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  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:

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.

Rogue Ales Hop Family IPA Series

Hops are the spice of beer. The provide bitterness to balance the sweetness of malt. Their many essential oils bring seasoning flavors and aromas that range from bright citrus and juicy tropical fruits to thyme, and cedar, generic spices and flowers. The sheer numbers of hop varieties and the limitless possibilities for combining them gives brewers and extraordinary palette to work with.

Rogue Ales brewmaster John Maier has concocted a project to explore a small corner of this palette. The Hop Family Series of IPAs uses different combinations of the eight hops grown on the Rogue Farms – Liberty, search Newport, Revolution, Rebel, Independent, Freedom, Alluvial, and Yaquina. In Maier’s words, “It’s the entire Rogue hop experience in four bottles.”

Each of the beers – 4 Hop, 6 Hop, 7 Hop and 8 Hop – is a specially formulated recipe to showcase the unique hop blend. I conducted my tasting of the series blind, in order to focus more fully on the differences in hop character. The differences in the beers though are so pronounced that the blinding proved pointless. I quickly knew which beer was which. Personally, I think the experiment would have been more interesting if the base beer were the same and only the hops changed, but tasting them all is a fun trip nonetheless.

I attempted to find descriptors for the hops used. Most of them are proprietary to Rogue Farms and I was unable to come up with any information. I got tired of searching. I have listed the beers in order according to preference. My tasting notes are unedited.

Here’s my notes:

Color Lightest to Darkest: 4 Hop, 6 Hop, 8 Hop, 7 Hop

Body Lightest to Fullest: 4 Hop, 6 Hop, 8 Hop, 7 Hop

Perceived Bitterness Lowest to Highest: 7 Hop, 8 Hop, 4 Hop, 6 Hop

Hop Complexity Lowest to Highest: 6 Hop, 4 Hop, 8 Hop, 7 Hop

Favorite to Least Favorite: 8 Hop, 7 Hop, 6 Hop, 4 Hop

8_Hop_IPA8 Hop IPA
Rogue Ales, Newport, Oregon
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle
8.88% ABV
80 IBU

Aroma: Hop dominated. Melon is lead. Tropical fruit and kiwi. Orange. Cooling. Herbal. Huge floral notes when held away from nose. Soap. Low biscuit malt. Low esters.

Appearance: Moderate white head with poor retention. Deep gold/orange and slightly hazy. Third lightest color.

Flavor: Follows aroma. Pithy bitterness is high and lingering. Hop flavor is dominated by fruit – grapefruit, tropical fruit, strawberry, melon. Floral notes are strong – geraniums or tomato vines. Malt is secondary. Low sweetness with light caramel and biscuit flavor. Low alcohol. Finish is dry with lingering fruit, floral, and bitterness. Lingering bitterness has a slightly harsh edge.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Low astringency. Not creamy or warming.

Overall Impression: Perhaps the best balanced of the four. Just the right level of bitterness vs. sweetness. Malt character is there. Bitterness is a bit more refreshing. Hops have a nice blend of tropical, citrus and floral. My favorite of the bunch.

Hop Varieties: Liberty, Newport, Revolution, Rebel, Independent, Freedom, Alluvial, Yaquina

7_Hop_IPA_new7 Hop IPA
Rogue Ales, Newport, Oregon
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle
7.77% ABV
76 IBU

Aroma: Hops lead. All fruit. Tropical and citrus. Medium floral. Juicy. Low biscuit malt.

Appearance: Light amber and hazy. Moderate off-white foam with poor retention. Darkest color.

Flavor: Fuller malt. Mango, guava. Tropical fruit hop flavors are high. Darker tropical fruits. Juicy. Lemon/lime highlights. Grapefruit slice. Malt sweetness is medium – higher than 8 Hop. Bitterness is high, but better balanced by malt. Malt has low caramel and biscuit character. Floral hops are medium, but blend with other hop flavors. Low alcohol. Finish is just off-dry with lingering tropical fruit and bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Medium carbonation. Not astringent. Not creamy. Low warming.

Overall Impression: Complex blend of hop and malt. Hop flavor is definitely favored over bitterness. Better balanced than the others. Great blend of citrus, tropical and floral hops. I like that the malt component wasn’t entirely forgotten. Almost has the feel of a DIPA. A little bit sticky. Goes just a little over the top to nudge it out of first place. Close though.

Hop Varieties: Liberty, Newport, Revolution, Rebel, Independent, Freedom, Alluvial

6-Hop-IPA6 Hop IPA
Rogue Ales, Newport, Oregon
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle
6.66% ABV
87 IBU

Aroma: Citrus hops dominate. Low floral, not as intense as 8 & 7. Grapefruit. Pineapple. Strawberries. Low biscuit malt.

