Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Minobii ESB (Leech Lake Brewing, Walker, MN)

On a road trip to Grand Forks to see my nephew, we picked up some beer at Happy Harry's.  Among the northern samplings, I picked up the full array of Leech Lake bombers since I've only been able to get samples at Autumn Brew Review the last two years.  Minobii was the highest rated sample of my two opportunities, so hopefully it's a good place to start the Leech Lake reviews.

Big fluffy off white head piles up high on the second pour.  The beer is a hazy copper ale with golden highlights around the edges.  Big, spicy nose that radiates yummy notes that are almost Belgian-like inside of a creamy lace.  Peppery spice, lemon, mineral and light malt underneath.  Spice and carbonic bite gives the taste a strong bite, and the light caramel and biscuit malt plays underneath.  While a light looking beer, the mouthfeel is full and delicious.

Checking the BJCP guidelines, it seems to be a bit out of style.  Hops and spice are too high, but I don't think I care--I like this beer.  Reading the label, the Fuggle hops are to style, and I can taste the flaked maize and brown sugar.  7.5% alcohol is also above the style guidelines, but that's where the brown sugar went.

From to the label, Minobii is Objibwe for "drink and be merry".  An appropriate name for this very tasty beer.  Might not be an ESB by the numbers, but--oh well.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Fire King Coal (Great Waters Brewing, St. Paul, MN)

Fire King Coal by Great Waters
Another growler that I picked up last week from Great Waters, and bought it solely from the sample I was offered when attempting to chose.  When I tried it, I walked to my car for my third growler because I didn't want to leave this one behind.  According to the Great Waters' website, this is a seasonal version of their Scotch Ale.

Head the color of the inside of malted milk balls bubbled up thick with very tight bubbles as it poured, and filled the glass to the rim. In spite of being prepared with my camera, it fell before I could get a picture.  Second night of the growler, it lasted a bit longer.  Color is similar to my mahogany floors but lots of light through and through yields a shimmering maroon at the edges. Smokey and burnt wood in the nose with an malty earthiness that's not peat.  Slight spice from either the 25 IBU hops or, more probably, the 6% alcohol.   Mouthfeel is light and lets the smoke rise above the significant and sweet malt. Smoke taste is present, but not overly assertive.  While a bit strong, the lightness of the beer makes it excessively easy to drink--half gone just for this review.  Good beer that I'm happy to have at home, but the sample was somehow more intriguing.  If possible, I'd really like to check this one out on tap and see what the difference might be that I seem to remember.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Alaskan Barley Wine (Alaskan Brewing Co, Juneau, AK)

According to Alaskan Brewing, Alaskan Barley Wine was introduced in 2003,brewed yearly and even won a Bronze medal at the 2008 World Beer Cup.  First time I've been able to get a bottle thanks to Alaskan being distributed in Minnesota now.

Thin dirty tan head was tough to pull up. Even with a hard pour down the middle, the head fell quickly to nearly nothing.  Iridescent ale that moves between copper and mahogany.  Dry hopping apparent in the nose along with a strong alcohol hotness from the 10.7% ABV.  Hops smells like a combination of English and northwest hops.  Not listed on the website--just a guess.  Dark cherry, figs, raisins, and a strong caramel malt--but still hangs below the hops.  Heavy fruit and alcohol continue in the taste to support a strong hop bite.  While not a lightweight ale, the beer has a subtle balance between big hop, malt and alcohol.  Everything is big but balanced, so the effect is sweet and mellow.  As it warms, all three elements open up and invade the senses.  Drink it slow and enjoy.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Too much beer in Minnesota?

Yesterday on Minnesota Public Radio, an article explored whether or not our Minnesota beer scene has become too saturated with new breweries.  I'll admit, when Surly and Flat Earth started up, I had the same thought.  How much beer can Minnesota support?  Also, I used to be able to keep the local beer bars in my head, and now there's so many places to get good beer today--often unexpected--that even with research the choices can be dizzying.  So, the big question.  Is the Minnesota beer market saturated?  The US market?  Predictably, I say no.

Reason number one:  Minnesota is becoming a beer friendly location.  The oft cited example is that Portland, Oregon has a much denser beer to drinker ratio.  Can we become a Portland?  In discussion with other beer geeks and local beer purveyors, the restrictive legal environment of Minnesota compared to Oregon stands in our way.  However, recent changes to Minnesota beer laws plus discussion of more changes on the horizon this legislative session bode well for the future.  Assuming legislative support in the future, I think we have the growing tide to be the next Portland, Seattle or Denver.

Reason number two:  It's only up from here.  In 2010, craft beer sales were 4.3% by volume according to Brewer's Association statistics.  At the same time, total beer sales went down 1%.  From my perspective, I think the writing is on the wall.  Craft beer is the new standard, and I can imagine a world where craft beer is not only a double digit market share, but the majority share of beer drinkers. If market share doubles, quadruple or more, the amount of good beer will be staggering compared to today.

