Beer & Wine University is back!

April 2nd, 2014

Beer/Wine University

Due to overwhelming success of our fall Beer/Wine University Series, Sommelier Leslee Miller of Amusee and Certified Cicerone® Michael Agnew of A Perfect Pint are bringing the popular libation bootcamp back – not just once, but twice a year!

Each session we promise to mix up the fun & education, so you can build upon your repertoire of delicious wine and beer knowledge. If you made it to our last series, come again! It’ll be different each time around.

The next session’s fun starts on April 17th and runs three consecutive Thursdays May 1st!

When: April 17, 24th & May 1st. Class starts promptly at 6:30pm and will run until 8:30pm.

Where:  The Carlyle Building, 100 3rd Ave S, Minneapolis

Parking: There is absolutely no inside building parking.  Street parking is available, along with an open air CASH pay lot across the street from the building.

Cost: $40 per class session or sign up for all three at once and receive a $20 discount!

Buy your ticket here!

Contact Leslee Miller directly at leslee@amuseewine.com for all questions & inquiries, DO NOT contact The Carlyle Building

Session #1 – April 17th: Back to Basics: Wine/Beer Bootcamp: Learn the basics of beer and wine with two of the Twin Cities’ most passionate beer and wine educators, Sommelier Leslee Miller and Cicerone Michael Agnew. From styles, regions, grape varietals to all the sensory perspectives of grains to grapes – Michael and Leslee introduce the basics of beer/wine in this introductory 2 hour course.

Session #2 – April 24th:  Pantry Pairings: Understand the basics of how to pair beer and wine to the world of food. Whether the dish is light and bright, salty and savory, or earthy and umami, you’ll learn the time-tested tricks of correctly pairing the right libations to the right foods and gain an understanding of when the ‘old school’ rules need not apply.

The best part…we’re pairing to all the easy eats that you prepare Monday through Thursday; things found in your pantry, from guacamole, chips & dip to Minnesota hot dish! We have the libation answers to your weeknight cravings.

Session #3 – May 1st:  Open that Bottle Night!: Looking to really step outside your box?  This is the class for you!  From weird and whacky grape varietals, obscure growing regions, and funky vintaged wines to the world’s most interesting specialty and extreme beers (and maybe a beer cocktail to boot!), this class takes your knowledge of beer and wine to the next level.  Beverage selections for this class won’t be revealed until the night of!

Northern Lights Rare Beer Fest

March 31st, 2014

northern-lights-rare-beer-fest

For the last several years, the Denver Rare Beer Tasting has been one of the highlights of GABF week in Denver. The intimate event features 40-ish brewers from all over the country pouring rare and vintage beers for just a few hundred guests – fans and brewers alike. The one-of-a-kind event supports the Pints for Prostates organization, a beer-based charity to support prostate cancer research, founded by cancer survivor Rick Lyke. At $100 the ticket price is steep, but between the beer and the cause, the cost is worth it.

Now the Twin Cities can boast its own version of this auspicious event. The boys at Chop Liver LLC, the ones who bring you the St. Paul Summer Beer Fest among many others throughout the state, debuted the Northern Lights Rare Beer Fest last Saturday at the Minnesota History Center. It brought together 30 breweries for a celebration of brews exotic and hard to get.

The premise of the event was fairly simple. Each brewery was to bring at least one beer that is otherwise unavailable in the metro market; maybe a vintage example, maybe some tweak to a flagship. Some brewed small-batch beers just for the event. Every brewery was to have someone from the brewery in the booth to talk with attendees about the beers. Ticket sales were capped to keep it intimate and elegant. And like the original, this fest would support Pints for Prostates.

So how did it go?

First a note about the location. The Minnesota History Center is one of the best, if not the best, location for a beer festival in the metro. It’s elegant. It’s intimate. Multiple levels give it a sense of space. Gray and black polished granite elevate it way above the usual white tents and utility tables. It’s just lovely. I wish that the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild’s Winterfest had not outgrown it. I hope that Chop Liver will continue to utilize it.

