Crispin Cider Sells To Miller Coors – More Details

The internet lit up this morning with the announcement that Minneapolis-based Crispin Cider had been sold to MillerCoors. Early reports in the Milwaukee Business Journal and the Pioneer Press gave little detail, stating only that the company had been purchased for an undisclosed amount and was to be run as a unit of Tenth and Blake, the craft-and-import division of the brewing giant named after the Miller’s 10th Street Brewery in Milwaukee and the Coors-owned Sandlot Brewery located on Blake Street in Denver, Colorado. Reports disclosed that the deal includes both Crispin and its affiliate Fox Barrel. Tenth and Blake CEO Tom Cardella cited the precipitous growth of the hard cider sector since 2008 when Crispin was founded and said, “We were looking at the best way to participate in that growth. Crispin stood out.”

I had the opportunity to chat with Crispin founder and CEO Joe Heron this afternoon to fill in some of the blanks. The whole thing came together quickly as far as these things go. Discussions began last year on November 4th and the deal was finished on February 4th. For Heron, selling the company that he started in 2008 wasn’t about money. The company has grown 200 percent since its inception. It was doing quite well. Instead the sale was intended to bring to Crispin a higher level of expertise and access to markets that would take the cider maker to the next level, or as he put it, “To put muscles on the mouse.”

What MillerCoors brings, according to Heron, is resources, expertise, and access to markets that will enable the company to upscale. The intent is to continue making the product in the current Colfax, California facility, but to expand and update that facility as demand increases. In addition the connection with MillerCoors will help Crispin place its cider into lucrative chain-store accounts.

Heron has been approached by others in the past, but was holding out for the right buyer. “The chemistry here is great,” he says. Clearly MillerCoors, like the other big brewers, recognizes the growth of the craft segment in the face of falling sales for their mainline brands. They are looking to get in on that growth by expanding into more innovative product lines. They have entered into partnerships with other small producers such as Georgia-based Terrapin. Heron says that part of what made the offer appealing to him was the sincerity of the folks at Tenth and Blake. “People see these as huge monolithic companies, but these are real people who are all about beer. They make their regular products, but they are just as much into the craft stuff as anybody.” He says that the company was interested in maintaining Crispin’s position as an innovator in the cider sector. In his words, “They like us because we make cool shit.”

Heron will stay on as the head of Crispin. “This is the most fun I’ve had in my entire career life.” he said. “I’m not going to leave it now.” Crispin will be given a large degree of autonomy from MillerCoors. That autonomy was another selling point for Heron. Crispin will maintain its own sales force. Cider production will remain in Colfax, California. The company will continue the kind of adventurous cider making that has begun to spawn imitators. Upcoming projects include a barrel-aged version of their Lansdowne named after late singer Marvin Gaye, and Bohemian, the next of their alternative yeast explorations, this one fermented with a German lager yeast.

Time will tell what this sale will mean for Crispin. If the MillerCoors promise of autonomy holds and the company is allowed to continue in the direction it has already set for itself over the last three years, it could prove to be a good move, expanding the market for the product beyond its current niche status. If quality suffers it will only alienate the brands current consumers. I for one don’t see Miller Coors doing that. As Heron said, they are purchasing a part of the future. They want to cash in on that growth market. They would be shooting themselves in the foot to mess with that. That said Killian’s Irish Red is not the beer it once was.

A Quartet of New Ciders from Crispin

Crispin Cider Company has some interesting products in the pipeline. Four new ciders are to be released in the coming weeks, including three new pear ciders in the Fox Barrel line and a new Artisanal Reserve unfiltered apple cider from the Crispin brand.

New Crispin Artisanal Reserve Release

Chō-Tokkyū means “super express” in Japanese. It is the original name of the Japanese bullet trains. It is also the name of the newest Artisanal Reserve cider from Crispin. A continuation of Crispin’s yeast experiments that started with The Saint, an apple cider fermented with Abbey Ale yeast, Chō-Tokkyū is fermented with Sake yeast. A bit of rice syrup is added both as a nod to the main ingredient of sake and to lighten the body and dry out the finish. Here’s my notes:

Crispin Cider Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: Apple cider fermented with sake yeast
Serving Style: 22 oz bottle

Aroma: A blend of fresh and cooked sweet apples. Vinous and floral with earthy background notes.

Appearance: Pale yellow and very cloudy. Reminds me of beeswax. Fine bubbles.

