Summit Unchained #16: Herkulean Woods

September 8th, 2014

As much as I would like to deny it, it’s fall. I love the fall. The cooling air and changing colors make it perhaps my favorite season in Minnesota. The problem with fall is that it means winter is not too far behind – another nine months of virtual hibernation.

One good thing that fall brings is a plethora of malty brews. It’s the season of Oktoberfest and brown ale. While the rest of the state’s beer drinkers are obsessed with hops, I do love malt. I especially love the toasty and toffee flavors of the mid-toast malts that to me epitomize the autumnal beers. Give me the Munich malt. Bring on the Biscuit. Toss in a pinch of melanoidin malt for good measure.

Herkulean Woods, the newest Unchained beer from Summit Brewing Company, drips with this kind of deliciousness. Christian Dixon, one of Summit’s newest brewers, has laced that toasty malt with a splash of spruce and a smattering of Minnesota maple syrup. Top that off with bracing bitterness and spicy woodsy hop flavors and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a dilly of a fall beer.

Here’s my notes:

Summit Unchained #16: Herkulean WoodsUnchained #16: Herkulean Woods
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Strong California Common with spruce and maple syrup
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
8.2% ABV
77 IBU

Aroma: Bright fruity notes dominate. The blueberry-like aroma of spruce. Hop spiciness like Indian lemon pickle. Low caramel, bread crust, and toasty malt stays just below the surface.

Appearance: Medium amber/copper and clear. Full, dense, creamy, ivory head with excellent retention. Leaves lace on the glass.

Flavor: Flavor is all malt at first – toffee, burnt caramel, and toasted bread. High melanoidin character. There is plenty of malt flavor, but not a lot of sweetness. That same blueberry spruce carries through from the aroma along with a hint of pine. Maple stays very low, noticeable mostly in the finish. Some buttery kettle caramelization. Bitterness is medium-high. Hop flavors present a Hallertauesque lemon-pickle spiciness as in the aroma. A touch of alcohol. Finish is dry and lingers on hop bitterness and burnt caramel melanoidin.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-high body. Medium carbonation. Some warming.

Overall Impression: A heavy dose of toasty, high-kilned malts – the kind I like. Maple could be a bit stronger, but then again, maybe I don’t actually want that. I’m happy with the malt. A rich and tasty treat that will go well with a chill fall night. Fire pit on the patio, anyone?

The official release for Herkulean Wood happens Tuesday, September 9th from 5-7pm at McKenzie Pub in Minneapolis. Other events are scheduled over the next couple weeks. Check the Summit event calendar for information.

She Said, He Said: Endless Summer Pairings at Cooks of Crocus Hill

July 30th, 2014

Cooks Logo

Sommelier Leslee Miller, Chef Mike Shannon, and I have been teaming up to teach She Said:He Said beer/wine/food classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill since 2009. (Really? 2009? It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.)We’ve built up a camaraderie and easy-going teaching style that has made our classes the most popular of the Cooks lineup. They always sell out – usually very quickly.

Our next beer/wine pair-off happens August 8th at the St. Paul location on Grand Avenue. You don’t want to miss this. Leslee and I are going head-to-head with thoughtfully selected beers and wines paired to four courses of Mike’s summer deliciousness. Check out this menu.

  • Watermelon, Feta and Mint Salad
  • Mediterranean Lemon Quinoa Bowl
  • Lamb Chops with Chickpeas and Tomatoes
  • Lemon Blueberry Mascarpone Tartlets

There are still a few spots available. You can register online at the Cooks of Crocus Hill website. Come join us!

Schell’s Arminius Hoppy Pale Lager

July 30th, 2014

Not known for aggressively hopped beers, Schell’s has been playing with hops a lot lately. First was the Citra Fresh-hop pilsner. Then there was Emerald Rye, a most IPA like amber lager. The Pilsner 30th Anniversary 12-pack had a version of the great Schell’s Pils hopped with Mandarina Bavaria hops – a new variety from Germany. Now comes Arminius, a 70-IBU, massively dry-hopped pale lager.

As a fan of traditional German-style lagers, I take this trend with mixed emotions. On the one hand it’s good to see Schell’s trying new things. On the other, there really is nothing like a good pilsner.

