St. Paul Summer Beer Fest

A few thoughts following the St. Paul Summer Beer Fest

Last Sunday was the first St. Paul Summer Beer Fest. It hopefully won’t be the last. While there are several beer festivals through the year in the Twin Cities, it is good to have one smack in the middle of summer. The weather was perfect, if a little windy. The beer was great. And it seemed as though all in attendance were having a good time.

I want to give kudos to Mark and Juno, the organizers of the event. This was their first attempt at staging a beer festival and they did a great job. From my experience and observation it was very well run. The parking lot at Midway Stadium was a great location, providing ample yet focused space for people to form beer lines and just mill about. Picnic tables in the middle gave folks a place to sit down, not unwelcome when the whole afternoon is spent drinking beer. Booth access for brewers and vendors was super easy. There was enough food and the lines for food and toilets moved pretty quickly. All-in-all, well done!

Congratulations to Flat Earth Brewing for taking the People’s Choice award for their Sunburst Ale. The honor is well deserved. This apricot infused version of their Belgian Pale Ale has become one of my favorite local brews and was the best of the beers I sampled at the event.

Congratulations also to the folks who won the Perfect Pint beer tasting party in the silent auction. Give me a call or shoot me an email and we will set up your event.

I was working at the event representing A Perfect Pint, so my sampling was limited. I commented to someone that this was the most sober I had ever been at a beer festival. It made for some interesting people watching. I was fascinated as the lines formed and ebbed for both food and toilets. Particularly interesting was the shift in the lines from these two things to the breathalyzer machines as the festival drew to a close. The Perfect Pint table was next to these handy machines so I got to watch as festival attendees, having just finished a beer, blew .35 or more BAC. I also witnesses as one guy who had clearly sampled a good number of beers blew a 0.00 BAC. I don’t think he believed the machine either. Good thing. As the day went on the number of cheers that rose from the crowd as patrons dropped their tasting glasses increased.  It totally seemed like everyone was having a good time. The pinnacle for me though was the couple I spotted as the bagpipes played the event to a close, swaying to some unheard music with large brown stains all down the front of their white T-shirts.

There were a few breweries represented that I had never tried and a couple that I had never heard of. One of the latter was Gray’s Brewing Company of Janesville, Wisconsin. I tried their ESB and found it to be quite tasty. I’ll have to give some other of their beers a try. I was also pleased with both of the offerings from Founders Brewery. Their Red’s Rye P.A. was pleasantly hoppy with balancing malt and a nice touch of spicy rye character. While the cherry flavor in the Cerise was a little candied, I still enjoyed this tart, refreshing beer. [EDIT] I forgot that I had wanted to mention Minnesota Tan from Stillwater’s Lift Bridge Brewery. This was my first opportunity to try this, their newest release. A so-called lingonberry tripel, this is a tart, extra-dry beer with nice berry flavor and a bit of the Belgian fruit and spice yeasty character. I enjoyed it and would recommend trying it if you find it on a menu.

Once again, great job Juno and Mark. Please do it again next year.

This is one of my favorite beers…

A recap of the June Perfect Pint Beer Club meeting.

Happy Pinters Tasting Great BeerLast Friday a record number of Twin Cities Perfect Pinters gathered to taste “some of my favorite beers.” At past events members have mocked me (lovingly of course) for the number of times I say, “This is one of my favorite beers.” Because of this relentless ribbing, I decided to inflict my favorites upon them (lovingly, of course). It was fun to pick beers for this one as I could just go into the store, look around, and say, “Oh yes, that’s good. ” At the same time, when confronted with the chore of picking my favorite beers I had to face the obvious dilemma of where to start.

We started with Bluebird Bitter from Coniston Brewing in England. I have sung the praises of Bluebird Bitter to anyone willing to listen for some time. Light, refreshingly bitter but balanced with caramel and  biscuit malt and wisps of orange marmalade, this is simply a delightful beer. Bluebird Bitter is my “desert island” beer. Mentioning this to the group meant explaining the difference between a “favorite” beer and a “desert island” beer. To me a desert island beer is one that you can drink over and over for an extended period. It should be highly drinkable, meaning not too heavy or alcoholic. It needs enough complexity to keep it interesting, but not so much that it would overwhelm over time. Of course it needs to taste great. That to me describes Consiston Bluebird Bitter.

