Thursday, December 30, 2010

Some Very Good Beer

This beer had been calling to me recently. I decided to oblige it. What was it like? It was like drinking 4 beers, in almost every way. I did not count this extra in my mental tally despite it being in a larger, 500 ml bottle of 8% abv beer.

"Stingo". I love the name. It sounds cheery yet dangerous. Probably should have heeded that impression of it. According to google, Stingo is either an old beer or a strong one. Or both, apparently. Doesn't seem to be a distinct style, but apparently it was special enough to sing a song about. I don't know what the history of Stingo is and I don't reckon it really matters either. According to the label this beer is aged in barrels at the brewery. This one was brewed in 2008. I tasted nothing oak-like at least by American standards. There may have been some slight vanilla under some of the other flavors, but I suspect that this beer is barrel-aged only in part as that's the more economical way to do it. That being said, I don't mind missing any oak flavors. This was an excellent beer in its own right, and almost worth the price tag given that you could literally spend an entire night drinking this beer. It really was excellent. as you can see, there was quite a bit of carbonation and a very full head, initially, perhaps because of the age. After letting the foam settle into a nice, tight, pillowy head, I had a sip. Being cold and very carbonated it seemed almost champagne-like. The flavor, though, was not dry and acidic like the initial impression might have indicated. Under that carbonation was levels of soft, malty, orangey, peach-like flavors. I almost braced myself expecting a big, punch of hops and bitterness at the end, but it never came. The malt and alcohol just continued to unfurl in what seemed like a fractal beer tasting. It really was excellent. As the carbonation faded and the temperature warmed up, the layers of alcohol, esters, and faint whiskey-like notes revealed themselves along with toffee apricot and loads of other flavors. This was an absolutely think, full and bordering on sweet beer. A definite sipper, and a good one. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Notch Session Beer

I stumbled upon this brewery's website somehow. I haven't ever talked to them or tried their beer but I felt compelled to mention it. Everything about it looks fucking outstanding. I mean, session beer for the sake of session beer? It's unheard of. The image, the beer selection, everything is exactly as I would have done it if I had a million dollars that I wanted to sink into something as fraught with peril as opening a brewery. I mean, god bless them, but who on Earth would do such a thing? You're going to be competing with massive international conglomerates that make one of the most heavily regulated products in the US. It's like saying, "Hey I know, I'm gonna make some of this Tylenol stuff at home, get it through the FDA, and then sell in direct competition to Tylenol which everyone already knows and has shelf space in every grocer/pharmacy/gas station in the country". Again, god bless anyone who picks up the sword to fight that battle. I'd love to join in, but as mentioned, I have no money, let alone enough to even have half a chance in that industry. Cheers to you, Notch Session Beer. I'll probably never try one of your beers, but I'm sure I'd enjoy it if I did. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Beervana DMS award 2010

Beervana recently began what I hope will be the annual DMS awards. It's sort of an answer to the beer blogging world's tendency to sound like fawning fans (which most of us are). Instead of the best beer of the year round up, it's the worst beer-related happenings of the year. So here are my nominations for the Dismal Malty Substances for 2010:

Worst Beer:  This was a local one. I hate to say it, but they're not really doing poorly with press and hype right now, anyways: Surly oak aged bender on cask. This tasted and looked like iced tea that was aged in a douche bag. It was way over-oaked, possibly infected, and not treated in the cask properly at all. It was served completely flat, but still not even up to the top of the pint. Terrible.

Worst Innovation: Sorry, Beervana, I'm nominating Cascadian Dark Ale on this one. I'm going to be pedantic here, but "Cascadian dark ale" is a little too self congratulatory for me. It's also completely non-descriptive, in that Cascadia is not a region that exists outside of Narnia, and "dark" is such a broad term that it does nothing for someone who's not already familiar with the style. So as a new style name it doesn't even work as well as "Black IPA".

Worst Macro-Related Product: Bud Select 55. I even feel dirty just writing the words. Belgian In-Bev figured out that as you remove the beer from the bottle, the calories get lesser, too. So does the alcohol. This clocks in at 2.4% abv which is actually below the 3.2% maximum that even the most prohibitionist states dictate. Amazing. You almost wonder how much flavor and alcohol they can strip from something before you can't call it "beer" any more. The real shocking thing about this is that they market it as a premium product and it actually costs more than some of the off-brand labels like Schlitz or Pabst. Unsurprising, but shameful nonetheless.

I'm sure there were more. Many will undoubtedly come to mind after I write this. If anyone reading this happens to have some in mind, blog it or leave them via comment at Beervana.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"B-Side Beer Festival: Porters and Stouts" at The Muddy Pig Going on Now

I recently headed off to my local (as the kids call it) for one of their mini beer festivals. Basically, they get a bunch of kegs of one particular style or type of beer and let patrons have at them. You can get several pints, or you can order flights of three small samples (for that beer festival feel) for a little bit more than the cost of a pint. Awesome idea. I love it. Sample lots of beers, try something new, and do it in a comfortable, mellow environment without all the super-fans and voting that usually bring down the mood in a regular beer festival. The menu looked something like this (only less blurry):

Being that it was a school night, I kept it to one flight and a pint afterwards. The real reason for meeting on a weeknight was to have a few drinks with a good friend of mine I hadn't seen in almost a year. Standard chat ensued. I got married, he's about to move, both at the same jobs, and so on.
So now for the beer.

