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Good Old Barley Wines

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Bass No. 1 The First Barley Wine

Welcome back!

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

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 The first historical reference to this label for a beer came in 1903 when Bass Brewing Company in England labeled their No. 1 strong ale as a “barley wine”.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appearance: Clear reddish amber with a rocky off white head

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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!

Russian Imperial Stouts: The Dark Truth

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Welcome to another week of history and tasty reviews here at brightbeer. If this is your first time visiting me, take a few moments and peruse some of my previous entries to get yourself up to speed, or just open up a savory beer pour yourself a glass and enjoy. Also, I just want to take a quick second to thank those of you who have been reading my blog since the beginning, I really appreciate your support and feedback!

So here we go, venturing into the inky black, viscous, and delicious world of Russian Imperial Stouts. I’ll start right off dealing with the name. Thus far I have been dealing with this category of beer by labeling it “Russian Imperial Stout”, but there are a couple of other names that also suit this beer and its many interpretations. Both “Imperial Stout” and “Imperial Russian Stout” are almost always referring to this style of beer. However there are many varieties of stouts (oatmeal, milk, foreign extra, chocolate, and others) which fall into their own separate categories and have different characteristics. This is the link to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) official style guideline for the “Russian Imperial Stout” category. If you don’t care to read all of it, or if it goes over your head a bit, let me explain the style’s characteristics in my own words. While each beer will vary dependent on the brewery, some of the general characteristics you can expect from a Russian Imperial Stout are: a dark black (usually totally opaque, meaning you cannot see through it even a little bit) color with a tan to brown thick creamy head; dark chocolate, roast coffee, caramel, and vanilla flavors and aromas (amongst others); and a high level of alcohol ranging from 8-11%. That is skimming the surface for sure, but those are some of the basics for nearly all Russian Imperial Stouts, and surely for the more traditional versions.

How did this style come to be? The history of this beer style gets its roots from the Porter style of English beers which were developed during the early 1700s (again, another style of beer which I will cover more in depth in the future). Towards the end of the 18th century, the rise of popularity of Porters coincided with the opening of then Czar ruled Russia to Western countries. Now here is where the available historical information I was able to dig up gets a bit muddled. In one source it is said that Peter-the-Great, the ruler of the Russian empire from 1682-1725 had discovered Porters during a visit to England in 1698. He enjoyed them so much in fact that he requested they be sent back to Russia to serve to his Imperial Court. However, Porters at that time were relatively low in alcohol content and minimally hopped, so the first attempt at shipping resulted in spoiled beer. The historical citation clash I mentioned has to do little with the how the style developed and more with during what time it happened. In a passage coming from pages 141-142 of Garrett Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table it is said that Catherine-the-Great, Empress of Russia from 1762-1796, had been the one to discover Porters on a visit to England and request that they be sent to her Imperial Court.

Regardless of who is correct (though based on what I have read about the history of the development of Porters, it is likely that Catherine is the one who would have requested the beer sent to her court) the end results are the same. The first attempt to ship Porters more than 1,000 miles across both the North Sea and the Baltic Sea failed because the beer was not well enough preserved with hops or high levels of alcohol. To correct this problem (and to avoid any potential beheadings) the recipe was modified to survive the transport. The level of malt used was highly increased to develop a higher alcohol content, so as to avoid freezing and to be generally less susceptible to infection, and the beer was highly hopped, both to counterbalance the increased sweetness from the malt and to help preserve the beer (remember what we learned about the preservative qualities of hops? See last week’s post if you forgot). The result was a highly robust, well hopped, and strong alcohol beer that could survive for years. This very much pleased Catherine and her court and more was demanded. In a nutshell that is how the Russian Imperial Stout style of beer came to be.