Reason number three:  Craft beer per capita favors cold or wet northern climates.  The fabled lands of beervana Oregon (#2) and Colorado (#4) are predictably high on the list, and the remaining top ten states in 2010, in order from top to bottom according to Brewer's Association's rankings, are Vermont, Montana, Maine, Wyoming, Alaska, Washington, Wisconsin and Delaware.  Minnesota not only fits well into the above paradigm, a recent visit to number one Vermont convinced me that the Green Mountain State is a lot like Minnesota: bitterly cold winters, big mosquito jokes and a serious independent spirit.

Viva la beer revolution!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Timma! (Great Waters Brewing Co, St. Paul, MN)

Stopping in for some growlers after a happy hour around the corner at Amsterdam Bar & Hall, a sample of Timma! convinced me to try a fill of this one.  New England India Pale Ale, so labelled on the Great Waters website.  Built on a combination of English malt and American hops, the moniker fits well.

Lighter than in the picture, this IPA is a light copper ale with golden edges.  Stark white fluffy head that lingers a bit on the second pint, and fell with a very nice lace.  Strong malty nose with caramel and toffee notes, and  a slight citrus hidden behind potent earthiness.  English character of the nose continues in the taste, but the hop bite is more northwest hop.  Acrid bitterness lingers pleasantly with a full mouthfeel in spite of the light appearance.

A very nice beer, and, in a recurring theme, drink it slowly to let it warm a little so the balance improves and the hops open up.  On the website, it mentions a limited quanity of a oak aged cask version that sounds very interesting.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Barley's Angels

Getting home after a day of teaching cherubs, I mindlessly scroll through Facebook and see a post for Barley's Angels.  With such a great name, I had to check it out.  As it turns out, five of my favorite beer friends had already liked it, so I guess it's not very new news.  

The Barley's Angels website reveals that this organization of local chapters supports the beer education of female drinkers. It's the consumer version of the professional organization for women brewers: the Pink Boots Society.  Lisa Morrison, aka the BeerGoddess, is the director of Barley's Angels and states in an article from Beer Northwest reprinted on the Barley's Angels website:   "Obviously, women don't need a club or group to enjoy a good beer, but the power of women together can transcend beyond the usual into a force that borders on the magical. When we combine our strengths and our imaginations and encourage each other to explore new and exciting beers with us in a supportive environment, we learn more, we create more -- and we have more fun. That's what Barley's Angels is all about!"

Imbibing with my wife, I'm often drinking lighter beers.  While I can be distracted by hype or a shiny new label, she is an uncompromising drinker who only hoists a pint if it's excellent and, generally, big and dark--a trait I admire.  While I can't be a member of either club, I applaud both organizations and love any bending of gender stereotypes, especially the one that says women don't drink serious beer.  For those in the Twin Cities who can join the club, they meet at a different establishment on the last Thursday of every month.  

Cheers to Barley's Angels.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cooper Irish Pub (St. Louis Park, MN)

After the One Voice concert Brave Souls & Dreamers, a few of the gang headed over to Cooper Irish Pub for a post concert party.  The picture below testifies to the beauty of the pub, but it was too dark for me to get my own picture.  Basic Irish beer taps: Guinness, Harp's, Smithwick's, etc.  For craft brew, Summit EPA, Brooklyn Brown Ale and New Belgium Ranger IPA, my choice, well served in a footed New Belgium glass.  Evidently, the place is known for serving 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, which is served in eleven different drink permutations.  Since I only have time for one obsession, I didn't try the 2 Gingers.

Friends ordered some food. Artichoke dip with flat bread was creamy, as advertised, and very fresh and rich tasting.  The Wild Mushroom Pub Pizza with white cheddar and parmesan cheese was full flavored on a crispy flat bread.  Not looking for dinner this night, but the Minnesota Wild Rice Burger with mash potatoes looks like a good bet for the next trip.  High end pub grub worth the effort.  
Picture from reprisedesign.com.  
Cozy bar with lots of well dressed, young customers on a Saturday night.  Seems like a great place for a chat or happy hour.  According to the website, Cooper is affiliated under Cara Irish Pubs with Kierans, The Liffey and The Local.  Not a place to push the boundaries of beer, but Cooper doesn't disappoint as a fine Irish pub.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Exodus (Central Waters Brewing, Amherst, WI)

Picked up this bottle of Exodus from the corner liquor because it was the new beer on the shelf.  I'm a sucker for new, even though Central Waters has never been a brewery that has impressed me.  In fact, I had to look at a picture of the bar to remember that I stopped there once (part of the Good Beer Bus Tour 2006) .  But everyone deserves an update chance.

Corked and caged bottle opened with a light pop, so had to pour hard down the middle to create an ephemeral white head with large irregular bubbles.  Color of a new copper penny, it peaks my expectation in the glass.  First sip--wow--sour.  I should really research my beers ahead of time a bit more.  While I saw the "Ale Aged in Oak Barrels with Cherries Added" on the front label, I missed the "sour ale" and "Door County Cherries" on the back description.  Listed on BeerAdvocate as a Flanders Red Ale.  

