Stone Brewing Co. Delicious IPA

January 15th, 2015

IPA, experimental hop varieties, gluten concerns – three things that are really hot in the beer world right now. So what happens when you put them all together? Delicious IPA from Stone Brewing Co. That’s what.

Delicious IPA is not actually gluten-free. It’s one of those reduced gluten beers like Omission or Two Brothers Prairie Path. It’s brewed with barley malt and then the gluten is removed with an enzyme that brings it below the federal guidelines for gluten-free of 20ppm. The problem is that gluten can’t be accurately measured below 20ppm, so there is no way of actually knowing with any certainty what amount of gluten remains. Therefore, if you really are a celiac sufferer, drink with caution.

El Dorado is the one and only hop variety used in this beer. It was released in 2010 and is grown exclusively by CLS Farms in Moxee, Washington. It is a high alpha-acid variety that is also high in essential oils, making it good for both bittering and character. The farm website describes its profile as tropical fruit and stone fruit. The folks at Stone say it reminds them of “lemon Starburst candy.”

IPAs are not really my thing. It’s not that I don’t like them, but the super-hoppy beers don’t tend to be my go-to. I have historically had issues with the beers from Stone Brewing Co. Not because they aren’t well made, but because to my palate they focus too much on bitterness and not on hop flavor and aroma. I’m not such a fan of the bitter.

That said, they have made some hoppy beers that I love. I’m crazy for Go-To IPA, even though there is nothing about that beer that I should like. Delicious IPA is a pretty audacious name. But then, audacity is what Stone does best. Does the beer live up to its moniker?

Here’s my notes:

stone-delicious-ipaStone Delicious IPA
Stone Brewing Co., Escondido, California
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
7.7% ABV
80 IBU

Aroma: Resiny, tropical fruit hoppiness – mango, pineapple. Some strong lemon citrus in there, too. Lemon Starburst is correct. Malt aromatics are very low – light toast. There may be some fruity esters in there, but the hops deliver such a fruity wallop that it’s really hard to tell.

Appearance: Dark gold and brilliant. Huge head of creamy, white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Flavor follows the aroma. Hops dominate, but bitterness is remarkably soft for 80 IBU – medium to medium-high. Hop flavors are the star – lemon, tropical fruit. There is an impression of tartness – almost citric acid. Malt character is low with light toast and just-balancing sweetness. The finish is dry with lingering bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Surprisingly light body for nearly 8%. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: This is 7.7% and 80 IBU? If I weren’t reading those words on the bottle and in a press release, I wouldn’t have believed it. I thought this was some kind of session IPA. So light and drinkable. Despite the high IBUs, the focal point of this beer is hop flavor and aroma, a departure from my normal impression of Stone beers. I could sit and smell it for days. And it’s reduced gluten for those who have sensitivities.

Grapes & Grain Adventure Travel

January 13th, 2015

logo APP-Amusee

For the first time since our two businesses came together almost six years ago, Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew of A Perfect Pint and Certified Sommelier Leslee Miller of Amusée are venturing into the world of beer/wine touring!

Because this is a new venture, we thought it important send a survey to those of you who could be potentially interested in coming with us on our first trip. We know that surveys are not exactly at the top of everyone’s list. They can be time consuming and tedious. But to help make this first trip a resounding success, we would greatly appreciate your input.

So please, grab a glass of your favorite beer or wine, sit down for 30 seconds in your most comfortable spot, and share with us your honest feedback! You can access the survey here.

Thanks. Leslee and I appreciate your feedback.

Leslee & Michael

Farnum Hill Semi-Dry Cider

January 9th, 2015

There is cider and there is cider.

Most mass-market ciders available in this country are sweet-ish, juice drinks made from concentrate or from culinary apples. This is true even for most of the “better” brands. To make really good cider you need the balance and flavor provided by different types of heirloom cider apples. Not for eating, these apples give sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and tannins that together create ciders of real depth and complexity. The problem is, most of these cider apple trees in this country were ripped out during prohibition. Not too many orchards still grow them.

There are a few. Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, New Hampshire is one of them. Over half of their acreage in two different locations is given over to these odd-tasting fruits. They are the biggest grower of cider apples in the U.S.