I got a Summit Imperial Pumpkin Porter, Bell's Expedition Stout, and Left Hand Milk Stout (pictured left to right, in that order). In retrospect, I should have been more adventurous with my picks, but it's hard to pass up Milk Stout and just about impossible not to order Expedition Stout when it's available. Those are two fabulous beers. I wouldn't do any justice to describe the samples of those two aside from saying that if you have access to either of those beers: you owe it to yourself to give them a try. The Summit Imperial Pumpkin Porter was a delightful surprise. The words "pumpkin" and "imperial" are frequently words that steer me away from a beer, but this was a very balanced and restrained beer. Mostly, it just seemed like a great porter. Very full body and flavor; tons of roast and coffee notes. Tasted black without any of the astringency or tartness you can get in stouts. It also had quite a bit of bitterness for the alleged 40 IBU's. I think I'll go pick up a six pack of it and do a stand-alone beer review of it, but suffice it to say that it's a delicious porter with minimal pumpkin or spice qualities. Pumpkin, of course, does not actually lend any real flavor to beer since the starches in it are converted to sugar and then alcohol, and although Summit used a lot of different spices in the beer, they were only barely noticeable. I thought I even noticed an Earl-Gray-tea-like quality hidden in the finish, which I attributed to those spices.

If you're in the area, a stop by The Muddy Pig may be a good idea. I think normally by now the beers for these festivals are gone, but they were closed for some of this weekend due to the blizzard that hit on Friday* and probably still have most.

*Some video of the result of that blizzard

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Extract Brewing, Impromptu Open-Fermentation

It's time to get back on the brewing horse. This is actually the first time I've really brewed for myself since my wedding. As such, and out of laziness, I decided to do something I haven't done for a while: brew with malt extract, and brew an IPA. I don't really care for IPA's for the most part. There are just so many of them, and most seem to fail to strike that perfect balance of flavors. However, when the weather gets cold and the nights come early, I find myself craving something intensely bitter. So here I am, a couple months late. It will do, though.

6 pounds Gold LME
1.5 pound Gold DME
.75 pound Belgian Carapils
.5 pound Caravienne
1.25 Light Munich

1 oz Simcoe @ 60
1 oz amarillo @ 5
1 oz Cascade @ 3
1 oz Zeus @ 0
1 oz Centennial @ 0
1 oz amarillo dry hop
1 oz zeus dry hop

Safale US-05
IBU 50

As usual, in an effort to make things easier, the short brew day was full of ridiculous mistakes. Half way though, the batteries in my scale decided to die (or the scale is dead, I'm not sure on that just yet), dropped my thermometer in a kettle full of boiling wort, and discovered that I had no lid for my fermenting bucket. I've been brewing for close to 5 years. Good grief.
I also realized after planning my recipe that the bittering hops I was using were 3 years old, while all the others were at least a full year old. My impromptu solution to the lack of bucket lid was to do a traditional open fermentation. Fermenting this way is supposed to really enhance the yeast esters and get a bit more of that British character that the US-05 yeast originally had. I suspect this will now be much more of a British-y pale ale than the bitter American IPA I was hoping for. I think that's just fine with me.

Hm, how do I take pictures like this, again?

Ah that's it: with the flash. Some pretty amazing hot break is apparent here. I have yet to see anything like that in a wort made from all grain brewing.

I let the wort drain from the steeping malts with a colander while I begin the boil
Oldies but goodies

Remember hop plugs? Me neither. This is the one of 2 packs I've ever owned. I'd like to use them more, though.

1.060 on the nose. Darker color than expected. Hopefully it will lighten some.

Impromptu open-ish fermenter
I have attempted to document fermenation below as a comparison for future open-fermentations. There seems to be a balance to be struck in that you want to expose the yeast to some air during the peak of fermentation, but rack it into a sealed vessel before the beer starts to oxidize. I also attempted to transfer after about 75% of expected fermentation was complete. This is supposed to allow the yeast to complete fermentation in the secondary. During this final step they will ferment the beer to full attenuation and will take up any oxygen that is sort of left over in the beer/introduced during the transferring. Hopefully I timed things correctly.
The guts. That's some half-dissolved dry yeast on the top there.
Day 2. Foam starting to form

Day 3. Braun krausen and fermentation in full effect.

Day 4. Krausen continues

Day 5. You can see the krausen just starting to subside. This is when I chose to rack into secondary
Day 6. Beer in secondary. Gravity was 1.017 (a little further attenuated than planned) but you can see that a foam started to reappear after several hours. This is a sign that there were still enough yeast left to continue/complete fermentation.
I plan to naturally carbonate this beer in the keg, vent the CO2, and then fine and dry hop as you would a cask. I'm curious to see if the secondary fermentation adds any character to the beer.

Open fermenting was very interesting. You really have to have some confidence in your ability to keep equipment clean and sanitized, but there is also a feeling of recklessness: it's just so foreign to have a fermenting beer exposed, you have no airlock to rely on as a guide for fermentation progress. Meanwhile, monitoring the progress of the beer is even more important with this method of fermentation since racking needs to be done in a timely manner. No safety net in the event you get lazy about transferring. All in all it was an interesting experience. I plan to conduct many more open fermentations and I'd like to get a pipeline of beers so I can top-crop and reuse fresh yeast from one fermenter to another. If the samples of this beer that I tried are indicative of what the finished beer will taste like, there will be many more open-fermentations to come. Even right from the fermenter, the samples were clean, estery, fruity and very well rounded. I honestly could have had an entire pint right from the fermenter.  

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Television Review: Brewmasters

"FINALLY! A TV review. Something I actually care about instead of reading about this guy drinking beer."