Flavor: Sweet up front with lingering acidity on the backside. Very dry finish from rice syrup addition. Cooked apple flavors don’t dominate. They are balanced by the yeast characer. Floral Floral Floral. A bit vinous, white grape. Earthy.

Mouthfeel: Light-bodied but with yeasty fullness. Carbonation was lower than expected.

Overall Impression: Very unique. Floral and earthy flavors were nice, but the floral was a bit more than I wanted. Not my favorite of the Artisanal Reserve ciders, but worth the experiment.

New Fruity Pear Ciders from Fox Barrel

For those who don’t know, the Fox Barrel Cidery in Colfax, California is where Crispin ciders have been made from the beginning. A couple of years ago Crispin bought Fox Barrel. They have done good things with the brand. For one, the Fox Barrel brand is now completely focused on pear ciders made from 100% fresh-pressed pear juice. If you have never had a real pear cider, it’s worth checking out.

Crispin is introducing a new line of unfiltered and “naked” pear ciders under the Fox Barrel label, similar in feel to the Artisanal Reserve Crispin ciders. Three new ones will be released soon; Wild Orchard Naked Pear Cider, Fox Barrel Cidery Reserve Rhubarb and Elderberry, and Fox Barrel Cidery Reserve Ginger & Black Current. Here’s my notes:

Wild Orchard
Fox Barrel Cider Company, Colfax, California
Style: Unfiltered perry fermented with champagne yeast
Serving Style: 22 oz bottle

Aroma: A burst of fruity pear with floral highlights. It’s great just smelling it.

Appearance: Unexpectedly clear for unfiltered cider. Crystal clear I would say, despite swirling pre-pour. Light golden color.

Flavor: Like eating a pear and drinking champagne. Lightly vinous. Huge fruit. Pear, pear, pear. Starts sweet with gentle tart acidity in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Light bodied and lightly spritzy.

Overall Impression: WOW! You owe it to yourself to check this out.

Fox Barrel Cidery Reserve Rhubarb and Elderberry
Style: Unfiltered pear cider with rhubarb and elderberry
Serving Style: 22 oz bottle

Aroma: All pears and berries. Light at first and getting stronger as it warms. So much berry. Grape Jolly Rancher. Elderberry Jam. Sweet and tart.

Appearance: Maroon purple and cloudy with light fizz. Pretty to look at. Fine pink foam.

Flavor: A burst of fruit; berry, pear. Grape Jolly Rancher comes back from the aroma. It has the exact sweet/tart blend of that candy. Not a bad thing. Pear provides a foundation. Dark berry flavors add depth. Rhubarb comes in as an afterthought to bring a bright, tart finish. Nicely layered. You taste all the ingredients.

Mouthfeel: Light body and lightly carbonated.

Overall Impression: A bit of an alco-pop, but who cares. I would drink a lot of it. This would be great with desert. If you like Lindemans Fruit Lambics, you will like this.

Fox Barrel Cidery Reserve Ginger & Black Current
Style: Perry with ginger and black current
Serving Style: 22 oz bottle

Aroma: Apples and berries at first. An explosion of fruit. Fresh and cold from the fridge the ginger remains in the background. It comes on strong thought as the cider warms.

Appearance: Maroon and murky. Fine bubble rise to the top of the glass.

Flavor: The explosion of fruit in the aroma carries over to the flavor. Simply bursting with fruit. Pears and currents fight for dominance, but neither ever really wins. Similar to the aroma, the ginger is subdued at first, but gets stronger as it warms. Still, it remains in balance, never overwhelming the fruit. Always just at the edge. A bit of ginger bite sees the cider out the door. Hits the front of the tongue first with sweetness but tart takes over in the finish. Lingering current and ginger. Delightful and refreshing.

Mouthfeel: Light-bodied, but with a yeasty fullness. Spritzy.

Overall Impression: Another fruity alco-pop that I would gladly drink bottle after bottle. Fresh-pressed fruit yields fresh fruit flavor.

Crispin Cider Dinner at Kieran’s Irish Pub

Monday night Kieran’s Irish Pub played host to a sumptuous, 7-course, cider-pairing dinner featuring Crispin Ciders and Fox Barrel ciders. Kieran’s chef James Kelly and his staff whipped up some apple-tastic delights that were prepared and paired with cider. Attendees were treated to a taste of 2-Gingers Irish Whiskey, a brand commissioned by Kieran’s along with a few other local eateries for in-house sale. The menu also featured the charcuterie of Green Ox meats, a local purveyor of artisan sausages and cured meats, as well as a couple of new-ish treats from Crispin; “cream cider” and a new version of the Fox Barrel Pear Cider.

