Goose Island Madame Rose

On a recent visit to the Goose Island production brewery on Fulton Street in Chicago, I marveled at the barrel room. Row upon row of racks stacked with wine and whiskey barrels beckoned me to sample. Labels with hand-written brewer’s notes tempted me with seductive names like Juliet, Sofie, and Lolita. My heart raced as I read ingredients like “brett”, “lacto” and cherries. Sadly, their contents went untasted.

Last night I opened a bottle of the fruit of these barrels (and fruit is the appropriate word here), Madame Rose. Goose Island calls the beer a Flemish Brown Ale. After an initial fermentation in stainless, the beer is transferred into wine barrels for a long fermentation with wild yeasts and acid-producing bacteria. 40-pounds of cherries are added to every barrel.

Here’s my notes:

Madame Rose
Goose Island Brewing Company, Chicago, Illinois
Style: Flemish Brown Ale
Serving Style: 750 ml Bottle

Aroma: Blush wine and balsamic vinegar. Tart cherry fruitiness with almond highlights. Earthy, mossy, woody. Brings to mind the smell of fresh cedar mulch.

Appearance: Light brown and clear. Small carbonation bubbles and color make this resemble champagne. Off-white head does not persist.

Flavor: Mouthwatering tart cherry. Vinous red wine vinegar combined with complex lingering malt flavors. Dark plums. Light almond, wood, and floral notes complete the picture. Finish is dry and light.

Mouthfeel: Light body, but with a velvety chewiness. Refreshing. Spritzy.

Overall Impression: Complex without being complicated. Delicate and delightful. This beer falls somewhere between a Kriek and a Flemish Brown. It has the residual malt character of a brown and the tart-cherry fruit of a Kriek. Less funky than a lambic, but funkier than an Oud Bruin.

2010 St. Paul Summer Beer Fest Recap

So what’s the deal with beer, kilts, and bagpipes? I have never quite understood this. While I love a good Scottish ale as much as the next guy, I don’t consider Scotland to be a world beer Mecca. And yet, at any beer event in the country you will see more kilts per square foot than perhaps any place else in the US. And bagpipes are the traditional starting bell of nearly every festival. I remain bemusedly baffled.

And so it was at the second annual St. Paul summer beer fest. At precisely noon the pipers piped to signal the start for those lucky enough to have snagged early entry VIP tickets. This year’s fest was bigger than last year, making it perhaps the largest beer festival in the Twin Cities, if not the state. Once again it was well managed and just crowded enough to be exciting but remain comfortable in the large expanse of the Midway Stadium parking lot. I only wish I had remembered sunblock. Last year I got burned to a crisp as well. You would think I might have learned.

And that brings me to one of the better beers at the event, Minnesota Tan from Lift Bridge Brewery. Minnesota Tan aptly demonstrates that an easy-drinking summer beer doesn’t necessarily have to be a small beer. This Belgian Tripel style ale is light and refreshing with lively tartness from the fermented lingonberries. First released last year, this year’s version is better balanced and less pink. It goes down easy. Almost too easy, because at 9% ABV it won’t take too many of these to mess you up under the hot summer sun.

San Francisco’s 21st Amendment was pouring two versions of their Hell or High Watermelon Wheat from watermelons. The first was the straight-up watermelon wheat. I have always enjoyed this beer, but soaking it in a watermelon upped the fruity flavors, making it a great summery ale that reminded me of seed spitting fights as a kid. The other version was infused further with cucumber and jalapeño. I am not a chili beer fan, so I was hesitant. The watermelon and cucumber gave this one a wet coolness that was followed by a gentle pepper burn on the way down. I liked it.

I had a great time sampling experimental IPAs with Aran Madden, the brewer at Furthermore Beer. He was in town a while back for a Brew with the Brewmaster event at Vine Park that I wrote about in an earlier post. At the fest we tasted four of six India influenced IPAs that were brewed that day. Very unique. Think English style IPA with curry. None were bad, some were better than others. You can expect more about these beers in a future post.

I finally had the opportunity to taste Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch Belgian IPA. It has been around for a while, I know. I just never got around to trying it. I’m not normally such a fan of the Belgian IPAs. The Belgian yeast phenolics clash with the high level of hops on my palate. I didn’t really mind this one though. It seemed well balanced and didn’t strike me with the same harshness that others tend toward. Or maybe I was getting delirious under the hot St. Paul sun.