The folks at Poverty Lane use the juice from these apples to make Farnum Hill Ciders. They take cider seriously. As their website states, “On Farnum Hill, we use the word ‘cider’ to mean an alcoholic beverage fermented from particular apples, just as ‘wine’ is fermented from particular grapes.” Also like wine, the idea of “terroir” come into play, as the same variety of apples grown in different places will exhibit different characteristics. Farnum Hill ciders embrace the idea of regional cider.

Farnum Hill produces a number of different ciders. I have only seen three in the local market – Semi-Dry, Extra Dry, and Dooryard. I discussed the Extra Dry and Dooryard ciders last May in my Star Tribune column. These do not seem to be currently available. [I’m told that Extra Dry and Dooryard are available. I just haven’t seen them in a while.] Semi-Dry is in stores now. I tried it last night.

Here’s my notes:

Farnum Hill Semi DryFarnum Hill Semi Dry
Poverty Lane Orchards & Farnum Hill Cider, Lebanon, New Hampshire
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
7.4% ABV

Aroma: Minerals. Red apple skin. Pears and pineapples. So much fruit. There is even a hint of banana in the background. A suggestion of sweetness come in soft whiffs of honey and light brown sugar.

Appearance: Medium gold and brilliant. Low (nearly no) white head with no retention.

Flavor: Same slate/mineral note from the aroma. The fruit also carries over – Tart red apple. Pear. Peaches. Pineapple. Lemon juice and lemon zest. Very low green banana. Like the aroma, so much fruit. Low sweetness – honey. Medium bitterness. Very dry finish. Moderately high tannins grab the edges of the tongue after swallowing. Mouthwatering acidity – saliva floods the mouth.

Mouthfeel: Medium light body. Low carbonation (petilent). Moderate astringency.

Overall Impression: So good! “Semi-dry” is a bit misleading. There is very little that is “sweet” about this cider. It is dry, dry, dry. The tannins and acidity are high. Any perception of sweetness comes from the abundance of fruity notes that balance the bitter. As the website says, “On Farnum Hill, that much-abused word ‘dry’ is taken literally…”

Schell’s Noble Star Collection: Dawn of Aurora

January 6th, 2015

Light, bright, and effervescent, with a touch of refreshing, acidic tartness, Berliner Weisse is one of the styles du jour of American brewers. In its place of origin however, the style is nearly dead. It was once the most popular alcoholic drink in Berlin. 700-plus breweries are said to have been making it at the height of its popularity in the 19th-century. Now there is only one – Berliner Kindl. Though tasty, it is a shadow of the complex brew that Berliner Weisse once was.

The history of Berliner Weisse is dim. Multiple stories give conflicting accounts of its origin. Some say French Huguenots brought the style to Berlin in the 1700s after picking up brewing techniques from the makers of red and brown ales in the Flanders region of what is now Belgium. Another story says that it is an offshoot of an even older style, Boryhan, which was popular in Berlin in the 1600s.

Early Berliner Weisse was made with a mix of approximately 50% wheat and 50% barley malt. The wort was not boiled. Hops were boiled separately in water. The boiling hop infusion was then added to the mash along with unboiled hops. The overall hopping rate was very low.

Malted grain is rife with lactic acid producing bacteria and other microflora. Because it was not boiled, the wort remained unsantitized, meaning that these organisms could work alongside brewer’s yeast to complete fermentation. The resulting beer would have been light and dry with little residual sugar. Fruity and sour flavors would have dominated.

Today we think of Berliner Weisse as a low-alcohol, nearly white, wheat beer. But there were once many types of Berliner sour beers. Some were brewed with darker malts. Others were brewed to a higher alcohol content. It is this high-gravity style Berliner Weisse that Jace Marti of August Schell Brewing Company is exploring with Dawn of Aurora, the latest release in the Noble Star Collection.

Like the other beers in this series, Dawn of Aurora is aged for an extended period in the 1936, cypress-wood tanks that were once the brewery’s main fermenters. It utilizes a Brettanomyces yeast “obtained” from a long-defunct weisse brewery in Berlin. This one is a different strain than was used in the other Noble Star beers. Dawn of Aurora clocks in at 8% alcohol, but has only 5 IBU.