Now to the fest. Overall, I would call it a success, especially for a first attempt. The beers were generally very interesting. The food was tasty. The musical entertainment was unobtrusive, but well…entertaining. The mood was festive. And best of all, it wasn’t crowded!

I know from talking to the organizers that they didn’t sell as many tickets as they would have liked (or perhaps needed to sell). I think the high ticket price scared many away. Chop Liver should have stressed the charitable cause thing a little more strongly. From my perspective though, the number of attendees was perfect. There was none of the shoulder-to-shoulder mass of humanity struggle that one typically encounters at indoor beer fests. It was intimate and airy. I don’t think I stood in a single line for beer. While a couple hundred more people probably wouldn’t have killed the vibe, it was quite pleasant as it was.

There was no shortage of amazing beer to sample. My biggest fear was that everything would be over 9% alcohol. There were indeed a lot of big beers, but thankfully some brewers were thoughtful enough to bring lighter-weight offerings as well. I was able to go back and forth between heavy-hitters and sessionable brews, which greatly extended my sampling capabilities.

What about the “rarity” of the beer? In some ways the Twin Cities can already claim a rare beer fest. At Winterfest guild-member breweries typically go out of their way to bring something extra special. I’m not sure the rarity factor at Northern Lights topped that, although there were extraordinary beers from regional and national breweries that would not be represented at Winterfest. That said, while some seemed to lack the imagination that the festival demanded, most breweries did break out the good stuff. There were too many to talk about all of them, so I’ll just list a few that stand out in my mind.

On reflection, my favorite of the fest was Eye Wine from Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, a “well-aged,” wine-barrel version of their award-winning Eye of the Storm Honey Ale. Even with just a small sample pour this beer changed drastically from start to finish. The first sip was a honey-dripped barleywine; thick and sweet. Then came a wash of woody oak to cut through the nectar. Finally this same beer transformed itself into a light and sparkly, slightly acidic, glass of vinous goodness. This was only my third or fourth sample of the night. This metamorphosis wasn’t just some drunken illusion. It really happened. And it was verified by none other than beer historian Doug Hoverson.

Another favorite was the Wine Barrel Aged Breakwater White with Brettanomyces from the other Hoops brother up at Fitger’s Brewhouse. It was a Belgian witbier aged in a red wine barrel with brett. The resulting beer was tart and super refreshing, a welcome thing in a fest full of big-thick and super-hops. The dominant flavor was fresh-squeezed yellow grapefruit with a whole load of other citrus throw into the mix.

Icy Wheat IPA from Oskar Blues was another favorite. Wheaty, super-dry, and loaded with vinous Nelson Sauvin hops, it was just really good. A great palate cleanser for the fest.

Others worthy of mention were Barrel-aged Old Rasputin from North Coast, Huckleberry Sour from Grand Teton, and 16, the bourbon-barrel imperial stout made to celebrate Central Waters’ sixteenth anniversary. There were so many others worthy of mention, but I’ve just got to stop.

Mark and Juno promise the Northern Lights Rare Beer Fest will be back next year. For those who opted out this year, it might be worth it to reconsider next year.

August Schell 30th Anniversary Pilsner Collection

March 8th, 2014

Like most beer fanatics, I am a serial drinker. I move from beer to beer in search of the next thing, frequently having to remind myself to go back every once in a while to beers that I love. Brand loyalty plays only a small part in my beer enjoyment.

That said there is one beer that I always have in my refrigerator. That beer is Schell’s Pils. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever heard me speak or read anything that I have written that I love pilsner. It is without question my favorite beer style. And Schell’s makes one of my favorite examples. It is a go-to in any season, on any day, for any mood, and with any food. It’s just good beer.

So when Schell’s announced that it would be celebrating the 30th anniversary of this great beer with a 12-pack containing four different versions of it, I was quite simply “psyched.” I couldn’t wait.

The release of Pilsner and Hefeweizen in 1984 marked a turning point for Schell’s and for beer in Minnesota. Recognizing early that the microbrewery movement that was taking root on the coasts could be the future of the beer industry, the second-oldest family-owned brewery in the country took a leap from light lager to more full-flavored brews. Things have been looking up for Schell’s ever since.

