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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!



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!

The Local Mash: Olvalde Farm and Brewing Company

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Good Day!

Welcome to my first post in the The Local Mash series which will highlight local Minnesota or Wisconsin breweries. My goal with this series of posts is to provide readers with some insight into the beers and the people brewing them in your local communities. The real joy of learning about craft beer is drinking the beers that are made in whatever area you are in. All parts of the world produce unique local goods, and beer is one that is experiencing a particular renaissance here in the United States. The craft beer market is growing at a rapid pace, and much of its growth is due to people drinking locally produced beers from their neighborhood breweries or brewpubs (for more, see this article). With that in mind, let me begin my tour of the local treasures available to us residing in the Twin Cities area with the Olvalde Farm and Brewing Company.

Located 20 minutes Northwest of Winona, MN near the town of Rollingstone, MN is the Olvalde Farm and Brewing Company. It’s owner, brewmaster, packager, distributor, and salesman is Joe Pond and he was kind enough to provide me with some background on Olvalde’s history, his beer, his take on what it means to be a “local brewery”, and what’s in store for Olvalde’s future.

Brightbeer (BB): I understand that your beer hit shelves in March of this year, but how long in the making has Olvalde been?

Joe Pond (JP):I spent about 2 years working on the plan, building, equipment acquisition, licensing, etc…
BB: What is the significance of the name “Olvalde”?
JP: Olvalde is the brewer for the Frost Giant King, Thrym in the Norse mythology.  There are many alternate spellings.
BB: How have your experiences working at commercial breweries, Goose Island and at Summit, prepared you to start your own brewery?
JP: [I was a] brewer at Summit and Process Engineer/Brewer at Goose Island.  I had the opportunity to be a brewer on a day to day basis and make a lot of great beer.  At Goose Island, I not only worked as a brewer, but did daily work in the lab and worked on process improvements.  Really, it gave me practice applying my Chemical Engineering education to brewing.
BB: I understand that you plan to become a “closed loop brewery” essentially being a completely estate brewery requiring basically no outside resources and recycling your own waste back into the process or farm, can you speak to that?
JP: That’s the (long term) plan.  I’m working now on test malting some barley that we’ve grown on our land.  We are also building up our garden of traditional English and gruit herbs.  So hopefully in a few years we’ll have at least a seasonal that is entirely made from our own grains and herbs.  Solid waste from the brewery is currently composted on the farm or fed to local cows; as I get down there more often, we’ll add a few of our own animals to do the eating.  We plan on starting to land-spread our liquid waste on the fields next year: the wastewater is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus and helps offset any fertilizer requirements.  Of course there are limits, I don’t plan on blowing any glass. I view beer as an agricultural product that should reflect the environment it was brewed in.  As a farmhouse brewery, I really want to take advantage of the water, land, and seasons.
BB: What are your thoughts on the craft beer movement overall, and within Minnesota? How do you see yourself fitting into that movement?
JP: The more beer variety the merrier, and we’re getting there.  My only concern is the urban brewery development: many microbreweries seem to endorse the German industrial brewing process where the brewing is well removed from the land and everyone is happy to ship in homogenized ingredients from the far reaches of the globe.  I like the idea that local beer, like local food, should reflect the local resources.  We have cold winters for lager fermentations, hot summers for ale fermentations, great water, and great farmland for grains and herbs, great white oak for casks, etc…  When I hear Minnesota Beer, I want to think beer of Minnesota, not German or English Style beer brewed in Minnesota.
BB: I have read descriptions about your beer, The Auroch’s Horn, and had it myself several times, but how would you explain it to someone who has never heard of it or maybe doesn’t know much about beer?
JP: That’s a tough one.  Anyone who’s visited me at a tasting event has heard ‘A strong golden ale I brew with a little wheat and a lot of honey’.  I focus on the grain, honey, and fermentation to get a sapid (palatable) ale full of fruit and spice flavors.  The combination was inspired by The Barbarian’s Beverage, by Max Nelson: He wrote that Roman historians frequently cited a strong fermented beverage common to the barbarians of Gaul, Brittania, and Germania made from barley, wheat, and honey.
BB: What are your plans for the brewery in the near future? New offerings? Any amount of expansion or development for accommodating tours?
JP: I plan on putting out 3-4 seasonals a year.  I’ll have another this November.  I do not currently offer tours (I’m not there often and when I am I’m generally brewing or bottling).  I would like to offer some kind of tours in the future, but have some hoops to jump through first.
BB: What food pairings do you especially enjoy with the Auroch’s Horn?
JP: I originally had The Auroch’s Horn pegged as a spring seasonal, and thus had brook trout and spring vegetables in mind while putting the recipe together.  I definitely recommend fish poached in The Auroch’s Horn, and the liquid with some extra honey makes a nice glaze.  Also goes great with spicy, fruity stews: chicken braised with citrus fruits and spices like cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger.
BB: Do you communicate with other local brewers/owners regularly?
JP: Not really, I tend to keep to myself.  I plan on doing more but right now, with the brewery, 3 girls, and twins on the way, I’m pretty busy at work/home.
BB: Last one for fun: What beer or beer style are you enjoying at the moment?
JP: I’m a seasonal drinker, so I’m drinking Oktoberfest at the moment.
As you can tell, Joe’s focus is on taking his time to ensure that he can put out quality beers while keeping his brewing process and ingredients very locally sourced. The mission at Olvalde (along with the beer, which we’ll get to in a second) is very inspiring. As a young craft beer lover and someone who is excited about eating, drinking, really living based on their immediate locale, Joe Pond is setting a great example. He exemplifies what it means to drink local and relish in the terroir (local flavor) of the wonderful geography we have here in the Upper Midwest. But enough of the background, what is the beer like?

