Minneapolis Rock Bottom Also Medals At GABF

As an addendum to the previous post about Schell’s and Summit’s GABF medals, let me add that the Rock Bottom Brewery in Minneapolis also took a silver medal in the Belgian and French Style Ale category with Bastogne Blonde.

I had heard this while still at the festival, but the winner’s list attributed the beer to a Rock Bottom in Louisville, Colorado, which is where the chain’s corporate offices are located. I wanted to confirm that it was indeed our own Minneapolis Rock Bottom that took the honors before I posted.


Summit and Schell’s Win at GABF

The ever-reliable Summit Extra Pale Ale has been getting quite a bit of attention lately. Following up on a gold medal at the World Beer Cup in April, this quintessential Minnesota beer took Silver in the Classic English Style Pale Ale category at the Great American Beer Festival last week. There to accept the award for Summit were brewers Eric Blomquist and Eric Harper, Texas sales manager Amy Fletcher, and sales and marketing administrator Emily Johnson. Way to go Summit!

The other big Minnesota GABF winner was August Schell Brewing Company who took silver in the American Style Amber Lager category for their Oktoberfest. To make it that much better, the award was announced as Schell’s was celebrating their 150th anniversary in New Ulm. Congratulations to August Schell for both the medal and the anniversary!

Things have been a bit crazy for me since I returned from the GABF on Monday. I haven’t had a chance to catch up on all the writing that I want to do. There are stories to tell, beers to report on, and video interviews with a number of breweries that need to be edited and posted. As the craziness doesn’t end any time soon, I’m not quite sure when all of this is going to happen.

Schell’s Stag Series Barrel Aged Schmalz’s Alt

As the August Schell anniversary celebration in New Ulm approaches, I am getting toward the end of my own celebration of all things Schell. I finally got to try this year’s Oktoberfest the other day. I had it at the Renaissance Festival, so I don’t have formal tasting notes (aroma: turkey? Or is that sheep dung?). But I did find it tasty. Appropriately balance toward the caramelly Munich-type malt, but with a balancing spicy bite.

Today I post notes for the first in the Stage Series of specialty and experimental beers. This is a new direction for Schell’s and one that I’m excited about. While I am a devotee of the classic styles, it’s always fun to see a brewery stretch their muscles. For this first Stag Series beer they aged a small batch of one of their earliest specialty beers, Schmaltz’s Alt, in Pinot Noir Barrels. The base beer is one of my favorites from Schell’s and the idea of barrel aging it sounds great. The thing about experiments is that they don’t always work. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be done.

Here’s my notes:

Stag Series #1
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Barrel Aged Northern German Altbier
Serving Style: 22 oz Bottle

Aroma: Toasty, Caramel malt and vinous fruits. Vanilla oak character underlies.

Appearance: Dark brown with ruby highlights. Clear. Ample, creamy, beige head that stuck around for a while.

Flavor: Caramel and melanoidin malt with hints of chocolate roast. Subtle herbal hops with moderate bitterness. Vinous fruit flavors; grape, cherry. Vanilla and wood from the oak barrel. Light, tart acidity in the background.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, but struck me as a bit thin. Medium-low carbonation. Creamy.

Overall Impression: This one didn’t quite work for me. I love Schmaltz’s Alt on its own. In this case, however the caramel and toast/roast of the beer seemed to be doing battle with the fruit and acidity from the wine barrel. The parts were all there, alt, wine, and wood. They just didn’t quite work together. A worthy effort that just didn’t quite hit the mark. Looking forward to Number 2 in the series, a Wild Rice Farmhouse Ale.

Schell’s Firebrick

August Schell Brewing Company is kicking off its 150th anniversary week this weekend with special deliveries to every New Ulm bar and liquor store. The deliveries will be made by Ted and Jace Marti, 5th & 6th generation descendents of the brewery’s founder August Schell. Hearkening back to the early days they will be making the rounds in a replica of their 1800’s beer wagon and a restored 1948 Flexible Clipper bus. Here’s what their press release has to say.

Schell’s Brewery will be making special ceremonial deliveries in its vintage 1800’s horse drawn beer wagon replica to kick off it’s declared 150th Anniversary week.  A team of two horses will pull the beer wagon.  The wagon will be lavishly decorated in garland and flowers, reminiscent to the extravagantly decorated beer wagons in Germany during its Oktoberfest celebrations.  Schell’s will also be using their newly restored 1948 Flexible Clipper bus to make these deliveries.  Schell’s will be delivering a commemorative gift to each of the bars and liquor stores in New Ulm as a special thanks to those organizations for helping the brewery reach its 150th Anniversary. Ted Marti, president of the August Schell Brewing Company and his son Jace Marti, the sixth generation, will be making these commemorative deliveries.  Other members of the brewery will also be along helping with the deliveries.

