the marzen style, but nothing special, and I was left defeated and depressed by the disappointing ale in my glass. What was wrong with it?, Jason wondered. Well, let me put it this way: have you heard the conventional wisdom that an imperial IPA is an easy beer to make, you just dump a ton of hops in, and no one can tell a good one from a bad one? At 8% ABV, and a reported 90 IBUs, this could be considered an Imperial IPA, but a well-crafted beer it is not. There's little balance, no cohesion, nothing really lifting it up from being just a messy morass of hops. The individual parts, the malt, the hops, the yeast, do not come together in a compelling fashion.
Left: the Enki Fest marzen which Jason enjoyed, and at Right: the Tail Feather IPA which left me cold.

I wish I had taken a sampler flight, to get a fuller view of their range of offerings, but when I glance at other reviews, it seems unlikely that my opinion will be altered much. I know people who keep to the philosophy of "if you can't say something nice, say nothing at all" when it comes to our local brewing community, perhaps in an effort to stay on good terms and remain friends with their brewers and owners. Me, I've got to call them as I see them, and will give Enki more time to grow and possibly put out better beer. They won't improve, however, if their mediocre products are simply accepted and not challenged.

A quick glimpse at the shiny brewing equipment at Enki, which currently sells growlers on site, and kegs to bars around the metro.

One other thing continues to puzzle me about Enki, and that's their slogan: "Making the world a friendlier place, two beers at a time." They make more than two beers. Or are there rules allowing for only two beers to be consumed at a sitting in Victoria? Will they cut you off after two? If you only have one, are you less friendly? I need answers. One more question: they call their supporters FOE's, or Friends of Enki. A "foe" is an enemy. Mixed signals.

Next on our agenda, the one winery in the Waconia area that has also begun producing beers, Schram's Vineyards Winery and Brewery on Airport Road. Nestled in a particularly picturesque area, this is one brewing operation that I hadn't heard of until Jason placed it on our agenda. The main building was exclusively devoted to wine tasting, and the beers were served outside from a truck in plastic cups. While it was clear that the brewing came second here, we couldn't help but also feel like second-class citizens. I didn't see any wine being poured in plastic cups. Jason ordered a Mocha Monkey Coffee Ale, and I picked the Biere de Garde; each was passable, but nothing outstanding. Despite the unimpressive beer offerings, it was a lovely enough spot to sip them in.

A peeks a the beautiful gardens and shuffleboard area at Schram's, with my Biere de Garde in the foreground.

One last top before we got to the farm, and this was not a brewery or winery, but a beer bar, in the town of New Germany, MN. Actually, since the name of it was Hollywood Roadhouse, I had to inquire to Jason, and he informed me that it's actually inside the township of Hollywood, MN (I had never heard of this), which is so tiny, the mailing address must be nearby New Germany. From the outside, it had nothing to suggest a craft beer destination. A large banner read "Bikers Welcome" and neon signs for Miller Lite and Budweiser filled the windows. But, once inside, I found a cozy little place in the middle of nowhere with 30 tap lines completely devoted to national and local craft beer options, and an owner giddy and gleeful as the proverbial child ensconced in the toy store. I forgot what I had, something from Indeed, maybe, and Jason got a New Holland, I think. It was impressive that such devotion is flowering in such a far-flung locale. He seemed to be stuck on no one particular scheme or schedule concerning his wares, instead riffing through every new offering that comes down the pike. I didn't catch his name, but he's fighting the good fight out there at the Hollywood Roadhouse. Maybe we were too early to see the biker crowd show up and deplete their Budweiser bottle supply?

You'd expect this to be the scene of a Patrick Swayze flick about a cooler named Dalton, and you'd be surprised by their MN-centric craft beer line-up.

Next up: the farmhouse household, and an evening of making and baking handmade pizzas in wood-fire clay oven inside a burned-out barn, while going through the goodies of Jason's vast collection. I don't know when I'll make it out that way again, but I definitely to take the trip once more, if only to make it to Marshall, MN, for the new Brau Brothers brewery. Many people asked if we included that site or Schell's on this trip, but that would be an extra hourlong drive further west.
Before the power on my camera died and festivities swung into full effect, I snapped a pic of this evidence of barn parties past.

So, I can say that at last, I made it out to those breweries in the southwest. Next, to find a way to journey up north and visit the new breweries that have opened out that way. It may not be easy, but I've got to make it happen. Who wants to join me for Northward, Ho!

