Posted 1 week ago

Summertime and the living’s easy

My calendar has some smoke coming out of it from the pages moving so fast. I can’t believe that it is mid-July already. After a big steaming pile of horse shit for April, May, and June, this is when I want to slow down and enjoy the passing days. I’m doing my best but the moments seem rare when time slips by slowly. 

Brings me back to the Floyd:

"And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death”

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of putting a canoe onto a local lake with my pal the Tower of London. He has his hands full with work and kids and also was feeling the need for a chill session without watch or phone to just chew scenery, fish a bit, and sip on some cold ones.

Tis the season for the Velvet Rooster!

Still my favorite fishing beer with the rad can, 8.5% booze factor, nice Belgian yeast love, and a four-pack for under ten bucks. Hell if I took down all four I would be feeling fully loaded and for less than the price of two pints at any of our fine local drinking establishments.

The Tower and I talked literature, music, and anatomy while watching the water move and dropping out for a precious few hours. We ended up with a fresh can of Summit Summer Ale which was a nice follow up to the Tallgrass.

Last night I had my first and perhaps only pint of Bells’ Oberon.

I find it to be a nice summer quaffer and was struck by the hop presence that I didn’t recall from my last one perhaps two summers ago. 

The other day I was handed a shrink wrapped four-pack of 16 oz. Stiegl Lager in the purdy red can.

I was psyched to have been given such a gift and hurried to the lawn out back for a tall pilsner glassful. What greeted me was a metallic affront to my taste buds. Perhaps they don’t have the modern can lining technology that we have here but the beer reminded me of the old days drinking oil cans of Fosters. The beer was  nice and bright with perfect carbonation and some nice sweet bready malt but it was hard to work around the metal. I think that it dissipated a little after time in the glass (or my buds getting used to it). I may check to see if this is available in the bottle to compare. 

Last night I capped off my evening by sharing a fun one with my old pal Kev who I have known since about 1980. He said that he has been drinking a bunch of ciders on the east coast this summer and likes them but finds them too sickly sweet. Problem solved! I went down to the collection and pulled out a bottle of Spanish sidre which is a completely different beast from the insipid stuff that is offered to the masses (Woodchuck, Angry Orchard, Crispin, etc.).

I popped the cork on a bottle of Isastegi and promptly blew Kev’s road weary mind with the dry, dank, and sour. This is such an interesting cider and not for the faint of taste. It is quite sour and has some barnyard notes that suggest wild yeast or some sort of introduced funk (brett L?). It never ceases to amaze me what is out there if you dig a little bit and listen to the folks who work in the store. Turned on to me by the Ale Jail in St. Paul. 

Posted 3 weeks ago

21st Amendment Monk’s Blood

I would imagine that the 21st Amendment kind of ended a lot of back door fun. I probably would have had a speakeasy with a secret knock, lots of guns, a snooker table, dancing gals, and a jukebox loaded with oldies.

I think that the 21st Amendment Brewery out of San Fran is a fairly new player in our local market. They have an interesting canned line up and everything that I have tasted to date has been solid. If we’d ever get some warm weather their Hell or High Watermelon Wheat is great lawnmower beer that is eminently chug-gable. Back in Black is not a whole lot different from most black IPAs - decent if unremarkable. Bitter American is a really nice session beer that kicks ass over most other “low alcohol” craft beers.

Monk’s Blood is a wee bit more beastly than the aforementioned beers from this brewery. It is a big and bold Belgian style dark that has well meshed spicing added from cinnamon, vanilla, oak, and figs. If my math works, you could drink two Bitter Americans for every one Monk’s Blood and catch the same buzz (but have to piss more).

Monk’s Blood comes across as really quite sweet to my palate. Not a July 1 drinker but will be a most excellent addition to the high test canned quiver for cooler weather. It is thankfully low in bittering but high in flavor. I couldn’t drink multiples right now but I’d think in the autumn while raking leaves, riding bikes in the woods, paddling around Clough Island, etc it would be a dandy.

