Thursday, January 31, 2013

Fulton & Great Lakes Collaboration


Al invited me to the Fulton & Great Lakes Collaboration to taste the shared Baltic Porter recipe at the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis.  The pairing of two beloved breweries, BLB's pad thai and a night with Al combined to get me out on a school night.

Started with an Edmund Fitzgerald by Great Lakes, an excellent beer that I don't seem to drink enough.  Based on the waitress' wondering why more weren't ordering the Black Out Stout, I next decided to take that plunge.  Infused with mint and cocoa nibs, the freshness of each was powerful, and the stout almost kept up with it.

I sipped from Al's War & Peace, Fulton's on cask with Guatemalan dark coffee beans from Peace Coffee added to Worthy Adversary.  Very good but the coffee was too much for a non-coffee drinker like me, so I moved on to the Baltic Porter collaboration ale.

The collaboration was smooth and rich with a subtle complex flavor.  Brian of Fulton stopped to talk with Al, Steve and I.  He outlined the tasting and talking process to make the beer, noting that the GL lager yeast throws off more than a clean fermentation that adds a unique flavor to this beer (and to many other GL beers).  I was an enthused with the described mechanics and passion of the collaboration as much as the beer.  Again, the energy and dedication that goes into making great beer is amazing.  Fun night and glad I made it. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Angel City Brewing (Los Angeles, CA)

Angle City Brewing's new location in downtown LA

One my favorite parts of beer hunting is that it often brings us into neighborhoods that a normal tourist wouldn't have a reason to go.  Hunting has resulted in many of our best beer adventures.  Angel City Brewing was one such quest.

Interpretation of Guernica by street artist.  Love this pic.    
We lived in LA for six years after I graduated from Purdue, but never really spent much time in the actual downtown area, except for going to the central office of Los Angeles Unified School District, "The Hill," and for a few shows.  After being touristy downtown, we walked to Angel City through a series of street shops, accidentally interrupting a valley yuppie in a SUV buying drugs on a side street.  Our big city senses must be slipping.  Heading over to the east side Arts District, the brewery is in a massive structure that was a former industrial building.  They should have no problem expanding in their space.  Walk around to the back for the entrance.

Street art.  
Street art.  
Industrial chute from top floor of warehouse. And, no,
there are no rides on the chute.  
Samples of Angel City at the 2005 Great American Beer Festival were less than impressive.  Since LA lacks some depth, we decided to take the scenic walk across downtown to give them another try.  From the samples we tried, Angel City has significantly improved both quality and consistency.  Very nice time sampling their brews, especially with the street artist display from a recent local event.  Looking at their website, they only recently re-opened to the public for an on-site sampling.  Not sure what happened in between my visit and now, but evidently the brewery is on the verge of bringing in the public on a more regular basis.  While not a meteoric rise, Angel City seems to be working hard to provide some beer options in the LA area.  If I get the opportunity, I would like to check out their progress again.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Mackenzie Pub (Minneapolis, MN)


Mackenzie Pub is a small bar with a surprising amount of charm in the downtown Hennepin Ave,  While I've only had a few experiences at the pub, they have all been positive.  From my notes, the last time I recorded a beer was in the summer of 2008 in which I went two nights in a row with friends for tappings of a couple new breweries of the time: Surly and Furthermore.  Hard to believe I haven't been back since, but, if I have returned, it didn't record anything new.

Which I find hard to believe from their selection.  Last night before heading to the One Voice performance at The Cowles Center, I started with Indeed Old Friend and then followed up with a draft of Deschutes Hop Henge IPA to pair with my mushroom and onion pizza.  Running late, I had to interrupt a pleasant beer conversation with my newly met bar mates to finish both pizza and beer, leaving with a longing for several remaining taps.

Based on the pizza and the well served beer, I need to return.  The pub has an elegant decor with clean lines that also feels like a small town local, which makes me wonder about the history of the older building.  Service was friendly and helpful for a range of drinkers (help for me and eavesdropping on other orders).  Great stop that seems to be underrated based on how often I don't hear about them in beer chatter. However, I plan to make Mackenzie my new go-to place for downtown activities to test it over time, trading in our old place of Rock Bottom.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery (Minneapolis, MN)

Beautiful bar and brewery.  One of the prettiest presentations
of a brew house I've seen. 
Rock Bottom of Minneapolis is an opportunity brewpub for me.  If the opportunity arises, I happily drink there.  But, I never go out of my way for it and don't have RB growlers.  And, it's not that it isn't good, but the driving distance to parking hassle to cool beer ratio just doesn't add up well enough to draw me into its orbit unless I'm already there for something else.

So what draws me in?  In 2006, RB kindly hosted a MN Home Brewers meeting that I attended, accommodating the club's needs and effectively serving the whole group.  It's also an easy pre-show dinner stop or a nearby warm up for the Target Center or a Twins game.  From more visits than I can count, I've always found RB to be fast and attentive enough for a quick pint and food to get you out the door to your downtown activity.

Tonight, RB is host to the One Voice post-show gathering of the 25th Anniversary performance down the street at The Cowles Center.  We seemed to be as big as the entire front bar, so the servers frantically tried to get us fed.  While so many people descending on a place will generally cause some delays, I was amazed that I got an accurate bill for just my fare at the end of the night.  Plus, I was never without a beer in hand.  Win.

