RSS Feed

Category Archives: Reviews

Hop Gourmet: A Taste of Midwest Double IPAs

Posted on

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!

Advertisements

Good Old Barley Wines

Posted on

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!

Unscripted: An Experiment in Freestyle Craft Beer Blogging

Posted on

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!

The Local Mash: Finnegans

Posted on

Céad míle fáilte! (A hundred-thousand welcomes!)

This week I bring you my third installment in The Local Mash series, focusing on Finnegans, a unique, innovative and inspiring, local, non-profit beer company. In this post I will cover some of the history and development of the organization, discuss Finnegans’ mission, provide you with some insider perspectives courtesy of my interview with Hillary Lewis, and let you know how their Irish Amber tastes. Let’s just dive right in!

For anyone who is unfamiliar with Finnegans, I’ll take a moment to give you an idea of how unique this organization is. To my knowledge (this is a topic I have researched several times over the last year, and it helps that my girlfriend was a FINNtern who really knows her beer) Finnegans is the only beer producing company that donates 100% of it’s profits to charity. Yep, you read that right, an entirely non-profit beer company. Now why don’t I call Finnegans a brewery? This is where another unique facet comes into play; the beer is brewed and bottled at the Summit Brewery. Though the bottles say Summit and the beer is brewed using their facilities, the companies are distinct, and Finnegans is not owned by Summit.

So with that in mind, let’s cover a bit of history of how Finnegans came to be. The roots of what would come to be Finnegans arose from Jacquie Berglund’s work with Cara Pubs, the highly successful local franchise of Irish themed pubs owned, up until recently, by well known businessman Kieran Folliard. Kieran has since decided to fully pursue his other venture, 2 Gingers Whiskey. During her work with Cara Pubs, Jacquie, in response to many requests for financial donations, combined with her generous personality was doling out an increasing amount of charitable donations. While this was embraced, it was quickly outgrowing the budget that Cara Pubs had in mind for their donations and Jacquie was becoming more focused on philanthropic work (her recent blog post gives you a good idea of her commitment to social entrepreneurship). This passion intersected with a fairly longstanding rumbling that Kieran should have his own beer brand and the initial test run for a charitable beer was incarnated as “Kieran’s Irish Potato Ale” which was contract brewed with the now defunct James Page brewery in Northeast Minneapolis. In 2000, after seeing the potential for a successful business plan, Jacquie went off on her own and created Finnegans, which would be brewed with James Page until 2003 before moving to Summit. It took 3 years for the company to become profitable, donating what they could to area charities, and establishing the Finnegans Community Fund which is the arm of the company which distributes the donations.

The most recent figures I could find for the total donations made by Finnegans to area charities was from October 2010 showing over $162,000 to more than 60 charities in the areas that Finnegans is sold. Finnegans currently distributes to Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and most recently South Dakota. Although Finnegans has donated money to a wide variety of charities in the past 11 years, this year’s focus has been on donating to food shelves in the states of distribution. Locally, this partnership has been with the Emergency Food Shelf Network (EFN), a 35-year-old organization working to end hunger in the Twin Cities area (they are always looking for volunteers, and it is a great opportunity to get a group of friends together to create positive change in your community). Finnegans’ donations are aimed at expanding EFN’s “Harvest For The Hungry” initiative which purchases food for meals from area farmers. Lots of breweries are focused on environmental responsibility and developing community stewardship, but I must say that Finnegans is truly in a league of their own. The type of positive change they are making by selling their beer is absolutely second to none, and given that they are financially sustainable at this point, shows that this is a replicable business model which I hope to see other beer organizations adapting.

Many people have become aware of Finnegans particularly in the last year and a half thanks in a big part to the snappy marketing revamp they received from the Martin|Williams advertising agency. The makeover included new packaging (an aesthetically pleasing, clean, white and green motif) and a host of witty quips, playing on Finnegans’ Irish heritage, to grace the bottle necks, buttons and other promotional materials. Some examples include: ’12oz Hail Mary’, ‘One Credit In Heaven’, ‘Guilt Eraser’, and ‘I’m a Goody Two Pints’. The advertising has worked wonders, enhancing the already thriving organization and playing a role in the 31% sales increase in 2010 (their best year yet). Some Irish eyes are surely smiling.

So now that you have an idea of how Finnegans came to be and how they are operating as a non-profit organization let’s hear from one of the few full-time staff members. Hillary Lewis was gracious enough to sit down and chat with me. Her working title is “Account Engagement and Promotions” meaning that she works with distributors, retailers as well as promotional efforts and other tid bits. As with many non-profit organizations, Hillary, “Wears many hats.”