For now I’m sticking with Velvet Rooster and suggest that you do the same when all you want is a four pack of pounders to catch a stiff buzz and waste away a summer day.

BTW, Endion Station is rumored to be close to opening. It will be interesting to see what the Swedish Mafia serves up. Hopefully they will bring some new beers and an all together new food concept to the table.

Trying not to pass judgment on Glen Avon Church for spelling “judgement” on their sign today. I am truly a dick. 

Posted 3 weeks ago

Brain Dump

Of all places, I just got back from the skate park in Souptown and while over there found myself sipping on a Colt 45 tallboy which wasn’t half bad. Like the winner of our schwag beer tasting several months back (Schlitz), this malt liquor has some body to it and at a buck a can from the Hammond offers pretty good QPR. I can’t believe that I’m saying this but after staring down a sixer of Bent Paddle for over $10 I had to go all throwback today and was somehow satisfied. 

Admittedly, prior to going across the bridge to the land of hand slaps for DUIs, I pulled down a Pilsner Urquell (deelish as always) and also another Deschutes in the form of Hop in the Dark. Essentially another twist in the IPA world, this one pours really dark and has some lovely malt to better balance the 70 IBUs. Not one for everyday summer sipping but pretty decent. I’m still enamored by their XPA and Pine Mountain Pils so will stick with those while still in the store. 

So I have been working with Cain on trying to figure out a date to gather a few nerds and have of all things a Double IPA tasting (BTW, I actually saw a triple IPA at the Beer Cave today). I guess that it could be worse and we could be tasting a bunch of Scotch Ales but somehow I have to prep my tongue for the onslaught that is soon to come. 

I received a can of Rodeo Clown DIPA a couple of weeks ago and was going to toss it into the ring for the tasting but upon returning from a Pac-NW trip the other day I found that SWMBO drank it while I was gone. I get this “where did you get that clown beer” line and “it took me an hour to drink it and I poured half the can down the drain”. Funny how so many of my friends, casual acquaintances, and now family are all moving away from the hop bombs. TDL thinks that he is allergic as his sinus gets all pluggered every time he touches an IPA. Not sure what is going on but again I think that it has to do with some of us maturing on the craft beer curve. Hell if I know. Tastes change. I used to like Starbucks…

Not that long ago I found myself in Oregon for business and despite pissing rain out there I was able to get a couple of pops in and visit a fairly small beer store. What a mind blower that place is for beer geeks. When you think about MN having a booming beer scene, take a look at the numbers:

MN -  52 craft breweries (as of year-end 2013) which is 17th in the country and 21st per capita.

OR - 181 breweries which is 3rd and 1st per capita. 

Can you imagine having more than three times the companies making beer here? We have over a million more people than they have too. (Lucky bastards don’t have sales tax either)

I went into this fairly small neighborhood market and the shelf beers were off the hook! It has gotten to the point where there are so many that I have to imagine that like wine, some folks are buying based upon the artwork on the label. 

I really wanted to get over to Cascade in Portland to get in on their souring program but had to settle for Sasquatch Brew Pub which offered decent beers coupled with foodie food. What was impressive to me was that they had perhaps six Oregon sourced ciders to go along with the beers. Pretty cool ciders, some with single variety hops, others with interesting fruit blends. No funky yeasts listed but certainly a direction that some of the MN pubs could go in to satisfy both the gluten intolerant and those who oddly don’t like beer. 

I need to get out and try some more local beers this week. Getting stuck in a rut of XPA, Summit EPA, Pilsner Urquell, and Sierra Nevada Summerfest. Sometimes it is hard to get out and drink $5+ pints of local experiments when six packs are available at nearly the same price. It’s not like the economy is booming here in D-town. Brewhouse and CPB are packed with tourists and a lot of the local holes have reduced their choices by serving 2-4 Bent Paddles. Tough to find something new and different. I think that a bike ride down to 7 West and Grizzlies is in order. 

