Archive for October, 2012

Summit Unchained Series #11: Old 152

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

If you do a search online for Kentucky Common, you don’t turn up much. There are a couple of homebrew forum discussions, a Wikipedia page, and a reference to the 1901 Wahl & Henius Handy Book of Brewing, Malting, and Auxiliary Trades. The Handy Books is the only actual period reference, and it doesn’t tell you a lot. It says that Kentucky Common had a grain bill of malted barley and about 25 to 30 percent corn. Some sugar color, caramel or roasted malt was added for coloring. It had an original gravity of somewhere around 1.045, translating to around 4.5 percent alcohol under normal fermentation conditions. Hopping was moderate at one-half pound per barrel. It wasn’t fined or filtered, leaving it with a “muddy” appearance.

This lack of information is one thing that lead Summit brewer Eric Harper to select the Kentucky Common style for his second entry to the Summit Unchained Series, Old 152. Asked about this choice he said, “Nobody makes it. Nobody knows anything about it. You can’t have any preconceived notions about what it is. You can’t say I did it wrong, that’s for sure.”

Harper’s approach to the style was to take the scant historical information and riff on it. As the beer was originally made in Kentucky, he took a cue from the bourbon makers and used a mash of corn, rye and distiller’s malt. A portion of caramel and Victory malt added color and some toasty notes. He hopped the beer with Cluster hops, a variety that is native to the US and that 19th-century brewers would conceivably have used.

Some descriptions of the style make reference to a “sour mash,” another nod to the bourbon industry. Harper says that part of his mash was sour. “At a whisky distillery they are fermenting the entire mash.” he explained. “And then they take a portion of that fermented mash that’s got yeast and whatever bacteria and they add that back to the next batch. So that portion is the sour mash, and they are using that as a ph adjustment. We don’t ferment on the grain, and even if we did we don’t have an old batch of this beer around.” Given that limitation, Harper lowered the ph of his beer by adding acidulated malt, malt that has been treated with lactobacillus, an acid-producing bacteria that is found naturally on malted barley. This lowered the ph of the mash to far below the norm at Summit. “There is some confusion when I talk to people about it that the beer is going to be sour.” he added. But this notion of Kentucky Common as a sour beer is not borne out in the historical literature, and Harper’s version is definitely not sour.

So is Old 152 “to style?” Who knows? You’ll have to judge that for yourself. Release events started yesterday and run all week long.

Here’s my notes:

Old 152
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Kentucky Common
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Toast and caramel with tootsie-roll chocolate notes. Vague hints of spicy and catty hops add some high notes. Like a delightful baked good.

Appearance: Reddish amber with a slight haze. Good stand of off-white foam that sticks around in a thick layer on top of the beer.

Flavor: Toast and tootsie roll lead off with a bit of caramel adding sweetness. Rye spice comes in the middle. Bitterness is moderate, with spicy hop flavors that are almost prickly on the tongue. Light citrusy (lime?) and almost-lactic-tart notes peek furtively in and out of the background. Layered. Finishes quick and dry with lingering toastines, like toasted bread crust. Clean, crisp, and Lager-like.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium light body. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: What a tasty, easy-drinking beer. The toasty malt at the forefront puts this one right in my wheelhouse. It’s Altbier-like, except with the wrong hop flavors. It’s a winner in my book.

 

 

A More Personal Description of the GABF Experience

Friday, October 19th, 2012

There is something to be said for nursing a pint in a quiet pub.

The Great American Beer Festival is a beast. This makes my fourth festival. Saturday afternoon marked my 13th session – a small number in comparison to some beer writers I know, but still enough to be able to form a few impressions.