I’ll continue my salute to Schell’s with tasting notes for Firebrick.

When I first moved to Minneapolis from Chicago in 2002, I was unfamiliar with the local beer scene (what there was of it at the time). Although I was very much into craft beer, I was also less familiar with beer in general than I am now. In Chicago I was able to buy beer in the grocery store. The selection was limited, but as I went there every week, I could easily pick up a sixpack whenever I was there. I almost never went to liquor stores in the years that we lived there.

Upon discovering that beer was unavailable in Twin Cities grocery stores, I made a trip to Zipp’s to see what I could find. It was like I had walked into heaven. Multiple coolers full of awesome beer. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I grabbed a Schell’s sampler pack and beat a path home. I fell in love with these beers, especially Firebrick. For many months after the move, the Schell’s sampler pack sustained me beer wise.

Here’s my notes:

August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Vienna Lager
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Sweet toffee and bread crust that reminds me of German rye bread. Light spicy continental hops.

Appearance: Amber and clear. Moderate head persists moderately.

Flavor: Malt dominates the flavor profile with toffee, bread crust, and slight nuttiness. The bitterness balances without getting in the way of the malt. Spicy hop flavors. Finish lingers a bit on sweet toffee and bread crust. Crisp, clean lager character.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Crisp with medium carbonation. A bit of creaminess.

Overall Impression: In the days when my beer appetite was sustained by the Schell’s sampler pack, Firebrick was my favorite Schell’s beer. It remains up there near or at the top. Delicious, luscious yet refreshing, easy to drink. I recently was in another city searching for a Vienna lager. Couldn’t find one. Wished I had Schell’s around.

Paulaner Wiesn Blonde – The Real Oktoberfest Beer?

It’s September and in the beer world that means Oktoberfest beers start to appear in stores and bars. While it may seem strange that October beer would come out in September, bear in mind that the Munich Oktoberfest ends on the first Sunday of October. Most of it happens in September.

Any beer fan knows what Oktoberfest beers are. Amber-colored lagers with rich caramel/melanoidin malt, moderate bitterness to balance, and spicy European hop character. But was Oktoberfest beer always like this? Is the beer poured every year in the tents on the Theresienwiese the same amber lager that we in the US enjoy at this time of year?

Look at photos from the real Oktoberfest and the beer being served in liter mugs has a distinctly golden color, not amber. The “fest” beer served up by the millions of gallons during the sixteen day celebration is in fact a blond lager, not the amber märzen style beer that we all know. Beer writer Lew Bryson has written a nice article about this here.

This blond Oktoberfest beer is brewed to legal specifications regarding alcohol content and body. Some have said that the fest beers have always been blond. I find this difficult to believe, as the first Oktoberfest took place in 1810, but the brewers in Bohemia didn’t invent Pilsner, arguably the first golden-colored lager, until 1842. A better explanation is that sometime in the late 20th century the beer served at the annual festival was lightened to appeal to changing tastes.

Whatever the case, the authentic blond lager of Oktoberfest has never been available in this country.  That is changing this year. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the fest, Paulaner is releasing a limited amount of Wiesn Blonde to the US. The “Wiesn” in this case refers to the Theresienwiese or “Theresa Medow” that has been the site of the Oktoberfest since the beginning. Wiesn Blonde will be available in certain markets in one-liter cans. I don’t know if Minnesota is one of those markets. But you will have the opportunity to try this unique beer on draft at all Old Chicago locations. The chain has secured exclusive rights to draft service for this beer (at least for a time) and will be launching it today (September 8th).

I was invited to the Roseville store for a tasting yesterday afternoon. This is a very nice beer. Think of it as a big version of a Munich Helles style lager. Not a huge imperialized helles, just a helles that is a couple of percentage points ABV bigger than normal with an accompanying boost in richness and body: not quite a maibock but bigger than a helles. It pours a light golden color with a moderate white head. The flavor showcases big, sweet, grainy malt with overtones of fresh bread. There are even some raisiny fruit notes in there. As befits a helles, it is moderately hopped, with spicy European hop flavors allowing the malt to shine. Alcohol makes its presence know, but in a subtle, sweet way. The whole thing ends with a bone-dry finish. Wiesn Blonde is a clean, smooth, easy-to-drink lager with a bit of a kick.

