Archive for the ‘Tasting Notes’ Category

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.

August Schell 30th Anniversary Pilsner Collection

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

Like most beer fanatics, I am a serial drinker. I move from beer to beer in search of the next thing, frequently having to remind myself to go back every once in a while to beers that I love. Brand loyalty plays only a small part in my beer enjoyment.

That said there is one beer that I always have in my refrigerator. That beer is Schell’s Pils. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever heard me speak or read anything that I have written that I love pilsner. It is without question my favorite beer style. And Schell’s makes one of my favorite examples. It is a go-to in any season, on any day, for any mood, and with any food. It’s just good beer.

So when Schell’s announced that it would be celebrating the 30th anniversary of this great beer with a 12-pack containing four different versions of it, I was quite simply “psyched.” I couldn’t wait.

The release of Pilsner and Hefeweizen in 1984 marked a turning point for Schell’s and for beer in Minnesota. Recognizing early that the microbrewery movement that was taking root on the coasts could be the future of the beer industry, the second-oldest family-owned brewery in the country took a leap from light lager to more full-flavored brews. Things have been looking up for Schell’s ever since.

The current anniversary pack looks both forward and back. It includes four versions of Pils past, present, and future. The first is the original 1984 recipe; 6-row barley malt, bittered to a modest 28 IBU with Cascade hops, seasoned moderately with Hallertau Mittelfrüh, and fermented with the original Schell’s yeast strain. Next is 2014, the current version of Schell’s Pils; drier and cleaner with nearly twice the bitterness of the old. The third beer, Roggen, is a rye-tinged twist on the recipe with spicy rye malt accentuating spicy German hops. Last but not least is Mandarina, a stronger version with an IPA like 60 IBUs of bitterness and featuring the tangerine, citrus notes of Mandarina Bavaria hops, a new variety from Germany. It’s worth mentioning that a different yeast strain was used for each version. Schell’s brewer Dave Berg corrected me. They used three different yeast strains. 1984 uses the Schell’s house strain. 2014 and Roggen use the Grain Belt yeast. Mandarina uses a third strain.

The collection is only available in the 12-pack. A commemorative Hefeweizen 12-pack is due out in July!!

Here’s my notes:

30th Anniversary Pilsner Collection
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Pilsner
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottles

19841984

Aroma: Full, grainy sweetness with corny overtones. Some yeasty sulfur character. Low-level floral hop aromas. A hint of melon fruitiness.

Appearance: Light gold and brilliantly clear. Low, loose, white foam with poor retention.

Flavor: Grainy and sweet with light corny notes. Low level of sulfur carries over from the aroma. Bitterness is low to medium. Hop flavor has a perfume/floral character that lingers into the somewhat sweet finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-full body. A bit clingy. Carbonation is medium-high.

Overall Impression: Think “classic American Pilsner” or beefed-up American lager. In my original notes I called it “heavy and plodding.” That sounds like a negative, but it isn’t in my mind. 1984 is sweeter and less bitter than the other examples in the collection. The malt is less complex. The yeast character is more pronounced and less clean. It’s generally less delicate. But all of those things make this my second favorite of the assortment.

20142014

Aroma: Light graham cracker malt. Cleaner and less sweet than 1984. Low spicy/floral hop nose

Appearance: Pale gold and brilliantly clear. Slightly darker than 1984. Moderate, creamy, white head with good retention.

Flavor: Light and crisp. Malt is graham-cracker with a hint of toast. Fermentation is clean. High attenuation gives a brisk, dry finish. Hop flavors are licorice spice with touches of pepper and lemon citrus. Bitterness is medium to Medium-high and provides a nice balance to the malt.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium-high carbonation. Crisp and clean.

Overall Impression: Much lighter, crisper, and bitterer than the 1984 brew. It remains my favorite of the bunch. It’s just a great pilsner.

roggenRoggen

Aroma: Low, grainy, graham-cracker malt. Low spicy/floral hops with lemony high notes. Faint sulfur.

Appearance: Light gold. Brilliantly clear. Effervescent bubbles. Full, creamy, white foam with very good retention.

Flavor: Hoppy notes of melon, lemon peel, pepper, and licorice spice. Bitterness is medium to medium-high, enhanced by the spicy, bready flavor of rye. Earthy. Delicate. Beneath the rye is a layer of grainy-sweet, graham-cracker. Finish is dry with lingering bitterness and rye.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Effervescent carbonation.

