Hailing from the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Brewery Ommegang has been around since the late ’90s and was formed as a partnership between an American importer/distributor of Belgian beers along with a few Belgian breweries. The business was sold to the folks who brew Duvel (and also own the Chouffe beers and recently purchased Boulevard).
One of my favorites that is brewed by Ommegang is their Hennepin Saison which is widely available and reasonably priced.
Recently I stumbled upon a special release by this brewery called Wild at Heart which is a wild ale that was brewed with 100% brettanomyces in the primary fermentation. Most of the Brett beers that I have had the distinct pleasure of tasting use the bugs in secondary and develop that typical sweaty horse blanket (some call barnyard) aroma and flavor. A classic example of this would be Victory Helios. An even later addition of Brett (in bottling only I believe) is the outstanding trappist beer Orval. However when Brett is used in primary the resulting beer tends to be very tropical and usually devoid of the funkiness that comes from a later addition.
Wild at Heart is fruity and tropical (not as much as Funkwerks Tropic King I recently had) with restrained sweetness and just a touch of hops (Motuseka and Topaz varieties according to the bottle). It is 8% and is not at all boozy. I’m very curious to see how this develops over time as it was only released this past November. Once again, a couple of bottles made it to the cellar and await the future. Who am I going to drink all of these well-aged bottles with?
There are a few reasons to cross the border and head over to the land o’ cheese: fishing, Thirsty Pagan pizza, MTB riding, mushrooms, and the fact that they get a few beers distributed that we don’t get in MN. One of the most interesting breweries whose beers can be had by driving across the bridge is The Bruery out of SoCal. (I think that I blogged about Tart of Darkness before)
A while back I scored some 750ml bottles of Oude Tart from The Bruery which is a Flemish-style Red Ale. This 7.5% abv beer has been aged in oak red wine barrels for 18 months and is tongue zapping sour. Not unlike La Folie from New Belgium (which thankfully appears in MN on occasion), Oude Tart is a beauty that pours reddish brown and has a nice vinegar and wood smell that flows out of the glass (that is a good thing). The first taste is bracing with tart sourness blasting the buds yet a bit of subtle sweetness giving it some body and balance. This one makes you pucker up and coats the gums with wonderful tartness.
Thankfully I bought a few and will put them down to witness their development over the coming years.
BTW, Bigfoot is in town. Go get you some!
Memories of traveling around Europe as a younger pup and getting off the train in Cologne. My only knowledge of the place was from Keith Jarrett’s seminal recording “The Koln Concert” which I was introduced to by WHS in high school. If you are into improvisational solo piano played with true passion please support Keith and give it a spin!
Cologne is pretty cool with lots of beautiful German youth ambling about the promenades. The diesel soot covered twin spired Cologne Cathedral is a pretty amazing sight too.
The beer brewed in this part of Germany is Kolsch which is a top-fermented beer that is subsequently lagered. Always crisp and bright, my traveling pal and I tried every one we could get our tongues on, mostly served in tall narrow glasses with a nice frothy head atop. For me it is a beer of summer with a subtle hoppiness coupled with fruity flavors from the yeast and malt. The best American examples of the style that I have had are from Sam Adams, Goose Island, and Alaskan (all big boys in the industry).
This past week I scored a sixer of a new seasonal release from Sam Adams called Escape Route. I snuck a couple into the movies the other night and was instantly impressed with the beer and how it reminded me of the real deal across the pond. Beautifully crisp with that distinct fruit and only 5% alcohol. It wasn’t until the next night that I was able to get a glimpse of the color which is straw gold with perfect carbonation.
I found it interesting to see that Sam chose to use some acidulated malt in the grain bill. I didn’t really get any sourness from that additional but perhaps it contributed to that vinous fruit that I taste? Another winner from Boston Beer.
I’ve been fairly immersed in the Winter Olympics since the opening ceremonies (with the trippy white horses) and have enjoyed the competition as usual. It is fun to have some hometown ties with the curlers, MN hockey players, and Nordic commentary. Seems like a lot of folks around here are watching but when I talk with friends around the country not many of them are. I wonder if it has to do with regional climate?
Russia crashed and burned in hockey this morning which is a drag for their populace as it purportedly was what they were all counting on for success. Canada appears to be destined for the gold medal game which all of the pundits expected. I kind of hope that they win as it is their sport IMHO.