Review of The Auroch’s Horn

Appearance: Hazy caramel color with a tall fluffy white head that leaves lace down the glass

Aroma: Banana and light caramel up front, sweet honey present throughout, cloves and some dark fruit on the end

Taste: Mild toffee/caramel which gives way to ripe bananas and then smooth honey. A slight sweet tartness on the end with a bit of light peppery spice which lingers just enough

Mouthfeel: Effervescent and bright on the tongue, a soft, light body with the feel of smooth honey in your mouth, a bit juicy, crisp on the end

Overall: Beautiful initial aromas to let you know that this is a farmhouse ale with Belgian yeast and German Hefe-weizen aromas but a present and enjoyable amount of honey. The taste is very well balanced not allowing the banana/clove, caramel, or honey flavors to dominate, instead they work together in layers. It is really a joy to drink, everything about the beer is pleasant and even if you are not a beer lover (or even liker) I think this beer would suit your palate. Follow Joe’s suggested food pairings or drink it alone, either way you will surely enjoy this beer.

I want to thank Joe Pond for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully and for all of the hard work he is putting into his brewery and for leading the way for other locally produced craft beers. I hope that you enjoyed learning about one of Minnesota’s newest, smallest, and truly local craft breweries. If you want to find out where you can purchase The Auroch’s Horn (currently only available in 750ml/23.9oz hand corked and caged bottles) look here.

I am excited to bring attention to high quality and locally crafted beers and their brewers because end it benefits everyone in the area. There will be more brewery features and interviews to come in The Local Mash series.

Looking ahead to next week: It’s hop harvest time folks! This means that “fresh” or “wet” hopped beers are out. I’ll give a rundown of whatever I can get my hands on and let you know what all the fuss is about. In the mean time try to track down some fresh/wet hopped beers on your own at local beer stores or brewpubs.

Till next Thursday, drink well! Cheers!

Let There be Gemütlichkeit! An Examination of Oktoberfest

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Grüße! (Greetings)

So as promised this is my highly experimental Oktoberfest beer review an

d history review. I mention the experimental nature of this post because it has been a real learning process in planning and blogging. A few minor planning details (such as leaving 3 beers all of 16oz or more to finish on the day of the post) and getting a head cold threw off my Wednesday posting date. No worries however I have successfully drunk my way through some excellent Oktoberfest (and Oktoberfest “styled”) beers and will give you all of my thoughts. Additionally I want to provide you with a brief history of how this festival came about and why I love this time of year so much.

