Monday, February 29, 2016

Town Hall Hopped Condition Black IPA

Town Hall Hopped Condition Black IPA. 7% ABV. They've been brewing this off and on for over a year now, and I've at last brought home a growler of it. Let's drink some.

Dark coloring, with crimson highlights at the edges. short-lived, cocoa-tinged head.

Aroma is perfect chocolate covered pinecones. Or grassy caramel, take your pick.

In the mouth: boom, hops. boom, malt. This is not shy on either side. But it's neither large or obtrusive, fairly smooth and definitely consumable. Sweet and bitter do a tasty tango on the tongue. Grassy/piney hops ride over dark malt, medium body, good beer and you can drink it. And I am enjoying the drinking.

Stone Pataskala Red X IPA

Stone Pataskala Red IPA. 7.3% ABV. 75 IBU.

Beautiful crimson coloring, clear, nice creamy-toned head that sticks around a spell.

Highly hopped aromatics, like you'd expect from any Stone beer. Big citrus, grapefruit and lime. Matched with massive malt. Liking this loveliness.

In the mouth: it's a fierce one, pulsing with amazing hop punch. Pow, pow, pow, with a sturdy malt body below. Flavor never leaves. Palate is pounced, pleasured, and richly rewarded. Delicious malt flavors to match the hops, which play long on the tongue. It's a giver, this one, delivering flavor over and over again. Love it.

Alaskan Hop Turn India Pale Ale

Alaskan Hop Turn IPA. Brewed and bottled in Juneau, AK. 7.5% ABV.

Clear, bright golden coloring, slim white head, soon settled.

Lovely floral hop notes in the nose, citric stuff, too.

In the mouth: vibrant hop attack, bold citric fruit hoppiness, with a touch of tropical and a little bit of sweet. Medium to light body, long hoppy finish, easy drinking. A perfectly serviceable standard IPA. Ain't nothing wrong with it.

Minnesota Breweries One by One #15: LTS Brewing, Rochester

It may not look like much, but it's got it where it counts.
It's the 21st of February, a Sunday, and it's time to find another Minnesota city and drink up their beers. The fates flung us 85 miles to the south-east, the 3rd largest city in the state, Rochester, population 106, 000, county seat of Olmstead County, resting on the Zumbro River.

Jason and I both reflected on whether we'd been there before and I could only think of visiting relatives, graduation parties or birthdays or weddings with cousins, or uncles or aunts. I think. And J. thought he'd only done pit-stops on the way to somewhere else. Oddly enough, that's where the city got it's start. Founded as a stage coach rest stop between St. Paul and Dubuque, Iowa in the 1850's,  it really got it's groove when Dr. William Mayo got into town a little bit later and set up shop. The Mayo Clinic is now world-famous, of course, and the main thing going in Rochester town.

Musing on the subject of these sojourns, we thought that three brewery visits in one day was probably best. But there was no way around doing four in Rochester. That's how many they have, and if we were to do only three, there's nothing else nearby to lump that left-off fourth into another visit in communities nearby. These are the kind of thoughts we have. And so we drive the hour and a half into Rochester and easily meet up with our first stop. LTS Brewing. Short for Life's Too Short, which must also be short for Life's Too Short To Drink Bad Beer. It's not a bad mantra, if you take it to heart. If only others in the city felt the same way....but I'm getting ahead of myself, here.

It's in an industrial park, a nondescript building, and the interiors are par for course of every average taproom around. Tables and chairs, popcorn and games, nice little beer-related decorations, clean and tastefully appointed. Nice enough.

kolsch, saison, IPA, and alt. 
We settled into the bar and perused the selections. Eight beers on, with flights of four available. Jason and I would be able to try them all by ordering a flight each and sharing. I chose Karma kolsch (5.1%, 25 IBU, soft, delicate, light and fruity with a moderate bitterness), Saison d'Vie (7.5% ABV, 26 IBU, funky nose, malty & fruity, with a low bitterness), Inspiration IPA (harsh bitterness followed by lush sweet malt body: bumpy start leading to an even end), and Ctrl-Alt-Del, a Northern German altbier. (dark and smooth, malt-forward with a light bitterness, clean and easy-drinking).
 In Jason's set: Fun Belgian blond, Illumination Belgian IPA, Browncoat brown ale, and an oatmeal stout.

Illumination IPA, Belgian-style.
I was let down with one from mine: the Inspiration IPA just didn't work for me, and I can't say why. Just didn't hang together. Oh, well, can't win them all. The others were right on the money. Just nailed them. I took tastes of Jason's flight and found that they mostly hit their marks, as well. The oatmeal stout seemed especially true to form. I decided to get a full pint as well after finishing my flight, and chose the Illumination Belgian IPA, a style I enjoy when done well. It had the highest IBU of the offerings, 81, and the Belgian yeast really came through in the flavor. Nice and funky: sweet, bitter, and freaky. Fresh and refreshing. I was pretty taken with it.
Daniel Wagner, eldest son of my sister
Jean, and recent transplant to Rochester,
has joined our beer-y caravan, and is
enjoying a CTRL-ALT-DEL.

I would have enjoyed sampling some more beers here. They seem to know what they are doing and are putting out quality ales. I had considered whether I should take home a growler, but don't really want to keep adding to my collection at home. I didn't think to call ahead and see if they fill other growlers than there own, but I could see that they did, as I watched another patron get his Kinney Creek growler filled with LTS beer. I sincerely hope that happens more than the other way around. If this brewery succeeds, it speak well for the taste of Rochester.

