Grains & Grapes Adventure Tour: Taste of the Rhine River

Beer trips! Wine trips! Beer and wine trips!

We can hardly get over the excitement about Tour de Oregon. But now I am super-psyched to announce the second Grains & Grapes Adventure Tour with my Certified Sommelier, wine-buddy Leslee Miller at Amusée. GERMANY!

Tastes of the Rhine River will be an extravagant exploration of one of the most famous beer and wine regions in the world – the Rhine River Valley in Germany. Kölsch breweries in Cologne. Altbier brewpubs in the Altstadt of Düsseldorf. Vinyards along the Rhine and the Mosel rivers. A Rhine river cruise. A couple of castles (including Neuschwanstein Castle, which is really a don’t-miss destination). And it all wraps up at the biggest beer fest on earth, the Munich Oktoberfest!

This really is going to be the trip of a lifetime.

When: September 29 to October 6, 2015
How Much: $3399*

Trip Highlights

  • All ground transport in Germany
  • Beer tours in Dusseldorf & Cologne Germany
  • Winery visit on the Rhine River
  • Rhine River Day Cruise
  • Heidelberg Castle
  • Oktoberfest in Munich
  • Neuschwanstein Castle
  • 2 nights in Cologne, Germany
  • 2 nights in Rudesheim, Germany
  • 3 nights in Augsburg, Germany
  • 15 Meals including Daily Breakfast

Check out our travel partner Defined Destinations for more information and registration.

Hop on board! Leslee and I can’t wait to see you in Germany!

Prost!

*Cost does not include airfare to Cologne

Rhine-River-Flyer-web

Insight Beer Dinner at Fire Lake Grill

Insight Fire Lake

Not all that long ago beer dinners in the Twin Cities were a rarity. Now you can hardly turn around without tripping over one. Despite their current ubiquity, there is still something deeply satisfying about sitting down with friends to a fancy meal paired to great beer. I’ve interviewed hundreds of brewers, but I still love listening to them introduce their beers and brewery with each new course. The chef emerging from the kitchen to explain each dish just adds to the elegance of the affair.

It’s especially exciting when the dinner is the brewery’s first, as was the case at Fire Lake Grill House in downtown Minneapolis last Tuesday. Five-month old Insight Brewing was feted in a five-course meal prepared by Chef Jim Kyndberg and his crew. Founder/brewer Ilan Klages-Mundt was on hand to unravel each beer and tell the tale of his world-wide journey of brewery apprenticeships. It’s really no secret that I’m a fan of Ilan’s beer, so I was excited to be able to attend.

Fire Lake is really trying to ramp up its attention to the local beer scene. They have held beer dinners in the past with Lift Bridge Brewing Company and Big Wood Brewery. In addition to showcasing Minnesota beer, these beer dinners allow the kitchen staff to flex their culinary muscles a bit. The menus feature dishes that wouldn’t ordinarily appear on the Fire Lake menu. One thing that impressed me is that Chef Kyndberg assigns a dish to each member of his lead kitchen staff. The dishes don’t all revolve around him.

It is clear though, that they are fairly new at this. I chuckled a couple of times listening to Chef as he talked about the difficulty of pairing beer with food – especially dessert. In my own experience, beer presents so many options to go with any dish that the difficulty is often choosing which direction to pick. Some wine sommeliers will even admit – at least in private – that beer is the more food-friendly beverage. And dessert is my favorite course to pair. But if the broad flavor palate of beer is not as familiar, I can understand having to put some extra thought into the pairing process.

That said, they did a good job. The food was excellent and the pairings were generally good. On a couple of dishes they were extraordinary. The ambience of the private room was elegant and yet congenial. I do think that we were over poured. (Did I really just say that?) There were five beers and the pours were big. I had a pretty good buzz going by the time the dinner ended. Fortunately I had taken the train downtown. It might have been an Uber night otherwise. Also, brewer Ilan’s name was misspelled on the menu card. It seems important to me to get your guest of honor’s name correct. That attention to detail matters.

On to the pairings!

Starters – Paired to Lamb & Flag
Bacon Wrapped Quail Legs, Pork Belly and Scallop Skewers, Bacon Popovers in Beer Cheese Soup.
Not bad, but the smokiness of the quail legs and the scallop skewers overwhelmed the light, English bitter a bit. The bitterness of the beer clashed. A maltier brew would have paired better. The popover pairing, however, was brilliant. The smoke was there, but tempered by the beer cheese soup. The beer’s bitterness cut through the creamy soup. The popover dough and bacon brought out the beers subtle malt.