GABF is an exercise in pleasurable self-abuse; too much beer, too many too late nights, and definitely too much heavy food. The weekend – or week if you go for all of the surrounding events – will beat you up. But you’ll have a great time taking the whupping.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the GABF. The hall is immense; rows of brewery booths and vendor stalls seem to stretch to the horizon. And then there are the 12,000 people that fill it and the noise that comes from the voices of that many drunken people. As attendees try to hear and be heard they talk louder. This raises the decibels, necessitating an even louder shout. The self-perpetuating crescendo gives one the sense of standing inside of a jet engine. The roar is punctuated by the scolding hoot that moves from one end of the hall to the other every time someone drops a glass. The noise alone is exhausting.  Add buckets of beer and unpleasant yellow light that is always just a bit too dim and you have a recipe for sensory overload, at least to a homebody such as myself.

People talk about having a plan of attack at GABF. Some focus on particular beer styles, others on hitting certain breweries. I made a plan the first year, but found that my plan disintegrated shortly after entering the hall, succumbing quickly to the “empty-glass” syndrome; “my glass is empty, I’ll just fill it at the nearest booth.” I guess I lack self-control. These days I take more of a free-for-all approach. I have some vague notions of places to go and beers to taste, but mostly I just wander the aisles until I see a beer or brewery that looks interesting. I tend to focus on breweries I’ve never heard of in search of undiscovered gems. I avoid the most popular booths – places like Dogfish Head and Russian River. They have perpetually long lines. I don’t believe in waiting in long lines for beer, especially when there are 2690 other beers available.

The most frequent question one gets asked at the fest is, “tasted any stand outs?” This is such a difficult question for me to answer. Pour after one-ounce pour makes it hard to keep track. Along with planning, taking notes was another first-fest casualty. But it’s not entirely a blur. There were a few beers that rose above attention deficit and overconsumption. All the German-style beers from Live Oak Brewing Company in Austin, Texas were great. They make a hell-of-a hefe. La Cumbre Brewing Company’s Elevated IPA paired with a mighty hunk of lamb at Friday’s media luncheon was fantastic. And Founders’ Blushing Monk paired to Buratta cheese with pear brulée and cranberry jam was a definite highlight of the weekend. There were others, but mostly they all sort of blend together – and that’s okay with me. The festival to me is really about enjoying beer, not about picking it apart and checking it off. I’ll do that in other settings that aren’t so mind addling. Or maybe I’m just a bad Cicerone…

I do better at the GABF when I have a task to do there. I’m like that with events in general; I’m more comfortable working an event than just attending one. Without a purpose I tend to feel a bit lost. On Thursday night our task was to shoot video interviews with brewers from the upper-Midwest. We shot a bunch; almost an hour of video. I caught up with Todd Haug of Surly, Dave Hoops from Fitger’s, Gabe Smoly and Eric Blomquist from Summit, Matt Potts the Brewmaster at DeStihl, Joe Barley from Solemn Oath in Naperville, Illinois, and a few others. Those will go on up on this blog at some point. Hopefully this year I’ll get that done sooner than the week before next year’s festival.

After a day of beer lunches and brewery tours, Friday night’s session was all about the Farm to Table Pavilion. This is a little piece of heaven. Off in a side hall, it is a welcome relief from the thunder of the main hall. And it’s all about great beer paired with great food. Brewers and chefs are teamed up to create miraculous combinations. Small plates and small pours – you just stay in there all night and revel in it. Where to even begin? How about Firestone Walker Pale 31 paired to lemon-roasted chanterelles with cannellini beans and chardonnay grapes? Or maybe Sun King Oktoberfest with butternut squash mousse, sesame beer brittle and toasted celery marshmallow is more your speed. And of course there were oysters – lots of oysters.  You couldn’t go wrong with any of the 24 pairings in the room. I didn’t want to leave.

Saturday morning we sat through the awards ceremony and then headed back into the hall. Here’s where that task-less confusion set in. After two solid days of drinking and eating I walked into the crowded hall and immediately thought, “Is this really where I want to be?” Of course after a few samples it was all good. But how to manage this my last session of the weekend? Sample all the medal winners? Without a written list, that was beyond my mental capacity at this point. And so I wandered, tasting as many of them as I could remember or as had signs indicating their medal status. And so it was that the official fest ended for me.

