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Hop Gourmet: A Taste of Midwest Double IPAs

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Good Day!

It is the time of year when I find myself (due to my northern latitude locale) yearning to get outside and enjoy some warm, bright, fresh air, and equally bright, refreshing beers. Fortunately, breweries in the Upper Midwest must feel accordingly because we are gifted (speaking of the Twin Cities market in particular) with a respite from the winter doldrums in the form of bright, pungent and bold double IPAs (a hop forward, highly bitter and high alcohol style of beer created by using a large amount of grains and huge amounts of hops added throughout the brewing process). Three in particular are available at the same moment in time, though each for only a limited run. It is my pleasure (and good fortune) to provide you with my thoughts on these very highly touted and equally highly sought after beers. In a part of the country where palates change so directly in response to the weather, this blast of hops bridges the gap between rich, malt focused, high alcohol winter beers and light bodied, refreshing, lower alcohol spring beers.

The three beers that I have chosen to focus on are unique in the world of double IPAs due to their limited release schedules as well as their limited distribution; each is available for 4 months or less and in less than half of U.S. states. But, enough leading you on, let’s get to know these hoppy beauties.

Founders “Double Trouble” 9.4% ABV (100 “perfect” rating on Ratebeer.com)

Background: Founders Brewery is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The brewery produces an outstanding lineup of beers (recently ranked as the #2 brewery in the world by Ratebeer.com) including their seasonal double IPA, “Double Trouble”. They produce between 30,000 and 50,000 barrels of beer annually (couldn’t find a recently updated number) which are distributed to 18 states as well as Washington D.C. This beer is available from January/February to May.

Appearance: Hazy honey/gold (got a bit of the yeast from the bottle in the pour) with a fairly thin white head

Aroma: Passion fruit, pine undertones, slight tomato leaf, apricot, hop resin, some grainy character and a bit of fresh bread

Flavor: Cane sugar, light caramel, candied apricot, some pine sap, quite bitter and astringent lingering dryness, alcohol is well hidden

Mouthfeel: Very soft, rich carbonation, medium body with a lightly tongue coating presence

Surly “Abrasive” 8.8% ABV (100 “perfect” rating on Ratebeer.com)

Background: I think I’ve given enough background on Surly in the past, so reference previous posts if necessary. Abrasive was first brewed in 2008 to commemorate Surly outgrowing their ability (by law) to continue selling growlers. It was originally called “16 Grit” and later changed to “Abrasive” in honor of the abrasives factory that used to be housed in Surly’s facility. This beer is available only in Minnesota and from December to March.

Appearance: Clear, bright copper with some orange, tall rocky white head

Aroma: Tangerine, apricot, a pungent and juicy quality to the fruit aromas, ripe raspberry, with a grassy and musty slightly mineral finish

Flavor: Bright citrus (tangerine and grapefruit mostly), peach, resinous and floral hops, biscuit and toast provide balance for the huge hop profile, not overly bitter and only mildly lingering

Mouthfeel: Light spritzy carbonation, fairly light body, clean finishing with minimal tongue coating

Bells “Hopslam” 10% ABV (100 “perfect” rating on Ratebeer.com)

Background: A classic American craft brewery and Michigan beer landmark. Originated in Kalamazoo, Michigan with an additional production brewery and packaging facility in Comstock. Their current annual brewing capacity is 180,000 barrels with plans for continued expansion. Bells is distributed in 18 states as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. Hopslam is unique among this group because it is brewed with honey, giving it the highest ABV. Hopslam is listed as being available from January to May on the Bells website, but due to its (fanatical!) following, in the Twin Cities market it sells out at many retail outlets long before that. Note: This year’s batch was released on February 13th and has already sold out in some beer/liquor stores, so get some while you can.

Appearance: Slightly hazy golden honey color with a tall, foamy just off white head

Aroma: Fresh cut grass, pineapple, resinous pine, citrus undertones, subtle sweet honey and a small amount of toast

Flavor: Grassy, lemony citric hops that are a bit sticky, some caramel and honey blend with the sappy pine flavors, a brisk bitter finish

Mouthfeel: A bit prickly carbonation, moderately chewy body, with a mild mouth coating feel

Well there you have it, a lineup of some of the best double IPAs in the world (Ratebeer.com lists Hopslam as #1, Abrasive as #6, and I’m sure Double Trouble is not far from the top 10), and Minnesota is the only place that you can get all 3. With beers of this caliber, I refuse to pick a favorite, they are all treats. So while the west coast may get most of the attention for making some of the best hoppy beers, we’ve got some real gems here in the Midwest too. Go out and support these amazing breweries and the delicious beers they make for us.

(Note: I used Ratebeer.com as a reference for this post because they provide one of the most comprehensive lists of annual beer and brewery ratings. This is only one source of ratings and is by no means definitive.)

I have several cards up my sleeve for my next post (homebrewing, an interview, beer news updates) so stay tuned!

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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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