Having fun with friends, I have no real notes for tonight's beers.  However, this sampling seems to represent my overall experience at RB over the years.  Walking in the door, the OV hop heads excitedly ordered the double IPA Double Down.  The color and taste were both hazy and muddled, lacking the crisp hop clarity of a top notch double IPA.  Good, but not strong enough to inspire another draft.  My wife Gloria ordered a pint of Coconut Chai Stout, which didn't disappoint from its name: clear coconut and more than clear chai, but the overall result confused us.  I hate both coconut and chai, but didn't mind the stout; my wife loves both ingredients, but was clearly unimpressed.
Back area reserved for a One Voice party.  Very fun--everyone
in the photo is a part of OV

Between name and style, my next draft had to be the Raging Oompa-Loompa Belgian IPA.  Not reading anthing about the beer, I assume it's an allusion to Raging Bitch IPA, the epitome of the style in my opinion.  Had I not been distracted by the table advertising for the Double Down, this would have been my first draft.  It has a serious Belgian yeast twang, plus the hops clear both the sinuses and the palate (a compliment from me).  Really love this beer and would be perfectly happy drinking it all night.  Gloria and friend Robin ordered a limited bottle of Belgian ale called Mort Noir.  Dark and full bodied, I was moderately impressed with the small sample I was allowed to tastethe ladies were much happier with it, so they reserved the remainder of the bottle for themselves.  Fine by me since I was slowing sipping my funked up hops.

Ended with the Belgian Grand Cru.  While a better than average beer, the grand cru was low on the richness I expect from the style, but was a nice beer to tipple the night away until we were asked to move to the front bar, shutting down the party a bit before bar close.  Probably should have stayed with the Belgian IPA, but, as is often true, I got drawn in by the hunt for new over old.  As with most trips at RB, there's a lot of middle of the road good beer bracketed by one that I'd be happy to drink multiple drafts and a miss or two.  Because I'm generally on a timetable when here, it sometimes takes longer than I have to find a favorite.  While the beers are consistently good, great is more sporadic, which is why I lack the confidence to order impunity like I do at Town Hall.  If I were planning a large get together in downtown with an exceptionally flexible and hard working staff, Rock Bottom is the place to go.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Muddy Pig Festival of Hops 2013 (St. Paul, MN)

The Muddy Pig brings back its Festival of Hops again, and it's as fun as ever.  With 50+ taps full of hoppy goodness, for me the test is how many new drafts are ready to pour into my taste database.  To my surprise (or arrogance), I found nine new brewsa pretty amazing number for any stop.  Three samples for $10 is a fairly affordable way to taste these high hop beers.

Let's start with tips for a successful fest at the Muddy Pig:
  • Order by number.  With so many beers, the names are just a confusing mess for the servers.  Say each number clearly, in order.  The beers are served in order with a ticket to remind you what is in each glass.  
  • Every sample has a lace.  The MP does a great job of serving samples, so be confident that what is being tasted is what was meant by the brewer.  It's very tough to wash and serve in sample size glasses, but MP does it well. 
  • Show up early.  I was a bit after the dinner our and plenty of seats were left on a Tuesday night.  I chose the back because it's lighter and away from the commotion, and most were empty in the back but it filled up quickly
  • Free WiFi.  Ask for the code and get some monkey work done.  I was able to productive doing relatively mindless tasks with internet access, and could also research my samples on the fly and take notes.  I found it fun to have my full beery resources available while tasting.  
  • Be prepared.  Walk in, find the numbers, order when you get a chance, including water immediately.  The servers work hard, but its a popular place and hesitation will cost valuable drinking time. 
  • No Pints.  I didn't try this, but the table next to me ordered a pint and was rebuffed; evidently, they were only serving samples for the fest.  Happily, I was able to find enough to keep me entertained for the evening, so it didn't matter.  I fail to see the reasoning for no pints, but I'm guessing there's some pragmatic reason.  
I optimistically started to review each sample, but became distracted with other concerns.  My first set of samples started well, took a dip and then finished well.  I started with Two Brothers Revelry, a copper ale with an off white lace.  Spicy hop and caramel nose that leads to a solid bite.  Listed as a red ale, it packs a punch.  Good start.  Next was Bell's Roundhouse, a dark golden ale with a wispy lace and the nose of a fresh hop alefruit and grass, followed by a biting taste that is completely expected from the nose.  Listed as an amber ale on BA, I would call it a bruising APA that makes up its lacks in subtlety with an amazing bite.  Finally, I couldn't resist the Lucid Foto IPA, a hazy copper ale with white tightly bubbled head.  Elegant nose of grapefruit-orange juice, fresh bread, spice, and pepper underneath.  Spice seems to be a combination of hop and yeast, but not sure.  Nose is more promising that the than taste that seems a bit muddled.

Round Two: Lake Superior Black IPA, a midnight black with no head, nose and taste is unexpected, and oddly unbalanced.  Off fruit taste and its elements fail to meld.  Very disappointing.  A bit busy at school lately, so I have tried a Pour Decisions brew yet. My first was their Maroon and Bold, Imperial Red IPA; it's a maroon beer to match the name with a full lace, heavy malt and caramel nose with hops fighting to the top, and some hop in the taste but the sweet base overwhelms.  Adequate, but I'm not in love with the beer in spite of being in love with the name of the brewery.  Lift Bridge Hop Dish IPA was next, but my mushroom and onion pizza interrupted the sampling, so I need to try it in full draft to give it a proper chance in spite of my initial positive impression.

After dinner, I tried Boulder Nitro Flashback, Fulton The Ringer, and Mendocino Double IPA, but, as mentioned before, lost track of writing up each.  Strong finish and especially looking forward to visiting Mendocino during our summer trip.  As I'm finishing my last rack of samples, a group of youngster professionals were chatting away and oblivious to the hop fest.  Not of the bitter persuasion, they, sadly, had to resort to drinking bottles of Amstel light.

Well worth the effort, I've been to several of MP's fill-the-tap festivals and have enjoyed each one.  Low key but MP festivals provide a unique combination: good value for beer quality, excellent presentation of samples and a selection that can wow even a hardcore geek.  Pick a night, settle in and drink and learn.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chez Leon, Rue des Bouchers 18 (Brussels, BE)


After a week of working up the courage to eat shellfish, plus a recommendation by the receptionist at the Breughel hostel, I finally had moules and frites (mussels and french fries).  Mussels are out of season, so a local wouldn't be eating them. But I'm a tourist and won't be here in-season.

