Monday, April 30, 2012

Walleye Chop Lager (Bank Beer Co, Hendrickson, MN)

I had a pleasant surprise when a co-worker shared two cans with me because he knew I liked to taste beers.
My obsession with my major pursuits in life often prevents me from being this nice and I should learn from Dave's fine example.

The beer to taste is Walleye Chop by Bank Beer Co in Hendricks, MN.  I had a less that satisfactory sample last fall at the Autumn Brew Review.  Being a light lager, a beer festival is hardly the place to get a good sampling of this lager.  Guessing it was later in the day when I got to it, so it didn't fair well.  Glad to have the opportunity to try a full can to give it a better evaluation.

Hazy orange lager that's shimmering gold around the edges.  Stark white head of irregular bubbles lingers lightly before falling to a thin film with no lace at all.  Second glass had a solid lace though.  Nose is a straight forward American lager that has a sweet biscuity malt and corn with a caramel backbone to support a stronger than average apple note from the yeast along with a hint of spice from the hops.  Very sweet base with an earthy hoppiness in the taste followed with a corn twang off the back.  Light and easy to drink, but not thin. It has enough body to give it some heft for the style.

From the website, I missed the oats, but the smooth flavor clearly reflects the addition.  Aftertaste is pleasant and avoids the negative leftover of most American lagers.   The highest of all lager compliments: it's brewed clean with no off flavors that are so easily produced in a light lager.  If I found myself in a Northwoods hunter/fisher bar and Walleye Chop was in a tap line of macros, I'd ask for a pint.  Clearly better than my initial taste, this macrolager clone has more to it than meets the eye.

Directly west of the Twin Cities and barely short of the South Dakota border, Bank Beer Co is your basic brew story with a twist: a homebrewer turned pro from dreaming around pints, but this one includes a Finnegans-like consciousness.  In this case, a portion of the profits go to preservation of land for hunting and local history.  While I'm not a part of their primary demographic, I applaud Bank's effort to make their corner of the world a better place.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

First and Last

Gloria and I recently finished watching Episode 14 of Season 6 of How I Met Your Mother.  The episode is entitled "Last Words" and through a series of funeral humor bits, Marshall obsesses and mourns over the last words of his father who just died of a heart attack.  As some of you know, my father died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 40 over spring break my sophomore year at Purdue.

The last time I saw my father was a week before his death at the Big Ten Championships.  I'm old enough that the Big Ten actually had ten teams at that point, and I had just been beaten badly and eliminated in only two matches from the tournament that my family had driven up to see.  I don't even remember clearly where we were wrestling, but a quick internet search confirms my vague recollection that it was at the University of Minnesota in 1986.

While my parents, who had me very young, may have made a mistake or two in raising me, they could not be faulted for supporting me by showing up to my events.  Because Purdue was a ways from home in Iowa, they had only made a few trips to see me that dismal year and Minnesota was obviously a good opportunity at the end of the season.  When I recount the story, I usually try to add a bit of humor that I placed 10th out of 10 in the Big Ten.  I was so bad that year, it's quite probably true that I was unable to beat a single person in the tournament.

After showering, I headed over to my folks' hotel room to face the music with dad.  There was always a comment when I lost.  His solutions generally revolved around working harder or lifting more weights.  Mom said he was at the bar across the street, which was no surprise.  Walking inside, dad was sitting just inside the door on the corner of the bar chatting up a local, so I pulled up a stool to fill out the short end.

Shortly after sitting down, he asked me, "Are you too good to have a beer with your old man?"  I mumble no, but I don't know what to order.  Funny, now, I know.  Over 25 years later, I miss him most when I'm surrounded by people at a festival and dream how dad and I would've talked, laughed and really enjoyed days of drinking beer together.  The bartender brought me something yellow and macro, probably Miller Lite since dad was one of the early patrons that made it so popular.  But it was beer, I was legal and sitting beside my dad--drinking our first and last beer together.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hopkins Tavern (Hopkins, MN)


I had a bit of time between Gloria's call and One Voice's performance later in the evening on this January afternoon.  I had a plan for dinner and some work for school, but followed a billboard on Hwy 169 to a multitap called Hopkins Tavern instead.  No idea what I was going to find, but I hadn't been on a beer adventure in some time and was game for it.

