Brouwerij Strubbe Ichtegem, Belgium
Style: Flanders Brown Ale
Serving Style: 750 ml Bottle
A traditional sour ale from the West Flanders region of Belgium, Oud Bruin is less sour with a richer malt profile than its close cousin the Flanders Red Ale. While I prefer the more sour red, the brown is worth a try for those who aren’t crazy about the sour.
Aroma: Light lactic sour, Raisins, Caramel. Appearance: Dark mahogany, clear. Huge off-white head that dissipated fairly quickly leaving lace. Flavor: Caramelized raisins with background sour cherries. Maybe a hint of roast or toast. Mouthfeel: Medium body. High carbonation. Overall Impression: A rich dark fruit and caramel explosion with background sourness. Let this warm up a bit before drinking. Oud Bruin is not my favorite style, but I enjoyed it.
Weihenstephan and Doemens Institute Weihenstephan, cialisambulance Germany
Style: Berliner Weisse
Serving Style: 16 oz. Bottle
This beer is one of two beers brewed from historic recipes by Dr. Fritz Briem of the Doemens Institute. It is a very traditional Berliner Weisse, a sour Northern German wheat beer style that is slowly going extinct. Aside from this example, only one of the old Berliner Weisse breweries is still operating in Germany.
Aroma: Lactic sourness dominates with an underlying bready malt. Appearance: Light golden in color with only the slightest haze. Ample and persistent fluffy white head. Flavor: Saltine cracker wheat malt flavors blend with white wine and pear fruitiness. Bright lactic acid tartness. As the beer warms the sourness subsides and the wheat comes forward. Pleasant and refreshing all the way through. Mouthfeel: Effervescent carbonation. Light body, but there is a richness that comes from the wheat. Overall Impression: Sour, but not excessive. Bright, spritzy, and refreshing. Good balance of wheaty flavors and body with the lactic tartness. I have paired this style with baby field greens salad in a champagne vinaigrette and it is magic.
The other beer from this series is a 13th Century Guit Beer. I highly recommend it.
Official registration is not yet open, but I am so excited about this event that I had to issue a preview. I have been travelling a lot in the last two months and have rounded up an incredible line-up of beers from some of the best breweries in the country. The You Can’t Get This HereChallenge will bring together six locally unavailable beers in a super-epic battle in Firkin Forum. You can’t even get these beers in Hudson.
Here’s the list of combatants:
Russian River’s Pliny the Elder vs. Port Brewing HOP-15
Allagash/DeProef Le Deux Brasseurs vs Russian River Damnation 23
Lost Abbey Serpent Stout vs Port Brewing Old Viscosity
Should be an epic bout. Watch for official registration instructions coming later.
Saturday, March 21st was Firkin Fest at the Happy Gnome. For those of us wanting to enjoy good beer and good company without the hype and crowd of a festival, there was Malty Beer Night with the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club. Seven people gathered at the home of fellow club member Kevin Butler to chew on cheese, munch on malt, and best of all drink a lot of great malt forward beers. This was the first of three monthly meetings that will explore the flavor contributions of beer’s three main ingredients, malt, hops, and yeast. April is hop month for any interested hopheads out there.
The night started with Fuller’s ESB. Chosen to show a balanced representation of all three ingredients, this beer starts with a sharp bitterness and herbal hop that quickly gives way to luscious caramel/toffee malt with a good dose of yeast derived fruit. It was a favorite for the night. From there it was on to an assortment of full-on malt focused beers, starting with Weihenstephaner Munich Helles. Like an under-hopped pilsner, this beer features clean bready malt with moderate bitterness and a background of spicy continental hops. This was followed by another southern German lager, Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel showcasing deep toasty bread crust malt. Another crowd pleaser, we emptied these bottles early.
The next beers brought us closer to home with a local and a regional pick. A growler of Hope and King Scotch Ale from Town Hall Brewery in Minneapolis introduced the rich, nutty sweetness of caramel malt with just a hint of roast. This growler didn’t last long either. For real roast malt character we had Three Feet Deep smoked stout from Furthermore Beer in Wisconsin. This is a somewhat sweet dry stout with nice coffee and chocolate flavors and a subtle smoke from the use of peat smoked malt. While this was one of my favorites for the night, others found the smoke to be too intense. Oh well, more for me.