It was time to move on and head to stop #2. My nephew Dan had joined us and when we got there, our number would grow to four. It's good to share the fun, and as we'll soon see, the pain, as well.

Oskar Blues IPA

Oskar Blues IPA. Longmont, Colorado. Alc. 6.4% by Vol. Very little gobbledygook on the label, but for those oddments around the can: "To each their own till we go home...." and "Blue Dream." Okay. Whatever.

Clear, bright golden appearance, vast white head, lasting long and leaving lace.

Aroma: soft, fruity, even and clean. Some citrus, but mostly tropical, a little pineapple, and mango with the orange and lime. Lively and lovely.

In the mouth: crisp, and clean. Zesty, slightly bitter, smooth, and tasty. Medium-bodied. Lean and clean. Does the job. Increasingly citrus-y. Lemon blasts. Doing the IPA stuff, old-school. Yeah.

Good beer. I could drink it.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bauhaus ÜberDuber 2016 Imperial Sparkling Ale

Bauhaus Uberduber 2016, Imperial Sparkling Ale. Limited release. 8% ABV.65 IBU. One pint six ounces. Craft Ale. Proudly brewed by Bauhaus Brew Labs, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Clear. Bright and golden. Large white, lasting head.

Lovely aromatics. All kinds of fruit popping in this nose. Mostly grape, some stone, a little bit of tropical. Utterly lovely. Sweet and such forth.

In the mouth: Flush with grainy malt, met quick with moderate hops, a big, beefy and unconventional ale, with alcohol looming, growing, rising. Fruity notes play on the palate, rich malt has it's way with the roof of the mouth, hops do their thing on the tongue. It's big and it's tasty.

Mmm. I believe the word is, more accurately, yum.

Tallgrass Bourbon Barrel-aged Vanilla Bean Buffalo Sweet Brewed with Cinnamon

Tallgrass Bourbon barrel-aged Vanilla Bean Buffalo Sweat Brewed with cinnamon. Brewed and canned by Tallgrass Brewing, Manhattan, Kansas. 5% ABV.

Dark , clouded, brown coloring, slim and soon-gone head.

Aroma starts with cinnamon, then hits with the bourbon. Sweet. Vanilla. Dark and deep, rich with molasses and maple syrup, cocoa and coffee. Cinnamon stands on top.

Taste: dark malt washes over the palate first. Rich with cocoa and cinnamon, with vanilla coming in quick. Sweet and full-bodied, powerful mouthfeel. Mighty tasty. The cinnamon and vanilla keep good time, stepping out for a bit to let bourbon take the spotlight for a second or two. Nice stuff. Good beer, and I can drink it. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Minnesota Breweries One by One, #14: Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, Barrel-Aged Week, with Foolish Angel

A bit of background: I got the idea for this project when I noticed that the number of posts tagged under "Minnesota" had reached over 500. Not necessarily 500 distinct beers, but 500 times that Minnesota beers or breweries were tagged here in the Nib. I began to look at which I've been written about more often, and thought of which I haven't been to at all. Started examining the numbers, and looming over all was the number one most represented brewery in Minnesota here on TBN, Minneapolis Town Hall, with 88 as of this writing (not including this post).

Flight of samples, Trois Vie barleywine, Cuvee of
Consequence and E.T. Wee. 


Years ago, a user on BeerAdvocate.com posed the question "What brewery have you had the most beers from?" While others put up their impressive numbers, such as "24 from Stone", "33 from Dogfish Head", "52 from Sierra Nevada", I scanned my reviews from Town Hall and came back with: 232. That killed the thread. Damn, son, as they say. Mic drop and all that.

Looked at that, 88 in the five years of this blog is not as impressive. Those 232 over at BA represent the years 2003-2010, with some crossover. The plain fact is that for most of those years, Town Hall was the brewery in town, and they kept putting out a lot of new beers, sometimes a new one every week. And every week, I was there, filling a growler, taking it home, writing it up. You can guess already that I like this place, these beers, and the people who make and serve them.

Today, there are more breweries to visit here in Minneapolis, and more new beers to try, on my few nights off. I still go back and pick up growlers, of course, and that's why that 88 is not a static number. It'll keep on climbing. But I don't get every single
new beer they put out. I try, but it's darned hard.
How many barrel-aged beers did I have in
me before forcing Mike Hoops into a
self-portrait photograph with me?

It's worth noting the legacy of brewmaster Mike Hoops. If he laid down his mash paddle for the last time and retired right now, his 15 years or so there have had immense impact on the local beer scene, have informed us, shaped our tastes, trained our palates, and, of course, given us great beer to drink with good friends. And his disciples are many, as well. Several local breweries are helmed by his alumni, LynLake, Northbound and Indeed just a few of them. (I know I'm missing a few.)

All that to preface to wonderful-ness of the annual Barrel-aged Week event , which went on last Monday through Saturday. I spent my nights off there last week, then spent my Sunday off taking in four breweries in Rochester. So, I've got some catching up to do. Onward.

Cheers to Cal and Zach in our corner table, with
a Trois Vie Tripel. 
Monday was the release of four new beers, and early reports were pandemonium, elbow to elbow, bum to bum. These four new brews were the Trois Vie series, Four Barrels with three lives. First they housed California red wine, then bourbon, and finally Town Halls beers. I arrived some time after 7pm when it wasn't as raucous, but I couldn't find a seat to save my life. Luckily, I had some friends at a table with an empty chair. Flagged down a waitress and got a flight of three, tripel, quadruple, and imperial stout, opting to save the barley-wine for a later date. The effects of this multiple spirit possession was discernible, if delicate, and it definitely made for a unique
expression in the barrel-aging arts. I liked the tripel best, and found that it came through cleanest and clearest, with it's original character intact, tainted ever so nicely with the barrel effects.