Kind of a rude start there. Anyways, I saw the Dogfish Head infomercial Brewmasters on the Discovery channel the other night. It's a show that follows the founder of Dogfish Head Brewery, Sam Calagione, reality TV style. It's sort of in the vein of American Chopper in that it centers around the production aspect more than the personal-life aspect of the people. I'll preface the rest of this by saying that I do not think that Dogfish Head's beers are very good for the most part. I think they're mostly obnoxious exercises in beer-marketing that just happen to be sold as beer (as opposed to key chains or T-shirts). I also find Sam Calagione, in the same spirit, to be a bit obnoxious and much too self-congratulatory.

All that being said, Brewmasters was better than I expected. Mostly enjoyable. Except for the annoying parts. The main character continues to come off as pretty proud of himself, but it's at least worthwhile to see the process of making beer. I'm probably just about the only person in America who's most interested in the parts-in-passing about brewery operations and production scheduling, but for me, that was what made the show. They don't get as technical as I might like, but they do show more of the actual brewing process than I expected, including many of the specific malts and ingredients that they use, which is nice as well. Brewmasters does struggle with the issue that any show like this has which is that the technical aspects are boring to those who don't care about them, and too rudimentary for those who do. Unlike most of these types of shows, though, they actually can't into the actual making of beer. It would be virtually impossible to follow the beginning-to-end story of a beer. In a show like American Choppers the specific project serves as the basis of a story arc. In other similar shows in may be the basis for the story of a single episode. Without that crucial aspect, I think this show will be much less engaging to people who don't know something about making beer. 

The show tends to focus, like Dogfish Head, on the seemingly unique quality of their beers. As mentioned, there is some information about the process, but it focuses mostly on making test batches of beer and goofing off a la American Chopper. Personally, all the goof-off crap just makes me think what an annoying place it must be to work where the owner of a company that's struggling with growth is not only completely removed from the day to day, but wastes time while allegedly even an hour of lost time in the bottling plant can have ramifications for months afterwards. The uniqueness of their beers is questionable too, as most of them are "unique" because some sort of food ingredient is used. This is ultimately just a gimmicky way to make beer, and even worse, when it's done in the way Dogfish Head does it, people get the impression that craft beer is just freak-show beer instead of being good beer  (another way in which I think they are doing a disservice to craft beer).

This brings me to the last point, which is about the way the company is portrayed. They make efforts to appear like a google-esque, fun, encouraging place to work, but they casually mention that they're also constantly expanding and running shifts 24 hours a day (to the point that they can't lose even an hour of production time in the bottling plant). This is completely contrary to the spirit of craft beer, as far as I'm concerned. As a company, their focus seems to be on expanding as quickly as possible, without allowing things to happen naturally. You can only assume that the cost of this expansion necessitates that they run the system on full throttle all the time and sell as much beer as humanly possible. None of this makes me think that the craft of brewing or the quality of the product could possibly be a primary focus. As of now, they do make some good beers, but based on what I've seen, that fact seems more coincidental than intentional. Some people I had talked to about this show seem to be taking the position that the show is a good thing as long as it exposes a new audience to craft beer, but I don't really think that will happen any more than Family Ties* turned young men into young republicans. Brewmasters is mildly interesting to me, but because I'm already interested in beer. To anyone else, I think it's just another ego-driven PR project by Dogfish Head. They'll continue to do what they do to craft beer whether it's good or bad. Hopefully everyone else [without the DFH marketing machine behind them] will have that chance as well.

*This is not to imply that Sam Calagione holds a candle to Alex P. Keaten. He IS NO APK!!!1

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Beer Review: Mendocino Imperial IPA

Just a quick one; This was a great beer.

It's a double IPA, but brewed by Mendocino who tend to be a bit more even-handed or maybe even reserved in their beers. I like that about them. Even so, this was a very hoppy beer. When you pop the cap on a bottle, and immediatly get a strong whiff of something from the bottle while it's still on the counter, you know you're in for a treat. Or maybe just a dickload of hops. Either way.

This, mercifully, was the former.

I can tell you firstly that this did not seem like the 8% beer that it apparently is. It disappeared from the glass much faster than it should have. Frequently* efficient drinking is the way to go. In this particular case, I hadn't really planned on having a drink. A full Thanksgiving just previous to this proved to be very tiring, so the effect was enhanced. I was suddenly reminded of the joyous enthusiasm that one experiences when swiftly drinking a pint out of enjoyment. Yea, back to the enjoyment. Mendocino Imperial IPA tastes like a lot of double IPA's and even some IPA's on the market, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Half way through the beer I couldn't help but compare it to Sierra Nevada's Torpedo IPA or 21st Amendment's Brew Free or Die IPA: IPA's which definitely have more alcohol than an average IPA, but not so much bitterness and alcohol that it's a screaming, palate-ruining example either. A Goldilocks IPA, if you will.

As mentioned, the initial aroma is of grapefruity, orangey hops. Malty, alcohol aromas are readily apparent as well. The alcohol is more of the smooth, warming type rather than the harsh or dominating type. Malt flavors are definitely there as well, but balanced by the alcohol and hop bitterness. I think the alcohol component is really a factor in the flavor of this style that is overlooked. It should help cut the malt backbone while providing some accent to the hops. The way malt alcohol and hops play in this one create a very very balanced beer that's easier to drink than it probably should be. Christ, I want another one after all that.

