Surly Xtra Citra Pale Ale

No fancy words. Just beer.

Here’s my notes:

Extra CitraXtra-Citra Pale Ale
Surly Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: American Pale Ale
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
4.5% ABV

Aroma: Hops lead with a fruity ester backing and low, grainy malt. Bright hop aroma – lemon/lime, tropical fruit. Moderate impression of sweetness. Low note of neutral grain. Medium-low fruity esters – stone fruits or cotton candy.

Appearance: Low stand of soda-like, white foam with poor retention. Medium-gold and clear.

Flavor: Hops lead with low backing malt that comes in stronger near the finish. Hop bitterness is high and the dominant note in the beer. Carries from start to finish. Hop flavor is also high – lemon/lime, lemon peel, almost acidic brightness. Very low sweetness and malt character that just barely offers support to the hops – neutral cereal grain character. Low esters. Finish is very dry with lingering bitterness and lime juice.

Mouthfeel: Light body. High carbonation. Low astringency.

Overall Impression: Super-light and refreshing, but I wish that there were a little bit more malt to back up the bitterness. This one is too focused on bitterness for my palate. Citra is a very sharp character hop with lime flavors that almost come off as tart. This serves to further emphasize the dry bitterness. A bit thin. Needs a touch more body and sweetness to balance the bitter and bright. Not my cup of tea.

Pabst Old Tankard Ale

There it is again, that old bugaboo word “craft.”

The marketing material for Pabst Brewing Company’s new brew Old Tankard Ale touts it as “the first craft beer offered in a can.” It was first released in the 1930s – in a can – and was the number two selling American ale behind Ballantine during the 1930s, 40s and 50s. The current iteration was brewed from the recipe in a 1937 Pabst brewer’s log. Pabst’s Master Brewer Greg Deuhs waxed historical about the beer, saying, “Pabst has a rich craft brewing heritage that dates back to the 19th-century. Old Tankard Ale was the first craft brew in the Pabst brand family, and it is an honor to revive its legacy.”

But is it “craft?” Was it “craft?” Can it be “craft?” Was there even “craft” beer in 1937, not to mention the 19th-century? Certainly the brewers of the day and those that preceded them before prohibition were skilled beersmiths who took pride in the product they produced. I would be loath to deny the German brewmasters of the 1800s – the men who built American beer – the designation “craftsman.” But does that mean that the beer they made was “craft?”

Was Pabst – once the largest brewery in the world – a “craft” brewery? Can we speak of any brewery existing before the beginning of the “craft” beer movement in the late 1970s as “craft?” Is Pabst a “craft” brewery today? It isn’t really even a brewery. It’s a holding company owning heirloom brands that are brewed by others under contract. But what if the brewery that actually makes the beer can be defined as “craft” in the modern conception, as seems to be the case with Old Tankard Ale, brewed apparently at Wisconsin Brewing Company under the watchful eye of former Capital Brewery brewmaster Kirby Nelson? Does some of that “craft” caché rub off on Pabst? If the beer that they produce for Pabst is full-flavored and well-crafted, as good as most and better than many beers from so-called proper “craft” brewers, does that make it a “craft” beer? (EDIT: Old Tankard is actually brewed at City Brewing in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The video on the beer’s website was shot at Wisconsin Brewing, thus my confusion. Perhaps they did pilot batches there.)

Is Old Tankard Ale a “craft” beer? Does anyone really care? Does that term actually have any real meaning anymore?

Here’s my notes:

old tankard aleOld Tankard Ale
Pabst Brewing Company, Los Angeles, California
Style: American Amber Ale
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
5.8% ABV
35 IBU

Aroma: Very balanced between malt and hops. Hops take a slight lead with a European and English character – herbal, spicy, and low citrus. Floral. Lemon pickle. Unsweetened grapefruit juice. Low impression of sweetness. Malt is predominantly caramel with underlying toasted grain character. Low stone fruit esters.

Appearance: Full, creamy, ivory foam with excellent retention. Medium amber and clear.