Until now the popular (at least in our house) Fox Barrel Pear Cider has been an apple cider flavored with pear juice. The new version is a true perry, made from 100% pear juice. Unaware that we had this new version in front of us, the first thing we noticed was an extraordinary aroma of flowers, honey, and pears. Thinking this aromatic explosion was due to the glassware, we started planning a trip to the kitchen store. It wasn’t until Crispin CEO Joe Heron let us in on the secret that we realized it was actually the cider. Besides the intensified aromas, the new recipe has a richer, fruitier flavor with interesting woody background notes. It’s a nice change.

Cream cider is actually Crispin Original served on nitrogen gas like Guinness. The problem with nitrogen gas is that is lightens the flavor of whatever it’s pushing. That doesn’t matter so much with the intense roastiness of a Guinness Stout, but with a lighter drink like cider it leads to a fairly bland experience on its own. It looks pretty though; bright golden color with a huge, cascading, white head.

We were served the cream cider in one of two cider/whiskey cocktails featuring 2 Gingers whiskey. I’m not a whiskey drinker. I’ve never been able to tolerate even the smell of it. However, the cocktails disguised the flavor enough that they weren’t too bad. The first of them was a Crispin Spritzer with Crispin Original, 2 Gingers, and seltzer. A wedge of lime added a nice tart citrus touch. The second, Ginger Cream, consisted of the cream cider with 2 Gingers whiskey and Canton ginger liquor.

The food and the pairings were fantastic. The first course, an Amuse Bouche consisting of warm Green Ox pork rillettes and wild mushroom 2 gingers fricassee piled on top of a chicharon chip and surrounded by caramelized-Crispin apples, was fantastic. It was like apple-cinnamon bacon. Amuse bouche means amusing bite, and this really was just a bite. It left me wanting more.

The second course was a butternut squash and pear cider soup. The cider flavor came through clearly in the soup and was a wonderful sweet/tart match to the squash. It made for a great pairing with the new Fox Barrel pear cider. Bleu cheese crusted walnuts and fried herbs added a savory touch.

The fourth course was another stand-out to me; seared sea scallops wrapped in Green Ox cured loin over a roasted tomato puree. It was infused with just a touch of chili oil that gave it some zip. The tomato puree was to die for and really set off the sweetness of the scallop and the saltiness of the cured loin. It was a little too salty for my dining partner, but I didn’t mind that. Paired with Crispin brut it was excellent.

The star of the meal was desert (no surprise there, really); crème de banana crepes. The banana crème stuffed crepes were had a dollop of semi-fredo made with Crispin’s the Saint cider. I had to ask the chef what a semi-fredo was. Seems it’s one of those high-tech, cooking-with-science creations made with liquid nitrogen; something about the intense cold coagulating the cream and other stuff that I only barely understood. Anyway, it was like cider ice cream and it was good. There was a drizzling of cider glaze, basically a Saint Cider reduction. The reduction process intensified the flavors, bringing delicious caramel-apple flavor and a bright, contrasting bit of acidity. The pairing with the Saint cider was fantastic. Fermented with Belgian ale yeast, the Saint has unique banana and spice flavors that perfectly complemented the dish.

A warm fennel-sausage and potato salad with arugula and Browns Lane cider vinaigrette was nice, but would have been better had it actually arrive warm. The main course was a cider marinated brisket served with root vegetables roasted in honey and Honey Crisp cider with a whiskey and cider demi-glace. The flavor was very nice, especially the vegetables, but the brisket was a bit overdone; easy to do with brisket.

All in all it was a fun evening. I’m all about beer and food pairing, but I’m starting to see the potential of partnering cider with food as well. I might have to expand my pairing vocabulary for my clients’ private beer dinner parties.

Crispin Browns Lane Imported English Cider

A while back I was talking with Crispin Cider CEO Joe Heron when he handed me a can of cider from England. He told me that the company would soon be importing it to this country under the Crispin label. Heron was very excited about the project, but said that it was still under wraps.

Browns Lane Classic English Dry Cider was finally released earlier this month. It is now available in four-packs of 16-ounce cans at most metro-area fine beverage stores. According to the can Browns Lane is “100% pressed, fermented and produced in England. It is a lightly sparkling, crisply effervescent cider made with traditional English bittersweet cider apples sourced in the Malvern Hills of Worcestershire.”

