Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tasman Red (Boston Beer Co, Samuel Adams, Boston, MA)

Billed as a Red IPA, Tasman Red is a dark maroon to almost an opaque brown in the glass.  Held high against the light, shimmering ruby highlights show up.  Pouring out of the bottle, it's a muddy copper.  Thick, creamy and rocky head the bubbles high and persists.  Nice malt nose, but the hops shine through very clearly like an IPA.  Looking at the beer, it defies expectations and is fun and surprising.  More malt in the taste, but the citrus hop bite doesn't back down a bit.  At 6.75%, it's not a beast but has some heft to it.  No alcohol apparent.  I like this beer, but it feels a bit muddled and not pulled together.  Clean and well brewed, just not a new favorite.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Double Bastard (Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA)

I have had so much trouble getting a hold of this beer in the past.  Never in any of the Wisconsin, Illinois or Indiana liquor stores that I used to pick up Stone at in the dark times that my beloved wasn't sold in Minnesota.  Now, I run into it at my corner, back-up store.  Excellent.  Double Bastard sounds like a playground taunt, but clearly a big brother to Arrogant Bastard Ale.

Hazy dark brown ale with copper highlights in the thinner parts of the glass. Thin tan head falls quickly to a whispy fillm. Hot, whiskey like nose that clears the sinuses. Malt, dark fruit, burnt cherry pie, caramel blend for a complex and extremely assertive nose. Predominate hop bite in the taste--blistering bitterness with resin. Oily mouthfeel with strong malt, chocolate, raisins and figs. Love this beer. I can see where some might not like the overly assertive qualities, but cherishing them at the moment. High on my all time favorite list, so I need to acquire some more.  Thinking that some age might have some very interesting effects.

If you don't mind the hot alcohol, let it warm up and have a nice afternoon.  Sip this one when you have the time on a Sunday afternoon through a full football game.  If not, drink cold and fast--careful walking afterwards.  The 10% is apparent in the smell, taste--everything really.  Drink, enjoy and consume life as it should be--with great beer.

If all is well with the world, I'll find myself drinking at Stone World Bistro on Saturday.  Hope, hope, hope!  Next week, I should have pics and a report on the pilgrimage.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Toronto Festival of Beer 2005

Below is my review of the Toronto Festival of Beer in the summer of 2005.  At that time, it was kindly printed in The Boiler, the newsletter for the Minnesota Home Brewers Association.  I've reprinted it here exactly as it was printed originally except for updating my email address.  In July of 2011, I returned to Toronto to visit my niece Regan, and I was able to get to Beerbistro plus a few other downtown locations that I'll review another day.  Smokeless Joe's is closed now, sadly; the rumor in Toronto and on BA says it may re-open at a later time.  

by Cal Vande Hoef

At the U.S.-Canadian border, the customs officer asked my purpose for visiting Toronto. “Pleasure,” I said, “attending the beer festival in downtown Toronto.” He just laughed and waved me through to my next beer hunt - eight hour days tasting central Canada’s finest beers at the 10th Annual Festival of Beer (FOB) on August 5th-7th.

Arriving at the FOB is easy, a short mile walk from my hotel.  Along the way, street food - pizza by the slice, Greek, Thai, and myriad ethnic fare - is available en route to historic Fort York. Built in 1793, Fort York is the birthplace of modern Toronto and the location of the Battle of York in 1812.

Once inside, drinkers are greeted by three large beer tents surrounded by many smaller tents, some for beer and others for food. Food is on a much grander scale at FOB compared to the carnival-style food normally offered at festivals. Many of the local restaurants have booths serving up their best, including a lobster sub. Also, a “Q” tent (short for BBQ in Canadian) features television personalities like Ted Reader from Food Network Canada.

The FOB is expensive, but you have plenty of opportunity to sample. Tickets are $25 (Canadian) a day plus a dollar token for each 4 oz. sample. The plastic glass technically held 8 ounces at the rim, and could be filled for two tokens. Brewers often overfilled the single token sample, so I didn’t see the point of pouring doubles. A local drinker said the tokens are a necessary constraint on Canadian drinking habits - free beer for one price would cause them all to imbibe to oblivion.