My long conversation with the young guys from Tall Grass Brewing Company out of Manhattan, Kansas was a highlight of the day for me. Only four years old, the brewery is growing fast with an output of nearly 5000 barrels a year. Their brewery currently shares space with a limo service garage, so you might say that they are brewing in the underbelly of luxury. I particularly liked their Oasis Double ESB. Nice English style malts with bracing and sharp bitterness in a 7% ale. A good one for sipping of the patio as the cooling of a Minnesota evening starts to set in. Tall Grass beers will be showing up in Minnesota stores in the next couple of months.

I sampled a number of other very nice beers, including Goose Island’s Pepe Nero black pepper dark saison, and Geary’s Hampshire Ale and London Porter. The winner of the people’s choice best-of-fest beer was Great Lakes Nosferatu Imperial Red Ale. Unfortunately I did not try this one, so I have no comment.

Once again Juno, Mark, and crew did a great job putting this one together. The St. Paul Summer Beer Fest is a fantastic addition to the Twin Cities beer scene.

All Photos by Mark Roberts.
For more on the fest and the National Homebrewers Conference that also happened this weekend check out my Hoppress Blog.

Goose Island Christmas Ale 2009

Continuing with the Christmas/Holiday beer theme, I tried the 2009 edition of Christmas Ale from Goose Island Brewing Co. in Chicago. The base style for this beer is an American brown ale. The folks at Goose Island change the recipe slightly each year to make it interesting. Starting this year Goose Island is donating a portion of the profits from this beer to charity. Nice touch for the holiday season. Here’s my notes:

2009 Goose Island Christmas Ale2009 Christmas Ale
Goose Island Brewing Co., Chicago, Illinois
Style: American Brown Ale
Serving Style: 22 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Nutty toffee malt with bright minty and apricot/tangerine hops. Hints of raisin. Smells of English yeast. Light alcohol.

Appearance: Chestnut brown and brilliantly clear. Full, off-white and persistent creamy head.

Flavor: Caramel, toffee, and brown sugar lead off, with toasted bread, nuts, and hints of chocolate rounding out the malt. The bitterness is moderately high, but balanced. Minty/herbal hop flavors. Nice tangerine citrus fruit. Whiffs of ginger spice and of cinnamon. Long lingering finish of bread and fruit.

Mouthfeel: Very drinkable. Medium body and medium carbonation. Slight alcohol warming.

Overall Impression: Wow! I really like this beer. Light and tasty, yet warming on a cold and snowy winter’s evening. Nice interplay of malt, hops and fruit. Balanced. Minty hops are cooling like a peppermint stick. Tangerines make this a festive Christmas candy. My burps tasted of tangerine. Nice

Goose Island Sofie

Saison is a beer style without bounds. While all styles will show some variability from beer to beer and brewer to brewer, there is so much variation among saisons that the determination of a style can become almost meaningless. The colors range from pale yellow to dark orange. Some display intense, yeast-derived fruitiness, while others veer toward a spicy, phenolic yeast character. Some have a wild yeast funk while others do not. This one finishes bone dry, but that one is sweet and sugary. It is truly a style that is hard to pin down.

Sofie from Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co. is one of the more delicate saisons I have tasted. A blend of 80% fresh beer and 20% wine barrel aged beer fermented with wild yeast, it is a complex but subtle dance of velvety malt, dainty fruits, and tart acidity. Here’s my notes:

Goose Island SofieSophie
Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago, Illinois
Style: Saison
Serving Style: 650 ml Bottle

Aroma: Delicate and subdued. Light wine-like fruit and leathery funk. Bready malt with the signature Belgian saison yeast character.

Appearance: Pale yellow and clear. Fluffy white head with average retention. It maintained film on surface and left lace on the glass.

Flavor: Flavors are as delicate as the aroma. Pineapple, apple, and lemon citrus fruitiness. A light acidic tartness that comes through especially in the finish. Acidity and fruit reminds me of Lemondrops. Very subtle white wine character. The velvety, bready malt is balanced by black pepper hops and moderate bitterness. Belgian saison yeast phenolics. It finishes dry with lingering acidity.

Mouthfeel: Velvety and smooth. Light body, but with rich malt character. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: A delicate, subtle beer. Nicely done. The light, bright fruitiness is amplified by lingering tart acidity. Wild yeast may come through more strongly with some age, but right now the refreshing tartness is the only sign. And that’s okay. Would go well with brie cheese or a lighter white fish.

Summer Beers

I recently heard a National Public Radio commentator say that the weather in Minnesota is miserable nine months of the year and then the other three months are miserable in a whole other way. Well, it’s the middle of July and we find ourselves in those other three months when the two days of spring have passed and hot, sticky, summer weather takes over from the deep freeze. It’s a great time for a lazing on the patio with a cold beer. I have been drinking a lot of wheat beers this summer and that has me thinking about summer beers in general.