Flavor: Follows the aroma, but malt takes the lead over hops. Malt is creamy caramel with low toasted grain notes. Sweetness mid-palate is medium, but dries out in the finish. Bitterness is medium, but enough to give balance. Hop flavor is medium-high and similar to aroma – floral, herbal, spicy, low citrus. Low, background, stone fruit esters. Finish is just off-dry with lingering caramel and peppery hops.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Creamy texture gives an added sense of fullness. Low alcohol warming. Medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: Whatever you want to say about Pabst, this is a nice beer. Very well balanced. Malty without being sticky. Hoppy – especially the nose – without being aggressive. It’s an everyday drinking beer. A brewer friend suggested that folks should try this in a blind taste test. I agree. I am betting that there will be some brand disparagement here. But give it a try when you don’t know what it is and you might be surprised by the results you get.

Rogue Ales Hop Family IPA Series

Hops are the spice of beer. The provide bitterness to balance the sweetness of malt. Their many essential oils bring seasoning flavors and aromas that range from bright citrus and juicy tropical fruits to thyme, cedar, spices and flowers. The sheer numbers of hop varieties and the limitless possibilities for combining them gives brewers and extraordinary palette to work with.

Rogue Ales brewmaster John Maier has concocted a project to explore a small corner of this palette. The Hop Family Series of IPAs uses different combinations of the eight hops grown on the Rogue Farms – Liberty, Newport, Revolution, Rebel, Independent, Freedom, Alluvial, and Yaquina. In Maier’s words, “It’s the entire Rogue hop experience in four bottles.”

Each of the beers – 4 Hop, 6 Hop, 7 Hop and 8 Hop – is a specially formulated recipe to showcase the unique hop blend. I conducted my tasting of the series blind, in order to focus more fully on the differences in hop character. The differences in the beers though are so pronounced that the blinding proved pointless. I quickly knew which beer was which. Personally, I think the experiment would have been more interesting if the base beer were the same and only the hops changed, but tasting them all is a fun trip nonetheless.

I attempted to find descriptors for the hops used. Most of them are proprietary to Rogue Farms and I was unable to come up with any information. I got tired of searching. I have listed the beers in order according to preference. My tasting notes are unedited.

Here’s my notes:

Color Lightest to Darkest: 4 Hop, 6 Hop, 8 Hop, 7 Hop

Body Lightest to Fullest: 4 Hop, 6 Hop, 8 Hop, 7 Hop

Perceived Bitterness Lowest to Highest: 7 Hop, 8 Hop, 4 Hop, 6 Hop

Hop Complexity Lowest to Highest: 6 Hop, 4 Hop, 8 Hop, 7 Hop

Favorite to Least Favorite: 8 Hop, 7 Hop, 6 Hop, 4 Hop

8_Hop_IPA8 Hop IPA
Rogue Ales, Newport, Oregon
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle
8.88% ABV
80 IBU

Aroma: Hop dominated. Melon is lead. Tropical fruit and kiwi. Orange. Cooling. Herbal. Huge floral notes when held away from nose. Soap. Low biscuit malt. Low esters.

Appearance: Moderate white head with poor retention. Deep gold/orange and slightly hazy. Third lightest color.

Flavor: Follows aroma. Pithy bitterness is high and lingering. Hop flavor is dominated by fruit – grapefruit, tropical fruit, strawberry, melon. Floral notes are strong – geraniums or tomato vines. Malt is secondary. Low sweetness with light caramel and biscuit flavor. Low alcohol. Finish is dry with lingering fruit, floral, and bitterness. Lingering bitterness has a slightly harsh edge.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Low astringency. Not creamy or warming.

Overall Impression: Perhaps the best balanced of the four. Just the right level of bitterness vs. sweetness. Malt character is there. Bitterness is a bit more refreshing. Hops have a nice blend of tropical, citrus and floral. My favorite of the bunch.

Hop Varieties: Liberty, Newport, Revolution, Rebel, Independent, Freedom, Alluvial, Yaquina

7_Hop_IPA_new7 Hop IPA
Rogue Ales, Newport, Oregon
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle
7.77% ABV
76 IBU

Aroma: Hops lead. All fruit. Tropical and citrus. Medium floral. Juicy. Low biscuit malt.

Appearance: Light amber and hazy. Moderate off-white foam with poor retention. Darkest color.

