Friday, August 29, 2014

Brews Travelers 365 Enki Stop

Just a quick post today to mention a cool couple of guys that I met the other day.  High school friends Brandon Wurtz and Michael Roberts have a mission: to travel the country for every day of 2014 visiting regional and local breweries wherever they pass through.  Their project is called Brews Travelers 365 and their official website is HERE

At this point the guys are just past the half-way point on their epic journey across the country.  They began in Texas (where they live) and have been all over the USA since leaving.  While visiting the Twin Cities they had already stopped at Town Hall, Bauhaus Brewlabs, and had more on the list.  I ran into them at Enki Brewing in Victoria.  My friends and fellow Jack of All Brews members Jesse and Kent were already firmly ensconced at the bar when Sj, Anna, and myself arrived.  Brewery co-owner Dan, tasting room manager Dave, and brewmaster Jason Davis were also there.  Brandon and Michael were sharing some bottles of beer that they had accumulated on their travels with everyone and we got to join in the fun! 

Sipping on some Enki Tail Feather IPA, I had a great time hanging out with the Brews Travelers and all my friends at the tasting room.  Lets be honest, I always like hanging out at Enki, and nearly always have a friend or two show up when I stop by. 

I really enjoyed meeting these two bearded gypsies and hope that they are able to finish their journey.  I envy their ability to quit work and take this type of challenge on themselves!  Having met the guys and seen their blog, I'll be continuing to watch their progress across our great country and perhaps take some cues from them for future brewery visits on my own travels.  Though their blog posts have fallen behind, they keep up to date with Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Untappd.  Check them out!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

30 Words: Blend

The world is an epic forest
Of steel, brick, and concrete trees.
And people.
Lots of people.
The trick to happiness and survival is blending in,
Without losing your individuality.
This week's 30 Word Thursday picture was taken near my family cottage on Ottertail Lake.  My cousin Kathleen and I wandered the grounds of Lake Country Gardens Nursery with our cameras to take pictures of the various flora and fauna.  I discovered this little guy calmly nestled in a decorative plant, as if his vibrant green skin totally blended with the deep maroon of the leaves.  Check out the other 30 Word Thursday contributors on Erin's Treasures Found Blog!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp 12 Pack Post 1 of 2

I recently stopped in at The Liquor Barrel in St. Louis Park, just to see what they had.  With the Four Firkins so close, I had decided not to buy anything until the person running the check out noted my beer shirt and told me that they had the brand new Beer Camp sampler in the back.  I had no idea what this was, so I checked it out...and promptly bought it! 

The idea behind the collection of beers is for Sierra Nevada (one of the oldest and biggest craft breweries in the US for those who live under rocks) to partner up with different professional brewers and make a series of one-off collaboration beers.  The idea has been around a long time and one can find these fun collaborations all over the place, but I've never seen a large set like this!  This idea is also very cool for being able to try something from some of the breweries or brewers that are not normally distributed in your region.  Sierra Nevada has a brewery in California and one in North Carolina, and each brewery collaborated for 6 different beers for this collection.  Half are cans and half are bottles, continuing to make this one of the weirdest 12 packs I've ever seen.  The 12 pack release was also tied into the Beer Camp Across America tour, but they didn't really come through Minnesota.  I did see a couple of these beers on tap around town though.

I worked my way through the collection in no particular order, just going by what I was in the mood for at the time.  I had hoped to get this review out earlier, but I've been busy at Fringe Festival and a trip to Duluth, so I got behind!  Some of these reviews will be in more depth than others...who cares about consistency!

1) Myron's Walk by SN and Allagash:  This Belgian pale ale is fermented with Allagash brewery's Belgian ale yeast.  Stats are 5.3% ABV and 38 IBU making this a sessionable hoppy beer.  Since we don't get Allagash in Minnesota, the first exposure to the brewery I had was this summer in Belgium of all places at the Night of Great Thirst sour beer festival.  They were the only non-Belgian brewery invited to the festival and their Coolship lambic style beers were out of this world!

Aroma: Strong citrus and a hint of pine tree or juniper (see picture above) in the aroma.  A very sweet orange aroma as swirled accented by a bit of malt or caramel.  Spicy phenol of clove and mild sulfur at first that fades with time. 

