Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fulton Beer (Minneapolis, MN)

Finally, the stars aligned and I made it to Fulton Brewery for a tour and for some drafts. The Minnesota Home Brewers toured last Monday night as a club, which is always my first choice for doing a tour.  However, I was feeling ill and had to miss it. Since they club obviously wouldn't be doing Fulton again for a while, I capitulated and went by myself for the release of the fall seasonal, The Libertine, and for The Anchor Fish & Chips food truck.

There's pay parking all around the brewery, but it's with credit card or cash by machine and number. On a Saturday, it was just a quarter an hour.

I walked in a few minutes after noon and the place is already lively. I had to ask twice before finding the right person to sign up with for the tour, but finally got it. By quarter after noon, the tour for 1 pm was approaching half full, the 2 pm tour was empty, but a group had already signed up for the 4 pm tour. If you want to do a later tour, it seems to be fine to send someone to sign up and everyone can show up later.

View of bar from far side with The Libertine
My main mistake on the day was underestimating the temperature. The tap room today is outside temperature from a garage door being open to an old dock that has a railing now. Everyone else with fall jackets looked quite cozy drinking their beers.

Around the pub, barrels lazily sitting on racks on the wall opposite of the bar, and a mad assortment of long and square tables with a couple of high tops. Fulton doesn't win the award for matching decor, but it  doesn't seem like anyone cares.

What I assume is the original garage homebrewer set up that started the company (confirmed on the tour)  is proudly displayed on top of a large cooler. A large screen TV with football is above the bar to provide patrons with digital entertainment, as needed, but few care to look its way.  Retro rock tunes from high school are playing over top the din of friends chatting.  Fulton reminds me a lot of the Denver Beer Co, but smaller. So, pretty much a homebrewer's dream garage to brew and serve friends--except every beer is $5.

The Anchor Fish & Chips with Sweet Child of Vine
Since it's the new release, I started with The Libertine, an imperial red ale. Hazy amber in the goblet with copper edges in the light. Off white head falls without a lace around a nose that's rye and hop spicy, though the blend is hard to distinguish what comes from what. A thick caramel flows from the nose to tongue and ends with a rye kick. 8.5% shows some legs on the side of the glass and adds an oilness that's almost sticky to the taste. Very nice beer and can see why folks are coming out for it.

Also, there's three casks of The Libertine on various flavors: red oak, cherry and hard maple. Guy at the bar was drinking all four side by side--not a bad choice among them he said. Started with the red oak since it was more unusual: no head and the nose is muted, but the heavy oak came through in the taste, thick and chewy. Seems a bit much at first, but it's growing on me as the flavor washes away the original Libertine.

The food truck sit outside the door and bringing food in is welcome, but bringing your beer outside is not allowed. The doorman checking IDs nicely watched my beer while I got lunch, but groups were sending a representative to bring back food to the tables.  Most folks were eating fish and chips from The Anchor, but at least one family walked in with McDonald's.

I purposely saved getting a draft of Sweet Child of Vine to drink with my fish and chips, which was a very good plan on my part; however, not that hard of a call to drink and English styled IPA with fish and chips.  Out of time and room in my tank, I took home growlers of The Libertine, Sweet Child of Vine, and Lonely Blonde to compare at home this week.

Overall, a good day at Fulton that I plan to repeat in the future, especially the next time I go to a Twins game down the street from the tap room.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Libertine (Fulton Beer, Minneapolis, MN)

By coincidence, my stop at Fulton Beer for the tour just happen to be the tapping of their seasonal brew The Libertine.  Besides having it on draft, there were three firkins of spiked Libertine: added cherry or hard maple, and one aged in red oak.

Pretty beer in the glass that's maroon at the center and blood red with light.   8.5% alcohol is apparent, leaving a peppery note that blends with light hops, cherry, caramel and a hint of chocolate.  Rich, oily mouthfeel  that's surprisingly light with dark cherry and a trace hop bitterness.  I drank my draft at the tap room too fast and warming balances the beer for my home pour.