Fish Course – Paired to Yuzu Pale Ale
Miso Marinated Char, Furikake Rice, Red Curry Broth
This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The fish was perfectly prepared and the curry sauce had a flavorful, spicy zip. The impulse to use the Yuzu fruit infused pale was understandable. I probably would have gone there too. Unfortunately the beer’s bitterness amplified the curry spice to the point that the delicate fruitiness of the yuzu was overpowered. The very thing that makes the beer special was lost.

Fish-Course

Poultry Course – Paired to Curiosity IPA
Applewood Smoked Beer Can Chicken, Chipotle Rub, Black Bean Salsa
Best pairing of the night. The dish was delicious. The spice was just right. Acidity in the salsa offered a bright, cutting contrast. Curiosity is perhaps my least favorite beer from Insight. It’s not bad, but it’s kind of just another IPA. Nothing special. The dish really brought out its best points. The fruity hops really popped. Its relatively modest bitterness didn’t over-amp the spice. The combination brought out the chipotle smoke.

Poultry-web

Meat Course – Paired with Saison de Blanc
Pretzel Crusted Pork Rillette, Gribiche Sause, Pickled Carrots and Beets
Saison de Blanc is a Belgian-style saison made with Sauvignon grape must. The dish had the feel of Provence that worked well with the farmhouse ale. Herbal and herbal notes spoke to one another. The acid from the wine grapes cut through it all. The really magical part for me though was the acid/acid mix of the beer with the pickled vegetables.

meat-web

Dessert – Paired with Door County Cherry Saison
Lefse and Dark Chocolate Stout Sauce, Mascarpone, Apricots
Door County Cherry Saison is Saison de Blanc with a pound per pint of tart, Door County cherries. The dessert was like an upper-Midwest tiramisu. You can’t go wrong with chocolate and cherries and between the glass and the plate there was plenty of both. The beer had enough acidity to cut through it all and the apricots added a nice touch to pull out some of the other fruity notes of the base saison. This was the second-best paring of the night.

dessert-web

Cheers to Insight and Fire Lake for a successful and enjoyable night.

Schell’s Stag Series #9: Cave-Aged, Barrel-Aged Lager

In the early days of lager brewing in the United States, before the advent of mechanical refrigeration, the first thing a would-be brewer had to do when building a brewery is dig a cave. Caves provided the cool and constant temperature needed for the fermentation and conditioning of lager beer. With ice harvested from the frozen rivers and lakes in the winter brewers could not only achieve moderate temperatures, they could maintain near-freezing conditions all summer long.

In 1870, S. Liebmann’s Sons Brewing Company in Brooklyn, New York became the first American brewery to install a mechanical refrigeration system. Brewing was the first industry to make wide use of the technology. By 1891, nearly every brewery in the country had a refrigeration machine. The old lagering caves became disused and forgotten, relegated to storage rooms or junk heaps.

Like every other brewery of a certain age, the August Schell Brewing Company has such abandoned cellaring caves beneath it. But Schell’s brewmaster Jace Marti has brought them back to life, returning them to the purpose which they once served. The ninth release in the Schell’s Stag Series – Cave-Aged, Barrel-Aged Lager – was aged in the caves for three months in wooden barrels the way it was done 150 years ago. But there is one difference. These barrels once held whiskey.

Aging beer in used barrels isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Schell’s. To my knowledge they have only done it one other time, with the Stag Series #1: Barrel Aged Schmaltz’s Alt. That one was aged in Pinot Noir barrels. Schell’s is much better known for their traditional German-style beers. But why not barrel aging? They do the other stuff so well, from straight-ahead pilsner to funky-sour Berliner weisse.

Stag Series #9: Cave-Aged, Barrrel-Aged Lager is described as a dark lager aged in American whiskey barrels. Although they don’t call it this, for the sake of providing a stylistic comparison I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s a doppelbock-like brew – rich, malty, and slightly warming. Did they pull off the whiskey aged lager?

Here’s my notes:

Schell's Stag Series #9Schell’s Stag Series #9: Cave-Aged, Barrel-Aged Lager
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Whiskey-Barrel Aged Dark Lager
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
7.7% ABV
40 IBU

Aroma: Low roasted malt. Oak and vanilla. Old wood. Musty. Low cocoa. No overt whiskey. Dried fruit – raisins, plums. No hops. Floral alcohol aromas are prominent, but pleasant.

Appearance: Very dark brown, nearly black. Ruby highlights. Brilliant. Moderate, creamy, beige foam with moderate to good retention.

