Indeed Mexican Honey Lager

Finally a real snowfall. 13 inches on Tuesday plus a dusting today. And the temperature is down to the normal range with lows around nine degrees Fahrenheit. Winter has come in fits and starts this year, but now it seems it’s finally here. Time for a tall, cold Mexican lager.

(Sound of record scratching.)

It’s okay. Lager is good anytime – even in the middle of a Minnesota winter. And there really is nothing wrong with those Mexican lagers, even if so many of us want to deny their right to be called beer.

But when the Mexican lager is Imperial it’s even more winter friendly. Eight percent alcohol gives that little bit of warming to help take the edge off of winter’s bite.

But really? Imperial Mexican lager. What are you thinking, Indeed Brewing Company? It kind of reminds me of all the faddish Imperial Pilsners that are floating around out there these days. “What’s the point?” I ask of those. “Pilsner is perfect as it is.” I’ve seldom met an Imperial Pilsner that I liked. So why would I like an imperial Mexican lager? Even if it is made with orange blossom honey.

I looked back through my records and found that I had written notes on this one at some time in the past. I think it was 2013, the year this beer was first released. At least that’s what I’m going to say now. I like to do these comparisons. It gives a good perspective on the changes that can occur over time – in both beer and palate.

Here’s my notes:

Mexican Honey Imperial LagerMexican Honey Imperial Lager
Indeed Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: Imperial Mexican Lager
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
8% ABV
17 IBU

Aroma 2013: Light grainy sweetness. Citrus hops are strong – tangerine and oranges. Low notes of honey.

Aroma 2016: Grainy sweetness with overtones of honey. Very light toasted grain. Hints of spicy hops. Low sulfur.

Appearance 2013: Medium gold and hazy. Full, rocky, dense white foam with excellent retention.

Appearance 2016: Full, creamy, mixed-bubble, white foam with excellent retention. Deep gold and brilliant.

Flavor 2013: Full, grainy malt sweetness. Some bready, pils malt character. Honey comes strongly mid-palate and remains in the finish. Bitterness is low, but just almost enough to balance. Overtones of orange and tangerine from the hops. Delicate. Nuanced. Faint apple notes. Finishes with lingering honey and sweetness. Floral.

Flavor 2016: Largely follows aroma. Malt dominates – toasted grain and medium sweetness. Honey is clear. Medium-low bitterness offers some balance. Medium spicy hop flavors. Low lemony citrus. Some alcohol. Finish is off-dry with lingering honey and spice.

Mouthfeel 2013: Medium-light body. Delicate. High to medium-high carbonation.

Mouthfeel 2016: Medium-full body. Low alcohol warming. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression 2013: Light and nuanced, yet full and filling. Imperial Mexican lager? WTF! On the long haul perhaps a bit one-note, but one glass goes down well.

Overall Impression 2016: Almost a Maibock, but with a simpler profile. The flavor is what one would expect from an oversized American lager. I expected more citrus from Amarillo hops. They really came off to me as spicy, almost Noble hop varieties. Overall I like it. A decent winter lager.

Voyageur Brewing Company Hits the Twin Cities

Voyageur Brewing Company is bringing its flagship beers to the Twin Cities. Voyageur opened the doors of its Grand Marais brewery in March of 2015, joining nearly 30 other new breweries in what was surely the biggest ever, single-year expansion of the Minnesota beer scene. What is particularly exciting about this growth is the number of new breweries located outside the Twin Cities in greater Minnesota. Voyageur is situated a couple blocks north of Grand Marais’ other brewery the Gunflint Tavern, making it I believe the second-most northerly brewery in the state after Boathouse Brewpub in Ely.

In these days of extreme expansion, I have come to approach new breweries with some trepidation. I want them to be good. I really do. All too often though, they aren’t. With so many eager entrepreneurs fueling the beer boom, there has been an influx of brewers who lack the experience and knowledge to really make great beer. Much of what’s coming out is just so-so. Some of it is truly bad.

