A recap of the June Perfect Pint Beer Club meeting.
Last Friday a record number of Twin Cities Perfect Pinters gathered to taste “some of my favorite beers.” At past events members have mocked me (lovingly of course) for the number of times I say, “This is one of my favorite beers.” Because of this relentless ribbing, I decided to inflict my favorites upon them (lovingly, of course). It was fun to pick beers for this one as I could just go into the store, look around, and say, “Oh yes, that’s good. ” At the same time, when confronted with the chore of picking my favorite beers I had to face the obvious dilemma of where to start.
We started with Bluebird Bitter from Coniston Brewing in England. I have sung the praises of Bluebird Bitter to anyone willing to listen for some time. Light, refreshingly bitter but balanced with caramel and biscuit malt and wisps of orange marmalade, this is simply a delightful beer. Bluebird Bitter is my “desert island” beer. Mentioning this to the group meant explaining the difference between a “favorite” beer and a “desert island” beer. To me a desert island beer is one that you can drink over and over for an extended period. It should be highly drinkable, meaning not too heavy or alcoholic. It needs enough complexity to keep it interesting, but not so much that it would overwhelm over time. Of course it needs to taste great. That to me describes Consiston Bluebird Bitter.
We followed up the Bluebird with Schlenkerla Helles Lager from Germany’s Heller-Trum brewery, famous for the Aecht Schlenkerla smoked beers. The Helles Lager has the heart of a solid Munich Helles style lager with bready/grainy malt sweetness and balancing spicy hops. This version is enhanced by a subtle smoke that comes from being brewed in the same equipment as the smoked beers. The smokiness here is not as intense as in the true smoked beers, making it palatable even to those who don’t like smoked beers. Staying on the lighter side, we moved next to Sunburst Ale from Flat Eearth Brewing in St. Paul. One of the many infused ales offered by Flat Earth, Sunburst starts life as the Belgian Pale Ale. An infusion of fresh apricots turns it into an explosion of sunny fruity goodness. As one attendee said, “The name is absolutely appropriate. ” This beer paired beautifully with some sliced melon that our host Alex had prepared.
From there we stepped it up a notch, moving to beers with stronger flavors and higher alcohol, starting with Traquair Jacobite from Traquar House in Scotland. This rich Strong Scotch Ale features luscious caramel and chocolate malt with hints of herbs and spice from coriander in the brewing process. It it tasty and was a big crowd-pleaser, being called, “a beer you take home to meet your mother.” One of the first beers that stood out to me as being something really special, it had been a long time since I had enjoyed a bottle. I’ll try not to let so much time pass before enjoying another.
I have a reputation in this group for being a “hop hater.” It is a reputation that is undeserved. I love hops. I just want some semblance of balance in a hoppy beer. I’m not a fan of excessively hopped and astringently bitter American IPAs and Double IPAs. There has to be some malt. If that malt has some complexity, that’s even better. To prove my point, we tasted three big, hoppy, American beers, Founders Centennial IPA, Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A from Shmaltz/Hebrew, and Maharaja Double IPA from Avery. Each of these beers expresses intense citrus or pine resin American hop character with assertive bitterness. However, in each one the bitterness is backed up by ample and complex malt that does a bit more than simply provide a hook for the hops to hang on. Each of these beers is world class and fits nicely among my favorite beers.
Next was a swing to the opposite extreme with two hugely malty beers. Koningshoeven Quadrupel, from the Trappist Bierbrouwerij de Koningshoeven in the Netherlands, is a beer that I describe as candy in a bottle, a description that others found apt. The focus here is on sugary sweet caramel malt with intense fruity and spicy cotton candy Belgian yeast character. It’s a big beer at 10% ABV, but remarkably light and oh, so easy to drink. We finished off the night with a special treat, ten year old bottles of J.W. Lee’s Harvest Ale barleywine. This English barleywine from J.W. Lee’s and Company in Manchester is to me what English barleywine is all about. Massive and complex malt with just enough bitterness to keep it from being cloying. The caramel, dark fruit, and sherry-like flavors of this beer were a big hit with everyone there. It is a beer that I find great when it’s young and even better with some age. This example held up well since 1999. It left all of us remarking about how much the world has changed since it was bottled.
To find out more about the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club click here.