In this case, it may have turned out better to not have read the label clearly.  Being a fan of Flanders Red, my expectations would have been even higher.  However, the beer disappoints the style, but is fine for a try tonight.  In the nose, the familiar Door County cherries used famously by New Glarus are clearly there.  Clear sour from the trifecta of sour bugs and the oak is there if you look for it.  Take a taste and the oak is now out front with a pleasant fruity sourness.  Body is thin and seems to fall off the back with little to stop it.  Adequate, and my perception of Central Waters has changed very little: solid, but rarely stellar.  

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Barley Wine Style Ale Pugsley's Signature Series (Shipyard Brewing Co, Portland, MA)

Dark brown opaque barleywine comes in at a medium 8.5%.  Bubbles up nicely with a luscious tan head that falls to a lace. Dark fruit, fig and malt that has a solid hop earthiness.  There's also a slight mineral aroma. Taste has a slight roasted malt and a strong hop bite.  Dry finish balances the sweet, full fruity body.  According to Shipyard, it's fermented with an English ale and it clearly has an English barleywine base, especially with the English hops Challenger and Fuggles.  Sharp bite probably comes from the Summit hops.  For me, the high hop seems to muddle the beer.

While the beer was a perfectly fine purchase from Happy Harry's in Grand Forks, the meld of the flavors doesn't blend well.  Not unhappy with the beer, but won't be trying another one.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Free the Beer!

Harriet Brewing tasting room from Beer Trip Crew
@ beer-trip.com.  
Some recent changes in Minnesota beer laws is leading to some nice effects.   The passing last May of the so called "Surly Bill" and Surly's plans for their own destination brewery has opened up the industry to truly innovate.  An article in Thursday Star Tribune that says Harriet Brewing is on the path to being approved to serve pints in their downtown Minneapolis location.  While the committee vote in only an initial hurdle, I see it as a good sign for our future drinking choices.  Hopefully, the planned vote next Friday goes through for them.

But, that reminded me of another recent article I read about Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery.  Owner Pete Rifakes wants to "aggressively" distribute THB beer.  It has to be frustrating for Pete to be contacted monthly from distributors who want to sell his product, and his hands are tied by short-sighted Minnesota laws.  While I'm happy for Surly, Harriet and others that will probably be following suit, Town Hall and other brewpubs that want to distribute should be allowed to do so. The only fair situation would be to give every brewer equal rights to sell locally and further afield, and food or not food as they are able.  While I'm not a raging capitalist, these laws seem to be more related to puritanical restrictions rather than the real concerns of selling beer.
Downstairs taps at Town Hall Brewery.  To drink
from these taps, sign up for the monthly tour. 

And, secretly, the thought of Masala Mama going regional or national, and the rest of the world being able to drink "our" beer gave me a sense of pride. I know--I'm just a pint club member, and a semi-regular.  But, in my last discussion with brewer Mike Hoops, I was telling him of a summer beer trip that was a series of mediocre brewpubs and that it just made me appreciate Town Hall all the more.  It doesn't take too many brewpub visits to realize that we have it pretty good in Minnesota, and, hopefully, when the stars and laws align, it will get even better.

If you want to read a history of how we got into this situation, a nice book is The Prohibition Hangover by Garrett Peck.  It gives a relatively coherent history of prohibition and its aftermath before ending with a more personal analysis of how American needs to get to a better relationship with alcohol.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sixteen (Weyerbacher Brewing Co, Easton, PA)

Digging into a couple of six packs of singles from the Ale Jail, and pulled out a braggot.  For those not up to date on your medieval drinks, braggot is a combination of mead and beer--both honey and malt--and generally has spices added.  From the BeerAdvocate description, braggot tends to be high in alcohol as well.  Sixteen matches exactly.  GABF Gold Medal in 2011 according to Weyerbacher and second highest rated on  BA for braggots.  The beer comes with some credentials.  Let's see if it lives up to the accolades.

Had to pour hard down the center of the glass to build up an 1/2 inch head that fell before I could get it in the picture. Taking the initial sips, I see legs slide down the glass, which confirms the potency of this ale on the label: 10.5% ABV.  Looks dark brown in the glass, but serious ruby highlights when looking through the edge.  Drinking it slow to let it warm, a big spice is emerging on top of a sweet, fruity malt.  Clear fig, raisin, dark chocolate and cherry, peppery hotness from the alcohol, maybe some cinnamon and tumeric.  Honey in the nose is so strong that it reminds me of a Sioux Bee honey from my childhood.  On the tongue, more fruit and malt, and the honey and spice is more subdued but not completely tamed.  Surprisingly dry finish that lingers.  Complex and well balanced beer that is a pleasure to drink, but it's a pretty small category.  Not likely that I'll go out and buy a bunch to drink or age, but this one was a very good departure from the usual.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Northwest Passage (Flat Earth Brewing, St. Paul, MN)

Northwest Passage IPA
Northwest Passage IPA is the "hoppiest IPA in the Midwest" according to  Flat Earth's description.  The 115 IBUs is a combination of Chinook, Simcoe, Cascade and Columbus hops.