By bad, I mean flawed. I mean beers with quantifiable recipe and process related issues. These are beers left sticky sweet from under attenuation. Beers with ill-defined, flabby flavor profiles. Beers with detectible or even downright offensive levels of process-derived off-flavors. Such things have become all too common.

And so it was with mixed emotions that I greeted news of Voyageur’s entry into the Twin Cities market. I have not been able to visit them. I’m not a Minnesota native and water doesn’t thrill me. I don’t quite get the whole “up north” thing. It was exciting to have their beers come to me. I wanted them to be good. I really, really did.

Here’s my notes:

VoyageurTrailbreaker Wit
Voyageur Brewing Company, Grand Marais, Minnesota
Style: Belgian Witbier
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
5% ABV
15 IBU

Aroma: Meaty, ham. Low wheaty grain. Low banana. Medium clove. Medium floral from Coriander. Low lemon citrus. Puffy isoamyl acetate. Main perception is ham. Low medicinal phenol.

Appearance: Medium, meringue-like, white head. Medium retention. Medium gold and cloudy.

Flavor: Meaty. Almost salty. Medicinal. High clove spice. Same ham as aroma. Low, bready/cracker wheat malt. Medium-low sweetness. Low bitterness. No hop flavor. Finish is dry with lingering clove and ham. Background of orange citrus.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium-high carbonation. Thick.

Overall Impression: According to the 2008 BJCP Guidelines, coriander of certain origins can give witbier a celery or ham character. Apparently heavy use of the wrong kind of coriander leaves this beer with an unpleasant, ham aroma and flavor that is enhanced by the high level of clove phenol from fermentation. A bit thick and heavy for the style. Lacking the light, refreshing character one expects from a witbier. Not pleasant. Clunky and literally ham fisted.

VoyageurDevil’s Kettle India Pale Ale
Voyageur Brewing Company, Grand Marais, Minnesota
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
6.8% ABV
70 IBU

Aroma: Lime citrus hops. Some floral hop notes. Medium malt with light toast. Medium perception of sweetness. High esters – banana and juicy fruit. Clove phenols – salty ham.

Appearance: Full, creamy, off-white foam with excellent retention. Medium copper/amber. Hazy.

Flavor: Hop bitterness is emphasized – very long lingering. It just won’t let go. Hop flavor is medium-high – citrus, floral and pine. It carries into mid-palate before being overshadowed by bitterness. Malt is sweet, almost syrupy, with low notes of caramel and toast. Juicy Fruit esters. Finish is off-dry with bitterness that envelopes the tongue.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Medium carbonation. Low alcohol warming. Some hop astringency.

Overall Impression: Flabby and ill-defined. Bitterness overwhelms, but the beer manages a sticky sweetness at the same time.

VoyageurPalisade Porter
Voyageur Brewing Company, Grand Marais, Minnesota
Style: Brown Porter
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
5.3% ABV
30 IBU

Aroma: Smoky – like burnt plastic or electrical fire. Low, dark-chocolate, roasted malt. Low earthy hops.

Appearance: Very dark brown – appears black. Ruby highlights. Clear. Medium, creamy, beige foam with good retention.

Flavor: Malt forward. Dry, roasted malt – dark chocolate. Low caramel. Medium-low sweetness. Same burnt plastic/electrical fire character carries over from aroma. Bitterness is medium. Finish is very dry with lingering roast barley and smoke.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium-high carbonation. Low creaminess.

Overall Impression: A mediocre homebrew. Aroma and flavor both lacking in depth – rather one-note. And that one note isn’t altogether good. The smoky, burnt plastic character is most unwelcome and signals bigger issues at the brewery.

VoyageurBoundary Waters Brunette
Voyageur Brewing Company, Grand Marais, Minnesota
Style: North English Brown Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
4.3% ABV
25 IBU

Aroma: Malt forward. High toast. Low touch of dry, roasted grain. No hops. One dimensional.

Appearance: Low, mixed-bubble, tan foam. Poor retention. Mahogany and brilliant.

