Lift Bridge and Flat Earth at Stub & Herb’s

People Enjoying Flat Earth and Lift Bridge Beers.About seventy-five people were on hand for the Brewery of the Month tasting at Stub & Herb’s Wednesday night featuring the Twin Cities own Flat Earth and Lift Bridge breweries. Five dollars got you a tasting glass with coupons for seven beers and a $1.00 discount on a special cask of Double Hopped Pale Ale from Lift Bridge. This was in addition to the discounted priced on all Flat Earth and Lift Bridge pints. There was plenty of opportunity to chat with the brewers. All four of the Lift Bridge guys were there as were Jeff and Cathie Williamson from Flat Earth.

The Flat Earth beers sampled included Cygnus X-1 Porter, Black Helicoper Coffee Stout, Rode Haring, and the 2007 Winter Warlock barleywine. All of these beers were great. The rich coffee/chocolate malt and hint of rye spiciness of the Cygnus X-1 make it one of my favorite locally produced beers. The only dissapointment here was that they only had the straight porter and none of the infused versions they have recently been selling in growlers at the brewery. Oh well. The Rode Haring, a blend of sour Flemish Red Ale and malty Biere de Garde, was also a taste treat. I had tasted the original un-blended Flemish Red a while back and found it disappointing. Jeff Williamson, Flat Earth owner and brewer, admitted that they had missed the peak bottling opportunity and it had become too sour. The blend brought back some malty sweetness while leaving a good amount of the funky tart character.Brad Glynn describes Farmgirl Saison

The Lift Bridge beers were Farm Girl Saison, Pale Ale, Biscotti, and the special Double Hopped Pale Ale. I have always been a fan of the Lift Bridge Pale Ale. The hint of toasted Vienna malt supports an assertive citrus hop with the pithy flavor of grapfruit zest giving it all an extra punch. The real treat of the night from Lift Bridge was the Biscotti. I had heard about this beer but this was my first opportunity to try it. From the name and the minimal discriptions that I had read, I was expecting a nutty, malt dominant beer with perhaps some hints or spice or some chocolate notes. What I got was a delightful belgian ale with funky, spicy yeast character and some lightly toasted malt. Delicious. By the way, the Lift Bridge guys are soliciting new names for the Pale Ale. If you have ideas for names that reflect the St. Croix River Valley give them a shout. To quote co-owner Brad Glynn, “Whoever comes up with the name that we end up using will be treated very well.”

The greatest pleasure of the evening was the 2007 Winter Warlock Barleywine from Flat Earth. The last time I had this beer was at Winterfest last year. I thought this beer was good then. The year of aging has really done nice things for it. This was a smooth, balanced, lightly sweet English style barleywine that left me wanting more. There isn’t much of this left. If you find some, pick it up. I have a bomber stashed in my basement. Maybe I’ll drink it…maybe I’ll see what another year will do for it.

Scotty Karate Scotch Ale

Dark Horse Scotty KarateDark Horse Brewing Co., Marshall, Michigan
Style: Strong Scotch Ale
Serving Style: Draft

Aroma: Sweet caramel malt with wisps of smoke.
Appearance: Brown and murky with little to no head.
Flavor: Rich malty complexity, chocolate, caramel, smoke, with some dark fruity undertones. Very light bitterness. More smokey than I expected, but that’s not a bad thing. Flavor does not even hint at the 9% ABV.
Mouthfeel: Silky, creamy, and rich. I would have sworn this was on a nitrogen tap, but it wasn’t. Low carbonation. Only the slightest hint of alcohol warmth.
Overall Impression: This is a very satisfying beer. Rich, sweet, malty, with all that lovely smoke. The richness and high alcohol would probably limit me to one glass, however.

Black Beers: Porters, Stouts, & Other Specialty Ales

Next Perfect Pint Beer Club Event

When: Friday, February 13, 2009
Cost: $20
You must be a member of the club to attend. Go to the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club to sign up and RSVP.

Rich and roasty, intriguingly opaque, and topped with an inviting creamy tan head, the black beers are like winter weather comfort food. We’ll sample a wide range of black beers ranging from the light roast and caramel of the Brown Porters to the thick and intensely flavorful Russian Imperial Stout. There may even be a non-stout/porter specialty beer thrown in for fun.

If you think you don’t like black beers, you haven’t tried them all. Come explore the full, rich, wonderful world of black beers with us.