On the website (, FOB advertised 200 brands of beer. With lines rarely more than a few persons deep, getting a beer was easy, even on the sold-out Saturday. As a veteran of Great Taste and other festivals, this should have been the perfect beer festival. However, security made everyone dump all water bottles at the gate, and not enough of the $2 bottled water was available. While I did appreciate the clean and nearly lineless portable toilets, the resulting dehydration made it difficult to spend the evening in downtown Toronto. As a result, I had only one single Belgian ale at Smokeless Joe’s—the best beer bar in
downtown, according to one brewer. And, due to recovering too long in the hotel room, I missed eating at the famous beer cuisine restaurant Beerbistro - a great disappointment.

The sampling on Friday was disheartening. Unlike the very efficient line at Great Taste, the gates opened nearly 45 minutes late. At the FOB, many of the brewers have portable bars to enhance presentation. Many larger breweries like Labatt, Molson, Tuborg, and Guinness, and mid-range brewers like Alexander Keith’s and Robert Simpson Brewing, had bars to belly up to that were bigger than Smokeless Joe’s. Unfamiliar with the breweries, I was distracted by the flashy displays and, possibly, by the commercial-clad girls serving macrobrew samples.

Saturday was much more successful. I started the day with Amsterdam Brewing, a downtown brewpub. A sample of Nut Brown Ale was good, and close to style. The Framboise was well done. However, compared to the beers offered at the pub, only the lightest were served at the festival. Moving on, Black Oak Brewing served a Double Chocolate Cherry Stout that really lived up to its name. Lakes of Muskoka Cottage Brewery was consistently good, serving a Cream Ale, Premium Lager, Premium Dark Ale, and Honey Brown Lager.

The Scotch Irish Brewing Company was delightful. St. Majors IPA (a “massively hopped” IPA at 68 IBUs) was properly bitter and satisfying. Captain Cascade, a cask American Pale Ale was smooth, hoppy, and well balanced. In the land of Euro lagers, a cask ale seemed an almost unreal find. While there had been some bright spots earlier in the day—a really interesting Eisbock by Niagara Brewing Company from the Canadian side of the falls, a true to style Classic India Pale Ale from Magnotta Brewery, and Upper Canada Brewing Company’s Pale, Red, and Dark Ale offerings were all full bodied—nothing matched Scotch Irish Brewing for quality, and, frankly, for tasting like an American brewpub.

The difference between Canadian and American brewpubs became clear - our extreme and individualistic beer consumer attitude in the lower 48 allows brewers to offer a wide range of ales and lagers while pushing the limits of style. Several Canadian brewers - Alexander Keith’s, Robert Simpson Brewing, and Steam Whistle Brewing sell only one beer (IPA, Cream Ale, and Premium Lager, respectfully). Steelback Brewing is representative of this narrow Canadian beer vision, in which the strongest beer is a Heineken Dark or other Euro import imitation. Steelback’s festival offerings included Bruce County Wild (Bavarian Pilsner), Chain (Euro Lager), Link Light (Euro Lager), Steelback Red (Amber Lager), Steelback Silver (American
Lager), Tango (South American Style Lager), Tiverton Bear Dark Lager (Euro Dark Lager), and Tiverton Bear Honey Brown (Amber Lager). In spite of having its own problems with bland beer in the U.S., our microbrew industry is fighting the trend much more vigorously than the Canadian breweries I tasted at FOB.

While it is quite possible that Double IPA and barrel-aged barleywine have distorted my taste, Canada, or possibly just Toronto, is afraid of hops and strong beers in general. They seem to prefer Euro-styled beers that taste like the imported versions.  As I was out of tokens, a young couple named Ivan and Neema bought me my last sample of the day, Glengarry 90 Shilling, a strong, malty, Scotch cask ale. We continued praising the beer from Scotch Irish Brewing as I gave them tips on how and where to find similarly interesting beer across the border to satisfy a growing Canadian thirst for beer stronger than a cream ale.

After a few more of my favorites from the day before, I left early on Sunday because of the heat and lack of new brews. In spite of drinking nearly every beer in the place over three days, my notes showed just 93 new beers. If you’re in Toronto in August, stop for one day at the festival. Spend the rest of your time enjoying the incredible diversity of downtown Toronto and drinking more than a couple beers at Smokeless Joe’s. Don’t miss dinner at Beerbistro down the street.  Cheers, eh.