Flavor: Malt dominated. Cola. Medium sweetness and low caramel malt. Low toast and a tough of dry, roasted grain – chocolate. Medium-low bitterness. Low earthy hops. Finish is off-dry with lingering chocolate.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium creaminess. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: A mediocre English brown ale. A bit thin. Flavor and aroma are both lacking complexity, but aren’t unpleasant. Nothing wrong with it, it’s just not particularly interesting. The lack of serious flaws makes it the best beer of the bunch.

Surly Darkness 2015

“Last year’s was better.”

I’ve written on a few occasions about the unreliability of flavor recognition memory. Without lots of practice and a well-developed flavor vocabulary, studies have shown that humans just aren’t that good at it. We don’t retain an accurate picture of how a thing tastes for any significant length of time. At best we remember generalities. It was sweeter. It was bitterer. It had a fuller mouthfeel. I liked it or I didn’t.

Context also effects our recollection. What we were doing, who we were with, and where we were while tasting a thing can spell the difference between a good and a bad experience of it. What we eat or drink before or after alters how it is received by our taste and olfactory receptors. The whole experience of flavor is a thing of the moment.

If we’re really being honest with ourselves, most of us don’t remember last year’s version.

And that brings me to Surly Darkness. It might be blasphemy to the beer-nerd few who actually read my posts, but I have never been a fan. I’m not that fond of imperial stouts in general, but this one in particular has never caught my fancy. Each year I satisfy myself with one glass in a bar somewhere, just to say I had it. And that is all I need.

Of course, I can’t say exactly what it is that misses the mark on my palate. I remember the first one feeling like a milkshake in my mouth. Sticky sweetness reigned another year. Maybe it was too hoppy once. I really can’t recall.

No, I’ve never been a fan of Surly Darkness…until this year.

Here’s my notes:

Darkness labelDarkness 2015
Surly Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
11.5% ABV

Aroma: Malt driven but with ample hop complement. Coffee. Bitter dark chocolate. A good deal of fruit – raisins and dark cherries. Licorice. Black strap molasses. Pine resin hops. Vaporous alcohol.

Appearance: Full, creamy, brown head with excellent retention. Extremely dark brown with ruby highlights. Appears black and opaque unless held to light. Appears brilliantly clear.

Flavor: Full-on dark-chocolate syrup. Licorice and low coffee grounds. Black malt roastiness is moderate, adding a dry-cookie quality to the chocolate. Some brown sugar or molasses sweetness. Sweetness is moderately high. Bitterness is also high, but the full-on malt keeps it in check. Still, it’s balanced. Not too sweet nor too bitter. Hop flavor is high – pine resin with hints of orange citrus. Fruitiness carries over from aroma – raisins and cherries. Alcohol is apparent – spirituous and at times overpowering. Finish is off-dry to semi-sweet with long-lingering chocolate, cherry and pine.

Mouthfeel: Full body. Medium carbonation. Warming.

Overall Impression: Definitely a sipper – a beer to carry you through the night. Big, but balanced. The pine and chocolate roast play off of each other nicely. Alcohol is a bit too much. Not a subtle beer, but full of subtle complexities. I have never been a fan of Darkness, but I’m really digging this. Has the beer changed significantly, or have I? That is the question.

 

Summit Union Series #5: Old Blaggard

My beverage BFF, wine sommelier Leslee Miller, and I have a joke between us. Whenever we’re teaching a class together, she will pour a wine and say something like, “It’s only 9 percent. You can drink it all day.” I on the other hand start talking about taking it easy on the strong beers at around 8 percent alcohol. Oh, the different perspectives of the beer people and the wine people.

But it just goes to show you how appropriate the term “barleywine” really is. It’s beer. It’s made from barley. But it has an alcohol content more common to the world of wine than beer.

Historically both wine and barleywine were served similarly as well. Wine wasn’t always served in the glassware to which we are now accustomed. Once upon a time guests were greeted with a much smaller serving, poured into a tiny little glass. My mother has a collection of these antique wine glasses. I always thought they were for cordials. English lords once served manor-brewed strong beers in similar tiny glasses. Nowadays the beer people have it better. We typically get a ten-ounce pour of barleywine. Five ounces is the normal pour for wine.