I ventured out recently on a solo mission to the Brewhouse to give their Sochi series a try. Luckily I found a seat at the bar and dove headfirst into this higher octane line-up.
The brewers put together a World vs. USA IPA battle with two beers brewed with 25 hop varieties sourced from just this country and the other with 25 foreign-grown hops. I didn’t know that there were this many hop types! Both beers are really burly and hop bombs as one might imagine. I had a 10 oz pour of each and after much thought and some discussion with my neighbors at the bar decided that I liked the World IPA better. For me it came down to purely the flavor and aroma of the hops as both were high BU. Both beers were fine indeed and I commend the brewers.
I only had a small sample of the Back End Wee Heavy. I’m not really that familiar with this style as I don’t gravitate towards super malty beers but I had to give this one a whirl since I was there. Honestly, a short snit of beer isn’t enough to make an impact. It came across as pretty hot and boozy with some nice caramel maltiness. I could see sipping a goblet of this in the window seat to form a better impression.
Lastly I had a 10 oz of the Slippery Slope Milk Chocolate Coconut Stout from this series. It came highly recommended to me by Adonis who said that it was a “decadent dessert beer”. I used to drink a lot of Watney’s Cream Stout in a prior life and have also downed quite a few Left Hand Milk Stouts on nitro post-skiing in Colorado and most recently Young’s Double Chocolate. The Brewhouse version for me was sickly sweet and unctuous. I hope that they took some of this beer and stuck it in the whisky barrels for a couple of years as it could win some future competitions but for now on its own it was too much even for my well-trained sweet tooth.
RR3 and I came out of hibernation this week and hit up a couple of places to keep tabs on what’s brewing in town. I used it as a chance to get away from the brooding beers of winter that I have been sipping on and to lighten up a bit with hopes that it might usher in some warmer weather.
We went to Canal Park Brewery first and ended up with a pretty nice thick carrot ginger soup and I had a pint of Ankle Deep Pilsner. Clean and crisp, this pils is a well-made German style offering that I have liked in the past and am happy to report that it is consistent (I wish that I could say that about a certain west Duluth brewery-I’m such a snob). The pilsner malt has a nice balance with the noble hops. Very restrained bitterness, perfect alcohol level (for me), nice head, good color. This and the Stoned Surf IPA are CPB’s best beers for these taste buds. YMMV as always.
Also tested at CPB was a fresh on tap barleywine named Old Avalanche. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I am a pretty big fan of barleywine and like both the American and British variants. Old Avalanche had a nice deep copper appearance and decent malt aroma but on the tongue it severely lacked body and mouthfeel for a 9.5% brew. Once again I have the sneaking suspicion of some filtering taking place at CPB. I expected the 65 IBU’s to pop out more and for the malt to do battle at this early age. It was a pretty odd sensation to sip on a young beer in this category and for it to display some “thinness”.
While I’m on the barleywine subject, I am happy to report that I just finished my first four-pack of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot while listening to Chad scream out the Nordic play-by-play in Sochi. Pretty exciting stuff (both the beer and commentary)! Bigfoot as usual is an adventure when brand new as the hops and malt are huge yet in balance. Compared with the 2013 I think that Sierra Nevada got the balance a bit better in ‘14. Once it rolls into Duluth I will be grabbing my annual case and stashing it away for future winters. Keep your eyes open for this one!
After CPB, we headed west and stopped by Bent Paddle to sample their wares. Oddly we both settled on drinking the 14* ESB on nitrogen. Another lovely beer from the Paddle! Hats off to the brewers (and owners) for sticking with traditional beer styles and making them really well. I have yet to drink anything from this place that isn’t spot on. Nice toasty malt with some fruit from the yeast (I assume) along with perfect mild bittering and then a slightly odd citrusy hop finish. I see that they are using Amarillos for finishing which certainly makes it unique (from the British versions) yet it works. 5.6% is reasonable and $5 for 20 ounces makes this place even better. We saw some college kids bringing in Little Caesar’s pizza to have with their barley pops. Looks like my game plan is set for the next visit.
Thinking about warmer climates recently, a Jimmy Buffett line popped into my noggin’: “The weather is here, I wish you were beautiful”. I should have used that on a postcard in high school.
I was digging about in the dank cellar yesterday and dug up a bottle that a friend brought me the last time he visited from Colorado (hence the dank adjective). I had it last night and while the taste is still in my memory bank I thought that I’d share it with you dear readers.
