Beers of the British Isles

The June Meeting of the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club

When: Friday, malady June 11, help 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.

Great Britain has a long and storied beer history. Its brewers invented porter and then made it the first mass produced industrial beer. It is the origin of IPA. Baltic Porter and Imperial Stout were both born here, physician as were Irish stout, milk stout, and oatmeal stout. And what would life be like without the traditional Bitters? And its beer culture is still going strong today in pubs across Britain, where real ale is still pumped from casks the old-fashioned way.

English ales were the original inspiration for the American craft beer movement and the reason many a craft brewer on this side of the ocean began brewing in the first place. Most of them still include at least one traditional English style beer in their line-ups.

For this meeting we’ll sample our way through the beers of the British Isles from subtle bitters to big imperial stouts. We’ll taste the wares of brewers from over there and from over here. We might even do a blind tasting or two to see who does it best.

A Perfect Pint & MN Craft Beer Week on Fox 9 News

I did two short segments on Fox 9 news this morning talking about craft beer and MN Craft Beer Week. Check it out.
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Cheese & Ale at Cooks of Crocus Hill

Last night was the Cheese and Ale class at Cooks of Crocus Hill. Fromager Ken Liss and I took guest through a varied course of six beers paired with six artisan cheeses. There were some expected brilliant pairings and some pleasant surprises as well. And as always, ask purchase there was Ken’s “secret ingredient” that I will talk about later.

As a welcome beer I poured Flat Earth’s Sunburst Ale, remedy an apricot infused Belgian Pale Ale that turned out to be one of the favorites of the night. Other beers were Lagunitas Pils, thumb Saison Dupont, Meantime IPA, Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen Rauchbier, and Deschutes Black Butte Porter.

Ken brought a wide range of cheeses including Brillat Savarin cow’s milk brie, Le Cabrie goat’s milk brie from Wisconsin, Colliers Powerful Cheddar, the Italian sheep’s milk cheese Pecorino Ginepro, Saenkanter aged gouda, and Cashel Blue, a creamy blue cheese from Ireland.

Some of the pairings were obvious. IPA and cheddar are made for one another and the Meantime IPA and the Colliers cheddar was a perfect match. The beer’s fruity and grassy notes complemented herbal/grassy flavors in the cheese while the bitter hops cleared the creamy cheese off the palate. The IPA also paired brilliantly with the blue.

The light pilsner was a perfect match for both the cow’s milk and the goat’s milk brie. Floral saaz hops complemented light floral notes in the cheeses and the pils malt added sweetness to these otherwise salty, creamy bries.

Like IPA and cheddar, porter is made for blue cheese. The Black Butte and the Cashel Blue bore this out as bitter black malt and chocolate notes blended brilliantly with the creamy, pungent, and spicy blue cheese.

The most surprising pairing for me was the Brillat Savarin brie with the Black Butte porter. I would have expected the full-flavored porter to overwhelm the much lighter cheese. Instead, the buttery cheese brought out a creaminess in the beer while the cheese’s saltiness balanced the roasted malt bitterness in the beer such that the cheese not only stood up to the bigger beer but complemented it beautifully.

The match made in heaven for the evening was another pairing with the Brillat Svarin. Paired with the Schlenkerla Rauchbier, this was a match to make the angels sing. The salty brie was perfect with the bacon flavors in the beer. Think canapés with brie and cured meats. Ken’s “secret ingredient” further enhanced this pairing. A bit of smoked salt sprinkled onto the cheese pushed it into cheese and beer bliss. This was another pairing that I would not have expected.

Sam Adams® Latitude 48

Sam Adams is launching a new beer this summer, an India Pale Ale called Latitude 48. The beer takes its name from the northern hop growing region located around latitude 48°. The press release for the beer touts a blend of German, English, and American hops that create a “distinctive, yet not overpowering, hop character” balanced by a sweet honey malt blend. I am unclear whether this means they used honey or honey malt. [EDIT: They used honey malt, not honey.] Here’s my notes:

Sam Adams Latitude 48
Boston Beer Company, Boston, Massachusetts
Style: India Pale Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Citrus and grassy hops with undertones of sweet berries and pineapple. Lightly sweet and biscuity English-style malt. English yeast fruitiness opens up as the beer warms. Balanced.

Appearance: Amber and crystal clear. Moderate off-white head that persisted only moderately.

Flavor: Kicks off with medium-high bitterness that lingers long into the finish. This bitterness first had a harshness that smoothed out as the beer warmed. Hop flavors present an interesting mix of earthy, floral, and spice, with hints of lemony citrus. Sweet caramel and biscuit malt balances the hops and claims top placement mid-palate. Finish is dry, lingering on hop bitterness and flavor that sticks around long after swallowing.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: An interesting take on a classic English IPA. The malt character and yeast fruitiness definitely reflects the English style. The hops present a blend of European, English, and American flavors that lend the beer some interest. Not the best IPA out there, but definitely one I would be happy to drink again.

Cheese and Ale at Cooks of Crocus Hill

There is still room to sign up for the Cheese and Ale class at Cooks of Crocus Hill.

