Boulevard Brewing Co. – The Calling IPA

March 25th, 2015

I don’t have a lot of back-story here. I like the Smokestack Series beers from Boulevard Brewing Co. They have a new one that will be year-round. It’s called The Calling IPA. A simple malt bill of just pale 2-row barley malt supports a blend of eight different hops – Mosaic, Equinox, Galaxy, Amarillo, Simcoe, Bravo, Topaz, and Cascade. That’s a lotta hops.

Here’s my notes:

the_calling_12oz_bottleThe Calling
Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, Missouri
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
8.5% ABV
75 IBU
6 SRM

Aroma: All hops – Citrus, lemons, grapefruit, tropical fruits. The deep, juicy kind of tropical – mango and guava. Low herbal/mint notes. Faint malt sweetness with neutral character. Low floral alcohol. Super fruity, sweet and juicy, with contrasting floral alcohol.

Appearance: Light gold and hazy. Moderate, creamy, white head with moderate retention.

Flavor: Juicy hop flavors dominate over low, grainy malt sweetness. Bitterness is restrained, but lingers into the finish at low levels. Pineapple. Tropical fruit. Mangoes. Lemon curd. Pine resin. The lemon shines bright in the off-dry finish. Moderate alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation. Low alcohol warming. Not astringent.

Overall Impression: Bitterness is surprisingly restrained at 75 IBU. The 8.5% load of malt sweetness more than amply balances it. This beer holds its alcohol well. It’s an example of style-creep that has occurred since the last BJCP guidelines were written. This falls into Double IPA range, but Boulevard calls it an IPA. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

LynLake Brewery – A First Look

March 20th, 2015

LynLake Brewery

Progress has been slow in the continuing quest to satisfy my New Year’s resolution by visiting all the TC taprooms that I have neglected. I’m sorry. I’m really busy right now. But it is always on my mind – a little nagging voice in my head telling me, “Get your butt out of the house and go drink some beer!” I finally listened to that voice, pried free some time, and got my butt into the next taproom on my list, LynLake Brewery.

lyndale bingoLynLake is located on South Lyndale Avenue just north of Lake Street (thus the name) between The Herkimer and Moto-I. It occupies a most fascinating building. The Lyndale Theater opened in 1915 as a silent movie house and operated as a cinema until it closed in 1952. An interesting bit of trivia, actor Eddie Albert was once a manager there. That’s Oliver Wendell Douglas for any fellow Green Acres fans. The building became a grocery store in 1954 and was a furniture store from 1962 to 1972. The American Legion used it as a bingo hall from 1973 to 1990. After that came an antique store, which closed around 2006.

The building’s history plays a role in defining the feel of the place. The high, movie theater ceiling gives it a fantastically open feel. Surviving gold gilt on the cross members, together with the exposed brick walls evoke a nostalgic feel of another era. I kept looking for a proscenium arch on the back wall. This old-time feel is amplified by the antique looking light bulbs that illuminate the space and the bent bike wheels that hang over the bar. The brewhouse rises at the back of the room like the set of a 1930s Frankenstein film.

20150318_183322

They don’t serve food at LynLake, nor can they have food trucks parked on Lyndale Avenue. But the table flip-charts have menus from a number of nearby restaurants that will deliver. As the instructions on the cards say, just call them up, order, pay, and eat.

An elevator and rather impressive staircases on either side of the room lead up to a delightful rooftop patio. There is ample picnic table-type seating and two fire pits to warm you up on cooler spring and fall days. The Lyndale Avenue side of the patio offers a great view of the Minneapolis skyline. It will be a great place for a beer this summer.

Although nothing was terrible, I found the beers to be a bit hit or miss. Some were great, some not so much. So let’s start with the great.

Sideburns Oat Raisin Milk Stout on nitro was fantastic. It’s full-bodied, rich, and rummy, with huge cocoa notes giving the impression of creamy, melted, bittersweet chocolate. The raisins come across as a faint, background hint of dark fruit. There is some licorice. A touch of dry, black malt roast offers a balancing counterpoint to the sweetness.

My second favorite on the list fell at the opposite end of the spectrum from Sideburns. Ponyboy Gold Lager is light, sessionable, and utterly delightful. Beer nerds tend to poo-poo American-style lagers. There really is no reason for it when you can get one as good as this. It’s simple and lightly sweet, with overtones of toasted grain if you are willing to look for them. Bitterness is medium-low and supported by spice and lemon hop flavors. If you want a beer for the long haul, this is it.

MMC 63 American Brown Ale was one of the two cask-conditioned offerings available during my visit. It was a well-done cask – clear, smooth, and served at the proper temperature. The beer was good, too. Caramel, nuts, a touch of chocolate, and a bit of roast make up the body. It’s balanced by a moderate level of bitterness. Tasty!

Take 6 is a decent if not great American India Pale Ale. It emphasizes hop flavor and aroma over bitterness and in fact comes off as just a little bit sweet – Midwestern style. Peppery spice and lemon-pith citrus give the beer its zing. There is a hint of that hop-derived garlic of which I am not a fan. With so many great IPAs out there, I’d say drink something else while you’re here. Sideburns, for instance.

Rubbish Oat Amber Ale was the biggest disappointment. There is a lot going on in this so-called Scottish amber ale. Caramel, raisins, cherries, and chocolate all make an appearance. The beer poured with a heavy haze. The murky appearance matched the profile. The myriad flavors all just seemed jumbled together without crisp definition.

Despite a couple of less appealing beers, I’d say that overall for ambiance, beer, and the rooftop patio, LynLake Brewery is worth a stop. Hours are:
Wednesday and Thursday: 5pm-12am
Friday: 4pm-1am
Saturday: 12pm-1am
Sunday: 12pm-10pm

20150318_172023

Utah’s Uinta Brewing Co. Enters Minnesota

March 10th, 2015

I love Utah!

