Pour Decisions Verity

After high school I spent a year in Germany as an exchange student. Although I was nowhere near Berlin, I quickly learned about Berliner weisse. It was one of my greatest pleasures to spend afternoons sitting outside at a café sipping Berliner weisse with raspberry syrup. It was great with those incredible German “kuchen” and “torten” that I still crave to this day. Oh, to have someplace like Café Lutz in the Twin Cities!

Berliner weisse nearly died out in Berlin. I believe there may be only one brewery still making the stuff there. But it’s seeing a re-birth over here. Along with Gose and Grätzer it’s part of a trend to revive extinct or nearly extinct beer styles. Right now seem to be boom-times for Berliner weisse in Minnesota. Schell’s just released Star of the North a few weeks ago. In Roseville, Pour Decisions Brewing Company has been putting out their own version called Acerbity on an off-and-on basis since they opened. Pour Decisions brewer and co-owner Kristen England is well-known in homebrew circles for his Berliner weisse. It’s won a ton of awards, and rightfully so. I first tasted it years ago while judging some competition or other. It was great then. It’s still great now.

Tomorrow (Saturday, July 27th) they are releasing a chardonnay-barrel aged version of Acerbity called Verity. I got the chance to taste some. Here’s my notes:

Pour Decisions Brewing Co.Verity
Pour Decisions Brewing Company, Roseville, Minnesota
Style: Barrel-Aged Berliner Weisse
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle

Aroma: Loads of lactic acidity and barnyard funkiness. Vinous. Some bready wheat malt aromas still survive underneath. Deep smells of ripe fruits – ripe pears and pineapple. Creamy vanilla.

Appearance: Light golden with a slight haze. Full and fluffy, mousse-like, white head that is very persistent.

Flavor: Lactic acidity leads it in – freshly sliced lemons. Brettanomyces derived leather and dirt usher it out. The pear notes make their way from the smell to the taste, accompanied by newly-arrived, crisp, green apples. The finish hints at vanilla as well. Subtle wheat brings some sweet balance to the profile. There is no bitterness here, nor any hop flavor.

Mouthfeel: Light body and spritzy carbonation. Puckering.

Overall Impression: A beautiful blend of sunny acidity and earthy funk. I love the touch of vanilla complexity brought by the wine-barrel aging. It’s delightfully light and refreshing, but there is a lot to pay attention to as well. Another great Minnesota-made Berliner weisse. Another great beer from a brewery that, in my opinion, doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

Batch 19 Pre-Prohibition Style Lager

American lagers weren’t always the bland, flavorless brews offered today by the big breweries. For that matter, the big breweries weren’t always big. An influx of immigrants from Germany in the 1840s created a rise in the popularity of lager beers. The German brewers who were part of that wave were only too happy to oblige. Using the know-how and yeast that they had brought with them, they crafted a full range of German-style beers adapted to the ingredients available to them in their new home.

Yes, that meant using corn and rice. It’s not just the modern macros that turn to these adjuncts. They’ve been part of American brewing since the mid-19th-century. The 6-row barley commonly grown in North American was higher in protein than the 2-row varieties these brewers were accustomed to using in the old country. Corn and rice cut that protein, lessening haze and lightening body. It wasn’t until after the end of prohibition and World War II that the dumbing down of American lagers really began.

Coors Brewing Company is attempting to revive this beer-of-old with Batch 19 Pre-Prohibition Style Lager. The Coors PR propaganda for Batch 19 says that an old brewers log from 1919 was “discovered in the brewery archives.” “Discovered” may be an exaggeration. Surely they knew it was there. But the story is that they brewed this new beer according to the recipe for the last batch made before prohibition went into effect. Whether this is true or not, it’s a good story. The story is good, but what about the beer?

Here’s my notes:

batch 19Batch 19
Coors Archive Brewing, Golden, Colorado
Style: Pre-Prohibition American Lager
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Fresh bread, lightly toasted. Hop aromas are very subtle, just the faintest hint of herbs and mint.