Flavor: Fuller malt. Mango, guava. Tropical fruit hop flavors are high. Darker tropical fruits. Juicy. Lemon/lime highlights. Grapefruit slice. Malt sweetness is medium – higher than 8 Hop. Bitterness is high, but better balanced by malt. Malt has low caramel and biscuit character. Floral hops are medium, but blend with other hop flavors. Low alcohol. Finish is just off-dry with lingering tropical fruit and bitterness.

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

Overall Impression: Complex blend of hop and malt. Hop flavor is definitely favored over bitterness. Better balanced than the others. Great blend of citrus, tropical and floral hops. I like that the malt component wasn’t entirely forgotten. Almost has the feel of a DIPA. A little bit sticky. Goes just a little over the top to nudge it out of first place. Close though.

Hop Varieties: Liberty, Newport, Revolution, Rebel, Independent, Freedom, Alluvial

6-Hop-IPA6 Hop IPA
Rogue Ales, Newport, Oregon
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle
6.66% ABV
87 IBU

Aroma: Citrus hops dominate. Low floral, not as intense as 8 & 7. Grapefruit. Pineapple. Strawberries. Low biscuit malt.

Appearance: Dark gold and brilliant. Moderate, white foam with poor retention. Second lightest color.

Flavor: Bright hops dominate with high bitterness. Bitterness is high and lingering. Emphasis is on bitterness over flavor. Hop flavors are primarily bright citrus and citrus pith – grapefruit, lemon. Low floral notes. Sweetness is low. Very low malt flavor with neutral grain character. No alcohol. Finish is dry with lingering bitterness and lemon peel.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Low astringency. No warming or creaminess.

Overall Impression: Bright and lively, but feels and tastes thin. I want more substance and less emphasis on bitterness. This is more of an American Pale Ale than an IPA. A bit one-dimensional in comparison to 8 & 7.

Hop Varieties: Liberty, Revolution, Independent, Freedom, Alluvial, Yaquina

4_hop_ipa4 Hop IPA
Rogue Ales, Newport, Oregon
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle
4.44% ABV
55 IBU

Aroma: Super-fruity hops. Tangerine, melon. Juicy. Grapefruit slices. Low biscuit malt.

Appearance: Medium Gold and brilliant. Moderate to low, white head with poor retention. Lightest color.

Flavor: Hop flavor dominates with moderate-high bitterness. Bright citrus notes are there – grapefruit, citrus pith and lemon. They are joined by some juicy tropical fruit – guava or yuzu. Bitterness is high and lingers, but less than #3. Malt is almost non-existent. Low sweetness. Low, neutral grain malt flavor. No alcohol. Finish is dry with lingering bitterness and lemon peel.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to light body. Medium carbonation. Low astringency. Not warming or creamy.

Overall Impression: A lightweight. This really does feel like it’s moving into APA range. Thin and one-dimensional in comparison to 8 & 7. Refreshing yes. Some interesting hop flavors – yuzu. But overall disappointing.

Hop Varieties: Rebel, Freedom, Alluvial, Yaquina

Surly Brewing Company – Todd the Axe Man 2016

Everyone gets excited about the next new IPA. But let’s be honest. One IPA is pretty much like the other. That’s true of beers of any style, but there is such a glut of IPA that this truth shines especially brightly. My own initial response upon tasting a new one is typically, “Yup. It’s another IPA.”

Oh, I know there are differences. There are better ones and worse ones. There are those that focus on bitterness and those that emphasize hop flavor. And of course the plethora of hop varieties available lends each one a different character from fruity to spicy to “dank.” But with so many, they all tend to blend together in my mind. But maybe that’s just me.

I hate the descriptor “dank.” It’s completely inappropriate for the thing being described. It is neither a flavor nor an aroma. The definition of dank is, “unpleasantly moist or humid; damp and, often, chilly: a dank cellar.” I don’t want to drink that.

I believe the term was borrowed from weed culture. Hops are in the family Cannabaceae. They are related to marijuana. Some of them have a strongly resinous flavor and aroma. It is that, which is frequently described as “dank.” Why don’t we instead just say, “It smells like weed.” That would be more accurate.

But I digress.

Todd the Axe Man from Surly Brewing Company is not dank. Its emphasis is not the resinous essential oil myrcene. Todd the Axe Man is firmly focused on the fruity side of hops – compounds like limonene and citral. You can almost feel the juice running down your chin.

