Spring is a season of in-betweens. That is especially true up here in the Northland where spring can mean heavy snows and biting cold one day and temperatures in the 50s the next. Spring up here calls for in-between beers; beers that are light enough for when the weather is fair, generic but heavy and warming enough to take the chill off your bones when it gets rough. Maibock, the traditional spring seasonal beer of the Germans, is just such a beer. It’s malt-forward, but lighter in both color and flavor than it better known cousins. It’s rich and warming, yet crisp and light; perfect for the season. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company released their version of a maibock, Glissade, last year. The brewery describes it as being a subtle take on the style “with restrained sweetness, [emphasizing] subtle malt flavor, balanced against delicate aromas of spicy and floral European hops.” Here’s my notes:
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, California
Style: Helles Bock
Serving Style: 12 oz Bottle
Aroma: Honey sweet with hints of caramel and bread. Faint background of citrus.
Appearance: Brilliant deep golden color. Ample fluffy white head that is very persistent.
Flavor: Luscious honey and caramel are the stars of the show. Fresh bread adds complexity to the malt mix. Medium-low bitterness cuts the sweetness, keeping it light and crisp. Herbal, almost minty hops offer a welcome counterpoint to the honey. The finish is long with lingering honey notes.
Mouthfeel: Rich, creamy, and full-bodied. Pleasantly mouth coating. Medium carbonation. Very drinkable.
Overall Impression: This is not a complex beer. Everything is up front to be easily grasped without a lot of searching. Yet it’s not without depth. Perhaps that what makes it such a well-crafted beer. Soothing, warming, rich, yet utterly drinkable.
Chocolate Ale, view the latest release in the Smokestack Series from Boulevard Brewing Company is a collaborative effort with Kansas City chocolatier Christopher Elbow. According to Boulevard’s press release for the beer, malady “Elbow’s sweets are distinguished by their use of unusual and sometimes surprising flavors and ingredients.” A look at his website reveals some beautiful bonbons with intriguing flavors and colorfully intricate designs.
This collaborative beer is not your typical chocolate ale. Forget about chocolate stout, thumb there are no roasted, black malts here, just oats, wheat, and pale malt. Elbow selected a variety of chocolate grown in the Dominican Republic and brewers incorporated the nibs into the brewing process. The result is an unexpectedly amber ale; an interesting departure from the chocolate beer norm. It should hit shelves in Minnesota on February 23rd. Too late for Valentine’s Day, I’m afraid.
Here’s my notes:
Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, Missouri
Style: Specialty Ale
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
Aroma: A milk chocolate bar. Chocolate and more chocolate. Hints of herbal hops.
Appearance: Amber color and very hazy. The full, ivory head persists and leaves lace on the glass.
Flavor: The predominant flavors are a blend of milk chocolate, vanilla, and hazelnuts. It is malty, but not sweet. Moderately-high and slightly astringent bitterness reminds me of both cocoa powder and hops. Spicy and herbal hop flavors are fairly strong; licorice and cinnamon. Finishes quick and dry, leaving only lingering, lightly-astringent, cocoa bitterness. It’s a bit alcoholic.
Mouthfeel: Medium body. Crisp and well attenuated. Fairly high carbonation. A bit of astringency.
Overall Impression: There are a lot of interesting flavors working in this beer; cocoa and herbs, vanilla and nuts. However, they aren’t always working together. While only 24 IBUs, low for a 9% alcohol beer, it struck me as fairly bitter, a sense accentuated by the high carbonation and dry finish. I would have liked more sweetness. Chocolate Ale is unique enough to be worth picking up a bottle, but it didn’t really grab me.
In the comment thread to yesterday’s post, Surly Brewer Todd Haug offered some clarification about Surly’s intentions saying, “We are asking to sell pints of our beer. No back door sales, no full liquor, no packaged beer sales.” This more specific explanation is extremely helpful. Specificity is important, especially when dealing with legislation where every word counts and what is not said is often as important as what is said. Earlier statements by Surly (here and here) that were picked-up and repeated by the media said, “We can’t be licensed as a brewpub because we brew too much beer so Minnesota law currently says we can’t sell beer in the new brewery.” These statements suggested, to me at least, a much bigger goal that would have necessitated either a redefinition of “brewpub” in the statutes or a significant expansion of what is allowable as a large brewery. Either way it would have been a tricky legislative debate.
