Archive for the ‘Tasting Notes’ Category

Schell’s Fresh Hop: Equinox

Saturday, November 8th, 2014

Still more fresh-hop beers!

The August Schell Brewing Company is steeped in history. German brewing tradition is what makes it tick. True-to-style German lagers and ales are its signature. “Hops” is not the first word that comes to one’s mind when this brewery is discussed. Yet, for the last three years Schell’s has jumped on the fresh-hop train with a single-hopped, wet-hop brew.

But the brewers at Schell’s do it their way. No over-hopped IPAs from this brewery. They stick to their roots with a fresh-hopped pilsner. Lager fermentation leaves little yeast character to clutter things up. Soft, pilsner malt gives a neutral background against which the hops stand out.

And Schell’s is able to source some interesting varieties. This year’s fresh-hop pilsner features a new variety called Equinox. According to promotional material from the brewery, “Equinox’s high oil content and tight cone structure imparts pronounced citrus, tropical fruit, herbal and floral aromas and flavors to this beer.” Interesting choice for a pilsner. Does it work?

Here’s my notes:

Schell's Fresh HopSchell’s Fresh Hop
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Fresh Hop Pilsner
Serving Style: 12 oz bottle
ABV: 5%

Aroma: A sweet, pils malt background offsets bright hop aromatics. A blend of herbal, minty, ripe stone fruits, and lime citrus. Somewhere between Tettnang and Citra. A low level of sulfur.

Appearance: Light gold and brilliantly clear. Moderate, fluffy white head with good retention.

Flavor: Very balanced malt to hop. Medium pils malt sweetness clears away for a dry finish. Malt flavor is grainy sweet with light notes of corn. Bitterness is medium to medium-high and lingers into the finish. Bright hop flavors start with herbal/floral character with light, lime-citrus overtones. As the beer warms, notes of lemon zest increase. Low grassy notes. Low sulfur.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: Bright and refreshing with lively and delicate lemon-lime overtones. It’s a great, balanced pilsner with a citrusy twist. It will make you want another one – at least it does me.

Summit Unchained #17: Harvest Fresh IPA

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Wet hop beers have become an early-fall ritual. Hop harvest season comes around and brewers everywhere scramble to get the hops in the kettle as quickly as possible after they are picked, often within hours; minutes even for those who have hop yards outside the brewery. The practice reportedly brings brighter, livelier hop aromatics. I must admit that I have never really found this to be the case. Instead I taste an unpleasant level of grassy/vegetal flavors from the addition of all that green, leafy matter. I have yet to figure out what all of the fuss is about.

For Fresh Harvest IPA, Summit brewer Tom Mondor has chosen to use both “fresh” and wet hops from the Pacific Northwest. Another admission – I always thought these were the same thing. As he explains in the video below, they apparently are not. A hop grower in Oregon has initiated a pelletizing process using lower temperature kilning and immediate processing and shipping to get the freshest possible hops out the door to brewers. Still, aside from rapid shipment, once they have been processed like most other hops, it’s hard for me to understand why they would be called “fresh.” I guess I’ll have to investigate further. For now, I’ll let Mr. Mondor explain.

Here’s my notes:

Brews_Bottle_Unchained17Unchained #17: Fresh Harvest IPA
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
ABV: 7%
IBU: 70

Aroma: Hops clearly dominate – Tropical fruit, limes, mint, hay, grass. Low grainy malt aromas with some caramel and biscuit character. Some orange high notes and English-like fruity esters.

Appearance: Full, creamy, just-off-white head. Excellent retention. Medium orange/amber and clear.

Flavor: Balanced and English-like. Tongue-tingling bitterness is moderate with full emphasis in hop flavor. Loads of fruit – orange, tropical fruits, grapefruit, even blueberry. Malt sweetness is medium-low. Some caramel and toasted-biscuit malt flavors. Malt provides ample balance to the hops. Again there is an English estery character to it. Finish is off-dry, lingering on fruity hops.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: An easy-drinking, balanced IPA. Despite the use of an American Ale yeast strain, the malt complexity and fruity hop character give it a pleasant English character. There is little of the grassy/vegetal flavor that I normally associate with fresh-hop beers.