With limited release, Todd the Axe Man is in demand. But is it really that different from all the other IPAs? Only you can decide.

Here’s MY notes:

Todd the Axe ManTodd the Axe Man
Surly Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
7.2% ABV
65 IBU

Aroma: Big fruit hops – berries, tropical fruit lifesavers, tangerine, pineapple and lemon/lime. No malt. Medium fruity esters bolster hop fruitiness. Juicy. Medium-low floral alcohol.

Appearance: Moderate, off-white, creamy foam with poor retention. Dark gold/orange and very hazy.

Flavor: Hop flavor dominates – loads of fruit. Juicy and overripe. Tropical fruit, pineapple, blueberry, oranges and tangerines. Bright lemon/lime highlights. Low coconut. Low garlic notes. Bitterness is high, but balanced by medium malt sweetness. Not aggressive. Malt flavor is almost non-existent, neutral, 2-row grain. Medium esters bolster hop fruitiness. Finish is dry with lingering tropical fruit and low bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body. Medium-high carbonation. Very low alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: A super-fruity, American IPA that really pushes hop flavor over bitterness. A bright, juicy, fruit basket. Wet tropical fruits provide a darker base while bright citrus notes give a shining highlight. Tasty and light, despite 7.2% alcohol. An IPA that won’t destroy your palate after just one.

You can compare these 2016 notes with those from 2015 by checking out this earlier post.

Summit Unchained #21: Us & Them

Parti Gyle

For beer history geeks these words conjure up images of the great, old breweries of Britain – Barclay Perkins, Bass, Whitbread, Ind Coope, and Allsopp. They give homebrewers tech goosebumps. But for the uninitiated it sounds like an act of festive duplicity.

Parti gyle is a system of getting two beers from one mash. If you aren’t up on the brewing process, the mash consists of steeping grains at a certain temperature – usually somewhere around 150 degrees Fahrenheit – for a period of time. This steeping activates enzymes in the grain that convert the kernels’ starch into simple sugars that yeast can ferment. The resulting sugary liquid is called “wort.”

Once the steeping is done, the wort is run off into the kettle to be boiled. A lot of usable sugar gets left behind in the grains. Typically they are rinsed with hot water, making a thinner wort which is also run to the kettle. But if that thinner wort is diverted to a different kettle, you have the basis for a second beer from the same mash. That’s parti gyle.

In the olden days, English brewers would use this system to make beers of differing strengths. For instance, they might make an X, XX, and XXX version of their pale ale. As many as three gyles would be run off from a particular mash and then the worts containing different amounts of sugar were blended together at different proportions to make the different beers.

Very few breweries still do this. There are a couple of breweries in England, I am told. Fuller’s is one. Anchor Brewing in San Francisco has done it, making their refreshing Small Beer from the second runnings of Old Foghorn Barleywine. Surly’s Damien is made from the second thread of Darkness.

Summit brewer Gabe Smoley has revived the practice for the latest Unchained Series beer Us & Them. This the 21st beer in the series is actually two beers. 1st Thread is an American-style IPA that comes in at 7.2-percent alcohol. 2nd Thread is a session IPA at 4-percent, made from a second gyle of the same mash. The kettle hopping regime is the same. The dry hops are different.

The results are remarkable. Like siblings that grew up in the same family, these are two very distinct beers, but with an underlying quality that ties them together.

Here’s my notes:

1st ThreadUnchained #21: Us & Them 1st Thread
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
7.2% ABV
90 IBU

Aroma: Hops lead – juicy melon and tropical fruit. Pineapple, mango. Faint herbal/floral notes. Low, grainy malt with moderate impression of sweetness. Low esters. Low alcohol.

Appearance: Full, creamy, off-white to ivory foam with excellent retention. Dark gold/orange and brilliant.

Flavor: Juicy hops with sturdy supporting malt. Bitterness is high and lingering, but amply supported by medium sweetness. Bitterness comes on stronger mid-palate. Hop flavor is high and juicy – tropical fruit, mango, pineapple, grapefruit, and tangerine. Sprite-like citrus. Malt flavor is low, neutral-grainy, with a faint biscuit character. Finish is off-dry with lingering bitterness and juicy tropical fruit.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: A super-juicy and slightly sweet IPA with restrained bitterness and bursting hop flavor. Perhaps a bit sweet in the finish.