Old wine glass

Old wine glass

Old barleywine glass

Old barleywind glass

For Old Blaggard, the fifth beer in the Union Series, Summit Brewing Company has concocted a proper English barleywine. Like English pale ales and IPAs, English barleywines are less focused on hops then their American offspring. Being a lover of malt and yeast, this pleases me. The biscuit and toffee flavors of English malt are among the most pleasing in the beer vocabulary. And I’m quite fond of the orange marmalade notes of English yeast.

The Summit Union Series combines old styles and techniques with new ingredients. Old Blaggard is a single malt/single hop beer featuring Endeavor hops from England and Simpson’s Odyssey malt, both new, at least to this country. It also uses a bit of invert sugar, an ingredient familiar to English brewers for centuries. The sugar adds some color as well as boosting the potency without overwhelming the beer with the sweetness of unfermented sugars.

Here’s my notes:

Brews_BottleUnion Series #5: Old Blaggard
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: English Barleywine
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
10.1% ABV
50 IBU

Aroma: Malt and hops in approximate balance with low, floral alcohol. Malt is strong toffee and honey, giving a moderately high impression of sweetness. Very low biscuit notes. Hops give herbal and citrus notes. Moderately high fruity esters – overripe apricots, golden raisins.

Appearance: Full, creamy, off-white foam with good retention. Dark amber/mahogany and brilliant.

Flavor: Malt forward with low supporting hop bitterness and sweet alcohol. Malt sweetness is high. Flavors of toffee, caramel, and low biscuit. Hop bitterness is medium-low, just cutting through the sweetness. Hop flavors and esters bring high notes of orange marmalade and some darker, bruised stone fruit notes as well. Golden raisins. Some low earthy character. Alcohol is apparent. Finish is semi-sweet with lingering fruit, caramel, and alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Full body. Low carbonation. Warming but not hot.

Overall Impression: A fine sipper. Let it warm a bit to really allow the malt to come through, then pour it into a snifter. The combination of caramel malt with fruity hop and fermentation character is lovely. Alcohol is verging on too much, but doesn’t quite go over the top. It’s great to drink right now, but I’ll stash one or two of these aside and see how they taste in a couple of years.

Schell’s Apparent Horizon

Jace Marti just keeps cranking out winners with the Noble Star Series. Number eight in the series – Apparent Horizon – is made with 35% rye malt. Anyone who has brewed with rye knows that this is a lot of rye. Rye has no husk to create a filter in the mash tun. It turns gummy when steeped. It can make for a nightmare brewing session with an hours-long sparge. But when done well, the results are oh, so good. Rye beers take on the character of that great, German rye bread that I miss so much from my time spent in Germany. But rye bread with lemony, lactic sourness?

Here’s my notes:

NobleStar_ApparentHorizon_062915-150x430Apparent Horizon
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Rye Berliner Weisse
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
5.1% ABV

Aroma: Predominantly lactic acid with underlying barnyard. Low bready malt comes through with a hint of toast. Black pepper.

Appearance: Full, creamy, just off-white head with fair retention. Medium gold and hazy.

Flavor: Malt is forward with lactic tartness just behind. Sharp, spicy, rye bread. Peppery. Like German rye bread. Low toast or bread crust. Lactic acidity stays just below the malt with lemony high notes. Earthy, barnyard phenols merge nicely with the rye spice. Medium-low perception of bitterness. Finish is very dry with lingering rye and lactic tartness.

Mouthfeel: Light body. High carbonation. Mouthwatering acidity.

Overall Impression: The spice of rye is the star of the show in this one, lending the beer and elegant feel. It’s like drinking a nice bubbly. Put it in a Riedel chardonnay glass and go to town.

