Clockwerks Brewing: A First Look

clockwerksbrewinglogo300x300A brewery’s tap handles are its mark. They make a statement about the brewery’s identity. The row of handles is often the first thing a beer drinker looks at when walking into a bar. A distinctive handle instantly alerts consumers to the brewery’s presence in the lineup and draws them in to purchase a pint.

And so it was curious when I walked into the recently opened Clockwerks Brewing and saw a row of handles appropriated from other breweries. Rather than expressing the steampunk aesthetic of Clockwerks, there they were, boldly declaring the brand identities of Abita, Alaskan, Goose Island, Tallgrass, Odell and Sam Adams, but painted gold as though an attempt had been made to hide the fact.

What does it say about a brewery that gives so little thought to such an important brand identifier? The appropriation of other’s branding certainly raises questions about the owners’ ethics – not to mention the potential legal issues involved. Tap handles are the property of the brewery that produced them – reuse is theft. Tap handle design is protectable under trademark law, raising the ugly specter of infringement lawsuits.

But to me this omission sends a more important and disturbing message. By neglecting this important detail of identity, the proprietors are signaling, “We don’t care.”

The space at Clockwerks has a similarly appropriated feel. It’s not an unpleasant space – although the combination of dim, yellow-tinged lighting and copper/gold, metallic paint did make it somehow difficult on my eyes. But it feels unfinished. It’s as though the steampunk vision has been vaguely superimposed onto a room intended for another use. The look is there in the color scheme and clockwork wall sculpture. But touches like exposed mechanicals, Edison lightbulbs and fixtures made of plumbing pipe are so commonplace now that they don’t really take it where I, at least, want it to go. Steampunk is a busy aesthetic filled with anachronistic excess. Missing are the gaudy Victorian era gewgaws and shining brass Rube Goldberg contraptions. Just a few small touches of this type would complete the theme. It’s like the tap handles. If steampunk is your identity, do it all the way. Detail. Identity. But maybe that’s just me.

Clockwerks’ website is another piece that suggests a lack of attention to detail and concern. Unless there is some secret navigation that I can’t find, it consists of just a cover page with the logo, address and open hours. There is no information about the beers, events, menus, history, or anything else. The Facebook page reveals more, but even there the information is limited.

What about the beer? The focus at Clockwerks is lower-alcohol, sessionable ales and lagers. I was there on two consecutive nights and drank a number of the available beers. Once common theme tied them all together – fermentation issues.

Any brewer worth their salt will tell you that fermentation is the most important step in brewing. The entire process of brewing is all about creating the best environment for yeast to do its thing. Fermentation effects every aspect of beer character from color and body to malt character, sweetness and the expression of hop flavor and bitterness. Proper attention to fermentation is critical.

Attenuation is the term that refers to the amount of sugar that yeast consumes during fermentation. Under-attenuation – or incomplete fermentation – leaves behind a high level of residual sugar, resulting in a sticky-sweet beer that tastes like wort. It is the most common flaw that I find among “craft” brewers. Without exception under-attenuation was the signature character of the beers I tasted at Clockwerks. Other fermentation related issues can included excessive fruity esters and buttery diacetyl. These were also present.

I wasn’t actually there as a writer, so I didn’t take detailed notes. That’s also why I regrettably don’t have any pictures. But here are my quick recollections of a few of the beers I tried.

Kölsch – Three shades too dark for the style, under attenuated, overly fruity, diacetyl, too much toasted grain character, not enough bitterness or hop character.

ESB – Under attenuated, overly fruity, diacetyl, not enough hop bitterness or flavor.

Rye Pilsner – Under attenuated, diacetyl

Alt – Under attenuated, diacetyl, not enough hop bitterness of flavor.

Witbier – Under attenuated, overly fruity, heavy for the style

Clockwerks Brewing
25 North 4th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55401
612-339-9375
http://www.clockwerksbrewing.com/

Open
M-Th 3pm-10pm
Fri 3pm-12am
Sat 12pm-12am
Sun 12pm-8pm

Dark(ness) Days at Surly Brewing?

Marketing.

As the “craft” beer movement – industry, let’s call it what it is – continues to blossom, marketing is more and more the name of the game. In 2009 I toured the Lagunitas brewery in Petaluma, California. Someone asked the tour guide how large their marketing budget was. The response was a chuckled, “We don’t have a marketing budget.”

Fast forward to today and every brewery – new, old, large, small – had better have a solid marketing and sales plan in place if they want to thrive. As competition intensifies, I suspect they will need them to merely survive.

Many breweries now hire PR firms. At some it is next to impossible, even (or maybe especially) for media, to communicate directly with someone from the brewery. All communications go through the PR representatives.

