Grain Belt Lock & Dam Lager

I love a good lager. Grain Belt Premium Lager is arguably Minnesota’s beer. The brand is deeply connected with Minnesota brewing history. I don’t especially like Grain Belt Premium Lager. It’s too sweet for my taste. I want my lager to be crisp and refreshing. Grain Belt to me is sugary and mouth-coating. To each their own, ampoule though.

Then along comes Grain Belt Lock & Dam Lager. Now this is a Grain Belt that I can sink my teeth into. (Can one sink one’s teeth into a beer?) It’s crisp. It’s bitter. It goes down smooth.

There is precious little information available about this beer from the folks at Schell’s. Only a promotional one-sheet that talks about the history of the St. Anthony Falls dam being the power source for the original Grain Belt Brewery in Northeast. What was the inspiration? Is it some old Grain Belt recipe? Or maybe a beer culled from the Schell’s brewing logs? What’s the deal with this beer?

I turned to Schell’s head brewer Dave Berg for answers. “The inspiration was Hopfenmalz.” he says. “It’s not the exact recipe, prescription but it’s got a lot of similarities. Call it Hopfenmalz plus what I’ve learned in the past 7 years!”

Hopfenmalz was an amalgam of three styles, says Berg – Pilsner, Vienna lager, and pale ale. Lock & Dam follows suit. “It’s basically a Pilsner recipe with a bunch of Vienna malt that’s hopped like an old school pale ale. Just enough C-60 to give it a copper hue. The hop combination is new and old: Cascade, Smaragd, Calypso and Bravo. It’s 5% ABV and about 30-35 IBUs. It’s all-malt, by the way.”

There you have it.

Here’s my notes:

Lock & Dam LagerGrain Belt Lock & Dam Lager
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Lager
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
5% ABV
30-35 IBU

Aroma: Spicy and lemon citrus hops dominate. Low, bread-dough, grainy malt underneath. Low perception of sweetness. Low sulfur. Low corny DMS.

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

Flavor: Malt and hops in approximately equal balance. Medium-level maltiness – grainy, cracker, low toasted grain. Very low corny DMS. Sweetness is low. Bitterness is medium-low to medium. Hop flavors follow the aroma – lemon citrus and pepper/anise spice. Finish is dry with lingering toasted grain and hop spice.

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

Overall Impression: Crisp, clean, and balanced. Toasted grain makes a delightful complement to the peppery spice of the hops. Not quite a pilsner or Vienna lager. Too hoppy for a helles. I’ll just call it a delicious summer lager.

Sour Beer & Wine Dinner Featuring Schell’s Noble Star Beers

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” alt=”” width=”307″ height=”164″ /> Jace Marti – Photo from The Growler Magazine



What: A Sour Beer/Boutique Wine/Small Plates Dinner with special guest, order Jace Marti, treatment of Schell’s Brewery
When: Thursday, October 1, 2015
Where: Salt Cellar Restaurant, 173 Western Ave N, St Paul, Minnesota
Arrive by: 6:15pm – Seated Small Plate Pairings start at 6:30pm
Cost: $80 (includes tax and gratuity). Price includes 11 libations, 5 small plates, 1 passed hors-d’oeuvre, and a panel of entertaining hosts

For the last few years, one of Minnesota’s most traditional breweries has also been one of its most innovative. And they are doing it by reviving a traditional, historic style – Berliner Weisse – using cypress-wood tanks that were purchased by that brewery in 1936.

The Noble Star Series of wood-aged Berliner weisse beers from August Schell Brewing Company have been some of the most interesting beers to come out of the Minnesota beer scene. Sixth-generation brewer Jace Marti has served up seven, Berliner-inspired, tart treats in the series, with more on the way.

It is said that Napoleon’s invading armies called Berliner weisse the “champagne of the north.” Many have compared wild-fermented and sour beers to fine wine. Believe me, wine drinkers love them. So what could be more natural than bringing wine and sour beer together in one extravagant meal?

Salt Cellar in St. Paul is thrilled to announce its first Beer/Wine dinner featuring five of the Noble Star beers (maybe one that hasn’t yet been released). Jace Marti will be on hand to talk about his beers and the new Star Keller, wood-aging facility that recently went into production.

We’re talking five courses, people! Salt Cellar Executive Chef Alan Bergo has paired each beer to a hand-crafted, small-plate dish. I’ll be on hand to help talk to those parings. And it’s not just beer. My favorite sommelier Leslee Miller is bringing wine to the table as well. That’s two beverages for each course! What? That’s crazy talk.

It might be crazy, but doesn’t it sound delicious? You know you want to be there.

Seating is limited and reservations are required by September 25th. You can make them by calling Salt Cellar’s General Manager, Blake Watson at 651-219-4012.

