Archive for the ‘Tasting Notes’ Category

Summit Hopvale Organic Ale

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

In June 2014, Canadian beer writer Stephen Beaumont wrote a sarcastic piece on his Blogging at the World of Beer blog titled Every Beer is Now an IPA. In it he bemoaned the proliferation of variants on the India Pale Ale – variants that often have nothing to do with that style except an overload of hops. Beer drinkers are subjected to black, white and red IPA, Belgian IPA, rye IPA, stout IPA, Cali-Belgique IPA and any number of others. IPA is such a popular style that brewers slap that acronym onto any hopped-up ale or lager they produce instead of going to the trouble of calling it something else. If it’s an IPA people will buy it.

The one that bugs me maybe the most is the “session IPA.” What the heck is that besides an oxymoron? The whole idea of an IPA is super-hoppy and high alcohol. Indeed the style’s mythical origin story is all about brewers upping the alcohol content on beer shipped to India so that is wouldn’t spoil. IPA was never intended to be sessionable. We have a style category for sessionable pale ale. It’s called “pale ale.”

So what is a session IPA and why isn’t it just called pale ale? A quick survey of a few of them shows alcohol content ranging from 4.3% to 5.1% ABV. Using the BJCP guidelines as a standard (because that’s the standard we’ve got) that puts all but one of them squarely in the range for American pale ale. And the one is under by just .2%. As for bitterness, they range from 40 to 65 IBU. Of the eight that I surveyed, only three were outside the American Pale Ale guidelines, one by an insignificant 2 IBU. I would argue that these beers are all just heavily late and dry-hopped pale ales.

But two of the examples that I looked at had significantly higher bitterness than is specified for an American pale ale. Stone Go To clocks in at 65 IBU and Summit Hopvale Organic Ale at 55 IBU – both square in the range for an IPA. So perhaps the definition of session IPA – if we have to call it that – should be a lower-alcohol, highly-hopped, pale ale with the bitterness of an IPA.

I don’t like the label, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the beers. Given my preference for malty beers, these often thin and aggressively bitter beers should not be to my taste. There is really nothing about them that I should like. But I happen to love them.

Did I mention Summit’s Hopvale Organic Ale? The newest year-round beer from the steadfast St. Paul brewery is being unleashed on the public today (April 1st. No really. It’s not a joke.). Summit seems to have studiously avoided the session IPA moniker in the marketing for this beer. Thank you Summit! They say merely that it has the “hop character of a full-strength IPA, but the drinkability of a low-gravity bitter.” But at 4.7% ABV and 55 IBU it fits neatly into the pigeon hole. It’s made with all organic ingredients and just a touch of lemon peel to give it a citrusy high note.

Here’s my notes:

Brews_Can_HopvaleHopvale Organic Ale
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Session IPA
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
4.7% ABV
55 IBU

Aroma: Huge hop aroma. Melon, tropical fruit – mango. Herbs. Grapefruit. Lemon peel. Malt offers only a low impression of sweetness. Neutral character. Low esters – orange. Hint of sulfur. It all combines into a fruity, almost powdered sugar aroma.

Appearance: Medium gold and slightly hazy. Full, creamy, off-white head with excellent retention.

Flavor: Full blast of hops with low, supporting malt sweetness. Hop flavors are similar to the aroma – melon, tropical, grapefruit, pine. Lemon comes through more strongly. Bitterness is medium-high to high, but smooth, not overwhelming. Malt sweetness supports. Low biscuit/toast malt flavor. Light and refreshing. Hops are the star. Malt is barely there. Finish is very dry with lingering bitterness and hop flavors.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium-high carbonation. Very low hop astringency.

Overall Impression: Hops rule the roost in this beer. Malt is almost an afterthought. Almost, but not quite. And oh, what hops they are. Full of rich, fruity and resiny flavors. And then there is that bright spot of lemon peel. This is one of those beers that I shouldn’t like, but do. This will be great in the summer, but it’s a year-round so you can drink it all the time.

Boulevard Brewing Co. – The Calling IPA

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

I don’t have a lot of back-story here. I like the Smokestack Series beers from Boulevard Brewing Co. They have a new one that will be year-round. It’s called The Calling IPA. A simple malt bill of just pale 2-row barley malt supports a blend of eight different hops – Mosaic, Equinox, Galaxy, Amarillo, Simcoe, Bravo, Topaz, and Cascade. That’s a lotta hops.

