Wednesday, February 29, 2012

DogZilla (Laughing Dog Brewery, Ponderay, Idaho)

Picked up this bottle at Casanova's, mostly for the cool name: DogZilla.  Laughing Dog from Idaho is new to me as well, so an easy one to take home.

Head is the color of a malted milk ball center that bubbles up unevenly.  Per the label, there's a clear northwest hop aroma that's not complex and over a light roast malt that's hard to discern.  In spite of the 6.9% size, the body is extremely light and watery.  Roasted malt is stronger than the nose.  Hop bite is assertive, grassy flavor.  Overall flavor is off centered and weak.

A disappointing but perfectly adequate bottle--expecting more from a Godzilla reference beer.  Not big enough to fill those shoes.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Town Hall Barrel Aged Week 2012

Happy to say I completed my week of barrel aged beers at Town Hall.  Over the years, I've always pined for the nights missed during special tapping weeks.  Reflecting on the week, I've made a couple of conclusions.

First, Town Hall is spectacular.  The fact that they are able to produce and tap this many cool beers in a week is a great benefit to the beer drinking community of the Twin Cities. In a discussion with Hoops a while back, I mentioned that I had gone on a recent beer trip and had been disappointed with the brewpubs I had visited.  I kept saying to myself  "Not bad, but it's not Town Hall."  So the week was a reconfirmation of my love and dedication to what I consider to be my local pub.

Second, I don't think I need to go every night of a special week in the future.  I did enjoy going to each tapping, but I'm exhausted even though I was on spring break.  This is mostly a logistical issue because I live about a 25 minutes from Town Hall, assuming there's no traffic.  Or, maybe I'm too old to going out drinking every night (though I didn't do that when I was young either).  In the future, I'll return to my pick and choose method of prioritizing what looks best and hope to catch a beer or two leftover.  Maybe this experience will result in an unexpected mental health benefit because I will hopefully not pine as much for days and beers missed  in the future.

Here's the week linked in review.
Day 1 Buffalo Bock
Day 2 Wee Jack
Day 3 Twisted Jim
Day 4 Tumaltuous Rare
Day 5 Barrel Monkey
Day 6 Czar Jack

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Barrel Aged Week 2012 Day 6 (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)

Czar Jack with Gold Medal GABF banner.  
Last night of barrel aged week, and it sure finished strong with a full house when I showed up a bit before 7 pm.  Packed front to back, I appreciate that a whole bunch of people keep my local profitable even though I don't show up every day like this week.

From years of drinking Czar Jack as eight drafts, a growler, and a stone growler for those who remember, this tenth time is simply recognizing an old friend who's greatness resides in not being extreme but a nuanced interplay and overlap of style, bourbon and barrel.  Dark tan and brown streaked head lusciously falls to a rimmed film.  Opaque, black on black in the glass with a nose of dark roast and oak, black strap molasses, burnt sugar, buried earthy hop, alcohol warmth and a clear bourbon smoke and vanilla from the Jack Daniels.  Taste follows the nose but adds chocolate blended in a malty center that supports rum raisin with a lingering hop bitterness that sneaks out from under the sweetness.  8.5% alcohol isn't pushy, but let's you know that it's there.  Smooth and blended, this is a great beer that deserves to carry a gold medal.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Barrel Aged Week 2012 Day 5 (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)

Motueka growler.  Couldn't resist using my
Stone glass for a light yellow lager. 
Penultimate night of the Barrel Aged Week and out comes the big dog Double IPA Barrel Monkey for a Friday night.  Got there early, so had some time to burn before the monkey was released.

Started with a "double lager" named Motueka.  I know nothing about this beer beyond the quoted style, but liked it a lot better than my anti-lager bias would predict.  Stark white head lingers over a straw gold lager that has a light floral hop and bready light malt.  The combination is delicate, but not weak.  Sweet malt continues in the taste with  significant and surprisingly assertive hop profile that is floral, slightly earthy and a bit peppery.  Such a strong showing, that I took a growler home to continue the sampling.  Growler is similar, except there's a momentary smokiness and the hops have more clarity.

Barrel Monkey at far end of bar at Town Hall

I finally tried the dubbel that was on tap all week--also a strong beer.  Any other week this beer would've made the night, but tonight it's a footnote.  In part, I was having an interesting conversation with a pint club member that I haven't met until tonight despite each of us being members for about eight years.  Tonight was the only night that I didn't run into some I know, but it was a great night of discussion and connecting with a new beer friend.