About the author: Cal Vande Hoef is a full-time high school English teacher and part time beer evangelist, spreading the good beer news. Feel free to email him at  Or, better yet, stop by during Town Hall’s pint club - he’s the large bald guy reading poetry.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Silver Anniversary Ale (Summit Brewing, St. Paul, MN)

Hoppy Anniversary!  25th anniversary limited edition ale that is a hopped up version of Summit's classic and iconic American pale ale.  Burnt amber pale ale with a fluffy off white head that hangs in there for most of the beer.  Big grapefruit and hop spice over a moderate malt.  Can really smell the EPA underneath the strong hoppiness that Summit added to this ale.  Hops linger on the tongue with a sharp bitterness at the sides.  Slightly sweet finish but the hop is still there off the back.  Same mineral taste that is the classic EPA, the smaller malt bill let the hops shine through the lighter (but by no means thin) body.

A very fun "interpretation" of the EPA, as stated on Summit's website, and an excellent homage to the legacy and role that Summit has played in the development of craft beer.  Cascade hops are the common element. Horizon and Fuggles are swapped out for Citra and Centennial hops (plus a dry hop) to create the anniversary ale.  The changes give a clearly American tint to the beer compared to the English character of the EPA.

Both are good, but I like the Silver Anniversary Ale better.  However, I don't think comparison is really the point.  The lighter, hop forward American style of the anniversary ale compared to the maltier, English character of the EPA is a harbinger of the changing beer world from the Old to the New.  While European beers still have a lot to offer (and I still intend to travel to see for myself just how much), the heart and soul of the beer world is transplanting to the US--if it hasn't already.   Emerging beer countries like Japan and Australia, among others, look to the cooperative yet individualistic model of US craft brewers rather than the style based approach for much of Europe.  Belgium, a country less tied to styles, seems to be the leader in following the lessons learned in the creation of the US craft industry.  The very existence of a one of my favorite new styles--Belgian IPA--is almost prima facie proof of the seismic shift.

Get a six pack of the Silver Anniversary Ale, enjoy the flavor, celebrate the accomplishments of Summit, and joyously anticipate the future of the craft beer industry right in our own backyard.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ode to a Russian Shipwright (Olvalde Farm and Brewing, Rollingstone, MN)

Luscious head the color of the inside of malted milk balls sits on a dark brown to black opaque ale that is listed as an Imperial Stout Porter on the label.  Across the top it notes that it was brewed with spruce tips.  Website says it was brewed in honor of the brewing legacy of Peter the Great and the ingredients of the Baltic region, including rye and spruce.

Ode to a Russian Shipwright by Olvalde
Light roast in the nose, but clean and pleasant.  Spruce is there, but tucked underneath the roast.  Many spruce beers can slap you in the face with the pine smell, but not this one.  Slight spice in the nose, but not sure if it's the rye, spruce or some hop (or yes).  Taste has a sweet malt taste, less roast, dark fruit, and a rye twang that makes it stand up well in the mouth.  This is elegant for its size, and creates a well balanced beer that's clearly well done but doesn't have to blow out the taste buds to prove it.

Luckily, I got a bit distracted while drinking the beer and it warmed up very nicely.  Highly recommend letting this one warm up a bit in the bottle before pouring it.  Spruce comes out more in nose, and it improves the taste because the subtle flavors come out more without losing balance.

And, this beer is a local Minnesota product from Olvalde farmhouse brewery in Rollingstone.  I didn't know where is was either--think Winona.  Guessing more people will know it soon enough.  Pick up this fine artisan beer with a swing top cap--got mine at the Four Firkins.  For me, a nice way to finish a lazy day at home for Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Vertical Epic 11.11.11 (Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA)

I picked the 11.11.11 tonight (Wednesday) because it's the closest to catnip. Let me explain.  We recently remodeled our kitchen with new marble floors, and just today I put the spices back up from the pantry.  One was catnip for our kittens, all three of which have passed away in the last year.  Mannie, Claude and Rajda loved catnip, and I regret not giving it to them more often.  For me, today at least, I'm giving myself the catnip.