Cheers to Mendocino

The view from the couch. Well done, fellas

*which is to say, "always"

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Get Off of My Cloud

This past weekend I was all set to be a part of Artenbru. I brewed a delicious beer to serve to complete strangers, as did 9 other local homebrewers, out of the kindness of our hearts. Mine was a brown ale. Things were set to be a nice and mellow collaboration between homebrewers and the local artists we were paired with. It was basically a one-of-a-kind event in which we brewed a specific batch for the night, and our artist-partners imagined a design, poster, or piece of art to represent the beer. Art and brews, what could be better?  

Well in all its bureuacratic glory, the city of St Paul decided to shut down the free-beer portion of Artenbru. Clearly I was planning to poison loads of unsuspecting event-goers, or even worse, not pay tax on the 2 ounce samples of beer that were available. It was an extremely disappointing call by the city, but honestly, not a surprising one. The alcohol laws here are downright embarrassing. I like to think of St Paul as being a reasonable place that appreciates its culture of food, art, and beer, but apparently those things are incidental, not intentional.

The night of the event I decided to make my way down to hang out with and support my artist-collaborator on the project (you should check out his website; it's really great stuff) as we had both put our own time and money into it, he even more than I. After an irritating bus ride to the Black Dog cafe, I was surprised to be met by a line extending out the door. Despite the city's bogus politics and terrible timing, almost all the brewers and artists showed up to talk about what they had made and what had happened to the event and, all in all, it ended up being a great time. Seeing the enthusiasm and support of the crowd was made up for much of the disappointment and I think most everyone still had a good time.

At the end of the night, we bundled up and headed home. The city tried to shut us down, the wind was biting and cold, and Lowertown St Paul was characteristically deserted, but it was a good night after all. I headed home and drank a pint of brown ale in solitude.

After all, I had an entire keg that hadn't been touched.
One pint down, which means 39 more of these bad boys

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Time

History is the terroir of beer. Time and place crafted the beers and the beer styles (if you can bear the thought of such a thing) that we enjoy today. As beer bloggers, we read and write about the differences between beer and wine. Wine is apparently more popular, has been marketed to indolent slobs with disposable income better, has more allure etc. and those may all be true, but wine's most appealing trait (its connection to a place: the terroir) is also its great drawback.

Beer is egalitarian because it comes from the mists of time, like a memory, to us wherever we are, whether it be Dublin, London, or California. Beer styles evolve, yes, possibly into something unrecognizable to their origins, but ultimately, great beers are rooted in their history because of the time in which those beers arose. Brewers of different times and places figured out solutions to their brewing problems which gave birth to their beers and beer styles. Irish brewers found that their hard water was suited for dark, slightly acidic beers, while German brewers learned to use pale malts with nuanced, delicate flavors to compliment their restrained cave-fermented lager yeasts. We Americans, meanwhile, clearly must have discovered hops. These basic foundations still hold up today and provide the basis for all beers and beer styles.

There are no vinyard-estates required in the world of beer. Beer is almost more transient, but its freedom from a specific place makes it more a part of us: it goes anywhere and it can be made anywhere. We have it with food, or on its own after a long day. It's something we can write endlessly about and something we can drink without a worry. We carry it with us, like all our collective history, like the nights we spend with the drink, like the taste-memory the most primal parts of our brains recall. We travel through time and back in time with beer, and the good and bad times we have with it are remembered fondly, not because beer exists in a transient place, but because it comes from a time in human history that will never fade so long as there are people. And beer has a place in our time now. That is why time and beer are inextricably linked. 


And what a timely blog. Why, Mr Zak Avery is having a friendly contest in which time and beer are to be written about! What a lucky coincidence! Was this post about "time" or about "history"? I don't know. I sure hope it counts as the former. Either way, why don't you check out his blog. He's a British beer blogger that has a lot more to say and more reason to say it that I do.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Send it Back

I had a delightful evening at The Muddy Pig last night. It even snowed late last night after we got home much to my delight. It's the first snow of the season, and it always makes for a great excuse to stay in, eat some baked goods, and enjoy some beer. I had Bell's Double Cream Stout on cask, Commodore Perry IPA, and Sierra Nevada Celebration. More hoppy beers than I might normally go for, but the Celebration is always hard to pass up. This year's Celebration is not quite as good as years past, to my recollection. I may have to give it another taste before passing judgement, though.

Anyways, back to the point: I sent back my first beer last night. I hate sending things back, especially at a bar I love because I realize that it's money down the drain, and more importantly, they're just going to toss an entire pint which is a real shame to see. I've also worked enough jobs dealing with the public that I'm extremely reluctant to be "that guy". Even so, I just couldn't drink it. Mrs. Flagon thought it was horrendous, too. The offending beer was a Two Brothers Long Haul (which was described as a bitter). I think they might have gotten a bad keg. It tasted like maple syrup and diacetyl and little else. A poorly executed beer will usually have some level of flavor. Infected beer tends to have a very strong and one-dimensional flavor which is what makes me lean toward the latter. The bartender didn't mind getting me a replacement, of course (they're always very accommodating*) but it still was an unusual occurrence for me. I haven't found much on the internet as far as other poor experiences with the beer, but I would be interested to hear from anyone who might have tried this beer. 

*I even watched this same bartender whip up margaritas in a pint glass for two women who seemed not to realize what type of place they were in. Margaritas in a beer-bar... I thought trying to order Blue Moon was gauche.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Beer Score!

Everyone should know that the Ale Jail is hands down the best beer store in St Paul, and probably my favorite of the liquor stores* in the twin cities. I recently picked up this little grab bag.