Cheese and Ale: Pairing Beer and Cheese
With Fromager Ken Liss
Monday, viagra sale May 17, 6 – 8 PM, $55

Join Fromager Ken Liss and Cicerone Michael Agnew for a satisfying session of sipping and nibbling. You’ll start with fromage fundamentals – types, textures, flavors, shopping, storing and serving – then discover how to choose beers that complement each cheese. Includes cheese and beer from around the world.

I’ve worked with Ken before. He is the former owner of Premier Cheese Market at 50th & France. He has taught numerous classes on cheese and cheese pairings at Cooks of Crocus Hill, The Four Firkins, and other places. He knows his stuff and knows how to present it with passion. You can sign up for this class or learn more about the classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill here.

Furthermore Beer at Vine Park

The table full of exotic ingredients in the bottling area of St. Paul’s Vine Park Brewing hinted that something interesting was about to take place. Around twenty-five people milled about surveying the little baggies of cardamom, pills coriander, pills fenugreek, cilantro, and black pepper, anticipating the brewing adventure that awaited us. This was the scene on Monday morning at Vine Park’s second Brew with the Brewmaster event featuring Aran Madden and Chris Staples, the two-man team that is Furthermore Beer.

The idea of the Brew with the Brewmaster events is to give beer enthusiasts an opportunity to interact with professional brewers. Brewers create recipes and then work with guests to actually brew those beers on Vine Park’s brew-on-premise system. It’s an opportunity to see firsthand how brewers work and to witness the minute-to-minute adjustments that brewers make during a brew session. And best of all, after two weeks each participant gets to take home bottles of the beers they brewed. “This is fun.” said Vine Park co-owner Daniel Justesen of the Furthermore event. “It’s been interactive. It’s been exciting. It’s been recreating things on the fly and adapting to the environment. That’s what makes brewing fun, taking things from here and there and turning it into something that’s hopefully going to taste great. And it sure smells great in here.”

As Furthermore brewmaster Aran Madden explained it, the theme for this brew was “taking India Pale Ale back from the colonizers.” Each of the six beers was a unique take on the pale ale or India pale ale style using pungent Indian spices as flavoring elements. “I’m pretty excited about the beers. I think that this ‘real ales of India’ could be a thing.” said Madden. “It’s just funny that for us as a beer culture, it’s not just that it’s a style; it’s the dominant style in craft brewing right now. And nobody seems to think about the fact that India pale ale originates in something that the British did to India. And there’s so much that India has to offer.”

Participants were split into six groups, each group responsible for making one of the beers. My group brewed a beer called The History of Non-Violence. It is a reasonably bitter, low-alcohol IPA featuring tamarind, coriander, candied ginger, and cilantro.

With multiple beers coming together at once, the atmosphere was a bit chaotic. Justesen laughed, “This is exceedingly crazy, more than usual. Normally we’ve got a bit more control over the whole process.” And Madden said, “Brewing six beers at once is hectic. It’s really hectic. Especially since most of the beers were developed over the last couple of days.” But the craziness also presented him with an opportunity. “It’s really gratifying to be able to do all of this in one day. This would take me a year to get around to buying ingredients, and test batching, and getting stuff from a fermenter into a corny keg, and carbonating, and all that stuff. So six beers in one fell swoop is fantastic.”

In the end, chaos included, I believe everyone had a great time. Vine Park regular Cory Reiman summed it up this way, “Free lunch, great beer, and recipes that no one, including the master brewer, has tried? Come on. How often do you have access to a master brewer to pick their brains? Even if you’re a novice you can come here for the whole experience that most people would never have. Even if you’re fully knowledgeable, to be able to pick the brain of a master brewer is a great opportunity.”

I can’t wait to try the beers.

Star Tribune Beer Column

A short while back I signed a freelancers contract to write a new monthly beer column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I’m very excited about this. The first one went up today.

Check it out.

Minnesota Craft Beer Week

American Craft Beer Week, a week-long celebration of all things craft beer sponsored by the Brewers Association, takes place May 17 – 23. Not to be left out of the national celebration, several breweries, beer bars, and beer stores are joining forces to bring you Minnesota Craft Beer Week. The main events are focused in the 7-Corners and Dinkytown neighborhoods of Minneapolis at Stub & Herbs, Preston’s Urban Pub, and Town Hall Brewery. On Monday, Town Hall will tap American Beer Wheat to kick things off and will have draft specials all week long. Stub & Herbs is having a variety of guest bartenders from local breweries, including Fulton, Lift Bridge, and Flat Earth, with Flat Earth putting over thirty beers on tap on Wednesday. Preston’s will be featuring specials on West Coast and Mountain Region beers. You can see the whole schedule of events here.

I will be doing a special tasting at Preston’s from 6 – 7 PM on Wednesday. Come on in and say “Hi.”

