Join chef Ben McCallum and Certified Cicerone™ Michael Agnew at the Kitchen Window in Uptown for an evening of fine food and festive winter beers. Our first course is CARAMELIZED LEEK AND OYSTER GRATIN paired with WEIHENSTEPHANER HEFEWEISSBIER from Germany – a great tasting hefe with characteristic banana and clove flavors. Then we’ll enjoy BEER-ROASTED WHOLE CHICKEN with HAZELNUT MOLE SAUCE paired with ANCHOR CHRISTMAS BEER from San Francisco – every year since 1975 Anchor has brewed distinctive and unique Christmas Ale; the Ale’s recipe is different every year. Next is hearty ALE-BRAISED SHORT RIBS with CHARRED TOMATO BARBECUE SAUCE paired with ST. BERNARDUS CHRISTMAS ALE from Belgium – with aromas of yeast and bread and tastes of spice, raisins, and nutmeg. Ben will also serve FRESH-BAKED BEER BREAD with GORGONZOLA WHIPPED BUTTER. For dessert, we’ll have PORTER-INFUSED CHOCOLATE BROWNIES paired with Cygnus X-1 PORTER from Flat Earth in St. Paul – a nice flavorful punch of citrus hop, balanced by slight caramel sweetness.
A Perfect Pint’s Certified Cicerone™ Michael Agnew will be co-hosting hosting an Oktoberfest beer dinner with the Dining Studio on October 16 at 7 p.m. at. Michael has selected brews from Victory, Ayinger, Surly, Köstritzer, and Wiehenstephan. The food will include Chef Philip Dorwart’s signature soft pretzels, passed hors d’oeuvres, and four courses matched to the beers above. Dorwart takes an original approach to beer dinners and uses very little beer in the actual cooking of paired courses. Instead, he uses more of a wine dinner model by highlighting a flavor in the beer with food. By implementing this practice he is able to offer unique beer to food matching without relying on the “just add some beer” ethos. It’s sure to be a blast. Prost! Reservations are $65 and available at 612-331-3310.
Anyone who has spent any time at all talking beer with me knows that I love English Bitters. They will likely also have heard me hold forth on the virtues of Coniston Bluebird Bitter, my desert island beer. Bluebird Bitter is a subtly complex masterpiece, in which the individual flavors stand out as distinct while working together to form a near perfect whole. It is a beautiful blend of bitter, floral hops, caramel and biscuit malt, and orange marmalade fermentation character. Okay, perhaps I am being hyperbolic, but suffice it to say it is a damn good beer.
The good brewers at Coniston make another version of this great beer called Bluebird Bitter XB. For this beer they add an extra dose of American Mt Hood aroma hops to the brew. An American grown version of the classic German Hallertau hop, Mt Hood has a distinctly herbal quality with overtones of citrus. I picked up a bottle of this the other day and given my strong feelings for the original, I couldn’t wait to try it. Here’s my notes:
Aroma: Light caramel and biscuit malt with very subtle herbal and tangerine hop character.
Appearance: Deep orange and crystal clear. Low white head that dissipated quickly.
Flavor: Begins with a sharp, crisp, bitter bite that just begins fading into toffee-like malt when a second wave of hops rolls in. This time it has a distinctly herbal quality with tangerine overtones. These blend well with the orange marmalade fermentation character. All the flavors are so wonderfully distinct and yet all work together. Rolls on to a dry finish with some lingering citrus notes.
Mouthfeel: Light body. Crisp. Carbonation is medium and beer gets better as it degasses a bit.
Overall Impression: Take Coniston Bluebird and add an extra layer of hops. The result lies somewhere between an English and an American pale ale. The citrus/herbal quality of the American Mt Hood hops blends well with the orange hints from the yeast. The extra flavor and aroma hops do tend to cover up the delicious malt profile of the original a bit too much for my taste. It’s an interesting twist, reminiscent of Surly Brewing’s Bitter Brewer. It’s tasty, but I’ll stick with the original.