Let’s start with a bit of history, both of the Oktoberfest in Germany and my ties to it here in America. To understand why this festival has become a part of the cultural heritage of not only Germans, but many around the globe, we must first understand how the beer itself came to be. The beer I am referring to is the märzen lager style of beer (which is commonly known as Oktoberfestbier or Oktoberfest “style” beer). There are two clues in the naming of this beer that can begin it’s history. The first is the name märzen, which refers to the month of March in German. This is the month that the beer was originally brewed. The roots of the märzen lager style go back roughly five centuries, and German brewing history overall, many centuries further. The second part of the style that gives us information about it is the word lager, which refers to the fermenting process and ty

pe of yeast used. All lager beers are brewed the same as ales, but when it comes time to add the yeast, brewers choose a specific lager strain that will ferment at cool to cold temperatures near or just above freezing and require a much longer fermentation period, many weeks or potentially months depending on the beer. The resulting lager beer can vary in color just the same as an ale, but it’s taste is often more subdued with less aromas and flavors being imparted by the yeast. This reduction in flavors and aromas plays significantly into the success and marketing of macro breweries, but we will discuss that another time.

So with those pieces of understanding that the märzen style of beer was brewed in March, needed to ferment cold for weeks or months, and was developed 500 years ago during a time when modern refrigeration techniques were still centuries away we can begin to understand Oktoberfest. Following? Well take a moment to get into the head of a medieval German brewer. They wanted to have beer year round, but due to the difficulty of storage and refrigeration in order to have lager beers during the summer they would have to brew large batches of strong (high in alcohol) and hoppy (hops prevent spoilage) beer which could be stored in ice filled caves and cold cellars ensuring a summer supply of beer. Once this method of brewing was discovered, things were swell during the summers in Germany. However, by the time that the fall rolled around and the beer in those ca

ves and cellars had to be consumed to make room for beer from the coming harvest, there was a lot to get rid of. As you can probably imagine, finishing a lot of strong and moderately hoppy (the hop flavors mellowed with the summer lagering) beer around harvest time was a cause for celebration and merriment. Can you start to get a picture of how the modern Oktoberfest celebrations came to be?

It was not until the early 18th century though, that Oktoberfest, as we know it, really took form. On October 12th, 1810, Prince Ludwig I (who would later become King Ludwig I) married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen and to celebrate the occasion they invited the entire population of Munich to the event. Roughly 40,000 folks attended the first Oktoberfest celebration, but if you can believe it, there was no beer served at the event, though horse racing drew much of the crowd’s attention. The meadow where the first Oktoberfest took place is referred to by the locals as the “Wies’n” and you will see that term pop up in one of my reviews. The event has now grown to 7 million+ visitors per year consuming roughly that many litres (33.8 ounces) of beer. The only breweries represented at Oktoberfest are those brewed in Munich and they are: Augustiner, Hacker Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spaten. (Most info from here and here with some from Wikipedia and my own head)

So to spare you much more history and get on to the reviews, let me fast forward a little more than an century and a half and just mention my interactions with Oktoberfest here in America. I have always enjoyed early fall because the temperatures are generally mild, the fall colors are beautiful, I love the smell of wood fires, and there are plenty of great fall celebrations. Not the least of which for me was La Crosse, Wisconsin’s Oktoberfest celebration. This is one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the U.S., drawing in 150,000+ people during the opening weekend and was something I grew up with. I could go on and on with stories about the festival, but I’l just say that I have missed only a few in my life and that it is a special event for coming together with friends, family, drinking beer and enjoying the community in La Crosse.

As I write this post, Oktoberfest celebrations in both Munich and La Crosse are entering their final weekends with many steins being clinked, bratwursts eaten, and laderhosen/dirndls donned. With all of that history of coming together to celebrate and enjoy this time of year and the tastes of the season, I offer you my reviews of 8 Oktoberfest beers (6 from the U.S. and 2 from Germany). In the order that I tasted them the beers are:

#1 Brooklyn Oktoberfest 5.5%ABV:

Appearance– Dark amber/garnet, clear

Aroma– Caramel, toffee, slight roast malt, some dark fruit aroma, no noticeable hop profile

Taste– Sweet caramel malt up front, a bit of dark fruit (plum), finishes quite sweet, but the lightly roasted malt flavor is what lingers.

Mouthfeel– Lightly effervescent, fairly light body,

Overall– Lighter tasting than it looks, strong fruit aromas and smelled similar to a quadrupel style.