The less ambitious aim means that the law could conceivably be changed with a simple, narrowly worded statement allowing breweries to sell their own draft beer for on-site consumption at a restaurant or beer garden attached to the place of manufacture; something akin to the subsection that now allows growler sales at small breweries, except that it provides for on-sale instead of off. It would not require a change to the existing brewpub license. Because it would not require a retail license, it gets around the statute forbidding manufacturers from having an ownership stake in any entity holding such a license. Depending on how it is worded, it could still be interpreted to allow limited on-sale by other breweries in tasting rooms. It’s still a tricky legislative debate, but perhaps not quite as tricky.
My thanks to Todd for the clarification.
Todd’s clarification is also helpful in examining the arguments against Surly’s plan.
The only organization that has thus far made public statements in opposition to the plan is the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA). The MLBA is a business association representing the retail tier of the three-tier system; bars, restaurants, and package stores. Their website states that since 1952 they’ve “been helping licensed beverage retailers in Minnesota with educational programs and government affairs services designed to promote and protect their business.” The organization offers retailers a range of services including discounted alcohol liability insurance, alcohol server training, business development counseling, as well as tracking, information, and lobbying on legislative issues.
It’s pretty simple within the parameters of the three-tier structure we have in Minnesota. The manufactures make the product, the wholesalers distribute the product and we, the retailers, sell the product to the consumer. It’s even more simple if you say it the way my retailers say it: “you make it, we’ll sell it”…you make it ‘and’ sell it, we won’t buy from you”.
The reason for the three-tier structure was to keep the integrity of the distribution of a controlled, highly regulated, commodity. Alcohol — like prescription drugs or firearms — is no ordinary commodity. In fact, alcoholic beverages are the only commercial products specifically named in the United States Constitution. Because our society recognizes the importance of controlling alcohol use and access, alcohol has always been treated differently under the law than most other products.
The manufacturers (breweries, vineyards and distilleries) supply distributors. Under the laws which created the three-tier system, each level of the system is independent of the others, ensuring accountability to the public as well as the benefits of healthy competition. By preventing tied houses (i.e. Retailers that sell the products of only one supplier), the three-tier system limits the number of retail outlets and therefore promotes moderate consumption, hence our position with the Surly matter. We want the Surly product to sell in our stores, we don’t want the manufacturer of a great beer to sell to the public, we’ll do that enthusiastically as possible.
While it is true that the current law is rooted in the manufacturer/retailer separation mandated by the three-tier system, Ball’s opening argument amounts to “this is how it is.” In a more recent statement he reiterated that argument even more explicitly saying, “This is Minnesota. These are the rules.” Simply stating that something is one way or another doesn’t amount to a convincing argument for why it should remain that way. He claims no specific benefit from maintaining the status quo, nor does he cite any possible harm that would come from changing it. He also fails to account for exceptions to the system that already exist, such as the farm winery license that allows wineries to sell product at the manufacturing facility for on or off-sale, something that goes further than what Surly is proposing.
At the end of his opening statement Ball resorts to blackmail saying, “you make it ‘and’ sell it, we won’t buy from you.” This seems to me a difficult claim to substantiate. While I admit that my intelligence is hardly comprehensive, the retailers that I have heard from all support Surly’s plan and would happily continue to sell the brewery’s products. Aside from this, blackmail is never pretty. It’s thuggish. It is not an effective way to win friends and influence people.
He next makes a historical argument that alcohol has always been treated differently. There is some truth in this statement. Alcoholic beverages have been a tightly regulated commodity going all the way back to colonial times. However, they have not always been regulated in the same way. The three-tier system wasn’t put into place until 1933. Saying that regulation has always existed isn’t a sound argument for any particular form of regulation.
In the third paragraph he makes the statement that, “Under the laws which created the three-tier system, each level of the system is independent of the others, ensuring accountability to the public as well as the benefits of healthy competition.” While this may be true of the intention of the underlying laws, many would argue that the reality of their implementation does exactly the opposite (see Arguments against the three-tier system in yesterdays post). They contend that large breweries are able to game the system to their own anti-competitive advantage and that distributors have become the ultimate decision makers on what gets to market, giving them the ability to make or break a small producer.