I spent a few days in the Quad Cities last week. Straddling the Mississippi between Iowa and Illinois, the Quad Cities are full of history. In the city of Davenport, Iowa, that history includes the Bucktown area. Once known as “the wickedest city in America”, it was home to a documented forty-two brothels in a two block area. These days Bucktown is Davenport’s downtown arts district. It’s also home to the Great River Brewery, the Quad Cities’ and Iowa’s newest production brewery. Great River brewers and founders Paul Krutzfeldt and Scott Lehnert started producing beer at the brewery in January of this year. They come to Davenport from Iowa City where they were the brewers at Old Capitol Brew Works and Public House. In fact, the actual brewery came with them from Old Capitol and beer for the brewpub is now brewed in Davenport. They are brewing a full line-up of seven beers plus an old fashioned root beer. Looking through the windows into the brewery I saw some oak barrels being cleaned suggesting that a barrel aging project is in the works. Currently their beers are only available on tap, but the website says 16 ounce cans are coming soon. I had the opportunity to stop by their Brewer’s Lounge and sample the wares. Here’s my thoughts.
La Jefa Mexican Lager – I would have sworn this was an American Wheat. Light gold and hazy, it was lacking the clean crispness of a lager. Citrusy fruitiness and a grainy/wheaty malt profile furthered my confusion. It was a tasty beer, but I was surprised to read on the sampler sheet that it was supposed to be a Mexican Lager.
Mexicana Dark Mexican Lager – A pretty straight forward Vienna style lager. Some light toasty caramel malt notes balanced by spicy continental hops. Solid enough, but didn’t really stand out.
483 Pale Ale – This was a fairly decent American Pale Ale. Aggressively bitter with nice, bright citrus hops and balancing grainy malt. I detected some biscuit notes in there as well. It was a favorite of some in my group.
Roller Dam Red Ale – This was the star of the show, a really nice Irish red ale displaying big caramel malt with just the right hint of roast in the finish. Moderately assertive bitterness and light floral hop flavors finish it off. This was the unanimous favorite of my group and we all ordered a pint after finishing the sampler.
Farmer Brown Ale – This one was tasty as well, my second favorite from the line-up. It is appropriately more toasty caramel than the red with a bigger hit of roast. Resinous American hop varieties provide a solid bitterness and flavor without overwhelming the malt. Nicely balanced.
Straight Pipe Stout – This big, rich oatmeal stout was my third pick from the sampler. It was medium-full bodied with a nice sweetness. The roast seemed a bit high to me and had an odd grainy character to it like chewing on grains of black malt. But you know what, oddly I found that pleasant. This might have been my next pint had we been able to stay longer.
Far Out Espresso Stout – My group liked this one. To me it had a strong green pepper flavor, something I find in a lot of coffee stouts. No one else could taste it. I couldn’t taste anything else. Maybe it’s just me.
I wish the folks at Great River success and will certainly stop in again the next time I am in the Quad Cities.
My thanks go out to Jeff Halvorson, first for putting on Where the Wild Beers Are, and second for holding it later in September so that I could attend. Where the Wild Beers Are is a sour and wild ale tasting that was held yesterday at Stub & Herbs in Dinkytown. For those who have never been, it is a great event for which the cost of admission is a 750 ml bottle of sour beer. The beers that attendees bring are the beers that are sampled during the event. Each bottle buys the donor ten samples. A simple yet elegant scheme.
I missed the event last year and so was excited when I saw the date posted for this year’s tasting. I had intended to bring two or three bottles and wile away the entire afternoon sampling great wild beers. I had even purchased the beers I wanted to bring. Sadly, real life intervened and other responsibilities made that an unwise way to spend my day. I wasn’t going to miss it though, and in the hour and a half that I had I greatly enjoyed the beers I got to taste. Here are some of my favorites.
