Posts Tagged ‘beer’

Spiegelau/Rogue/Left Hand Stout Glass: How’s it Rate?

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

spiegelau-stout-glass

My view is that until very recently, the majority of beer glassware selections have been based more on tradition than on what the glass actually delivers from the beer. Beer folk scream and wail about the cursed, straight-edged, shaker pint, but aside from larger volume and a bulbous protrusion that helps you keep hold of your glass when you’ve had one too many, I’d be hard pressed to say what a Nonic pint does that’s any better. And really, if you can’t grip your glass, it’s probably time to head home anyway.

When it comes to the right glass for the right juice, the wine people have it over the beer people in spades. They have a glass for nearly every varietal. And instead of tradition, they use science to design glassware that delivers the best experience from each grape. They pay attention to aromatic dispersion. They shape each glass type to deliver wine to just the right location on the tongue. To paraphrase glass maker George Riedel, “Wine glass design isn’t about emotion, it’s about physics.” Don’t believe it makes a difference? Take a Riedel class and see for yourself.

But beer glassware is coming of age. In the last couple years brewers have been collaborating with Riedel subsidiary Spiegelau to design beer-specific glassware with particular styles in mind. The first was the IPA glass designed with Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head that came out in 2013. While it was met with vociferous controversy in the beer blogosphere, my own comparative test found it to be at least minimally effective at delivering a better IPA experience.

Now comes the stout glass created by Spiegelau in collaboration with Rogue and Left Hand. Compared to the IPA glass, the announcement of the stout glass was greeted with relative silence. I’ve seen nary a blog post or tweet saying “yay” or “nay” regarding its efficacy. With that in mind I decided to give it a try.

The promotional materials for the glass make four main claims.

  • The voluminous, open bottom glass base drives beer and aromatic foam upward into the main bowl.
  • Ultra-pure quartz material makes for unsurpassed clarity and flawless, true color presentation of stout beer.
  • Wider, conical bowl significantly amplifies aromas and also provides superior flow to mid palate, improving the taste, mouthfeel and finish of complex stout beers.
  • Stark, angular shape and open base creates dramatic visual cascading effect into glass as beer is poured.

Stout Glass Test

To test these claims I pitted the new glass against the standard shaker pint and a Spiegelau tulip glass. Each glass was washed at the same time, using the same protocol. A full bottle of Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout was poured into each with similar vigor. I evaluated each glass for appearance, aroma, and flavor. One caveat must be stated. It is impossible to do a blind taste test of glassware, therefore it is possible that my evaluation was skewed by my subjective impression of each glass.

So how did the stout glass do?

Appearance

Contrary to Spiegelau’s claims about the stout glass, I did not notice any significant enhancement of the cascading effect in the foam. In fact, there was no cascading in any of the three glasses at all. I’m told that you have to pour pretty aggressively to get that from the Nitro Milk Stout. I apparently did not pour aggressively enough. That said, in terms of head formation and retention it was a toss-up between the stout glass and the shaker pint. Both formed a dense, creamy, half-inch head that stuck around for the entirety of my test – about 20 minutes. The stout glass has etched nucleation points on the bottom, but that didn’t seem to make a difference in this case. The tulip glass formed less head and the retention was considerably shorter. Both the tulip and shaker pint left the beer inky black and opaque. The narrower bottom on the stout glass did allow for a better evaluation of color and clarity. The design of the stout glass is attractive and certainly makes a stronger impression than the other two glasses.

For overall effect on appearance I give the edge to the stout glass.

C360_2014-05-12-20-29-16-268

Aroma

Here is where the biggest difference was seen, and the stout glass really delivered. The shaker pint gave only the faintest of aromatic impressions – vague notes of coffee and bitter chocolate with no hop aromatics. The tulip allowed for a more layered experience of the roasted malts, with stronger coffee and chocolate character coming through. The stout glass exploded with olfactory satisfaction. Overall the aromas were far richer and more nuanced. Textured tones of café mocha with subtle dry-roasted, Oreo-cookie chocolate became apparent. My notes say “coffee and cream.” Faint licorice and herbal hop aromatics were also apparent.

For overall aromatic delivery the stout glass wins hands down.

Flavor

Here is was a tie between the stout glass and the tulip. The shaker pint gave a full-flavored experience, but it seemed overly thick and sweet – more milk chocolate than bittersweet. In contrast, both the tulip and the stout glass emphasized a drier roast. The milk stout sweetness was there mid-palate, but better balanced with roasted malt and hop bitterness – less milkshake-like than from the shaker pint. The coffee and cream character came through in both, as did the bittersweet chocolate.

