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Leap Beer: Rare Beer for a Rare Day

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Happy Leap Day!

I hope this post finds you enjoying this rare February 29th. In honor of this entirely arbitrary calendrical anomaly, in which we stick on an extra day to our short month every 4 years, I have decided to have some fun with it and create a ritual. However random this day may be, it is a rarity in our day-t0-day life, so I have decided to drink a rare and special beer for the occasion. But that’s not all folks, since I’m going to be drinking a beer that I have 2 bottles of, I will revisit this scenario again in 2016 (supposing the world is still around) with the same beer to see how it has developed over the years.

Though I am selecting a specific day to commemorate a future imbibing, this can be a fun way for you to create future events with your special or rare beers. If you have recently had a child, gotten married, or perhaps started a course of study that you will graduate from, these are all events that you can celebrate years into the future. As long as you follow some simple aging guidelines (refer to my barley wine post) it is quite simple to preserve your beer (if you can keep yourself from drinking it) to enjoy in the future for a really special occasion. It really makes the moment that much more unique when you have prepared for it years in advance. Also, be sure to select an appropriate beer for aging, generally a high alcohol (9-10% or higher) beer, and preferably bottle conditioned (meaning that there are living yeast still in the bottle, this will appear as sediment on the bottom of the bottle). If you can, it is ideal to get 2 bottles of the beer so that you can drink one fresh before you set the other one aside for your future celebration.

So what will I be diving into tonight? I have chosen a big beer from a local brewery: Lift Bridge Brewery’s ‘Commander’, a 12.5% ABV bourbon barrel aged English style barley wine spiced with cardamom. On November 18th, 2011 Lift Bridge ushered in their first ever big bottle (750ml) release at their brewery, with bottles released to a limited amount of liquor stores in the weeks following. I was fortunate enough to procure 2 of these bottles and have sampled the beer a couple of times from other people’s stashes since. I enjoyed this beer with friends after a lovely dinner, and here are my thoughts:

My 2012 Leap Beer

Pouring from the 750ml bottle into a snifter style glass, the beer shone a bright reddish bronze with a fairly thin white head that did not linger long. I am getting quite accustomed to the aromas and flavors imparted by this particular brand of bourbon barrel aging. As with the Central Waters bourbon barrel aged stout and barley wine, the Lift Bridge ‘Commander’ was aged in Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. I have yet to try some of the bourbon from Heaven Hill, but it is surely on my list as it does wonderful things for beer. The aroma was pungently rich with butterscotch, caramel, earthy vanilla and a touch of bourbon. After warming a bit more and rolling around the glass, subtle vinous notes became present along with some cocoa and candied dark fruit. The alcohol was minimally present in the aroma, especially considering the high ABV. The flavors were quite consistent with the aromas with robust caramel and vanilla up front. There was a more present earthy/musty oak character in the flavor that complimented some of the sweetness from the malt and cardamom. Along with some light berry flavors, the alcohol was more noticeable in the mouth as an enjoyable warmth on the finish and lingering aftertaste. The mouth feel was quite soft and dense, slightly viscous but not overly coating of the tongue and mouth. Everything I was hoping to taste in this beer was there along with many subtleties that I was not expecting.

This beer has developed very nicely in the 3 months it has spent sitting in the bottle and it will be quite an act of restraint to hold off opening the other one for 4 years. I think this beer will be one that people will look back on a year or more in the future and wish that they had tried some or at least been a part of the first release (this is me hoping they brew this one again). I could see this beer attracting a following on par with Surly ‘Darkness’ with regard to the quality of the beer and limited availability. I have been a big fan of Lift Bridge since the first time I encountered their beers, and I must say that they really knocked it out of the park with their first big bottle, limited release beer.

One other positive note with regard to Lift Bridge is that, although their beers have not been available on liquor store shelves since this past summer (they had lost their bottling contract with Cold Spring Brewery) they have returned to store shelves around the metro area and will be hosting a tasting tomorrow evening at The Four Firkins. It should be a good time, as it usually is with the Lift Bridge guys, and it is exciting to see yet another high quality local brewery be available (once again) to the liquor store crowd.

This was a great evening and a fun experiment in creating a bit of a time capsule for myself. I encourage you to find a reason to stash some beer away and create your own fun future party. Hope to see you again in 4 years to revisit the ‘Commander’. Until then, keep enjoying great beer.

Cheers!

Hop Gourmet: A Taste of Midwest Double IPAs

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Good Day!