On to tonight's beer: Barrel Monkey has a off white head that rims the glass.  Murky orange brown ale that is very barleywine-like.  Tasting blind, I could be convinced that this was an overly hopped, light barleywine rather than a double IPA.  Dark fruit and strong fig in the nose with earthy, grapefruit hops mixed with bourbon and wood.  Strong alcohol in the nose wafts up through the taste of a dark fruited hop bite that's sweet from the caramel and toffee maltiness.  Whiskey is underneath and growths as the beer warms.  Alcohol and hops linger of the back of the tongue and remind you that another sip is following soon.  Great beer that's a lot of fun.  Too bad I only had the capacity for one, but hope that I can get another tomorrow night before Czar Jack distracts me completely.

Spring Fever Cabaret Beer Basket

For the the Spring Fever Cabaret that benefits Once Voice Mixed Chorus, we've put together a gift basket of Belgian and Belgian inspired beers for the silent auction that's prior to having dinner and watching a great show.  Anyone interested in attending and potentially bidding on this beer basket can find information at One Voice's website.

The guiding principle for the basket was to create a slam dunk collection of beers that a neophyte or a geek would appreciate.  Plus, I added two bottles from my cellar of beers to make it more unique.  Comments welcome as to whether or not I've achieved my goal.  When presented, I'm going to add a yet-to-be-written style summary and drinking recommendations.

From left to right: Westvletern 12 aged 3 years, Huyghe Delerium Tremens, New Glarus Belgian Red, Bosteels Triple Karmeliet, Maredsous Dubbel, St. Feuillien Saison, Liefman's Goudenband, La Trappe Quadruple and Dogfish Head Raison D'Extre aged 1 year.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Barrel Aged Week 2012 Day 4 (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)

I headed down to Town Hall with a good feeling of success after picking up at case of Stone Old Guardian Barleywine at the Four Firkins.  Plus, wheat wines are relatively rare and a treat when available.  Sadly, Tumaltuous Rare didn't  measure up to my imagination.  Taking a look at my database, it seems that my relationship with Tumaltuous has been up and down--always good and only sometimes great.
Tumaltuaous Malt

Off white head is thin but stable on the multiple pours that were set up for the release at 6 pm.  Hazy orange beer is thick with golden highlights.  Very little nose, even with a swirl--a light wheat spice and alcohol.  In the taste, a fruity center is redolent of apricot and peaches with an assertive wheat character.  Strong and very sweet, the light body is overpowered by the Eagle Rare bourbon.  The end result is pleasant, but unbalanced.    I'm slightly disappointed, but it was more my expectation than the beer.  A good beer, but not up to the standard of others for the week.  

While finishing my second glass, I headed to the back to chat with a bored tender of the bottles of Tumaltuous Rare for those with tickets.  Among other beery items, we chatted about the ticket sales on the previous Sunday for the bottles.  Evidently, selling tickets at 5pm on the same night created a long line and some hard  feelings.  The Sunday sale was an attempt to streamline and organize the sale.  I empathize with businesses attempting to create a desire for rare beers and trying to sell these hotly pursued beers fairly.  While I missed the opportunity to buy the bottles, I'm happy that Town Hall is producing such a fine product and will take solace in the excellent beers I do get to taste.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Barrel Aged Week 2012 Day 3 (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)

Twisted Jim night was much busier than the previous two nights
For the sake of posterity and for those still considering a trip to Town Hall for Barrel Aged Week, here's the list of what's on tap this week:  

Mon Feb 20- Buffalo Bock- Weizenbock aged in Buffalo Trace Bourbon Barrel
Tues Feb 21- Wee Jack- Scottish style Wee heavy aged in JD Tennessee Whiskey Barrel
Wed Feb 22- Twisted Jim- American Barley Wine aged in Jim Beam Bourbon Barrel
Thurs Feb 23- Tumaltuous Rare- Wheat Wine aged in Eagle Rare Bourbon Barrel
Fri Feb 24- Barrel Monkey- Double IPA aged in Buffalo Trace Bourbon Barrel
Sat Feb 25- Czar Jack- Everyone’s favorite barrel Aged Imperial Stout

For those familiar with Town Hall beers, it clearly looks like a champions pyramid that builds to the pinnacle Czar Jack, but the penultimate Barrel Monkey should bring in the hop heads on a Friday night.  For me as a wheat wine lover, I am very much looking forward to the Tumaltuous Rare on Thursday.  

Which begs the question, why go out for these beers. Last night when buying my draft of Wee Jack, someone at the bar who's presence at THB was unrelated to the barrel aged releases asked for a sample of Wee Jack.  The response (understandably) was that it's too rare and limited to give samples; subtext: buy a draft or miss out.  For me, it's the fun of drinking a beer that will exist briefly on this earth, never (or rarely in the case of Czar Jack) to be tasted again.  Adding it to the beer database, it becomes a rare jewel that, once gone, cannot be replaced.  Breweries or brewpubs that have gone out of business also fall into this category for me.  Like most, I have my favorites. However, drinking one offs is truly beer hunting as its best.  