At this point, we moved into the realm of big beers starting with Celebrator Doppelbock. Rich, toasty, caramel flavors meld with malt derived, raisiny, dark fruit notes and a pleasantly warming alcohol to make this another winner for the event. Or maybe it was the added bonus of the little plastic goat that comes with every bottle. Next was Rejewvenator, a doppelbock/Belgian dubbel hybrid brewed with fig juice from Shmaltz Brewing/Hebrew Beer. The group was split on this one as some found the figs to be too intense. We closed the night with Back Burner Barleywine from Southern Tier. This was the only beer of the night that I had not already tried. The description on the bottle and on the Southern Tier website led me to expect a big, malt-forward, English style barleywine. Unfortunately (for the event, not for the beer) the bitterness was too intense and the hop flavor was decidedly American. While it was a tasty beer, it wasn’t quite the malty sweet English barleywine that I was going for.
One thing at this event that all found helpful was having examples of brewers malt on hand to chew on and compare to the flavors in the beers. There were six malts to taste including two base malts, pilsner and Munich, as well as English and American caramel malts, Belgian Special B toasted malt, and English chocolate malt to represent the dark roasted malts. Some of us decided, myself included, that a little bit of Munich malt would be a great addition to breakfast cereal. All in all, good company and good beer made for a good time. The next Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club will be on April 10th. Hoppy Beers is the theme. Come check us out.
Panil Torrechiara, doctor Italy
Style: Flanders Red Ale
Serving Style: 750 ml Bottle
Aroma: Tart acidity, stuff blackberries, and oak Appearance: Beautiful ruddy mahogany. Fluffy off-white head that last a good long time. Clear. Flavor: Mix of tart acidity, berries, cherries, and leather. Vanilla and woody oak character. Toasty malt lurks in the background. Tasty. Mouthfeel: Medium body but with a wheat-like richness. Medium-high carbonation. Overall Impression: While not as full flavored as Rodenbach Grand Cru, this is a tasty example of an oak aged Flanders Red Ale. Acidic sourness is prominent, but not overpowering. Berry aromas and flavors are wonderful. I enjoyed it.
Hops! Humulus lupulus. The bitter and spice of beer. First mentioned for brewing in 1079, once banned in England as a “wicked and pernicious weed”, hops only slowly triumphed over the herbal mixtures called gruit once used to bitter beer. Their various acids and oils provide bitterness to balance the sweetness of malt and give beer many of the flavors and aromas that many people identify as “beery.”
For this meetup we’ll focus on hops. We’ll taste beers that highlight the fruit of the “bine” in all of its variety, from the sublime perfume of Czech Saaz in the Bohemian Pilsner to the subtle grassy/floral notes of an English Bitter and the grapefruit and pine of the American IPA. We’ll push the bounds of bitterness with the palate numbing Double IPA and maybe even take on a specialty beer or two.
This is the second in a series of three meetups in which we will explore the main ingredients in beer, malt, hops, and yeast. At each session we will taste beers that highlight one ingredient over the others to develop a better understanding the flavor and aromatic contributions of each ingredient.
In the last ten years the Scandinavian countries have been experiencing an explosion in craft brewing resembling what happened in this country twenty-five years ago. Until very recently light lagers produced by just three or four large industrial breweries were the only beers available in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland Now small breweries are springing up all over, making tiny Denmark a world leader for number of breweries per capita. The brewers responsible for this boom are turning out beers influenced by all the major brewing traditions including Belgium, England, and of course the United States. In the last year, More and more of these beers have shown up on store shelves right here in Minnesota. Maybe the state’s heritage is drawing them here, a kind of second-wave of Scandinavian immigration. Whatever it is, these beers were drawing my attention. I decided it was time to try some of them, so “Scandinavia” was the theme for the March meeting of my Beer Tasting Group.
For those who have not read the earlier postings in this blog, I organize a monthly beer tasting group. It is an informal gathering of beer knowledgeable people who come together once a month to taste and talk about new beers. Each month has a theme. Past themes have included “That beer on the shelf that you have always looked at but never actually bought”, Cheap Beers, and “Category 23.”