#2 Great Lakes Oktoberfest 6.5%ABV:

Appearance– Bright copper/light amber, very clear

Aroma– Bready, golden raisin, a hint of caramel

Taste– Light fruit at the beginning, fades into sweet light caramel, ends with a bit of toffee or lightly roasted malt

Mouthfeel– Rich, frothy carbonation, lingers slightly on the tongue, but just enough to get a full taste of the beer

Overall– Really enjoyed the rich, malty taste with the light fruit notes and the breadiness.

#3 Victory Festbier 5.6%ABV:

Appearance– Copper/auburn

Aroma– Sweet bready malt presence, caramel, earthy, mildly floral and slightly spicy hop profile

Taste– Sweet caramelly malt at the start, gives way to some orange zest and some noble hop spiciness,  hop spice and malt sweetness blend for the finish and linger well with a bit of roast malt on the very end

Mouthfeel– Crisp and refreshing, effervescent, medium body, finishes a bit dry

Overall– Very tasty and crisp Oktoberfest. Hops are quite present and I like how the hops add some complexity to the overall flavor. The earthy/citrusy/spiciness work very well with the caramel malt flavors.

#4 New Glarus Staghorn Octoberfest 6.25%ABV:

Appearance– Labeled as “Wisconsin’s Real Red” I would call it deep copper/mild amber color, clear

Aroma– Sweet caramel malt, pumpkin, mild hop spiciness, some bread too

Taste– A hint of pumpkin flavor, light malt sweetness, a bit of hop spice on the end, a little raisin flavor

Mouthfeel– Slightly coarse carbonation, medium body, crisp, refreshing

Overall– Enjoyed the pumpkin aroma (not pumpkin spice, actual pumpkin). Tastes were fairly mild and pleasant throughout. Refreshing and easy drinking.

#5 Schell’s Oktoberfest 5.5%ABV:

Appearance– Copper/orange

Aroma-Sweet breadiness, light citrus zest, light caramel, background of noble hop spice, I notice some dark fruit aromas.

Taste– Sweet lightly roasted malt, a bit of dark fruit on the end, earthy notes.

Mouthfeel– Moderate body, rich carbonation, slightly lingering flavors

Overall– Great example of the märzen style. Nice malty sweetness balanced out by a touch of hop spice and some dark fruit aromas and taste from the yeast. Crisp yet not light. Well balanced.

#6 Surly Surlyfest 6.0%ABV:

Appearance-Deep copper, garnet

Aroma-Citrusy hop profile, sweet malty profile, a hint of rye tartness

Taste-Citrusy/grapefruit hop taste up front with a carmelly and bready malt body finishes with a smooth rye tanginess

Mouthfeel-Rich carbonation, silky feeling body and a bit dry on the end

Overall– Not a very traditional Oktoberfest bier, but that’s not what they were going for anyway. It’s their own hoppy take on the märzen style with some rye added. An great adaptation and a refreshing change of pace. Much more hoppy that the other Oktoberfests and the rye adds a nice smoothness to the body.

#7 Ayinger Oktoberfest Marzen 5/8%ABV:

Appearance– Light copper, orange

Aroma-Lightly citrusy (orange) and spicy hop aroma, earthy and sweet malt character

Taste– Bready and sweet with some caramel, a slightly bitter finish with a crisp and lightly spicy hop notes

Mouthfeel– Slightly coarse carbonation, medium body, not heavy nor light, a touch spicy on the tongue

Overall– An authentic German märzen style, very bready and sweet with enough hop aroma and taste to be noticed but still be balanced.  Everything is in balance and though it very abstract, it just tastes “right.”

#8 Paulaner Oktoberfest Wiesn 6% ABV:

Appearance-Golden, dark yellow

Aroma-Crisp and spicy hop aroma, light fruit (golden raisin), lighter bread aroma

Taste-Very bready, slightly sweet, hops are light and a touch spicy

Mouthfeel-Rich carbonation, light on the palate, crisp at the end, refreshing

Overall– This is the actual style of beer served at Oktoberfest in Munich so it makes sense that it is lighter in body than the others so as to accommodate drinking ein mass (a 1 liter glass stein). Enjoyed the bready character of the beer and the light spiciness from the hops.

