Archive for January, 2013

Summit and Smashburger Team Up for Beer & Burger Pairings

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Summit Brewing Company and Smashburger are pairing up to bring beer and burger pairings to the Twin cities. The collaboration could be seen as a partnering of pioneers in a way; Summit an original in Minnesota’s better beer scene and Smashburger the leader in what they call “better burger” restaurants.

Actually the Denver-based burger franchise has introduced some interesting innovations to fast food fare. They use all Angus beef, for one thing.  Their menus allow for regional inspiration. While there are some standard sandies across the chain, each location creates special burgers tailored to local foodways, such as the Twin Cities burger with garlic-grilled onions reflecting the regional love-affair with the onion. I didn’t know that we had a love affair with onions, but that’s something I learned during a special media tasting prior to the pairings launch. In terms of the beer and burger program, the company is working with a different brewers in every city to create pairings that are unique to the market.

Smashburger takes its name from their process of smashing the burgers onto the griddle while cooking them. This creates a caramelized crust on one side and seals in the juices, according to founder Tom Ryan. They do make a juicy patty. I’m not sure how innovative the burger smash is. It seems to me Steak & Shake has been smashing since the 1930s. But Smashburger does it with a patent-pending, cookie-cutter-like gizmo as seen in this video of Mr. Ryan making a burger.

Ryan worked with Summit Head Brewer Damian McConn to come up with eight pairings for the Twin Cities stores. How did they do? Well, let’s take a look.

Classic Burger & Summit EPA

Classic Smashburger & Extra Pale Ale: A pairing of classic with classic. This one didn’t do much for me. Both beer and burger are good. I’m a big fan of EPA and I like a plain ‘ol burger, but together they were just sort of “meh.” I also think that the burger overpowered the beer a little bit and made it seem bitterer than normal. Maybe it was the smash sauce – a combination of mayo, mustard, relish and lemon. I’ll say this though, the burger had ketchup on it. I hate ketchup and always have. It didn’t really taste like ketchup. Nice!

Mushroom Swiss Burger & Great Northern Porter

Mushroom Swiss Burger & Great Northern Porter: This was lovely. The combination brought out an earthiness in each part and there was umami on top of umami. Caramel malt spoke to caramelized beef crust. This was probably my second favorite combination. I was happy to learn that the mushrooms are crimini mushrooms, sliced fresh for each order.

BBQ Bacon and Cheddar Burger & Horizon Red Ale

BBQ Bacon and Cheddar Burger & Horizon Red Ale: This is the best pairing of the bunch. The caramel and citrus in the beer play very well with the tangy BBQ sauce. The pairing emphasized the hops in the beer, making it seem almost IPA-like. And again there’s that caramel to caramel handshake. And who doesn’t love bacon and beer?

Avocado Club Burger & Summit Pilsner

Avocado Club Burger & Pilsner: This was one of two pairings that were described as difficult to deal with. That’s because they really needed Summit Hefeweizen, which has been discontinued. The sliced avocado, smoked bacon, and ranch dressing on the burger would have been splendid with a hef. The pilsner brought out the bacon and cut through the fat, but spicy hops clashed a bit. It was the best pairing with the Summit lineup, but it wasn’t quite wonderful.

Twin Cities Burger & Summit EPA

Twin Cities Burger & Extra Pale Ale: Between caramelized onion, caramelized meat crust, and loads of cheese, this is one rich burger. The EPA did the job cutting right through it. All that caramelization brought out the maltiness in the beer, giving a more balanced impression than with the Classic burger. This pairing really worked.

Spicy Baja Burger & Saga IPA

Spicy Baja Burger & Saga IPA: Do hops amplify or dampen chili pepper heat? That’s the age old question in the beer-food pairing biz. I happen to think they do both; amplify first and then clear away. This burger is all about peppers. The heat of pepper jack cheese, chipotle mayonnaise, and raw jalapeno slices gives it a real kick that is tempered a bit by creamy guacamole.  Saga IPA was up to the task and the hops did just what they do. The citrusy flavors offered a nice contrast to the savory and spice of the burger. My mouth was left with a nice level of lingering heat.

Cucumber Goat Cheese Chicken Sandwich & Summit Pilsner

Cucumber and Goat Cheese Chicken Sandwich & Pilsner: This was the other sandwich that needed the hefeweizen. Let’s face it – chicken, spinach, goat cheese and cucumbers – a hefeweizen would have been great with every element of this sandwich. Pilsner again was the best choice from the Summit lineup, but it just didn’t quite do the trick. This was one of my favorite sandwiches though.