On to tonight's barrel aged beauty: Twisted Jim aged in a Jim Beam Bourbon barrel.  Off white head completely disappeared immediately and forever.  Neither draft maintained a head.  Burnished copper mixed with gold in the light (much prettier than my picture) that swirls in the light.  Nose isn't heavy, but expansive malt, dark fruit, fig, and an earth hoppiness that's fueled by potent fusel alcohols.  Hope bite is more than expected on the tongue.  Sweet, oily taste full malt full of caramel and toffee with more apparent alcohol.  Jim Beam and wood is well blended, but floating above the beer a bit.  From my recollection of Twisted Jim straight (two years ago according to the database), I like this version better.  More complex and a great sipper seated in a high back chair by the fire.  

Wee heavy was still available tonight, but I would be hesitant whether any of the first three will be available tomorrow with all of the people there tonight.  At 6:30 pm when I showed up, the entire front bar was full and a 20 minute wait for the back restaurant.  Either Wednesday night is date night or barleywine pulls in a big crowd.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eurotrash Pilz (Southern Tier Brewing, Lakewood, NY)

If not for being Southern Tier and the funny name, I would never pick up a Czech Pilsner. Eurotrash Pilz is a translucent light gold that shimmers with the rising bubbles from the laser etching that continues to build the head. Light floral spicey hop over a corn and light malt. Hoppiness is clean and pleasant on the tongue, slight carbonic bite and a sweet apple and malt body that's light but not overly thin. A good representation of the style and fun to drink for what it's supposed to be. If you like Czech Pilz or funny names, pick one up for fun.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 02-21-2012 02:56:57

Barrel Aged Week 2012 Day 2 (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)

Wee Jack aged in Jack Daniels barrel
at Town Hall Brewery.  
Day 2 of Barrel Aged Week brings us to Wee Jack aged in a Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey barrel.  While I don't consider myself a Jack Daniels drinker, the JD blends very well with this beer.

It also brought out the Beer Geeks.  Not just folks like me, but the fellas of Beer Geek TV show that's been running at 11 pm on channel 45 after Friends reruns.  They were filming in the back where bottles of the Wee Jack were being handed out near the brew house.  I was pleasantly distracted talking to beer friend Eric, so didn't get a picture.  Maybe it's that I'm not a fan of the show, so I wasn't overly concerned that I missed what they were doing.  I'll watch the episode when it airs to see what happened.

The draft in the picture is mine, but the bottle belongs to Eric.  This was my second draft, which poured better than the first one that was a part of the long line of beers coming out right after six.

The tan head with very tight bubbles lingers nicely on the draft.  Strong alcohol in the nose blended on top of a light peat, heavy malt and some white oak from the JD barrel.  Full mouthfeel, sticky sweet but still not cloying.  The whiskey is smooth with an assertive hot alcohol spiciness with dark chocolate cherry and burnt raisin. Compared to the weizenbock last night, the JD whiskey blends extremely well with the wee heavy.  Great barrel aged beer that makes the most of the technique.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Barrel Aged Week 2012 Day 1 (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)

I saw a few weeks ago that Barrel Aged Week at Town Hall fell during only my second spring break at school in over a decade.  The beer gods are smiling on me.

Beer friend Ian and I started with a draft of Buffalo Bock in a 10 oz glass, which turned out to be a good idea.  This beer is a Weizenbock aged in a Buffalo Trace barrel, a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.  Strong bourbon taste on top of a smooth, alcohol laden bock.  Very nice opening offering for the week.  End result was maybe a bit out of balance, but I didn't care by the end of the glass.

Town Hall, Pete and Mike on TV!
In between drafts, Channel 5 news interviewed owner Pete Rifakes and head brewer Mike Hoops for the 6 pm news right behind us.  I didn't hear a word of it form behind me or on the TV, but everyone cheered when it was over.  Very cool that craft beer is getting such great coverage of the amazing growth of the industry.  Big TV day for Hoops since he was on WCCO this morning on a story that included the Summit, Finnegan's and the Four Firkins.

Second glass of the night was 342,  an American Pale Ale made with an experiment hop called HBC 342.  No back story on where they got this hop, but it was a strong, highly hopped pale ale that was a showcase for this fruity, intense hop.  So good, I bought a growler to review later.