Bring out your glass slippers, so this ruby colored ale can take you to the ball!  Great lace on the side of the glass from very light brown and tightly bubbled head.  Great nose that's not overpowering--smells of citrus, lemon, anise, light cherry and pepper, plus floral notes, all floating on top of a caramel, bready malt and  subtle yeast.  Slight sour note underneath that doesn't assert itself against a moderate hotness from the 9.4% ABV.  Hops listed online are Warrior, Target, Perle and Pacific Jade.  Complex nose that drew me in because of my love of spice accented beers.  Hop punch is distinct but not biting.  Hop blended with continued anise and a fruity base that rises above the lighter mouthfeel and malt.  Alcohol is apparent, and pleasant as well.  Falls nicely off the back of the tongue with a slight sour bitterness.  As it warms, the body thins out and the alcohol becomes more pronounced and loses balance.  Some of the lower BA reviews for the beer, I believe, might come from the latter part of the warmth cycle; or, the subtle, spicy character might disappoint Stone hop heads.

The very small print on the side of the bottle says that the beer was brewed with cinnamon sticks, Anaheim chilies and Belgian Flanders Golden Ale yeast. Guessing the peppers are accounting for the full and complex spice notes along with the cinnamon.  The yeast is said to throw off banana and clove, which I can smell and especially taste now that I'm paying attention to it specifically.

Good beer and worth the effort to go find.  Tenth in the series of Vertical Epic ales, next year's 12.12.12 is the last (and coincidentally on my birthday).   I was not able to acquire any of the 02.02.02 of the series, but happily have bottles for the rest.   It has been a long wait, but it will truly be a fun time tasting all of them side by side. Since Stone shares recipes for all of the Vertical Epic beers, I'm hoping to brew a clone of the .02.02.02 this summer so that the vertical tasting is complete.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Third Voyage (Boston Brewing Co, Samuel Adams, Boston, MA)

Shimmering copper Double IPA with a thick, fluffy head and irregular bubbles.   Time to linger on the smell as the head takes time to recede--clean grapefruit punches up.  Side of the bottle lists Cascade hops from the UK and New Zealand with Simcoe hops from the US.  Third Voyage refers to Captain Cook's fatal but otherwise successful voyage by using ingredients from associated areas.  Very little malt, but a light caramel note with the citrus and floral hop.  Citrus and pine continues into the first sip through a moderate mouthfeel, but more robust that I would expect from the color.  The 8% alcohol suggests a fair amount of malt, which would explain the fuller mouthfeel. Smooth, oily taste that is lighter than I like, but pleasant.  Again, from the bottle, the malt bill lists Harrington, Metcalfe and Copeland pale malts, Caramalt and Honey malt. The effect is a full, sweet bready caramel and toffee base for the hops.   Of these, I'm only familiar with the later two malts, so not sure of the contribution.  As the beer warms up, the pine, resin and citrus really come out more.

The varied hop and malt bill lends the beer a complex but subtle flavor.  Not being over the top, this beer might suffer a bit with hop heads.  Hops are subdued by the body.   An elegant beer that's good, Third Voyage is well worth a try but I don't think I'll buy another bottle.  I would be interested in trying it on tap if it fell into my path.  Reading some of the BA reviews, I don't see much explanation for the lower ratings.  Lack of over the top hops and a clean balance may be the reason.  If the reviewer drank it too fast, some of the more interesting aspects of the beer may have been lost.  Or, maybe a little Sam Adams bias, and not giving enough respect to the big microbrewery.

I'm drinking the beer with the last Harry Potter playing in the background.  Paralleled death of Captain Cook and Harry, each who dies for the ultimate success of his path, is an interesting comparison.  A poetic stretch, even for me, I admit.  But, finding meaning in death and life is a desire as old as legend and time, a desire I have always pursued.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Carmody Irish Pub & Brewery (Duluth, MN)


Carmody Irish Pub & Brewing in downtown Duluth, MN on Superior St 
While driving back to the hotel from Fitger’s down the street on East Superior (main drag of Duluth), I saw “& Brewing” tacked on the bottom of Carmody Irish Pub. While done nicely, it seems like it has been added, but not specifics were available on the history of the brewing at the pub. And, since I was in a hurry, I, unfortunately, didn’t ask when there. 