Appearance: Deep gold in color with a bright white foamy head.  A slight haze and suspended yeast particles.

Flavor: Mellow flavor with dominant orange character.  Hoppy and slightly bitter but well balanced and smooth drinking.  Maltiness is noted at first, but fades to off-bitter finish that is fairly dry, finishes with an orange peel mild astringency.  As this beer warms I get more lemony coriander notes near the back end and the orange fades.  Light pine as well.  Phenols are hidden within the hop flavors, but subtly present.

Overall: I'm not a fan of American hops and Belgian beers as a general rule.  That being said, this is the best one I've ever had.  It manages to blend the character of both styles with a perfect balance.  Well done! 4.5/5

2) Electric Ray by SN and Ballast Point.  Since Ballast Point entered the Minnesota market they have promptly jumped to holding one of the top places in my heavy rotation for hoppy beers.  These guys know hops!  This particular beer is in the emerging India Pale Lager category, which I'm still not entirely sure about.  Clocking in at 8.5% ABV and 70 IBU this is really an Imperial beer.

Aroma: Strong citrus and grapefruit.  A hint of sulfur from lager yeast as swirled.  Sweet malt with a pilsner character. 

Appearance: Golden to almost orange in color.  Excellent clarity despite the hops.  A smaller white head that fades slowly.

Flavor: Strong hop flavor throughout the entire taste!  The front end is very much orange zest with more of a tart grapefruit finish.  Some malt sweetness hitting in the middle, but this is not a sweet beer at all.  Very well attenuated and dry on the finish, leading to a medium to almost light body.  Finish is a tad astringent with a hint of sulfur. 

Overall: A sparkling and bright tasting hoppy beer.  The lager character contributes to the clean crispness, but the yeast throws me off a bit.  I like this a lot but I'd rather drink a Ballast Point Palate Wrecker!  4/5.

3) Yonder Bock by SN and Cigar City.  Cigar City is rapidly gaining popularity as the best brewery in Florida, making tons of unique beers like the sought after Hunahpu RIS.  Their Jai Alai is one of the best new hoppy beers I had last year.  This beer takes their flair for tropical flavors and adds them to a maibock style beer.  While the beer does not actually contain any tropical fruit, they have used a bunch of experimental hops to accentuate that type of character.  7.7% ABV and 45 IBU.

Aroma: Ripe mango, guava and passion fruit in the nose.  Sweet maltiness with a hint of sulfur.  Very hoppy for a maibock.

Appearance: Orange in color.  Huge off-white head that doesn't quit.  Excellent clarity.

Flavor: Sweet malt up front and really persists through the whole taste.   Lots of bursting tropical fruit flavors like mango, citrus, and guava.  Very smooth drinking.  Crisp lager finish but sweeter than many maibocks--the fruity hop accentuated that a bit. 

Overall: A really nice beer.  Not entirely to style for a maibock, but a neat take on it.  Doesn't taste like 45 IBU!  4/5.

4) Torpedo Pils by SN and Firestone Walker.  Firestone Walker is one of my favorite breweries.  I have yet to taste a bad beer by them (in fact I just cracked a 2012 Parabola that was heavenly) and I really wish they had distribution here in Minnesota!  This beer is a pilsner and clocks in at 5.2% ABV.  It has 45 IBU's of New Zealand varietal hops which puts it way hoppier than most pilsners.  Apparently they used the SN Torpedo to infuse the hop aroma.

Aroma: Fairly strong sulfur character to this one.  I do pick up some tropical fruit (pineapple) and some white grape as the sulfur is swirled off.  A slightly sweet and grainy pilsner malt character is picked up amongst all this mélange of aroma.

Appearance: Very light gold in color.  A fine white head that persists, but is not huge.  Excellent clarity.

Flavor: Definite malty pilsner notes.  The sulfur is strong in the flavor, overwhelming my palate.  I do get some Sauvignon Blanc wine notes as it warms.  Much more bitter than most pilsners should be.  Finish is astringent and bitter, cutting the malty body that I expect from this style.  End is dusty and stays on the tongue. 

Overall: Interesting.  That is Minnesotan for I didn't like it, but am too nice to say so outright.  The sulfur and bitterness is just too much for me.  Not well balanced for a pilsner and not crisp enough.  The worst of the Beer Camp box so far.  2.5/5.

