Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Whale A Week: Surly Three

Recently for A Whale A Week I've been going through the Surly Darkness vintages in order to make a dent in my stash, as well as to try them all in close proximity to decide which one is currently the "best".  Earlier this year I did a series on the Surly Anniversary beers starting with Surly Four.  I know, I know, I'm a Surly Fanboy...but hey they're my local brewery putting our sought-after beers that I can actually find!  As of this weekend at All Pints North in Duluth I was lucky enough to get a glass of Surly Three to test out and figured I'd jump back in time in order to work on completing my rare Surly beer series.

A quick recap of what came before:  The Surly Anniversary beers have been quite a mixed bag over the years, but I appreciate the brewers stretching their brewing chops to try new things.  One was a Quad/Doppelbock concoction that I never got to try.  I assume it was good.  Two was a cranberry milk stout that I first tried at a charity benefit--very tasty and tart.  That one made it to a small bottling run, but I've never actually seen one in person.  Three is below!  Four was the first of these that I loved from the get-go and is reviewed HERE.  Five was their first sour and is reviewed HERE.  Syx was a 15% multi-wood aged monster, and is HERE Seviin was a Belgian strong ale finished off with brett and was reviewed HERE.  Eight was a strong oat wine aged in High West Rye Whiskey barrels and is reviewed HERE.  I did get to try a preview sample of Nein at All Pints North this year, but will wait to do my official review until I have a full bottle to try!

Surly Three

Surly Three was a braggot--an unusual hybrid style that combines the malted grain of a beer with the honey of a mead.  The style is a very loose one, but the overarching definition requires a balance of the honey and grain characters.  This would rule out many of those summer honey wheat beers that use only a tiny percentage of honey in the recipe.  Commercial braggots are rare these days, though the style has been around since probably the 1300's.  This particular beer has an estimated ABV of around 10% and has very little hopping to it.  The beer was brewed with 50% honey and 50% dark German Munich malt and fermented with a Belgian yeast strain.  They also aged it on toasted white ash--something I've never heard of doing before.

I first tried Three when it was released in early 2009 (Winterfest I believe) and was shocked by how cloyingly sweet and boozy it was.  Frankly I was unimpressed.  The beer was never bottled and quickly faded into obscurity.  Every once in a while it will pop up at special Surly tappings and goes quickly due to it's rarity.  The beer currently has a rating of 88 on BeerAdvocate and 96 at RateBeer but there aren't many ratings from the past year or so.

This past weekend in Duluth there was a special tapping of some rare beers in the basement bar (Rathskeller) of Tycoon's Ale House.  Some cool guys from Indeed that I ran into at Endion Station earlier clued me into this semi-secret event--thanks so much!  Tappings included special beers from Indeed, Steel Toe, Fitgers, Bent Paddle, and of course Surly.  We met up with several friends there and shared around an embarrassment of riches from the local beer scene.  One of these was Surly Three.  My favorite was the Bent Paddle Mocha Double Black.  I'd love to get back to the Rathskeller at some other time since the dark basement bar with exposed brick arches has a huge amount of character.  They also supposedly have at least one of the best mixologists in the state on staff!

I'm not going to lie here: this was not the most controlled or accurate tasting I've done for this series of reviews.  It was dark, loud, and amazing beers were circulating around while I tried to jot down my thoughts.  But I still couldn't pass up the opportunity to fill in this gap in my Surly anniversary beer reviews!


Sweet honey right up front.  Molasses and caramel notes after that first hit of SWEET.  No hop aroma at all.  Light roasted or toasted notes as it warms.  Plenty of dark fruit like raisin or prune.  This makes me nervous to taste how sweet this might be...


It was dark in there.  Very dark.  So bear with me.  This was a dark beer, but not opaque, with a deep brown to dark amber color (near as I could tell).  Carbonation was quite low and whatever head was present on initial pour was gone promptly.


The flavors in this were complex and layered, changing with each taste.  The predominant character was a nearly overwhelming sweetness, but the type of sweet flavor seemed to change during the tasting. At one point I would get strong marshmallow, at others caramel and vanilla.  Molasses or dark buckwheat honey sweetness was a strong flavor profile in this beer.  Fig, raisin, and prune all twist briefly across the tongue.  There was moderate oxidation in the beer, resulting in a young sherry or barrel aged note that was not present when this was fresh.  Mouthfeel was coating and somewhat thick.  Bitterness was minimal, but enough to keep this from being cloyingly sweet.  No hop flavors.  Carbonation was low, accentuating the sweetness and thick mouthfeel.