As can be seen in the picture, this IPA is a light straw colored ale with a slightly off white head that lingers nicely.  While appearing light, the 6.5% ABV points to a fair amount of malt in the beer to balance the bitterness.  Light biscuit and caramel serves as base for the complex fruit nose.  Not an overly assertive nose, but a combination of layers of fruit: standard grapefruit, lemon, clementine, and a host of citrus hiding a light spiciness and floral background.  Taste follows nicely from the nose--clean, complex fruit and a pleasant hop bite that demands notice but doesn't burn crazy stupid.  As with all big IBU beers, balance and perception are key, and this one does a nice job.

I've reviewed this one before on BA, and it looks like a different beer.  Guessing the bottle I have tonight has some age on it, so the hops have mellowed a bit.  Only takes a few months for hops to degrade, and I picked this one up from the bottom shelf of the local liquor store that does a nice job for a quick six pick up but isn't the center of the beer world.  Again, this Flat Earth beer seems to be significantly under-rated to me.  I'm slotting this beer to drink from a growler to get a clear reading fresh from the brewery.  There may be some point-of-sale issues with the reviews, and a growler may clarify the issue.

For comparison, here's my original BA review:
Coppered colored ale that's straw gold around the edges with stark white head that lingers nicely. Big hop nose with grapefruit under grassy spice and fresh mowed lawn. Clearly lots of hops--115 IBU by the website from a combo of Chinook, Simcoe, Cascade, & Columbus (according to a Four Firkins description). Clearly, northwest hops seems like a great idea. Sharp hop bite, but not overwhelming. Chewy from hops, and the grassy notes continue in the mouth. Can feel the acid linger on my tongue. I like it quite a bit, but can see where it might put off those that don't like chewing on hops. Mouthfeel seems a bit light, but that's what let's the hops shine through. Very nice beer for a fall evening.

Monday, January 16, 2012

My "It's Complicated" relationship with homebrewing

Furious clone homebrew from
Wooden Shoe Brew House
I really would like to be a great homebrewer.  However, I fear that I'm never going to be better than mediocre.  The evidence presented to the left is a glass of my Furious clone from the Northern Brewer kit.  The brew kit was good, and even a bit of fun to brew.  My main mistake (besides too much bottling sugar that caused the excessive head) was that the large amount of dry hops caused a lot of sediment that I wasn't able to clarify.  As result, the beer must be poured very carefully to avoid a cloudy beer with an off flavor.  Smells like Furious, tastes like Furious, more or less.  Not bad.  Not great, either.

My main issue is that I don't brew for the love of it and I don't brew often.  I starting homebrewing because I thought my learning had topped out from tasting beer only.  The brewery tours only made so much sense, and I needed to play with the ingredients and make my own beer to move to the next level of  beer knowledge.  I feel like I've learned what I wanted after nineteen batches, and, now, I'm looking for a new reason to homebrew.

Reason #1.  Cost.  Right now the main motivation for me is to create beers that are expensive and that I could make for a much cheaper price for weekday drinking.  This generally means high gravity beers like double IPAs or barleywine.  High gravity means more fermentation issues, which I've had in a cold house.

Reason #2.  Unique beers.  One thing I liked brewing and that's turned out well was a fresh hop ale.  I have a simple recipe that works well (twice now), and I really enjoy opening a fresh hop beer that smells like summer when I open it in January.  Also, I have some historical recipes that I would like to brew for the perspective.  Batch #7 was a recipe for the original 1982 bottle conditioned Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.  After brewing it, I bought a six pack of the present Sierra Nevada to taste side by side.  I would like to do more batches along that line.

Reason #3.  Homebrew media is among my favorites.  I like listening to Basic Brewing Radio and watching Brew TV podcasts.  Granted, I mostly prefer their interviews and interactions at GABF, brewpubs or pro brewers, but the homebrewing is interesting as well.  But, I feel like a lurker since I like the information, but not really motivated to brew more myself.

However, as I often say (half) jokingly, I'm more of a taster than a maker.  Issues I have with homebrewing include:
  • 5 gallons of one beer.  I struggle buying a six pack at times since I like new beers.  To practice more, I would have more beer around, which cuts into my ability to try new beers in the exploding Minnesota craft beer industry.  
  • I've noticed homebrewers are often good cooks, handy mechanical types and/or freewheeling experimenters. While I admire this qualities, I possess none of them.  
  • Cold house and stuck fermentations, and temperature control in general. 
  • Bottling is a lot of work, but I don't want a draft line in the house.  
  • Presently, my beer quality doesn't match what I can buy.  
  • It's less work to go to the Four Firkins. 
  • I secretly fear that, even with extensive practice, I will never be that good at it.  
So, that's my complicated relationship with homebrewing.   At the heart of my problem is that I like calling myself a homebrewer and being a part of the club.  I have plans for my next batches of brew, but don't know when the spark will happen that will get me to pull out the brew kettle for a day of boiling.   In the meantime, I'll drink up my own beer and save the last one to drink with my next batch--someday.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

Brown Bag Blind Tasting by the Better Beer Society

Brown Bag Bling Tasting flyer
from BBS Facebook page

When I saw the info on the Better Beer Society's very first function and that it was a blind tasting featuring the components of beer, it was hard to resist. Add some recently added beer friends, and there's the makings of a great beer day.