Boulevard Collaboration #4: Saison

Friday, October 24th, 2014

A lot of brewery collaborations seem pointless. They give the sense that the brewers simply cobbled together a recipe over a couple of emails. There is no convincing reason for the collaboration – at least none that is apparent. There is no sense that some piece of each brewery has come together in some way in the finished beer. Marketing gimmick? Perhaps, but I’ve never been able to get a brewer to admit to that.

They don’t all seem pointless, though. In some cases the joint project really does tie the two breweries together. Avery/Russian River’s Collaboration Not Litigation is a good example. Two brewers selling beer of the same name in the same markets decided to blend their beers rather than engage in sticky trademark litigation.

In another example the brewers from Avery, Russian River, Allagash, and Lost Abbey decided to brew a lambic after traveling together to Belgium. The beer was brewed at Russian River and barrel-fermented with the house lambic bugs from each brewery. The four beers were then blended into the final product; a true coming together of the breweries.

Boulevard Brewing Company’s collaboration with Brewery Ommegang is one of those that seems genuine. Having started as independent companies, both are now owned by Belgian brewing conglomerate Duvel-Moortgat. They are sister breweries so to speak. Ommegang brews only Belgian inspired ales. While it was built on other brews, Boulevard has made a splash with its Belgian styles such as the delicious Tank 7 Saison. And Boulevard’s brewmaster Steven Pauwels comes from Belgium.

The collaborative process involved brewing separate batches of a saison recipe that used pale malt, oats, rye, corn and wheat and was spiced with coriander, grains of paradise and lemon peel. Each batch was fermented with the house yeast from the respective brewery and then the beers were blended. To me, that’s a collaborative beer.

Here’s my notes:

Boulevard Collaboration #4Boulevard Collaboration #4: Saison
Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, Missouri with Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, New York
Style: Saison
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
ABV: 7.3%
IBU: 28

Aroma: High fruity esters – orange, mango, lemons, banana. High peppery phenols. Medium-high noble hop character – lemon and spice. Low biscuity malt.

Appearance: Full, rocky, ivory head with excellent retention. Medium-light amber and very hazy.

Flavor: Banana, clove, and zesty black pepper with high notes of lemon citrus. Bitterness is high, accentuated by very high attenuation. As it warms other fruits come through – blood orange, mango. Low malt sweetness gets a boost from the banana esters, but gives up past mid-palate. Some biscuity malt character. Alcohol adds some floral notes. Finish is extra dry with emphasis on peppery phenols, lingering bitterness, and alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-full body. Mouthfilling in a hefeweizen kind of way. High carbonation – effervescent. Moderate alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: A full-throttle saison. Big and filling, yet high attenuation leaves it refreshing. Zippy and spicy. A good saison for the fall season.

Schell’s Noble Star North Country Brünette and Black Forest Cherry

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Last week the August Schell Brewing Co. announced that it was building a new facility and restoring eight more cypress-wood fermenting tanks to expand its Noble Star Collection of Berliner weisse style beers. That seemed like a good enough reason to me to grab a couple bottles out of the basement and give them a whirl.

I’d write more here, but I would run the risk of ripping off my column in next week’s Minneapolis Star Tribune. Check it out in the Taste section on Thursday, October 2nd if you want to learn more about the series. For now…

Here’s my notes:

North Country Brünette North Country Brünette
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Märzen Berliner Weisse
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
5.4% ABV

Aroma: Malt dominates – toasted grain and bread crust. Hints of chocolate. Dry toast. Balsamic vinegar and some light, cherry-like fruit. Background notes of brettanomyces barnyard.

