Posts Tagged ‘Summit Unchained Series’

Summit Unchained #16: Herkulean Woods

Monday, September 8th, 2014

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 Unchained #15: Fest Bier

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

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 Brewing Company at the 2013 GABF

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Continuing with the GABF video interview series, I visit Summit Brewing Company. I chatted with brewers Nate Siats and Jeff Williamson as well as Steve Secor from packaging. They gave me the low-down on expansion, new beers, and Jeff talks about making the transition from Flat Earth to Summit.

I think this one must have happened late in the session. I seem to be a little less focused than in some of the other interviews. It is GABF!

Summit Unchained #14: Bière de Garde

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Wow! It’s been a while since I posted anything here!

You know how sometimes you get yourself involved in a project that takes over your life? You think about nothing but that thing. Your reading all revolves around that thing. You start saying “no” to offers so that you can focus more intently on that thing. That’s where I’ve been for the last couple of months. But it’s over now. I can re-enter the regular world.

It seems fitting that my first post after emerging from the bunker is the same as my last post before going under – tasting notes for the latest Unchained Series beer from Summit Brewing Company.

Jeff Williamson is one of Summit’s newest brewers. You may know him as the founder and former brew-chief at Flat Earth Brewing Company. Jeff left Flat Earth in May of 2012 and was quickly scooped up by Summit. This is his first go-round with the Unchained Series.

For this the fourteenth installment, Williamson has chosen to make a bière de garde, the French version of the farmhouse style ales that originate in the region surrounding the French/Belgian border. I have already written an extensive piece about bière de garde in The Growler, so I’ll cut to the chase and get right down to the business at hand.

Here’s my notes:

Unchained14Unchained #14: Bière de Garde
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Bière de Garde
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Malt forward, but not sweet smelling. It features notes of caramel and dry toast, with low, coffee-like, roasted undertones. Maybe a faint whiff of smoke? Low dark fruit tones. Faint alcohol adds sharpness.

Appearance: Dark mahogany with ruby highlights. Brilliantly clear. The dense, off-white to ivory foam displays good retention.

Flavor: Malt is definitely the winner here. Dry, grainy, toasted and roasted malt flavors dominate from start to finish. Some light caramel sweetness gives a moister base that helps balance the dryness. A hint of raisiny dark fruit comes in the middle, but gives way to dry, roasted bitterness in the finish. Hop bitterness is medium-low, letting malt do the rest. The finish is just off-dry with roasted malt and hop bitterness lingering after swallowing. A faint note of dark, bitter cocoa powder comes in long after swallowing.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium to medium-high carbonation. Dry with a slight bit of astringency from roasted malts.

Overall Impression: Bière de garde comes in three flavors – blond, amber, and brown. This is definitely a brown one, and a roasty one at that. Not roasty like a stout or porter, but dry, and grainy roasty with toasted backbone. It’s similar in some ways to a Scotch ale, but without the caramel sweetness and thick body. It’s a lovely beer and perfectly suited to the season.

Summit Unchained #13: Another IPA

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

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.

Summit Unchained #12: 100% Organic Ale

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Gabe Smoley is one of the newest brewers at Summit Brewing Company. Unchained #12: 100% Organic Ale is his first entry into the Unchained Series. He went all out to make a certified, 100% organic brew. Says he, “Most USDA certified organic beers on the market are about 95-99.9% organic because it is extremely difficult to find ingredients like organic yeast. This beer is made with 100% organic ingredients including malts, hops and yeast. Summit microbiologist James Fetherston and I worked together to create our own certified organic yeast strain to do this, as there are virtually no organic strains available from laboratories.”

The aim was to craft a light, yet bracing beer appropriate for spring; a move away from the heavy beers of winter, with a hoppy kick to mimic the lingering cold. Drinkers who are too tied to the style guidelines may take issue with calling this an IPA, but they do say “sessionable IPA.” Just drink it and enjoy it for what it is, whatever that may be.

100% Organic Ale launches this week with meet-the-brewer events at bars around the Metro.