Here’s my notes:

ArminiusArminius
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Hoppy Lager
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
6.5% ABV
70 IBU

Aroma: Lime citrus and spice overlay doughy malt. A deeper hop note of mandarin oranges or dried mango hovers beneath. Balanced. Bright. Sprightly.

Appearance: Medium gold and brilliantly clear. A full stand of fluffy, white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Assertively bitter, but balanced. Although hops dominate the flavor profile, malt is not forgotten. Citrus – lime and lemon. Floral. Dried tropical fruits. Underlying, bready malt flavors with medium-low sweetness. The finish is dry and sharp. Crisp and clean.

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

Overall Impression: This is a hoppy beer that I can really wrap my tongue around. It’s lively, refreshing, and very easy to drink. Despite 70 IBUs, it doesn’t tax the tongue. Hoppy enough for IPA fans, but lager-like enough to satisfy the likes of me.

Cured + Crafted – A Prosciutto di Parma Tasting & Craft Beer Pairing

July 29th, 2014

cured&crafted_01-29a

Sometimes I think that I am the luckiest man alive. That’s the feeling I got when I was asked to judge the Cured + Crafted event that’s happening this Thursday, July 31st at the Muse Event Center in Minneapolis. How could I refuse the invitation to sample and evaluate eight different beer and food pairings prepared by some of the Twin Cities’ best chefs, all incorporating Prosciutto di Parma. I mean seriously, who doesn’t love Prosciutto di Parma?

And then they sent me the menu. OMG! Someone hand me a napkin. I’m salivating all over myself.

Barbette with Boom Island’s Saison
Prosciutto-wrapped veal sweetbreads, fava bean tabbouleh, charmoula sauce

BoneYard with 612’s Gateway Park lager
Summer Shandy Infused Compressed Watermelon with BBQ’ed Prosciutto Crisp – Summer shandy made with 612’s gateway park lager, fresh squeezed lemon juice and lemon infused vodka infused into watermelon cubes and vacuum compressed, served with a BBQ spice rubbed oven baked prosciutto crisp.

Broders’ – Terzo with Indeed’s Shenanigan’s Summer Ale
Prosciutto mousse with pineapple mostarda, grissini breadsticks

Haute Dish with Bauhaus Brewery’s SkyDive Midwest Coast IPA
Prosciutto wrapped smoked pineapple, aji amarillo mayo, pickled fresno, cilantro, farofa

Porter & Frye with Dangerous Man’s Belgian Tripel
Crab cakes with a roasted fennel Yukon hash and prosciutto olive sofrito

Rinata with Fulton’s Sweet Child of Vine IPA
Bruschetta with Prosciutto di Parma with a spicy beer mustard, arugula and fresh sliced peaches, adding this to our house made sausage, Tuscan bread, and spicy mustard.

Union with Bent Paddle’s Venture Pils
Saffron corn pudding agnolotti, heirloom tomato smoked jam, thyme powder, crispy prosciutto

Wise Acre Eatery with Indeed’s Day Tripper Pale Ale
Minnesota Sushi – Proscuitto Wrapped Tater Dots with Wise Acre Eatery Rhubarb Ketchup

I’ll be judging with an all-star group of MSP foodies – Jeremy Iggers from Twin Cities Daily Planet, Sue Zelickson, Food Writer and James Beard Award winner, and Stephanie March, Editor Eat + Drink at Mpls St Paul Magazine. WCCO’s Jason DeRusha is MC.

But you too can live the lucky life. Tickets are still available for the event. And there will be plenty to do besides eat cured ham (as if you really needed more).

  • VOTE your paired-pick via social media to enter to win dinner for two at the winning Chef’s restaurant.
  • DRINK Craft Beers from Bauhaus Brew Labs, Bent Paddle Brewing, Boom Island, Dangerous Man, Fulton, Indeed and 612Brew. Head upstairs to the Parma Party Loft and see what’s brewing at the Summit Sampler Bar.
  • SIP specialty craft cocktails served by two of the city’s rock-star mixologists: Tyler Kleinow of Marvel Bar and Johnny Michaels. Featuring hand crafted, small batch spirits provided by Norseman Distillery.
  • BE A VIPP (very important prosciutto person) and enjoy the decadent specially aged Prosciutto di Parma hand-sliced by our Master Slicer Francesco Lupo, direct from NYC, paired with delicious cheeses provided by Broders’ Cucina Italiana.
  • GROOVE with DJ Jake Rudh who will be spinning tunes all night.
  • HAM-IT-UP in our Slo-Mo Video Playground.
  • GET INKED Tattoo Artist Garrett Rautio will ink the iconic Parma Crown logo onsite to adventurous guests. That’s right; you can get an actual tattoo at the event. Tattooed guests will be rewarded with a whole leg of Prosciutto di Parma to take home!

