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Popping the Cork on 2012

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Greetings!

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

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

Cheers!

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Off for Thanksgiving

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Enjoy the holiday today with some good company, good food and good beer. I’ll be back next week. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wet Hops: The Glory of the Fall

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Greetings!

In the world of beer, right now is one of the most exciting and wonderful times of the year. It comes but once a year and can turn grown men (and women) into excited little children. What is this wonderful and rare time that many beer lovers dream about for 11 1/2 months out of the year? Wet hop beer season! This year’s first major hop harvests happened within the last month and a half and in the time since, many breweries have taken the opportunity to use those extremely fresh “wet” hops in their beers for a truly fresh and unique experience.

Let’s start with a brief breakdown of the role that hops play in the brewing picture so we can understand why this time of the year is so unique and excellent. The purpose of these beautiful little herbs is to provide bitterness to beer to balance out the intense sweetness imparted by the malted grains. Hops are also useful in that they act as a preservative and antibacterial agent in the beer helping it remain drinkable for long periods of time. Hops have been used in beer in Germany for nearly 1000 years, in England for under 500 years and in the United States for less 400 years. Prior to the use of hops various herbal mixtures, some labeled “gruit” or “grut”, were used to balance out the malt’s sweetness. I’ll talk more about grut in the future. For now let’s stick with hops.

Fast forward from the advent of hop use in brewing centuries ago to hops’ current place in the beer world and you will find that hops have become nothing short of a sacred herbaceous bine. It is called a bine rather than a vine due to the botanical categorization that hops fall under. *Interesting to note is that the hops’ nearest botanical relative is cannibis (marijuana), and it is also worth noting that the lupulin from hops has a mildly sedative effect not too dissimilar to the effects of cannabis.* All modern breweries now use hops exclusively as the bittering agent in essentially all beer produced on the planet. The thing about basically all of those hops is that they are rarely used in their fresh “wet” form. Hops are usually dried or concentrated through compacted pellets or through the use of hop extract to use in large quantities in breweries. The flavors and aromas from hops can range from bright fresh grapefruit or citrus, to exotic aromatic tropical fruit, to heavy dank resinous pine sap, to earthy and musky, to light crispy spiciness. They can either take center stage in a beer (like in an IPA) or remain totally in the flavor and aroma background (as in a Belgian Dubbel or Quadrupel). But you can only get the subtle and super fresh tastes and aromas from hops once a year when you harvest them directly from the bine and without letting them dry out, add them to the beer either during the boil or during fermentation.

I was fortunate enough to get my hands on 7 different fresh/wet (I will use these terms interchangeably in my reviews) beers. 3 of the beers are from Minnesota and the rest are from breweries scattered about the U.S. I sat down and tasted all of them and it was a magically delicious experience, below are my thoughts on each:

Reviewed on 10/10/11

Town Hall-Fresh Hop 100 N/A %

*Note: Poured from a growler. Impressions are from initial tasting and later tasting which was more flat and with hop bud in the glass.*

Appearance: Deep copper, near burgundy light frothy head that doesn’t stick around too long

Aroma: Grapefruit and orange peel up front, earthy and grassy hop profile as well and some light spiciness/pepper aromas on the end, sweet sugary malt aroma

Taste: Strong hop taste throughout, beginning with citrus zest and some grapefruit and moving into a hay/fresh grass sweet earthiness and finishing off with a dry spicy bitterness. There is enough sweet, candy-ish malt flavor to accompany the hops throughout

Mouthfeel: Crisp and fairly light body, present bitterness throughout but bitterness clings to the tongue on the end aided by the dry finish.

Overall: Excellent fresh hop beer, which really showcased the different flavor and aroma profiles that hops can impart on a beer. There were citrus, earthy, floral, and spicy aspects to both the aroma and taste which maintained balance and were not overly bitter. I really loved the hop bud in the growler as a finishing touch as it was not only cool to see, but smelled and tasted fantastic. A dry hopped growler, how about that!