Among others I picked up Tallgrass Mild Ale, Uerige Sticke Alt, Sam Smith's Stingo, Great Divide DPA, and Batemann's XXXB, most of which are almost impossible to get anywhere in this country.

I also recently came into some free-ish beer from a friend. I traded him a digital TV converter I had no use for, and he gave me some beer. Beer traded for what would have been garbage. Not too bad.

These are all beers that I probably wouldn't buy for myself, being of the super-hoppy variety, but it will be nice to give them a try. Bell's Oracle, and their 25th Anniversary Ale are both pretty limited releases, so I think I clearly cleaned up in our little trade. I think some reviews will be forthcoming.

If you're wondering why my couch in the background looks so crappy, it's because it's a crappy couch that I got for free off the side of the street. I'm just a working schlub, after all. I'm no Ron Pattinson for god's sake; I need to save money for beer.

*The Ale Jail doesn't actually sell liquor, but you know what I mean

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Don't Call me a Beer Nerd

Please. Or a beer geek. I'm a snob, not a geek, thank you. Geekery implies a blind devotion to beer and craft beer that I don't have. There are probably more craft beers and breweries that I prefer NOT to drink than to drink. Frankly, I like quality. I don't care about gimmicks and which beer is more eXtreme, or which is made with the most food ingredients instead of beer ingredients. It's boring to me. Can't stand it. Frankly, I'm surprised it works on anyone. The beer with the most alcohol? Really? The best thing you can say about your beer is that it has a lot of alcohol? That's like saying your beer is really really cold. I guess it's something.

Realistically, this blog is some sort of evidence that I am kind of a geek, and probably kind of a nerd, but I don't want to be associated with the dweebs who flock to beer festivals and brewery tours, just for the sake of it

That's not me. I'm just a simple hater.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada Tumbler

As promised, my review of Sierra Nevada's seasonal brown ale:


Perhaps that's not totally fair. I'll say that this beer did not live up to my expectations. Brown ale is probably my favorite style and one of the least represented beer types, so I had high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, I think some might drink this beer and continue not to be impressed or interested in brown ales. Personally, I love the idea of ales that were brewed before the advent of pale malts and before lager took over. The blanket term "brown ale" can refer to dozens of beers and styles beyond "American brown ale" or "English brown ale" etc. There is such a wide variety of flavors and colors within the range between pale and black that's so ignored, well, why wouldn't you love it? I love it so much, in fact, that I recently brewed one up for an event at which it'll be given away.

Tasting notes:

Aroma is biscuity and malty. Not much hop aroma. The flavor is a bit lacking and one dimensional. No sweetness and very little body. I might have been having an off night, but it even seemed a little fizzy to me. Sierra Nevada's pale ale is sweeter and fuller than their brown ale which is sort of the opposite of what I might have expected. The flavor and the finish is mostly plain, with some hoppiness which is pleasant but stands alone in an otherwise mostly-uninteresting beer.
Grade: I don't give grades to beers, because I'm not a bureaucrat or a bro. It's not a bad beer but not a great beer. I'd order one if there were nothing else around, but I probably won't seek it out. My overall rating is: Crocodile.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Session #44

I'll be joining the ranks of "The Session" this week (or at least attempting to). The Session is a collaboration of beer bloggers who team up to discuss a certain topic on the first Friday of every month.

This week the theme from our host, The Beer Wench, is "Frankenstein beers". It should be an interesting one. I don't know that there is anything that's categorized as a Frankenstein beer that I would intentionally drink. In my mind, these beers usually seem to be designed and shaped by marketing departments more than history or good taste. Perhaps it's the German in me, but to make an analogy, I would much rather have a well-built car than "the biggest car in the world" or a car that's half car and half scooter. I like car-cars, and beer that tastes like good beer. Something new and interesting can be nice, but it's rare that a reinvention of the wheel is an improvement on the original. Newness is not greatness, it's just sellable.

Now, before I start to sound like a torch-holding member of an angry mob, it's also important to note that almost every beer style probably started as a Frankenstein beer. Lager brewing was rejected in parts of Germany for years as an unwelcome "Frankenstein" beer compared to the top fermented Kolsches and ales of the time. Even beers we think of as being pretty regular, like American pale ale, was a Frankenstein version of English pale ales and ESB with citrusy American hops and loads of late hopping. By today's standards, they may seem dull or uninteresting, but 30 years ago something like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale would not have tasted similar to most beers called "pale ale". Same goes for porter, lager, steam beer, IPA etc.

Every new idea and beer style was frankenbier at some point. So while I might not enjoy novelty brews just for the sake of novelty, all the beer we drink was a Frankenstein beer at some point, even ones which are steeped in tradition. So let's keep making and drinking Frankenstein beers, but let's do so with an eye on the future. I'd hate to see craft beer replaced by novelty beer. And that, fellow beer drinkers, is what we get to decide. We do so by drinking quality beer with an open mind, and by rejecting fads that reduce the quality of craft beer that we love.


Sunday, September 26, 2010


Right now The Muddy Pig* has a pretty amazing list of Oktoberfest-style beers (and even more Oktoberfest-in-name-only beers). I had a chance to stop by and ordered a flight which included Hartmann Festbier, Gunther Marzen, and Goller Fasten Bier**.