From snow-capped mountains in the north to slick-rock desert canyons in the south, it is a natural wonderland of truly extraordinary beauty. I visit the southern, high desert every year. If I don’t get my annual Utah fix I get all itchy in my soul. There is nothing more spiritually regenerating than being alone in the absolute silence of a canyon watching the bright blaze of oranges and reds as the rocks light up at sunset. I would move out there if I could come up with a way to make a living that I think I would actually enjoy.

What many people don’t realize is that there is actually a pretty decent craft beer scene in Utah. Salt Lake City is home to 18 breweries, including Squatters, Epic, Bohemian, Wasatch, and the oldest, Uinta. There are a number of others spread around the state for a total of 30-plus. As the headline on the Utah Beer Blog states, “We may live in a desert, but we’re not dry.”

There is a misconception about Utah beer that deserves clearing up. The belief is that brewers in the state can only make the dreaded “3.2 beer.” The first thing to tackle here is exactly what that means. There are two ways to measure alcohol content – by weight and by volume. The two are not equivalent. For whatever reason most state regulators measure alcohol by weight. The rest of us talk about alcohol by volume. 3.2% alcohol by weight translates to approximately 4% alcohol by volume – about the same as many American lagers or Guinness Draught Stout. The English and the Scots have been making full-flavored ales, bitters, browns, and stouts at 4% ABV and much lower for a very long time. The fact is that sessionable, low-alcohol beers don’t have to be flavorless.

The second piece of this common belief is that Utah brewers are not restricted to 4% alcohol. Draft beers have to be 4% or less. They can put whatever they want into a bottle. There are plenty of good IPAs, double IPAs, and even barleywines being made in the Beehive State.

I like to drink local when I travel. So when I make my annual western trek, I drink a lot of Utah beer. I have very seldom been disappointed, even by the low-alcohol offerings. A 4% beer tastes pretty damn good after spending an entire day hiking in the dry, desert air. One of my favorites has always been Uinta Brewing Company. Pretty much everything I have tasted of theirs – from small beers to big – has been tasty and satisfying. So I was pretty psyched to learn that this brewery is entering the Twin Cities market this week. The beers being launched here should put the 4% myth to rest. They include a 9.2% alcohol Imperial Black IPA and a 9.5% Double IPA!

We actually had Uinta beers in the Twin Cities for a very brief time several years ago. Co-owner Steve Kuftinic has relations here and brought the occasional case with him when he would he would visit. It’s good to see them back. There is a launch event this Wednesday at Mackenzie’s Pub if you want to check them out.

I sampled a few brews prior to the launch. Just to make sure they were up to snuff, you know.

Here’s my notes:

wyldWyld
Uinta Brewing Co., Salt Lake City, Utah
Style: Extra Pale Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
4% ABV
29 IBU

Aroma: Aromatics are low overall. Bright and delicate citrus hops – lemon. Some floral notes. Sweet malt beneath, with some biscuit notes. Low esters – pineapple. Some English-like butter.

Appearance: Deep gold with a slight haze. Moderate, dense, white foam with good retention.

Flavor: Very light and delicate – almost thin. Bitterness is the focus. Initial bitterness gives way to sweetness and fruit, coming back to bitterness at the end. Malt is very low – light sweetness with a biscuity, grainy character. Hop flavors reflect aroma – citrus, lemon, oranges, some floral. Low esters – pineapple. Faint butter. Tannic, tea-like drying in the finish.

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

Overall Impression: An English bitter profile with American hop flavor and aromas. Sessionable and summery. Grainy, biscuit malt supports impressive, yet smooth bitterness for such a small beer. Hops are what it’s all about, but not overly aggressively.

babaBaba Black Lager
Style: Schwarzbier
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
4% ABV
32 IBU

Aroma: Aromatics generally low, but malt dominated. Subtle roast malt – coffee and faint cocoa. Bread crust. Very low spicy, noble hops.

Appearance: Very dark brown, nearly opaque black. Full, creamy, beige head with good retention.

Flavor: Malt dominated. Leads with cocoa and roasted malt bitterness. Midway some creamy, bittersweet chocolate comes in, giving an impression of increased sweetness. Other malt notes of bread crust. Low citrus/spice noble hop flavor. Hop bitterness is medium. Finish is very dry, accentuated by dry, roasted malt – coffee grounds and lightly burnt acrid.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Low roast malt astringency.

Overall Impression: A really nice, if a bit roasty version of a German-style, black lager. Made with organic barley and hops. I would drink a lot of this. Actually, I have.

dubheDubhe
Style: Imperial Black IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
9.2% ABV
109 IBU

Aroma: Roast and resin. Chocolate and cocoa malt. Resinous citrus/pine hops. Oranges. Grapefruit rind.

Appearance: Very dark brown – nearly opaque black. Clear. Thick, creamy, tan head with good retention.

Flavor: Malt and hops in balance. Rich. Malt character is strong – chocolate roast. Medium sweetness balanced by high and long-lingering hop bitterness, which is accentuated by bitterness from roasted malt. Same resin and citrus hop flavor as in the aroma. High orange and grapefruit pith notes contrast the chocolate. Alcohol is apparent – a touch hot. Finish is off-dry. Very low acrid black malt notes add dryness.

Mouthfeel: Creamy. Full body. Medium carbonation. Medium alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: Big, black, bold, and bitter. The chocolaty malt plays a large role here, giving it a pleasing, creamy richness. Contrasting citrus makes is like a flavored chocolate bar. The only real distraction is a bit of booziness from the alcohol.

Grains & Grapes Tour De Oregon

March 4th, 2015

Traveling just got a little bit more interesting!