Anne, the guide from the Boon tour, recommended, among other dishes I don't generally eat, that I drink gueuze with mussels.  I can report the combination is quite good, in this case a Mort Subite Gueuze. The gueuze cuts sharply through the flavor of the mussels, balancing the strong meaty flavor of the seafood.  This fact was appreciated by this recent vegetarian on his first sampling of shellfish since trying oysters in Mr. Zwagerman's class in high school.  Overall, I enjoyed the experience and glad I drank the gueuze with dinner rather than the Maes Pils that came with the meal, as the mussels lost their lives to being boiled in the stuff.

The Brit father of the family at the next table said the mussels were very good, but the frites we below par, so I'm inclined to think the mussels have room for improvement as well.  The same waiter I had showed the Brit father how to use a used mussel shell to hold on to a new mussel to eat, which I assumed was a better, local way than the spoon I was trying to use. Overall, I'm satisfied with the experience because Chez Leon at least feels authentic compared to the touristy places that tried to pull me in as I walked here. The napkins say since 1893, so I suppose that's something.  Maybe I'll find out at some point in the future how good of an experience this was today.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A La Becasse (Brussels, Belgium)

I had pre-trip researched a little on A La Becasse but it was a low priority; however, I decided to make a stop based on the recommendation of Werner from Oud Beersel and the Lambic Discovery Center.  I'm glad that I had talked to him, otherwise I might not have approached the place.  The nondescript front is just a door with a sign that leads to a long, ancient hallway until it emerges into a dark wood interior lined with tightly spaced rows of tables. Very quaint place that feels local in spite of being very close to the Grand Place, though some were clearly tourists because I can hear their excessively loud Texas accent-laden conversation across the room.

I started with the sweet lambic, Lambic Doux.   It's Timmerman's lambic sweetened and served in a traditional lambic jar and glass. A light amber ale that shines in the glass, it has a subtle sourness and an earthy tone.  Sweetness balances the sour, almost, and makes for a very pleasant thirst quencher, as it says on the menu.

Moved on to the Lambic Blanc, or white lambic. Initially a foamy white head built up and fell on top of a slightly hazy, light yellow beer.  It's listed as a white wheat beer on the menu, and explained as a unique, traditional Lambic that was imbibed on the farms of Pajottenland.  It also has a subtle wheaty nose with a faint sourness and sugar. Sweetened as well, the lemon, wheat tang and spiciness push over the sweetness that lingers in the back.  Very refreshing and complex; I can see how this was the "lawnmower" beer of Flanders. When talking to Werner yesterday, I had trouble understanding how this was Belgian equivalent of Saison, a beer to drink on the farm but this white lambic makes it abundantly clear.

The waiter was very friendly and helped me to order a vegetarian dish, a traditional cheese sandwich.  It was a very thin bread that was spread with a heavy layer of soft white cheese.  Radishes and onions on the side added contrasting flavors to the creamy cheese funk.  For me, the cheese became a bit much by the end, but an interesting meal of traditional cuisine that is hoped for element of any good vacation.  And, I have room left for a waffle for dessert on the Grand Place (eat plain to look like a local--add too much chocolate and whip cream for the "tourist" waffle).

In the end, the only negative of my stop was the really loud American.  Otherwise, once I settled in, it felt like a real place compared to the craziness of the Delirium Cafe, a respite from the touristy nature of many bars in this area; it lived up to Werner's billing in every way.  For any beer geek that's serious about tasting lambic in its traditional manner, A la Becasse is a must stop when in Brussels.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Brouwerij Het Anker (Mechelen, Belgium)

het Anker brewhouse

Coolship from days of brewing yore
Took the short train ride from Brussels to Mechelen to tour Brouwerij Het Anker, which is only about 20 minutes from Brussels. I'm amazed by how simple and fast it is to get around Belgium, at least the larger cities that are a straight train ride from Brussels.  Next trip I will rely on trains and cover more ground with confidence.  In the Central Station, there's what looks an iPhone for a giant that will search trains and routes to locations. Very helpful when not easily connected to online sources.  While there are automated ticket stations, lack of a EU styled chipped credit card meant that this didn't work for me.

View of Mechelen from top of Het Anker
So, between not having a chip and not generally knowing what ticket to buy, I would always left a little extra time to purchase a ticket from an agent.  A paid ticket entitles you to ride to a region and doesn't say what train to take or list transfers.  The large board will do this, so I would search my route and use my iPad camera to take a picture of the information.  Also, one of the ticket booths (don't remember the marking but it was all the way to the right) will print off an itinerary as well.  Many of the windows have limited functions to provide express service, so not every window will print a schedule.  This morning the only confusion was that my information said to go to Malines, but the stop is also named Mechelen.  I assume Malines is French for Mechelen.  Because of the split Walloon-Flanders nature of the country, these French-Flemish language issues happen fairly often.

At the Mechelen/Malines stop, a nice security guard gave me very detailed directions for how to walk through downtown.  It's was a pretty stroll on a sunny Sunday morning that was about half an hour, and I took a meandering path past the Grote Markt (Grand Place) and a huge cathedral in the center of town. I didn't turn before hitting the river, so had to backtrack a little and walk through the Het Anker parking lot.  Mechelen is an extremely quaint city that is a tourist destination without the beer, as I found out with the myriad of people crowding the town as I went home after lunch.

7.20 Euro for the tour; buy the ticket in the gift shop desk by the restaurant entrance. Again, I arrived early (only 90 minutes this time), so had a seat in the outdoor cafe to catch up on my writing from recent days.  The tour meets in the yard by the cafe chairs, so relax and wait for it to begin.