On the other side of the table, for comparison, were 3 American versions of Oktoberfest. They were Avery Kaiser, Two Brothers Atom Smasher, and Rogue Maierfest. They were red, highly alcoholic and super sweet. Pretty classic examples of what American craft beer thinks Oktoberfest means. The other 3 were quite different. Here were my quick impressions:

The Gunther (pictured front, center) was very light in color being very light yellow, almost like a pilsner. I was told this came from a German Brewpub which simply does not distribute in the US. My connotation of brewpub beer is that it tends to be full and high in body as compared to perhaps commercial examples and that was definitely the case with the Gunther. It was really good. With the body came some sweetness in the Gunther which was balanced by a slightly higher hop bitterness than in the other two. The key here is that the sweetness wasn't overpowering and it wasn't even the first thing that hits you. 

The Hartmann was most like what I might have expected as compared to Hacker Pschorr or Spaten but probably preferable to either. It was very easy drinking but full of flavor. This one seemed to have a grassy hop flavor which with the light body and malty foundation worked really well. Again, not sweet at all, slightly alcoholic, but balanced more than anything.

For sure, my favorite was the Goller (pictured right). If there is any way I can find this in the US, I will do so. It was absolutely what I'd hoped it would be. The initial flavor is bready-malty and very dry. I wondered if some toasted or roasted malts were used (or maybe just a high percentage of Munich or Vienna malt). After the initial impression of toastiness and malt hit you, the hop bitterness and faint lager-like alcohol comes in and blends with that cracker-like maltiness again in the finish. Great beer. This is one, like a great album, where as soon as you process all the flavor from one sip, you're ready to start again, and you notice something new and great each time.

Here's to Oktoberfest! Prost!

*herein referred to as "the best bar in America"

**A note on Oktoberfest lingo: Those three beers are all essentially the same style of beer. Oktoberfests are brewed in March and stored until October, so they will sometimes be called Marzen (Marz  = German for March) or something involving the word "fest". A lot of this is regional. Some of it is brand differentiation (so to speak) but it's not really quite as confusing as it might seem

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Summit Unchained #5

You heard it here!

I have it on good authority that the 5th beer in Summit's Unchained series is going to be an Imperial Pumpkin Porter. Those are all words I've used to describe beer, but not ever together. Should be an interesting one.

The Unchained Series is a seasonal variety of limited beers. Once they're gone, they're gone. They started with a Kolsch, then a Scottish /90, India Rye Ale, Belgian Golden Ale, and the upcoming #5. After the Kolsch, I thought that the Unchained series might focus more on classic styles that are hard to find, but this will be a sure departure from that.

Tasting notes and a review when the beer hits the shelves.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bluebird Bitter!

Amazing! I was extremely surprised to find a bottle of Bluebird Bitter in the case of my newly discovered local liquor store. The fact that I can get a six pack and a sandwich at the same time is a winner in my book. Bluebird Bitter is a well known English bitter, and something I was very eager to try. Most English bitters and similar beers are not transported to the US at all because of their relatively low alcohol content. Low alcohol beers do not store well for long periods of time, and obviously low alcohol beers which sell for less money tend to be less worthwhile for shippers and distributors. Combine this with the relative obscurity of the style, and a very misleading name which is unappealing to many American beer drinkers, and you've got the perfect storm for a beer style you will almost never see reach American soil. Naming a beer style "bitter" is truly something that would never happen today. Bitter is, in fact, not very bitter at all (especially compared to the super bitter IPAs or the mouth-puckering swill you can buy in cans). Bitter as a name originated at a time when comparable beer would have had very little bittering at all. So bitter was probably called such not just because it was primarily a bitter beer, but because it was bittered with hops to a noticeable degree at all. The designation "bitter" seems to have started in the pubs as a nickname more than an official designation. At the time, most pubs had two offerings: bitter and mild, so the names were more relative than quantitative. In the words of beer writer Michael Jackson: "How bitter? More bitter than the mild." Of course, the history of beer name origins are all murky and people are apt to believe what the want. All this led up to me squealing* with glee at the sight of a bottle at the store. Sadly, though, the aforementioned short shelf life, and poor handling of the bottle led to a mediocre drinking experience. I was not very surprised, and beer is beer, so I enjoyed it nonetheless.

It was sadly, a bit skunky. It had a very mild flavor and aroma which led me to wonder how long it had been on the shelf. It was still very drinkable and seemed to have a minerally, British sort of finish. There was some body, though not much, and almost no sweetness. This is in contrast to most American versions of this style, which are almost like dessert beers in their sweetness and fullness. Overall, this was very nicely balanced, despite the effects of age. I could certainly see drinking several, if the fresh version is even better than this was.

*metaphorically, of course

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Drink American Beer Day

This 4th of July weekend, if you're drinking beer, I would encourage you to Drink American. On a holiday where most people will be drinking and celebrating American independence, it only seems logical that we should put our money where our mouths are and only buy real American beer. Stuff that is made here, and owned here. Budweiser, Miller, and Coors, are all owned by foreign companies. Bud is owned by Belgian InBev, Miller and Coors (which are now one company) are owned by SABMiller, a South African company. Obviously all the various fronts and sub-brands of the two big beer-marketing companies are also not American owned. Pabst, Blue Moon, Shiner, Leinenkugel's, Red Hook, and almost any other beer that sort of seems like a regional beer that you can [mysteriously] buy in every gas station and grocery store in the country would all fall into this category. Sierra Nevada, Summit, Yuengling, Sam Adams, Rogue, and literally hundreds of real, local, independant breweries are all American owned, and truly in the spirit of the holiday. In fact, I would prefer you drink beer that is made locally and regionally in a different country before you drink beer from companies who attempt to appear American owned through deception. At least you'd be drinking something honest.