It is the time of year when I find myself (due to my northern latitude locale) yearning to get outside and enjoy some warm, bright, fresh air, and equally bright, refreshing beers. Fortunately, breweries in the Upper Midwest must feel accordingly because we are gifted (speaking of the Twin Cities market in particular) with a respite from the winter doldrums in the form of bright, pungent and bold double IPAs (a hop forward, highly bitter and high alcohol style of beer created by using a large amount of grains and huge amounts of hops added throughout the brewing process). Three in particular are available at the same moment in time, though each for only a limited run. It is my pleasure (and good fortune) to provide you with my thoughts on these very highly touted and equally highly sought after beers. In a part of the country where palates change so directly in response to the weather, this blast of hops bridges the gap between rich, malt focused, high alcohol winter beers and light bodied, refreshing, lower alcohol spring beers.

The three beers that I have chosen to focus on are unique in the world of double IPAs due to their limited release schedules as well as their limited distribution; each is available for 4 months or less and in less than half of U.S. states. But, enough leading you on, let’s get to know these hoppy beauties.

Founders “Double Trouble” 9.4% ABV (100 “perfect” rating on Ratebeer.com)

Background: Founders Brewery is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The brewery produces an outstanding lineup of beers (recently ranked as the #2 brewery in the world by Ratebeer.com) including their seasonal double IPA, “Double Trouble”. They produce between 30,000 and 50,000 barrels of beer annually (couldn’t find a recently updated number) which are distributed to 18 states as well as Washington D.C. This beer is available from January/February to May.

Appearance: Hazy honey/gold (got a bit of the yeast from the bottle in the pour) with a fairly thin white head

Aroma: Passion fruit, pine undertones, slight tomato leaf, apricot, hop resin, some grainy character and a bit of fresh bread

Flavor: Cane sugar, light caramel, candied apricot, some pine sap, quite bitter and astringent lingering dryness, alcohol is well hidden

Mouthfeel: Very soft, rich carbonation, medium body with a lightly tongue coating presence

Surly “Abrasive” 8.8% ABV (100 “perfect” rating on Ratebeer.com)

Background: I think I’ve given enough background on Surly in the past, so reference previous posts if necessary. Abrasive was first brewed in 2008 to commemorate Surly outgrowing their ability (by law) to continue selling growlers. It was originally called “16 Grit” and later changed to “Abrasive” in honor of the abrasives factory that used to be housed in Surly’s facility. This beer is available only in Minnesota and from December to March.

Appearance: Clear, bright copper with some orange, tall rocky white head

Aroma: Tangerine, apricot, a pungent and juicy quality to the fruit aromas, ripe raspberry, with a grassy and musty slightly mineral finish

Flavor: Bright citrus (tangerine and grapefruit mostly), peach, resinous and floral hops, biscuit and toast provide balance for the huge hop profile, not overly bitter and only mildly lingering

Mouthfeel: Light spritzy carbonation, fairly light body, clean finishing with minimal tongue coating

Bells “Hopslam” 10% ABV (100 “perfect” rating on Ratebeer.com)

Background: A classic American craft brewery and Michigan beer landmark. Originated in Kalamazoo, Michigan with an additional production brewery and packaging facility in Comstock. Their current annual brewing capacity is 180,000 barrels with plans for continued expansion. Bells is distributed in 18 states as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. Hopslam is unique among this group because it is brewed with honey, giving it the highest ABV. Hopslam is listed as being available from January to May on the Bells website, but due to its (fanatical!) following, in the Twin Cities market it sells out at many retail outlets long before that. Note: This year’s batch was released on February 13th and has already sold out in some beer/liquor stores, so get some while you can.

Appearance: Slightly hazy golden honey color with a tall, foamy just off white head

Aroma: Fresh cut grass, pineapple, resinous pine, citrus undertones, subtle sweet honey and a small amount of toast

Flavor: Grassy, lemony citric hops that are a bit sticky, some caramel and honey blend with the sappy pine flavors, a brisk bitter finish

Mouthfeel: A bit prickly carbonation, moderately chewy body, with a mild mouth coating feel

Well there you have it, a lineup of some of the best double IPAs in the world (Ratebeer.com lists Hopslam as #1, Abrasive as #6, and I’m sure Double Trouble is not far from the top 10), and Minnesota is the only place that you can get all 3. With beers of this caliber, I refuse to pick a favorite, they are all treats. So while the west coast may get most of the attention for making some of the best hoppy beers, we’ve got some real gems here in the Midwest too. Go out and support these amazing breweries and the delicious beers they make for us.