From the outside, Hopkins Tavern looks like a hole in the wall, but it is a huge double sided bar on the inside.  32 taps on the billboard, but I just counted 33 online. Range is fairly good, but several in the Miller Lite and Grain Belt area.  On the other end is Surly Furious and Alaskan Black IPA.  More than good enough in a pinch.

For being on the west side, I felt like I was at home in Iowa.  I was young-ish in the bar, like sitting at the VFW in Sibley.  I passed on the meat raffle ticket without explanation--didn't think the vegetarian angle would compute.  In the back was some sort of game of chance with pieces of paper placed in numbers on a board and the wheel would determine the winner.  It seemed very popular, so I watched for a while.  Listening to the charity gambling and sports betting options for funding a Viking's stadium, this game seems to be in the ballpark of those plans.

I started with an Alaskan Black IPA, which was frothy and very good on a chilly day.  Followed that pint with an Odell's Isolation Ale.  Needing dinner before the show and not wanting one of the various fried variations of pub grub on the menu, I opted for Heggies cheese pizza.  Granted I'm sucker for cheap pizza, but I really like Heggies.  On a recent "outing" at the High Timber Lounge, I confirmed my love of Heggies pizza.  To my surprise, a cheese pizza with parmesan and red peppers blended nicely with my second Alaskan Black IPA.  The roasted malt, hops and hot peppers duked it out to a tasty draw.

Hopkins Tavern isn't going to become my new local, but I see it as proof that good beer is pushing its way into every corner of society, including the meat raffle niche.  Every beer was well served and fresh, and Hopkins Tavern is doing a fine job representing craft beer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sol Bock (Harriet Brewing, Minneapolis, MN)

Tried a sample of Sol Bock on site when I picked up some growlers and it seemed worth a try.  For some reason, I am not a fan of maibock as a style and maybe I should stay the course.  The sample had promise, but I'm not as crazy about this beer at home.

Golden ale that turns amber without back lighting.  Nearly white head falls to a film.  Nose is bready with prominent citrus and spice of the advertised Amarillo hops.  Light body is toasted caramel and bready malt with an overlaid spice from the hops.  In maibock, there's a mineral or musty flavor that I don't enjoy.  While Sol Bock is well brewed, I won't be trying it again in a growler but could be convinced to try it on tap.

In spite of my maibock bias, this is a good beer that I suspect will do well locally.  It's smooth plus a bit of punch from the Amarillo and 6.5% ABV, which will make it popular with a lot of folks.  Listed on the website as Harriet-style Maibock, it's different enough to be a great addition to the local spring beer line up.

After posting this the first time, I came across a review of the Sol Bock Revival by The Heavy Table.  Looked like a good time, and seemingly a significant number of folks who like Sol Bock more than I did.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Saison Nourrice (Harriet Brewing, Minneapolis, MN)

Driving home from a great but exhausting weekend at the state speech tournament at Chanhassen High School,  I realized cruising down 494 that I now had more time on my hands to hunt down some good beer.  So, I immediately headed over to Harriet Brewing to fill my long neglected growlers and discovered a festival.  Harriet was still selling growlers, but the parking lot was filled with tents, music, and, I assume, beer.  Since finding a parking spot wore me out, I just got three growlers to start my off-season.

I couldn't figure out the name just hearing it, so need to look up Saison Nourrice on Harriet's website. No explanation of nourrice, but a google search says its French for a child caretaker or wet nurse.  I don't really get the name, but the sample on site was good enough to grab a growler.  Pale straw gold ale that bubbles continuously to support a fluffy, stark white head.  Strong nose full of heavy pepper, spice, yeast and underlying citrus fruit.  Taste follows the nose with a clean peppery spice that bites lightly on top of a light malty sweetness.  Spiciness lingers after a dry finish.

