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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!

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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!

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!

Spreading the Wealth: Some Tips for Hosting a Beer Tasting in Your Home

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Greetings!

Welcome to a bit of an ironic, but hopefully helpful post. As I type I am in the midst of finishing setting up one of my first somewhat organized tastings. I have had people over to drink several different beers many times before, but tonight there is a loosely structured objective, to work our way through several local and national craft beer selections en route to our final destination: the 2011 Surly Darkness. So I will keep this post brief, not only for my own sake, but because it can hopefully serve as a quick reference guide, and because there are some great resources available on the internet that can say much more (see this excellent link from craftbeer.com). So here are some highlights to focus on:

#1 Prepare in advance!

-I have to laugh a bit at this, because I should be taking my own medicine. I have gotten most everything cleaned around the house and things prepared, but it was all in a rush, give yourself plenty of time.

-Chill your beer well before guests arrive so it will be ready to drink (or dependent on the style it can sit out and warm up to proper serving temp)

-Cook any food necessary before people arrive as well so you are available to your guests.

#2 Beer Selection

-Depending on your audience and/or theme, pick a range of beer styles to enjoy

-Drink the beers methodically so you can appreciate each in its own right and not ruin your palate. Generally work from lighter colored and flavored beers (and less hoppy) to darker and more well hopped beers, usually ending with either an imperial stout or a very bitter IPA.

-Try to moderate pours, depending on how formal you are and how many beers you are tasting. Usually don’t have full beers, just so people can try a lot of beers without getting too full (or drunk).

#3 Glassware

-Using the right type of glass can make a huge difference in flavor and aromas. Try to use something with a bulb (like a wine glass, or something with a stem) to allow the beer to be swirled to release aromas. Snifters work well also, and even smaller sampler glasses can be useful for high alcohol beers.

-Make sure the glasses are clean, just rinse with water (no soap, it will ruin the head of the beer) and let air dry

#4 Set and Setting

-If you are having some close friends over, and just want to enjoy their company, don’t worry too much about the organization of the evening and just have fun. If they don’t know a lot about beer, use natural conversation pauses or when pulling out a new beer to talk a bit about them, and be available if people have questions.

-If the focus is on the beer and the people are not super close friends or just acquaintances be sure to draw connections between people and have some information up your sleeve to be able to keep conversations going about the beer and other topics. Have a more formal organization system set up in this case.

-Set a nice atmosphere, I like to have some music playing in the background and beer paraphernalia out.

-Have at least one beer and food pairing set up for the evening, it’s not too hard to do, and really can make the evening for people, especially to newer beer drinkers.

-If you want to get real serious, you can some BJCP Review Sheets here

#5 Have fun!

-It is beer and good company after all, don’t get too bogged down in having a serious review session.

Well, I’m off to enjoy the evening with my friends at our tasting. We will finish off the evening with the Darkness and some from scratch brownies. I’ll post our review of the beer tomorrow along with some other thoughts. See you then! Drink well!

 

This Week’s Post: History and Reviews from Schell’s Brewery!

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This Week’s Post: History and Reviews from Schell’s Brewery!

Greetings!

I hope the weekend treated you well and you were able to enjoy some tasty beer. It was quite a busy weekend for me, venturing out to the Surly Brewery on Friday (Darkness Day eve) night to mingle with some of the most dedicated, jolly, and experienced craft beer folks I have ever met, and then touring the Schell’s Brewery on Sunday. The tour provided the inspiration for this week’s post. I will be going over the rich and lengthy history of one of the great American breweries while also sampling and reviewing some of their beers.

This will be the second feature in ‘The Local Mash’ series, focusing on local Minnesota breweries (the first being Olvalde Farm and Brewing Company, see earlier post), and you are in for a treat. I will be posting pictures from the tour and spending some time breaking down their newest (delicious!) release from their ‘Stag Series’, the Burton Ale.

Schell's Stag Series #4: Burton Ale

On another exciting local brewing note, Fulton Beerdebuted their first bottles today and will be doing tasting events throughout the city until Thursday. They released Sweet Child of Vine and Lonely Blonde in 6-packs to area beer/liquor stores, so get out and be amongst the first to enjoy their very tasty offerings in bottles (you will definitely be hearing about these guys from me in the future).

Lonely Blonde

Sweet Child of Vine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only one more week until Surly Darkness is released to retail stores (to much fervor)! Until then, I hope to sate your thirst with my musings on Schell’s Brewery this Thursday. I look forward to seeing you then!