My next visit was on Wednesday, the 17th, and had to not only catch up with the barley-wine I skipped on Monday, but the Cuvee of Consequence released on Tuesday (the other Tuesday release, Foolish Angel,  had been on tap many times before), and one of the new releases that day, E.T. Wee, a Scottish Wee Heavy aged in Elmer T. Lee barrels. Again, the second new release was one I'd had many times, Manhattan Reserve, and opted to skip it. It was a diverse flight, with different source barrels, different styles, a trip for the lips.

Always a pleasure to spend time at the bar
with friends here, and I was lucky to
have a seat by Tom and Jane.
This room and this event do not make for note-taking. Maybe if I possessed super-human
concentration, and an irrational desire to be anti-social. It's entirely impractical to keep out a notebook and pen and shut out to presence of friends, so I never attempt to do so.  I was able to get three growlers from the week, one that I already posted, one that I will drink soon, and one that appears at the end of this post. I am looking forward to that one up-coming, for I only got a taste of it last year, and really enjoyed the glass I had Thursday. That would be Project 3106, the strong Belgian grown ale aged with chocolate, kumquats, and bourbon barrels, which I look forward to opening and reviewing soon. Thursday was my final visit of the week, and I was unable to attend Friday or Saturday. Missed one of the beers from those days, but it'll be back I'm sure.

I think this was the Trois Vie Imperial Stout?
And this one? Not sure....Cuvee...tripel?
Another Barrel Aged Week come and gone. I tried to go back and see if there were left-overs Monday night, but they had closed for a staff party. There were no announcements to speak of, only a note asking a pardon for any inconvenience. I forgave them quickly, that was an intense work week, I'm sure. They need some rest and relaxation after seven days of one of the most incredible beer events around.

'
on to the growler review....

Foolish Angel.Belgian style Quadrupel aged in both Blanton’s and Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels. 10% ABV.

Foolish Angel, bourbon barrel-aged Belgian
quadrupel, enjoyed at home.
Deep crimson, rich burgundy, slim head, soon gone.

Aroma is all things, all the brandy, the rich dark fruit, the cognac and leather, but also the vanilla and cherry, and most of all, the bourbon. Vast, deep, and inviting.

Taste: Rich and delicious. Big-time everything. Huge in the fruit, full with the malt, wrapped up in bourbon and Belgian-style yum. Grows and grows and grows. Flavors widen, stretch, develop and cover the senses. The sense of the quad underneath is still perceptible, but the bourbon character wraps around it all. Strong, sharp, yet...no, I can't call it smooth. But it drinks down delightfully, if you can handle yourself. It's big, bold, brash and brilliant.And I'm digging on it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Town Hall Cuvee of Consequence

Town Hall Cuvee of Consequence. Belgian style Strong Saison aged in California Chardonnay barrels, then finished with a touch of bitter orange peel.
9% ABV. 


Clear, bright golden color, small white head, slims down and disappears.

It's got the funk in the nose, plenty of the white wine barrel, a little sweet and fruity, highly likable.

In the mouth, it's a nicely carbonated thing, brisk and lively, with the sweet, fruity wine barrel character holding court over it all. Sourness takes over the palate. Right in the middle, not too much, not too little, just right. Sweet, sour, funky, fresh. I love it.

Not sure what the consequences are, exactly, but it matters very little. This is my kind of cuvee'.

Brasserie Dieu du Ciel Grande Noirceur

Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Grande Noirceur, Imperial Stout, Ale, 11.5% ABV.


At last, a Russian Imperial Stout that celebrates a rejection of Russian and Communist themes. "Grande Noirceur" means "great darkness" and refers to  the conservative policies undertaken by the government of Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis in the 1936-1939 and 1944-1959 period. (I'm not smart, I just copy and paste wikipedia.)

Utter blackness, rich brown head, lasting long, looking good.

Beautiful cocoa nose, nice and chocolatey, sweet and dry and scrumptious. Mmm. hmm.

In the mouth: big, brassy, bold bitterness and fierce and rich malt flavors. Thick. Rich. Cocoa. Molasses. Everything you want is here. Deep, dark, luxurious.

Great beer, go drink one.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Stone Delicious IPA

Stone Delicious IPA. India Pale Ale, lemondrop and el dorado hops. Bottled on 2/04/16.
7.7% ABV. 70 IBU.

Clear, bright golden hued, huge white head, drifting down slowly, leaving lace.

Beautiful citric notes in the aroma, lemon and grapefruit, orange peel and lime. Gorgeous.

In the mouth: more of that, in liquid form. Bold, brash, vibrant, and full of hop bitterness. Lean-bodied, but not necessarily thin. Finishing dryly. Not bad. Maybe now I know what a good gluten-free, or -reduced beer can taste like. But, I think I'm missing my gluten.
 Lordy, I love that gluten, mmm-hmm.

Minnesota Breweries One by One, #13: Lift Bridge Brewery, Stillwater

Lift Bridge Brewing in Stillwater.
With the bad taste of the last brewery's beer still in our mouths, it was imperative to get some better beer in there, pronto. And we headed out of historic downtown Stillwater and went to 1900 Tower Drive West, that's the street with the water tower, and the Lift Bridge Brewery, which was abuzz during our visit. It a Saturday in Stillwater, and people got to get their beers.