I mean really, how can you pass this up?

Education Programs at the All Pints North Summer Beer Festival

July 24th, 2014

In the hierarchy of Minnesota beer festivals, two stand out to me – Winterfest and All Pints North – both sponsored and organized by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. Winterfest is an intimate affaire. Ticket sales are limited and the space is cozy, in contrast to the sprawling outdoor festivals that are the norm. It has an air of elegant sophistication. The brewers – all Guild members – bring the good stuff in an attempt to out-do each other.

All Pints North is held at the Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth. Despite the spacious outdoor setting and large attendance, Bayfront Park with its bayside location and magnificent view of the iconic lift bridge give this festival an easy-going, relaxed feel. There is none of the hustle and bustle of the other fests.

All Pints North happens this Saturday, July 26th from 3 – 7 pm. Tickets are still available, although hotel rooms might be harder to come by.

As a beer educator, I like that the Guild values education at their festivals. They recognize that an educated consumer is a better consumer; that the enjoyment of craft beer increases with a little bit of knowledge. They also know that craft beer aficionados are eager to learn.

ABE-SquareSign 4ft

The Alliance for Beer Education (ABE) is a joint project of A Perfect Pint and the Better Beer Society dedicated to providing the highest-quality educational programing at Minnesota’s beer festivals. Collaborators Rob Shellman and Michael Agnew, both Certified Cicerones®, have a combined 11 years’ experience as beer educators. Their credits include the Better Beer Society University, BBS Brown Bag Blind Tastings, The University of Minnesota Department of Continuing Education, Cooks of Crocus Hill, Kitchen Window, and Betty Crocker, as well as countless corporate and private events.

The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild has partnered with ABE to provide the educational programming at this year’s All Pints North. We think we have put together a great lineup with some amazing guest speakers. Check it out!

Beer Barrel BBQ 3:30 – 4:00p
Chef Tony Beran (Lake Ave Café) and Nate Beck (Natedogs)

Minnesota summers offer the perfect weather to fire up the grill. Why not make beer a part of your cookout? Join Chef Tony Beran of Lake Ave Cafe, as he showcases slow roasted pork shoulder smoked over Surly Pentagram staves, as well as a sour cherry Pentagram sauce to pair with. Nate Beck of Natedogs is loved among the beer community with his delicious dogs and mustards. He’ll guide you through the process of creating your own unique beer mustard. Join us for a delicious lesson in outdoor cooking with beer and building the best sauce.

Backwoods Brews 4:10 – 4:40p
Jake Boyce (Day Tripper of Duluth)

Last month Duluth was named as Outside Magazine’s best outdoor city in America. Outdoor activity is central to the Duluth lifestyle. This session pays homage to that by exploring the potential and practicalities of enjoying beer in the backcountry. What’s allowed? What type of beer is best? Can beer be part of your campfire cooking? Come find out from adventure guide Jake Boyce and share your own stories about enjoying beer in the backcountry.

Homebrewing Berliner Weisse 4:50 – 5:20p
Jeff Merriman (Northern Brewer/Certified Cicerone®) & Jace Marti (August Schell Brewing Co.)

One of the growing trends in American craft beer is the revival of nearly-extinct beer styles. Gose, Grätzer, Sahti, and Berliner Weisse have all seen a resurgence in the last few years. With a little bit of know-how you can make great versions of these beers at home. Jace Marti from August Schell Brewing Company shares the insights gained from creating the Noble Star series of Berliner Weisse style beers. Northern Brewer manager Jeff Merriman brings it home with the practical knowledge for backyard brewers.