Surly Brewing is a case in point. Once upon a time it was relatively easy to get a question answered by owner Omar Ansari or former head brewer Todd Haug. Nowadays, even simple questions directed to personal emails receive responses from representatives at One Simple Plan, followed up by second emails inquiring if the needed information had been received. Typically the answer is no.

I don’t fault them for this. As frustrating as it might be for me, it is as it needs to be for them. As Surly grows, their time becomes increasingly valuable. As I already mentioned, marketing is now the name of the game and PR firms are part of it.

It could be argued that much of Surly’s success has come from marketing. I’m not knocking the beer. The beer is great. If it weren’t, the marketing would not have worked as well as it did. But Surly’s cantankerous image and “do it our way” persona appealed to drinkers at the beginning of the current “craft” revolution. Drinking Surly made one a rebel. The image captured the zeitgeist in a way that I think surprised even the folks at Surly. But they recognized it early, manipulated it, and were able to capitalize on that oeuvre. It was savvy marketing that built their brand.

In a piece for Mspmag.com about Haug’s resignation from Surly and subsequent hook-up with Three Floyds, Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl opined that many of Surly’s more recent beers are decidedly un-surly. I would counter that this has always been the case and that it was marketing that made them seem so over the top. Hell is one of the brewery’s top-selling brands. It’s a simple, golden lager. The now-retired Bitter Brewer was a slightly Americanized English Bitter – hardly an extreme style. Bender is a brown ale. And Cynic is nothing more than a traditional Saison – and a comparatively uninteresting one at that. Surly’s lineup has always consisted largely of beers that did not go to extremes. The “extremes” were mostly minor tweaks and an aggressive public image.

Even the more extreme brews aren’t so extreme when viewed in a larger context. Furious was fierce for the region at the time of its release. But according to Haug, it was modeled on West Coast-style red ales – now called American Strong Ales by the BJCP – that already existed in abundance elsewhere. Think Bear Republic Rocket Red or Stone Arrogant Bastard. Abrasive is one of many double IPAs. Even Darkness has its antecedents – notably Three Floyd’s Dark Lord, which Haug will presumably now have a hand in brewing. But image and branding made the Surly beers feel bigger, bolder, and badder than they perhaps really were.

Todd Haug’s departure presents Surly with a dilemma. In her piece, Moskowitz Grumdahl quotes Haug as saying, “They marketed the shit out of me.” Indeed, Haug was the public face of Surly. I’m sure many Surly fans couldn’t identify Omar Ansari if they saw him. But everybody knows Todd Haug. Although he is one of the kindest and gentlest men in brewing, his outward demeanor – tat covered, goat bearded, heavy metal axe man – personified the Surly image. He looked the part of the devil’s spawn. He exuded an “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. Todd Haug put a personal face on Surly’s marketing.

So what is Surly to do now? I have no concern for the future of the beer. There are plenty of passionate and talented brewers there to keep the taps flowing. But what will become of the image? As the brewery gets bigger, it will be difficult to maintain the bearing of rebellious upstart. As people and entities mature that stance starts to look curmudgeonly. Even Stone Brewing’s arrogant attitude has softened of late. And who will be the public face that makes the marketing a tangible, touchable thing?

The Surly crew is smart. They clearly know how to market. I’m sure they’ll figure it out.

As a last tip of the hat to Todd, I’ll take a look at his last batches of Damien, Darkness, and Anniversary beer.

Here’s my notes:

Surly Damien 2016Damien
Surly Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: American Black Ale
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
6.5% ABV

Appearance: Opaque black. Faint ruby highlights. Appears clear. Full, creamy, tan head with excellent retention.

Aroma: Toasted bread. Coffee. Light Oreo cookie chocolate. Medium-high Melon and tangerine hop notes provide bright contrast to deep, rich roast malt character. Moderate impression of sweetness. Low alcohol. Low dark fruit esters. Pine.

Flavor: Malt forward with ample supporting hops. Chocolate – semi-sweet. Low coffee. Smooth café mocha. Low caramel and bread crust. Vanilla. Melon and tangerine hops bring bright contrast to the roasted malt. Lifting. Bitterness is medium to medium low. Low alcohol. Low fruity esters. Something vaguely vinous. Finish is dry with lingering chocolate and melon/citrus/pine hops.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Creamy. Velvety. Medium carbonation. Not warming. Not astringent.

Overall Impression: Like a lightweight, less-intense black IPA. Smooth, velvety chocolate countered by bright tangerine/pine hops. Easy to drink and drink a few.

Surly Darkness 2016Darkness 2016
Surly Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
13% ABV

Aroma: Malt forward with moderate hop accompaniment. Coffee. Dry chocolate cookie. Licorice and dark fruits – raisins or dates. Alcohol is apparent – isopropyl. Moderate pine resin hops. Very low impression of sweetness.