Het Anker is a combination of working brewery and preserved historical site, layers of untouched dust intact.  Het Anker is simply--the anchor, Mechelen being a long time shipping port via the waterways that ring the old city.  Seems obvious, but I find it hard to think of a seemingly landlocked town as a port city.  The tour is  the normal "beer is made of four ingredients lecture," plus a museum tour and a running narrative of local Beguine history.  A unique tour in many ways that's worth the effort, blending God, beer, and politics into an interesting story.
Draft of Lucifer in het Anker restaurant and tasting room
Antique wort cooler.  The beer ran over the tubes
in an enclosed, heated room

At the beginning of the tour, the guide asks for preferred languages  and then proceeded to do the tour in each language in the group, English and Dutch today.  Very helpful.  In the first room of the brewery, which had historic pictures and looked liked an old tap room, our guide told of the original Beguine hospital on the site in 1625--a date on a building near the cafe that is a rebuilt building due to a fire in the earlier structure.  Beguines were a lay Christian community, similar to nuns but composed of rich young daughters that served God rather than submit their purity to marriage, according to our guide.  They lacked formal religious vows; however, connections to wealthy family members made the Beguines a powerful political force that shaped Mechelen--and Belgium as a whole.  The Beguines hospital went back to the 1200s and Charles the Bald gave them permission to start brewing in 1471.  I'll leave the reader to find out the rest of the history on tour.

Chatting with the guide, I found out that the bottling was done below in the cellars that were not on the tour.  However, Het Anker is moving all bottling to a plant that they own nearby.  They contract bottle for a lot of breweries because the bottling plant can easily change the size of bottle being filled, flexibility being a hallmark trait of the company business strategy.  There are also plans to use the on site bottling space for additional tourism by building a hotel.

Touring the old brewery was fun because of the stream of museum pieces seemed endless, including the old heat exchanger that ran the wort over the coils in a glass enclosed, oven-heated room originally.  The heat was to regulate the rate of temperature decline and keep out infection.  Moving to the old malt house, it was musty like an old grain elevator, creaky floor boards included gratis.  We ended on the lower level with whiskey aging in stacks of barrels, finishing the tour with the exquisite smell of the Angel's Share that wet our taste buds for some free samples.

Two samples with the tour, which I had the Gouden Carolus Classic and Tripel.  Both were fine and I moved on to a draft of Lucifer, a hazy gold ale with a giant, stark white head, muted spice in the nose and a sweet and spicy but light body. Good but not something I'd order again.  I hoped to end with the strongest beer with which I was familiar and ordered a draft Hopsinjour.  However, I was disappointed in it as well. Good but my memories of the bottle are better.  Drafts here are not an improvement, unfortunately.  I'm not sure if it's because the Het Anker beers are simply better on yeast in the bottle or if there was a serving issue in the bar draft system.

Whiskey aging room and the smell from
the Angel's Share was amazing!
Another person on the tour seemed to be a solo traveler, so I invited him to join me.  He was Pedro Esteban from Brazil and we talked while having samples. A real road warrior beer geek, he was heading to La Trappe and several other breweries yet today.  He found the driving in Belgium relatively simple compared to the roads of home, so he ended with his free samples to have time for trappist ales in Tilburg.  First time I met a South American beer geek and the discussion was illuminating.

Pedro moved on, so for my solo lunch I had the overpriced vegetarian pasta since I couldn't, for some unfathomable reason, just order frites although frites came with other meals.  Mediocre at best, I should have listened to my instincts to eat elsewhere.  A minor detraction of a fine day.  I felt better with a full stomach in the early afternoon, taking a leisurely picturesque walk along the river as the tourists came out on a Sunday afternoon on my way back to the train to have dinner at A la Becasse for traditional lambic on Werner's recommendation.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Le Bier Circus (Brussels, Belgium)


While trying to plan my first brewery tour to Bosteels on Friday, I accidentally ran across Le Bier Circus near the youth hostel Jacques Brel that I'm staying at a night this week.  Decided to give it a try: I saw vegetarian lasagna on the menu, plus I had heard of the bar before. Maybe it's because it's a Thursday night, but I'm the only one in the restaurant plus a few sitting outside.

Lasagna looked better than it tasted, but I'm hot and running on two hours of sleep from the flight.  Might not be a fair test. I don't see myself ordering it again, but it definitely hits the spot now.

With dinner I had a Keyte Dobbel-Triple, which is very good. What I can tell from the menu, the beer is from amateurs in Ostende. Unclear in translation, but the server clears it up that the beer is brewed by Brouwerij Strubbe but somehow created by the "club van bierliefhebbers" or homebrewers.  An amazing collaboration: dark chestnut brown with a dirty brown head that falls in a perfect lace. Chestnut in the nose that reminds me of a Christmas beer I had in Italy once. Light spice in nose to balance that subdued by the full Dubbel-like malt, slight dark fruits and full nuttiness. Fun beer.

Near the end of the meal, a Euro cover of G L O R I A Gloria song is playing.  Really odd and slightly surreal as I'm travelling alone for the week until my Gloria meets me in France. The music has been invasive in each place I've been and unsettling for some reason, but I can't seem to find the source of my discomfort. This is the longest trip that we've ever taken--a full month I'll be in Belgium and France, and--today--I feel a bit isolated and overwhelmed.  Dinner and a unique beer find has been a nice respite to re-group from jet lag and a rocky start with the hostel, all of which worked out fine as I found my footing in Belgium for a truly magnificent week.  If I lived in the neighborhood, I would most definitely be happy to be a regular at Le Bier Circus, but don't think it's the destination bar that it sounded like online.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Port Brewing and The Lost Abbey (San Marcos, CA)


After a great day and tour at Stone last December, we headed over to sample Port Brewing and Lost Abbey before heading home for the day.  I'd gotten the idea to combine the stops from a Basic Brewing video; research does pay off.

The Lost Abbey is the former site of Stone Brewing during its early days.  We toured the facility during a SoCal MEA trip in October of 2002 on the way back from some great apple pie in Julian.