Held a Stub and Herb's, I showed up a bit early and got a seat in the enclosed patio.  As it turned out, the event was very well attended and spilled over into the entire first level of the bar.  Brunch was first and a small adjustment made it vegetarian.  From the BBS Facebook page, here's what I ate minus the salmon.

1. Spinach salad w/ raspberry vinaigrette, candied walnuts, goat cheese, mandarin oranges and Granny Smith apples.

2. Salmon eggs benedict w/ hollandaise.

3. Chocolate chip pancakes, with house made banana syrup and walnuts.

4. Raisin bread pudding
Brunch at Blind Tasting from BBS Facebook post

We received three numbered samples of beer with brunch, but didn't get any direction as to which beer matched which dish (at least that we heard).  Experimentation put #7 (Flying Dog Woody Creek Witbier) with the pancakes, #12 (Franziskaner Dunkelweizen) with eggs benedict and #20 (Summit Oatmeal Stout) with the raspberry vinaigrette.  All were well paired, though the meal was light. Because we ate early, it was a long time to the first beer but worth the wait.

Ten additional samples came for free with the initial $25 price, and having three in our group (thanks Heather and Scott!) was the perfect number to cover all 27 samples on the day without having to buy any extra.  We traded off punches for beers, and each ended with one or two left on each card.

Samples came out one at a time--slightly chaotic but the job got done.  Both BBS and S&H's staff worked hard to get beer to everyone. I had chosen the end of a table expressly for easy access to the servers, which worked out well.  Each category introduction listed all of the styles in the flight, which made guessing much easier and the process of elimination was fun.

Samples with punch card
Scoring for the grand prize (twelve cases of beer over twelve months) was one point for matching the style and five points for guessing the exact beer name.  Chatting through the samples, we quickly put numbers on a napkin and left a bit in each glass to taste when we had most/all of the beers.  Using my phone to look up style lists on BA, we all made guesses.  Two guys with the same last name that looked like brothers tied for first place with 41 points.  To my surprise, I received an honorable mention for coming in next with 40 points.  I guessed on beer names a few more times, which was the difference from my drinking partners.  Five points was clearly credited to Heather for Saison Dupont, which I would not have gotten.  And, sadly, three opportunities for points were missed by me.  I clearly recognized the Flying Dog Horn Dog, but wrote Sierra Nevada Bigfoot.  Also, I've recently had two growlers of Harriet's West Side Belgian IPA and shouldn't have confused Flying Dog Raging Bitch for it.  Also, we wrote the styles down wrong on the last hop section, and didn't record a Double IPA and lost a point on that as well.  But the fine guys at BBS handed me a set of four glasses from Artisanal Imports as a nice consolation prize to go along with the bragging rights.
Second place prize

For a first event, the Better Beer Society did a great job.  Drinking with two other teachers, we were reorganizing the recording sheet, naturally, to be easier to use.  The brunch was stretched over a long period for the group, and we were very hungry later in the day.  Had I been drinking all of the samples alone, it would've been far too light.  Seats were crowded and uncomfortable, especially since we didn't leave until nearly 4 pm from an 11 am start.  With those small caveats, the rest of the day was really enjoyable.  Food was good, especially the the bread pudding.  Beer was well served and never an off flavor in spite of the sample glasses.  When the list was revealed (see below), I thought the choice of beers represented the range of each category extremely well.  After years of sampling, I can almost tell what a beer is going to be like from the website, the bottle art or the first sniff.  It was refreshing to taste beer like when I was new to the hobby, knowing little to nothing of what was in front of me and just concentrating on the taste and characteristics.

As the BBS guys added up the scores, we ordered a cheese and meat plate while I drank my only pint on the afternoon, intriguing number 27: Steel Toe Rainmaker.  Overall, a great afternoon of learning for a full house of beer geeks and newbies.  I look forward to the next Better Beer Society event that I can attend.

From Facebook page for Better Beer Society
BBS guys working hard
Brown Bag Taplist (Series #1)

1. 21st Amendment Bitter American (Ordinary Bitter)
2. Tallgrass English Mild Ale
3. Anchor Steam (Steam Beer)
4. Kostritzer Schwarzbier
5. O'Hara's Irish Stout
6. Sunner Kolsch
7. Flying Dog Woody Creek Witbier

8. Saison Dupont
9. La Chouffe (Belgian Blonde)
10. St. Feuillien Tripel
11. Pere Jacques (American style Dubbel)
12. Franziskaner Dunkelweizen
13. Surly V (American Wild Ale)

14. Celebrator Doppelbock
15. Flying Dog Horn Dog (English style Barleywine)
16. Hacker-Pschorr Munich Gold (Helles lager)
17. Claymore Scotch Ale
18. Avery Ellie's Brown (American Brown)
19. Fulton Libertine (Imperial Red Ale)
20. Summit Oatmeal Stout

21. Alaskan Black IPA
22. Victory Prima Pils (German pils)
23. Great Lakes Commodore Perry (English IPA)
24. Lagunitas Olde Gnarleywine (American style Barleywine)
25. Odell Myrcenary (Double IPA)
26. Harriet Westside IPA (Belgian style IPA)
27. Steel Toe Rainmaker (Imperial Red)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Black Solstice (Fitger's Brewhouse, Duluth, MN)

From the second glass of the growler, the tan, fluffy head bubbles up very nicely on top of a nearly opaque beer that has dark ruby highlights along the edge.  Falls with a great lace.  First sip confused me a bit.  I liked it, but didn't really  know what I was tasting, so took a look at the description from Fitger's website.