Sounds tasty. And it is tasty. Here’s my notes:

Browns Lane
Imported by Crispin Cider Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: English Dry Cider
Serving Style: 16 oz can

Aroma: Fruity apples and spice. Red apple skins. Hints of sulfur.

Appearance: Golden color and crystal clear. Tiny bubbles rise from the bottom of the glass.

Flavor: Crisp red apple. When cold it’s like biting into a firm, fresh fruit. Vinous like chardonnay. Leans toward tart, with sweetness that just balances. Lingering apple sweetness after the swallow quickly gives way to a long-lasting, very dry and tart finish.

Mouthfeel: Crisp, dry, and light-bodied. Prickly carbonation.

Overall Impression: An easy-drinking and refreshing cider. Nice balance of sweet and tart. More tart and with a dryer finish than the other Crispin offerings, it is my favorite outside of the Artisanal Reserve line. Nothing offensive. Nothing challenging. Just a nice fruity, dry, and lightly tart apple cider. I braised some kale in this stuff and it was fantastic!

The Jacket from Crispin Cider

I met briefly with Joe Heron, CEO of Crispin Cider yesterday; always a pleasure. I was fortunate to walk away with a pre-release bottle of a new, very limited-edition, 8.3% apple wine called The Jacket. The Jacket is a blend of four apple-wines that is aged in Jack Daniels barrels. The first and second parts of the blend are the undiluted base of The Saint and Lansdowne, Crispin’s Artisanal Reserve ciders fermented with Belgian ale yeast and Irish ale yeast respectively. The remaining portions are a Colfax varietal apple-wine and a wild-fermented apple-wine.

The name is obviously inspired from the Jack Daniels barrels used for aging. A less obvious inspiration is the band My Morning Jacket, one of Heron’s favorites. This is an extremely limited release; only 1000 cases were made. The Jacket will debut on October 28th in Louisville, at a St. Crispin’s day event benefiting the Louisville Youth Orchestra. Look for a Minnesota release on or near that date.

Here’s my notes:

The Jacket
Crispin Cider Company, Minneapolis, MN
Style: Barrel Aged Apple Wine
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Deep. Earthy. Applesauce with brown sugar. Background whiffs of bourbon that stick in the nose. Oaky vanilla.

Appearance: Murky gray-brown. Light carbonation bubbles. Not exactly pretty to look at, but the appearance is appropriately earthy and mysterious for the flavor and aroma.

Flavor: Deep, dark and mysterious. My grandmother’s homemade applesauce. Earth, oak, and must. Loamy. Notes of vanilla, wood and bourbon that ebb and flow in and out with each sip. Lightly tart acidity. Gentle alcohol. It finishes tart, but then lingers on apple-pie-like raisins and brown sugar. This apple wine conjures an image of an old, graying, wooden crate that has sat for decades in a barn.

Mouthfeel: Full-bodied and warming. Lightly spritzy. Alcohol warms all the way down.

Overall Impression: There is a lot going on here. Sip this one slowly over time and let all the flavor sensations bounce around in your head. This is a thinking person’s cider; deep, rich, dark and old. It wants food. Maybe pork stewed with exotic spices. Or just savor it on it’s own.

Lansdowne – A New Artisanal Reserve Cider from Crispin

Last night I had the opportunity to sample a bottle of Lansdowne, the newest Artisanal Reserve cider from Minneapolis headquartered Crispin. This newest addition to the Crispin lineup is named after the Lansdowne Road Stadium, home to Irish rugby until it’s demolition in 2007. Crispin owner Joe Heron is a big rugby fan. The company even sponsors rugby teams.

Irish rugby is not the only thing Irish about this cider. Continuing the experiment started with The Saint, a cider fermented with Belgian ale yeast, Lansdowne is fermented with Irish ale yeast and finished off with organic molasses for a startlingly stout-like effect.

Lansdowne joins Honey Crisp and The Saint in the Artisanal Reserve series and should appear in stores in the next few weeks.

Here’s my notes:

Crispin Cider Company, Minneapolis, MN & Colfax, CA
Style: Cider with molasses and Irish ale yeast
Serving Style: 22 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Malty, caramel, and butterscotch. Perhaps even a bit toasty. Fresh apple isn’t timid, but stays slightly in the background. Reminds me of the apple butter my grandma used to make.

Appearance: Light fizz. Murky amber. Remember to rouse the yeast to get the proper effect. Not especially pretty to look at.