5) Chico King by SN and 3 Floyds. This is a pale ale from the makers of Alpha King and Zombie Dust: two of the best Pale Ales around.  Between that history and Sierra Nevada pretty much inventing the American Pale Ale style commercially, I had high hopes for this beer! This is 6.5% ABV and 45 IBU.

Aroma: Crazy citrus aroma with some tropical fruit.  Mainly pineapple.  Some honey and caramel sweetness to the aroma.  No esters. 

Appearance: Deep gold to nearly orange color.  Fairly good clarity, but a subtle haze present.  Giant off-white head that does not fade.  I did serve this in a glass with a nucleation site at the bottom that accentuates the head.

Flavor: Balanced sweet malt with strong but restrained hopping.  Bright and lively hop flavors dance on the tongue, going from marmalade to pineapple to mango.  The finish is fairly dry but not astringent.  Mouthfeel is medium. 

Overall: This is a wonderful pale ale, bordering on IPA by stats and flavor but having more of the sweetness and body I associate with pale ale.  Perfect balance for my palate.  This is one of the best pale ales I've had in the past year outside of Toppling Goliath's Pseudo Sue and my friend Keith's homebrewed version.  4.5/5.

6) Canfusion Rye Bock by SN and Oscar Blues.  Oscar Blues is famous for being one of (maybe THE) first craft brewery to put beer in cans.  I've been to the original brewpub in Lyons, Colorado and had a great meal and beer sampler there.  These guys have expanded, and like Sierra Nevada, have a second facility in North Carolina.  The beer is 7.2% ABV with 45 IBU.  They also mention the high alpha Australia Ella hop varietal that I have not had in anything before this.

Aroma: Malty lager character with a hints of toasted bread.  Slightly floral with a bit of tropical fruit.  Spicy zip as swirled.  Barest hint of sulfur.  Interesting mix of hops and malt.

Appearance: Light copper in color.  Perfect clarity--served in a collectors item Roets Jordan Brewery glass!  Fine white head with tight and tiny bubbles.

Flavor: Sugary sweet maltiness initially.  This sweetness fades to a tangy and spicy note that is likely the rye malt.  There is hop flavor in this for sure: citrus, notes of bubble gum at tail end.  Balanced right in the middle between hop and malt. 

Overall: Very hoppy for a bock which cuts some of the desired malt character I look for.  Even for a Maibock this one pushes it too far.  I think I would like the balance better if this was an ale and not a lager.  Finish is fairly astringent.  Interesting but not amazing.  The rye really is highlighted though.  3.5/5.

Finishing Up:  So overall the first half of the box is quite good.  Pretty much every one of these beers is quite hoppy (for base style) but most pull it off well.  I've saved a few of the funkier beers for the second post and I'll get working on those soon!  If you can still find one of these boxes--get it!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

30 Words: Angels

Not an overly religious person,
I found this tiny angel peaking from the foliage.
At this time I
For someone to help watch over those I love.
This week's 30 Word Thursday photo was taken in a park up in Duluth this summer.  The colors and sunlight were perfect.  The base picture was cool enough on its own, but I tweaked it using some special effects from Photoshop to make it a bit more surreal.  Check out the other folks doing 30 Word Thursday at Erin's Treasures Found Blog!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Minnesota State Fair Homebrew Judging

Just a quick one for today, but I wanted to cover the judging session I took part in this past weekend.  The Minnesota State Fair (The Great Minnesota Get Together don't ya know...) is kind of a big deal.  Thousands of hearty, stoic Minnesotans gather together on the grounds that spread city blocks wide, crowding in amongst the masses of humanity for a collection of foods served on sticks and a chance to watch the press of people milling around.  I don't quite get it, but people do love their Fair!  My mom will go there every day just for the people watching.  So with the Big Deal-ness of the Fair, the Homebrew competition associated with it is also a big deal.  For the past few years The Primary Fermenters homebrew club out of St. Paul has taken over the running of the competition, a big challenge for a smaller club.  Not to hurt anyone's feelings from the old guard who ran this, but I think the Fermenters have upped the game significantly in terms of organization, prizes, raffles for judges, etc.  This little post is my love letter to them!