Finding very little difference between the flavors from the stout or the tulip glass, I declare it a tie.

Conclusion

Based on its slight edge in appearance and huge lead in aromatics, I give the Spiegelau stout glass a hearty thumbs up. It delivers the goods and looks stylish as well. There is one downside to this glass though. It is a total pain in the ass to clean. The bowl on top is tall enough that it is impossible to reach to the bottom. I had to use a fork to move my sponge around in the base. But if you are a glass geek it is probably worth the effort.

The stout glass is available for order at www.spiegelauUSA.com. Branded versions can be had at www.rogue.com and www.lefthandbrewing.com.

Brewer Interview: Dane Breimhorst – Burning Brothers Brewing

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Burning Brothers Brewing

In a recent Minneapolis Star Tribune column I profiled Burning Brothers Brewing, Minnesota’s first and only gluten-free brewery. For the column I did an extended interview with co-founder and head brewer Dane Breimhorst. We talked in-depth about what it means to live with Celiac disease, how gluten-free beers differ from other beers, and the challenges of crafting gluten-free brews that actually taste like beer. What follows is the nearly-full content of that interview.

Let’s start with your background. What’s the path you took to get here?

I grew up in a small town. And I actually grew up hating beer. In this small town the only beers were a lot of the larger brand beers, and I just didn’t care for them that much. I thought that’s how beer tasted. I thought that was it. I drank it on the farm all the time because after a hot day there is nothing like an ice cold lager. But what I did like to do was make wine. So I started off at eighteen making country wines. If it rotted I made wine with it. Then somebody had this beer kit at a garage sale. It was one of those Mr. Brews or something like that.

Add water and stir?

Add water and stir, ferment it and wait. And it tastes horrible. But I was curious to see if I could make it taste better, because I was also really into cooking. I used to run a little gourmet club when I was in high school and I would ferment anything that fermented.

So it seems like fermentation has been a theme in your life.

Yup. If it rots you can ferment it. I didn’t care if it was grain or if it was dandelions or gooseberries. I didn’t care whatever the heck it was. I’d go to the grocery store and walk through the produce section going, “Wow, there’s a lot of wine in here.” I’m making everything into wine.
But so when I turned 21, I had a Red Hook Extra Special Bitter. I was hooked. All of a sudden I got something different and I started diving into it. Kölsch? I was like, “What is that?” There wasn’t a lot of literature on it and the internet wasn’t huge, so I just started dabbling and anything that looked weird I’d buy. At one point in time I became a stout fanatic to the point where we used to go see an Irish band play every Tuesday night and I would order a pitcher of Guinness and I would dunk my Oreos® in it all night long. And I got other people ordering pitchers of Guinness. All of a sudden you’d see people going into this Irish bar with Double Stuffed Oreos®. I mean people were sitting there listening to the band and dunking Oreos® in Guinness and drinking. It was a new fad in this particular pub. It lasted at least a month or two.
So from there I just started exploring brewing a little bit more. And then my friend Thom and I, we’ve been friends since we were nineteen, we both started thinking that we had enough knowledge of it on a small system, like a little 15-gallon, half-barrel, 20-gallon system, that we could make a brew on premises work. I think it’s a fantastic idea and if it’s marketed right I think that the Twin Cities could use another one. And I thought that if we opened one up in Northeast or over in that area that it would rock. So we wrote up a full business plan on it. We continued to brew. We started brewing together to see where we were both at. We priced it all out and had the business plan written, and we were about to execute it when we got slammed by a brick wall. I was diagnosed with Celiac and that was the end of that. Right away we looked at the business plan and said there’s just not the market for a gluten-free brew on premises and there’s no way that I could run a regular brew on premises without killing myself.

What exactly is Celiac disease?

Alright. So Celiac is an autoimmune disorder. Meaning that when my body ingests a certain amino acid protein strain found in a variety of grass that is the wheat family it triggers a self-attack. Wheat, barley, rye, spelt, all of those grasses are related to each other and they all contain gluten. Well, all grain contains a gluten protein, and that gluten is just a protective amino strain that protects the grain. This particular strain of gluten from that particular grass family affects some of us to where our bodies ingest it and it triggers a self-attack. So my body will actually attack itself and it will do so mostly in my small intestine. It destroys the small hairs that uptake nutrients and you actually become malnourished. So after I was tested, we actually had to go through a full test to see what my vitamin levels were and I was practically third-world country. We had to bump everything way back up again. And when I get sick I can tell because all of my nutrients go down and for the next couple of months I’m prone to any kind of illness because it’s an immune reaction. So for me it feels like the flu times ten, about 48 hours of nasty. Then about a week or two of recovery.