Flavor: Fruit is forward – dark and dried, raisins, cherries, plums. Malty – caramel-like melanoidin. Low cocoa. Toasted malt notes in finish. Musty, old wood carries over from the aroma. Whiskey is subtle but noticeable. Caramel and vanilla. Low bitterness. Very low spicy hop flavors. Finish is off-dry with lingering dark fruits. Malt forward. Low alcohol. Medium sweetness, but dries out in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Rich and lightly creamy. Medium-low carbonation. Low alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: Such a lovely beer. Like a doppelbock aged in barrels. Multiple layers of complexity. Strongly overt flavors of malt, melanoidin, caramel and dark fruit. But if you pay attention the subtler layers take your mind in alternate directions. It doesn’t taste of “whiskey” so much as the flavor components of whiskey – caramel, alcohol, vanilla. Not a huge fan of whiskey, I like that about this beer.

Summit Hopvale Organic Ale

In June 2014, Canadian beer writer Stephen Beaumont wrote a sarcastic piece on his Blogging at the World of Beer blog titled Every Beer is Now an IPA. In it he bemoaned the proliferation of variants on the India Pale Ale – variants that often have nothing to do with that style except an overload of hops. Beer drinkers are subjected to black, white and red IPA, Belgian IPA, rye IPA, stout IPA, Cali-Belgique IPA and any number of others. IPA is such a popular style that brewers slap that acronym onto any hopped-up ale or lager they produce instead of going to the trouble of calling it something else. If it’s an IPA people will buy it.

The one that bugs me maybe the most is the “session IPA.” What the heck is that besides an oxymoron? The whole idea of an IPA is super-hoppy and high alcohol. Indeed the style’s mythical origin story is all about brewers upping the alcohol content on beer shipped to India so that is wouldn’t spoil. IPA was never intended to be sessionable. We have a style category for sessionable pale ale. It’s called “pale ale.”

So what is a session IPA and why isn’t it just called pale ale? A quick survey of a few of them shows alcohol content ranging from 4.3% to 5.1% ABV. Using the BJCP guidelines as a standard (because that’s the standard we’ve got) that puts all but one of them squarely in the range for American pale ale. And the one is under by just .2%. As for bitterness, they range from 40 to 65 IBU. Of the eight that I surveyed, only three were outside the American Pale Ale guidelines, one by an insignificant 2 IBU. I would argue that these beers are all just heavily late and dry-hopped pale ales.

But two of the examples that I looked at had significantly higher bitterness than is specified for an American pale ale. Stone Go To clocks in at 65 IBU and Summit Hopvale Organic Ale at 55 IBU – both square in the range for an IPA. So perhaps the definition of session IPA – if we have to call it that – should be a lower-alcohol, highly-hopped, pale ale with the bitterness of an IPA.

I don’t like the label, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the beers. Given my preference for malty beers, these often thin and aggressively bitter beers should not be to my taste. There is really nothing about them that I should like. But I happen to love them.

Did I mention Summit’s Hopvale Organic Ale? The newest year-round beer from the steadfast St. Paul brewery is being unleashed on the public today (April 1st. No really. It’s not a joke.). Summit seems to have studiously avoided the session IPA moniker in the marketing for this beer. Thank you Summit! They say merely that it has the “hop character of a full-strength IPA, but the drinkability of a low-gravity bitter.” But at 4.7% ABV and 55 IBU it fits neatly into the pigeon hole. It’s made with all organic ingredients and just a touch of lemon peel to give it a citrusy high note.

Here’s my notes:

Brews_Can_HopvaleHopvale Organic Ale
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Session IPA
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
4.7% ABV
55 IBU

Aroma: Huge hop aroma. Melon, tropical fruit – mango. Herbs. Grapefruit. Lemon peel. Malt offers only a low impression of sweetness. Neutral character. Low esters – orange. Hint of sulfur. It all combines into a fruity, almost powdered sugar aroma.

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

Flavor: Full blast of hops with low, supporting malt sweetness. Hop flavors are similar to the aroma – melon, tropical, grapefruit, pine. Lemon comes through more strongly. Bitterness is medium-high to high, but smooth, not overwhelming. Malt sweetness supports. Low biscuit/toast malt flavor. Light and refreshing. Hops are the star. Malt is barely there. Finish is very dry with lingering bitterness and hop flavors.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium-high carbonation. Very low hop astringency.

Overall Impression: Hops rule the roost in this beer. Malt is almost an afterthought. Almost, but not quite. And oh, what hops they are. Full of rich, fruity and resiny flavors. And then there is that bright spot of lemon peel. This is one of those beers that I shouldn’t like, but do. This will be great in the summer, but it’s a year-round so you can drink it all the time.