Need more information on the beers, wines and spirits of SW Minne? Here you go!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche Smoke Oak Doppelbock

I saw a new label on the shelves the other day, and it got me wondering: have the beers of the Heller-Trum brewery, makers of Aecht Schlenkla, of Bamberg, Deutschland, home of the rauchbiers, made an appearance here? I searched via "tags" and only found two listed under "rauchbier", the version Harriet brews, Rauchfest, and one from August Schell. I've had the Aecht Schlenkerla brews before, but not, by this reckoning, in the past four years. Now I know I haven't had the dopplebock, so why not start with this one? Why not, indeed.

This one calls itself "Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche", the last word, I'm guessing refers to the German word for oak. Also on the label, below "doppelbock", "Schlenkerla Oak Smoke." I'll peruse the rest of the label once the bottle has been drained.

8% Alc./Vol.

 Appearance: thick and hazy, deep amber-hued, with a caramel-tinted, off-white head of foam atop.

Aroma: Smoke hits the nose first, with toffee and caramel malt notes coming right behind. Cured and smoked meats remains the dominant association.

Taste: Rich and delicious. Smoked malt flavors remain high, but are more mellow and integrated with the doppelbock flavors. Chewing on a bite of wurtz before the deep malty goodness washes over. Full-bodied lager, with a long, malty finish. Hearty stuff, here. Good as it gets.

Okay, I'm getting the glasses on now, gonna read the label. Here goes…."While for the classic "Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier" beech has been--and still is--used, the malt for "Aecht Schlenkerla Oak Smoke" is kilned with oak wood. The resulting Aecht Schlenkerla Oak Smoke Malt is smoother and more multi-layered smoky note than the intensely aromatic Beech Smoke Malt. The hence complex smokiness in Schlenkerla Oak Smoke is paired with the multifaceted bitterness of finest Hallertau aromatic hops. With 8% alcohol and amber color, it matures for months in the deep brewery cellars underneath Bamberg into a special treat for smoke beer lovers."

I'll say.

Brewed and bottled by Brauerei Heller-Trum, Bamberg, Germany.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Town Hall Upright Session Ale

So, what's the deal with the "session ale"? Why the need for this new name, when it's essentially a pale ale that doesn't rise above 5% or so alcohol by volume? Has it become blase' to say "pale ale"? And then there's the session IPA, don't get me started...

Well, Town Hall went and made one, called simply "Session Pale" on their website and "Upright Session Ale" at the brewpub. 5% ABV. Let's drink some already.

Appearance: clear, amber colored, lush pearl-white head.

Aroma: some floral notes, some citrus, clean, but spicy.

Taste: Nice little hop bite up front, little smack of bitterness, then it rolls off and it's all smooth and drinkable as they get. Lean-bodied and mellow. And….just a little bit boring. Well-crafted and delicious. And boring. But there's nothing wrong with that, it's just not the beer for me, right now. Would be great for whiling away the hours, perfect for a party.

Here's what I'm gonna do. I'll have a double IPA next, and return to another pint of this. Next, I'll move on to a Belgian strong, and back that up with more of this. That'll work. That'll do.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Bell's Mars, The Bringer of War, Double IPA

Bell's Mars, The Bringer of War, Double India Pale Ale. Alc. 10.1% by Vol.
$4 for a 12 oz. bottle, where I found it. Better be good!

I know this is meant to go with Horst's The Planets, but I don't seem to have a copy around. So, I'm just putting on Coltrane's Interstellar Space and hope that works out. Wait, no. Sun Ra! He was from Saturn, you know. "We'll take a trip to space, the next stop Mars…the next stop, Mars…"

Appearance: clear, bright crimson coloring, under a slimmish, off-white head.

Aroma: Potent and pungent. This would be proper usage of the mis-used term "dank." Smells like Otto's jacket. Deeply  piney and resiny, citrus fruit stuffed in liquor bottles, then rolled on the forest floor, in search of your stash.

Taste: Massive mouthfeel. Intense. Fairly complex, floods the mouth with a multitude of sensations. Thick and slick on the palate, oozing hop bitterness and …and everything, man. yum.

Once in a while, you wonder that if after enough imperial IPAs, will you run out of things to say? Will it be more of the same, same ol' thing over and over again? It's true, I do wonder, I worry. But it's worth the worry to get to a good one like this.

Also, I wonder if the label tells us anything…"This is one of a seven part series inspired by Gustav Holst's musical composition "The Planets". Strap in and embark on a flavor tour of our solar system--in the order of Holst's piece. Mars to Neptune."

Since I was taking a trip with Sun Ra, instead of Holst, I beg to differ. "Second stop is Jupiter."

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...