I had the opportunity to sample the IPA from Odell Brewing. This hop-forward, American style IPA is another beer that the brewery will be launching in the Minnesota market next week. Here’s my notes:

ODell Brewing Company, Fort Collins, Colorado
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Bright citrus hops dominate the aroma, leaping out of the bottle before it is even poured. Sharp, crisp, grapefruit and lemon/lime. The hops are backed up by a lightly sweet, grainy malt with hints of caramel.

Appearance: A moderate, rocky, and persistent white head sits atop a medium-amber, crystal-clear jewel of a beer.

Flavor: The flavors follow the aroma. Sharp citrus hops dominate. The assertive bitterness is supported but not quite balanced by simple, sweet, grainy malt. There are hints of light stone-fruits floating around the background. The super dry finish favors bitterness with a lingering citrus pith flavor.

Mouthfeel: Medium body and medium carbonation. Light astringency from the assertive hops.

Overall Impression: A solid American IPA that is definitely meant to showcase hops. The hops have a nice brightness to them, but the bitterness is a bit unbalanced for my taste. I kept waiting for more malt to come through as the beer warmed, but it never did. Not bad, but I like more balance and complexity from the malt side of an IPA.

Local Brewers’ Beers of Spring

Spring arrived early this year. We lived through the first snowless March since records have been kept and April has been even better. Warmer weather and longer days call for a shift away from the heavy, dark beers of winter. Spring means lighter beers, but beers with enough body to tackle the lingering night time chill. Spring is when I begin to crave the bitter American Pale Ales, their citrusy hops flavor giving a bracing wake-up call to the senses. The traditional old-world beers of spring, German maibock and French biére de garde, have sturdy malt backbones supporting spicy hops and yeast character, contrasting flavors to match the seasonal temperature swings. Several of these springtime beer styles are crafted here in the metro by our great local brewers.

Minnesotans love hops, the source of bitterness in beer, and there are plenty of locally produced bitter brews to satisfy these springtime cravings. The most balanced of these is Sweet Child of Vine, the debut India pale ale (IPA) from newcomers Fulton Beer. Only available on draft, the floral hops flavor, moderate bitterness, and balancing caramel malt make this one of the easier drinking versions of the style. More bitter but still balanced, Lift Bridge Brewery’s Crosscut Pale Ale features subtle citrus notes from abundant Cascade hops and grapefruit zest added to the brew. St. Paul’s Flat Earth Brewing calls its Northwest Passage IPA the “bitterest beer in Minnesota.” A step up the ladder in bitterness, body, and alcohol content, Northwest Passage is bracing enough to snap one out of winter hibernation, but has enough warmth and comforting caramel to take the bite out of those sudden springtime temperature drops. Topping the list for hops intensity is Abrasive Ale (formerly 16 Grit), the double IPA from Surly Brewing Company. This nearly 9% alcohol bruiser of a beer is aptly named. The aggressive bitterness gives way to massive citrusy hops flavor that is supported by full-bodied sweet, grainy malt. This is one for hops lovers. Surly is making Abrasive Ale available in cans this year for the first time. The release date was April 12th, but don’t tarry, this one won’t last long.

For the traditional spring beers look no further than St. Paul for Summit Maibock and Flat Earth Ovni Ale biére de garde. Bavarians still celebrate the annual May release of maibock, a hoppier, lighter-colored version of the malty-rich bock style. Summit’s version is appropriately malt forward with grainy sweetness and a quiet toasty background. The sweetness is balanced by moderate bitterness and floral hops flavor.  Biére de garde, a traditional farmhouse ale from Northern France, was originally brewed in early spring and cold-cellared for consumption by farmhands as the weather warmed. Ovni Ale is another beer for malt lovers. On the sweet side for the style, it features rich caramel malt and hints of chocolate with low bitterness and only the lightest touch of spicy hops flavor.

The long-term forecast looks good, so grab one of these great local beers and celebrate spring’s return before summer creeps in.