Appearance: Deep gold and brilliantly clear. Medium stand of creamy, white foam that is moderately persistent.

Flavor: Very balanced. Malt almost wins out with a bready/grainy sweetness. It’s lovely grainy, like chewing on barley malt but without the husks. Malty sweetness is balanced by medium-level bitterness that is enhanced by a crisp, dry, lager finish. Hop flavors are predominantly spicy licorice, but with a distinct blackberry note.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Creamy and mouthfilling. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: Say what you want about the Coors brewery, this is a really tasty beer. If this is the type of everyday beer my grand-pappy was drinking, I’m jealous. Smooth. Full-flavored. Complex if you want it to be, but easy-drinking if you don’t. This really is my kind of beer.

Stone Ruin Ten IPA

In 2012, Stone Brewing Co. celebrated the tenth anniversary of their brutally-bitter Ruination IPA with an amped-up version of that beer. Stone Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA was brewed with twice as many hops as the original – a whopping 5 pounds per barrel – to achieve a tongue-scraping 110 IBU. The ABV was ramped up from 7.7% to 10.8%. This beer was a hops and booze fiend’s wet dream.

It was not my cup of tea. I don’t seem to have actually recorded any tasting notes anywhere. At least if I did I can’t find them now. However, I do recall having a social media back-and-forth with someone about the beer. I took the negative position. It was too much boozy bitter and not enough juicy hop flavors. I really didn’t like that beer.

Fast forward a year. Due to popular demand, Stone has re-brewed this monster. It was released in June as Ruin Ten IPA. I figured, “What the heck! I’ll give it another go.”

Sensory perception is so fungible. The experience of a beverage or food is subject to so many variables. What time of day is it? Who are you with and what are you doing? When and what did you last eat? What kind of mood are you in? All of these things and more come into play when tasting beer. What seems an abomination one day may be sublime the next. Or at least palatable.

Here’s my notes:

Stone Ruin Ten IPARuin Ten IPA
Stone Brewing Co., Escondido, California
Style: Double/Imperial IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz bottle

Aroma: Hops lead the way from start to finish with juicy tangerines, pineapples, and tropical fruits. Some light herbal notes are in there as well. It’s not all hops though. Some malty sweetness with tones of caramel lies underneath the fruit.

Appearance: Copper colored with reddish tint. Hazy on pouring, but cleared up to brilliant clarity as it warmed. Dense stand of persistent, off-white foam.

Flavor: Aggressively high bitterness lingers all the way through to the finish, but it isn’t an unbalanced beer. Ample caramel-tinged malt sweetness gives a sturdy counterpoint. Bitterness is the main hop characteristic, but hop flavors aren’t ignored; tropical fruit, oranges and lemons, herbs. Alcohol is also noticeable, but stops short of being boozy. The finish is long with caramel, bitterness and alcohol being the lingering notes.

Mouthfeel: Full body, but well attenuated. Medium to medium-high carbonation. Warming.

Overall Impression: At this particular time and place I really enjoyed this beer. Malt offers better balance in this version than in the smaller Ruination IPA on which it is based. It’s not just all about bitter. Nice citrus and fruit hop flavors as well.

Buffalo Wild Wings Launches New In-House Craft Beer Called Game Changer. Is It?

Buffalo Wild Wings is getting into craft beer. The wing shack/sports bar extraordinaire has teamed up with Red Hook Brewery to create a new in-house beer brand called Game Changer. I know, the Brewers Association says that Red Hook is only “crafty,” but screw them. I’ll call them craft for now. In the promotional video below Red Hook Brewmaster Matt Lickleider calls Game Changer a “sessionable” and “approachable” pale ale. Although I can find no mention of it on the B-Dub website, the new brew launches today (July 15th) at restaurants across the country.