Here’s my notes:

the_calling_12oz_bottleThe Calling
Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, Missouri
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
8.5% ABV
75 IBU

Aroma: All hops – Citrus, lemons, grapefruit, tropical fruits. The deep, juicy kind of tropical – mango and guava. Low herbal/mint notes. Faint malt sweetness with neutral character. Low floral alcohol. Super fruity, sweet and juicy, with contrasting floral alcohol.

Appearance: Light gold and hazy. Moderate, creamy, white head with moderate retention.

Flavor: Juicy hop flavors dominate over low, grainy malt sweetness. Bitterness is restrained, but lingers into the finish at low levels. Pineapple. Tropical fruit. Mangoes. Lemon curd. Pine resin. The lemon shines bright in the off-dry finish. Moderate alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation. Low alcohol warming. Not astringent.

Overall Impression: Bitterness is surprisingly restrained at 75 IBU. The 8.5% load of malt sweetness more than amply balances it. This beer holds its alcohol well. It’s an example of style-creep that has occurred since the last BJCP guidelines were written. This falls into Double IPA range, but Boulevard calls it an IPA. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Utah’s Uinta Brewing Co. Enters Minnesota

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

I love Utah!

From snow-capped mountains in the north to slick-rock desert canyons in the south, it is a natural wonderland of truly extraordinary beauty. I visit the southern, high desert every year. If I don’t get my annual Utah fix I get all itchy in my soul. There is nothing more spiritually regenerating than being alone in the absolute silence of a canyon watching the bright blaze of oranges and reds as the rocks light up at sunset. I would move out there if I could come up with a way to make a living that I think I would actually enjoy.

What many people don’t realize is that there is actually a pretty decent craft beer scene in Utah. Salt Lake City is home to 18 breweries, including Squatters, Epic, Bohemian, Wasatch, and the oldest, Uinta. There are a number of others spread around the state for a total of 30-plus. As the headline on the Utah Beer Blog states, “We may live in a desert, but we’re not dry.”

There is a misconception about Utah beer that deserves clearing up. The belief is that brewers in the state can only make the dreaded “3.2 beer.” The first thing to tackle here is exactly what that means. There are two ways to measure alcohol content – by weight and by volume. The two are not equivalent. For whatever reason most state regulators measure alcohol by weight. The rest of us talk about alcohol by volume. 3.2% alcohol by weight translates to approximately 4% alcohol by volume – about the same as many American lagers or Guinness Draught Stout. The English and the Scots have been making full-flavored ales, bitters, browns, and stouts at 4% ABV and much lower for a very long time. The fact is that sessionable, low-alcohol beers don’t have to be flavorless.

The second piece of this common belief is that Utah brewers are not restricted to 4% alcohol. Draft beers have to be 4% or less. They can put whatever they want into a bottle. There are plenty of good IPAs, double IPAs, and even barleywines being made in the Beehive State.

I like to drink local when I travel. So when I make my annual western trek, I drink a lot of Utah beer. I have very seldom been disappointed, even by the low-alcohol offerings. A 4% beer tastes pretty damn good after spending an entire day hiking in the dry, desert air. One of my favorites has always been Uinta Brewing Company. Pretty much everything I have tasted of theirs – from small beers to big – has been tasty and satisfying. So I was pretty psyched to learn that this brewery is entering the Twin Cities market this week. The beers being launched here should put the 4% myth to rest. They include a 9.2% alcohol Imperial Black IPA and a 9.5% Double IPA!

We actually had Uinta beers in the Twin Cities for a very brief time several years ago. Co-owner Steve Kuftinic has relations here and brought the occasional case with him when he would he would visit. It’s good to see them back. There is a launch event this Wednesday at Mackenzie’s Pub if you want to check them out.

I sampled a few brews prior to the launch. Just to make sure they were up to snuff, you know.

Here’s my notes:

Uinta Brewing Co., Salt Lake City, Utah
Style: Extra Pale Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
4% ABV
29 IBU

Aroma: Aromatics are low overall. Bright and delicate citrus hops – lemon. Some floral notes. Sweet malt beneath, with some biscuit notes. Low esters – pineapple. Some English-like butter.

Appearance: Deep gold with a slight haze. Moderate, dense, white foam with good retention.

Flavor: Very light and delicate – almost thin. Bitterness is the focus. Initial bitterness gives way to sweetness and fruit, coming back to bitterness at the end. Malt is very low – light sweetness with a biscuity, grainy character. Hop flavors reflect aroma – citrus, lemon, oranges, some floral. Low esters – pineapple. Faint butter. Tannic, tea-like drying in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Low astringency.