2nd ThreadUnchained #21: Us & Them 2nd Thread
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: American Session IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
4% ABV
55 IBU

Aroma: Hops dominate. Bright citrus – lime and tangerine. Apricots. Low, neutral-grain malt with light notes of toasted biscuit. Very low impression of sweetness. Low esters.

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

Flavor: Hops through and through with a low, grainy cushion. Bitterness is high, but smooth. Bright, lemon/lime-citrus hop flavors, almost acidic. Low floral and apricot back notes. Sweetness is very low. Malt has a dry, toasted biscuit character. The finish is very dry with lingering toasted grain, bitterness, and lime citrus.

Mouthfeel: Light body. Medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: Light and bright. Most session IPAs have bitterness levels that are too high for their weight. This one has nice balance. 55 IBU in a 4% beer is still bracing, but it isn’t tongue scraping in this beer. The dry, biscuit malt background is reminiscent of an English bitter.

Indeed Let It Ride IPA

I’m continuing my effort to catch up on the backlog. Moving along with the seasonal Let It Ride IPA from Indeed Brewing Company. I’m running low on pithy thoughts to belch out at the moment, so let’s just get right to it.

Here’s my notes:

Indeed Let It Ride IPALet It Ride
Indeed Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. can
6.8% ABV
90 IBU

Aroma: Tropical fruit – apricot, mango, juicy. Herbal mint. Medium garlic chive. Low, floral alcohol. Low impression of sweetness. Background of neutral malt with a hint of toasted cereal.

Appearance: Full, creamy, off-white foam with good retention. Dark amber/red and brilliant.

Flavor: Medium-high bitterness with medium to medium-low malt sweetness underneath. Bitterness becomes resinous midway and lingers into finish. Overtones of citrus and tropical fruit hops – pineapple, lime, melon – with low minty/herbal compliment. A delicate quality to the fruit high notes. Low garlic. Medium-low sweetness. Malt is medium-low with caramel and toasted malt notes. Finish is dry with lingering citrus and resinous bitterness.

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

Overall Impression: Dark for the style and with an unstylistic abundance of caramel malt character. But I actually like that. Bitterness and hop flavor still carry the day. The resinous character of the bitterness becomes harsh midway and just won’t let go. And that garlic. Some hops can throw that flavor. I understand Mosaic is one of them. I seem to be sensitive to that particular sulfur compound, and when I get it, I really get it. I just don’t like the garlic hops. That said, the fruitiness of the hops is delightful. This won’t be a go-to for me necessarily, but still a tasty IPA.

 

Surly Brett Mikkel’s IPA

I have a backlog of beer to write about.

I know that one’s palate is at its best first thing in the morning, but I don’t like to do my tasting during the day. Call me a bad Cicerone (registered trademark). I’ll accept the criticism.

It’s just that I don’t like to dump good beer. I don’t want to drink a whole beer early because it makes me sleepy. I have work to do all day and it’s hard enough to stay awake in the afternoon without that. That means dumping. I already dump a lot of beer just because I open so many bottles when I do a big tasting. I’d like to keep that to a minimum.

The problem is that I’m busy at night. I’m not home to drink it then. There are gigs, events, and relationships to try and maintain. Oh, and roller derby practice. I never drink before I skate. If I take a hit and break a leg, that’s one thing. If I break a leg because I skated drunk, that’s another thing entirely. And shameless plug, the Rollergirls’ championship bout is this Saturday!

And so, I have a backlog of beer to write about.

I’m going to try and make a dent in it.

Todd Haug at Surly Brewing Company has been doing a lot of collaborating of late – mostly it seems with brewers of Scandinavian persuasion. The latest is Brett Mikkel’s IPA, brewed in collaboration with Danish, gypsy brewer Mikkel Bjergsø of Mikkeller fame. We used to get Mikkeller beers in Minnesota. Now we don’t. This collaboration with Surly gives us a chance to get another taste.

Brett Mikkel is an American IPA fermented with that “wild” yeast strain Brettanomyces. Anathema to winemakers – it makes wine taste like poop – Brettanomyces has been embraced by brewers. In beer it does magical things – pineapple, cherries, leather, and barnyard (that’s kind of like poop…but in a good way).

