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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!


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!


Unscripted: An Experiment in Freestyle Craft Beer Blogging

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Hi There!

Thanks for joining me for what will surely be a unique and fun post. While the concept for this post may have arisen partially out of a lack of preparation, I did want to try something fresh that I hadn’t seen before. Though I have no particular focus or direction for this post, I do have some thoughts that have been bouncing around my head and some exciting, timely craft beer news and updates. Also, as I am writing this I will be sampling and lightly reviewing a couple of beers that I have been meaning to drink.

On this chilly wintery feeling Thursday evening I am sipping on one of my favorite anniversary beers from 2011. It has been a big year with many craft brewery’s celebrating significant anniversaries: Surly-5 years, Alaskan-25 years, Stone-15 years, Three Floyds-15 years, Firestone Walker-15 years, amongst others. One other great Minnesota brewery, Summit, celebrated their 25th anniversary this year as well. In honor of the occasion they adapted their flagship (and legendary) Extra Pale Ale into a hoppier beauty, their Silver Anniversary Ale. I have enjoyed this beer since it came out this summer, it has a brighter citrus aroma and the taste profile more along the lines of an imperial IPA. Still it retains the clean bitterness and slight mineral character that has been the hallmark of Summit’s EPA. They have stopped producing it for this year, but if you find some around on a store shelf, do yourself a favor and pick some up. I can only hope that this recipe makes its way into their lineup in some form.

It has been another exciting week for me in the craft beer world. I had the good fortune to head back to my home state this past Sunday in anticipation of the Packer-Viking Monday Night Football match-up. I always take advantage of the chance to pick up some New Glarus (which is only distributed within the state of Wisconsin) and to see what other fun things are available on beer store shelves. I was thrilled to find some Blacktop (New Glarus’ black IPA) which I had tried over the summer and loved. The Blacktop also won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival held in Denver last month for the American-Style Black Ale category. Another exciting new seasonal from New Glarus was their Laughing Fox which is a very tasty kristal weizen (a sparklingly clear, amber wheat beer). As I was tailgating in the Lambeau parking lot and enjoying these and other tasty beers I happened to run into local beer celebrity, founder and owner of Surly, Omar Ansari. It was a gloriously random encounter and added to the excellence of the night which was capped off by a 45-7 trouncing of the Vikings. On my way back to Minnesota I stopped at a grocery store and wandered into their beer cave (yes, beer caves in grocery stores, figure it out Minnesota). I had heard some great things about O’so Brewing out of Plover, WI so I snapped up a mixed 6 pack, I’ll let you know what I think about them once I get around to trying some.

This weekend promises to be historic and thrilling for two local craft breweries. I’ll start with Fulton, who will open the doors to their new brewery in downtown Minneapolis for the first time and have growlers on sale starting at 4PM on Friday. They will also be open Saturday, more details here. Go check them out and drink their delicious beer and check out their new brewery. Another thoroughly exciting event will take place on Saturday in Stillwater. The first limited edition big bottle release from Lift Bridge Brewery is coming. The name is Commander and it is a big (12.5%ABV) English-style barleywine spiced with cardamom and aged in Heaven Hill Kentucky bourbon barrels. Wow! It will be offered in 750ml corked and caged bottles that can be enjoyed now or anytime in the next decade. Since it doesn’t look likely that this beer will make it to retail outlets, you should really try to get out to the brewery on Saturday to pick some up. Event details here.

On the topic of bourbon barrel aged beers, I was able to procure some Founders-Backwoods Bastard recently and have been dying to try some, and now I’m going to. Oh yeah! That’s what I’m talkin’ about. I almost don’t want to drink it. The Backwoods Bastard is Founder’s Dirty Bastard (Scotch ale) aged in bourbon barrels. Sweet caramel and toffee aromas woft out of the glass highlighted by the unmistakeable bourbon. The taste is like rich caramel swirled with vanilla and soaked in bourbon. The wooden barrels also add a mellow earthiness with some of the 10.2% ABV booziness adding some warmth on the end. Damn, you should definitely get some of this and drink it right away (and get another one to hide from yourself for a year or five).

Another great bourbon barrel aged beer (yep, I’m one of the folks that loves them) came into the Twin Cities this week, Odell’s Bourbon Barrel Stout. I tried some this year at the Autumn Brew Review and it was outstanding, so if you can find some go for it. Also, recently released from Odell is their Friek which is a blend of several Kriek (cherry) wild fermented ales with tart cherries aged in oak barrels. Then before the final blending, fresh Framboises (raspberries) are added to sweeten up the tartness, again if you see this, you should get it (I have no problem evangelizing).

