Surly Destination Brewery Grand Opening

December 19th, 2014

Surly Brewing Company officially opens their new digs this morning at 11am. So many words are being written/broadcast/Facebooked about this today that the news is hard to avoid. So many others have already given the basic information and said most of what needs to be said. I see no need to repeat what has already been oft repeated. I’ll keep my statement here brief.

Space: The building is beautiful. It combines a stark, concrete- and-steel modern sensibility with warming touches of wood and light. The communal seating in the beer hall encourages socializing (which is what beer is really all about), but there are a few smaller tables for those hard-core Minnesotans who may not want to sit with strangers. The most impressive thing about the space is that the brewery is the focal point. Every vantage in the building – both upstairs and down – looks onto the brewery through two story walls of glass. Beer is at the center of this place.

Food: Chef Jorge Guzman has taken the concept of beer hall food and stepped it up several notches. There is barbeque, meat, shellfish, salads and snacks. They even have pizza and a burger. But the snacks include things like Foie Gras French Toast and Bone Marrow. My don’t-miss menu items (there are so many): Smoked Brisket, Bone Marrow, Charcuterie Board (especially the pheasant rillette and the smoked ham), Bitter Greens Salad. This is food for grazing. It’s not the kind of thing where you order yourself an entrée and go. Order a couple things and share among your group. When those are done order a couple more. Repeat until full.

Beer: Come on. It’s Surly.

I’ve been known on occasion to make statements critical of Surly. But this place is freaking amazing.

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Spiegelau/Bell’s Brewery Wheat Beer Glass: How’s it Rate?

December 17th, 2014

Wheat beer glass

When it comes to glassware, the wine people have it over the beer people in spades. I often use wine glasses to serve beer at tasting events. Why? Because they work. Wine glass shapes maximize the delivery of aromatics that are vitally important to the experience of any good beverage. Using the correctly shaped glass for the different varietals of wine makes a difference. Don’t believe me? Take a Riedel glass class at one of the local cooking schools and you will be convinced.

Modern wine glass design is based on physics. Bowl shapes are carefully designed to retain and deliver aromatics. Glass lips are structured to deliver wine to specific parts of the tongue. Beer glassware on the other hand is, I believe, mostly based on tradition. That isn’t to say that some glassware designs don’t work to deliver a great drinking experience. I think the tulip and German wheat beer glasses are great. But others serve more as nostalgia than actually effective delivery devices. For instance, everyone hates the shaker pint. But I’d be hard pressed to say what the beloved nonic pint glass does for the sensory experience of beer that the shaker does not.

ThreeGlasses

This is beginning to change. Spiegelau, the Riedel subsidiary that makes beer glassware as well as wine stems, has been working with brewers to design glassware especially suited to different types of beer. First came an IPA glass. Next was a stout glass. Now they have teamed up with the folks at Bell’s to design a glass for wheat beers – specifically American and Belgian wheat beers.

I support these efforts. It’s time for the beer world to look beyond tradition and explore glassware that will give the best possible sensory experience of different beer styles. I think though, that the results have so far been mixed. I gave the IPA glass a marginal thumbs up. But the stout glass delivered all that was promised.

So how does the wheat beer glass stack up?

I put it to the test against a standard shaker pint and a tulip glass. I tested with both an American wheat beer and a Belgian witbier. The glasses were cleaned in an identical manner. Each was rinsed with cold water just prior to testing. Effort was made to fill each glass with equal volume and to pour with equal vigor. As with all of these tests the disclaimer must be made that glassware can’t be tested blind. My evaluation may have been colored by preconceptions or expectations. I tried to be objective.

These are the claims made by Spiegelau.

  • Large, voluminous bowl harnesses and retains the delicate aromas of wheat beer.
  • Mouth opening delivers beer evenly across the palate to enhance mouth feel and harmony of sweetness and acidity.
  • Laser cut lip ensures crisp, clean delivery in every sip.
  • Open bottom glass base drives beer and aromatic foam upward into main bowl after every sip.
  • Ultra-pure quartz material makes for unsurpassed clarity and flawless, true color presentation.
  • Stark, angular shape and open base creates dramatic visual cascading effect into glass as beer is poured.

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My evaluation.