Announcing Amusée Excursions: Wine and Beer Global Travel led by certified beverage professionals – Sommelier Leslee Miller & Cicerone Michael Agnew.

Leslee and I have been joined at the hip for several years now, spreading the good news of beer and wine. Our classes and events have earned a reputation for fun and excellence with aficionados across the Twin Cities and beyond. As our businesses have expanded and our relationships with breweries and wineries have strengthened, we feel it is time to share our insatiable love for not only beer & wine but travel as well!

With that in mind, we are launching Grains & Grapes Adventure Tours. And we’re starting off big. This year is already jam packed with a thrilling schedule of wine and beer adventures from Oregon to Germany.

Tour de Oregon (that’s o-re-GOHN), November 4-8, 2015

Leslee and I very excited about announcing our first trip. Tour de Oregon has taken us well over a year to plan (because we wanted it be THAT special!). It is now ready for registration. I can promise you it will be an amazing VIP travel experience for any wine/beer enthusiast!

Start your journey in Oregon’s ‘City of Roses’ — Portland! Explore Portland’s food and libation culture as we lead you through some of the city’s most coveted food sites and pairings. Enjoy a combo of privately led brewery tours by some of the city’s most talented brewmasters, taste from a variety of Portland’s legendary food-carts, and savor a perfectly paired chef/sommelier wine dinner in the heart of the city’s Pearl District.

Then travel to one of the world’s most envied, world-class sites for Pinot Noir – the Willamette Valley! We’ll stay in one of Condé Naste’s 2014 Top 25 Resorts, the Allison Inn & Spa, (named by the magazine ‘a jewel of a resort’) as we spend three days touring the terroir of the valley’s finest restaurants and wineries. Enjoy privileged access to many of the Pacific Northwest’s most talked about wine country experiences, as you sip your way through an array of fantastic Willamette Valley winery tours and tastings. Savor an afternoon walk through the Jory clay soils of a Dundee vineyard tour and experience a lavish winery cave dinner paired to one of the valley’s most celebrated Pinot Noir house’s exclusive portfolio. But the Willamette Valley is not just about wine. There is beer there as well. You’ll indulge in a brewmaster’s luncheon with the founder of one of Oregon’s newest and most interesting breweries, Wolves & People, with a collection of the brewery’s farmhouse-style gems paired to the Allison Inn’s award-winning food.

As if our adventure hasn’t already been a whirlwind of unbelievable experiences, we wrap up the weekend with a gorgeous private dinner in a cozy Dundee restaurant featuring a hand-crafted menu with beer and wine pairings selected by your Sommelier and Cicerone hosts.

This is truly an excursion you will be talking about for years to come; a trip that exceeds what Leslee and I plan for ourselves when we head to beer and wine territory!

grains&grapes

Trip Inclusions:

  • 1 night stay at the historic Heathman Hotel, downtown Portland
  • 3 night stay at Condé Naste’s award-winning inn, The Allison Inn & Spa
  • Full luxury coach travel from the Heathman Hotel to the Willamette Valley
  • 2 Brewery tours & tastings in the city of Portland (Widmer Brothers, Hair of the Dog, and maybe one more surprise. Shhhhh…)
  • 2 hotel breakfasts
  • A Brewmaster’s luncheon with Wolves & People Brewery owner, Christian DeBenedetti, at the Allison Inn & Spa
  • A winery luncheon with winemaker & owner of Youngberg Hill Winery, Wayne Bailey
  • A private winery cave dinner at Archery Summit Winery
  • A Beer/Wine paired dinner at Reds Hills Provincial Dining
  • A Chef/Sommelier paired dinner at Blue Hour Restaurant of Portland’s historic, Pearl District
  • 3 Willamette Valley winery tours & tastings (Youngberg Hill, Colene Clemens & Argyle Wineries)
  • An afternoon guided vineyard tour through some of the valley’s most coveted Pinot Noir sites with one of the valley’s most famous vineyard managers
  • Professional onsite coordination and assistance

Trip does not include:

  • Round-trip airfare (Plan to arrive in ‘PDX’ in time for our first event which begins @ 5pm on Wed, Nov 4th–Departure at your leisure on Sunday, Nov 8th)
  • Travel insurance
  • Personal incidentals
  • Airport transfers in both your home city and Portland

Payment Details:

  • $2650 per person includes the details listed above
  • Payment may be made by cash or check, or by credit card (processing fee of 4% applies to credit card payments)
  • Checks may be made payable to Amusée & mailed to: Amusée, P.O. Box 583242, Minneapolis, MN 55458
  • Prior to departure, a trip itinerary and package will be mailed to each passenger with full detail of the trip’s layout
  • Once payment is made, trip cost is nonrefundable.
  • Call 612.655.4839 to reserve your spot today! (Trip is limited to just 20 seats.)

Due the nature of the program inclusions combined with the limited space, we are giving priority to double occupancy requests (couples or two singles sharing a room) so we can fully use our block of 20 rooms. Single occupancy participation in group programs requires an additional fee or ‘single supplement’ as you would encounter on a cruise. We wanted to avoid this on our inaugural excursion, but will evaluate the demand and consider this option for future excursions. Thank you for your understanding.

Summit Unchained #18: Hop Silo Double IPA

February 26th, 2015

Summit Brewing Company held out for almost 30 years. They declined a ride on the über-hopped bandwagon. While everyone else was brewing big, bitter, IPAs and double IPAs (even some who shouldn’t, given their overall mission), Summit held strong. It was only a couple of years ago that they finally relented with the release of Sága. Now, with the eighteenth beer in the Unchained Series they have gone whole hog with a Double IPA.

I’m bored with hops, in case that wasn’t clear. I know all IPAs are not alike, but whenever I taste a new one I can’t help but say to myself, “Yeah, it’s another IPA.” They are not all alike, but they are all so very, very similar. And there are so damn many of them.