(Note: I used Ratebeer.com as a reference for this post because they provide one of the most comprehensive lists of annual beer and brewery ratings. This is only one source of ratings and is by no means definitive.)

I have several cards up my sleeve for my next post (homebrewing, an interview, beer news updates) so stay tuned!

Good Old Barley Wines

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Bass No. 1 The First Barley Wine

Welcome back!

It has been a bit too long for my liking since my last post, but I hope the month of January treated you well. There were certainly a few days that a strong beer and a warm fire seemed necessary, but for the most part it has been a strangely mild winter here in Minnesota. The lack of snow and unseasonably warm temperatures have not stopped me, however, from taking part in ritualistic consumption and study of a robust, legend inducing style of beer: the barley wine. During the time since my last post I have enjoyed several classic examples of the style as well as a few beers that are close relatives or variations. In this post I will cover some of the  history of the style, ingredient and flavor/aroma characteristics, aging these beers, and my tasting notes from the beers I sampled.

I’d like to start by discussing the name “barley wine” itself. As you can probably guess, a beer with “wine” in the name is referring to the high alcohol content. The first historical reference to this label for a beer came in 1903 when Bass Brewing Company in England labeled their No. 1 strong ale as a “barley wine”. (Great resource for British beer history) It had already become common practice in Great Britain to label some strong ales (usually 7% ABV and higher) with “old” in the title (owning to the aging of the beer before being released), or referring to them as “stingo” amongst other names. Additionally, a taxation based labeling system related to alcohol content (technically the original gravity of the unfermented wort, which is the amount of sugar per volume of the liquid) came about in the late 1800s using “X”s to designate the strength of the beer, with XXXX being the highest in alcohol content. (Source: Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher p. 151) You can see then, that the label barley wine evolved out of other descriptors, and has grown into the term of favor for the most part ever since.

Further evolving, the term as most American craft beer lovers see it today is, “barleywine”. The legacy of this contraction into one word is fairly recent. First adapted by Fritz Maytag, former owner of Anchor Brewing and the man responsible for its revival, when attempting to get approval for his “Old Foghorn” the original American barley wine in 1976. The U.S. Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol, and Firearms did not like the idea of labeling a product as “wine” if it did not include grapes. Fritz did a little rebranding and brought his label to the state, (as they would allow it even if the federal government did not) calling the beer “Old Foghorn barleywine style ale”. (Source) His plan worked and the term has stuck in it’s condensed form through most uses in commercial U.S. production today.

Don’t worry, we’re getting close to tasting these big beers. Another bit about the naming is that although barleywine (this is what I’ll use for the rest of the post) was the common name for the highest strength beer a brewery makes (certainly not the case anymore with the style defying high alcohol beers many craft breweries produce) another name that is nearly synonymous is “Old Ale”. For the most part an “Old Ale” is considered a barleywine today, though their history comes from regular strength beers that were aged for a long period of time in wooden barrels and blended with younger beers or occasionally served unblended.

So what goes into these strong beers and what do they taste like? Barleywines are characterized by their large use of ingredients, both the grains (traditionally nearly all barley) and hops. Modern Barleywines use only the first runnings from the mash (meaning the highest sugar content) and can range in their final alcohol content from 8-14% ABV. Since the brewers use a larger amount of malt they must balance the sweetness of the beer by adding more hops. This is primarily where the distinction comes between “American style barleywines” and “English style barleywines”. Traditional English barleywines have pronounced malt flavors and aromas (toast, biscuits, caramel, brown sugar, molasses, raisins) with a range of bitterness from subtle to pronounced, but with hop flavors and aromas that favor the earthy, woody, herbal end of the spectrum. Anchor’s “Old Foghorn” created the first American style barleywine, which put a hoppier spin on the English style, and started the trend toward a hoppy barleywine. Along with the malt characteristics of its English style counterpart, American barleywines are known by their unusually high hop bitterness, distinct hop flavors and aromas (often citrus, piney, and resinous). It has come to a point where it is difficult to tell much of a difference between a Double/Imperial IPA and an American barleywine (to much acclaim from “hopheads”).

So with that background information in your head, I present to you some classic barleywines (both American and English) along with a couple of Old Ales and one specialty!