2006 Cantillon Iris – Traditionally lambics are brewed with 30% unmalted wheat and aged hops that add no flavor or bitterness to the beer. Iris is a rare lambic made from 100% malted barley with fresh hops added to the beer at two points in the brewing process. It is delightfully light and refreshing. Vinous, tart, and dry as a bone, it has some nice peach and pear fruitiness and peppery spice. The barnyard and leather character is light. This is a great beer for a hot day in the sun. It was my second favorite of the day.
Russian River Consecration – This was my favorite beer of the day and one that I went back for more than once. It is a dark amber beer made with black currants. The flavor is a combination of chocolate, caramel, and tart berries with underlying barnyard funk. Consecration is definitely a funky sour beer, but not in any way over the top. Russian River is one of those breweries with a larger than life reputation. They just might be deserving of it. Tasting this made me want to open the bottle that I have been holding in the basement for a while. Great beer!
Lift Bridge Raspberry Lambic – Who knew the guys at Lift Bridge had brewed a framboise? This was apparently the one and only bottle in existence. While lacking some of the complexity of the other beers, it was not a bad effort from the young Stillwater brewery. The aroma sported huge berry notes and some brettanomyces funkiness. The flavor followed suite with tart berry dominating and light barnyard funk in the background. It was light, dry, and refreshing.
3 Fonteinen Sharbeek Kriek – Kriek is a young lambic that is aged on cherries. The traditional cherry of Kriek is the Sharbeek cherry, a regional variety grown in the area around Brussels where true lambic is produced. The best way to describe this beer is tart cherry pie. If you can conjure up that taste for yourself, then you have this beer. My third favorite of the day.
I tasted many more beers and would gladly have spent another hour and a half tasting even more. I envy those who did not have to leave. I look forward to next year’s event.
Members of the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club who have attended even one meeting have heard me rant about balance and subtlety in beer. While I like big beers and appreciate the complexities of high alcohol, barrel-aged, über-hopped, snifter-sippers, my real preference is for simpler, smaller brews. With this in mind, the club met Saturday night at the home of member Vickie Parks to explore session beers. A session beer is the essence of balance and moderation. Low alcohol allows you to down a few and still retain reasonable possession of your faculties. The best ones are both flavorful and light enough to make you want more. Session beers are beers for socializing and conversation. For the purposes of this event defined session beer as having no more than 6% alcohol by volume. It would have been nice to stay below five percent, but in this time of “bigger is better” those beers can be a bit hard to find. We persevered, however, and sampled our way through eight flavorful beers ranging from 3.3% to 6% ABV.
We began the evening with Samurai from Breckenridge Brewing Company in Denver. Like an ale version of an American or Japanese rice lager, Samurai is light, crisp, and refreshing. Lightly sweet and grainy malt is balanced by moderately bitter spicy licorice hops that set off a nice apple and citrus fruitiness. A great lawnmower beer for the lingering summer. Samurai was followed by Anchor Small Beer. For this beer Anchor Brewing, the folks that make Anchor Steam, have revived an old English brewing practice of getting two beers from one barley mash. The rich, sweet first runnings become their Old Foghorn Barleywine, while the more dilute second runnings become Small Beer. At 3.3% this was the lowest alcohol beer we tasted. But low alcohol doesn’t have to mean no flavor. Small beer has a sweet caramel malt profile with hints of toast that serve as a base for an assertive bitterness. Pleasantly grassy hop flavor and light fruitiness round it out. The big taste in this small beer led one person to ponder why all the supermarket 3.2% beers aren’t as flavorful.