I know there are degrees of Celiac. Some people it’s fairly mild, some people it’s intense. You’re on the intense end of that spectrum.

This is what they’re trying to figure out. It doesn’t seem like it’s so much the severity of the actual disease itself, but the severity of the reaction, the outward reaction. Some people get nothing but a little bit of heartburn. That becomes chronic and of course it’s bad for the esophagus. But the problem is that they are still doing the same damage on the inside. So yeah, my symptoms are pretty severe. There are people out there that are much more severe than I am. My aunt has Celiac and she’ll actually break out in hives all over. I don’t. I just puke out of every orifice. And sit around in the fetal position for a while wishing I was dead. Then after that it’s alright.

So I notice that you were wearing rubber gloves at Winterfest.

I learned a lesson at Hops for Hunger. I was pouring beer all night at Hops for Hunger and I was drinking my beer as well. But as soon as you hand someone your glass, a lot of times they are going to rinse out that previous beer. The glass is soaking in beer. It’s all over everything. So it was all over my hands. So every single time I was drinking my beer I was rubbing more gluten onto my cup and into my mouth. It usually takes about 24 hours for the symptoms to really kick in. I was so bad. I hadn’t had that kind of reaction in a while. Unfortunately brew day doesn’t care about that. I think I did a 16 or 17-hour double brew run that day. It was just running back and forth from the bathroom to the brew floor just wanting to die. I mean, everybody helped. We all kind of chipped in. It was Thom and I for the most part and we just rocked it out. Then I went home, tried to get some sleep, and came right back in the next morning. Welcome to owning your own business. So now when I’m pouring we bring a box of gloves for me to wear.

Sticky hands are just part of a beer fest. You end up with beer all over everything.

I know. Actually, people were kind of whispering about it. “Oh my god, does he hate beer that much? Why is he wearing gloves?” I’m Burning Brothers. I have celiac. It will kill me.

So to get back, you had this business plan and you had to throw it out.

Yup. We were pretty bummed out about it. We weren’t quite in the position that we thought to open an actual package brewery. So I went out and bought pretty much every gluten-free beer that was on the market. Back then that was only three or four. I didn’t like them. They just weren’t my thing. I’ll never cut them down. I’ll never cut down any beer out there. It’s up to personal preference. But it wasn’t my thing. I didn’t like it and I was determined to make my own. I obviously know how to brew beer and so does Thom. So Thom was like, “Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s see if we can brew a gluten-free beer.” We spent years trying. We threw the kitchen at it. We were trying different spice combinations, anything just to mask that sorghum flavor.

So my take on gluten-free beers, most of them, is that you can’t approach it thinking that it’s going to taste like beer. If you accept that and judge it on its own merits, then some of them aren’t so bad. But you have to rid yourself of that expectation.

We kind of approached it that way at first, but I said why not raise our standards up and say this should taste like beer. I want to make it as close to beer as possible. And not just beer, but I want to make it a well-balanced beer, as balanced as I can possibly make it. That was my thing. I missed beer

So what do you have to do to make a gluten-free beer? What’s different than regular barley beer?

You cannot use barley, wheat, rye, spelt, all the main ingredients in beer as we know it today.

So what do you use instead?

BB PyroI use an ancient grain, which some of the first records of beer out of Northern Africa were thought to be made out of, a grain called sorghum. It’s the primary grain in our flagship beer. That’s a 100% sorghum beer. I also use malted buckwheat and malted millet. I’m trying to experiment a little bit with teff, which is kind of a nutty grass. Wild rice as well. I’m not big on the rice, however. I’ve had a couple of companies ask me if I could sample their malted brown rice. But I always get a piece of paper with it that says “Please don’t feed this to people with celiac because there is gluten in it.” It’s malted on the same malting floor as barley. It’s stored in the same warehouse. I’m like, well then it’s full of it. Are you kidding me? I almost yelled at a couple of suppliers for bringing it into my brewery, because this is s gluten-free facility. We don’t allow it in the facility in any way. So now I’m taking some of that and very carefully packaging it and sending it out to my maltstress in Colorado and saying, “can you give me 20 or 30 pounds of this? I just want to try it to see what the flavor profile is.” That’s the big thing with gluten-free. You’re using different grains, but yet you want to try and get a lot of the same flavors as you would from barley.

So is the brewing process the same with those grains? Will they convert their own starch to sugar or do you have to use enzymes?