Schell’s One Five Five and Starkeller Peach

Schell’s turns 155 this year. It seems like just yesterday that they were celebrating 150 years with a whole line of what’s-old-is-new-again, limited-run beers. But if you look back on the changes to the Minnesota beer scene since that time, it almost seems like a lifetime ago. What a difference five years can make.

There were only a handful of breweries in the state in 2010. I don’t recall the actual count. I reckon near 100 have opened since. Nearly all of those breweries have taprooms, something that was illegal in 2010. And they can sell growlers on Sunday. Only a handful of bars and restaurants had good taps then. Now it’s hard to find one that doesn’t have at least a couple. During those five years, the city’s first dedicated craft beer store, the Four Firkins, ascended to its height of glory and then faded and died.

The 155th birthday isn’t as big a deal as the 150th in our imaginations. Rather than an assortment of beers to celebrate the day, Schell’s is only doing one. One Five Five is described as “a complex, medium-bodied red lager.” Its malty profile is achieved with a mix of 2-row, Munich, Victory, and three different crystal malts. Cascade and Mandarina Bavaria hops provide a bright, bitter cap.

As long as I was tasting Five One One, I decided to catch up on another Schell’s beer that has been lingering in my fridge. Starkeller Peach is the latest (the 7th I think) addition to the Noble Star Collection of Berliner Weisse style beers. For this one Jace Marti took Dawn of Aurora his, strong “champagner” weisse, and aged it on a whole bunch of peaches.

I was in New Ulm for a visit not too long ago. The old cypress tanks in the new Starkeller facility are almost ready to hold some beer. Look for a whole lot more of the Noble Star Collection coming soon.

Here’s my notes:

Schell's One Five FiveOne Five Five
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Red Lager
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
5% ABV

Aroma: Malt and hops in almost equal balance. Malt is rich caramel and low toast. Hops ride brightly on top – mandarin orange, floral. Moderate perception of sweetness.

Appearance: Medium amber/copper. Brilliant. Full, creamy head of off-white to ivory foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Balanced malt to hop, with a nice hoppy overtone. Malt follows the aroma with caramel and toast. The toast comes more forward here. Sweetness is low. Bitterness is medium and comes mid-palate to carry through to the finish. Bright hoppiness on top – again mandarin orange and floral. Lager fermentation give a crisp and clean profile. Finish is dry with lingering bitterness and citrus hop flavor.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. High carbonation. Slightly creamy.

Overall Impression: The individual flavors are there and are lovely. But somehow I couldn’t get passed the feeling that the whole is missing something. Was I longing for a rounder ale fermentation character? Maybe I wanted even more follow-thru with the hop character? I don’t know, it’s in the realm of those intangibles that separate the good from the great. I’m not saying it’s not good. It is. But it doesn’t leave me wishing for that second pint.

Schell's Starkeller PeachStarkeller Peach
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Peach Berliner Weisse
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
7.2% ABV
5 IBU

Aroma: Loads of peaches – fresh and canned. Low perception of sweetness. Medium lactic acidity. Low barnyard Brettanomyces character. This is really all about the peach.

Appearance: Medium copper/orange. Cloudy. Full, creamy, off-white head with medium-low retention.

Flavor: High lactic acidity. Very fruity. Peaches follow – crushed fresh fruit. Overtones of lemon. Low barnyard Brettanomyces character. Bitterness is low. No hop character. Some malt sweetness survives fermentation, like the crust of a peach cobbler. Some fruity sweetness seems also to survive. Finish is very dry with long-lingering lactic acid tartness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. High carbonation. Mouthwatering acidity.

Overall Impression: So much fruit. Like a tart, peach cobbler. A lovely summer refresher with a little bit of a kick. This would be great with desserts or a spinach salad with dried apricots, goat cheese, and a citrus vinaigrette dressing. One of my favorites of the Noble Star Collection.

Schell’s Cypress Blanc

The bottle of Cypress Blanc arrived at my house at the end of April. With great anticipation I placed it on the top shelf of my refrigerator – the shelf with all the beer. The Noble Star series beers from August Schell Brewing Company have all been so good. I couldn’t wait to pop the cork on this, online the sixth in the series.

Fast forward to June 1st. I look at that top shelf of my refrigerator and there the bottle still sits. It’s been there taunting me for over a month; its plaintive cries of “Pick me! Pick me!” ringing in my ears with every bottle removed. I wanted to drink it, nurse but I’m so seldom home in the evening. Most of my at-home beers are consumed late at night when I’m not really in the mood to pay close attention. I wanted to give this one its due. And so there it sat.

There is sat until last night. Finding myself with a rare evening off, viagra I finally indulged.

