Thursday, March 29, 2012

Alaskan Black IPA (Alaskan Brewing, Juneau, AK)

Alaskan Black IPA @ Hopkins Tavern
For my stop at the Hopkins Tavern, the Alaskan Black IPA was the best surprise of the stop.

The bartender poured the draft a bit hard, so the head was a frothy dark tan.  Mouthfeel on first sip is somewhere between creamy and silky--full bodied and satisfying.  Good lace on the glass, so a nice serving job by the tavern.  Clean roasted malt in the nose, but not burnt or acrid--like standing back a bit from a hardwood campfire.  Earthy and floral hop in the nose--some grapefruit in the background.   Roast is just as pleasant in the taste and there's a very respectable hop bite with a slight fruity tint (from hop?).  Dry finish leaves me wanting more.  Excellent Black IPA that I need to do again, but haven't in the intervening two months it took for me to post the write up.

Took me a while to find the description on the Alaskan website under spring release (that I drank in January).  Alaskan emphasizes the high hops and citrus, though my draft was understated compared to the touting.  However, my experience was significantly better than the reviews on BeerAdvocate.  While there are those who reflect my high praise, we are in the minority.  Maybe I need to try it again to confirm or deny my first draft.  At any rate, the draft above was well loved and enjoyed right after the picture.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tripel Karmeliet (Brouwerij Bosteels, Buggenhout, Belgium)

For the Brown Bag Blind Tasting by the Better Beer Society, I received four glasses for my second place finish on the day.  For each glass, I decided to drink each beer in its glass in appreciation for the gift.  Beer number one: Tripel Karmeliet.

Effervescent light golden ale bubbles up continuously to the lingering, frothy white head.  Apple, sugar, light malt and spice in the nose.  Taste bubbles off the tongue with a peppery and yeasty spice over a full bodied sweetness.  With completely unapparent alcohol, this perfectly balanced beer is a classic of the style.

One of the first times we had this beer, Gloria and I were at the Minnesota Food and Wine Experience.  Whoever was pouring TK for the importer gave us a super secret tip--that I'm guessing he told everyone.  He sent us to the fresh chocolate cookies two rows over and this spectacular combination works well  for newbies and geeks alike.

Tripel Karmeliet is a world class example of the style that's a must for everyone, especially since it's one of those rare beers that is truly wonderful for all types of beer drinkers.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

No beer? You must be sick!

I'm drinking my first beer in nearly a week.  Since all of the positive impacts from drinking beer stem from daily imbibing, I tend to drink regularly and moderately.  For me to miss a day--something is generally wrong.  In this case, I have a semi-severe respiratory infection. Not wanting a beer as my new standard for being sick (potentially replacing the old standard of fever induced leg cramps) was established on a trip to London during the winter of 2006.  

After Christmas, we headed to London via Amsterdam for a new year holiday.  I was excited--a week of drinking in the historic home of cask ales.  I felt great getting on the plane, but a couple of hours from landing in Amsterdam, I felt sick, ran to the bathroom and promptly left my Northwest cuisine in the vacuum toilet.  Ugh.  I hoped I was just airsick, but that was only the beginning.

We landed at Schipol airport in Amsterdam. While walking to our next gate, I simply threw up in the air in front of me.  Couldn't stop it.  I motioned I was sorry to the poor airport employee who witnessed my projectile vomiting.  Getting worse now, and struggling sit upright, I crawled under the seats at the gate because it was the only protected way to lay down.  

A flight, a train ride and a few minor incidents later, we made it to downtown London.  Desperately looking for our hotel so I could lie down, we ducked into what we thought was our hotel.  As it turned out, we were one door early and stood in a swanky lobby with marble floors and a doorman.  While Gloria was finding out at the desk that we were in the wrong place, I asked the doorman for a bathroom.  He politely explained to me in a nice British accent that the lavatory was for guests only.  I pointedly replied that I was going to throw up on his shoes if he didn't find me a bathroom.  He said, "This way sir" and I left a bit of myself in a top notch London bathroom.