Snapshot
New Belgium Brewing Company
Style: American Wheat Beer
5% ABV
13 IBU
Special Ingredients: Coriander, Grains of Paradise, Lactobacillus

Aroma: The difference was significant. The shaker pint flattened everything, giving nice lime citrus notes, but lacking any bready wheat or spicy yeast character. The tulip delivered a more layered experience with more of the pepper and wheat. The step up to the wheat beer glass was huge. The aromatics overall were brighter with more layers of complexity. Citrus and bready wheat were in fine balance. Added notes of bubblegum and peppery spice were evident.

Appearance: Color, head formation and retention, and clarity were similar in all three glasses. Aesthetic shape of the wheat beer glass was better than the shaker, but similar to the tulip. I did not notice any cascading foam effect.

Flavor: As with the aroma, the shaker pint dulled everything, leaving a thin and flat sensory experience with an unpleasant, lingering bitterness. The tulip emphasized the citrus fruitiness and acidity of the beer, but also retained some bready wheat and a touch of sweetness to balance. The wheat beer glass emphasized the wheat and spice at the expense of the brighter fruit notes. The rougher edges of flavor were smoothed out, giving a somewhat flattened experience.

Mouthfeel: The beer in the shaker pint seemed under carbonated and lacked liveliness. The tulip glass held the carbonation better, giving a bright and sparkling experience. The wheat beer glass smoothed the prickly carbonation and delivered what felt like a fuller mouthfeel.

Overall Impression: The shaker pint was the clear loser here, giving an overall dull and lifeless sensory experience. While the wheat beer glass was heads and tails the winner in terms of delivery of aromatics, my overall glass pick for this beer was the tulip. The sparkling, bright quality of the flavors and mouthfeel was more interesting and pleasing. I preferred the emphasis on fruit and acidity that resulted in a better-balanced flavor.

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Wittekerke
Brouwerij Bavik, Bavikhove West Flanders, Belgium
Style: Belgian Witbier
5% ABV
11 IBU
Special Ingredients: Orange Peel and Coriander

Aroma: Aromatics in the shaker pint were low overall. Fruitiness was emphasized with faint acidic, lemony notes. The tulip delivered a fuller experience that still emphasized citric fruit. Orange was prominent and obviously orange. There was some perception of bready wheat. The wheat beer glass delivered a fantastically full aromatic experience. Saltine cracker-like wheat was prominent with some bready/yeasty notes. Fruit was in proper balance with the grain base – oranges and lemons. The floral coriander came through. All of the aromas melded better.

Appearance: Color, head formation and retention, and clarity were similar in all three glasses. Aesthetic shape of the wheat beer glass was better than the shaker, but similar to the tulip. I did not notice any cascading foam effect.

Flavor: Flavor delivery from the shaker pint was low overall, emphasizing lemony fruit with subtle, cracker-like wheat and coriander underneath. Flavors from the tulip were crisp, sharp and lively with fruit as the dominant note – orange, lemon. The wheat base came through clearly and the coriander made a pleasant appearance. The wheat beer glass deemphasized the fruitiness in favor of the wheat. The orange peel tasted like pithy orange peel. Coriander was pushed forward, leaving a somewhat soapy impression.

Mouthfeel: The shaker pint and wheat beer glass both left the beer feeling somewhat under carbonated. The tulip better maintained the high level of carbonation expected from the style.

Overall Impression: Once again the shaker pint proved itself inferior, delivering an overall flat and lifeless sensory experience. Once again the wheat beer glass dominated in terms of aromatics. But the soapy coriander and the lessened fruit character left me longing for the brighter, better balanced flavors from the tulip glass.

To sum it up

the wheat beer glass delivers everything promised in terms of aromatic experience. It provides a much fuller nose with clearly articulated layers of aromas that the other glasses just cannot match. In terms of flavor however, the wheat beer glass seemed to flatten things in a way that made them less interesting. The bright acidity from the tulip glass was lost in the wheat beer glass and the articulation of flavors became a bit muddy. In terms of appearance it was a tie between the tulip and the wheat beer glass that depends mostly in which glass shape the drinker finds more appealing.

Although the aromatics of the wheat beer glass far surpassed the tulip, the brighter flavor experience from the tulip leaves me leaning toward it. For American wheat and witbier I’ll stick with my tulip.

As a side note, I tried a couple other non-wheat beer styles in the glass. In each case the result was the same. Aromatics were awesome. Flavors were just a bit flattened.