But I won’t harsh on Summit too much for entering the fray. It was bound to happen sooner or later. And Hop silo Double IPA is part of the Unchained Series. Brewers can do what they want. And brewer Eric Harper is mixing the style up a bit by combining all English malts with ample dosages of a variety of American hops, including a new one called Lemondrop. Even though double IPA is not my favorite style of beer, I was intrigued and anxious to give it a whirl.

Here’s my notes:

Summit Hop Silo Double IPAUnchained #18: Hop Silo Double IPA
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Double/Imperial IPA
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
8.3% ABV
101 IBU

Aroma: Hops dominate, but don’t explode from the glass. It’s an herbal/savory hop experience as much as a fruity one. Spearmint and herbs. Tropical fruit – mango and pineapple. A background of garlic chives. Light dry-hopped grassiness. Malt is very slight with a bit of a caramel tinge and a faint impression of sweetness. Alcohol is noticeable.

Appearance: Full, creamy, off-white head with good retention. Medium copper color and brilliant.

Flavor: Flavor follows the aroma but with a stronger malt presence. Hops still dominate. Bitterness is medium-high – relatively easy-drinking for the style. It intensifies as you sit with the beer. Malt sweetness balances well, but doesn’t overpower the bitter. English toffee and toasted biscuit define the malt character. Hop flavors are high with the same savory/fruity quality as the aroma. Herbs, mint, chive, garlic, ripe mango, pineapple, and a background hint of lemon. The finish is semi-dry with lingering bitterness and fruit.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Low hop astringency. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: A moderately intense double IPA. The lingering bitterness has bit of a harsh edge, but isn’t overwhelming. I am particularly sensitive to the garlic and chive character that comes from certain hops – Apollo likely in this case. It’s not a flavor that I care for in beer and unfortunately I pick it up fairly strongly in this one. With the caveat that I’m not a huge fan of the double IPA, I will say that this is not my favorite beer of the Unchained Series. It’s well-enough made, but not to my taste for reasons mentioned. Your mileage may vary.

Your first chance to try Hop Silo will be at Winterfest this Friday and Saturday night at the Union Depot  in St. Paul. Apparently there are still tickets available. An official release will be held at the Summit Beer Hall on Saturday, February 28th from 4-9pm. You’ll be able to try the beer and chat with brewer Eric Harper. Further release events will follow all week long at locations throughout the Twin Cities.

O’hara’s Irish Pale Ale and O’hara’s Double IPA

February 21st, 2015

The Irish Pale Ale and Double IPA from Carlow Brewing Company are sure to shock many American hopheads. They don’t scrape the taste buds from your tongue. They don’t knock you out with alcohol after just one glass. They are balanced, nuanced, and drinkable enough to have many. Both fall at the low end of the scale for alcohol and IBU according to the BJCP guidelines, but who really cares. Isn’t it all about enjoyment?

Here’s my notes:

beers-oharas-irish-pale-ale-mainO’Hara’s Irish Pale Ale
Carlow Brewing Company, Carlow, Ireland
Style: “Contemporary Style IPA” English IPA
Serving Style: 11.2 oz. bottle
5.2% ABV
50 IBU

Aroma: Citrus – orange peel and grapefruit. Earthy. Buttery, English toffee. Low notes of toasty biscuit with orange marmalade.

Appearance: Full head of creamy, off-white foam. Moderate retention. Broke quickly into bigger bubbles. Dark gold to light copper color. Slight haze.

Flavor: Peach and tangerine fruits ride over the top. Bitterness is high, but balanced with the rest of the beer. It doesn’t overwhelm. Bitterness rides through from start to finish. Hop flavors range from grapefruit pith and tangerines to earthy, herbal, and even slightly minty. Resinous. Malt is just underbalanced with the hops and bitterness. Toffee and toasty biscuit profile. English yeast character – butterscotch, orange. Finish is off-dry with lingering citrus and earthy hop flavors and bitterness. Slightly minty.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium to medium-low carbonation. Slight bite of astringency.

Overall Impression: An English leaning IPA, but with the aromatic and flavor twist of citrusy American hops like Amarillo. Low alcohol is in keeping with modern English interpretations of the IPA style.

our-beers-double-ipaO’Hara’s Double IPA
Carlow Brewing Company, Carlow, Ireland
Style: Double/Imperial IPA
Serving Style: 11.2 oz. bottle
7.5% ABV
60 IBU

Aroma: Nearly even balance of malt/hop/yeast. Light biscuit and caramel malt. Butterscotch. Hops in balance – herbal, rosemary, mint. English fruitiness. Vaguely orange and toffee. Earthy.

Appearance: Full and dense head of off-white foam with excellent retention. Deep gold and brilliant.

Flavor: Full and rich, but still finishes off-dry. Caramel maltiness with biscuit and stone fruit syrup notes. Light toast. Bitterness is medium to medium-high – low by American standards for DIPA. More English style. Light alcohol sweetness, especially in the finish. Hops are earthy, herbal and orange citrus. Apricot and mango. Butter/butterscotch and English esters. Off-dry finish with lingering bitterness, earth, fruit, and alcohol.

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

Overall Impression: Very balanced double IPA. Of course in the American context it falls in the range of a regular IPA in both ABV and IBU. But it’s not brewed for us. It’s made for the Irish pub culture that emphasizes knocking back a few pints. It may be a disappointing DIPA for American consumers, but I definitely prefer it to many American versions.