A very solid beer that I'm quickly becoming a fan of half way through the growler.  If you like pepper in your farmhouse ale, this is a must try for you.  Hops come in at 40 IBUs, and while not large, some of the spiciness is clearly supported by the hop character.  At 6.7%, Saison Nourrice is light and easy drinking in spite of being a pretty big beer.  Watch out for this one if drinking at your local.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Goudenband (Brouwerij Liefmans, Oudenaarde, Belgium)

Fluffy tan head falls in large vacuous bubbles.  Cherry and malt nose and a singular sourness over top.  The dark ruby ale spreads sour across the tongue along with caramel, old raisin and sweet malt.  Another pick for the Spring Fever basket, Goudenband is a great beer that's clean and complex without being overwhelming.

A beer that ages well, this one is a little young and rough around the edges fresh from the Four Firkins.  A bottle of Goudenband was for sale at RFD in Washington, DC on one of our trips there in 2004.  On the menu was a 1987 bottle of Goudenband for just under $20.  My wife Gloria and I shared the bottle and it was clearly one of my best drinking experiences of all time.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gouden Carolus Cuvee van de Keizer Blauw (Brouwerij het Anker, Mechelen, Belgium)

Gouden Carolus Cuvee van de Keizer Blauw is a great beer with several different names over the year.  Also known as Carolus D'Or and Grand Cru of the Emperor.  I ordered a bottle at RFD on a 2002 trip to Washington DC, and it is also the only craft beer that my mother-in-law has ever liked.

Creamy light tan head lingers forever on top of a dark ruby on black beer.  Heavy cherry, dark fruit and malt with a clean spice over top.  As it warms, a slight hotness from the 11% alcohol that is more apparent in the taste.  Strong fig, cherry and spice in the taste.  Sweetly balanced beer and a depth of flavor grows with the temp.

Another pick for my Spring Fever basket, this accessible yet special ale brewed once a year on the 24th of February is well worth a try for all levels of beer geek.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Two Fingers (Flat Earth Brewing, St. Paul, MN)

Two Fingers doesn't show up on the beer geek network, but an MNBeer post lists the beer as Flat Earth's five year anniversary brew.  The post was almost a month ago, so the growler I bought might've been in the fridge for a while--and then a week in mine  before I had time to get a pint poured.

Hazy amber to brown ale--not what I expected for a double IPA.  Clean, barely-off-white head that has a nice lace.  Heavy grassy hops, citrus and muddled malt in the taste that's somewhat supported by a citrus and biscuit nose.  Leaves the mouth dry and hoppy.  Slight oiliness betrays a higher gravity, but the alcohol is only apparent in the feel of the beer, which hits like a hammer.

Good beer, but it doesn't have the clean hop pop that I look for in a double IPA.  Good, no great, but perfectly fine as a Sunday afternoon beer.  Drinking the rest of the growler over the day, warmth really helps the balance of this beer.  Take your time if you get a chance with this one.  I'm not disappointed with the growler, but I don't see this one becoming a regular without some fine tuning.

Monday, April 16, 2012

First Pull IPA (Brainerd Lake Beer, Brainerd, MN)

Picked up a new brewery at MGM after a grocery run.  Brainerd Lakes Beer is clearly going for an up Nort' feel with lakes inspired names.  First Pull refers to the sweet feeling of an outboard starting in one shot.  While I understand the metaphor, it's not an association I identify with strongly.

Excited to try a new brewery, but that didn't last long unfortunately.  Amber ale with golden highlights looks great in the class with a fluffy white head that falls to a heavy lace.  Citrus and heavy metallic over a sweet malt that isn't inviting.  Body is thin with an unpleasant twang from more than the hop bite.

While it's easy to root for a new brewery, this beer stalled in the glass.  Hopefully, I'll get a chance to try the beer at a festival or on site in the future to give it another chance.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Maredsous 8 Dubbel (Duvel Moortgat, Breendonk-Puurs, Belgium)

Maredsous Dubbel was my wife's mainstay draft at Triple Rock Social Club over the years, so sharing this bottle on a Friday night.

