For the last couple of years Magic Hat Brewing Company has been releasing a string of one-off, seasonal IPAs in what they call the IPA on Tour series. I’ve tasted several of them and honestly I haven’t been that impressed. Some were too bitter for my taste. I prefer the juicy/earthy/floral flavors and smells of hops’ essential oils over the tongue-scraping effects of alpha acids. Others have just not been all that interesting. The newest one, Ticket to Rye, is different. For one thing it has rye. I like rye. It also has an interesting malt profile. I like malt.
Here’s my notes:
Ticket to Rye Magic Hat Brewing Company, Burlington, Vermont
Style: Rye IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
Aroma: Flowers and grapefruit. Resiny notes come in as it warms. Loads of toffee malt to support the lighter components.
Appearance: Dark amber with a mild haze. Voluminous, off-white head. Creamy-rich and very persistent.
Flavor: It has a very English character. The first thing that pops out is toffee and caramel malt. Luscious and slightly sweet. Stony bitterness hits mid-palate. It’s modest for an IPA, but it lingers long after swallowing. Orange citrus notes that seem to come from both yeast and hops give a delightful candy-like character. The earthy spice of rye is subtle, just enough to add a bit of depth.
Mouthfeel: Medium body with some creaminess. Carbonation is medium-low.
Overall Impression: The toffee presence of the malt and that orange marmalade overtone give this beer a very English character. It’s malty for an IPA, making it more like an amber or red ale. That’s a-okay for me though. It puts it right in my wheelhouse. I found this to be a most-tasty beer. I’d pick up a sixpack of it.
Lucid Brewing has recently released two new big-bottle beers. The first is Craig’s Ale, number one of their homebrewer collaboration beers. The second is a 7.5%, oak-aged, imperial red ale called Duce. It’s pronounced doo-chay, like Il Duce, the name given to Italian National Fascist Party leader Benito Mussolini who ruled the country before and during World War II. I’m not sure about that as a name for a beer, but whatever. I had a chance to taste this woody brew.
Here’s my notes:
Lucid Brewing, Minnetonka, Minnesota
Style: Oak Aged Imperial Red Ale
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
Aroma: Caramel malt and woody oak. The wood dominates but malty sweetness offers some balance. A touch of herbal – almost minty – hops in the background.
Appearance: Dark amber/red color and crystal clear. Voluminous, beige head that is creamy-rich and very persistent.
Flavor: Woody oak dominates, presenting some cabernet-like tannins. Caramel malt sweetness offers some support, but not enough to overcome it. The balance does even out some as the beer warms and the caramel comes more to the fore. A faint touch of roastiness adds a bit of interest to the malt. Bitterness is medium-low. There are some low-level herbal hop notes. Dig deep and you will find dark fruits in there as well. Alcohol is there, but not offensive.
Mouthfeel: Super creamy with a medium-full body. Medium to medium-low carbonation. Warming alcohol.
Overall Impression: To my palate, the wood comes on a little strong in this one. This is a shame, because it obscures what seems like a darn tasty base beer. I’m not sure if this is 100% oaked beer, but that would be my guess. A bit of back-blending with some un-oaked beer would have delivered better balance and a better beer.
One of the things that I love about the beer-nerd world is our tendency to get our knickers in a bunch about things that really don’t matter. This is true of any nerdly endeavor, I suppose. It’s not exclusive to beer.
The latest earth-shaking controversy came a few days ago when glassmaker Spiegelau released this video to introduce a new IPA-worthy glass designed in conjunction with Ken Grossman and Sam Calagione, founders of Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head respectively.
My goodness, you would think the two men had announced that they were going to cease making beer. Reaction was swift and severe from both supporters and detractors. Pennsylvania beer writer Lew Bryson said on Facebook of the new glass, “Jesus H. Christ. More prescriptive bullshit about how we’re supposed to drink our beer. Every beer I have today, I’m going to drink right out of the bottle or can, or in a shaker glass. And they’ll taste great.” The comment thread got pretty crazy with oppressed drinkers claiming that the existence of the glass was ruining the whole experience of drinking beer. Stephen Beaumont fired back with a blog post in which he exposed himself as a glass dork, and reminded people that it is just a glass after all. No one was pointing a gun at anyone’s head forcing them use it.
The controversy really heated up a couple days later when A Good Beer Blog revealed that the painstakingly designed IPA glass was strikingly similar to a wine glass made by Spiegelau parent company Riedel. The glass-making beer-brewing team hadn’t in fact done anything unique. This was a bald-faced rehashing of been-there-done-that glassware design. The whole thing was just a marketing ploy – a cynical scheme to separate gullible nerds from their money. The comment threads got vicious now, as detractors and supporters exchanged brutal verbal lashings. The brewers weren’t spared the hyperbolic attacks. According to one commenter, Dogfish Head (arguably the most creative brewery in the country for better or worse) had never done anything truly revolutionary in its entire existence.
Turns out that all the huff-n-puff was for naught. The very next day Beer Pulse published a statement from Sam Calagione freely admitting that the Riedel wine glass had served as the basis for the IPA glass. They had in fact, tested many different Riedel and Spiegelau designs on the way to their ideal cup. “Traits of various glasses that boosted the hop aromas and flavors of IPAs helped inform the direction of our glass,” he said, “but the final design came from carefully refining eight original hand-blown glasses. This wasn’t plucked from a shelf.” No need to reinvent the wheel when you can poke, prod, and tweak a design that already exists.