Brightbeer (BB): Tell me about the “Drink Like You Care” campaign

Hillary Lewis (HL): “Drink Like You Care” started in 2007 to create a targeted giving campaign in which our distributor matches our profits, doubling our giving. The time frame for the campaign is always from November 1st-December 31st. In Minnesota, that means for each keg of Finnegans sold, the equivalent of 50 meals are donated to EFN and each case (24 bottles) sold equals 8 meals donated.

BB: I have heard that in addition to the Irish Amber, Finnegans will be adding a new beer to the lineup. What can you tell me about it?

HL: Our newest beer is a Blonde Ale which will be available as an early preview release from the end of February through March, and then available as a general release in the form of a summer seasonal from April-August.

BB: Do you have any other new beers up your sleeve?

HL: Nothing I can tell you about at this point.

BB: Outside of your connection to Summit, what is your perspective on other local craft beers?

HL: People often ask how I feel about the local craft market, and honestly, their success contributes to the burgeoning profile and success of the local craft beer market in general. It’s great to see other local brewers doing well

BB: What is your favorite part of your job?

HL: That’s tough, there are a lot of things I enjoy. I really love the mission of the organization and how unique we are. I get to meet a lot of great people and attend fun events. It fits my personality well to be out working with people face-to-face.

BB: Last one, what beers have you been drinking lately?

HL: Well besides Finnegans, I have gotten into some sour beers lately, especially from the Lips of Faith Series from New Belgium; I liked both Le Terroir and La Folie. It’s also the time for fresh hop beers so I’ve been enjoying those. My boyfriend is a home brewer so I’m always drinking his home brew too.

I want to say a BIG thank you to Hillary for taking the time to sit and chat with me. A bunch of the details from Finnegans history came out of our conversation as well. Finnegans is also unique in that they utilize community members as volunteers for various events and promotions, so if you are interested in helping to support Finnegans, becoming a member of “Team Finnegans”, or even a FINNtern you can find more information here. Also, to find out where you can get out to “Drink Like You Care” you can use this link to find out where Finnegans is sold near you.

So, if you’ve never tried Finnegans or even if you have, let me give you my thoughts:

Finnegans-Irish Amber Ale 4.6%ABV

My apologies for the poor photo quality, a new camera is in the works

Appearance: Crystal clear, bright copper color with a frothy white head that laces nicely down the glass.

Aroma: Pleasantly sweet up front with some red licorice, toast, caramel. There is a mineral aroma that comes in towards the end and gives way to a light earthy hoppiness. Aromas are well balanced.

Flavor: Tastes like a toasted biscuit with marmalade spread initially before lingering on some caramel and finishing with an enjoyably subtle citric bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Fairly dense carbonation that provides a light tickling effervescence on the tongue, light on the palate with just enough bitterness on the end to keep the sweetness from lingering.

Overall: This is a well balanced, very sessionable (meaning you can have a couple or more in a sitting) and tasty. The light biscuit blends well with the fruity/caramel aromas and flavors. The hops are just barely present, leaving the malt to take center stage. I enjoy this beer on many different occasions, and it is very versatile for pairing with food; it works well to take down most any sandwich, is subtle enough for a light salad and can stand up to roast meats. Finnegans was smart to choose such an adaptable and palatable beer (a great crossover beer for people that drink pale lagers) for their only offering (at the moment). Looking forward to the Blonde!

Well this has been an exciting post, and definitely one in line with my passions (and palate). Thanks again to Hillary and please contact me if you would like more information about Finnegans.

Next week’s topic is still a mystery to me, but I’m excited to see where my mind will wander. See you then.

Drink well!

The 2011 Surly Darkness: Reflections and Review

Posted on

Welcome!

A few days later than I had planned, but for a review of such a special beer perhaps the wait was necessary. This post will serve for me as a closing of the chapter for this year’s Surly Darkness mania that swept into my life on the eve of Darkness Day several weeks ago. This beer has created quite a ruckus this year, casting out ripples of excitement and joy as well as frustration and debate extending beyond the Twin Cities craft beer scene to several national craft beer blogs/news sites (Beer Advocate (from discussion forum) BeerNews, BeerNews Again, The Full Pint) and into some more mainstream local media outlets (Fox 9, Kare 11, Star Tribune, City Pages blog). Why all the news? Well, in a nutshell, in addition to the already highly anticipated release of a beer that is sought after by craft beer lovers from across the country, the prices being charged by some local liquor stores stirred up some serious controversy in the craft beer world (most discussed was $36.99/bottle at Surdyk’s while Surly sold it for $18/bottle on Darkness Day and many retailers charged roughly that price). I was able to purchase mine for $17.99, which is what many retailers were charging and what I had assumed they all would.