Somm Speak: A Season for Sharing – Thanksgiving Pairings

November 26th, 2014

I’ve a confession to make. I like to drink wine.

Another confession is that I didn’t really know very much about wine until I met my wine buddy, sommelier Leslee Miller of Amusée. (Leslee’s last name is now actually officially “ThewinesommthatIworkwith.”) We started teaching together in 2009 at Cooks of Crocus Hill. That relationship has grown over the years both professionally and personally. We do regular corporate and private events together as well as teaching, writing, and organizing classes and outings that bring beer and wine together under one umbrella. We also just like to hang out and drink. It has been said of us that we are more recognizable together than we are apart.

As part of this ever-expanding partnership, we have started exchanging blog posts. You can find my Monthly Pint column on Leslee’s Amusée blog. And she will start offering a monthly Somm Speak column on mine.

It’s good to expand your horizons.

A Season for Sharing

Whether you’re a beer enthusiast or a wine fanatic, there’s one thing we can all agree upon this Thanksgiving season, you’re gonna need one or the other for this season of sharing. Knowing that half your holiday gatherings will want beer and the other wine, Michael and I thought it a good point to introduce a brand new exchange of blogs from A Perfect Pint to Amusée – showcasing both libations, so you’re set to go with just one click!

On Amusée, Michael now writes a monthly column called A Monthly Pint and I now pen a monthly piece for all you beer enthusiasts called Somm Speak on A Perfect Pint’s blog.

This month I bring you a few of my favorite wines paired to a variety of Thanksgiving dishes!

Grateful Grapes

Thanksgiving brings a whole variety of food. From traditional family recipes to a slew of fun new finds, we know for most of us that turkey will act as our main dish. From roasted, deep fried, smoked or grilled – the almighty bird needs a few tips for pairing from the wine side.

In for a roasty bird with a gorgeously oven-browned, buttery skin? You know, the kind where you shove several pounds of ‘Paula Dean’ under the skin and roast your birdie for a few long hours, leaving it juicy with bits of melted butter and ‘just right’ browned skin for enjoying?

Generally, the rule of thumb in this situation – and certainly one where you most likely can’t go wrong – is to go with a Pinot Noir. If you head this route, splurge on something nice. I’m a fan of Oregon Pinot Noir, yet sometimes a nice Russian River Pinot with bits of minty eucalyptus and dark raspberry fruit does the trick. Want a few Pinot picks for your table? Head here to my Pinterest board – Yes, I’m a Pinotphile – for a list of suggestions.

St. Urbans-Hof ‘Ockfener Bockstein’ Kabinett RieslingLove smoking your bird? Try the second most traditional grape for the season, Riesling! Remember, not all Riesling are sweet! Want fresh, inviting and dry – head to Germany. One of my favorites for pairing to smoked poultry is St. Urbans-Hof ‘Ockfener Bockstein’ Kabinett Riesling from the Mosel. Notes of peach, apricot, creamy apple pulp, and spice cake envelope gorgeous aromas of freshly picked blue and white flowers – violet!

Quinta do Crasto Douro Valley Grilled bird? Smoke and char call for one thing – something dark, medium bodied and delicious when it comes to turkey on the grill. I’m a huge fan of Portuguese reds for this category. Go with a winery that I’ve most recently visited, Quinta do Crasto, for the best value! Quinta do Crasto Douro Valley red, Portugal. For just over $22, the dark juicy jammy fruits combined to the black pepper back of the wine’s body snuggle in perfectly with a charred, crunchy skin of a grilled turkey, yet they don’t over power the juicy delicious meat of the bird.

Lastly, deep fried! To all you crazy Minnesotans who are into deep-frying your birds – I’m finally game for this technique. Tender and rich, and when cooked just right, frying will give you a skin that you’ll never trade for again any other Thanksgiving. Try a wine like a light bodied Zinfandel from CA or even a darker, more structured (older vined) Gamay from the Loire Valley of France. Like Gamay but not a Beaujolais Nouveau fan? Try these two ‘sister’ wines from the Loire Valley of France for a bit of a change when it comes to this grape.

Now that you’ve got your main bird covered, you won’t want to forget the opening appetizer wine and your closer. First things first… No one enters my house any time of year without a glass of bubbles. Of course ‘bubbles’ can refer to beer as well, but in my domain, sparkling wines rule!