Funkwerks got going in 2010 in Fort Collins, CO. Home to other fine breweries like Odell’s and New Belgium, Ft Collins is a boom town with a high tech scene, retirees, great outdoor opportunities, medical, university, etc. Kinda what Duluth could be if we had a better climate, was closer to the nationwide transportation network, and didn’t have the threat of unions taking over new large employers.
Funkwerks specializes in brewing saisons of various ilks. The one that I was given is their Tropic King Imperial Saison. I opened this up and poured into a snifter and immediately was transported to the islands mon. Beautiful tropical aromas wafted up into the air even before I had the chance to swirl the glass. The beer was bright and was slightly orange in color. According to the brewery, they use Rakau hops from New Zealand which I have no homebrew knowledge of and have never had a beer that was single hopped with such. They do add some spice to the mix to go with a lovely creaminess from the malt. Oddly, I didn’t find the beer to be as tropical tasting as it smells. It certainly has some fruitiness from the yeast but the nose suggests so much more. I picked up on some vanilla in the finish which was devoid of alcoholic heat.
This was a very interesting beer and I don’t think that they add any fruit during the brewing process. The bit of spice most likely comes from saison yeast coupled with the hops. It is so tropical that I wonder if they have some brettanomyces in the primary to develop these aromas?
If you are going to CO to ski over the next couple of months, after you hit the dispensary go to a big liquor store and try a bottle of this. Perhaps Tropic King and Sour Diesel would be a nice blend for apres-ski?
Two more Belgian holiday brews tasted this week to accompany the cold. Why not extend the festive season a full month and sit in front of a crackling maple and birch fire whilst sipping goodies from my favorite brewing country?
The two that I had this week are both 9% Strong Dark Ales (corked and caged 750ml bottles) that have been spiced in the typical prudent, reserved, and reasonable fashion of most beers from Belgium. Hell, one of these breweries started in 1074 so I think that they have figured out what works.
First up was Affligem Noel Christmas Ale. This heavily carbonated beer poured amber in color with a fruity nose that hinted at the spices within. It was pretty tasty with a lot of dried fruit, very mild holiday spicing, and toffee that reminded me of Wood’s Chocolates from St. Paul. Anybody remember those? Not heavy in body and not boozy at all. A pleasant drink though not mind blowing.
Last night I cracked the pretty red bottle of Petrus Winter #9 Ale. Petrus beers have been kind of hit or miss for me. Their sours seems to be too sticky sweet for my liking but the Aged Pale and Tripel are quite good.
Winter #9 is darker in color and heavier in body than the Affligem. Again, subtle use of Christmas cookie spices, dried fruitiness, and lots of candi sugar made me feel like I was eating fruit cake. It was definitely sweet but not cloyingly so. I could also feel the weight of the alcohol in this one but certainly no fusel heat.
Sadly I think that I only have one bottle left of the Belgian holiday beers. I’ll probably have it on Super Bowl Sunday and then I’ll figure out another tasting theme. The Olympics are quick approaching and I need to check out the Sochi series from the Brewhouse and perhaps write up some of the latest Duluth offerings.
Being a lifelong Guinness aficionado, I couldn’t resist when I saw the four-pack of cans of the new Red Harvest Stout the other day. Mind you, I adore Guinness on draft, from nitro cans, and from nitro bottles but am not a fan of the export stout and the syrupy stuff they drink warm under shade trees in the Caribbean. Being that this was in cans I was all over it.
Poured into a traditional Guinness glass it displayed the classic nitro cascade but in a totally different color scheme than the normal stout. This one is reddish brown (dare I say rufous?) with a tan head. On the nose it shows some malt but not a ton of aroma (though the can is pretty cold).
Per usual with nitro beers the Red Harvest is really smooth and creamy which is a character that I love in beers. I wish that more local brewers would deliver some of their “normal” beers with a stout gas mixture as it is so easy to drink and I greatly prefer it over the prickly CO2 sensation.
This new offering from St. James Gate has an inherent sweetness that isn’t that appealing to me yet is much lighter in body than their classic stout. It is well balanced and does little damage at 4.1%. The wife thought that it had a metallic taste at first blush which I didn’t pick up on.
Overall I don’t find it the least offensive but when the real deal is sitting there next to it on the shelf there is no reason to stray.