They convert. I have to use no enzymes whatsoever. They actually convert very easily, so they’re a little bit more forgiving. Sorghum isn’t. Sorghum is a pain. Sorghum is an absolute pain. That’s why most places will just extract the sugar by adding enzymes instead of using the malting procedure. They just grind it, add enzymes and pull out the sugars that way. But millet and buckwheat are easy. And quinoa as well, which if the price ever goes down on it we’ll run a batch. If I do end up running it, then we’ll do small, one-barrel batches of a tripel, because that’s my Everest. I’m pretty sure I have a recipe down that I can do it, but that will be quinoa, buckwheat, and millet all together with no sorghum in it.

So sorghum to me does have a particular flavor when it’s made into beer. It’s kind of all at once oddly almond/floral and then cider – like green apple cider. But your beers do not have that. There is a little bit of that floral/almond in there, but not as intense as in a lot of sorghum beers. And I don’t get any of that cider character. If this beer is 100% sorghum, why don’t I get that?

So when we were trying to do gluten-free beers at first, we were failing miserably. We just couldn’t do it. We stopped and took a step back and thought, “We’re starting to prove that Einstein’s theory is correct. We’re just doing the same thing over and over again. We’re adding spices. We’re adding this and that. We’re adding as many adjuncts as we can to try to mask flavors. Instead of trying to mask flavors, why don’t we tear it apart?”
You know, I used to be a fine-dining cook. I’m very good at pulling flavors apart palate-wise, at least for food. So I had to start training myself. I’m always trying to look at beer in that sense. With beer and with wine I’m always trying to pull the palate apart and taste it that way. But I kind of stepped back from the beer thing and I went more for cooking. The flavor profiles that I’m looking for are this, this, this, and this. These are the flavor profiles that are good about straight sorghum and these are the ones that are not. So how do we get rid of the ones that are bad? Then I tried to figure out what I had. As much as I liked brewing and fermenting, I was no yeast expert. I knew that different kinds of yeast do different things and give different flavors and different reactions, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what happens if you push a yeast here or there. I knew about steam beers, but why does that action happen? Why does it change the flavor so profusely? I started playing around with yeast at that point. I started playing around with hops, completely throwing the books out, throwing out the guidelines and asking, okay so how do I change this profile? I have to add this profile to it and that will neutralize it and make it inert. You know, I add a bitter to a sweet. I add a spice to a sweet.

So working kind of like I would do with food pairings, looking for interactions that will tone down certain things and bring out others.

Exactly. It took a while to really wrap my head around it and start walking down that edge. Now I’m so specific that I’ve kilned my own grains and malted my own grains. It comes to me already malted now, but it’s the exact same thing, so I already know what it’s going to taste like. I can actually send my maltster a sample of my particular roast and she will match it. So we started playing with that. I started pushing yeast a little bit too, trying to get some flavors that might be considered off in other beers. We actually look for them, because they contradict some of the flavors in the sorghum that we want gone. So clever use of hops and yeast is the biggest thing. Fermentation temperatures. How fast I cycle through a fermenter.

So that kind of gets to something you said to me earlier, that yeast is your best friend. Is that primarily the reason?

I’ve always been fascinated by fungus. When I was younger I used to grow mushrooms. Not the hallucinogenic ones. I loved growing edible, culinary mushrooms. It’s hard to find hedgehog mushrooms. It’s hard to find black chanterelle mushrooms up here. And there’s no way I’m going to pay that much for portabellas or creminis. I realized that I could get free spore prints from universities. Growing mushrooms was one of the most difficult things I ever learned how to do. You almost have to do it in a lab. I actually have a glove box and I’m taking spore prints and I’m inoculating plates. It’s like working with yeast. I feel very comfortable with it.

Dane Breimhorst(2)

Is there really a big enough market for a totally gluten-free brewery?