Bottles were being handed out by the brew house to those with tickets.  But, I missed that memo in the course of the hectic speech season, so no idea how they were handed out.  Doesn't matter--I'm fine with a draft and an excuse to visit my local pub.  I hope to make the rest of the nights, so will report as I can get there.  Come on down if you want some great barrel aged beers.

Howl (Magic Hat Brewing, Burlington, VT)

In spite of the subtitled name, Magic Hat's Howl isn't quite a "black as night lager." Dark brown to black with ruby highlights around the edge that were apparent while pouring. Tan head bubbles up nicely, but dissipates quickly. In spite of being a winter lager, it seems a bit musty in the nose. Some nice roast malt, mineral, light off spice. Roast continues in the mouth, but lacks depth or a layered dimension to the taste and is a bit light and tasteless off the back. Not bad, but not one I would seek out as definitive for the style.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 02-20-2012 05:20:54

Alpine Spring (Boston Beer Co, Samuel Adams, Boston, MA)

Always like to pick up a Sam Adams beer after visiting the Boston Beer Co last summer, but wish I would've past up on this one. Bought from the single shelf of the local store, Alpine Spring might be a year late.  Or, seasonals are coming out even earlier now. 

Creamy nearly white head piles high and leaves a nice lace. Corn and mineral predominate in the nose with little of the promised citrus on the label. The hoppiness is earthy with a bit of spice in the nose and taste. Taste is sharp, malty and earthy with a light breadiness. Leaves a mineral aftertaste that's not pleasant. 

While I haven't had many of this style, this is not selling me on keller or zwickel beer,which isn't a surprise since I'm not a fan of the light German lagers in general. But, I keep trying new beers regardless of this knowledge. This one is just a swing and a miss. Maybe at the next at bat.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 02-20-2012 18:07:25

Circus Boy (Magic Hat Brewing, Burlington, VT)

Circus Boy is another Magic Hat beer that I liked when sampled last summer on site more than the bottle that I've been able to acquire in Minnesota. While I understand that I shouldn't be surprised, the beer that's being drunk in Vermont doesn't seem to make it here in the same shape sadly. 

White head pops up and evaporates quickly to leave just the straw gold with copper highlighted beer in the glass. My notes from last summer say hefe w/ lemongrass, and I can smell in lightly when I look hard. Taste is thin bodied and lacks any pizzazz. Light yeast and fruity characteristics follow with a slight bite, but little more. 

Disappointed in this bottle and won't be trying it again--at least until I get a chance for a draft in Vermont to figure out the difference. After finishing my review, I saw the Alstrom review as being much higher. That review is from 2006, so maybe something has changed in the beer since then in spite of the name being the same, but in reading Jason A's review I am not drinking the same quality of beer. Whether it's transportation, lack of Magic Hat sales in Minnesota, timing of when I bought it, etc, I'm not sure. Just doesn't live up.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 02-20-2012 18:41:58

JL Beers (Grand Forks, ND)

JL postcard with The Abyss

On our last trip to visit my nephew, our plan for the night was to spend the evening at JL Beers to watch the Gophers/UND hockey game because the beer list is clearly the best in Grand Forks. Since it's a burger joint without vegetarian options, we had dinner at The Blue Moose instead so we could spend more beer time at JL.The beer stop started off well.  It's a small, narrow bar that's dimly lit, but we were seated quickly at a table opposite of the bar.  Actually, all tables are opposite of the bar because of the long, narrow design of the building.

I started off with Fargo Brewing's Woodchipper IPA that my nephew had recommended.  Nice beer and I like the support of the local breweries. Between the three of us, we also shared Deschutes The Abyss, Empyrean Winter Tilt FestivAle, and Widmer Brother's Nelson Imperial IPA.  Too my surprise, the Widmer draft was the best of the night, even over a draft of the legendary The Abyss that didn't live up to my memory of having it in a bottle.We even had fun filling out the free JL Beers postcards.  But, then the evening was soured by a simple request.  My wife asked for a glass of water and was told that they don't serve water, but they would sell us bottled water.  In an email response from co-owner Lance Thorson, he explained that there wasn't enough room for ice machines and water faucets in their small bar, and that bottled water is a better and more consistent product than local tap water for their multiple JL locations.  As a result, they can have room for more taps, cans and bottles of beer.

As for us, we finished our beers and brought our business to Happy Harry's Bottle Shop for some beer to watch the game in the hotel room.  While I don't doubt JL's reasons for not serving water, we saw it as inconvenient at best and irresponsible at worst to not have free water in a drinking establishment to help control for the effects of alcohol.  On a different bar stop a few weeks later, I noticed that I drink water pint for pint with the beer I sampled.  It's a part of the process to drinking responsibly, a process that should be taught and encouraged in all establishments, especially one in a college town.  To me the staff, while friendly, we're clearly frustrated by customers repeatedly asking the same incredulous questions about having to buy water.  While I understand the reasoning, I sharply disagree with it.  
JL Beers from front--as narrow inside
as it looks on the outside, but comfortable
and cozy when you get a table.  

