Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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…..

Buffalo Wild Wings Launches New In-House Craft Beer Called Game Changer. Is It?

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Buffalo Wild Wings is getting into craft beer. The wing shack/sports bar extraordinaire has teamed up with Red Hook Brewery to create a new in-house beer brand called Game Changer. I know, the Brewers Association says that Red Hook is only “crafty,” but screw them. I’ll call them craft for now. In the promotional video below Red Hook Brewmaster Matt Lickleider calls Game Changer a “sessionable” and “approachable” pale ale. Although I can find no mention of it on the B-Dub website, the new brew launches today (July 15th) at restaurants across the country.

The PR firm that works with Buffalo Wild Wings offered me the opportunity to stop in and sample Game Changer with some wings, so I took them up on it. I don’t claim to be a marketing professional. In fact, I downright suck at it. But I would like to offer some advice. Choose carefully which products you recommend for comparison to your own. I was sent a sampling sheet that suggested tasting Game Changer alongside a “domestic light” and an “I.P.A (or similar).” My quick glance at the tap handles revealed Bell’s Two Hearted as the one and only IPA available, although I later saw that they also had Fulton Sweet Child of Vine. Two Hearted is one of the best American-style IPAs made. Game Changer didn’t stand a chance.

“Sessionable” and “approachable” are both good words to describe Game Changer. When the bartender set down my pint he said, “It looks like a mix between [Grain Belt] Nordeast and a pale ale.” That’s a pretty accurate description of the beer’s overall profile. The light-amber ale has very subtle aromas that are mostly of floral/resiny cascade hops. A bit of caramel malt is barely noticeable underneath. The beer seemed thin, perhaps even a bit watery. The level of bitterness was medium at best, with light floral/resin hop flavors on top. Malt was equally subtle and lightly sweet, with caramel and toasty notes.

Flavor-wise I put Game Changer a notch above the Budweiser sample I tried next to it. (I couldn’t do a light beer. What’s the point?) In terms of body and aroma the two were about on par. Of course it paled next to Bell’s Two Hearted. But then as a sessionable and approachable pale ale, that was to be expected.

How did it stand up to wings? I sampled three wing sauces; Hot, Thai Curry, and Sweet BBQ. Game Changer was the best of the three beers with the Sweet BBQ wings. The subtle caramel in the malt worked with the sweetness of the sauce and the two felt about evenly matched. With the hot wings it really depends on what level of intensity you’re after. Game Changer toned down the heat a bit compared to the IPA, which set my head on fire (in a good way). The hot sauce verges on overpowering the milder beer, however. I didn’t find Game Changer to be a particularly good match to the sweet and spicy flavors of the Thai Curry wings, which surprised me. Perhaps more hops would have helped.

My overall impression of Game Changer is that Buffalo Wild Wings and Red Hook hit what they were aiming for. They’ve delivered a beer that gives light lager drinkers a more flavorful and “darker” option. It’s not a bad beer at all, but it has to be evaluated for what it is. Beer dorks looking for a gob-smack of flavor will be disappointed.

Is it a real game changer? No. But if you just want an easy-drinking beer that will let you knock back several pints during the UFC fights, then Game Changer might be a decent choice.

Draftmark Home Draft System

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Father’s Day is just two days away and you don’t have a gift yet. To be honest, you haven’t even really thought about it. As you contemplate an appropriate present for dear old dad you hear a sucking sound and feel a light puff of air as all thought evacuates your brain. (Admittedly it’s mostly air in there anyway.) As you step through the front doors of Wal-Mart you become paralyzed; a deer caught in the headlights. You find yourself in some kind of Twilight Zone moment. You’re stationary in another dimension as the rest of the world buzzes around you in slow motion. The retiree greeter waves his welcome as though he were immersed in syrup. His “welcome to Wal-Mart” sounds like a 45 rpm record playing at 33. You hear an echoey rattle as a dude with a mullet and cut off T-shirt pushes a cart by on the left.

This is a good time for a beer. WAIT! Dad likes beer! There it is. The solution was right in front of you all along. You can do this.

If this is your situation, you might consider a home draft system. No, I don’t mean shelling out $600+ for a kegerator and keg, though that would be nice. I’m talking about one of those fit-in-the-fridge thingies. All the big brewers have got them. MillerCoors and Heineken rolled out first, but AB-InBev wasn’t far behind. Their Draftmark system was introduced in early 2012, but has only recently become available in the Twin Cities. I had the opportunity to give one of these devices a spin. It delivers exactly what it promises; draft beer in your refrigerator.

The premise of the thing is simple, though a wee bit mysterious. Beer comes in a one-gallon canister that looks a lot like a soda bottle. The canister is inserted into the machine and beer is poured from a tap faucet on the front. There is no CO2 cartridge. A battery operated compressor pushes the beer from the canister with air, but through some proprietary bottle-in-bottle technology the air never touches the beer. I haven’t figured out how this works, but I also haven’t tried very hard. The manufacturer claims that beer will stay fresh for up to 30 days.

