Summit Union Series #5: Old Blaggard

My beverage BFF, wine sommelier Leslee Miller, and I have a joke between us. Whenever we’re teaching a class together, she will pour a wine and say something like, “It’s only 9 percent. You can drink it all day.” I on the other hand start talking about taking it easy on the strong beers at around 8 percent alcohol. Oh, the different perspectives of the beer people and the wine people.

But it just goes to show you how appropriate the term “barleywine” really is. It’s beer. It’s made from barley. But it has an alcohol content more common to the world of wine than beer.

Historically both wine and barleywine were served similarly as well. Wine wasn’t always served in the glassware to which we are now accustomed. Once upon a time guests were greeted with a much smaller serving, poured into a tiny little glass. My mother has a collection of these antique wine glasses. I always thought they were for cordials. English lords once served manor-brewed strong beers in similar tiny glasses. Nowadays the beer people have it better. We typically get a ten-ounce pour of barleywine. Five ounces is the normal pour for wine.

Old wine glass

Old wine glass

Old barleywine glass

Old barleywind glass

For Old Blaggard, the fifth beer in the Union Series, Summit Brewing Company has concocted a proper English barleywine. Like English pale ales and IPAs, English barleywines are less focused on hops then their American offspring. Being a lover of malt and yeast, this pleases me. The biscuit and toffee flavors of English malt are among the most pleasing in the beer vocabulary. And I’m quite fond of the orange marmalade notes of English yeast.

The Summit Union Series combines old styles and techniques with new ingredients. Old Blaggard is a single malt/single hop beer featuring Endeavor hops from England and Simpson’s Odyssey malt, both new, at least to this country. It also uses a bit of invert sugar, an ingredient familiar to English brewers for centuries. The sugar adds some color as well as boosting the potency without overwhelming the beer with the sweetness of unfermented sugars.

Here’s my notes:

Brews_BottleUnion Series #5: Old Blaggard
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: English Barleywine
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
10.1% ABV
50 IBU

Aroma: Malt and hops in approximate balance with low, floral alcohol. Malt is strong toffee and honey, giving a moderately high impression of sweetness. Very low biscuit notes. Hops give herbal and citrus notes. Moderately high fruity esters – overripe apricots, golden raisins.

Appearance: Full, creamy, off-white foam with good retention. Dark amber/mahogany and brilliant.

Flavor: Malt forward with low supporting hop bitterness and sweet alcohol. Malt sweetness is high. Flavors of toffee, caramel, and low biscuit. Hop bitterness is medium-low, just cutting through the sweetness. Hop flavors and esters bring high notes of orange marmalade and some darker, bruised stone fruit notes as well. Golden raisins. Some low earthy character. Alcohol is apparent. Finish is semi-sweet with lingering fruit, caramel, and alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Full body. Low carbonation. Warming but not hot.

Overall Impression: A fine sipper. Let it warm a bit to really allow the malt to come through, then pour it into a snifter. The combination of caramel malt with fruity hop and fermentation character is lovely. Alcohol is verging on too much, but doesn’t quite go over the top. It’s great to drink right now, but I’ll stash one or two of these aside and see how they taste in a couple of years.

Summit Unchained #20: Sticke Alt

True story. A few days ago I had a dream about a new Minnesota brewery that made only German altbier. They made multiple varieties of altbier, most of which I had not even known existed. I was personally excited by this. I love altbier. But I remember telling the owner that his business plan seemed ill advised. Altbier is kind of an obscure style here in the US. And American consumers expect that breweries will make beers in a range of styles, unless the style that they make is overloaded with hops. In which case they can make as many variations of the same style as they want.

The notion of an all-altbier brewery did indeed seem strange in my dream. Yet, if you go to Düsseldorf, Germany, you will find not just one, but many breweries making nothing but altbier. It’s a whole city of altbier brewers.

“Altbier” in German means “old beer.” The term refers not to the age of the beer, but to the mode of production. Germans started making lager beers as early as the 1400s. Bottom fermenting yeast strains adapted for cold temperatures developed accidentally in the country’s south as a result of winter brewing and cave aging. Cold fermentation inhibited the growth of bacteria and other spoiling agents. Lager beers tasted cleaner than their top-fermenting counterparts. They had a longer shelf life and were therefore suited to wider distribution.

