Surly Brewing Company – Todd the Axe Man

I find myself at a rare loss for words. At this moment, I have no stories to relate – no odd ramblings about styles or trends. My mind is preoccupied with other things, so I’ll cut to the chase.

Here’s my notes:

todd-the-axe-man-present-465-x-622Todd the Axe Man
Surly Brewing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
7.2% ABV
65 IBU

Aroma: Hits your nose from a distance as soon as you pour. Hops dominate with little backup – citrus pith and geraniums. Pink grapefruit slices. Low pineapple background notes. Light and airy.

Appearance: Medium gold/orange. Hazy. Moderate, creamy, white head with excellent retention.

Flavor: All about the hops. Bitterness is high and lingers long into the finish with a citrus pith quality. Hop flavor is the main event – citrus, grapefruit, and floral. Low pineapple and tropical fruits come in midway. Lemony highlights. Low garlic note, but not distracting. Low alcohol that gets stronger as the beer warms. Low malt sweetness and background, neutral grainy flavor. Very dry finish with lingering citrus.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. High carbonation. Low astringency.

Overall Impression: Those who know me know that I’m not all about the IPAs. I can’t say that I will drink a ton of this, but if I want an IPA, I could do far worse than this one. It’s light, refreshing, and smooth. Although malt plays a very minor role, the bright hop flavors make up for it. Those flavors are expressed in delicate and clearly articulated layers. It’s really quite well done. If you are a fan of the hops, drink this.


Burning Brother Brewing IPA

Sometimes I pity those who really want to drink beer but can’t tolerate gluten. I know they don’t want my pity. But seriously, historically the options for good flavor have been severely limited. In 2013 when I wrote about gluten-free beers in the Star Tribune and the Growler, I was hard pressed to find one that I actually wanted to drink.

But things are looking up. With growing demand has come a new flock of brewers who are finding ways to cover up or alleviate many of the less pleasant characteristics of sorghum and the other alternative grains used to make gluten-free beer. One such brewer is Dane Breimhorst at Burning Brothers Brewing in St. Paul. A sufferer of Celiac disease himself, he has applied the flavor-balancing skills he learned as a chef to making beer that he himself wants to drink. And he is largely successful. I have often remarked how beer-like his beers really are.

I know that every time I say this I probably send a slight twinge down Dane’s spine. He doesn’t want his beers to be judged as “gluten free.” He doesn’t like it when people say things like, “That’s pretty good for a gluten-free beer.” He is aiming for beers that approach the quality and character of normal beers. In examining this taproom-only IPA I have tried to take that approach.

Here’s my notes:

Burning Brothers Brewing, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Gluten Free America IPA
Serving Style: 750 ml growler

Aroma: Fruity – apple, pineapple, citrus, stone fruits. Some floral/grassy hop notes. Low toast. Slight cidery character and low butterscotch.

Appearance: Dark copper and moderately hazy. Medium, white head with mixed bubbles. Low retention.

Flavor: All about hops. High bitterness. High resin and citrus pith hop flavors. Sweetness and malt flavor barely balances bitterness. Low toasted and grainy malt flavor that increases as it warms. Typical cider/floral/almond alternative grain flavors are absent at the start, but increase as the beer warms. It’s not all together unpleasant, bringing a light melon/floral background. Medium butterscotch and background orange esters. Finish is very dry with lingering bitterness and alternative grain character.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Low astringency. Low alcohol warming. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: To my palate this beer could use more sweetness to balance bitterness. Bitterness is very high verging on astringent. Additional malt character would also add fullness to the mouthfeel. Some lingering alternative grain flavor leaves it with a less pleasant aftertaste. Some might find the bit of butterscotch objectionable. I kind of like it. All told, I would drink this. In fact, I did drink the whole 750 ml growler. And I did so happily.

Boulevard Brewing Co. – The Calling IPA

I don’t have a lot of back-story here. I like the Smokestack Series beers from Boulevard Brewing Co. They have a new one that will be year-round. It’s called The Calling IPA. A simple malt bill of just pale 2-row barley malt supports a blend of eight different hops – Mosaic, Equinox, Galaxy, Amarillo, Simcoe, Bravo, Topaz, and Cascade. That’s a lotta hops.