Large, rocky light brown head that lingers through the first half of the beer.  Yeasty nose on top of dark fruit, cherry, caramel, malt and a slight funkiness that grows with warmth.  Heavy dark fruit and malt continues in the taste though the body is a little thin.  Yeasty funk isn't as strong on the tongue as the nose, but blends well.

Included  in the Spring Fever basket, this is a good beer that's a small stretch with enough yeasty twang to make it interesting.  Smooth and easy drinking beer that's like meeting an old friend.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Delirium Tremens (Brouwerij Huyghe, Melle, Belgium)

Delirium Tremens is a hazy burnt orange beer with a stark white, fluffy head that piles high.  Very light bready malt under yeast, pepper and spice.  Pleasant and inviting.  Sweet biscuit with a significant pepper, spice, and a hint of apple that leads to a dry finish.  Spicy sweetness lingers until the next sip.  Pepper and spice grows with the warmth initially with the 8.5% alcohol remaining unapparent the entire time.  Taste goes a little flat when it warms too long.  Oddly, it helps the taste to warm a little, but there's a window of peak flavor for this beer.

I've always liked this beer a lot and can see why it's a popular at multiple tap bars.  It's a quality beer that's extremely approachable, and that's the main reason I picked this beer for the Spring Fever basket.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Cygnus X-1 (Flat Earth Brewing, St. Paul, MN)

Cygnus X-1 Porter
I have half a dozen entries for Cygnus X-1 in my database, starting with a sample on site in 2007 when I did a tour of the brewery with the MN Home Brewers.  In spite of my multiple tastings, they've tended to be few and far between. However, if my memory serves, the beer I'm drinking tonight seems to be a more robust offering than my first taste.

Very light brown head lingers nicely before falling to a thin lace.  At first I thought the nose was coffee, but on second thought it's more clearly a clean roast with an earthy spice coming out as it warms.  Strong malt with a roasty smokiness in the taste that's supported by a light but not thin body.  Ends with a pleasant bitterness that persists somewhat.

In reading Flat Earth's description, Cygnus is made with rye malt, which explains the bite that I noticed but couldn't place.  On the original tour, the style was listed as a Canadian Porter, which I don't understand any more now than I did then.  On the website now, it's described as an adjusted English Porter.  Cygnus is a slightly off centered porter that leans towards robust and is interesting to drink.

After I've had the straight Cygnus X-1 now, the differences overlaid in the S'mores infused Grand Design I took home at Christmas are clear.  I can see why the blend of Cygnus flavors works well with infusions, and I suspect that it might become a standard for me in the regular and altered versions.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Film Review: How Beer Saved the World

On Netflix instant presently is the documentary How Beer Saved the World.  Hard not to click.

I had read about and knew nearly all of the information before, so the documentary's information is basically accurate.  However, the claims presented push the hyperbole to the extreme. According to the film, beer is basically responsible for all of human history--at least the positive parts.  If you look past this flaw, it's educational and fun, though the depth of the analysis is sophomoric.

One "error" that I noticed was the famously misquoted phrase attributed to Ben Franklin that says "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."  I've read several articles (none that I can cite at the moment) that basically debunk this myth.  I'm guessing other similar mistakes are perpetuated in the film, but I'm not inclined to be the fact checking type.

So enjoy, learn a bit and don't take life--or this film--too seriously.

Toripuru (Herkimer Pub & Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)


Pretty sure it was an episode of Beer Geeks TV I saw that highlighted the Herkimer's 23% triple bock known as Toripuru.  Created by brewer Mike Willaford with sake yeast, it was hard to resist a giant beer with such a unique brewing history.

Poured in its own snifter up to the name for the 5 oz pour.  I read that Toripuru intended to be a yearly release, so the investment in special glasses makes sense in the long term and makes for an interesting drinking experience.