Over the period of a few hundred years, lager brewing gradually took over in the Garman-speaking realm. But a few cities clung tenaciously to their old (read “alt”) ale brewing traditions. One of those was Cologne or Köln, home of Kölsch, where in 1603 city leaders outlawed the making of bottom-fermented beer.

A little further downstream along the Rhine River was another holdout town, Düsseldorf. There are at least five altbier brewpubs located in the old city center (altstadt) of Düsseldorf. A number of other breweries making the style are located in and around the city outside the altstadt. They all brew beer that falls into a fairly narrow profile – amber to almost brown colored with assertive bitterness and complex, balancing maltiness reflecting kilned malt types. But each brewers imbues the beer with their own unique stamp. Some are bitterer, others lean more toward malt. Some are lighter, others more rich and filling. But these differences aside, when you are in Düsseldorf, altbier is what you drink.

Sticke (“secret”) Alt is a special variant on the altbier style that is brewed for special occasions, usually only twice a year. It is stronger, richer, and fuller-bodied than the typical altbier. Hopping rates are higher. 60 IBU is not unheard of for the style. But the malt profile is bolder as well. Sticke alt gushes with the nutty and toasty notes of kilned malt, occasionally overlaid with hints of bitter chocolate.

Summit brewer Mike Lundell has veered from his IPA track to create a Sticke altbier as the 20th installment in the brewery’s popular Unchained Series. The new beer hits the streets on draft and in bottles starting the week of October 12th. You can party with Lundell and the Summit crew at the Muddy Pig on October 14th from 5 – 7 PM.

Here’s my notes:

Sticke Alt BottleSummit Unchained #20: Sticke Alt
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Sticke Altbier
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
ABV: 6.3%
IBU: 55

Aroma: Malty with low supporting hops. Malt is bread crust with low nutty and toasty background notes. Hops are low – spicy/herbal, a touch of licorice. Clean fermentation.

Appearance: Dark mahogany and brilliant. Full, creamy, ivory to beige head with excellent retention.

Flavor: Malt forward but with ample hop balance. Bread crust, toast, caramel-like melanoidin, and a hint of dark chocolate and coffee. Medium-low sweetness. Hop bitterness is medium-high, but sharp and firm. Low spicy/herbal hop flavor – again with the hint of licorice, even mint. Clean fermentation. Finish is very dry with lingering malt – melanoidin and roast – and spicy hop flavor.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-full body. Medium carbonation. Some creaminess.

Overall Impression: Typically I’ll drink a first sample of a beer to form an impression and then write notes on the second. I’m writing these on the fourth sample. I like the first so much that it demanded another and another (not all on the same night). This beer hits all of my buzzers; lager-like fermentation, toasted malt flavors, malt-forward with ample supporting hops that are spicy, not fruity, in character. In short, it’s my kind of beer.

Summit Unchained #19: Make It So

As I sit here typing, I am sipping on a cup of hot, Earl Grey tea. It is one of my greatest pleasures in life. Hot tea in general, actually. I am a person of rituals. Every day I have two cups of coffee in the morning and then drink cup after cup of hot tea through the rest of the day – even in the summer. The first at 10:00am give me a nice mid-morning break from work. Then there is one after lunch, one or two through the afternoon, and finally, one after dinner.

Another great pleasure in my life is English beer. Bitters, porters, and stouts with their earthy/herbal hops, toasted biscuit malt, and funky, buttered-marmalade fermentation flavors are soothing to my soul. German lagers have taken over the top spot in my hierarchy of beer styles, but English beers still hold a place of very high esteem.

I wouldn’t call myself a Star Trek geek, but I have been an avid follower of the show. I watched the original in first run. (I just dated myself?) I hated Deep Space 9. It sucked, admit it. But I watched the others religiously. I dug Data, had a crush on Seven of Nine (who didn’t?), and I do love me some Jean Luc Picard. Wait…that came out wrong.

New Summit Brewer Nick Hempfer has combined all three of these things in the newest Unchained Series beer Make It So. It’s an English Extra Special Bitter brewed with Earl Grey tea, Captain Picard’s favorite sip.

Tea beers aren’t new. There are a few of them out there. Funkwerks Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado had a winner with Leuven, a green tea-infused, brettanomyces-inflected saison. Japanese Green Tea IPA from Stone Brewing is another one worth checking out. They can work quite well if you get the balance right. Star Trek beers have also been done. Stone Brewing did Farking Wheaton W00TSTOUT with actor Wil Wheaton who played Wesley Crusher on Next Generation. Someone even came out with Klingon Warnog and Vulcan Ale in cans.