What is most important is, how does the damn stuff taste? Well here are my reviews of 6 commercial examples of the style:

*Note: There are no pictures of 4 of the beers, 1 due to camera malfunction and 3 because they were reviewed with my good friend Ben and I didn’t have my camera with, guess you’ll have to go drink them yourself!*

From Left: North Coast-Old Rasputin, Brooklyn-Black Chocolate Stout, Leinenkugel's-Big Eddie, Stone-Imperial Russian Stout, Samuel Smith's-Imperial Stout, Victory-Storm King

Reviewed on 10/17/11

North Coast-Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout 9%:

Appearance: Jet black and totally opaque. Large, dense, tan head (similar in color to a root beer float) that leaves nice lace down the glass and sticks around for a while.

Aroma: Dark chocolate, fresh roasted coffee, with some light vanilla and sweet caramel, a bit of blackberry and alcohol at the end

Taste: Bittersweet dark chocolate with some sweet dark berries. Dark roasted coffee is present but light, and some dark caramel with a touch of alcohol in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Rich, chewy and silky. Very fine/rich carbonation. The heavy roasted malt flavors give a dry, slightly astringent bitterness that compliments the sweetness of the chocolate and caramel.

Overall: Very robust and bittersweet! A great example of the style. I really enjoyed the dark chocolate and berries with the coffee and vanilla/caramel backdrop. Though I could smell and taste the alcohol in the beer it was very subtle and pleasant and served as a reminder that there is still 9% alcohol in this highly drinkable stout.

Reviewed on 10/18/11

Leinenkugel’s-Big Eddie Russian Imperial Stout 9.5%:

*Note: This beer is over 1 year old and has spent most of its time in my fridge, I did not pay much attention to aging this beer properly, so all bets are off.*

Appearance: Jet black and totally opaque. Frothy brown sugar colored head that slowly subsides to a quarter inch and stays that way for a long time.

Aroma: Rich chocolate and toffee but a bit oxidized and has the aroma of olives (likely due to poor aging) some vanilla also

Taste: Roasted malt with some chocolate fading into some vanilla and caramel. Finishes with some roast coffee bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Very rich and velvety. Coats the tongue well with sweet flavors and ends with some lightly astringent bitterness.

Overall: I would like to have a fresh version of this beer to compare because while the taste is still very robust and the flavors work well together, the aroma has some noticeable off-aromas that shouldn’t be there. Again I do not think this has to do with the brewing process but with the condition of the aging. Still this is a very sweet and carmelly stout with a slight bitterness and I enjoyed it.

Victory-Storm King Imperial Stout 9.1%:


Appearance: Jet black and totally opaque. Fairly dense, tall, dark tan head that takes a long time to subside.

Aroma: Caramelly dark chocolate with some coffee roast initially and then vanilla before ending with some sprucey (referring to a spruce tree) hops.

Taste: Dark caramel mixed with dark chocolate, a touch of coffee and then some vanilla with the slightly bright minty/pine hop bitterness towards the end

Mouthfeel: Moderately carbonated, rich and chewy feel on the palate and then finishing with a combination of dry astringency from the heavily roasted malts and bitterness from the noticeable hop additions.

Overall: A great, hoppy, imperial stout. Very classic imperial stout flavors of rich dark chocolate, caramel, vanilla and coffee are all just slightly muted from the presence of the hops. The hop aroma and taste also adds another layer of complexity to this already robust beer. In turn, the hops also take on a bright spruce/mint character that I think is brought out by the bitter roastiness of the malt. I really enjoyed this beer and it is a great American take on the imperial stout style.

Reviewed on 10/19/11

Brooklyn Brewery-Black Chocolate Stout 10%:

Appearance: Jet black and opaque, rich dark brown head that fades somewhat quickly, but lingers well.

Aroma: Sweet rich dark chocolate, a bit vinous (wine-like), some lively caramelly vanilla sweetness, a bit of alcohol on the end.

Taste: Dark chocolate, sweet caramel, light roast coffee at the end, a bit of alcohol warmth too.

Mouthfeel: Rich lively carbonation, full bodied and coats the tongue well with chocolatey sweetness.