Yes. Absolutely. Right now the gluten-free industry in the United States is a 3.8 billion dollar industry. So it’s huge. And the number of cases is increasing yearly. The reason why is not because the number of people who have the genetic code for celiac are increasing, it’s that people are more aware of it and the tests are getting easier. The blood tests are actually pretty decent now. When I first went in, the blood tests were crap. You pretty much had to do an endoscopy and that scares people away from getting tested.
In some states you can be certified that you have celiac. I don’t know what that means to be certified celiac. “Wow! I have a sucky disease and I’m certified that I have a sucky disease! I can’t eat your food anymore! This sucks! Yay me!” But now more and more people are getting tested. That’s one of the things they are testing kids for now. It’s part of the allergen test.
That’s one of the reasons that we want to come out with the beers that we want to come out with. We want to come out with an American pale ale because to me when you’re trying to get into beers and you’re really exploring, there are beers that are better to start off with than others. And I think that the drinkability of American pale ale, especially with the citrus, it makes it a really easy summer beer to drink and it’s a beer that you can drink all year round. And it’s easier for those who aren’t hugely into craft beers. I mean, I have an American premium lager recipe. I’ve brewed it. It tastes like an American premium lager. It’s a pain to do, but I don’t mind doing it. But at the same time I’m like, “Do I want to put out an American premium lager? Do I want to do it?” I might eventually. I don’t know. As I got older I found a place for the American lager – before I got diagnosed. I actually really liked it when I went out fishing. That’s why I want to put it out. I want to put out a fisherman’s eight-pack. Just in cans. An eight-pack kind of thing.

You wouldn’t be the only one. A lot of craft brewers now are starting to put out American style lagers. Town Hall has one.

You can have fun with them. You don’t have to rip out everything with rice solids. I want to see how straw-colored I can make mine. I want to make it as clear as possible, as straw-colored as possible. It’s a challenge to make. It’s a hard beer to make. It’s a stupid-hard beer to make gluten-free because there is so much in the flavor that you have to hold back.

There’s not a lot to mask the sorghum flavor.

The other really difficult one is one that Thom my business partner has challenged me to do, and I’m not sure how I’m going to do it, but he wants me to do an English mild session beer. Trying to get a sorghum beer down in the 2% range, low 3% range – I have a hard time keeping it as low as I do now just because your first instinct is to rip out as much of the sugar from the sorghum as possible. That’s how you’re going to get alcohol from doing that. But to actually try to keep it low and still keep the balance. I’m thinking it’s not going to be a sorghum beer, that’s for sure. It might be just straight buckwheat, and I’ll use a bit of millet just as a pale malt in there.

What about roasted grains?

It gives you a real biscuity flavor if you just use it straight without malting it. If you malt it first you get a lot more of the malt tones in there. It’s still hard to pull that malt flavor out. But when you just roast it there’s no backbone, but a lot of biscuit. You can almost taste the burnt toast in there. It’s good in certain beers.
I was playing around with different stout recipes. I still want to create different stouts, because as I said before, when I was younger I fell in love with stout. I’d like to get back and do a really nice porter and a really nice stout and dive into some of the darker beers, the meatier beers like that. I use roasted buckwheat in one of the stouts that I was working on. It came out pretty good. The best stout I did was with quinoa, but I can’t figure out how to brew it on a large scale and have people afford it. That would be a 750 ml for 30 bucks almost. I know there are people with celiac who would pay that, but at the same time, I just don’t want them to have to. So it will take some time. Right now I’m working on something that’s just as good but doesn’t have quinoa in it.

That would be a hard sell. At 30 bucks you’re in the range of something like Deus Brut des Flandres.

I’m not up to that. I can only strive.

Talking to you it’s clear how your cooking and culinary background translates into brewing. But how do you see the connection?

Well…my attitude on the brew floor. My assistants hate it. I go right back into the kitchen mentality. One of them, thank God, has spent half his life in a kitchen, so he knows what it’s like to be yelled at. There’s a separating line between the brew floor and out here. Out here it didn’t happen. Just forget about it. We made beer. But I get pretty ornery back there. It’s funny, because I revert right back to that. If somebody misses something that’s really, really small it’s the most irritating thing in the world. To me as a cook that’s huge. On the hot side it’s not as bad because you’re not really as worried about contamination and all that, but I’m still, “I didn’t say that lever! Grab that butterfly and God damnit open it now! Jesus fucking Christ, let me do it!” I’m whipping down from the platform and I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to go over here and CIP something.” Actually, I’m trying to work on it.

Having worked for ten years in restaurants, that sounds very familiar.

Exactly. And I want to do everything at once, too. Just like in a restaurant. When they walk into the cooler and grab one thing and come out, I’m like, “what the hell are you doing? You’ve got stronger arms than that, pile it on there. You can take three boxes of hops out of there at a time, for God’s sake. It’s under a hundred pounds. You can do it. You’re wasting time.” Even though it’s not affecting the brew time whatsoever. You’re waiting for water to boil. Nothing is going on besides cleaning the brewery and prepping things out there. It’s not a big rush. But I get that cook mentality where it’s a rush and get it on. When that door opens, this place better be pristine and you’re mise en place better be set out perfectly. And you better be ready to cook some real food. Everything is done to order, baby.
But I also do that with the recipes too. I have my own wait staff that comes by to try recipes that I think are getting to the point that they are good. They come by and grab a growler and tear this apart. Tear it apart. My family, I’ll go to them for compliments all day long. But I want some constructive criticism, damnit. Tear it apart. That’s the reason we entered our beer into so many competitions while we still could. We entered the competitions just to get the feedback from the judges. We never told them it was gluten-free. I don’t want it compared to other gluten free beers. I feel like I have a product that can stand up against other gluten free beers on the market. I more want a product that can stand up to or at least hold its own weight against some of the craft beers. There is no way that I can top some of them, but I’m going to keep trying.