I like the idea of Cypress Blanc. My background is in theater. I like to think about aesthetic nuances. This beer offers layers and layers of conceptual satisfaction. There is old-world meets new-world as the essential born-in-the-USA style, American Lager, meets the very-old, pre-lager traditions of Germany. There is tradition married to innovation as Jace Marti takes the brewery’s historic flagship Deer Brand Lager to places that the historic brewery has only recently ventured. And yet that avenue to innovation is itself a tradition that is hundreds of years older than the 150-year-old brewery. And of course there is the fact that Deer Brand is being tweaked in tanks that were once used to condition it straight.

Conceptual follies aside, what about the actual beer in the bottle? The Noble Star beers seem to be getting better with each release. But American lager weisse? How would this one hold up?

Here’s my notes:

Cypress BlancCypress Blanc
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: American Lager/Berliner Weisse
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
7.4% ABV
4 IBU

Aroma: Faint corn. Tart acidity. Low barnyard. Very fruity – apples, Lemons. Low sulfur. Fresh-cut grass.

Appearance: Pale yellow and hazy. Moderate, mousse-like, white foam with moderate to low retention.

Flavor: Balance of corny, malt sweetness and tart, lemony acid. The acidity is not overly puckering. So much apple – I picture a green and red striped fruit. Other fruits also appear – pineapple. It’s hard to tell where the fruitiness of Hallertau Blanc hops stops and that from fermentation begins. Low barnyard. Low sulfur. Grassy notes. Finish is very dry with lingering acid and some low malt flavor. Residual apple.

Mouthfeel: Light body. Spritzy. A bit of pucker.

Overall Impression: So refreshing. Does it get more summery than this? If only the weather would get as summery as this beer. I like that hints of sulfur and corn from Deer Brand survive the lacto-brett fermentation. The 7.4% ABV is surprising. It sneaks up on you. I feel like Cypress Blanc is a little less complex than the earlier Noble Star beers, but then it is built on an American lager base. Less complex perhaps, but nonetheless satisfying.

2015 Firkin Fest at the Happy Gnome



The eightieth annual Firkin Fest at the Happy Gnome happened last Saturday, medical April 4th. Okay, online it wasn’t really the eightieth, but it has been going on for some time now. I went to my first in 2010 and it was a couple of years old by then.

For those who haven’t been, Firkin Fest is a celebration of “real ale” – that is beers that are naturally re-fermented in the container from which they are served and poured from the keg using gravity instead of being pushed with CO2. The result is a smooth, creamy-textured beer with relatively low carbonation that is served at cellar temperature of around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Real ale or cask-conditioned beer is the traditional beer service of England.

Firkin Fest has seen its highs and lows over the years; great beers mingled with serious over-crowding and too few porta-potties, exquisitely well done casks of straight-up beer and monstrosities with added extras like Peeps or mushrooms. Cringe-worthy cask abuse has been common as pourers turn the firkins on end in an attempt to squeeze out every last drop and end up pouring glasses of yeasty sludge that drunk festival goers lap up like nectar.

This year saw some changes to Firkin Fest. While in the past the firkins have come from breweries across the country and the globe, this year every brewery represented was Minnesota born and bred. This meant fewer breweries and fewer beers than previous years, but there were also many fewer attendees. I don’t know whether the lower attendance was intentional. Marketing doesn’t seem to have been all that good for the event. I didn’t even get a press release and I get press releases for EVERYTHING from brewery openings in the UK to announcements for the Hay and Forage Expo. Whether it was intentional or not, it was certainly welcome. This event has historically crammed so many people into the small tent that getting from one booth to the next was an unpleasant chore. That was not the case this year and that made me happy.

Firkin Fest has always been a place where brewers see what kinds of craziness they can stuff into a cask. Sometimes these experiments work. Sometimes they just seem ill advised. This year felt to me like there was less experimentation. That’s not to say there weren’t some crazy casks. Wasabi and pickled ginger, anyone? But for the most part infusions were limited to things like coffee in stouts or citrus zest in IPAs. Many of the casks were simply dry hopped. This also made me happy. Sometimes simplicity is best.

There were a few standouts.

My personal best-of-show was Schell’s Starkeller Peach, which will be the next installment of the amazing Berliner weisse series. Tart lactic acid and sweet, sweet peaches were what this beer is all about. Yummy! Jace Marti says it will be bottled in the next couple of weeks for release later this month. I can’t wait to try it with the proper level of carbonation.

Summit also scored high with an El Dorado dry-hopped version of the new Hopvale Organic Ale. In a tent full of heavyweights, this light, refreshing, hoppy brew was a treat. The added hops gave a nice, citrus boost to its already hoppy aroma.

Staying on the hoppy side, Triple Hop Size 7 from Steel Toe was a treat. Size 7 IPA is already the best IPA in the state. Add a healthy dose of dry hops in the cask to boost that heady hop aroma and you have a recipe for hop heaven.

On the other end of the spectrum was Sideburns Chocolate Milk Stout from Lyn Lake Brewery. This already rich and creamy brew was conditioned on chocolate and vanilla that added extra layers of velvety smoothness. The beer’s sweetness was amplified, making it a delicious, drinkable dessert.