Drink Well!

Monday Surprise!

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Well Hello!

I wasn’t expecting to see you for three more days, but what the hell, this post couldn’t wait. So this has been the most exciting craft beer Sunday-Monday combo I have ever been a part of and I had to share some details.

This will be fairly brief but very fun. It started last week with the arrival of several delicious fresh hop beers (I will go into more detail about fresh/wet hop beers on Thursday) and ramped up with a pleasant beer dinner with Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster and craft beer bon vivant Garrett Oliver. Throw in the Surly Brewing “Wet” release party along with some other tasty local releases and you have a wild 48 hours.

So the wet hop excitement started last Tuesday when Brau Brothers‘ 100 Yard Dash hit the shelves in the Twin Cities. This is the freshest wet hop beer you can get (as far as I know, and definitely amongst production breweries in the Twin Cities market) as the name alludes to, the hops are picked from their bines (yes I mean bines, not vines, again more on Thursday) on the Brau Brothers’ estate and hustled across the lot to the brew kettle (hence 100 yards). Last year’s batch was excellent and definitely the most bitter hop bomb of the fresh hop beers I tasted. I’ll save the details of the review for Thursday, but let’s just say they didn’t disappoint this year.

After a wild rest of the week, Sunday brought a beer dinner (beers paired with appropriate dishes) hosted by Garrett Oliver at Grumpy’s in Roseville. We tried 6 appetizers with 6 beer pairings and one extra beer on the end for good measure. The pairings were as follows:

Brooklyn Pilsner with fresh shrimp

Brooklyn Lager with chicken empanadas and chimichurri

Brooklyn Oktoberfest with fennel sausage stuffed mushroom caps (my favorite dish of the evening!)

Brooklyn’s Post Road Pumpkin Ale with pumpkin ravioli and a savory sauce

Brooklyn Blast (Imperial IPA) with buffalo chicken strips (my favorite pairing)

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout with an assortment of chocolate dipped dessert items (cookies, pretzel sticks, strawberries)

Final beer: Brooklyn Companion- a wheat wine with a very present ripe banana flavor and what seemed to remind me of belgian yeast aromas and sweetness, similar to a darker Belgian trippel style, very interesting.

Amongst all of the good food and beer was Garrett’s lively discourse on beer and it’s history all while promoting the recently published The Oxford Companion to Beer (of which he was the chief editor). I was fortunate enough to get him to sign my copy of his book The Brewmaster’s Table which is a great resource book which I will surely cite during future posts and I highly recommend.

As if spending time with the prodigious author and brewmaster wasn’t enough, I got to do it again on Monday evening at the Four Firkins during a book signing and sampling of Brooklyn’s Concoction. The Concoction is based on a recipe for a cocktail called “Penicillin” which includes ginger, honey, lemon and in the case of the beer, peat smoked malt. The beer was very easy drinking, lightly effervescent and refreshing with the ginger, honey and lemon on the front of the palate and the peat smoke mixing them all together at the end for a totally unique beer flavor experience.

Before any of that happened however, I had the chance to snap up some more local wet hop beer from the esteemed Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery (which recently took home 3 medals in the Great American Beer Festival). I was able to get one of only 60 growlers produced from this year’s batch (each of which included a hop cone, how cool!) and share some with some friends after the Garret Oliver tasting. Review of the beer on Thursday.

To cap off an entirely awesome and overwhelming craft beer weekend(ish) I stopped into Tracy’s Saloon for Surly Brewing‘s release of “Wet” their fresh hop beer. It was, as expected, full up with Surly Nation devotees with Omar Ansari and brewmaster Todd Haug on hand to usher in their most recent release. Two for one Surly Wet, hell yea!

So that brings me to now, whew. I’m sitting down to enjoy my Town Hall before it flattens out (I’m dry hopping this one as I drink it with that massive hop bud) and feeling very fortunate for all of the wonderful beer and events that the Twin Cities has to offer craft beer lovers. Get ready for these next couple of months because there are going to be some huge releases that you won’t want to miss.

So until Thursday, get out and pick up as much fresh/wet hop beer as you can, if you need a visual reference guide, here is what I will be reviewing on Thursday (this is a fairly comprehensive list of what is available):

From left: Two Brothers-Heavy Handed IPA, Brau Brothers-100 Yard Dash, Surly-Wet, Town Hall-Fresh Hop 100, Founderst-Harvest Ale, Sierra Nevada-Estate, Deschutes-Fresh Hop Mirror Pond

Drink well!

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