Not a new top ten brew for me, but I like sipping it at home on a fall evening while watching a movie.  Smooth and relaxing warmth on a chilly night.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sweet Child of Vine (Fulton Beer, Minneapolis, MN)

Being my first trip to Fulton, there was no way that I could go home without a growler of the IPA--so I did.  It it would be hard to pass up a beer so cleverly called Sweet Child of Vine.  Just a cool name when so many IPA variations have been exhausted.

Second pour builds a thick, creamy head the color of a dirty snowdrift over an amber marmalade ale.  I've always thought that this is more of a workhorse IPA--not that pretty in the glass, but gets the job done.  Assertive, grassy hops in the nose that's a punch in the face of Simcoe and Glacier (according to Fulton) and a smooth caramel maltiness following up behind to console my  bruised taste buds.  Taste follow the nose into a grassy bite that leaves no mistake that this is an IPA.  Sweet, full bodied IPA that's almost chewy.

On the level, this is not my favorite IPA; however, I can see how it could be someone's favorite IPA.  My draft on site was the best I've tasted of Sweet Child, a notch better than samples elsewhere and this growler.  Well brewed and packing a punch, Sweet Child is definitely an ode to the hop vine.

Some advice.  Drink this one slow and sip hard at the peak.  Distracted by other endeavors while sipping the second glass, the warmth opens up the beer more than a bit.  The harshness in the nose and taste mellows, and the sweetness grows in complexity with an underlying taste somewhere between burnt brown sugar and black strap molasses.  With heavy lace on a beer clean glass, this IPA is growing on me by the pint.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lonely Blonde (Fulton Brewing, Minneapolis, MN)

Picked up a growler of Lonely Blonde after a tour Fulton Brewing.  While, normally, I'm not the target audience for blonde ale, I wanted to give all three in growlers a chance.

Almost white head with irregular bubbles over a straw yellow ale with hints of amber.  Fresh bread maltiness and a hint of corn in the nose with an elegant spice note and green apple from the 29 IBUs, and maybe from the yeast a bit.    Clean malt and spice on the tongue that's supported by a heavier than expected mouthfeel.  Almost 5% ABV, I'm guessing a good malt bill contributes to the fullness.  Still a light beer, the spice floats above the malt with some impact.  Nicely balanced beer that even warms up well for yellow beer.

My first sample of Lonely Blonde was at Autumn Brew Review in 2010, and my impression was far less favorable.  My guess is that tough festival conditions and a small sample of a more delicate beer impaired a fair tasting.  Fresh and from the brewery, it's a solid beer that's refreshing with a complex taste that explains why a large number of folks are drinking with a Lonely Blonde at the tap room today.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Rye Hatter (New Holland Brewing, Holland, MI)

New Holland is a great brewery that produces one of my all time favorites: Dragon's Milk.  Mad Hatter IPA is their flagship brew, though I haven't always liked it.  But, Mad Hatter has always been zany with randalized, dry hopped and other versions at festivals.  For their 15th Anniversary, New Holland is hatterizing seven different version of their flagship.

I came across Rye Hatter at Chicone's and couldn't pass up the new version.  Hazy copper ale with an off white head that builds quickly and lingers.  Nose is an assertive hop blend with a pungent rye note.   In the taste, the rye battles with the hops for supremacy over a caramel sweetness that attempts to balance but comes up short.  Dry finish keeps the rye and hop lingering in the mouth.

A good beer that's an overflowing punch of flavor that I'm enjoying for tonight, but I probably won't pick up another bottle of it.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hopsession Super Pale Ale (Brau Brothers, Lucan, MN)

Hopsession is a pale yellow with a bright white head that leaves a thin lace  Brilliantly bright and fruity nose full of grapefruit, mango and a hint of lemon over a light, bready malt.  The sessionable part of the beer is the 4.2% ABV, but a small malt bill doesn't lead to a light mouthfeel.  Smooth and chewy with an assertive, grassy hop bite that loses some of the fruit from the nose.