Overall Impression: Roggen retains the sharp, clean profile of a pils with rye adding a layer of complexity. Nice play of lemon-peel/pepper hops with earthy spice of the rye. This one gave 1984 a run for its money, coming in a close third in my ranking.

mandarinaMandarina

Aroma: Grainy/graham cracker malt with touch of toast. Light fruity overtones – mandarin oranges and peaches. Clean. Balanced, but hops have a slight upper hand.

Appearance: Medium gold and brilliantly clear. Darkest of the four. Moderate head of creamy, white foam, with moderate retention.

Flavor: Fuller malt flavor than the others – grain, toast, melanoidin. Fuller malt is needed to balance the high degree of bitterness. Hops bring a range flavors – pepper, floral, and overtones of soft peach and oranges. Finish is dry and crisp with lingering bitterness and fruity hop flavors – juicy fruit or tropical fruit.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: This is both the hoppiest and bitterest of the four pilsners. Fuller bodied than the others as well, with an added dimension of toasty and melanoidin flavors. I Love the peachy/orange flavors of the Mandarina Bavaria hops. They have a soft fruitiness instead of the in-you-face citrus of American hop varieties. This beer is zippy and refreshing, but maybe more bitter than I want my pils to be. It verges on something like the increasingly popular India Pale Lager.

Summit Unchained #15: Fest Bier

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

It still seems to me like just a few months ago that Summit Brewing Company released the first beer in the Unchained Series; a tasty Kölsch style brewed by former Summit brewer Mike Miziorko. But here we are almost five years later looking at beer number fifteen – Fest Bier. And we’ve come nearly full-circle. The series started with a lager-like German ale. This newest addition is the first Unchained German-style lager.

When I interviewed Summit brewers at last year’s Great American Beer Festival, Nate Siats was excited about the possibility of adding lagers to the Unchained lineup. The brewery had just completed an expansion of its cellaring capacity that would make the long-aging of a lager beer less disruptive to the overall brewing schedule. Lagers tie up tanks. More tanks means the brewery is better able to work around them. He was looking forward to taking a shot at these difficult-to-brew beers.

In the press release for Fest Bier, Siats says that he recently fell in love with the German styles. I say, “What took you so long?” For his Unchained beer he took inspiration from the Märzen beers that we call Oktoberfest and Wiesenbier, the stronger, golden lager that is actually served at the Oktoberfest in Munich. He sourced his base malts from a small maltster in the Czech Republic. The beer received a full eight weeks of cold conditioning, something of a rarity in these days of “get it on the streets” brewing.

Here’s my notes:

Summit Unchained #15: Fest BierUnchained #15: Fest Bier
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Märzen
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Light grainy sweetness. Dark honey. Bread crust and toasty melanoidin. Low notes of golden raisins. No hops to speak of. Clean.

Appearance: Medium head of just-off-white, rocky foam. Good retention. Light copper color with brilliant clarity.

Flavor: Almost equal balance of malt and hops. Malt comes out just slightly ahead at first, but gains ground through the glass – bread crust and caramel-toasty melanoidin. Low malt sweetness. Hop bitterness is medium, but enhanced by carbonation and dry finish. Long-lingering hop flavors of licorice with background of black currant and lemon peel. Finishes crisp and dry with hops and underlying toasty malt.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Carbonation is high, almost prickly.

Overall Impression: A light and refreshingly crisp Oktoberfest style beer that rides a knife-edge balance of malt and hops. Carbonation struck me as very high at first, maybe even a bit intrusive. It smoothes as the beer sits and de-gasses. I would like a touch more malt character, but I’m a true malt lover and these are my favorite malt flavors. The lessening carbonation does allow a fuller malt to finally come through.

Rye on Rye 2014 from Boulevard Brewing Co.

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, Missouri is an example of both the past and the future of the industry. Founded in 1989, it was a pioneer among small brewers in the Midwest. Boulevard started small, with a business plan that foresaw eventual expansion to 6000 barrels of production annually. As was the case with small breweries in the “olden days,” growth was slow, but steady. By 2006 the brewery was able to expand into a custom-built facility adjacent to the original brewhouse, growing production to 600,000 barrels, making it the largest craft brewer in the Midwest and the 12th largest in the country. In addition to the 150-barrel brewhouse, packaging lines, and administrative offices, the new building also boasts several event spaces. It’s quite a facility and worth a visit if you are in the area.

So how does Boulevard represent the future? Last year the brewery was sold to Belgian beer maker Duvel-Moortgat. Purchases of this kind are going to become more frequent, I believe. First, they represent a growing interest on the part of large brewing companies to get a slice of the growing craft-beer pie. Another example of this is AB-InBev’s purchase of Goose Island and Blue Point.