But I do believe that young Nick Hempfer is the first to bring together all of these things in a truly coherent conceptual package. Earl Grey, ESB, and Jean Luc Picard. It all makes sense.

Here’s my notes:

Brews_Can_MakeItSoUnchained #19: Make It So
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Extra Special Bitter with Earl Grey Tea
Serving Style: 12 oz. can
5.3% ABV
40 IBU

Aroma: Fruit and buttered toffee. Notes of herbs and orange citrus. Iced tea. Toffee malt with low perception of sweetness. Iced tea lingers in the nostrils.

Appearance: Medium amber/orange. Brilliant. Full, creamy, ivory head with excellent retention.

Flavor: A bit malt forward with soothing, English toffee and toasted biscuit character. Bitterness is medium and lingers long into the finish. Hop character is low – herbal. Some subtle, orange-citrus esters and low butterscotch. The Earl Grey has a presence mid-palate – blends with hops and brings a light iced tea quality similar to that from the aroma. More the black tea flavor than the bergamot that defines Earl Grey. Some black tea tannin joins in the finish to grab the sides of the tongue.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Low carbonation. Light tannic astringency. Low creaminess.

Overall Impression: Lovely. The tea makes a subtle addition, blending nicely with the hops, the yeast, and the malt. Like spice in a good Belgian ale, it adds depth without calling itself out. The Base ESB is solid. Wonderful toffee malt and English fermentation character. One of my favorite beer styles with one of my favorite kinds of tea. This is all that I hoped it would be.

The official release party Make It So happens this evening (8/1/15) at the Summit Brewing Company beer hall at 5:00 pm.

Summit Hopvale Organic Ale

In June 2014, Canadian beer writer Stephen Beaumont wrote a sarcastic piece on his Blogging at the World of Beer blog titled Every Beer is Now an IPA. In it he bemoaned the proliferation of variants on the India Pale Ale – variants that often have nothing to do with that style except an overload of hops. Beer drinkers are subjected to black, white and red IPA, Belgian IPA, rye IPA, stout IPA, Cali-Belgique IPA and any number of others. IPA is such a popular style that brewers slap that acronym onto any hopped-up ale or lager they produce instead of going to the trouble of calling it something else. If it’s an IPA people will buy it.

The one that bugs me maybe the most is the “session IPA.” What the heck is that besides an oxymoron? The whole idea of an IPA is super-hoppy and high alcohol. Indeed the style’s mythical origin story is all about brewers upping the alcohol content on beer shipped to India so that is wouldn’t spoil. IPA was never intended to be sessionable. We have a style category for sessionable pale ale. It’s called “pale ale.”

So what is a session IPA and why isn’t it just called pale ale? A quick survey of a few of them shows alcohol content ranging from 4.3% to 5.1% ABV. Using the BJCP guidelines as a standard (because that’s the standard we’ve got) that puts all but one of them squarely in the range for American pale ale. And the one is under by just .2%. As for bitterness, they range from 40 to 65 IBU. Of the eight that I surveyed, only three were outside the American Pale Ale guidelines, one by an insignificant 2 IBU. I would argue that these beers are all just heavily late and dry-hopped pale ales.

But two of the examples that I looked at had significantly higher bitterness than is specified for an American pale ale. Stone Go To clocks in at 65 IBU and Summit Hopvale Organic Ale at 55 IBU – both square in the range for an IPA. So perhaps the definition of session IPA – if we have to call it that – should be a lower-alcohol, highly-hopped, pale ale with the bitterness of an IPA.

I don’t like the label, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the beers. Given my preference for malty beers, these often thin and aggressively bitter beers should not be to my taste. There is really nothing about them that I should like. But I happen to love them.

Did I mention Summit’s Hopvale Organic Ale? The newest year-round beer from the steadfast St. Paul brewery is being unleashed on the public today (April 1st. No really. It’s not a joke.). Summit seems to have studiously avoided the session IPA moniker in the marketing for this beer. Thank you Summit! They say merely that it has the “hop character of a full-strength IPA, but the drinkability of a low-gravity bitter.” But at 4.7% ABV and 55 IBU it fits neatly into the pigeon hole. It’s made with all organic ingredients and just a touch of lemon peel to give it a citrusy high note.