Here’s my notes:

Dawn of AuroraDawn of Aurora
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: “Starkbier”-style Berliner Weisse
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
8% ABV
5 IBU

Aroma: Bright acidity – both lactic and acetic. Fruity – yellow grapefruit, lemons, and apricots. Especially apricots. Low, bready malt with some toasty overtones.

Appearance: Dark gold/orange. Cloudy. Clears a bit as it warms, but maintains a haze. Full head of fluffy, white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: High acidity balanced by low sweetness mid-palate. Fruit is in front. Lemons and grapefruit return from the aroma. Apricots take on a much larger role, becoming the absolute dominant player as the beer warms. Low biscuit and bready malt comes in mid-palate and stays into the finish, contrasting and accentuating the stone fruits. Finish is very dry, lingering on stone fruit, lemon and light biscuit malt.

Mouthfeel: Light body, but with a mouth-filling quality. High carbonation, effervescent. Champagne-like.

Overall Impression: Beautiful! Lovely stone fruit and baked crust impression, like apricot cobbler. Let it warm up slightly from refrigerator temperature to really let the stone fruit and biscuit develop. When it does, it sings.

Eastlake Brewery & Taproom – A First Look

January 5th, 2015

Eastlake Craft Brewery

I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions. This year I did. I resolve to get caught up on the Minnesota taprooms. So many have opened, so many of which I have not been to. It’s a time and money thing mostly. I have precious little of both. I’m also a cheapskate and an introvert. Spending too much of my cash and extroversion reserves even in pursuit of beer is a difficult mental leap. But I have resolved.

This was not a thought out resolution. It was a spur of the moment decision made Friday afternoon as I was nodding off while trying to get work done. Needing a change of activity, I decided a taproom visit would be in order. It was Friday, after all. I hopped in the car and headed to the nearest one that I had not yet visited – Eastlake Craft Brewery.

Eastlake is located in the Midtown Global Market on East Lake Street. The Global Market is an internationally-themed, public market with groceries, food vendors and boutique shops of all kinds. Located in the old Sears department store building, it is brimming with produce, meat, fish, and art. They hold weekly educational and entertainment programs. It’s a unique and colorful place that offers a magnificent olfactory overload the minute you walk in.

And now you can get a brewed-on-site beer. Eastlake Craft Brewery opened three weeks ago on December 11th. Owner/Brewer Ryan Pitman was a homebrewer. Prior to cranking up the kettle at Eastlake he had no professional brewing experience. This can bode poorly for a new brewery these days, but in this case it seems to be working out. The beers were generally solid across the board with no obvious off-flavors and plenty of desirable on-flavors. They offer clean, layered profiles with good attenuation.

Pitman started things off with mostly lighter, sessionable ales. The strongest beer on the current list tops out at 7% ABV. They go all the way down to a particularly tasty 4.1% table saison. Bigger brews are on the way, though. He’s got a double brown in the works at 8%, along with others. Pitman’s tastes lean toward the Belgian brews. The list leans heavily in that direction. But these are crisp beers like saison, Belgian pale ale, and Belgian IPAs instead of the expected abbey styles.

For non-drinkers there is root beer and Deane’s Kombucha on draft. (I’m happy to see Deane’s back on the market, albeit in non-alcoholic form.) You can order a One Two Punch, which is a blend of kombucha and beer. As the menu says, “Ask a server for a recommendation or let your creativity fly.” Food can be brought in from any of the many vendors in the Market. You can order directly at the bar from Manny’s Tortas, El Burrito Mercado, and Hot Indian Foods. The food will be delivered to you in the taproom.

My favorites from the tap list were Increasingly Lost Saison, Stick Style IPA, and Devil’s Kettle Belgian IPA.

Increasingly Lost Saison – This is a straight up table saison in the mold of Avril Saison from Belgium’s Brasserie Dupont. It’s a light and refreshing session brew coming in at only 4.1% ABV. Bright lemony overtones stand out in both the flavor and aroma. Peppery spice offers a zippy counterpoint. Subtle bubblegum notes fill in the background along with low, crackery, pils malt. Bitterness is moderate, but accentuated by the very dry finish.