Also, such purchases are a reflection of the aging of the first generation of craft brewers. Old-school founders such as Boulevard’s John McDonald reaching retirement age. They are looking for a way out. The companies they built are too large for other small brewers to purchase. Lacking a clear exit strategy, they are turning to larger concerns that have the wherewithal to do the deal. The same was true in the case of Anchor Brewing when Fritz Maytag sold it to a group of investors a few years ago. While some may decry this as a negative trend, I see it as a sign of a successful industry.

Boulevard built its reputation on a solid lineup of beers brewed to classic style. It has supplemented that with its Smokestack Series of specialty brews and a newer collection of barrel-aged, sour beers. Rye on Rye is produced annually as part of the Smokestack Series. It’s a 12% ABV rye ale aged in barrels that once held Templeton Rye whiskey.

Here’s my notes:

Brand_Rye_on_Rye2014 Rye on Rye
Boulevard Brewing, Kansas City, Missouri
Style: Barrel-aged Rye Ale
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle

Aroma: Bread crust and whiskey. Soft background notes of oak, vanilla and toffee. Whiskey and toffee aromas blend nicely, leaving it unclear where one ends and the other begins. Some alcohol is apparent. Dark fruity notes – dates.

Appearance: Medium amber/red. Hazy. Full, stiff, creamy head of off-white to ivory foam. Excellent retention.

Flavor: Alcohol is evident from start to finish – just shy of being hot. Caramel and toffee malt is the dominant theme, with spicy, bread-like rye gaining intensity mid-palate and lingering into the finish. Rye whiskey and wood places a close second. Date and orange citrus fruitiness fills in the cracks. Raisin comes in as the beer warms. Hop bitterness is medium-low, but supported by the spicy bite of rye. The finish is dry with lingering alcohol, toffee, rye spice, and dark fruits.

Mouthfeel: Full body, but well attenuated. High carbonation. High alcohol warming. Light astringency in the finish.

Overall Impression: Rye on Rye is a full-throttle sensory assault. It’s packed with complex flavors, but my problem is that is lacks nuance. It seems to hit me all at once like a brick wall. It becomes like the white noise static on an unoccupied television frequency. There is a lot going on, but I’m missing layers to explore. That and the high alcohol make it a one-and –done beer for me. I’ve never allowed a bottle of this to age. I wonder if that would smooth it out a bit and bring more dimension.

Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale

Monday, February 17th, 2014

With the sheer number of new brews and breweries entering the state – both local and non-local – it gets harder and hard for me at least to get excited about them. It gets harder and harder to even know about them, frankly. I don’t envy the people who do the marketing. It must be a difficult task to get your beers front and center in the minds of beer drinkers.

But once in a while a brewery enters the market that piques my interest. Sometimes it’s the brewery’s reputation that recommends it. Sometimes I think it’s just that those marketing people have done their job well in bringing the beers to my attention. Sometimes it’s both.

Oskar Blues is case in point. The 17-year-old brewery has a solid reputation. It opened in 1997 as a tiny brewpub in Lyons, Colorado, brewing beer in the basement. By 1998 it was already winning medals at the Great American Beer Festival. Oskar Blues started the canned-beer revolution. In 2002 it was the first US craft brewery to can its own beer to put its beer in cans. It started canning its beer in 2002, making it among the first US craft breweries to put its beer in cans. Equipment upgrades made it the largest producing brewpub in America by 2006, and the medals just kept on coming. 2008 saw the opening of a larger production facility, further increasing capacity and distribution capability. In 2012 Oskar Blues became one of the first craft breweries to open a second brewing facility, this one in North Carolina. And the medals continued to come.

In addition to this reputation, both the brewery’s PR machine and the Twin Cities distributor Original Gravity worked overtime to publicize the local launch. For anyone who pays attention to such things, it was hard to miss.

I’ve had nearly all the Oskar Blues main-line beers over time. They have been available in Wisconsin for some time, and I’ve been to the original Lyons pub. The quality has never been in question. I was interested though in giving them another shot and paying closer attention. The flagship Dale’s Pale Ale, the one that pretty much started it all for Oskar Blues, seemed a good place to start.

Here’s my notes:

Dale's Pale AleDale’s Pale Ale
Oskar Blues Brewing Company, Longmont, Colorado
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. can

Aroma: Hops dominate – citrus, tangerine, fresh grapefruit, stone fruits. Some orangy citrus esters. Biscuity malt provides a counterpoint. Light caramel.

Appearance: Medium to medium-dark gold. Clear. Full head of creamy, white foam with larger bubbles interspersed. Excellent retention.