Appearance: Light brown and cloudy. Full, creamy, head of off-white foam with moderate retention.

Flavor: Bright, lemony acidity leads off and stays throughout, subsiding somewhat in the middle and then biting the top of the throat on the way out. With a second sip the malt becomes more prominent, revealing similar toasted grain and bread crust notes from the aroma. Chocolate is there, but the flavor is fainter than the smell. The finish is like sucking on a lemon wedge, complete with the nutty, bitter taste of the seeds.

Overall Impression: A most unique take on the Berliner weisse. Not “weisse” at all. Addition of toasty malty tones offers an intriguing counter play to the tart acidity. More substantial than the typical Berliner weisse, but still lightweight and refreshing. Autumnal weisse?

Black Forest CherryBlack Forest Cherry
Style: Märzen Berliner Weisse aged on Cherries
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
5.5% ABV

Aroma: Lambic-like. Earthy and barnyard brettanomyces character comes through strong. Toasted grain and bread crust malt. Deep-red, tart cherry notes meld into malt. Pie filling.

Appearance: Dark amber color with a reddish hue. Hazy. Moderate, off-white/pinkish head with moderate retention.

Flavor: Cherry pie with the crust. Acidity bites at the beginning, lessens in the middle and returns in the finish. Pie cherries come in clear from the top and stay throughout. Bread crust and toasty malt notes stay in the background, offering a crust-like counterpoint to the acid and cherries. Faint cinnamon. Some lemony high notes. Barnyard brettanomyces character is strong.  As it warms the malty bits come through more boldly, amplifying the cherry pie effect. Bit of old-cheese funk hangs around in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. High carbonation. Puckering acidity.

Overall Impression: This is the funkiest and I think most complex beer of the series so far. I just might also be my favorite. The strong brettanomyces notes make it decidedly lambic-like. I love the cherry pie profile. This beer feels more mature than the others in the series (whatever that means).

 

Summit Unchained #16: Herkulean Woods

Monday, September 8th, 2014

As much as I would like to deny it, it’s fall. I love the fall. The cooling air and changing colors make it perhaps my favorite season in Minnesota. The problem with fall is that it means winter is not too far behind – another nine months of virtual hibernation.

One good thing that fall brings is a plethora of malty brews. It’s the season of Oktoberfest and brown ale. While the rest of the state’s beer drinkers are obsessed with hops, I do love malt. I especially love the toasty and toffee flavors of the mid-toast malts that to me epitomize the autumnal beers. Give me the Munich malt. Bring on the Biscuit. Toss in a pinch of melanoidin malt for good measure.

Herkulean Woods, the newest Unchained beer from Summit Brewing Company, drips with this kind of deliciousness. Christian Dixon, one of Summit’s newest brewers, has laced that toasty malt with a splash of spruce and a smattering of Minnesota maple syrup. Top that off with bracing bitterness and spicy woodsy hop flavors and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a dilly of a fall beer.

Here’s my notes:

Summit Unchained #16: Herkulean WoodsUnchained #16: Herkulean Woods
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Strong California Common with spruce and maple syrup
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
8.2% ABV
77 IBU

Aroma: Bright fruity notes dominate. The blueberry-like aroma of spruce. Hop spiciness like Indian lemon pickle. Low caramel, bread crust, and toasty malt stays just below the surface.

Appearance: Medium amber/copper and clear. Full, dense, creamy, ivory head with excellent retention. Leaves lace on the glass.

Flavor: Flavor is all malt at first – toffee, burnt caramel, and toasted bread. High melanoidin character. There is plenty of malt flavor, but not a lot of sweetness. That same blueberry spruce carries through from the aroma along with a hint of pine. Maple stays very low, noticeable mostly in the finish. Some buttery kettle caramelization. Bitterness is medium-high. Hop flavors present a Hallertauesque lemon-pickle spiciness as in the aroma. A touch of alcohol. Finish is dry and lingers on hop bitterness and burnt caramel melanoidin.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-high body. Medium carbonation. Some warming.