Crispy Buffalo Chicken Sandwich & India Pale Ale

Crispy Buffalo Chicken Sandwich & India Pale Ale: Spicy buffalo sauce and blue cheese paired with a balanced, English-style IPA. The beer is bitter enough to stare down the buffalo, but ample caramel malt keeps the combination from overheating. And blue cheese with English IPA simply can’t be beat. This was my third favorite pairing of the night.

Wanna Buy a Brewery? Leech Lake is for Sale.

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Leech Lake Brewing Company

Some time ago someone (I don’t even remember who) mentioned in passing that Leech Lake Brewing Company in Walker, Minnesota was up for sale. I took note and meant to do a search to verify this myself, but promptly forgot…until today.

For anyone wanting to break into the brewing business, Leech Lake is indeed for sale. The asking price is $500,000 for the whole kit and caboodle – that’s building, 1-bbl brewery, land, and all the accoutrement that come with running the business. You can check out the listing here.

I contacted Leech Lake co-owner/brewer Greg Smith to get the skinny.  In an email he said:

We listed LLBC for sale with the intent of selling it for nothing less than our asking price—$500K.  We are continuing to operate the business as usual until such time as we close on a deal with a suitable buyer.  I have plans to develop and market a product in the sports and fitness industry for which I’ve held a patent for the past seven years.  It’s been a goal of mine much longer than has been founding a microbrewery.  So, whenever it happens we’ll move on to the next project (although I’m simultaneously pursuing the other project while operating the brewery).  Not much else to tell you at this point.  Just moving forward each day…

So there you have it. This is your opportunity. Will you take it?

Leech Lake Brewing Company

Dangerous Man Brewing Company – My First Look

Monday, January 21st, 2013

dm logo

These days it’s almost like there is a race to see who will be the next Minnesota brewery with beer on the street. Jack Pine just opened up north. Northgate’s launch is close at hand. The prediction looks good for Bad Weather. 612 should be coming any day now.

Here in the Metro the next new kid on the block is Dangerous Man Brewing Company. After a start-and-stop journey to find a space and get approvals and a long process of construction, the husband and wife team of Rob Miller and Sarah Bonvallet will celebrate their grand opening this Friday, January 25th.

Dangerous Man Brewing almost never happened. After attending school and frequenting brewery taprooms in Montana, Rob Miller returned to Minneapolis intent on opening a taproom-only brewery. He wrote up a business plan and started scouting spaces only to learn that his idea wasn’t legal under Minnesota statute. The plan was shelved and he went into the job grind.

When the “Surly Bill” passed allowing Minnesota breweries to sell pints for on-premise consumption, he dusted off his plan and got back to work. He found a space at the corner of 13th Avenue and 2nd Street NE and started the process of getting licenses and approvals. The space was perfect. The location in the heart of the “Nordeast” nightlife district promised a steady stream of traffic. The 1920s-era bank building offered a stately yet comfortable space with massive columns rising from the floor all the way to the high ceiling. He fell in love. The only problem was that it sat directly across the street from a church. A prohibition-era city ordinance prohibited establishments that sell alcohol within 300 feet of a place of worship. It nearly derailed the project once again, but Miller was persistent. Working with the church and his city councilman he got the ordinance changed.

dangerous man (6) small

That’s a good thing, because the space does have a great vibe. The ambiance – which I have dubbed “industrial arts” – evokes a mix of trendy bar, early 20th-century factory, and junior high shop class. It’s a minimalist look with lots of metal and lots of wood. Shop stools line the bar and surround the high-top tables. The bar top is an impressively thick hunk of wood – a beam salvaged from an old, downtown Minneapolis building. The brewery is just visible behind the welded-metal and wood bar back. It looms in the dark like some fantastical, steam-punk contraption. The room just feels good.

dangerous man (9) small

The beers that I tried at Dangerous Man were a mixed bag. The two standouts for me were at opposite ends of the flavor spectrum, a rich and creamy chocolate milk stout and a light and lovely cream ale. The chocolate milk stout was hands down the best, and it is fantastic. This silky-smooth brew is moderately sweet and boasts a boatload of chocolate flavor. Roasty bitterness is light, just enough to balance the sweetness. Subtle toasted grain flavor sends it over the top. The cream ale is light and quaffable with delicate grainy sweetness and bright, orange-citrus hop flavors. The least successful beers for me were the IPA and Belgian golden strong ale. Both were under-attenuated, leaving them too sweet on my palate. The Belgian especially lacked the dry, spicy sharpness that the style demands. Because Miller plans an ever-rotating selection you can always expect something new. The beer you loved (or hated) probably won’t be there the next time you visit.

dangerous man (5) small

Grand opening festivities get underway at 4:00 PM on Friday, kicked off with a bagpipe serenade. Dangerous Man is located at 1300 2nd St NE in Northeast Minneapolis. If you’re hungry you can order in fish and chips from the Anchor bar across the street.

