Thursday, September 3, 2015

Photo Challenge: Odd Numbers


Earlier this year I set myself the goal of doing a photography challenge every week to push myself a bit further with my budding photography and photo editing skills.  I did a great job until we took a couple of trips and I fell behind.  I've been finding myself searching for new things to try and not resting on my laurels.  I recently discovered Photochallenge.org which is a weekly challenge to try new things.  I like the idea a lot and there are certainly new techniques to try out.  However, some of the challenges are very specific (pictures of a state animal/bird comes to mind) or require special equipment I don't have yet.  So I'll be taking part in some of these, but not all.  I'm going to try to do something else on the off weeks just to keep myself trying new things.  For those who read my blog purely for my beer/homebrew postings and don't like photography, you can just skip on to my next beer posting!

Last week's challenge was to break the mold of even numbered subjects.  The eye tends to find even numbers to be more pleasing and organized so classic paintings and photos tend to group things/people in this way.  But rules were made to be broken right?

My attempt at this was to take this picture of three dead flowers at the MN Landscape Arboretum.  I took plenty of pictures of pretty flowers as well, but this one just jumped out as a sign of impending fall.  As Ned Stark would say: "Winter is coming."



For this shot I chose to focus on the middle flower, leaving the other two partially out of focus in the fore and background.

So there you go!


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Whale A Week: Olde Hickory's The Event Horizon


Olde Hickory Brewing

For this A Whale A Week tasting we head to The South, for a rare beer from North Carolina.  Located in Hickory, NC, (north of Charlotte) the brewery opened in 1994 and has been very popular ever since.  Being a Midwest guy, I had never heard of Olde Hickory Brewery prior to getting a mysterious bottle of The Event Horizon in a trade.

The Event Horizon is a Russian Imperial Stout brewed with local honey, then aged in a variety of bourbon barrels.  Keep in mind that bourbon comes from not too far away from the brewery!  The resulting brew is actually blended after barrel aging, resulting in a more balanced bourbon character.  The brewery released this each year as a special release. Beer Advocate has this at 96 and RateBeer has it at at a solid 100.  This is a well-thought-of beer!

On our summer trip down to Asheville, NC, I discovered some of this year's vintage in Bruisin' Ales and bought two on faith that the beer was as good as people say.  I had hoped to get to the brewery, but it was really too far for us to venture on that trip.


On a personal and geeky note, the very first movie that my wife and I went to together was Event Horizon, the disturbing but flawed space horror flick starring Sam Neil.  I don't remember much about the movie itself, as I focused on the nervous ball of cute girl clutching my arm in a death-grip.  So maybe not the most romantic of first date's but in terms to snuggle-time it worked for me!  And holy crap that that came out in 1997!  Where has the time gone?  We just celebrated our 14th anniversary yesterday!

For this whale tasting I had a few friends over.  The bomber bottle was 2012 vintage and wax dipped.  Served into snifters.  Since we are in peak MN State Fair time, this week's panel is well be-ribboned from that competition!

1) Me--BJCP judge, winner of 4 ribbons at the MN State Fair this year, beer geek, actual geek, sci-fi and horror fan.

2) David Grilli--Award winning homebrewer, member of the Primary Fermenter's brewclub, winner of one ribbon at the MN State Fair, also a geek involved in the D&D podcast 20-Sided Death: check it on iTunes HERE.

3) Mike Lebben--A Whale A Week alumni here for more!  Winner of a blue ribbon at MN State fair in the past )and co-brewer with me for one of this year's ribbons), part-owner of BeerDust.


My attempt at combining the beer and the movie!

The Event Horizon 2012 Vintage

Aroma: (In which we smell sweet bourbon goodness...)

Eric:  Very strong bourbon and vanilla aromas.  Hints of honey (buckwheat?) sweetness and caramel.  Cocoa and coffee are present as the booze blows off.  Hint of spices--cinnamon.  A bit of soy sauce as it warms up.
David: Bourbon up front.  Dominates.  Vanilla hints.
Mike: Boozy.  Toffee.

Appearance: (In which we find that Mike may be colorblind.)