#1 (The Original!) Anchor “Old Foghorn” (English Barleywine) Fall 2011 Vintage Apprx. 8% ABV

Appearance: Clear dark amber with a creamy tan head that hangs around nicely

Aroma: Orange rind, copper/mineral, raisins, slight citrus hop character

Flavor: Candied dark fruit/rasin, dough, more citrus hops, slight alcohol warmth on finish

Mouthfeel: Richly carbonated, slightly viscous chewy body and a bit of tongue coating feel

#2 North Coast “Old Stock” (Old Ale/English Barleywine) 2011 Vintage 11.9% ABV

Appearance: Clear dark amber/garnet, fairly dense light tan head

Aroma: Doughy, caramel, raisin, nutty, present alcohol with some subtle vanilla and cherry notes

Flavor: Raisin, toast/bread crust, toffee, alcohol warmth on finish fairly pronounced.

Mouthfeel: Rich carbonation, rich and chewy body that clings well to the tongue, warming feeling in the mouth lingers

#3 Sierra Nevada “Bigfoot” (American Barleywine) 2011 Vintage 9.6% ABV

Appearance: Clear reddish amber with a rocky off white head

Aroma: Bright citrus (primarily grapefruit) with some caramel, raisin and toast

Flavor: Caramel up front, slightly faded but strongly bitter grapefruit rind, present raisin and a slight alcohol warmth on finish

Mouthfeel: Soft and dense carbonation, drying bitterness throughout, rich body and clings to the tongue and mouth

#4 Fullers “Vintage” (Old Ale/Traditional English Barleywine) 2010 Vintage 8.5% ABV

Appearance: Clear amber with a rocky/fluffy off white head

Aroma: Caramel, fresh bread, earthy/woody hop aroma

Flavor: Raisin, caramel, biscuit (light toast), damp earthy hop flavor, lightly bitter

Mouthfeel: Rich carbonation, medium body, clean finishing, not much tongue coating feel

#5 Alaskan “Barleywine” (English/American hybrid) 2011 Vintage 10.7% ABV

Appearance: (No photo) Clear deep ruby/dark amber, fairly small light tan head

Aroma: Candied fruit, raisins, cherries, dark caramel, toast, light alcohol aroma

Flavor: Sweet dark fruit, soft rich caramel, light citric hop flavors

Mouthfeel: Soft dense carbonation, moderately rich body, fairly clean finish

#6 Rogue “Old Crustacean” (American Barleywine) 2010 Vintage 11.5% ABV

Appearance: Hazy amber/dark copper, thin bubbly head that fades quickly

Aroma: Caramel, dates, very resinous almost sticky piney hops

Flavor: Toast, caramel, raisins, with a pronounced pine sap flavor on the finish

Mouthfeel: Slightly coarse carbonation, rich chewy body with a very dry bitter finish.

#7 SPECIALTY! Central Waters “Bourbon Barrel Barleywine” (American barleywine aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels) 11.5% ABV

Appearance: Hazy amber/ruby color with minimal off white head that fades quickly

Aroma: Rich caramel, vanilla, bourbon, raisins, moderate alcohol

Flavor: More rich caramel, toffee, deep vanilla flavor, earthy toasted oak, smooth bourbon (not hot), raisins, warm and present (but enjoyable) alcohol finish

Mouthfeel: Rich and soft carbonation, viscous, robust body that coats the tongue well.

What a gathering of beers! Each one was a treat and can be enjoyed best either on its own or as an accompaniment to some funky earthy cheese (I tried some Stilton with the Fullers “Vintage” but I couldn’t convince my palate to like it) or perhaps with some rich pound cake during dessert. I enjoyed the Central Waters “Bourbon Barrel Barleywine” the most, but that’s not fair to the others on the list because I’m sure they would all do well with some barrel aging. With that in mind, of the other classic and more widely available examples on the list, the North Coast “Old Stock” won my heart. I find myself more drawn to the more malty, toffee-like barleywines (aka traditional English style) though I really enjoyed the Alaskan Barleywine, “Bigfoot” and “Old Foghorn”.

So that brings me to my final point in this post which is aging. The barleywine is the style of beer most suited to aging due to its high alcohol content and robust flavors. Many people (myself included) feel that a barleywine should be given a year to age before it starts really drinking well. This is not to say that many fresh barleywines are not tasty, but their flavors can be a bit harsh and the alcohol can be overly present and hot. Aging helps to mellow and round out some of the more harsh aspects (especially of American barleywines with their often brash bitterness), allow more subtle flavors to come out, and eventually new flavors will develop. A properly aged bottle of barleywine will typically develop some sweet sherry wine like flavors (think subtle cherry) over years and can gain depth and complexity amongst the flavors already present.