We followed up the Bluebird with Schlenkerla Helles Lager from Germany’s Heller-Trum brewery, famous for the Aecht Schlenkerla Nick and Corysmoked beers. The Helles Lager has the heart of a solid Munich Helles style lager with bready/grainy malt sweetness and balancing spicy hops. This version is enhanced by a subtle smoke that comes from being brewed in the same equipment as the smoked beers. The smokiness here is not as intense as in the true smoked beers, making it palatable even to those who don’t like smoked beers. Staying on the lighter side, we moved next to Sunburst Ale from Flat Eearth Brewing in St. Paul. One of the many infused ales offered by Flat Earth, Sunburst starts life as the Belgian Pale Ale. An infusion of fresh apricots turns it into an explosion of sunny fruity goodness. As one attendee said, “The name is absolutely appropriate. ” This beer paired beautifully with some sliced melon that our host Alex had prepared.

From there we stepped it up a notch, moving to beers with stronger flavors and higher alcohol, starting with Traquair Jacobite from Traquar House in Scotland. This rich Strong Scotch Ale features luscious caramel and chocolate malt with hints of herbs and spice from coriander in the brewing process. It it tasty and was a big crowd-pleaser, being called, “a beer you take home to meet your mother.” One of the first beers that stood out to me as being something really special, it had been a long time since I had enjoyed a bottle. I’ll try not to let so much time pass before enjoying another.

Bittersweet Lenny's R.I.P.A.I have a reputation in this group for being a “hop hater.” It is a reputation that is undeserved. I love hops. I just want some semblance of balance in a hoppy beer. I’m not a fan of excessively hopped and astringently bitter American IPAs and Double IPAs. There has to be some malt. If that malt has some complexity, that’s even better. To prove my point, we tasted three big, hoppy, American beers, Founders Centennial IPA, Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A from Shmaltz/Hebrew, and Maharaja Double IPA from Avery. Each of these beers expresses intense citrus or pine resin American hop character with assertive bitterness. However, in each one the bitterness is backed up by ample and complex malt that does a bit more than simply provide a hook for the hops to hang on. Each of these beers is world class and fits nicely among my favorite beers.

Next was a swing to the opposite extreme with two hugely malty beers. Koningshoeven Quadrupel, from the Trappist Bierbrouwerij de Koningshoeven in the Netherlands, is a beer that I describe as candy in a bottle, a description that others found apt. The focus here is on sugary sweet caramel malt with intense fruity and spicy cotton candy Belgian yeast character. It’s a big beer at 10% ABV, but remarkably light and oh, so easy to drink. We finished off the night with a special treat, ten year old bottles of J.W. Lee’s Harvest Ale barleywine. This English barleywine from J.W. Lee’s and Company in Manchester is to me what English barleywine is all about. Massive and complex malt with just enough bitterness to keep it from being cloying. The caramel, dark fruit, and sherry-like flavors of this beer were a big hit with everyone there. It is a beer that I find great when it’s young and even better with some age. This example held up well since 1999. It left all of us remarking about how much the world has changed since it was bottled.

To find out more about the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club click here.

Rejewvenator 2009

I Picked up a bottle of the 2009 Rejewvenator “Shmoppelbock” from Shmaltz Brewing/Hebrew. Hailed as the “second coming of Rejewvenator” on the Shmaltz website, this is a slightly different beer than last year. The base recipe seems to be the same, a doppelbock brewed with lager yeast, Belgian Trappist ale yeast, and Belgian abbey ale yeast.  The kicker this year is dates. While last year’s Rejewvenator was brewed with loads of tasty fig juice, 2009 is “the year of the date”, introducing date concentrate into the mix. Here’s my notes:

Hebrew Rejewvenator 2009Rejewvenator ’09
Shmaltz Brewing Company, San Francisco, California
Style: Doppelbock on a date with a Belgian Dubbel
Serving Style: 22 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Initially the aroma was all about caramel malt with a pronounced sugary “Belgian” banana and spice yeast character. A good deal of dark fruit aroma was apparent, but nothing that I would describe as “date”. Like a blind date gone good, the date aroma revealed itself in my glass as the evening went on and the beer warmed in my glass.
Appearance: A lovely clear mahogany/amber with light red highlights. Creamy off white foam that lingered. Legs that went all the way up to the edge of the glass when swirled.
Flavor: Rich caramel malt with a sharper bitterness than expected. Spicy hop flavors accentuate the spicy character of the Belgian yeasts. While the dates may not come through immediately in the aroma, they certainly do in the flavor, giving the beer a sweet fruitiness. The flavor of the dates, however, doesn’t quite complement the flavors of the base beer the way that the fig did in last year’s version. Alcohol is apparent, perhaps more than it should be for 7.8% ABV. Finish is sharp and dry like a lager.
Mouthfeel: Lager-like crispness with balancing residual sugar creaminess. Higher than desired alcohol warmth. Medium carbonation.
Overall Impression: While I think that 2008’s fig juice was a better match overall with the base beer, the dates weren’t bad. A nice twist on an already solid beer. I found this beer a touch boozy for the level of alcohol. Otherwise, this was a full-bodied, rich, sweet, fruity beer with the kind of style-bending complexity that I expect from Shmaltz owner Jeremy Cowan. I definitely enjoyed it.