We scanned the chalkboard for options, and I knew that an instant source of happiness would be lots of hoppiness. Lift Bridge occasionally celebrates milestone batches with a double IPA, which seems to be different each time. When I picked special beers for my last day at the Blue Nile back in April, 2014, I chose Batch 500 to be among the beers of "Imperialized." Only a few months ago, I chose Batch 800 to be on tap at Acadia. Now, we've got Batch 1300. I talked to brewery rep Joe Falkowski about it only a few days earlier, and asked him how they got through so many batches so fast. "Brewing a lot of Farm Girl", he said. Is this Batch 1300 better than 8-, or 5-hundred, I
A peek at the brewing operations.
wondered. He assured me that it was excellent.

Jason got a flight, and I sat down with a glass of this hoppy nectar. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I did not take notes, nor am I adept in locking in my thoughts to put into words at a later date. This is why 99% of the beer reviews done here are written at home, where I can avoid looking like some kind of weirdo to the wider world. What I do recall is that it delivered the correct
Batch 1300 Double IPA. Hey, Joe,
got some nice lacing there.
amount of piney-ness and pungency that I require in a double IPA, smacked of resin, dripped with dank. Shot a round-house punch of juicy hop essence to my mouth hole. I did not bring a growler of this home, because the growler cooler did not have it listed, only the regular line-up of beers that I've already had in my bottled or canned form over the years. Looking on their website now, it is listed as available in growlers. Maybe I should have asked? Sometimes, tap rooms employees look way to busy for me to bother with trifling matters such as this.
Nitro Black Ale. Not great.
For my next selection, I went with something noted on the chalkboard as "Nitro Black Ale." It was one of those rare experiences where I was stunned that a top-notch operation such as this released something I regretted ordering. I watched it come out of the nitro faucet, yet there was no creamy cascading, and actually very little head at all. As far as flavor or character, there was hardly anything to recommend it at all. Perhaps my palate was pummeled by the aggressive hops in the Batch 1300, but I was not picking up anything of note. "Black Ale" can be an elusive term these days. Is it a black IPA that wants to skip the oxymoronic nature of the nomenclature? Is it a porter or a stout that wants to fudge the expectations of style. I couldn't be sure, because this was just blasé.

Jason was just as perplexed as I was at the failure of this brew. I finished the pint, as I almost always do, and chalked it up to an occasional miss. No harm done. I can't currently find any more information on it, and I'm not sure if the website is out -of-date, or what, exactly. There's no mention of it, anywhere. Ah, well, no big deal.
My beer, before consumption, Jason's flight,
Jason's hands, plus more of him behind them.

This will be the 13th entry on Lift Bridge here on the Bitter Nib. I've tried to keep on top of all their bottled offerings, but may have missed one or two. The Getaway Pilsner cans, I know, have not been reviewed. ( If you examine my posts and tell me, "Ah, ha, Al, you didn't review Hop Dish!", that's because I did do that, when it was called Hop Prop IPA.) I struggled a bit with this brewery initially, years back, when I found their initial offerings rather, shall we say, unspectacular, and I went at length about this in my review of Farm Girl Saison. They've certainly found their niche in the Minnesota beer scene through the years, and are consistently putting out quality beers that are finding favor with the public, and making great ones to please the discerning Beer Geek, like Commander Barley-wine or Silhouette Imperial Stout.

What's next in Breweries One by One? Another far-flung journey, or back to Minneapolis? Only one person knows....me. But soon, another....you.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Excelsior Big Island Blonde

Excelsior Big Island Blonde Ale. 5.5% ABV. 33 IBU.

Clear, bright yellow coloring, big, white head, long-lasting.

Sweetish, fruity/floral nose, lovely stuff. Quite nice.

In the mouth: Fresh, lively, hoppy and vibrant. Zesty stuff, with swiftly following dryness, cleanness, crispness. Light bodied, with just enough flavor to keep the palate happy. Light, bright and happy, that's this one in a nutshell. Highly likable.

It's a good one for the "light beer" drinkers out there, and perfect for the cabin, the dock, the beach. You
know, all those places we wish we were now.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Bell's 30th Anniversary Imperial Stout

Bell's 30th Anniversary Ale Imperial Stout.
11% ABV.

Vast blackness, beneath a large and lasting rich brown head.

Aroma is deep, dark and oozing booze. Everything you want in an imperial stout seems to be here. Molasses, espresso, anise, dark fruits, smoke, char, chocolate, all the recurring character make a cameo.

Taste: Thick, rich, impressive. Floods and fills the mouth, hangs hard on the palate. Smoke, tobacco, cocoa, coffee, gritty and dense. Dense and immense. Out of bounds. Getting sweet, though never sickly so and thoroughly balanced, if something so huge can be called that. Booze rears it's drunken head and threatens sobriety. Ridiculously complex.

Damn.

thanks to Bryan for getting me a bottle.

Oskar Blues Death By Coconut Irish Porter

Oskar Blues Death By Coconut Irish Porter. Alc. 6.5% by Vol. Brewed and canned by Oskar Blues Brewery, Longmont, ColoRADo, USA. "Pass, Dash, Hit." "Coconut, Chocolate, Choconut."

Deeply, darkly brown, tight ring of cocoa-tan foam on top.

Aroma: Chocolate, followed by coconut. Hints of vanilla? No, wait, that was the coconut.

In the mouth: Slightly sweet and saccharine at the start. That is the coconut flavor, all the way. holding sway over a medium-bodied, dark malt-dominated ale. Coconut and chocolate do a tango all the way through. Sweet, dry, sweet, dry, sweet. And that's cool, if you're into that kind of thing. I have to admit that I'm not into the coconut beer thing. It's a fun gimmick, I guess, but I wouldn't return to it too often. I know that revealing this could get me kicked out of the Beer Geek Club, but I have to be me, you know. As the saying goes, Me Do Me.