Overall Impression: An English bitter profile with American hop flavor and aromas. Sessionable and summery. Grainy, biscuit malt supports impressive, yet smooth bitterness for such a small beer. Hops are what it’s all about, but not overly aggressively.

babaBaba Black Lager
Style: Schwarzbier
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
4% ABV
32 IBU

Aroma: Aromatics generally low, but malt dominated. Subtle roast malt – coffee and faint cocoa. Bread crust. Very low spicy, noble hops.

Appearance: Very dark brown, nearly opaque black. Full, creamy, beige head with good retention.

Flavor: Malt dominated. Leads with cocoa and roasted malt bitterness. Midway some creamy, bittersweet chocolate comes in, giving an impression of increased sweetness. Other malt notes of bread crust. Low citrus/spice noble hop flavor. Hop bitterness is medium. Finish is very dry, accentuated by dry, roasted malt – coffee grounds and lightly burnt acrid.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Low roast malt astringency.

Overall Impression: A really nice, if a bit roasty version of a German-style, black lager. Made with organic barley and hops. I would drink a lot of this. Actually, I have.

Style: Imperial Black IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
9.2% ABV
109 IBU

Aroma: Roast and resin. Chocolate and cocoa malt. Resinous citrus/pine hops. Oranges. Grapefruit rind.

Appearance: Very dark brown – nearly opaque black. Clear. Thick, creamy, tan head with good retention.

Flavor: Malt and hops in balance. Rich. Malt character is strong – chocolate roast. Medium sweetness balanced by high and long-lingering hop bitterness, which is accentuated by bitterness from roasted malt. Same resin and citrus hop flavor as in the aroma. High orange and grapefruit pith notes contrast the chocolate. Alcohol is apparent – a touch hot. Finish is off-dry. Very low acrid black malt notes add dryness.

Mouthfeel: Creamy. Full body. Medium carbonation. Medium alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: Big, black, bold, and bitter. The chocolaty malt plays a large role here, giving it a pleasing, creamy richness. Contrasting citrus makes is like a flavored chocolate bar. The only real distraction is a bit of booziness from the alcohol.

Summit Unchained #18: Hop Silo Double IPA

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

Summit Brewing Company held out for almost 30 years. They declined a ride on the über-hopped bandwagon. While everyone else was brewing big, bitter, IPAs and double IPAs (even some who shouldn’t, given their overall mission), Summit held strong. It was only a couple of years ago that they finally relented with the release of Sága. Now, with the eighteenth beer in the Unchained Series they have gone whole hog with a Double IPA.

I’m bored with hops, in case that wasn’t clear. I know all IPAs are not alike, but whenever I taste a new one I can’t help but say to myself, “Yeah, it’s another IPA.” They are not all alike, but they are all so very, very similar. And there are so damn many of them.

But I won’t harsh on Summit too much for entering the fray. It was bound to happen sooner or later. And Hop silo Double IPA is part of the Unchained Series. Brewers can do what they want. And brewer Eric Harper is mixing the style up a bit by combining all English malts with ample dosages of a variety of American hops, including a new one called Lemondrop. Even though double IPA is not my favorite style of beer, I was intrigued and anxious to give it a whirl.

Here’s my notes:

Summit Hop Silo Double IPAUnchained #18: Hop Silo Double IPA
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Double/Imperial IPA
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
8.3% ABV
101 IBU

Aroma: Hops dominate, but don’t explode from the glass. It’s an herbal/savory hop experience as much as a fruity one. Spearmint and herbs. Tropical fruit – mango and pineapple. A background of garlic chives. Light dry-hopped grassiness. Malt is very slight with a bit of a caramel tinge and a faint impression of sweetness. Alcohol is noticeable.

Appearance: Full, creamy, off-white head with good retention. Medium copper color and brilliant.