Appearance: Voluminous, creamy, tan foam. Cascades in glass. Excellent retention. Black and completely opaque. Appears clear. Faint ruby highlights.

Flavor: Roast malt driven with subtler, malty sub-flavors and moderate hop support. Chocolate dominates – dark chocolate syrup with dry chocolate cookie at the end. Low coffee grounds. Caramel. Similar date/raisin dark fruits from the aroma. Licorice. Burnt black malt character in the finish, but not the primary roast note. Subtle undercurrents of vanilla and maple. Maybe even a hint of blackberries? Medium-high sweetness. Hop bitterness is medium-low. Tar. Medium-low, pine resin hop flavor. Alcohol is apparent – helps cut the sweetness without crossing the line to solvent. Finish is semi-sweet to sweet with lingering cookie-like, dry roast, dark fruit, and caramel.

Mouthfeel: Full body. Smooth and silky. Medium-high alcohol warming. Low carbonation. Not astringent.

Overall Impression: Okay, I’ll be that guy that I often deride. It’s not as good as last year. My notes from last year are much the same as this year. But last year the pine felt more intense, the overall feeling was less sweet, less heavy. At least in my memory. But I’m probably wrong. Still, this is good. Alcohol is high, but not quite intrusive. Love the chocolate syrup. And the satin texture is to die for. As always, whacks you in the head at first and then comes back to deliver lots of subtle complexity.

Surly TenTen
Surly Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: Old ale aged on toasted sassafras
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
10.5% ABV
63 IBU

Aroma: Floral alcohol. Bread. Chocolate. Toffee and brown sugar. Dark fruits. Vaporous alcohol is the dominant note. Camphor. High caramel with background vanilla. Very light earthy/herbal hops. Dark fruit esters – date and cherry.

Appearance: Full, creamy, beige head with good retention. Reddish brown/mahogany with red highlights. Clear.

Flavor: Malt forward with low hop accompaniment and alcohol. Malt is the dominant flavor – caramel and vanilla prominent. Background notes of milk chocolate and dark fruits. Alcohol is definitely a component – floral and verging on solvent/hot. Hop bitterness is medium, but still remains subservient to the massive malt. Low herbal/earthy hop flavors. Dark fruit esters – dates and maybe candied cherry. Sweetness is medium-high. Finish is off-dry to semi-sweet with lingering bitterness, alcohol, caramel and cherry fruit. Chocolate covered cherry or Brach’s chocolate covered cherries. Wood impression is missing. Or is that maybe a little root-beer character in there?

Mouthfeel: Full body. Low carbonation. Medium-high alcohol warming, but not quite hot. Low astringency.

Overall Impression: Let it warm up for a long while. Complexity doesn’t come through until its temperature is up there. Alcohol is a bit of a distraction, would do well with some age perhaps. Try it again in two years. Where’s the toasted sassafras? Am I missing something? I admit that I don’t know what toasted sassafras tastes like, so maybe I am. But my Boy Scout experience with sassafras leads me to expect root beer flavors. A generally pleasant sipper, but think it’s one of those rare beers that could be better in a couple years.

Surly Brewing Co. #Merica!

Two things.

American lager wasn’t always bland and insipid.

The use of corn and rice in beer is not inherently bad.

In the mid-1800s, pills political upheaval in Germany caused a massive burst of German immigration to this country. Among the thinkers, stuff craftsmen, and businessmen were brewers – lots of them. Of course they started breweries to supply their compatriots with beer – the full-flavored, lager beer to which they were accustomed in the old country.

But there was a problem. American barley was not the same as that grown in Germany. American 6-row barley had a much higher protein content than the 2-row barley back home. Excessive protein makes for cloudy beer with a thick mouthfeel that is inappropriate for the refreshing lagers they were making. It had to be cut with something.

These resourceful brewers turned to another local and abundantly available commodity – corn and rice. Low in protein, these adjuncts supplied fermentable sugar while lightening the body. Their use wasn’t an attempt to cheapen the beer. It was a solution to a problem, one that improved the beer.

Through prohibition American brewers produced the full gamut of traditional, German lager styles. They made pilsner, helles, bock and doppelbock, as well as all the others. These beers were true to the style of the day, but with an American twist.

Then came prohibition. Spirits became the drink of choice, with mixers added to cover the harsh taste of bathtub booze. The new mixed drinks were light and spritzy. After thirteen years, that profile changed the American palate. The people wanted a lighter quaff.

When beer became legal again in 1933, brewers obliged with lighter brews. It didn’t happen all at once. Some surviving breweries continued in the old ways. But many reduced the alcohol, body and bitterness to satisfy the prevailing taste.