Color of the beer is unusual--canned beet juice on the edge, dark maroon in the center.  Hazy, murky with no head except for a few random bubbles around the edge.  Swirling the glass, legs on the side are apparent from the high alcohol.  In the nose, the alcohol hotness grows quickly as it warms, and floats above peppery and earthy spiciness, overripe cherry and cocoa powder.  Fruit and alcohol continue on the tongue with light chocolate and a heavy sweetness that doesn't overwhelm.  Incredibly smooth and easy to drink through the almost bitter finish.

Very fun and unusual beer, and it seems that the sake yeast gives it a completely different feel.  Compared to other high alcohol brews I've had, it is missing the fusel hotness of a Rosie's Ale from Barley John's, the whiskey-like characteristics of a Sam Adams Utopias or the woodiness of a high alcohol barrel aged beer.  Good enough that I ordered a second glass, but I'm not sure I'm a dedicated fan yet.  Overall taste seemed a bit muddled and lacked clarity.  Plus, it didn't do well on the final test--the beer should improve all the way through the warming cycle, especially since it's clearly made to sip.  In this case, this beer did better early before it sat waiting for me to finish my veggie mac dinner at the bar.   I felt it was worth the effort midweek to drive to uptown for a taste and applaud the effort by Herkimer to push the limits of beer, so I'll probably give a try again next year to see how it changes on the next try.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Contented Cow (Northfield, MN)

Contented Cow patio and concert

Whenever I find myself in Northfield meeting a friend, I seem to end up at The Contented Cow.  Easy, downtown location and a reputation for being a great place to hang out makes it a natural choice.

On this trip with speechie friends after the Northfield tournament, the music for St. Paddy's was good and an appropriate volume since the stage was off the end of the patio.  We sat off to the left in the picture below and it was a extremely pleasant day on the patio being that it was March.

However, the beer and service is definitely under par.  Our waitress came over for our order and she didn't know what was on tap.  Later at the bar, they didn't have a list of bottled beers, nor could they name them.  I've always found this odd at the Cow and seems to be an area they could improve.  On a popcorn refill run, I found a new beer by checking out an empty bottle on the bar and ordered it: Laverstoke Park Farm's Organic Real Lager.  I also added Summit India Pale Ale to my database on this visit, but I see that as an oversight on my part more than a credit to the bar.  
View from stairs above bar

When I paid my bill, I noticed that New Belgium's new beer Dig was on tap, which I would've definitely tried.  For a local bar to have two beers that I haven't had is generally a good sign.  However, getting me only one of two of these beers--and that one by accident--is a bad omen.

The bar area, and the interior bar for that matter, is messy and always seems to be a bit out of sorts.  I like a good dive bar as much as the next person (maybe more), but the sloppiness seems to slide over to the beer handling and service.  With that said, both beers were adequately served and had no issues really, though I did have to ask for a glass to go with the bottle.

To my surprise, a look at my database shows that despite my memory of being at the Cow many times, this is the first time I've managed to get a beer on the list while there.  Maybe that means their selection is expanding.  At any rate, while my review doesn't exactly glow, I do enjoy my occasional Northfield stop. Plus, its long history as a downtown summer haunt belies the fact that I have a very different criteria for a bar than the locals who fill the joint.  While I won't be going out of my way, I also won't turn down an invitation to The Contented Cow when it happens again.  

Isolation Ale (Odell Brewing, Fort Collins, CO)

Odell is a great brewery, and I keep trying the Isolation Ale thinking I should like it and never warm up to it completely.

Thin white head with a lace over a copper colored ale that changes from gold to amber in the bar light.  Strong malt, caramel and toffee in the nose--subtle spice from the hop and a hotness from the alcohol.  Newcastle like taste, mostly the malt but much hoppier and it has a mineral twang over sweet caramel and toffee.  Fruity and floral hop punches through the apparent alcohol (6% accroding to BA).  Good beer, well brewed--I'm just not a fan of it.

For myself, I need to research a bit more what the source of the mineral taste in this beer, a similar taste that shows up in Scottish and English ales that seems to be off putting to me.