Next up was Trout Slayer from Montana’s Big Sky Brewing. This beer was the surprise hit of the night. Big Sky calls this beer a “wheat pale ale” and the description is apt. This is a very well balanced 4.7% beer with moderate bitterness, bright citrus hops, and a beautiful bread and biscuit malt. Neither malt nor hops dominate as the beer heads to a clean, dry finish. This one’s a keeper. A fruit beer was next. Samuel Smith’s Organic Cherry Ale to be exact. Next to the Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart from New Glarus, the Samuel Smith fruit beers are the best tasting fruit beers I have had in a while. These blended wheat-based ales are brewed in collaboration with Melbourn Bros., the last sour beer brewery in England. They are lightly tart, deliciously refreshing, and enormously fruity. While the strawberry and raspberry versions are great, the cherry gives the most fruit bang for the buck. I would drink this beer all night and at 5.1% ABV I could.
It’s time for Oktoberfest, so we celebrated the season with Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen. Traditionally brewed in March at the end of the legal brewing season in Bavaria, Märzen style beers were stored cold over the summer to be consumed in the fall to celebrate the harvest. Lighter in body than some examples and with a crisp, clean lager character, the Ayinger Märzen still has a rich caramel/melanoidin malt profile. Malt is the star, but it is supported by moderate bitterness and spicy German hop character. The other German style session beer that we tasted was Headless Man Amber Alt from Tyranena Brewing Company in Wisconsin. Brewed in the style of a Düsseldorf Altbier, it has a caramel and toast malt profile with assertive bitterness and spicy German hops. This was everyone’s least favorite beer of the night. I found it to be a bit out of balance with thin malt and overdone bitterness that was somewhat astringent in the finish.
The favorite beer of the night was Moose Drool Brown Ale, our second beer from Big Sky Brewing. Moose Drool displays a rich toasty and cocoa malt profile that I described as toasted Tootsie Rolls. The balance leans toward the malt, but spicy/resinous hops play a significant supporting role and assertive bitterness from both the hops and the light roasted malt keep it in check. It had been a couple of years since I had tasted this one. I don’t think I will wait so long to try it again. The last beer of the night was also the biggest. At 6% ABV, the silky smooth Black H2O Oatmeal Stout from the Town Hall Brewery in Minneapolis seemed almost decadent compared to the evening’s other selections. While some thought it was lacking in body and oat character, I found it to be quite satisfactory. Smooth and a bit sweet with pronounced coffee and cocoa roasted flavors, Black H2O was a satisfying capper.
At the end of the night, after tasting eight great beers and consuming the leftovers, we each headed our separate ways still sober. That is the real beauty of session beers.
Saturday was Autumn Brew Review. At least half a million people turned out at parking lot of the historic Grain Belt Brewery in Minneapolis. Okay, so maybe there weren’t quite that many, but there were a bunch of people there. The sold out annual event was very well attended with beer lovers given the opportunity to taste the wares of 57 different breweries both local and national. Construction in the field approaching the river made the festival confines feel much more confined than last year and hot muggy weather made the compact crowds a bit hard to take by the end, at least for me. However, food lines never reached the epic lengths that they did last year, which was a definite improvement. I think the line at the Surly Brewing booth was the longest that I saw anywhere all day.
It was a good day for sour beers in my view and so-so day for pale ale and IPA. The first three of my top five beers were sour beers, with funky wild brews on offering from a number of brewers including Surly, Herkimer, Ommegang, Two Brothers, Victory, Great Waters, and others. As for the huge numbers of pale ales and IPAs on offer, nothing really stood out. With so many of these out there, brewers have to do something really special to rise above the crowd. In this category I found myself writing over and over again, “yet another hoppy IPA.” I think I’m just kind of over it.