The current anniversary pack looks both forward and back. It includes four versions of Pils past, present, and future. The first is the original 1984 recipe; 6-row barley malt, bittered to a modest 28 IBU with Cascade hops, seasoned moderately with Hallertau Mittelfrüh, and fermented with the original Schell’s yeast strain. Next is 2014, the current version of Schell’s Pils; drier and cleaner with nearly twice the bitterness of the old. The third beer, Roggen, is a rye-tinged twist on the recipe with spicy rye malt accentuating spicy German hops. Last but not least is Mandarina, a stronger version with an IPA like 60 IBUs of bitterness and featuring the tangerine, citrus notes of Mandarina Bavaria hops, a new variety from Germany. It’s worth mentioning that a different yeast strain was used for each version. Schell’s brewer Dave Berg corrected me. They used three different yeast strains. 1984 uses the Schell’s house strain. 2014 and Roggen use the Grain Belt yeast. Mandarina uses a third strain.

The collection is only available in the 12-pack. A commemorative Hefeweizen 12-pack is due out in July!!

Here’s my notes:

30th Anniversary Pilsner Collection
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Pilsner
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottles

19841984

Aroma: Full, grainy sweetness with corny overtones. Some yeasty sulfur character. Low-level floral hop aromas. A hint of melon fruitiness.

Appearance: Light gold and brilliantly clear. Low, loose, white foam with poor retention.

Flavor: Grainy and sweet with light corny notes. Low level of sulfur carries over from the aroma. Bitterness is low to medium. Hop flavor has a perfume/floral character that lingers into the somewhat sweet finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-full body. A bit clingy. Carbonation is medium-high.

Overall Impression: Think “classic American Pilsner” or beefed-up American lager. In my original notes I called it “heavy and plodding.” That sounds like a negative, but it isn’t in my mind. 1984 is sweeter and less bitter than the other examples in the collection. The malt is less complex. The yeast character is more pronounced and less clean. It’s generally less delicate. But all of those things make this my second favorite of the assortment.

20142014

Aroma: Light graham cracker malt. Cleaner and less sweet than 1984. Low spicy/floral hop nose

Appearance: Pale gold and brilliantly clear. Slightly darker than 1984. Moderate, creamy, white head with good retention.

Flavor: Light and crisp. Malt is graham-cracker with a hint of toast. Fermentation is clean. High attenuation gives a brisk, dry finish. Hop flavors are licorice spice with touches of pepper and lemon citrus. Bitterness is medium to Medium-high and provides a nice balance to the malt.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium-high carbonation. Crisp and clean.

Overall Impression: Much lighter, crisper, and bitterer than the 1984 brew. It remains my favorite of the bunch. It’s just a great pilsner.

roggenRoggen

Aroma: Low, grainy, graham-cracker malt. Low spicy/floral hops with lemony high notes. Faint sulfur.

Appearance: Light gold. Brilliantly clear. Effervescent bubbles. Full, creamy, white foam with very good retention.

Flavor: Hoppy notes of melon, lemon peel, pepper, and licorice spice. Bitterness is medium to medium-high, enhanced by the spicy, bready flavor of rye. Earthy. Delicate. Beneath the rye is a layer of grainy-sweet, graham-cracker. Finish is dry with lingering bitterness and rye.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Effervescent carbonation.

Overall Impression: Roggen retains the sharp, clean profile of a pils with rye adding a layer of complexity. Nice play of lemon-peel/pepper hops with earthy spice of the rye. This one gave 1984 a run for its money, coming in a close third in my ranking.

mandarinaMandarina

Aroma: Grainy/graham cracker malt with touch of toast. Light fruity overtones – mandarin oranges and peaches. Clean. Balanced, but hops have a slight upper hand.

Appearance: Medium gold and brilliantly clear. Darkest of the four. Moderate head of creamy, white foam, with moderate retention.