Overall Impression: A heavy dose of toasty, high-kilned malts – the kind I like. Maple could be a bit stronger, but then again, maybe I don’t actually want that. I’m happy with the malt. A rich and tasty treat that will go well with a chill fall night. Fire pit on the patio, anyone?

The official release for Herkulean Wood happens Tuesday, September 9th from 5-7pm at McKenzie Pub in Minneapolis. Other events are scheduled over the next couple weeks. Check the Summit event calendar for information.

Schell’s Arminius Hoppy Pale Lager

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Not known for aggressively hopped beers, Schell’s has been playing with hops a lot lately. First was the Citra Fresh-hop pilsner. Then there was Emerald Rye, a most IPA like amber lager. The Pilsner 30th Anniversary 12-pack had a version of the great Schell’s Pils hopped with Mandarina Bavaria hops – a new variety from Germany. Now comes Arminius, a 70-IBU, massively dry-hopped pale lager.

As a fan of traditional German-style lagers, I take this trend with mixed emotions. On the one hand it’s good to see Schell’s trying new things. On the other, there really is nothing like a good pilsner.

Here’s my notes:

ArminiusArminius
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Hoppy Lager
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
6.5% ABV
70 IBU

Aroma: Lime citrus and spice overlay doughy malt. A deeper hop note of mandarin oranges or dried mango hovers beneath. Balanced. Bright. Sprightly.

Appearance: Medium gold and brilliantly clear. A full stand of fluffy, white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Assertively bitter, but balanced. Although hops dominate the flavor profile, malt is not forgotten. Citrus – lime and lemon. Floral. Dried tropical fruits. Underlying, bready malt flavors with medium-low sweetness. The finish is dry and sharp. Crisp and clean.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium to medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: This is a hoppy beer that I can really wrap my tongue around. It’s lively, refreshing, and very easy to drink. Despite 70 IBUs, it doesn’t tax the tongue. Hoppy enough for IPA fans, but lager-like enough to satisfy the likes of me.

Schell’s 30th-Anniversary Wheat Beer Collection

Friday, July 18th, 2014

1984 Brewers Log. Photo courtesy of Jace Marti.

In 1984, the August Schell Brewing Company made history by being the first American brewery to make a wheat beer since prohibition. San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company has long claimed to have been the first, but new information reveals that this is not true. Here is Schell’s Assistant Brewmaster Jace Marti talking on MNbeer.com about the subject.

“I was at the Craft Brewers Conference 2 years ago, and met Bob Brewer from Anchor Brewing Company (what a perfect name for the brewing industry) who has worked there I believe since the beginning. He said that Anchor had always claimed to have brewed the first wheat beer in America, but he wanted me to double check because of when ours came out. I went back and check our records, and on July 17th, 1984, we brewed our first batch of “Weiss Beer.” And by an unbelievable coincidence, and completely unknown to each other, Anchor Brewing brewed theirs on the exact same day! The first two wheat beers brewed in America since prohibition were both brewed on the same day and neither one of us knew it till recently. I will say though, that we mashed in the night before and knocked out the next morning, when the brew sheet would have been filled out, so technically….” – See more at: http://mnbeer.com/2014/06/25/schells-weizen-series/#sthash.gGQXeIdk.dpuf

A wheat beer would have been a big leap at the time, particularly a German-style wheat beer with its peculiar, fermentation-derived banana and clove flavors and aromas. The Midwest was still hardcore American lager country. The craft beer movement was just getting started on the West and East Coasts. The likes of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Anchor Steam hadn’t yet penetrated the heartland. Summit was still two years from delivering its first keg of Extra Pale Ale. What were they thinking?!!?