So grab a bottle or a pint (or 6) of American beer and if you see someone drinking crappy beer, execute a precision throat-chop to the face, and let them know that's it's official* Drink American Beer Day.

*designation is not official in any way

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Beer Review: Great Lakes Commodore Perry

I will openly admit that I am partial to Great Lakes Brewing. This, for example, is named after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. Growing up near Lake Erie, the stories of Commodore Perry and his cry of "Don't give up the ship!"* were mandatory at school. He's given credit for 'saving' Lake Erie from the British and apparently a number of towns and places are named after him. When you're forced to learn about it, of course, anything that you're supposed to have respect for seems like a joke. I recall a number of lessons about Commodore Perry taught by our [fittingly] dear, drunken, social studies teacher. I wonder if the repetitive lessons were a result of heavy drinking, or if the drinking was a result of the repetitive lessons... Either way, I know the story, and it fills my heart with pride to know that Commodore Perry and the act of getting shitfaced (preferably in a public school) are linked in the mind of beer drinkers everywhere. So I may not be the world's most objective reviewer/drinker of Great Lakes' beers, but I do make an effort to be so. Because as much as I appreciate any nostalgia or loyalty to a local brewery, I don't think those warm, fuzzy feelings should be confused with what is and isn't Good Beer. That being said, every time I have pint of Great Lakes' beer, my expectations are exceeded. Their IPA, Commodore Perry, is no exception.

abv: 7.5%
IBUs: 80
OG: 1.072
Color: golden
Ingredients: 2-row, caramel 30. Simcoe, fuggle, and cascade.

Initial impression: One of my favorite IPA's. A great example of balance despite the respectable gravity.

What I really like about this beer is that it's drinkable for being 7.5% alcohol. This is higher than many IPA's, but it's not obnoxious in this case. Commodore Perry doesn't get cloying and sweet, but you do know it's there. Hops are obviously very present without a lingering bitterness which some people find unappealing in an IPA (you can count me in that crowd). There is a very nice, soft, maltiness initially, though the palate is mostly and quickly filled with varying degrees of hopiness: fruity, bright, bitter, and then citrusy. I was surprised to see they use fuggle hops, which is unexpected in an American IPA, but it does make sense in retrospect. The earthy-bitter balance of fuggle hops is subtle but I think it really adds something to this beer.

In my opinion, 1.070 is just about the right original gravity range for an IPA. I don't know if theirs has always been that high, or this beer has been reworked and updated. Generally, this is considered slightly high for a standard IPA, and slightly low for a double or imperial IPA, but the balance and body that a specific gravity of that... um... gravity provides results in a beer that is hoppy and bitter as you would expect, without being harsh and/or one dimensional.

*I really can't beleive this isn't the name of 80's song. Am I forgetting one? Anyone?

Friday, June 11, 2010


World Cup Has begun! Amazing!

True, this is the only time I really care about soccer, but as someone in the US, I think it's justified. Soccer on TV is usually only available on expensive cable, but now it's everywhere so it's a perfect time to have a pint and watch a match. How delightfully continental.

Most sporting events are supported and primarly watched by people who're drinking beer, but the World Cup is one of the few sporting events where many of the competing countries are also ones with great beer and brewing history. US, Germany, England, etc. So it's also a sporting event where it would only be right to drink good beer instead of yellow piss. Humorously enough, I think Budweiser is spondoring much of the US World Cup events/what have you, but that's alright. We'll drink what we please.

Tomorrow is the US v England match and I think I'll be on hand with a pint in the afternoon. I may upload some pictures if I see anything blog-worthy.

[note: stereotypically enough, the first day of matches has finished without a single win. Really not giving World Cup haters much to argue against so far]

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sierra Nevada Brown Ale to be produced year round, country wide, forever

Ok, perhaps not forever, but you get the idea. Sierra Nevada isn't a Minnesota brewery and this isn't even a beer that 's available most place yet, so why mention it? Because I love brown ale. It's delicious, there's so much room for variation in the style(s), and it's terribly unappreciated. Why, I will never understand, but hopefully SN's brown will help sway some beer drinkers.

Keep an eye out for it this fall when it will become available, possibly just as a seasonal, but if Celebration Ale is the bar that's been set for Sierra Nevada seasonals, I'm fine with that. Even more exciting, I'll post a review and possibly a clone recipe once I get my hands on some.

Apparently the beer is named "Tumbler".

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Beer Review: Left Hand Milk Stout

My beer review for today is Left Hand's Milk Stout. "Why Left Hand Milk Stout for your very first beer review?" you might ask. "What a fucking rude question" I might respond "I'm not charging you to read this blog". In reality, it's the only commercial beer I have in my fridge right now (aside from some Hop Slam I'm saving for a special occasion). Left Hand Milk Stout is probably the first (and best) milk stout I tried and it's one of the few beers that I can come back to time after time, and I'm never disappointed. In fact, there are few beers that I come back to after a while of not having any, where I think to myself 'this is even better than I remember'. Very rare indeed. The 'milk stout' style is actually a historical one with a slightly misleading name and past. In the 19th century, they were actually marketed as being healthy and having restorative properties. At some point this line of thought was shut down by the know-it-alls and the naysayers. "Milk isn't good for you", "babies shouldn't drink beer". "SHOVE OFF!", that's what I say. I could fill a bag of cats* with what the prohibitionists can tell you about beer.