Worthington’s White Shield IPA

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

For those wishing to know what India pale ale was in the 19th-century, Worthington’s White Shield might be the best hope. It originally appeared as Worthington’s East India Pale Ale in 1829. According to a former brewer, “it has remained pretty much unchanged ever since.” While changes in ingredients and brewing systems over the years make it impossible to recreate a beer from 200 years ago, White Shield at least offers a singular, continuous connection to the heyday of the Burton pale ale brewers.

I had heard much about this beer before it became available locally. British beer writers that I read and respect, including the late Michael Jackson, have penned thousands of words of praise. Hyped beers are always suspect. Will they live up to the talk?

Here’s my notes:

Worthington's White ShieldWorthington’s White Shield
MolsonCoors/White Shield Brewery, Burton-on-Trent, England
Style: English IPA
Serving Style: 500 ml bottle

Aroma: Aromatics are mild overall. Nutty, grainy malt is the dominant note with some English biscuit overtones. Hops are light, giving an herbal/orange impression that is supported by subtle fruity esters. Maybe the lightest touch of earthy Brettanomyces. There’s something earthy way back there anyway.

Appearance: Copper colored with a slight haze. Pours with a full, fluffy, off-white head that stands tall atop the glass and sticks around forever.

Flavor: This is a super-balanced IPA. The malt is delightful – rich caramel, biscuit, and toasted cereal notes. I get the sense of oats even though I don’t believe oats are part of the mix. Moderate sweetness is balanced by stony, pithy bitterness. It’s bitter, but not excessive. Hop flavors blend with fermentation esters to bring lemon and orange marmalade with touches of herbs and earth. Again there is a suggestion of earthy Brett. This well-attenuated beer goes out with a dry finish. Bitterness hangs pleasantly after swallowing.

Mouthfeel: Medium body and medium carbonation. Very well attenuated but smooth. I get that slick sensation of oats again.

Overall Impression: I have heard much about this beer from respected beer writers. Beers with too much hype generally make me nervous. They so seldom live up to expectation. This one does. The flavors are extremely well articulated and layered. You taste everything. A true English-style IPA, it’s not all about hops. Balancing malt is equally important and it is exquisite. It’s also only 5.6% ABV. Although it probably won’t satisfy American hopheads, this just became one of my favorite IPAs.

Alaskan Brewing Company Imperial Red Ale

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

I really don’t want this blog to be all about tasting notes. They aren’t that interesting and there are a million other sites doing them. But I’ve tasted so many great beers in the last couple of months. I have a desktop full of notes that I haven’t had the time to post. When Garrett Oliver was in town a while back to plug the Oxford Companion to Beer he said that working on a book takes over your life. It’s true. Working on two at once is just plain stupid. Anyway, I’m trying to get caught up on some of these tasting notes, so please bear with me. Hopefully you enjoy them.

Alaskan king crabs can weigh as much as 24 pounds and stretch 5 feet from tip to tip. Who knew? These giant, red crustaceans were the inspiration for Imperial Red Ale, the winter release in the Alaskan Brewing Company’s Pilot Series. While many winter seasonal beers are malt-forward, this 8.5%, West Coast style, red ale loads on the hops.

Here’s my notes:

Alaskan Imperial Red AleImperial Red Ale
Alaskan Brewing Company, Juneau, Alaska
Style: Imperial Red Ale
Serving Style: 22 oz bottle

Aroma: The lead-off is mostly hops; bight citrus – Lemons, grapefruit, and tangerines. The hops lay on a bed of caramel with shades of brown sugar and toffee. Dark fruits linger in the background as the beer warms up. A bit of alcohol comes in too. This is a sniffer.

Appearance: Beautiful to look at. Jewel-like ruby red and crystal clear. Fine-bubbled, long-lasting stand of ivory foam. Lots of lacing on the glass.

Flavor: Malt takes charge here – caramel, some toast, melanoidins – but it is amply balanced by the hops. There’s fruit. Some raisins or re-hydrated prunes. Dark cherry. And is that just the lightest touch of roast peeking around the corner? Maybe a hint of alcohol. The bitterness is assertive, but stops short of aggressive. It hangs around for quite a while in the finish though. Hop flavors are resiny, piney with lemon, citrus, and chamomile overtones. Bracing but balanced.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. A bit creamy, but roughed up by hops. Medium carbonation. Some warming.