Fulton Beer’s New Production Facility

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

I first interviewed the guys from Fulton Brewing about four years ago. They had come out of nowhere to put beer in bars all over the metro. No one knew who they were or what they were up to. The interview was conducted in a garage in the Fulton neighborhood of South Minneapolis. We drank beers poured from corny kegs in a chest freezer. At the time they were contract brewing their beer at Sand Creek Brewing in Black River Falls, Wisconsin.

They have come a long way since then. I just a few years they opened their taproom near target field, taking over the brewing of all of the kegged product, while moving bottled beer production to Point Brewing in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Last year Fulton’s total production was around 15,000 barrels. That’s a lot of beer. This year they will complete construction of a new 7 million dollar facility in Northeast Minneapolis that will increase their capacity to a point that they don’t even know. For the first time Fulton will be producing all of its own beer in-house.

I had a chance to visit the facility last night. Quite impressive.


Beer & Wine University is back!

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Beer/Wine University

Due to overwhelming success of our fall Beer/Wine University Series, Sommelier Leslee Miller of Amusee and Certified Cicerone® Michael Agnew of A Perfect Pint are bringing the popular libation bootcamp back – not just once, but twice a year!

Each session we promise to mix up the fun & education, so you can build upon your repertoire of delicious wine and beer knowledge. If you made it to our last series, come again! It’ll be different each time around.

The next session’s fun starts on April 17th and runs three consecutive Thursdays May 1st!

When: April 17, 24th & May 1st. Class starts promptly at 6:30pm and will run until 8:30pm.

Where:  The Carlyle Building, 100 3rd Ave S, Minneapolis

Parking: There is absolutely no inside building parking.  Street parking is available, along with an open air CASH pay lot across the street from the building.

Cost: $40 per class session or sign up for all three at once and receive a $20 discount!

Buy your ticket here!

Contact Leslee Miller directly at leslee@amuseewine.com for all questions & inquiries, DO NOT contact The Carlyle Building

Session #1 – April 17th: Back to Basics: Wine/Beer Bootcamp: Learn the basics of beer and wine with two of the Twin Cities’ most passionate beer and wine educators, Sommelier Leslee Miller and Cicerone Michael Agnew. From styles, regions, grape varietals to all the sensory perspectives of grains to grapes – Michael and Leslee introduce the basics of beer/wine in this introductory 2 hour course.

Session #2 – April 24th:  Pantry Pairings: Understand the basics of how to pair beer and wine to the world of food. Whether the dish is light and bright, salty and savory, or earthy and umami, you’ll learn the time-tested tricks of correctly pairing the right libations to the right foods and gain an understanding of when the ‘old school’ rules need not apply.

The best part…we’re pairing to all the easy eats that you prepare Monday through Thursday; things found in your pantry, from guacamole, chips & dip to Minnesota hot dish! We have the libation answers to your weeknight cravings.

Session #3 – May 1st:  Open that Bottle Night!: Looking to really step outside your box?  This is the class for you!  From weird and whacky grape varietals, obscure growing regions, and funky vintaged wines to the world’s most interesting specialty and extreme beers (and maybe a beer cocktail to boot!), this class takes your knowledge of beer and wine to the next level.  Beverage selections for this class won’t be revealed until the night of!

Magic Hat Heart of Darkness Stout

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

It’s winter. It’s been really cold outside. It’s good stout-drinking weather. That’s all I’ve got to say.

Here’s my notes:

Magic Hat Heart of Darkness StoutHeart of Darkness Stout
Magic Hat Brewing Company, South Burlington, Vermont
Style: Stout
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Medium-level, dry, black-malt roastiness. Licorice and black coffee. Some light-molasses and brown sugar sweetness balances the roast. Low, toasted-bread notes fill in the background. No hops.

Appearance: Black, nearly opaque with ruby-red highlights. Appears clear. Moderate head of creamy, beige foam with larger bubbles interspersed. Moderate retention.

