Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Minnesota Breweries One by One # 28: Hammerheart Brewing, Lino Lakes, with Nordlys Aquavit Barrel-aged Juniper Pale Ale

If you read the previous installment in this journey, you may recall that I said that we were planning to visit 3 breweries in the northern suburbs. That didn't quite happen. It seems that some things you read on the internet may not always be true. Or, if you are unsure, you should probably call and find out the truth. We didn't do that. We were on our way to Anoka, the Halloween Capitol of the World, and attempting to visit 10K Brewing. Since Anoka is my hometown, it wouldn't be right if I didn't visit my mother. So, we picked her up and drove into downtown Anoka to find that the place had closed at 4pm, though the things we read online said it was open until 10. We had no choice but to go on up to Lino Lakes and bring Mom to Hammerheart Brewing.

Hammerheart has appeared here on the Nib 12 times so far. For the first one, Dave Anderson brought me a growler of British Invasion, his favorite, even though I'd already ordered a keg for the Blue Nile, back in December of 2013. (They opened in summer of that year.) We made it up there together later that month, and I brought a few growlers back myself. I bought a keg of Olaf the Stout for the Nile before distribution stopped for a bit. Since I took over buying for Acadia last fall, I've tried to keep their beers on tap there more often than not. (Although I only recently took notes on a Hammerheart beer there for the first time. There were a few I could've notated upon, just didn't get around to it.) Between all those and reviews from growlers, there was one from when I worked at Northbound, and we tapped Flannery's Brew (manager Ryan Flanagan picked it because it's name was similar to his.)
L: me, R: Mom, with our Hammerheart beers.

If you read those old blog posts, you will get the sense that I really like this place, this brewery, and I enjoy just about everything they do. All despite the fact that I don't really care even slightly about heavy metal music. What I like best about them is that they are so uniquely themselves, and don't alter their brewing to suit anyone else's tastes. Hammerheart has earned a reputation for making mostly smoked, dark, and strong brews, so much so that there are many who think that's all they brew. I like to choose the beers that defy that categorization, and that have names that are easier to pronounce, when I pick them for Acadia. Just to dispel that myth, only to reinforce it once more with the next one.

awesome flight trays.
Mom sneaking a sip of my Jormungandersblod.
Walking into the Lino Lakes taproom is like walking into another world. It's not a large room, although you can see the barrels and the brewery behind it,  beyond the glass. The decor combines elements from Norse and Celtic culture to form a determined atmosphere, swords and shields share space with trolls and vikings, while the music in the background begins with the folk music of those regions, then turns in time to the dark metal favored by the owners and employees. It was kept to a quiet roar while we were there, and I was grateful for that. I'm guessing Mom did, too.

For the beers, I took a flight and hoped that Mom would like some of them. Usually when Mom has a beer, she asks for, oh, something light. It's not easy to find that at Hammerheart. What did I get? Looking at the photo, it seems like Attenbeint Heist, the Northern India Pale Ale, Hokan's Brown Ale, Fimbulveter, the Oak Smoked Wheat Ale, and ...something that starts with a G...? I didn't take notes during this visit. I took home growlers to review, just relaxed and enjoyed, and, come on, I was hanging out with my Mom. I'm not going to scribble notes when I'm drinking beers with Mom. Okay, looking over their beers, I think it was Gorm the Old, the Mesquite Smoked Old Ale. Pretty Sure that was it. And I enjoyed them all.

I don't remember what beer Jason is drinking,
but it seems like he likes it.
And Mom? She didn't mind them at all! She told me that she liked them, and she'd never had a dark beer before, ever, not once in her 83 years! For all the time she tried to get me to eat my vegetables, I'm now turning her on to craft beers.

I finished off with a small pour of Jormungandersblod, the Rye Pale Ale named for the "world serpent" who bedevils Thor in Norse mythology. It was the second beer I ever reviewed from them, one of the first growlers I ever took home.

This was my first visit on a Sunday, my first time there in almost a year, as well, and the only time I haven't seen the people I know, like the owners, Nathaniel and Austin, or brand rep Tanner. No matter, the staff was excellent as always. The beers big, rich and utterly, indelibly Hammerheart. When I go there, I wish I could drink the night away and have someone toss me in the back seat of their car, and carry me three flights back to my apartment, and throw me in my bed. Or, to drink myself silly, take the swords off the wall and challenge someone, then crawl into a ditch for the night, and hitchhike back home. There's a plan. Now, we're talking....

For now, though, I'm going to tackle the second growler I brought home that day, and it is a 7% ABV Juniper Pale Ale aged in Aquavit barrels called Nordlys. What's a Nordlys? A Norwegian newspaper? The Aurora Borealis? An album by the German Gothic/folk metal band Midnattsol? (Thanks, Wikipedia!) All those, and this beer. Let's drink it.

Lightly clouded, rich and dark amber coloring, slim, soon-gone head.

Aromatics: brimming with distinct juniper flavor, lightly spicy and fruity.

In the mouth: starts off a little bitter, bracingly spicy, refreshing and surprisingly drinkable. Medium bodied. Long, bitter-fruity finish. Hangs on long on the palate. Rather hard to describe, and a perfect example of what makes them so different. I can't think of another beer like this, anywhere, ever. Tastes a little like gin, little like vodka, but it remains at heart a nice, malty pale ale, with hops just keeping up with the barrel-aging and the juniper. "Different" is something we say in Minnesota when we don't know how to describe something new and interesting. Oh, yeah, you betcha this one is different. I'm digging it.


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