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Drink in the New Year

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Welcome to 2012!

I hope that you rang in the New Year in the most enjoyable fashion you could muster and that this first week has been treating you well. I had a great time with some close friends and a few tasty beers.

My New Year's Eve treat: A 2009 vintage of Gouden Carolous' 'Cuvee van de Keizer Blauw' (Belgian strong dark ale)

Since it has been so long since my last post, I will fill you in with what has been going on around the Twin Cities craft beer world and look forward to what will be coming next from Brightbeer in 2012.

The whole two weeks prior to and after Christmas found my life pleasantly busy with my birthday coming on the 14th and some busy holiday workdays. For my birthday dinner, I was treated to a delicious (first and last) dinner at Cafe 28 in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis. I say first and last meal there because I hadn’t been there before, sadly enough, and even more so because they closed at the end of the year so it was my last chance to do so. Cafe 28 was owned by Todd and Linda Haug (Todd being the brewmaster at Surly and Linda having years of experience in the wine and restaurant business) meaning that they had an excellent tap list (Surly: Cynic, Abrasive, Five, and Darkness) and wonderful cuisine. It was an excellent experience and I can only hope that it will reincarnate in some form in the future. We also had friends over later in the week and enjoyed some special beers, including a 2 1/2 year old golden brettanomyces beer from New Glarus’ R & D series that I purchased from the brewery this summer; it was a very special night indeed.

My most recent Thursday post left you with the knowledge that I would be attending the Surly ‘Smoke’ release on December 19th. Both my girlfriend and I bundled up on a chilly Monday night and made our way to the Red Stag Supperclub for the event. The atmosphere was more formal than other Surly releases, but if you could find a table to sit at and enjoy some of the fine fare it made for an excellent dining experience. Red Stag offered several dishes to pair with ‘Smoke’ and a couple incorporating the beer into the recipe. If you are unfamiliar with ‘Smoke’ (which many people are, being that it is very much a “love it or hate it” beer) here is a background on it: The style of beer is a smoked Baltic porter meaning that the malts are smoked over beechwood in Bamberg, Germany (the home of traditional smoked German beers) then brewed and fermented to around 8% ABV using a lager yeast strain which allows the focus of the flavors to remain on the smoked malt. The result is a pungent “camp fire” and earthy smoke aroma and flavor that encompasses all facets of the beer but does not overwhelm the dark chocolate and raisin characters. The beer pairs very well with roasted meats (particularly ham) and can suit a chocolate dessert also, as the Red Stag showed with their chocolate cake (made in the swiss cake roll style) incorporating ‘Smoke’ into the Bavarian cream filling. All in all, the night was fantastic with many of the Surly Nation regulars on hand. The following day saw the release of ‘Smoke’ in retail outlets to much fanfare, though not nearly as intense as ‘Darkness’.

The ‘Smoke’ release was proceeded by the holiday week which seemed a blur. I was happy to get a short respite from the holiday madness with my family back in Wisconsin. After introducing my dad to a few beers (including Chimay ‘Cinq Cents’, their Trippel, commonly known as ‘Chimay White’) during the fall, he was starting to think seriously about how he viewed beer, especially given that he and my mom are wine connoisseurs. As per his request, I compiled a choice selection (heavy with Belgian Trippels, more on this style in the future) of craft beers for my trip home, and I can now say that my parents have a bad ass beer cellar. We enjoyed Brasserie Dupont’s ‘Bons Vœux’ (or as the bottle states “Avec les bons vœux de la brasserie Dupont” meaning “With the best wishes of the brewery Dupont”) which is their holiday ale, a strong (9.5% ABV) amber/golden ale that is dry hopped. The soft fruit and floral aromas give way to an effervescent, and refreshingly dry citric and earthy taste, truly an absolute treat that can easily match up with most any meal, go grab some if you get the chance.

Leading up to the New Year, an unexpected surprise popped up on my Twin Cities craft beer radar; the (quietly announced) public release of Minnesota’s newest production brewery, Boom Island. Brewer and owner Kevin Welch was on hand at the Pig and Fiddle (no web address yet) to introduce his first two Belgian inspired and styled ales: a pale ale and a strong IPA (8%ABV). I was able to sample each and enjoyed them along with my first trip to the Pig and Fiddle (from the same folks that are behind The Muddy Pig). He will officially be bringing his beers to the retail market on Monday, January 9th from 6-8PM at The Four Firkins in St. Louis Park. If you can make it out, he will have both of the aforementioned beers for sample and sale, presented in 750ml corked and caged bottles. He will join Harriet Brewing as the only two specifically Belgian styled breweries in the Twin Cities. Kevin also has plans to release a Dubbel and Tripel in the near future, and I am eagerly awaiting them.

So that brings you up to speed on some of the exciting happenings in the Twin Cities as well as my personal life. I will be getting back to a more familiar format with my next post focusing on a most seasonal of beer styles: barleywines! Though it has been unseasonably warm and with almost no snow on the ground it is hard to make sense of the fact that we are entering the depths of winter (or are we?). I will be providing some history and context for these high gravity beers as well as discussing details regarding aging beers (as barleywines are prime candidates for aging) and reviewing some popular commercial examples with a special one or two thrown in for good measure. I look forward to seeing you then and to getting this year off to a great start.

Until next week, drink well!

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