Summer is a time for light refreshing beers. When the mercury rises you don’t want to be weighed down by a thick, full-bodied beer. Nor do you want a lot of alcohol enhancing the already draining effects of the hot sun, leaving you in need of a nap after the first beer. Lean and crisp is the order of the day. But this needn’t mean resorting to flavorless light lagers. There are a slew of flavorful beers and beer styles that are perfect for steamy summer sipping.

I mentioned above that I have been drinking wheat beers this summer. Generally, any beer with a large amount of wheat in the recipe will make a great summer beer. Wheat gives beer a refreshing zip and a substantial body that isn’t too heavy. The high level of carbonation often found in wheat beers adds to their refreshment. There are a few styles of wheat beer to choose from. German wheat beers or Hefeweizen are the most substantial of the lot, full-bodied and cloudy from wheat proteins and suspended yeast. It is the yeast that gives these beers their great summer zip, filling them with the flavors and aromas of citrus, banana, and clove. Often these beers are served with a wedge of lemon on the glass. There is much debate over whether this is proper. The Germans do it, so I don’t see why you shouldn’t. I prefer to skip the fruit, but suit yourself and don’t let anyone get down on you for drinking your Hefe with a wedge. My favorite authentic German wheat is Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier from Munich. Minnesota’s own August Schell Brewing in New Ulm also makes a great German style wheat beer that recently won a gold medal for the category in the US Open Beer Championship.

Other great wheat beer styles are American wheat and Belgian Wit. American wheats tend to be lighter and hoppier than their German cousins without the yeasty banana and clove character. The classic American wheat beer is Bell’s Oberon, tasty with its hint of orange. Other favorites of mine are Goose Island’s 312 Wheat and Crack’d Wheat from New Glarus. The latter is the most bitter of the three with a citrus/apricot Amarillo hop character. It’s a great summer beer for hop heads. Belgian Witbier is lighter still, with a spicier Belgian yeast character that is enhanced by the subtle use of coriander and bitter orange peel in the brewing process. The classic here is Hoegaarden from Belgium, but I prefer Sterkens White ale. If you want to keep your beer buying dollar in the US, try Witte from Brewery Ommegang.

An often overlooked style of beer that is great for summer is Pilsner. A true pilsner beer is like American lager on steroids. Full of rich bready/grainy malt and pronounced spicy European hop character. The original and still among the best is Pilsner Urquell, a malty bohemian style pilsner with assertive, perfumy Saaz hop flavor and bitterness. But look for it in cans or on draft. If you get the green bottles it will most likely be skunked from exposure to light. Another good Bohemian pilsner is Lagunitas Pils from Lagunitas Brewing of Petaluma, California. For a great German style pilsner (less malt and higher bitterness) try Victory Prima Pils. It is a world-class pilsner in which I detect the lightest touch of citrusy American hops.

A couple of lesser known summer beer styles are the German Kölsch and the Belgian Saison. By law, a true Kölsch can only be brewed in the Goose Island Summertime AleGerman city of Cologne, however many American brewers make respectable Kölsch-style beers. A good Kölsch is like a more subtle and delicate version of a pilsner, with soft grainy malt and a lighter touch of spicy German hops. Fermented with ale yeast, Kölsch can have a softer mouthfeel and a very light fruitiness, although colder fermented versions can have a lager-like crispness. If you want to try an authentic German Kölsch, the only one I have seen in the Twin Cities is Reissdorf Kölsch. For a Kölsch-style beer brewed close to home try Goose Island Summertime Ale or Lake Superior Kayak Kölsch. Our own Summit Brewing will soon release a Kölsch as the first in their Unchained Series. Look for it in August.

Fantom SaisonSaison is a Belgian style farmhouse ale that was originally brewed to keep farmhands hydrated when access to potable water was limited. While there is great variation in this style, Saison is typically a light and effervescent beer with a golden/orange color. Bready malt is countered by a relatively high bitterness and black pepper spicy notes from the yeast, often accompanied by light stone fruit flavors. The finish is dry and spicy. The benchmark for the style is Saison DuPont from Brasserie DuPont in Tourpes, Belgium. My personal favorite is Fantóme. It has a more pronounced citrus character and a hint of wild yeast funkiness that I like. From the US I recommend Saint Somewhere Saison Athene, or the Boulevard Smokestack Series Saison. Locally both Surly and Lift Bridge brew examples; Cynic Ale from Surly and Farm Girl from Lift Bridge, which is now available in bottles.

