Schell’s Cypress Blanc

The bottle of Cypress Blanc arrived at my house at the end of April. With great anticipation I placed it on the top shelf of my refrigerator – the shelf with all the beer. The Noble Star series beers from August Schell Brewing Company have all been so good. I couldn’t wait to pop the cork on this, the sixth in the series.

Fast forward to June 1st. I look at that top shelf of my refrigerator and there the bottle still sits. It’s been there taunting me for over a month; its plaintive cries of “Pick me! Pick me!” ringing in my ears with every bottle removed. I wanted to drink it, but I’m so seldom home in the evening. Most of my at-home beers are consumed late at night when I’m not really in the mood to pay close attention. I wanted to give this one its due. And so there it sat.

There is sat until last night. Finding myself with a rare evening off, I finally indulged.

I like the idea of Cypress Blanc. My background is in theater. I like to think about aesthetic nuances. This beer offers layers and layers of conceptual satisfaction. There is old-world meets new-world as the essential born-in-the-USA style, American Lager, meets the very-old, pre-lager traditions of Germany. There is tradition married to innovation as Jace Marti takes the brewery’s historic flagship Deer Brand Lager to places that the historic brewery has only recently ventured. And yet that avenue to innovation is itself a tradition that is hundreds of years older than the 150-year-old brewery. And of course there is the fact that Deer Brand is being tweaked in tanks that were once used to condition it straight.

Conceptual follies aside, what about the actual beer in the bottle? The Noble Star beers seem to be getting better with each release. But American lager weisse? How would this one hold up?

Here’s my notes:

Cypress BlancCypress Blanc
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: American Lager/Berliner Weisse
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
7.4% ABV

Aroma: Faint corn. Tart acidity. Low barnyard. Very fruity – apples, Lemons. Low sulfur. Fresh-cut grass.

Appearance: Pale yellow and hazy. Moderate, mousse-like, white foam with moderate to low retention.

Flavor: Balance of corny, malt sweetness and tart, lemony acid. The acidity is not overly puckering. So much apple – I picture a green and red striped fruit. Other fruits also appear – pineapple. It’s hard to tell where the fruitiness of Hallertau Blanc hops stops and that from fermentation begins. Low barnyard. Low sulfur. Grassy notes. Finish is very dry with lingering acid and some low malt flavor. Residual apple.

Mouthfeel: Light body. Spritzy. A bit of pucker.

Overall Impression: So refreshing. Does it get more summery than this? If only the weather would get as summery as this beer. I like that hints of sulfur and corn from Deer Brand survive the lacto-brett fermentation. The 7.4% ABV is surprising. It sneaks up on you. I feel like Cypress Blanc is a little less complex than the earlier Noble Star beers, but then it is built on an American lager base. Less complex perhaps, but nonetheless satisfying.

Seattle Cider Company Semi-Sweet and Dry

I have been getting deeper and deeper into cider. I really love the stuff and really want to learn more about it. I’m early enough into my cider love-affair that I am going through a cider-snob phase, just as I did with beer early on. Talk to me about Newtown Pippin, Gravenstein, and Espopus Spitzenberg apples and I’m all ears. Give me acid, tannin, bitterness, and vinous apple flavor (is that a thing?) and my salivary glands start a flood in my mouth. I pooh-pooh the use of culinary apples and am generally quick to eschew what I perceive as overly-sweet commercial brands. I know just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to really know what I’m talking about.

I admit it. When it comes to cider, I have become the kind of person that I hate in the beer world. It’s a phase. I’ll get over it.

A new crop of cidermakers might help me hasten that transition. They are using culinary apples to make ciders that aren’t just syrupy fruit juice. Through careful blending and high attenuation, they are crafting more complex and refreshing ciders that have the bitter and acid edge that I crave. And some of them come in cans.