Globe Theatre on the bank of the Thames
While I moaned softly in our room while watching the BBC, Gloria very nicely re-arrange our entire trip around my ability to get around, postponing any strenuous activities like climbing to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral.  Finally, on the afternoon of the third day while on a slow walk near The Globe Theater, my attention was peaked by a waterfront pub called the Founder's Arms.  I slowly sipped a Wells Bombardier.  Although it was not a stellar beer, it was a well served, cask ale in London and the start of several great drinking experiences on this trip before the new year.  

From a discussion with our school nurse and the sudden, explosive nature of my illness en route to London, I believe I picked a nasty bug known as a norovirus, often associated with widespread cruise ship illness in recent years.  Luckily, to date, this is the only time I've ever been sick on a trip.  Usually, when I retell the story, I end with the tagline "You know I was sick when I didn't have a beer in London for three days!"  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Alive! (Mikkeller, Copenhagen, DK)

I had this one in the fridge for a while--forgot it in the back.  Hard to pass up a wild ale at the Four Firkins , especially from the funky brewer Mikkeller.

Fluffy off white head rolls up to the top of the glass, and tries to run away with each pour.  Hazy burnt orange beer that seems to clarify as I drank.  Toffee, baker's chocolate, strong spiciness and light funk with increasing earthiness as it warms.  Bone dry and thins significantly as it warms.  I'd drink this one fairly fast if I had another.  Very good beer for the night, though I'm heading for some water to work on the cottonmouth.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Organic Real Lager (Laverstoke Park Farms, Overton, UK)

After the tournament in Northfield, a few of us headed back to The Contented Cow to chat and relax in the sun after a fine day of speech competition.  While languishing for another beer because of a disorganized waitress, I headed to the bar myself to pick up another.  Not able to get a bottle list, I lingered in the back of a group also trying to get served and was attracted to an empty on the bar with a rather interesting label.

It was Laverstoke Park Farms Organic Real Lager from Overton in the United Kingdom.  While my table mates were a bit surprised by the lightness of my selection (and the cartoonish label), I explained that I got it simply because I'd never heard of it and it would tick a new brewery on the list.

Looks like an interesting organic farm with beer being a small part of an overall food production.   The beer is listed on the website under a link named Ale, Lager & Biltong.  Evidently, Biltong is similar to jerky but not as sweet.  I'm confused as to why these are pressed together on a single web page, but...there it is.  Also, not sure what "Real Lager" means in the context of "Real Ale" in the CAMRA/UK sense.  Guessing it's just a play on words that it's a "real" lager because it's organic as opposed to a beer related definition--but only a guess.  

Chatting rather than taking notes, I remember only that the hops were clean and refreshing, and had an earthy and spicy quality.  I would've liked a bit more hop, but it was above average for a light lager.  Medium sweet malt in the nose and taste as well, but missing the creamed corn smell of an American light lager.  I would drink one again over a born in the USA macro in a heart beat.  

Not paying attention because my life is rather chaotic at the moment, this beer was inadvertently entry 6000 on the database.   This is total entries with double/triple/quadruple/etc entries beers based on form (draft, bottle, sample, etc).  The shorter list of completely unique commercial beers regardless of form is 4862 at the moment.  Guessing that beer 5000 will happen this summer or fall, depending on whether or not I hit a festival in the near future and how successful the trip to Belgium is this summer.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The beers of Boom Island Brewing (Minneapolis, MN)

I took a trip to the Four Firkins for an early tasting of Boom Island beer, but have been slow in getting around to drinking this one.  I absolutely love the story of this breweries start up, but rather than me retell it, check out the Heavy Table article.

In part, the samples I tasted weren't as exciting as I had hoped.  As it turned out, taking home a few bottles was a good idea to give it a better chance.

First up is the Silvius Pale Ale.  Hazy copper pale ale that has a spicy nose over a musty malt taste. Thin head falls quickly.  Overall impression is muddled with some interesting blended flavors.  Better than the sample and an excellent beer for the night, but I won't be making a habit of this beer.