Good beer, and you drink it if you like a lot of coconut.

Town Hall Le Baltique Barrel-aged Baltic Porter

This year, Town Hall's Barrel-aged Week started on a Sunday, today, February 14. Not that you could drink any of them in the pub, no, the event that kicked it off was a bunch of dudes (maybe there could have been a chick in line, but, come on, it was all dudes) standing in line in 8 degree weather, with snow falling from the sky, waiting to buy tickets to get a growler of the barrel aged beers. I was actually waking  up around then, but there was no way I was going to go across town and stand outside for that purpose. For one thing, I do not have the available funds for such foolishness. I will, though, drink as many of them as I can on my nights off, if I can afford it. I'll get the flights, and will bring one growler home. There were some left when I got there later in the afternoon, even a few I haven't reviewed yet.

Meanwhile, I have a growler of a barrel-aged beer from last year's festivities, that was released about a month ago. Been sitting on it for just about long enough. They call it Le Baltique, and I stole this description from BeerAdvocate.com: This Barrel Aged Baltic style porter is a rich lager. It has very complex, multi-layered flavors including dark cacao, coffee, raisin or black currant, with hints of licorice/anise, and molasses. It was then entombed in a French Oak red wine barrel from CA. Many many moons later we have this splendid sipper.

Oddly, ratebeer. com says this: Our Baltic Porter is a dark, rich, lager-yeasted beer whose intense color is belied by its clean, approachable flavor. Complex, multi-layered flavors include dark cacao, coffee, raisin and molasses. The dark fruit found in the base beer is intensified by aging in a French oak red wine barrel from California, and the mellow tannins and oak play beautifully with the roasted malts. Alc. by Vol. 8.5%.

And I am now going to say this (writing these notes without having read the descriptions posted above):

Impenetrable darkness, with a swift brown head, gone in a blink.

Aromatics: getting the wine barrels notes first. A little twisted and funky, Slightly vinegar-y. Raisins, dates, port wine. I love it. You don't get this in a beer every day, now, do you.

In the mouth: Weird stuff coming down the pike. Just a little hot and boozy at first, then the oak, then the wine, along come the tannins, dark fruits, cocoa, molasses, ....So, Baltic Porter in a French oak red wine barrel. (I've since peeked up at the notes, to remind me of what I'm drinking here.) Increasingly tasty, and rapidly delicious. Just a little hot, but the right kind of tasty, boozy heat. It's a perfect nightcap, just what I need on a cold February night. Creeping sweetness, continually smooth, evolving complexity...rather rich and decidedly delicious.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Minnesota Breweries One by One #12: Maple Island Brewing, Stillwater

It's Saturday the 13th, and it's time to find a new city to drink beer in for this project. That lucky city was Stillwater, often called the birthplace of Minnesota, and considered one of the first cities in our state. Why Stillwater? My trusty companion in this endeavor, guide and driver, Jason was going to Dave's BrewFarm for the birthday celebrations of our friend Val, and I just so happened to have that day off. On BrewFarm visits past, we'd driven by the city on our way to Wisconsin, and J. would wish that Stillwater's Lift Bridge Brewing was open on Sundays (Sunday being my day off, when I was most often available for a Wisconsin trip) we could stop in on the way. When we discovered Oliphant last year, it became a more urgent pre-Brew Farm stop. Nothing against Lift Bridge, it's just that the Somerset, WI brewery puts out a lot more beers, often very compelling ones.

This project though demands an occasional change in that routine, as I strive to check off every Minnesota brewery in my attempt to say that I've seen them all within the 12 months of 2016. I sacrifice the chance to pop into a place I know to be brewing rewarding ales and lagers, sometimes spending time and money in a taproom unworthy of our attention. J. mentioned Maple Island, situated in the historic downtown district, and offered up that he hadn't heard good things. Neither had I, but check it out we must.

The chalkboard that met us at the door marked
the first time, but not the last, that we were
assured that our minds would be blown. Dude.
Stillwater is home to about 18,000 people, only 95.1% of them white. It sits near the St. Croix river, which separates Minnesota and Wisconsin, and they are connected by a thousand-foot long vertical "lift bridge", which opened in 1931 and sees over 18,000 vehicles crossing over on a daily basis.   It is the county seat of Washington County. The city is known as a tourist destination to the citizens of the greater Twin Cities metro region, for all of it's quaintness and historical-ness and the overall loveliness of the valley and the river and all that. Lot of antiquing gong on. Not me, I've got it all in the City of Lakes. Who needs to go anywhere else?, I ask myself on a regular basis. Well, I do if I want to drink ALL of the BEERS, and that's what found us driving down Main Street in search of Maple Island Brewing. Lots of parking and a beautiful view of the surrounding hills and the river nearby. So much promise. A sidewalk chalkboard sign promised that our minds would be blown, but looking back it seems more like a threat, or at least a challenge.

Once we walked in the door, an anomaly presented itself that baffles me still. Just off the right, a hand washing station, with no drain, per se, but a sloped surface and a slit through the wall for the water to pass through. The rest rooms were on the left. There's something slightly disturbing about a restroom without a sink or washing area. It just screams bad planning and I kind of don't want to touch the doorknobs.