Here’s my notes:

Brews_Can_HopvaleHopvale Organic Ale
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Session IPA
Serving Style: 16 oz. can
4.7% ABV
55 IBU

Aroma: Huge hop aroma. Melon, tropical fruit – mango. Herbs. Grapefruit. Lemon peel. Malt offers only a low impression of sweetness. Neutral character. Low esters – orange. Hint of sulfur. It all combines into a fruity, almost powdered sugar aroma.

Appearance: Medium gold and slightly hazy. Full, creamy, off-white head with excellent retention.

Flavor: Full blast of hops with low, supporting malt sweetness. Hop flavors are similar to the aroma – melon, tropical, grapefruit, pine. Lemon comes through more strongly. Bitterness is medium-high to high, but smooth, not overwhelming. Malt sweetness supports. Low biscuit/toast malt flavor. Light and refreshing. Hops are the star. Malt is barely there. Finish is very dry with lingering bitterness and hop flavors.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium-high carbonation. Very low hop astringency.

Overall Impression: Hops rule the roost in this beer. Malt is almost an afterthought. Almost, but not quite. And oh, what hops they are. Full of rich, fruity and resiny flavors. And then there is that bright spot of lemon peel. This is one of those beers that I shouldn’t like, but do. This will be great in the summer, but it’s a year-round so you can drink it all the time.

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 #17: Harvest Fresh IPA

Wet hop beers have become an early-fall ritual. Hop harvest season comes around and brewers everywhere scramble to get the hops in the kettle as quickly as possible after they are picked, often within hours; minutes even for those who have hop yards outside the brewery. The practice reportedly brings brighter, livelier hop aromatics. I must admit that I have never really found this to be the case. Instead I taste an unpleasant level of grassy/vegetal flavors from the addition of all that green, leafy matter. I have yet to figure out what all of the fuss is about.

For Fresh Harvest IPA, Summit brewer Tom Mondor has chosen to use both “fresh” and wet hops from the Pacific Northwest. Another admission – I always thought these were the same thing. As he explains in the video below, they apparently are not. A hop grower in Oregon has initiated a pelletizing process using lower temperature kilning and immediate processing and shipping to get the freshest possible hops out the door to brewers. Still, aside from rapid shipment, once they have been processed like most other hops, it’s hard for me to understand why they would be called “fresh.” I guess I’ll have to investigate further. For now, I’ll let Mr. Mondor explain.

Here’s my notes:

Brews_Bottle_Unchained17Unchained #17: Fresh Harvest IPA
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
ABV: 7%
IBU: 70

Aroma: Hops clearly dominate – Tropical fruit, limes, mint, hay, grass. Low grainy malt aromas with some caramel and biscuit character. Some orange high notes and English-like fruity esters.

Appearance: Full, creamy, just-off-white head. Excellent retention. Medium orange/amber and clear.

Flavor: Balanced and English-like. Tongue-tingling bitterness is moderate with full emphasis in hop flavor. Loads of fruit – orange, tropical fruits, grapefruit, even blueberry. Malt sweetness is medium-low. Some caramel and toasted-biscuit malt flavors. Malt provides ample balance to the hops. Again there is an English estery character to it. Finish is off-dry, lingering on fruity hops.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: An easy-drinking, balanced IPA. Despite the use of an American Ale yeast strain, the malt complexity and fruity hop character give it a pleasant English character. There is little of the grassy/vegetal flavor that I normally associate with fresh-hop beers.

Summit Unchained #16: Herkulean Woods

As much as I would like to deny it, it’s fall. I love the fall. The cooling air and changing colors make it perhaps my favorite season in Minnesota. The problem with fall is that it means winter is not too far behind – another nine months of virtual hibernation.

One good thing that fall brings is a plethora of malty brews. It’s the season of Oktoberfest and brown ale. While the rest of the state’s beer drinkers are obsessed with hops, I do love malt. I especially love the toasty and toffee flavors of the mid-toast malts that to me epitomize the autumnal beers. Give me the Munich malt. Bring on the Biscuit. Toss in a pinch of melanoidin malt for good measure.

Herkulean Woods, the newest Unchained beer from Summit Brewing Company, drips with this kind of deliciousness. Christian Dixon, one of Summit’s newest brewers, has laced that toasty malt with a splash of spruce and a smattering of Minnesota maple syrup. Top that off with bracing bitterness and spicy woodsy hop flavors and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a dilly of a fall beer.