Cheap Beer Night

Cheap Beer NightI organize a monthly beer tasting group. It’s a small gathering of beer-educated friends who get together once a month to taste beers and talk about them. Each month we have a theme. The theme for January was “cheap beer.” The assignment was to find beers we had never tried but might actually want to drink for $7.00/six-pack or less.
The search proved more difficult than expected. When I started looking I realized that I had not paid much attention to how much I had been paying for beer. Aside from the light lager offerings of the big three breweries, there isn’t much out there for under $7/six-pack. With beer prices rising, this will become even more difficult in the future. However, as the event drew closer, everyone got into the spirit and we engaged in a race to the bottom in terms of price. Prices paid for six-packs ranged from $1.99 to $6.50.
The results of the experiment were interesting. We tasted 15 beers that ranged wildly in both style and quality. The entire list is at the end of this post. I’ll go over the high and low points here. The best beer of the evening was Black Hook Porter from Red Hook, purchased for $6.50. Okay, so that price was due to a mistake by the retailer, but we still let it in. This beer was dominated by coffee flavored roast malt with some caramel and a generous helping of American hops to balance it all out. It was really tasty. The Black Hook Porter was closely followed by Schlafly Coffee Stout from St. Louis Brewing Company. This was purchased in St. Louis for $6. An oatmeal stout made with cold-pressed espresso coffee, this had a huge coffee nose and flavor and a rich creamy/greasy mouthfeel from the oats. The coffee character was too intense for some, but most of us liked it. Other beers of note were St. Benedict Winter Ale from Point Brewing ($5.25), a Belgian tinged, spiced amber ale, and Michelob Pale Ale ($6.99). This was surprisingly good with decent caramel malt and a good helping of cascade hops, especially in the aroma. For the price it was worth picking up.Contemplating the finer points of Lone Star
The low points were the Twisted Tea and Baltika #9. These two “malt beverages” were headaches waiting to happen. The Twisted Tea was the lowest priced selection of the evening at $1.99. It had distinct citrusy green tea flavors that might have been good had it not been for the massive overload of sugar. If you like to drink REALLY sweet tea, this might be just the beverage for you. I think we emptied half a bottle for six people. The Baltika #9 was one of the more interesting beers of the evening. It was packaged in a 51 oz. brown plastic bottle for $2.85. This was an under-attenuated sugar bomb with fruity pineapple notes and a unique model glue aroma and flavor. It was a bit like drinking the syrup from a can of pineapple with a bit of rubber cement added for extra viscosity.
The surprise of the evening was Fat Cat Lager. Available in fine liquor stores for $7.99/twelve-pack, this Vienna style lager shocked everyone with the amount of flavor it had; and not bad flavor at that. Light caramel and toasted malt with subdued yet noticeable hops. It was a little on the sweet side and faded almost instantly into nothing at the finish, but we all agreed that if you are looking for a lot of beer for a little bit of money, this is a good choice.
A Selection of Fine Ales and LagersThe one general observation that we made during this exercise was how sweet all of these inexpensive beers were. There was a definite sugar buzz to be had in addition to the effects of alcohol. We speculated that it could be intentional under-attenuation to give these beers some kind of flavor that might otherwise not be there if they were allowed to ferment out more fully. It could also be due to the noticeable lack of hops that would have balanced some of the sweetness. Overall though, we were surprised at the diversity of beers and, in some cases, even the quality of beers that we were able to find for under $7.00.
The full list of beers included Sleeman’s IPA 46, Baltika #9, Leinenkugel Original, Carta Blanca, Chelada, Brau Bros. Scotch Ale, Point St. Benedict Winter Ale, Schlafly Coffee Stout, Lone Star, Black Hook Porter, Leinenkugel 1888 Bock, Michelob Pale Ale, and Twisted Tea. Those in attendance were Wilbur Ince, Al Boyce, Paul Dienhart, Jonathan Crist, Mark Johnson, and Michael Agnew.

Battle of the Beers V: The Belgian Broil

Belgian vs. Belgian-American vs. American-Belgian

Monday, pharm February 2nd
6:30 PM
At The Four Firkins
Cost: $15

Belgium! To some it is the world axis of beer and brewing. Its beer culture and brewing tradition spans centuries and encompasses some of the most complex and satisfying beer styles known. Since the dawning days of the American Craft Beer movement, nurse Belgian brews from the pious Trappists to the sassy sours have served as muse, inspiring imitation, interpretation, and adulation from a host of American brewers. But now the tables have turned. New crews of Belgian brewers have turned their vision westward and are furiously remaking American styles in return. Heeding the “more, more, more” cry of the American brewers, the Belgians are hefting heaps of hops into re-envisioned, Belgian-inflected Double IPAs. It has become a case of cross-cultural inoculation. But this begs the question…whose beer is better?

The lines have been drawn for an epic battle of the beers; a Belgian brouhaha in three rounds. Which country will emerge victorious from the crucible of Firkin Forum? You will be the judge. Let the Belgian Broil begin!

Limited to 35 attendees.
To register email with “Belgian Broil” in the subject line.
Participants will be selected by lottery. You will be informed if you have been selected.

Alaskan IPA

Alaskan IPAAlaskan Brewing Company, help Juneau, Alaska
Style: India Pale Ale
Serving Style: 22 oz Bottle

Aroma: Citrus and pine American hops
Appearance: Light amber/deep gold. Lighter than expected, must be mostly base malts. Fluffy and persistent white head.
Flavor: Grainy malt with very light caramel balanced by pine and citrus hops. Medium-high bitterness and hop flavor is lower than expected and allows the malt to shine through.
Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation.
Overall Impression: A solid IPA. Nice malt with lighter than expected hops. I think I have come to expect “greatness” from Alaskan Brewing and this was not “great”. It was just a good IPA. That said, I would certainly have a couple more.