To observe this point, I have purchased duplicates of each beer that I sampled in this post (except the Fullers) and I will try them all again in one year. Until then I will keep them with my other cellaring beers in my basement. I am fortunate that the temperature hovers around 58 degrees and I can keep them in a room free from any light exposure. If you are interested in cellaring beer, try to keep it in the coolest (ideally 50-60 degrees), darkest (no UV light at all if you can help it) spot in your place of residence. Store the bottles upright as this will reduce the amount of surface area between the beer and any oxygen that may be in the bottle and will keep any living yeast on the bottom of the bottle so you can leave them behind when you pour.

Well I’m glad to be back on the horse again and I’m looking forward to my next post. I am sure that it will be much sooner than the time lapse between my previous post. Until I decide which direction to take, enjoy some strong beers while it’s still somewhat cold out, because spring will be here soon!
Cheers!

Drink in the New Year

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Welcome to 2012!

I hope that you rang in the New Year in the most enjoyable fashion you could muster and that this first week has been treating you well. I had a great time with some close friends and a few tasty beers.

My New Year's Eve treat: A 2009 vintage of Gouden Carolous' 'Cuvee van de Keizer Blauw' (Belgian strong dark ale)

Since it has been so long since my last post, I will fill you in with what has been going on around the Twin Cities craft beer world and look forward to what will be coming next from Brightbeer in 2012.

The whole two weeks prior to and after Christmas found my life pleasantly busy with my birthday coming on the 14th and some busy holiday workdays. For my birthday dinner, I was treated to a delicious (first and last) dinner at Cafe 28 in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis. I say first and last meal there because I hadn’t been there before, sadly enough, and even more so because they closed at the end of the year so it was my last chance to do so. Cafe 28 was owned by Todd and Linda Haug (Todd being the brewmaster at Surly and Linda having years of experience in the wine and restaurant business) meaning that they had an excellent tap list (Surly: Cynic, Abrasive, Five, and Darkness) and wonderful cuisine. It was an excellent experience and I can only hope that it will reincarnate in some form in the future. We also had friends over later in the week and enjoyed some special beers, including a 2 1/2 year old golden brettanomyces beer from New Glarus’ R & D series that I purchased from the brewery this summer; it was a very special night indeed.

My most recent Thursday post left you with the knowledge that I would be attending the Surly ‘Smoke’ release on December 19th. Both my girlfriend and I bundled up on a chilly Monday night and made our way to the Red Stag Supperclub for the event. The atmosphere was more formal than other Surly releases, but if you could find a table to sit at and enjoy some of the fine fare it made for an excellent dining experience. Red Stag offered several dishes to pair with ‘Smoke’ and a couple incorporating the beer into the recipe. If you are unfamiliar with ‘Smoke’ (which many people are, being that it is very much a “love it or hate it” beer) here is a background on it: The style of beer is a smoked Baltic porter meaning that the malts are smoked over beechwood in Bamberg, Germany (the home of traditional smoked German beers) then brewed and fermented to around 8% ABV using a lager yeast strain which allows the focus of the flavors to remain on the smoked malt. The result is a pungent “camp fire” and earthy smoke aroma and flavor that encompasses all facets of the beer but does not overwhelm the dark chocolate and raisin characters. The beer pairs very well with roasted meats (particularly ham) and can suit a chocolate dessert also, as the Red Stag showed with their chocolate cake (made in the swiss cake roll style) incorporating ‘Smoke’ into the Bavarian cream filling. All in all, the night was fantastic with many of the Surly Nation regulars on hand. The following day saw the release of ‘Smoke’ in retail outlets to much fanfare, though not nearly as intense as ‘Darkness’.

The ‘Smoke’ release was proceeded by the holiday week which seemed a blur. I was happy to get a short respite from the holiday madness with my family back in Wisconsin. After introducing my dad to a few beers (including Chimay ‘Cinq Cents’, their Trippel, commonly known as ‘Chimay White’) during the fall, he was starting to think seriously about how he viewed beer, especially given that he and my mom are wine connoisseurs. As per his request, I compiled a choice selection (heavy with Belgian Trippels, more on this style in the future) of craft beers for my trip home, and I can now say that my parents have a bad ass beer cellar. We enjoyed Brasserie Dupont’s ‘Bons Vœux’ (or as the bottle states “Avec les bons vœux de la brasserie Dupont” meaning “With the best wishes of the brewery Dupont”) which is their holiday ale, a strong (9.5% ABV) amber/golden ale that is dry hopped. The soft fruit and floral aromas give way to an effervescent, and refreshingly dry citric and earthy taste, truly an absolute treat that can easily match up with most any meal, go grab some if you get the chance.