Flavor: Very balanced. Bitterness is medium-high, balanced by medium-low malt sweetness. Bitterness is the focus of the hops, but tangerine, grapefruit, and stone fruit hop flavors do make an impression. Malt provides a solid base of caramel and dry, English-like biscuit. Low orangy esters. The finish is just off-dry with lingering citrus-pith bitterness.

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

Overall Impression: A very balanced IPA. Falls somewhere between English and American styles. The malt is all English. The hops are all American. I would have liked a bit more emphasis on hop flavor over bitterness, and a little less of the lingering, astringent bitterness in the finish. But that’s just how I like my IPAs. Overall a quite tasty brew.

Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Every once in a while I write about a beverage that’s not beer. It might be cider. It might be… Well, actually if it’s not beer it’s always been cider. But this time it’s going to be something different – Ginger Beer.

“But wait!” you say. “That’s beer!” Well, maybe sort of. It’s more like ginger infused, fermented soda-pop. The story of Crabbie’s Ginger Beer reportedly goes all the way back to 1801 when Scottsman John Crabbie “set sail from the port of Leith, Edinburgh, in search of the finest spices and ingredients from far-off lands.” He brought back ginger from the Far East. He steeped a fermented brew with that ginger for six to eight weeks creating a spicy and refreshing alcoholic bevi. Although the John Crabbie & Company has only been making the drink since 2009, they report that they still use the same process that Mr. Crabbie originated over 200 years ago. It’s made, they say, with four secret ingredients and steeped on fresh ginger for six weeks.

So why am I, a devoted beer writer, writing about ginger beer? It just sounded tasty.

It is recommended that Crabbie’s Original Ginger Beer be poured over ice and served with a slice of lemon or lime. I opted for lemon. Here’s my notes:

Crabbies Ginger BeerCrabbie’s Original Ginger Beer
John Crabbie & Company, Edinburgh, Scotland
Style: Alcoholic Ginger Beer (4.8%)
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Fresh ginger. Lemon and lemon peel from the slice. Light sweetness. Faint floral notes.

Appearance: Medium golden color with a kind of sepia tint. Clear. Fizzy. Full and lively head of just-off-white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: High degree of sweetness that is cut by carbonation and spice. The dominant flavor is fresh ginger – strong and piquant. Spicy. Zippy. The faint floral notes carry over from the aroma. Lemon peel mid-palate and tart lemon acidity on the way out. Finish is sweet and spicy, lingering on sugar and ginger.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. High carbonation.

Overall Impression: Poured over ice with a slice of lemon, this makes for a peppy, refreshing quaff. The ginger tastes fresh and has a pleasant spiciness. I’m not typically much of a soda drinker – too sweet. The ginger really helps cut the sugar in this. And of course there’s alcohol. I suspect that this would make a great mixer for cocktails. And indeed, the Crabbie’s website has recipes.

Summit Frost Line Rye

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

“Spring,” if you want to call it that in Minnesota, is my least favorite time of year. I grew up in St. Louis. With the arrival of March came warmer weather. Not so here. Winter grinds slowly on – March, April, May… Right now as I look out the window of my office, the sun is shining and I hear birds singing. If I don’t look directly I can almost imagine 70 degrees. But then the thick snowpack reminds me that the temperature hasn’t even cracked zero.

Summit Brewing Company is trying to give us some relief. Their new in-between-seasonal Frost Line Rye is meant to fit in this interminable gray zone that falls between winter and summer. Richly malty and bracingly hoppy all at once it keeps one foot in each season. Five kinds of rye give it a spicy bite that would be refreshing in warmer weather, but seems warming in the deep-freeze.

Here’s my notes:

Bottle_Frost-Line-RyeFrost Line Rye
Summit Brewing Co., St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Rye Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Hops dominate with pine, citrus, and noble-hop like spiciness. Malt stays just underneath – brown sugar, biscuit, hints of cocoa. Light orangy esters.

Appearance: Medium-amber with reddish tint. Brilliantly clear. Full stand of creamy, off-white foam. Excellent retention.

Flavor: Malt and hops are nearly in balance with malt having a slight edge; grain, cocoa, brown sugar, toffee, and biscuit that gets bolder as it warms. Rye adds a dry, spicy bite that accentuates the medium-level bitterness. Hop flavors bring orange and tangerine citrus as well as some spice. Orangy esters. Well attenuated for a dry finish, lingering on a complex mix of bitterness, toffee, and rye.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation. Slightly creamy.

Overall Impression: Layered and clean. This is a good in-between beer. It’s not quite an IPA (closer to a pale, but still not quite). Not quite a malty beer. A rye-tinged American amber ale. It’s brisk and yet comforting.