Overall: Very rich and sweet, very little bitterness or astringency. Highly enjoyable and the alcohol is well hidden so it is quite easy drinking for such a huge robust beer. Really fantastic.

Samuel Smith-Imperial Stout 7%:

Appearance: Black and opaque, very dense tan head that sticks around for a long time.

Aroma: Ripe banana and vanilla up front, caramel and a touch of chocolate on the end.

Taste: Sweet caramel and ripe banana, then some subtle dark chocolate, vanilla and a very light amount of alcohol on the finish.

Mouthfeel: Frothy and soft carbonation, pretty light body for the style and very sweet throughout, no bitterness present.

Overall: I was surprised initially by the ripe banana aroma and flavor, but it still worked well with the vanilla and caramel. This is a very drinkable and sweet stout.

Stone-Imperial Russian Stout 10.5%:

Appearance: Black and opaque, bubbly tan head that fades fairly quickly.

Aroma: Smoky (almost like smoked jerky or meat) dark chocolate with some vanilla and some anise (black licorice) in the background and alcohol is quite present at the end.

Taste: Sweet smoky roasted malt with some fresh roasted coffee, a bit of vanilla and anise, and a noticeable alcohol heat on the finish.

Mouthfeel: Rich yet bubbly carbonation with a moderately heavy body, sweet throughout and present alcohol heat on the tongue.

Overall: A great smoky, robust and potent imperial stout. I like how the smokiness blends with the chocolate/coffee and is finished off with alcohol.

It was a great week of tastings and I think my palate needs a night to rest before the weekend. So, of the bunch, my palate picked the Old Rasputin with it’s heavy roastiness balanced out with some dark berries just fitting exactly what I was looking for. The Black Chocolate Stout was also a big favorite of mine, and Ben and I ended up making an Imperial Stout float (you heard me right, we put vanilla ice cream in our beer!) after the samples were done and it was just delicious. I have long heard about making an Imperial Stout float, but hadn’t made one until last night. You should definitely try it, just be sure to pour the beer into the glass first and the more bitter the stout the better (in our opinion, the sweetness of the beer can fight with the sweetness of the ice cream).

Well, tomorrow is Darkness Eve and there will be much rejoicing for the impending release of this year’s Surly Darkness. If you’re not busy early this Saturday morning or Friday night, I would recommend checking out Darkness Day. If you can’t make it there, you can find some of the limited release in stores on…wait for it…10/31/11. Yep, Halloween, well played Surly. I have said it before, but this is the most highly anticipated and highly touted beers (rated #54 beer in the world according to ratebeer) released all year in Minnesota, so if you get a chance to try some, you probably should. Hopefully I will be able to procure some in the coming weeks and I will be sure to let you know how it tastes if I do.

Looking ahead: Once again I’m not sure at this point exactly what I’ll be writing about, but I have a few options rolling around in my head and I should have something finalized by the end of the weekend, so keep your eyes open.

Good luck getting some Darkness, but either way, now you can brag to your friends about how much you know about the abyss in a glass that is the Russian Imperial Stout. Go out and pick some up and let me know what you think.

Until next week, drink well!

Coming This Week: Russian Imperial Stouts

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Label for the 2011 Surly Darkness Russian Imperial Stout


This week I will be going into the history of a particularly exciting and robust style of beer, the Russian Imperial Stout. Along with the history and characteristics of the style I will review several commercial examples.

My inspiration behind this post is the upcoming release of one of the most sought after beers in Minnesota (and the craft beer community in general) Surly Brewing’s Darkness, which just happens to be a Russian Imperial Stout. I will talk a bit about the beer, the hype behind it and will hopefully be reviewing this year’s Darkness in the next week.

Have a great week and I’ll see you on Thursday!

Drink well!

So you like beer, eh?