Surly Nein

Sometimes you get a beer that you really want to pay attention to. You want to dig into its nooks and crannies to seek out whatever might be lurking there. But that sort of attention takes time and often that time isn’t available. With most bottles that’s okay. I’ll open one in the morning, taste my sample, and then dump most of it down the drain. It’s just beer, right? But the kind of bottle I’m talking about is one that you anticipate wanting to finish. I’m not going to pop a 750ml of 10-percent alcohol beer in the morning. I have work to get done through the day. It won’t happen if I do that. And so, these bottles often sit in my refrigerator longer than I might like, waiting for that rarest occurrences, a free evening.

Such was the case with Surly Nein. The ninth anniversary ale from Surly Brewing Company is said to have been inspired by a trip to Bamberg, Germany, home of smoked beer. It’s described as an imperial smoked dunkelweizen. I love smoke. I love dunkelweizen. Imperial is often, but not always good. And did I mention wood-aging? I was at the very least intrigued. I wanted to give it the attention that I hoped it deserved. And so it waited several days until I had the opportunity. That day finally came.

Here’s my notes:

Surly NeinNein
Surly Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: Smoked Beer
Serving Style: 750ml bottle
ABV: ~10%

Aroma: Smoke and dark fruits. Belgian-like. Low caramel and toast. Cherries, plums, low high note of lemon. Floral alcohol.

Appearance: Full, creamy, tan head with excellent retention. Dark mahogany, nearly black. Appears clear.

Flavor: Malt and yeast driven. Caramel that lingers into the finish. Dark cherries, plums, raisins, dates. Background of smoke that seems to get stronger through the glass. Low note of chocolate. Very low bitterness. Alcohol is apparent. Vanilla. Finish is semi-sweet with lingering caramel, vanilla, and dark fruits.

Mouthfeel: Full body. Creamy and smooth. Medium-high carbonation. Warming.

Overall Impression: So much fruit. The rich, dark malts and the strength of the beer coaxes a Belgian flair from the German hefeweizen yeast – lots of dark fruits and less banana and clove. The alcohol is a touch high, but that should smooth out with a little bit of time. It’s not a deal breaker. I love the lingering caramel. This is what I might expect from blending a smoky scotch ale with a Belgian dark ale. Yummy.

Pumpkin Beers – A Few Tasting Notes

My relationship with pumpkin beers has been one of ups and downs. As I was first getting into beer, I really loved them. I bought and drank them a lot. I tried fairly unsuccessfully to make a couple of them at home. Talk about a stuck mash! As time went on, my feelings changed. Pumpkin beers and I just grew apart. There was too much spice and too much squash. But now, things seem to have come full circle. The flame has been rekindled.

I’ve been writing a lot lately about pumpkin beers. My Star Tribune column published today with a rundown of a few good ones. The style profile in the current issue off The Growler is all about the beer de gourd as well.

If I’ve been writing a lot about pumpkin beers, that means I’ve been drinking a lot of them as well. I’ve sampled a lot of them in the last couple of weeks. Drinking so many in such a short time has reminded me just what it was that I used to love about them.

What follows here are my raw, unedited tasting notes for a few of the beers I tried.

pumpkin patchPumpkin Patch Ale
Rogue Ales, Newport, Oregon
Style: Pumpkin Ale
Serving Style: 750ml bottle
6.1% ABV
25 IBU

Aroma: Balance of malt and spice. Malt is graham cracker and caramel. Spices are allspice, ginger, and cinnamon. Maybe slightly spice forward. No hops.

Appearance: Medium amber/copper and brilliant. Moderate, mixed bubble foam. Off white. Good retention.

Flavor: Malt and spice in approximate balance. Malt is graham cracker and caramel with light toasted biscuit. Sweetness is low. Spices are ginger, nutmeg. Low clove or allspice. Bitterness is medium-low. Cuts the sweetness. Low fruity esters – orange. Finish is just off dry with lingering orange, graham cracker and spice.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation. Low warming.

