August Schell 30th Anniversary Pilsner Collection

March 8th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my notes:

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

19841984

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

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

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

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

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

20142014

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

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

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

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

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

roggenRoggen

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

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

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

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Effervescent carbonation.

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

mandarinaMandarina

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

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

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

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Medium carbonation.

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

Summit Unchained #15: Fest Bier

March 8th, 2014

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

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

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

Here’s my notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rye on Rye 2014 from Boulevard Brewing Co.

February 21st, 2014

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

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

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

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

Here’s my notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Locally Brewed: Portraits of Craft Breweries from America’s Heartland

February 18th, 2014

locallybrewed

The Midwest is the historic center of the American brewing industry. While brewing in this country may have begun on the East Coast, it was the mid-19th century German immigrants who settled in places like Milwaukee and St. Louis that built it up from a collection of small businesses into an industrial juggernaut that wielded significant economic and political clout. Names like Frederick Miller, Joseph Schlitz, Valentin Blatz, Frederick Pabst, and Adolphus Busch are still legendary for their achievements. Theirs were among the first truly national brewing concerns. The agitation of the men (and it was mostly men) who worked for them was foundational in the formation of the American labor movement. The significance of the early Midwestern beer industry cannot be overstated.

For the last few decades though, the position of the Midwest has been viewed in a mostly negative light by fans of better beer. The region remained a powerhouse, but of a much diminished industry. The smaller, regional producers mostly gone, Miller and Anheuser-Busch dominated the market producing hundreds of millions of barrels of beers that were largely indistinguishable. Their marketing budgets and market leverage made it difficult for the new craft beer movement to gain a foothold.

And so, in what had been the beer capital of the nation, craft beer was slow to get going. Like so many fashion trends, the movement came in from the coasts. That’s not to say that there weren’t significant pioneers in the region. Breweries like Summit, Schell’s, Boulevard, James Page, Capital, Goose Island and others worked hard to create a solid foundation upon which later-comers could build. But the real wave has only recently arrived. It corresponds with the boom that is happening across the country, but here in the nation’s symbolic beer center the result has been particularly exciting. Both in terms of the pace of growth and the quality of product, the Midwest is once again assuming a position of importance.

Anna Blessing’s new book Locally Brewed: Portraits of Craft Breweries from America’s Heartland does a good job of tracing this return to prominence. Blessing gives revealing profiles of twenty breweries in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. The profiles are arranged chronologically according to the brewery’s date of founding, allowing the reader to follow the development of the region’s craft beer scene. The portraits reveal the transformation of the hurdles each brewer faced from one of building a consumer base into a struggle to keep up with demand.

Blessing says that her passion is finding and learning about the people who do what they love practicing their craft. Her last book, Locally Grown: Portraits of Artisanal Farms from America’s Heartland, showcased Midwestern farmers at the center of the local food movement. For her a book on small, local brewers was a natural follow-up. She says that beer is in her blood. She was raised in Portland, Oregon, perhaps the craft beer capital of the nation. She is a distant descendant of the owners of the Stenger Brewery that operated in Naperville, Illinois in the 1800s.

Blessing’s easy to read and engaging profiles tell the story of each brewery’s beginnings and then go on to describe some interesting tidbit about the place, be it the history of Three Floyd’s Dark Lord Day or Jolly Pumpkin brewer Ron Jeffries’ insights on brewing sour beers in the US. Mostly the book is about the people behind the breweries, as they describe their experiences founding and running their operations.

If you go into any brewery you are likely to hear music blaring over the din of fork lifts, bottling lines, and brew kettles. Music and brewing are almost inseparable. Blessing pays homage to this by including a brewery playlist in each profile, a touch that gives a unique glimpse into the psyche of each place. One element of the book that I didn’t quite understand was the “Get a Pint” sidebar for each brewery. A complete listing of where to find each brewery’s wares would be impossible. As she only lists one to four for each, I fail to see the point. Perhaps they are in her view the best places to find the beers. I’m just not sure.

Three Minnesota brewers are featured among the profiles; August Schell, Surly, and Steel Toe.

Overall Blessings book is a quick and entertaining read that provides and interesting insight into craft beer in the heartland. It’s definitely worth a read. And as a selfish plug, it makes a great companion to my own A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland, a guide to breweries in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois that is due out this spring from the University of Illinois Press.

Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale

February 17th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer

February 13th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mouthfeel: Medium body. High carbonation.

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

3700 Breweries and Growing

February 12th, 2014

growth chartI received an interesting press release this morning from the Beer Institute, a national trade association for the American brewing industry, representing both large and small brewers, as well as importers and industry suppliers. According to the release the US added 948 new brewing permits in 2013, bringing the total number of “active ‘permitted breweries’ overseen by the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)” to a record smashing 3699.