François Chidaine MontlouisHere’s a fun little winery from the Loire region of France (again) that will keep everyone happy, not to mention, will pair beautifully with anything squash on your table. Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, try the François Chidaine Montlouis, yum! Creamy pear, apple & bright stone fruit make this a great opener for all things – cheese, creamy dips, to chips and sweet pickle plates.

Alright, alright – the pie! From pumpkin pie to pecan, I’m telling ya – fortifieds are your answer. Yes, Port will absolutely do the trick, but if you want the ultimate pairing to pumpkin pie, go with a sweet sherry from Jerez, Spain – like Moscatel, with its honeyed, orangey bits, will make any pumpkin pie pairing perfect. Need a recipe and pairing for your table, check out Amusée’s latest ‘Drunkin Punkin’ Pie recipe and pairing blog.

And if you’re just south of the Mason Dixon line (or happen to love a little southern something for Thanksgiving dessert), Pecan Pie and Madeira could be the match for you. Michael, I’m sure, has a gorgeous line up of beers for all these sweets, but when it comes to truly being in doubt when it comes to sweet, go Madeira. Try a sweeter version, like Malmsey, for a perfect pairing to pecan pie!

From top to bottom, we’ve got you covered. Looks like no one should go thirsty this holiday season if you’re keeping up with A Perfect Pint and Amusée! For more monthly wine tips, check in often for my guest posts along A Perfect Pint’s blog line labeled “Somm Speak.”

Until then, Happy Thanksgiving y’all!

Schell’s Fresh Hop: Equinox

November 8th, 2014

Still more fresh-hop beers!

The August Schell Brewing Company is steeped in history. German brewing tradition is what makes it tick. True-to-style German lagers and ales are its signature. “Hops” is not the first word that comes to one’s mind when this brewery is discussed. Yet, for the last three years Schell’s has jumped on the fresh-hop train with a single-hopped, wet-hop brew.

But the brewers at Schell’s do it their way. No over-hopped IPAs from this brewery. They stick to their roots with a fresh-hopped pilsner. Lager fermentation leaves little yeast character to clutter things up. Soft, pilsner malt gives a neutral background against which the hops stand out.

And Schell’s is able to source some interesting varieties. This year’s fresh-hop pilsner features a new variety called Equinox. According to promotional material from the brewery, “Equinox’s high oil content and tight cone structure imparts pronounced citrus, tropical fruit, herbal and floral aromas and flavors to this beer.” Interesting choice for a pilsner. Does it work?

Here’s my notes:

Schell's Fresh HopSchell’s Fresh Hop
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Fresh Hop Pilsner
Serving Style: 12 oz bottle
ABV: 5%

Aroma: A sweet, pils malt background offsets bright hop aromatics. A blend of herbal, minty, ripe stone fruits, and lime citrus. Somewhere between Tettnang and Citra. A low level of sulfur.

Appearance: Light gold and brilliantly clear. Moderate, fluffy white head with good retention.

Flavor: Very balanced malt to hop. Medium pils malt sweetness clears away for a dry finish. Malt flavor is grainy sweet with light notes of corn. Bitterness is medium to medium-high and lingers into the finish. Bright hop flavors start with herbal/floral character with light, lime-citrus overtones. As the beer warms, notes of lemon zest increase. Low grassy notes. Low sulfur.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: Bright and refreshing with lively and delicate lemon-lime overtones. It’s a great, balanced pilsner with a citrusy twist. It will make you want another one – at least it does me.

Summit Unchained #17: Harvest Fresh IPA

October 29th, 2014

Wet hop beers have become an early-fall ritual. Hop harvest season comes around and brewers everywhere scramble to get the hops in the kettle as quickly as possible after they are picked, often within hours; minutes even for those who have hop yards outside the brewery. The practice reportedly brings brighter, livelier hop aromatics. I must admit that I have never really found this to be the case. Instead I taste an unpleasant level of grassy/vegetal flavors from the addition of all that green, leafy matter. I have yet to figure out what all of the fuss is about.

For Fresh Harvest IPA, Summit brewer Tom Mondor has chosen to use both “fresh” and wet hops from the Pacific Northwest. Another admission – I always thought these were the same thing. As he explains in the video below, they apparently are not. A hop grower in Oregon has initiated a pelletizing process using lower temperature kilning and immediate processing and shipping to get the freshest possible hops out the door to brewers. Still, aside from rapid shipment, once they have been processed like most other hops, it’s hard for me to understand why they would be called “fresh.” I guess I’ll have to investigate further. For now, I’ll let Mr. Mondor explain.