Leading up to the New Year, an unexpected surprise popped up on my Twin Cities craft beer radar; the (quietly announced) public release of Minnesota’s newest production brewery, Boom Island. Brewer and owner Kevin Welch was on hand at the Pig and Fiddle (no web address yet) to introduce his first two Belgian inspired and styled ales: a pale ale and a strong IPA (8%ABV). I was able to sample each and enjoyed them along with my first trip to the Pig and Fiddle (from the same folks that are behind The Muddy Pig). He will officially be bringing his beers to the retail market on Monday, January 9th from 6-8PM at The Four Firkins in St. Louis Park. If you can make it out, he will have both of the aforementioned beers for sample and sale, presented in 750ml corked and caged bottles. He will join Harriet Brewing as the only two specifically Belgian styled breweries in the Twin Cities. Kevin also has plans to release a Dubbel and Tripel in the near future, and I am eagerly awaiting them.

So that brings you up to speed on some of the exciting happenings in the Twin Cities as well as my personal life. I will be getting back to a more familiar format with my next post focusing on a most seasonal of beer styles: barleywines! Though it has been unseasonably warm and with almost no snow on the ground it is hard to make sense of the fact that we are entering the depths of winter (or are we?). I will be providing some history and context for these high gravity beers as well as discussing details regarding aging beers (as barleywines are prime candidates for aging) and reviewing some popular commercial examples with a special one or two thrown in for good measure. I look forward to seeing you then and to getting this year off to a great start.

Until next week, drink well!

Popping the Cork on 2012

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Greetings!

It has been some time since my last post, which makes me sad. I will be getting back on the horse in the new year with more style reviews and histories, as well as more brewery interviews and much more. I just wanted to let you know that Brightbeer is still kickin’ and is wishing you the happiest of New Year’s celebrations tonight.

There has been so much for me to recap from the last few weeks including Minnesota’s newest (yep, another one) brewery release along with many special beers that have come to market as well as others that I have had the pleasure to try. I will see you again soon in 2012, but enjoy the evening and pop some corks!

Cheers!

Winter Beer Brief-ing

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Welcome (to Winter)!

Do you need another reason to drink?

I hope this post finds you somewhere toasty with a beer in your hand. Since my last post, winter weather has begun to settle upon the Twin Cities with temperatures in the 20s or lower for the past several days and just a bit of snow. We’ve yet to have our first proper blizzard, but I’m sure it’s not far off (last year’s 18in dumper that brought down the Metrodome was on Dec. 11th). Aside from the backaches of shoveling and treacherous driving conditions, the frigid weather ushers in some excellent winter sports, festive holidays, and most importantly, justification for drinking high gravity robust beers. As a side-note, our move-in process has left me more out of sorts than I had planned, so this post has gotten little love and will therefore be pretty brief.

To backtrack for a moment to last week’s post, I have to give a couple of follow up comments. For one, I had a great time at the Lucid Brewing release of ‘Air’. The event was very well attended and everyone was in good spirits and excited to be drinking some new Minnesota beer. The beer itself was a welcomed break to many of the robust winter beers I have been drinking. It is an American wheat style beer brewed with some Citra hops, giving it a light crisp mouthfeel with a touch of citrus flavors and aromas and a mild lightly bready malt background. It is a great session beer at around 4% ABV and is sure to be a crowd pleaser. They are releasing ‘Camo’, their double IPA tomorrow night at the Golden Nugget in Minnetonka, so go check that out if you get a chance.

Also mentioned in last week’s post was the Surly ‘Abrasive’ release which was this past Monday at Lyon’s Pub in downtown Minneapolis. As per usual at Surly releases it was a pretty packed house (in spite of the frigid temperatures) with most everyone sporting some form of Surly garb. The beer was just fantastic, and I’ll be telling you more about it here in just a minute. More to come about Surly releases at the end of this post.