Well my curiosity was piqued to say the least. I had to put this glass to the test. I requested. They delivered (and very quickly, I might add).
I pitted the glass against a standard shaker pint and my very favorite Spiegelau tulip glass. I poured Surly Abrasive, a beer with beaucoup hop aroma and flavor, the profile of which I know fairly well. I cleaned each glass in the same way prior to the tasting and made an effort to give each a similarly aggressive pour. I compared each glass for aroma, appearance, and flavor. There are a couple of caveats. First, I am a glass dork. I like fancy glassware. The only thing I drink out of a shaker pint at home is water. Second, one can’t test glassware blind. Although I tried to be as objective as possible, my ultimate experience could be colored by my preconceptions.
So how did they fare?
While the glass itself is not especially attractive, I have to give the IPA glass the edge. The agitating ribs at the base of the glass and the laser-etched nucleation points kept a decent head going long after the others had fallen flat. In fact, I had foam all the way to the bottom of the glass. That etching also kept the beer sparkly with little bubble continuously rising up from the bottom. It looked real purtty.
This was the most interesting area of assessment. The real surprise was the shaker pint. Raising it to my nose I got a burst of citrus and tropical fruit that was totally unexpected. It delivered the brightest aromatic expression by far. The big disappointment was my beloved tulip. I described its olfactory effect as “meh…not much there.” The IPA glass gave the same citrus and tropical fruit punch as the pint, but smoothed out – not as bright. The components were more clearly articulated. Tropical fruit was specifically and intensely mango. The fruit was deepened by other hop notes like a very subtle chive. Once again the IPA glass takes it.
Here it was a virtual tie between the IPA glass and the tulip. The beer tasted nearly identical out of each glass, but subtle differences led me give the slightest preference to the IPA glass. In the tulip glass the beer was a touch brighter, crisper and pricklier. The emphasis was tilted slightly more to bitterness over fruity hop flavor. The IPA glass rounded and smoothed the experience, shifting it a bit toward flavor over bitterness. The carbonation had less tingle.
In my final assessment I rate the IPA glass a success. It provided a rounder and smoother experience with a fuller expression of flavor and aroma. If you like hoppy brews and enjoy geeking-out on glassware, then pick up a couple. You’ll love them. If fancy glasses aren’t your thing, the difference may not be significant enough to make it worth your while.
<EDIT> To make sure I’m perfectly clear. I gave the edge to the IPA glass, but with the exception of appearance the difference was marginal. I was trying to be really picky and precise.
I first met the guys from 612Brew in the early spring of 2010 while working on a piece about soon-to-be breweries for Heavy Table (there were only five at the time…crazy!). They were working in a South Minneapolis garage, tweaking recipes on a cobbled-together homebrew system and dreaming of bigger things. Two years later their “garage” is a 5000 square-foot warehouse space in a multi-million dollar commercial re-development in Northeast Minneapolis. The five-gallon, glass carboys have been replaced by 30-barrel tanks of mirror-polished stainless steel. The steps in-between included three business plan revisions, two cancelled leases, and a change of personnel, including hiring brewer Adam Schil.
Almost three years after than initial meeting, the crew is ready to launch. 612Brew already has beer in metro-area bars. The taproom at the corner of Central and Broadway will open tomorrow night, February 13th at 4:00pm.
The taproom retains the retro-industrial ambiance of the 1924 factory building that it occupies. Thick, maple timbers rise up two stories from the polished concrete floor. The bar top is made of re-purposed bowling alley lanes, while the bottom is faced with boards salvaged from an 1850s-vintage home. The gleaming brewery is separated from the public space by wooden standup bars. A tall, glass overhead door looks out onto a patio and rain garden, which is anchored by a stone amphitheater where live music is planned for the warmer months.
612Brew’s focus is on hop-centered session beers. They aim to satisfy that craving for bitterness with lower-alcohol brews that allow for more than one pint after work. They are launching with four beers. Six is a sessionable American Pale Ale with biscuit malt and bright citrus hops. This is the same beer – with some recipe tweaks – that I sampled three years ago in the garage. Zero Hour is an American black ale brewed with roasted wheat for a smoother, less-bitter roastiness that lets the hops shine through. Bitter Cold Winter Ale is a single-malt, single-hop IPA brewed with Maris Otter malt from England and Willamette hops from the Pacific Northwest. My favorite brew is Rated R, a balanced rye IPA. The focus here is on flavor and aroma hops. The bitterness bites, but not too hard. Spicy rye notes come in late and linger into the finish.
It’s hard to believe that I would call a one-and-a-half-year-old brewery old, but in today’s crazy world, with breweries popping up like popcorn, it’s the truth. Steel Toe Brewing Company is old. But that doesn’t make them any less wonderful. In my view Steel Toe is one of the top-five breweries in Minnesota. Size 7 might just be the best IPA made in the state. A recent blind tasting re-confirmed for me the brilliance of the light and lovely Provider Ale.
The opening this Friday, February 15th, of Steel Toe’s long-awaited taproom makes this a busy week for Twin Cities beer fans. The fun begins at 3:00pm and I’m guessing it will be crowded. Steel Toe is located at 4848 W. 35th St. in St. Louis Park. Be there!