In short, I found the stop to be more pleasant and productive than I imagined at first. While I don’t doubt Buebie’s experience, I found it to be much better. It’s nearly two months later, so maybe the Carmody brewers are learning and have made some adjustments. Again, I have not inside information, and we’ll leave that to a Duluth BA to add. 

I tried the following beers as a sampler tray: Agnes Red Ale (6%), Tippler’s Golden (4.8%), Apollo Pale Ale (5.2%), American Red Ale (5.7%), Scanlon IPA (6.7%) and Roast Mint Stout (4.8%). In the Agnes I could taste a bit of Buebie’s point--a small off flavor in it (diaceytl?) and the Apollo, while could, didn’t have a completely clean taste as well. Both were quite drinkable. The Tippler’s was a solid beer with a bit of a spicy hop character to it. No descriptions on the website, so don’t know much more than that about it. My favorite was the Scanlon IPA, which is a very acceptable IPA and would’ve been my choice for a pint if I had had the time for one. While it wasn’t my favorite, the Roast Mint Stout was good and I applaud the effort to push the limits. All of the beers were quite drinkable, and, even though I had sample is whiskey glasses, there was a lace on every glass. Every beer was quite acceptable, and a couple were good. Nothing was mind blowing or matched my favorites at Fitger’s the night before, but good beer worth drinking a pint. 

On the menu, Carmody’s own offerings were listed as “home brews,” which I liked for some reason. In addition, they have 14 gues taps that focused mostly on regional beers like Surly Furious, New Belgium 1554 and Ranger IPA, and two Dubrue beers, evidently a new local brewery in Duluth. Bartender was very friendly and attentive, and several locals were coming in just after 3 pm when we were there. Nice old bar, run down a bit and divvy, but comfortable. Stage in the back bar, and there seem to be a emphasis on local music as well from posters and dollar bills with bands, names and dedications attached to the bar wall. 

While I find it difficult to get past Fitger’s when I’m in town for a quick stop, I would most definitely consider spending some time at Carmody for a pint. If I were into local music, this definitely a place to stop. Hopefully, with experience, the beer will continue to improve over time.

9/25/11.  Came across this article on Carmody that expands  on details that I didn't get from my stop.  

Lake Huron Smoked Dopplebock (Fitger's Brewhouse, Duluth, MN)

Not much information on the website for this one, but listed as #2 in the Great Lakes series and that the wood used for the smoke was cherrywood. I don't know anymore about the background of the beer, but it was pleasant to have on draft when there recently. I listed it as a one off, though that's an assumption based on it be in a series.

Served in a small glass, which is always a good sign for a big beer like this. Not in a snifter, but a mini English point glass. Dark brown but not opaque beer with crimson highlights. Almost white head that fell quickly to a thin film. Smokey nose, as advertised, on top of a caramel and thick malt. Little alcohol in the nose. Charcoal at the back of the tongue. Dangerously smooth. Sweet middle that like overripe figs or old raisins--dark cherry in the middle of the beer. Definitely try this smooth lager if you're in the pub.

birth of a beer obsession (part 1)

At some point in an extended conversation with any beer geek, there is a point when someone will ask you your entry beer--that beer that started the obsession.  The answer can range anywhere from a slightly embarrassed, mumbled beer name that the drinker doesn’t deem worthy of initiating a hobby to an extended retelling of an epiphany that borders on a religious experience. Mine is both.   

While teaching and coaching speech in Los Angeles, I started picking up a Tombstone pizza and a tall bottle of Rolling Rock Extra Pale Ale.  At this time, I refused to allow any alcohol in the house on a regular basis, so I would only pick up a bottle once a week on the way home from a late night tournament.   While I tried a few others, Rolling Rock was my beer of choice for years.  At the time, it was the lightness of the beer that I preferred; other beers (all faded from memory) were simply too heavy.  I rarely own up to my Rolling Rock origins, preferring to share the following instead.  

