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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!

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Craft Beer News Roundup

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Happy December and Welcome!

It has been a whirlwind week and a half in my world with a very busy schedule around the Thanksgiving holiday and a recent move I haven’t had much time to put together research for a post, but thankfully there is no shortage of happenings in the local and national craft beer world and I intend to give you a recap. There are also some exciting opportunities to get involved in and sample from the continually amazing Twin Cities beer scene.

I’ll start with an exciting and immediate event from the newest brewery in Minnesota (yep, there’s another one). Tomorrow (Friday Dec. 2nd from 5-7) Lucid Brewing will be officially releasing their first offering ‘Air’ at The Public House in Minneapolis. I’ll be there to welcome Minnetonka, Minnesota’s first brewery to market and you should come down to this historic affair if you can (I’ll let you know my thoughts on the beer as soon as I can). Lucid is the creation of two homebrewers Eric Bierman and John Messier that aim to produce high quality, refined and very approachable craft beers. They are unique in that they received funding through Kickstarter (a crowd sourced funding program for business start ups and the like) for a community brewing program where both amateur and professional brewers from the public will be able to come in and brew their own batches on Lucid’s equipment. I think that their tag line says a lot about the positive direction that the craft beer world is headed and something that I resonate with very much “Clarity in thinking. Excellence in drinking.” I’ll be looking forward to seeing their beer in bottles and on taps at local beer stores and bars.

Another exciting (though less historic) local brewery event will be Surly’s seasonal release of ‘Abrasive‘, Minnesota’s first Double IPA on Monday December 5th at Lyon’s Pub. Surly has brewed ‘Abrasive’ since 2008 in honor of ending their growler sales, though it initially debuted as ’16 Grit’ in honor of the abrasive factory that used to exist on the grounds of the brewery. This is a favorite of many amongst the Surly Nation and a real shock to the system for people unsuspectingly trying a Surly beer for the first time. I gave one to my cousin’s Scottish boyfriend last year at our family Christmas to help him cope with the prodding demands of my relatives and the giggles at his accent. He took one sip and looked like he had been punched in the face. He looked at the can and said to me, “Well that’s bitter.” Hah, quite an introduction to American craft beer and my family. He survived the encounter though I doubt he’ll forget it or the beer. So treat your friends and family right this holiday season and smack them in the face with some ‘Abrasive’, they’ll thank you for it in the end (probably).

Taking a break from the local craft beer world, I have some very intriguing information that has come to light potentially tying one of the most infectiously catchy songs, and probably equally loved/despised boy bands of the 90s to the craft beer community. Yes, ladies and gentlemen it was announced on Wednesday that Hanson, the guys responsible for the smash hit ‘MMMbop’, would be producing a beer called MMMhop IPA. As far as I can tell, this is legitimate, though we will have to wait and see if the beer can match the song of its namesake in popularity.

Back to the Twin Cities, where Flat Earth Brewing is continuing its two-month-long Porterfest, a (delicious) tinkering with its Cygnus X-1 Porter (an already great beer on its own) by bringing out 5 more adaptations. Each week Flat Earth augments Cygnus through infusions and one barrel aging. Each infusion is named and available for only one week in growlers directly from the brewery. November saw:

Week 1: Mystic Rhythms – Raspberry infused Cygnus
Week 2: Nocturne – Espresso infused Cygnus
Week 3: Grand Design – S’more infused Cygnus (I picked up a growler of this and it was incredible, the s’mores flavor and aroma both came through very well)
Week 4: Trees – Hazelnut infused Cygnus

and December is looking quite excellent also:

(This week) Week 5: Hold Your Fire – Hot Pepper infused Cygnus

Week 6: Dream line – Cherry-chocolate cheese cake infused Cygnus

Week 7: Xanadu – Orange infused Cygnus

Week 8: Hemispheres – Double chocolate infused Cygnus

Week 9: Big Money – Oak aged Cygnus (Aged in Rye whisky this year)

So make your way down to the brewery to pick up these fantastic creations to enjoy as the snow begins to fall and you’ll be sure to have happy guests for holiday parties or to enjoy on your own.

Well that should serve as a pretty good listing of a bit of the craft beer news floating about. Refer to the links I have posted on the right side of the page for additional information and continually updated news on both the local and national craft beer communities. There are constant new releases, special samplings and excellent fun events going on to keep things interesting as well as more news, reviews and updates from breweries and industry folks than you could ever hope to know if you’re willing to seek it out. The best way to enjoy craft beer is with friends, so go on out there and get your tastebuds some exercise.

Next week’s post will focus on some favorite seasonal winter beers as we start to get into the colder weather and the ground threatens to be covered in white for the next few months. Since there are so many winter seasonals and styles of beer that I plan to cover in the next few months, this will just be a taste of what’s to come and how to effectively prepare yourself for the wonderful drinking season to come.

Until then, drink well!

 

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