As for the beer, the range of beers is worth the trip, and each beer we drank was well served in an appropriate glass for the style.  Nothing to complain about for the beer.  Since we're vegetarians, we didn't try a burger but my nephew reports that they are quite good and have a good reputation.  I also asked about serving a veggie burger option like Fitger's, Town Hall or Whistle Binkies; however, all of their burgers are never frozen and cooked with an "automatic top-side cooker that is setup and designed for our hamburger patties thickness."  A frozen veggie burger is a square peg that doesn't fit into their one size fits all approach. Before the water issue when getting our initial beers, I also got the vibe that sitting and drinking on a Saturday night was not appreciated unless we were going to eat, drink and get out of the way for the next customers.  While I will readily admit and applaud their dedication to craft brew, JL Beers is a one trick pony with limited appeal for me

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Blind Faith (Magic Hat Brewing, Burlington, VT)

So, last summer we were driving in Vermont on vacation, passing through downtown Burlington en route to Ben & Jerry's later in the day, and I saw a sign: Magic Hat Brewing: Next Left.  Didn't plan or research it, but had no choice but to stop.

I'll leave the review of the tour for another post, but one of the samples I had was Blind Faith that ranked really high. However, picking up a bottle of it locally, I didn't come up with the same evaluation.

Big off white head piled up high in the glass and lingers for a long time before falling to a nice thick film with a light lace. English IPA is what's listed on the bottle and the earthy hop aroma on a strong malt biscuit base doesn't disappoint.  Underneath is a sharp yet subdued spice that's peppery along with an almost musty smell.   Warms up well and the nose clarifies with the temperature. Some bitterness in the taste with a mineral or metallic taste blended with the light malt.  Mouthfeel is fairly light.

Not a bad beer, but I'm not the fan of it now that I was last summer.  Looking at Magic Hat's website, Blind Faith is the summer IPA on Tour, so looks like I'm a bit behind the curve on buying and drinking this one.  Still a good beer, but I'll should pay attention a bit more when buying out of the way bottles at a liquor store that I don't know the reputation.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Big Slick Stout (Ale Asylum, Madison, WI)

Big Slick Oatmeal Stout by Ale Asylum

Thanks to beery friend Kat, I'm drinking from a growler of  Ale Asylum's Big Slick Stout tonight without a trip to Madison.  Oatmeal Stout according to the Ale Asylum website, this beer is not your average smooth drinking, light oaty stout.  Big and bold, I somehow forgot that I really like this beer.

Cap of the growler was on super tight with a slight hiss upon opening: nice job.  Head bubbles up only with effort and creates a dark tan to brown streaked head that falls to a thin lace.  Well named, it is the color of dirty motor oil.  Coffee and clean roast in the nose plus a hint of spice from the hops and maybe a little bit of the 7% alcohol.  Full bodied mouthfeel supports a light fresh coffee and roast malt that's complimented by a light dark cherry, chocolate and spice hidden in the background .  Smooth and creamy from the oatmeal.  Dry, slightly bitter finish lingers pleasantly.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Collaboration #2-White IPA (Boulevard Smokestack, Boulevard Brewing, Kansas City, MO)

From the label, the beer is a combination of a Belgian wit and an IPA.  A new style of collaboration ale, Boulevard and Deschutes used a single recipe and brewed it separately at each location.  The Deschutes version is Conflux, which I didn't have the pleasure of drinking.  Regardless, the creativity of the beer community can produce a collaboration white IPA is worth the taste for me.

White head of big vacuous bubbles rush up when poured and nearly overflows.  Falls to a heavy lace on top of an extremely pale straw gold. Floral and spicy nose.  According to the label, the beer used coriander and orange peel of a traditional to wit, plus sage and lemongrass added.  Lemongrass is strongest, but they are all there-- blended with an assertive flowery and west coast citrusy hop that is light and pleasant.  Taste has more hop bite than expected from looking at the beer in the glass. Mouthfeel is light without being watery. The pepper in the description doesn't appear until it warms up and it adds a sharpness to the finish. Overall, my first white IPA is a good experience.  I've had this one in the fridge for a while, which may have been a mistake to let the hops mellow.  Well worth the price of admission, but I wouldn't track down another bottle.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hopslam (Bell's Brewery, Kalamazoo, MI)

Saw Hopslam popping up on several feeds for local beer stores, so took a chance on a snowy evening with bad roads that my local liquor store would have some so I wouldn't have to drive across town. In short, I got mine!  My local store isn't up to the standards of the Four Firkins, but they are starting to do a nice job.  In fact, checking my list, I've gotten Hopslam from Arbor Pointe Liquors for two years in a row.