Terroir of Twin Ports 5:30 – 6:00p
Emily Vikre (Vikre Distillery), Bryon Tonnis (Bent Paddle), Heiko Edwardson (Red Herring)

Alongside craft beer, craft distilling is booming. And the two have turned out to be terrific partners with artisanal spiritmakers and small brewers teaming up in the production process. The popularity of beer cocktails shows that the final products work pretty well together, too. Find out how Bent Paddle Brewing and Vikre Distillery are partnering right here in Duluth and learn how to whip up a tasty treat from Red Herring cocktail whiz Heiko Edwardson.

Rob and I hope to see you in the tent. Cheers!

 

Schell’s 30th-Anniversary Wheat Beer Collection

July 18th, 2014

1984 Brewers Log. Photo courtesy of Jace Marti.

In 1984, the August Schell Brewing Company made history by being the first American brewery to make a wheat beer since prohibition. San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company has long claimed to have been the first, but new information reveals that this is not true. Here is Schell’s Assistant Brewmaster Jace Marti talking on MNbeer.com about the subject.

“I was at the Craft Brewers Conference 2 years ago, and met Bob Brewer from Anchor Brewing Company (what a perfect name for the brewing industry) who has worked there I believe since the beginning. He said that Anchor had always claimed to have brewed the first wheat beer in America, but he wanted me to double check because of when ours came out. I went back and check our records, and on July 17th, 1984, we brewed our first batch of “Weiss Beer.” And by an unbelievable coincidence, and completely unknown to each other, Anchor Brewing brewed theirs on the exact same day! The first two wheat beers brewed in America since prohibition were both brewed on the same day and neither one of us knew it till recently. I will say though, that we mashed in the night before and knocked out the next morning, when the brew sheet would have been filled out, so technically….” – See more at: http://mnbeer.com/2014/06/25/schells-weizen-series/#sthash.gGQXeIdk.dpuf

A wheat beer would have been a big leap at the time, particularly a German-style wheat beer with its peculiar, fermentation-derived banana and clove flavors and aromas. The Midwest was still hardcore American lager country. The craft beer movement was just getting started on the West and East Coasts. The likes of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Anchor Steam hadn’t yet penetrated the heartland. Summit was still two years from delivering its first keg of Extra Pale Ale. What were they thinking?!!?

Whatever they were thinking, it worked. Although it has gone through some changes over the years – the original version was a filtered Krystall Weizen – Schell’s Hefeweizen is still one of the best beers in an overall stunning lineup. Sadly it’s now just a seasonal, with a maddeningly short season.

To celebrate the beer’s 40th anniversary Schell’s has introduced a commemorative 12-pack that contains four different iterations of the Hefe – the original 1984 version, the current 2014 version, a Dampfbier, and a Weizenbock. I’ve been anticipating this for a long time.

Here’s my notes:

Schell’s Weiss Beer 2014
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: German Hefeweizen
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Fermentation character dominates with high banana and medium to medium-low clove. Leans to the banana ester side. Light lemony citrus. Medium-high saltine cracker or bread dough wheat malt. No hops.

Appearance: Medium gold and cloudy. Full, mousse-like white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Again, fermentation flavors lead. Flavor leans more to banana than clove, but clove does make a strong appearance. High notes of lemon citrus come in shortly after taking it into the mouth. Bready/doughy wheat malt with a touch of sharpness. Medium sweetness that lingers into the finish. There is no hop flavor. Hop bitterness is low. No alcohol. No astringency. Very low acidity.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, but mouthfilling. Pillowy. High carbonation. A bit of carbonic bite.

Overall Impression: A beautiful example of the Bavarian wheat beer style. Good balance of banana and clove, with neither one coming on too strong. Light and refreshing, yet filling at the same time. What more can be said? I wish this were still a year-round offering.

Schell's 1984 Weiss BeerSchell’s Weiss Beer 1984
Style: German Krystall Weizen
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Low banana, low clove, bubblegum. Low bready wheat malt. No hops. Sweet. Balance is to fermentation. Banana over clove.

Appearance: Medium-gold, mostly clear with slight haze. Full, fluffy, white head with excellent retention.

Flavor: Low bitterness – very low. Low bready wheat, not sharp. Low banana and clove yeast. Bubblegum. Low spicy hops. Medium sweetness. Finish is off-dry to semi-sweet.

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

Overall Impression: Light and refreshing if a little uninteresting. Like a wheaty, American lager with a bit of yeast flavor. Certainly adventurous for its day, but rather tame by today’s standards.