Posted 1 month ago

Deschutes tastiness

Lots of hubbub about our fair city competing to be the top outdoor town in America. Kind of surprising to have it come down to a hotbed of LDS conservatism versus the town with almost no summer. I can think of many better outdoor towns than these two but let the people decide. One such town in Bend, OR. Sure, we can dump on the Californication of Bend, the cost of living, blah blah but they sure do have nice outdoor things there. 

One great thing about Bend (besides great fishing, rafting, skiing, MTB riding) is Deschutes Brewery which solidly kicks butt on both Provo and Duluth brewers combined. I’ve had several posts mentioning their beers and despite having a slightly over-the-top PDX pub, they really know how to put out consistently great beer. 

I popped a couple of new bombers yesterday from a dwindling stack at the Beer Cave (they still have Mirror Mirror by the way if you want a fantastic cellar worthy buy).

First up was Cinder Cone Red which although never a style that I reach for was pretty smooth drinking with a little bit-o-honey flavor and very mild hopping. Easy to put down at just over 5% this is a decent beer but not one that I would get again given what I had next.

What is an XPA? I figured eXtra Pale Ale but in reading the label from Deschutes it translates to Experimental Pale Ale as it is the first beer made at the aforementioned public house in Portland. They state “consider this your next hop obsession” and I counter that with “consider this a beautifully balanced, perfectly hopped, pale ale”. In the same way that Summit EPA and Firestone Walker DBA have made their mark on me with excellent pale ales, I am adding XPA to the my short list. Do yourself a favor and go grab a couple of these bombers and see if your taste buds agree. I cannot imagine how good this would be on nitro at the pub. If I were Nick, I’d give it 10/10.

Posted 1 month ago

Black Listed

Briefly, I finally got around to trying Blacklist Brewing’s “Verte” which had been staring at me in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Three of us shared it in tulip glasses and our impressions were oddly quite similar.

Verte is a dry hopped version of Or de Belgique. I went back to my review of that from May of last year and was amused to find some similar themes: super tough corking and high carbonation. 

I wrestled with the cork on this bottle of Verte until it broke and had to resort to a corkscrew to extract such. I guess that this is a good sign for anyone planning on long-term storage. 

The beer poured perhaps a light orange brown with a slightly off-white head. Nice head retention and lively carbonation. Watch out if you try one of these as there was an unusual amount of sediment at the bottom. 

On the taste front there you could get some of the underlying Or de Belgique’s Belgian yeast character yet without some of the sweetness that I recall from a year ago. This dry hopped version is much higher IBU and has a dominating hop finish which I find distracting. 

Well-crafted, certainly this will be appreciated for it’s Duluth roots, higher alcohol content, and BUs but I like the original version better and still think that it is Brian’s best effort to date.

I hope that we see some of the beers that he has listed on his schedule!

Posted 1 month ago

The Goat of Lust

I was lured over to the dark side today when B and Cain approached me before noon with a glass of fresh Surly Pentagram. How could I resist? 

In typical Surly fashion, the bottle is a beauty with all sorts of symbols that I don’t understand other than the two points of the pentagram pointing up which is a nod to the big man downstairs and the “goat of lust attacking heaven with its horns”.

Oddly, this was my first taste of Pentagram even though I have a couple of older bottles stashed in the cellar awaiting bug development. 

Despite being too cold and subduing the flavor and aroma, I really liked this young beer and am inspired to buy a couple of this release and am also psyched about the two that I have sleeping in the cellar. 

Pentagram is a funky dark beer that has been fermented with Brett. and aged in red wine barrels. Though cold, I could taste wine, the Brett funk, some wood, and sweet malt. It isn’t a full bodied beer and I have read that it is 6.66% abv (doubtful but a fun idea in keeping with the theme). I’m pretty intrigued by this one for sure. 

The other dark sour that comes to mind is the New Belgium Lips of Faith Clutch which came out in maybe 2011. Clutch, IIRC, is more of a sour and less of a funk. I have a couple left and should pull one out to do battle with the aged Surly. Would be very interesting. Report to come.

I don’t know how long Pentagram will be around but if you like to squirrel away suds and like ‘em funky this would be a good candidate. 