If you like cocktails, the go-to beer had to be Cobra Commander from Lift Bridge. Their 12.5% ABV Commander barleywine was casked with citrus zest and Falernum and rum-soaked oak. It truly was like drinking a rum cocktail. And a good one at that.

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.

Schell’s Noble Star Collection: Dawn of Aurora

Light, help bright, medical and effervescent, decease 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.

Schell’s Fresh Hop: Equinox

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.

Schell’s Noble Star North Country Brünette and Black Forest Cherry

Last week the August Schell Brewing Co. announced that it was building a new facility and restoring eight more cypress-wood fermenting tanks to expand its Noble Star Collection of Berliner weisse style beers. That seemed like a good enough reason to me to grab a couple bottles out of the basement and give them a whirl.

I’d write more here, and but I would run the risk of ripping off my column in next week’s Minneapolis Star Tribune. Check it out in the Taste section on Thursday, buy cialis October 2nd if you want to learn more about the series. For now…

Here’s my notes:

North Country Brünette North Country Brünette
August Schell Brewing Company, troche New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Märzen Berliner Weisse
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
5.4% ABV

Aroma: Malt dominates – toasted grain and bread crust. Hints of chocolate. Dry toast. Balsamic vinegar and some light, cherry-like fruit. Background notes of brettanomyces barnyard.

Appearance: Light brown and cloudy. Full, creamy, head of off-white foam with moderate retention.

Flavor: Bright, lemony acidity leads off and stays throughout, subsiding somewhat in the middle and then biting the top of the throat on the way out. With a second sip the malt becomes more prominent, revealing similar toasted grain and bread crust notes from the aroma. Chocolate is there, but the flavor is fainter than the smell. The finish is like sucking on a lemon wedge, complete with the nutty, bitter taste of the seeds.

Overall Impression: A most unique take on the Berliner weisse. Not “weisse” at all. Addition of toasty malty tones offers an intriguing counter play to the tart acidity. More substantial than the typical Berliner weisse, but still lightweight and refreshing. Autumnal weisse?

Black Forest CherryBlack Forest Cherry
Style: Märzen Berliner Weisse aged on Cherries
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle
5.5% ABV

Aroma: Lambic-like. Earthy and barnyard brettanomyces character comes through strong. Toasted grain and bread crust malt. Deep-red, tart cherry notes meld into malt. Pie filling.

Appearance: Dark amber color with a reddish hue. Hazy. Moderate, off-white/pinkish head with moderate retention.

Flavor: Cherry pie with the crust. Acidity bites at the beginning, lessens in the middle and returns in the finish. Pie cherries come in clear from the top and stay throughout. Bread crust and toasty malt notes stay in the background, offering a crust-like counterpoint to the acid and cherries. Faint cinnamon. Some lemony high notes. Barnyard brettanomyces character is strong.  As it warms the malty bits come through more boldly, amplifying the cherry pie effect. Bit of old-cheese funk hangs around in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. High carbonation. Puckering acidity.

Overall Impression: This is the funkiest and I think most complex beer of the series so far. I just might also be my favorite. The strong brettanomyces notes make it decidedly lambic-like. I love the cherry pie profile. This beer feels more mature than the others in the series (whatever that means).

 

Schell’s Arminius Hoppy Pale Lager

Not known for aggressively hopped beers, sovaldi Schell’s has been playing with hops a lot lately. First was the Citra Fresh-hop pilsner. Then there was Emerald Rye, a most IPA like amber lager. The Pilsner 30th Anniversary 12-pack had a version of the great Schell’s Pils hopped with Mandarina Bavaria hops – a new variety from Germany. Now comes Arminius, a 70-IBU, massively dry-hopped pale lager.

As a fan of traditional German-style lagers, I take this trend with mixed emotions. On the one hand it’s good to see Schell’s trying new things. On the other, there really is nothing like a good pilsner.

Here’s my notes:

ArminiusArminius
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Hoppy Lager
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
6.5% ABV
70 IBU

Aroma: Lime citrus and spice overlay doughy malt. A deeper hop note of mandarin oranges or dried mango hovers beneath. Balanced. Bright. Sprightly.

Appearance: Medium gold and brilliantly clear. A full stand of fluffy, white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Assertively bitter, but balanced. Although hops dominate the flavor profile, malt is not forgotten. Citrus – lime and lemon. Floral. Dried tropical fruits. Underlying, bready malt flavors with medium-low sweetness. The finish is dry and sharp. Crisp and clean.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium to medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: This is a hoppy beer that I can really wrap my tongue around. It’s lively, refreshing, and very easy to drink. Despite 70 IBUs, it doesn’t tax the tongue. Hoppy enough for IPA fans, but lager-like enough to satisfy the likes of me.