Fast forward to June of 2000 and I’m visiting former speech and debate students from LA who were in Chicago.  We decided to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight, so we whiled away the hours at Bennigan’s downtown on Michigan Ave.  Packed because the local jazz festival had just finished, we waited elbow to elbow near the bar for a table.  I ordered a Blue Moon (a Coors product but I didn’t know that at the time).  It was cold, fresh and well served; after my first taste, I held the shaker pint of beer up to the light.  Contemplating this sunset orange beer that glistened from the late afternoon summer sun, I distinctly remember a thinking these words: I wonder if there are any other good beers in the world like this?

According to my Taste Database, I returned to Chicago on January 3rd, 2009 to add Blue Moon to my list.  It only seemed right to return to the same Bennigan’s, site of the original epiphany.   To my surprise, I’ve never reviewed Rolling Rock or Blue Moon on BeerAdvocate, so I will do that and reflect upon my findings for a future post.  

birth of a beer obsession (part 2)

birth of a beer obsession (part 3)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rainmaker (Steel Toe Brewing, St. Louis Park, MN)

Rainmaker is a dark amber ale with a golden highlights on the edge. Off white head piles high and falls to a film. Strong caramel and hop spice in the nose: pleasant and balanced. Big malt backbone that more than supports an earthy, peppery and spicey hop bite. Nice beer to chew through while watching TV. I like the beer more and more as I get to the bottom of the glass. Steel Toe seems to be the real deal for a new Minnesota brewery.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-18-2011 01:11:48

The Oracle (Bell's Brewery, Kalamazoo, MI)

The Oracle is a dark gold double IPA that has a bright white head. Massive nose--grapefruit, citrus, peppery spice, pine and a nice malt and earthy blend. Makes the beer simply fun to drink in small sips to maximize the number of times your put your nose in the glass. Oily resin and pine--my fav in a DIPA--in the taste--and a pleasantly blistering bite that lingers to the point of just about but not quite overwhelming the taste buds. Dry aftertaste. Get this one if you haven't yet. Two months in the fridge and still going strong. Patience is your friend--let this one warm up in a snifter through a football game on a Sunday afternoon, and you may even be able to tell you're future--another glass!

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-18-2011 03:52:27

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Size 7 (Steel Toe Brewing, St. Louis Park, MN)

Golden IPA with streaks of copper through the thicker parts of the glass. Fluffy white head piles high in the glass. Glad it was oversized glass to hold back the rise from the bomber. Rush of grapefruit off the falling head was strong and wets the appetite. Doesn't hang in there through the whole beer, but is still a very nice citrus, lemon, light malt that is very much in the Northwest style, as stated on the website. Lace hangs nicely on the side of the glass as I taste it--hops linger in the nose yet as the soft bread hides below the fruity hop bite that swallows the tongue fully. Lingers nicely and can chew the hops a little. Body is a bit light, but seems to be on purpose to showcase those hops. 7% ABV is completely unapparent, so it's a much bigger beer than it seems on face value. Very good IPA--maybe even one to keep around on a regular basis to drink during the week. Nice hop bite to feed the beast, but light enough to enjoy so you're not kicked in the butt by this Size 7.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-17-2011 03:48:35

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Copper Cone (Epic Brewing, Salt Lake City, UT)

Copper Cone is a hazy gold to copper American Pale Ale with a dirty white head. Nice grapefruit, lemon, spice and caramel. A good nose that makes me anticipate liking this beer more than some of the earlier Epic beers I've had. And...nope. Taste is adequate, but doesn't live up to the nose. Slightly thin body, good malty base but overwhelms the hops, and the bitterness and body are muddled. Some of the fruit carries into the body, but seems set a part from the rest. Perfectly good beer, but not going to go out of my way for it again.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-15-2011 02:01:37

Summit Black Ale (Summit Brewing, St. Paul, MN)

Jet black ale, but a bit of light is getting through the thinner part of the pint glass, making it look more like a dark brown.  Hop spice fights through the burnt toast, black dirt and charcoal malt (and that's a compliment in case you missed it). Very nice nose that is unique and very interesting. Analogous to Aecht Schlenkerla for the type of smell coming off the top if this black ale, but not the same smokey smell or intensity, but similar in the raw aromatics wafting up. While I love Summit, it has, historically, not always pushed the envelope to the danger zone, so I was going to be satisfied with a good nose and a thick rocky tan head that left a nice lace. Some assertive hop and charcoal taste, but the mouthfeel is a bit thin to support the flavor. Going to get a six pack of this one to savor while it's available.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-15-2011 03:22:11