At the end of the samplings my favorite of the bunch was the Ayinger Oktoberfest. It just had the balance of malty-caramelly-bready sweetness with some spicy hop aromas and flavors that fit what I think of this time of year. Schell’s was a close second and my favorite of the U.S. bunch. However, there were no losers in this bunch. Seriously, all of the beers were excellent, and I would recommend any of them to you. I will post individual photos of the beers before I sampled them on Flickr, keep an eye out.  So do take the time to enjoy some märzen lager while you watch the leaves change colors, reminisce on the warm summer days and look ahead to the coming snow and cold (don’t worry, there are always good beers to drink no matter the weather). Prost!

Next Week: We will be drinking locally! Taking a look at some of the delicious beers made right here in the Twin Cities, the first in a series of posts highlighting specific local breweries.

How The Autumn Brew Review Tasted to Me

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This marks my first official regular Wednesday post, and I’m very excited to be able to tell you all about my experiences at The Autumn Brew Review (ABR)! As I begin to write this I am enjoying Rush River’s Double Bubble Imperial IPA, a very piney hop flavor with some floral aromas, which worked well with the spicy Thai inspired dish I had earlier. But without further adieu, here’s the recap of the best beer festival held in the state of Minnesota all year.

First of all, you should know that this was the 11th annual ABR and it is put on by the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild which is an organization of brewers, brewery owners, and folks dedicated to supporting all that encompasses Minnesota craft beer. They host two events annually, The ABR and Winterfest (check the website for ticket details for Winterfest) which showcase both Minnesota and national craft beers. In short they are a wonderful organization comprised of highly talented, passionate, and dedicated people that truly love Minnesota craft beer. We are fortunate in this state to have a lot to love, and The ABR did a great job of showing off our craft breweries. (For a couple of other great reviews on the event that will supplement what I post, check out this one, and this one)

This year’s event was split into two sessions to accommodate more attendees (close to 6,000), as past ABRs have sold out. The morning session ran from 10AM-2PM and the afternoon session was from 3PM-7PM. I attended the afternoon session, which sold out within weeks of tickets going on sale in July, but there were still tickets available for the morning session on the day of the event, and as far as I am aware it did not sell out (perhaps just too early to get drinking for some folks, though there was a substantial turnout). I have heard that the morning session started out quite cool, but most participants warmed up quickly with the rather high alcohol content that many of the beers featured and with the addition of a bloody mary token for each attendee featuring locally produced horseradish-infused vodka from Referent. I’m quite OK with having missed the morning session, because by the time my girlfriend and I arrived in Nordeast at 2:30, the day had warmed up to a very pleasant beer drinking temperature in the mid 60s with a stiff breeze.

Both sessions began with bagpipes and at least for the second session, the pipers were lead in by Surly Brewing owner and MN Craft Brewer’s Guild President, Omar Ansari, waving a brewer’s paddle. Lines of eager beer lovers stretched well around the block as the gates opened at 3PM. Once inside, I was on a mission to get a taste of what was the most eagerly anticipated beer of the festival (based on my own interactions) Surly’s bourbon barrel aged version of their once a year release Darkness, which is a Russian Imperial Stout. Though the line was several hundred feet long, we waited and were able to enjoy some Great Lakes Brewing Dortmunder Gold in the process thanks to some crafty and well timed pours from the Great Lakes rep. The wait in line was too much for many attendees to justify, but I am certainly glad I waited because the beer was nearly beyond words delicious. A highly complex blend of vanilla, chocolate, roasted malt, coffee, and bourbon came together to produce one hell of a beer to say the least. I was also happy to have gotten some of this beer right away since the only cask of it was empty within 45 minutes and I was threatened with violence in my nether regions by a co-worker if I did not make a point of trying some.