In all, we tasted thirteen beers from the region, with a range of styles that included ESB, a handful of Double IPAs, two or three Barleywines, as well as porters and spiced ales. From this sampling we made a couple of general observations. First, the Scandinavian brewers, perhaps taking a cue from the Americans, seem to like big beers. Eight of the thirteen we tasted were at 7% ABV or higher with the biggest topping out at 13%. Second, these beers more closely resembled English and continental beers than their more brash American counterparts. One or two of the bottles boasted of the “balanced” character of the beer inside. There were no over-the-top-hop-bombs here. Even in the Double IPAs, one with 100 IBU of bitterness, there was a strong enough malt backbone to render the beer almost sweet.
The only bad beer of the batch was a Brown Ale from Nøgne-Ø of Norway. The bottle we had was described by the group variously as “heavily oxidized”, “garbagy”, and “sour milk.” I have had this beer on three separate occasions. Each time is was a radically different beer, ranging from toasty and delicious to excessively roasty, to whatever was happening with this bottle. It suggests that this brewery has some issues with consistency. Another that met with some dislike was Kloster Jul, a Belgian inspired holiday ale from Ølfabrikken of Denmark. The label describes a beer brewed with tart cherries and spiced with anise root. The dominant flavor was a yeast derived green banana. The cherry notes were subtle but noticeable and partially covered by a pronounced cinnamon and anise spice. Despite the intense banana and somewhat clumsy spicing, I didn’t mind this beer altogether. Others were less generous.
There were many very good beers sampled. I’ll start with Huvila ESB from Finland. This beer was all caramel and toffee malt balanced by restrained floral English hops. It was every bit an ESB and a right good one at that. Another English style ale that everyone loved was the 2006 Little Korkny Ale from Denmark’s Nørrebro Bryghus. This super-fruity English style barleywine explodes with cherries, apricots, plums and a whole cornucopia of other fruits. It is a sweet, malt-forward beer, but it has enough hop bitterness to keep it from being cloying. This would be a good beer to cellar for a year or two.
My favorite beer of the night was Beer Geek Brunch Weasel from Mikkeller. The Mikkeller brewery is an interesting story. Based in Denmark, brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø has an itinerant brewing practice. He rents into breweries all over Europe and the United States creating interesting beers that reflect both his own brewing aesthetic and the tastes of the regions and breweries in which he brews. The Beer Geek Brunch Weasel is brewed at Nøgne-Ø and is itself a bit of an interesting story. This coffee infused imperial oatmeal stout uses Civet Cat coffee to achieve an intense yet smooth coffee flavor. For those who don’t know, Civet Cats eat coffee beans; supposedly only the best. The enzymes in their digestive systems work on the beans to give them a distinctive flavor (as one might imagine). The scat of these bean-munching felines is then collected. The beans, once freed from their fecal pod (and one hopes cleaned) become the rarest and most expensive coffee in the world. I can only say that this is the best coffee beer I have ever tasted. It is well worth picking up a bottle.
The full list of beers at Scandinavia Night included Huvila Arctic Circle, Huvila ESB, Nøgne-Ø Brown Ale, Nøgne-Ø Double IPA, Carnegie Stark Porter 2004 & 2006, Mikkeller/Three Floyds Oatgoop, Mikkeller Big Bad Worse Barleywine, Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel, Ølfabrikken Kloster Jul, Haand Bryggeriet Double Dram, Nørrebro Bryghus North Bridge Extreme, and Nørrebro Bryghus Little Korkny Ale 2006. Those in attendance were Jonathan Crist, Gera Exire Latour, Joel Stitzel, Paul Dienhart, Al Boyce, and Michael Agnew.