March 12: Release Party/Meet the Brewer – House of Pizza, Sartel, 5-7 pm
March 13: Meet the brewer – Brasa St. Paul, 6-8 pm – Brasa St. Paul and Minneapolis will also feature Unchained 12 food pairings from 5-9 pm
March 14: “Hoppy Meals” pairings – Republic Uptown, 4-6 pm; Republic Seven Corners, 7-9 pm
March 15: Firkin Friday with Organic Ale cask – Grumpy’s NE, 4 pm
March 21: Meet Gabe and sample Organic Ale – Four Firkins, 6-8 pm
March 28: Flight Night at Ginger Hop featuring Organic Ale. Flights include four Summit beers total.

Here’s my notes:

Organic-Ale-BTL-web2Unchained #12: 100% Organic Ale
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: “Session” IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Big aromatics from a fairly small beer. Hops hit the nose first – floral and citrus. Biscuity malt comes in shortly to offer support. Nicely balanced between the two. An undercurrent of candied fruit throughout.

Appearance: Dark golden color and clear. The off-white head is full, creamy, and very persistent. Settled after a long while to a sustained film on the surface.

Flavor: Light and refreshing. Very dry with pithy bitterness that lingers well into the finish. Floral and lemon-lime citrus hop flavors carry through from beginning to end. Some peppery spice in there as well. The malt fills in lightly underneath with a biscuit character that brings a vaguely English flair. It offers enough sweetness to temper the hops, but not quite enough to balance.

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

Overall Impression: This one leans a bit more to hops than I would like, but then that’s kind of the point of the beer. It’s close, but a hint more malt to back up the bitterness would have been welcome on my palate. Brewer Smoley says to drink this around 40°F. I would suggest a higher temperature to bring out more of the malt. While style-sticklers will have issues with calling this an “IPA,” it fits the brewer’s description of “sessionable IPA” quite nicely; light like a pale ale, but with a bigger hop load.

Summit Unchained Series #11: Old 152

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

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 #10: Belgian Style Abbey Ale

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Summit Brewing Company’s Unchained Series hits a milestone today with the release of its tenth beer, Belgian Style Abbey Ale. It’s a Belgian Dubbel style beer brewed by Summit brewer Nate Siats, who also brought us the fifth beer in the series, Imperial Pumpkin Porter. Belgian styles are sometimes hard to pull off for American brewers. Many domestic renditions don’t quite live up to their Belgian models, often ending up too sweet or too boozy. Did Siats do justice to the dubbel? Here’s my notes:

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

Aroma: Bread crust and subtle dark fruits; dates. Prominent banana and sugary cotton candy (as I call that Belgian yeast character). Background of pepper and allspice.

Appearance: Clear amber/red with some chill haze early on. Creamy, ivory head with very fine bubbles that was moderately persistent; a ring of creamy foam remains around the edge of the glass all the way to the bottom. Nice lacing on a clean glass.

Flavor: Herbal hops kick things off, but quickly give way to bread crust and melanoidin sweetness. Dates, pears and raisins join in and linger into the finish. Highlight notes of sour fruit, like tart cherries. Moderate cotton-candy Belgian yeast character. Alcohol is apparent, but not hot. Dry and slightly tannic in finish with lingering notes of tea leaves.

Mouthfeel: Light-medium body. Effervescent high carbonation. Warms on the way down.

Overall: I love bread crust malt flavor in beer and that is the predominant flavor in this beer (at least on my palate). You have to let this beer warm just a bit to let that flavor come through. In fact, there is a tight temperature range for this beer; too cold and it comes off harsh and slightly sour, too warm and the flavors become murky. The tannic character that I get in the finish detracts a bit, but overall it’s a nicely balanced beer that is dangerously drinkable in the best Belgian tradition.

This new Summit brew can be sampled starting today at launch events throughout the metro.

Summit Unchained #8: Black Ale

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Whether you call them Black IPAs, Cascadian Dark Ales, or American-style Black Ales, bitter, hoppy, black beers are becoming more and more popular with brewers and beer fans alike. What had been a fringe phenomenon has become a true emerging style. Production breweries and brewpubs are turning them out all over the country.

Honestly, it is a style that I have had difficulty embracing. The combination of high-level bitterness, intensely-citrusy American hop flavor, and acrid, roasted malts creates an unpleasant partnership in my mouth. There are a couple examples that I like – 21st Amendment’s Back in Black comes to mind – but in general, these are not beers that I am likely to pick up at the store or order at a bar.