Rock on

Posted 1 month ago

Some recent sessions

To continue my recent sporadic brain dumps, here are some recaps of suds that have gone down the gullet lately.

A few days ago I found myself going up the Palinesque stairs to nowhere over at Cain’s house. I parked a block away and passed some cornholers enjoying a game on the lawn in the rare of late Duluth sunshine. They were having a fierce game and for some reason I thought of Douche and his love of such sport. 

Billed as a short session with no theme, I brought some single bottles which when combined with Cain’s cellar contribution and B’s cider offering we had an interesting smattering of libations.

First up was Mikkeller Funky e-Star which is a Belgian Wild Ale from Copenhagen with a near psychedelic label.

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I picked up a couple of these in 2011 and this was the first tasting. Mikkeller puts out a TON of product that is all over the map in style, price, and bottle size. Lots of collaboration beers with American breweries too. I’ve had several from both bottle and on tap with mixed emotions. Funky e-Star is a pretty strange beast with interesting wood notes from barrel age that we couldn’t quite figure out. Sherry? Cognac? Tawny Port? Mikkeller did make a couple of wine barrel aged versions of this beer but this was not one of them. I thought that the element of “funk” was pretty subdued but there definitely were some Brett. notes to go with some malt sweetness and the mystery wood. At over 9% we were quite surprised by the lack of any sort of hint at the booziness. I’ll drink up the other in my cellar to make room for those with more potential. 

Next up was Bockor Bellegems West Flanders Ale which is an Oud Bruin from the motherland.

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It poured reddish brown and had a really nice sweet cherry aroma when swirled. We all liked this beer more than the Mikkeller and B thought that it was the perfect level of sweet and sour for his taste buds. Not too sticky sweet with a moderate level of sour cherry and nice wood notes. Too bad that we only had one small bottle to share as a full snifter and time would have revealed more impressions however we all liked it. I have been drinking a lot of in your face sours as of late and it was nice to have one that had more balance with the malt and other flavors. 

Up third, and the consensus star of the show, was Petrus Aged Pale.I have had the Aged Red several times and am only so-so about it - just too much like sweet cherry pie.

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I have looked around for quite some time to try this beer that comes with descriptors such as “World’s Best Specialty Ale 2011” “outstanding” “World Class”.  Oddly I found it over in Souptown (I sure wish that we had access to some of their distributors) and snagged a few. Wow am I glad that I did! Poured out of a 12 oz bottle, this baby is bright and gold with a stark white head. The aroma of lactic sourness seeps from the glass and in the mouth the beer is an all out assault of tart. Think about sitting in under a Granny Smith apple tree and biting into one while others are turning to vinegar in the sun on the ground. Damn this is great indeed! 

Just when I thought that I would back home and get some stuff done, Cain emerged with a can of the newest Bent Paddle brew “Paddle Break Blonde”.

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Marketed as a Belgian Style Blonde Ale in a can that breaks from their short graphic design tradition this beer was nice and snappy with good Belgian character and a crisp hop punch that works well. It is a nice addition to the Bent Paddle line-up (IMHO they still haven’t brewed a dud and are the hands-down star of the local brewing scene). I hope that Bent Paddle doesn’t overdo it with a bunch more of new cans. What they are doing is great and I’m sure that they are having a good time riding the wave. Their beers are true to style and a pleasure to drink (though spendy when considering the lack of transportation costs). I’d love to see them change over to 16 oz. cans. This Blonde was somewhat reminiscent of Surly’s Cynic Ale if my memory still works. I’m going to get a can of each and hit them up blind to see which I prefer. 

Lastly, I wanted to give (yet another) shout out to Goose Island for their recent Belgian style Tripel called The Ogden. I picked up a four-pack last week and have really been enjoying this dry hopped 9% beer. Not sure what the availability is going forward but it is at Mt. Royal Bottle Shoppe currently and is Snob Approved. 