From the parking lot, a view of the St. Croix and
the famous bridge.
I did a little research by scrolling through the website and watching a video the night before we went to this taproom. The beers had strange descriptions and odd names, and in the video the brewers, one Nic Brau, a cousin of the Brau brothers of Brau Brothers, told of the fun he had writing those descriptions and coming up with those names. Sometimes, he said, the owner, Frank Fabio, "squashed" his ideas. If this is true, it makes me wonder what he didn't get away with.

A glimpse of the room from the bar, an area just off to
the left from the entrance to this spacious taproom.
Before getting into the beers themselves, let's examine these names for a minute. The first one in my flight was a kolsch called Burlesque. Now, a lot of beer names use devices like alliteration or rhyme, or some local landmark, or personal connection to the brewery. "Burlesque Kolsch" has none of those things, unless the connection is that the brewer thinks that burlesque is awesome, and as a name it doesn't sing. It's clunky. The word "burlesque" ends with a thud, and there is an awkward pause before saying "kolsch." Next up: White Butt IPA. What? Why? It's a White IPA, you could think of a White Anything, why "butt"? Because the brewer owns one? Did he want to call it White Ass, but Fabio squashed it? When Leinenkugel has a doppelbock called Big Butt, it's clever because goats, the animal associated with bocks, have horns that they can "butt" against one another. But naming it after a part of the human anatomy is kind of immature. (Kind of? )Another: Cup of Joe Freak Show, is said to have been named by the brewer's son Joe. Which part, Cup of Joe, or Freak Show? Why is it called a "Freak Show" rather than a stout? Does he consider himself a freak, and needs to throw the word "freak" everywhere? (Other beer names refers to circus themes,  like Bearded Lady IPA, Sword Swallower Lemon Shady, Throw Down Hop Clown, Belgian Belly Dancer, and others).Then: Freaky Fresh Baked Brew. Let me just give you a second to wonder what "baked" refers to. (We overheard the barman describe the brewer as a "surfer dude." Some kind of dude, certainly.)

I own a few of these prints. You should buy some, too.
So, we're in the taproom, and it's a nice space, with grain bags hanging from the walls, a nod to Minnesota's milling history, I assume, and works from local artists on display, including one of my favorites, David Witt, aka DWitt, of St. Paul.
There's a small spot where musicians perform on weekends. Big windows. TV to watch last week's Super Bowl. (really, that's what was on, a re-run of the Super Bowl.) A small book, with beer descriptions tucked into plastic pages, told us about the beers. And then some. I decided to start with a flight. There was a choice of the first five selections on tap for $10, or the Rockstar Flight of all 10 beers for $20. I didn't want to spend $20, so I went with the former. And here come the notes.

My flight: L to R, Kolsch, Maple bock, White Butt IPA,
Orange Cream Sickle, Cup of Joe Freak Show.
First up, Burlesque Kolsch, "light, clean, delicate, with moderate bitterness. Not bad, but not great." Doesn't give what I really want in a kolsch, but few American versions do.19 IBU, 5.2% ABV. Next: Maple Island Bock. Strangely named. Plenty of maple syrup, but not a bock. Very light golden in color, but that would be a blonde bock, and this didn't taste like one. Sweet, with a long lingering maple flavor, but perhaps a bit more than I needed. On to the third, White Butt IPA, 7% ABV, 60 IBU, and it starts with a delightfully hoppy nose. Once in the mouth, though, it's not working. Flavors are off, and the chamomile ("hard to spell, fun to say", I remember the website saying) doesn't really go with the wheat malt and mosaic hops. I assume it was tossed in ("just for fun" it said) to replace the coriander in a witbier, but it didn't fit. Not fond of this one. Didn't taste good at all.

Fourth in the flight was a wreck, the oddly named Reaper Orange Cream Sickle. My notes, verbatim: "Ack! Bad! ooo! Ugh! Band-Aid! Infected? Orange plastic scabrous badness. NOT GOOD." This was so bad, I couldn't conceive of anyone tasting it and finding it good enough to serve to anyone. What's up with adding ice cream to beer? You can add beer to ice cream that you make, or pour it over ice cream when eating, but adding ice cream to the brewing process? It isn't done for a reason. It doesn't work and adds nothing to end result. Whatever it did to this brew, it came out undrinkable.
Brewing equipment, seen from the bar.

The name "Reaper Orange Cream Sickle" seemed a weird choice, and the description in the book, which I'd read on the website the day before had a bizarre rambling bit about the Reaper and what he'll do to you when you drink this, ...or something. But, here's where things get a little strange. I went back to the site, and found that it had been edited since our visit. It says this now: "Sit back, text a friend and let them know what the heck you’re sippin’ on… A beer made from oranges and vanilla ice cream!" Severely edited from the psychedelic babble that was there two days ago. {Edit: Checked ratebeer, where the original description is posted verbatim: So the Brewmaster Nic Brau has been dying to make this brew for the longest time, so sit back, relax and tell your friends that you are sipping on a beer made with orange and vanilla ice cream! Now that we blew your mind with that get a pint or four before the reaper gets word this brew is out and come for yours bawhaha."}

Graham Cracker Slacker, bro.
Some general information. Of particular note is
that Maple Island has a different term for
"batch" than every other brewery in America.
Same goes with White Butt IPA which now reads: "This IPA has yet to see the sun! This butt has plenty of kick due to the generous amount of mosaic hops." The original went on to greater lengths about the pale ass of the title. I had every intention of highlighting the bizarre stoned-out ramblings here, so I didn't quote, copy, or take pictures of those freaked-out descriptions (although Jason and I did riff on them from memory after we left), assuming they'd still be there when I needed them. I have one good pic. Take a look. "Graham Cracker Slacker" "Whaaaaat did you say you put Graham crackers in the mash tun while brewing this beer, that's right I did put boxes and boxes of those sweet little crackers in this brew! We also added a bunch of specialty malts to give this one mega awesome flavor so sit back and slack. " On the website currently: "Sit back and slack with a brew made with lots of real graham crackers. Specialty malts give this even more unique flavor."