While that trip deserves another post, my memory of the original Stone is very different than the look of Port Abbey.  In short--it seems smaller now.  According to the Lost Abbey website, it's actually larger now.  I've been pursuing beeriness on location for well over a decade since that initial visit, so my guess is my recollection was inflated by the newness of my hobby.  A great memory and I still drink from my souvenir Arrogant Bastard pint glass.

Back to the future, a solid day of tasting at Stone meant my personal resources for this stop were limited.  Samplers were for sale, so I was still able to try a range of their beers.  Lost Abbey's Lost and Found plus the Wipeout IPA were new favorites, plus I verified my love of several, including Santa's Little Helper and Old Viscosity.

Great way to end a day of tasting--the cherry on top of the Stone sundae. Can't thank the Basic Brewing guys enough for this idea.  I highly recommend the combination, especially with the new Stone hotel going up in the near future.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Brewberry (Paris, FR)


We stopped by a couple of days before we were to leave Paris and, unfortunately, Brewberry was closed.  They were also on vacation, like many of the businesses in Paris in August.  Luckily, its first day open was our last full day in town.

After a mind blowing day of water lilies at Monet's Giverny, meeting new Australian friends on the train and a less than spectacular visit to the Marmottan Museum, we headed to the Latin Quarter in hopes of finally finding some good beer to add to our Paris memories.  So far, it had been a bit slim but I wasn't trying that hard with a full itinerary of cool touristy sites with Gloria and our nieces.

Brewberry is in the middle of an eat street with a variety of restaurants all around it.  The bar itself sells a few snacks; we each had a bread and cheese plate: goude and roquefort.  Both excellent, but we thought we should have eaten before getting so excited about the beer selection.

Lily ponds of Giverny
From the outside, the few wooden tables in front of a plain store front doesn't seem to promise much, but the inside is unique and fun.  With bottles lining the wall like good beer store, the center is filled with a half dozen or so tables.  The rock ceiling is low for this 6 foot 4 inch Dutchman, but gives the place a cozy feel for drinking beer.  Besides, I was either at my table beer in hand or bent over with the iPad hunting through each label for a next great find--standing upright never really happened.  Even when the tables filled later in the evening, it was a comfortable and inviting bar with lively but not loud conversation.

For most Americans, the set up will be a bit unusual.  It's basically a liquor store with some cold bottles and tables.  For Minnesotans, imagine being able to hang out and drink all night at the Four Firkins.  We ordered a Mikkeller Magnum IPA and a Brugse Zot Tripel from De Halve Maan in Bruges from the chilled beer chalkboard list to get started.  Distracted by the stacks of bottles around us, we simply picked from the shelf and asked to have the bottle chilled while we drank the ones in front of us.  And, if a bottle is needed for the hotel, it can be put in the cooler for take away at the end of the night.  A great system of drinking without the puritanical barriers of US liquor laws.

We were among the first to arrive and sat inside because the outside tables were reserved.  Evidently, we weren't the only patrons anticipating Brewberry's opening up again.  Everything about the stop was friendly and helpful.  When we asked if there was Wifi (pronounced wee-fee in France and Belgium), Cecile simply gave us a direct access code since it wasn't set up. Very useful since I was looking up many of the beers I didn't recognize on the wall, like my next beer Monts des Cats.  This is a French Abbey that is producing their beer via Chimay.  Trappiste is in the name, but not an official trappist beer with a logo.  An interesting find nonetheless.

Inside Brewberry with  owner Cecile behind computer
To end, Gloria tried the Reinaert Grand Cru from DeProef, which was a very good beer, but a little lighter than we expected it to be. And, I finished with Rewired, a brown ale from 8 Wired Brewing of Marlborough, New Zealand.  I asked about the brewery and got an explanation of the name as a slang for ??? in New Zealand.  Some googling says it's a term of endearment for a rustic guy from Kerkom.  Cecile didn't have the description for the beer in her head on the first day back from vacation, but retrieved her tasting notes and talked me through the beer. When I tasted it, her description was spot on. Cecile is one of the best beer whisperers I've met.

The staff was friendly, hard working and attentive while still letting us sit and enjoy each beer. It takes a while to get use to the pace of service in Europe.  To many Americans, food and drink service feels slow.  After nearly a month in Belgium and France on this trip, I'd acclimated my expectations and learned how to ask for what I wanted.  At Brewberry, the staff seemed to adjust to the client expectations, treating each to their custom.  No only smart business, but it makes for comfortable drinking for everyone. They even got us an outside table on the street when a reservation cancelled. Admittedly, I was having fun and drinking fast after a short post-Belgium drought and they gladly accommodated my enthusiasm.
Cold beer board to the left of our round

Right before leaving the now packed bar, Cecile chatted with a us for a little while, even suggesting a new beer bar that opened a few weeks ago called La Fine Mousse, another bar with good beer, Express de Lyon, that we had already tried during an earlier stop at Gare de Lyon station, and a bottle shop called La Cave a Bulles. Very much a beer lover, eager to support beer, even in places other than hers.  We had intentions of trying La Fine Mousse, but when we noticed the late hour, we had to head home to pack for the next leg of our trip to Rennes in the morning.

We took home a bottle of Lindeman's Cassis, technically available in the US but this black currant lambic is hard to find and a favorite of mine. Tired when we got to the hotel, we went to bed and ended up having the Cassis the next day just before our noon hotel check out along with a strawberry tart from a local cafe, which went together very nicely.

Last round at an outside table on the street
If I find myself in Paris again, Brewberry will be my first stop for a couple of beers plus a bottle  for each night of my stay.  No ice machines in hotels, or ice for sale anywhere that we could find, so a small refrigerator in the hotel is a must unless you want to be drinking semi-warm tallboys of Hoegaarden, Kronenbourg or Pelforth after a walk from a local grocery store.

Brewberry was easily my best stop in Paris, and one of the very best drinking experiences of the trip.  I did spend a day at Westvleteren and a week in Brussels, so it's high praise among tough competition. While an oasis in the heart of a somewhat barren but growing beer scene, Brewberry would be a great beer bar anywhere in the world.