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Posted 2 months ago

Lesser Known Styles

A couple of weeks back I met a pal at Sir Ben’s for a pop at the end of the day. Still the best atmosphere in town IMHO, the only thing missing is for Antonino to step up and actually produce the Italian wood-fired pizza oven he has promised for some time now. That place would be so kick ass if they had Neapolitan pies with tasty salads (a la Punch in the Twin Cities but cooked correctly). C’mon Antonino do it! You’ll be packed every night I promise.

Anyway, once in a while at Ben’s they have a “mystery beer” for $3 a pint. Sad that this is now a bargain price when it wasn’t that long ago (before the one-season long hop shortage) that this was the norm. I have had a few tasty mystery beers there (Bell’s Rye) and I’m sure that the distributor is just dumping a couple of past-expiration kegs sitting in the warehouse. 

When I asked the barkeep about this version I was told that it was 100% barley, no hops, and hefe-weizen yeast. Hmmm. Also that it was from Surly of all places. No brainer to give it a whirl and throw three bucks into the ring. Turns out that this beer is brewed in the style of Dampfbier which after some internetting I found out is a Bavarian concoction of all barley, light hopping, and indeed wheat yeast. Pretty interesting reading here

As a fan of restrained brews I found this to be nice and fruity with a dry finish and very little hop bitterness. Clean and crisp, certainly a bargain by today’s standards.

Another lesser known style that happens to be German is Berliner Weiss. Almost always very low alcohol and typically lactic and sour, this wheat based beer seems to making a resurgence. I have had a version at the Brewhouse a few times as well as a bottle from Pour Decisions out of Roseville as well as several in Berlin (but they were hard to find in the winter when I was there). It is refreshing and I love the tang ;)

Last week I scored a new offering from Schell’s down in New Ulm out of their Noble Star Collection > North Country Brunette. Bottled in March of this year, this is a Berliner Marzen Weiss  brewed with yeast, Brett. and lacto with some barrel aging. Very light with a lactic funk, this 5.4% is super refreshing. I’m going to get a couple more 750ml bottles from Mt. Royal and park it for a while to see if the funk develops. Recommended without reservations.

I’ve mentioned it before but if you like the snappy tart beers, give the New Belgium Snapshot Wheat a go this summer. I hope that this is an annual offering and will be around when we finally get a warm up. 

Belly be damned, I drank a bunch last night and will write them up ASAP.

Posted 2 months ago

Harriet Brewing

I was down in Minneapolis recently and hooked up with a pal who suggested we go to Harriet Brewing off of Lake Street and Minnehaha. This was my first visit and I liked how low key the scene was. There were a bunch of musicians on the stage doing some sort of pass the mic performance which was neither here nor there. The walls were adorned in retro hippy dippy style with an impressive tie dye hanging. Really, this place is just a brewery with what looked to be fairly cobbled together gear (in stark contrast to the shiny new tanks at Bent Paddle and Canal Park Brewing). There was a food truck parked out back and the place was pretty full of folks digging the tunes and overall vibe which I would call comfy industrial. 

On tap were perhaps six different beers all of which had Belgian trappings. I first tried their Divine Oculust which is a strong golden style. There was really nice yeasty flavor and some fruitiness that had a dry finish indicating a proper full conditioning. It was over 8% I think and was poured in a goblet. Great first pour!

Next up was Luv Jus which is a wit bier that pours nice and hazy with the right amount of traditional spicing from coriander and orange peel. Well done and very reserved like you’d get from Hoegaarden. Props to the brewers.

The final beer that I had (it was before dinner after all) was a barrel aged Divine Oculust with blueberries. I ordered it and the brewer asked me if I wanted a taste first. I think that it was in fear that I might not like what was advertised as “sour”, I will say that this beer was not at all sour but had the beginnings of a good Brett. funk. My friend said that they were featuring this beer every day last week with a different fruit. Not sure how they pulled that off but it was good and I’m impressed with their decision to embark upon a barrel aged souring program. Certainly I will be back to Harriet and wholeheartedly recommend that you do so too.

We walked about a block from the brewery to Gandhi Mahal and had some very nice Indian food. This was another great find in the Twin Cities to add to my list of ethnic restaurants. Medium heat was Indian medium versus MN medium. Flavors were great, lots of veggie options, and w/o buying crappy Singha beer it was a good bargain. 