Flavor: Creamy dark chocolate kicks things off with some black-malt, dry roastiness that comes in midway. A touch of caramel sweetness tempers the roast. Bitterness is medium-low from both hops and roasted malt. Low earthy hop flavors with light citrus overtones. Secondary notes of coffee grounds, licorice, dark fruits, and berries. A hint of roasted malt acidity. The dry finish lingers on roast.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation. Low creaminess.

Overall Impression: A smooth stout that falls somewhere between BJCP styles. It’s not quite sweet, not quite dry, and not hoppy enough to be called American. I like the light, background toasty-bread notes of Munich malt. I’m munching on some cheese as I drink this. What I’m missing though is a good, mild, blue cheese. It would be very good with this beer.

Lakewood Brewing Company at the 2013 GABF

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

“Internationally inspired, locally crafted beer.” That’s the motto of Lakewood Brewing Company in Garland, Texas. Founder/brewer Wim Bens was introduced to good beer while growing up in Belgium. Here in the US it was his love of Belgian beers that led him to American craft beer. His split influences are reflected in the beers that he brews at Lakewood. They layer an American sensibility onto a base of classic European styles.

In the lineup you’ll find a classic Pilsner, a Munich dunkel with pumpkin and spice, and a Belgian-style IPA among other Euro-marican brews. The crowning glory is The Temptress, a rich and chocolaty imperial milk stout that Bens calls “dessert in a glass.” The description is apt. It is one very tasty beer.

Excel Bottling Company at the 2013 GABF

Monday, November 25th, 2013

As a writer I’m a storyteller. I like breweries that have interesting stories. They make my job easier. The story can come from anywhere. It might be the brewer’s career path or brewing philosophy. It could be the history of the brewery or the building in which it is housed. Or maybe it’s the beauty of the countryside that surrounds the brewery. A brewer can make the best beer in the world, but without a captivating backstory it’s terribly difficult to pen an interesting profile. I’m left trying to manufacture magic from the rather mundane reality of making beer.

Excel Bottling Company in tiny Breese, Illinois made my life very easy. The company was founded in 1936 when Edward “Lefty” Maier captured a bank robber and collected a $500 reward. He used the windfall to purchase a bottling machine and open the third soda making plant in Breese. The others have long since closed, but nearly 80 years later Excel is still making soda the old fashioned way. They use real sugar, natural flavorings, and returnable bottles. And those bottles are still filled on that original 1936 machine.

Excel started making beer in 2012. It was mostly a business decision says Paul Maier, “Lefty’s” son. Returnable bottles have to be ordered in massive quantities and they needed another product line to keep them all filled. The current boom in brewing  and a change in the law allowing small brewers to self-distribute made beer a likely choice. They hired long-time homebrewer and homebrew store owner Tony Toenjes to oversee brewery operations. Rod Burguiere, a former brewer at Stone Brewing Co. was taken on as assistant brewmaster. Burguiere was looking for a way to move back to his native Midwest and jumped at the opportunity to bring a West Coast sensibility to Southern Illinois.

Scratch Brewing Co. at the 2013 GABF

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Some breweries are just more interesting than others. This has nothing to do with the quality of the beer. It’s more about the brewery’s story and philosophy. One such brewery is Scratch Brewing Co. in the tiny, southern Illinois town of Ava.

Many breweries call themselves “farmhouse” breweries, but for Scratch Brewing Company the term is especially appropriate. The brewpub is located on a plot of forested land about five miles outside Ava. It is truly a farmstead that has been in co-owner Aaron Kleidon’s family for 25 years.

But “farmhouse” in this case also applies to the way they think about and brew beer. They follow an ethic that looks to back to a time when beer making was carried out on every farmstead using the ingredients at hand. They want Scratch beers to smell and taste like southern Illinois. The rustic flavors of their traditionally styled brews are enhanced by the addition of local ingredients, many of which are foraged from the property. These have included such things as nettle, elderberry, ginger, dandelion, maple sap, various roots, and cedar, among others. They grow some of their own hops and source others from Windy Hill Hops, a nearby grower.

The brewery itself is a mix of primitive and modern that reflects the different personalities of the owners. Aaron Kleidon is an expert forager who pushes a more primitive process that includes brewing in a copper kettle over an open fire. Ryan Tockstein represents the modern side of brewing seen in their 1.5-barrel Stout Tanks brewhouse. Foodie Marika Josephson fall somewhere in between and forms a bridge between the two.

While the character of Scratch beers leans heavily on unique ingredients, don’t look for them to be extreme. These brewers make beers to which modern palates will respond, but that are deeply rooted in older traditions. They look to their ingredients to complement other flavors already in the beer, not to overwhelm them.