In the interest of accuracy, I'm writing about the second bottle of the night. Honey fueled 10% alcohol isn't apparent in the taste--just the in feel.  Like Bell's says, it's a "remarkably drinkable rendition of the Double India Pale Ale style."  Poured down the center, a fluffy, not quite white head grows on top of the burnished copper ale.  Lace is thick and luscious down the side of the glass.  Incredible nose with big grapefruit and spice. Smells like a fresh hop ale without the grassy, green element.  From Bell's description, there's six hop varietals in the beer with a "massive" Simcoe dry hop, making it one of the best smelling beers on the market.  Sharp bitterness in the mouth lingers and builds over the course of the session.  Slightly green taste, especially as it warms, with a sharp fruitiness over a bready sweetness and peppery spice that creates a light, drinkable ale without making it thin.  My only criticism is that I wasn't smart enough to buy a second six pack.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Kosmyk Charlie's Y2K Catastrophe Ale (Central Waters, Amherst, WI

Hard to resist a barleywine, so I picked up this one up on a routine stop at the local store.  On the label, it says is was originally brewed for the Y2K survival kit, which I've never heard of before.  But, the mention of Y2K brings back memories of doomsday prophecies and a New Year's Eve of waiting for the world to explode.  Hard to believe it was so long ago that my students don't remember it already.

Light tan head piled high from a high pour over a hazy dark copper ale.  High alcohol (10%) floats above strong dark fruit, raisin, and fig with significant floral hop over top.  Slightly burnt malt with oak supports fig and dark fruit fueled by alcohol hotness.  Aged for a year according to the website, but doesn't say how or in what.  Guessing straight oak barrels because there seems to be wood, but not added whiskey or other flavor.  Sweet and pungent off the back.   Rough and raw flavor that's fun to drink, but lacks a certain elegance.  A good but not great beer from Central Waters that isn't a castaphtrophe, but not a new favorite either.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Happy Harry's Bottle Shop (Grand Forks, ND)

After a disappointing stop at JL beers, we headed over to Happy Harry's Bottle Shop for some barley refreshments to watch with the rest of the hockey game between the Gophers vs the team formerly known as Sioux.

Like many high end beer stores that aren't the Four Firkins, they are a wine store that also has an above average selection of beer.  The back wall of coolers in this photo is loaded with a good range of micros and to the left was a cooler of bigger bottles.

We were there for a fast stop, so didn't survey it all, but left with plenty of beer and felt like I had to make a choice.  So, at least, there was enough beer to get me to think a bit.  Not a bad sign.  Left with almost the entire range of Leech Lake beers that I've written about recently, a bottle of Shipyard Barleywine, two bottles of Sam Adams Infinium and a six of New Belgium 1554.  At this point, I've samples all of the bottles except the second Infinium and didn't hit a bad one in the bunch.  Seems like Happy Harry's handles its beer well and moves enough of it to keep it fresh.  I'll definitely stop at this bottle shop again the next time I find myself in Grand Forks.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

3 Sheets (Leech Lake Brewing, Walker, MN)

3 Sheets by Leech Lake Brewing
Last bottle of the Leech Lake beers, and I saved the 100 IBU Imperial IPA for the finale.  Corked and caged, this is clearly their top of the line beer--though it resisted and the cork was devilishly hard to get out.

An ultra light brown head is rocky and creamy and unevenly rests on top of a dark mahogany ale that's shimmering copper at the edges.  The first sniff after the pour was a strong and clear earthy fuggles hop spice, but it dissipates to a light and pleasant aroma on top a caramel malt. Hop bite is assertive on the tongue; again, earthy with a bit of pepper.  Solid malt base that warms from the 10.5% alcohol.  Bitterness plus a malt sweetness off the back of the tongue finishes well.

