Posted 2 weeks ago

Pils and Soap

A nod to Elvis who has provided me with great listening pleasure since first seeing him in ‘81.

Lots of beers down the hatch since my last writing (and you thought I was drying out!). Some big, some small, some epic, some lame. That’s the beer world every day. 

I’ve been thinking about all of the local puffing about the Duluth beer scene being so noteworthy. Breweries per capita, amazing offerings, yada yada. If you travel around the US of A at all and visit other cities you will find that it is happening everywhere! The craft beer movement is in full force all over the place. What is amusing to me is that I trade some beers and folks ask me if there are any breweries in Duluth. Blown out to state level, the only beer that is regularly sought after is Surly Darkness. Given the number of breweries around that amazes me. I hear more about New Glarus than any place in MN. Crazy.

In my last post I mentioned the Bourbon County Brand Barleywine at 7 West. A couple of days later I visited Grizzly’s in Canal Park (was saddened to see the Thai joint dead in the water) to find some very fine beers on tap that rival the Bourbon County. As of last weekend they had 2011, 2012, and 2013 Deschutes Abyss which is just ridiculous. They also had Deschutes Imperial Smoked Porter and for the less adventurous: the sublime Odell’s Five Barrel Pale Ale on nitrogen! Get down there while the gettings good!

Here are some of the things that I have had from the bottle over the last week:

New Belgium Snapshot Wheat - Pretty slammable with light body, minimal wit spicing, unfiltered and best of all a bit of Lacto. thrown in to add a citrus sour tang. MIles better than Bell’s Oarsman in my opinion.

Summit Unchained Fest Bier - Nice fresh maltiness in the right amount with crisp balanced hops. Not sure why they have a fest beer coming out in the spring but it is welcomed. Another hit from the boys in St. Paul.

Summit Frostline Rye - Tasted twice; once from bottle and once from the keg. Overall I am very impressed by their judicious use of rye and the wonderful hop flavor and aroma. Summit really knows how to make balanced beers and in my opinion they are in the very top tier of MN breweries. My favorite MN beer of the year so far.

South Shore Inland Sea Pilsener - I can’t recall if I tried this before but I don’t want to again. Devoid of body and very light pils character. Perhaps it works for the local ATV boys in Ashland but this one went down the drain after two pulls. Life’s too short to waste on shit beer.

Schell’s  Roggen Pilsner - While I’m on the subject of pilsners, I had a great 12 pack of mixed pils from the German specialists in New Ulm. Four different varieties, all very good. The Roggen is interesting in that they used some rye malt in the bill which adds some nice grainy spiciness but with a very light touch. 

Schell’s 1984 Pilsner - Their classic brewed with noble hops. Crisp, bready, just right.

Schell’s Mandarina Pils - A very interesting take on pils utilizing standard grains with a German hop that is bright and citrusy. Strange for a pils but really good. I’m a sucker for pils with a dominant hop profile. I still think that Schell’s Citra Hop Pils from the Stag series was incredible. Hope that it makes a comeback one day.

Schell’s 2014 Pilsner - Made with Sterling hops, this one harkens back to the original but with an almost floral quality. I was at Mount Royal Beer Cave this week and they had a few of these boxes left. Highly recommended if you like pilsners.

Bell’s 2014 Black Note Stout - Good god what a monster of a beer! Similar to Bourbon County Brand Stout from Goose Island, this is a barrel aged imperial stout that is so massive at this young age that it takes an extended session to get through one bottle. Kind of a shame to try one right away but I have three more that are going to sleep for many years to come. Oddly, only 15 cases made it into our local market. If you happen to find some on the shelf by all means snag it. $22/4 pack.

Posted 2 weeks ago

Bourbon County Barleywine

Just a heads up to those in town who like the burly beers, 7 West Taphouse has Bourbon County Barleywine on tap right now. I sipped on a 10 ouncer last night and it is young and virile! Great bourbon flavor coupled with an unctuous malt blast. English style so very subdued hopping. The bottles in my cellar are going to be SO good in a few years! Like Old Foghorn on steroids with bourbon.

Posted 3 weeks ago

Sierra Nevada offerings

Goes without saying that I have been a longtime SN fan. Consistently great beers across their lineup (well perhaps Tumbler excluded) with their pale ale, stout, porter, barleywine, and wheat beers being some of the best in the country IMHO. I have been to Chico and enjoyed their pub, drank SNPA on tap in Italy, savored Kellerweis on the rare hot Duluth day, plowed myself under with Bigfoot, loved Celebration Ale since day 1….

I’m a little worried about the most recent box that I picked up from them which was the 4-way IPA sampler. Granted, I’ve grown pretty tired of IPA’s but I am always up for trying what Sierra puts out. One of the beers included is Torpedo which I know a lot of people like because of the aggressive hopping. No need to touch on that one. The other three are pretty interesting:

Nooner Session IPA is a 4.8% ale that is quite the break from the typical 6-7.5% IPA’s that one finds in the marketplace. It is loaded with hops, especially the late addition West Coast “C” varieties that give the beer an awesome aroma and flavor. Clocking in with only 40 BU’s it is interesting that SN calls it an IPA which are usually quite a bit higher in both bittering and alcohol. I like it for what it is - something that you can put down at noon and not be regretting it the rest of the day. 

Blindfold Black IPA is more like other IPA’s with 6.8% booze and 70 BU’s. What separates it from so many others is that SN used a bunch of Carafa III which is a very darkly roasted barley that one might find in German styles. I find that the roasted malt balances the hop punch well and although somewhat astringent it really works for me because it subdues the hops. I’m really sick of run-of-the-mill IPA’s with the one dimensional hop attack. Hops mask a lot of brewing faults. 

Snow Wit White IPA is where the box falls apart and I begin worrying that Sierra is stretching themselves too far. In fact, with all of the competition for retail shelf space as well as tap handles, it bums me out that so many of the classic microbrews are being shoved aside for newfangled creations from both well-entrenched and newby breweries. Do we really need more style bending beers? I for one would be perfectly happy with say three great examples of each classic beer style at the liquor store. 

Obviously I fall prey to my American consumerism and end up trying so many different beers but in the end it takes me away from enjoying the awesome beers that are the foundation of the microbrewing revolution. So many beers to try, so much money wasted on beers that don’t hold a candle to the standard bearers (like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale). 

Back to the Snow Wit- really cool that SN is using seven experimental dwarf hop varieties. I’m down with that as hops are voracious vertical growers and spreaders. 5.7% alcohol? Nice. 40 IBU’s? Nice. But why use Belgian yeast, lemon peel, and coriander in an IPA? Why can’t we leave Belgian yeasts for Belgian styles which let the yeast be the shining star up front rather than get a taste of it with some wit-like spicing and then get fully overwhelmed by bittering hops? 

In response to this I am going to go to store and build a sixer with great beers from Sierra Nevada: Stout, Porter, Pale, Kellerweis and if they were available: Celebration, Bigfoot, and Summerfest (what a fine lager!).

Posted 1 month ago

Ommegang - Wild at Heart

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?

Posted 1 month ago

The Bruery - 2013 Oude Tart

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!

Posted 1 month ago

Sam Adams Escape Route

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.

Posted 1 month ago

Olympian Efforts

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. 

Posted 2 months ago

Duluth tastings

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. 

Posted 2 months ago

Tropical Hiatus

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?

Posted 2 months ago

The holidays are over but the beer still a-floweth

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.