Busy weekend, so it took me a couple of days to get to the next Boom Island beer: Throprock IPA.  Thick, rocky off white head piles up high and hangs on through the initial tastings.  Mixture of spices in the nose from hops and Belgian yeast are blended and layered so that it's impossible for me to tell the source.  Aggressive hoppy bite that's mitigated by a strong malt backbone and an oily smoothness that creates a musky bitterness that's very enjoyable.  IBUs aren't listed on the website, but I suspect they are fairly high to achieve the perceived bitterness inside of this 8% ABV beer.  Warmth helps the beer, and strong peppery notes (that I love) move forward--great Sunday afternoon beer to sip.  Looking forward to trying this one on tap to see if it brightens up the beer a bit.

Last Boom Island in my possession: Hoodoo Dubbel.  It just arrived at the Four Firkins when I stopped a week or two later than the initial Boom Island tasting.  Cork almost flew through my grip as it released with a loud pop.  Large vacuous and irregular bubbles formed in the head; bubbles tightened up on subsequent pours.  Strong nose of dark cherry chocolate, heavy malt and a big, clean spice floating over top.  Taste flows exactly from the nose with a assertive carbonic bite.  Guessing that this particular bottle became a little heavy on the carbonation.  I like the beer well enough to try another bottle to find out.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Leech Lake Brewing beer philosophy

On a recent trip to Grand Forks, I picked up an array of Leech Lake beers and had good time drinking their portfolio--which surprised me slightly.  It was surprising only because my first samples at the Autumn Brew Review in 2010 and 2011 didn't match up to the bottles.  With the vagaries of festival tasting, getting a less than accurate impression of a brewery can happen. 

In reading reviews, I saw a statement that Leech Lake Brewing only used Fuggles hops.  In an email response from the brewer, Greg confirms that he only uses Fuggles hops for his beers and likes them for their versatility for bittering, taste and aroma, but also for their ability to balance the malty English beers brewed at LLB.  Because of brewing capacity, personal choice and the hop friendly hard water of the Leech Lake area, Greg plans to continue his focus on styles from the United Kingdom. 

From the website list, I'm only missing a bottle of the Loch Leech Monster, a Scottish ale, and hope to rectify that later this year with a visit to the taproom.  Even if I don't like the beer, the leech monster on the label is worth the price of admission. 

Previous reviews of Leech Lake beers:
3 Sheets
47º North IPA
Blindside Pale Ale
Driven Snow
Minobii ESB

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spring Fever "beer basket without a basket" update

Spring Fever Cabaret 2012.  Cate the Great, winning bidder
of the basket, me and Gloria in costume as "Gloria" for the
All in the Family skit.  Thanks to James for the pic.  
Very happy to report that my first attempt to put together a beer basket for the Spring Fever Cabaret & Silent Auction went well.  Happily, several people bid on the beer basket without a basket.  I keep calling it a basket, but I didn't have the time or talent to create a presentation and just sent the beer in for the silent auction.  It worked out, but I will hopefully do a better job next year.  Here's the description of this year's beer basket.

For future shows, I'm starting to plan now and intend to create a new, unique basket each year based on my beer travels.  We are going to GALA in Denver and I hope to pick up some bottles there.  Also, we're going to be in Belgium and France this summer, so I'm hoping to find some excellent local-only beers that aren't available in the US.  For those who know a bit about cellaring, I will be looking for high alcohol, big and/or hoppy beers that will age well until spring for the cabaret.  With those bottles I find on the road, I'm leaning towards filling out the collection with Minnesota craft beer favorites.  Maybe a combination of local beers traveled to Minnesota by me will be interesting for the auction.  But, the plan is very amendable, and I will simply look for the best beers to include in the collection and let it grow organically through my beer experiences.

Friday, March 9, 2012

La Trappe Quadrupel (Bierbrouwerij de Koningshoeven, Berkel-Enschot, Netherlands)

Sharing a bottle of La Trappe Quad tonight with my wife.  As the only Dutch Trappist brewery, I am admittedly smitten with Koningshoeven beers.  Our first trip outside of the United States was to the Netherlands to visit the home country.

Hazy copper ale with a light brown head that pours thinly into my La Trappe glass I bought at Koningshoeven on our visit in 2003.  Dates, figs with oak and light spice in the nose.  Dark fruit with a hint of black cherry, heavy caramel and an oily resin taste.  Dry finish that counterbalances the sweetness of the malt.