Here’s my notes:

the_calling_12oz_bottleThe Calling
Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, Missouri
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
8.5% ABV
75 IBU

Aroma: All hops – Citrus, lemons, grapefruit, tropical fruits. The deep, juicy kind of tropical – mango and guava. Low herbal/mint notes. Faint malt sweetness with neutral character. Low floral alcohol. Super fruity, sweet and juicy, with contrasting floral alcohol.

Appearance: Light gold and hazy. Moderate, creamy, white head with moderate retention.

Flavor: Juicy hop flavors dominate over low, grainy malt sweetness. Bitterness is restrained, but lingers into the finish at low levels. Pineapple. Tropical fruit. Mangoes. Lemon curd. Pine resin. The lemon shines bright in the off-dry finish. Moderate alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation. Low alcohol warming. Not astringent.

Overall Impression: Bitterness is surprisingly restrained at 75 IBU. The 8.5% load of malt sweetness more than amply balances it. This beer holds its alcohol well. It’s an example of style-creep that has occurred since the last BJCP guidelines were written. This falls into Double IPA range, but Boulevard calls it an IPA. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Stone Japanese Green Tea IPA

Aside from beer there are three other beverages that I drink frequently. Water (I drink a lot of water), coffee, and tea. After my two early-morning, caffeine-kick cups of coffee I drink cup after cup of tea all day long. Earl Grey, English breakfast, Lapsang Souchong, peppermint, fruity herbal teas, I drink them all. I’m particularly fond of green tea. I love the herbal/nutty/fruity flavor blend of a well-brewed cup of good green tea.

When I received a bottle of Japanese Green Tea IPA from Stone Brewing Co. I was naturally excited. Not necessarily about the IPA part, that’s not my thing. But I could make myself imagine how the fruity and spicy flavors of hops might meld with those of the tea. I didn’t read the bottle or the press release too carefully before digging in. As I sipped I thought, “This seems a little thick and sweet for an IPA. How un-Stone-like.” After about a glass and a half the light headedness I was feeling led me to take a closer look. It was only then that I realized I wasn’t drinking a 7% IPA, but a 10% double IPA. I drank the rest. I wasn’t going anywhere that evening.

Japanese Green Tea IPA is a re-issue of a 2011 collaboration project with Japan-based Baird Brewing Company and Ishii Brewing Co. from Guam. It’s a bit stronger this time around than the first and they have subbed out some of the hops. With five different hop varieties in this beer you are unlikely to notice that small change.

So would this beer tantalize my tea-loving taste buds?

Here’s my notes.

2015-japanese-greenteaJapanese Green Tea IPA
Stone Brewing Co. Escondido, California
Style: Double IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle
10.1% ABV
75 IBU

Aroma: Low biscuit and pils-like sweetness. Moderate tropical fruit hops. Floral and herbal overtones. Nutty/herbal green tea character comes through clearly. Low notes of vanilla/caramel reminding me of crème brulee.

Appearance: Full, creamy, white head with excellent retention. Dark golden and brilliantly clear.

Flavor: Bitterness is high and lingering. It is backed up by medium malt sweetness mid-palate, shaped by that same crème brulee character from the aroma. Floral, perfume, and tropical fruit flavors like mango, pineapple and mandarin orange are in abundance. Nutty/floral green tea is clear. Faint notes of lemon. The early sweetness gives way to a just-off-dry finish with lingering bitterness and fruit.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-full body. Medium carbonation. Low hop astringency.

Overall Impression: This is a big beer with many layers of complexity. For the first few sips the tea and hop flavors didn’t quite meld, but as it warmed it all coalesced into something very nice. Comes off a little bit syrupy in the middle, but the dryness of the finish mediates that.