Flavor: Flavor follows the aroma but with a stronger malt presence. Hops still dominate. Bitterness is medium-high – relatively easy-drinking for the style. It intensifies as you sit with the beer. Malt sweetness balances well, but doesn’t overpower the bitter. English toffee and toasted biscuit define the malt character. Hop flavors are high with the same savory/fruity quality as the aroma. Herbs, mint, chive, garlic, ripe mango, pineapple, and a background hint of lemon. The finish is semi-dry with lingering bitterness and fruit.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Low hop astringency. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: A moderately intense double IPA. The lingering bitterness has bit of a harsh edge, but isn’t overwhelming. I am particularly sensitive to the garlic and chive character that comes from certain hops – Apollo likely in this case. It’s not a flavor that I care for in beer and unfortunately I pick it up fairly strongly in this one. With the caveat that I’m not a huge fan of the double IPA, I will say that this is not my favorite beer of the Unchained Series. It’s well-enough made, but not to my taste for reasons mentioned. Your mileage may vary.

Your first chance to try Hop Silo will be at Winterfest this Friday and Saturday night at the Union Depot  in St. Paul. Apparently there are still tickets available. An official release will be held at the Summit Beer Hall on Saturday, February 28th from 4-9pm. You’ll be able to try the beer and chat with brewer Eric Harper. Further release events will follow all week long at locations throughout the Twin Cities.

O’hara’s Irish Pale Ale and O’hara’s Double IPA

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

The Irish Pale Ale and Double IPA from Carlow Brewing Company are sure to shock many American hopheads. They don’t scrape the taste buds from your tongue. They don’t knock you out with alcohol after just one glass. They are balanced, nuanced, and drinkable enough to have many. Both fall at the low end of the scale for alcohol and IBU according to the BJCP guidelines, but who really cares. Isn’t it all about enjoyment?

Here’s my notes:

beers-oharas-irish-pale-ale-mainO’Hara’s Irish Pale Ale
Carlow Brewing Company, Carlow, Ireland
Style: “Contemporary Style IPA” English IPA
Serving Style: 11.2 oz. bottle
5.2% ABV
50 IBU

Aroma: Citrus – orange peel and grapefruit. Earthy. Buttery, English toffee. Low notes of toasty biscuit with orange marmalade.

Appearance: Full head of creamy, off-white foam. Moderate retention. Broke quickly into bigger bubbles. Dark gold to light copper color. Slight haze.

Flavor: Peach and tangerine fruits ride over the top. Bitterness is high, but balanced with the rest of the beer. It doesn’t overwhelm. Bitterness rides through from start to finish. Hop flavors range from grapefruit pith and tangerines to earthy, herbal, and even slightly minty. Resinous. Malt is just underbalanced with the hops and bitterness. Toffee and toasty biscuit profile. English yeast character – butterscotch, orange. Finish is off-dry with lingering citrus and earthy hop flavors and bitterness. Slightly minty.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium to medium-low carbonation. Slight bite of astringency.

Overall Impression: An English leaning IPA, but with the aromatic and flavor twist of citrusy American hops like Amarillo. Low alcohol is in keeping with modern English interpretations of the IPA style.

our-beers-double-ipaO’Hara’s Double IPA
Carlow Brewing Company, Carlow, Ireland
Style: Double/Imperial IPA
Serving Style: 11.2 oz. bottle
7.5% ABV
60 IBU

Aroma: Nearly even balance of malt/hop/yeast. Light biscuit and caramel malt. Butterscotch. Hops in balance – herbal, rosemary, mint. English fruitiness. Vaguely orange and toffee. Earthy.

Appearance: Full and dense head of off-white foam with excellent retention. Deep gold and brilliant.

Flavor: Full and rich, but still finishes off-dry. Caramel maltiness with biscuit and stone fruit syrup notes. Light toast. Bitterness is medium to medium-high – low by American standards for DIPA. More English style. Light alcohol sweetness, especially in the finish. Hops are earthy, herbal and orange citrus. Apricot and mango. Butter/butterscotch and English esters. Off-dry finish with lingering bitterness, earth, fruit, and alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Medium-low carbonation. Low warming. Not astringent.

Overall Impression: Very balanced double IPA. Of course in the American context it falls in the range of a regular IPA in both ABV and IBU. But it’s not brewed for us. It’s made for the Irish pub culture that emphasizes knocking back a few pints. It may be a disappointing DIPA for American consumers, but I definitely prefer it to many American versions.

O’Hara’s Leann Folláin and Barrel-Aged Leann Folláin

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Carlow Brewing Company’s O’Hara’s Leann Folláin Stout fits into the BJCP category of foreign extra stout. You can think of it as a stronger, richer version of the Irish dry stout style. As the name might suggest, this type of stout that was originally brewed for export, often to tropical countries that were part of the British Empire. The BJCP recognized a fruitier, sweeter “tropical” version and a bitterer, roastier “export” version. Leann Folláin is definitely the latter. The brewery also makes a version of this beer aged for 90 days in Irish whiskey barrels. If you are looking for a St. Patrick’s Day alternative to the standard dry stout, either one might be a good bet.