Here’s my notes:

Summit Unchained #16: Herkulean WoodsUnchained #16: Herkulean Woods
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Strong California Common with spruce and maple syrup
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
8.2% ABV
77 IBU

Aroma: Bright fruity notes dominate. The blueberry-like aroma of spruce. Hop spiciness like Indian lemon pickle. Low caramel, bread crust, and toasty malt stays just below the surface.

Appearance: Medium amber/copper and clear. Full, dense, creamy, ivory head with excellent retention. Leaves lace on the glass.

Flavor: Flavor is all malt at first – toffee, burnt caramel, and toasted bread. High melanoidin character. There is plenty of malt flavor, but not a lot of sweetness. That same blueberry spruce carries through from the aroma along with a hint of pine. Maple stays very low, noticeable mostly in the finish. Some buttery kettle caramelization. Bitterness is medium-high. Hop flavors present a Hallertauesque lemon-pickle spiciness as in the aroma. A touch of alcohol. Finish is dry and lingers on hop bitterness and burnt caramel melanoidin.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-high body. Medium carbonation. Some warming.

Overall Impression: A heavy dose of toasty, high-kilned malts – the kind I like. Maple could be a bit stronger, but then again, maybe I don’t actually want that. I’m happy with the malt. A rich and tasty treat that will go well with a chill fall night. Fire pit on the patio, anyone?

The official release for Herkulean Wood happens Tuesday, September 9th from 5-7pm at McKenzie Pub in Minneapolis. Other events are scheduled over the next couple weeks. Check the Summit event calendar for information.

Summit Union Series #3 – Southern Cape Sparkling Ale

Beer styles emerge for many reasons. Ingredient availability, economics, consumer taste, and water are all factors. Even climate can play a role, as in the development of “steam beer” in San Francisco where 19th-century lager brewers were unable to rely on frigid winters and ice to achieve cold fermentation and conditioning temperatures. Because these factors tend to be regional, beer styles also often begin as regional phenomenon.

And so it is with Sparkling Ale, the native-born style of Australia. From the earliest days of the Australian colony, beer was seen as a more wholesome and less intoxicating alternative to rum, whiskey and other spirits. A strong brewing industry, it was believed, would also have a favorable economic impact on the new colony, providing jobs and promoting agriculture. Brewing was encouraged and even subsidized with government grants.

Brewing in Australia was a difficult proposition at the time. Ingredient supply was sporadic and the warmer climate than that “back home” in England led to beer that was often subpar. This led to the closure of many of these original breweries. Those that survived sometimes adulterated their beer with opper sulphate, tobacco and cocculus indicus (a very bitter poison) to make up for their shortcomings.

Australian beer gained a negative reputation, leading to a growth in the market for imported beers, including the newly-rising lager beers. The warm climate created a demand from consumers for lighter, more refreshing brews, and lager beers filled that bill. Like the inventors of cream ale in the United States, ale brewers in Australia responded by creating a light, effervescent ale that came to be known as sparkling ale.

The style’s popularity was short lived. As lager beer continued to dominate, sparkling ale breweries closed, eventually leaving only one – the Cooper’s Brewery. Cooper’s Sparkling Ale is still available and until very recently was the only version of the style to be had in this country.

With its newest Union Series beer – Southern CapeSummit Brewing Company has brought us another, at least for a limited time. The Union Series is designed to showcase new and lesser known ingredients. In this case these new ingredients all hail appropriately from the southern hemisphere. Malts come from Australia and Chile, hops from New Zealand and South Africa. Here is Head Brewer Damian McConn giving an introduction to the new ale.

Here’s my notes:

Summit Southern Cape Sparkling AleSouthern Cape
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Australian Sparkling Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
ABV: 4.4%
IBU: 47

Aroma: Malt centered with underlying fruity hop and ester compliment. Honey – like a sheet of beeswax. Fresh bread and graham cracker. Juicy fruit gum. Dried apricots. Light white-wine vinous notes.

Appearance: Medium gold and clear. 1 inch, creamy, white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Malt centered with more-than-balancing bitterness that lingers into the finish. Same honey notes from the aroma. Graham cracker and low toast. Sweetness is low. Hop bitterness comes midway, hitting the back of the tongue with a cutting sharpness. Hop flavor is low, providing a bit of spice and limey citrus. Subtle stone-fruit esters round it out. The end is all hops, with long-lingering bitterness dominating the dry finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium-high carbonation. Light astringency.