He further states that the three-tier system “promotes moderate consumption.” There is little evidence to support this claim. During prohibition, the time of greatest regulation of alcohol in the nation’s history, alcohol use actually rose. The Schaffer Library of Drug Policy states on their website, “National alcohol prohibition began in 1920. Apparent alcohol use fell from 1914 to 1922. It rose thereafter. By 1925, arrests for public drunkenness and similar alcohol-related offenses were already above the pre-prohibition records. Consumption by women and children increased dramatically.”
I already discussed many of Surly’s arguments in favor of the brewery plan in part one. I won’t discuss them again here. However there is one argument being made by supporters that needs to be examined; the “they do it in other states” argument.
I can already hear my mother saying, “If they were jumping off cliffs in Colorado (or Oregon, Wisconsin, etc.) would you jump off a cliff?” The fact that something can be done elsewhere is not by itself a compelling argument that it should be done here. As stated in part two, every state has the ability under the federal law to regulate how the three-tier system is implemented. Some states have an even more restrictive approach than Minnesota, such as those in which the state monopolizes both the distribution and retail tiers. The case could just as easily be made that Minnesota should adopt one of these more restrictive models. If the “other state” argument is to be used, concrete reasons must be given, be they economic, cultural, or otherwise, as to why another model is better for Minnesota than the one we currently have.
I think that some people might have taken my last two posts to be an attack on Surly or the brewery proposal. I assure you that this is not the case. I called this “calm reflection” because that’s what is. It is my attempt to think through situation and make sense of it without the hype and hyperbole that was coming from all sides. Some of my conclusions have been challenged. Great! I love a good debate. I’m willing to listen and be convinced. Where I was convinced I have made the effort to correct previous statements.
In the end, I am fully behind Surly’s cause. I find the idea exciting. I applaud their success. I think the facility will be good for craft beer not just in the state, but in the whole upper-Midwest region. I wish them luck and will do what I can to support them.
In any event, it’s going to be an interesting fight. I look forward to watching it play out.
As has been reported, capsule the only thing preventing Surly from moving ahead with their brewery plan are the Minnesota statutes regarding licensure for liquor manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers. The real significance of this story lies in the proposals to change those laws. Reading the articles and the attached comment threads reveals a good bit of misinformation and misunderstanding about what the laws actually say and where they originate, so let’s take a look at that. The Three Tier System
What is it and why do we have it?
The laws in question stem from the state’s interpretation of the three-tier system of alcohol manufacture, distribution, and sale. The three-tier system is a set of federal statutes put in place after prohibition that are intended to separate the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages from those that sell them to consumers. The statutes basically require that manufacturers and importers sell to wholesalers, who in turn sell to retailers. The system was devised to correct coercive and anti-competitive practices that existed prior to prohibition.
In those days, breweries owned saloons, which of course sold only their products. They also entered into exclusivity agreements with saloon owners, often through coercion or bribery with loans and equipment, creating so-called “tied houses.” The brewery that held the most saloons could essentially prevent competing breweries from entering certain markets, creating an anti-competitive situation. Breweries also exerted a good deal of pressure on tied-house owners to increase sales, leading to public drunkenness and ultimately aiding the cause of the prohibitionists.
Arguments in favor of the three-tier system
Proponents of the system say that it simplifies revenue collection, provides retailers with easier access to a greater range of products, and creates a more level playing field for small brewers to enter markets.
Distributors maintain centralized warehouses through which product is moved. They are better able to track the comings and goings of those products for payment of taxes and can efficiently generate a paper-trail for reporting of those taxes. This centralization also means that retailers can go to a single location to access several breweries’ products rather than having to manage contacts and transactions with a multitude of different producers. It also saves brewers the difficult task of selling to many individual retailers.
Requiring manufacturers to go through distributors theoretically prevents larger breweries from flooding markets with underpriced goods or bribing/coercing retailer to carry only their products. Because wholesalers make money from many producers, they have an incentive to promote the large and the small brands, thus creating a level playing field.
Arguments against the three-tier system
Critics argue that the three-tier system has simply shifted the corruption and coercion. They say that large manufacturers now incentivize distributors to drop competing brand, in essence creating tied-house relationships with wholesalers rather than retailers. Distributors then offer perks to retailers, such as installing draft lines at bars that agree to carry their products. Although such practices are for the most part illegal, critics say they are often overlooked. In this way, both small producers and small distributors can be denied access to markets. According to critics the same anti-competitive situation still exists that existed before prohibition.