Fitger's Black Solstice with butcher block
reflected in glass.  
From Fitger's website:
This Belgian style black saison is brewed with pale malts and chocolate malts to add a dark color and cocoa like flavor.  Belgian yeasts make strong ester fruity notes and the addition of crushed peppercorns to the brew fermentation.  The resulting slight spiciness balances the dark flavors perfectly.

I just love the beer world: black saison--spectacular whether I like it or not.  Heavy, clean roast in the nose complimented by enough spice to float on top easily.  Complicated and interesting nose.  Promised fruity esters there with dark cherry.  Heavy spice, Belgian yeast and pepper.  Roast continues in the taste along with a distinct saison taste.  That's what confused me--clearly a saison, just dark and roasty.  Peppercorns bite very hard off the back of the tongue, which is the only thing that hinders the beer at all.  I like pepper, especially fresh or from yeast, but this is still a bit strong.

Overall, a very fun and interesting tasting that I'm enjoying a lot tonight, but would suggest backing off the peppercorn a bit and lightening up the beer so the blend works even better.  Again, thanks to Kat for schlepping a growler from Duluth for me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Winter Warlock 2010 (Flat Earth Brewing, St. Paul, MN)

On my first visit to Flat Earth recently, I picked  up a growler of 2010 Winter Warlock.  While a sample of WW at Winterfest in 2008 didn't impress, I found it hard to resist an aged barleywine.

Stark white head bubbles up nicely with a hard pour down the center and lingers for a fair bit until it falls to a light film.  Old gold beer sets one off immediately from the name barleywine.  I remember my first sample of WW and being surprised at how light it was in the glass.  Holding up the beer, the effervescent bubbles flow long after the beer is poured, and very captivating to watch.  The nose departs from expectations as well. No dark fruits, no heavy alcohol, no barleywine.  Initially, especially when cold, I smell creamed corn.  I suspect that this smell, associated with American lagers, turns off some beer geeks.  With a bit of warmth and focus, it's more of an heavy caramel and underdone biscuit with a floral and earthy hop.  Description on Flat Earth says a two hour boil to caramelize the sugars, which is apparent in the taste with an earthy yet spicey bite from yeast and/or hops. Sweet lingering finish.   9% ABV is present but not pushy  in nose or taste, but hits rather hard and quick in spite of the small glass I'm using tonight.  Watch out--this one is sneaky!

In short, I like the beer.  But I can understand some of the mixed reviews on BeerAdvocate.  First, there are issues with the expectation as a barleywine.  Compared to an Old Crustacean, Old Guardian, Old Foghorn, Horn Dog, Blithering Idiot or even a J.W. Lees, it is an incredibility light beer and defies the category while being fun to drink.  Warming more now, and cream corn (not a pleasant memory from my childhood) changes to a heavy earthiness and Dutch apple pie.  Again, if reviewers are drinking too fast or too warm, I think the impression of this beer will be hurt.  Next glass of this beer I'm going to set the beer out for a bit to warm significantly before drinking it.  Good beer, but not a favorite.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

El Nino Double Hopped IPA (Fitger's Brewhouse, Duluth, MN)

Growler Jan 2012
Fitger's adventure growler
Characteristic El Nino hops catch my senses as soon as the growler (Thanks Kat!) pops the seal.  Even with a hard pour down the center of the glass, it's tough to create a solid head, which doesn't last long at all.  Beautiful hazy orange color still supports the great hop aroma and taste of this beer, but it's not up to par for some reason.  Not sure if it was the end of the keg when filled or my adventure growlers, but this isn't the beer of my memory.  Still very good and just fine for a Sunday afternoon beer.  Next time at Fitger's, I may have to buy a regular growler and do a comparison to see if the adventure growlers don't hold up, or if it was my cleaning of the growler that I sent up.  At any rate, a good argument for giving beer more than one glass of a chance.  Still a great beer that I wouldn't hesitate to get a pint or growler of again.

First glass of El Nino from
Draft on site Apr 2007
Love this beer. Unfortunately, I have a nose that's never going to make me judge of the year, so I like an IPA the reaches up out of the class and grabs it square and won't let it go. En Nino gives a good grapefruit hop wallop and doesn't disappoint. Amber colored IPA with a light white head is sharp and pleasant in the taste as well, and very dry on the backside. Mouthfeel is light, not overly heavy, and could see where some would think that's the body is too light to balance the big hop, but I'm ok with it. The only downbeat is that the beer, for me, makes me pucker up dry near the end of a pint, so I generally only do one at a time. But what a great one
El Nino from later in the

Cask Oct 2006
Sunset burnt orange under an off white, creamy head is beautiful--like a Van Gogh haystack, almost. Sweet malty base gives a good fight against the hops, but ultimately losing by a ways--which is the point. Double hopped with a great spicy, sharp aroma, it is a very cool, creamy cask ale with enough hop to set you on your ass. The cask just lets you suck up all the hop and aroma directly and coats your mouth so you're ready for more. A unique cask experience and one worth the trip.