The PR firm that works with Buffalo Wild Wings offered me the opportunity to stop in and sample Game Changer with some wings, so I took them up on it. I don’t claim to be a marketing professional. In fact, I downright suck at it. But I would like to offer some advice. Choose carefully which products you recommend for comparison to your own. I was sent a sampling sheet that suggested tasting Game Changer alongside a “domestic light” and an “I.P.A (or similar).” My quick glance at the tap handles revealed Bell’s Two Hearted as the one and only IPA available, although I later saw that they also had Fulton Sweet Child of Vine. Two Hearted is one of the best American-style IPAs made. Game Changer didn’t stand a chance.

“Sessionable” and “approachable” are both good words to describe Game Changer. When the bartender set down my pint he said, “It looks like a mix between [Grain Belt] Nordeast and a pale ale.” That’s a pretty accurate description of the beer’s overall profile. The light-amber ale has very subtle aromas that are mostly of floral/resiny cascade hops. A bit of caramel malt is barely noticeable underneath. The beer seemed thin, perhaps even a bit watery. The level of bitterness was medium at best, with light floral/resin hop flavors on top. Malt was equally subtle and lightly sweet, with caramel and toasty notes.

Flavor-wise I put Game Changer a notch above the Budweiser sample I tried next to it. (I couldn’t do a light beer. What’s the point?) In terms of body and aroma the two were about on par. Of course it paled next to Bell’s Two Hearted. But then as a sessionable and approachable pale ale, that was to be expected.

How did it stand up to wings? I sampled three wing sauces; Hot, Thai Curry, and Sweet BBQ. Game Changer was the best of the three beers with the Sweet BBQ wings. The subtle caramel in the malt worked with the sweetness of the sauce and the two felt about evenly matched. With the hot wings it really depends on what level of intensity you’re after. Game Changer toned down the heat a bit compared to the IPA, which set my head on fire (in a good way). The hot sauce verges on overpowering the milder beer, however. I didn’t find Game Changer to be a particularly good match to the sweet and spicy flavors of the Thai Curry wings, which surprised me. Perhaps more hops would have helped.

My overall impression of Game Changer is that Buffalo Wild Wings and Red Hook hit what they were aiming for. They’ve delivered a beer that gives light lager drinkers a more flavorful and “darker” option. It’s not a bad beer at all, but it has to be evaluated for what it is. Beer dorks looking for a gob-smack of flavor will be disappointed.

Is it a real game changer? No. But if you just want an easy-drinking beer that will let you knock back several pints during the UFC fights, then Game Changer might be a decent choice.

Schell’s Star of the North Berliner Weisse

Hidden on the grounds of the Schell brewery are lagering cellars built in the 1890s by Otto Schell, son of the company’s founder August. Nestled in those cellars is a single cypress fermentation tank installed in 1936 by Otto’s grandson Alfred. There were of course more of these tanks at one time, but they were dismantled and removed sometime later in the brewery’s history. Only the one remains.

In 2008 current Brewmaster and 6th generation descendant of August Schell, Jace Marti, returned from brewing school and set about restoring that piece of Schell’s history. The plan was to use it for a special line of beers called the Noble Star Collection. The wooden vessel was to be inoculated with cultures of brettanomyces and lactic acid producing bacteria to craft the delicate sour beers were once an important part of German brewing tradition.

The first beer in the collection is Star of the North, brewed in the style of the nearly extinct Berliner Weisse. A mash of pilsner and wheat malt (mostly wheat) was given a double decoction and the wort was sent to the fermenter without boiling, as is traditional for the style. The driving force of Berliner Weisse is the character derived from fermentation by lactobacillus, an acid producing bacteria. It results in a tart, fruity beer that can be drunk as is, but is often enjoyed with a shot of sweet raspberry or woodruff syrup – “mit Schuß.” Hops play next to no role in the flavor of Berliner Weisse – Star of the North boasts only 4 IBU. Hops are added more for their preservative quality to keep the lactic fermentation in check.