Overall Impression: Good malt/spice balance, but spices do take the lead. Much more and it would be too much. Pleasant enough, but somehow lacking that essential interest factor.

pumpkickPumpkick
New Belgium Brewing Company, Fort Collins, Colorado
Style: Pumpkin Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
6% ABV

Aroma: Melanoidin malt and spice. Subtle fruity notes. Malt is most prominent. Light caramel, melanoidin and low biscuit. Spices ginger and cinnamon. Orange peel fruitiness. Like a potpourri.

Appearance: Medium-light amber/orange. Cloudy. Moderate, creamy/mixed bubble foam. Off-white.

Flavor: Same potpourri effect from aroma. Fruit is very prominent. Orange peel, lemony citrus. Light floral notes. Cinnamon and nutmeg spice melds with the fruit. Malt is subtle – low caramel and graham cracker. Emphasis is on fruit and spice. Like mulled cider – slight acidic character. Lemony, lactic acid. Finish lingers on that acidity. Not dry, not sweet. Orange and lemon fruit carries over along with cinnamon spice.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Not warming.

Overall Impression: interesting sour take on the style. Very much like mulled cider – almost not beer like. Once I wrapped my head around that, the potpourri character didn’t bother me so much. I wish there was a touch more caramel to give a kind of caramel apple effect. Nice for a different approach, but I wouldn’t drink too much of it.

alaskan pumpkin aleAlaskan Pumpkin Ale
Alaskan Brewing Company, Juneau, Alaska
Style: Pumpkin Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
6% ABV
20 IBU

Aroma: Balance to spices with supporting malt. Ginger, nutmeg and allspice. Moderate level. Low cinnamon. Underlying malt is graham cracker and nutty. Low perception of sweetness. No hops.

Appearance: Light amber and clear. Full, creamy, ivory head with good retention.

Flavor: Spices lead. Cinnamon, ginger and allspice. Malt is low – with caramel and graham cracker character. Just supports spices. Moderate orangey esters bring a high note. Bitterness is medium-low. Not hop flavor. Finish is dry with lingering orange and ginger.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. No warming. Not creamy.

Overall Impression: Nice balance of malt and spices, but spices are just a touch too much for me. Pleasant, but would only have one. Good pumpkin-pie character.

wick for brainsWick for Brains Pumpkin Ale
Nebraska Brewing Company, Papillion, Nebraska
Style: Pumpkin Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. can
6.1% ABV
17 IBU

Aroma: Malt and spices in balance with brightening hop presence. Spices take a slight lead – allspice and ginger. Malt is lighter than many pumpkin beers – caramel, honey, low cereal graininess. Low perception of sweetness. Background of bright, citrus hops. Low fruity esters.

Appearance: Full, creamy, off-white head with good retention. Dark gold/orange and brilliant.

Flavor: Malt and spices in balance. Malt has caramel and grainy graham-cracker. Moderate perception of sweetness. Spices balance – allspice, ginger. Low notes of honey and some low red apple ester. Hop bitterness is low, but present – bolstered by spices. Finish is off-dry with lingering spices and caramel malt.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Low warming. Low creaminess. Not astringent.

Overall Impression: Lightest overall in this sampling. A bit “meh.” I like that spices don’t overwhelm. Most prominent “pumpkin” presence of all of them.

Summit Unchained #20: Sticke Alt

True story. A few days ago I had a dream about a new Minnesota brewery that made only German altbier. They made multiple varieties of altbier, most of which I had not even known existed. I was personally excited by this. I love altbier. But I remember telling the owner that his business plan seemed ill advised. Altbier is kind of an obscure style here in the US. And American consumers expect that breweries will make beers in a range of styles, unless the style that they make is overloaded with hops. In which case they can make as many variations of the same style as they want.

The notion of an all-altbier brewery did indeed seem strange in my dream. Yet, if you go to Düsseldorf, Germany, you will find not just one, but many breweries making nothing but altbier. It’s a whole city of altbier brewers.