Delivering a hop bite is always a relative matter.  Bigger the beer, the more hop is needed.  Brau Brothers does a nice job of creating a smooth American hop delivery vehicle without making it thin.  Hopsession is a great go-to beer to have in the fridge for the summer.  According to the website, it's only around until 100 Yard Dash comes out in the fall.  I'm going to assume from this sixpack (and some of the BA reviews), that'll it'll come back again soon.

The Boulder Tap House (St. Cloud, MN)


Recently, the last day of CTAM has conflicted with Autumn Brew Review.  Last year, I went to the morning meetings in Bloomington and quickly headed down to the fest.  With CTAM in St. Cloud this year, I finally capitulated and missed my first ABR since it started.  In reality, it's a relief to break the string and I'll go again when I'm motivated in the future.  For a re-cap of this year's festival, read my friend Al who continued his string.

However, this left me with the urge for a beer score and The Boulder Tap was going to be it.  Across the street from the hotel, the Boulder Tap taunted me through the weekend and I headed over under the guise of checking it out for next year's conference to replace the disappointing beer of our stop at Granite City.  I announced my intention and nearly a dozen folks joined me for some convention afterglow before heading our separate ways.

I took point, got a table set up for the gang and perused the 41 taps for something new. Hard to pass up a beer named Super IPA, so ordered the New Belgium, which arrived in a small goblet and had a great nose and pleasing bite.  A very "super" start.

With very little in the way of vegetarian offerings on the menu, I settled what turned out to be tasty fish tacos.  Being distracted by good conversation, I hastily ordered the next unfamiliar beer when asked by an attentive waitress: Lucette Brewing's Shining Dawn. Very light pale yellow Belgian ale. With a mouthfeel slightly more full than it appears, it's a solid Belgian that has some assertive spice but won't scare the neophyte.  Wrong beer to go with fish tacos, but that's my fault.  Favorable reports on the food from the gang, so I'm guessing we'll return during CTAM next year for one of the evening meals. We ordered two desserts to share for the dozen of us, but a bite of each was enough.

With most of a pint left when everyone left for home, I drifted over to the bar to watch the rest of the Purdue football game on a big screen TV to finish my Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA.  I love the name of this beer, but I wasn't crazy about it: stark white head that falls with a film over a hazy amber hued yellow ale. A little watery but bright hops blended with fruity yeast esters redeems the beer a bit.

Two things I love in a bar: comfortable bars stools that aren't too tall and under bar hooks for my bag, both of which contributed to nearly two hours of reading while sipping at the beautiful U shaped granite bar.  One of our group noted that this building used to be a Timber Lodge. A bartender confirmed this and added that it was abandoned for a couple of years before being reborn on Jan 16th of this year as The Boulder Tap House.

Final draft of the trip: Dark Horse Plead the Fifth
Sitting at the bar, I noticed a lot of macro brew and hard drinks besides the craft brew. The bar conveniently puts the tap date on every beer; for example, the Hop Session had been on since 6/23 and it's mid September now. Looking over the other dates, this was an anomaly.  I admire the honesty--a lot--but it seems that they may be ahead of the curve for the clientele.  However, as counterpoint, the Tallgrass 8 Bit with it's assertive to harsh hop bite had already blown the keg.  So, maybe the locals are breaking the hop curve.

Overall, The Boulder Tap House is an excellent stop that was a suitable salve for missing ABR and a bar that I'm looking forward to revisiting again, especially since CTAM is planned for the same location for the next two years.  Cheers to us!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

16th Anniversary IPA (Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA)

Second bottle of 16th Anniversary from Stone and really love this beer.  A quick look at BA and... it seems I'm in the minority.  So be it.

