Rosée d’hibiscus

Belgian Witbeir is one of the few remaining examples of the wheat-based “white” ales that were once common all over Europe. Light, delicate, and typically flavored with coriander and bitter orange peel, these are great beers for summer. The unmalted wheat that makes up a large portion of the grain bill gives witbier a velvety fullness on the tongue that allows them to hold up in the winter as well. Quebec’s Microbrasserie Dieu du Ciel has created their own twist on the style with Rosée d’hibiscus, flavoring it with hibiscus flowers lending it a rosy pink color and a delicate acidity. The more Dieu du Ciel beers I drink, the more I am convinced that they can do no wrong. Here’s my notes:

Rosée d’hibiscus
Microbrasserie Dieu du Ciel, St-Jérôme, Quebec, Canada
Style: Witbier with Hibiscus
Serving Style: 11.5 oz bottle

Aroma: An inviting blend of bready wheat, fruit, and flowers. Lightly tart. Fresh strawberries. Reminiscent of Red Zinger tea.

Appearance: Brilliantly clear with a festive pink/orange color. The very small pink head dissipated quickly. Put this in a wine glass and people will believe you are drinking rosé. Nice to look at.

Flavor: Even nicer to drink. Wheaty, fruity, gentle acidity, and the same Red Zinger hibiscus flavor from the aroma. The bready wheat malt gives a soft bed on which all these other layers of rest. The delicate acidic tartness is backed up with light sweetness like fresh fruit.  The bitterness is very low and I detect no hop flavor. The beer changes as it warms first presenting fresh raspberry flavors and then becoming distinctly cider-like with some tart apple notes.  Light background of earthiness and coriander spice.

Mouthfeel: Light body but with the soft fullness of wheat malt. Low carbonation. Smooth and easy to drink.

Overall Impression: This beer demands that you pay attention. Multiple layers of flavors, each distinctly expressed, give it a complexity that draws you ever more deeply inside and makes this more than just a simple glass of beer. Delicate. Each well articulated flavor blends well with the others. Acidic but not sour. Witbier normally shouldn’t be aged. I admit that this bottle has been in my cellar for over a year. If it tastes this good after a year, I would love to taste it brewery fresh.

Leinenkugel’s 1888 Bock

There was a time in the United States when hundreds of local and regional breweries served the beer drinking public with beers brewed close to home. I’m not talking about today’s craft brewing world. I’m talking about the beer landscape that existed here before prohibition forced many of those breweries out of business and before the great brewery consolidations of the 1960s and 70s finished off most of the rest of them. Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin is one of the few survivors.

The early brewing industry, especially in the upper Midwest, was dominated by German brewers who brought their lager yeast and brewing traditions over with them from the old country. They adapted the beers they enjoyed at home to the ingredients and brewing processes available to them here to create uniquely American versions of those traditional German beers. One of the styles crafted by these brewers, often on a seasonal basis, was Bock. A couple examples of the nineteenth century American style bock beer still exist. Shiner Bock is one and Leinenkugel’s 1888 Bock is another. It’s hard to say at this point how true these versions stay to those early beers, but Leinenkugel does say of their version, “we’ve tapped our families original bock recipe to create Leinenkugel’s 1888 Bock.” It is at least fun to imagine that one is drinking a remnant of America’s beer past. Here’s my notes:

Leinenkugel’s 1888 Bock
Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
Style: American Style Bock
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Toasted bread dominates with faint herbal hops and roast. Just a hint of fruit.

Appearance: Dark mahogany with reddish highlights. Persistent, creamy, off-white head. Brilliantly clear.

Flavor: Malt balanced but with a fairly high perceived bitterness. Seems more bitter than the 18 IBU listed on the website. The malt shows that same toasted bread character from the aroma with an added grainy sweetness. It is perhaps a bit too sweet, slightly sugary. Doesn’t have the richness and depth that I would like from a bock. A bit thin. Ends with a quick dry finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body, lacking the creaminess of a bock. Crisp and prickly, maybe a bit over carbonated (which could have enhanced the perceived bitterness).

Overall Impression: If you are looking for a lower cost beer with some nice bready malt flavor then this could be the beer for you. If you are looking for something like a full-flavored German bockbier then you should look elsewhere. This is a drinkable American style lager beer with enhanced malt character.

Dave’s Brewfarm

Last week I spent a great afternoon with “Farmer Dave” Anderson at Dave’s Brewfarm across the river in Wilson, Wisconsin. The brewfarm is a true farmhouse brewery, a live/work space with living quarters upstairs and the “labrewatory” downstairs. One of the great things about this new brewery is the way sustainability has been built into the business. Wind generation and geothermal heating and cooling is just a part of the overall picture.

I’ve written about this aspect of the Brewfarm business this week on the Hop Press at Check it out.