The Laws in Minnesota
States interpret the statutes
While federal law mandates the manufacturer/ distributor/ retailer model, it gives the states a great deal of leeway in how to interpret and implement it. The model varies significantly in structure and strictness from state to state. In some cases, state government takes on the role of wholesaler and/or retailer, operating state liquor stores or buying from manufacturers and selling to retailers. Some states allow breweries to self-distribute product, some do not. Some allow manufacturers to participate in retail sales at the brewery, others prohibit this practice. I have read instances where state officials come to inspect a brewpub’s tax determination tanks, buy the beer in the tank from the brewery, and then immediately sell it back to them.
What does Minnesota law say?
Here’s where we get technical.
Minnesota statute allows four types of brewer’s licenses:
1. Brewers who manufacture less than 2000 barrels in a year
2. Brewers who manufacture between 2000 and 3500 barrels in a year
3. Brewers who manufacture over 3500 barrels in a year
4. Brewers who also hold one or more retail on-sale licenses and who manufacture fewer than 3,500 barrels of malt liquor in a year, at any one licensed premises, the entire production of which is solely for consumption on tap on any licensed premises owned by the brewer, or for off-sale in growlers as permitted in another section of the statute.
Brewers in the first and second category may not hold a retail “off-sale” license, but are permitted to sell beer from the brewery for off-premise consumption in 64-ounce growlers or 750 ml bottles. Brewers in the category three may not hold a retail license or sell beer for off-premise consumption from the brewery. None of these three license categories allow the sale of beer for on-premise consumption. In other words, breweries cannot sell beer directly to consumers in their tasting rooms, nor can they sell beer directly to consumers in an attached restaurant. No brewery in any of these three categories is allowed to have any ownership stake in any business holding a retail license. Brewers with these licenses are allowed to self-distribute their product if they obtain a separate wholesalers license and produce no more than 25,000 barrels of beer annually. Surly along with a number of the state’s other small breweries self-distribute their beer to retailers.
Category four is the so-called “brewpub” license. It allows a brewery to hold a retail license for on-premise consumption at a restaurant located in the place of manufacture. Brewpubs are allowed to sell growlers and 750 ml bottles for off-premise consumption, but are prohibited from distributing their product to the off-sale retail market. They can also sell their product at other separately-licensed locations for on-site consumption if those locations are owned by the same entity. For instance, Town Hall is able to sell its beer at the Town Hall Tap because both are owned by the same entity. Town Hall would not be allowed sell its beer across the street at Preston’s.
So what does this all mean?
In order to move forward with the brewery project, Surly needs to change the law to allow breweries that manufacture over 3500 barrels annually to also hold a retail license for on-site consumption at a restaurant located in the place of manufacture. In other words, they need the rules that apply to brewpubs to also apply to large breweries. As I understand it, however, beyond raising the barrel limit for brewpubs, they would also need to change the brewpub license to allow for distribution into the retail market. Otherwise the change in classification would allow Surly to sell beer in their proposed restaurant, but would prohibit them from selling beer in stores. The change to the law requires more than has been suggested in the current discussion.
This change to the law has broader implications than just allowing Surly to build its brewery. If successful, the change would presumably allow brewpubs like Town Hall and Fitger’s to package and sell their beer in bars and liquor stores, something they have long wanted to do. It could also be interpreted to allow breweries to sell beer in their tasting rooms, essentially operating them as bars, as they do in Colorado.
A lot of competing interests have already begun building their cases both for and against the change. I’ll address that tomorrow.
On Monday night the Twittersphere lit up after Surly’s announcement of a planned 20-million dollar brewery. Tweets and re-tweets proliferated at a blistering pace, causing even my lowly @aperfectpint handle to “trend” locally. (Who’d of thought?) Anxious Surly fans hung on every message, waiting for additional details. The next day comment threads on internet news stories and Facebook posts called the announcement “the most exciting brewing news & brewery in Minnesota since the end of prohibition.” They declared that the new brewery was something that Surly “deserved” and decried groups that might oppose the project as bullies who are only “out to line their own pockets” (as if Surly isn’t looking to make money from this). The comments suggest that to some Surly fans, the project has become like the second coming of Ninkasi. A few of Surly’s own pronouncements have made it sound like a magnanimous act of civic engagement; a boon to the community. To opponents of the plan, from the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Associationto the Minnesota Beer Wholesalers Association, it almost amounts to restriction of trade.