Overall Impression: This beer made me want food. It would be great next to dark-meat duck or roasted pork with some sort of chutney. It could work with tomato sauce dishes; cheesy manicotti or Chicken parmesan. It would also work with spicy though. Southern Indian potato curry, anyone?

Courage Imperial Russian Stout

Monday, January 14th, 2013

In the 18th-century the English brewers had a lucrative trade exporting strong, dark beers to the Baltics and Russia. Courage Imperial Russian Stout was first brewed in 1795 at the Thrale’s Brewery in London for the court of Catherine II of Russia. Thrale’s was purchased by Barclay Perkins, which was in turn bought out by the Courage Brewery. Courage Stout was brewed continuously according to the old recipe until 1982. In 2007 the Courage brands were bought by Wells & Young’s. They revived this historic and regal brew in 2011. I’m not the biggest fan of imperial stout, but this is what imperial stout is really all about.

Here’s my notes:

Courage Imperial Russian StoutCourage Imperial Russian Stout
Wells & Young’s Ltd, Bedford, United Kingdom
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
Serving Style: 275 ml bottle

Aroma: Chocolate milk shake. Luxurious chocolate, cocoa, and mocha aromas. A bit of caramel. Subtle notes of pear. Lightly herbal and licorice. Lovely.

Appearance: Opaque black. The head is a billowing, creamy, tan froth. It lasts forever.

Flavor: This tastes black. The first sip is a bitter surprise, but it smooths out from there. It starts with some sweetness like caramel dripped over cocoa powder and coffee. Mid-palate that strong kick of roasted bitterness comes back and lingers to the finish. It hangs around long after swallowing. What a swelter of flavors in between – burnt, smoke, chocolate, licorice, vanilla, mint, black strap molasses, raisins, pears. There’s a bit of black malt acidity. Alcohol is definitely there, adding a spirituous vapor to the mix. Black licorice and molasses intensifies as it warms. The finish is dry and bitter, tannic almost. There is no lingering sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Creamy-smooth. Robust, but high attenuation leaves it surprisingly light bodied (medium-high) for such a big, black beer. A bit of astringency, but not unpleasant. Warming to be sure.

Overall Impression: This is a beer to sit and sip. Put it in a snifter or a tulip and enjoy slowly. Sharply bitter, this is not the overly sweet brew that so many American RISs have become. At 10% ABV it’ll mess you up, but like with the Belgians you won’t know it until you stand up. Serve with chocolate brownies or lava cake. I think mint chocolate cookies could also be good. Or just enjoy it by itself. Top rate – this is an RIS that I want to wrap my head around.

Brau Brothers Rye Wyne

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

The Brau Brothers are located down south in tiny Lucan, Minnesota. They are moving to Marshall later this year because Lucan can’t handle the volume of waste water they produce. They make a big barleywine with a lot of rye in it and age it in Templeton Rye Whiskey barrels. They call it Rye Wyne. That’s all I have to say. Let’s get to drinking some.

Here’s my notes:

Rye WynBrau Brothers Rye Wynee
Brau Bros Brewing Company, Lucan, Minnesota
Style: Barleywine
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle

Aroma: Whiskey, vanilla, and Cocoa. Dried fruits like prunes and raisins sweeten things up a bit. Alcohol is there, blended with some herbal overtones.

Appearance: Dark ruby/mahogany and just a touch cloudy with some chill haze that cleared as it warmed. The head is full, creamy, beige, and very long lasting.

Flavor: So smooth – velvety. Caramel takes the lead with vanilla as backup – like a vanilla Brach’s Milk Maid Caramel Royal; the one in the blue wrapper. Whiskey is lighter than in the aroma, but it’s still there. Milk chocolate makes an appearance as do molasses and dried fruits. Alcohol adds floral overtones. Rye malt character is subdued at first, leaving only a sharp, dry bite in the finish. But it comes in more strongly to slowly take control as the beer warms up.

Mouthfeel: Full body. Creamy and viscous. Medium-low carbonation. Warming alcohol.

Overall Impression: I just want to keep drinking it. Just one more sip. Always just one more sip.

2012 Samuel Adams Utopias

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Samuel Adams Utopias is one of those legendary beers. It’s one of the original extreme beers – that is if you don’t include the earlier Sam Adams offerings, Triple Bock and Millennium. It’s not the booziest beer in the world, but it is the highest-alcohol, naturally-fermented brew. Getting a beer to ferment up to 29% is no small feat. Those others – the Tactical Nuclear Penguins and Schorschbocks of the world – cheat with freeze distillation. Part of the Utopias legend is rarity and cost. They make only 15,000 bottles and each 24 oz., brew kettle-shaped bottle retails in the neighborhood of $180.