One such producer that just entered the Twin Cities market last week is Seattle Cider Company. They kicked off here with three varieties – Dry, Semi-Sweet, and Citrus. All of them use Granny Smith, Fuji, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Gala apples. They are fermented to dryness with white wine yeast and then in some cases back-sweetened with cane sugar. The Citrus is infused with grapefruit, lemon, and orange peel. Seattle Cider does have some limited-release brands that are made with those heirloom, cider apples with the cute names, but these are not currently available here.

The cider snob in me is inherently suspicious of new, commercial ciders. But I was anxious to give these a spin. I got hold of the Dry and Semi-Sweet. Do they stand up to my unreasonably harsh judgement?

Here’s my notes:

semi-sweetSeattle Cider Semi-Sweet
Seattle Cider Company, Seattle, Washington
Style: Apple Cider
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
6.5% ABV

Aroma: Sweet-tart green apple. Low peppery spice and citrus pith. Pear. Slight sulfur character.

Appearance: Pale straw. Brilliantly clear. Effervescent bubbles. No head.

Flavor: Medium-high sweetness with a sharp, bitter, mineral edge to balance. Moderate acidity. Apple Jolly Rancher. Low peppery spice. Grapefruit citrus and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Finish is off-dry, not too sweet. Tart apple and low mineral taste lingers.

Mouthfeel: Light body. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: When I read “semi-sweet” on a domestic cider, I usually anticipate the sticky, mass-market profile. This one is less sweet than expected. There is some residual sugar, but the bitter, mineral edge keeps it balanced. It should please those who like a sweet cider, but it’s crisp and refreshing enough for those who don’t.

seattlecider_dry_hardciderSeattle Cider Dry
Seattle Cider Company, Seattle, Washington
Style: Apple Cider
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
6.5% ABV

Aroma: Vinous. Red apple. Low sulfur. Grape. Lemon peel. Powdered sugar.

Appearance: Very pale straw. Slight haze. Effervescent bubbles. No head.

Flavor: Tart. Puckering. Tear-inducing and mouthwatering acidity. Bright, sour, green apple. Faint orange and lemon citrus. Pears. Sweetness is very low. Low sulfur. Medium-high tannin. Finish is very dry with acidity lingering on the back of the tongue.

Mouthfeel: Light body. Medium-low carbonation. Puckering.

Overall Impression: For fans of dry cider and sour beer, this one is for you. The tart profile reminds me of a good Berliner weisse, right down to the lemony highlights. A decent, dry cider can be hard to find. Here it is.

These ciders may not be up to the level of an E.Z. Orchard or Farnum Hill, but they are pretty darn satisfying, nonetheless.

Ballast Point Victory at Sea

Coffee stouts and porters for me either work or they don’t. Mostly they don’t. Far too often the combination of coffee and roasted malts comes off as green pepper. I’m not alone in this, I know others who taste it as well. When that happens, green pepper is all that I can taste.

But every once in a while a good one comes along that has enough sweetness to balance the bitter bean and enough complexity that I don’t feel like I just stopped at Starbucks for a cup of burnt. I recently had a run-in with Victory at Sea, the strong, Imperial Porter from Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits in San Diego. I’ve liked this brewery’s other offerings, so I was eager to give it a go.

Here’s my notes:

Victory at SeaVictory at Sea
Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits, San Diego, California
Style: Imperial Porter with Vanilla and Coffee
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle
10% ABV
60 IBU

Aroma: Rich and malty. Coffee is a secondary note to the vanilla. Dark chocolate – dry like Oreo cookies. Low, black-malt roast. Licorice. Low, herbal hop and floral alcohol overtones.

Appearance: Very dark brown, almost black. Ruby highlights. Full, creamy, tan head with excellent retention.