Overall Impression: Delicate but forceful somehow at the same time. A super-dry finish and slightly higher-than-normal carbonation keeps it light and lively on the tongue. The waxy honey notes ground it. Bitterness is stronger than I personally would prefer, but not enough to stop me from drinking it. For some reason I have the urge to make salad dressing with this. Hmmmm…..

Summit Unchained #15: Fest Bier

It still seems to me like just a few months ago that Summit Brewing Company released the first beer in the Unchained Series; a tasty Kölsch style brewed by former Summit brewer Mike Miziorko. But here we are almost five years later looking at beer number fifteen – Fest Bier. And we’ve come nearly full-circle. The series started with a lager-like German ale. This newest addition is the first Unchained German-style lager.

When I interviewed Summit brewers at last year’s Great American Beer Festival, Nate Siats was excited about the possibility of adding lagers to the Unchained lineup. The brewery had just completed an expansion of its cellaring capacity that would make the long-aging of a lager beer less disruptive to the overall brewing schedule. Lagers tie up tanks. More tanks means the brewery is better able to work around them. He was looking forward to taking a shot at these difficult-to-brew beers.

In the press release for Fest Bier, Siats says that he recently fell in love with the German styles. I say, “What took you so long?” For his Unchained beer he took inspiration from the Märzen beers that we call Oktoberfest and Wiesenbier, the stronger, golden lager that is actually served at the Oktoberfest in Munich. He sourced his base malts from a small maltster in the Czech Republic. The beer received a full eight weeks of cold conditioning, something of a rarity in these days of “get it on the streets” brewing.

Here’s my notes:

Summit Unchained #15: Fest BierUnchained #15: Fest Bier
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Märzen
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Light grainy sweetness. Dark honey. Bread crust and toasty melanoidin. Low notes of golden raisins. No hops to speak of. Clean.

Appearance: Medium head of just-off-white, rocky foam. Good retention. Light copper color with brilliant clarity.

Flavor: Almost equal balance of malt and hops. Malt comes out just slightly ahead at first, but gains ground through the glass – bread crust and caramel-toasty melanoidin. Low malt sweetness. Hop bitterness is medium, but enhanced by carbonation and dry finish. Long-lingering hop flavors of licorice with background of black currant and lemon peel. Finishes crisp and dry with hops and underlying toasty malt.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Carbonation is high, almost prickly.

Overall Impression: A light and refreshingly crisp Oktoberfest style beer that rides a knife-edge balance of malt and hops. Carbonation struck me as very high at first, maybe even a bit intrusive. It smoothes as the beer sits and de-gasses. I would like a touch more malt character, but I’m a true malt lover and these are my favorite malt flavors. The lessening carbonation does allow a fuller malt to finally come through.

Summit Frost Line Rye

“Spring,” if you want to call it that in Minnesota, is my least favorite time of year. I grew up in St. Louis. With the arrival of March came warmer weather. Not so here. Winter grinds slowly on – March, April, May… Right now as I look out the window of my office, the sun is shining and I hear birds singing. If I don’t look directly I can almost imagine 70 degrees. But then the thick snowpack reminds me that the temperature hasn’t even cracked zero.

Summit Brewing Company is trying to give us some relief. Their new in-between-seasonal Frost Line Rye is meant to fit in this interminable gray zone that falls between winter and summer. Richly malty and bracingly hoppy all at once it keeps one foot in each season. Five kinds of rye give it a spicy bite that would be refreshing in warmer weather, but seems warming in the deep-freeze.

Here’s my notes:

Bottle_Frost-Line-RyeFrost Line Rye
Summit Brewing Co., St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Rye Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Hops dominate with pine, citrus, and noble-hop like spiciness. Malt stays just underneath – brown sugar, biscuit, hints of cocoa. Light orangy esters.

Appearance: Medium-amber with reddish tint. Brilliantly clear. Full stand of creamy, off-white foam. Excellent retention.

Flavor: Malt and hops are nearly in balance with malt having a slight edge; grain, cocoa, brown sugar, toffee, and biscuit that gets bolder as it warms. Rye adds a dry, spicy bite that accentuates the medium-level bitterness. Hop flavors bring orange and tangerine citrus as well as some spice. Orangy esters. Well attenuated for a dry finish, lingering on a complex mix of bitterness, toffee, and rye.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium carbonation. Slightly creamy.

Overall Impression: Layered and clean. This is a good in-between beer. It’s not quite an IPA (closer to a pale, but still not quite). Not quite a malty beer. A rye-tinged American amber ale. It’s brisk and yet comforting.