Stick Style IPA – Tangerine and melon hops dominate the nose with floral notes underneath. This carries into the flavor. The same bright tangerine and melon are joined by juicier stone fruits. The focus is on hop character over bitterness. In fact, bitterness is pretty restrained for an IPA. Not a bad thing. It’s not quite a sweet-leaning Midwestern IPA, but also not quite a hop-dripping west coast version either. The malt profile makes a strong impression of toffee and toast. It’s a malty IPA, but not sweet. The finish is off-dry. A light sweetness that lingers into the finish is the only detractor.

Devil’s Kettle Belgian IPA – Full bodied and full flavored. It’s the strongest beer on the menu currently at 7% ABV. Medium-high bitterness lingers into the finish. Hop flavors bring spicy, floral and stone fruit overtones that blend with some fruit from fermentation. Malt character is huge, but again not sweet – biscuit and toffee. Belgian yeast does bring some fruit, but leans to the phenolic side with pepper and light clove. This is a good food beer. I really wanted some pulled pork with this. A pulled pork taco? Lingering over the glass it seemed to become a bit cloying by the end. It’s really tasty, but maybe a one-and-done beer for me.

The space is simple and casual with one wall open to the market. Seating is at mostly communal tables, but there is ample room at the bar as well. It struck me as a place for lunchtime meetings or as a pre-game stop off on the way to other evening plans.

Eastlake Brewery & Taproom
Midtown Global Market
920 E. Lake St. #123
Minneapolis, MN 55407

Hours
Thursday – 11 am to midnight
Friday – 11 am to midnight
Saturday – 11 am to midnight
Sunday – 11 am to 6 pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday
They open early for English Premier League Soccer

Surly Destination Brewery Grand Opening

December 19th, 2014

Surly Brewing Company officially opens their new digs this morning at 11am. So many words are being written/broadcast/Facebooked about this today that the news is hard to avoid. So many others have already given the basic information and said most of what needs to be said. I see no need to repeat what has already been oft repeated. I’ll keep my statement here brief.

Space: The building is beautiful. It combines a stark, concrete- and-steel modern sensibility with warming touches of wood and light. The communal seating in the beer hall encourages socializing (which is what beer is really all about), but there are a few smaller tables for those hard-core Minnesotans who may not want to sit with strangers. The most impressive thing about the space is that the brewery is the focal point. Every vantage in the building – both upstairs and down – looks onto the brewery through two story walls of glass. Beer is at the center of this place.

Food: Chef Jorge Guzman has taken the concept of beer hall food and stepped it up several notches. There is barbeque, meat, shellfish, salads and snacks. They even have pizza and a burger. But the snacks include things like Foie Gras French Toast and Bone Marrow. My don’t-miss menu items (there are so many): Smoked Brisket, Bone Marrow, Charcuterie Board (especially the pheasant rillette and the smoked ham), Bitter Greens Salad. This is food for grazing. It’s not the kind of thing where you order yourself an entrée and go. Order a couple things and share among your group. When those are done order a couple more. Repeat until full.

Beer: Come on. It’s Surly.

I’ve been known on occasion to make statements critical of Surly. But this place is freaking amazing.

20141218_142005

20141218_142030

20141218_155248

20141218_144026

20141218_145208

20141218_145744

20141218_151746

20141218_151452

20141218_151511

Spiegelau/Bell’s Brewery Wheat Beer Glass: How’s it Rate?

December 17th, 2014

Wheat beer glass

When it comes to glassware, the wine people have it over the beer people in spades. I often use wine glasses to serve beer at tasting events. Why? Because they work. Wine glass shapes maximize the delivery of aromatics that are vitally important to the experience of any good beverage. Using the correctly shaped glass for the different varietals of wine makes a difference. Don’t believe me? Take a Riedel glass class at one of the local cooking schools and you will be convinced.

Modern wine glass design is based on physics. Bowl shapes are carefully designed to retain and deliver aromatics. Glass lips are structured to deliver wine to specific parts of the tongue. Beer glassware on the other hand is, I believe, mostly based on tradition. That isn’t to say that some glassware designs don’t work to deliver a great drinking experience. I think the tulip and German wheat beer glasses are great. But others serve more as nostalgia than actually effective delivery devices. For instance, everyone hates the shaker pint. But I’d be hard pressed to say what the beloved nonic pint glass does for the sensory experience of beer that the shaker does not.