Bent Brewstillery Moar Scottish Session IPA

The session IPA train continues to roll. Smaller versions of America’s favorite beer keep flowing from breweries all over the country. The first Minnesota-brewed example of which I am aware was Summit’s Unchained #12: 100% Organic Ale released in early 2013. Now Roseville-based Bent Brewstillery has jumped on the trend with a new year-round offering called. Moar. Billed as a Scottish Session IPA, the beer delivers a low-test India ale with a decidedly British bent.

I’m a bit hard pressed though to figure out what classifies this as a “session IPA” rather than simply a special/best bitter. The ABV falls within the range for the best bitter style and the IBUs are only four points higher, an amount of extra bitterness that would go undetected by all but the most discriminating palates. In character it’s not too far off from the best bitter description offered by the BJCP. But you know what? Session IPA is a recently made up style anyway, so I’ll play along.

Here’s my notes:

Bent Brewstillery, Roseville, Minnesota
Style: Session IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle

Aroma: Caramel, biscuit and oranges. Fresh. Hops dominate slightly with the character of a freshly peeled orange. Low herbal/minty notes underneath. Toffee and dry-biscuit malt aromatics offer support. No alcohol. Low esters reinforce the orange hops.

Appearance: Medium-light orange/amber with a slight haze. Full head of creamy, white foam with low retention.

Flavor: Hops dominate. Medium-high bitterness rides through from start to finish. Citrus and herbal hop flavors carry over from the aroma, reinforced again by fruity esters to give the impression of freshly peeled orange. Malt offers some sweetness to balance the bitterness, but gives way to a super-dry finish. Flavors of toffee and biscuit linger after swallowing along with bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium-low carbonation. Low astringency.

Overall Impression: Bent brewer Kristen England has done it again. Most session IPAs attempt to deliver IPA-level IBUs in a beer that can barely support them. England has opted instead for balance. The bitterness here is in line with the weight of the beer and the ability of the malt to offer support, making for a more drinkable beer. And malt character hasn’t been forgotten either. Toffee and biscuit flavors do more than just give the hops a place to sit.

Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale

With the sheer number of new brews and breweries entering the state – both local and non-local – it gets harder and hard for me at least to get excited about them. It gets harder and harder to even know about them, frankly. I don’t envy the people who do the marketing. It must be a difficult task to get your beers front and center in the minds of beer drinkers.

But once in a while a brewery enters the market that piques my interest. Sometimes it’s the brewery’s reputation that recommends it. Sometimes I think it’s just that those marketing people have done their job well in bringing the beers to my attention. Sometimes it’s both.

Oskar Blues is case in point. The 17-year-old brewery has a solid reputation. It opened in 1997 as a tiny brewpub in Lyons, Colorado, brewing beer in the basement. By 1998 it was already winning medals at the Great American Beer Festival. Oskar Blues started the canned-beer revolution. In 2002 it was the first US craft brewery to can its own beer to put its beer in cans. It started canning its beer in 2002, making it among the first US craft breweries to put its beer in cans. Equipment upgrades made it the largest producing brewpub in America by 2006, and the medals just kept on coming. 2008 saw the opening of a larger production facility, further increasing capacity and distribution capability. In 2012 Oskar Blues became one of the first craft breweries to open a second brewing facility, this one in North Carolina. And the medals continued to come.

In addition to this reputation, both the brewery’s PR machine and the Twin Cities distributor Original Gravity worked overtime to publicize the local launch. For anyone who pays attention to such things, it was hard to miss.

I’ve had nearly all the Oskar Blues main-line beers over time. They have been available in Wisconsin for some time, and I’ve been to the original Lyons pub. The quality has never been in question. I was interested though in giving them another shot and paying closer attention. The flagship Dale’s Pale Ale, the one that pretty much started it all for Oskar Blues, seemed a good place to start.

Here’s my notes:

Dale's Pale AleDale’s Pale Ale
Oskar Blues Brewing Company, Longmont, Colorado
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. can

Aroma: Hops dominate – citrus, tangerine, fresh grapefruit, stone fruits. Some orangy citrus esters. Biscuity malt provides a counterpoint. Light caramel.

Appearance: Medium to medium-dark gold. Clear. Full head of creamy, white foam with larger bubbles interspersed. Excellent retention.