Flavor: Fuller malt flavor than the others – grain, toast, melanoidin. Fuller malt is needed to balance the high degree of bitterness. Hops bring a range flavors – pepper, floral, and overtones of soft peach and oranges. Finish is dry and crisp with lingering bitterness and fruity hop flavors – juicy fruit or tropical fruit.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: This is both the hoppiest and bitterest of the four pilsners. Fuller bodied than the others as well, with an added dimension of toasty and melanoidin flavors. I Love the peachy/orange flavors of the Mandarina Bavaria hops. They have a soft fruitiness instead of the in-you-face citrus of American hop varieties. This beer is zippy and refreshing, but maybe more bitter than I want my pils to be. It verges on something like the increasingly popular India Pale Lager.

Summit Unchained #15: Fest Bier

March 8th, 2014

It still seems to me like just a few months ago that Summit Brewing Company released the first beer in the Unchained Series; a tasty Kölsch style brewed by former Summit brewer Mike Miziorko. But here we are almost five years later looking at beer number fifteen – Fest Bier. And we’ve come nearly full-circle. The series started with a lager-like German ale. This newest addition is the first Unchained German-style lager.

When I interviewed Summit brewers at last year’s Great American Beer Festival, Nate Siats was excited about the possibility of adding lagers to the Unchained lineup. The brewery had just completed an expansion of its cellaring capacity that would make the long-aging of a lager beer less disruptive to the overall brewing schedule. Lagers tie up tanks. More tanks means the brewery is better able to work around them. He was looking forward to taking a shot at these difficult-to-brew beers.

In the press release for Fest Bier, Siats says that he recently fell in love with the German styles. I say, “What took you so long?” For his Unchained beer he took inspiration from the Märzen beers that we call Oktoberfest and Wiesenbier, the stronger, golden lager that is actually served at the Oktoberfest in Munich. He sourced his base malts from a small maltster in the Czech Republic. The beer received a full eight weeks of cold conditioning, something of a rarity in these days of “get it on the streets” brewing.

Here’s my notes:

Summit Unchained #15: Fest BierUnchained #15: Fest Bier
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Märzen
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Light grainy sweetness. Dark honey. Bread crust and toasty melanoidin. Low notes of golden raisins. No hops to speak of. Clean.

Appearance: Medium head of just-off-white, rocky foam. Good retention. Light copper color with brilliant clarity.

Flavor: Almost equal balance of malt and hops. Malt comes out just slightly ahead at first, but gains ground through the glass – bread crust and caramel-toasty melanoidin. Low malt sweetness. Hop bitterness is medium, but enhanced by carbonation and dry finish. Long-lingering hop flavors of licorice with background of black currant and lemon peel. Finishes crisp and dry with hops and underlying toasty malt.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Carbonation is high, almost prickly.

Overall Impression: A light and refreshingly crisp Oktoberfest style beer that rides a knife-edge balance of malt and hops. Carbonation struck me as very high at first, maybe even a bit intrusive. It smoothes as the beer sits and de-gasses. I would like a touch more malt character, but I’m a true malt lover and these are my favorite malt flavors. The lessening carbonation does allow a fuller malt to finally come through.

Rye on Rye 2014 from Boulevard Brewing Co.

February 21st, 2014

Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, Missouri is an example of both the past and the future of the industry. Founded in 1989, it was a pioneer among small brewers in the Midwest. Boulevard started small, with a business plan that foresaw eventual expansion to 6000 barrels of production annually. As was the case with small breweries in the “olden days,” growth was slow, but steady. By 2006 the brewery was able to expand into a custom-built facility adjacent to the original brewhouse, growing production to 600,000 barrels, making it the largest craft brewer in the Midwest and the 12th largest in the country. In addition to the 150-barrel brewhouse, packaging lines, and administrative offices, the new building also boasts several event spaces. It’s quite a facility and worth a visit if you are in the area.

So how does Boulevard represent the future? Last year the brewery was sold to Belgian beer maker Duvel-Moortgat. Purchases of this kind are going to become more frequent, I believe. First, they represent a growing interest on the part of large brewing companies to get a slice of the growing craft-beer pie. Another example of this is AB-InBev’s purchase of Goose Island and Blue Point.