Utopias is a blend of liquids. High-test brews from many different barrels – some of which have been aging for nearly 20 years – are brought together to complete the final brew. Some of that original Triple Bock from the 1990s is reportedly part of the mix. The result is an uncarbonated, spirituous elixir that is more like cognac or port wine than beer; a brew to sip from a special glass, two ounces at a time.

Utopias has been released in odd-numbered years since 2003. There was a batch in 2001, but they called it something else. Because it is a blend, every edition is somewhat different from the others. Somehow I have been lucky enough to sample every year’s release including 2001. While all have been extraordinary and luxurious, some have been better than others. I remember 2003 as a particularly standout year, though it’s been too long ago to remember why. 2009 was a lesser year; extra boozy and extra sweet as I recall.

Although it was an even-numbered year, Sam Adams released Utopias in 2012. It was the 10th-anniversary edition. The iconic kettle-shaped bottle remained, but this time it’s black instead of copper. The surface is etched with roots, “a metaphor for the 20+ years of complex history and aging of the liquids that make up this final brew.” So says the press release. For Samuel Adams Utopias, 2012 was a very good year.

Here’s my notes:

2012 Samuel Adams UtopiasSamuel Adams Utopias
Boston Beer Company, Boston, Massachusetts
Style: Strong Ale
Serving Style: 24 oz. decanter

Aroma: Every time it comes to my nose there is a different sensation – some extremely pleasant, some less so. Maple. Caramel. Butterscotch. Wooden barrel – very woody in fact. Old musty cedar. Vaporous alcohol.  Mineral spirits. Dried cherries and raisins. Chocolate comes in as it opens up. Really, there is so much going on that all I can do is list.

Appearance: Beautiful. Deep chestnut-mahogany. Brilliantly clear. No bubbles.

Flavor: Lip numbing with the first sip and the alcohol warms all the way down. It even stings a bit. Let your saliva blend in to mellow it out. There is so much fruit here; a surprising amount. It starts with bright, sweet/tart cherries. That gives way to darker fruits – plums, prunes, dates, and raisins. But that cherry never quite lets go. Rum and maple linger all the way into the finish. As it opens up in the glass some tootsie-roll chocolate note appear and hang on long after the swallow. Combined with the cherry it give the impression of tart and boozy chocolate covered cherry bon bons.

Mouthfeel: Viscous and smooth. Very warming.

Overall Impression: 2012 is really a very good year.

Kings & Spies from Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse in Saanichton, British Columbia has become my latest obsession. This small, artisanal cider-maker is certified organic. They press their own heritage apples using the traditional rack and cloth method and ferment them with champagne yeast for a delicate sparkle. In their orchards they grow old-school cider apples – not the eating apples you get in the store – with names like Bill’s Red flesh, Brown Snout, and Winter Banana. They make awesome cider!

Really. This is some of the best cider I’ve ever had.

Four varieties are currently available in the Twin Cities – Prohibition, Pippins, Wild English, and Kings & Spies. Wild English uses a wild yeast fermentation for an earthy, funky profile. Pippins is light, bright, and tart. Rum-barrel-aged Prohibition is a strong cider with deep brown sugar and rum notes. You can read my notes for Pippins and Prohibition here.

Kings & Spies is the last of the bunch for me to try. It’s made primarily from Kings and Northern Spies apple varieties that the bottle says yield “a fruit-forward, Italian-style sparkling cider.” Making it even better, proceeds from this cider support Lifecycles, a Victoria organization that promotes local food security.

Here’s my notes.

Kings & SpiesKings & Spies
Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse, Saanichton, British Columbia
Style: Off-dry, Sparkling Apple Cider
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle

Aroma: A fruity nose full of red and green apples and hints of pineapple. It’s light and bright, but darker notes of raisin and brown sugar provide a suggestion of something deeper. I even get a skosh of oak, although I don’t know that this cider ever sees a barrel.

Appearance: Brilliant clarity with a light golden color.  Forms a foamy, white cap when poured, but it dissipates immediately. Small bubbles rise in the glass.

Flavor: A juicy sweetness up front that dries up in the finish, leaving behind a lingering tartness. Fresh red and green apple flavor, but with a wild edge, like the crab apples I used to eat off the tree as a kid. Lots of interesting fruity highlights – oranges and lemons, pears. The fruit finds a contrast in tones of earth and herb. Vague hints of brown sugar and raisin.

Mouthfeel: Light body with moderates bubbles.

Overall Impression: Another OMG-good cider from Sea Ciderhouse. A delight to drink from the start to the end of the bottle. Light enough for patio sipping in the summer, but deep enough to satisfy me on a cold January night.