O’Hara’s Leann Folláin and Barrel-Aged Leann Folláin

February 20th, 2015

Carlow Brewing Company’s O’Hara’s Leann Folláin Stout fits into the BJCP category of foreign extra stout. You can think of it as a stronger, richer version of the Irish dry stout style. As the name might suggest, this type of stout that was originally brewed for export, often to tropical countries that were part of the British Empire. The BJCP recognized a fruitier, sweeter “tropical” version and a bitterer, roastier “export” version. Leann Folláin is definitely the latter. The brewery also makes a version of this beer aged for 90 days in Irish whiskey barrels. If you are looking for a St. Patrick’s Day alternative to the standard dry stout, either one might be a good bet.

Here’s my notes:

leann-folainO’Hara’s Leann Folláin
Carlow Brewing Company, Carlow, Ireland
Style: Foreign Extra Stout
Serving Style: 11.2 oz. bottle
6% ABV
45 IBU

Aroma: Bitter chocolate and a hint of dry, black-malt roast. Low herbal hops break through the malt. Low notes of caramel and orange citrus. Earthy – fresh loam.

Appearance: Rich, creamy, tan/beige head. Excellent retention. Opaque black. Appears clear. Slight ruby highlights.

Flavor: Some roast malt sour comes in the middle and stays to the finish. Dry, roasted-malt character and bitter chocolate give Oreo cookie impression. Subtle dried fruits – golden raisin. Low sweetness, very dry in the finish with attenuation accentuated by dry roast. Finish lingers on flavors of dry, roasted malt. Bitterness is medium to medium-low but with a bite at the end. Low earthy/herbal hop flavor, but very subtle. Licorice.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-light body. Surprisingly light for a 6% beer. Medium carbonation. Slight astringency.

Overall Impression: Like a stronger version of an Irish Dry Stout. Less creamy than expected, more dry and roasty like that style. They do call it an “extra Irish stout.” Very drinkable for its weight.

Barrel Aged Leann FolláinO’Hara’s Barrel Aged Series #4: Leann Folláin Irish Stout
Carlow Brewing Company, Carlow, Ireland
Style: Whiskey Barrel Aged Foreign Extra Stout
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
8.1% ABV
45 IBU

Aroma: Dark, bittersweet chocolate. Faint hint of dry, black malt roast. Caramel and vanilla. Rich. Irish whiskey character is very subtle, not the intense bourbon of some barrel-aged stouts. Low smoke.

Appearance: Huge, creamy, beige head with excellent retention. Very dark brown, nearly black and opaque. Appears clear. Ruby highlights.

Flavor: Chocolate malt leads the way – bittersweet. Whiskey comes in much fuller than in aroma. Takes over from the chocolate shortly. Whiskey seems almost to be separate from the beer, as if the beer and the whiskey are sitting in my mouth side by side at the same time, but not mixing. This is interesting, not bad. Low acidity – barrel or roast? Light smoke. Whiskey has a sharp edge. Low, acrid, black malt roast add some dryness to the finish. Flavor of whisky lingers after swallowing. Whiskey remains somewhat subtle. Becomes more layered and complex as it warms and the carbonation drops. Some alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Very high carbonation – prickly. Some carbonic bite. Medium-full body, lighter than expected. Not creamy. Light alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: The high carbonation gets in the way. It smoothes out as carbonation wanes. Not a whiskey fan, I appreciate the subtlety of the whiskey character. It adds flavor without feeling like I’m drinking a shot.

 

Brewer Interview: Seamus O’hara of Carlow Brewing Co.

February 19th, 2015

Valentine’s Day is over. We’ve survived Mardi Gras. It’s not too early to start planning for the next big holiday, St. Patrick’s Day.

I know, I know. Amateur day, you say. But does it have to be? Just because the rest of the world is crowding the Irish bars getting sloshed on green swill doesn’t mean that the good-beer loving rest of us should dump the holiday altogether. There is good Irish beer out there. Let’s reclaim St. Patrick’s Day!

And by “good Irish beer” I don’t mean Guinness, Harp, Smithwick’s, Murphy’s and all the other usual suspects. There is good craft beer from the Emerald Isle available to us here in the Twin Cities. Some of the best comes from the Carlow Brewing Company in Carlow, Ireland, brewers of the O’hara’s brand beers. If you haven’t had O’hara’s Irish Stout or Irish Red Ale, you haven’t had the real thing. These beers fit the mold of their respective styles, but are so much more flavorful than those from the bigger brewers that they almost seem like totally different things. Although I do have a couple of others that I turn to on occasion, if I am going to pour an Irish stout or red at a tasting event, it will more than likely be O’hara’s.

Founded in 1996 by brothers Seamus and Eamonn O’hara, Carlow is one of the pioneers of a rapidly expanding craft beer movement in Ireland. Where there were once only three or four brand available in any Irish pub, there are now a bevy of craft brands competing for tap space and winning converts to the cause.

Image from beerbloggersconference.org

A while back I had the opportunity to chat with Seamus O’hara over lunch at The Local. We talked about the brewery, but also about the state of craft beer in Ireland. As we went I was continually reminded of the state of craft beer in Minnesota and the Upper-Midwest region in general. Both are experiencing a rapid expansion based on education, festivals, and an evolving consumer palate. Both are seeing increasing pressure from bigger breweries whose market they are chipping away. It was fascinating to see how small breweries over there are coping with similar issues as those faced over here.

What follows is an edited transcription of that interview. It’s long, I know. But I found the perspective interesting. I remain committed to long-form journalism to tell the stories of beer and the beer industry. And come on, have our attention spans really gotten so short? I’ll follow up the interview over the next couple of days with tasting notes of different O’hara’s beers.

I’ve talked to a few folks from Ireland and I get varying opinions and attitudes towards Irish themed American bars.