Here’s my notes:

leann-folainO’Hara’s Leann Folláin
Carlow Brewing Company, Carlow, Ireland
Style: Foreign Extra Stout
Serving Style: 11.2 oz. bottle
6% ABV
45 IBU

Aroma: Bitter chocolate and a hint of dry, black-malt roast. Low herbal hops break through the malt. Low notes of caramel and orange citrus. Earthy – fresh loam.

Appearance: Rich, creamy, tan/beige head. Excellent retention. Opaque black. Appears clear. Slight ruby highlights.

Flavor: Some roast malt sour comes in the middle and stays to the finish. Dry, roasted-malt character and bitter chocolate give Oreo cookie impression. Subtle dried fruits – golden raisin. Low sweetness, very dry in the finish with attenuation accentuated by dry roast. Finish lingers on flavors of dry, roasted malt. Bitterness is medium to medium-low but with a bite at the end. Low earthy/herbal hop flavor, but very subtle. Licorice.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-light body. Surprisingly light for a 6% beer. Medium carbonation. Slight astringency.

Overall Impression: Like a stronger version of an Irish Dry Stout. Less creamy than expected, more dry and roasty like that style. They do call it an “extra Irish stout.” Very drinkable for its weight.

Barrel Aged Leann FolláinO’Hara’s Barrel Aged Series #4: Leann Folláin Irish Stout
Carlow Brewing Company, Carlow, Ireland
Style: Whiskey Barrel Aged Foreign Extra Stout
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
8.1% ABV
45 IBU

Aroma: Dark, bittersweet chocolate. Faint hint of dry, black malt roast. Caramel and vanilla. Rich. Irish whiskey character is very subtle, not the intense bourbon of some barrel-aged stouts. Low smoke.

Appearance: Huge, creamy, beige head with excellent retention. Very dark brown, nearly black and opaque. Appears clear. Ruby highlights.

Flavor: Chocolate malt leads the way – bittersweet. Whiskey comes in much fuller than in aroma. Takes over from the chocolate shortly. Whiskey seems almost to be separate from the beer, as if the beer and the whiskey are sitting in my mouth side by side at the same time, but not mixing. This is interesting, not bad. Low acidity – barrel or roast? Light smoke. Whiskey has a sharp edge. Low, acrid, black malt roast add some dryness to the finish. Flavor of whisky lingers after swallowing. Whiskey remains somewhat subtle. Becomes more layered and complex as it warms and the carbonation drops. Some alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Very high carbonation – prickly. Some carbonic bite. Medium-full body, lighter than expected. Not creamy. Light alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: The high carbonation gets in the way. It smoothes out as carbonation wanes. Not a whiskey fan, I appreciate the subtlety of the whiskey character. It adds flavor without feeling like I’m drinking a shot.


Stone Japanese Green Tea IPA

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Aside from beer there are three other beverages that I drink frequently. Water (I drink a lot of water), coffee, and tea. After my two early-morning, caffeine-kick cups of coffee I drink cup after cup of tea all day long. Earl Grey, English breakfast, Lapsang Souchong, peppermint, fruity herbal teas, I drink them all. I’m particularly fond of green tea. I love the herbal/nutty/fruity flavor blend of a well-brewed cup of good green tea.

When I received a bottle of Japanese Green Tea IPA from Stone Brewing Co. I was naturally excited. Not necessarily about the IPA part, that’s not my thing. But I could make myself imagine how the fruity and spicy flavors of hops might meld with those of the tea. I didn’t read the bottle or the press release too carefully before digging in. As I sipped I thought, “This seems a little thick and sweet for an IPA. How un-Stone-like.” After about a glass and a half the light headedness I was feeling led me to take a closer look. It was only then that I realized I wasn’t drinking a 7% IPA, but a 10% double IPA. I drank the rest. I wasn’t going anywhere that evening.

Japanese Green Tea IPA is a re-issue of a 2011 collaboration project with Japan-based Baird Brewing Company and Ishii Brewing Co. from Guam. It’s a bit stronger this time around than the first and they have subbed out some of the hops. With five different hop varieties in this beer you are unlikely to notice that small change.

So would this beer tantalize my tea-loving taste buds?