Eric: Huge legs on glass.  Deep black color and opaque.  Very dark tan head that is almost brown ochre.  Head fades quickly.
David: Black, opaque.  Brown head that dissipated quickly.
Mike: Dark Amber.  Not much head.

Flavor:  (In which we all agree for once!)

Eric: Sweet flavors of caramel, malted milk, and cocoa.  Some honey sweetness on the finish, but then the final word is a dry cocoa nib or baker's chocolate flavor.  Because of that finish the end is surprisingly dry for the big booze on this.  Moderate to almost thick mouthfeel. Alcohol warming but not rough and hot.  Middle of the drink has dried cherry to almost cranberry flavor and tartness.  Boozy but not overwhelming.  Some vanilla as well.
David: Bittersweet chocolate and plum.  Vanilla from the barrel is present and in good balance to the chocolate.  Slightly roasty but takes a back seat to the chocolate.
Mike: Malt on chocolate up front with a lingering mocha and raisin.

Overall:  (In which we give a balanced review...)

Eric: Compared to many bourbon aged beers this one is well balanced and has aged quite well with minimal oxidation. 4.5
David: Well balanced Imperial stout.  Vanilla and bourbon balance well with bittersweet chocolate.  Aroma enhances the flavor profile.  Mellow.  No flaws.  4.25
Mike: Nicely carbonated.  Balanced.  Very good.  4.25

Overall Score: 4.3333333333333333333333333333333...

So we liked this one a lot!  I'm happy I have two more of these in my cellar, but I think I'll let them mellow a bit for now.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

My Travels With The Night Circus


Every month one of my friends, Andrew Thornton--of international jewelry design fame--hosts a book club.  This isn't just any old book club.  This is Inspired By Reading Book Club!  The members of this virtual club read the book each month (OK, who really finishes them?) and then are challenged to make something artistic/creative inspired by that book.  The majority of folks in the club are jewelry makers, including my wonderful wife Sarajo--of Sj Designs Jewelry.  Andrew does host an in-person meeting each month in Pennsylvania, but if you can't make the trip, he hosts a Blog-Hop for everyone to see the art generated each month.  HERE is the main page for this Blog-Hop.  I took part in one last Fall when we made it out for the celebration and had a blast!  Finally there came another book that interested me and I was ready to take part again.  Sj and I listened to it on disc on our way to Duluth and on our many trips into the Cities for Fringe Festival.



The book: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  Published in 2011, this was the author's first book and arrived to much critical acclaim.  I'll try to avoid spoilers so I'm not getting into too many details here.  The basic plot is that a man and a woman are raised from a young age by two rival mysterious magicians in the late 1800's and trained in the magical arts.  They are bound together into a game of sorts in which they compete with each other but neither knows the rules or conditions of the game.  As we discover, once things get going, the "game board" is a very unusual traveling circus.  The book is somewhat slow moving, but told with a richness of description that is quite entrancing.  The subtle foreshadowing and use of magic make this stand out from the usual period piece.  The narrator for the audio book was very good as well, making this a pleasure to listen to.

I was initially expecting something more creepy or horror-like, but the book ends up being quite dreamy and even a bit romantic.  There was just enough magic and unearthly material to keep me interested.  The only real gripe I had with the telling was that the chapters skip around in time a bit and especially when listening, this can be a bit confusing.

As I listened to this book, I got to thinking about what I could do with photography to bring across some of the feel of the story.  Then it hit me...what is magic, but smoke and mirrors?  I started to experiment in my makeshift studio (on top of Sj's jewelry making table) with photographing smoke trails.  I ended up using an inverted and mirrored image to complete this effect.  I also left this in black and white to mimic the black and white theme of the circus itself.



I'm pretty happy with the results!  Sj says she sees faces in the patterns, and this just makes more sense when you've read the ending of the book...

As an added bonus to the one photo, I'm adding in this creepy black and white spider picture I took on my deck.  While there are no actual spiders in the book, I felt that a theme through-out was one of manipulation--both of people and objects.  The two "evil" magicians were manipulating the two young protagonists in their web, while the protagonists themselves wound a web of magic through the whole circus.