Boulevard Brewing Co. – The Calling IPA

I don’t have a lot of back-story here. I like the Smokestack Series beers from Boulevard Brewing Co. They have a new one that will be year-round. It’s called The Calling IPA. A simple malt bill of just pale 2-row barley malt supports a blend of eight different hops – Mosaic, Equinox, Galaxy, Amarillo, Simcoe, Bravo, Topaz, and Cascade. That’s a lotta hops.

Here’s my notes:

the_calling_12oz_bottleThe Calling
Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, Missouri
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
8.5% ABV
75 IBU
6 SRM

Aroma: All hops – Citrus, lemons, grapefruit, tropical fruits. The deep, juicy kind of tropical – mango and guava. Low herbal/mint notes. Faint malt sweetness with neutral character. Low floral alcohol. Super fruity, sweet and juicy, with contrasting floral alcohol.

Appearance: Light gold and hazy. Moderate, creamy, white head with moderate retention.

Flavor: Juicy hop flavors dominate over low, grainy malt sweetness. Bitterness is restrained, but lingers into the finish at low levels. Pineapple. Tropical fruit. Mangoes. Lemon curd. Pine resin. The lemon shines bright in the off-dry finish. Moderate alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation. Low alcohol warming. Not astringent.

Overall Impression: Bitterness is surprisingly restrained at 75 IBU. The 8.5% load of malt sweetness more than amply balances it. This beer holds its alcohol well. It’s an example of style-creep that has occurred since the last BJCP guidelines were written. This falls into Double IPA range, but Boulevard calls it an IPA. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

LynLake Brewery – A First Look

LynLake Brewery

Progress has been slow in the continuing quest to satisfy my New Year’s resolution by visiting all the TC taprooms that I have neglected. I’m sorry. I’m really busy right now. But it is always on my mind – a little nagging voice in my head telling me, “Get your butt out of the house and go drink some beer!” I finally listened to that voice, pried free some time, and got my butt into the next taproom on my list, LynLake Brewery.

lyndale bingoLynLake is located on South Lyndale Avenue just north of Lake Street (thus the name) between The Herkimer and Moto-I. It occupies a most fascinating building. The Lyndale Theater opened in 1915 as a silent movie house and operated as a cinema until it closed in 1952. An interesting bit of trivia, actor Eddie Albert was once a manager there. That’s Oliver Wendell Douglas for any fellow Green Acres fans. The building became a grocery store in 1954 and was a furniture store from 1962 to 1972. The American Legion used it as a bingo hall from 1973 to 1990. After that came an antique store, which closed around 2006.

The building’s history plays a role in defining the feel of the place. The high, movie theater ceiling gives it a fantastically open feel. Surviving gold gilt on the cross members, together with the exposed brick walls evoke a nostalgic feel of another era. I kept looking for a proscenium arch on the back wall. This old-time feel is amplified by the antique looking light bulbs that illuminate the space and the bent bike wheels that hang over the bar. The brewhouse rises at the back of the room like the set of a 1930s Frankenstein film.

20150318_183322

They don’t serve food at LynLake, nor can they have food trucks parked on Lyndale Avenue. But the table flip-charts have menus from a number of nearby restaurants that will deliver. As the instructions on the cards say, just call them up, order, pay, and eat.

An elevator and rather impressive staircases on either side of the room lead up to a delightful rooftop patio. There is ample picnic table-type seating and two fire pits to warm you up on cooler spring and fall days. The Lyndale Avenue side of the patio offers a great view of the Minneapolis skyline. It will be a great place for a beer this summer.

Although nothing was terrible, I found the beers to be a bit hit or miss. Some were great, some not so much. So let’s start with the great.

Sideburns Oat Raisin Milk Stout on nitro was fantastic. It’s full-bodied, rich, and rummy, with huge cocoa notes giving the impression of creamy, melted, bittersweet chocolate. The raisins come across as a faint, background hint of dark fruit. There is some licorice. A touch of dry, black malt roast offers a balancing counterpoint to the sweetness.

My second favorite on the list fell at the opposite end of the spectrum from Sideburns. Ponyboy Gold Lager is light, sessionable, and utterly delightful. Beer nerds tend to poo-poo American-style lagers. There really is no reason for it when you can get one as good as this. It’s simple and lightly sweet, with overtones of toasted grain if you are willing to look for them. Bitterness is medium-low and supported by spice and lemon hop flavors. If you want a beer for the long haul, this is it.