So you got their opinions, you don’t need mine. Some of them are great, some of them are a bit contrived. It’s great that the Irish bar is a thing and that it’s out there. When you go in to chat with the owners they are so on top of their culture and history that they almost put you to shame. It’s only when you live abroad that you start to reflect on your culture and where you come from and all that. Certainly the first few times I came over to America with our beer, I’d go to Chicago or Boston and meet some of the people who had been over here for a long time or who were second or third generation and definitely I felt a little put to shame. I need to go home and educate myself. So with those guys it wasn’t contrived. It was really authentic. But also in some ways a kind of historic reflection, because Irish pubs have moved on. So it’s like an impression of an Irish pub from years gone by. But it’s always interesting.

Let’s get to the brewery. Give me some background. How did you come to running a brewery?

Actually my background is in biotech. As part of that we studied brewing and we had a pilot brewing plant in college. When I graduated I went to work in pharmaceutical biotech, but I was also an active homebrewer and just got into making beer and wine and all sorts of stuff. But it was funny, when I went to work in pharmaceuticals I was working abroad, initially in the UK, and that was the first time I got introduced to all the beers and cask ales. I kind of really got into it and really loved going to the bars for different guest beers each weekend. Three years later or so I moved back to Ireland and it was almost a shock to the system. I didn’t realize that we had such a limited selection – like the same three or four products in every pub in the country. So over a couple of years I kind of got the idea about maybe setting up a brewery. I got inspiration from American craft brewing that you can do it. You can set up a small brewery. It’s not just for the big guys. So that’s where the idea came from. Eventually myself and my brother just got together and worked out a plan. In 1996 basically, we set up a company and went about looking for a building and equipment. We raised a small amount of money from friends and family and the first products came on the market in 1998. I kept another job. It was kind of part time. We couldn’t afford to be full time. But it’s been great over the last three or four years to be full time. And we’ve had a lot of growth over the last three or four years.

You just alluded to this, but over here Ireland is known for a good pub culture, but not so much a good beer culture. So what gave you the idea that starting a small, craft brewery in Ireland was a good idea?

To be honest, looking back we didn’t really fully appreciate that fact. I suppose we were kind of a little bit naive. We kind of got excited ourselves about beer and thought that once people tasted this and got introduced to different beers they were going to be as excited as we were. But it’s not as straightforward as that. One of the reasons we started exporting as a relatively young company was for our survival. As we gradually grew our business in the local market we had other avenues of business. But I think over time the Irish palate has developed in terms of different beers. There are a lot more import beers now and a lot more local craft beers. But to be really honest I think Irish craft is about one percent of the market. Three years ago we were about half a percent of the market, so a lot of it has happened in the Irish market over the last three or four years. Before that it was kind of more specialist kinds of pubs. But now about 120 bars in Dublin have our beers on draft. I think there’s a total of 600 bars in Dublin, so it’s a good percentage. And there are other craft breweries out there as well, so craft has now kind of got a profile.

Craft brewing in Ireland is not something that we really think about over here. I don’t think I even knew it existed except for a couple of breweries like your own. Describe the craft beer scene there.

When we started there was kind of a first wave of breweries around the same time. There were up to about eight small breweries back in the late 90s. But we all had the same issues. Not only were there only the same beers in every pub, but because there had never been small breweries, none of the infrastructure was there for distribution. You couldn’t plug into a distributor. There was no line cleaning. You had to do everything yourself. So it was a challenge. From that time there are only three survivors, I think. But then there was a change in excise law in the early 2000s to allow an excise break for small breweries and that kind of helped the viability of the business. Bringing it up to date, one of the other hats I wear is that I’m involved in running craft beer festivals in Ireland. We started that business in 2011. Because there were so few opportunities to get craft beer out there we set up our own festivals. The first year we did it we had twelve breweries. The second year we had 16. The third year was 23. This year we think we’ll have 35. So there’s been quite an increase. It really has taken off in the last two or three years. It’s a recognized thing and category. Bar staff know about it. Pub owners know about it. It’s kind of opened up. It’s a really interesting time.

So obviously the Irish palate has developed.

Hugely, yeah. It was always progressing, but maybe it just gets over a critical mass and enough people are talking to enough people and suddenly it accelerates. And I think things like Twitter and Facebook helps get the word out. It’s that word of mouth thing that kind of accelerated it. The other key thing that happened in Ireland is that we had a steep recession that also hit the pub business. Something like a pub per day closed down in Ireland over the last five years. Prior to that they were all busy. It didn’t matter what they served. Then they went through a stage where they were saying, “Hang on a second. I’m losing business here. I need to look at my offering, my customers, and what they want.” They were certainly much more receptive. You could go in and talk about “what might it do for me?” So there was just a total mindset change in the bar business as well. I think that was the big catalyst.

In the early days, aside from the fact that there were only a few major brands, were there other things missing in the Irish beer scene that you wanted to fill in?

Definitely. At that time I was interested in any sort of wheat beer. Like American wheat ale type products. At the same time we were very interested in the Irish beer styles, which we kind of viewed as having been kind of watered down over the years. They’d become a bit insipid and dumbed down for the mass market. We wanted to bring the flavor back into the Irish beer styles. So we had kind of a twin thing. That’s why when we started out we started with a stout and a red and a wheat beer.

carlow-brewing-company

You’ve now got a double IPA.

Double IPA is about a year old. Again it’s a sign of how the market is developing in Ireland that people are into hoppier beers and are willing to drink a higher ABV beer. Our double IPA is still at the lower end of the ABV range for double IPAs. Again, it’s just our kind of pub culture in Ireland. That kind of pub culture, which is about drinking pints and having a good long night out. Plus we did some barrel aging. We got some whiskey barrels. We’ve done our extra stout Leann Folláin in Bushmills whiskey barrels. And we’ve done some seasonals. We just had a winter seasonal that was just kind of a spiced amber ale. We just brought out an amber ale called Amber Adventure, which we’re using southern hemisphere hops. We call it Amber Adventure because we’re going to play with hops and have an adventure with hops. For St. Patrick’s did a collaboration with some Polish brewers. We have an oatmeal stout that has polish hops and Irish malt. We’re really happy with that. That’s our first collaboration, so we’re kind of looking at those things as well. We’ve expanded our capacity a bit over the years. We’ve added more tanks a couple of times and we just have some more coming again. We’re keeping a bit behind the curve for our needs in terms of capacity, but where we were much more restricted previously, now were doing new beers. We’re doing seasonals. We can do collaborations.