The drinking and eating of course did not. A fancy dinner Saturday night was followed by pints at Prost Brewing, a new Denver brewery specializing in German-style lagers. There I accidentally stumbled upon a meeting of beer writers from all over the US, as well as a couple of scribes from Canada and the UK. Interesting conversations did ensue. Look for a piece inspired by this meeting in the next issue of The Growler.

Ah, Sunday! Sunday is the best day at GABF, mostly because GABF is over. Everyone has left town. All is quiet. We always like to stay this extra day. It’s a day to unwind from the chaos with a long hike in the mountains. That’s always followed by beer. This year we took in Funkwerks in Fort Collins. A number of people who I respect had recommended this tiny brewery that specializes in saison. I had long wanted to visit. The beers didn’t disappoint. Every beer in the sampler was top-notch. An experimental witbier temporarily called Nit-Wit, a Berliner-weiss kind of think called Leuven, and a Green Tea Saison were particularly good. Finally a nightcap of beers and appetizers in the nearly-empty Falling Rock Taphouse.

There is something to be said for nursing a pint in a quiet pub.

 

A Few Takeaways from the 2012 GABF

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

The 2012 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is over. The 31st installment of this showcase of the American beer industry was bigger and badder than ever before. 49,000 people attended four sessions that featured 2700 beers from 580 breweries. In a testament to how popular craft beer has become, those 49,000 tickets sold out in about 45-minutes – and we thought selling out 700 Winterfest tickets in under a minute was impressive. The festival and accompanying full week of surrounding events brings 7 million dollars of economic impact to the city of Denver.

The GABF competition is the largest such competition in the world. This year 185 judges evaluated 4,338 entries from 666 breweries. The upper-Midwest region fared pretty well in the medal count.

Minnesota

Category: 19 American-Style Sour Ale, 34 Entries
Bronze: Fitger’s Framboise, Fitger’s Brewhouse, Duluth, MN
Category: 30 Bohemian-Style Pilsener, 53 Entries
Silver: Summit Pilsener, Summit Brewing Co., St. Paul, MN
2012 Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am Competition
Bronze: Classic American Pilsner, Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN
Brewmaster: Mike Hoops, AHA Member: Kyle Sisco

Wisconsin

Brewpub Group and Brewpub Group Brewer of the Year
Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company, Madison, WI
Category: 4 Fruit Wheat Beer, 38 Entries
Silver: Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., Chippewa Falls, WI
Category: 5 Field Beer or Pumpkin Beer, 63 Entries
Gold: Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale, Stevens Point Brewery, Stevens Point, WI
Category: 23 Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout, 65 Entries
Gold: Fourteen Fourteen, Central Waters Brewing Co., Amherst, WI
Category: 42 German-Style Doppelbock or Eisbock, 19 Entries
Gold: Uber Bock, Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co., Madison, WI
Category: 37 American-Style Amber Lager, 45 Entries
Gold: Point Oktoberfest, Stevens Point Brewery, Stevens Point, WI
Silver: Staghorn Octoberfest, New Glarus Brewing Co., New Glarus, WI
Category: 34 American-Style Specialty Lager or Cream Ale or Lager, 34 Entries
Bronze: Mickey’s Malt Liquor, Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee, WI
Category: 33 American-Style Lager, Light Lager or Premium Lager, 51 Entries
Silver: Miller Lite, Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee, WI
Category: 30 Bohemian-Style Pilsener, 53 Entries
Gold: Hometown Blonde, New Glarus Brewing Co., New Glarus, WI
Category: 54 American-Style Amber/Red Ale, 87 Entries
Silver: Fixed Gear American Red Ale, Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee, WI