This is a staggering number of breweries and extraordinary growth for any industry in one year. But I questioned the numbers. In January the Brewers Association released preliminary figures for 2013 putting the total number of breweries at 2722, an increase of nearly 400 over the previous year. That’s a difference of more than 1000 breweries from the Beer Institute report. That’s not something that can be put down to statistical error.

I also questioned the Beer Institute numbers because they list 73 active permitted breweries in Minnesota. This is true if you include contract-brewed brands and all of the Granite City locations where beer is fermented onsite, but not actually brewed. The number is considerably less if those are excluded.

308B7713-870F-4961-8017-80303B2A057C

I contacted the Beer Institute to find out what was going on and got a quick response from Megan Kirkpatrick. They get information straight from the Federal Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) about issued brewing permits. “This is a list we receive from the TTB that includes any brewing location that has received a permit to brew beer.” she explained. This includes breweries-in-planning that are permitted, but haven’t yet started producing. It also includes brewing companies that have multiple breweries, such as Boston Beer Company, Lagunitas, and Sierra Nevada, as well as the mega-brewers. She was unclear as to whether the number includes beer companies whose product is contract brewed by others.

However you slice that number, it’s big. And most of the growth has occurred in just the last couple of years. Kirkpatrick pointed out that the start of the growth curve corresponds with the passage of the Small Brewer Tax Credit passed by congress in 1977. According to the Beer Institute press release, “under the existing tax structure, small brewers (defined by U.S. Tax Code as those that produce up to 2 million 31-gallon barrels per year, or the equivalent of 110 million six-packs) receive a substantial break on federal excise tax, paying only $7 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels. The regular tax rate is $18 per barrel, which is paid by all brewers of more than 2 million barrels, all beer importers regardless of size, and on every barrel produced by small brewers beyond 60,000. More than 90 percent of permitted breweries today produce less than 60,000 barrels annually.”

The release goes on to say that “beer puts more than two million Americans to work, from farmers to factory workers, and brewers to bartenders. The combined economic impact of brewers, beer distributors, retailers, suppliers and other inducted industries was calculated to be $246.5 billion in 2012. The industry paid $49 billion in federal, state and local taxes that same year.” That’s a rather large economic impact.

While this news is exciting, I still get a slight nauseous feeling every time I hear about a new brewery opening. I know the question has been asked a billion times, “Is this a bubble? Will it burst?” I guess only time will tell, but to me this current rate of growth seems crazy. What’s that term they use in the stock market? “Irrational exuberance.”

You can read the full Beer Institute report here.

Summit Frost Line Rye

February 4th, 2014

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

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

Here’s my notes:

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

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

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

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

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation. Slightly creamy.

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

Announcing the Alliance for Beer Education

January 30th, 2014

ABE-logos-web

For the past several months I have been semi-secretly working out the details of an educational collaboration with Rob Shellman at the Better Beer Society. I’ve worked with Rob on past events, most recently hosting the fall semester of Better Beer Society University at Republic 7 Corners. This new project stems from our desire to see the education that happens at Minnesota beer festivals achieve the same level of quality as the festivals themselves.

With that in mind, A Perfect Pint and Better Beer Society are excited to announce the “Alliance for Beer Education (ABE)”, a new joint project aimed at providing quality education programs for Minnesota’s beer festivals.

The increased attention to craft beer in the media has brought with it a blossoming of enthusiasm among consumers. New palates are being brought into the fold every day, many of them at beer festivals that happen through the year. Educating these new consumers has never been more important.

Rob and I are both Certified Cicerones® with a combined 11 years’ experience as beer educators. Our credits include the Better Beer Society University, BBS Brown Bag Blind Tastings, The University of Minnesota Department of Continuing Education, Cooks of Crocus Hill, Kitchen Window, and Betty Crocker, as well as countless corporate and private events.

Minnesota’s beer festivals are second to none, and we applaud festival organizers for incorporating education into their events. We look forward to bringing our passion and high level of commitment to beer education tents statewide, beginning with the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild’s Winterfest.

If you are going to Winterfest, please do check out the great programming at the education area. We’ve got some fantastic speakers lined up to cover some really interesting topics.

7:15:      Michael Agnew & Rob Shellman – Beer Basics
Where do beer styles come from? How do I get the fullest taste experience from beer? What kind of flavors am I looking for and where do they come from? Is there a right way to serve beer? Rob and I will lay out the basics to help you get the best enjoyment from every beer you sample at the fest.
7:45:      Josh Havill – The Mighty Hop
Josh Havill is an Undergraduate Research Assistant at University of Minnesota, working primarily on the University’s hop research program. He’ll be outlining the utilization, history, and botany of hops, as well as discussing the U’s research on hop growing in the Midwest.
8:15:      Gary Muehlbauer – How Beer Saved the World
Gary J. Muehlbauer is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor and Department Head in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of Minnesota.  He will be discussing the history of barley and relating it to the Discovery Channel documentary How Beer Saved the World about all the good that beer has brought, from the birth of civilization to the development of automated manufacturing.
8:45:      Michael Wagner – “The art of selecting: Choosing the right beer for you”
Michael is the Manager of Strategic Imbibing a the Four Firkins Specialty Beer Store in St. Louis Park. The world of craft beer can get a bit overwhelming with new choices arriving on local shelves literally every day. Michael will discuss the trends and changing tides of taste preferences. He’ll dispel some myths and discuss how he goes about curating choices specifically for individual people at the Four Firkins. When it comes down to it you should drink what YOU like.