Sunset orange ale in the glass with yellow highlights around the edge.  Creamy fluff for a head that lingers for a long time.  Assertive nose of grapefruit, clear lemon, full spice and toasted malt.  Taste is sharply acidic and full bodied.  Rye from the description shows up as a lingering spice on the tongue.  This IPA fills the mouth with malt and spice that doesn't disappear.  Along with the nose, it's a full experience.  According to Stone, lemon verdena is in this beer, a lemon scented herb (I didn't know).

I have a weakness for lemongrass and lemon beers, so this one is no different.  I enjoy it a lot.  My buddy Al likes it better than some of the BA reviews as well, so I'll stand with Al.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Beers of New Mexico

Coming from a gig in New Mexico, beery friend Robin brought samples along to Denver to share.  Had a few there, but because I kept finding enough new stuff to try along the way, these made their way home.

Monk's Ale from Abbey Beverage Co in Abiquiu, New Mexico is first up.  Dark amber ale that's cloudy and a light Belgian yeast spice in the nose.  Average Belgian pale ale that's pleasant enough but not achieving enlightenment.

Abbey Beverage is a business of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine monastery if I'm reading it correctly.  Even if the beer isn't heavenly, it's good to help with God's work.

With a left turn at Albuquerque, I pour a Marble Brewery Red Ale and found a bit more bite.  Deep maroon ale full of west coast hop smell.  MB website says Crystal, Cascade and Simcoe hops.  Maybe should have grabbed another one.

Heading east to Moriarty, NM, next is Rio Grande Pancho Verde Chili Cerveza.  Not a fan of chili beers in general, this water yellow ale does little to change my mind.  As the website promises, the mild roasted chili doesn't overwhelm and has a fresh chili that actually improves a bit when it warms--a rare quality in a chili beer.  However, I think I would have to be in the full heat of a New Mexico summer to find myself reaching for this bottle.

I saved the Happy Camper IPA from Santa Fe Brewing as the last one.  Just guessing the hoppy beer would be my favorite.  Not bad.  A darker than expected amber IPA with an off white head.  Earthy nose that has plenty of hops--no backing off the bitterness here.  Taste is strong but the hops are a bit grassy with a caramel sweetness that's a bit muddled.  A serviceable IPA that I would be glad to drink if I found myself on site in Santa Fe, but not going to bring this one back to Minnesota again.

Overall, my small sample of New Mexico beer was pretty good, and better than I predicted.  In 2003, while driving back from the Grand Canyon, I stopped at High Desert Brewing and was pleasantly surprised with a very good stop. So, New Mexico has been working on good brew for a while now and it seems that it has expanded.  If I find myself in New Mexico in the future, I think there will be some optimism for beer hunting.

Thanks Robin for the New Mexico sampler!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Delirium Monasterium (Brussels, BE)

The "list" for the Delirium bars

On my third beer, I realized with the help of the bartender that I was in a smaller version of Delerium Cafe called the Delirium Monasterium that specializes in Trappist ales and vodkas. Hmmmm. Interesting. The sign out front of the former entrance to the  Delirium Cafe said "around the corner" for the Cafe, but I didn't go far enough.  It's two left hand turns to get to the actual entrance.  After the first left hand turn, I saw Delirium in the name and stopped for a beer before investigating further.

So, this was just some trappist pre-gaming. :)

The Monesterium is a small bar with ten taps by my count that faces directly to the busy seafood restaurant row known as Rue des Bouchers. The dark wood of a beat up bar has a monastery feel with some church like arches filling out the decor. Slow in the early afternoon, which was nice for chatting with the friendly punk bartender.  I noticed during the week of visits to the Delirium bars that the Monestarium is often quieter and less full than the other bars, which is one of the reasons that I took Gloria there instead of the main cafe when we returned to Brussels briefly for the flower carpet.

For my first visit, I stuck to the taps, a treat by itself for traveling to Belgium. Plus the famous list overwhelmed me initially. The Monasterium also doubles as a vodka bar, which doesn't make much sense until I saw the crowds of young folks later in the evening.  I started safe with a La Trappe Quad: one of the very freshest that I've ever had, full of life and body. Nearly as good as having it on site years ago.