I had interviewed Marika on the phone for my upcoming Midwest brewery guidebook, but hadn’t had the opportunity to visit the brewery or taste the beers. I was so excited to see them on the list at the Great American Beer Festival.

Steel Toe Brewing Size 11 Double IPA

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Size 7 IPA from Steel Toe Brewing is I think my favorite Minnesota-made IPA. Having honed his skills in the Pacific Northwest, brewer Jason Schoneman likes IPAs that favor hop flavor and aroma over palate peeling bitterness. That’s my kind of IPA. I love the juicy fruits and pine sap. I’m not so crazy about the bitter.

I’m also not crazy about double IPAs. They tend to be overly bitter or overly syrupy for my taste; a lot of hops an little else or under-attenuated and sticky. There are a few that I enjoy; Avery Maharaja and Pliny the Elder come to mind. But even those I’m pretty much done with after one glass.

Given how much I like Size 7 though, I was intrigued by the prospect of a Steel Toe double IPA. I figured if I were going to like anyone’s version it would be Jason’s. I somehow missed last year’s release of Size 11. This year I made sure to pick up a bottle before it disappeared.

Here’s my notes:

Size 11
Steel Toe Brewing Company, St. Louis Park, Minnesota
Style: Double IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle

Aroma: A basket of juicy fruits. In fact it reminds me a bit of Juicy Fruit gum. Kiwi, tangerines, and tropical fruits like mango. Underneath is a light, grainy maltiness, with subtle tones of biscuit and toast that get stronger as is warms.

Appearance: Medium amber to copper and very clear. A towering cap of creamy, ivory foam that lasts all the way to the bottom of the glass.

Flavor: Hops are king and bitterness is high, but it’s not insane. There is enough malt there to maintain balance. It’s malty but not sweet.  Caramel notes combine with the biscuit and toast that carry over from the aroma. Toast gets stronger as it warms. It’s just a guess, but I’d say that there is a good bit of Munich or some such malt in there. It dries out in the end, leaving it refreshing. Now let’s get back to those hops. The bitterness has a sharp, mineral quality and leaves a cooling sensation on the back of my throat. Those fruits from the aroma come back in the flavor. It’s that same juicy fruit gum thing, but this time with some herbs added. Mint? Bitterness lingers, but it isn’t astringent. Hop flavors hang around with it. Dry finish to keep it light.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: I’m the oddball who first considers the malt in an IPA. I know the hops will be there. I want to know what else is going on. Jason didn’t neglect the malt. It isn’t just there to keep the hops company. It adds interest of its own and is a nearly equal partner to the hops in the overall experience of the beer. It’s nicely layered and complex. The hops dominate but don’t overwhelm. This might be my new favorite DIPA. I’m sorry I only bought one bottle.

Lucid Brewing Duce

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Lucid Brewing has recently released two new big-bottle beers. The first is Craig’s Ale, number one of their homebrewer collaboration beers. The second is a 7.5%, oak-aged, imperial red ale called Duce. It’s pronounced doo-chay, like Il Duce, the name given to Italian National Fascist Party leader Benito Mussolini who ruled the country before and during World War II. I’m not sure about that as a name for a beer, but whatever. I had a chance to taste this woody brew.

Here’s my notes:

Lucid DuceDuce
Lucid Brewing, Minnetonka, Minnesota
Style: Oak Aged Imperial Red Ale
Serving Style: 750 ml bottle

Aroma: Caramel malt and woody oak. The wood dominates but malty sweetness offers some balance. A touch of herbal – almost minty – hops in the background.

Appearance: Dark amber/red color and crystal clear. Voluminous, beige head that is creamy-rich and very persistent.

Flavor: Woody oak dominates, presenting some cabernet-like tannins. Caramel malt sweetness offers some support, but not enough to overcome it. The balance does even out some as the beer warms and the caramel comes more to the fore. A faint touch of roastiness adds a bit of interest to the malt. Bitterness is medium-low. There are some low-level herbal hop notes. Dig deep and you will find dark fruits in there as well. Alcohol is there, but not offensive.

Mouthfeel: Super creamy with a medium-full body. Medium to medium-low carbonation. Warming alcohol.

Overall Impression: To my palate, the wood comes on a little strong in this one. This is a shame, because it obscures what seems like a darn tasty base beer. I’m not sure if this is 100% oaked beer, but that would be my guess. A bit of back-blending with some un-oaked beer would have delivered better balance and a better beer.