It’s a trend now for American brewers to revive historic beer styles. Berliner Weisse is one of them. Many of these efforts aim high, but end up short of their mark. Schell’s is one of my top-5 breweries in Minnesota. They have a solid reputation for crafting traditional German ales and lagers. I was excited to see what they would do with Berliner Weisse.

Here’s my notes:

StarOfNorthStar of the North
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Berliner Weisse
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle

Aroma: Delicate. Fronts with tart green apples and fresh lemons. Crackery wheat sits just underneath. A dash of floral makes an appearance. There is a hint of brettanomyces barnyard, but only if you look for it.

Appearance: Pale yellow. Very hazy, but not quite cloudy. Has a white cast like a Beligan witbier. The moderate stand of fluffy, white foam dissipated fairly quickly, falling to a gauze on the surface. Effervescent bubbles.

Flavor: Bright and tart with high acidity; cider-like. Green apples and lemons lead, like the aroma. Acidity is the primary flavor driver, but cracker-like wheat survives to provide a comfy cushion. A bit of brettanomyces leather and barnyard brings earthy tones to this beer that is otherwise all about sunshine. Hops never make an appearance. The finish is quick and dry with some lingering tartness.

Mouthfeel: Light body. Effervescent carbonation.

Overall Impression: Delightful and refreshing. Despite its lightness there are layers of flavor, particularly as the brettanomyces yeast adds earthy depth. At 3.5% alcohol, Star of the North is a light and satisfying, summer patio sipper. It’s beautiful as it is, but it would be great with a “Schuß” of raspberry syrup.

Insight Brewing Company: Bringing the World of Beer to the Twin Cities

I first became aware of Ilan Klages-Mundt back in 2010 when I was a featured writer at the Hoppress on Ratebeer.com. He had joined the Hoppress team at the start of a year-long adventure traveling the globe to intern at some of the world’s great breweries. Along the way he penned several posts detailing his exploits. I recall experiencing a tinge of envy as I read about his work with Fuller’s, Kiuchi (Hitachino Nest), Mikkeller, and others. I mean, how great a gig was that?

Ilan’s posts stopped in February 2011. His journey of passion passed from my mind. But then I got score sheets back from a beer I had entered in a local homebrew competition. Ilan had judged my beer. I remember thinking, “What’s he doing here?”

Turns out Ilan is a native Minnesotan, hailing originally from Winona. After his world tour he returned to his home state and settled in the Twin Cities. And of course the answer to what he’s doing here is building a brewery.

Insight Brewing Company is currently in the process of securing startup funds and hopes to open in the first quarter of 2014. They’re looking at locations in Northeast Minneapolis, but won’t yet reveal exactly where. The name Insight is inspired by Ilan’s journeys. Working with some of the world’s greatest brewers, he gained deep insights into brewing process, the beer industry, and world beer cultures. With Insight Brewing he wants share what he learned with beer drinkers here at home.

Ilan’s craft-beer adventure began in 2007 when he was a music student at Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin. A sample of Sand Creek Oscar’s Stout opened his eyes to the flavor potential of beer. He began tasting anything he could get his hands on. Armed with the Ratebeer Top 100 Beers list, he travelled to Denmark, eager to get his hands on some of the Danish beers he had read about. The store that he chose didn’t have any of the beers on the list, but it did have Westvleteren 12. That for Ilan was an epiphany. Upon tasting that beer he knew he wanted to become a brewer.

When he returned to the states he began a period of intensive homebrewing and self-study. His passion was noticed by a professor who encouraged him to apply for a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship offered by IBM. The expressed purpose of the fellowship was to allow students to pursue a passion that was not related to their major. Full of optimism, he applied and contacted brewers around the world, asking simply if he could come and be an intern. Many said yes. But then he didn’t get the fellowship.

Undeterred, he approached brewers again asking if in exchange for his free labor they would provide a place for him to stay and some meals. Again, many accepted. With $3500 in his pocket and the possibility of a little under-the-table work here and there, he set off for England.