I think I expected a bit of this taste from the IPA, but I think the fuggles hops don't build because the low alpha acid content (3.5-5.5% according to John Palmer's hop variety chart).  While 100 IBU, its perceived bitterness is more like an above average IPA.   This strong beer is fun to drink, and I look forward to tasting it on tap when I get a chance to visit Leech Lake Brewing Co to follow up on this set of bottles.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Driven Snow (Leech Lake Brewing, Walker, MN)

Next beer in the Leech Lake horizontal flight is Driven Snow, a robust porter according to the label.  Fluffy dark tan head lingers for a bit.  My wife was interested in it briefly, but the head looked too dark for her.  She tell can from the color of the head for stouts and porters if it will have too much coffee, roast or astringent flavors for her.  She was right, as usual, and this beer's flavor has significant roast, full bodied malt and a black strap molasses twang.  From the bottle description, This beer is a porter brewed with molasses, so that makes sense.  Also lists the IBUs at 60 from the house Fuggles, which appears a bit high for style (according to the BJCP guidelines).  Pretty tasty and the earthy hoppiness blends well with the roast flavors of the porter.  As it warms, the hops move forward in the taste.  My only critique is the body seems a bit light for a stronger beer, but not a flaw--just makes it overly easy to drink.  A very good beer that may not win any awards because it's out of style, but my favorite IPA (Town Hall Masala Mama) hasn't won an awards for the same reason and I don't care.

Monday, February 6, 2012

47º North IPA (Leech Lake Brewing, Walker, MN)

After the first two bottles of tasty Leech Lake brews, I'm looking forward to getting to the big dog IPAs that are left in the beer fridge.  Next is 47º North IPA that's 93 IBUs of pure hoppy Fuggles fun. The name refers to Leech Lake's GPS latitude and, according to the label, you won't find nothing like it anywhere below the 47th parallel.

Similar look to the Blindside Pale Ale, but definitely a bit darker--more of a copper with only the thinnest of old gold highlights. Off white head bubbles up for a bit before falling to a thin, lingering film.  Nose is earthy with a very subtle spice that can be easy to miss.  Taste has a malty caramel base with an assertive but not overwhelming hop bite. Flavor is a bit muddled, and the body of the beer is thin.

I was imagining the Blindside on steroids, but it didn't live up to my expectations.  Had I drank Blindside and 47º North side by side and blind, I would have reversed them except that the bitterness of the IPA is little more in spite of the 93 IBUs.  However, the nose of Blindside is much bigger and enjoyable.  A decent IPA, but clearly not my favorite so far.  

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Blacktop Blonde (TailGate Beer, San Diego, CA)

Looking through the fridge for this evening's beer, and came across this one from TailGate and figured today was the day to drink it with the Super Bowl.

Stark white head that bubbles up and leaves a surprising lace. Straw gold would be a bit too dark of a description; effervescent and clear in the glass.  American lager cream corn in the nose, but there is also a light malt and spice that goes with it.  Spice could be hops or maybe even the yeast. Checking out the website for TailGate Beer, it reads like it's an unmentioned aroma hop that can be credited.  Lightly sweet malt with a minor earthy hop underneath of the continued cream corn.  Mouthfeel is fuller than it looks.  The beer warms up fairly well, which is a test that most beers of this style fail miserably.

Honestly, I bought this beer because it was extremely cheap and to tick off a new brewery on the database, but it's better than expected.  It did make Maxim magazines top beer list (according to the website), so maybe I shouldn't have been surprised.  Not going to buy another one (in case you missed the sarcasm of the last sentence), but not upset about drinking this one for the big game.

In looking for the link for the Maxim beer list, I found a few other interesting beer related items.  In the Booze section, Maxim beer awards come in ten categories.  Blacktop Blonde is listed under Drink of Champions, which is beer to drink when men hit other men in an athletic way.  An article that is a craft beer glossary is also interesting to for not only what they included but what was left out.

Cheers and enjoy the game!

Alternating proprietorship: new creativity in craft beer

Badger Hill logo from
Not being a professional brewers, it seems to me that those of us who are mainly drinkers miss the finer points of the business side of beer.  An article on Minnesota Beer Activists discusses in detail the relationship between Lucid Brewing and another upstart brewery called Badger Hill Brewing Co.  It's a business partnership known as alternating proprietorship (AP) in which two breweries exist side by side in the same facility.  In this case, in addition to sharing space and equipment, Lucid head brewer Eric Biermann will be the Badger Hill brewer until they get to a point that they can hire their own head brewer.  Interesting idea, and sounds like a great way to make more beer.

Pretty much every start up history I've read or heard on a brewery tour, begins with the milk tank or other franken-brewery story that was their way to control costs to get beer flowing.  For a larger, successful brewery, the next part of the story is how they needed to re-invest to build the next larger brewery.  This pattern always seemed wasteful to me, but there didn't seem to be much of an alternative.