Beer Dabbler at the St. Paul Winter Carnival

The Beer Dabbler Showcase
St. Paul Winter Carnival Event
Saturday, January 23rd, 3:30 – 7:30 PM
Mears Park in St. Paul
$20 ticket when you buy at any of the 8 locations prior to Jan 22nd
$20 plus a service charge of $3 per ticket when you order online anytime
Click here to purchase tickets online
$25 at the door

The Beer Dabbler Showcase is a traveling beer festival that strives to bring a large variety of micro and craft brews to audiences across the Midwest. The brainchild of Minneapolis resident Matt Kenevan, the idea of the Beer Dabbler was to bring beer festivals to the people instead of making people come to the festival. The showcase kicked off last summer with a tour of beer festival events all over Minnesota. Six Showcases have been staged so far.

These are not beer-geeks-only events. According to Kenevan, “The concept behind the Beer Dabbler is to introduce great beer to people who may or may not be familiar with craft and micro brews. It is also intended to be a fun event for people of all levels of beer enthusiasm.  Our guests range from the avid home brewer beer geek to the micro/craft beer newbie just getting started and the goal is to please them both.” The Showcase features a wide selection of local, regional, national, and international brands representing a wide range of styles and tastes. Kenevan adds, “If you can’t find something you like, then you probably just don’t like beer.”

So about this Winter Carnival event…an outdoor beer festival in St. Paul in January? Cold beer on a cold winter’s day? Is he crazy? I asked Matt this very question. “Different, true.  Risky, true.  But very Minnesotan.” was his reply. “The natives love beer and winter.  If they don’t love winter but are here anyway, then this is something much more lively and fun to do than sit inside and wait for summer to come around again.  As long as people dress to be outside, everyone will be comfortable in the space. The 10-day forecast looks quite comfortable for this time of year. Hopefully we’ll have fresh snow and upper 20s to kick off the first annual Saint Paul Winter Carnival Beer Dabbler.” The warming fire pits will help too.

So what should one expect at the Winter Carnival Beer Dabbler?

I’ll be there. Will you?

Blended Beer Cocktails

My latest post on the Ratebeer Hop Press.

A significant part of my holiday beer consumption this year consisted of what I will call blended beer cocktails. By this I mean two or more beers mixed together. Blending beers is nothing new. The blending of one, two, and three-year-old lambic into gueuze is an art in Belgium and porter is purported to have originated from a blend of mild and stale beers called three threads. Even now, craft brewers like Southern Tier in New York use blending to create new beers, as exemplified by Gemini, a 50/50 blend of their Un*earthly and Hoppe double IPAs and a beer that gives new meaning to the phrase “more than the sum of its parts.” Read More…

Lager Beers

The January Meeting of the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club

When: Friday, February 12, 2010 NEW DATE!
Cost: $25
You must be a member of the club to attend. Go to the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club to join and RSVP.

I often hear people (even beer geeks) saying, “I don’t really like lagers.” I say this is poppycock! Don’t be fooled by the mass produced, pale-yellow brew commonly called “Lager Beer.” The only thing differentiating lager from ale is the yeast.

The world of lagers is a rich, varied, and flavorful one. While the so-called American Lagers are part of the family, beyond these lie beers for people who want something more. The light colored lager styles include the boldly bitter Bohemian and German Pilsners, the maltier Munich Helles, and the balanced Dortmunder Export. There are the amber colored Vienna and Märzen styles and the smooth, black, and malty Schwarzbier. Then there are the Bocks. From the summery Maibock to the sumptuous Doppelbock, these beers display intensely rich toasted malt that fills the mouth without being cloying. And it wouldn’t be craft beer without the outliers, those experimental beers that defy categorization.

At this meetup we’ll sample a mind-blowing array of bottom fermented brews. We’ll shatter your mega-brew induced preconceptions of lager. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You will never again be able to say, “I don’t really like lagers.”

Ommegang Rouge

Ommegang Rouge is a Flemish style sour red ale that is my pick as the best beer of 2009. Thanks to Al McCarty at the Blue Nile, who snatched up all the remaining kegs in the Twin Cities, it is quickly taking the lead for 2010. This beer is heaven in a glass. While Rouge is marketed as coming from Brewery Ommegang, the great producer of Belgian styles in Cooperstown, New York, the real story is more complicated. I’ll give it to you as I understand it.

When the Rodenbach Grand Cru, the benchmark beer of the style, was pulled from the US market a couple years ago Duvel Moortgat, the parent company of Ommegang, looked to fill the void. To do so they went to Brouwerij Bockor, a small, family owned brewery in Bellegem, Belgium near the French border. While better known for their lager beers, Bockor still produces a full line of traditionally brewed, spontaneously fermented lambics.  Their Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge was the perfect choice to replace Rodenbach. It was introduced to the US market as a beer from Ommegang, presumably to cash in on that brewery’s brand recognition and reputation for crafting first-rate Belgian style beers.