Monday, January 14, 2013

TIps on Drinking Copenhagen

After a short holiday in Copenhagen, I have a few drinking epiphanies:

1. Bartenders in Copenhagen are excellent.  I saw so many outstanding examples of beer service, style explanations and patron-to-beer matching that I'm not even going to give a specific example for fear of offending by omission. The service industry is not only working hard to grow craft beer in their community, they are providing insight and education as well.

2. Bring money. Not a shocker, but it's so easy to spend monopoly money, especially when numbers in Kroners are about 5.5 times higher. The numbers are so big that I just started to blow them off.  But, a 50 Kroner beer is a nearly $10 pint. Smaller glasses run 25 to 35 Kroners, but it adds up quickly.

3. Walk and ride. The public transportation is great. It's one subway ride from the airport to the heart of the city. Occasionally using the metro, we walked most everywhere with little effort.

4. Wear a waterproof jacket. Copenhagen, at least over the holidays, was in near constant overcast with significant drizzle or dampness. Never really raining hard, I pulled out my umbrella once to protect my snow-of-Minnesota appropriate wool coat from getting soaked.  From watching the locals, just dress like it's Seattle.  Layers go a long way toward adjusting to the on-again, off-again sunshine, temperature changes and the ever looming darkness.

5. Danish beer geeks are knowledgeable and friendly. We found true believers of craft beer almost everywhere. Great time interacting with locals and not-so-local lovers of good beer. Careful, Danes can more than hold their own drinking.

6. Don't forget Sweden. The train ride to Malmo is just over a half hour.  It's a pretty city in its own right, bagging another country is fun, and all of this comes with the joy of Malmo Bryghus.

7.  Beer for all.  Reading over my hit list for this trip, the cross-section of bars and brewpubs range from upscale like Nørrbro Bryghus to divey local like Lord Nelson and whatever one wants in between.  There's a real egalitarian feel to the beer drinking in Copenhagen.  Drinking is a part of Danish life and beer drinkers seem to hit wider cross-section of society compared to a pub atmosphere in the US.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fermentoren (Copenhagen, DK)

12/29/11, 12/31/12

Ian and I were able to hit Fermentoren twice on this trip, the second being our New Year's Eve outing.  On the evening prior, we met a friend for a single draft at the Mikkeller Bar, left because it was crowded, and then walked in to a packed Fermentoren.  We each grabbed a beer, so I started with Beer Here's Lupulus for a hoppy start. We sat outside in the 40 degree weather under a heat lamp and were quite contented through a second and third draft.

The owner Søren and Ian are friends from Ian's year abroad in Copenhagen.  Søren showed Ian the beer world of Copenhagen of the time, like the Den Totoverede Enke.  So, indirectly, I have Søren to thank for the great beer tour of Denmark.

On New Year's Eve, Søren came into the bar dressed to the nines, chatting with friends and patrons.  He is the epitome of a host in his own place, living the life most have imagined when dreaming of owning a bar over a pint.

Upon arrival tonight, I bellied up to the bar for the Croocked Moon Purple Haze, listed as a DBIPA--Double Black India Pale Ale.  Living up to the billing, Søren  noted that this was the first of his brews that he really feels that he's gotten exactly what he was aiming for and it was an honor to compliment his accomplishment.  Croocked Moon is the house brewery that's in the back of the bar.  I was so distracted by other brewery names--Ugly Duckling, Beer Here, Beer Couch and The Perfect Crime--that I only had the Purple Haze of Søren's brews, but I really like the direction that he is heading.

And if you thought for a second that I've misspelled the name, I did not; it's definitely Croocked Moon and pronounced "crook-ed moon."  Søren said that his mother, in a show of maternal support, had bought him his first brewing kit for Christmas.  She also purchased a domain name, spelling error included, which he decided to keep--an etymology that embodies the love and passion that are needed to start a brewery.

Sitting at the bar on New Year's Eve, the couple filling out the bar with us--one partner originally from Kansas and the other from Helsinki, spending NYE in Copenhagen on their way home to Germany--traded pluses and minuses of varies beers with us, helping each other find the next satisfying beer.  Between us, we tasted the range on the board, finding fault with none besides our own varied tastes that were met exceedingly well. When adding my drafts into my taste database, I spent an inordinate amount of time researching the various breweries tasted here, including several that were collaboration brews--a testament to the well form tap list.  Fermentoren is doing an amazing job and should be high on any beer geek's short list for drinking in Copenhagen.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Melange a Trois (Nebraska Brewing, Papillon, NE)

I picked up this bottle last summer on site at Nebraska Brewing on my way to Denver.  For various reasons, it sat in my fridge waiting for the perfect night, which never came so I'm finally partaking now.

Lingering fluffy white head with vacuous bubbles over a shimmering orange Belgian strong ale.  Layered spice in the nose, seemingly from the yeast, on top of the oak and sweet fresh bread.  Exquisite fresh malt, spicy puckering twang, pepper mixed with green apple, clean oak and a counterpoint sweetness before finishing dry.  Drink slow as the 10% ABV is completely hidden.

Light, complex, refreshing and challenging all at the same time. Sometimes, a beer can live up to the hype.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Nørrebro Bryghus (Copenhagen, DK)

Brew house from upstairs restaurant

Most everything seemed to be closed on new year's eve day, but we found Nørrebro Bryghus open for lunch.  I've had a bottle of their brew at home from the Four Firkins and a draft of Julebryg, a Christmas beer, earlier in the week with dinner at RizRaz, a vegetarian buffet.