ThreeGlasses

This is beginning to change. Spiegelau, the Riedel subsidiary that makes beer glassware as well as wine stems, has been working with brewers to design glassware especially suited to different types of beer. First came an IPA glass. Next was a stout glass. Now they have teamed up with the folks at Bell’s to design a glass for wheat beers – specifically American and Belgian wheat beers.

I support these efforts. It’s time for the beer world to look beyond tradition and explore glassware that will give the best possible sensory experience of different beer styles. I think though, that the results have so far been mixed. I gave the IPA glass a marginal thumbs up. But the stout glass delivered all that was promised.

So how does the wheat beer glass stack up?

I put it to the test against a standard shaker pint and a tulip glass. I tested with both an American wheat beer and a Belgian witbier. The glasses were cleaned in an identical manner. Each was rinsed with cold water just prior to testing. Effort was made to fill each glass with equal volume and to pour with equal vigor. As with all of these tests the disclaimer must be made that glassware can’t be tested blind. My evaluation may have been colored by preconceptions or expectations. I tried to be objective.

These are the claims made by Spiegelau.

  • Large, voluminous bowl harnesses and retains the delicate aromas of wheat beer.
  • Mouth opening delivers beer evenly across the palate to enhance mouth feel and harmony of sweetness and acidity.
  • Laser cut lip ensures crisp, clean delivery in every sip.
  • Open bottom glass base drives beer and aromatic foam upward into main bowl after every sip.
  • Ultra-pure quartz material makes for unsurpassed clarity and flawless, true color presentation.
  • Stark, angular shape and open base creates dramatic visual cascading effect into glass as beer is poured.

20141125_193854

My evaluation.

Snapshot
New Belgium Brewing Company
Style: American Wheat Beer
5% ABV
13 IBU
Special Ingredients: Coriander, Grains of Paradise, Lactobacillus

Aroma: The difference was significant. The shaker pint flattened everything, giving nice lime citrus notes, but lacking any bready wheat or spicy yeast character. The tulip delivered a more layered experience with more of the pepper and wheat. The step up to the wheat beer glass was huge. The aromatics overall were brighter with more layers of complexity. Citrus and bready wheat were in fine balance. Added notes of bubblegum and peppery spice were evident.

Appearance: Color, head formation and retention, and clarity were similar in all three glasses. Aesthetic shape of the wheat beer glass was better than the shaker, but similar to the tulip. I did not notice any cascading foam effect.

Flavor: As with the aroma, the shaker pint dulled everything, leaving a thin and flat sensory experience with an unpleasant, lingering bitterness. The tulip emphasized the citrus fruitiness and acidity of the beer, but also retained some bready wheat and a touch of sweetness to balance. The wheat beer glass emphasized the wheat and spice at the expense of the brighter fruit notes. The rougher edges of flavor were smoothed out, giving a somewhat flattened experience.

Mouthfeel: The beer in the shaker pint seemed under carbonated and lacked liveliness. The tulip glass held the carbonation better, giving a bright and sparkling experience. The wheat beer glass smoothed the prickly carbonation and delivered what felt like a fuller mouthfeel.

Overall Impression: The shaker pint was the clear loser here, giving an overall dull and lifeless sensory experience. While the wheat beer glass was heads and tails the winner in terms of delivery of aromatics, my overall glass pick for this beer was the tulip. The sparkling, bright quality of the flavors and mouthfeel was more interesting and pleasing. I preferred the emphasis on fruit and acidity that resulted in a better-balanced flavor.

20141125_194310

Wittekerke
Brouwerij Bavik, Bavikhove West Flanders, Belgium
Style: Belgian Witbier
5% ABV
11 IBU
Special Ingredients: Orange Peel and Coriander

Aroma: Aromatics in the shaker pint were low overall. Fruitiness was emphasized with faint acidic, lemony notes. The tulip delivered a fuller experience that still emphasized citric fruit. Orange was prominent and obviously orange. There was some perception of bready wheat. The wheat beer glass delivered a fantastically full aromatic experience. Saltine cracker-like wheat was prominent with some bready/yeasty notes. Fruit was in proper balance with the grain base – oranges and lemons. The floral coriander came through. All of the aromas melded better.