I totally missed the deadline for getting my beers in this year, and lets be honest, I didn't have much homebrew that I thought would win me any ribbons.  They started judging in the weeks previous to get some of the smaller categories done, saving the big ones for last Friday and Saturday.  I was unable to judge Friday since it takes me more than an hour to drive to St. Paul in hour traffic from my home. 

I woke up way too early on Saturday morning, after a night of sharing some amazing beers with Derek and Carolyn Allmendinger.  Driving on the hazy fog shrouded rural highways, I was shocked to see something massive and winged lofted itself from the roadside right in front of my car.  Let me tell you that the wingspan on a wild turkey is most impressive when it is six feet from your windshield!  Narrowly missing a collision with this prehistoric beast, my heart took a while to settle down into normal lub-dub patterns once more. 

For those who have beer to the State Fair, one pictures the place as surging tide of human bodies, clustered in amongst the buildings and soaring rides.  Laughter, cries, carnival cacophony.  Heat and tangible sound waves, chaos and convulsions.  But driving in this early, before the Fair has officially opened, it was mysterious and somewhat ghostly.  I got my parking permit from some friendly police at the entrance.  I rode down empty and silent streets past shuttered food booths, closed buildings, and an occasional parked trailer.  Very strange.

I parked my car and found my way to the Horticulture Building where the judging was to take place.  There I once again discovered why I got into the BJCP beer judging in the first place.  I've been gone a lot this summer (fun things!) but have neglected to take part in several of the typical beer events that I usually do.  It was like coming home to see homebrewers and friends from all over the Twin Cities that I haven't seen in a while.  As usual at these events, I also met several new people who were fun to judge with. 

Registration and sign-in was organized very well and took almost no time at all.  I was set to judge stouts right away at 9 AM, not a bad breakfast beer style!  My judging partner and I did have a few unintentionally sour beers in our flight, but a couple were not too bad.  Luckily I was able to judge the mini-best-of-show round and got to sample all the highest ranked beers from the other stout judging groups.  We had a hard time deciding on the best, as a lot of them were excellent! 

After the first round had finished we had a sack lunch of sandwiches on bagels that was above normal competition fare in quality.  Some raffle numbers were read off with folks winning several cool prizes including 55# sacks of grain!  Later in the event I won an Oscar Blues sign for my collection, making this a doubly happy day.

After socializing (as much as I ever do) over lunch I made my way to another table to judge the much maligned Smoke and Wood Aged category of beers.  I actually like judging this category, but many folks specifically ask not to judge it.  I experiment a fair amount with different types of wood and spirits in my homebrewing so the chance to try well (and not so well) done versions of this is a treat to me.  Since I do a lot of these, I almost always have a beer in this category and don't get to judge it!  So missing the deadline on this competition actually worked out OK for me.  I got to try several good examples of smoked beers as well as some strong wood aged beers that I can't tell too much about since the official results haven't been announced yet... No spoilers here!

Mini-BOS for Smoked and Wood Aged: some tasty beers in there!

I really enjoyed this particular competition despite not having a horse in the race.  The Primary Fermenters (specifically Amanda and Tony Kutzke) ran a tight ship and everything was very enjoyable and smooth.  Thanks also to all the judges from various clubs who volunteered their time!

Good luck to all those who put beers in! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Schram Vineyard & Brewery Update

Not long ago I posted a teaser about the upcoming brewing capabilities of the new Schram Vineyard & Brewery in Waconia HERE.  Aaron Schram and his brew team headed by Nick Smith and Phil Peterson have now been brewing up a storm on their tiny1.5 barrel system and are currently serving beers on site!  I finally had a chance to get out to see the progress they have made on construction (slowed down quite a bit by torrential rains this spring) and try out the beers.

Located down Airport Road, after it turns from pavement to washboard dirt, the Vineyard is easy to find and parking is plentiful.  My wife and I wandered into the open air tasting area to a scene of bustling chaos!  A large local party was finishing up an event when we arrive:  a couple had apparently just finished renewing their vows and everyone was dressed in hip 1970's fashion to commemorate the original union.  Awesome long tan leather jackets, wide lapels, polyester suits, long hippy gowns--all assaulted the eyes as we entered!  Another large group of younger folks were happily smoking cigars and drinking wine down the hill near the bocce courts.  Several other smaller groups were up in the shade of the tasting area, trying wines and beers to their delight. 