Nørrbro has clean, industrial chic lines and decor that are elegant and cozy for a brewpub.  While there, we saw a range of clientele with a party of kids in the downstairs restaurant and two older couples next to us with beers and shots of vodka (sipped lightly), providing an open, accepting environment even though it feels upscale.
Limited menu with chef choices for the day.  The waiter said he would be back when I said I'm a vegetarian who eats fish.  They changed the day's smørrebrød menu to match my diet, which was appreciated since Ian had been trying get me this traditional Danish open sandwich on butter rye bread all weekend.  However, smørrebrød tends to be heavily laden with meat, so getting a veggie and fish option was fun.  For me, the guessed the salmon would be a bit strong for me, so I enjoyed it first.  The second was Christmas herring and eggs, which was my second divine encounter with this combination.  The final sandwich was potato with tomato, onion, and a white sauce, and it ran a close second to the herring.

Not interested in their lagers and having had the red or Christmas beer already this trip, we ordered the two we hadn't tried yet: Molasses, a stout, and Stjernestund, a Belgian Dubbel.  Molasses had a significant molasses and roast flavor, but a thin body for a stout.  The Dubbel was vaguely Belgian and dark, but not a beer I'd order again.  Overall,  Nørrebro Bryghus has an charming atmosphere and an elegant lunch, but the beer was adequate at best.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mikkeller Bar (Copenhagen, DK)

12/29/12 and 12/30/12

An Italian home brew shop owner, a SABMiller rep and two Minnesotans walk into a bar. No joke--that's just the sort of beer geek pull that is the Mikkeller Bar.  Hampus of the Malmo Bryyghus sent us on our merry way to this exquisite find in the Vesterbro section of Copenhagen.  On our first visit, we were literally standing on the corner across a narrow street, map in hand, saying "It must be here!"  The trick is to look on the outside of the street's bend to the subterranean Mikkeller.  Or, check for a slew of bicycles parked irregularly but away from neighbors (a sign kindly asks bikers to park appropriately).

Packed on a Saturday night, we left for dinner and our first foray to Fermentoren.  Returning on Sunday, it wasn't much less crowded.  It thinned enough later that we scored two seats at the small bar with the tap list in full view.  Primarily an outet for Mikkeller beers, we drank our fill of the house brew. The fresh hop Green Gold and an IPA called Tiger Baby were my favorites.  But I also had excellent offerings from To Øl, Stillwater and a fantastic collaboration ale by Amager, Kissmeyer and Mikkeller.

While at the bar, one patron excitedly exclaimed that "We can't get beer like this in our country!"  He was from Italy and we chatted briefly about drinking Rome before his beers arrived.  He was either a bottle shop or brew shop owner, hard to understand, but clearly knew and appreciated beer.  Literally, it was better than Christmas morning for this Italian.

Then came trouble: we looked at the extensive and well curated bottle list.  And, yes, I said curated: a wide range of select specialty beers, including but not restricted to Mikkeller brews.  Brew Dog's Tactical Nuclear Penguin was daring us for just 600 Kroners (about $120 US).  I was about to take the plunge when I did some last minute research on BeerAdvocate (again, love free WiFi), which changed my mind.  I didn't mind the price (cheaper than at Delirium last summer), but repeated reviews were from disappointed drinkers. Then I turned to the very front of the bottle list and looked at the staff recommendations.  A bit more research and we ordered a more reasonable splurge of 225 Kroners: Mikkeller's 2012 Nelson Sauvingnon. Exquisite.

A young Swedish couple at the end of the bar ordered the same beer but the 2009 version.  Daniel, Agnes and us became quick friends sharing sips of our respective bottles while chatting about the Scandinavian brewing world, Daniel being an SABMiller rep with a fine taste for beer.  For me, our night epitomized a peak moment of beer questing: old and new friends laughing and learning in an environment of beer respect while drinking the art.

Nelson Sauvingnon 2012 (Mikkeller, Copenhagen, DK)


Got them to pull this one from the back. We thought about getting the Brewdog Tactical Nuclear Penguin, but the BA reviews were so low that it didn't seem worth the 600 Kroners. The Mikkeller was less than half the price for twice the bottle and significantly higher BA ratings.

Came wrapped, cork and caged as a 75 cl. Effervescent body creates a clean white head that falls almost immediately to a ring around the edge. Yellow copper ale when back lit that's amber in the low light of the bar.  Assertive yeast spiciness that's clean and pleasant, white wine, grapefruit, tangerine and pear. Great blend.   For flavor, Ian called it as Welch's white grapefruit juice as a metaphorical base of  sweetness that's tempered by a yeasty tartness. Champagne yeast smooths and blends it all together into a version far more fun than actual champagne. Similar to Deus, but with a fuller body and it's more palatable.  But I don't like champagne as a rule, so take it for what it is--in Danish, Værsgo.

Daniel and Agnes, our new friends at the end of the bar, ordered the same bottle aged--2009.  Musty and muted, the taste had lost a significant spiciness but possessed more Belgian yeast.  They liked it better, but we preferred the brighter 2012 version.  Drink this one slow since it opens up well with some degrees on it.  Happy with our choice for an elegant champagne beer that was recommended on the front page of the bottle list by Mikkeller HQ versus the big-for-the-sake-of-big Brewdog beer.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Malmo Brygghus (Malmo, Sweden)


Narrow downstairs bar area next to brewhouse.  More tables
are upstairs looking down on the brewery. 
Sitting at Carlsberg after the tour, we researched online that Malmo Brygghyus wasn't open on Sunday, so we decided head over yet that afternoon.  Taking the train from Copenhagen to Malmo is just over a half hour ride over a bridge to Sweden.  At mid-afternoon, the sun was setting on the horizon but we still had a beautiful view of wind turbines and water under multicolored clouds.

Nearly dark when we arrived, the mile plus walk from the train station through Malmo's heart was made easy by the Christmas lights up and down the shopping district.  In the main square, multi-story trees were decked out for the season as well.

First round at Malmo Brygghus

Malmo Brygghus is a small, two-story bar with tables top and bottom in a U shape around the brewhouse in the center.  Ian ordered the best beers of the stop, starting with Cacao-Porter made with cocoa from a local chocolatier and the False Dmitriy, a Russian Imperial Stout, that lived up to its name.  Check out the website for more information all of their beers.