Schell’s Weizenbock
Style: Weizenbock
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Fermentation character leads – bubblegum, banana and low clove. Medium bready wheat malt. Low notes of stone fruit and black pepper. Light alcohol.

Appearance: Light gold and very cloudy. Large stand of mousse-like, white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Medium to medium-high sweetness. Bitterness is low. No hop flavors. High, bready and saltine cracker wheat. Clove spice is in the forefront with banana close behind. Low stonefruit and candied citrus background. Low alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Full to medium-full body. Some warming. Carbonation is high. Creamy and mouthfilling.

Overall Impression: Lovely.

Dampfbier
Style: Dampfbier (All barley beer fermented with wheat beer yeast)
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

I took notes on this one, but I can’t find them anywhere. But as Boulevard Brewing founder John McDonald once told me, “That’s how it should be.” I guess you’ll just have to pick up the 12-pack and judge this one for yourself.

Summit Union Series #3 – Southern Cape Sparkling Ale

June 18th, 2014

Beer styles emerge for many reasons. Ingredient availability, economics, consumer taste, and water are all factors. Even climate can play a role, as in the development of “steam beer” in San Francisco where 19th-century lager brewers were unable to rely on frigid winters and ice to achieve cold fermentation and conditioning temperatures. Because these factors tend to be regional, beer styles also often begin as regional phenomenon.

And so it is with Sparkling Ale, the native-born style of Australia. From the earliest days of the Australian colony, beer was seen as a more wholesome and less intoxicating alternative to rum, whiskey and other spirits. A strong brewing industry, it was believed, would also have a favorable economic impact on the new colony, providing jobs and promoting agriculture. Brewing was encouraged and even subsidized with government grants.

Brewing in Australia was a difficult proposition at the time. Ingredient supply was sporadic and the warmer climate than that “back home” in England led to beer that was often subpar. This led to the closure of many of these original breweries. Those that survived sometimes adulterated their beer with opper sulphate, tobacco and cocculus indicus (a very bitter poison) to make up for their shortcomings.

Australian beer gained a negative reputation, leading to a growth in the market for imported beers, including the newly-rising lager beers. The warm climate created a demand from consumers for lighter, more refreshing brews, and lager beers filled that bill. Like the inventors of cream ale in the United States, ale brewers in Australia responded by creating a light, effervescent ale that came to be known as sparkling ale.

The style’s popularity was short lived. As lager beer continued to dominate, sparkling ale breweries closed, eventually leaving only one – the Cooper’s Brewery. Cooper’s Sparkling Ale is still available and until very recently was the only version of the style to be had in this country.

With its newest Union Series beer – Southern CapeSummit Brewing Company has brought us another, at least for a limited time. The Union Series is designed to showcase new and lesser known ingredients. In this case these new ingredients all hail appropriately from the southern hemisphere. Malts come from Australia and Chile, hops from New Zealand and South Africa. Here is Head Brewer Damian McConn giving an introduction to the new ale.

Here’s my notes:

Summit Southern Cape Sparkling AleSouthern Cape
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Australian Sparkling Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
ABV: 4.4%
IBU: 47

Aroma: Malt centered with underlying fruity hop and ester compliment. Honey – like a sheet of beeswax. Fresh bread and graham cracker. Juicy fruit gum. Dried apricots. Light white-wine vinous notes.

Appearance: Medium gold and clear. 1 inch, creamy, white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Malt centered with more-than-balancing bitterness that lingers into the finish. Same honey notes from the aroma. Graham cracker and low toast. Sweetness is low. Hop bitterness comes midway, hitting the back of the tongue with a cutting sharpness. Hop flavor is low, providing a bit of spice and limey citrus. Subtle stone-fruit esters round it out. The end is all hops, with long-lingering bitterness dominating the dry finish.

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

Overall Impression: Delicate but forceful somehow at the same time. A super-dry finish and slightly higher-than-normal carbonation keeps it light and lively on the tongue. The waxy honey notes ground it. Bitterness is stronger than I personally would prefer, but not enough to stop me from drinking it. For some reason I have the urge to make salad dressing with this. Hmmmm…..