World War II furthered the trend. Faced with ingredient rationing, brewers cut their products even more. Beer in cans was shipped to troops overseas, who took a liking to the lighter brews. By the end of the war when the soldiers came home, another palate shift had occurred. Lighter adjunct lagers were now the norm.

The shift went even further in the 1970s with the mass introduction of “lite” lagers. “Tastes great! Less filling!” became the battle cry of calorie conscious beer drinkers. Thanks in part to heavy marketing, light beer picked up steam. It was lighter and it didn’t tax the taste buds. You could drink a lot of it. And you had to drink a lot of it if you wanted to catch any kind of buzz.

And so we arrived at the blasé beer landscape of the last decades of the 20th-century.

But there was a bubbling undercurrent. Emboldened by the legalization of homebrewing in 1976, regular people were pursuing bigger flavor in their basements, kitchens, and garages. Among their output was the resurrection of pre-prohibition style American lagers.

Once exclusively the realm of homebrewers, the style has recently gained popularity among commercial brewers. A few good examples have cropped up. Anchor California Lager and Coors Batch 19 are both available in the Twin Cities.

Now Surly Brewing Company has tossed its hat into the ring with #Merica! Their version is brewed with North American pilsner malt from Country Malt Group, flaked corn, and all-American Warrior and Willamette hops. It clocks in at 5% ABV. Surly doesn’t say what the IBU rating is. I’ve seen estimates ranging from 10 to 50. 50 is certainly too high. I think 10 is likely way too low. Call it somewhere in between.

Here’s my notes:

Surly #Merica!#Merica!
Surly Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: Pre-Prohibition American Lager
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
5% ABV

Aroma: Bright lemon/lime citrus hops lead, followed by mellow, grainy malt and low corn. White bread. Spicy/floral hops come in later – licorice and mint.

Appearance: Pale yellow and mostly clear. Full, fluffy white foam with good to excellent retention.

Flavor: Malt and hops in balance. Malt is white bread with very light toasted grain flavor. Low corn. Bitterness is low to medium-low, but is enhanced by the high attenuation. It is balanced by a soft touch of sweetness. Spicy/floral hop flavors are medium-low with a high note of lemon zest. The finish is very dry with lingering bitterness, spice, and grain.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. High carbonation. Low astringency.

Overall Impression: A slightly more gutsy summer lager. Bitterness feels a bit higher than some others. Body is a bit fatter than others. But it still has the refreshing character that makes pale lagers so delightful.

New Summer Brews from Summit

Staying true to its promise of celebrating the 30th Anniversary right, sovaldi sale Summit Brewing Company keeps cranking out the new beers. The two newest are sure to cool you off as the steamy heat of a southern Minnesota summer sets in.

Zingiber Cream Ale is the 22nd release in the Unchained Series. Brewer Christian Dixon has whipped up a traditional American cream ale spiced up with organic ginger from Hawaii. His last unchained beer was the polarizing Herkulean Woods. That funky fall beer was one that folks either loved (like me) or hated. I suspect this offering will be significantly less controversial.

Keller Pils is the second release in the 30th Anniversary Series, following on the heels of the most-delicious Double IPA. This one is a light, summer-sippable, unfiltered, German pilsner that features heirloom German malts and new varieties of German hops.

There are definite similarities between these two brews – one all-German and the other all-American with a German influence. The base ingredients are similar but not the same. The flavor profiles follow suit – similar, but not the same. They should do nicely to fit the many moods of summer, while maintaining that sunny-patio drinkability.

Can_UN22Unchained #22: Zingiber Cream Ale
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Cream Ale with Ginger
Serving Style: 12 oz. can
5.3% ABV
35 IBU

Aroma: Bright, lemon/lime and spice hops over bread/bread-dough malt. Balanced. Yeasty aroma adds to the bread dough impression. Low sulfur. Low corn.

Appearance: Full, creamy-interrupted, just-off-white foam with excellent retention. Medium-gold. Brilliant.

Flavor: Malt forward with low to medium-low spicy hops and supporting ginger. Malt is white bread with very low toasted grain. Low corn. Low sweetness. Bitterness is low, but amplified by the low, zip and snap of ginger. Low to medium-low spicy hops with a touch of lemon citrus. Finish is dry with lingering ginger and lemon.

Mouthfeel: Light body. Medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: A light, refreshing, and balanced summer ale. Clean, crisp, sharp. Sulfury nose was a bit intense at first, but blew off. Ginger gives just a hint of spice and flavor without overwhelming the beer. It’s not a “ginger beer.”