So there you go!  I'll probably take part in next month's book as well...

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Whale A Week: Surly Darkness 2014

Surly Darkness 2014

This week we return to our continuing A Whale A Week series on Surly Brewing's Darkness.  This beer is Surly's take on the Russian Imperial Stout, and was first brewed in 2006, in a very small batch and released in growlers.  I never got to try that first year's release, but at the time it was pretty "ballsy" to put out an expensive-to-brew RIS for a very young upstart craft brewery.  They are called Surly after all.

The second year they released a limited run of bottles (under 500) that they released in the very first Darkness Day event at the brewery.  The event went well and the beer met with high praise.  The bottle for 2007 Darkness featured a Grim Reaper, and while I have held an unopened bottle in my hand, I have yet to taste that batch.  Anyone still have one of these gathering dust in a cellar?

For 2008 Surly increased production of Darkness to around 5000 bottles, a big increase from the previous year, but still a small run.  The bottle was wax dipped and the demon label was a sticker placed on the glass bottle.  The next year they began screen printing the bottles and scrapped the sticker.  Check out my previous A Whale A Week post on the 2008 vintage HERE.

For 2009 the label featured a mummy.  They sold the same number of bottles (5000) that day, but had another 2500 or so that they released to liquor stores a few days later.   My review of the 2009 vintage is HERE.

In 2010 they increased Darkness production to about 14000 bottles, also wax dipped and screen printed.  About 7500 were released at that year's October Darkness Day, and the rest to retailers later in the month.  That year the label featured a vampire and my review is HERE.

I couldn't dig up details on the batch size for 2011.  The label art for that vintage is a very creepy zombie done by local artist Michael Berglund.  My review of 2011 is HERE.

The 2012 vintage was as usual released in October to much fanfare and an increasingly crowded Darkness Day celebration.  They gave out 1500 wrist-bands to get 6 bottles of Darkness--making that year's brewery release about 9000 bottles.  The art for that bottle was an angry looking werewolf (is there any other kind?) done by Brent Schoonover.  You can check out his cool stuff including a lot of comic work HERE.

For 2013 they continued the 1500 wrist-bands for Darkness day, again selling up to 6 bottles per person for $20 apiece. The bottle art this year was done by Josh "Jawsh" Lemke, (the artist behind the Surly Eight label) and features the demonic horned Brewcifer.  Last week's write-up is HERE.

And now for the crowning achievement of the Darkness family (as of now): 2014!  Darkness Day was handled pretty much the same as previous years, with the same number of bottles sold.  This year, however the bottles were aged in High West Rye Whiskey barrels!  I missed the release again but managed to snag a few bottles from local liquor stores once they made their way out to the Western suburbs and exurbs.  Shortly after this, I did happen upon a un-oaked tap version in one of our fine local eating and drinking establishments that was selling 20 oz pours at happy hour prices.  My wonderful wife drove me home from that particular visit.  I didn't actually get to try the oaked version until we made it to the new Surly Brewery for an Easter Brunch and tour and was quite impressed. I've been waiting for an excuse to crack this one and give it a proper tasting.  This year's bottle featured a typically dark illustration by local artist Erica Williams--a harpy crouched over her cauldron of Darkness and a mess of dead and dismembered seafarers.  I love this illustration and encourage you to check out her website HERE for some of her other works (known to have graced album covers, concert posters, and beer bottles of course!) Oh, and it looks like she's also the artist behind the art for the soon-to-be-released Surly Nein!




First off our panel of "experts!"  Myself: BJCP National ranked judge, homebrewer for over 20 years, geek.  Mike Lebben: excellent homebrewer, entrepreneur.  Ann Osborn: homebrewer, greyhound collector.  Steven Mathistad: homebrewer, busy father who needs a beer.  So all of us are skilled at the brewing arts and ready to try this beast of a beer!

Aroma: (In which my panel is very concise and I talk too much...)