Odell Saboteur Brett Barrel Brown Ale

Odell Brewing Company has a five-barrel pilot brew house that they use to brew test batches and small release beers. One of the things to come out of this brew house is what they call the Single Serve Series. Initially intended only for draft service in their tasting room, some of these beers have been so popular that they decided to do bigger batches and bottle them for markets outside their Fort Collins, Colorado home. I had the opportunity to try one of these recently. Saboteur is a big, drinkable, sour, brown ale that I believe becomes available in the Twin Cities this week. The last time I visited the brewery in Fort Collins, they had just filled a bunch of brand new oak barrels to start a barrel-aging program. I can only imagine that this beer represents what is now being produced in some of  those same barrels. Here’s my notes:

Odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins, Colorado
Style: Brettanomyces Brown Ale
Serving Style: 750 ml Bottle

Aroma: A pleasant acidic sourness hits the nose right off, followed by toasty and lightly roasty malt. Some leathery brettanomyces notes. Caramel sweetness comes in as it warms.

Appearance: Dark brown and clear. Appears black. The moderate off-white head persisted moderately.

Flavor: Starts with intense burnt sugar and molasses. Background notes of coffee and chocolate joined by anise and loads of dark dried fruits like raisins, prunes, and cherries. The wild character is almost non-existent at first, but comes in more strongly as the beer warms, displaying leathery barnyard character. After a final shot of bitterness, the sweet finish lingers on raisins and caramel. Rich and sweet.

Mouthfeel: Full-bodied with moderate carbonation. Light alcohol warming. Rich and mouth filling with some creaminess.

Overall Impression: It took a few sips to take this one in. It is a big and complex beer, much bigger than I expected, with light brettanomyces funk balancing thick, sweet malt. The fruitiness is beautiful. I would have liked a bit more of the wild character. I wonder if this would come out more fully with some age. Additional aging might also allow the brettanomyces to dry it out, something that would benefit this beer.

Smoked, Grilled, and Sauced: A Beer and Wine Pairing Experience

Friday night I co-taught a wonderful class at Cooks of Crocus Hill in St. Paul. My co-presenters for the class were Chef Mike Shannon and Level III Sommelier Leslee Miller. Thirty-six guests were treated to a five-course meal of grilled and smoked delights each paired with either a beer or a wine. The final two courses were paired with both. As we ate and drank our way through the deliciousness the three of us traded off explaining the pairings, treatment offering up knowledge, viagra and weaving tales about our respective passions.

As we offered our introductions, guests enjoyed a light, sparkling, wine from Portugal. Famega Vinho Verde was a delicious white with a gentle touch of spritz and fantastic strawberry and pear fruit. I had to comment when Leslee mentioned that its 9.5% ABV made it a “low-alcohol wine that you could drink quite a bit of in an evening.” Coming from the world of beer, when we get above 8% we start talking about strong beers that have to be consumed in moderation.

The first dish that Chef Mike offered up was a twist on the traditional Cobb salad with lightly sauced pulled pork in place of the chicken. I paired this with Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier. Hefewizen pairs well with egg and cured meats, so it was a natural with the boiled egg and bacon on the salad. My main concern was that it wouldn’t stand up to the pulled pork. Guests however commented that the spicy yeast character of the beer really pulled out the flavors of the pork while the full wheaty/yeasty mouthfeel was able to hold its own against it.

The next course was a smoked salmon pizza with Asiago cheese. Leslee paired this with Croatian Korta Katarina Plavac Mali Rosé. This was another light, fruity wine with strawberry and rhubarb notes. It managed to stand up well to the assertive Asiago cheese and the smoked salmon brought out smoky notes in the wine that were not there when tasted alone.

The next course was mine to pair, a grilled Jamaican jerk chicken with a fruity/spicy Caribbean slaw. I paired this with Meantime IPA. The citrus and stone fruit flavors played well with the fruit of the slaw while the hops brought out the spice. This is a balanced English IPA with enough malt to knock heat back again on the way down.

After a short break we returned for the dish that I was really anticipating, a middle-eastern seasoned lamb chop with tomatoes and chick peas. Both Leslee and I took this one on and both pairings were possibly the best of the night. Leslee poured 2004 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino. This big, Italian red made with 100% Sangiovese grapes had intense dark fruity flavors and spice notes that stood up to the well-seasoned lamb, while tannins in the finish swept away the fat. I paired this dish with Ovni Ale Biére de Garde from Flat Earth Brewing in St. Paul. Caramel, toast, and spicy hops in this beer was another perfect match with the similar flavors in the lamb. Both the wine and the beer were perfect with the dish.

The desert was cheesecake with a sour cherry sauce. I went for Lindemans Kriek with this one. The sweet and sour cherry beer matched the cheesecake flavor for flavor. Leslee chose Schlink Haus Dornfelder, German Sweet Wine. Sweet, but not too sweet, and loaded with cherry fruit notes, this was another great match.

Three hours, five courses, and eight pours after we began a satisfied crowd filtered out of the upstairs kitchen space at Cooks. I had a blast and I believe the guests did as well. I hope to teach another course with Leslee and Mike soon. Thanks to all who came.