Brewers to the Rescue

Brouwerij 3 FonteinenThe craft brewing community is a tight one. Brewers collaborate on beers quite often and there is a lot of sharing among small brewers, even as they compete with each other in an ever more competitive beer market. Dogfish Head owner and brewmaster Sam Calagione and Leonardo Di Vincenzo of Italy’s Birra del Borgo have once again proven this to be the case.

Earlier on this blog I reported that Drei Fonteinen brewery, one of the very few remaining traditional lambic brewers left in Belgium had lost 100,000 bottles of lambic to an equipment malfunction, equalling a third of the brewery’s annual income. This is a very heavy blow to a very small brewery who’s beer can take as long as 5 years to get to market. They have plans to save some of the lost product by distilling it into some kind of lambic spirits (I have to try this when it comes out). But this would not be enough to make up for the whole loss.

Enter Calagione and Di Vincenzo. The two are collaborating on a charity beer of sorts with a large portion of the proceeds going to help Drei Fonteinen ride out the immediate situation. The beer, called Namaste,  is a traditional Belgian Wit Bier brewed with orange peel, coriander, and lemon grass. It will be brewed by each brewer and released in their home markets. The beer should be available at the Dogfish Head brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware in a few weeks.

Let’s raise a glass to the brotherhood (and sisterhood) of brewers. Cheers!

You can read more here.

Blaugies Darbyste

The Brasserie de Blaugies is a tiny husband and wife operation in the small rural town of Blaugies in southern Belgium. The wife brews the beer in a tiny brewery in the garage of their farm house while the husband tends to the business of the brewery. They produce a number of traditional Belgian farmhouse ales including Saison d’Epeautre, a saison brewed with spelt, and Darbyste, a saison brewed with fig juice. The Darbyste is said to be named after the 19th century Irish cleric John Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren and so-called father of dispensationalism. According to their website: “A traditional style named for John Darby, preacher of temperance whose parishioners were oddly moved by a ‘soft drink’ they insisted was just fig juice . . .”  Here’s my notes.

Blaugies DarbysteDarbyste
Brasserie de Blaugies, Blaugies, Belgium
Style: Saison with Fig Juice
Serving Style: 750 ml Bottle

Aroma: Pronounced leathery and horsey brettanomyces funk. Spicy black pepper and soft sweet grainy malt. Spritzy lemon fruitiness.
Appearance: Orange colored and lightly cloudy. Big, fluffy, off-white head that lasted a good long time.
Flavor: Cidery pear and apple combined with bright lemony citrus fruit. The fruit character was enhanced by a fairly pronounced acetic sourness. Horsey brettanomyces funk. Nice wheaty bready malt still remained and gave the beer a bit of sweetness. Finish exceptionally dry with lingering pepper and clove spice. Fig makes only the faintest impression.
Mouthfeel: Very high carbonation and very dry finish just barley balanced by a malty creaminess.
Overall Impression: This was a bottle that had been sitting in my cellar for over a year. I think the wild beasties had done some developing as this beer tasted dramatically more funky than an earlier example I tried. But I’m not complaining. This was a bit like a lambic with an unusual amount of remaining malt flavor and chewy richness. Loved the fruit. Loved the funk. Loved the fullness.

Tasting Beer

An Insider’s Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink
By Randy Mosher

Tasting BeerWe all know how to drink beer, but how many of us take the time to really taste beer? How often do you notice and appreciate the color, clarity, and foamy head of the beer in your glass? When was the last time you really thought about the perfect food match for that bittersweet and citrusy Double IPA you pounded with friends at the bar? Can you recognize umami in your beer? After reading Randy Mosher’s newest book Tasting Beer, you may just start to think differently about the world’s oldest adult beverage.