Reviewed on 10/11/11

Two Brothers-Heavy Handed IPA 6.7%

Appearance: Hazy deep copper/amber, with about a half inch of coarse bubbly head

Aroma: Pine sap initially, slightly toasted malt, some mild grapefruit, light floral aroma on the end

Taste: Subtle pine and earthy flavors initially, dark caramel sweetness and finishing with some lightly citrus potpourri

Mouthfeel: Moderate carbonation, mild body that is lightly sweet, finishes a bit dry with a lingering bitterness that sits on the back of the tongue.

Overall: A subtle and palatable fresh hop beer. Not overly bitter, and a pleasant hop aroma and taste balanced by sweet caramelly malt. I could have a couple of these with no problem. A well done more subdued example of a fresh hop beer. A good one for someone looking to be introduced to a fresh hops without getting knocked off your feet.

Sierra Nevada-Estate (Organic Wet Hopped Ale) 6.7%

Appearance: Deep, clear rusty/copper color with a large fairly dense off white head

Aroma: Bright citrus (lemon) and some pine hop aroma with some slightly sweet malt in the background, earthy and slightly spicy hop aroma on the end

Taste: Strong lemon and grapefruit taste right away, leading to some pine and resinous flavors, a backing of light toast from the malt, and finishing with a nice floral flavor as if tasting fresh flowers.

Mouthfeel: Light carbonation, fairly light body, quite crisp and refreshing, lightly bitter at the end, but very pleasant.

Overall: A very well done wet hop beer! Great hop aromas of bright sunshiney citrus with some resinous qualities and even some perfumey aromas all very well balanced by a subdued malt presence. Very easy drinking and thoroughly enjoyable. As if the beer isn’t tasty enough, it is both certified Oregon Tilth Organic and the barley and hops are grown on Sierra Nevada’s estate in Chico, California. This beer just makes you feel good and it’s classy with the wax seal.

Reviewed on 10/12/11

Founders-Harvest Ale (Wet Hopped Ale) 6.5%

Appearance: Deep gold lightly hazy with a bubbly white head that doesn’t last long

Aroma: Fresh grapefruit giving way to a bready maltiness, very fresh aromas of grassy/fresh plants and lightly spicy at the end.

Taste: Citrus and grapefruit on the front and then a light sweet breadiness to balance it out and a sprightly bitter white grape aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Lightly effervescent, with a light body, doesn’t linger in the mouth very long, just leaves a slight pleasant bitterness.

Overall: A beautiful light colored and bodied wet hop beer. Very fresh and aromatic with a clean grapefruit/citrus dominant flavor and a very grassy earthiness in the aroma. The lighter malt contributes some nice subtle breadiness which works very well alongside the light and fresh hops.

Deschutes-Fresh Hop Mirror Pond 5%:

Appearance: Bright copper/orange, clear with a coarse white head that doesn’t stick around long.

Aroma: Light ripe banana at the beginning, sweet caramel, some mellow earthiness on the end.

Taste: Ripe fruit, mostly banana, and malty sweetness, crisp and light spicy bitterness

Mouthfeel: Lightly carbonated, smooth and medium body, subtle bitterness on the finish.

Overall: I was surprised by the banana aromas and flavors but they were pleasant. Good hop/malt balance. Fun take on their classic Mirror Pond Pale Ale recipe.

Reviewed on 10/13/11

Surly-Wet NA%:

Appearance: Light copper/orange with a just off white fluffy head that lingers well

Aroma: Sweet juicy citrus (fresh tangerine), tangy, toasty sweetness in the background, and earthy on the end

Taste: Orange/grapefruit and some light pine up front, sugary caramel and finishing with a slightly dank earthy bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Soft effervescence, light body and crisp, very refreshing with a subtle bitterness at the end

Overall: Super refreshing, sprightly, juicy and tangy. A wonderful wet hop beer that is thoroughly drinkable and makes me smile after each swallow. This release is a hot commodity from Surly and unlike their other releases that you can find for months afterwards and still enjoy, Wet must be drunk as soon as possible after purchase to get the true experience, making it all the more exclusive.