Eric: Boozy whiskey aromas waft out the second I'm finished peeling off the wax from the bottle and crack the crown.  Even more of this wonderful boozy sweet cloud bubbles into the atmosphere as I serve the beer into snifter glasses for everyone.  Rare that I can get that much aroma without even putting my nose in the glass!  On closer inspection there is a lot of sweet maltiness and some milk chocolate and well-creamed coffee once the whiskey blows off a bit.  Mild vanilla and cinnamon mixed with fresh Bing cherry as it warms.  Hints of marshmallow.  No hop.
Mike: Boozy, malty, roasty
Ann: Boozy.  Coffee.
Steven: Dark fruit--plums.


Appearance: (In which we find that Ann is much more poetic than the rest of us.)

Eric: Deep brown but not black.  Medium tan head with fine lacing that fades slowly and is easily roused.  Thick and leaves legs on edge of glass when swirled.  Almost opaque but has a hint of clarity at edge when held to a light.
Mike: Dark.  Cloudy--unfiltered?
Ann: I thought it would be darker.  Nice carbonation.  The swirls in the beer are hypnotic.
Steven: Dark brown.  Thin tan head.


Flavor: (In which we discover that this beer really opens up and gains complexity when warmed.)

Eric: Initially served fairly cold and the main flavor component right away was straight up rye whiskey booze.  As the tongue acclimates to that powerful flavor profile I start to get light umami notes that are pleasant and unusual.  Strong carmelized to almost burnt caramel flavors arrive late--like licking the crystallized top of a creme brulee.  There is a very slight tart finish, but not sour.  There is hop bitterness here, but not much flavor.  As it warms up it gets even more complex with vanilla and marshmallow drifting in on a boozy wave.  Definite alcohol warming going down.  Lighter colored dark fruit (plum, sweet cherry.)  There is some chocolate and coffee to the beer as well. Mouthfeel is fairly thick and coating, but the alcohol and roast give a dryer impression than expected.
Mike: Less boozy than aroma.  Mellow (well balanced.)  Vanilla and wood as it warms.
Ann: Tingles on my tongue.  Boozy.  As it warms--molasses and caramel.
Steven: Raisin.  Rye whiskey.  Mild molasses.  More oak character as it warms.


Overall: (In which we find that I am the easiest grader...)

Eric: Much more complex than expected, especially after warming up.  Alcohol and booziness are strong but this beer is easy to drink due to good balance.  Warming and pleasant--almost like sipping a whiskey but more interesting and less burning.  5
Mike: Better warmed than cold.  Delicious! 4.75
Ann: Thank you!  I enjoyed it.  Nice balance. Probably my favorite Darkness. 4.25
Steven: Very good.  Needs to be warmed to be enjoyed.  Very boozy but not a hot finish. 4.5


Overall Rating: 4.625

So having had all the vintages of Darkness within a short time, I would easily put this as my favorite.  Now this is almost comparing apples and oranges since this is barrel aged, but still...  I'd love to try the non-barrel aged version for this series.  It looks like 2015 barrel and regular Darkness is currently fermenting/aging away and the artwork for the new bottle is already out as well.  I'll update this series when I get my hands on those!  Also some will notice the my wife Sj did not have any pithy and concise comments this time--she was off at Beadfest in Philly and left me to my own devices.  Don't worry I have another bottle to share with her!  

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Whale A Week: Surly Darkness 2013

Surly Darkness 2013

This week we return to our continuing A Whale A Week series on Surly Brewing's Darkness.  This beer is Surly's take on the Russian Imperial Stout, and was first brewed in 2006, in a very small batch and released in growlers.  I never got to try that first year's release, but at the time it was pretty "ballsy" to put out an expensive-to-brew RIS for a very young upstart craft brewery.  They are called Surly after all.

The second year they released a limited run of bottles (under 500) that they released in the very first Darkness Day event at the brewery.  The event went well and the beer met with high praise.  The bottle for 2007 Darkness featured a Grim Reaper, and while I have held an unopened bottle in my hand, I have yet to taste that batch.  Anyone still have one of these gathering dust in a cellar?

For 2008 Surly increased production of Darkness to around 5000 bottles, a big increase from the previous year, but still a small run.  The bottle was wax dipped and the demon label was a sticker placed on the glass bottle.  The next year they began screen printing the bottles and scrapped the sticker.  Check out my previous A Whale A Week post on the 2008 vintage HERE.