Can_KellerPilsKeller Pils
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Pale Kellerbier
Serving Style: 12 oz. can
5.1% ABV
38 IBU

Aroma: Mix of bready malt and spicy-lemon-herbal hops with low yeasty sulfur. Malt is bready with low toasted grain. Combined with yeast it gives a slight impression of bread dough. Medium hops – spicy and herbal with low note of lemon.
Appearance: Full, meringue-like, white foam with good retention. Medium gold and mostly clear.

Flavor: Very much follows the aroma. Sweetness is low. Bitterness is medium-high, but gently lingers. Spicy/herbal hops balance the malt base of bread and toasted grain. Low yeastiness. Low green apple. Low lemon citrus. Finish is very dry with lingering lemon, herbs, and bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: Light, sharp, and refreshing. A crisp and hoppy summer alternative with smoothing malt and yeast.

Minnesota Cider Week at Town Hall

OSP-TOWNHALL-Cider Week Logo 2016Every once in a while you attend an event that just gets you all revved up. That was the case for me with a recent media preview for Cider Week at Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery. In attendance were eleven Minnesota cider makers, illness there to talk cider and sample out their wares to eager, order Twin Cities media hacks.

I almost didn’t go. Like the idiot that I can sometimes be, cheap I misread the invitation and went first to the wrong place. The event was only scheduled to run for an hour. By the time I got to the right place, it would be almost over. As I drove off, I thought to myself, “Screw it. I’ll just go back home.”

I’m really glad that I didn’t go home. The thing had me so jazzed up that I kept a few of the cider makers there long after the official event had ended. When I left the Town Hall Tap, I was totally juiced about cider.

The best cider is made from heirloom variety apples that are meant for juicing, not for eating. They provide the perfect balance of bitter, sweet, acid and tannin. For a long time these apples weren’t grown here in Minnesota. But over the last few years, several acres of them have been developed. Those apples are starting to find their way into local ciders.

Once cider maker using them is Milk & Honey Ciders in Cold Spring. They source most of their apples from their own five-acre orchard. The rest come from partner orchards in Wisconsin. They use several varieties of apple in their ciders, including Kingston Black, Arkansas Black, Chestnut Crab, and Dabinett. Milk & Honey ciders are fermented dry and feature a nice balance of acid and tannin.

During cider week, be on the lookout for Kingston Cuvée. This lovely cider is made with mostly Kingston Black apples. Also delicious was Grand Cru, made with all Dabinett. Both of these ciders won silver medals at the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition (GLINTCAP). Milk & Honey ciders will be featured in a cider dinner and seminar at Town Hall Tap on Tuesday, June 7th.

Also featured in that dinner is Sweetland Orchard in Webster, Minnesota. This family run orchard uses both heirloom and culinary apples in their cider – all Minnesota-grown. They planted their first cider apple varieties in 2010. Northern Spy is a single-variety cider that features high acidity for a bright tartness and is fermented to dryness. Drink this! Scrumpy is their mixed-apple cider with rhubarb and tart cherries. The cherry character is oddly very clear and subtle at the same time.

I’m always happy to talk with Jim Watkins from Sociable Cider Werks. He shared some interesting news and a great new product. Shandy Apple is the first seasonal offering that Sociable is putting in cans. Think shandy, but not sweet. It’s all about apples and lemon peel. It’s sure to be a summer favorite. My favorite Sociable cider, Spokewrench, has seen a recipe tweak that makes it even better. The stout-like, black malt flavors come through more clearly in the palate, giving more of that apple-chocolate blend that made that cider great to begin with. Sociable is entering into an alternating proprietorship arrangement with itself (essentially) to allow it to make apple wine. And they are expanding their barrel-aging program. All good news.

Another one to look out for during Cider Week is Number 12 Cider House in Buffalo, Minnesota. Their Sparkling Dry is my favorite. It’s a crazy complicated cider to make. They use ten apple varieties – all grown in Minnesota. Two different blends are fermented separately with different yeast strains. They are then blended together to create the final product. It’s definitely worth a try.

One of the more interesting cider makers at the event was Minneapolis-based Urban Forage Winery & Cider House. Their method is implied by the name. Urban Forage sources their apples from the city. They pick the apples from trees in various back yards and other city spaces. “Most people see them as a nuisance.” says cider maker Jeff Zeitler. “I see them as an asset.”

Their flagship Dry Apple Cider was intriguing. It was the only still cider that was on sample at the event. Fermented to dryness, it was full of fruit and had an interesting “poopy” aromatic from fermentation – but in a good way. Their Sparkling Pear Cider was not my favorite, showing what I considered to be some fermentation flaws. I’ll reserve final judgement on their cider. But the East Lake Street taproom is close enough to walk to from my house, so I suspect I might be doing a bit of additional sampling at some point.