Furthermore Beer Spring Green, Wisconsin
Style: Specialty Ale
Serving Style: Draft
Aroma: Lightly toasty with a good amount of funk from the Brettanomyces yeast. Appearance: Murky and red. Low head that didn’t persist. Flavor: Intense black pepper emphasized by a fairly high hop bitterness. Very light roasty malt. Earthy, barnyard funkiness with some acidic sourness, although the sourness is subdued. A nice yeasty fruit character of cherries and stone fruits came through as the beer warmed. Mouthfeel: Medium body with moderately high carbonation. Some astringency from the pepper and hops. Overall Impression: Furthermore says that this is a mostly wheat based beer with a bit of roasted malt for color, black pepper, beet extract, two kinds of wild Brettanomyces yeast cultures, and an acid producing bacterial culture. Kind of a beety American sour ale. I liked the beer but found level of black pepper to be distracting. The beer definitly improved as it warmed and the fruity character of the wild yeasts came through. Don’t be afraid to let this one sit in front of you for a bit. Order it before you finish the beer you are drinking.
I was at the Original Goose Island Brewpub in Chicago last night. The guest beer on tap was Boon Mariage Parfait Gueuze. Remembering how good it was at the Hop Leaf last week, I had to make it one of my beers for the evening. I wanted to get a taster of it so that my friend could taste it. The waitress informed me that they weren’t doing tasters of it because their single keg had cost $500. That is one costly keg.
On my drive down to Chicago this week I was listening to a Brewing Network podcast. Two topics from the show stood out to me. The first was a discussion of the current generation of twenty-somethings who have never known a time when there wasn’t good beer. The craft brewing revolution began around the time that they were born and exploded when they were ten or eleven years old. They have never known a time when a trip to the store meant a choice between ten different light lagers, all basically the same beer in different labels. They cannot remember the days when “good beer” meant St. Pauli Girl, Becks, or Lowenbrau Dark. Many were not even born when Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale came crashing onto the national scene, changing everything. The second topic that stuck in my head from the drive was a Forbes Magazine list of the top-ten beer bars in the country. Fairly high on the list was the Hop Leaf in Chicago. It had been probably ten years since I had visited the Hop Leaf so I resolved to stop in on this trip. While there, the two stories from the podcast came together. Nestled on Clark Street in the bustling Andersonville neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side, The Hop Leaf is an intimate bar with a vaguely European ambiance. It was a tad loud for my taste in the main bar area, but otherwise comfortable. On this trip I discovered a back dining room that I never knew existed despite having spent a few nights drinking beer there while I still lived in Chicago. As you have to go through it to get to the bathroom, I don’t have a clue how I could have missed it. I made a mental note to come back on a night when I haven’t already eaten dinner to enjoy a pot of steamed mussels and frites. The bartender assured me that the Mussels-for-one pot contained “more mussels than you can count” for $11. The rest of the menu looked good too, with entrees ranging from $14 to $25.
But I had come for the beer. I counted 41 draft offerings and the bartender says the ever-changing bottle selection hovers around 250. Belgian beers are well represented here. They seemed to make up the bulk of the beer list and probably half of the draft selection. Pretty much every Belgian style is represented from light Wibiers to Belgian Pale Ales, Abbey Styles, and the sourest of the sours. But Belgians aren’t all they have and there is something here to please every beer palate. I started with the Amber Ale from Dark Horse Brewing. Expecting a simple American Amber, I got a Belgian instead. This tasty beer was like an American Amber with a Belgian twist. Caramel malt with an assertive spicy hop bitterness was underscored by banana and black pepper from a Belgian yeast strain. It was unexpected and delicious.
My next beer was Atomium Grand Cru. This strong wit style beer is brewed with barley, spelt, maize, rye, wheat, buckwheat, orange, and coriander. It is refreshing and fruity with a full body and dry finish that is enhanced by the spiciness of the rye. I capped the night with a glass of Boon Mariage Parfait Gueuze. This is sour beer the way it should be. Cidery, vinous, acidic, fruity, and funky. Notes of apricot, pear, tobacco, and farm animals. When the bartender came to take my order for another beer I told her that I had to stop because nothing they had on tap could match the beer that I had just consumed.
As I looked around the bar the two stories I had heard on the Brewing Network came back to me. Here I sat at the bar in the Hop Leaf, number whatever on the Forbes Magazine list, and I couldn’t help but notice the number of twenty-somethings, especially women, enjoying great beer. Watching people order, it was clear they either knew what they were ordering or were willing and eager to experience some new beer taste sensation. This is normal to them. This is beer to them. I take comfort in that.