It is with this caveat that I offer my impressions of the latest offering in the Summit Unchained Series, Black Ale. Here’s my notes:

Unchained #8: Black Ale
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Black IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz bottle

Aroma: Light chocolate and roast underlie citrusy orange and grapefruit hops. A bit of bread crust.

Appearance: Ample, creamy, tan head that sticks around, maintaining a foamy layer from start to finish. Very dark brown to black.

Flavor: Sharply and somewhat astringently bitter, with intense grapefruit and orange hop flavor. The hop bitterness is enhanced by the bitterness of roasted malt. The malt character is primarily coffee-like roast with light sweetness that increases as the beer warms. The finish is dry, lingering on coffee and juicy grapefruit. The bitterness grabs hold at the start and is the last thing to let go.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with prickly carbonation. A touch astringent.

Overall Impression: This beer has that particular combination of bitterness, black malt, and citrusy hops that sits uncomfortably on my tongue. The high level of attenuation enhances that. I could do with more malty sweetness to balance the hop and roasted-malt bitterness. A hint of chocolate would give the citrus a pleasing foil. As it is, it is a well-made beer, just not one that suits my tastes.

Summit Unchained #6: Gold Sovereign Ale

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Photo by Mark Roberts

Deadlines! Deadlines! I’ve had a lot of writing deadlines lately; deadlines for pieces that require me to taste certain beers. Meanwhile, many new and new to Minnesota beers have been sitting neglected in my refrigerator, begging…no, crying out for my attention without satisfaction.

Those deadlines have been met, at least for a few days. I can finally get to the bottle of Summit Unchained #6: Gold Sovereign Ale that has been waiting in the fridge; the bottle that has been taunting me since last week when I interviewed brewer Damian McConn at the brewery.

I have been especially anticipating this Unchained Series release. I am a fan of English style pale ales and IPAs, more so than their American counterparts. I also have a more than passing interest in the history of English beer and brewing. The idea that McConn would reach back into old brewery archives to craft something according to a 19th-century recipe intrigued me to say the least. His decision to put a modern twist on it by using only recently available ingredients made it even more interesting.

McConn said that he was led to that decision by the practical impossibility of replicating an old recipe. “The problem with recreating a beer like that is that we can get a pretty-good, rough idea of the hopping rate, the original gravity, fermentation temps, mashing programs, and stuff like that, but we can’t replicate the ingredients.” He also cites modern brewing equipment as an impediment to accurately recreating these beers. Different processes and fermenter types will yield different tasting beers, and modern breweries are very different from their 19th-century predecessors. “The more I investigated beer from that time, the more I thought that I just wouldn’t be able to do it justice. I’m an all or nothing kind of brewer. I thought, ‘if I can’t do it as closely as possible to what it would have been like back then, then I want to try and put an interesting spin on it.’”

Although the ingredients and processes are new, they do cast an eye back to the old. McConn chose organic, floor-malted barley to reflect the labor-intensive malting practice that would have been standard at the time. In a nod to the cask-conditioning of beers, which was the norm back in the day, he opted to leave the beer un-filtered. The bit of yeast remaining in the bottle will allow the beer to further condition. It’s up to you whether or not to pour the yeast into your glass.

Here’s my notes:

Gold Sovereign Ale
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: 19th-Century English IPA with a modern twist
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Bready yeast comes first. The malt gives a light touch of grainy sweetness. Fruity hops are dominant, but not intense; orange citrus and stone fruits. A background of earthy hop aromas keep it grounded.

Appearance: The ample, rocky, white head sticks around for a while. Deep golden color, veering toward orange, with a dense haze (I chose to pour the yeast).

Flavor: Hops are the star of the show, starting with a sharp, crisp bitterness that carries through and is accentuated by a dry finish. The beer is bitter, but the emphasis seems to be on later-addition, flavor hops. Juicy fruits explode from the glass; tangerine, oranges, and peaches. Especially peaches. Malts form a grainy-sweet, graham-cracker crust beneath the fruit. The malt character was so clearly expressed that it reminded me of chewing on grains of malted barley (without the husk). Faint, earthy, hop flavors appear in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Sharp, dry, and crisp. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: If this is what East India Pale Ale tasted like in the 19th century, then it is no wonder that English expatriates rhapsodized about it. Gold Sovereign is an extremely well-made beer; crisp and clean, with distinct layers of flavor. This is one of the best of the Unchained Series beers.