Town Hall’s Cider Week runs from June 6 – 11, with events all week. Check these out!

Ciders Take Over the Taps at Town Hall Locations. Town Hall Brewery, Town Hall Lanes and Town Hall tap will each have at least 12 ciders on tap all week.

Tuesday, June 7, 7:00 PM – Cider Dinner and Seminar at Town Hall Tap
Enjoy a cider-paired course dinner from Town Hall Tap featuring presentations from cider makers representing Minnesota cider makers Milk & Honey and Sweetland. Tickets are $65 and limited — call (612) 339-8696.

Thursday, June 9 – Minnesota Cider Competition
Cider makers are invited to submit their homemade ciders for prizes, including a large cider collection.  Register and find more information at http://townhallcidercomp.com.  There is a $7 entry fee.
• Deadline to enter is 7 p.m., Sunday, June 5 — submit entries at Northern Brewer on Lyndale Ave. in Minneapolis. Participants must submit two bottles per category entered (Dry, Sweet and Other).
• Awards ceremony is 7 p.m., Thursday, June 9, at Town Hall Tap.

Saturday, June 11, 1-5 PM – Cider Fest at Town Hall Brewery and Republic 7 Corners
Discover hard-to-find ciders alongside favorites from local, national and international producers including Keepsake, Milk & Honey, Sweetland, Wyndfall, Yellow Belly and more. Tickers are $35 for unlimited samples and a Cider Week glass. Tickets: www.tempotickets.com/ciderfest

Indeed Brewing Lavender, Sunflower Honey, Dates

Never take tasting notes at face value – mine included. Palates are individual. There is as much as 30-percent variation in olfactory receptors between any two individuals. I have no information on the subject, but I would also expect such variation in taste receptors. We all have particular flavor sensitivities. We all have blind spots in what we are able to perceive.

Other subjectivities come into play as well. Mood, setting, time of day, brand expectations, last food consumed, and a myriad other circumstances also affect our experience of a beer. Notes recorded on one day might not look the same as those recorded on another. The veracity of notes also depends on the taster’s ability to express the things they sense. Imprecise language will yield misleading results despite the trueness of a person’s palate.

So it was with was my sampling of this year’s Lavender, Sunflower Honey, Dates from Indeed Brewing Company. I wrote two sets of notes. On the first sampling, my overall impression ended with the words, “I’ve had [this beer] other times and loved it. Right now, not so much.” There was a disconnect. Days later I took a second set of notes to verify my perception. Voilà, the beer that I’d so often enjoyed was back again.

Looking back through both sets of notes, the words were nearly the same. My sensory vocabulary is fairly decent. I’d accurately described the objective sensations I perceived. The description of the first beer matched the second. But somehow my subjective experience of it did not.

Had I stuck with my first set of notes, readers would have been left with a negative impression. Going with my second would have the opposite effect. What follows here is a combination of the two. The objective observations of aroma, appearance, flavor, and mouthfeel are mostly from the first night. The subjective overall impression is mostly from the second, with a wink and a nod to the first.

Here’s my notes:

Lavender, Sunflower Honey and DatesLavender, Sunflower Honey, Dates
Indeed Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: Fruit and Vegetable Beer
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
7.2 ABV
20 IBU

Aroma: Flowers and toast. Lavender floats over the top, dominating early on. Dark honey character is clear and medium intensity – comes in the middle. Moderate impression of sweetness. Dates come low and late – forming a bottom to the aromatic tower. No hops. Low esters. Low alcohol that boosts the floral.

Appearance: Light to medium amber and brilliant. Full, creamy, off-white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Malty lead with other ingredients playing support. Sharp toast and caramel malt. Burnt caramel. Dark honey flavor and sweetness counters the sharpness. As with aroma, lavender forms a fluffy topper. Dates form a low, fruity middle. Bitterness is low. No hop flavor. Alcohol is noticeable – almost too prominent. It gives a slight burn. Low peppery notes come in late. Finish is off-dry with lingering honey, toasted malt, and alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Medium carbonation. Medium alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: A potential train-wreck, this. But it avoids the crash. There is a lot going on here, but it all melds together nicely. The prominent alcohol is the one big detractor. It has a role to play in the overall profile, but steps just over the bounds that I would like for it to maintain. This is a beer that I have to be in the mood for and certainly not one that I would want to drink more than one in a sitting, but it’s a good one for late night contemplation

10,000 Minutes of Minnesota Craft Beer Week

MNMO_Craft-beer-week-logo_Minnesota Craft-Brewers-GuildIt’s Minnesota Craft Beer Week – 10, medical 000 Minutes of MN Craft Beer!