Flavor: Autumn. Ripe red apples. Mostly sweet, but has a light, balancing, acidic tartness that prevents it becoming cloying. The molasses comes through strong at the start giving mouth-filling caramel and burnt sugar flavors. Raisins. The yeasty butterscotch from the aroma carries into the flavor, again reminding me of grandma’s apple butter. Big and full-flavored.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied and slightly viscous. The thickness is cut by a refreshing, spritzy carbonation. A touch of warming alcohol.

Overall Impression: Upon first smelling this cider I got a mental image of fall-colored leaves blowing in the wind. This cider screams autumn. Big, rich, and sweet with complex caramel, fruit, and butterscotch flavors, it is perfect for the light chill of October in Minnesota. To those who complain that Crispin ciders are too sweet, this one will seem over the top, as the molasses/burnt sugar sweetness is only barely balanced by the apple acidity. Those who are particularly sensitive to buttery diacetyl may not be crazy about this one. I am particularly insensitive to diacetyl and found it quite pleasant. Perhaps my favorite of Crispin’s Artisanal Reserve ciders.

The Saint from Crispin Cider

A few days ago I posted about a Crispin Cider dinner I attended at A25. One of the highlights of that event was a pre-release sampling of The Saint, the new artisanal reserve release from Minneapolis based Crispin. I enjoyed it that night, but felt I should give it a proper tasting before writing more formal tasting notes. I know this is a beer blog, but many beer fans also like cider and this one is fermented with trappist ale yeast. Seems appropriate to me. Here’s my notes:

The Saint
Crispin Cider Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hard Cider with Trappist Yeast and Organic Maple Syrup
Serving Style: 22 oz bottle

Aroma: Fresh fruit. Tart apples and pears. Hint of bready yeast. Light cotton candy/herbal Belgian yeast phenolics.

Appearance: Color is light straw and quite hazy. Be sure to rouse the yeast off the bottom of the bottle before you pour this one. Forms a light head on pouring that dissipates immediately into nothing.

Flavor: Sweet red apple skins with hints of pear as in the aroma. Tart apple rides the sides of the tongue in the middle. Towards the end the maple kicks in and lasts long after the swallow. The maple sweetness balances the tart apple. The flavor is there but not overwhelming. Throughout the Trappist yeast gives very pleasant marshmallow/herbal/vanilla notes. Light alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Gently sparkling. Medium body but with a mouth-filling roundness. Smooth and drinkable.

Overall Impression: Quite delightful. An easy-drinking mix of tart apple and maple sweetness. Intriguing yeast-derived flavors set it apart from other commercial ciders. Puts me in mind of some of the funkier French ciders, but not quite. If you like cider and Belgian ales then give this a try.

Crispin Cider Dinner at A25 Sushi & Sake Bar

Snowstorm be damned! Monday night I slogged through the mush to attend a Crispin Cider dinner at A25 Sushi & Saki Bar on Nicolette. When I heard about this event my first thought was how well cider would pair with sushi, and the pairings on offer confirmed my hunch. The intimate group in attendance was treated to four courses from the recently reconfigured and re-visioned A25 (formerly Anemoni Sushi) each paired with Crispin Cider or a custom Crispin cocktail devised by A25’s resident mixologist. Crispin’s owner Joe Heron was on hand to greet guests and answer questions. So as outside snow fell and cars were towed, we sat comfortably inside enjoying a great meal and great conversation.

Upon arrival we were greeted with a sneak preview of Crispin’s newest Artisanal Reserve cider, The Saint. I was told that this was the first public pouring of this new cider. The Saint is made from a blend of fresh-pressed apples with maple syrup added. The real kicker is the Belgian Trappist ale yeast used to ferment it. The result is a cloudy cider with moderate apple flavor and acidity. The maple syrup adds some balancing sweetness and subtle flavors while the Trappist yeast give a nice herb and spice phenolic edge. The yeast character is more subtle than you would find in classic Trappist ales, but it’s still enough to call this a “Belgian” cider. It was refreshing and fruity on ice, but I preferred it straight up for a more intense flavor. Look for more complete tasting notes for The Saint coming later.

The first course was sea bass with black bean sauce on a bed of bak choi. This paired excellently with the first Crispin cocktail called Original Sin, consisting of Crispin Brut, Ketel One Citron, lemon juice, diced ginger and ginger simple syrup. This concoction was another highlight of the night for me. I ordered another at the end of the meal. The wonderful floral, citrus and ginger flavors of Original Sin brought out similar spicy ginger notes in the black bean sauce. The fish was nicely prepared and attractively presented.