Brett, as it is fondly called, was first isolated in the porters of London. Aged for long periods in large, wooden vats, they came by it naturally. Brett and other critters lived in the wood. Fresh beer was called “mild.” The aged stuff that had seen time in wood was called “stale.” Stale beer was the good stuff. You paid top dollar – or maybe shilling – for it. It’s no wonder brewers of today have brought it back.

Here’s my notes:

Brett Mikkel's IPABrett Mikkel’s IPA
Surly Brewing Company, Minneapolis, MN
Style: American IPA Fermented with Brettanomyces
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
7.5% ABV

Aroma: Brettanomyces character dominates. Pineapple and barnyard. High phenolic. Medium overtones of citrus and horse urine (but in a good way). Low alcohol. Very low impression of sweetness. Low, neutral-grainy malt.

Appearance: Full, creamy, off-white foam with excellent retention. Deep gold and clear.

Flavor: Medium sweetness with high Brettanomyces character and bitterness. Brett brings pineapple esters and barnyard phenols. Very low electrical fire. Faint impression of acid tartness. Medium-high bitterness, enhanced by phenolic character. Citrus hops give high notes – tangerine, grapefruit slice, and tomato vine. Malt is faint, neutral grain. Finish is dry with lingering bitterness, barnyard phenol, and citrus. As it warms the fruit continues to bloom – juicy pineapple and citrus.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: Brett character comes on strong in this. I love Brett beers, but the phenolic flavors in this bottle are verging on too much. More Brett ester is needed to balance the barnyard. And that comes as it warms, so don’t drink it too cold. I recall the draft pint I had being fruitier. I wonder if the keg and bottle versions have developed differently. I have seen that happen. I do like it though. I’m happily drinking this and would have more.

Finnegan’s Hoppy Shepherd

I remember the first time I tasted Finnegan’s Irish Amber. I was attending some kind of showcase event for community engaged entrepreneurs and it was the only beer available. My beer nerddom was still in development, but I believe I was a bit pretentious. I was underwhelmed. I was an idiot.

I had never heard of Finnegan’s. I didn’t know why they would be sponsoring this do-gooder showcase. I knew nothing of their mission. Now, of course, it all makes perfect sense.

For those who don’t know about Finnegan’s, their succinct mission statement says it all – “Turning beer into food.” In every market where their beer is sold, Finnegan’s devotes 100 percent of its profits to the task of feeding the hungry. You read that right. 100 percent. Their Community Fund buys produce from local farmers and donates it to food shelves. They have turned the food truck thing that is such a part of the taproom scene on its head with their “reverse food truck.” Rather than selling food, it takes donations of food. That’s community engaged entrepreneurship.

Finnegan’s beer is currently contract brewed at Summit Brewing Company. But Finnegan’s has big plans for a downtown Minneapolis “brewtel” – a combination hotel, brewery and retail development. The project will also include an event center and the so-called “Finnovation Lab,” which will serve as an incubator for new socially centered businesses. The mission continues.

The partnership with Summit has helped Finnegan’s expand its beer lineup in delicious directions. Under the guidance of Summit Head Brewer Damian McConn, Finnegan’s has released the delightful Finnegan’s Blond (now sadly discontinued) and the dusky Dead Irish Poet Extra Stout. Now they have added a new one to the list – Hoppy Shepherd. It’s described as “a lively session ale made from Admiral, Centennial, Citra and Jester hops.” Session is all the rage and we Minnesotans do love our hops.

Here’s my notes:

Finnegan's Hoppy ShepherdHoppy Shepherd
Finnegan’s, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: American Pale Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
4.6% ABV
50 IBU

Aroma: Bright floral and grapefruit hops. Fresh and juicy. Minty. Apricot. Low grainy malt.

Appearance: Dark gold and brilliant. Full, fluffy, white head with excellent retention.

Flavor: Hop forward with low malt support. Malt has a toasted cereal character. Medium-low intensity. Low sweetness. Hop flavor is the driver – bright floral and citrus. Juicy grapefruit segments. Apricots. Bitterness is high. Very dry finish with lingering bitterness and toast.

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

Overall Impression: A delightfully easy to drink pale ale. I love the toasted malt supporting the bright hop character. Not terribly complex, but it’s a “session ale.” It’s not supposed to be terribly complex. Drink this one when you want your beer to be satisfying, but not intrusive.