I have to admit that this fact snuck up on me. I’ve been deeply engaged in non-beer things for the past several weeks and haven’t been paying much attention the beverage world. When someone asked me on Twitter what beer week events I was most looking forward to, cheap my unexpressed response was, “There are events?”

Indeed there are events. Tap takovers, beer dinners, and special release parties are happening all over the state from now until May 15th. The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild has a rather confusing calendar of them here. For a more readily understandable listing check out this Growler piece on the subject. If you want a super comprehensive listing of events happening throughout the state, I’ve uploaded an amazingly full spreadsheet of fun things to do that was supplied to me by the Brewers Guild. So much stuff!

I had the opportunity yesterday to sample some of the seasonal and one-off beers that will be on offer this week. Here are a few favorites.

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery: Maibock and Hefeweizen. Two of my favorite beers from Town Hall. I once came into the brewpub particularly parched and slammed a pint of hefe. It’s that good and that easy to drink. I wouldn’t recommend slamming the Maibock, though. At least not if you want to keep drinking through the evening.

Finnegan’s: Freckled Rooster. This was not the beer I was expecting it to be. French farmhouse – I’m thinking malty with maybe a little bit of yeast character. Nope, this one is totally driven by yeast and is quite unique. A little bit of acidity. A whole lot of dry. A boatload of peppery hop and phenolic spice. Yum!

Hammerheart Brewing Company: Imperial Sköll Och Hati. Forget trying to pronounce it. Just order it by description. Big stout. Smoke. Bitter chocolate. A slight burnt edge.

Fair State Brewing Cooperative: Rye Falutin. A complex sour with loads of fruit – pear, lemon, apple cider – coupled with a small dose of barnyard, Brettanomyces funkiness.

Boom Island Brewing: Triple Brett. As long as we’re talking wild beers, try this one fermented with three different Brettanomyces strains. Not sour. Less funky. Lots o’ fruit – pineapple and pear.

Now get out there and drink some Minnesota beer.

Grain Belt Lock & Dam Lager

I love a good lager. Grain Belt Premium Lager is arguably Minnesota’s beer. The brand is deeply connected with Minnesota brewing history. I don’t especially like Grain Belt Premium Lager. It’s too sweet for my taste. I want my lager to be crisp and refreshing. Grain Belt to me is sugary and mouth-coating. To each their own, ampoule though.

Then along comes Grain Belt Lock & Dam Lager. Now this is a Grain Belt that I can sink my teeth into. (Can one sink one’s teeth into a beer?) It’s crisp. It’s bitter. It goes down smooth.

There is precious little information available about this beer from the folks at Schell’s. Only a promotional one-sheet that talks about the history of the St. Anthony Falls dam being the power source for the original Grain Belt Brewery in Northeast. What was the inspiration? Is it some old Grain Belt recipe? Or maybe a beer culled from the Schell’s brewing logs? What’s the deal with this beer?

I turned to Schell’s head brewer Dave Berg for answers. “The inspiration was Hopfenmalz.” he says. “It’s not the exact recipe, prescription but it’s got a lot of similarities. Call it Hopfenmalz plus what I’ve learned in the past 7 years!”

Hopfenmalz was an amalgam of three styles, says Berg – Pilsner, Vienna lager, and pale ale. Lock & Dam follows suit. “It’s basically a Pilsner recipe with a bunch of Vienna malt that’s hopped like an old school pale ale. Just enough C-60 to give it a copper hue. The hop combination is new and old: Cascade, Smaragd, Calypso and Bravo. It’s 5% ABV and about 30-35 IBUs. It’s all-malt, by the way.”

There you have it.

Here’s my notes:

Lock & Dam LagerGrain Belt Lock & Dam Lager
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Lager
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
5% ABV
30-35 IBU

Aroma: Spicy and lemon citrus hops dominate. Low, bread-dough, grainy malt underneath. Low perception of sweetness. Low sulfur. Low corny DMS.

Appearance: Full, creamy, just-off-white foam with excellent retention. Dark gold and brilliant.

Flavor: Malt and hops in approximately equal balance. Medium-level maltiness – grainy, cracker, low toasted grain. Very low corny DMS. Sweetness is low. Bitterness is medium-low to medium. Hop flavors follow the aroma – lemon citrus and pepper/anise spice. Finish is dry with lingering toasted grain and hop spice.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body. Medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: Crisp, clean, and balanced. Toasted grain makes a delightful complement to the peppery spice of the hops. Not quite a pilsner or Vienna lager. Too hoppy for a helles. I’ll just call it a delicious summer lager.

Surly Xtra Citra Pale Ale

No fancy words. Just beer.