Beer is finally coming into its own, or maybe coming back into its own as Mosher explains in the brief history of beer at the beginning of the book. While wine has long been viewed as a beverage worthy of savoring, debating, and eulogizing, beer has been seen as a simple and inferior drink. But beer once held a status similar to wine. Mosher cites many examples of the glorification of beer, like the Sumerian Hymn to Ninkasi, as he walks the reader through a brief and amusing history of beer and brewing from the ancient world to the current craft beer explosion. It wasn’t until after World War I when changing tastes, ingredient shortages, brewery consolidation, and economic considerations precipitated the deterioration of beer into the pale yellow lager that is now considered “beer” in most of the world. But Mosher makes clear that all that changed in the early 1980s with the birth of the American microbrew movement. Beer can once again take its place next to wine as a beverage worthy of “tasting.”

In 239 pages Mosher provides a primer of beer and beer appreciation. He explores the science of taste and smell, debunking the old tongue mapRandy Mosher that we all grew up with and bringing us up to date with the science by adding umami (think savory or meaty flavors) and fat to the list of perceivable flavors. He offers a thorough sensory vocabulary of beer, identifying the main ingredients of beer and describing the range of possible flavor and aroma contributions of each and how these individual contributions add up and present themselves in a finished beer. In the chapter titled Tasting, Judging, and Evaluation, Mosher writes about the importance of the tasting environment, lays out a simple beer tasting process (smell, look and sip, taste with your nose, analyze and score), as well as explaining the different processes and criteria one might use in different beer tasting contexts such as judging for competition or evaluating for quality control. The final chapters present a breezy survey of the major style categories with descriptions and examples to taste. His explanations of the historical development of some styles are particularly good and point out just how often economics drives the creation of new beer styles.

Mosher’s writing style is both in-depth and easy to read. He writes with an engaging humor that is a bit like listening to your favorite uncle who happens to be a leading scientist and historian. Tasting Beer is a must read for anyone seriously interested in beer and isn’t too intense for those with a more casual interest. One thing though is certain, after reading Tasting Beer you just might approach your next beer with a little more respect.

Hop Heads Only

A celebration of humulus lupulus at the Blue Nile.

On Saturday the Blue Nile Restaurant was host to a heavenly array of hoppy beers. With twenty-two beers to choose from, including three cask selections, it was a hop heads dream. They were offering $7 flights consisting of four ounce pours of three beers of your choice. With so many beers on offer, this seemed the way to go. Between my own flights and the sips I took from my friends’ glasses, I managed to taste a good number of the beers available. Here are my favorites.

Founders Centennial IPA – This was hands down the best beer of the afternoon. Those who know me know that I like balance in my American hoppy beers. Founders has it in spades. This beer displays a beautiful grapefruit citrus centennial hop flavor and assertive bitterness to be sure.  The hop character is balanced by a malt profile more complex than any other beer I tasted that afternoon. Light toast and biscuit flavors add depth to the normal sweet grainy base malt to make this an exceptional beer.

Victory Wild Devil – Hop Devil has always been one of my favorite IPAs. Add a touch of Brettanomyces wild yeast funkiness and it’s just gotta be good. Wild fermented beers are not usually bitter. There is a danger that the hop bitterness and the wild yeast character will clash. That is not a problem in this beer. The wild notes are subtle, lending a light leather and barnyard to an otherwise balanced and delicious beer. Nice.

Alvinne Extra IPA – This offering from Picobrouwerij in Belgium was a delight. The bitterness is restrained compared to the American IPAs, but this is more than made up for by the delicious Belgian yeast character. Light clove and black pepper phenols blend with the hops rather than fighting with them as happens in many of these Belgian IPAs. This along with a huge peachy fruitiness really set this beer apart from the others. This is a subtle beer. The early sip I had from a friend’s glass was sublime. unfortunately I ordered my own too late in the game after my palate had already been destroyed by hops. Lesson learned.

Other standouts worth mentioning were Avery Maharaja Imperial IPA, Left Hand 400LB Monkey, and the cask version of Summit Horizon Red Ale.

There were really only a couple of disappointments in the selection of beers that I tried. Southern Tier Iniquity was one. I am not a fan of roasted malts in combination with loads of citrusy American hops, but this beer had been recommended to me by so many people that I had to try it. Unfortunately it tasted too much like roasted grapefruit for me to enjoy it. I was also not fond of the Double Bubble from Rush River. This tasted fine at first, but as it warmed strong banana aromas and flavors began to creep in. I also experienced a certain unidentifiable unpleasantness in the finish.

Overall, this was a great event. Thanks to Al for putting it on.