Whatever they were thinking, it worked. Although it has gone through some changes over the years – the original version was a filtered Krystall Weizen – Schell’s Hefeweizen is still one of the best beers in an overall stunning lineup. Sadly it’s now just a seasonal, with a maddeningly short season.

To celebrate the beer’s 40th anniversary Schell’s has introduced a commemorative 12-pack that contains four different iterations of the Hefe – the original 1984 version, the current 2014 version, a Dampfbier, and a Weizenbock. I’ve been anticipating this for a long time.

Here’s my notes:

Schell’s Weiss Beer 2014
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: German Hefeweizen
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Fermentation character dominates with high banana and medium to medium-low clove. Leans to the banana ester side. Light lemony citrus. Medium-high saltine cracker or bread dough wheat malt. No hops.

Appearance: Medium gold and cloudy. Full, mousse-like white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Again, fermentation flavors lead. Flavor leans more to banana than clove, but clove does make a strong appearance. High notes of lemon citrus come in shortly after taking it into the mouth. Bready/doughy wheat malt with a touch of sharpness. Medium sweetness that lingers into the finish. There is no hop flavor. Hop bitterness is low. No alcohol. No astringency. Very low acidity.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, but mouthfilling. Pillowy. High carbonation. A bit of carbonic bite.

Overall Impression: A beautiful example of the Bavarian wheat beer style. Good balance of banana and clove, with neither one coming on too strong. Light and refreshing, yet filling at the same time. What more can be said? I wish this were still a year-round offering.

Schell's 1984 Weiss BeerSchell’s Weiss Beer 1984
Style: German Krystall Weizen
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Low banana, low clove, bubblegum. Low bready wheat malt. No hops. Sweet. Balance is to fermentation. Banana over clove.

Appearance: Medium-gold, mostly clear with slight haze. Full, fluffy, white head with excellent retention.

Flavor: Low bitterness – very low. Low bready wheat, not sharp. Low banana and clove yeast. Bubblegum. Low spicy hops. Medium sweetness. Finish is off-dry to semi-sweet.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium to medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: Light and refreshing if a little uninteresting. Like a wheaty, American lager with a bit of yeast flavor. Certainly adventurous for its day, but rather tame by today’s standards.

Schell’s Weizenbock
Style: Weizenbock
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Fermentation character leads – bubblegum, banana and low clove. Medium bready wheat malt. Low notes of stone fruit and black pepper. Light alcohol.

Appearance: Light gold and very cloudy. Large stand of mousse-like, white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Medium to medium-high sweetness. Bitterness is low. No hop flavors. High, bready and saltine cracker wheat. Clove spice is in the forefront with banana close behind. Low stonefruit and candied citrus background. Low alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Full to medium-full body. Some warming. Carbonation is high. Creamy and mouthfilling.

Overall Impression: Lovely.

Dampfbier
Style: Dampfbier (All barley beer fermented with wheat beer yeast)
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

I took notes on this one, but I can’t find them anywhere. But as Boulevard Brewing founder John McDonald once told me, “That’s how it should be.” I guess you’ll just have to pick up the 12-pack and judge this one for yourself.

Summit Union Series #3 – Southern Cape Sparkling Ale

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Beer styles emerge for many reasons. Ingredient availability, economics, consumer taste, and water are all factors. Even climate can play a role, as in the development of “steam beer” in San Francisco where 19th-century lager brewers were unable to rely on frigid winters and ice to achieve cold fermentation and conditioning temperatures. Because these factors tend to be regional, beer styles also often begin as regional phenomenon.

And so it is with Sparkling Ale, the native-born style of Australia. From the earliest days of the Australian colony, beer was seen as a more wholesome and less intoxicating alternative to rum, whiskey and other spirits. A strong brewing industry, it was believed, would also have a favorable economic impact on the new colony, providing jobs and promoting agriculture. Brewing was encouraged and even subsidized with government grants.