If you want to be among the first to try this beer, head to Old Chicago this evening. Celebration kick-off times may vary from location to location, so be sure to check before you go. At the Roseville location festivities start at 6:00. Along with the beer, World Beer Tour members can partake in a German buffet featuring brats, potato salad, and other typical fest-foods.

Wiesn Blonde is also included in an eight-beer Oktoberfest Mini-tour. Sample all eight beers and you walk away with a T-shirt for your trouble. The mini-tour selection is a grab-bag mix of some great beers and some not-so-great ones. The best of the bunch are Wiesn Blonde, Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen, Spaten Lager, and Franziskaner Hefeweizen. Be sure to do a side by side tasting of the three Oktoberfest beers included (Ayinger, Sam Adams, and Becks).

Schell’s Hopfenmaltz

Another tribute to August Schell. It’s their 150th anniversary. To help celebrate they released a series of special draft-only beers, some based on recipes culled from the archives. They asked beer drinkers to vote for their favorite. An amber lager received the most votes and became the special anniversary release, Hopfenmalz. Here’s my notes:

Augusts Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Amber Lager
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Grainy, toffee, and caramel malt complemented by herbal and citrus hops; tangerine and peaches.

Appearance: Dark orange-amber. It appeared lightly hazy at first but cleared as it warmed. Full, rocky, off-white head that stuck around, ultimately falling into a light film of bubbles on the surface.

Flavor: Malt dominates; rich, toasty, caramel, and brown sugar. Assertive but not over-the-top bitterness balances, without overwhelming the malt. Hints of dark fruit; figs or raisins. Hoppy  light fruit notes as well. The tangerine and peach from the aroma return. Herbal hops compliment like a sauce on the main course. This beer reminds me of an English bitter, but with more intense flavors and a crisp lager finish. Many clearly articulated parts that form a solid whole.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, but with a mouth-filling, weizen-like character, almost chewy. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: Rich and mysterious, yet utterly drinkable. Nice complement of caramel and herbal/fruity hops. Reminds me of cooking. In fact, this is a beer made for food. My neighbors are grilling and the aroma of grilled meat, smoke and the beer are melding perfectly. This would go great with grilled meats, roast turkey, or even a caramel desert.

Schell’s Pils

Continuing with my modest anniversary salute to August Schell Brewing, I’ll stay on the light side. Schell’s Pils is a beer for which no lengthy introduction is needed. So I’ll get right down to it. Here’s my notes:

August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: German Pilsner
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma:  Spicy hops under-girded by grainy sweet and bready malt.

Appearance: Crystal clear and golden colored. Fluffy white head that sticks around for a while, leaving lace on the glass with each sip.

Flavor: Sharp hop bitterness and flavor through and through. The bitterness has bite, but isn’t over the top; it’s a pilsner, not an IPA. Flavorful spicy hops with notes of pepper, fresh herbs, and licorice. Malt remains in the background; sweet and grainy with hints of fresh bread. The finish is dry and biting.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium-high carbonation. Crisp.

Overall Impression: The pronounced hop character and subdued malt make this immediately identifiable as a German style pilsner. And it’s a great example of the style, one that could put many of the locally available German brands to shame. Crisp, light, easy-to-drink. A perfect accompaniment for many foods (I had it with sushi). A classic.

Sierra Nevada Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale

Every year since 2005, autumn at Sierra Nevada Brewing Company meant the release of Anniversary Ale. Until 2007 this American pale ale style offering was only available in the brewery’s Chico, California tasting room/pub. Increased demand led to the beer being offered in bottles after that.

This year, the brewery is putting an end to this tradition and starting a new one. Instead of Anniversary Ale, they have released Tumbler as their autumn seasonal. Called an “autumnal brown ale”, the website boasts of its “gracefully smooth malt character” from the use of malt “within days of roasting at the peak of its flavor.”

Here’s my notes:

Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, California
Style: Brown Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Caramel and grainy sweetness are accentuated by toast and light coffee roast. Subtle earthy hops let the malt take center stage. Hints of raisin.

Appearance: Medium-dark brown and clear. Pours with an ample beige head that lasts and lasts.

Flavor: As in the aroma, malt is the star; caramel, toast and nuts with light chocolate and coffee in the finish. Earthy and minty hops offer a cooling counterpoint to the malt. Medium bitterness with a crisp Burton character balances the sweetness. Background flavors of minerals, salt, and even coconut reveal themselves as the beer warms.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with medium carbonation. Nice creamy texture.