Since it counted on the list, I ordered a Chimay Red for the second draft in spite of the bartender's warning: thin on taste and light bodied.  Perfectly adequate, but I wouldn't order it again.  My final draft of this visit was better: Val Dieu Tripel has a thick white head that falls to half in an instant and then lingers with a heavy lace. Shimmering orange beer that's beautiful in the glass. Big spicey nose that lessens on the tongue and is over shadowed a bit (not in a bad way) by the earthy base of the beer.

Overall, a great first stop at Delirium in spite of my confusion as to where I was actually drinking.  I corrected the error several times during the week by visiting each section separately.  Before taking off, I gave the copy of All About Beer magazine that I read on the plane to the bartender, which he seemed to appreciate.  The Monesterim is not the stop I expected but one I very much enjoyed.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Granite City Food & Brewery (St. Cloud, MN)


To avoid a very early morning drive to St. Cloud for the 8 am conference start the next morning, a group of us headed up the night before for some pre-conference socializing at Granite City.

Reading Granite City's history, I discovered that I've been to the first two locations of the chain: the original in St. Cloud, MN and their first expansion in Sioux Falls, SD.  Because they serve a narrow range of beers with few seasonals, I rarely go there.  For those that don't know of Granite City's fermentus interruptus system, the base wort is brewed in Iowa and then transferred by truck to locations to be finished at the local pub.  Or, at least that's my understanding the last time I read about it.  Their website avoids mentioning this except for an oblique reference via the Granite City tank truck in the article.

Started with the seasonal Berkey's Brown since it would be new.  My friend Heather peaking above the draft said it was cloyingly sweet.  Too me it tasted like under fermented homebrew.  I was disappointed and moved on to the Brother Benedict's Bock before finding the best brew of the stop--Broad Axe Stout, which was still mediocre.

In between, I ordered the only vegetarian item on the menu: tomato basil flatbread. It was good, but not a full meal.  The service was relatively good, though slow at times because the bar was full.  The staff at the flagship seemed to be working very hard for the business, but the product just doesn't deliver.  Fortunately, great friends made the night even though the beer left me flat.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hopfen Ublich (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)

Met a friend at my usual friend meeting spot last Monday night and ordered Hopfen Ublich for no other reason that I hadn't heard of it until I walked in the door.  I love Town Hall because I trust that every tap is worth drinking.

When the draft showed, I was bit surprised at the shimmering pale straw ale with a stark white head in front of me.  Fresh, beautiful nose of Hallertau Mittelfruh hops: floral, spice and light fruitiness.  Hops blend well with a fresh breadiness.  The Floor Malted Pilsner seems to make the beer, but I would have never guessed it without reading.  In the taste, the malt is the equivalent of eating a newly made loaf of oven loaf bread.  Full and enlivening, the double pilsner hop punch floats a pleasant bitterness above the sweet malt.  Fullest mouthfeel I've ever had from a beer this light in color.

This is a great beer and just one in series of  reasons why I sing the deserved praises of Mike Hoops and staff at Town Hall Brewery.

From Town Hall's website:

Roughly translated - "Hops Traditional"

A very special double lager!  We gained access to some of the only Floor Malted Pilsner available.  The Floor malting process is way old school and a very traditional method of grain modification.  This is extremely high quality barley used in this beer.

The hops are Hallertau Mittelfruh, one of the German Noble hops (very traditional to Hallertau region of Germany.)  We used massive amounts of this hop in leaf format (our system is designed for pelletized hops) that created a challenge in the brewery.

The result is a beautiful pale double lager/pilsner that we are very pleased to be serving.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Minnesota Renaissance Festival (Shakopee, MN)

Raspberry and Mint mead by J. Bird Winery at
Minnesota Renaissance Festival

We headed out to the 2012 version of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival with free tickets I won at the start-of-school staff raffle.  We haven't been there for years, a decade or so.  I've always intended to help/enter the Byggvir's Big Beer Cup, but the timing has never worked out.