Flavor: Very balanced. Bitterness is medium-high, balanced by medium-low malt sweetness. Bitterness is the focus of the hops, but tangerine, grapefruit, and stone fruit hop flavors do make an impression. Malt provides a solid base of caramel and dry, English-like biscuit. Low orangy esters. The finish is just off-dry with lingering citrus-pith bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium-high carbonation. Low astringency.

Overall Impression: A very balanced IPA. Falls somewhere between English and American styles. The malt is all English. The hops are all American. I would have liked a bit more emphasis on hop flavor over bitterness, and a little less of the lingering, astringent bitterness in the finish. But that’s just how I like my IPAs. Overall a quite tasty brew.

Summit Unchained #13: Another IPA

Does the world really need another IPA? Aren’t there enough of them yet? According to this infographic created in honor of International IPA Day (Yes, there really is such a thing. Call it the Hallmark day of beer.) IPA made up 16.5% of all craft beer production in 2012. The volume of IPA sold increased 282% between 2007 and 2012. IPA is the single largest category in the GABF competition and the Brewers Association says the style is second only to the nebulous seasonal and specialty category in popularity. Isn’t it enough already?

Not according to Mike Lundell, brewer at Summit Brewing Company and creator of the thirteenth release in the Unchained Series appropriately named Another IPA. Lundell’s previous two contributions to the series were also IPAs of sorts – a brown, rye one and a black one. I detect a pattern. That pattern and IPAs ubiquity inspired this humorous video by Summit’s in-house video dude Chip Walton.

This time Lundell has made an English-style IPA. That’s my favorite kind. They tend to be a bit lower in alcohol than their American cousins with a more substantial toffee/biscuit malt backbone to support the hops. The bitterness is high, but typically lower than in American versions. The same is true for hop flavors, which tend more toward the herbal, grassy English varieties than the citrus and pine resin American hops.

Another IPA is being released today (August 1st) with a party at Barrio in St. Paul and Pat’s Tap in Minneapolis. It is International IPA Day after all. Information about other release events can be found on the Happenings page of the Summit website.

Here’s my notes:

Brews_Bottle_Unchained13Unchained #13: Another IPA
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: English IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Hops and malt vie for dominance, modulating back and forth as to which is on top. Hops barely eke out a victory. The malt has toffee and caramel notes with hints of biscuit. The hop aromas are lovely and complex; marmalade, bergamot, hay and earth. There is even pinch of pine, but in an herbal/rosemary sense, not American pine resin.

Appearance: Full, rocky, off-white to ivory foam that persists. Dark golden with orange hue. Hazy on first pour, but cleared up as the beer warmed up.

Flavor: The whole experience gives an impression of delicacy. Very balanced. Medium-high, stony bitterness lingers into the finish, accentuated by a high degree of attenuation. Hops and fermentation give notes of orange marmalade, melons and herbs. There is a low level of sweetness in the middle, but caramel, toffee and biscuit flavors come through well.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body – surprisingly light for an IPA. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: Take the bottle out of the fridge ten minutes before you pour it. When it warms up the biscuit and toast malt flavors really start to pop. It’s so refreshingly light on the tongue. Mr. Lundell did a nice job. I think I know what beer my clients will be drinking in the next few weeks.

[EDIT] Apropos the videos below, the 12/13/2012 date code indicates that I was enjoying beer from batch one.

Stone Ruin Ten IPA

In 2012, Stone Brewing Co. celebrated the tenth anniversary of their brutally-bitter Ruination IPA with an amped-up version of that beer. Stone Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA was brewed with twice as many hops as the original – a whopping 5 pounds per barrel – to achieve a tongue-scraping 110 IBU. The ABV was ramped up from 7.7% to 10.8%. This beer was a hops and booze fiend’s wet dream.

It was not my cup of tea. I don’t seem to have actually recorded any tasting notes anywhere. At least if I did I can’t find them now. However, I do recall having a social media back-and-forth with someone about the beer. I took the negative position. It was too much boozy bitter and not enough juicy hop flavors. I really didn’t like that beer.