A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland

June 2nd, 2014

A Perfect Pint's Beer Guide to the Heartland

In December 2010 I embarked on a journey to catalog every brewery in four states; Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. Three-and-a-half years, over 10,000 miles, 30 hotel rooms, countless road meals, and a whole lot of beer later, the job is complete.

I am thrilled to announce the publication by the University of Illinois Press of A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland, a comprehensive compendium of brewing in the upper-Midwest. In it I profile 236 breweries, of which I actually visited over 210. On my visits I talked to brewers and owners, toured facilities, sampled beer, chatted up customers and tasted food to get a clear picture of the story behind each and every place.

Every profile includes the basic who-what-where, along with other information such as brewery size and maker, lists of beers, nearby attractions, amenities, and my personal notes on what made each place unique to me. I also give my personal pick for which beer to try from every brewery. It’s a great companion for beer travelers to the region.

In addition to the brewery profiles, three historical articles at the beginning chart the rise of the brewing giants after prohibition, tell the story of the Grain Belt brand, and show how old lagering caves are now being put to other uses. In the back is a glossary of beer terms.

The book is currently available at all the online booksellers as well as in major bookstores. If you want a signed copy, order it from my Perfect Pint Square Marketplace page. I’ll sign it and ship it off to you.

I’ve got a number of signing events schedules for the coming weeks.

Keep an eye on the Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland Facebook page for more events as scheduled.

Bent Brewstillery Moar Scottish Session IPA

May 19th, 2014

The session IPA train continues to roll. Smaller versions of America’s favorite beer keep flowing from breweries all over the country. The first Minnesota-brewed example of which I am aware was Summit’s Unchained #12: 100% Organic Ale released in early 2013. Now Roseville-based Bent Brewstillery has jumped on the trend with a new year-round offering called. Moar. Billed as a Scottish Session IPA, the beer delivers a low-test India ale with a decidedly British bent.

I’m a bit hard pressed though to figure out what classifies this as a “session IPA” rather than simply a special/best bitter. The ABV falls within the range for the best bitter style and the IBUs are only four points higher, an amount of extra bitterness that would go undetected by all but the most discriminating palates. In character it’s not too far off from the best bitter description offered by the BJCP. But you know what? Session IPA is a recently made up style anyway, so I’ll play along.

Here’s my notes:

Moar
Bent Brewstillery, Roseville, Minnesota
Style: Session IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle

Aroma: Caramel, biscuit and oranges. Fresh. Hops dominate slightly with the character of a freshly peeled orange. Low herbal/minty notes underneath. Toffee and dry-biscuit malt aromatics offer support. No alcohol. Low esters reinforce the orange hops.

Appearance: Medium-light orange/amber with a slight haze. Full head of creamy, white foam with low retention.

Flavor: Hops dominate. Medium-high bitterness rides through from start to finish. Citrus and herbal hop flavors carry over from the aroma, reinforced again by fruity esters to give the impression of freshly peeled orange. Malt offers some sweetness to balance the bitterness, but gives way to a super-dry finish. Flavors of toffee and biscuit linger after swallowing along with bitterness.

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

Overall Impression: Bent brewer Kristen England has done it again. Most session IPAs attempt to deliver IPA-level IBUs in a beer that can barely support them. England has opted instead for balance. The bitterness here is in line with the weight of the beer and the ability of the malt to offer support, making for a more drinkable beer. And malt character hasn’t been forgotten either. Toffee and biscuit flavors do more than just give the hops a place to sit.

Spiegelau/Rogue/Left Hand Stout Glass: How’s it Rate?

May 13th, 2014

spiegelau-stout-glass

My view is that until very recently, the majority of beer glassware selections have been based more on tradition than on what the glass actually delivers from the beer. Beer folk scream and wail about the cursed, straight-edged, shaker pint, but aside from larger volume and a bulbous protrusion that helps you keep hold of your glass when you’ve had one too many, I’d be hard pressed to say what a Nonic pint does that’s any better. And really, if you can’t grip your glass, it’s probably time to head home anyway.

When it comes to the right glass for the right juice, the wine people have it over the beer people in spades. They have a glass for nearly every varietal. And instead of tradition, they use science to design glassware that delivers the best experience from each grape. They pay attention to aromatic dispersion. They shape each glass type to deliver wine to just the right location on the tongue. To paraphrase glass maker George Riedel, “Wine glass design isn’t about emotion, it’s about physics.” Don’t believe it makes a difference? Take a Riedel class and see for yourself.

