Sam Adams vs. Brew Dog…Not so fast

I have no further verification of this, but I just read an article about an even stronger beer that is going to be released soon. Schorschbräu Schorschbock 40%. It’s an Eisbock from Germany. The company claims another beer at 31%, which already had Utopias beat. I’ve never heard of this particular brewery. Some additional investigation seems warranted.

I was thinking though that these new world record beers don’t seem as impressive to me as Utopia. Using the “ice” method of distillation seems like cheating. Sam Adams actually ferments Utopias to 27%. Oh well…

In the meantime, here’s the link to the original article.

Utopias No Longer World’s Strongest Beer?

Sam Adams Utopias, long the strongest beer in the world at 27% ABV, has been knocked off of that throne.  Scotland’s Brewdog has announced the release of Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a 32% ABV barrel-aged, iced, imperial stout.

To make this beer they brewed a 10% ABV Imperial Stout and aged that in barrels for eighteen months. This aged beer was then taken to an ice cream factory where it was frozen. The water content of beer freezes at a lower temperature than everything else, allowing them to run off a concentrated version of the original beer. After a couple of freeze/runoff cycles they ended up with Tactical Nuclear Penguin. The website claims that the year and a half of aging has left them with a super-strong beer that is nonetheless smooth and drinkable (in small amounts and from a snifter of course).

They are only releasing 500 330ml bottles, so don’t count on seeing it in your local liquor store. The first 250 bottle will sell for £30 ($50). The remaining 250 bottles will sell for £250 ($412) and will include shares in the Brewdog company through their Equity for Punks program. And you thought Utopias was expensive.

Here’s some video from the Brewdog Blog.

Tactical Nuclear Penguin from BrewDog on Vimeo.

Beer Club Potluck II

The December Meeting of the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club


Beer Club Potluck IIWhen: Friday, December 18, 2009
Cost: A beer and a dish
You must be a member of the club to attend. Go to the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club to join and RSVP.

It’s back by popular demand.

December was going to be a month off from the Beer Club to let everyone celebrate their holidays. But club members want to celebrate the season together. They asked for it. They got it. The Beer Club Potluck II.

Here’s how it works. You bring ONE beer and a food item to go with it. Yes that’s right, ONE beer. Don’t go crazy! Bring enough beer for everyone in attendance to get a 4 – 5 oz pour. Bring something you have never had before or something you thought was worth sharing with the group. Research your beer so that you can talk a bit about it. Let us know what we’re drinking.

That’s it. It’s just that easy.

Vine Park Brewing Profile

Vine Park Brewing CompanyVine Park Brewing Company is a brew-on-premise/microbrewery located just outside of downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. It must be Vine Park Day in my world. I just posted a new Brewery Profile of them on the Perfect Pint website. I also just published an article about them on the Hop Press. Check them both out. It’s an interesting story.

Holiday Ales & Winter Warmers Recap

Last night the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club gathered once again, this time to celebrate Holiday Beers and Winter Warmers. Our host for the night was club member Rachel who is the only person to have attended EVERY club event. I can’t even claim that and I’m the organizer. Rachel’s condo was also the site of our very first meeting nearly a year ago. We had a record number on hand for the nearly sold-out event. As always great beer was tasted and great conversation was had.

Sam Adams UtopiasThe highlight of the evening was also the first beer we tasted; a bottle of 2007 Samuel Adams Utopias. For those who don’t know, Utopias is the gold standard of extreme beers. Made from a blend of several different beers aged in several kinds of wood and fermented to a whopping 27% ABV, Utopias is more like a spirit than a beer. It is un-carbonated and best served at room temperature in a snifter. I had tasted the 2007 previously, but it had been at least a year. The passage of time has served this beer well. Rich and warming with a complex blend of butterscotch, maple, sherry, and vanilla flavors, this was a real taste treat. Utopias was the nearly unanimous favorite for the night. Of course paying $12 for 1 ¼ ounces may have influenced people a bit.