Illinois

Category: 3 Fruit Beer, 58 Entries
Bronze: Strawberry Blonde Ale, DESTIHL, Normal, IL
Category: 18 American-Belgo-Style Ale, 71 Entries
Bronze: A Little Crazy, Revolution Brewing, Chicago, IL
Category: 46 English-Style Summer Ale, 38 Entries
Gold: Cross of Gold:, Revolution Brewing, Chicago, IL
Category: 48 English-Style India Pale Ale, 54 Entries
Gold: India Pale Ale, Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago, IL
Category: 50 American-Style Pale Ale, 109 Entries
Gold: Brickstone APA, Brickstone Brewery, Bourbonnais, IL
Silver: The Weight, Piece Brewery, Chicago, IL
Category: 54 American-Style Amber/Red Ale, 87 Entries
Silver: Fixed Gear American Red Ale, Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee, WI
Category: 70 Belgian- and French-Style Ale, 68 Entries
Bronze: Domaine DuPage, Two Brothers Brewing Co., Warrenville, IL
Category: 66 South German-Style Hefeweizen, 70 Entries
Silver: Ebel’s Weiss, Two Brothers Brewing Co., Warrenville, IL

I sampled so many beers during the four days of the fest that it’s really pretty impossible to pinpoint a favorite. But there are a few general takeaways:

  • Hops are still big – The largest category in the competition was American IPA with over 200 entries. The festival floor was filled with lupulin-loaded pales, IPAs and Double IPAs. That’s not to mention black, rye, Belgian and wheat IPA.
  • Big is still big – High alcohol beers were very prevalent. That’s rough when there are over 2000 beers to sample. Though many sounded good, I left a lot of those on the tables.
  • Odd ingredients are big – Herb, spice and vegetable beer was the second largest category in the competition. Brewers are experimenting more than ever before. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not.
  • Barrels are still big – Whisky, rum, wine, new oak, you name it; beer at the festival was put into every kind of barrel. As with odd ingredients, often that’s a good thing.
  • Sour is bigger than ever – As I wandered the hall, it seemed that nearly every brewery brought a sour or “wild” beer of some kind. DeStihl in Illinois must have had ten taps of sours. I tasted several sours from breweries across the country. Some were deliciously tart and delicate – champagne-like. Others tasted more like foot. Just because you can call it sour doesn’t mean you should serve it.
  • While all of this experimentation is exciting, it’s also resulting in a number of beers of dubious character.
  • If you go to the GABF, spring for tickets to the Farm to Table Pavilion. It’s like heaven. Beers from selected breweries are sent to chefs for pairings. Some of the pairings this year were simply phenomenal. I got totally stuffed on small-plates. The pavilion is in a side hall and attendance is limited. It’s a quiet refuge from the deafening roar and hubbub of the main hall.
  • GABF gives one perspective on who’s hot nationally. Long lines formed in front of booths like Cigar City, Russian River, and Dogfish Head. It was interesting to go to a festival and not see a long line at the Surly booth. This isn’t to say that lines didn’t form there, but they were relatively short in comparison. But frankly, in a hall with 2700 beers on offer, why wait in line for that one-ounce pour?

Angry Orchard Iceman

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

I’ve been getting into cider lately. Is it beer burnout? I’m not ashamed to admit that I feel that on occasion. Or maybe it’s because a whole new breed of ciders are becoming more common on store shelves these days. In something similar to the craft beer movement, the bland, overly-sweet juice drinks that people in this country have come to know as “cider” are beginning to see competition from more adventurous drinks.

In the Twin Cities it started with Crispin. While the blue label stuff that came first is not so interesting, at the time it was still better than most of the ciders that were available. The yeast experiments and barrel-aged ciders of the big-bottle, Artisanal Series pushed things to another level. Think what you will about Crispin, I still enjoy those. And the big-bottle, pear ciders from Crispin affiliate Fox Barrel are fantastic.

But others have begun to hit the market now. The newest kid on the block is Angry Orchard, a subsidiary of Boston Beer Company, makers of Sam Adams. Like Crispin, Angry Orchard has big-bottle and small-bottle offerings. The small-bottle ciders – Crisp Apple, Traditional Dry, and Apple Ginger – are good enough; better than most and quite drinkable. Again like Crispin, the big-bottle offerings – Iceman and Strawman – take cider to another level.