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 Year in Beer

Best rated beers of the year.  Of the 546 new entries in my Taste Database for the 2011 year (festivals help the average--a lot!), these are the highest rated for the year.  As you will see, it's been a very good year.

I started the year with a five plus year old bottle of Raison D'Extra from Dogfish Head on Jan 1st of 2011, and followed up that bottle with a six year old bottle of D'extra in the fall.  Both excellent and will try to review the next bottle at seven years old  from my cellar collection to start recording the aging of this amazing beer.
Cambridge Brewing's Arquebus

Cambridge Brewing Arquebus was possibly the best beer of the year.  At least, I not only had a draft when I visited this top Boston brewpub, but when Gloria showed up for our week long road trip of New England, this is the one beer I insisted she try after my three days of beer reconnaissance.   On the same trip, Three Philosophers 2011 fresh from the brewery confirmed why Ommegang is a heavy weight in Belgian beer category.

Town Hall Fresh Hop 2011
last pint from growler
Town Hall Czar Jack Russian Imperial Stout is always a treat, and loved it both times I was able to get it this year.  While this year's Fresh Hop wasn't the best, but I did really enjoy the hop plopping in my glass from the growler. 

Additional top beers without a particular story but glad to have found a glass:

Alaskan Smoked Porter
Bell's The Oracle
The Bruery Trade Winds
Dogfish Head Burton Baton
Firestone Walker 14th Anniversary Ale
Port Older Viscoisity
Surly Abrasive Ale

Beer highlights of 2011 in no particular order.

Stone World Bistro
Pilgrimage achieved and had so much fun with friends and family joining us for the day in Escondido.  More in the review of the bistro later, but no surprise that several beers from Stone come in with top marks as drafts on site: Vertical Epic 11.11.11, Sublimely Self-Righteous and Ruination IPA.  My souvenir growler of double hopped 15th Anniversary IPA was spectacular.  And, a first bottle of Double Bastard from my local liquor store earlier in the fall; I just bought three bottles to cellar for a future review of this high octane brew.  
Happy Cal standing among the tanks at Stone Brewing Co
Al's Darkness Vertical
Al was kind enough to invite me to his vertical tasting of several Darkness bottles that he acquired over the years, mostly at Darkness Day (a goal of mine for this coming year).  Great night of Surly, but can't forget the very cool sample of Bat Out of Hell by Brouwerij de Molen that Eric shared from his Amsterdam trip.
The vertical line up at Al's

Garrett Oliver and signed copy of Oxford Companion of Beer
Headed to the Happy Gnome and met Garret Oliver, and, when given a chance, we didn't even talk about beer.  I put on the English teacher cap and talked about the writing process for the Oxford Companion.   Great night and very fun to meet a giant in the beer industry.  The only surprise was--like the Statue of Liberty--I thought he'd be bigger.  Also found out that Brooklyn Brewery Chocolate Stout is very good aged, as we sampled a keg from 2009.

Book signing of The Oxford Companion of Beer by Garrett Oliver at The Happy Gnome

Beerbistro in Toronto
My niece Regan was (successfully) doing an intership in Toronto, so Uncle Cal head up Nort' to visit and drink some beer.  Since she was of age in Canada, we headed to Beerbistro in downtown.  On my first trip to Toronto's Festival of Beer, a miscalculation caused me to miss out on Beerbistro.  World renown for their beer cuisine, we shared a three course meal and a host of beers, chatting the evening away.    No pictures, sadly, but easily my best beer and food experience ever.

Autumn Brew Review 
Headed to the brew review this fall, as I have every fall since ABR started.  However, this year was different. Two of my nephews--Josh and Ben--were able to attend and we spent the day chatting and drinking together.  I didn't have many new beers that day, but it was a clear highlight of the year.
Autumn Brew Review 2011: me, Ben and Josh.
Additional beer pictures of fun times in 2011 that didn't make the list above and are not appearing immediately in future posts.
Harpoon Brewery in Boston

Sam Adams aging room---yummy.  
Magic Hat in Burlington, Vermont
C'est What? in Toronto
HALF the taps at Meadhall in Cambridge, MA
Dark Horse in Marshall, MI

Winner of coolest bar: literally, made out of ice.  Fun stop.   

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Black Friar (Inveralmond Brewery, Perth, UK)

Blackfriar label from
Inveralmond website.   
Christmas Eve day outing with my nephew, and digging for beers in the lackluster list at Old Chicago in Sioux Falls.  Picked Black Friar before pulling it up on my database and realizing I've had it before.  However, my last bottle was highly rated from 2004, so not a bad idea to try it again to see how my tastes have changed.

From the Inveralmond website: Blackfriar is one of three ancient orders of monks central to the history of Perth in Scotland.  The monastery of the Blackfriar was built in 1231.  In 1437 James I of Scotland was assassinated by traitors there.

