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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Brew Dog Punk IPA

Punk IPA
Style: American IPA
Serving Type: Bottle
Purchased at 99 Bottles

Aroma: Trace of citrus hop aroma initially greets the nose. This is followed by caramel, toffee, alcohol spice and a hint of oxidized cardboard aroma.

Appearance: Lightly hazy to translucent pale straw and wheat color. Pours absolutely no head but does form some large bubbles at the top with an aggressive pour.

Flavor: Light citrus and grassy hop bitterness upfront which quickly fades to a thin pale malt flavor. Overriding it all however is a wet cardboard and papery flavor that persists into the finish. There is an additional visit from the hops in the finish that is probably the most pleasant thus far, they finally shine through with a nice grapefruit twang that sadly lasts only for a moment before the beer fades to nothing.

Mouthfeel: Light body with almost no carbonation. There is a caramel quality that is trying to come through but seems to have a hard time pushing through the oxidization and age in the beer. The finish is clean and dry with subtle hop bitterness lingering in the back of the throat. Alcohol spice remains present in the breath.

Overall: Sadly I didn’t notice until I was pouring the beer that a best before date of 07/07/09 was written on bottle. IPA’s need to be drank young, and while I knew this I didn’t think of it as I was pulling the beer off the shelve. The beer has some pleasant qualities which I think would shine well in a younger beer. Hop bitterness and malt profile seem balanced, but the cardboard quality overrides the brew.

Considering the expiration date, I did not review this beer on Beer Advocate as it is not representative of it’s true form.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Harmon Brewery ESB Cask

I've clearly been on a Cask Ale kick lately. I'm all but seeking them out. So when I heard that Harmon Brewery was going to be tapping a Firkin of their ESB this afternoon, I nearly immediately drove to the brewery. I arrived shortly before the cask was officially tapped and as far as I know I received the first pint. Or at least I'd like to think so. I had a pint of their "pushed" ESB prior to the cask version and it was interesting to taste the difference. They had clearly dry hopped the cask, which helped to highlight the freshness of the ale.

Harmon Brewery
Brown’s Point ESB
Style: Extra Special Bitter
Serving Type: Cask
Served at Harmon Brewery Tacoma, WA

Aroma: Notable dry hop aroma representative of possibly Cascade or Centennial hops, representing bright Citrus hop aroma but with a grassy character in the background. Caramel and white bread malt aromas with slight melanoidin malt.

Appearance: Light copper to a deep straw with a slight yeast haze. Not as cloudy as expected from the cask, but the beer is certainly carrying considerable yeast along with it. Served with a creamy white head, like cool whip consistency. The head retained well and stuck nicely to the edge of the glass on it’s way down.

Flavor: Medium to light citrus hop bitterness up front before moving to an earthy hop bitterness in the middle. Malt character is light but represents wheat, biscuit and bread crust.

Mouthfeel: Medium to light body with light to little carbonation. Yeast and malt make up a smooth and pleasing mouthfeel with just enough natural carbonation to be noticeable.

Overall: Very nicely dry hopped in the cask to deliver a bright hop character with smooth malt balance. Beer is nicely presented at a serving temperature representative of a true cask ale. Mouthfeel is a bit thin when compared to the malt flavor, hop bitterness and aroma. A well served cask and a nice addition to their normal ESB offering.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Walking Man Shin Splint Imperial Red (Cask)

Shin Splint Imperial Red
Style: American Red Ale
Serving Type: Cask
Served at The Red Hot. Tacoma, WA

I had the opportunity to talk about the brewing and conditioning process of this Cask ale with the Walking Man brewer. They conditioned this ale for 2 weeks in the Cask, and primed it with corn sugar. While I have read articles discussing the use of clarifiers such as Gelatin or Isinglass in cask ale, Walking Man uses no such thing in their casks.

Aroma: Pleasantly and heavily hopped boasting a citrus hop character up front. Other aromatics are light with subtle caramel and toffee malt in the nose.

Appearance: Deep red to brown with an off white head. Good retention, though the head does fade to a thin coating at the top of the beer, good lacing down the sides. Yeast haze as expected from a Cask conditioned ale.