“Altbier” in German means “old beer.” The term refers not to the age of the beer, but to the mode of production. Germans started making lager beers as early as the 1400s. Bottom fermenting yeast strains adapted for cold temperatures developed accidentally in the country’s south as a result of winter brewing and cave aging. Cold fermentation inhibited the growth of bacteria and other spoiling agents. Lager beers tasted cleaner than their top-fermenting counterparts. They had a longer shelf life and were therefore suited to wider distribution.

Over the period of a few hundred years, lager brewing gradually took over in the Garman-speaking realm. But a few cities clung tenaciously to their old (read “alt”) ale brewing traditions. One of those was Cologne or Köln, home of Kölsch, where in 1603 city leaders outlawed the making of bottom-fermented beer.

A little further downstream along the Rhine River was another holdout town, Düsseldorf. There are at least five altbier brewpubs located in the old city center (altstadt) of Düsseldorf. A number of other breweries making the style are located in and around the city outside the altstadt. They all brew beer that falls into a fairly narrow profile – amber to almost brown colored with assertive bitterness and complex, balancing maltiness reflecting kilned malt types. But each brewers imbues the beer with their own unique stamp. Some are bitterer, others lean more toward malt. Some are lighter, others more rich and filling. But these differences aside, when you are in Düsseldorf, altbier is what you drink.

Sticke (“secret”) Alt is a special variant on the altbier style that is brewed for special occasions, usually only twice a year. It is stronger, richer, and fuller-bodied than the typical altbier. Hopping rates are higher. 60 IBU is not unheard of for the style. But the malt profile is bolder as well. Sticke alt gushes with the nutty and toasty notes of kilned malt, occasionally overlaid with hints of bitter chocolate.

Summit brewer Mike Lundell has veered from his IPA track to create a Sticke altbier as the 20th installment in the brewery’s popular Unchained Series. The new beer hits the streets on draft and in bottles starting the week of October 12th. You can party with Lundell and the Summit crew at the Muddy Pig on October 14th from 5 – 7 PM.

Here’s my notes:

Sticke Alt BottleSummit Unchained #20: Sticke Alt
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Sticke Altbier
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
ABV: 6.3%
IBU: 55

Aroma: Malty with low supporting hops. Malt is bread crust with low nutty and toasty background notes. Hops are low – spicy/herbal, a touch of licorice. Clean fermentation.

Appearance: Dark mahogany and brilliant. Full, creamy, ivory to beige head with excellent retention.

Flavor: Malt forward but with ample hop balance. Bread crust, toast, caramel-like melanoidin, and a hint of dark chocolate and coffee. Medium-low sweetness. Hop bitterness is medium-high, but sharp and firm. Low spicy/herbal hop flavor – again with the hint of licorice, even mint. Clean fermentation. Finish is very dry with lingering malt – melanoidin and roast – and spicy hop flavor.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-full body. Medium carbonation. Some creaminess.

Overall Impression: Typically I’ll drink a first sample of a beer to form an impression and then write notes on the second. I’m writing these on the fourth sample. I like the first so much that it demanded another and another (not all on the same night). This beer hits all of my buzzers; lager-like fermentation, toasted malt flavors, malt-forward with ample supporting hops that are spicy, not fruity, in character. In short, it’s my kind of beer.

Sour Beer & Wine Dinner Featuring Schell’s Noble Star Beers

Jace Marti – Photo from The Growler Magazine

What: A Sour Beer/Boutique Wine/Small Plates Dinner with special guest, Jace Marti, of Schell’s Brewery
When: Thursday, October 1, 2015
Where: Salt Cellar Restaurant, 173 Western Ave N, St Paul, Minnesota
Arrive by: 6:15pm – Seated Small Plate Pairings start at 6:30pm
Cost: $80 (includes tax and gratuity). Price includes 11 libations, 5 small plates, 1 passed hors-d’oeuvre, and a panel of entertaining hosts

For the last few years, one of Minnesota’s most traditional breweries has also been one of its most innovative. And they are doing it by reviving a traditional, historic style – Berliner Weisse – using cypress-wood tanks that were purchased by that brewery in 1936.