Brewing in Australia was a difficult proposition at the time. Ingredient supply was sporadic and the warmer climate than that “back home” in England led to beer that was often subpar. This led to the closure of many of these original breweries. Those that survived sometimes adulterated their beer with opper sulphate, tobacco and cocculus indicus (a very bitter poison) to make up for their shortcomings.

Australian beer gained a negative reputation, leading to a growth in the market for imported beers, including the newly-rising lager beers. The warm climate created a demand from consumers for lighter, more refreshing brews, and lager beers filled that bill. Like the inventors of cream ale in the United States, ale brewers in Australia responded by creating a light, effervescent ale that came to be known as sparkling ale.

The style’s popularity was short lived. As lager beer continued to dominate, sparkling ale breweries closed, eventually leaving only one – the Cooper’s Brewery. Cooper’s Sparkling Ale is still available and until very recently was the only version of the style to be had in this country.

With its newest Union Series beer – Southern CapeSummit Brewing Company has brought us another, at least for a limited time. The Union Series is designed to showcase new and lesser known ingredients. In this case these new ingredients all hail appropriately from the southern hemisphere. Malts come from Australia and Chile, hops from New Zealand and South Africa. Here is Head Brewer Damian McConn giving an introduction to the new ale.

Here’s my notes:

Summit Southern Cape Sparkling AleSouthern Cape
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Australian Sparkling Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
ABV: 4.4%
IBU: 47

Aroma: Malt centered with underlying fruity hop and ester compliment. Honey – like a sheet of beeswax. Fresh bread and graham cracker. Juicy fruit gum. Dried apricots. Light white-wine vinous notes.

Appearance: Medium gold and clear. 1 inch, creamy, white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Malt centered with more-than-balancing bitterness that lingers into the finish. Same honey notes from the aroma. Graham cracker and low toast. Sweetness is low. Hop bitterness comes midway, hitting the back of the tongue with a cutting sharpness. Hop flavor is low, providing a bit of spice and limey citrus. Subtle stone-fruit esters round it out. The end is all hops, with long-lingering bitterness dominating the dry finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium-high carbonation. Light astringency.

Overall Impression: Delicate but forceful somehow at the same time. A super-dry finish and slightly higher-than-normal carbonation keeps it light and lively on the tongue. The waxy honey notes ground it. Bitterness is stronger than I personally would prefer, but not enough to stop me from drinking it. For some reason I have the urge to make salad dressing with this. Hmmmm…..

Bent Brewstillery Moar Scottish Session IPA

Monday, May 19th, 2014

The session IPA train continues to roll. Smaller versions of America’s favorite beer keep flowing from breweries all over the country. The first Minnesota-brewed example of which I am aware was Summit’s Unchained #12: 100% Organic Ale released in early 2013. Now Roseville-based Bent Brewstillery has jumped on the trend with a new year-round offering called. Moar. Billed as a Scottish Session IPA, the beer delivers a low-test India ale with a decidedly British bent.

I’m a bit hard pressed though to figure out what classifies this as a “session IPA” rather than simply a special/best bitter. The ABV falls within the range for the best bitter style and the IBUs are only four points higher, an amount of extra bitterness that would go undetected by all but the most discriminating palates. In character it’s not too far off from the best bitter description offered by the BJCP. But you know what? Session IPA is a recently made up style anyway, so I’ll play along.

Here’s my notes:

Moar
Bent Brewstillery, Roseville, Minnesota
Style: Session IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle

Aroma: Caramel, biscuit and oranges. Fresh. Hops dominate slightly with the character of a freshly peeled orange. Low herbal/minty notes underneath. Toffee and dry-biscuit malt aromatics offer support. No alcohol. Low esters reinforce the orange hops.

Appearance: Medium-light orange/amber with a slight haze. Full head of creamy, white foam with low retention.

Flavor: Hops dominate. Medium-high bitterness rides through from start to finish. Citrus and herbal hop flavors carry over from the aroma, reinforced again by fruity esters to give the impression of freshly peeled orange. Malt offers some sweetness to balance the bitterness, but gives way to a super-dry finish. Flavors of toffee and biscuit linger after swallowing along with bitterness.