Let’s take a moment to cut through the hyperbole look at what’s really going on.
The Basic Plan
Surly wants to build a two-story, 60,000 sq ft facility. It would house a new brewery that would give them an annual brewing capacity of 100,000 barrels. The building would also house a 250-seat restaurant, a 30-foot bar, a roof-deck beer garden, and an “event center” for weddings, concerts, business conferences, and other types of events. The project is expected to cost $20 million.
Surly’s Claims About the Plan
Surly calls the new brewery a “destination brewery.” In an online article in Twin Cities Business Magazine, Surly Founder Omar Ansari says that the facility will be a “hub for beer tourism”, tapping into a growing phenomenon of beer drinkers planning travel around brewery visits. In the same article he claims it will be “’a complete beer experience’ and will become a part of the metro area’s ‘cultural fabric.’ ‘[The facility] would be another great amenity for the Twin Cities,’ much like other attractions such as the Mall of America and Target Field”.
The economic impact of the project, according to an announcement on the Surly Brewers Blog, includes the creation of 150 permanent jobs and 85 temporary construction jobs. Additional revenue would be generated by the operation of the event center. Although, in a Star Tribune piece Ansari admitted that those numbers may be “a bit pie-in-the-sky at the moment.”
There is no doubt that the project would have an economic impact for the state. Increased production means increased tax revenue from the brewery. A number of jobs will be created, including increased brewery staff, restaurant staff such as managers, kitchen workers, and front-of-house. The event center may require event planners. And of course there will be construction jobs.
Beer tourism is definitely on the rise, and given Surly’s almost cult-like popularity there is no doubt that the new brewery will become a popular destination. However, the comparison to the Mall of America and Target field seems to me to be a grandiose stretch. It certainly won’t compare to those landmarks in terms of economic impact from tourism.
When you get right down to it, all Surly is really proposing is a great big brewery with a restaurant.
The real significance of Surly’s plan lies not with the thing itself, but with the implications of the proposed changes to the laws governing the three-tier system in Minnesota. More on that in tomorrow’s installment.
The bagpipes blared at precisely 7:00 on Friday night, signaling the start of Winterfest 2011 at the Minnesota History Center. The doors opened and the crowd of 700 local beer fans, some of whom had been waiting in line for an hour or more, flooded into the hall. Because I was doing educational sessions at the event, I had arrived early to set up. I got to witness the opening rush from the inside for the first time.
I attend trade shows for the college campus-activities market. There is a novelty attraction in the college circuit called Wax Hands, which consists of students dipping their hands into vats of hot wax and ending up with brightly colored molds of the “hang-loose” sign, “peace” sign, or some other such sign. As soon as the doors of the exhibit hall open, students make a frenzied dash to be the first in line for Wax Hands. I happened to be standing at the Surly booth Friday night when the doors opened. Surly Brewing Company is the Wax Hands of the local beer world. It was fascinating to watch as the line went from nothing to a long snake down the hall in a matter of seconds.
Photo by Mark Roberts
In fairness to Omar, Todd, and crew, Surly did have some interesting beers for sampling. Molé Smoke took their smoked Baltic porter south of the border with cinnamon, cocoa, and chili peppers. It had a slight tingling bite, but the chili heat wasn’t over the top. I wouldn’t have wanted a pint of it, but I enjoyed the sample. Pentagram, the single-barrel version of what will become Five, a multi-barrel, blended, sour beer brewed for their fifth anniversary, was very tasty and took the Great Snowshoe award as the crowd favorite.
But Surly’s weren’t the only intriguing beers on the floor. Looking at the program the day before the event made my taste buds tingle with barrel-aged Belgians, smoked beers, infused beers, fruited beers, and even some plain-old beers. There were three brand new breweries to check out. It was an awesome lineup as the members of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild brought their best to the fest. With so many beers on offer, I didn’t get to try everything I wanted to, but I did sample more than a few and found some standouts.