Wow, I am still just giddy enjoying this Bastard. This freestyling is fun. Oh yea, and one more thing before I’ll be done. Remember my post about Olvalde’s Auroch’s Horn? Well, Joe Pond has come out with his second offering and first seasonal. His newest beer is an “Imperial Stout Porter” essentially a strong Porter giving a historical nod to the influences of Peter the Great on the development of stronger Porters. The beer is called “Ode to a Russian Shipwright” and is brewed with rye, unmalted estate grown (on his farm in Rollingstone) barley to add body and some local spruce tips. I tried some this week and it is another delicious success from Olvalde. The rye and unmalted barley add some grainy tartness to the rich porter body with minty spruce present in the aroma and finish of the flavor. Do I really need to say it or are you just going to go pick up the beautiful swing top 750ml bottle yourself?

Well this has been fun and (I think) successful experiment. Essentially a stream-of-consciousness blog post with some beer reviews, perhaps you’ll see more of this in the future when I’m feeling it. Looking forward to next week, I have this feeling that I’m going to need to dive into a style of beer again and do some research (samples and reviews). We’ll see where that takes me. Thanks for following along with this unusual post and let me know what you thought of it.

Drink well!

How The Autumn Brew Review Tasted to Me

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This marks my first official regular Wednesday post, and I’m very excited to be able to tell you all about my experiences at The Autumn Brew Review (ABR)! As I begin to write this I am enjoying Rush River’s Double Bubble Imperial IPA, a very piney hop flavor with some floral aromas, which worked well with the spicy Thai inspired dish I had earlier. But without further adieu, here’s the recap of the best beer festival held in the state of Minnesota all year.

First of all, you should know that this was the 11th annual ABR and it is put on by the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild which is an organization of brewers, brewery owners, and folks dedicated to supporting all that encompasses Minnesota craft beer. They host two events annually, The ABR and Winterfest (check the website for ticket details for Winterfest) which showcase both Minnesota and national craft beers. In short they are a wonderful organization comprised of highly talented, passionate, and dedicated people that truly love Minnesota craft beer. We are fortunate in this state to have a lot to love, and The ABR did a great job of showing off our craft breweries. (For a couple of other great reviews on the event that will supplement what I post, check out this one, and this one)

This year’s event was split into two sessions to accommodate more attendees (close to 6,000), as past ABRs have sold out. The morning session ran from 10AM-2PM and the afternoon session was from 3PM-7PM. I attended the afternoon session, which sold out within weeks of tickets going on sale in July, but there were still tickets available for the morning session on the day of the event, and as far as I am aware it did not sell out (perhaps just too early to get drinking for some folks, though there was a substantial turnout). I have heard that the morning session started out quite cool, but most participants warmed up quickly with the rather high alcohol content that many of the beers featured and with the addition of a bloody mary token for each attendee featuring locally produced horseradish-infused vodka from Referent. I’m quite OK with having missed the morning session, because by the time my girlfriend and I arrived in Nordeast at 2:30, the day had warmed up to a very pleasant beer drinking temperature in the mid 60s with a stiff breeze.

Both sessions began with bagpipes and at least for the second session, the pipers were lead in by Surly Brewing owner and MN Craft Brewer’s Guild President, Omar Ansari, waving a brewer’s paddle. Lines of eager beer lovers stretched well around the block as the gates opened at 3PM. Once inside, I was on a mission to get a taste of what was the most eagerly anticipated beer of the festival (based on my own interactions) Surly’s bourbon barrel aged version of their once a year release Darkness, which is a Russian Imperial Stout. Though the line was several hundred feet long, we waited and were able to enjoy some Great Lakes Brewing Dortmunder Gold in the process thanks to some crafty and well timed pours from the Great Lakes rep. The wait in line was too much for many attendees to justify, but I am certainly glad I waited because the beer was nearly beyond words delicious. A highly complex blend of vanilla, chocolate, roasted malt, coffee, and bourbon came together to produce one hell of a beer to say the least. I was also happy to have gotten some of this beer right away since the only cask of it was empty within 45 minutes and I was threatened with violence in my nether regions by a co-worker if I did not make a point of trying some.