Also, such purchases are a reflection of the aging of the first generation of craft brewers. Old-school founders such as Boulevard’s John McDonald reaching retirement age. They are looking for a way out. The companies they built are too large for other small brewers to purchase. Lacking a clear exit strategy, they are turning to larger concerns that have the wherewithal to do the deal. The same was true in the case of Anchor Brewing when Fritz Maytag sold it to a group of investors a few years ago. While some may decry this as a negative trend, I see it as a sign of a successful industry.

Boulevard built its reputation on a solid lineup of beers brewed to classic style. It has supplemented that with its Smokestack Series of specialty brews and a newer collection of barrel-aged, sour beers. Rye on Rye is produced annually as part of the Smokestack Series. It’s a 12% ABV rye ale aged in barrels that once held Templeton Rye whiskey.

Here’s my notes:

Brand_Rye_on_Rye2014 Rye on Rye
Boulevard Brewing, Kansas City, Missouri
Style: Barrel-aged Rye Ale
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle

Aroma: Bread crust and whiskey. Soft background notes of oak, vanilla and toffee. Whiskey and toffee aromas blend nicely, leaving it unclear where one ends and the other begins. Some alcohol is apparent. Dark fruity notes – dates.

Appearance: Medium amber/red. Hazy. Full, stiff, creamy head of off-white to ivory foam. Excellent retention.

Flavor: Alcohol is evident from start to finish – just shy of being hot. Caramel and toffee malt is the dominant theme, with spicy, bread-like rye gaining intensity mid-palate and lingering into the finish. Rye whiskey and wood places a close second. Date and orange citrus fruitiness fills in the cracks. Raisin comes in as the beer warms. Hop bitterness is medium-low, but supported by the spicy bite of rye. The finish is dry with lingering alcohol, toffee, rye spice, and dark fruits.

Mouthfeel: Full body, but well attenuated. High carbonation. High alcohol warming. Light astringency in the finish.

Overall Impression: Rye on Rye is a full-throttle sensory assault. It’s packed with complex flavors, but my problem is that is lacks nuance. It seems to hit me all at once like a brick wall. It becomes like the white noise static on an unoccupied television frequency. There is a lot going on, but I’m missing layers to explore. That and the high alcohol make it a one-and –done beer for me. I’ve never allowed a bottle of this to age. I wonder if that would smooth it out a bit and bring more dimension.

Locally Brewed: Portraits of Craft Breweries from America’s Heartland

February 18th, 2014

locallybrewed

The Midwest is the historic center of the American brewing industry. While brewing in this country may have begun on the East Coast, it was the mid-19th century German immigrants who settled in places like Milwaukee and St. Louis that built it up from a collection of small businesses into an industrial juggernaut that wielded significant economic and political clout. Names like Frederick Miller, Joseph Schlitz, Valentin Blatz, Frederick Pabst, and Adolphus Busch are still legendary for their achievements. Theirs were among the first truly national brewing concerns. The agitation of the men (and it was mostly men) who worked for them was foundational in the formation of the American labor movement. The significance of the early Midwestern beer industry cannot be overstated.

For the last few decades though, the position of the Midwest has been viewed in a mostly negative light by fans of better beer. The region remained a powerhouse, but of a much diminished industry. The smaller, regional producers mostly gone, Miller and Anheuser-Busch dominated the market producing hundreds of millions of barrels of beers that were largely indistinguishable. Their marketing budgets and market leverage made it difficult for the new craft beer movement to gain a foothold.

And so, in what had been the beer capital of the nation, craft beer was slow to get going. Like so many fashion trends, the movement came in from the coasts. That’s not to say that there weren’t significant pioneers in the region. Breweries like Summit, Schell’s, Boulevard, James Page, Capital, Goose Island and others worked hard to create a solid foundation upon which later-comers could build. But the real wave has only recently arrived. It corresponds with the boom that is happening across the country, but here in the nation’s symbolic beer center the result has been particularly exciting. Both in terms of the pace of growth and the quality of product, the Midwest is once again assuming a position of importance.