MMC 63 American Brown Ale was one of the two cask-conditioned offerings available during my visit. It was a well-done cask – clear, smooth, and served at the proper temperature. The beer was good, too. Caramel, nuts, a touch of chocolate, and a bit of roast make up the body. It’s balanced by a moderate level of bitterness. Tasty!

Take 6 is a decent if not great American India Pale Ale. It emphasizes hop flavor and aroma over bitterness and in fact comes off as just a little bit sweet – Midwestern style. Peppery spice and lemon-pith citrus give the beer its zing. There is a hint of that hop-derived garlic of which I am not a fan. With so many great IPAs out there, I’d say drink something else while you’re here. Sideburns, for instance.

Rubbish Oat Amber Ale was the biggest disappointment. There is a lot going on in this so-called Scottish amber ale. Caramel, raisins, cherries, and chocolate all make an appearance. The beer poured with a heavy haze. The murky appearance matched the profile. The myriad flavors all just seemed jumbled together without crisp definition.

Despite a couple of less appealing beers, I’d say that overall for ambiance, beer, and the rooftop patio, LynLake Brewery is worth a stop. Hours are:
Wednesday and Thursday: 5pm-12am
Friday: 4pm-1am
Saturday: 12pm-1am
Sunday: 12pm-10pm

20150318_172023

Utah’s Uinta Brewing Co. Enters Minnesota

I love Utah!

From snow-capped mountains in the north to slick-rock desert canyons in the south, it is a natural wonderland of truly extraordinary beauty. I visit the southern, high desert every year. If I don’t get my annual Utah fix I get all itchy in my soul. There is nothing more spiritually regenerating than being alone in the absolute silence of a canyon watching the bright blaze of oranges and reds as the rocks light up at sunset. I would move out there if I could come up with a way to make a living that I think I would actually enjoy.

What many people don’t realize is that there is actually a pretty decent craft beer scene in Utah. Salt Lake City is home to 18 breweries, including Squatters, Epic, Bohemian, Wasatch, and the oldest, Uinta. There are a number of others spread around the state for a total of 30-plus. As the headline on the Utah Beer Blog states, “We may live in a desert, but we’re not dry.”

There is a misconception about Utah beer that deserves clearing up. The belief is that brewers in the state can only make the dreaded “3.2 beer.” The first thing to tackle here is exactly what that means. There are two ways to measure alcohol content – by weight and by volume. The two are not equivalent. For whatever reason most state regulators measure alcohol by weight. The rest of us talk about alcohol by volume. 3.2% alcohol by weight translates to approximately 4% alcohol by volume – about the same as many American lagers or Guinness Draught Stout. The English and the Scots have been making full-flavored ales, bitters, browns, and stouts at 4% ABV and much lower for a very long time. The fact is that sessionable, low-alcohol beers don’t have to be flavorless.

The second piece of this common belief is that Utah brewers are not restricted to 4% alcohol. Draft beers have to be 4% or less. They can put whatever they want into a bottle. There are plenty of good IPAs, double IPAs, and even barleywines being made in the Beehive State.

I like to drink local when I travel. So when I make my annual western trek, I drink a lot of Utah beer. I have very seldom been disappointed, even by the low-alcohol offerings. A 4% beer tastes pretty damn good after spending an entire day hiking in the dry, desert air. One of my favorites has always been Uinta Brewing Company. Pretty much everything I have tasted of theirs – from small beers to big – has been tasty and satisfying. So I was pretty psyched to learn that this brewery is entering the Twin Cities market this week. The beers being launched here should put the 4% myth to rest. They include a 9.2% alcohol Imperial Black IPA and a 9.5% Double IPA!

We actually had Uinta beers in the Twin Cities for a very brief time several years ago. Co-owner Steve Kuftinic has relations here and brought the occasional case with him when he would he would visit. It’s good to see them back. There is a launch event this Wednesday at Mackenzie’s Pub if you want to check them out.

I sampled a few brews prior to the launch. Just to make sure they were up to snuff, you know.

Here’s my notes:

wyldWyld
Uinta Brewing Co., Salt Lake City, Utah
Style: Extra Pale Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
4% ABV
29 IBU

Aroma: Aromatics are low overall. Bright and delicate citrus hops – lemon. Some floral notes. Sweet malt beneath, with some biscuit notes. Low esters – pineapple. Some English-like butter.

Appearance: Deep gold with a slight haze. Moderate, dense, white foam with good retention.

Flavor: Very light and delicate – almost thin. Bitterness is the focus. Initial bitterness gives way to sweetness and fruit, coming back to bitterness at the end. Malt is very low – light sweetness with a biscuity, grainy character. Hop flavors reflect aroma – citrus, lemon, oranges, some floral. Low esters – pineapple. Faint butter. Tannic, tea-like drying in the finish.