Flavor: Caramel malt character with rich citrus hop bitterness riding in the forefront. Yeast character is certainly noticeable with this cask ale. Toffee and biscuit barley profile comes out in the end before finishing with another round of citrus and some pine hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Med body with low carbonation. Natural carbonation from the cask comes off bright and sparkly. Bread character in the mouth from the yeast presence.

Overall: While this beer seemed served too cold for a cask ale, the hop and malt character present themselves well with the youthful exuberance of a Cask ale. As the beer warms caramel and biscuit malt complexity give way to citrus hops, but it is not unbalanced by any means. A well presented Cask Ale, nicely conditioned and naturally carbonated for a bready mouthfeel.

I rated this beer a B+ on BeerAdvocate.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Schell’s Bock Fest. Drink Beer. Make Friends. Get Poked.

Schell’s Bock Fest 2010 in New Ulm, Minnesota

This year marked my third trek to New Ulm, Minnesota and the grounds of Schell’s Brewery for their annual Bock Fest. Among the many beer festivals I have attended, Schell’s Bock Fest stands out in it’s simple enjoyment of beer for beer’s sake, and for the camaraderie formed among fest goers while standing outdoors on the frozen grounds of the second oldest brewery in the United States.

The August Schell Brewing Company was founded in 1860 by German Immigrants August Schell and Jacob Bernhardt, and was passed into sole possession of the Schell family in 1866. Schell’s Brewery is celebrating it’s 150th anniversary this year and holds the title of the second oldest brewery in the US, surpassed only by Yuengling of Pottsville, PA which was founded in 1829.

Attending the festival is as straightforward as the Bock beer poured on Schell’s historic grounds. The entry fee is $5 at the gate, after you pass through and get your wristband a brief walk along a narrow road brings you to a throng of fest goers at the brewery where you’ll want to buy tickets to later exchange for beer or bratwurst. Since Bock Fest occurs in February it’s extremely important to dress warm, as the entire festival is held outdoors in the frigid Minnesota winter.

Of equal importance to your winter apparel is the mug you bring from home to quaff your Caramel Bock. Extra points go to the size and uniqueness of your serving vessel. I always bring a traditional glass Oktoberfest stein, but Bock containers can range from a simple plastic cup to such tankards as a gas station Big Gulp mug, glass and plastic pitcher’s, “SunnyD” orange juice containers, a 5-gallon cornelius keg strapped on your back, sport bottles, even a 1-gallon gas can will hold your Winter Lager quite well.

Navigating the festival can be daunting to the newcomer considering the crowd. However, your journey to the beer line will be much more enjoyable if you consider every person you bump into, walk around, or stand next to, your very best friend at that very moment. While discussing beer ticket prices ($1/ticket. 4 tickets/beer.) I told a man who’s stature far exceeded my own that he “wasn’t as dumb as he looked”. We instantly became best friends, for the next 3 minutes.

Squeezing into the beer line for Bock is a warming experience literally and figuratively. At it’s peak the beer line doesn’t move fast, and hardly resembles a line. It’s more of a pile of bodies waiting to board a packed subway train, except we’re all holding empty beer mugs. Once you’ve reached the holy grail of the taps, you have to make the choice between the only two beers served at Bock Fest. Schell’s Caramel Bock or Schell’s Light. Here’s where your mug comes into play, you can buy up to four 16oz cups of beer at a time. Pour these beers into your mug carefully but quickly, and exit the line.

Now you’re ready to revel in the festivities of Bock Fest. Work your way around the snowy grounds of Schell’s Brewery, grab a bratwurst complete with kraut (4-tickets) and listen to the Bock Fest Boys Polka band. No trip to Minnesota would be complete without traditional Polka after all, and if you’re lucky you’ll hear a rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” played on the accordion.