Photo by Mark Roberts
Superior from Fitger’s Brewhouse was perhaps my personal favorite. This was a strong version of a German Schwarzweizen or black wheat beer. At 9% ABV, it had a kick, but was still delightfully easy to drink. Chocolate flavors blended with doughy wheat malt and the unique banana and clove of the German wheat beer yeast. Brewmaster Dave Hoops first tasted the style on one of his annual trips to Germany and immediately wanted to make one. He said that this first attempt hadn’t quite hit the mark he was aiming for, but that he is continuing to dial-in the recipe. If this one missed the mark, I can’t wait to try it when he thinks he’s gotten it right. Fitger’s also got my vote for most attractive table display (see photo below).
Photo by Mark Roberts
Another standout for me was Port Odin from Town Hall, a traditional Baltic Porter that was aged for 18 months in French-oak, port-wine barrels. This one was rich and dark with deep roasted-malt flavors and hints of sourness beginning to peek around the edges. Complex and mysterious, Port Odin joined Surly’s Pentagram and Fitger’s Superior as my top three picks for the festival.
Other favorites for me included Dark Knight from Barley John’s, Flat Earth’sWinter Warlock, Fallen Angel Abbey Ale from Rock Bottom, and Vulcanus Rex cherrywood smoked scotch ale from Great Waters. I was very excited to see and sample beers from three new Minnesota breweries, Harriet Brewing, Big Wood Brewing, and Carmody Brewpub. Harriet’s Devine Oculust was very nice, as was the Scanlon IPA from Carmody. Unfortunately I didn’t get to Big Wood’s booth until the very end, when my palate and mind were both blown. The beers seemed tasty, but I’ll have to pay the guys a visit to make a more appropriate assessment.
Once again the festival was an intimate and well organized affair. Traffic flowed smoothly in the crowded halls of the History Center. The food was delicious and plentiful. The attendees seemed genuinely interested in sampling the beers and talking to the brewers. Cudos go out to Laura Mullen who put the festival together. Winterfest remains for me the best beer festival of the year.
Sick of being served beers with no head? Missing that delicate lace down the side of the glass as you drink? Well now you can do something about it.
A Twitter movement is underway that seeks to recognize bars who treat their beer right by pouring it into “beer-clean” glassware. A beer-clean glass is one that is residue free; no soap scum, no grease, no bright pink lip prints. It’s a glass that will provide for good foam and nice lacing. It’s the glass that your beer deserves. Heck, you’re paying enough for it; they ought to at least put it in a clean glass.
Whenever you find yourself enjoying a nice beer in a properly prepared glass, just tweet your location and a picture of that perfectly-laced empty using #MNCleanPint. Let others know which Twin Cities bars are doing right by their beer. By doing so you also enter yourself to win some great prizes.
We are searching for the cleanest pints in Minnesota and we need your help!
We want to recognize those quality bars that are serving up quality beer in “beer clean” glasses!
When you are done enjoying your tasty beverage just tweet a picture of your empty beer glass with all that beautiful lacing, telling us where you are drinking and use #MNCleanPint!
Contest runs from Feb 1st -28th! Submit as many photos as you want, at as many bars as you want! When it’s all said and done, the votes will be tallied, and a winner will be chosen! There will be an official announcement on MNBeer.com as well as a party at the winning bar to celebrate!
But WAIT! There’s more! Every time you tweet a photo you are automatically entered* to win tons of great prizes including: An assorted glassware collection, a kegerator conversion kit, a $100 bar tab**, and lots more!!
PLUS there will be prizes (3) for the most creative photos of the empty glass!
Sponsored by JJ Taylor of Minnesota, MNBeer.com, Cicerone.org, MicroMatic, A Perfect Pint, & Boelter.
Must be 21+ to win (and to drink in bars…duh!) *All submissions for the bar that wins will be entered for the grand prizes. ** Bar tab is ONLY valid the night of the celebration party, at the winning bar. Tab must be split by 3 or more people. No change will be given, and no carry over for any unused portion of the tab.
In the world of brewing ingredients there are only five hop varieties that can be called “noble”; Hallertau Mittelfrüh, viagra sale Tettnang Tettnanger, search Spalt Spalter, Hersbrucker Hersbrucker, and Saaz. Grown only in Bavaria and the Czech Republic, these noble hops are prized for their spicy, herbal, and floral aromatic properties. They provide the signature flavors and aromas of German lagers and pilsners.
In 2009 the Boston Beer Company introduced a new beer called Noble Pils as part of their annual Beer Lovers Choice® program. While most lagers make use of one or two of the noble hops, the brewers at Sam Adams blended all five to make this new beer. Noble Pils won the votes of over 67,000 drinkers, giving it a place in the regular lineup.