Here’s my notes:

Brews_Bottle_Unchained17Unchained #17: Fresh Harvest IPA
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
ABV: 7%
IBU: 70

Aroma: Hops clearly dominate – Tropical fruit, limes, mint, hay, grass. Low grainy malt aromas with some caramel and biscuit character. Some orange high notes and English-like fruity esters.

Appearance: Full, creamy, just-off-white head. Excellent retention. Medium orange/amber and clear.

Flavor: Balanced and English-like. Tongue-tingling bitterness is moderate with full emphasis in hop flavor. Loads of fruit – orange, tropical fruits, grapefruit, even blueberry. Malt sweetness is medium-low. Some caramel and toasted-biscuit malt flavors. Malt provides ample balance to the hops. Again there is an English estery character to it. Finish is off-dry, lingering on fruity hops.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: An easy-drinking, balanced IPA. Despite the use of an American Ale yeast strain, the malt complexity and fruity hop character give it a pleasant English character. There is little of the grassy/vegetal flavor that I normally associate with fresh-hop beers.

Boulevard Collaboration #4: Saison

October 24th, 2014

A lot of brewery collaborations seem pointless. They give the sense that the brewers simply cobbled together a recipe over a couple of emails. There is no convincing reason for the collaboration – at least none that is apparent. There is no sense that some piece of each brewery has come together in some way in the finished beer. Marketing gimmick? Perhaps, but I’ve never been able to get a brewer to admit to that.

They don’t all seem pointless, though. In some cases the joint project really does tie the two breweries together. Avery/Russian River’s Collaboration Not Litigation is a good example. Two brewers selling beer of the same name in the same markets decided to blend their beers rather than engage in sticky trademark litigation.

In another example the brewers from Avery, Russian River, Allagash, and Lost Abbey decided to brew a lambic after traveling together to Belgium. The beer was brewed at Russian River and barrel-fermented with the house lambic bugs from each brewery. The four beers were then blended into the final product; a true coming together of the breweries.

Boulevard Brewing Company’s collaboration with Brewery Ommegang is one of those that seems genuine. Having started as independent companies, both are now owned by Belgian brewing conglomerate Duvel-Moortgat. They are sister breweries so to speak. Ommegang brews only Belgian inspired ales. While it was built on other brews, Boulevard has made a splash with its Belgian styles such as the delicious Tank 7 Saison. And Boulevard’s brewmaster Steven Pauwels comes from Belgium.

The collaborative process involved brewing separate batches of a saison recipe that used pale malt, oats, rye, corn and wheat and was spiced with coriander, grains of paradise and lemon peel. Each batch was fermented with the house yeast from the respective brewery and then the beers were blended. To me, that’s a collaborative beer.

Here’s my notes:

Boulevard Collaboration #4Boulevard Collaboration #4: Saison
Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, Missouri with Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, New York
Style: Saison
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
ABV: 7.3%
IBU: 28

Aroma: High fruity esters – orange, mango, lemons, banana. High peppery phenols. Medium-high noble hop character – lemon and spice. Low biscuity malt.

Appearance: Full, rocky, ivory head with excellent retention. Medium-light amber and very hazy.

Flavor: Banana, clove, and zesty black pepper with high notes of lemon citrus. Bitterness is high, accentuated by very high attenuation. As it warms other fruits come through – blood orange, mango. Low malt sweetness gets a boost from the banana esters, but gives up past mid-palate. Some biscuity malt character. Alcohol adds some floral notes. Finish is extra dry with emphasis on peppery phenols, lingering bitterness, and alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-full body. Mouthfilling in a hefeweizen kind of way. High carbonation – effervescent. Moderate alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: A full-throttle saison. Big and filling, yet high attenuation leaves it refreshing. Zippy and spicy. A good saison for the fall season.

Beer & Wine University is Back

October 15th, 2014
bwu
Beer & Wine University is Back!

Sommelier Leslee Miller of Amusee and Certified Cicerone® Michael Agnew of A Perfect Pint are bringing the popular libation bootcamp back – not just once, but twice a year!