Brau Brothers-100 Yard Dash Fresh Hop Ale 8%+ (based on estimate from a brewer at Brau Brothers):

Appearance: Clear bright copper with a thin bubbly head that fades quickly

Aroma: Ripe peaches and citrus, present toasty sweetness, pine resin and a hint of alcohol

Taste: Pine and tart citrus moving to sweet and caramel breadiness, heavy resinous bitterness on the finish

Mouthfeel: Light carbonation, medium body, juicy lingering bitterness

Overall: A fresh hop bomb! Very present ripe fruit and resinous hop bitterness but with a strong enough toasted malt backdrop to stand up to. Definitely the biggest and most robust of the group. Also, the freshest due to the close proximity of the hops to the brew house.

So after repeated drenchings in fresh hoppy goodness, my tongue felt it most enjoyed the Surly Wet. To anyone who has tasted this beer, it is likely no surprise. I just couldn’t help but relishing in the crisp juicy citrus aromas and flavors and the light delicate balance it maintained. The 100 Yard Dash was definitely in close contention on the other end of the spectrum as a super hoppy example of a fresh hop with Founders and Sierra Nevada also being near the top. Really it was just a joy to sit down to each of these beers because they are all created in honor of the hop. They pay homage to the rarity of this moment when the hops can be enjoyed in their purest and freshest form.

So I would highly recommend picking up any fresh hop beer that you can find on store shelves in the next week or two because once they are gone, they’re gone until next October. Do not sit around with a fresh hop beer in your fridge, do not cellar them, because these beers are an impulsive delight and they are best when enjoyed ASAP.

This post has been a treat and I’ve been so focused on enjoying it that I haven’t come up with my post for next week yet. I have a few ideas rolling around in my head, but let me know if you have any suggestions for next week’s post or for any other future ones. So until next Thursday, grab a fresh hop beer, kick back and enjoy the waning days of warmth as we move into the cold season here in Minnesota, where we must find and create our own warmth (luckily there are plenty of beers that can do just that).

Drink well!

New Post Day and Upcoming Topic!

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Hello!

Starting this week my regular posts will be shifting from Wednesday to Thursday. This format is very flexible and living, so I just want to find a way to make it work well.

On an exciting note, my upcoming post this week will be my first in a series highlighting local breweries. First stop, Olvalde Brewery with some background on the brewer and their beer, The Auroch’s Horn, and perhaps a little more!

Looking ahead to next week…think harvest.

Cheers!

Let There be Gemütlichkeit! An Examination of Oktoberfest

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Grüße! (Greetings)

So as promised this is my highly experimental Oktoberfest beer review an

d history review. I mention the experimental nature of this post because it has been a real learning process in planning and blogging. A few minor planning details (such as leaving 3 beers all of 16oz or more to finish on the day of the post) and getting a head cold threw off my Wednesday posting date. No worries however I have successfully drunk my way through some excellent Oktoberfest (and Oktoberfest “styled”) beers and will give you all of my thoughts. Additionally I want to provide you with a brief history of how this festival came about and why I love this time of year so much.

Let’s start with a bit of history, both of the Oktoberfest in Germany and my ties to it here in America. To understand why this festival has become a part of the cultural heritage of not only Germans, but many around the globe, we must first understand how the beer itself came to be. The beer I am referring to is the märzen lager style of beer (which is commonly known as Oktoberfestbier or Oktoberfest “style” beer). There are two clues in the naming of this beer that can begin it’s history. The first is the name märzen, which refers to the month of March in German. This is the month that the beer was originally brewed. The roots of the märzen lager style go back roughly five centuries, and German brewing history overall, many centuries further. The second part of the style that gives us information about it is the word lager, which refers to the fermenting process and ty

pe of yeast used. All lager beers are brewed the same as ales, but when it comes time to add the yeast, brewers choose a specific lager strain that will ferment at cool to cold temperatures near or just above freezing and require a much longer fermentation period, many weeks or potentially months depending on the beer. The resulting lager beer can vary in color just the same as an ale, but it’s taste is often more subdued with less aromas and flavors being imparted by the yeast. This reduction in flavors and aromas plays significantly into the success and marketing of macro breweries, but we will discuss that another time.