Coherence be damned! Here are a few recent beers notes that I have from drinking excursions over the past week:
1. New Belgium Spring Blonde- This one is completely new to me and I think is a virgin offering from the brewers in Fort Collins. A 6% Belgian Style Ale replete with a pile of city bikes on the newfangled label design. Per the bottle description, this “is a bright golden ale with a sweet lemony start, pedaling to a pleasantly bitter finish”. I will agree with the color and nice opening notes of the beer. Decent Belgian ale yeast comes through in the nose and on the tongue until a short passing of time hit me with too many bittering hops. It was going so well until the IBUs hit. Still, it is worth a try and I didn’t suffer through the six pack!
2. New Belgium Mighty Arrow Pale Ale - Another six percenter but this time without the Belgian style yeast and many more aroma and flavor hops. Smooth drinking with perhaps fewer bittering units than the Spring Blonde which I find weird. Nice mild malt to balance the front end west coast hops. (I just checked, 34 IBUs for this versus 48 for the Spring Blonde). I could drink more of this but for the style I’d rather drink something with a touch more malt like Summit EPA (though British in style), SNPA, or that woody beauty from Paso Robles that we can’t get in MN.
3. Dogfish Head Piercing Pils - Yet another 6% beer! Czech-style Pils brewed with pear juice, pear tea (whatever that is), and Saaz hops. At first whiff I get the hops and it reminds me of a nice Bohemian Pils. Really interesting effect of the pear juice (and perhaps the tea) as they mesh with the hops and bready pilsner malt. It is crisp and zesty and really welcome (as are most Pils) to my taste buds. Thanks to my pal out East who sent me the gift pack! Alas, not available in our self-proclaimed beer mecca.
4. Gayant La Goudale de Noel - 7.2% Belgian holiday beer (I still have a few more to try!). If you have ever heard anyone talking about the “bubble gum” character that some Belgian beers exhibit, this is a prime example! Really nice estery aroma, tons of yeast in the nose and on the palate, warming sweet malt, and it is redolent of classic Bubble Yum or maybe Bazooka Joe (sans comic). What a trip.
5. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Barleywine - I have written about the classic BCBS (stout) which is ridiculously good and wields the utmost of boozy power to slow down even the most ravenous drinker. This was my first bottle of hopefully many barleywines from the talented crew in Chicago. If you can get past the aforementioned affiliation with Budweiser (get over it!), you will be treated with a superb English style barleywine that is beautifully sweet with just the right amount of bourbon and excellent wood character from the barrel. What a treat! Clocking in at 12.1% this baby is made to be sipped and pondered. Lucky me, I scored one of the couple of cases that hit Duluth. This is going to be SO amazing with some cellar aging.
It’s been a cold winter so far as most of you local followers can attest to. I still have some holiday beers to get through and am slowly chipping away at aged high octane beers in these low light days. Mostly barleywine, whiskey barrel aged stouts, maybe an oddball imperial stout, and some funky stuff.
I reviewed the Wild2 Dubbel from New Belgian the other day and thought that I’d try out the new (to Duluth) Lips of Faith Series beer which is a collaboration between New Belgian and Cigar City Brewing from Tampa.
Per usual, this LOF is pretty strong at 8.5% yet also as is the norm, the alcohol is well masked. The label reads Ale Brewed with Anaheim and Marash Chiles. Made with Belgian yeast and aged on Spanish Cedar. Looks interesting eh?
The last LOF foray into chili peppers was Cocoa Mole is memory serves me right. That one was full of chocolate malt and pretty spicy peppers (incl. chipotle). It worked well with food but on its own was a bit hot for my liking.
This new collaboration beer is completely different as the peppers don’t have that much punch (Scoville units?) but lend really nice character and are balanced this time with a nice hop dosage. It works really well and when given some food to accompany it the peppers seem to come up front a bit more in the profile. The wood aging and fruit from the yeast all blend in to make this a really creative and multi-faceted drink that I look forward to having some more of.
I’ll have to pull a cocoa mole (with its awesome painted bottle) out of the cellar and give it another go to see if the pepper vs. malt balance is getting closer.
For $8-10 these Lips of Faith beers are all worth trying. And for you Fat Tire Amber enthusiasts, please keep drinking a bunch so that New Belgium can afford to continue making such novel experimental beers!