Here’s my notes:

Extra CitraXtra-Citra Pale Ale
Surly Brewing Company, no rx Minneapolis, look Minnesota
Style: American Pale Ale
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
4.5% ABV

Aroma: Hops lead with a fruity ester backing and low, grainy malt. Bright hop aroma – lemon/lime, tropical fruit. Moderate impression of sweetness. Low note of neutral grain. Medium-low fruity esters – stone fruits or cotton candy.

Appearance: Low stand of soda-like, white foam with poor retention. Medium-gold and clear.

Flavor: Hops lead with low backing malt that comes in stronger near the finish. Hop bitterness is high and the dominant note in the beer. Carries from start to finish. Hop flavor is also high – lemon/lime, lemon peel, almost acidic brightness. Very low sweetness and malt character that just barely offers support to the hops – neutral cereal grain character. Low esters. Finish is very dry with lingering bitterness and lime juice.

Mouthfeel: Light body. High carbonation. Low astringency.

Overall Impression: Super-light and refreshing, but I wish that there were a little bit more malt to back up the bitterness. This one is too focused on bitterness for my palate. Citra is a very sharp character hop with lime flavors that almost come off as tart. This serves to further emphasize the dry bitterness. A bit thin. Needs a touch more body and sweetness to balance the bitter and bright. Not my cup of tea.

Pabst Old Tankard Ale

There it is again, that old bugaboo word “craft.”

The marketing material for Pabst Brewing Company’s new brew Old Tankard Ale touts it as “the first craft beer offered in a can.” It was first released in the 1930s – in a can – and was the number two selling American ale behind Ballantine during the 1930s, 40s and 50s. The current iteration was brewed from the recipe in a 1937 Pabst brewer’s log. Pabst’s Master Brewer Greg Deuhs waxed historical about the beer, saying, “Pabst has a rich craft brewing heritage that dates back to the 19th-century. Old Tankard Ale was the first craft brew in the Pabst brand family, and it is an honor to revive its legacy.”

But is it “craft?” Was it “craft?” Can it be “craft?” Was there even “craft” beer in 1937, not to mention the 19th-century? Certainly the brewers of the day and those that preceded them before prohibition were skilled beersmiths who took pride in the product they produced. I would be loath to deny the German brewmasters of the 1800s – the men who built American beer – the designation “craftsman.” But does that mean that the beer they made was “craft?”

Was Pabst – once the largest brewery in the world – a “craft” brewery? Can we speak of any brewery existing before the beginning of the “craft” beer movement in the late 1970s as “craft?” Is Pabst a “craft” brewery today? It isn’t really even a brewery. It’s a holding company owning heirloom brands that are brewed by others under contract. But what if the brewery that actually makes the beer can be defined as “craft” in the modern conception, as seems to be the case with Old Tankard Ale, brewed apparently at Wisconsin Brewing Company under the watchful eye of former Capital Brewery brewmaster Kirby Nelson? Does some of that “craft” caché rub off on Pabst? If the beer that they produce for Pabst is full-flavored and well-crafted, as good as most and better than many beers from so-called proper “craft” brewers, does that make it a “craft” beer? (EDIT: Old Tankard is actually brewed at City Brewing in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The video on the beer’s website was shot at Wisconsin Brewing, thus my confusion. Perhaps they did pilot batches there.)

Is Old Tankard Ale a “craft” beer? Does anyone really care? Does that term actually have any real meaning anymore?

Here’s my notes:

old tankard aleOld Tankard Ale
Pabst Brewing Company, Los Angeles, California
Style: American Amber Ale
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
5.8% ABV
35 IBU

Aroma: Very balanced between malt and hops. Hops take a slight lead with a European and English character – herbal, spicy, and low citrus. Floral. Lemon pickle. Unsweetened grapefruit juice. Low impression of sweetness. Malt is predominantly caramel with underlying toasted grain character. Low stone fruit esters.

Appearance: Full, creamy, ivory foam with excellent retention. Medium amber and clear.

Flavor: Follows the aroma, but malt takes the lead over hops. Malt is creamy caramel with low toasted grain notes. Sweetness mid-palate is medium, but dries out in the finish. Bitterness is medium, but enough to give balance. Hop flavor is medium-high and similar to aroma – floral, herbal, spicy, low citrus. Low, background, stone fruit esters. Finish is just off-dry with lingering caramel and peppery hops.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Creamy texture gives an added sense of fullness. Low alcohol warming. Medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: Whatever you want to say about Pabst, this is a nice beer. Very well balanced. Malty without being sticky. Hoppy – especially the nose – without being aggressive. It’s an everyday drinking beer. A brewer friend suggested that folks should try this in a blind taste test. I agree. I am betting that there will be some brand disparagement here. But give it a try when you don’t know what it is and you might be surprised by the results you get.