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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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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!

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