For 2009 the label featured a mummy.  They sold the same number of bottles (5000) that day, but had another 2500 or so that they released to liquor stores a few days later.   My review of the 2009 vintage is HERE.

In 2010 they increased Darkness production to about 14000 bottles, also wax dipped and screen printed.  About 7500 were released at that year's October Darkness Day, and the rest to retailers later in the month.  That year the label featured a vampire and my review is HERE.

I couldn't dig up details on the batch size for 2011.  The label art for that vintage is a very creepy zombie done by local artist Michael Berglund.  My review of 2011 is HERE.

The 2012 vintage was as usual released in October to much fanfare and an increasingly crowded Darkness Day celebration.  They gave out 1500 wrist-bands to get 6 bottles of Darkness--making that year's brewery release about 9000 bottles.  The art for that bottle was an angry looking werewolf (is there any other kind?) done by Brent Schoonover.  You can check out his cool stuff including a lot of comic work HERE.

And then our next vintage is 2013!  This year they continued the 1500 wrist-bands for Darkness day, again selling up to 6 bottles per person for $20 apiece.  And continuing with my lameness, I didn't get out to Darkness Day again.  The bottle art this year was done by Josh "Jawsh" Lemke, (the artist behind the Surly Eight label) and features the demonic horned Brewcifer.  I actually haven't tried this vintage since it was released so was excited to taste it after a couple of years cellaring.  I was out of town when this one came out and I believe I sent my wonderful mom out all over town to find me a couple of bottles for my hoard...




Cast of Characters:
For this A Whale A Week tasting, we had a couple of friends over to help us out.  Calley Donath-Beardsley and Joshua Beardsley are friends we met at one of The Happy Gnome's beer dinners and they live not to far from us.  Joshua is a seasoned homebrewer and should be taking the BJCP test based on his job with this tasting.  Matt Finnesgard, also a homebrewer who now lives in within walking distance from The Gnome, was able to come out to visit as well.  And of course my fine wife Sarajo took part as always.

Aroma:
Eric: Sweetness and malt aromas right away.  Slight oxidation coming off as oak or tannin.  An alcohol zip on the nose.  Mild coffee and a subtle chocolate as swirled.  Slight minty hop.
Joshua: Mild oxidation, grapeseed and sherry.  Cabernet fruitiness and brewed coffee.
Calley: Cardamom.
Matt: Toffee, sherry, astringent, rubber-band

Appearance:
Eric: Deep and dark--nearly black.  Fine medium tan head that stays around for a while. Opaque even up to the lights.
Joshua: Slightly darker tan foam.
Calley: Head lighter than expected.

Flavor:
Eric: Sweetness up front but balanced by hopping.  Very malty.  Some cocoa (milk chocolate?) and light coffee flavors.  Black cherry as well.  Mouthfeel is fairly thick and coating, but not syrupy.  Some alcohol warming on the back of the throat.  Balanced to the sweet side, but has some bitter and roast to back it up.  Mild oxidation adds complexity without detracting.
Joshua: Chocolate covered Indonesian espresso bean.  Wet cardboard oxidation.  Berry juice tang.  Dark malt extract.  Mouthfeel syrupy but not too thick.
Calley: Molasses flavors.  Mouthfeel light for a stout.
Matt: Weird after-flavor (cardboard).  Dark fruit--hints of prunes.  A touch hot.  Sherry/Port flavor.  Hints of flowery hops.

Overall:
Eric: The balance on this version is probably the best of the bunch, making this my favorite Darkness of this series of tastings so far. More roastiness makes this a legitimate stout, but still not a very roasty beer compared to some (Old Rasputin).  4.5
Joshua: 4.5
Calley: Aged better than the 2012.  3.875
Matt: More complex than 2012.  Good balance of sweet, roast, and bitterness. 4
Sarajo: "I like it."  4.5

Overall Rating: 4.275  (Thanks Calley for making us have a crazy overall score!)

This one was great!  Just one more in the series to go: the 2014 Barrel Aged Darkness!  Stay tuned for next week and feel free to drink along and add your own comments to this blog.