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

The next session’s fun starts on October 21st and runs three consecutive Tuesdays through November 4th!

When: October 21st, 28th & November 4th. Class starts promptly at 6:30pm and run until 8:30pm.

Where: TBD

Cost: $40 per class session or sign up for all three at once for just $100!

Buy your ticket here!

Contact Leslee Miller directly at leslee@amuseewine.com for all questions & inquiries.

The Sessions:

Oct 21st: Beer for wine lovers, Wine for beer lovers

Let’s agree to come together! Wine lovers will find much to love about beer and vice versa in this interactive class taught by Sommelier Leslee Miller and Cicerone Michael Agnew. From grape varietals to beer styles, you’ll discover the right beverage for your palate. Are you a Cabernet drinker? Let us show the beer that best matches the complex bold flavors of this grape. A Pilsner drinker? We’ll give you the grape alternative for this crisp, refreshing beer style.

Oct 28th: Why oaking matters

Toast, caramel, macaroon, pancakes and crème brûlée. You guessed it! These are all descriptions for the impact of oak on a libation. Elevate your senses in this creative ‘why oaking matters’ class with Cicerone Michael and Sommelier Leslee. Not all oak is the same. The wood’s subtle nuances vary by country of origin and level of toast. Explore those differences and more as we examine the effects of wood on your favorite drinks from grapes to grains!

Nov 4th: Festivus for the rest of us!

A joyous, holiday feast – what else? Sorry, Kramer won’t be there, but we will! Come learn the art of combining beer and wine with food as two of the Twin Cities’ most passionate food and libation instructors, Sommelier Leslee Miller & Cicerone Michael Agnew, pair their way through three genres of holiday celebrations. From a traditional turkey dinner, to a full Festivus layout (spaghetti & meatloaf), to a Hanukkah feast with latkes and jelly doughnuts, you’ll sample the wonderful variety of the holiday table and pick up some tips on the best beverage accompaniments.


Cicerone Michael Agnew & Sommelier Leslee Miller
In May of 2009, Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew of A Perfect Pint and Certified Sommelier Leslee Miller of Amusee teamed up for the first time to teach a beer, wine, and cheese class at Cooks of Crocus Hill. It turned out that the pairing of the two of them was as magical as the ones they created with the cheeses. Since that night their professional relationship has grown to include joint classes and private tasting events, food-service consulting that encompasses both beer and wine, and the highly successful, bi-annual Beer & Wine University. The teaching chemistry between them is so strong that a class alum once told them, “you two are more recognizable together than separate.”

Working together allows Michael and Leslee to speak to audiences they might not otherwise reach. During the course of an event even the most hardcore wine or beer people find at least one sample that makes them want to know more about the other side. 

 

 

Observations from the 2014 Great American Beer Festival

October 14th, 2014

GABF logo

Minnesota brewers racked up the medals at the Great American Beer Festival held in Denver, Colorado October 2nd through 4th. Summit’s often underrated EPA took bronze. Indeed’s Mexican Honey took silver. The barrel-aged Buffalo Bock earned a bronze for Town Hall. Bent Paddle took home a well-deserved bronze medal for 14° ESB. And Badger Hill and Steel Toe both won gold – Badger hill for their White IPA and Steel Toe for Wee Heavy.

Indeed, the Heartland region as a whole did well. Wisconsin garnered seven medals. Illinois took an impressive nine. And Iowa earned two. I’m thinking that our upper-Midwestern states will not be considered beer flyover country for much longer.

What is is it about beer people that makes them dress up?

Photo courtesy of the Brewers Association.

Trends

Hops are still king in American beer. India pale ale was the contest category with the largest number of entries for the umpteenth straight year. There was no shortage of hoppy beers in the festival hall. Nearly every brewery had a hopped-up pale ale, IPA or double IPA. White IPAs, black IPAs, red IPAs, Belgian IPAs, and session IPAs were also in abundance. The increasing demand for hops has led to rumors of an impending hop shortage, but there was no sign of it in Denver.