On to a few of the winter beers that have been warming my belly this winter. One that came out a few months ago to a subdued fanfare in light of it’s maple bourbon barrel aged progeny (CBS or Canadian Breakfast Stout) was the Founders ‘Breakfast Stout‘, a double chocolate, coffee, oatmeal stout. I have had this beer in the past and always thought fondly of it. Thought I am not a big fan of coffee, ‘Breakfast Stout’ makes it work. The coffee dominates the aroma with a bit of dark chocolate and anise in the background. The coffee is quite present in the flavor along with dark chocolate, but given how bitter both flavors are, the oats in the recipe manage to wrangle in the astringency to a palatable level for my taste. At 8.3% ABV this stout is sure to keep your cheeks flush and warm you up on a chilly winter evening; surely a wonderful winter brew. Also, this beer can be aged for a few years so if you can resist, put a couple of bottles away to see how the flavors develop.

Next on my winter drinking list comes straight from the Surly seasonal department and their recently released double IPA, ‘Abrasive’. Surly claims that this is Minnesota’s first double IPA and has been produced seasonally since 2008. During its first week on the market it has been tough to find on shelves unless you know where to look, because it is such a heavily sought after beer. It does not disappoint, with a deliciously pungent aroma that is present from a distance just upon opening the can. The aromas and flavors are definitely influenced by the large amount of Citra hops used in the brew giving off bright grapefruit and other fresh tangy citrus fruits amongst a telltale earthy almost mustiness (some call this a cat pee aroma) which is not at all unpleasant, but distinct. The increased malt bill results in a caramelly breadiness that backs up the intense hop profile and boosts the ABV to just shy of 9% (again, perfect for warming your chilled bones). This is typically a 2-3 month seasonal release, but it may be a bit of a short season on ‘Abrasive’ as there is a shortage of Citra hops this year, so get some while you can.

Last on this abbreviated list (don’t worry, I still have to work through barleywines, old ales, varieties of stouts, porters and the like in the coming months, so don’t fret) is Odell’s ‘Mountain Standard’ double black IPA. This is the third year for the ‘Mountain Standard’ but it’s first in four pack release, and it will be sticking around until April (awesome decision!). For the past two years, this beer has been only available in limited quantities in 750ml bottles (released at the beginning of November in honor of the time change back to Mountain Standard Time), but it’s popularity has brought it out to play for a longer release. For those of you not familiar with a black IPA, much less a double black, I’ll give you a quick rundown (I will dissect this style in the future in more depth). A black IPA is a hot topic in the craft beer world, not just because it is a bit of an unusual style, but because there are many different names for it: Black Ale, Cascadian Dark Ale, Black IPA, or just Hoppy Dark Ale all seem to mean the same thing. As far as the Great American Beer Festival is concerned, the category corresponding to this particular style is ‘American Black Ale’, which New Glarus won gold for this year with their Black Top (my favorite black IPA). So why does ‘Mountain Standard’ make my list of great winter beers? Well, it is an aggressively hopped, robust, dark ale, which boasts 9.5% ABV. The aroma rivals any IPA that I have had with bold grapefruit and resinous sticky hops and a flavor that can stand up to the roasted malts (an area that too many black IPAs fall short). The juicy citrus flavors flow over the chocolate malt background like orange and grapefruit bursting through a rich dark chocolate. This beer is glorious and highly drinkable in spite of the large amount of alcohol in it. I will be drinking a ton of this beer throughout the winter and I’d recommend you do the same.

So there you have it, a brief glimpse into a few of the beers I am (and will be) enjoying this winter so far. I am saving several others that I could have mentioned here for future posts, so stay tuned.

In other news, Surly will be officially making December one of the best months of the year by releasing a second seasonal (a bit out of order for them, since ‘Abrasive’ usually comes second) their highly touted ‘Smoke’ on Monday the 19th at the Red Stag Supper Club. If you’ve never had a smoked beer before, do make an effort to try some of this wonderful beer (have I made it clear how much I enjoy Surly’s beers?). I’ll be there to usher yet another great Surly seasonal and I hope to see you out.

Until next week, take care, stay warm and as always, drink well!

Craft Beer News Roundup

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Happy December and Welcome!

It has been a whirlwind week and a half in my world with a very busy schedule around the Thanksgiving holiday and a recent move I haven’t had much time to put together research for a post, but thankfully there is no shortage of happenings in the local and national craft beer world and I intend to give you a recap. There are also some exciting opportunities to get involved in and sample from the continually amazing Twin Cities beer scene.