Appearance: Color, head formation and retention, and clarity were similar in all three glasses. Aesthetic shape of the wheat beer glass was better than the shaker, but similar to the tulip. I did not notice any cascading foam effect.

Flavor: Flavor delivery from the shaker pint was low overall, emphasizing lemony fruit with subtle, cracker-like wheat and coriander underneath. Flavors from the tulip were crisp, sharp and lively with fruit as the dominant note – orange, lemon. The wheat base came through clearly and the coriander made a pleasant appearance. The wheat beer glass deemphasized the fruitiness in favor of the wheat. The orange peel tasted like pithy orange peel. Coriander was pushed forward, leaving a somewhat soapy impression.

Mouthfeel: The shaker pint and wheat beer glass both left the beer feeling somewhat under carbonated. The tulip better maintained the high level of carbonation expected from the style.

Overall Impression: Once again the shaker pint proved itself inferior, delivering an overall flat and lifeless sensory experience. Once again the wheat beer glass dominated in terms of aromatics. But the soapy coriander and the lessened fruit character left me longing for the brighter, better balanced flavors from the tulip glass.

To sum it up

the wheat beer glass delivers everything promised in terms of aromatic experience. It provides a much fuller nose with clearly articulated layers of aromas that the other glasses just cannot match. In terms of flavor however, the wheat beer glass seemed to flatten things in a way that made them less interesting. The bright acidity from the tulip glass was lost in the wheat beer glass and the articulation of flavors became a bit muddy. In terms of appearance it was a tie between the tulip and the wheat beer glass that depends mostly in which glass shape the drinker finds more appealing.

Although the aromatics of the wheat beer glass far surpassed the tulip, the brighter flavor experience from the tulip leaves me leaning toward it. For American wheat and witbier I’ll stick with my tulip.

As a side note, I tried a couple other non-wheat beer styles in the glass. In each case the result was the same. Aromatics were awesome. Flavors were just a bit flattened.

Somm Speak: A Season for Sharing – Thanksgiving Pairings

November 26th, 2014

I’ve a confession to make. I like to drink wine.

Another confession is that I didn’t really know very much about wine until I met my wine buddy, sommelier Leslee Miller of Amusée. (Leslee’s last name is now actually officially “ThewinesommthatIworkwith.”) We started teaching together in 2009 at Cooks of Crocus Hill. That relationship has grown over the years both professionally and personally. We do regular corporate and private events together as well as teaching, writing, and organizing classes and outings that bring beer and wine together under one umbrella. We also just like to hang out and drink. It has been said of us that we are more recognizable together than we are apart.

As part of this ever-expanding partnership, we have started exchanging blog posts. You can find my Monthly Pint column on Leslee’s Amusée blog. And she will start offering a monthly Somm Speak column on mine.

It’s good to expand your horizons.

A Season for Sharing

Whether you’re a beer enthusiast or a wine fanatic, there’s one thing we can all agree upon this Thanksgiving season, you’re gonna need one or the other for this season of sharing. Knowing that half your holiday gatherings will want beer and the other wine, Michael and I thought it a good point to introduce a brand new exchange of blogs from A Perfect Pint to Amusée – showcasing both libations, so you’re set to go with just one click!

On Amusée, Michael now writes a monthly column called A Monthly Pint and I now pen a monthly piece for all you beer enthusiasts called Somm Speak on A Perfect Pint’s blog.

This month I bring you a few of my favorite wines paired to a variety of Thanksgiving dishes!

Grateful Grapes

Thanksgiving brings a whole variety of food. From traditional family recipes to a slew of fun new finds, we know for most of us that turkey will act as our main dish. From roasted, deep fried, smoked or grilled – the almighty bird needs a few tips for pairing from the wine side.

In for a roasty bird with a gorgeously oven-browned, buttery skin? You know, the kind where you shove several pounds of ‘Paula Dean’ under the skin and roast your birdie for a few long hours, leaving it juicy with bits of melted butter and ‘just right’ browned skin for enjoying?