Here’s my notes.

2015-japanese-greenteaJapanese Green Tea IPA
Stone Brewing Co. Escondido, California
Style: Double IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle
10.1% ABV
75 IBU

Aroma: Low biscuit and pils-like sweetness. Moderate tropical fruit hops. Floral and herbal overtones. Nutty/herbal green tea character comes through clearly. Low notes of vanilla/caramel reminding me of crème brulee.

Appearance: Full, creamy, white head with excellent retention. Dark golden and brilliantly clear.

Flavor: Bitterness is high and lingering. It is backed up by medium malt sweetness mid-palate, shaped by that same crème brulee character from the aroma. Floral, perfume, and tropical fruit flavors like mango, pineapple and mandarin orange are in abundance. Nutty/floral green tea is clear. Faint notes of lemon. The early sweetness gives way to a just-off-dry finish with lingering bitterness and fruit.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-full body. Medium carbonation. Low hop astringency.

Overall Impression: This is a big beer with many layers of complexity. For the first few sips the tea and hop flavors didn’t quite meld, but as it warmed it all coalesced into something very nice. Comes off a little bit syrupy in the middle, but the dryness of the finish mediates that.

Alaskan Brewing Co. Big Mountain Pale Ale

Monday, January 19th, 2015

I remember well my first taste of Alaskan Amber Ale. I was on tour with my theater company. We were in one of those steak and ale chain places to grab a bite to eat after a show. They had this beer from Alaska that I had never heard of. From the first sip, I was hooked. It had all the toast and biscuit maltiness that I adore. I gushed so effusively that everyone else at the table ordered it as well.

Since then I’ve gotten to know Alaskan Brewing much better. I had the opportunity to do an extensive interview with founder Geoff Larson. I have tasted a ton of Alaskan beers. Alaskan Winter Ale is one of my favorite cold-season brews. And you can’t beat Alaskan Smoked Porter. Honestly, I’ve never had a beer from Alaskan Brewing Co. that I didn’t like.

I’m headed to Alaska for a couple of days in April. I’ll mostly be in Fairbanks, but I hope to take a jaunt up to Juneau to stop in for a visit.

Big Mountain Pale Ale is a new addition to the Alaskan lineup – at least here in Minnesota. The name pays homage to the mountains of Alaska and the climbers who scale them.

Here’s my notes:

Big Mountain Pale AleBig Mountain
Alaskan Brewing Company, Juneau, Alaska
Style: American Pale Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
5.7% ABV
45 IBU

Aroma: Citrus hops lead – grapefruit peel, grapefruit juice, oranges. A bit of floral comes in as well. Low caramel malt. Medium fruity esters.

Appearance: Dark gold to light amber. Slight haze. Full, off-white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Good balance of malt to hops. Delicate. Malt character is toasty and toffee – dry like an English beer. Bitterness is medium-high – balanced by low malty sweetness. Hops give flavors of oranges, grapefruit peel and pineapple. The toasted malt flavors really set off the citrus. Some English-like esters with maybe a slight hint of butter. Finish is dry and quick with lingering toffee and minty hops.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation. Slight astringency.

Overall Impression: Yum! An Anglo/American pale ale. Malt and balance are definitely English inspired. Hops are all American. It feels delicate. It doesn’t smack you in the face. Refreshing and balanced.

Stone Brewing Co. Delicious IPA

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

IPA, experimental hop varieties, gluten concerns – three things that are really hot in the beer world right now. So what happens when you put them all together? Delicious IPA from Stone Brewing Co. That’s what.

Delicious IPA is not actually gluten-free. It’s one of those reduced gluten beers like Omission or Two Brothers Prairie Path. It’s brewed with barley malt and then the gluten is removed with an enzyme that brings it below the federal guidelines for gluten-free of 20ppm. The problem is that gluten can’t be accurately measured below 20ppm, so there is no way of actually knowing with any certainty what amount of gluten remains. Therefore, if you really are a celiac sufferer, drink with caution.

El Dorado is the one and only hop variety used in this beer. It was released in 2010 and is grown exclusively by CLS Farms in Moxee, Washington. It is a high alpha-acid variety that is also high in essential oils, making it good for both bittering and character. The farm website describes its profile as tropical fruit and stone fruit. The folks at Stone say it reminds them of “lemon Starburst candy.”