Let's step back and return to the beers once more, with the fifth in the flight, Cup of Joe Freak Show. Big coffee in this, prominent espresso notes, and then along came peppers. Why? Jason tasted it, too. What kind of an off-flavor is this? Where did the peppers come from? This is supposed to be one of their best sellers, how did it get like this?

Jason with his cask-conditioned raspberry kolsch.
The smile was gone once the beer went past
his lips.
I managed to finish all the samples in the flight but for the Reaper Orange Cream Sickle, which was god-awful, and decided to pick a full pint to finish out our stay. Why not the Graham Cracker Slacker? No reason. I'm tossing the dice here, hoping for better beers. Malty nose, bread-y/malty flavors, a little sweetness, and a bit of herbacity, little hops. The biggest problem is that there's nothing here. Falls flat, delivers nothing tasty, just an empty set. Misses the mark. This "unique flavor" is not enjoyable. And it definitely isn't mega awesome. Certainly not getting any particular essence of Graham cracker, if that's possible.

I wasn't having any fun with these beers at all. Meanwhile, J. did a little gloating that the pint he picked was fine, and delivered exactly the flavors it advertised. This was the Freaky Fresh Baked Brew, and the website now describes it thus: "A festive holiday brew made with raisins, candi sugars, specialty malts and spices." It had all the flavors it promised, and nothing else, and was inoffensive. His next choice was a cask of the kolsch infused with raspberries, and it was not good, in the least. The same off flavors from the orange and ice cream beer. Unpleasant.

I have no comment here. Say what you will about a brewery
that wants you to ask for a Butt Cream, or a Cracker Butt.
There was one final thing that left a bad taste in our mouth, although we didn't drink it. A sign on the wall advertised "Staff Custom Blends." We are told that they recommend a blending of the White Butt IPA with Orange Cream Sickle, with arrows connecting parts of the names. Are we being told that we should ask for something called a "Butt Cream"? And second suggests we'd enjoy the pairing of a pour of White Butt IPA with Graham Cracker Slacker, which might go as "Butt Cracker"? Do these terrible beers really taste good together, or did someone think these names are just so hilarious to say that they couldn't help themselves?

From the website, the brewer boasts "I am proud to say that in our first year we brewed some of the craziest concoctions in MN using ingredients such as Crunch Berries, ice cream, pretzels and hand peeled citrus for our brews. " We got a feeling of a stoned-out, immature slacker at this brewery throwing wacky ingredients into beers "just because" and to "blow your minds", regardless of how good the end product may be. If they're putting this out and unaware of how bad it is, I can only hope people catch on. I can't imagine a taproom full of people actually drinking this, and fooling themselves into thinking it's quality beer. Creating that picture in my mind only brings on an unbearable sadness, and that's just not why I'm involved in craft beer. I want to see happy beer drinkers with their hands cupped around quality ales. It's my simple dream.

The fact that someone edited all the nonsense from the descriptions on the website means that someone at Maple Island understands that there is a problem there. Or did they bug Jason's car and listen as we mocked M.I. all the way to Dave's BrewFarm?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Minnesota Breweries One by One #11: Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub, Minneapolis, with Snownami

When I started this up, I said that I would do one brewery a week. Well, that's not enough if I intend to get to all Minnesota breweries in the year 2016. So, I claimed that I would try to do 2 per week, or 8 in a month. 8 X 12 = 96, still not the full number of breweries in the state. But if that's the low end of my bar, well, I'm getting there, right? So, how's it worked out so far?

We will begin counting with the first full week of January, from sun.1/3 to sat, 1/9. Thursday, 1/7 was #1, my visit,( not the first, not the last) to Sisyphus Brewing. Week#2, Sunday, 1/10, and brewery #2 is Harriet Brewing Company. Week #3, Sunday, 1/17, LynLake Brewery, plus Surly, #4, on Wednesday, 1/20. Week #4, on Monday the 25 of January, #5, Fair State. And on Wednesday the 27th, #6, Day Block, still on week 4. We began week #5 on the 31st of January with #s 7-10.

So, 10 breweries in the first 5 weeks of the year. Still hitting 2 per week. The rest of the week, nothing. And I finally hit #11 on February 10th, on week 6, with a stop at Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub, in south Minneapolis.

There are sixteen entries in the this blog tagged for Northbound, four of them from before I was employed there. Careful readers of this blog may remember that I spent 3 months and two weeks of my life, much less than I intended, working for this brewpub. It was the move I made to get out of my job of 15 and 1/2 years, Blue Nile Restaurant & Lounge. If I had the gift of foresight, and knew how things were to work out there, maybe I would have looked for some other job better suited to me, where the GM wasn't so insane. (She's gone now.) After that unpleasantness, this brewery was low on my radar for awhile.

Because of that, I haven't been hip to the new releases. Only recently, I heard that the third in the "snow series", after Snowpocalypse, and Snowmaggedon, the raspberry Imperial Stout called Snownami, had been released. Why not stop by and get some, then cross them off the list? So I took a bus to the transit station, got on a light rail from Lake and Hiawatha to the 38th St. Station and hoofed it down the road to 28th Avenue. Looked around a bit, and finally found a seat. Same regulars that I remember filling the stools. Exactly the same awesome bartenders working. Mostly the same incredible servers working the floor. The thing that made this place work had been the staff, and I am glad they are still happily at their tasks and providing great service.