Hazy light copper ale with shimmering amber with light from the window.  Head thin and disappears quickly. Dishwater brown with irregular bubbles while it lasts.  Caramel, toffee on top of light biscuit and earthiness. Mineral in background that's characteristic of Scotch ales.  Light spice or sharp note that I'm note sure of the source.  Taking a look at the tasting notes from Inveralmond, the hops include First Gold, Fuggles, Styrian and Cascade.  Guessing now that the spice is from the hop blend, but I think I was reluctant to attribute so much hop spice to a wee heavy.   Strong caramel and malt taste.  Same spice from yeast, maybe, that leads to an assertive aftertaste that's pleasant.  Warmed up, the beer opens up and is more balanced.  Mineral background disappears and just leaves a clean spice.

In looking over some of the other BeerAdvocate reviews, I'll definitely will be on the high end of this beer--2004 and now.  In part, I'm going to guess that some drank the beer too cold and too fast, as it changes character significantly as it warms.  Plus, while the website calls this beer a wee heavy, it seems to be out of style and some of the reviews indicated failed expectations as the main problem with the beer.  Or, this beer just matches my palate.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wake Up Call (Grand Teton, Victor, Idaho)

Listed as Imperial Coffee Porter on the menu at the Muddy Pig, the beer is a dark, black beer with a cream dark tan head that billows nicely in the tulip glass and leaves a nice lace.  Roasted malt, dark chocolate and fresh coffee grounds in the nose.  On the tongue, the coffee is acrid and lingers--great if you like coffee (which I don't), but can recognize the quality in the brew.  Tastes like an older coffee porter before many started using a cold press method to reduce the coffee bitterness.  Or, I'm just spoiled from drinking coffee beers at Town Hall using Peace Coffee.   A good beer that's a bit muddled in the taste, so I will end with this one and recommend it only to an all day coffee drinker.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Insanity ( Weyerbacher, Easton, PA)

Weyenbacher Insanity.  Picture
from http://beerblog.genx40.com/
A little extra time waiting for friends at the Muddy Pig led to a draft of Insanity to bide the time.  No head on the beer, but light white bubbles around the beer/glass boundary.  Blood red beer in singles lighting--more of a brown and ruby held up to the light.  Nose is fairly light, but sourdough bread, dark cherries and chocolate on top of a light spice and assertive alcohol.  Insanity is the  barleywine Blithering Idiot aged in a oak bourbon barrel.  Taste clearly shadows the ghost of barleywine past and has a very familiar blend of dark fruit, oily bitterness and fig.  Departing from Blithering Idiot is the strong oak and harsh alcohol.  Warming while reading a book, the bourbon shows up full force with an alcohol sting--somehow more balance now.  Drink this one slow.

Good, but I prefer Blithering Idiot.  The idea of bourbon barrel aging being added to an already fine barleywine sounds like a great idea, in theory, but this one doesn't add up to more than the sum of it's part.  Well worth a try for a night but I will look elsewhere for my next barleywine.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Sun Thief (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)

Sun Thief Pale Ale. 
From Town HallA pale ale to get us through the shortest days of winter, hopped with Willamettes and Cascades. 

After a week or two of spiced winter ales, I pulled this growler of American Pale Ale from the back of the beer fridge as my first beer of 2012.  Picked it up from TH without a taste first just for the Williamette and Cascade blend, a favorite of mine since doing a fresh hop homebrew with the combination two years ago.

Copper and gold ale with an off white head.  Looks a bit like Masala Mama in the glass, but lighter.  Hops busted out of the growler and climbed out of the glass right to my nose from the counter.  Excellent.  Classic northwest hop smell with tons of grapefruit, clementine, lemon and a little pepper on top of a light, sweet biscuity malt.  Again, the base beer reminds me of Masala Mama and wouldn't be surprised if it shared a similar malt bill.  Sweet and light in the mouth.  Hops have a nice twang but lighter than the nose.  Dry, grassy hop bitterness of the back of the tongue.  Grassy, fruity and spicey hop bitterness lingers in the mouth in between sips. Straight forward pale ale that is small enough to let the hops shine but doesn't become thin.  Looks like it's going to be a very good year!  

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Festivus 2011 (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)

Made it to Town Hall for the last pint club of the year to taste this year's Festivus.  Since only Grinch's Grog was free for pint club, we were distracted briefly by that hoppy winter ale.   After a draft of Festivus, we decided then and there to get a growler to ring in the new year.

On to the beer.  Dirty tan head with irregular bubbles that foam up quickly before falling to a thin film on top of an obsidian lager that has a ruby highlighted edge.  The footed glass show the ruby highlights a lot more than my pint glass--prettier in the glass near the end.  Burnt biscuit, slight roast and sweet cherry in the nose.  As it warms the 7.5% alcohol becomes more apparent but still hidden behind the cherry.  Smooth, creamy mouthfeel that coats the tongue with cherry and dark malt.  With the cherry scent strong in the nose, it's a particularly pleasant drinking experience.  For my part, the 300 lbs of cherries used for this beer were well spent. Thumbs up from my wife  since it meets her criteria of pairing well with dark chocolate.   Well worth the trip downtown on a chilly day.