Once the Darkness had been savored, the pace of the afternoon slowed and we casually made our way to as many local and national brewery tents as we could to sample the amazing offerings and socializing with the jovial crowd. When I said that this is the best beer event in the state, this is an example of why: local Minnesota brewery Brau Brothers brought with them 4 of their regular offerings served on tap via keg, but what makes it special is that they also brought 3 casks of special recipes of their brews, one was a fresh hop version of their pale ale (which means the hops were picked from the bines minutes before they were used so they were ultra fresh. This type of beer can only be had once a year during hop harvest, more about fresh hop beers in the weeks to come) and two versions of their oatmeal milk stout. One with cocoa nibs and coconut added and the other with fresh Sumatran coffee beans from Paradise Coffee infused (this proved to be my favorite of the festival). So with many of the breweries, not only did they have their usual great beers but they had special and limited release beers available in casks. A beer in a cask is very different than out of a bottle or on tap at a bar. The beer is allowed to referment in the cask and giving it a natural carbonation and creating a fresh flavor profile that is difficult to get any other way. It is one of my favorite ways to drink a beer.

So what else caught my eye? There were a plethora of bourbon aged imperial stouts (pitch black, complex tasting, high alcohol content beers that are aged in barrels that have been used to hold bourbon) from the Bell’s Blacknote, Odell’s Bourbon Barrel Stout aged in Kentucky Bourbon barrels, Goose Island’s highly touted Bourbon County Stout (which I sadly missed) and Barley John’s Brew Pub’s Dark Knight (another wonderful local brewery, and sadly another one I missed, though I will surely try it in the near future to make up for it). That’s a lot of huge excellent beers. But even though the big bourbon stouts threatened to steal the show with all of their complexity and frankly from putting people on their asses (the average for these beers is solidly over 10%ABV), it was some of the newest Minnesota craft breweries that blew people away.

Both Steeltoe and Olvalde breweries (which are in order the two newest Minnesota breweries) had people talking during and well after the festival. For them, the buzz is really picking up now, and you would be wise to jump on their bandwagons. It isn’t because they are brewed by really awesome guys, Jason Schoneman from Steeltoe and Joe Pond from Olvalde, though they really are great; and it isn’t because they are new, though again they are; it’s because they are making damned good beer. From Steeltoe, they are currently offering a golden ale called Provider, a dark stout-like ale with oats called Dissent, and their biggest hit, Size 7 IPA clocking in at 7% ABV and 77IBUs is a terrific IPA that I will be writing about in the near future. All three are excellent and are available for growler sales on Friday evenings, and though bottles were available last Friday, they sold out very quickly. Keep your eyes open for them. As for Olvalde, Joe’s only current offering is quite a delicious one called the Auroch’s horn. The name references the extinct wild bull whose horn was used to drink ancient brews in central Europe which the recipe is based on. The barley, wheat, and honey provide a golden ale with lots of honey aroma and a mild sweetness, really an excellent beer and I’m excited to try more from him in the future.

Other local breweries that made an impression on me were Harriet Brewing, which released it’s beers publicly at Winterfest this past February and Fitger’s Brewhouse out of Duluth which has has been brewing great beers for over 15 years. I also had the chance to sample some beers from Castle Danger, another recent addition to the Minnesota craft beer scene, and enjoyed their Nestor Grade Amber.

At the end of the event, rather than lamenting all of the incredible beers that I didn’t get to try, and for the few spots I meant to stop by (sorry Liftbridge, I still love you and can’t wait to try your oyster stout) but forgot about; I was just filled to the brim with joy, pride in the local breweries, and delicious craft beer. This year’s ABR really showed how lucky we are here in Minnesota to have such high quality craft beer made by high quality people that really care about the art of brewing and appreciate their consumers. It’s refreshing to see this type of community so visible in a culture that seems to no longer value high quality craftsmanship in favor of bland mass production.

As I finish, I have moved on to drinking an Alaskan Amber, which is their flagship beer based on the German Alt style beer. It has a rich malty sweetness with no noticeable hop profile and has mild fruit flavors of raisins and some caramel.

So there you have it, my long-winded rundown of an incredible beer event. They really don’t get much better than that, so if you get a chance to attend next year, do it! In the meantime attend any beer festival you can, like this weekend’s Rauchfest (rauch is German for “smoke” so be prepared for their smoked beer and smokey foods) put on by Harriet Brewing is sure to be a blast.

If you were at ABR or if you will be attending a beer event, please let me know, I’d love to hear your feedback. Check out my pictures from the event on my flickr account (link on the right).

Next week: Oktoberfest! Munich is abuzz right now with clinking steins and many liters of bier being swilled, so I will give you my opinions on several U.S. and German Oktoberfest beers with some history attached. Until then, 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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