From there we tasted our way through nine holiday beers from around the world, with examples from the United States, Great Britain, Denmark, Austria, Belgium, and Italy. We began in England with two very different examples of the classic British winter warmer, Samuel Smith Winter Welcome and St. Peter’s Winter Ale. Winter Welcome is the more traditional of the two, an excellent example of an English Old Ale. Falling somewhere between a strong bitter and a light English barleywine, this beer has beautiful caramel and toffee malt character with plenty of plum and citrus fruit to complement. While balance to the sweet side, there is enough hop bitterness and floral hop flavor to keep it light and drinkable. The St. Peter’s Winter Ale is a much darker brew, verging on a porter or brown ale. The malt has a nice nutty and biscuit character with a background of roast and deep dark fruits. Both were excellent beers, although the St. Peter’s suffered for having come after the Utopias.

Next we came back home with two classic American holiday beers, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and Anchor’s Our Special Ale Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale(A.K.A. Anchor Christmas Ale). To introduce the concept of holiday beers I explained to the group that it is a wide-ranging category. Whether spiced or simple, high or low gravity, a holiday beer is such because the brewer says it is. These two beers exemplify this concept. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale is really nothing more than a great, hoppy, American IPA. While the hop flavor does emphasize the pine-resin notes of the American Cascade hops and the malt backbone is a bit heftier than some others, there is nothing specifically “Christmas” about this beer except the timing of its annual release and the holiday theme of the packaging. Anchor’s Christmas Ale on the other hand is the quintessential American holiday beer. A yearly tradition for nearly 35 years, the 2009 version is a dark and spicy beer with luscious fresh plum fruitiness underlying festive nutmeg and allspice flavor. One member said of this beer that it tasted just like the “old-time, traditional gingerbread” that he makes.

We straddled the Atlantic for the next beer, Van Twee, a collaboration between Belgian brewer De Proef and Bell’s Beer from Wisconsin. Van Twee is a mash-up of styles combining elements of a Belgian dubel and a porter, then adding fresh cherries and wild Brettanomyces yeast for a bit of barnyard funk. You can read my detailed tasting notes for this beer here. This brilliant brew inspired the quote of the night when one member stated, “This is like licking a cherry pony.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but everyone seemed to agree…in a good way. Van Twee was one of the favorite beers of the night.

St Bernardus Christmas AleNext we had three very different examples of the Belgian strong dark style all brewed in different parts of the world, Nöel from Birreria Baladin in Italy, Klosterjul from Denmark’s Ølfabrikken, and St. Bernardus Christmas Ale from Brouwereij St. Bernardus in Belgium. Nöel is a straightforward example of the style with rich dark fruits, bready malt, and the characteristic cotton candy Belgian sugar and yeast flavors. The bottles we had exhibited slight papery oxidation, but not enough to ruin the beer. While Nöel is a good example of the style, it doesn’t really hold up to some of the better Belgian versions that are available. Klosterjul is a strongly spiced version of the style with pronounced anise flavors. Yeast-derived green banana notes detracted from my overall enjoyment of this beer, but it is still an interesting example that reminds me in some ways of a Gruit. The best of the Belgians was the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale. Built on a base of the St. Bernardus Abt 12, one of the best examples of the strong dark style, subtle spicing adds cinnamon and clove notes to the ample bready and dried dark fruit character to make this resemble bottled fruitcake. This is one of the best holiday beers out there and it was a big hit with the club.

We finished off the evening with what is perhaps the world’s foremost holiday beer, Samichlaus from Austrian Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg. SamichlausSamichlaus is brewed one day a year on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day, and then aged for eleven months before bottling. It has been described as a doppelbock, but its 14% ABV puts it at nearly twice the strength of the typical beer of that style. However you wish to classify it, it is a world-class beer. Definitely a sipper, it is remarkably drinkable for its strength. Smooth, sweet, caramel and melanoidin malt is balanced by spicy noble hops and warming alcohol, with rich dark fruits and light chocolate notes forming a compelling undercurrent. While big and sweet, it still has the crisp, clean character of a lager. Samichlaus is a beautiful beer and a fitting capper for the official tasting part of the evening.