Fast forward a year. Due to popular demand, Stone has re-brewed this monster. It was released in June as Ruin Ten IPA. I figured, “What the heck! I’ll give it another go.”

Sensory perception is so fungible. The experience of a beverage or food is subject to so many variables. What time of day is it? Who are you with and what are you doing? When and what did you last eat? What kind of mood are you in? All of these things and more come into play when tasting beer. What seems an abomination one day may be sublime the next. Or at least palatable.

Here’s my notes:

Stone Ruin Ten IPARuin Ten IPA
Stone Brewing Co., Escondido, California
Style: Double/Imperial IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz bottle

Aroma: Hops lead the way from start to finish with juicy tangerines, pineapples, and tropical fruits. Some light herbal notes are in there as well. It’s not all hops though. Some malty sweetness with tones of caramel lies underneath the fruit.

Appearance: Copper colored with reddish tint. Hazy on pouring, but cleared up to brilliant clarity as it warmed. Dense stand of persistent, off-white foam.

Flavor: Aggressively high bitterness lingers all the way through to the finish, but it isn’t an unbalanced beer. Ample caramel-tinged malt sweetness gives a sturdy counterpoint. Bitterness is the main hop characteristic, but hop flavors aren’t ignored; tropical fruit, oranges and lemons, herbs. Alcohol is also noticeable, but stops short of being boozy. The finish is long with caramel, bitterness and alcohol being the lingering notes.

Mouthfeel: Full body, but well attenuated. Medium to medium-high carbonation. Warming.

Overall Impression: At this particular time and place I really enjoyed this beer. Malt offers better balance in this version than in the smaller Ruination IPA on which it is based. It’s not just all about bitter. Nice citrus and fruit hop flavors as well.

Worthington’s White Shield IPA

For those wishing to know what India pale ale was in the 19th-century, Worthington’s White Shield might be the best hope. It originally appeared as Worthington’s East India Pale Ale in 1829. According to a former brewer, “it has remained pretty much unchanged ever since.” While changes in ingredients and brewing systems over the years make it impossible to recreate a beer from 200 years ago, White Shield at least offers a singular, continuous connection to the heyday of the Burton pale ale brewers.

I had heard much about this beer before it became available locally. British beer writers that I read and respect, including the late Michael Jackson, have penned thousands of words of praise. Hyped beers are always suspect. Will they live up to the talk?

Here’s my notes:

Worthington's White ShieldWorthington’s White Shield
MolsonCoors/White Shield Brewery, Burton-on-Trent, England
Style: English IPA
Serving Style: 500 ml bottle

Aroma: Aromatics are mild overall. Nutty, grainy malt is the dominant note with some English biscuit overtones. Hops are light, giving an herbal/orange impression that is supported by subtle fruity esters. Maybe the lightest touch of earthy Brettanomyces. There’s something earthy way back there anyway.

Appearance: Copper colored with a slight haze. Pours with a full, fluffy, off-white head that stands tall atop the glass and sticks around forever.

Flavor: This is a super-balanced IPA. The malt is delightful – rich caramel, biscuit, and toasted cereal notes. I get the sense of oats even though I don’t believe oats are part of the mix. Moderate sweetness is balanced by stony, pithy bitterness. It’s bitter, but not excessive. Hop flavors blend with fermentation esters to bring lemon and orange marmalade with touches of herbs and earth. Again there is a suggestion of earthy Brett. This well-attenuated beer goes out with a dry finish. Bitterness hangs pleasantly after swallowing.

Mouthfeel: Medium body and medium carbonation. Very well attenuated but smooth. I get that slick sensation of oats again.

Overall Impression: I have heard much about this beer from respected beer writers. Beers with too much hype generally make me nervous. They so seldom live up to expectation. This one does. The flavors are extremely well articulated and layered. You taste everything. A true English-style IPA, it’s not all about hops. Balancing malt is equally important and it is exquisite. It’s also only 5.6% ABV. Although it probably won’t satisfy American hopheads, this just became one of my favorite IPAs.