Course two, a sashimi sampler with Crispin Honey Crisp, was the best food of the night and the best pairing. The plate was beautifully arranged with an assortment of very fresh sashimi. The light carbonation and acidity of the cider cut the fat of the fish, while the vinous sweetness and body was bold enough to stand up to wasabi.

The third course was crispy pork tenderloin paired with the second Crispin cocktail called Intelligent Design. This course was the least successful in both the food and the pairing. While the pork tenderloin wasn’t bad, it didn’t stand out like the previous dishes. The presentation was uninteresting, just the sliced tenderloin on a white plate with a small timbale of white rice. Had I not known it was “crispy” pork tenderloin I’m not sure that’s how I would have described it. Again, it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t at the same level as the other dishes. Similarly, the cocktail, consisting of Honey Crisp, lemon juice, Plymouth Gin, honey water, and Parfait Amour orange liqueur was tasty, but not as seductively delicious as the first and it didn’t do all that much to complement the dish.

Desert, a sweet rice and cheesecake roll with a cider, honey and ginger reduction ended the meal on a high note. The fried roll had just the right amount of sweetness and the reduction was like a caramel apple dipping sauce drizzled on the plate. It worked very well with the Honey Crisp cider that I had left from the earlier course.

I was lucky to sit at a table with Joe Heron so we spent the evening talking cider and beer as I tried to tease out what we can look forward to from Crispin. He hinted at more experiments with yeast and revealed that they are opening up several new markets in the coming weeks. The best bit of news for me stems from Crispin’s recent acquisition of the Fox Barrel Cidery in California. Fox barrel produces three wonderful ciders, a hard cider, a pear cider, and a black currant cider, that I tried on recent trips to the Bay Area. Joe says we can look for these great products becoming available in the Twin Cities in the coming weeks.

Zipp’s Spring Beer Tasting

A great crowd at the Cedar Cultural Center.

Zipp's LiquorA nice crowd gathered at the Cedar Cultural Center last night for the Zipp’s Spring Beer Tasting event. Part beer festival, part charity fund-raiser for the Cedar, this event brought together distributor, importer, and brewery reps in a showcase of over 100 regional and national beers. $20 bought your entry and included a tasting glass and all the samples you could consume. There was also a silent auction with proceeds going to support the Cedar Cultural Center. The auction included lots of beer swag, like glassware, t-shirts, and hats, along with biking paraphernalia and even a bike. Zipp’s did a similar event last fall that was not nearly as well attended. It was great to see so many people turn out to taste good beer and support a great cause.

I focused my tasting on beers that I had not yet tasted and I must say there were startlingly few. I ran through that list in fairly short order. There were a couple of standouts both on the good side and the Boulder Brewing Co. Flashback Imperial Brown Aledisappointing side. By far the best beer I tasted all night was Flashback, an imperial brown ale from Boulder Brewing in Colorado. This beer is currently only available as the mystery seasonal beer in the Boulder sampler pack. It has a luscious caramel and toast malt profile with a backbone of light roast. The malt is balanced by nice resinous hop character and medium bitterness. I would gladly drink a pint of this. I went back for seconds and thirds of this beer. Another beer that I liked was the Big Red Imperial Red Ale from Southern Tier. This is another balanced beer with rich caramel malt and citrus/pine hops and nice fruity notes. The bitterness is restrained making for an easy drinking beer even with the high alcohol.

The biggest disappointment of the night was 2009 from Lagunitas. All hop flavor, with too little bitternessLagunitas 2009 and too little malt, this was like drinking a lightly sugary, watery glass of orange-grapefruit juice. I like the beers from Lagunitas, but I’ll pass on this one. Another disappointment from an otherwise great brewery was Mom Hefeweizen from Rogue. A hefeweizen brewed with ginger and coriander, this to me was a so-so wheat beer with overwhelming ginger and a little bit of soapiness. I wanted more wheat. I wanted more hefe.

Crispin CiderThe real pleasant surprise of the night was Crispin Cider from right here in Minneapolis. They were there with three varieties of natural apple cider. The Brut was the best of the three, tart but with a mellowing sweetness, full of fresh apple, vanilla, and vinous fruity flavors. The lighter Original and even the 3.2% ABV Light were also quite tasty. I have only recently learned to like cider, but I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up a six-pack of Crispin.