Classic example of a Trappist quadrupel that should be tried by all who pursue beer knowledge.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Beer glass down!

Beer Geek at St. Paul Summerfest
Since starting my beer quest, I've imbibed at over 50 beer festivals since 2001.  In that year, I attended the first Autumn Brew Review in Minneapolis and have been lucky enough to drink every ABR since.  While every festival has its ups and downs, I've prided myself on returning home with my glass from every festival.  Every beer festival veteran knows the hoots and humiliation that comes with the unique sound of shattering glass.  The entire festival seemingly joins in raised voice to mock the drunken dropper.  I think my pride stems from successfully avoiding being the focus of the crowd.

At the 2010 ABR, my boast changed.  Instead of bragging that I've taken home every glass, now I can only say that I've never broken a glass.

It's the end of the festival and in the waning moments before getting the traditional last taste of a festival favorite, I noticed that the porta-potty lines were short.  So, I head over to relieve myself in anticpation of a long walk downtown to the light rail from the historic Old Grain Belt Brewery complex in Nordeast Minneapolis.  
Festival glasses.  From left to right:
Winterfest, Great Taste, ABR, GABF and Real Ale Festival

To understand the tragedy, knowledge of a beer strap is necessary.  For those not familiar, I'm displayed above in all my beer geek glory, beer strap holding my tasting glass so I can take notes.  While going to the bathroom in the uniquely male manner, I bumped the bottom of my glass with my "beer" belly and...out it tumbled into the porta-potty with a sickening plop, and a day's worth of human excrement vacuumed closed behind it.

Needless to say, I passed on my last sample of the day.  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Old Guardian 2012 (Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA)

Stone Old Guardian 2012 
Bias alert--Old Guardian is one of my favorite all time beers.  In the past, I've had to buy it online from Beer on the Wall, import it from California friends or buy it in Indiana during our annual Purdue road trip.  When I found out that Old Guardian was coming in later in the day when I was buying beer for the One Voice fundraiser beer basket, I was very excited.  The next day I called to reserve a case of twelve to last me through the year, and maybe age a few.

The last case of Old Guardian I bought was when I asked my sister to pick me up some bottles when she still lived in LA.   Stopping at the local liquor store, she was able to buy a case and did so.  I took eleven bottles home in my travel backpack on the plane.  This was the 2003 vintage that was the old recipe, and I have two bottles left that I will review as a comparison to 2010 and 2012 versions later.

Today's bottle has a creamy pale brown head on top of a orange tinted brown ale.  My wife says the color is a liquefied root beer candy.  Nose is mellow when cold, and experience has taught me to sip this one slow--and not just for the 11% alcohol kick.  The beer opens up nicely and is a favorite Sunday afternoon beer that I can lazily drink through a fall football game or a movie.  Alcohol is apparent in the nose as is the 85 IBUs.   Strong hop on top of fig, dark fruit and caramel maltiness.  Pleasant and perfectly balance.  Hops bite hard on the tongue to counter balance the syrupy malt backbone of this beer along with a resin and oiliness reminiscent of Belgian quadruple.

Stone's description explains the change in character for 2012.  Chinook, Calypso and Cascade hops were substituted for the recent usual East Kent Goldings.  I like the change, but it is clearly different--like seeing an old friend after years a part. If you are a follower of the hop god at all, I would try a bottle of this beer.  

342 (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)

Town Hall 342
During my week of barrel aged beers, I picked up a growler of a Town Hall single hop beer simply called 342. This is an experimental high alpha aroma hop from Hop Union according to farmhouse brewing supply.

Creamy thick head of extremely tight bubbles on a shiny copper colored pale ale.  Singular hop is strong citrus, lemon, light spice and grassiness.  Aromatic and pleasant on top of a bready malt.  Significant bite lingers and floats above a solid malt backbone.  Sweetly bites for a finish.  

I remember the draft on site being brighter, but time and circumstances conspiring to delay the drinking of this growler for over a week may account for this difference.  Both versions were excellent beer drinking experiences and I expect HBC 342 will get a cool, marketable name that will inspire more hop laden beers in the future.