Last year Noble Pils was released as a new spring seasonal beer. I first tried it last January while standing in the snow on a wet, frigid evening at the Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival event in St. Paul’s Mears Park. I loved it. I went back for multiple samples. Thus, it was with great expectation that I opened my first bottle of this year’s release. I still love it. What can I say? Here’s my notes:
Noble Pils Boston Beer Company, Boston, Massachusetts
Style: Bohemian Pilsner
Serving Style: 12 oz bottle
Aroma: Grainy, pie-crust pilsner malt leads. Light perfume and floral hop notes overlay. Subtle sulfur underneath.
Appearance: Golden color with brilliant clarity. Moderate, fine-bubbled, white head is moderately persistent.
Flavor: Hops lead off with spicy, herbal, and floral notes; pepper and licorice. Some very interesting baby-aspirin orange overtones. The grainy malt sweetness stays underneath to just offer support, but comes in stronger mid-palate. Sharply bitter on the finish.
Mouthfeel: Medium body and medium carbonation. Crisp and clean.
Overall Impression: I just plain like this beer. I have since the first time I tried it. I’m a sucker for pilsners at any rate, but the delightful mix of hop tastes in this one really does it for me. And I love the hints of orange that wind their way through the flavor. I have lots of it in the cellar and that makes me happy.
In 2006 Omar Ansari realized a dream and turned his homebrewing obsession into a profession. Together with brewmaster Todd Haug, pharmacy stolen from the Minneapolis Rock Bottom brewpub, they quickly took their upstart brewery from obscurity to near cult status. Despite a distribution area that didn’t extend beyond the Twin Cities metro, Surly became a nationally sought-after brand within a year of putting beer on the street. Even today you can get virtually anything you want on the underground beer trading network in exchange for a four-pack of Furious. Their beer inspires a legion of nearly fanatical followers. Over the last five years Surly has seen tremendous growth, adding huge amounts of capacity and still not meeting demand. In an industry marked by rapid growth, Surly’s success has been an anomaly. To celebrate five amazing years Omar, Todd, and the whole Surly crew want to say thank you with fan-appreciation events all over town throughout the month of February.
With these anniversary events, Surly is taking it back to where it all began, staging them at bars and restaurants that were the brewery’s first tap accounts. They will be offering an array of special releases including Moe’s Bender – a coffee, chocolate, vanilla oatmeal brown ale aged on oak, Chili Smoke, and rare firkins like Cherry Wood Bender, Tea-Bagged Furious, and Oak-Aged Abrasive. They will also unleash Pentagram, a single barrel version of their fifth anniversary ale Surly 5. Surly 5 is described by the brewery as “a 100%Brettanomyces (wild yeast) fermented dark ale aged in used red wine barrels.” Five will be a blend of 60 different barrels. Events will include giveaways of surly gear and Surly beer, including rumored bottles of their hard-to-get Darkness Imperial Stout.
Here is the schedule of anniversary events.
Wednesday, February 2 – Blue Nile, 2027 East Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis
Friday, February 4 – Winterfest, Minnesota History Center, 345 Kellogg Boulevard West, Saint Paul
Saturday, February 5 – Mackenzies, 918 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis
Monday, February 7 – Muddy Pig, 162 Dale Street, Saint Paul
Tuesday, February 8 – Acadia Event, 329 Cedar Avenue South, Minneapolis
Thursday, February 10 – McCormick & Schmick’s, Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
Tuesday, February 15 – Happy Gnome, 498 Selby Ave, Saint Paul
Wednesday, February 16 – Pizza Nea, 306 East Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis
Thursday, February 17 – Stub & Herb’s, 227 Oak Street, Minneapolis
Sunday, February 20 – Triple Rock, 629 Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis
Monday, February 21 – Grumpy’s NE, 2200 4th Street NE, Minneapolis
Wednesday, February 23 – Bryant Lake Bowl, 810 West Lake Street, Minneapolis
Sunday, February 27 – Mac’s Industrial, 312 Central Avenue, Minneapolis
Monday, February 28 – Groveland Tap, 1834 St. Clair Avenue, Saint Paul
Wednesday, March 2 – Whistle Binkies, 3120 Wellner Drive NE and 247 Woodlake Drive SE, Rochester