After the official tasting, we entered the usual “free-for-all” portion of the club meeting. I want to give a shout out to Flat Earth Brewing. Club member Cory brought a growler of Grand Design, the S’more infused version of their Cygnus-X1 porter. It made for a tasty desert. Huge marshmallow aroma was a teaser for the chocolate, graham cracker, and vanilla flavor explosion that filled each sip. I have never liked S’mores. This beer might lead me to reconsider.

Follow the link for information about the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club.

21st Amendment Beers in MN

The 21st Amendment Brewpub in San Fransisco is a must-do stop for beer enthusiasts visiting the Bay Area. I’ve been there. They make some pretty decent beers. A while back they started offering two of their beers in cans. As a brewpub, they don’t have the brewery capacity, packaging lines, or storage facilities to produce package beers themselves, so they contracted the canned beers out to Cold Spring Brewing Company about sixty miles up the road from the Twin Cities in Cold Spring, Minnesota. I can’t tell you how frustrated I was to discover this, having shipped cans of Hell or High Watermelon Wheat back from San Fransisco on a visit a year ago. The beer was brewed an hour from my house, but I couldn’t get it…

Well, the 21st Amendment beers become available in the Twin Cities tonight. You can try them out at Grumpy’s NE tonight. You can read my review of Hell or High Watermelon Wheat here.

Rate Beer Hop Press

Hop Press by RatebeerBeginning this morning, is launching a new feature called The Hop Press. The Hop Press brings together a confederation of twelve well-known beer bloggers from around the country and around the world each contributing weekly columns about beer. I am happy to say that I am among them. I’ll be posting every Monday, so please check in regularly to check out my Perfect Pint Hop Press articles.

Every day the Hop Press will feature new articles from one or two of these talented beer writers. You’ll find insightful writing on a range of beer-related topics including vertical tastings of aged beers, homebrewing, beer styles, the beer industry, beer school and much more. I’m excited to start writing with this group of people. Come see what’s happening at the Hop Press.

Summit 90/- Scottish Style Ale

Summit Brewing Company of St. Paul gave a sneak preview last night of the second beer in their Unchained Series. For those who don’t know, the Unchained Series beers are intended to showcase the skills of individual brewers at Summit. The brewer has complete control, shepherding their beer through the process from recipe formulation to packaging. These beers aren’t the result of the brewmaster’s imagination, they are created by the folks who actually make the beer.

The second beer in the series, a Scottish 90/- brewed with heather, is the creation of brewer Eric Blomquist. The odd symbol in the name of this beer is the old sign for shilling. Back in the day in the UK, beers were taxed based upon their strength. In the case of Scottish beers there were 60/-, 70/-, 80/- and 90/-, beers. These tax designations eventually just stuck as the colloquial name for each beer. Scottish ales evolved as malt centered beers featuring sweet caramel flavors and hints of roast. This was in part because hops cannot be grown in Scotland. It is also due to the fact that the English taxed the hops that Scottish brewers imported. Fewer hops meant less expense to the brewer and sweeter more malt focused beers. The heather in this beer is a traditional ingredient for Scottish ales. In the days before hops became widely used, brewers used a number of herbs, heather among them, to bitter their beers.

Here’s my notes:

Summit 90/- Scottish Style Ale90/- Scottish Style Ale
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Strong Scotch Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Toasted pumpernickel bread with caramel sweetness. Light coffee roast. Notes of brown sugar and raisins.

Appearance: Moderate and creamy off-white head with good persistence. Maintained a film on the surface. Deep ruby/mahogany and crystal clear.

Flavor: Slanted to sweet malt, but balanced with more bitterness than I expected. The hops have a spicy/herbal character that melds with and accentuates the intense herbal flavors of the heather. Together with the sweet caramel and brown sugar malt it reminds me of spiced molasses cookies or maybe the horehound stick candy that I ate as a kid. The same toasted bread flavors from the aroma carry over to the flavor. Hints of dark fruits and orange. The finish is crisp and lingers on roasted malt and molasses.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with medium carbonation. Smooth creaminess.