Indeed Mexican Honey Lager

Finally a real snowfall. 13 inches on Tuesday plus a dusting today. And the temperature is down to the normal range with lows around nine degrees Fahrenheit. Winter has come in fits and starts this year, but now it seems it’s finally here. Time for a tall, cold Mexican lager.

(Sound of record scratching.)

It’s okay. Lager is good anytime – even in the middle of a Minnesota winter. And there really is nothing wrong with those Mexican lagers, even if so many of us want to deny their right to be called beer.

But when the Mexican lager is Imperial it’s even more winter friendly. Eight percent alcohol gives that little bit of warming to help take the edge off of winter’s bite.

But really? Imperial Mexican lager. What are you thinking, Indeed Brewing Company? It kind of reminds me of all the faddish Imperial Pilsners that are floating around out there these days. “What’s the point?” I ask of those. “Pilsner is perfect as it is.” I’ve seldom met an Imperial Pilsner that I liked. So why would I like an imperial Mexican lager? Even if it is made with orange blossom honey.

I looked back through my records and found that I had written notes on this one at some time in the past. I think it was 2013, the year this beer was first released. At least that’s what I’m going to say now. I like to do these comparisons. It gives a good perspective on the changes that can occur over time – in both beer and palate.

Here’s my notes:

Mexican Honey Imperial LagerMexican Honey Imperial Lager
Indeed Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: Imperial Mexican Lager
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
8% ABV
17 IBU

Aroma 2013: Light grainy sweetness. Citrus hops are strong – tangerine and oranges. Low notes of honey.

Aroma 2016: Grainy sweetness with overtones of honey. Very light toasted grain. Hints of spicy hops. Low sulfur.

Appearance 2013: Medium gold and hazy. Full, rocky, dense white foam with excellent retention.

Appearance 2016: Full, creamy, mixed-bubble, white foam with excellent retention. Deep gold and brilliant.

Flavor 2013: Full, grainy malt sweetness. Some bready, pils malt character. Honey comes strongly mid-palate and remains in the finish. Bitterness is low, but just almost enough to balance. Overtones of orange and tangerine from the hops. Delicate. Nuanced. Faint apple notes. Finishes with lingering honey and sweetness. Floral.

Flavor 2016: Largely follows aroma. Malt dominates – toasted grain and medium sweetness. Honey is clear. Medium-low bitterness offers some balance. Medium spicy hop flavors. Low lemony citrus. Some alcohol. Finish is off-dry with lingering honey and spice.

Mouthfeel 2013: Medium-light body. Delicate. High to medium-high carbonation.

Mouthfeel 2016: Medium-full body. Low alcohol warming. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression 2013: Light and nuanced, yet full and filling. Imperial Mexican lager? WTF! On the long haul perhaps a bit one-note, but one glass goes down well.

Overall Impression 2016: Almost a Maibock, but with a simpler profile. The flavor is what one would expect from an oversized American lager. I expected more citrus from Amarillo hops. They really came off to me as spicy, almost Noble hop varieties. Overall I like it. A decent winter lager.

Voyageur Brewing Company Hits the Twin Cities

Voyageur Brewing Company is bringing its flagship beers to the Twin Cities. Voyageur opened the doors of its Grand Marais brewery in March of 2015, joining nearly 30 other new breweries in what was surely the biggest ever, single-year expansion of the Minnesota beer scene. What is particularly exciting about this growth is the number of new breweries located outside the Twin Cities in greater Minnesota. Voyageur is situated a couple blocks north of Grand Marais’ other brewery the Gunflint Tavern, making it I believe the second-most northerly brewery in the state after Boathouse Brewpub in Ely.

In these days of extreme expansion, I have come to approach new breweries with some trepidation. I want them to be good. I really do. All too often though, they aren’t. With so many eager entrepreneurs fueling the beer boom, there has been an influx of brewers who lack the experience and knowledge to really make great beer. Much of what’s coming out is just so-so. Some of it is truly bad.

By bad, I mean flawed. I mean beers with quantifiable recipe and process related issues. These are beers left sticky sweet from under attenuation. Beers with ill-defined, flabby flavor profiles. Beers with detectible or even downright offensive levels of process-derived off-flavors. Such things have become all too common.