Last night I finally got around to tasting the first of two bottles that have been sitting in my fridge for some time now. According to the maker, Iceman is inspired by the traditional ice ciders of Quebec. The juice from a blend of bittersweet and culinary apples is frozen during the process. Not sure what that does, unless they are concentrating the juice using something like the freeze-distillation process that is used to make ice beers. I’m going to have to look into that. The juice is fermented with wine yeast and then barrel aged.

Here’s my notes:

Iceman
Angry Orchard Cider Company, Cincinnati, Ohio
Style: Ice Cider
Serving Style: 12 oz bottle

Aroma: The lead off is gooey toffee, sweet honey, and concentrated apple juice. Red apple skin is in there too. Spirituous alcoholic vapors swirl around, cutting the apple and caramel-candy sweetness, making it vaguely cognac-like rather than “cidery”. Faint hints of cinnamon, earth and flowers fill in the empty places.

Appearance: Light amber/orange color. Crystal clear. No bubbles.

Flavor: A mingling of cooked and fresh apples enveloped in honey, toffee, butter, and vanilla. Light acidity balances the sweetness. It grabs your cheeks and makes you pucker, but then there’s that sweetness again. Rum and raisins. Cinnamon makes an appearance. Alcohol enhances the whole. Earthy notes form a subtle background. The finish lingers on toffee; caramelicious goodness.

Mouthfeel: Still. Medium-full body. Warming.

Overall Impression: This is a delightful sipper. Read a book, sit by the fireplace, contemplate lofty ideas, and take it in slow and easy. Let the deep flavors sink in on their own time. Enjoy this with crème caramel or some other caramel desert. A grilled pork chop would suit this cider just fine, stay light on the seasoning though. Kale! Porketta! Maple bacon.

2011 GABF Interview with Summit Brewing Company brewers Nate Siats and Sam Doniach

Monday, October 8th, 2012

Summit Brewing Company. What more really needs to be said? Summit was one of the pioneers of craft brewing, not just in Minnesota, but in the whole Midwest. Since turning 25 last year they have been making a lot of changes at the brewery. Old brewers have left for other opportunities and new ones have come on board. They released Saga, a new American-style IPA to accompany the original India Pale Ale, an English version of the style. A pilot system was installed in the brewery that allows the brewers to experiment with small-batch releases or test new recipes. And on September 28th they had the official opening of their long-awaited taproom.

At last year’s GABF I caught up with brewers Nate Siats and Sam Doniach (one of the brewers who has moved on). In the interview they talk about some of these changes; at the time still changes-to-be. While in Denver they were researching other breweries’ taprooms to get ideas for their own. They were also eagerly anticipating using the new small-batch system. It’s fun to look back.

2011 GABF Interivew with Mike Hoops of Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery is my favorite brewpub in the Twin Cities. Not to knock all of our other great brewpubs; I just enjoy everything about Town Hall from the beer to the food and ambience. It’s all there for me. It’s also the source of some of the most inventive and interesting beers in the metro (or even the state for that matter). Aside from a great lineup of year-round beers, including the nationally sought-after Masala Mama IPA, Mike Hoops and his brew crew turn out a slew of seasonals and one-offs. There’s a beer release of some kind every week.

In this interview we are sampling one such one-off beer called LSD, a strange concoction made with honey, lavender and an assortment of odd-ball ingredients, created by brewer Josh Bischoff. Shortly after the interview was completed Hoops learned that the beer had won a silver medal in the GABF competition. Shortly after the GABF ended, Josh Bischoff left Town Hall to become the head brewer at Indeed Brewing Company. Just one example of the weird and wonderful things happening in the MN beer scene.

Additionally, I get Mike Hoops’ take on the direction the Midwestern beer scene is taking and the defining character of the region’s beer.

2011 GABF Interview with Cory O’Neel of Granite City Food & Brewery

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Think what you will of the Granite City brewpub chain, my trip to their worthouse in Ellsworth, Iowa was one of the most fascinating brewery visits I have ever done. If you have driven along I-35 between Ames and the Minnesota state line, then you have passed by the brewery and probably didn’t know it. A small grain silo on the side of the building is the only thing that even remotely identifies it as a brewery. It’s a tiny, non-descript place in a tiny, non-descript town, but it supplies unfermented wort to 26+ stores in several states.

