My day began at 4:30 AM, the time I had to get up to catch my flight to Denver. Left the house early and decided to catch the 5:31 AM #8 bus to the light rail instead of the planned 5:39 AM #9 bus. I arrived at the stop by 5:28. Still sitting there at 5:35, I decided that the bus had come early. That meant a 5-block run with suitcase in hand to catch that 5:39 bus. Man I’m out of shape!
The beer-festivities got underway quickly. We arrived at our hotel at 10:00 AM and by 10:45 PM we were crowded into a van with the folks from Original Gravity, a Minnesota craft-beer distributor for an afternoon trip to Odell Brewing Company in Fort Collins. Midwest regional sale rep Todd Ewing showed us a good time, giving a tour of the brewery and lunch. Of course the beer flowed liberally. I especially liked Hiveranno, a so-called American wild ale fermented with yeast isolated at the brewery.
Returning to Denver, we had time for a quick beer and burger at Rock Bottom before heading to the Convention Center for Session 1. This session was mostly about work. I’m doing short video interviews with some of the Upper-Midwest regional brewers that will be featured in my upcoming Upper Midwest Beer Guide. These will be posted on this blog once I can get them edited.
We talked with Brett Porter, the new Brewmaster at Goose Island about his work with Brettanomyces. Spent a bit of time with Boulevard Brewing founder John McDonald. I talked Sahti with Scott Manning, the head brewer at Vintage Brewing Co. in Madison, Wisconsin. He brought a very tasty pumpkin beer with hints of Belgian yeastiness. Brandon Wright from Hamburger Mary’s in Chicago gave us a few moments of his time as did Pete Crowley, brewer and owner of Haymarket Pub and Brewery. A chat with “Farmer” Dave Anderson from Dave’s BrewFarm, who is out here judging wrapped up our work day, leaving just enough time for a bit of sampling before the session ended.
My friend Mark and I have been trying for some time to re-create a traditional Finnish Sahti. The process has made me a bit obsessed with the style. I like to try any and all commercial examples I can find. Some get pretty close to the “sahti from a bucket” that Mark describes from a bar visit in Finland. Others are good beer, but they’re not really sahti. Huvila Arctic Circle Ale is one that gets pretty close to the real thing. Here’s my notes:
Arctic Circle Ale
Malmgårdin Panimo, Malmgård, Finland
Serving Style: 16 oz bottle
Aroma: Copious caramel and melanoidin malt. Dark rye-bread crusts. Vaguely woody spruce notes in the background, but very light. Black licorice and molasses. Sweet. A bit like Nyquil, but in a good way.
Appearance: Drinking it out of a hotel paper cup. I can’t see it. Seems to be dark brown, but I can’t really tell. The tan head is very creamy and super long-lasting. Leaves not just lace, but thick rings of foam on the cup.
Flavor: Malt is the main player, and thick, rich malt it is. Burnt caramel and melanoidins carry over from the aroma. Black Strap molasses. The spicy bite of rye moderates the sweetness, stimulating my memories of great German Roggenbrot (man I miss the bread in Germany). Juniper offers woody spruce and gin notes in the background. Never takes over. Alcohol is apparent even though it is just a hint over 7%. Fleeting tastes of bitter cocoa nibs and dried, dark fruits. Bitterness is low, just enough to keep it from being cloying.
Mouthfeel: Thick, rich, and creamy with low carbonation. Warming alcohol.
Overall Impression: A bit like rye bread smeared with molasses and sprinkled with spruce needles. It gives the impression of a beer that is much stronger than it is. Based on traditional sahti, an ancient Finnish brew that is still made much as it was 500 years ago, Arctic Circle Ale is a heavy-duty, throw-back of a winter warmer from above the Arctic Circle. Sip and savor.
At the Summit Silver Anniversary party on Saturday I had a most interesting conversation with one of the hard-working and talented Summit brewers. While exchanging pleasantries over compostable plastic cups of Silver Anniversary Ale, I said that I was glad to see EPA, the old comfy-blanket of many a Minnesota beer nerd, brought in to the new millennium with this recipe. Many people have the impression that while Summit makes great beer, they have been making the same great beer since 1986. Things like the Unchained Series and Anniversary Ale are helping to polish up the brewery’s image. That’s when things got interesting.
This brewer revealed that Summit is taking delivery this week on a two-barrel pilot brewery specially designed to mirror their big system. This new toy will give the brewers a place to play. What interesting new Summit flavors will come from that?
One plan is for regular special/limited releases following on the tails of Silver Anniversary Ale. When I proposed the idea of small-batch, big-bottle beers this brewer said, “That is a possibility, hypothetically speaking of course.”
I look forward to seeing what the next few months and years will bring.