Being Ren Fest, we started with mead from J. Bird Winery from a small booth.  The Egypt'n Mead is made with lemon and hibiscus tea, according to the peasant dressed man who poured my plastic cup.  Near the end of the day, we finished with a raspberry melomel and a mint metheglin at the main mead booth.  We had a seat and, by chance, Arthur Greenleaf Holmes was starting his performance Wildly Inappropriate Poetry, which was one of the more entertaining shows of the day.  All three meads were perfectly fine but not something I'll seek out again based on this tasting.  While pondering the mead during the week though, I would like to try it again on better drinking circumstances to give it a better taste.

Beer selection across the fest seemed to be Guinness, Schell's Octoberfest and various types of Grain Belt.  Skipping the Grain Belt today, but the former two were perfectly fine when I had them during the day.  Since water was $2.50, figured I'd just drink beer for $5.  What I had was fresh and well served for being in a plastic cup and it cut through the renaissance accurate dust on the grounds.

We arrived when the gate opened and the morning shows were light.  Several of the performers alluded to the fact that the afternoon shows were funnier/better/larger because the fest-goers would be drinking up by the afternoon.  Plus, the very tight carding rules (everyone shows an ID, one drink per card) makes it clear that underage and excessive drinking are problems at the fest.  If this didn't confirm the sophomoric drinking  habits of the Ren Fest, the two barely 21 year olds in front of me in the mead booth line proved it beyond a doubt.  Personally, I don't understand spending a week's worth of beer money on plastic cups.  Overall, Ren Fest is long on leather covered dragons and short on good drinking.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fathead Barley Wine (Nebraska Brewing, Papillion, NE)

Picked up this bottle of Fathead while at Nebraska Brewing on my road trip to Denver.  I hadn't heard of it before, but it's hard to turn down a rare chance of drinking barleywine on a summer trip.  One of the disadvantages to be a teacher-beer hunter is that I don't travel during the winter when some of my favorite dark beers are available.  

Beautiful ruby barleywine in the glass that only reluctantly gives up its off white head in spite of a hard pour from the second half of the bottle for encouragement.  Light legs when tilted, showing the nearly 11% ABV that's apparent, but not overwhelming, in the nose.  It's followed with cherry, molasses, oakiness and a clear, bright hop or yeast spiciness.  Elegant nose leads to a lightbodied, fruity ale with a slight oiliness.  Spice continues but doesn't live up to the promise in the nose.

As it warms, the 6 months in fresh whiskey barrels seeps out.  I missed the vanilla, initially, but it's clearly there.  The brown sugar in the description can be imagined when going back, but looks to be a bit of marketing to me.  It's definitely sweet, to the brink of cloying.   Drink this one slow, or leave it out for a while before tasting, to get to these flavors soon.  My beer fridge sits at about 42 degrees and that's too cold for this one.

The description on the website is enlightening as well.  The "fresh whiskey" barrels vaguely listed on the bottle are noted online as Stranahan's Whiskey.  When on the tour of Stranahan's just a day after visiting Nebraska Brewing, the tour guide said their barrels are used by breweries for aging beer on the strict condition that the Stranahan's name not be used.  This is quickly becoming my biggest mistake in that I didn't ask why they prohibit the use of the name since it seems to be good advertising.  Plus, had I known, I would've liked drinking this next to the Stranahan's bottle while in Denver rather than save it for later.  Oh well.

Overall, a very nice barleywine with little to complain about.  I'm enjoying it, slowly, as a celebration for finishing the last assignment of my very last class to top out on the salary scale. In theory, I'm done with required formal schooling as soon as I click send to turn in the assignment via email.