AP sounds like a great idea that can mitigate the perceived negatives of contract brewing or the real costs of starting a brewery from scratch.  A quick search turned up this entry on a legal blog that gives a bit of history to the idea.  According to the article, AP gained traction in 2005 when the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) issued a circular to highlight this less expensive idea to start a brewery.  Brewing is still a lot of hard work and not without risk, as attested by this blog of a budding professional brewer who found the idea interesting but has put the brewery on hold.  This recent post on the San Diego beer blog highlights interest in using AP as way to increase production for local breweries.  Since my research wasn't exhaustive, I'm guessing other beer geeks turning hopeful brewer or brewery owner are exploring AP as a path to their beer dreams. At the heart of all great craft beer is creativity, and it clearly goes beyond clever names and hop additions.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Blindside Pale Ale (Leech Lake Brewing, Walker, MN)

Blindside by Leech Lake
On to bottle two from Leech Lake Brewing--Blindside Pale Ale.  Needed to youtube a 360 blindside to get the wakeboard reference of "Just like a wakeboarder--tasty trick, smooth landing."  As an English teacher beer drinker, I like the clearly revised and well worded description on the label.

Very lovely in the glass.  Hazy burnt orange with golden highlights, this ale sports an off white head that falls with a nice lace.  All fuggles hops in the beer, which I read (someplace--don't remember where) that Leech Lake only uses fuggles.  The website doesn't confirm this clearly but every description only lists fuggles.  Musty, earthy nose with a fruity smell like an overripe orange plus a sharp peppery or spice note.  Spice is up front on the tongue with a sharp hop twang that lingers along the side.  Supported by a much fuller body than expected for a pale ale.  Carbonation sparkles on the second pour to swell the head.  I'm impressed with this beer and starting to think a trip to Leech Lake is in order.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Beer and Comics

Articles like this make me wish my comic geek nephew Dan was still around.  Pairing beer with comic book characters--cool. Unfortunately, the geek writing the article from Quirk Books website seems to know more about characters than beer.  The beer writer analyzes the choices did a better job.  From the original article, I did somewhat like Daredevil imbibing with an India Pale Ale--his heightened senses would enjoy a hoppy beer. Ghostrider drinking Rogue Dead Guy and The Hulk with a bottle of Brooklyn Monster Ale were pretty spot on as well.  The Brookston Beer Bulletin does a better job with The Punisher swilling Steel Reserve, Thor drinking Redhook Long Hammer and Silver Surfer tossing back a Maui Big Swell IPA. 

Here are some suggestions for matched beers or beers I think they might like after a long day of crime fighting from my taste database.  I was having fun playing with the names, and didn't really think about the beer itself all that much.  I'll let you make your own connections and explanations:

Batman:  Barley John's Dark Knight or their Alfred's Porter, Surly  Darkness, Three Floyd's Dark Lord, 21st Amendment Back in Black, Brouwerij de Molen Bat Out of Hell, Deschutes Enigma Pale Ale and Hair of the Dog Adam.  
Captain America:  Brew Free or Die IPA by 21st Amendment. 
Cyclops: Capital EisPhyre and Granite City Double Vision, 
Daredevil: AB Bare Knuckle Stout, Blue Grass Hell for Certain, Brooklyn Black Ops, Deschutes Hop in the Dark, Great Waters Fire King Coal, Magic Hat Blind Faith, New Holland Night Tripper and Victory Hop Devil.  
Green Lantern:  Ale Asylum Triple Nova, Dark Horse Plead the Fifth, Hillstead Farm Double Galaxy and Town Hall Solar Eclipse.  
Ghostrider: Bell's Hell Hath No Fury, Ale Asylum Ambergeddon, Brouwerij het Anker Lucifer, Fitger's El Diablo and Alaskan Smoked Porter.   
Iron Man: Bell's Two Hearted Ale, Fulton Libertine, Gray's Rock Hard Red, Great Waters Skip & Go Naked, Jolly Pumpkin La Roja and Stone Arrogant Bastard.
Storm: Hop Back Summer Lightening, Schell's Snowstorm and Town Hall Thunderstorm.  
Superman: Amnesia Slow Train Porter, Dogfish Head Immort Ale, Flossmoor Station Train Wreck of  Flavor,  Lagunitas Maximus and Surly Bender.  
The Flash: Boulder Flashback.  
The Hulk: Amnesia Brewing Amnesia Summer Ale, Elliot Bay Demolition, Great Dane Behemoth Barleywine and Surly Furious.  
The Joker: Arcadia Cereal Killer, Lucky Bucket Certified Evil, Mad River Serious Madness and  Magic Hat Wacko.  
The Penguin: Boulder's Killer Penguin.  
Underdog: Abita Turbodog, Flying Dog Doggie Style, Double Dog and Horn Dog, Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws and Thirsty Dog Old Leghumper.
Wolverine: Odell Mercenary and Rush River The Unforgiven.