If you find yourself in this part of town it is a great 1-2 punch!

Posted 2 months ago

The Missing Link

Some of you more astute readers will have noticed that I have been out of commission for some time. It’s not due to the lack of inspiring beers but more to give the system a dry-out after a long winter of putting on perhaps 20# (that’s pounds for those raised on Twitter), Day after day of grey skies, cold wind, and saturated woods have left me with the blues but alas I rise.

No theme again this time. I’ve been drinking all sorts of styles from all sorts of places. I’ll just highlight the good and the lame as my taste buds dictated.

1. Bud Light Lime-a-rita : A relative tossed me an 8 oz can of this last weekend and told me that I would be surprised. 8% alcohol, pure sugar, pure nast. I’d rather drink a Bartles & James.

2. Peanut Butter Porter : From Beer Engineers in Alabama of all places, this was a bonus nugget tossed into a beer trade that I recently made. Skeptical, I poured out this 12%! brew into a pint glass and went to town. Wow! It smells like peanut butter and tastes like peanut butter. Alcohol was completely hidden. Would be a good one to settle the kids before bed. Weird but interesting. 

3. Ponto S.I.P.A : From Pizza Port, this is a canned “sessionable IPA” (an oxymoron) clocking in at 4.5% from SoCal. It has what I like in a hoppy ale which is nice fresh hop aroma and flavor wrapped into a lower alcohol package and without tongue crushing bitterness. Of course it isn’t available to us in MN but if you find yourself on the west coast this summer give it a go with some fish tacos.

4. Indeed Brewing, Mpls. I was given four different cans from this Twin Cities brewery that recently landed in the Duluth liquor stores. Busy but fun packaging and overall good beer.

       ~Day Tripper APA: Nicely balanced and one of my favorite styles. On par with what is coming out of Bent Paddle. Recommended for their judicious use of hops, reasonable abv, perfect carbonation.

       ~Midnight Ryder ABA: Fun to try another black ale. Bigger than the Day Tripper this one was good and had a lot of roasty toasty to mate with the heavy dosage of IBUs. Not my cup of tea but well done. 

       ~Let it Ride IPA: Yet another IPA. Nothing distinctive, nothing offensive. Lots of hops, lots of resiny pine. 

       ~Shenanigans Summer Ale: A wheat beer for the warm months (which are?) that features lemony sorachi ace hops. 5% abv, nice and crisp. I like it and would drink it in the summer but I’m kind of stuck on SN Summerfest and Kellerweis. 

5. La Folie Sour Brown Ale - The 2014 version from New Belgium and one of my favorites, Super sour! Cherries, red wine vinegar, wood. I LOVE this beer. Only 5 cases came into our fair city.

6. Kentucky Breakfast Stout (a.k.a KBS): Founders Brewing from Michigan. A cult classic and favorite of collectors. I bought two bottles from Keyport as there was a limit on it. $6 for a 12 oz. I put one in the cellar and tasted the other with two friends. Lots of coffee with only mild bourbon from the barrel aging. Quite good and at 11%, a fine breakfast beverage. For me this one comes in third when compared to Bell’s Black Note Stout and my favorite Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. 

7. Sour in the Rye: Another SoCal special from the geniuses at The Breury. Crazy sour, acidic, tart apple with a zing from the rye. $20 for a 750ml and so worth it. 

8. Ovila Abbey Saison - From Sierra Nevada, this is a saison brewed with peppercorns and mandarin oranges. Nice packaging in small cork and caged bottles in a four pack. I don’t really get much pepper at all and the orange too is subtle. Nice saison yeast character though I find the beer a bit sweet but not cloying. Good wheat base, kind of light overall for the 7.5%. Maybe could use some more carbonation? Overall enjoyable but there are too many things out there to buy another four. 

Lots on deck for near term drinking: pils from Lift Bridge, a new one from Black List, Helles from NBB, fresh Blue Paddle Pils to name a few.