Flavor: Very chocolaty – dark chocolate. Vanilla is prominent. Coffee comes more clearly than in the aroma, giving a slight bitter edge that amplifies the medium-low hop bitterness. No hop flavor. Low, black-malt roast. Caramel. Dark fruit notes – raisin, plum, cherry, berries. Low alcohol. Sweetness is medium-high, but dries out in the finish. Lingering chocolate.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied. Creamy, rich and thick. Carbonation is medium to medium-low. Moderate alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: Great balance of bitter chocolate, creamy vanilla, and coffee. This doesn’t come off as a “coffee beer.” Coffee is just one element in a very tasty mix. They say it on the bottle. It’s not a coffee porter, it’s a “porter with coffee and vanilla.” Rich and warming for the lingering cold of a Minnesota spring.

Schell’s Stag Series #9: Cave-Aged, Barrel-Aged Lager

In the early days of lager brewing in the United States, before the advent of mechanical refrigeration, the first thing a would-be brewer had to do when building a brewery is dig a cave. Caves provided the cool and constant temperature needed for the fermentation and conditioning of lager beer. With ice harvested from the frozen rivers and lakes in the winter brewers could not only achieve moderate temperatures, they could maintain near-freezing conditions all summer long.

In 1870, S. Liebmann’s Sons Brewing Company in Brooklyn, New York became the first American brewery to install a mechanical refrigeration system. Brewing was the first industry to make wide use of the technology. By 1891, nearly every brewery in the country had a refrigeration machine. The old lagering caves became disused and forgotten, relegated to storage rooms or junk heaps.

Like every other brewery of a certain age, the August Schell Brewing Company has such abandoned cellaring caves beneath it. But Schell’s brewmaster Jace Marti has brought them back to life, returning them to the purpose which they once served. The ninth release in the Schell’s Stag Series – Cave-Aged, Barrel-Aged Lager – was aged in the caves for three months in wooden barrels the way it was done 150 years ago. But there is one difference. These barrels once held whiskey.

Aging beer in used barrels isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Schell’s. To my knowledge they have only done it one other time, with the Stag Series #1: Barrel Aged Schmaltz’s Alt. That one was aged in Pinot Noir barrels. Schell’s is much better known for their traditional German-style beers. But why not barrel aging? They do the other stuff so well, from straight-ahead pilsner to funky-sour Berliner weisse.

Stag Series #9: Cave-Aged, Barrrel-Aged Lager is described as a dark lager aged in American whiskey barrels. Although they don’t call it this, for the sake of providing a stylistic comparison I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s a doppelbock-like brew – rich, malty, and slightly warming. Did they pull off the whiskey aged lager?

Here’s my notes:

Schell's Stag Series #9Schell’s Stag Series #9: Cave-Aged, Barrel-Aged Lager
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Whiskey-Barrel Aged Dark Lager
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
7.7% ABV
40 IBU

Aroma: Low roasted malt. Oak and vanilla. Old wood. Musty. Low cocoa. No overt whiskey. Dried fruit – raisins, plums. No hops. Floral alcohol aromas are prominent, but pleasant.

Appearance: Very dark brown, nearly black. Ruby highlights. Brilliant. Moderate, creamy, beige foam with moderate to good retention.

Flavor: Fruit is forward – dark and dried, raisins, cherries, plums. Malty – caramel-like melanoidin. Low cocoa. Toasted malt notes in finish. Musty, old wood carries over from the aroma. Whiskey is subtle but noticeable. Caramel and vanilla. Low bitterness. Very low spicy hop flavors. Finish is off-dry with lingering dark fruits. Malt forward. Low alcohol. Medium sweetness, but dries out in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Rich and lightly creamy. Medium-low carbonation. Low alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: Such a lovely beer. Like a doppelbock aged in barrels. Multiple layers of complexity. Strongly overt flavors of malt, melanoidin, caramel and dark fruit. But if you pay attention the subtler layers take your mind in alternate directions. It doesn’t taste of “whiskey” so much as the flavor components of whiskey – caramel, alcohol, vanilla. Not a huge fan of whiskey, I like that about this beer.

Summit Hopvale Organic Ale

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

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

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

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

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

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.