Ommegang Rouge/Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge is a 100% unblended lambic beer. Made from a mix of barley malt and unmalted wheat, following a traditional spontaneous fermentation with wild yeast and bacteria from the air, it is aged in oak vats for a period of eighteen months. In my view it is a better beer than Rodenbach, which is a very tall order indeed. My understanding is that it will soon be available here under its original name. Here’s my notes:

Ommegang Rouge/Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge
Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, New York/
Brouwerij Bockor, Bellegem Belgium
Style: Flanders Red Ale
Serving Style: Draft


Aroma: Balsamic vinegar and fruit. Cranberries and cherries. Light barnyard

Appearance: Cherry red and clear. No head to speak of but maintains a fine film of foam on the surface of the beer and leaves light lacing on the glass.

Flavor: Sour, sweet, and fruity. While this is definitely a sour beer, the acidity is restrained and smooth. The tartness blends with a complex mix of background “footy” and barnyard flavors (in a good way) and an explosion of fruits. Currants, cherries, cranberries. Dry and tart but not without some lingering malt sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Light and refreshing. Moderately high carbonation. Sparkling. Pleasant acidic burn on the way down.

Overall: This beer is heaven in a glass. An outstanding example. My best beer of 2009 and taking an early lead in 2010.

Schorschbräu Bests Penguin: A New World’s Strongest Beer!

And the hits just keep on comin’!

Some time ago I reported that Germany’s Shorschbräu was about to release Shorschbock 40%, knocking Brewdog’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin off the throne as worlds strongest beer. Well that day has apparently arrived. A new highest alcohol beer has been born. A post on the Schorschbräu website dated December 2009  translates:

A historic month with a further, barely imaginable beer record!
We at Schorschbräu don’t accept upward boundaries. Therefore we
have now set a new beer record with an astonishing 40% ABV.

This announcement is reinforced by the boast at the top of the page, “Our current record: 40%. And no end in sight.”

As proof that they have achieved new heights of booziness, Schorschbräu has provided a link to laboratory results from BLB GmbH Brau-Labor und Beratung dated November 9, 2009 showing an alcohol by volume percentage of 39.44.

Congratulations to Schorschbräu! Although I am starting to find this quest for the world’s strongest beer only slightly less silly than the AB-InBev/Miller competition for the lowest calorie beer.

High Hopes and Disapointments

While going through my basement in search of the perfect beer to drink on New Years Eve, I stumbled on a forgotten bottle of Gale’s Millennium Brew. I purchased this bottle from a local bottle shop about a year ago.

Gale’s Millennium Brew is a 10% ABV English Old Ale released in 1999 by George Gale & Co. to celebrate the coming of the new millennium. The website for importer B. United International gives this promising description:

Mashed by the Duke of York on a visit to the Horndean Brewery in 1997, [Millennium Brew] is a vintage ale which will be released starting October 1st, 1999 to celebrate the coming of the new millennium. It has a rich, amber color and a sweet malt and raisin aroma. It is strong with a complex blend of fruitiness, gentle bitterness and a hint of Muscatel grapes.
Millennium Brew is made from the finest Maris Otter Pale Ale malt, Black Malt, and a significant amount of Crystal Malt. Hops used are Goldings, Fuggles and the citrusy, fruity Challenger.
Gales’ Millennium Brew has been conditioned for 24 months with some rousing. Gales Millennium Brew has a lower present gravity than its famous “sister” Prize Old Ale. It is therefore less obviously sweet. This allows the hop flavors and fruity estery flavors to predominate.

This beer had spent the last year carefully cellared in my basement. Before that it had spent eleven years in the tender care of someone else, waiting for the perfect moment to be consumed. The turning of the first decade of the millennium seemed to be that moment. Great anticipation accompanied my bringing the bottle to the table after a satisfying dinner. The admiration of the soon-to-be-tasted nectar was intensified by the realization that the 9-ounce bottle was corked instead of capped. What class! A hush descended as I drew the cork and poured the rich amber deliciousness into our snifters. There was no head, but that’s to be expected from a well-aged English strong ale. Carefully cupping the glasses to warm the brew we sniffed; sweet, port-like, raisins and dark fruits with hints of sherry…and something else not yet quite defined. Finally the taste, a taste that’s been a decade in the making. But not the taste that we were looking for. Rather than the warming, full-bodied, port wine and plum sherry notes of a finely crafted barleywine, our tongues were treated to a sickly sour, thin and threadbare remnant of a beer. Methinks the Duke of York had sanitation issues.

You take your chances buying aged beer. You never really can be sure what waits inside.