The Noble Star Series of wood-aged Berliner weisse beers from August Schell Brewing Company have been some of the most interesting beers to come out of the Minnesota beer scene. Sixth-generation brewer Jace Marti has served up seven, Berliner-inspired, tart treats in the series, with more on the way.

It is said that Napoleon’s invading armies called Berliner weisse the “champagne of the north.” Many have compared wild-fermented and sour beers to fine wine. Believe me, wine drinkers love them. So what could be more natural than bringing wine and sour beer together in one extravagant meal?

Salt Cellar in St. Paul is thrilled to announce its first Beer/Wine dinner featuring five of the Noble Star beers (maybe one that hasn’t yet been released). Jace Marti will be on hand to talk about his beers and the new Star Keller, wood-aging facility that recently went into production.

We’re talking five courses, people! Salt Cellar Executive Chef Alan Bergo has paired each beer to a hand-crafted, small-plate dish. I’ll be on hand to help talk to those parings. And it’s not just beer. My favorite sommelier Leslee Miller is bringing wine to the table as well. That’s two beverages for each course! What? That’s crazy talk.

It might be crazy, but doesn’t it sound delicious? You know you want to be there.

Seating is limited and reservations are required by September 25th. You can make them by calling Salt Cellar’s General Manager, Blake Watson at 651-219-4012.

Hop Aged Cheese. Do Try This At Home.

hop-aged-cheese2Affinage is a French term that describes the aging and maturing of cheese. During this period of ripening, cheese develops its final set of flavors and textures. Each cheese has its own set of requirements. Temperature, humidity, and treatments such as washing, brushing, or turning all come into play.

In a workshop at the recent Midwest Craft Brewers Conference held at the University of Wisconsin Stout, beer and food writer Lucy Saunders introduced an extension of the affinage concept that hooked me at first bite – aging cheese on hops. She fed us pieces of goat cheese and butter that both had a delightfully bright citrus and floral aroma and flavor, which really stood out from the untreated sample. Saunders used dry hops for her demonstration, but this being hops harvest season it seemed a good time to try it at home with fresh.

I have two bushy bines of Cascade hops intertwining on top of the pergola in my back yard. They are prolific cone producers, but as I haven’t brewed beer at home in over three years they are mostly ornamental. They look pretty through the summer and then dry on the bine to provide some winter interest in my perennial garden. Armed with this new idea though, I decided to put some of them to use.

The process is simple. Line the bottom of a container with hops. I used plastic, food-storage containers. Using fresh hops I got the best results by tearing and rubbing the cones to crush the lupulin glands for better release of the aromatics. I surmise that you might want to do the same using dried cones. Once the hops are in, cover them with parchment paper. Cap that with the cheese, seal it up, and pop it in the refrigerator. Saunders recommended leaving it for no more than five to seven hours, but I achieved good results leaving it over night before removing the hops.

I have tried this technique with butter, chèvre, and sharp cheddar. All three were delicious. Lighter flavors work better, as the hop aromatics, though obvious, are easily overwhelmed. Chèvre worked the best. The flavor is light and the lactic acid tang of the cheese melds nicely with the citrusy side of the hops. It’s great spread on crackers and crusty bread, but I also enjoy it on sliced, fresh tomatoes. The butter brightens a batch of popcorn with a subtle hoppy zing and is also tasty spread onto a chunk of crusty bread. The cheddar is good eaten all by itself. Its stronger flavor yields a subtler, but still noticeable effect. It’s reminiscent of pairing the cheese with a refreshing American pale ale.

Hop aging cheese is easy to do and so tasty. There is no good reason not to do this. Maybe next time I’ll try some non-American hop varieties.

What other goodies could I infuse with the zesty aromas of hops? Hmmmmm….

step-1

Step 1: Line the container with torn-up hop cones.

Step 2: Cover hops with parchment paper.

Step 2: Cover hops with parchment paper.

Step 3: Put in the cheese, seal, and refrigerate.

Step 3: Put in the cheese, seal, and refrigerate.