What are the pros of the Draftmark system?

  • It’s inexpensive. $50 buys the machine and refill cartridges are $14-$16. That works out to about $1.50/12-ounce beer, slightly less than buying a sixpack.
  • Each refill cartridge comes with its own spout, so there is no need to worry about cleaning draft lines.
  • It’s easy to assemble and operate. Charge and insert the battery. Insert the spout. Place the bottle and twist. Pour beer.
  • It’s compact; about the size of a “fridge pack” of soda or a loaf of Wonder Bread.
  • It’s nice to have draft beer in the fridge.

The biggest downside is beer selection. It’s an AB-InBev product. You can only get AB-InBev products,  and precious few of those at present; Budweiser, Michelob Amber Bock, and Shock Top, along with a couple of better choices, Bass Ale and Goose Island Honkers Ale and IPA. Seeing as AB-InBev owns the world, there are other brands in their portfolio that would make for a more interesting assortment. They promise a wider selection in the future. Check here for a list of locations where refills can be purchased.

One note on use. Being a man, I didn’t read the manual until after using the thing. I became concerned when my first and second attempts poured pints of nothing but foam. The manual though says that this is normal, as the device has to charge.

The upshot: Would I rush out and buy one of these for myself? No. It’s kind of gimmicky. The beer selection is too limited and it just seems easier to get bottles or cans. But I have a gadget-loving, non-craft-beer-drinking brother-in-law for whom the system would be perfect.


Fulton Beer Buys A Brewery

Friday, January 28th, 2011

On their newly re-vamped website, just launched this morning, Fulton Beer has announced that brewing equipment has been ordered and should arrive sometime this summer. I have reported in greater length on the City Pages Hot Dish Blog. Read it! Congratulations guys.

In other news, Harriet Brewing will be having it’s first growler sales at the brewery tomorrow (Saturday) from 1-5 PM. 3036 Minnehaha Ave, Mpls, MN. Be there!

Cheese and Ale at Cooks of Crocus Hill

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

There is still room to sign up for the Cheese and Ale class at Cooks of Crocus Hill.

Cheese and Ale: Pairing Beer and Cheese
With Fromager Ken Liss
Monday, May 17, 6 – 8 PM, $55

Join Fromager Ken Liss and Cicerone Michael Agnew for a satisfying session of sipping and nibbling. You’ll start with fromage fundamentals – types, textures, flavors, shopping, storing and serving – then discover how to choose beers that complement each cheese. Includes cheese and beer from around the world.

I’ve worked with Ken before. He is the former owner of Premier Cheese Market at 50th & France. He has taught numerous classes on cheese and cheese pairings at Cooks of Crocus Hill, The Four Firkins, and other places. He knows his stuff and knows how to present it with passion. You can sign up for this class or learn more about the classes at Cooks of Crocus Hill here.

Craft Brewers Conference: The Highlight Reel

Monday, April 12th, 2010

I spent the last few days in Chicago attending the Craft Brewers Conference, a gathering of craft brewers from all over the United States and the World. It was an intense and exhilarating couple of days filled with fun, learning, moments of embarrassing beer-nerd sycophancy, and of course lots of beer. I will be writing several articles to recap the event and posting them both here and on my Hoppress blog. The first went up today. Craft Brewers Conference: The Highlight Reel. Check it out.

A pre-dinner smorgasbord.

Firkin Fest – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Monday is my day to publish on the Hoppress at I thought I would kill two birds with one stone by posting my Firkin Fest Recap over there instead of here. Go check it out.

Holiday Beers & Winter Warmers

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

The November meeting of the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club.

Holiday Beers & Winter WarmersWhen: Saturday, November 21, 2009
Cost: $25
You must be a member of the club to attend. Go to the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club to join and RSVP.

We just did fall beers, but Halloween is over and ‘tis the season to start making merry for the yuletide. Thanksgiving is all that stands between us and the Christmas shopping season. Every year at this time brewers around the world release their special holiday offerings. Spice and spruce are the order of the day, along with sumptuous malt and elevated alcohol to warm you up as the winter winds howl.

For the November meetup we will taste our way to holiday festiviousness by sampling eight of the season’s jolliest offerings. We’ll try a bit of everything from the ancient (for American craft brewing) tradition of Anchor Christmas to a big ‘ol Belgian fruitcake in a bottle and maybe a slightly funky Danish beer to round it all out.

If people are willing to pony up, I will try to score a bottle of Sam Adams 2009 Utopias, the strongest beer in the world.