I’ll start with an exciting and immediate event from the newest brewery in Minnesota (yep, there’s another one). Tomorrow (Friday Dec. 2nd from 5-7) Lucid Brewing will be officially releasing their first offering ‘Air’ at The Public House in Minneapolis. I’ll be there to welcome Minnetonka, Minnesota’s first brewery to market and you should come down to this historic affair if you can (I’ll let you know my thoughts on the beer as soon as I can). Lucid is the creation of two homebrewers Eric Bierman and John Messier that aim to produce high quality, refined and very approachable craft beers. They are unique in that they received funding through Kickstarter (a crowd sourced funding program for business start ups and the like) for a community brewing program where both amateur and professional brewers from the public will be able to come in and brew their own batches on Lucid’s equipment. I think that their tag line says a lot about the positive direction that the craft beer world is headed and something that I resonate with very much “Clarity in thinking. Excellence in drinking.” I’ll be looking forward to seeing their beer in bottles and on taps at local beer stores and bars.

Another exciting (though less historic) local brewery event will be Surly’s seasonal release of ‘Abrasive‘, Minnesota’s first Double IPA on Monday December 5th at Lyon’s Pub. Surly has brewed ‘Abrasive’ since 2008 in honor of ending their growler sales, though it initially debuted as ’16 Grit’ in honor of the abrasive factory that used to exist on the grounds of the brewery. This is a favorite of many amongst the Surly Nation and a real shock to the system for people unsuspectingly trying a Surly beer for the first time. I gave one to my cousin’s Scottish boyfriend last year at our family Christmas to help him cope with the prodding demands of my relatives and the giggles at his accent. He took one sip and looked like he had been punched in the face. He looked at the can and said to me, “Well that’s bitter.” Hah, quite an introduction to American craft beer and my family. He survived the encounter though I doubt he’ll forget it or the beer. So treat your friends and family right this holiday season and smack them in the face with some ‘Abrasive’, they’ll thank you for it in the end (probably).

Taking a break from the local craft beer world, I have some very intriguing information that has come to light potentially tying one of the most infectiously catchy songs, and probably equally loved/despised boy bands of the 90s to the craft beer community. Yes, ladies and gentlemen it was announced on Wednesday that Hanson, the guys responsible for the smash hit ‘MMMbop’, would be producing a beer called MMMhop IPA. As far as I can tell, this is legitimate, though we will have to wait and see if the beer can match the song of its namesake in popularity.

Back to the Twin Cities, where Flat Earth Brewing is continuing its two-month-long Porterfest, a (delicious) tinkering with its Cygnus X-1 Porter (an already great beer on its own) by bringing out 5 more adaptations. Each week Flat Earth augments Cygnus through infusions and one barrel aging. Each infusion is named and available for only one week in growlers directly from the brewery. November saw:

Week 1: Mystic Rhythms – Raspberry infused Cygnus
Week 2: Nocturne – Espresso infused Cygnus
Week 3: Grand Design – S’more infused Cygnus (I picked up a growler of this and it was incredible, the s’mores flavor and aroma both came through very well)
Week 4: Trees – Hazelnut infused Cygnus

and December is looking quite excellent also:

(This week) Week 5: Hold Your Fire – Hot Pepper infused Cygnus

Week 6: Dream line – Cherry-chocolate cheese cake infused Cygnus

Week 7: Xanadu – Orange infused Cygnus

Week 8: Hemispheres – Double chocolate infused Cygnus

Week 9: Big Money – Oak aged Cygnus (Aged in Rye whisky this year)

So make your way down to the brewery to pick up these fantastic creations to enjoy as the snow begins to fall and you’ll be sure to have happy guests for holiday parties or to enjoy on your own.

Well that should serve as a pretty good listing of a bit of the craft beer news floating about. Refer to the links I have posted on the right side of the page for additional information and continually updated news on both the local and national craft beer communities. There are constant new releases, special samplings and excellent fun events going on to keep things interesting as well as more news, reviews and updates from breweries and industry folks than you could ever hope to know if you’re willing to seek it out. The best way to enjoy craft beer is with friends, so go on out there and get your tastebuds some exercise.

Next week’s post will focus on some favorite seasonal winter beers as we start to get into the colder weather and the ground threatens to be covered in white for the next few months. Since there are so many winter seasonals and styles of beer that I plan to cover in the next few months, this will just be a taste of what’s to come and how to effectively prepare yourself for the wonderful drinking season to come.

Until then, drink well!

 

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