Appearance: Dark gold and brilliant. Moderate, white foam with poor retention. Second lightest color.

Flavor: Bright hops dominate with high bitterness. Bitterness is high and lingering. Emphasis is on bitterness over flavor. Hop flavors are primarily bright citrus and citrus pith – grapefruit, lemon. Low floral notes. Sweetness is low. Very low malt flavor with neutral grain character. No alcohol. Finish is dry with lingering bitterness and lemon peel.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Low astringency. No warming or creaminess.

Overall Impression: Bright and lively, but feels and tastes thin. I want more substance and less emphasis on bitterness. This is more of an American Pale Ale than an IPA. A bit one-dimensional in comparison to 8 & 7.

Hop Varieties: Liberty, Revolution, Independent, Freedom, Alluvial, Yaquina

4_hop_ipa4 Hop IPA
Rogue Ales, Newport, Oregon
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle
4.44% ABV
55 IBU

Aroma: Super-fruity hops. Tangerine, melon. Juicy. Grapefruit slices. Low biscuit malt.

Appearance: Medium Gold and brilliant. Moderate to low, white head with poor retention. Lightest color.

Flavor: Hop flavor dominates with moderate-high bitterness. Bright citrus notes are there – grapefruit, citrus pith and lemon. They are joined by some juicy tropical fruit – guava or yuzu. Bitterness is high and lingers, but less than #3. Malt is almost non-existent. Low sweetness. Low, neutral grain malt flavor. No alcohol. Finish is dry with lingering bitterness and lemon peel.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to light body. Medium carbonation. Low astringency. Not warming or creamy.

Overall Impression: A lightweight. This really does feel like it’s moving into APA range. Thin and one-dimensional in comparison to 8 & 7. Refreshing yes. Some interesting hop flavors – yuzu. But overall disappointing.

Hop Varieties: Rebel, Freedom, Alluvial, Yaquina

Surly Brewing Company – Todd the Axe Man 2016

Everyone gets excited about the next new IPA. But let’s be honest. One IPA is pretty much like the other. That’s true of beers of any style, cure but there is such a glut of IPA that this truth shines especially brightly. My own initial response upon tasting a new one is typically, pills “Yup. It’s another IPA.”

Oh, see I know there are differences. There are better ones and worse ones. There are those that focus on bitterness and those that emphasize hop flavor. And of course the plethora of hop varieties available lends each one a different character from fruity to spicy to “dank.” But with so many, they all tend to blend together in my mind. But maybe that’s just me.

I hate the descriptor “dank.” It’s completely inappropriate for the thing being described. It is neither a flavor nor an aroma. The definition of dank is, “unpleasantly moist or humid; damp and, often, chilly: a dank cellar.” I don’t want to drink that.

I believe the term was borrowed from weed culture. Hops are in the family Cannabaceae. They are related to marijuana. Some of them have a strongly resinous flavor and aroma. It is that, which is frequently described as “dank.” Why don’t we instead just say, “It smells like weed.” That would be more accurate.

But I digress.

Todd the Axe Man from Surly Brewing Company is not dank. Its emphasis is not the resinous essential oil myrcene. Todd the Axe Man is firmly focused on the fruity side of hops – compounds like limonene and citral. You can almost feel the juice running down your chin.

With limited release, Todd the Axe Man is in demand. But is it really that different from all the other IPAs? Only you can decide.

Here’s MY notes:

Todd the Axe ManTodd the Axe Man
Surly Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
7.2% ABV
65 IBU

Aroma: Big fruit hops – berries, tropical fruit lifesavers, tangerine, pineapple and lemon/lime. No malt. Medium fruity esters bolster hop fruitiness. Juicy. Medium-low floral alcohol.

Appearance: Moderate, off-white, creamy foam with poor retention. Dark gold/orange and very hazy.

Flavor: Hop flavor dominates – loads of fruit. Juicy and overripe. Tropical fruit, pineapple, blueberry, oranges and tangerines. Bright lemon/lime highlights. Low coconut. Low garlic notes. Bitterness is high, but balanced by medium malt sweetness. Not aggressive. Malt flavor is almost non-existent, neutral, 2-row grain. Medium esters bolster hop fruitiness. Finish is dry with lingering tropical fruit and low bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body. Medium-high carbonation. Very low alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: A super-fruity, American IPA that really pushes hop flavor over bitterness. A bright, juicy, fruit basket. Wet tropical fruits provide a darker base while bright citrus notes give a shining highlight. Tasty and light, despite 7.2% alcohol. An IPA that won’t destroy your palate after just one.

You can compare these 2016 notes with those from 2015 by checking out this earlier post.