Hops may still be on top, but the number of sour beers in the hall suggested that a slow-building trend is now finally blossoming. Beers fermented with 100% brettanomyces yeast were easy to find. The number of all-sour breweries like Jolly Pumpkin or Trinity Brewing out of Colorado Springs is growing. There were barrel-aged sours, stainless fermented sours, and spontaneously fermented sours. They ranged in profile from delicate and vinous to aggressively funky. The lovely thing is that they were mostly very good. In past years at GABF tasting sours has been an exercise in dumping. The few good examples were overwhelmed by others loaded with foot-funk and vinegar. This year I only tasted one or two dumpers. At the Trinity Brewing booth the brewer told me that I would taste all of their beers. I countered that I would taste one or two. I tasted them all.

Saison was another big trend at this year’s festival. Suffice it to say there were a lot of them – spiced, unspiced, strong, black, and every other way. Through the course of the weekend I easily tasted more saisons and sours than any other styles.

Historical revivals? That trend is growing as well. Several examples of the salty-sour gose style were to be found. Berliner weisse with and without fruit was everywhere. And Austin, Texas based Live Oak Brewing Company had a very respectable Grodziskie, a smoked and slightly sour wheat beer style from Poland.

An unusual tidbit that I noticed was the use of blood oranges in beer. I had several beers made with this fruit from IPA to hefeweizen. My favorite beer of the festival was a blood orange gose from Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville, California. I went back for several samples of this beer during all three sessions that I attended.

Another burgeoning trend that I find particularly exciting is the use of foraged ingredients. A mini-festival held during GABF week called Beers Made by Walking was dedicated to foraged ingredient beers. Breweries like Scratch Brewing from Ava, Illinois or the newly opened Forbidden Root Brewery in Chicago are using a variety of botanicals like walnuts, sassafras, lemon myrtle, burdock root, and even mushrooms to flavor their beer. Scratch Brewing completely rebuffed the hoppy beer thing by bringing a lineup of all gruits. None of their beers contained any hops at all.

Photo courtesy of the Brewers Association

Not All Trends Are Good

But it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns at the GABF. There has been a lot of talk in the industry lately about a possible decline in overall quality as the number of breweries mushrooms. 2014 marked the second year in a row that I have noticed a large number of so-so and not-so-good beers in the GABF hall. My mode of operation in the hall is to sample beers mostly from breweries that I have never heard of. I want to know what’s going on out there beyond the big names. And to be completely honest, I don’t like to wait in line for beer, especially when there are 3000+ other beers available. I tasted a lot of beers that just didn’t cut it.

I made a special point of visiting new breweries in the states that I covered in A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland. Of the seven or eight regional newcomers, only one of them – Forbidden Root – was making beer that rose above the level of average homebrew. Fortunately that one was very good.

I was talking to a brewer friend who has judged beer at the competition for many years. He told me that he judged a lot of sub-par entries this year. I asked if this was the norm or something new. He said that this year was markedly different from past years. As new breweries continue to come on line, the industry is going to have to get serious about quality.

2014 Autumn Brew Review Preview

September 26th, 2014

Tomorrow is Autumn Brew Review day!

The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild knows how to throw a beer fest. The three they stage are always the best of the year. While Winterfest is the hands-down winner as “Best Fest” in my opinion, it’s hard to choose between All Pints North and Autumn Brew Review.

In Brew Review’s favor, it’s a bigger festival with more breweries and more beers to sample. This year’s lineup includes 109 breweries. With each one offering an average of three-ish beers, that’s a lot of tasting. The setting at the majestic Grain Belt Brewery building gives the festival a palpable connection to the city’s mighty brewing past. But then again, it’s hard to beat Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth as a site beer fest site. Oh, it’s so hard to choose…

There have been so many new breweries opening in the state in the last few months that I haven’t even begun to sample them all. That’s one thing that I am particularly looking forward to at this year’s ABR. Among the brand-new brewers represented are Bauhaus Brew Labs, Fair State Brewing CO-OP, Four Daughters Cidery, Pryes Brewing Co., Tin Whiskers Brewing Co., Veteran Beer Co. and Bank Brewing Co. Bank has been around for a while, but they have only recently begun making their own beer. I’ve been to some of these, but it will be great to sample brews from some of the others.

Minnesota is also being flooded by brands from other states, many of which will be represented at the festival. I’m looking forward to visiting with Bull Falls Brewery from Wausau, Wisconsin and Finch’s Beer Company from Chicago, Illinois. I hit both places researching A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland. I’m glad to see their beer here at home. Others to hit are Fargo Brewing Co., Local Option, Stillwater Artisanal Ales, and Prost Brewing Co. Prost is a Denver brewery that makes German-style lagers. I was there a couple of years ago and loved it.