I could go on and on about summer beers. They are light, refreshing, and easy to drink with enough variety to suit any palate. There are so many beers and styles that I haven’t even mentioned here, Cream Ales, fruit beers, even some Belgian sours; the list could be endless. But I think I’ll stop here and go sit on my patio with a nice, tall wheat beer.

2007 Goose Island Bourbon County Stout

I have had a couple of these in the basement for a couple of years. Last night seemed like a good night to try one. Wish I had had a couple of chocolate chip cookies to go along with it.

Goose Islant Bourbon County Stout2007 Bourbon County Stout
Goose Island Brewing, Chicago, IL
Style: Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: A big hit of bourbon whiskey with some chocolaty roast and vanilla. Sweet alcohol fumes round it all out. The gigantic aroma jumped out of my snifter and just about knocked me down.
Appearance: Blacker than black. Almost no head, but maintained a fine mist of dark tan foam on the surface.
Flavor: Chocolaty roast is dominant, like burnt bittersweet chocolate or the cookie part of an Oreo.  Alcohol is a major player here, but sweet, not solventy. These are complemented by a mix of light smoke, vanilla, wood, caramel, and molasses. This is one hugely flavorful beer, but smooth. It has a remarkably dry finish, but one that lingers on forever.
Mouthfeel: Thick, rich, creamy. A big boned beer that remains drinkable because of the dry finish. Low carbonation.
Overall Impression: After two years in the bottle this was a fantastic beer. Could probably still take a couple more years of aging as the alcohol is a bit intense for my taste. I’m not a fan of big, thick Imperial Stouts, so the dry finish on this one made it nicely drinkable. It’s a sipper though. At 13% ABV it will mess you up.

Goose Island Brewpub in Chicago

Goose Island Clybourn BrewpubIf there can be said to be any benefits of the current economic troubles and the collapse of the real estate market, it is that the original Goose Island Brewpub is still open. The pub opened at the North and Clybourn sight in 1988. Last year the owner of the building was trying to sell to developers, thus ending the Goose Island lease. But the market tanked, the building couldn’t be sold, the lease was renewed, and this little piece of Chicago beer history remains.

I spend a couple of months a year in Chicago working. As the brewpub is close to the place where I work, I spend a bit of time there on my nights off. I call it my Chicago office. Aside from enjoying many good and even great beers, I have also met some very interesting characters in the place and had some fantastic and even downright strange conversations with people. I love the ambiance. I am happy to see it has survived.

Last night I was going to see a friend play some in a jazz combo and had a couple of hours to kill before heading to that venue (more on that in another post), so I stopped off at the “office” for a beer. I started heavy and full-flavored with a cherry wood smoked doppelbock and ended light with a 3.2% cask pale ale. Here’s my notes:

Cherry Wood Smoked Bock
Aroma: All hickory BBQ smoke. The smoke has a woody character instead of the meaty character of most traditional Beechwood smoked beers. Faint hints of caramel malt and dried dark fruits lurk way in the background.
Appearance: Dark mahogany with ruby highlights. Beautiful, thick off-white head that lasted a long time and left lace on the glass. Clear.
Flavor: That wonderful cherry wood smoke is the dominant flavor. Like the aroma, it’s a woody smoke instead of a meaty smoke. It has a charred BBQ pit quality that is very nice. Sweet caramelized raisin maltiness and dried cherry notes provide a solid counterpoint to the smoke. There is a faint spicy heat in the finish that reminds me of chipotles.
Mouthfeel: Crisp and well attenuated. Medium body but rich and creamy. Medium carbonation.
Overall Impression: A wonderful blend of dried dark fruits and woody BBQ smoke. Although I was assured that there were no chili peppers used, this has all the goodness of a dark sweet chipotle ale without the undrinkable heat that most often comes with those beers. This would go great with any BBQ.

21st Amendment Pale Ale
Toffee and caramel malt with very light pine resin hops.
Appearance: Light copper and clear. Poured with two fingers of creamy off-white head that persisted.
Flavor: Caramel, toffee and grainy malt is the dominant flavor. Very light resinous hop flavor and medium-low bitterness. Light orange citrus character. Seems to have flavors fruity flavors of an English yeast strain. Loads of malt character for 3.2% ABV.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Low carbonation.
Overall Impression: They call this a light American Pale Ale. It seems English to me in every way except the choice of hops. The hop flavors are characteristic of American varieties. Whatever you want to call it, it was tasty and even stood up after that super-flavorful smoked bock.