This beer is a completely different beast from its humble initial presentation.  Age has increased the complexity and impact greatly.  Where some of the anniversary beers have not aged as well (Seviin) some seem to really come into their own with time (Syx) and this one certainly fits that latter category.  Color me impressed!  I think a bit more bittering hop or more carbonation would make this beer more balanced, but Three is still a very cool beer to get a crack at.

Overall Score:  I give this one a 4.25 out of 5.

So the upshot here is: if you can get a taste of this, jump in line to do so.  Finishing off a half pint of it got a little tough as that sweetness started to get out of hand, so stick to sharing or small pours.  Now I just need to find a Surly Two!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Danger Is Still My Middle Name: The New Castle Danger Review!

Last year about this time I discovered that Castle Danger Brewery was set to open a new taproom in Two Harbors, Minnesota.  I had been to the brewery during a trip out there in 2013 and HERE is my review of their old site from that trip.  The old location was in a small red shed well off the beaten path in the town of Castle Danger.  Their brew system at the time was one of the smallest in the state, brewing only 3 barrels of beer per batch.  I enjoyed my brief trip out there, but was excited that they were ramping up production and able to invest in a larger system and taproom.  We just missed the opening of the new site last summer, but were able to get out there this year prior to the All Pints North Beer Festival in Duluth.

Located about 30 minutes north of Duluth, Two Harbors is a cute little town with a rich history and a respectable summer tourist trade.  Old fashioned trading posts, nick-knack shops, eateries, and more abound--along with some awesomely tacky statues of chickens and fur-traders.  The new brewery is a bit further into town about a block from the train depot and train museum.

The brewery itself hosts a large red/maroon building out back that looks like an enormously scaled up version of their old red shed.  Entering the main taproom doors your first sight is the huge block of  wood hanging over the bar with the brewery logo scrawled upon it.  Lots of seating and a wide open taproom space with tons of ambient lighting makes this one of the most comfortable and up-beat taprooms I've been in.  None of that somber dark wood and metal Northeast Minneapolis stuff here!  This is Up North Style light pine wood, maroon paint, and open expanses.  Another large room is off to the right as you enter--with an accessory bar and a large close able door--to host special events.  Even more seating was available outside on a wrap-around patio area, but it was way too hot to sit out there on that 90 degree day!  With the Duluth beer festival soon to begin, there were a fair amount of visitors from the Twin Cities, as well as several locals coming by for growler fills.   The staff manning the bar were quick and efficient at getting everyone settled in and happily sipping beers.

I really liked the pine taster trays that firmly snuggled my 4 taster glasses within its wooden grasp.  For each beer the server placed a small sticker with the name, type, and ABV near the glass.  I've actually never seen this technique before and thought it was pretty slick!

Castle Danger beers in the past for me have been a little hit and miss, perhaps due to the small batch size and difficulty dialing in consistency with their old tiny system.  Recently, the buzz among beer people is that the beers are much better, (even available in cans now) prompting me to make sure I got out to the brewery this visit.  This time I was not disappointed: the beers I tried were all quite solid.  The high point for me was probably the George Hunter Stout, named for the brewer's great-great grandfather.  That beer was a strong 8% ABV stout that fairly burst with roastiness but had enough malt sweetness to balance it out.  I'd be happy to drink that one again!  Next up was the hoppy and biscuity pale ale 17-7, also quite drinkable and balanced.  I followed this with a version of the stout aged in red wine barrels that was very different from it's basic form--much more tannic and almost astringent from the barrel and wine effect.  Not bad, but I liked the regular George Hunter more. And last but not least was the Double Crossing, a double IPA that was good, but seemed a tad unbalanced to the bitter and boozy side.  Still a good beer though--I'm splitting hairs here!