Once the Darkness had been savored, the pace of the afternoon slowed and we casually made our way to as many local and national brewery tents as we could to sample the amazing offerings and socializing with the jovial crowd. When I said that this is the best beer event in the state, this is an example of why: local Minnesota brewery Brau Brothers brought with them 4 of their regular offerings served on tap via keg, but what makes it special is that they also brought 3 casks of special recipes of their brews, one was a fresh hop version of their pale ale (which means the hops were picked from the bines minutes before they were used so they were ultra fresh. This type of beer can only be had once a year during hop harvest, more about fresh hop beers in the weeks to come) and two versions of their oatmeal milk stout. One with cocoa nibs and coconut added and the other with fresh Sumatran coffee beans from Paradise Coffee infused (this proved to be my favorite of the festival). So with many of the breweries, not only did they have their usual great beers but they had special and limited release beers available in casks. A beer in a cask is very different than out of a bottle or on tap at a bar. The beer is allowed to referment in the cask and giving it a natural carbonation and creating a fresh flavor profile that is difficult to get any other way. It is one of my favorite ways to drink a beer.

So what else caught my eye? There were a plethora of bourbon aged imperial stouts (pitch black, complex tasting, high alcohol content beers that are aged in barrels that have been used to hold bourbon) from the Bell’s Blacknote, Odell’s Bourbon Barrel Stout aged in Kentucky Bourbon barrels, Goose Island’s highly touted Bourbon County Stout (which I sadly missed) and Barley John’s Brew Pub’s Dark Knight (another wonderful local brewery, and sadly another one I missed, though I will surely try it in the near future to make up for it). That’s a lot of huge excellent beers. But even though the big bourbon stouts threatened to steal the show with all of their complexity and frankly from putting people on their asses (the average for these beers is solidly over 10%ABV), it was some of the newest Minnesota craft breweries that blew people away.

Both Steeltoe and Olvalde breweries (which are in order the two newest Minnesota breweries) had people talking during and well after the festival. For them, the buzz is really picking up now, and you would be wise to jump on their bandwagons. It isn’t because they are brewed by really awesome guys, Jason Schoneman from Steeltoe and Joe Pond from Olvalde, though they really are great; and it isn’t because they are new, though again they are; it’s because they are making damned good beer. From Steeltoe, they are currently offering a golden ale called Provider, a dark stout-like ale with oats called Dissent, and their biggest hit, Size 7 IPA clocking in at 7% ABV and 77IBUs is a terrific IPA that I will be writing about in the near future. All three are excellent and are available for growler sales on Friday evenings, and though bottles were available last Friday, they sold out very quickly. Keep your eyes open for them. As for Olvalde, Joe’s only current offering is quite a delicious one called the Auroch’s horn. The name references the extinct wild bull whose horn was used to drink ancient brews in central Europe which the recipe is based on. The barley, wheat, and honey provide a golden ale with lots of honey aroma and a mild sweetness, really an excellent beer and I’m excited to try more from him in the future.

Other local breweries that made an impression on me were Harriet Brewing, which released it’s beers publicly at Winterfest this past February and Fitger’s Brewhouse out of Duluth which has has been brewing great beers for over 15 years. I also had the chance to sample some beers from Castle Danger, another recent addition to the Minnesota craft beer scene, and enjoyed their Nestor Grade Amber.

At the end of the event, rather than lamenting all of the incredible beers that I didn’t get to try, and for the few spots I meant to stop by (sorry Liftbridge, I still love you and can’t wait to try your oyster stout) but forgot about; I was just filled to the brim with joy, pride in the local breweries, and delicious craft beer. This year’s ABR really showed how lucky we are here in Minnesota to have such high quality craft beer made by high quality people that really care about the art of brewing and appreciate their consumers. It’s refreshing to see this type of community so visible in a culture that seems to no longer value high quality craftsmanship in favor of bland mass production.

As I finish, I have moved on to drinking an Alaskan Amber, which is their flagship beer based on the German Alt style beer. It has a rich malty sweetness with no noticeable hop profile and has mild fruit flavors of raisins and some caramel.

So there you have it, my long-winded rundown of an incredible beer event. They really don’t get much better than that, so if you get a chance to attend next year, do it! In the meantime attend any beer festival you can, like this weekend’s Rauchfest (rauch is German for “smoke” so be prepared for their smoked beer and smokey foods) put on by Harriet Brewing is sure to be a blast.

If you were at ABR or if you will be attending a beer event, please let me know, I’d love to hear your feedback. Check out my pictures from the event on my flickr account (link on the right).

Next week: Oktoberfest! Munich is abuzz right now with clinking steins and many liters of bier being swilled, so I will give you my opinions on several U.S. and German Oktoberfest beers with some history attached. Until then, drink well.


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