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

Overall Impression: Bent brewer Kristen England has done it again. Most session IPAs attempt to deliver IPA-level IBUs in a beer that can barely support them. England has opted instead for balance. The bitterness here is in line with the weight of the beer and the ability of the malt to offer support, making for a more drinkable beer. And malt character hasn’t been forgotten either. Toffee and biscuit flavors do more than just give the hops a place to sit.

Stone Spröcket Bier Black Rye Kölsch

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Black Rye Kölsch!??! What the #&@$? Really?

I recently wrote a piece for the Growler Magazine decrying the tyranny of style. But really? Black Rye Kölsch? That doesn’t even make sense. Why evoke the word kölsch when the beer apparently has nothing kölsch-like about it? I mean, kölsch isn’t just a style invented for American competition guidelines; it’s an actual thing, defined by an international convention that spells out what it is and where it can be brewed?

Dick & Robbie’s Spröcket Bier is the first entry in Stone Brewing Co.’s Stone Spotlight Series, the product of an intra-brewery competition engaging all brewery employees in the creation of small-batch beers. As described on the brewery blog:

“in [order] to keep the ingenuity and enjoyability factors up at our brewery, we engaged in a year-long intra-company brewing competition that pitted single members of our brew staff and two-brewer teams against each other in a light-hearted yet extremely serious battle to see whose beer dream reigned supreme. That competition was dubbed the Stone Spotlight Series.”

Spröcket Bier was created by Quality Production Assurance Lead Rick Blankemeier and Production Warehouse Lead Robbie Chandler. It was based on a rye kölsch homebrew recipe. Blackness was applied as a nod to the Stone reputation for extremity. Like the black IPA and white stout before it, it is an oxymoron of a beer. But can this contradictory brew be good?

Here’s my notes:

Stone Spröcket Bier Black Rye KölschDick & Robbie’s Spröcket Bier
Stone Brewing Co., Escondido, California
Style: “Black Rye Kölsch”
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle

Aroma: Low roasted malt – French roast coffee and bitter chocolate. Doughy, bready. Confectioner’s sugar sweetness. Low spicy, blackberry/current Hallertau hops. Moderate fruity notes – tangerine or pear.

Appearance: Black and nearly opaque with reddish highlights. Appears clear. Full head of sturdy, creamy, beige foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Dry, espresso roast hits tip of tongue. A bit or roast astringency lasts through to the finish. Mid-palate is very pilsner-like – low, grainy pils malt character and the spicy, licorice, blackberry/current of Hallertau hops. Hop bitterness is medium, enhanced by roast. Rye character comes out just before swallowing and after – dry, spicy, rye bread. Finish is dry with lingering bitterness and roast astringency. Low pear-like fruity esters. Midway through the bottle the roast falls back, allowing a more kölsch or pilsner-like beer to emerge.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Moderate astringency.

Overall Impression: My experience of this beer changed as I drank. Temperature? Palate conditioning? At first I didn’t care for it. It made me angry. Why even evoke the name kölsch? It had nothing particularly kölsch-like about it beyond continental hops and a certain yeastiness in the nose. A coffee-ish pilsner perhaps? Coffee schwarzbier? It was too roasty for schwarzbier, but came closer to that than kölsch. I enjoyed the moments when the pilsner-like characteristics came through, but then that dry, Irish-stout type roastiness would get in the way. Dry, dry, dry. Dry roast. Dry finish. All enhanced by the dry impression of rye. But the longer I drank, the less the roast got in the way. The pilsner/kölsch character began to burst through. It kept flipping back and forth between roast and kölsch – an interesting, schizophrenic flickering in my brain. By the end of the bottle I was kind of digging it. Still, I don’t think I would call it a kölsch.