So with those pieces of understanding that the märzen style of beer was brewed in March, needed to ferment cold for weeks or months, and was developed 500 years ago during a time when modern refrigeration techniques were still centuries away we can begin to understand Oktoberfest. Following? Well take a moment to get into the head of a medieval German brewer. They wanted to have beer year round, but due to the difficulty of storage and refrigeration in order to have lager beers during the summer they would have to brew large batches of strong (high in alcohol) and hoppy (hops prevent spoilage) beer which could be stored in ice filled caves and cold cellars ensuring a summer supply of beer. Once this method of brewing was discovered, things were swell during the summers in Germany. However, by the time that the fall rolled around and the beer in those ca

ves and cellars had to be consumed to make room for beer from the coming harvest, there was a lot to get rid of. As you can probably imagine, finishing a lot of strong and moderately hoppy (the hop flavors mellowed with the summer lagering) beer around harvest time was a cause for celebration and merriment. Can you start to get a picture of how the modern Oktoberfest celebrations came to be?

It was not until the early 18th century though, that Oktoberfest, as we know it, really took form. On October 12th, 1810, Prince Ludwig I (who would later become King Ludwig I) married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen and to celebrate the occasion they invited the entire population of Munich to the event. Roughly 40,000 folks attended the first Oktoberfest celebration, but if you can believe it, there was no beer served at the event, though horse racing drew much of the crowd’s attention. The meadow where the first Oktoberfest took place is referred to by the locals as the “Wies’n” and you will see that term pop up in one of my reviews. The event has now grown to 7 million+ visitors per year consuming roughly that many litres (33.8 ounces) of beer. The only breweries represented at Oktoberfest are those brewed in Munich and they are: Augustiner, Hacker Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten. (Most info from here and here with some from Wikipedia and my own head)

So to spare you much more history and get on to the reviews, let me fast forward a little more than an century and a half and just mention my interactions with Oktoberfest here in America. I have always enjoyed early fall because the temperatures are generally mild, the fall colors are beautiful, I love the smell of wood fires, and there are plenty of great fall celebrations. Not the least of which for me was La Crosse, Wisconsin’s Oktoberfest celebration. This is one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the U.S., drawing in 150,000+ people during the opening weekend and was something I grew up with. I could go on and on with stories about the festival, but I’l just say that I have missed only a few in my life and that it is a special event for coming together with friends, family, drinking beer and enjoying the community in La Crosse.

As I write this post, Oktoberfest celebrations in both Munich and La Crosse are entering their final weekends with many steins being clinked, bratwursts eaten, and laderhosen/dirndls donned. With all of that history of coming together to celebrate and enjoy this time of year and the tastes of the season, I offer you my reviews of 8 Oktoberfest beers (6 from the U.S. and 2 from Germany). In the order that I tasted them the beers are:

#1 Brooklyn Oktoberfest 5.5%ABV:

Appearance– Dark amber/garnet, clear

Aroma– Caramel, toffee, slight roast malt, some dark fruit aroma, no noticeable hop profile

Taste– Sweet caramel malt up front, a bit of dark fruit (plum), finishes quite sweet, but the lightly roasted malt flavor is what lingers.

Mouthfeel– Lightly effervescent, fairly light body,

Overall– Lighter tasting than it looks, strong fruit aromas and smelled similar to a quadrupel style.

#2 Great Lakes Oktoberfest 6.5%ABV:

Appearance– Bright copper/light amber, very clear

Aroma– Bready, golden raisin, a hint of caramel

Taste– Light fruit at the beginning, fades into sweet light caramel, ends with a bit of toffee or lightly roasted malt

Mouthfeel– Rich, frothy carbonation, lingers slightly on the tongue, but just enough to get a full taste of the beer

Overall– Really enjoyed the rich, malty taste with the light fruit notes and the breadiness.

#3 Victory Festbier 5.6%ABV:

Appearance– Copper/auburn

Aroma– Sweet bready malt presence, caramel, earthy, mildly floral and slightly spicy hop profile

Taste– Sweet caramelly malt at the start, gives way to some orange zest and some noble hop spiciness,  hop spice and malt sweetness blend for the finish and linger well with a bit of roast malt on the very end

Mouthfeel– Crisp and refreshing, effervescent, medium body, finishes a bit dry

Overall– Very tasty and crisp Oktoberfest. Hops are quite present and I like how the hops add some complexity to the overall flavor. The earthy/citrusy/spiciness work very well with the caramel malt flavors.