My friends Rob and Ron from Limited Release camped out for the Darkness Day 2013 release and documented the whole experience for your viewing pleasure!  Check it out below if you dare!



Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Whale A Week: Surly Darkness 2012


Surly Darkness 2012

This week we return to our continuing A Whale A Week series on Surly Brewing's Darkness.  This beer is Surly's take on the Russian Imperial Stout, and was first brewed in 2006, in a very small batch and released in growlers.  I never got to try that first year's release, but at the time it was pretty "ballsy" to put out an expensive-to-brew RIS for a very young upstart craft brewery.  They are called Surly after all.

The second year they released a limited run of bottles (under 500) that they released in the very first Darkness Day event at the brewery.  The event went well and the beer met with high praise.  The bottle for 2007 Darkness featured a Grim Reaper, and while I have held an unopened bottle in my hand, I have yet to taste that batch.  Anyone still have one of these gathering dust in a cellar?

For 2008 Surly increased production of Darkness to around 5000 bottles, a big increase from the previous year, but still a small run.  The bottle was wax dipped and the demon label was a sticker placed on the glass bottle.  The next year they began screen printing the bottles and scrapped the sticker.  Check out my previous A Whale A Week post on the 2008 vintage HERE.

For 2009 the label featured a mummy.  They sold the same number of bottles (5000) that day, but had another 2500 or so that they released to liquor stores a few days later.   My review of the 2009 vintage is HERE.

In 2010 they increased Darkness production to about 14000 bottles, also wax dipped and screen printed.  About 7500 were released at that year's October Darkness Day, and the rest to retailers later in the month.  That year the label featured a vampire and my review is HERE.

I couldn't dig up details on the batch size for 2011.  The label art for that vintage is a very creepy zombie done by local artist Michael Berglund.  My review of 2011 is HERE.

And here we are at 2012!  The 2012 vintage was as usual released in October to much fanfare and an increasingly crowded Darkness Day celebration.  They gave out 1500 wrist-bands to get 6 bottles of Darkness--making that year's brewery release about 9000 bottles.  The art for that bottle was an angry looking werewolf (is there any other kind?) done by Brent Schoonover.  You can check out his cool stuff including a lot of comic work HERE.





Cast of Characters:
For this A Whale A Week tasting, we had a couple of friends over to help us out.  Calley Donath-Beardsley and Joshua Beardsley are friends we met at one of The Happy Gnome's beer dinners and they live not to far from us.  Joshua is a seasoned homebrewer who brought along an aged bottle of his own Imperial Stout to share, nervous to put this up against one of the most famous beers in the state.  Matt Finnesgard, also a homebrewer who now lives in within walking distance from The Gnome, was able to come out to visit as well.  And of course my fine wife Sarajo took part as always.

Aroma: 
Eric: Sweet malt and soysauce up front.  Slightly sharp tang to it.  No hop aromas.  Some dark fruit--predominantly prune as it warms up.  I can tell there is some alcohol in this.
Joshua: Not picking up much trademark Imperial stout coffee, chocolate, etc.  Significant aged hop character, Formosa black tea, burnt caramel.  Faint vinous currant scent.
Matt: Roasty.  Hints of smoke.  Dried berries.
Calley: Tannic.

Appearance:
Eric: Very dark brown to nearly black in the bar light.  Nearly opaque appearance.  Medium tan head--lighter in color than expected.  Head is quite persistent with small to medium sized bubbles.
Joshua: Motor oil after a 500 mile rally.  Surprisingly light head, darkening to tan where thick.
Matt: Dark and oily.  Head is lightly colored--more cream than brown.
Calley: Lace is thin.  Head a bit lighter.