I was informed by Krissy that there was not just Snownami, but also Espresso Snownami, and I got one just in time. The keg emptied just after I got mine. It was lovely stuff, rich coffee flavor, dark cherry and chocolate tones all over the raspberry imperial stout flavors just bursting out of the glass. Full-bodied, full-flavored, rich, roast-y, plump with coffee and utterly delicious. I didn't take notes, this is just popping out of my memory. I might have taken notes if I knew that I couldn't take home a 750 ml growleretterino of the regular Snownami, ...but I could, so I did.

Now, for those notes....Snownami, Double Chocolate Raspberry Stout, 8.2% ABV, 37 IBUs.

Utter blackness. Cocoa-tinged head, starts huge, drifts down, leaving lace.

When I found myself suddenly unemployed in August
2014, I had 8 empty Northbound growlers. I found ways to
lose them all eventually, and now my mini-growler
collection has grown by one.
Raspberries pop out of the nose. A little sweet, a little tart. Nice and fruity. Chocolate flavors hang just below.

In the mouth: bigger, raspberry-er, sweet-er. Some tannin-y textures coming through on the palate. Rich and full-bodied, but not quite as complex as I'd like.
I find this listed as a milk/sweet stout on BeerAdvocate. The 8.5% had me pegging it as an Imperial Stout, but none of the depth of flavors we'd expect from one of those is here. Of course not, but it's what I keep wanting.
Here's what the website says: Our most anticipated beer. This won a silver medal in the World Beer Cup 2014 for a reason. A Double Chocolate Raspberry Stout that uses cocoa nibs, Belgian Chocolate, and raspberries to create a rich and robust stout with enough sweetness to make you savor every sip.

My thoughts on Northbound?
They're making good beers that the neighborhood loves. Getting some awards, and beer geek attention, too. Under the new regime, the menu looks better, (though I didn't eat this time), and I like the new website, too. (No more Amy lying about having been manager at Stub & Herb's.)
As long as the locals love it in the numbers that they do, this place will be a good spot for good beer for quite a while.  Every neighborhood bar / brewpub should have it so good.

Tallgrass Explorer Series The Grizz Imperial India Pale Ale

Tall grass The Grizz Imperial IPA. Alc. 9.5% by Volume.

Clear, bright golden, with a slim white head. 

Aroma: pungent, piney, resinous. Vibrant citric hop notes. Not bad, not bad. 

In the mouth: bold and brash. Fierce. Big impression on the palate. Impressive bitterness. Alcohol rising. Getting boozier and boozier. Maybe too boozy?

Medium-bodied. Long lasting bitterness, nearly harsh. Something short of elegant. I drank it down, and dug it, but it's for from a favorite. 

Sisyphus Bottlecap Mosaic

Sisyphus Bottlecap Mosaic. 6.9% ABV. 61 IBU.

Crystal clear, pale gold coloring, slim, but staying ivory head.

Aroma pops out of the glass and goes screaming down the nose. Pineapple, tangerine, lemon, grapefruit, a dazzling cornucopia of hoppiness. Love it. Flat out gorgeous.

In the mouth: big hops on the palate, lean malt body. Some slight sweetness at the bottom, topped off with hop bitterness. Smooth stuff, exquisite drinking-ness. (I got tired of the word: "Drinkability.") Right on IPA. Pale ale? Nah, IPA. Big time bitterness, clean and crisp and damned delicious.  Another good beer, And you can drink it. Over and over again.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Insight "In The Halls of the Sunken City" Saison

In the Halls of the Sunken City Saison, with Sauv Blanc grapes, Insight Brewing, Minneapolis, MN. 7.8% ABV.

Clear, bright golden coloring, small white head, soon gone.

Sweetness in the nose, little spice and bigger fruit, classic saison aroma. Very nice.

Taste: boards the palate dry and stays there. Light bodied, with fruit from the yeast and light Belgian funk from the yeast. Easy drinking. Juicy fruity. Just enough of what you want from an entry-level saison. Pretty good beer, and you can drink it.

This one has one of my favorite tales accompanying it on the website: “… Somewhere between Le Parade de Beaucoup Mimes and the unpleasant business with the barnacled barmaiden, the hearty partying of the mystical city of Ys had pricked me with the pointy tines of homesickness. I cursed silently. My were-walrus valet was nowhere to be seen…”

They also say this: The fruity and light spiciness of the beer blends delicately with the grassy herbal characters of the sauvignon blanc grapes, leading to a wonderfully complex and exuberant beer.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Boom Island Django

Boom Island Django Hop Bier. Alcohol 6% by Volume.

Clear, bright golden color, ivory head, long-lasting.

Classic hop aromas, some citrus and tropical notes, fairly clean and even. Fruity, with low bitterness.

In the mouth: goes down smooth, hoppy, and ultimately dry. With each new sip, the fruit, the bitter hop, the juicy malt, then dry again. I like it.

I'm getting the feeling that this is the replacement for Silvius Pale Ale, which has been retired. It's a good beer, and you can drink it, but I'm not picking up on what's particularly special about it. I was hoping that it would be even hoppier and even drier than it is. Can't alway get what you want.

"Inspired by the legendary guitarist, Django is the gypsy jazz of beers. Handcrafted in Minneapolis with Wapiti hops from New Zealand, pilsner and wheat malt, and a hint of citrus peel, this hoppy blond beer moves to it's own rhythm. Just like gypsy swing."