His first stop was picking hops in West Kent, England. That was followed by time at the Fuller’s Brewery in London. From there he set off for Japan to work at the Kiuchi Brewery, makers of the Hitachino Nest beers. He worked at the Fanø Bryghus in Denmark doing contract brewing for the likes of Mikkeller. He was hired as head brewer at the Søgaards Bryghus brewpub in Aalborg, Denmark. He ended the experience with a bike and brewery tour of France and Belgium.

Ilan Klages-Mundt at the Fanø Bryghus in Denmark

Ilan says that the hardest brewery to work at was Kiuchi, starting with them forgetting to pick him up at the airport. When his ride did arrive it took him straight to the brewery where he began what would be a stint of 90 to 100-hour work weeks. The Japanese are known for their work ethic. They are also known for their respect of hierarchy. This meant that you started at the bottom regardless of prior experience. Ilan spent a lot of time doing basic brewery grunt work. It was difficult, but good experience for what’s to come.

Ilan says that the most important thing he learned while overseas was to keep it simple. “Homebrewers often throw too many things in and get a muddled flavor.” he says.  “Instead, let natural complexity come out by using only two or three malts.”

His other big lessons were about beer culture. “Beer around the world is so much more accepted than in the majority of the states. We’re growing quickly here, to where it’s becoming much nicer. But still in England, and London especially, everyone is drinking a beer with their lunch or a glass of wine. Here not too many people do that. Some do, but not too many. I think that culturally beer has a long way to go in the states. It is getting there. I mean we’re still at volume-wise 6.3% or something. It’s tiny. In England cask beer is in the 30s. So just a huge difference.”

Insight’s beers will be globally inspired; not just Belgian and not just English or German. They are rooted in classic styles, but some tweaks on those styles will be part of the lineup. I had the opportunity to sample nine brews during my visit. They ran the gamut from a 2.8% alcohol “Piccolo” IPA to a 26% barrel-aged, ice-distilled barleywine. All of the beers were quite tasty. I particularly noted the solid fermentation character. A high degree of attenuation left every beer crisp and refreshing.

Here’s a rundown of my favorites:

Lamb & Flag Premium Bitter – This is a classic English bitter that is named after Ilan’s favorite pub in Oxford. He had access to all of Fuller’s recipes, so this one is loosely based on London Pride. It smells awesome; neither malty nor hoppy, but balanced somewhere in between. A tinge of bitterness at the top is followed by toffee and biscuit malt. Bitterness returns at the end and hangs on into finish. Subtle orange-marmalade hop/yeast flavors fill in the background.

Piccolo IPA – The name is a nod to Ilan’s music background. The piccolo is one of the smallest instruments in the orchestra, yet also one of the loudest. This 2.8% IPA drinks more like 4%. It presents a delicate, citrus hop aroma. Bitterness is firm, but doesn’t blow you away, meaning you can drink a few without wrecking your palate. Citrusy lime, tangerine, and grapefruit hop flavors dominate with subtle grainy/biscuit malt to keep it balanced. It’s a great summer quaff.

Saison de Blanc – This celebratory saison is brewed with Sauvignon Blanc grapes giving it a vinous and almost grape-skin tannic quality. It’s fizzy and light like champagne, but never crosses a line to where it stops being beer. Floral and honey notes peek around the corners. I loved this beer as it is, but suggested that a version fermented with brettanomyces would be great.

The Yuzu – This was by far the most “interesting” beer in the lineup. It’s an American pale ale brewed with yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit. This one is a bit sweeter than the other beers and intensely citrusy with a mix of mandarin orange and grapefruit. The yuzu fruit provides a fruity flavor that is difficult to describe. Reaching for descriptors I came up with phenolic, but that isn’t really quite right. It is most unique and quite delicious. The Yuzu will be an Insight taproom exclusive.