Aaron and Ashley Schram were sweating and serving, helped out by Stacy and two other servers, but still struggling to keep up with the busy crowd.  Apparently there had already been a couple of Bachelorette parties that day and things were just staying crazy all day since.  I suspect that is a good place to be for a relatively new winery!  Despite their hustle and bustle, both of them took some time out to let us try their beers and discuss plans for the future. 

Aaron told me that they are still dialing in their brewery and tap system a bit, but are zeroing in on things.  In fact they are already having a difficult time keeping up with demand!  Aaron hopes to expand to a larger brew system when possible, but keep the small system for R&D.

I went into my beer tasting with an open mind, and was pleasantly surprised.  We started with the Blonde Ale (pictured above in wine glasses) and this was a refreshing and easy to drink blonde.  I caught a hint of buttery note in it, but not unpleasant.  Certainly this was a better example of the style than several of the other local higher gravity over-hopped versions I've had. 

We moved on to sample a Saison that could have used a bit more time in primary, and a pretty good and cloudy Hefe.  Aaron said that this version of the Hefe was not as good as the last, but I think they are doing pretty good on that front.  The porter was very good, but the carbonation was a little low that day. 

The favorite for both Sj and myself was the coffee infused brown ale made in collaboration with Jon Schmidt from Waconia's own Mocha Monkey coffee house.  This was a light bodied brown ale with a hint of sweetness and a strong but not overpowering aroma and flavor of coffee.  I'm used to drinking coffee stouts and porters, but the balance on this lighter ale was very good.  I would certainly go back just for a full pint of this beer! 

I think these guys still have a bit to learn about their brew system and serving set-up but they are already putting out better beer than some other Minnesota breweries that I won't mention here. 

While we sampled the beers, Sj and I wandered the grounds and took in the humid and slightly overcast late afternoon.  Watching the '70's crew frolicking around amongst the grape vines on the hill was a sight to see!  Bocce courts lay just below the hill that hosts the current tap room, empty of action when we were there, but crying out for future fun.  Landscaped terraces on the hill contain rose bushes, hops plants, and other decorative greenery along with accessory serving stations and seating.

Dusk falls upon the vineyard...


An arty view of the pavilion roof...

Right now all the serving is from the open air pavilion, but that will change when the main building is finished.  Aaron gave a quick tour of the future indoor tasting room and wine cellar, built Hobbit-like into the side of the hill.  This was just a mud spattered hole in the ground when I was here last, but is now a fully formed high ceiling structure that will host a large exterior balcony overlooking the beautiful vineyard.  Inside was all taped and mudded, but much work is yet to be done.  They hope to have this open by the end of the season, then spend some to the slower winter months renovating and expanding the tasting room.  I have high hopes based on the current look of the place! 

We had a great time hanging out at the vineyard and checking everything out.  This is a laid back type of winery (and brewery) that I'm very happy is within a bike ride of my home.  I had actually meant to sample some of the wines and meads and comment on them, but by the time we finished our tour and beer samples they were already closing down for the day.  That is fine, since now I have a good excuse to visit soon again before they close down for the season.  I'm impressed with the progress that the Schrams have made since my visit there under two months ago!  They have more to do, but even now have a great destination that is worth a visit.  I look forward to checking back in to see how they continue to experiment with brews as well.  Aaron and his brew crew have really embraced Jack Of All Brews Homebrew Club by allowing one of our award winning homebrews to be scaled up on their professional system.  I can't wait to try that with other members of the club!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

30 Words: Dive


Into the deep dark waters
I plunge
An endless dive with no finish
Around me, limitless ranks of others
In free fall

Learn to dive with grace

 This week's 30 Word Thursday picture was taken at Rosa Mexicano Restaurant in Minneapolis.  We tried this place out for dinner last week and had a great meal with excellent service.  I really liked the fancy and expensive water features in the place and had to take some pictures! I'm sure the staff there thought I was strange, but hey...

Check out (or do one yourself!) at Erin's Treasures Found Blog.