Monday, November 14, 2011

Our Special Ale 2011 (Anchor Brewing, San Francisco, CA)

First bottle of Anchor's Our Special Ale for the season for me. Dark brown with copper highlights, this Christmas ale piles up a thick tan head before falling away to a spotty film. Nutmeg spice and light fig on top of a strong malty base. Spice strengthens in the taste, nutty flavor floats above chocolate and malt. Finishes sweet and leaves the spice lingering on the back and sides of the tongue. Another good year for this beer, though maybe not the best.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-14-2011 01:31:30

Red Ale (Odell Brewing, Fort Collins, CO)

Red Ale is a copper ale with an off white head that falls with a nice lace. The American amber ale has a great nose with lots of toffee, caramel and strong hop spice. Big malt shows up in the taste w/o some of the other flavors in the nose. Hop bite is light but pleasant. Overall, a nice amber ale that gives the senses a run for the money and is still very drinkable. Might not buy for home again, but would gladly get a pint in a bar for a refreshing change of pace or a great go-to beer for a place with a limited selection.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-14-2011 02:45:03

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Barley John's Brew Pub (New Brighton, MN)

Unfortunately, I live on the wrong side of the twin cities to visit Barley John's to be a regular. Recently, visited BJ's again for the AHA Teach a Friend to Homebrew day, and actually brought a friend to learn from the welcoming Minnesota Home Brewers Association. I attended this same event several years ago when I started homebrewing and the learning from it gave me the confidence to brew my first batch. 

On to Barley John's, who has always been a great host. For 10 am start, BJ's had a breakfast special, including a veggie version that was much appreciated by me. Also, two additional options offered two different sausage versions of the egg bake. Over the years, I've been to BJ's maybe a dozen times--and have never been disappointed by the food. In fact, the food is one of their strengths. 

On this trip, I started with the Imperial Stout, which was a very respectable version of the style. I finished the keg of the Biere de Garde, which the server said was the staff favorite. It wasn't a favorite of mine, but it was the bottom of the keg (comped for half the glass). Moved to my standard favorite Old Eight Porter. When available, the much acclaimed Dark Knight is very much worth the effort to drink. 

If you're on the north side, or if you're looking for a way above average dinner with your craft beer, Barley John's should be a serious consideration. This small place with friendly service, great food and solid beer won't disappoint.

Reviewed on: 11-12-2011 18:41:41

Tank Monkey (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)

Tank Monkey was served in a 10 oz glass--the cascade from the bottom of the glass is absolutely gorgeous--it's what one imagines beer to be at it's very best.  Light brown as it starts to settle, a fluffy bright white head forms and lingers above an ale of copper with gold highlights to charge the anticipation for this double IPA. Can't find the description, so don't remember anything about the composition. Bright citrus and light lemon, earthy notes with some resin, pine, and a big hop spice with a trace of pepper. Great nose followed by a creamy malt sweetness, caramel and then--the bite! Hops dig in hard on the back of the tongue to counterbalance the silky sweetness. Very nice beer. Drove back to have another, though the first was the best--which I attribute to the vagaries of cask ale. Didn't get the pushed version, but would guess brightening this beer up would be pretty good as well.

Serving type: cask

Reviewed on: 11-12-2011 01:02:34

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Smoked Porter (Alaskan Brewing, Juneau, AK)

I've had a tough time finding this beer over the years, but now have a case of it!  Smoked Porter is an opaque, nearly brown black porter with a hint of ruby tint. Tightly bubbled light brown head that is an inch high singular shade that lingers nicely. Light smoke, chocolate and black licorice in the nose that is very subtle. Smoke pops into the mouth with burnt toast, along with a charcoal taste like the burnt edge of bbq. Chocolate, malt and a bit of hop tingle that backs up the smoke. Mouthfeel seems a little light, but an excellent beer overall that's a joy to drink.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-10-2011 01:08:44

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Anniversary Ale 2011 (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)

Copper colored IPA with a dirty white head that piles high in the glass into a rocky foam, even though from a growler. Clean, super fresh hop in the nose--almost like a fresh hop ale--it has so much fruit and pine it makes me think of summer. Strong hop bite that dominates a caramel and sweet malt base. Hop forward but the malt has enough of a spine to fight for itself. Chewy mouthfeel that leads to a lingering hop and malt presence between sips. In the last weeks, Anniversary 11 is the only draft I had every time I went in and I'm reviewing from the second growler. For me, the highest compliment from as an easily distracted drinker is to re-drink a great beer.  