Tonight is not a moment that I could have imagined in 1989 when I started college at Purdue.  When I started college, I was a teetotaler who thought he'd teach physics and math while coaching wrestling and track.   While that would have been a perfectly acceptable path, I'm happy to be an English teacher and speech coach who hunts beer on the side.  Such is the amazingly capricious nature of life.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Birch Bock (Alaskan Brewing, Juneau, AK)

Picked up a bottle of Alaskan Birch Bock based on a sample at the St. Paul Summer Fest a few weeks ago.  I have an affinity for "tree" beers after helping make a spruce ale with the MN Home Brewers at the first Teach a Friend to Homebrew day in 2005.  The experience helped me get into homebrewing more, so "tree" beers have an odd emotional appeal to me.

Classic doppelbock color: deep copper to ruby. Dirty white head falls quickly over alcohol hotness and deep malt with a clear birch nose.  Dark fruits and malt are smoothed by a slick oiliness over, what I assume, is a birch spicy note since it's low on hops.  Very fun to drink.

Not a knock-your-socks off beer, but a testament to the creativity of the beer world.  I like it and would drink it again.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Black Betty (Nebraska Brewing, Papillion, NE)

"Oh my.  There's the whiskey!" my wife exclaims after her second sip of Black Betty.  The dark brown head of this Russian Imperial Stout falls quickly with a bit of lace.  The whiskey is apparent in the nose. And familiar.  According the Nebraska Brewing website, Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey barrels is the source.

We did the Stranahan's tour earlier this summer and the whiskey is smooth and strong, which leaves a robust imprint on the beer.  The 9.3% alcohol shows with light legs on the side of the swirled glass.  As it warms, the whiskey actually smooths out and compliments the oily slickness of the ale.  Very sweet and malty, it keeps from being cloying by the 83 IBUs bringing a sharp bite the flows through the end.

A slightly imbalanced RIS that's heavy on hot alcohol from the beer and the barrel aging, but I like it a lot.  If you haven't read me in the past, I readily admit that I lean toward the big, bold, and slightly over the top.

Side note: At the Stranahan's tour, they mentioned that they let breweries use their barrels, but I understood that the Stranahan's name wasn't to be used.  Obviously I misunderstood since it's listed on the website; however, the bottle says "fresh whiskey barrels," so maybe the limit is to the actual beer.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Upstream Brewing (Omaha, NE)

Main bar at Upstream with Flagship IPA

The last time I was in downtown Omaha, Randy Madsen and I were coming back from Dan Gable's Tiger wrestling camp at the University of Iowa. In 8th or 9th grade, our bus from Iowa City had broken down in Des Moines because the AC was out. As a result, we missed our connection home in Omaha to home and spent the night together at the Omaha bus station. One of use would stay awake to watch our stuff while the other slept. In the course of the evening, we played cards with a guy who was rolling a joint and each were propositioned by several hookers. All in all, a good learning experience.

Staying at the downtown Econolodge and walking to Upstream Brewing reminded me of my last trip. Still seems like a tough neighborhood (remember, I lived in LA below south central), but the rough wrinkles smooth by the time I got to the refurbished downtown area with a lot of bars and restaurants. My guess is that most folks drive and park nearby, and don't see much of the surrounding area. Classic refurbished downtown area for any large city.

Inside, Upstream Brewing is expansive with a beautiful brewhouse behind glass. Large bar and a ton of beers, but it's been a hot day and I'm not up for tasting all of the brews on tap. I order water and a menu to start, and get to having a Flagship IPA and fish and chips for dinner. Flagship is a marmalade colored, solid west coast IPA that reminds me a bit of Masala Mama from Town Hall, especially the color. Clean and fresh, it blends well with the good beer battered fish and mediocre chips.

For a second beer, the Saison was off for the Brewer's Whim, so I tried the 1936 Strong ESB for a lighter beer. Off white head dissipates quickly on top of a muddled amber ale. English hops on a caramel, malt and mineral base. Hearty ESB that one could sip for an evening.

Upstream is a perfectly good brewpub, but feels more like a tourist trap than a real local like Nebraska Brewing early today. Nothing wrong, per se, but not much to really attach to as a pub for me. If I find myself in downtown Omaha ever again, I would gladly stop for lunch but I wouldn't go too far out of the way.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

White House Homebrew

Jimmy Carter made it possible for states to make homebrewing legal in 1978, which may have been some of the most effective legislation ever.  Many, if not most, craft brewers started with homebrew and it sparked an entire industry.  