Anna Blessing’s new book Locally Brewed: Portraits of Craft Breweries from America’s Heartland does a good job of tracing this return to prominence. Blessing gives revealing profiles of twenty breweries in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. The profiles are arranged chronologically according to the brewery’s date of founding, allowing the reader to follow the development of the region’s craft beer scene. The portraits reveal the transformation of the hurdles each brewer faced from one of building a consumer base into a struggle to keep up with demand.

Blessing says that her passion is finding and learning about the people who do what they love practicing their craft. Her last book, Locally Grown: Portraits of Artisanal Farms from America’s Heartland, showcased Midwestern farmers at the center of the local food movement. For her a book on small, local brewers was a natural follow-up. She says that beer is in her blood. She was raised in Portland, Oregon, perhaps the craft beer capital of the nation. She is a distant descendant of the owners of the Stenger Brewery that operated in Naperville, Illinois in the 1800s.

Blessing’s easy to read and engaging profiles tell the story of each brewery’s beginnings and then go on to describe some interesting tidbit about the place, be it the history of Three Floyd’s Dark Lord Day or Jolly Pumpkin brewer Ron Jeffries’ insights on brewing sour beers in the US. Mostly the book is about the people behind the breweries, as they describe their experiences founding and running their operations.

If you go into any brewery you are likely to hear music blaring over the din of fork lifts, bottling lines, and brew kettles. Music and brewing are almost inseparable. Blessing pays homage to this by including a brewery playlist in each profile, a touch that gives a unique glimpse into the psyche of each place. One element of the book that I didn’t quite understand was the “Get a Pint” sidebar for each brewery. A complete listing of where to find each brewery’s wares would be impossible. As she only lists one to four for each, I fail to see the point. Perhaps they are in her view the best places to find the beers. I’m just not sure.

Three Minnesota brewers are featured among the profiles; August Schell, Surly, and Steel Toe.

Overall Blessings book is a quick and entertaining read that provides and interesting insight into craft beer in the heartland. It’s definitely worth a read. And as a selfish plug, it makes a great companion to my own A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland, a guide to breweries in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois that is due out this spring from the University of Illinois Press.

Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale

February 17th, 2014

With the sheer number of new brews and breweries entering the state – both local and non-local – it gets harder and hard for me at least to get excited about them. It gets harder and harder to even know about them, frankly. I don’t envy the people who do the marketing. It must be a difficult task to get your beers front and center in the minds of beer drinkers.

But once in a while a brewery enters the market that piques my interest. Sometimes it’s the brewery’s reputation that recommends it. Sometimes I think it’s just that those marketing people have done their job well in bringing the beers to my attention. Sometimes it’s both.

Oskar Blues is case in point. The 17-year-old brewery has a solid reputation. It opened in 1997 as a tiny brewpub in Lyons, Colorado, brewing beer in the basement. By 1998 it was already winning medals at the Great American Beer Festival. Oskar Blues started the canned-beer revolution. In 2002 it was the first US craft brewery to can its own beer to put its beer in cans. It started canning its beer in 2002, making it among the first US craft breweries to put its beer in cans. Equipment upgrades made it the largest producing brewpub in America by 2006, and the medals just kept on coming. 2008 saw the opening of a larger production facility, further increasing capacity and distribution capability. In 2012 Oskar Blues became one of the first craft breweries to open a second brewing facility, this one in North Carolina. And the medals continued to come.

In addition to this reputation, both the brewery’s PR machine and the Twin Cities distributor Original Gravity worked overtime to publicize the local launch. For anyone who pays attention to such things, it was hard to miss.

I’ve had nearly all the Oskar Blues main-line beers over time. They have been available in Wisconsin for some time, and I’ve been to the original Lyons pub. The quality has never been in question. I was interested though in giving them another shot and paying closer attention. The flagship Dale’s Pale Ale, the one that pretty much started it all for Oskar Blues, seemed a good place to start.