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

Overall Impression: An English bitter profile with American hop flavor and aromas. Sessionable and summery. Grainy, biscuit malt supports impressive, yet smooth bitterness for such a small beer. Hops are what it’s all about, but not overly aggressively.

babaBaba Black Lager
Style: Schwarzbier
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
4% ABV
32 IBU

Aroma: Aromatics generally low, but malt dominated. Subtle roast malt – coffee and faint cocoa. Bread crust. Very low spicy, noble hops.

Appearance: Very dark brown, nearly opaque black. Full, creamy, beige head with good retention.

Flavor: Malt dominated. Leads with cocoa and roasted malt bitterness. Midway some creamy, bittersweet chocolate comes in, giving an impression of increased sweetness. Other malt notes of bread crust. Low citrus/spice noble hop flavor. Hop bitterness is medium. Finish is very dry, accentuated by dry, roasted malt – coffee grounds and lightly burnt acrid.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Low roast malt astringency.

Overall Impression: A really nice, if a bit roasty version of a German-style, black lager. Made with organic barley and hops. I would drink a lot of this. Actually, I have.

dubheDubhe
Style: Imperial Black IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
9.2% ABV
109 IBU

Aroma: Roast and resin. Chocolate and cocoa malt. Resinous citrus/pine hops. Oranges. Grapefruit rind.

Appearance: Very dark brown – nearly opaque black. Clear. Thick, creamy, tan head with good retention.

Flavor: Malt and hops in balance. Rich. Malt character is strong – chocolate roast. Medium sweetness balanced by high and long-lingering hop bitterness, which is accentuated by bitterness from roasted malt. Same resin and citrus hop flavor as in the aroma. High orange and grapefruit pith notes contrast the chocolate. Alcohol is apparent – a touch hot. Finish is off-dry. Very low acrid black malt notes add dryness.

Mouthfeel: Creamy. Full body. Medium carbonation. Medium alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: Big, black, bold, and bitter. The chocolaty malt plays a large role here, giving it a pleasing, creamy richness. Contrasting citrus makes is like a flavored chocolate bar. The only real distraction is a bit of booziness from the alcohol.

Grains & Grapes Tour De Oregon

oregon imageTraveling just got a little bit more interesting!

Announcing Amusée Excursions: Wine and Beer Global Travel led by certified beverage professionals – Sommelier Leslee Miller & Cicerone Michael Agnew.

Leslee and I have been joined at the hip for several years now, spreading the good news of beer and wine. Our classes and events have earned a reputation for fun and excellence with aficionados across the Twin Cities and beyond. As our businesses have expanded and our relationships with breweries and wineries have strengthened, we feel it is time to share our insatiable love for not only beer & wine but travel as well!

With that in mind, we are launching Grains & Grapes Adventure Tours. And we’re starting off big. This year is already jam packed with a thrilling schedule of wine and beer adventures from Oregon to Germany.

Tour de Oregon (that’s o-re-GOHN), November 4-8, 2015

Leslee and I very excited about announcing our first trip. Tour de Oregon has taken us well over a year to plan (because we wanted it be THAT special!). It is now ready for registration. I can promise you it will be an amazing VIP travel experience for any wine/beer enthusiast!

Start your journey in Oregon’s ‘City of Roses’ — Portland! Explore Portland’s food and libation culture as we lead you through some of the city’s most coveted food sites and pairings. Enjoy a combo of privately led brewery tours by some of the city’s most talented brewmasters, taste from a variety of Portland’s legendary food-carts, and savor a perfectly paired chef/sommelier wine dinner in the heart of the city’s Pearl District.

Then travel to one of the world’s most envied, world-class sites for Pinot Noir – the Willamette Valley! We’ll stay in one of Condé Naste’s 2014 Top 25 Resorts, the Allison Inn & Spa, (named by the magazine ‘a jewel of a resort’) as we spend three days touring the terroir of the valley’s finest restaurants and wineries. Enjoy privileged access to many of the Pacific Northwest’s most talked about wine country experiences, as you sip your way through an array of fantastic Willamette Valley winery tours and tastings. Savor an afternoon walk through the Jory clay soils of a Dundee vineyard tour and experience a lavish winery cave dinner paired to one of the valley’s most celebrated Pinot Noir house’s exclusive portfolio. But the Willamette Valley is not just about wine. There is beer there as well. You’ll indulge in a brewmaster’s luncheon with the founder of one of Oregon’s newest and most interesting breweries, Wolves & People, with a collection of the brewery’s farmhouse-style gems paired to the Allison Inn’s award-winning food.