Flavor:
Eric: Very sweet and cloying up front.  I get flavors that remind be of blackberries (sweet, slightly tannic, a bit of tartness.)  Some oxidation leads to a mild papery flavor midway through the taste. Some alcohol warming but not hot.  Balance is to the overly sweet side with not enough hop or roast bitterness to balance the beer.  A bit of harshness on finish but not quite to the point of calling it astringent--almost a lingering tartness.  Not very much roasted grain/coffee/chocolate for the style.  Body is medium but with a mouth-coating effect nevertheless.
Joshua: Malt bomb--tastes like straight malt extract syrup.  Less complexity than I expected from Darkness.  Slightly tart.  Strong dark crystal malt or caramel.  Low hop bitterness.  Low roast bitterness.  Mild alcohol burn.  Mouthfeel with oatmeal smoothness, thick with low attentuation.
Matt: Very sweet forward--nearly honey-like.  Sweetness tastes a bit like refined sugar, almost like drinking simple syrup.
Calley: Very sweet in the beginning.  Underattenuated?  Back sweetened?  Mouthfeel is watery and syrupy at the same time.  How is that possible?


Overall:
Eric: This seems more like an aged Belgian Dark Strong/quad to me than an Imperial stout.  Just very little of the roast and dark grain that I like in any stout.  This is so overly sweet that it just coats your tongue and won't stop until you drink some water.  I remember (and Untappd tells me) that I rated this higher when fresh 4.5.  This tasting I initially rated this a 4, but after it warmed and seemed even sweeter I cut it down to 3.75.
Joshua: Needs complexity and balance.  4
Matt: Sweet and lacks complexity.  My mom could drunk off of this.  Cloyingly sweet. 3.5
Calley: Seems unfinished.  Would have expected more backbone after this much aging. 3.75
Sarajo: I taste something weird...cinnamon?  Hits me like a kinda flat Coke. 3.75

Overall Score: 3.75

This was an interesting tasting.  We came out expecting this to be amazing and complex but were all startled by how overly sweet the beer was.  Pretty much all of us were on the same page all across the board here.  I think the beer could have used more hop bitterness and more roast/dark malts to add complexity and cut that sweetness.  Not our favorite vintage so far in the series.  The crazy part was that Joshua's homebrewed RIS had all the character that we were missing in this one, and our entire panel rated his higher.  This being the first of his homebrew's I've tried, I was heartily impressed!  


This particular year my friends Rob and Ron from Limited Release were able to take their cameras to Darkness Day and document the crazy action there.  Click the video below for a 20 minute romp into debauchery, lack of sleep, and hypothermia.



Thursday, August 6, 2015

By The Ravens Of Odin! A Hammerheart Brewing Review


So my readers may not know this about me (yes you do) but I'm a big geek.  I grew up reading Tolkien before the movies made it more accessible.  I played D&D.  I read every last tattered science fiction, fantasy, or horror book I could pick up at Goodwill or garage sales.  I read books on mythologies from various cultures--for fun, not because school made me do it.  Eventually, in college, I ended up with a degree in Anthropology (the study of mankind ranging from prehistory to culture to biology).  Look, teaching myself about cultures and history (and a good helping of Indiana Jones) led me to that!  Do I have a point?  Yes, I'm getting to it!

A particular favorite in my study of history and mythology was that of my own Norse heritage.  Norse and Celtic mythology is rife with battles, swords, wolves, dragons, magical hammers, tricksters, and betrayals.  All the stuff that makes for a good rousing story.  The idea that my ancient forebears sailed longboats on the open seas, pillaging, berserking, and downing horns of mead certainly appeals to the 15 year old boy that still lives in my head.  I even named my tuxedo cats Loki and Freya to celebrate their ancient Norwegian roots.

When I finally got a chance to visit the HammerHeart Brewing Company's taproom in Lino Lakes, I was struck by what a good job they did to set themselves completely apart from any other taproom I've been to.  Ever.  From the outside the taproom and brewery doesn't look like much, though there is a small carved stag's head over the door lintel to warn of what is to come inside.




As I entered the taproom proper, I was struck by the rustic Nordic glory of an ancient meadhall.  A grouping of age darkened oak casks were situated on-end with a cluster of stools to provide seating. The walls were all lined with rough wood paneling.  Pillars hosting metallic stag's heads and wire-and-bell-jar lamps supported the low roof.  Antler chandeliers dangling from above put out a low overhead light.