Here’s my notes:

Dale's Pale AleDale’s Pale Ale
Oskar Blues Brewing Company, Longmont, Colorado
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. can

Aroma: Hops dominate – citrus, tangerine, fresh grapefruit, stone fruits. Some orangy citrus esters. Biscuity malt provides a counterpoint. Light caramel.

Appearance: Medium to medium-dark gold. Clear. Full head of creamy, white foam with larger bubbles interspersed. Excellent retention.

Flavor: Very balanced. Bitterness is medium-high, balanced by medium-low malt sweetness. Bitterness is the focus of the hops, but tangerine, grapefruit, and stone fruit hop flavors do make an impression. Malt provides a solid base of caramel and dry, English-like biscuit. Low orangy esters. The finish is just off-dry with lingering citrus-pith bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium-high carbonation. Low astringency.

Overall Impression: A very balanced IPA. Falls somewhere between English and American styles. The malt is all English. The hops are all American. I would have liked a bit more emphasis on hop flavor over bitterness, and a little less of the lingering, astringent bitterness in the finish. But that’s just how I like my IPAs. Overall a quite tasty brew.

Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer

February 13th, 2014

Every once in a while I write about a beverage that’s not beer. It might be cider. It might be… Well, actually if it’s not beer it’s always been cider. But this time it’s going to be something different – Ginger Beer.

“But wait!” you say. “That’s beer!” Well, maybe sort of. It’s more like ginger infused, fermented soda-pop. The story of Crabbie’s Ginger Beer reportedly goes all the way back to 1801 when Scottsman John Crabbie “set sail from the port of Leith, Edinburgh, in search of the finest spices and ingredients from far-off lands.” He brought back ginger from the Far East. He steeped a fermented brew with that ginger for six to eight weeks creating a spicy and refreshing alcoholic bevi. Although the John Crabbie & Company has only been making the drink since 2009, they report that they still use the same process that Mr. Crabbie originated over 200 years ago. It’s made, they say, with four secret ingredients and steeped on fresh ginger for six weeks.

So why am I, a devoted beer writer, writing about ginger beer? It just sounded tasty.

It is recommended that Crabbie’s Original Ginger Beer be poured over ice and served with a slice of lemon or lime. I opted for lemon. Here’s my notes:

Crabbies Ginger BeerCrabbie’s Original Ginger Beer
John Crabbie & Company, Edinburgh, Scotland
Style: Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.8%)
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Fresh ginger. Lemon and lemon peel from the slice. Light sweetness. Faint floral notes.

Appearance: Medium golden color with a kind of sepia tint. Clear. Fizzy. Full and lively head of just-off-white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: High degree of sweetness that is cut by carbonation and spice. The dominant flavor is fresh ginger – strong and piquant. Spicy. Zippy. The faint floral notes carry over from the aroma. Lemon peel mid-palate and tart lemon acidity on the way out. Finish is sweet and spicy, lingering on sugar and ginger.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. High carbonation.

Overall Impression: Poured over ice with a slice of lemon, this makes for a peppy, refreshing quaff. The ginger tastes fresh and has a pleasant spiciness. I’m not typically much of a soda drinker – too sweet. The ginger really helps cut the sugar in this. And of course there’s alcohol. I suspect that this would make a great mixer for cocktails. And indeed, the Crabbie’s website has recipes.

3700 Breweries and Growing

February 12th, 2014

growth chartI received an interesting press release this morning from the Beer Institute, a national trade association for the American brewing industry, representing both large and small brewers, as well as importers and industry suppliers. According to the release the US added 948 new brewing permits in 2013, bringing the total number of “active ‘permitted breweries’ overseen by the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)” to a record smashing 3699.

This is a staggering number of breweries and extraordinary growth for any industry in one year. But I questioned the numbers. In January the Brewers Association released preliminary figures for 2013 putting the total number of breweries at 2722, an increase of nearly 400 over the previous year. That’s a difference of more than 1000 breweries from the Beer Institute report. That’s not something that can be put down to statistical error.