Today, even President Obama is into homebrew.  The release a few days ago of the White House homebrew recipes for Honey Ale and Honey Porter just makes me smile.  In the span of just over thirty years, American beer has transformed via the Office of the President from Billy Beer (linked for those too young to remember) to homebrew being poured at White House gatherings.  Just spectacular.  

I know it's made by White House staff, but I'm perfectly fine that Obama is spending his time on other issues.   As a proud extract brewer, I dismiss an oblique reference to all-grain snobbery that I read in one article.  Homebrew is homebrew: period.  And, I get that it is a conveniently timed political pitch to make Obama more of an Everyman than Romney.  In our world of high stakes campaigning, everything from both camps is a political statement.  A homebrew drinking President is not only a well played rhetorical card, it makes a statement as to how far beer has come.  

I might even pick up a kit from Northern Brewer and make some White House Honey Porter for November.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group (Minneapolis, MN)


On an errand for supplies from the Kitchen Window for Gloria to make macaroons (inspired from our cooking class in Paris), we were walking along Lake Street to another restaurant and decided to give the Uptown Cafeteria a try.

Somewhere hidden in the fog of my memory and RSS feeds, I read that Uptown Cafeteria had a decent tap list and good food.  UC is an interesting place.  My first impression is that it's a cross between a fifties diner and Alary's in St. Paul with an uptown vibe.  Several veggie options on the menu, including mac-n-cheese with mushrooms, broccoli and other stuff, but we settled on the southwest veggie burger with tater tots.  Both were good, but not mind blowing.  I use the Bulldog as my standard of tater tot greatness, and these didn't match up.  We also noticed on the menu that they have late night all you can eat pancakes.  This seems genius and something that I would try if in Uptown late.
On draft, I tried Badger Hill's Minnesota Special Bitter.  As far as the bar's end, it was well served--my first concern going into a new place that, even though they have twenty taps, isn't a beer-centric place. Bartenders were friendly and solicitous.

This is our first American restaurant since returning from France and  Belgium, so being offered water without asking was a bit of a shock.  Gloria and I talked about how Europeans must feel when confronted with American service and whether or not their guidebooks warn of ultra-fast, overly-attentive service.  From our visit, UC has outstanding service, which was refreshing after a month of often having to hunt down bartenders to get a drink.

What makes Minnesota Special Bitter, well, Minnesotan, is the attitude, evidently; according to the website:  "The key to understanding Minnesotans: We're a mashup of extremes."  I didn't take notes on the MSB, but the description fits.  It's very English in style, at its base, but more strongly hopped.  I can see how some might think the flavor is muddled, but it finished very well as it warmed and has promise.  I'm not a fanboy after one draft, but definitely want to give it and Badger Hill another try.  It's my first sample of Badger Hill, though I wrote earlier about their alternating proprietorship with Lucid Brewing.

Overall, perfectly happy with our experience at the Uptown Cafeteria.  Not sure how far I'd drive to go to it, but it's a great place if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

8-Bit Pale Ale (Tallgrass Brewing, Manhattan, KS)

Hazy sunset orange ale with a stark white fluffy head.  Strong fruity hop nose.  West coast styled at its heart, grapefruit included, but there's something a bit different about it.

A little research at the Tallgrass website reveals that hop rocketed Galaxy hops from Australia serve as the base for the aroma with Magnum, Centennial and Cascade in support. Taste has a pretty harsh bitterness alongside a more subdued fruitiness.  Sweet, full bodied malt base for the hoppiness to float above.

I seem to be a fan of Galaxy hops and 8-Bit has become a fridge favorite over the summer.  A pale ale with big hops and flavor, neither of which are subtle, so these tallboys are great to feed that pesky hop demon that often growls for more.