Overall Impression: I have stated in blog posts that one of my defining characteristics of a great beer is articulation of flavors. This beer has that. Malt, hops and other background characteristics are all detectable in and of themselves, yet they come together to make a tasty totality. Tumbler is a very well-made beer. But I would be disappointed by anything less from Sierra Nevada. The earthy hops and sharp, but subdued bitterness make a great counterpoint to the nutty/toasty malt. A nice beer for a chilly autumn eve.

Schell’s Zommerfest

August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm is celebrating 150 years of beer making this month. This is a huge deal. They have big plans for the official celebration mid month. You can read all about them here. I encourage folks to get down there and help celebrate.

I tasted a lot of Schell’s beers while researching my September Star Tribune column featuring the brewery. For the column, however, I am limited to 500-ish words. I can’t talk about very many beers, nor can I go into any great detail about them. As my own small contribution to the anniversary celebration, I will publish my full tasting notes for many of the Schell’s beers on this blog over the next couple of weeks. As it is a summer seasonal and it’s time is nearly done, I’ll start with Zommerfest.Here’s my notes:

August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Kölsch
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Sweet pils malt. Bready. Faintest hop aroma, herbal, hint of passion fruit or blackberry. A bit yeasty. Simple, but alluring. Keeps calling me back for another sniff.

Appearance: Golden. Crytal clear. Light white head that dropped quickly.

Flavor: Hops take a more prominent position in the flavor than in the aroma. Bitterness is moderate, but more than enough to balance the delicate malt. Bitterness lasts all the way through, but softly, not offensive or in the way. Mid-palate the sweet, grainy malt briefly takes the spotlight and then fades again into the dry finish. Only a lightly lingering sweetness remains. Hops have an herbal and light blackberry character with hints of licorice. It’s all very delicate and soft-spoken, but certainly not without intrigue.

Mouthfeel: Light body. Moderately spritzy carbonation. Crisp lager character.

Overall Impression: The first time I tasted this beer I didn’t care for it. I don’t know what I was thinking. Light, delicate, and yet so full of flavor and subtle complexity, this is a fantastic summer sipper. Clean, crisp, and quenching. This is the kind of beer I encourage folks to taste in order understand the subtle beauty of beer that doesn’t wack you over the head.

Tallgrass Oasis

I have been neglecting the collection of beers in my basement. On the road for the last two and a half weeks, I simply haven’t had much time to sample or write.  I have some catching up to do. Gotta take one for the cause, you know. Look for a number of tasting note posts in the days and weeks to come.

Tallgrass Brewing Company of Manhattan, Kansas is a relative newcomer to the Minnesota market. This brewery from the tall-grass country held a particular interest to me. I have family in Kansas and spent many a summer vacation there while growing up. It has always been a paradoxical place to me; on the one hand barren, desolate, and boring, and on the other a realm of incredible beauty and childhood adventure (as long as you get off of the interstate). My parents met while attending Kansas State in Manhattan.

Minnesotans’ first opportunity to taste the Tallgrass beers came in June at the St. Paul Summer Beer Fest. I spent a good deal of time talking to they guys from the brewery in their booth and found them to be friendly and passionate. The sample of Oasis that I had on that day piqued my curiosity. I looked forward to the opportunity to try it again in a more controlled setting. Here’s my notes:

Tallgrass Brewing Company, Manhattan, Kansas
Style: Extra or Imperial ESB
Serving Style: 16 oz. Can

Aroma: Malt balanced featuring caramel and biscuit. Light earthy and orange citrus hops. Definitely English in character.

Appearance: Pours with an abundant, creamy, tan head that last long into the glass. Dark amber in color and clear.

Flavor: The flavors initially follow the aroma except that the emphasis is switched from malt to hops. The reported 93 IBUs provide a bracing bitterness that lasts into the finish and beyond, but the bitterness lacks the characteristic crispness of an English ESB. Hop flavors are earthy with hints of orangey citrus. It’s not so balanced to hops that the malt is covered up. Rich caramel, toast, and biscuit malt offer ample support with unexpected notes of roast and chocolate coming at the finish as the beer warms. As with the aroma it has a clear English character. Notes of alcohol are present, perhaps a bit too present. A chalkiness, presumably from water treatment, is also perceptible.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with medium carbonation. Alcohol warming is present.

Overall Impression: A solid Extra ESB, tasty and drinkable. I found the alcohol presence to be a distraction and felt the roasted character was too high. I love the simple caramel malt of classic English bitters. While not a critique of this beer in particular – I would gladly quaff another – I do have philosophical issues with the imperializing of the style. English bitters, standard, best, or extra special, are meant to be session beers. They are flavorful and yet easy to drink. They don’t mess you up too badly, even after several pints. They are perfect beers as they are. Why mess with that?