I also questioned the Beer Institute numbers because they list 73 active permitted breweries in Minnesota. This is true if you include contract-brewed brands and all of the Granite City locations where beer is fermented onsite, but not actually brewed. The number is considerably less if those are excluded.

308B7713-870F-4961-8017-80303B2A057C

I contacted the Beer Institute to find out what was going on and got a quick response from Megan Kirkpatrick. They get information straight from the Federal Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) about issued brewing permits. “This is a list we receive from the TTB that includes any brewing location that has received a permit to brew beer.” she explained. This includes breweries-in-planning that are permitted, but haven’t yet started producing. It also includes brewing companies that have multiple breweries, such as Boston Beer Company, Lagunitas, and Sierra Nevada, as well as the mega-brewers. She was unclear as to whether the number includes beer companies whose product is contract brewed by others.

However you slice that number, it’s big. And most of the growth has occurred in just the last couple of years. Kirkpatrick pointed out that the start of the growth curve corresponds with the passage of the Small Brewer Tax Credit passed by congress in 1977. According to the Beer Institute press release, “under the existing tax structure, small brewers (defined by U.S. Tax Code as those that produce up to 2 million 31-gallon barrels per year, or the equivalent of 110 million six-packs) receive a substantial break on federal excise tax, paying only $7 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels. The regular tax rate is $18 per barrel, which is paid by all brewers of more than 2 million barrels, all beer importers regardless of size, and on every barrel produced by small brewers beyond 60,000. More than 90 percent of permitted breweries today produce less than 60,000 barrels annually.”

The release goes on to say that “beer puts more than two million Americans to work, from farmers to factory workers, and brewers to bartenders. The combined economic impact of brewers, beer distributors, retailers, suppliers and other inducted industries was calculated to be $246.5 billion in 2012. The industry paid $49 billion in federal, state and local taxes that same year.” That’s a rather large economic impact.

While this news is exciting, I still get a slight nauseous feeling every time I hear about a new brewery opening. I know the question has been asked a billion times, “Is this a bubble? Will it burst?” I guess only time will tell, but to me this current rate of growth seems crazy. What’s that term they use in the stock market? “Irrational exuberance.”

You can read the full Beer Institute report here.

Summit Frost Line Rye

February 4th, 2014

“Spring,” if you want to call it that in Minnesota, is my least favorite time of year. I grew up in St. Louis. With the arrival of March came warmer weather. Not so here. Winter grinds slowly on – March, April, May… Right now as I look out the window of my office, the sun is shining and I hear birds singing. If I don’t look directly I can almost imagine 70 degrees. But then the thick snowpack reminds me that the temperature hasn’t even cracked zero.

Summit Brewing Company is trying to give us some relief. Their new in-between-seasonal Frost Line Rye is meant to fit in this interminable gray zone that falls between winter and summer. Richly malty and bracingly hoppy all at once it keeps one foot in each season. Five kinds of rye give it a spicy bite that would be refreshing in warmer weather, but seems warming in the deep-freeze.

Here’s my notes:

Bottle_Frost-Line-RyeFrost Line Rye
Summit Brewing Co., St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Rye Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Hops dominate with pine, citrus, and noble-hop like spiciness. Malt stays just underneath – brown sugar, biscuit, hints of cocoa. Light orangy esters.

Appearance: Medium-amber with reddish tint. Brilliantly clear. Full stand of creamy, off-white foam. Excellent retention.

Flavor: Malt and hops are nearly in balance with malt having a slight edge; grain, cocoa, brown sugar, toffee, and biscuit that gets bolder as it warms. Rye adds a dry, spicy bite that accentuates the medium-level bitterness. Hop flavors bring orange and tangerine citrus as well as some spice. Orangy esters. Well attenuated for a dry finish, lingering on a complex mix of bitterness, toffee, and rye.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation. Slightly creamy.

Overall Impression: Layered and clean. This is a good in-between beer. It’s not quite an IPA (closer to a pale, but still not quite). Not quite a malty beer. A rye-tinged American amber ale. It’s brisk and yet comforting.