And so it was with mixed emotions that I greeted news of Voyageur’s entry into the Twin Cities market. I have not been able to visit them. I’m not a Minnesota native and water doesn’t thrill me. I don’t quite get the whole “up north” thing. It was exciting to have their beers come to me. I wanted them to be good. I really, really did.

Here’s my notes:

VoyageurTrailbreaker Wit
Voyageur Brewing Company, Grand Marais, Minnesota
Style: Belgian Witbier
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
5% ABV
15 IBU

Aroma: Meaty, ham. Low wheaty grain. Low banana. Medium clove. Medium floral from Coriander. Low lemon citrus. Puffy isoamyl acetate. Main perception is ham. Low medicinal phenol.

Appearance: Medium, meringue-like, white head. Medium retention. Medium gold and cloudy.

Flavor: Meaty. Almost salty. Medicinal. High clove spice. Same ham as aroma. Low, bready/cracker wheat malt. Medium-low sweetness. Low bitterness. No hop flavor. Finish is dry with lingering clove and ham. Background of orange citrus.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium-high carbonation. Thick.

Overall Impression: According to the 2008 BJCP Guidelines, coriander of certain origins can give witbier a celery or ham character. Apparently heavy use of the wrong kind of coriander leaves this beer with an unpleasant, ham aroma and flavor that is enhanced by the high level of clove phenol from fermentation. A bit thick and heavy for the style. Lacking the light, refreshing character one expects from a witbier. Not pleasant. Clunky and literally ham fisted.

VoyageurDevil’s Kettle India Pale Ale
Voyageur Brewing Company, Grand Marais, Minnesota
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
6.8% ABV
70 IBU

Aroma: Lime citrus hops. Some floral hop notes. Medium malt with light toast. Medium perception of sweetness. High esters – banana and juicy fruit. Clove phenols – salty ham.

Appearance: Full, creamy, off-white foam with excellent retention. Medium copper/amber. Hazy.

Flavor: Hop bitterness is emphasized – very long lingering. It just won’t let go. Hop flavor is medium-high – citrus, floral and pine. It carries into mid-palate before being overshadowed by bitterness. Malt is sweet, almost syrupy, with low notes of caramel and toast. Juicy Fruit esters. Finish is off-dry with bitterness that envelopes the tongue.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Medium carbonation. Low alcohol warming. Some hop astringency.

Overall Impression: Flabby and ill-defined. Bitterness overwhelms, but the beer manages a sticky sweetness at the same time.

VoyageurPalisade Porter
Voyageur Brewing Company, Grand Marais, Minnesota
Style: Brown Porter
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
5.3% ABV
30 IBU

Aroma: Smoky – like burnt plastic or electrical fire. Low, dark-chocolate, roasted malt. Low earthy hops.

Appearance: Very dark brown – appears black. Ruby highlights. Clear. Medium, creamy, beige foam with good retention.

Flavor: Malt forward. Dry, roasted malt – dark chocolate. Low caramel. Medium-low sweetness. Same burnt plastic/electrical fire character carries over from aroma. Bitterness is medium. Finish is very dry with lingering roast barley and smoke.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium-high carbonation. Low creaminess.

Overall Impression: A mediocre homebrew. Aroma and flavor both lacking in depth – rather one-note. And that one note isn’t altogether good. The smoky, burnt plastic character is most unwelcome and signals bigger issues at the brewery.

VoyageurBoundary Waters Brunette
Voyageur Brewing Company, Grand Marais, Minnesota
Style: North English Brown Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
4.3% ABV
25 IBU

Aroma: Malt forward. High toast. Low touch of dry, roasted grain. No hops. One dimensional.

Appearance: Low, mixed-bubble, tan foam. Poor retention. Mahogany and brilliant.

Flavor: Malt dominated. Cola. Medium sweetness and low caramel malt. Low toast and a tough of dry, roasted grain – chocolate. Medium-low bitterness. Low earthy hops. Finish is off-dry with lingering chocolate.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium creaminess. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: A mediocre English brown ale. A bit thin. Flavor and aroma are both lacking complexity, but aren’t unpleasant. Nothing wrong with it, it’s just not particularly interesting. The lack of serious flaws makes it the best beer of the bunch.