Because of a tie for the top beer, my top five picks are really my top six picks. Starting at the bottom and working up, my number five beer was Summit German Style Kölsch. This is just a fantastic beer. Light and delicate, bready and subtly bitter, it provided me a blissful retreat at the end of the day when my palate had been smashed by the excesses of big, bitter, and barrel-aged. Remarkably its flavors still held their own. My number four was Odin Baltic Porter from Town Hall. This was a wonderfully rich and chocolaty porter with luscious caramel undertones and assertive herbal/grassy hop flavors and bitterness. Continuing up the list, my number three pick was Chestnut Hill from Lift Bridge Brewery. A big Nut Brown Ale, this beer had a creamy nutty and caramel malt profile nicely balanced by spicy/herbal hop bitterness and flavor. Rich but drinkable, Chestnut Hill would make a nice session beer even at 7% ABV. In the number two slot I put Thermo Refur from Furthermore Beer. This was an aged version of the beer they released last winter. The further aging has done it some good. This beer has developed a wonderful wild yeast funk; not sour, but redolent of earth, leather and barnyard. It is bone dry, but not lacking in body. I even think I tasted the beets.
My two top picks for this year were Rouge from Brewery Ommegang and Gose from the Herkimer Brewpub. Rouge is a Grand Cru style Flemish red ale that is a collaboration between Brewery Ommegang and Brouwerij Bockor in Belgium. It was spontaneously fermented and aged for 18 months in oak tuns. The result is a beautifully sour and barnyard beer with loads of cherry and berry flavors. While the acidity is strong, there remains a balancing malt sweetness that keeps it from being over the top. Beautiful. The real surprise of the festival for me was the Gose from Herkimer Brewpub. Gose is a rare North German ale style from the city of Leipzig, one of the few surviving representatives of the “white” beers that were once brewed all over northern Europe. A sour wheat beer flavored with coriander and sea salt, Gose is unique. Only one or two breweries in Leipzig still produce it and I know of only one that is available in the US. The Herkimer example was a nice one. Light and refreshing, tart but not overly sour, with a roundness of body and subtle saltiness from the addition of sea salt, I went back for this one three times during the day.
Other beers that seem worthy of mention but didn’t make my top five list include New Belgium Hoptober, Schell’s Roggenbier, Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ and Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Extra from Lagunitas (the only pale ales that managed to stand out from the crowd), Surly Brett, Avery Collaboration Tripel, and Vine Park English Premium Bitter. All in all it was a great event with a lot of great beers to sample. Can’t wait for Winterfest.
While driving through Wisconsin on my way to Sheboygan today I saw two billboards on opposite sides of the highway. I had seen the same combination earlier with one following the other. One proclaimed, “64 Calories. I doesn’t get any lighter than that.” The other for Bud 55 screamed, “The lightest beer in the world!” Clearly the gauntlet has been thrown. And despite Miller’s seeming denial, Bud is currently winning the challenge to create the worlds lightest beer.
All I could think looking at this was, “what a stupid argument to be having.” Talk about a race t the bottom. But then I guess they do know where there market is, and it is a big one. But really, if you want to cut calories, drink good beer and drink less of it.
Aroma: Earthy/floral hops dominate with very light citrus. English varieties win out over American. Vanilla and woody notes from the oak. Very light malt sweetness, but far in the background.
Appearance: Thick and persistent off-white creamy head. Dark mahogany, almost brown. Slightly hazy.
Flavor: Rich caramel malt sweetness is the dominant flavor with pronounced vanilla oak character. The sweetness of the malt with the oak vanilla give the impression of white chocolate. Peaches or apricots in heavy syrup. The same earthy and floral hops from the aroma. American hop varieties take a back seat to the English. Although the bitterness is high, it is more than offset by the thick and sweet malt. Alcohol is apparent but not hot. Finish is lingering sweet with vanilla and a final bite of bitterness.
Mouthfeel: Thick and chewy. Full bodied with medium carbonation. Creamy. Some alcohol warmth.
Overall Impression: While I appreciated the dominance of the English hop over the American (it was nice to taste a double IPA that didn’t smack me in the face with grapefruit), I feel that the oak was overdone. The strong wood and vanilla overpower the other flavors. This might subside some with age. I also wished it had been more fully attenuated for a dryer finish. It verges on cloying. I found myself wanting a cleaner and brighter hop bitterness and flavor.