As if our adventure hasn’t already been a whirlwind of unbelievable experiences, we wrap up the weekend with a gorgeous private dinner in a cozy Dundee restaurant featuring a hand-crafted menu with beer and wine pairings selected by your Sommelier and Cicerone hosts.

This is truly an excursion you will be talking about for years to come; a trip that exceeds what Leslee and I plan for ourselves when we head to beer and wine territory!

grains&grapes

Trip Inclusions:

  • 1 night stay at the historic Heathman Hotel, downtown Portland
  • 3 night stay at Condé Naste’s award-winning inn, The Allison Inn & Spa
  • Full luxury coach travel from the Heathman Hotel to the Willamette Valley
  • 2 Brewery tours & tastings in the city of Portland (Widmer Brothers, Hair of the Dog, and maybe one more surprise. Shhhhh…)
  • 2 hotel breakfasts
  • A Brewmaster’s luncheon with Wolves & People Brewery owner, Christian DeBenedetti, at the Allison Inn & Spa
  • A winery luncheon with winemaker & owner of Youngberg Hill Winery, Wayne Bailey
  • A private winery cave dinner at Archery Summit Winery
  • A Beer/Wine paired dinner at Reds Hills Provincial Dining
  • A Chef/Sommelier paired dinner at Blue Hour Restaurant of Portland’s historic, Pearl District
  • 3 Willamette Valley winery tours & tastings (Youngberg Hill, Colene Clemens & Argyle Wineries)
  • An afternoon guided vineyard tour through some of the valley’s most coveted Pinot Noir sites with one of the valley’s most famous vineyard managers
  • Professional onsite coordination and assistance

Trip does not include:

  • Round-trip airfare (Plan to arrive in ‘PDX’ in time for our first event which begins @ 5pm on Wed, Nov 4th–Departure at your leisure on Sunday, Nov 8th)
  • Travel insurance
  • Personal incidentals
  • Airport transfers in both your home city and Portland

Payment Details:

  • $2650 per person includes the details listed above
  • Payment may be made by cash or check, or by credit card (processing fee of 4% applies to credit card payments)
  • Checks may be made payable to Amusée & mailed to: Amusée, P.O. Box 583242, Minneapolis, MN 55458
  • Prior to departure, a trip itinerary and package will be mailed to each passenger with full detail of the trip’s layout
  • Once payment is made, trip cost is nonrefundable.
  • Call 612.655.4839 to reserve your spot today! (Trip is limited to just 20 seats.)

Due the nature of the program inclusions combined with the limited space, we are giving priority to double occupancy requests (couples or two singles sharing a room) so we can fully use our block of 20 rooms. Single occupancy participation in group programs requires an additional fee or ‘single supplement’ as you would encounter on a cruise. We wanted to avoid this on our inaugural excursion, but will evaluate the demand and consider this option for future excursions. Thank you for your understanding.

Summit Unchained #18: Hop Silo Double IPA

Summit Brewing Company held out for almost 30 years. They declined a ride on the über-hopped bandwagon. While everyone else was brewing big, bitter, IPAs and double IPAs (even some who shouldn’t, given their overall mission), Summit held strong. It was only a couple of years ago that they finally relented with the release of Sága. Now, with the eighteenth beer in the Unchained Series they have gone whole hog with a Double IPA.

I’m bored with hops, in case that wasn’t clear. I know all IPAs are not alike, but whenever I taste a new one I can’t help but say to myself, “Yeah, it’s another IPA.” They are not all alike, but they are all so very, very similar. And there are so damn many of them.

But I won’t harsh on Summit too much for entering the fray. It was bound to happen sooner or later. And Hop silo Double IPA is part of the Unchained Series. Brewers can do what they want. And brewer Eric Harper is mixing the style up a bit by combining all English malts with ample dosages of a variety of American hops, including a new one called Lemondrop. Even though double IPA is not my favorite style of beer, I was intrigued and anxious to give it a whirl.

Here’s my notes:

Summit Hop Silo Double IPAUnchained #18: Hop Silo Double IPA
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Double/Imperial IPA
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
8.3% ABV
101 IBU

Aroma: Hops dominate, but don’t explode from the glass. It’s an herbal/savory hop experience as much as a fruity one. Spearmint and herbs. Tropical fruit – mango and pineapple. A background of garlic chives. Light dry-hopped grassiness. Malt is very slight with a bit of a caramel tinge and a faint impression of sweetness. Alcohol is noticeable.