Carlow-Brewing-1

So I am struck by how similar this all sounds to the American beer scene right now; the rapid expansion, continually coming up with new products. Part of that here is that breweries have to keep themselves front and center in the minds of serial drinkers, people who don’t have any brand loyalty, so they have to keep bringing out new things. Is that the same in Ireland?

That’s not really my driver to be honest. I’m a bit scared by that. For us it was more these are the things we wanted to do. We had a kind of a backlog of things we wanted to do in terms of product styles. But the craft beer consumer in Ireland is learning from America as well. There is a demand for new stuff and a little bit of rotation in the bars, but not as much as over here. I’m hoping we can get a balance. Honestly just from the business point of view when there is so much rotation and so much new things it’s hard to sustain that. I’m hoping we can manage it.

I don’t think it’s realistic, it’s just that is the state of the market here right now.

I think the Irish beer consumer as well, they like to try different beers, but they do tend to get one and stick with it. Maybe for what they buy to take home they are more adventurous and try new things, but a good 50 to 60 percent of beer consumption is still on-premise, so people tend to have a bit of a go-to beer at that end. So I don’t see it getting as bad as here, at least in the short term. But it probably will eventually.

Brand loyalty seems stronger in Ireland. I was doing a private party at a client’s house and they had some guests over from Ireland. I was pouring your Irish Stout, because that’s the one I typically pour. I said that it was more dimensional in flavor than Guinness and mentioned that I’m not a huge Guinness fan. Boy, I thought I was going to get killed for a second.

To be honest, Guinness is a huge success in Ireland. It’s one of these things that that kind of brand strength is out there. It’s one of the things that we’re up against. If we can get that kind of brand loyalty closer to our products that would be great. That’s part of what we’re trying to do in Ireland is educate. To say there is more out there. Try something different.

So how do you go about educating consumers?

We try to start with the bar staff. We go in and we taste one of our beers and give them some key information about the products. Get them kind of interested in it. We always invite them to come do tours of our brewery. It’s that kind of face-to-face, point of sale type thing. Also, the Grand Beer Festival. It’s good to mention that. That started in September 2011. I do kind of trace back a big jump in craft beer sales to around the same time. The festival has grown. We had 3000 people the first year. 6000 the second year. 10,000 the third year. But I think definitely it’s a case of one beer fan dragging his three mates along. I think the same thing happened with bar owners and bar managers. When you see 10,000 people in a big hall all enjoying this craft beer in a great atmosphere and a nice quality crowd, I think the feedback from the bar owners was, “Okay, I need to look at this harder because that’s the kind of audience I want in my pub.” And then we do sampling for customers as well. A lot of media sources in Ireland have been interested in the sector. We’ve got a lot of good PR. A lot of good online stuff as well, with beer bloggers kind of generally spreading the word. It’s those kind of things. I do think it’s one of the key things to grow the market.

What’s the situation with craft beer bars in Ireland?

There’s a few craft beer bars in Dublin. There’s probably five pubs now in Dublin that wouldn’t serve any Heineken or a Guinness. None of the big brands. Then there’s another layer of maybe 20 that would have fairly significant craft beer offerings. Most of the pubs that we would be in would have maybe three or four craft beer lines, which is kind of one of the challenges, because most Irish pubs don’t have a lot of beer lines. So as a craft brewer you’re fighting over a small number of lines. Molson Coors and a couple of other big companies are trying to target the same lines. So it is a challenge. But I think the bars that have focused on craft have been quite successful. So that’s going to bring more people to it. You know, I could see some people start adding more lines, but it’s still the early days in that regard.

I just keep being struck by how familiar all of this sounds to me.

Yeah. But I think familiar as in how recently. We’re probably ten or fifteen years behind. But it probably won’t take us ten or fifteen years to get there. We’re just starting, but it will probably accelerate. We don’t have any sour beer breweries for example. There’s nothing like the range and the depth of things going on. But we’re very happy with the way it’s going in Ireland right now. We’re on a wave. We hope that wave keeps going, moving forward, you know. I’m always concerned about what sort of backlash or activity the big breweries will come up with to try to keep us down, but you know, we’ll just have to deal with it.

We’re seeing things like that here. Are you seeing this kind of thing with the big breweries over there?

Yeah. But look, the genie is out of the bottle at this point. When you drink craft beer you can’t go back to drinking a mainstream beer. The market we have now, they can’t get it back. And there is growth there as people talk and taste. There will be short term setbacks, you know. A certain dealing gets done and our beers are out. And the big guys bring out their own kind of craft beer – imitations or whatever, products to position in that space. So I would say, I hope we have enough momentum. My belief is that we’re not here for the short term. We’ve had our ups and downs. We’re here for the long term.

Seamus and Michael

Town Hall Barrel Aged Week 2015 Starts Today

February 16th, 2015

When Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery got its first barrel in 2000, barrel aging of beer was not yet the thing that it is now. Brewmaster Mike Hoops had heard rumblings at a Craft Brewers Conference about this crazy thing that some breweries were doing with their beers – putting them in used barrels. The result was an almost magical fusion of beer, barrel, and booze. Hoops wanted in. A Jack Daniels barrel was obtained and Czar Jack was born.