IPAs are not really my thing. It’s not that I don’t like them, but the super-hoppy beers don’t tend to be my go-to. I have historically had issues with the beers from Stone Brewing Co. Not because they aren’t well made, but because to my palate they focus too much on bitterness and not on hop flavor and aroma. I’m not such a fan of the bitter.

That said, they have made some hoppy beers that I love. I’m crazy for Go-To IPA, even though there is nothing about that beer that I should like. Delicious IPA is a pretty audacious name. But then, audacity is what Stone does best. Does the beer live up to its moniker?

Here’s my notes:

stone-delicious-ipaStone Delicious IPA
Stone Brewing Co., Escondido, California
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
7.7% ABV
80 IBU

Aroma: Resiny, tropical fruit hoppiness – mango, pineapple. Some strong lemon citrus in there, too. Lemon Starburst is correct. Malt aromatics are very low – light toast. There may be some fruity esters in there, but the hops deliver such a fruity wallop that it’s really hard to tell.

Appearance: Dark gold and brilliant. Huge head of creamy, white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Flavor follows the aroma. Hops dominate, but bitterness is remarkably soft for 80 IBU – medium to medium-high. Hop flavors are the star – lemon, tropical fruit. There is an impression of tartness – almost citric acid. Malt character is low with light toast and just-balancing sweetness. The finish is dry with lingering bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Surprisingly light body for nearly 8%. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: This is 7.7% and 80 IBU? If I weren’t reading those words on the bottle and in a press release, I wouldn’t have believed it. I thought this was some kind of session IPA. So light and drinkable. Despite the high IBUs, the focal point of this beer is hop flavor and aroma, a departure from my normal impression of Stone beers. I could sit and smell it for days. And it’s reduced gluten for those who have sensitivities.

Farnum Hill Semi-Dry Cider

Friday, January 9th, 2015

There is cider and there is cider.

Most mass-market ciders available in this country are sweet-ish, juice drinks made from concentrate or from culinary apples. This is true even for most of the “better” brands. To make really good cider you need the balance and flavor provided by different types of heirloom cider apples. Not for eating, these apples give sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and tannins that together create ciders of real depth and complexity. The problem is, most of these cider apple trees in this country were ripped out during prohibition. Not too many orchards still grow them.

There are a few. Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, New Hampshire is one of them. Over half of their acreage in two different locations is given over to these odd-tasting fruits. They are the biggest grower of cider apples in the U.S.

The folks at Poverty Lane use the juice from these apples to make Farnum Hill Ciders. They take cider seriously. As their website states, “On Farnum Hill, we use the word ‘cider’ to mean an alcoholic beverage fermented from particular apples, just as ‘wine’ is fermented from particular grapes.” Also like wine, the idea of “terroir” come into play, as the same variety of apples grown in different places will exhibit different characteristics. Farnum Hill ciders embrace the idea of regional cider.

Farnum Hill produces a number of different ciders. I have only seen three in the local market – Semi-Dry, Extra Dry, and Dooryard. I discussed the Extra Dry and Dooryard ciders last May in my Star Tribune column. These do not seem to be currently available. [I’m told that Extra Dry and Dooryard are available. I just haven’t seen them in a while.] Semi-Dry is in stores now. I tried it last night.

Here’s my notes:

Farnum Hill Semi DryFarnum Hill Semi Dry
Poverty Lane Orchards & Farnum Hill Cider, Lebanon, New Hampshire
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
7.4% ABV

Aroma: Minerals. Red apple skin. Pears and pineapples. So much fruit. There is even a hint of banana in the background. A suggestion of sweetness come in soft whiffs of honey and light brown sugar.

Appearance: Medium gold and brilliant. Low (nearly no) white head with no retention.

Flavor: Same slate/mineral note from the aroma. The fruit also carries over – Tart red apple. Pear. Peaches. Pineapple. Lemon juice and lemon zest. Very low green banana. Like the aroma, so much fruit. Low sweetness – honey. Medium bitterness. Very dry finish. Moderately high tannins grab the edges of the tongue after swallowing. Mouthwatering acidity – saliva floods the mouth.

Mouthfeel: Medium light body. Low carbonation (petilent). Moderate astringency.

Overall Impression: So good! “Semi-dry” is a bit misleading. There is very little that is “sweet” about this cider. It is dry, dry, dry. The tannins and acidity are high. Any perception of sweetness comes from the abundance of fruity notes that balance the bitter. As the website says, “On Farnum Hill, that much-abused word ‘dry’ is taken literally…”