Generally, the rule of thumb in this situation – and certainly one where you most likely can’t go wrong – is to go with a Pinot Noir. If you head this route, splurge on something nice. I’m a fan of Oregon Pinot Noir, yet sometimes a nice Russian River Pinot with bits of minty eucalyptus and dark raspberry fruit does the trick. Want a few Pinot picks for your table? Head here to my Pinterest board – Yes, I’m a Pinotphile – for a list of suggestions.

St. Urbans-Hof ‘Ockfener Bockstein’ Kabinett RieslingLove smoking your bird? Try the second most traditional grape for the season, Riesling! Remember, not all Riesling are sweet! Want fresh, inviting and dry – head to Germany. One of my favorites for pairing to smoked poultry is St. Urbans-Hof ‘Ockfener Bockstein’ Kabinett Riesling from the Mosel. Notes of peach, apricot, creamy apple pulp, and spice cake envelope gorgeous aromas of freshly picked blue and white flowers – violet!

Quinta do Crasto Douro Valley Grilled bird? Smoke and char call for one thing – something dark, medium bodied and delicious when it comes to turkey on the grill. I’m a huge fan of Portuguese reds for this category. Go with a winery that I’ve most recently visited, Quinta do Crasto, for the best value! Quinta do Crasto Douro Valley red, Portugal. For just over $22, the dark juicy jammy fruits combined to the black pepper back of the wine’s body snuggle in perfectly with a charred, crunchy skin of a grilled turkey, yet they don’t over power the juicy delicious meat of the bird.

Lastly, deep fried! To all you crazy Minnesotans who are into deep-frying your birds – I’m finally game for this technique. Tender and rich, and when cooked just right, frying will give you a skin that you’ll never trade for again any other Thanksgiving. Try a wine like a light bodied Zinfandel from CA or even a darker, more structured (older vined) Gamay from the Loire Valley of France. Like Gamay but not a Beaujolais Nouveau fan? Try these two ‘sister’ wines from the Loire Valley of France for a bit of a change when it comes to this grape.

Now that you’ve got your main bird covered, you won’t want to forget the opening appetizer wine and your closer. First things first… No one enters my house any time of year without a glass of bubbles. Of course ‘bubbles’ can refer to beer as well, but in my domain, sparkling wines rule!

François Chidaine MontlouisHere’s a fun little winery from the Loire region of France (again) that will keep everyone happy, not to mention, will pair beautifully with anything squash on your table. Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, try the François Chidaine Montlouis, yum! Creamy pear, apple & bright stone fruit make this a great opener for all things – cheese, creamy dips, to chips and sweet pickle plates.

Alright, alright – the pie! From pumpkin pie to pecan, I’m telling ya – fortifieds are your answer. Yes, Port will absolutely do the trick, but if you want the ultimate pairing to pumpkin pie, go with a sweet sherry from Jerez, Spain – like Moscatel, with its honeyed, orangey bits, will make any pumpkin pie pairing perfect. Need a recipe and pairing for your table, check out Amusée’s latest ‘Drunkin Punkin’ Pie recipe and pairing blog.

And if you’re just south of the Mason Dixon line (or happen to love a little southern something for Thanksgiving dessert), Pecan Pie and Madeira could be the match for you. Michael, I’m sure, has a gorgeous line up of beers for all these sweets, but when it comes to truly being in doubt when it comes to sweet, go Madeira. Try a sweeter version, like Malmsey, for a perfect pairing to pecan pie!

From top to bottom, we’ve got you covered. Looks like no one should go thirsty this holiday season if you’re keeping up with A Perfect Pint and Amusée! For more monthly wine tips, check in often for my guest posts along A Perfect Pint’s blog line labeled “Somm Speak.”

Until then, Happy Thanksgiving y’all!

Schell’s Fresh Hop: Equinox

November 8th, 2014

Still more fresh-hop beers!

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

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

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

Here’s my notes:

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

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

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

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

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium-high carbonation.

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

Summit Unchained #17: Harvest Fresh IPA

October 29th, 2014

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

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

Here’s my notes:

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

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

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

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

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation.

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