#4 New Glarus Staghorn Octoberfest 6.25%ABV:

Appearance– Labeled as “Wisconsin’s Real Red” I would call it deep copper/mild amber color, clear

Aroma– Sweet caramel malt, pumpkin, mild hop spiciness, some bread too

Taste– A hint of pumpkin flavor, light malt sweetness, a bit of hop spice on the end, a little raisin flavor

Mouthfeel– Slightly coarse carbonation, medium body, crisp, refreshing

Overall– Enjoyed the pumpkin aroma (not pumpkin spice, actual pumpkin). Tastes were fairly mild and pleasant throughout. Refreshing and easy drinking.

#5 Schell’s Oktoberfest 5.5%ABV:

Appearance– Copper/orange

Aroma-Sweet breadiness, light citrus zest, light caramel, background of noble hop spice, I notice some dark fruit aromas.

Taste– Sweet lightly roasted malt, a bit of dark fruit on the end, earthy notes.

Mouthfeel– Moderate body, rich carbonation, slightly lingering flavors

Overall– Great example of the märzen style. Nice malty sweetness balanced out by a touch of hop spice and some dark fruit aromas and taste from the yeast. Crisp yet not light. Well balanced.

#6 Surly Surlyfest 6.0%ABV:

Appearance-Deep copper, garnet

Aroma-Citrusy hop profile, sweet malty profile, a hint of rye tartness

Taste-Citrusy/grapefruit hop taste up front with a carmelly and bready malt body finishes with a smooth rye tanginess

Mouthfeel-Rich carbonation, silky feeling body and a bit dry on the end

Overall– Not a very traditional Oktoberfest bier, but that’s not what they were going for anyway. It’s their own hoppy take on the märzen style with some rye added. An great adaptation and a refreshing change of pace. Much more hoppy that the other Oktoberfests and the rye adds a nice smoothness to the body.

#7 Ayinger Oktoberfest Marzen 5/8%ABV:

Appearance– Light copper, orange

Aroma-Lightly citrusy (orange) and spicy hop aroma, earthy and sweet malt character

Taste– Bready and sweet with some caramel, a slightly bitter finish with a crisp and lightly spicy hop notes

Mouthfeel– Slightly coarse carbonation, medium body, not heavy nor light, a touch spicy on the tongue

Overall– An authentic German märzen style, very bready and sweet with enough hop aroma and taste to be noticed but still be balanced.  Everything is in balance and though it very abstract, it just tastes “right.”

#8 Paulaner Oktoberfest Wiesn 6% ABV:

Appearance-Golden, dark yellow

Aroma-Crisp and spicy hop aroma, light fruit (golden raisin), lighter bread aroma

Taste-Very bready, slightly sweet, hops are light and a touch spicy

Mouthfeel-Rich carbonation, light on the palate, crisp at the end, refreshing

Overall– This is the actual style of beer served at Oktoberfest in Munich so it makes sense that it is lighter in body than the others so as to accommodate drinking ein mass (a 1 liter glass stein). Enjoyed the bready character of the beer and the light spiciness from the hops.

At the end of the samplings my favorite of the bunch was the Ayinger Oktoberfest. It just had the balance of malty-caramelly-bready sweetness with some spicy hop aromas and flavors that fit what I think of this time of year. Schell’s was a close second and my favorite of the U.S. bunch. However, there were no losers in this bunch. Seriously, all of the beers were excellent, and I would recommend any of them to you. I will post individual photos of the beers before I sampled them on Flickr, keep an eye out.  So do take the time to enjoy some märzen lager while you watch the leaves change colors, reminisce on the warm summer days and look ahead to the coming snow and cold (don’t worry, there are always good beers to drink no matter the weather). Prost!

Next Week: We will be drinking locally! Taking a look at some of the delicious beers made right here in the Twin Cities, the first in a series of posts highlighting specific local breweries.

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