As barrel-aging has expanded nationally, the Town Hall barrel program has expanded along with it. One barrel became several. Even more were added when additional cellar space opened up after the recent renovation. The barrel program is Mike Hoops’ baby. These are the beers of which he is most proud. In 2009 he got the chance to really show them off when they held the first Barrel Aged Week, now an annual event.

Hoops and crew go to the distilleries themselves to pick up barrels, creating relationships with distillers that help to insure they get the barrels they want in a world where used barrels are becoming scarcer. Even with these relationships he has concerns about getting some of the barrels they have used for many years.

This year’s Barrel Aged Week kicks off tonight at 5pm. It will include nine beer releases over six days, ending on Saturday the 21st. Whether you go one day or every day, these barrel aged beers are worth checking out.

Tonight’s release is Manhattan Reserve, a cherry grand cru aged in Woodford Reserve barrels. Grand cru is a nebulous term that doesn’t really correspond to any actual beer style. Every brewery’s grand cru is unique. For Mike Hoops the term just refers to the beer that a brewery views at its “celebratory” brew. The base beer for Manhattan Reserve has been brewed at Town Hall for around ten years. It’s a Belgian style beer with plenty of fermentation-derived fruit and spice. Tart cherries come through strongly in both the flavor and aroma, boosted by apple and orange notes and a touch of acidity. Caramel, vanilla, and bourbon offers a sweet counterpart. Effervescent carbonation and peppery spice complete the picture.

Two of my favorites will hit the taps on Saturday. Brown Label Belgian Bruin is a maple brown ale fermented with Belgian yeast and aged in a Woodford Reserve barrel. Big chocolate notes lead, accompanied by dark fruits like plums, prunes, and cherries. A low balsamic acidity brings to mind a Flanders Oud Bruin. Vanilla, oak, and subtle spicy note like cinnamon are in there too. Delicious.

Duke of Wallonia is an imperial witbier aged in a red wine barrel. This is a vinous beer with an interesting juxtaposition of lemony tartness and darker, red wine fruit. Coriander comes through loud and clear, but doesn’t get soapy or vegetal. Orange peel is subtler, but still adds some character.

I’m told the “brewers’ choice” beer will be released on Tuesday night. Foolish Angel is aged in Angel’s Envy barrels, a new distillery partner as of this year. I didn’t get to sample this one, but it is described as a “massively malty” and “beautifully smooth” Belgian quadrupel.

The barrel-aged beers are being sold this year in the new 750 ml growlers. This should allow for folks to get more than one brand to take home. Pre-sale took place on Sunday, February 8th, but a certain number of growlers have been reserved for purchase through the week. If you buy a glass of a particular beer in the brewpub, you will be given the option to purchase a growler of that same beer as long as supplies last.

A lot of people like to cellar these beers, some for a number of years. That is of course your decision, but I would suggest that growlers are not the best container for further aging of beer. They are not optimally designed to limit exposure to oxygen. Remember also that these beers are already well over a year old. They have already been aged. According to Hoops, “We’re releasing [these beers] when we’re pleased with how they are going to be received by consumers.” I say buy it and drink it. A beer not consumed is a beer wasted.

Daily beer released are at 5pm Monday through Friday. Saturday will have releases at 11am and 3pm.

Stone Japanese Green Tea IPA

February 4th, 2015

Aside from beer there are three other beverages that I drink frequently. Water (I drink a lot of water), coffee, and tea. After my two early-morning, caffeine-kick cups of coffee I drink cup after cup of tea all day long. Earl Grey, English breakfast, Lapsang Souchong, peppermint, fruity herbal teas, I drink them all. I’m particularly fond of green tea. I love the herbal/nutty/fruity flavor blend of a well-brewed cup of good green tea.

When I received a bottle of Japanese Green Tea IPA from Stone Brewing Co. I was naturally excited. Not necessarily about the IPA part, that’s not my thing. But I could make myself imagine how the fruity and spicy flavors of hops might meld with those of the tea. I didn’t read the bottle or the press release too carefully before digging in. As I sipped I thought, “This seems a little thick and sweet for an IPA. How un-Stone-like.” After about a glass and a half the light headedness I was feeling led me to take a closer look. It was only then that I realized I wasn’t drinking a 7% IPA, but a 10% double IPA. I drank the rest. I wasn’t going anywhere that evening.

Japanese Green Tea IPA is a re-issue of a 2011 collaboration project with Japan-based Baird Brewing Company and Ishii Brewing Co. from Guam. It’s a bit stronger this time around than the first and they have subbed out some of the hops. With five different hop varieties in this beer you are unlikely to notice that small change.

So would this beer tantalize my tea-loving taste buds?

Here’s my notes.

2015-japanese-greenteaJapanese Green Tea IPA
Stone Brewing Co. Escondido, California
Style: Double IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle
10.1% ABV
75 IBU

Aroma: Low biscuit and pils-like sweetness. Moderate tropical fruit hops. Floral and herbal overtones. Nutty/herbal green tea character comes through clearly. Low notes of vanilla/caramel reminding me of crème brulee.

Appearance: Full, creamy, white head with excellent retention. Dark golden and brilliantly clear.

Flavor: Bitterness is high and lingering. It is backed up by medium malt sweetness mid-palate, shaped by that same crème brulee character from the aroma. Floral, perfume, and tropical fruit flavors like mango, pineapple and mandarin orange are in abundance. Nutty/floral green tea is clear. Faint notes of lemon. The early sweetness gives way to a just-off-dry finish with lingering bitterness and fruit.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-full body. Medium carbonation. Low hop astringency.

Overall Impression: This is a big beer with many layers of complexity. For the first few sips the tea and hop flavors didn’t quite meld, but as it warmed it all coalesced into something very nice. Comes off a little bit syrupy in the middle, but the dryness of the finish mediates that.