Head over to one of two bonfires to take the chill off and get your beer “poked” with a red-hot wrought iron poker. Also known as “Mulled Ale”, inserting a hot iron poker into your Bock will cause it to foam up considerably, so be sure to drink your flagon down a bit before doing this. When the beer settles again you’ll notice a slight crystalized effect on the body of your winter lager and bit of smoke from the fire. While it’s not for everyone, getting your beer poked at Bock Fest is certainly tradition and a must for the first time fest goer.

Many beer festivals feature a broad array of breweries offering an astounding selection of craft beers. Beers that cause the beer lover to pause and reflect, discussing the merits of the beer, brewery, and perhaps the brewer responsible. Schell’s Bock Fest provides a venue for the beer lover to bundle up and unwind. To enjoy a winter lager that naturally stays as cold as Minnesota in February. And to befriend complete strangers around a fire while we all get poked.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout

While it seems strange that during a visit to Minnesota I would choose to review a California brewed ale, this one was staring at me from the shelve at Blue Max and so here we are. I didn't completely squander my midwestern visit on West Coast beer however. I paid a visit to The Muddy Pig in St. Paul where several local beers were consumed including an excellent Surly Bender served on Cask.

Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout
Style: American Imperial Stout
brewed with coffee
Purchased at Blue Max Liquors in Burnsville, MN

Aroma: Initial aroma of caramel that overrides a coffee and chocolate character. Though they are certainly present, the sweet caramel and toffee dominate the aroma. Fruity yeast esters follow up the malt character with unexpected strength.

Appearance: With a mildly aggressive pour this stout forms a frothy tan head that retains very well. The base of the beer is closer to brown than black, slightly hazy at the edges.

Flavor: Very sweet on the tongue with chocolate and deep caramel notes blending together evenly. Through the middle the coffee character comes out, though with only subtle intensity. Light fruity esters work into the mix before an alcoholic spice leads into a dry coffee finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium to full body with low carbonation. The body has a sticky and creamy character that aligns with the sweetness in the aroma and flavor. Alcoholic warmth dries out the beer with a spice that borders on hot but the malt-rich body balances this out.

Overall: Very nice body and malt character balance this beers relatively high 9.26% ABV (is it really necessary to go to the hundredth decimal?). This is quite a sweet stout especially to be considered a coffee beer. While the sweetness is pleasant, it detracts from the expected coffee character. I would like to see a much stronger coffee presence here and there is room in the beers profile for this.

I ranked this a "B" on Beer Advocate.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lost Abbey Brouwer’s Imagination Series 2

Style: American Wild Ale / Strong Sour
Purchased at Bottleworks Seattle, WA

A collaboration between The Lost Abbey and Brouwer's Cafe, this blend of 3 separate barrel aged beers is only available at Brouwer's Cafe and Bottleworks for a limited time.

Aroma: Strong sourness fills the nose with characteristic Brettanomyces ‘horse blanket’ aroma. Fruity esters also accompany the Brett with tangerine notes and subtle grapefruit. Alcohol spice is present but not forefront, the Brettanomyces dominates every aspect of this aromatic blended brew. Sour aroma has to be one of the strongest I have experienced in a Wild Ale.

Appearance: While the color boarders on black, the true nature is a dark brown with some haze. A strong push of carbonation bubbles holds up a rocky and steady nut-brown head. Even several minutes after pouring the head remains strong, what has faded thickly holds to the side of the glass.

Flavor: Like a sour candy your palate isn’t ready the tart character present in the first sip of this beer. Moving past the burning sourness the beer presents an earthy and woody character. Tart cherries and green apple also push across the tongue with a very light touch of dark fruit. There is a yeasty phenolic character that is hard to pick up at first but seems to hint at a green banana flavor I have not tasted in a beer before. It’s subtle, but adds a nice complexity going into the finish. The beer finishes mostly dry but with slight stickiness around the edges.

Mouthfeel: An incredible sourness grabs your jaw muscles at the first sip of this beer. Incredibly puckering at first the body is light to medium with high carbonation. The carbonation quickly cleans the palate into the drying and sour finish. The sourness will bite you at the back of the throat toward the end.