Serving type: growler

Reviewed on: 11-09-2011 02:19:00

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sublimely Self Righteous (Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA)

Tightly bubbled tan head lingers mightily on top of a jet black black ale that is completely opaque. One of my very favorite beers in the nose: roast and bready malt base that supports a clean and crisp hop spice. The nose continues into the taste and matches exactly. No surprises, but maybe that's what disappoints some, but I like the roast and spice in perfect balance. Bit more roast in the taste than the nose. My wife is not a hop head at all, but likes this beer because the hops blend and compliment so well with the sweet malt roast. Incredible beer that is one of Stone's best.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-06-2011 00:54:58

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Broo Doo (Three Floyd's Brewing, Munster, IN)

3F, one of the kings (like alpha king!) of hops, has a harvest ale and I finally have been able to get a bottle by happenstance on a trip to Purdue. Thanks for Village Bottle Shop in West Lafayette for having some left. Golden IPA with a beautiful sheen, and a dirty white, fluffy, rocky head. Super clean and bright pine, lemon, and citrus nose that invites thoughts of summer with a deep whiff. Grass and spice hop bite that lingers and builds. Caramely, slightly sweet base the gives a solid base to let the hops shine. I'm a sucker for all harvest ales, but this is one of the cleanest fresh hop ales I've had in recent years. 3F rocks.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-05-2011 02:25:04

Friday, November 4, 2011

Earth Thirst (Eel River Brewing, Fortuna, CA)

I love the idea of Eel River, and keep trying them for the love of the idea. In reality, their beers--like Earth First--are good, but just don't seem to move to the next level. ET looks great in the glass--burnished copper DIPA with a fluffy off white head that hangs in forever and a thick lace. Excited at this point--and then the smell is big citrus and pine, and a funky staleness. Maybe light struck, but doesn't seem to be that funk. Stale hop bite on the tongue with a metallic aftertaste. As always, I really want to like this beer, but just can't do it.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-04-2011 01:29:26

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hoptimus IPA (New Albanian Brewing, New Albany, IN)

This 100 IBU Imperial IPA gets its bitterness from four early additions of high alpha Nugget hops and late/dry hop additions of Cascade. Shimmering amber beer with an off white, fluffy head that falls with a lace.  Nose is light on citrus in spite of the dry hopped Cascade, which is very subdued. More spice, pepper, clove and earthy pine in the nose on top of a light sourdough and caramel malt base. Hop bite is good, and flows to the back of the tongue. Lingers nicely, but is raw and not overly subtle. Malt falls deep to the background in spite of being a relatively big beer at 10.7% (a bit over 1.080 if a did the math right). Good, hoppy beer that's fun to drink, but lacks the complexity and character that I prefer in a DIPA. Might be the English yeast not bringing out some of my favorite characteristics, but if you prefer English to American barleywine, this might be a great beer for you.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 11-03-2011 01:04:46

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Steel Reserve 211 (Steel Brewing, Irwindale, CA)

Straw gold lager--malt liquor of 8.5%. So many meaningless brewing misnomers on the label to convince the quick buzz crowd that this is THE alcohol vehicle of choice. White bubbly head hangs tough in my plastic hotel room glass--desperate drinking conditions (11 pm in small town Iowa, so this was the best beer at the local Casey's) call for desperate measures. Best thing about the beer is the triple overtime win by Stanford on TV while drinking. Corn, sweet malt and diluted sugar in the nose with a slight tangy and metallic (hop?) spice in the nose. In the taste, more corn and apple and some bitterness (happily). When the alcohol kicks in, my slight shudder from the taste subsides and it becomes even (somewhat) enjoyable.  Ratings on BA might seem high, but it is one of the better malt liquors I've tasted from a limited range.

Serving type: can

Reviewed on: 11-02-2011 01:41:29