Darkness Day or Dark Lord Day Attendees Wanted

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

I want to interview attendees of Darkness Day or Dark Lord Day or any other such day for a story I am going to write. If you are interested in being interviewed please send me an email at

Autumn Beers Part II

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Although the temperature lingers in the twenties this morning, the sun is shining and the weather report says it should be more autumn-like by the weekend. With that assurance I continue my review of fall beers.

Furthermore Fallen AppleBefore moving away from specialty beers I should mention one other that exists in a place of its own. Fallen Apple from Furthermore Beer in Spring Green, Wisconsin is a limited batch fall beer brewed at the height of the apple harvest. For this beer brewer Aran Madden makes a specially formulated recipe reminiscent of a cream ale. This is combined in the fermenter with fresh pressed apple cider delivered to the brewery from an orchard nearby. The two are fermented together to create a beverage that I have compared to Apple Jolly Rancher™ infused champagne. Light and effervescent, Fallen Apple’s flavor begins as a lightly corny and moderately bitter ale. Somewhere mid-palate it explodes into a bright, tart cider/beer blend that is perfect for those warm, early fall days. It is so light and refreshing that you completely forget about the nearly 7% ABV until you feel the buzz from your first glass.

Although not a fall specialty, American Amber Ale is another beer style that is perfectly suited to autumn. American Amber is basically an Ruch River Unforgiven AmberAmerican pale ale with amped up caramel malt character. While still assertively bitter and with plenty of hop flavor and aroma, the increased maltiness makes for a richer, sweeter beer. West Coast versions, like Rocket Red from Bear Republic, can be intensely bitter while those from the Midwest and East are generally more subdued. There are a couple of very nice local and regional examples of Amber Ale available in the Twin Cities. Rush River Unforgiven Amber is a pub standby for me. Slightly cloudy from dry-hopping, Unforgiven Amber has a smooth, rich caramel malt profile balanced by abundant citrus and pine hops. Another good local choice is Mesabi Red from Duluth’s Lake Superior Brewing Company. Mesabi Red is a bit more intense than Unforgiven, with a bigger malt profile that includes biscuit notes with hints of roast, and bitterness that is correspondingly higher. A couple of great examples from further away are Bell’s Amber and Anderson Valley Boont Amber. You can find the Bell’s in Minnesota. For the Anderson Valley you will have to travel to Wisconsin. I believe you can also find the afore mentioned Bear Republic Rocket Red in Wisconsin.

Bell's Best Brown AleOne step further down the beer color wheel and no less brilliant for fall is Brown Ale. A darker and more toasty/roasty cousin of the American Amber, American Brown ales tend to balance toward the malt with rich caramel flavors and light notes of roast and chocolate. The slant toward malt does not, however, mean that hops aren’t prominent. Most American Browns still feature assertive bitterness and ample hop flavors, favoring earthy and resinous varieties over bright citrusy. These are smooth, easy-drinking beers with enough toastiness to take the edge off the chill air. The best local example is Chestnut Hill from Lift Bridge Brewery. One of my Autumn Brew Review top five, Chestnut Hill has a complex malt profile with nutty notes of toast, roast, and caramel. The malt is balanced by spicy hops, and a wisp of cinnamon in the background adds character. At 7% ABV it provides nice fall warmth but is still light enough to have a couple. Also in this category is Surly Bender. More assertive and bitter, it retains the smooth Brown Ale character with notes of toast, cocoa, coffee and caramel. The addition of oats gives it a rich, velvety mouthfeel. It is my favorite beer from Surly. A regional favorite of mine is Bell’s Best Brown. A slightly sweeter and less complex session brown, Best Brown still has plenty of roasty, toasty malt goodness for an autumn night around the fire pit. The English browns tend to be sweeter and subtler in character than their American cousins. Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale is an example that should not be forgotten.

You can’t talk about the beers of fall without mentioning Oktoberfest/Märzen. Originally brewed in March at the end of the legal brewing season in Germany, these rich caramel lagers were stored cold in caves over the hot summer, to be consumed in the fall to celebrate the harvest. Full flavored caramel malt dominates, but is balanced by spicy German hops and a crisp, dry lager finish. My favorite here is Ayinger Oktoberfest/Märzen, but there are several authentic German examples available. Closer to home try the examples from Bell’s or Schell’s. Surly‘s Surlyfest is an interesting and tasty Americanized fest beer. The Oktoberfest caramel base is recognizable, but the addition of spicy rye malt and ample American hops make it a thing all its own. It is definitely worth seeking out. Other contenders for fall lagers include the amber Vienna Lager style and the full bodied Doppelbock. To sample great Vienna Lagers look for Schell’s Firebrick or Capital Wisconsin Amber. For Doppelbock you can’t go wrong with Paulaner Salvator or Celebrator Doppelbock from Ayinger. For a regional fall Doppelbock pick up a sixpack of Capital Brewery’s Autumnal Fire. Full bodied and warming, this beer is chock full of luscious caramel malt and raisiny goodness.