The program reveals that brewers will have some interesting beers on display. 2012 Alaskan Smoked Porter anyone? Or how about a preview of Dawn of Aurora “champagner weisse” from the Schell’s Noble Star Collection? Bent Brewstillery will be doling out something called El Guerrero Chilean Double Stout – undoubtedly something that brewer Kristen England brought back from recent beer-judging trips down south. Destihl Brewery from Illinois is bringing their awesome Gose. The Hoops brothers at Town Hall and Fitger’s seem to be trying to out-do each other with their fest selections. And Fitger’s Cherry Batch….

And speaking of cider…there are a lot of opportunities to sample the scrumpy this year. Cider makers at the fest come from both coasts as well as Minnesota. Among them are Wyder’s Hard Cider, Two Towns Ciderhouse, Schilling & Co., Angry Orchard Cider Co. and Ace Cider. Sociable cider Werks and Four Daughters Cidery are representing for the home state. I’m really into cider lately, so I’ll be hitting up most of these booths.

Things to remember at the fest:
– You don’t have to (read can’t) sample everything.
– Beware the “imperial.” A few of those and your day is done.
– Drink water.
– Hit up the food trucks. Food is good when drinking.
– Line up a ride home. Don’t be “that guy.”

The forecast for tomorrow is for low 80s and partly cloudy. You couldn’t ask for better beer fest weather. So hit up a hearty brunch (gotta get that base on), grab a bus, taxi or Über, and get your butts to Nordeast for a great afternoon of tasting.

Schell’s Noble Star North Country Brünette and Black Forest Cherry

September 25th, 2014

Last week the August Schell Brewing Co. announced that it was building a new facility and restoring eight more cypress-wood fermenting tanks to expand its Noble Star Collection of Berliner weisse style beers. That seemed like a good enough reason to me to grab a couple bottles out of the basement and give them a whirl.

I’d write more here, but I would run the risk of ripping off my column in next week’s Minneapolis Star Tribune. Check it out in the Taste section on Thursday, October 2nd if you want to learn more about the series. For now…

Here’s my notes:

North Country Brünette North Country Brünette
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Märzen Berliner Weisse
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
5.4% ABV

Aroma: Malt dominates – toasted grain and bread crust. Hints of chocolate. Dry toast. Balsamic vinegar and some light, cherry-like fruit. Background notes of brettanomyces barnyard.

Appearance: Light brown and cloudy. Full, creamy, head of off-white foam with moderate retention.

Flavor: Bright, lemony acidity leads off and stays throughout, subsiding somewhat in the middle and then biting the top of the throat on the way out. With a second sip the malt becomes more prominent, revealing similar toasted grain and bread crust notes from the aroma. Chocolate is there, but the flavor is fainter than the smell. The finish is like sucking on a lemon wedge, complete with the nutty, bitter taste of the seeds.

Overall Impression: A most unique take on the Berliner weisse. Not “weisse” at all. Addition of toasty malty tones offers an intriguing counter play to the tart acidity. More substantial than the typical Berliner weisse, but still lightweight and refreshing. Autumnal weisse?

Black Forest CherryBlack Forest Cherry
Style: Märzen Berliner Weisse aged on Cherries
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
5.5% ABV

Aroma: Lambic-like. Earthy and barnyard brettanomyces character comes through strong. Toasted grain and bread crust malt. Deep-red, tart cherry notes meld into malt. Pie filling.

Appearance: Dark amber color with a reddish hue. Hazy. Moderate, off-white/pinkish head with moderate retention.

Flavor: Cherry pie with the crust. Acidity bites at the beginning, lessens in the middle and returns in the finish. Pie cherries come in clear from the top and stay throughout. Bread crust and toasty malt notes stay in the background, offering a crust-like counterpoint to the acid and cherries. Faint cinnamon. Some lemony high notes. Barnyard brettanomyces character is strong.  As it warms the malty bits come through more boldly, amplifying the cherry pie effect. Bit of old-cheese funk hangs around in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. High carbonation. Puckering acidity.

Overall Impression: This is the funkiest and I think most complex beer of the series so far. I just might also be my favorite. The strong brettanomyces notes make it decidedly lambic-like. I love the cherry pie profile. This beer feels more mature than the others in the series (whatever that means).