Appearance: Full, creamy, off-white head with good retention. Medium copper color and brilliant.

Flavor: Flavor follows the aroma but with a stronger malt presence. Hops still dominate. Bitterness is medium-high – relatively easy-drinking for the style. It intensifies as you sit with the beer. Malt sweetness balances well, but doesn’t overpower the bitter. English toffee and toasted biscuit define the malt character. Hop flavors are high with the same savory/fruity quality as the aroma. Herbs, mint, chive, garlic, ripe mango, pineapple, and a background hint of lemon. The finish is semi-dry with lingering bitterness and fruit.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Low hop astringency. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: A moderately intense double IPA. The lingering bitterness has bit of a harsh edge, but isn’t overwhelming. I am particularly sensitive to the garlic and chive character that comes from certain hops – Apollo likely in this case. It’s not a flavor that I care for in beer and unfortunately I pick it up fairly strongly in this one. With the caveat that I’m not a huge fan of the double IPA, I will say that this is not my favorite beer of the Unchained Series. It’s well-enough made, but not to my taste for reasons mentioned. Your mileage may vary.

Your first chance to try Hop Silo will be at Winterfest this Friday and Saturday night at the Union Depot  in St. Paul. Apparently there are still tickets available. An official release will be held at the Summit Beer Hall on Saturday, February 28th from 4-9pm. You’ll be able to try the beer and chat with brewer Eric Harper. Further release events will follow all week long at locations throughout the Twin Cities.

O’hara’s Irish Pale Ale and O’hara’s Double IPA

The Irish Pale Ale and Double IPA from Carlow Brewing Company are sure to shock many American hopheads. They don’t scrape the taste buds from your tongue. They don’t knock you out with alcohol after just one glass. They are balanced, nuanced, and drinkable enough to have many. Both fall at the low end of the scale for alcohol and IBU according to the BJCP guidelines, but who really cares. Isn’t it all about enjoyment?

Here’s my notes:

beers-oharas-irish-pale-ale-mainO’Hara’s Irish Pale Ale
Carlow Brewing Company, Carlow, Ireland
Style: “Contemporary Style IPA” English IPA
Serving Style: 11.2 oz. bottle
5.2% ABV
50 IBU

Aroma: Citrus – orange peel and grapefruit. Earthy. Buttery, English toffee. Low notes of toasty biscuit with orange marmalade.

Appearance: Full head of creamy, off-white foam. Moderate retention. Broke quickly into bigger bubbles. Dark gold to light copper color. Slight haze.

Flavor: Peach and tangerine fruits ride over the top. Bitterness is high, but balanced with the rest of the beer. It doesn’t overwhelm. Bitterness rides through from start to finish. Hop flavors range from grapefruit pith and tangerines to earthy, herbal, and even slightly minty. Resinous. Malt is just underbalanced with the hops and bitterness. Toffee and toasty biscuit profile. English yeast character – butterscotch, orange. Finish is off-dry with lingering citrus and earthy hop flavors and bitterness. Slightly minty.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium to medium-low carbonation. Slight bite of astringency.

Overall Impression: An English leaning IPA, but with the aromatic and flavor twist of citrusy American hops like Amarillo. Low alcohol is in keeping with modern English interpretations of the IPA style.

our-beers-double-ipaO’Hara’s Double IPA
Carlow Brewing Company, Carlow, Ireland
Style: Double/Imperial IPA
Serving Style: 11.2 oz. bottle
7.5% ABV
60 IBU

Aroma: Nearly even balance of malt/hop/yeast. Light biscuit and caramel malt. Butterscotch. Hops in balance – herbal, rosemary, mint. English fruitiness. Vaguely orange and toffee. Earthy.

Appearance: Full and dense head of off-white foam with excellent retention. Deep gold and brilliant.

Flavor: Full and rich, but still finishes off-dry. Caramel maltiness with biscuit and stone fruit syrup notes. Light toast. Bitterness is medium to medium-high – low by American standards for DIPA. More English style. Light alcohol sweetness, especially in the finish. Hops are earthy, herbal and orange citrus. Apricot and mango. Butter/butterscotch and English esters. Off-dry finish with lingering bitterness, earth, fruit, and alcohol.

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

Overall Impression: Very balanced double IPA. Of course in the American context it falls in the range of a regular IPA in both ABV and IBU. But it’s not brewed for us. It’s made for the Irish pub culture that emphasizes knocking back a few pints. It may be a disappointing DIPA for American consumers, but I definitely prefer it to many American versions.