But beer glassware is coming of age. In the last couple years brewers have been collaborating with Riedel subsidiary Spiegelau to design beer-specific glassware with particular styles in mind. The first was the IPA glass designed with Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head that came out in 2013. While it was met with vociferous controversy in the beer blogosphere, my own comparative test found it to be at least minimally effective at delivering a better IPA experience.

Now comes the stout glass created by Spiegelau in collaboration with Rogue and Left Hand. Compared to the IPA glass, the announcement of the stout glass was greeted with relative silence. I’ve seen nary a blog post or tweet saying “yay” or “nay” regarding its efficacy. With that in mind I decided to give it a try.

The promotional materials for the glass make four main claims.

  • The voluminous, open bottom glass base drives beer and aromatic foam upward into the main bowl.
  • Ultra-pure quartz material makes for unsurpassed clarity and flawless, true color presentation of stout beer.
  • Wider, conical bowl significantly amplifies aromas and also provides superior flow to mid palate, improving the taste, mouthfeel and finish of complex stout beers.
  • Stark, angular shape and open base creates dramatic visual cascading effect into glass as beer is poured.

Stout Glass Test

To test these claims I pitted the new glass against the standard shaker pint and a Spiegelau tulip glass. Each glass was washed at the same time, using the same protocol. A full bottle of Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout was poured into each with similar vigor. I evaluated each glass for appearance, aroma, and flavor. One caveat must be stated. It is impossible to do a blind taste test of glassware, therefore it is possible that my evaluation was skewed by my subjective impression of each glass.

So how did the stout glass do?

Appearance

Contrary to Spiegelau’s claims about the stout glass, I did not notice any significant enhancement of the cascading effect in the foam. In fact, there was no cascading in any of the three glasses at all. I’m told that you have to pour pretty aggressively to get that from the Nitro Milk Stout. I apparently did not pour aggressively enough. That said, in terms of head formation and retention it was a toss-up between the stout glass and the shaker pint. Both formed a dense, creamy, half-inch head that stuck around for the entirety of my test – about 20 minutes. The stout glass has etched nucleation points on the bottom, but that didn’t seem to make a difference in this case. The tulip glass formed less head and the retention was considerably shorter. Both the tulip and shaker pint left the beer inky black and opaque. The narrower bottom on the stout glass did allow for a better evaluation of color and clarity. The design of the stout glass is attractive and certainly makes a stronger impression than the other two glasses.

For overall effect on appearance I give the edge to the stout glass.

C360_2014-05-12-20-29-16-268

Aroma

Here is where the biggest difference was seen, and the stout glass really delivered. The shaker pint gave only the faintest of aromatic impressions – vague notes of coffee and bitter chocolate with no hop aromatics. The tulip allowed for a more layered experience of the roasted malts, with stronger coffee and chocolate character coming through. The stout glass exploded with olfactory satisfaction. Overall the aromas were far richer and more nuanced. Textured tones of café mocha with subtle dry-roasted, Oreo-cookie chocolate became apparent. My notes say “coffee and cream.” Faint licorice and herbal hop aromatics were also apparent.

For overall aromatic delivery the stout glass wins hands down.

Flavor

Here is was a tie between the stout glass and the tulip. The shaker pint gave a full-flavored experience, but it seemed overly thick and sweet – more milk chocolate than bittersweet. In contrast, both the tulip and the stout glass emphasized a drier roast. The milk stout sweetness was there mid-palate, but better balanced with roasted malt and hop bitterness – less milkshake-like than from the shaker pint. The coffee and cream character came through in both, as did the bittersweet chocolate.

Finding very little difference between the flavors from the stout or the tulip glass, I declare it a tie.

Conclusion

Based on its slight edge in appearance and huge lead in aromatics, I give the Spiegelau stout glass a hearty thumbs up. It delivers the goods and looks stylish as well. There is one downside to this glass though. It is a total pain in the ass to clean. The bowl on top is tall enough that it is impossible to reach to the bottom. I had to use a fork to move my sponge around in the base. But if you are a glass geek it is probably worth the effort.

The stout glass is available for order at www.spiegelauUSA.com. Branded versions can be had at www.rogue.com and www.lefthandbrewing.com.