Granite City’s “fermentus interuptus” method of transporting unfermented wort to the locations for fermentation on site has advantages in terms of efficiencies of scale and consistency of product. But for anyone who knows about the brewing process, it’s a cringe-worthy proposition. Wort is an ideal growth medium for all sorts of beer-spoiling bugs. Brewmaster Cory O’Neel is the man to manage the situation. His background is in brewery quality control. Once he came on board at Granite City he instituted a set of strict protocols intended to head off problems. He built a lab at the worthouse (actually the lab was already there he told me, but it was mostly being used to heat up pizza). Wort is tested numerous times along its journey. Yeast is propagated in house in a sterile yeast lab. Fascinating stuff about an interesting way to brew.

2011 GABF Interview with Dave Anderson of Dave’s Brewfarm

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Dave’s Brewfarm is nestled in the rolling farmland of western Wisconsin. Only two things differentiate it from the farmsteads that surround it. One is a sign at the top of the driveway declaring that this little, red farmhouse is, in fact, brewery. The second is a tall wind turbine. Owner and brewer Dave Anderson is big into sustainable brewing. The turbine provides a good amount of the power needed to run the combination living space/brewery. A geo-thermal unit helps with heating and cooling. Solar panels to be installed at a later date will eventually aid with heating the hot water needed to brew.

Anderson holds frequent open houses at the brewery – or “labrewatory” as he calls it. At these events people camp at the farm, socialize, and drink the unusual array of beers that he produces there. In this interview we mention two brews that were commercially available in bottles and cans, Brewfarm Select and Matacabras. Sadly, problems with the breweries where these beers were contract brewed and packaged have caused Anderson to discontinue them. While no longer available in retail stores, they will still make appearances at the farm. You’ll just have to go there to sample them.

2011 GABF Interview with Scott Manning of Vintage Brewing Company

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Madison, Wisconsin is full of great breweries. One of the best and most interesting in my view is Vintage Brewing Company. Brewer Scott Manning has been in the business of brewing for 15 years. Much of that time has been spent at production breweries or corporate brewpub chains. He loves the freedom and creativity that he can exercise at Vintage. In his own words he feels like “a 4 year old running around naked.” He takes a “don’t get used to it” approach to the beers he crafts for the pub. He always wants people to try something new, so there are only a couple of beers in the line-up that are almost always on tap. He’s been winning awards for his creations, including a silver medal at the 2011 GABF and silver and bronze medals at the 2012 World Beer Cup.

I am more than a little obsessed with Sahti, a little-known, ancient beer style from Finland. Manning brews two of them at Vintage; Summer Sahti and Joulupukki Winter Sahti. These beers lean heavily on rye and juniper for their unique flavor. Manning even ferments his winter version in the traditional way, using baking yeast instead of a cultured brewer’s yeast strain.

If you are in Madison, Vintage Brewing Company is well worth a stop.

2011 GABF Interview with John McDonald of Boulevard Brewing Co.

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Founded in 1989, Boulevard Brewing Company is a Midwestern craft-beer pioneer. When he started making beer people thought John McDonald was crazy. The region quite literally dominated by Anheuser-Busch. Selling this new, more flavorful beer was a daunting task. In the interview McDonald shares an amusing story about an early delivery to a bar just down the street from the brewery. The reception of the patrons makes you wonder how the brewery ever got off the ground.

But succeed it did. Boulevard has grown into the largest specialty brewer in the Midwest, with beer available in 24 states. They continue to innovate with their Smokestack Series beers, bringing out a wide range of styles and flavors from Belgians, to barrel-aged and sour beers. The brewery itself has grown from the original, vintage Bavarian brewhouse to a state-of-the-art 150-barrel system with capacity to produce 600,000 barrels a year. The building is itself a model for others to follow with multiple event spaces that host everything from corporate meetings to weddings.

You can read an earlier interview that I did with McDonald on The Heavy Table food blog.