After watching this unfold so closely (and from the recent mania that the Founders CBS release caused) I have come away feeling that clearly people are very (very) passionate about excellent beer (which is awesome) and an increasing number of people are being exposed to craft breweries through the hype that is generated around their limited releases (which is also awesome), but as a segment of the population that generally prides itself on having refined tastes or being conscious consumers some amount of perspective seems necessary. Beer has always been a catalyst for bringing people together and that is important to remember. Is it easy for me to not be bothered by the limited nature of the release because I was one of the lucky ones who got some? Sure, but I also believe that if you are in the know, you have some responsibility to act as a good steward to the rest of the community. I have done my best to let friends know where they may have luck finding a bottle or what restaurants were serving it on tap, and most importantly, I invited some friends over (most who had never tried Darkness before) and shared the celebration with them. I’m not trying to sound holier than thou, but I am suggesting that it is more important to celebrate and share something as special as Darkness in such a way that it gets better each year, rather than focusing on amassing an epic beer collection. After all, what good is a super special beer if you don’t celebrate it with people?

Enough of my thoughts on the subject. Let’s get down to how this beer of the undead (referring to the label) tasted:

Surly- Darkness 2011 Approx. 10%ABV

Appearance: Poured black as a zombie’s soul with a thick mocha brown head that settled on the beer and stayed there until the glass was about empty

Aroma: Dark chocolate syrup is the first to woft up from the glass, which fades in behind blackberries, cherries and caramel. After another swirl some vanilla comes out in the blend with just a light bit of coffee and anise (black licorice) at the end of the sniff.

Flavor: The dark chocolate and cherry/berries flavors blend together beautifully tasting like chocolate covered fruit. After a bit of the sweetness gives way, savory caramel and vanilla come forward to add another layer of decadent complexity. There is a minimal amount of astringent bitterness on the finish with just a bit of that 10 or so percent ABV coming through as well.

Mouthfeel: This is a rich, viscous beer! The dense carbonation gets swallowed up in the thickness of the beer and arrives on my palate like a thinner chocolate syrup. It coats the tongue and mouth pretty much entirely and taints any other flavors coming in shortly after.

Overall: Though this is not my first encounter with Darkness, it is my first formal review of it, and it reminds me that there is more than just hype to this beer, it is just damned good. It is definitely on the sweeter side of the Russian Imperial Stouts that I have had, but that is fine with me. I prefer sweetness to heavy roast/coffee bitterness most of the time. Though it is sweet and has fruit presences, it is balanced out with enough hoppiness and roast to keep it from feeling overly rich or cloying. I enjoyed this beer in good company and also with some homemade brownies. The milk chocolate from the brownies was like double dipping the cherry/berry flavors and enhanced the vanilla and caramel aspects, it was a pairing that worked very well and is a good reason why Russian Imperial Stouts are often served as dessert beers.

It has been a whirlwind few weeks that Darkness has occupied this year, and I hope that some of the contentious issues that were raised can be remedied for next year so that the focus can remain on appreciating a truly great work of craft beer art.

In case you couldn’t make it out to the Four Firkins over the weekend, it was quite an evening. There were great speeches, bagpipes, people, and one other thing, oh right, beer. Surly-5 was on tap as was Brau Brothers-MooJoos, Lift Bridge-Farmgirl, Summit-Unchained #8: Black Ale, Fulton-Sweet Child of Vine, Bell’s-Sparkling Ale, and pouring from growlers or bottles was the whole Steeltoe lineup, several Schell’s offerings, and Dave’s Brew Farm-Matacabras (and other selection). Also poured during the evening was a 6 Liter bottle of St. Feullien-Trippel (which everyone that sampled, signed) and many bottles of Deus Brut des Flandres from Brouwerij Bosteels (a Belgian ale which is brewed and fermented, then shipped to France and undergoes a secondary fermentation with champagne yeasts and is aged for 9 months in French champagne caves. A one-of-a-kind beer). There was an amazing showing of support for the store with several brewers, brewmasters, some Cicerones, and tons of craft beer lovers on hand. I was happy to have been a part of the historic night.

Coming this Thursday: Another installment of The Local Mash featuring Finnegans (technically not a brewery, but an innovative, non-profit beer brewing company, located in Minneapolis) with a PSA about their annual “Drink Like You Care” fundraising effort focused on fighting hunger in the Upper Midwest.

‘Til then, drink well!

%d bloggers like this: