Summit Unchained #18: Hop Silo Double IPA

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

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

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

Here’s my notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summit Unchained Series #11: Old 152

If you do a search online for Kentucky Common, you don’t turn up much. There are a couple of homebrew forum discussions, a Wikipedia page, and a reference to the 1901 Wahl & Henius Handy Book of Brewing, Malting, and Auxiliary Trades. The Handy Books is the only actual period reference, and it doesn’t tell you a lot. It says that Kentucky Common had a grain bill of malted barley and about 25 to 30 percent corn. Some sugar color, caramel or roasted malt was added for coloring. It had an original gravity of somewhere around 1.045, translating to around 4.5 percent alcohol under normal fermentation conditions. Hopping was moderate at one-half pound per barrel. It wasn’t fined or filtered, leaving it with a “muddy” appearance.

This lack of information is one thing that lead Summit brewer Eric Harper to select the Kentucky Common style for his second entry to the Summit Unchained Series, Old 152. Asked about this choice he said, “Nobody makes it. Nobody knows anything about it. You can’t have any preconceived notions about what it is. You can’t say I did it wrong, that’s for sure.”

Harper’s approach to the style was to take the scant historical information and riff on it. As the beer was originally made in Kentucky, he took a cue from the bourbon makers and used a mash of corn, rye and distiller’s malt. A portion of caramel and Victory malt added color and some toasty notes. He hopped the beer with Cluster hops, a variety that is native to the US and that 19th-century brewers would conceivably have used.

Some descriptions of the style make reference to a “sour mash,” another nod to the bourbon industry. Harper says that part of his mash was sour. “At a whisky distillery they are fermenting the entire mash.” he explained. “And then they take a portion of that fermented mash that’s got yeast and whatever bacteria and they add that back to the next batch. So that portion is the sour mash, and they are using that as a ph adjustment. We don’t ferment on the grain, and even if we did we don’t have an old batch of this beer around.” Given that limitation, Harper lowered the ph of his beer by adding acidulated malt, malt that has been treated with lactobacillus, an acid-producing bacteria that is found naturally on malted barley. This lowered the ph of the mash to far below the norm at Summit. “There is some confusion when I talk to people about it that the beer is going to be sour.” he added. But this notion of Kentucky Common as a sour beer is not borne out in the historical literature, and Harper’s version is definitely not sour.

So is Old 152 “to style?” Who knows? You’ll have to judge that for yourself. Release events started yesterday and run all week long.

Here’s my notes:

Old 152
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Kentucky Common
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Toast and caramel with tootsie-roll chocolate notes. Vague hints of spicy and catty hops add some high notes. Like a delightful baked good.

Appearance: Reddish amber with a slight haze. Good stand of off-white foam that sticks around in a thick layer on top of the beer.

Flavor: Toast and tootsie roll lead off with a bit of caramel adding sweetness. Rye spice comes in the middle. Bitterness is moderate, with spicy hop flavors that are almost prickly on the tongue. Light citrusy (lime?) and almost-lactic-tart notes peek furtively in and out of the background. Layered. Finishes quick and dry with lingering toastines, like toasted bread crust. Clean, crisp, and Lager-like.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium light body. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: What a tasty, easy-drinking beer. The toasty malt at the forefront puts this one right in my wheelhouse. It’s Altbier-like, except with the wrong hop flavors. It’s a winner in my book.



Summit Unchained Series #4: Belgian Style Golden Ale

Nothing like starting the day off with a strong Belgian beer.

At least that’s what we said as I and my photographer friend Mark Roberts rolled up to the Summit Brewery at 7:00 AM yesterday morning. Hey, the Founding Fathers started the day with a draught of strong beer or cider, why shouldn’t we. For the record, the thought was also uttered that we may have lost our minds.

But roll up we did, because bright and early on Tuesday morning was the first packaging run for the newest Unchained Series beer, Belgian Style Golden Ale, which is set for official release next week. Brewed with Belgian pilsner malt, Belgian candi sugar, Czech Saaz and Styrian Goldings hops, it clocks in officially at 8.6% ABV (it might actually be a bit stronger than that…sshhhh), making it the strongest beer ever to come out of Summit. It’s a nice breakfast beer.

After watching the first bottles roll off the line to be packed for shipment later that day, we headed out to the hospitality room for a bit of tasting. A sixpack emerged still covered in foam from bottling. Caps were popped, samples were poured, cheers were offered, and sipping ensued. It’s a shame brewer Eric Harper, the man responsible for this golden elixir, had not yet arrived. But I will confess to a certain smug satisfaction at having tasted the finished product before even he did.

Harper did come in at about 7:30 and joined us at the bar for a chat. “I’m excited to have this come out.” he said. “It’s a little weird. It’s been in the fermenter for over six weeks. Up until the time we filtered it, it had more yeast in suspension than even the Hefeweizen does. It really changes the character when you take all that out. Plus when you taste it out of the fermenter you’re drinking kind of yeasty, flat beer. It’s a lot nicer when it’s finished.”

Harper’s choice of style for his Unchained Series beer was influenced by his own tastes. “I like drinking Belgian style beers. If I go out I order a Summit or two, but I really gravitate toward Belgian stuff. Making a Belgian also gave him an opportunity to experiment. “Belgians are particularly creative in their brewing method. They don’t have any limits. Bringing in the candi syrup was fun. We haven’t used anything like that here at Summit, or any kind of adjunct for that matter.”

Asked if he was inspired by a particular Belgian beer, Harper responded, “I wasn’t aiming for a particular beer. We tasted a couple of them around the bar and took things from here and there. I liked the fruity and estery characteristics. We tasted some that were pretty phenolic and hot from the high heat fermentation. I wanted to avoid that.”

Belgian Style Golden Ale will be the first of the Unchained Series beers to be released in a cask conditioned version. According to Harper, “Damian racked some casks of this awhile ago and they have been sitting in the cooler. He’ll re-rack them again to get some of the yeast out. He’s talked about priming with the candi syrup and adding a lot more Stryian Goldings.” Sounds tasty.

Harper has a full week of launch events ahead of him. Unchained #4 will be celebrated at multiple locations every night next week. You can check here for the full listing of events.

But enough chit chat. How’s the beer taste? Here’s my notes:

Belgian Style Golden Ale
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Belgian Strong Golden Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Pronounced fruitiness, pear, candied peaches, hints of strawberry. Pepper and licorice. Sweet pilsner malt and sugary Belgian “cotton candy.” Alcohol is apparent.

Appearance: Deep golden color and crystal clear. Raised a substantial, fluffy, and persistent white head.

Flavor: Begins with sweet pilsner malt that extends through to the finish. Alcohol is prominent, particularly at the end, and is accentuated by the dry finish. It’s warming all the way down, but stops just short of hot. Loads of fruit, orange citrus, candied peach, and pears. These increased and developed complexity halfway through the glass as the beer warmed. Peppery and floral hops character balance the sweetness. Moderate bitterness is accentuated by a dry finish. Belgian yeast character remains subdued, a background of banana and “cotton candy.” This beer became much more delicate and complex as it warmed in my glass.

Mouthfeel: High attenuation makes this a medium body beer. High carbonation. Creamy and mouth-filling. Alcohol warming is high.

Overall Impression: Another fine beer from the Unchained Series. Like many American versions of Belgian styles, it lacks some of the subtle complexity and finesse of the best Belgian examples, but is still a worthy effort. The alcohol is a more prominent than I would prefer, but the fruit notes are lovely. It developed in delicacy and depth as it warmed in my glass. I’m drinking this on my patio on a humid 93° evening and it is completely refreshing.

Brewery photos by Mark Roberts.