Odell 5-Barrel Pale Ale

As I posted earlier, Odell Brewing Company of Fort Collins, Colorado is set to launch in the Minnesota market on May 3rd. I have long been a fan of Odell from my many trips to Fort Collins visiting family. 5-Barrel Pale Ale is one of their regular offerings and one that will be rolled out when their beers go on sale in the Twin Cities. Here’s my notes:

5-Barrel Pale Ale
Odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins, Colorado
Style: English Pale Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz Bottle

Aroma: Fruity hops are the dominant feature; citrus, blackberry, melon, passion fruit and a hint of resinous pine. Light grainy malt with notes of biscuit and toffee. Simple but elegant.

Appearance: A moderate off-white head dissipates quickly to reveal a beautiful copper/amber color and crystal clarity.

Flavor: Toffee, caramel, and biscuit malt balances the sharp, crisp, Burton ale-like, mineral bitterness. Hop and yeast derived fruits blend well with the malt revealing melon, berry, and orange marmalade. Dry finish. Crisp and refreshing.

Mouthfeel: Medium light body and medium carbonation. Sharp, dry bitterness is not astringent, but has a biting sensation nonetheless.

Overall Impression: A very nice American/English pale ale hybrid. Has the rich malt character and sharp, mineral bitterness of a classic Burton pale ale, but the through-and-through hop flavor and aroma of an American pale. The mélange of fruits from both hops and what I took to be an English yeast strain is amazing. If you are looking for an easy drinking but flavorful pale ale that doesn’t overwhelm you with hops, give this one a try.

Lift Bridge Brewery Buys a Brewery

When Lift Bridge Brewery started making beer almost two years ago, they were brewing at Flat Earth Brewing in St. Paul. I interviewed them at that time and they stated their intention to build their own brewery in Stillwater. Having outgrown Flat Earth, they moved their brewing to the Point Brewery in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. When I spoke with Lift Bridge partner Steven Michael Rinker about this at Firkin Fest a couple months ago, he indicated that they were already outgrowing the available capacity at Point and were closing in on finally buying their own space. Today they announced an agreement to purchase a building with the purchase of a brewery coming soon. Here’s what the press release says.

Stillwater, MN – April 21st, 2010 – Stillwater will be the home of a new brewery in 2010.  Lift Bridge Beer Company is happy to announce that they have chosen a building to develop a new craft brewery in Stillwater.  In the shadows of the Stillwater water tower stands a 10,500 sq. ft. building that will become home to Lift Bridge Brewery in the months to come.  Lift Bridge Beer Co. has entered into an agreement to purchase the building located at 1900 Tower Drive in Stillwater, MN.
Plans are in place to purchase brewing equipment and obtain a brewer’s license.  The 10 year old building will allow for tours, brewing, retail growler and merchandise sales, events and expansion of existing Lift Bridge distribution in the Twin Cities metro area.
The distribution includes kegs and bottles of Crosscut Pale Ale™, Farm Girl Saison®, and the upcoming summer seasonal, Minnesota Tan™.  Lift Bridge is also currently being distributed to other areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin, please check the website www.LiftBridgeBeer.com for specific retailers in your area. The Lift Bridge team is proud to bring a brewery back to Stillwater.

Best of luck guys.

Category 23: Specialty Beers

The May Meeting of the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club

When: Friday, May 21, 2010
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.

In the Beer Style Guidelines of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) there is a place called Category 23. Like the infamous Area 51 deep in the Nevada desert, Category 23 is a place of mystery and myth. It is a category that only the most intrepid individuals dare to judge. Category 23 is a realm of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; a wondrous category whose boundaries are that of imagination. You enter this realm by unlocking the door of experimentation and crossing over into…specialty beers.

For this meeting we’ll taste beers that don’t fit anywhere else. We’ll try beers that utilize unusual techniques and abnormal ingredients; beers that mimic traditional or historical styles. In short, Category 23 is the place for any experimental beer that the brewer creates. This is where we will go. Are you up to it?

A Conversation With Deschutes Brewery

The newest brewery to enter the Minnesota beer market is Deschutes Brewery from Bend, Oregon. For the last few days they have been rolling through the Twin Cities pouring beer from a giant barrel-on-wheels that they call “Woody.” A couple days ago Woody was set up outside the Longfellow grill overlooking the river on Lake Street. While he was there I had the opportunity to share a beer with some folks from Deschutes and talk a bit about the brewery, the beers, and their plans for the expansion into Minnesota.

Why come to Minnesota?