Think Global. Drink Local.

Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club

Inaugural Event

Think Global. Drink Local. Great beers from regional
breweries in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Saturday, January 17, 2009
7:00 – 9:30 PM
Cost: $15

Email for information. Or go to the Perfect Pint Beer Club to become a member and RSVP on line.

About the Event:
You don’t have to go far to find great beers in a wide range of styles. The last few years have seen a proliferation of small breweries in the Twin Cities Metro, the wider state of Minnesota, and next door in Wisconsin. Breweries like Flat Earth, Furthermore, Tyranena, and New Glarus are quickly gaining national attention.

I have a great selection lined up including beers from Surly Brewing Company, Flat Earth Brewing Company, Lift Bridge Brewing, Town Hall Brewery, Furthermore Beer, Dark Horse, New Glarus and more.

Come taste the great beers of the region and find out why the Upper Midwest could soon become a beer Mecca to rival Denver.

About the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club:
TC Perfect Pint Beer Club is for people who want to learn about and enjoy great beer in fun, intimate, small-group settings.
We will meet each month in a member’s home to socialize and sample a selection of fine beers from the US and abroad. Nothing brings people together like beer.
To make the socializing part manageable, events will be limited to 20 guests. Each event will range in price from $15 to $30 and will include the beer, light munchies. Each month’s event will revolve around a theme. It may be a beer style. Maybe it’s a region. Whatever the theme, we will be tasting a selection of great beers.
This group is open to anyone who is enthusiastic about beer. It’s not just for experts and beer geeks. It’s not for folks who are just interested in a monthly beer party. This is a club for people who are genuinely interested in learning about beer and exploring the full range of flavors and styles that beer has to offer.
Please contact me if you have any questions.

Russian River Brewing Company

Russian River Brewing CompanyTook a trip up north today into wine country to have lunch at Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California. Best known perhaps for their exemplary Double IPA Pliny The Elder, brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo also brews a full line of other ales including an extensive selection of barrel aged Belgian style and sour beers.

Russian River is one of those breweries with a reputation that far exceeds their production capacity. A very small brewery that distributes in only a few states , their beers are known and sought out by beer geeks across the country. In this case the reputation is well deserved. I enjoyed a sampler tray with lunch that included all eleven tap beers. Of the eleven, there were only two that were disappointing…and these were good beers, just not quite up to the standard of the nine others in my view. So let’s run down some of the highlights.

First, the two that I found less sumptuous. The Damnation, a Belgian Strong Golden Ale, was not bad, but seemed to lack the fruity/spicy complexity of other Russian River Belgian ales or similar beers from other breweries. The OVL Stout, an Irish Dry Stout, had a nice creamy mouthfeel and some nice coffee/roast malt notes, but was again, nothing to jump up and down about.

Now to the great stuff…Of the nine remaining beers, my favorite was Pliny the Elder. You can read about it in my reivew, but it bears talking about again here. This is a wonderfully crafted beer. Bright, bold hop bitterness and flavor with deep balancing malt. If this were the only beer Russian River brewed, it would still be worth the visit. There were two other IPAs in the selection, Blind Pig and Russian River IPA. Of the two, I preferred the Blind Pig. It again had a good hop/malt balance with nice caramel and biscuit character in the malt.

Of the Belgians I tried, I loved Salvation, a strong dark ale with rich dark fruit and characteristic Belgian yeasty phenolics. It weighs in at a sneaky, drinkable 9% ABV. Sanctification, a blond ale fermented with 100% brettanomyces wild yeast was also nice. Breattanomyces is a wild yeast strain that is a major part of what gives Belgian lambic and Flemish ales their characteristic sour funk. Light and tart with a touch of horse blankety wild funkiness, Sanctification has all the qualities I would expect from a brettanomyces beer, but have not found in some others I have tried. I also enjoyed the Perdition. Called a biere de Sonoma, it is a dry and bitter Biere de Garde style with rich toasty malt to balance the spicy Belgian yeast.

Also of note were Aud Blonde, a light blond ale with nice bready malt and bright spicy hops, and a nice creamy/caramelly porter.

The food was good too. We each had a calzone full of pesto and rich creamy cheese. If you happen to find yourself in the Bay Area, its worth a trip up to wine country for a Russian River beer.

Mendocino Red Tail Ale

Mendocino Brewing was founded in 1983 and is located in Ukiah, California, about 2-hours north of San Francisco. Red Tail Ale was their original brew and remains their flagship.

Red Tail AleMendocino Brewing, Ukiah, California
Style: American Amber Ale
Serving Style: 22 oz bottle

Aroma: As stopped up as I am from this cold it’s kind of hard to tell. I think there is some minty/spicy hop in there and maybe a little caramel malt.
Appearance: Light copper, lighter than expected for an amber. Moderate off-white head.
Flavor: Spicy and piney hop notes dominate with moderately high bitterness. Light caramel malt. Clean yeast character with no fruitiness.
Mouthfeel: Medium light body with medium carbonation.
Overall Impression: Less caramel character than desired, but overall a solid American Amber. Nothing to get all excited about, but a good every day beer.