I started with the Beersson's DIPA and followed up with the Simcoe Pale Ale.   I initially described both as "muted" somehow.  Chatting with the bartender Hampus, he said Swedish homebrewers, which he was one, tended to add more caramel malt.  Both leaned towards a toffee and caramal sweet rather than a bite in spite of sizable hops in both.  I jokingly called it a Swedish IPA as I was trying to explain a Bell's Third Coast ale or how Masala Mama is a Minnesota IPA.

Main train station in Copenhagen.  Can you find Ian?
We finished by sharing the Witbier, which had a great nose full of coriander and it drank as a strong representative of the style in a sweeping glass that got extra marks for presentation.  After drinking most of the beers on tap, we headed back with recommendations for drinking Copenhagen, especially the Mikkeller Bar.

Admittedly, for me initially, a partial reason to hit Malmo Brygghus was to bag another country with the short trip to Sweden (up to thirteen countries now).  However, I was rewarded with some well crafted, tasty beer and excellent discussion of a burgeoning beer scene in Sweden with Hampus.

I've been drinking craft beer (microbrew back in the day) since about Y2K.  Showing up to the US beer world just after the shake out of the 90s, I feel like I've lived the future of Sweden and other countries that are budding breweries from their homebrewers.  At Malmo, I felt the same energy, the same excitement that when I tasted my first great brews, my first beer adventures.  Skål Sweden!  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Carlsberg brewery tour (Copenhagen, DK)

View of brewhouse from Jacobsen Bar

With a wedding of  Ian's friend on Friday within hours of getting off the plane, Carlsberg was at the top of the list for Saturday.  Getting to the visitor center opened in the morning made the self guided tour very sparse, so easy to see and read at a leisurely pace, even on a Saturday. When we were finishing lunch, the top floor bar and the brand shop on the way out were filling up in the early afternoon.

One reason to consider a weekday tour would be the design of the bar; only glass separates the top floor bar from the first floor bottling line.  As I've noted before, it's rare to see the a bottling line up and running because of the noise, danger and difficulty of having tourists on the floor while running. The Carlsberg brewery solves this problem in elegant fashion. Not a big deal, but it could be fun for those interested in a modern, high speed brewery in operation

Getting to the Carlsberg complex is an easy walk for a nearby metro stop.  However, we walked by the brand shop entrance and retraced our steps from the elephants, which is worth the walk to see anyway.  On the elephant, there is a swastika, which was the symbol of Carlsberg from 1881 until World War II.  According to a sign at the first sampling site, the swastika was originally an Indian symbol that meant "that which is good." How it transformed to the Nazi symbol is beyond my scope to comment, but the symbol showing up, even minimally, in a modern setting was disconcerting.

With the tour entrance fee, two drink tickets are included. A sample of Jacobson Dark Lager based on the original 1854 recipe is offered part way through the tour, which we accepted.  Probably should have shared one since neither of us was impressed by it, and saved a ticket for the final bar.  Drinking the historical recipe in the old brewery does have some appeal, though the samples at the end seemed larger.  Might want to save the ticket, might not, depending on one's dedication to nostalgia or experience with Carlsberg beers.

Overall, Carlsberg is a self guided Danish analogue of the Anhesuer-Busch tour in St. Louis, right down to the horses.  Both are slick, old school beer history of a major lager.  I found visiting Carlsberg to be of interest, but could see the argument that spending time elsewhere, especially if similar tours have been done elsewhere.

One of the differences for me was the final Carlsberg bar, the Jacobsen Brewhouse & Bar. Brilliant, from a capitalistic point of view, to sell more pints than they give in samples.  Relaxed atmosphere was enjoyed by many, including us, that were in no hurry to leave.  For lunch I savored each morsel of the Christmas herring with hard boiled egg, cress, and curry/apple dressing.  Just fabulous and I found that two of my very favorite things--herring and hard boiled eggs--are a perfect match.  I think I have a new dinner at home.

For dessert, Ian and I shared two bottles of the high end Jacobsen line of beers, 75 cl bottles of 2011 Barley Wine and 2012 Single Malt ale. Both were adequate and neither was worth the high price of admission.  But we merrily worked our way through these big bottles while watching Carlsberg and Tuborg commercials projected on the far wall while sitting on bean-bag like floor chairs, comfortably planning, thanks to the free WiFi, our next stop at Malmo Brygghus.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cameron's Warehouse Liquors (Inver Grove Heights, MN)

I haven't been in Cameron's Warehouse Liquors since it closed the old location across the street from its present building on Concord down by the river.  A Star Tribune article summarizes Cameron's trials and tribulations for the short move to a much larger store.

It took me so long--years--to give Cameron's another shot because, one, I don't often travel that direction except on bike. In addition, I have the small macro offering of the old store clouding my judgement.

Imagine my shock walking in the door to see an entire aisle plus several of the coolers along the wall devoted to craft beer.  Keep going around to the left and the walk-in beer cooler has stacks of the old school macro as well.  Tested Cameron's with beers that I know well: Stone Ruination IPA and Anchor 2012 Christmas Ale. Both were in fine condition.

Plus, I went home with Dragon's Milk and Double Bastard, so not a bad stop.  Nice selection of regional and Minnesota craft beer for a range of beer drinkers.  Not a place that's going to challenge my palate or introduce me to a lot of new beers, but definitely a way to pick a six of daily drinking beer on the way home from work--and at a good price.

Another reminder to be careful not to judge the new on the old.  Nice local beer store that I just need to drive down the Concord hill.  When in there, every person buying liquor, mostly of the Coors Light and Skyy Vodka variety, seemed to know and be known by those selling behind the counter.  I felt a bit like an outsider; however, it was reminiscent of a stop at the hometown store with my dad as a kid.  If in the area, give the local family business of Cameron's Warehouse Liquors a chance.