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My name is Ian and I love craft beer. I love it so much that I want to shout it from the rooftops, but a blog seems less likely to piss off my neighbors. Because of my borderline obsessive liking of craft beer from around the world, the type of lifestyle that it supports, and because I feel that anyone who drinks beer or has ever thought about drinking beer could find a well crafted beer to suit their taste, I have created this space where you can learn with me about the wonderful world of craft beer and hopefully enhance your life and the lives of your friends and family.

What you can expect from this blog:

  • Weekly postings (each Wednesday at this point and we’ll see how that works) in which you will find:
  • Helpful and non-snobby beer reviews
  • Craft beer news, both local (St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota in my case) and national
  • Information and reviews about beer events and tastings
  • Interviews with craft beer experts (and anyone who will sit down to chat with me over beer)
  • Themed posts (beer styles, seasonal posts, beer history, homebrewing, etc)
  • Whatever seems pertinent to the craft beer world and my own wandering interests at the time
  • Inviting information that is intended for people who are totally new to the idea of craft beer, as well as beer geeks
  • Humor and casualness (apparently that is a word). It is beer that we are talking about after all!
  • Edutainment (again apparently a word) basically having fun and learning stuff

So if you’ve read this far, you’re either my parents, girlfriend, someone I’ve coerced or someone genuinely interested in learning more about craft beer. In any circumstance I look forward to having you along on this delicious journey and don’t be shy about contacting me with questions, insightful comments, and gripes (easy on the gripes).

So to wrap up my first post let’s get right to it with a piece of immediately relevant craft beer information.

Three words (or letters depending on how hip you are to Twin Cities beer slang) raise a lot of ears, eyebrows and eventually sampling glasses this time of year; it’s the Autumn Brew Review (ABR). This event is hosted by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild and features over 75 craft breweries from around the country assembling at the old Premium Grainbelt Brewery in historic Northeast (Nordeast to the locals) Minneapolis. The event will be taking place this Saturday, September 17th. If you already have tickets, hooray for you, and if not, I believe there are still some available for the first session (10AM-2PM). The second session (3PM-7PM) has been sold out for a while and is the one that I will be attending. This is the largest and most impressive display of craft beer in the Twin Cities all year, with each brewery bringing in casks or “firkins” of their respective offerings, in many cases brewing special batches just for the event or tweaking the recipes for their mainstays. Highlights last year were (in my humble opinion): Bell’s Biere de Garde series, Brau Brother’s 100 Yard Dash fresh hopped ale, Dave’s Brewfarm Saison Dandyclover, Surly Teabagged Furious and Four (and of course Darkness is always a treat, it is their once a year release of a Russian Imperial Stout, don’t worry if you don’t know what that means, we’ll talk about it) and tons of others that I’m sad I can’t remember. I will be keeping detailed notes this weekend however, and will provide as much insight as I can in next week’s post.

So if you can make it down to the ABR keep an eye out for me, I’ll be wearing a “Four Firkins” shirt. If not, here is your homework:

Start small. Go to your local beer store with the biggest selection of beer and pick out a beer that you have never tried before, and if you are quite experienced, pick out one that you haven’t thought you would like. Don’t be afraid to ask for some guidance, if it is even a decent store, they should be able to provide you with some general directions to make your purchase.

Bring the beer home, chill it in the refrigerator (not the freezer) for about 30-45 minutes, open it and pour it into a glass with a stem. If you don’t have a beer goblet don’t worry, you can use a wine glass and that will work just fine. If you have no stemware, no worries a pint glass will work also, just don’t drink the beer straight from the bottle if you can help it. Allow for some head on the beer, foam is a good thing, it brings out the aromas. Smell the beer and try to notice any familiar scents that jump out at you, then taste it and let it roll around in your mouth a bit and cover your tongue, again try to notice any specific flavors that stand out. Once you’ve got a good feel for what the beer smells and tastes like, just enjoy it!

How about that for homework! Shoot me an email or post a comment to let my know how it went.

Until next week, drink well and be happy. Cheers!

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