As the door creaked open, the bright afternoon light flowed slowly across the expanse of a thick wood bar across from the entrance.  A couple of likely viking patrons, (one with a thick beard and the other sporting a long pony tail), at the bar quietly continued their conversation over tankards of ale without looking toward us.  The door shut behind, returning the room to a dim gloom lit by the small lamps and rays of sun from the arched windows by the doorway.  A group of drunken barbarians off to the left of the bar sat and sprawled about upon a picnic table, banging their fists on the scarred wood to a chorus of slurred shouts.  The high-pitched shriek of guitars and the inhuman wail of a tortured voice sang out nearly incomprehensible lyrics of doom and destruction from hidden speakers.  Viking longswords, axes, and the horns of cattle adorned the walls behind the bar, glistening with danger in the indirect light.  I could feel the atavistic Norse blood rise in my veins, beginning to pound to the pulse of the music, singing some lost ancient song of rampage.  This was...unexpected.




A row of tap handles of carved wood and antler bristled from the top of the bar, promising rustic ales for the thirsty and adventurous drinker. The lone barmaid, skin decorated with twisting patterns of ink, solemnly gathered up several small chalices of beer for me to sample, serving them on thick hand-carved wooden trays, stylized dragons cavorting upon their surfaces.  The aroma of roast, smoke, and the citrus tang of hops wafted from the tray as I settled it on top of a barrel.  Rays of light glinted upon the glasses, a multitude of colors reflected back from the array of samples.  Continued sounds of drunken revelry from the rear burst in waves over the Banshee howl of the music, tables still vibrating with the slapping of ham-like fists.




Despite the chaos, I dug into the plethora of ales, ready to taste the history and future gathered withing those dark and sometimes murky depths.  Many of these liquors had been brewed with smoked malts or were aged in oak barrels, which made this one of the most unique beer samplers I've ever tried.  Many of the beers sported odd names reminiscent to ancient mythology.  My favorite of the bunch was the Barrel Aged Hokan's Brown Ale: a good base English brown with a hint of whiskey and leather.   Gorm The Old was a smoked strong old ale that stayed with you long after the sip was done.  Dublin Raid was a well crafted Irish Red with a strong but pleasant peat smoked flavor and aroma redolent of a true turf fire in a small countryside pub. While some quaint names are fun and easy, others are unpronounceable and mysterious like Brekkefossensvann.  I can only imagine trying to order a few of these at a busy and loud Minneapolis bar: "I'll have the Von Winterhherz Verhasst please!" Bartender gazes at you blankly.  "Um, I'll have the HammerHeart beer?"  Bartender shakes head and sullenly pours pint for you.  The only beer of this day's sampler that I didn't really get along with was the Fautzrauch--a smoked pale ale that was just not balanced.




Most of the beers were good and drinkable, some outstanding.  I'll admit that I really like unusual styles and am drawn to smoke and barrel aged styles.  Many will find these beers difficult or challenging, but I respect what HammerHeart is doing.  With their axes and swords they have hewn a small niche for themselves among the proliferation of Minnesota craft breweries.  Located in Lino Lakes, I wonder how much foot traffic from locals this lodge gets.   I wanted to grab a growler of Gorm but they were unable to sell on Sundays as of this writing.  Hopefully they'll be able to do so in the future since I imagine plenty of folks drive through this town on their way back from "Up North".

We don't see much (or any) HammerHeart beer on tap out in the Western suburbs of Minneapolis, but I have seen it around more in the Twin Cities this past summer.  Just this weekend I tried the fantastically complex and boozy Barrel Aged Thor's Smoked Hot Pepper Imperial Porter at Republic 7 Corners.  By all rights that beer should have been a train wreck--but I made my wife go there a second time the next day for another serving.  Somewhere, across the ages, Odin winked his one eye at me and toasted with his auroch's horn.

While I felt an immediate kinship to this place, its style, and its beers, I could tell my wife was less excited than I.  The sounds of Metal music and the drunken louts certainly didn't help with that!  This may be the most unusual brewery I've visited and makes it stand out as singular in an ever growing crowd of breweries.  Well worth a visit for sure, but you have been warned--Metal music and smoked beers are not for everyone.