An educated beer drinker is a better beer drinker, and we look forward to expanding your palate and understanding of the world’s finest beverage.

Cheers! We hope to see you at an upcoming fest.

Hacker-Pschorr Hubertus Bock and Sternweisse

January 27th, 2014

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Barbara Degnan, the international director of sales for the Paulaner brewery in Munich. Paulaner is also the brewer of the Hacker-Pschorr brand. Over a delightful breakfast at The Freehouse she filled me in on some of the things Paulaner has been up to, including the release of four new-to-the-US beers.

Like so many breweries in the United States, Paulaner is having a hard time keeping up with demand. Work on a new and larger brewery in Munich is nearly complete. It was important that the brewery be situated within the city limits so that the beer could still be served at Oktoberfest. The new brewery is a testament to the importance of water in the brewing process. Paulaner is laying pipe beneath the streets of Munich to bring water from the old location to the new. This might say something about the importance of beer to the Bavarians as well.

Import brands are also not immune to the vagaries of the current US beer market. Just like with American brewers, constant innovation is a must to keep brands front and center in the minds of consumers. With this in mind, Paulaner is bringing in four new, limited-release, Hacker-Pschorr brands spread seasonally through the year. Only 320 kegs of each will be available nationwide. Packaged beer will come in eye-catching, half-liter, swing-top bottles. While these beers aren’t new to the brewery, they are new to the US. The first, Hubertus Bock will be available in March. This will be followed by Sternweisse, Festbier, and Animator Doppelbock.

Hubertus Bock is a blond bock beer that comes in at 6.3% ABV. It’s described by the brewery as having a “robust maltiness, and a well-balanced, slightly sweet hoppy finish.” Sternweisse – which translates as “wheat star” – is a full-bodied, unfiltered, hefeweizen that is a bit darker than the well known Hacker-Pschorr wheat. I had the opportunity to sample both.

Here’s my notes:

Hubertus BockHubertus Bock
Hacker-Pschorr Bräu GmbH, Munich, Germany
Style: Blond Bock
Serving Style: 16.9 oz. bottle

Aroma: Bread and lightly toasted bread crust come even before I raise the glass to my nose. Malt dominates, but spicy hops nearly balance – licorice, mint, lemon, hints of currant and cat. Brisk and refreshing.

Appearance: Deep gold and brilliantly clear. Full head of just off-white foam. Excellent retention. Falls slowly into a dense, creamy cap.

Flavor: Like the aroma, malt is on top. Rich, with medium-low sweetness. Bread and light bread-crust flavors. Hints of honey. Hops bring spicy edge of black pepper, with undertones of blackberry. Bitterness is medium to medium-high and is accentuated by the high degree of attenuation. Finishes dry and crisp. Some alcohol is noticeable and lingers into finish along with honeyed bread and spices.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Mouth filling. Warming. Medium carbonation. Creamy.

Overall Impression: Big, but still delicate. Has the feel of a beer slightly bigger than its 6.3% ABV, and yet remains light and refreshing. This would be equally at home with roasted game hens or honey-dripping baklava. Why is my bottle empty?!!?

SternweisseSternweisse
Hacker-Pschorr Bräu GmbH, Munich, Germany
Style: Hefeweizen
Serving Style: 16.9 oz bottle

Aroma: Sharp, wheaty malt. Orange/lemony citrus acidity. Yeast. Bread dough. Banana and clove yeast character is subtle overall, but leans more to the spicy than the fruity. Light floral hops.

Appearance: Medium amber/orange. Nearly to dunkelweizen darkness. Quite cloudy. Opaque. Full stand of mousse-like, off white foam. Excellent retention.

Flavor: Flavor follows on the aroma. Bread crust carries over and is delightfully prominent. Subtle caramel. Yeast character is again subtle and leans to clove and spice, with banana in a supporting role. Bright, lemony acidity grabs the middle of the tongue and stays into the finish. Bitterness is medium-low, but high attenuation gives the beer a sharpness. Refreshing and crisp. Finish is very dry and lingers on lemon, wheat, and clove.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-light body. Pillowy and mouth filling. Some puckering acidity. Very high carbonation – effervescent.

Overall Impression: Outstanding! Delightful, citrusy wheat. I love the bright, lemony overtones. This falls somewhere between a hefeweizen and a dunkelweizen. Nice summer patio beer, but enough dark depth to be pretty darn good on a winter evening as well. Wish I had another bottle.