Overall Impression: The folks at Summit are stepping up their game with these Unchained Series Beers. Like the Kölsch, this one is really well made. The bready, roasted, and caramel malt flavors are all well articulated. It’s on the sweet side, as it should be for the style, but the level of bittering balances it nicely, keeping it from becoming cloying. The heather gives it additional layers of interest. Not overly strong, but still works as a snifter sipper.

Van Twee

De Proef Brouwerij is a brand new entry into the Minnesota beer market. The brewery was founded in 1996 by brewing engineer and professor Dirk Naudts, who’s nickname is “The Prof”, or “de Proef” in Flemish. For the last few years Naudts has been creating wild-fermented collaboration beers with well established brewers in the US, including Signature Ale created with Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing/Lost Abbey and Les Deux Brasseurs with Jason Perkins of Maine’s Allagash Brewing. The newest release brings the Brewmaster’s Collaboration Series closer to home. Van Twee was brewed with John Mallet of Bell’s Brewing. They describe it as a “mash-up of the porter and dubbel styles blended with sour cherry juice from Michigan and brettanomyces in the secondary fermentation.” Here’s my notes:

De Proef/Bell's Van TweeVan Twee
DeProef Brouwerij, Lochristi-Hijfte, Belgium in collaboration with Bell’s Brewing, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Style: Porter/Dubel Mashup with Cherry Juice and Wild Yeast
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle

Aroma: Chocolate and cherries with a good dose of barnyard funkiness. Some dark fruits dance in the background.

Appearance: Dark red and clear with a thick, creamy, persistent off-white head.

Flavor: The malt character is like malted milk balls. Lovely dark chocolate with some caramel. Dark crystal malts also add a huge dose of plum fruitiness. This plays well with the cherry that is the second most pronounced flavor. The brettanomyces funkiness is noticeable, but not overwhelming. A nice background barnyard and light sour that supports the cherry. Some nice clove notes and hints of the Belgian cotton candy character round the flavors out. Medium-low bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Velvety. Creamy. Medium body. Moderately high carbonation.

Overall Impression: OMG! This beer doesn’t market itself as a Christmas beer, but the combination of fruit, spice, and chocolate would certainly qualify it as one. This was beautiful from start to finish. Great right from the refrigerator and still great warm at the bottom of the glass. I will need to pick up another bottle. Note to the Perfect Pint Beer Club, this might be on our holiday beer list. I had this with a home-made fennel risotto and it was a splendid match.

Widmer Bros. Cherry Oak Doppelbock

Widmer Bros. Cherry Oak DoppelbockCherry Oak Doppelbock
Widmer Brothers Brewing, Portland, Oregon
Style: Oak-Aged Doppelbock with Cherries
Serving Style: 22 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Lightly toasty melanoidin malt character dominates with faint earthy smells and a background of dark cherry. No oak to speak of.

Appearance: The low, off-white head did not persist. I managed to raised a bigger, more creamy head with a more aggressive pour. Dark mahogany with ruby highlights. Clear.

Flavor: Lightly toasty caramel malt with raisins and hints of chocolate. Very light background cherry notes. Light alcohol, but not boozy. Background rummy flavors. The Oak doesn’t have much to say. Cherry flavors come in most strongly in the finish as lingering cherry pie. Finish is a bit sweet, less crisp than expected from a lager.  Cherry and vanilla oak become somewhat more pronounced as it warms

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body and creamy. Some warming alcohol. Low carbonation

Overall Impression: This beer was a bit of a disappointment. When I first heard about it I was intrigued. Cherry, oak, and doppelbock sounded like a great combination. Unfortunately the cherry and oak play such a minor role that all one is left with is a reasonably good doppelbock. If I had wanted just a doppelbock I would have picked up a Salvator or a Celebrator.