Overall: Pushing the boundaries of sourness this beer dominates the aroma and palate with focused and biting Brettanomyces character. Since I like this style so much it's exhilarating to drink, but if sourness isn't your style then this is no where to start. The oak and wine characters blend together well but are still dominated by Brett. Carbonation could be backed off a bit to allow the malts to work their way onto your palate and build on the body just a touch more.

This beer would age well and I’m guessing the sourness would mellow out in time, allowing more malt complexity through. As it is however, this is a compelling wild ale that creates new interest with each sip.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Respect the Shaker Pint

The other night my wife and I were sitting on the couch, drinking a beer while talking about everything, and nothing at all. Both of us being beer lovers we each had our respective glass of ale as we talked far too late into the night. As I sat there half listening to my darling wife, the other half of me was appreciating what a great pleasure it was to simply sit, and talk, and enjoy a well crafted beer for beer’s sake. And for my wife’s sake.

While I have my own array of tulip glasses, small snifter’s and several glasses designed to hold Hefeweizen, my glass of choice for the evening was the simple and functional Shaker Pint. I have nearly two dozen of these glasses adorning my wall, each with their respective brewery logo printed boldly on the side.

Over the past few years the craft beer industry has been making a push toward the use of proper glassware for serving a particular style of beer. Through this push it is implied that the standard Shaker Pint glass
go by the wayside, to be shunned by the beer loving community that filled the walls of pubs across the country with those practical glasses we are all too familiar with.

A great industry has developed in the wine market around the proper serving vessel for every style of wine. You can spend less than a minute on the
Riedel website and be presented with an overwhelming amount of glassware that has been deemed appropriate for all variations of vino. Could this be the craft beer industry in 10 years, or 5, and does it need to be?

When I am attending an event where I am unfamiliar with the people that will be there, a common question I will ask is, “are these wine people or beer people”? Even if the event has nothing to do with either beverage, the answer speaks volumes.

While I have beer in my cellar that I would never consider serving out of a Shaker Pint, I have far more beers that have been carefully brewed with intent and focus, for the love of beer and for the beer lover, that I truly enjoy from the conical simplicity of a Shaker Pint. This glass is not boastful or bragging, and does not present an air of superiority. It is an uncomplicated glass for beer people.

Respect beer. Respect the Shaker Pint.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Yuengling Traditional Lager

Yuengling Brewery Traditional Lager
American Amber / Red Lager
Serving Type: Bottle
Read more about Yuengling on Beer Advocate.

I was fortunate to receive this beer as a gift from a friend, as I have been told it is not distributed West of the Mississippi.

Aroma: Fresh sweet corn and straw notes up front with subtle hints of caramel and pepper spice in the background. It should be noted that the corn aromatics are not that of an undesirable DMS character, but rather that of walking through a corn field. Overall the aroma is light, fresh, and earthy.

Appearance: Pours a one finger thick white head, while the body holds the light with a diluted copper appearance. Excellent clarity with a steady rise of carbonation bubbles to the surface. The head fades quite quickly to a mere white line around the perimeter of the glass.

Flavor: Light caramel and some melanoidin malt character define the flavor with underlying sweet corn once again coming through. Hop bitterness is very light but compliments the earthy character of the beer. Through the middle the beer fades to almost no flavor before finishing with a lingering sweetness and a hint of hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Light body with high carbonation. At first the beer feels somewhat over carbonated, almost a soda-like character. After your palate adapts to this there is a refreshing quality to the carbonation. Finish is very clean with only a hint of a sweet cloying quality if you really look for it.

Overall: A refreshing lager that allows enough flavor and character through to give you something to ponder while drinking this beer. This is anything but a resemblance to the Light American Lagers of AB-InBev or Miller Coors. The bottle states “Original Amber Beer”, and while one should not expect the mouthfeel or body of a craft Amber Ale, the malt character certainly defines this beer as a clean and refreshing lager with well balanced flavor and bitterness. A light lager with definition and clarity is refreshing and enlightening. Though, the carbonation could be backed off a bit to allow more malt richness to surround the tongue.

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Beer enthusiast and advocate. Recognized beer judge and traveler of west coast beer destinations.