Milk stouts today contain some amount of lactose, or milk sugar, rather than any actual milk (the combination of alcohol and milk is generally not an appealing one, for obvious reasons, but this style is no longer brewed with anything but milk sugar to my knowledge). Lactose is a sugar which is unfermentable by brewer's yeast so it remains in the beer and leaves some residual sweetness. Some sweetness is typical of the style. I've tried lactose on it's own and it does not taste sweet; it's a powder, and it tastes much like powdered coffee-creamer. Anyways, enough with the hypothetical/internal dialogue. I can imagine you want to read about someone else drinking beer already.

abv: 5.9%
IBUs: 25
OG: 1.062
Color: dark black

Initial Impressions: Dark, creamy and complex. Very drinkable.

Left Hand Milk Stout pours nice and dark and has a creamy, thick texture. The taste at first sip is very much one of pleasant, dark maltiness and earthy hops. There isn't much bitterness from the hops, though, nor is there any tartness that some expect from stouts a la Guinness. As you drink, the aroma builds as a mix of graininess, malt and some earthy, bright hop aroma. It's quite nice. This is a beer I find myself sipping, almost putting back on the bar, and then bringing it up for another sip, repeating as necessary. The beer is full and complex without being overpowering or exhausting to drink several pints of. This is the beer I give to people who tell me either they don't like beer, or they don't like dark beer. Rightfully so. When I met one of the brewers from Left Hand, he said that their Milk Stout is the highest selling beer they produce, which is unusual for a dark beer. I asked him briefly about the yeast they use, but he was somewhat reluctant to give any specifics. With the heat of summer encroaching you might think that something dark and slightly heavy would be less appealing, or out of place, but I don't think so. Despite it's moderate alcohol content, it is firstly a drinkable beer, and an enjoyable one.

*That is an expression, right?

Friday, May 14, 2010

American/Minnesota Craft Beer Week

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
American Craft Beer Week
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

That's right, American craft beer week starts May 17 (that's this Monday) and it runs through the weekend. At the same time, Minnesota Craft Beer Week is going on, what a coincidence!

There are a boatload of events, check them out at Minnesota Craft Beer Week

Monday, May 10, 2010

Beer and Food

Pairing beer and food has been the topic of a veritable crapload of books and blogs. The best beer writer ever, Michael Jackson, covered pairings in his Beer Companion*, among other places, so trying to top what's already out there may be an exercise in futility. That's not what I'm going to write about because despite my love for [the real] Michael Jackson, I honestly think the idea of pairing beer with specific dishes is a bit absurd. The beauty of beer is that it's disposable and it's wonderful. Most beers are made to be turned around quick and drunk fresh, so the idea of crafting an exquisitely snooty menu around a beer (or vice versa) just seems a bit silly.

Don't get me wrong; I love beer and I love food, so I love beer and food together, but the idea that one beer is better suited to a dish than another just strikes me as a bit off. What beer, I wonder, is more suited to listening to Highway 61 or Rocket to Russia? Best beer in the shower? What about the beer most suited to getting punched in the face?** They seem silly questions to me, when my instinct is to say: any beer. Any good beer is the right beer for the moment. There is a perception that beer is for the masses and not for the connoisseur. Both are true, and trying to make beer into wine by pairing it with food like wine misunderstands the appeal of beer. Beer is fantastic without imposing itself. Beer is fresh, beer is alive, good beer is about variety and a good beer is the perfect accompaniment to everything. Grains grow, we ferment their sugars, drink them, and the whole cycle starts again. So have a stout with your steak, have a stout with mussels. In fact, have a stout, and a bitter, and a dubbel with your steak. As it happens, beer comes in an ideal pint-sized bottle (or glass) so we're not really limited to finishing a six-serving bottle, like wine drinkers*** are.


*Michael Jackson's Beer Companion is probably one of the most interesting and complete books about beer, in my humble opinion. If you have not read it as a home brewer, someone who enjoys beer, or someone who enjoys anything of any sort, I highly recommend it.

**Miller Lite, obviously, would be the best choice for 'best beer to have right before getting punched in the face'

***I enjoy wine too but, I mean... honestly.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Odell Brewing events

Odell Brewing's MN launch is this week and they're hosting a blitzkrieg of events:

Monday, May 3
Mackenzie Pub

Sweeny's Saloon

Stub & Herb's

Happy Gnome

Tuesday, May 4
Princeton Liquor
4:30 - 6:00

Four Firkins
6:00 - 7:00

Muddy Pig
7:30 - 9:00

Old Chicago - Roseville
starts at 9:00

Wednesday, May 5
St Athony Village Wine and Spirits

Buster's on 28th
6:30 - 8:00

Thursday, May 6
South Lyndale Liquors
4:30 - 5:30

Longfellow Grill
4:00 - 8:00

Nomad World Pub and right next door at Acadia

Friday, May 7
Grumpy's - downtown
12:00 - 1:00

Grumpy's - Northeast
4:00 - 6:00

Mac's Industrial

Pracna on Main

Saturday, May 8
Longfellow Grill, Edina Grill, Highland Grill, and 3 Squares
Beer Breakfast @ all locations

France 44
2:00 - 5:00

Groveland Tap

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Great Lakes Brewing events

Great Lakes beer is finally in Minnesota. Check out the beer at these events:

Pracna on Main
May 3 6:00 - 9:00

May 4 6:00 - 9:00

The Muddy Pig
May 5 7:00 - 10:00

Pairings Food & Wine
May 6 4:30 - 6:30
Gold Nugget
May 6 7:30 - 10:30