If you look at the states in the west where our beers have been available and then look at the states that are next them, in terms of the logical march across the country Minnesota was the next really good market where people already understand craft beer and have an appreciation for it. And there are people here, unlike the Dakotas. And they drink beer. The Twin Cities feel like Portland. We’ve had a great response here. We have been thrilled about how many people had already heard of us. And all the emails, and Facebook posts, and tweets, the whole word of mouth thing has been really cool. It’s been great to see that spread and be welcomed into the craft beer community here. We look forward to seeing where it goes.

What is planned for the Minnesota market going forward?

We’ve always launched new markets with Black Butte Porter and Mirror Pond Pale Ale, and usually just draft. But we had a lot of people on the off-premise side wanting our beer in the market so we brought in the 22 oz bottles of Black Butte and Mirror Pond. We’ll release six-packs of porter and pale and probably Twilight, our summer seasonal, in Minnesota come June. And from there we’ll probably go to our next seasonal and add Inversion IPA and Green Lakes Organic Ale. We’ll also keep throwing the Bond Street Reserve Series bombers out here because we realize that it’s an educated market and people want that sort of thing. We just finished packaging Hop Henge so we sent a couple palates of that and will probably send some more in the next truck. The next one after Hop Henge is our Hop in the Dark Cascadian Dark Ale (aka black IPA). These beers are called the bond street series because our original brewpub in Bend is on Bond Street and that’s where these beers originated.

Hop Henge

Hop Henge is an 8.75% IPA with 95 IBUs of bitterness. We call it an “experimental IPA” because we tweak it every year to get more and bigger and better hop flavors. We also use proprietary hop products that no one else has access to. Our brewmaster, Larry Sidor, was in the hop industry selling hops for ten or twelve years before he came to Deschutes so he knows hops inside and out. He has the hop companies create specific products that nobody else has and one of those is in that beer. We also just try to innovate and keep putting the hops into the beer in different ways. For Hop Henge, hops are added at eight different times in the process. We used whole flower hops, there’s extract in there, there are pellet hops, and there are proprietary hop products, Cascades, Centennials, Citra, and some other hops. We carried 800 lbs of hops up forty-six steps to the tops of our 700-barrel fermenters to drop them into the batch. That was 800 lbs just for two tanks. There are just shy of ten pounds of hops per barrel. Being an American IPA we’re going for high bitterness and big hop aroma, but we still want a drinkable and balanced beer. If it’s too over the top with just bitterness there will be people who can drink one or maybe two, but they’re not going to come back for a whole lot more. So it’s a well balanced beer. It’s high IBUs and full bodied.

The Brewery

Deschutes started as a brewpub in Bend in 1988. In 1993 we opened up a production facility. We opened another brewpub in Portland two years ago. The brewpubs are our pilot systems. We have brewers at each place that get to do whatever they want. They are the ones leading the charge on developing the next brand. Our brewmaster has been brewing beer for thirty years and comes to it from the hop industry. He also owned a vineyard and made wines, so he knows what he’s doing when it comes to fermentation, hops, and beer. We started out doing English ales, but we’ve since branched out. We’re experimenting with a “wheat” beer made from spelt instead of wheat malt. We make a very limited batch sour Flanders red style beer every year.
We’re in 15 states including Minnesota. The goal is to be in all 50 states in the next ten years. Our constraint now is fermentation tanks. We may have to drop a few more tanks to increase capacity before we can open up another state. We outgrew the fifty-barrel brew house so we put in a system that does hundred-and-thirty-barrel batches. With our old brew house we were brewing twenty-four-seven almost seven days a week. We pushed passed what we thought capacity was with that brew house before we put the new brew house in. Now everything is mostly brewed on the new system with some of the specialty stuff still being done on the older system. We are always just trying to improve the process and have the best equipment that we need to brew the best beer in the world.

Craft Brewers Conference: The Highlight Reel

I spent the last few days in Chicago attending the Craft Brewers Conference, a gathering of craft brewers from all over the United States and the World. It was an intense and exhilarating couple of days filled with fun, learning, moments of embarrassing beer-nerd sycophancy, and of course lots of beer. I will be writing several articles to recap the event and posting them both here and on my Ratebeer.com Hoppress blog. The first went up today. Craft Brewers Conference: The Highlight Reel. Check it out.

A pre-dinner smorgasbord.