I enjoyed the bright, happy, bustling taproom quite a bit.  The beers I tried were all good and I would recommend any of them to you.  Any quibbles I have about them were purely based on personal taste preferences and not any fermentation or process issues.  Frankly I was impressed with the massive changes since my previous visit to the old brewery.  If you get into Two Harbors (or even just drive past it to get to the North Shore) I suggest you stop in here for a taster or a pint!

Check out the historic depot a block away to get your train fix after having a pint!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Whale A Week: Surly Darkness 2011

Surly Darkness 2011

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.

Next up: 2011!  I couldn't dig up details on the batch size for 2011.  The label art for this vintage is a very creepy zombie done by local artist Michael Berglund.  Currently he's Creative Director at the new new Surly Brewery in Minneapolis.  I think this is the freakiest label of the entire lot, so good for you Michael!

This A Whale A Week tasting took place fairly spur of the moment, since our friends Tyrone and Annette Babione were out to Victoria and Waconia for a brewery tour.  We started with Sunday Bloody Mary's at Floyd's, then over across the street to Enki Brewing for a pint.  Next up we went to Schram Vineyards Winery & Brewery in Waconia, though unfortunately they were unable to sell beer on Sunday so we settled for some good wine and sandwiches from a food truck.  And then to Waconia Brewing for a pint and a board game (Ticket To Ride!)  What better way to cap off a great day?  Why not try some vintage Darkness back at my bar...

Our cast of characters:  Me--BJCP judge, beer geek, regular geek.  Tyrone--BJCP judge, great guy.  Annette--Has taken the test for BJCP but still waiting on her scores... Bill Schmiedlin--JAB member, skilled homebrewer.  And Sarajo--my wife, woman of few words when it comes to judging beers.  This bottle has been aged in the basement in utter darkness (see what I did there?) for almost 5 years.  I served the precious fluid into stemmed snifter glasses.

Aroma: (In which we all get different aromas from this complex melange.)
Eric: Sweet!  Slightly zippy alcohol and tartness after the sweet fades.  Mild oxidation character.  Roast present but subtle.  Raisins as it warms.  Slight coffee aroma as swirled.  No hop aroma.
Tyrone: Slight soy sauce.  After initial aroma blows off, a dark, dark roast develops.  Nothing burnt or acrid--more like a fire from within a wet forest that has smoldered for days.  No hop aroma.  Very faint chocolate in the fringe.  Just a tint of vanilla.
Annette: Heavy chocolate aroma with hints of coffee.  Roasted malts are heavily present.  No hops detected.  A liquid candy bar is the best representation--or a Bailey's hot chocolate.
Bill: Dark fruit notes...Fig?  No hop notes.  Typical of a Russian stout.

Appearance: (In which Bill gets no head...)
Eric: Deep and dark as night--opaque. Fine tan head that lingers.
Tyrone: Black-opaque body.  Head is long-lasting, dark brown with fine tight bubbles.  Head low but persistent.
Annette: Very opaque.  Nearly black in color.
Bill: Very dark, nearly ruby.  Light won't penetrate the goblet.  Only a small amount of bubbles around the glass.  No notable head.

Flavor: (In which we discover that this is a very thick beer...)
Eric: Powerful sweet and dark fruit flavors of raisin, prune, and dark cherry.  Well balanced roast and dark malt smoothing out the sweetness.  No hop flavors, but the beer is not overly sweet to cloying.  Slight sherry notes of oxidation but not cardboard yet.  I do get some chocolate and molasses cookie as it warms.  There is an umami rich flavor as it warms.  Medium/high carbonation.  Body is fairly rich and thick.
Tyrone: Oxidized paper.  Medium high carbonation with slight carbonic tingle up front tip and side of tongue but not a bite.  Balance to the sweet end.  Molasses/syrup sweetness.  No particular hop flavor.  Medium body with alcohol viscosity.  Weight of the beer lingers and coats the tongue but not unpleasant--rather a warming and filling sensation that warms the oral, nasal and chest cavities.  Slight tartness.
Annette: Heavy on the chocolate and coffee flavor with a little hint of oak involved.  No hop flavor, medium hop bitterness.  Very heavy on initial chocolate sweetness.
Bill: Sightly sour and metallic finish.  Unsalted soy sauce.  Bitterness increases as it warms, as does the complexity.

Overall: (Where we find that we are all over the board on this one...)
Eric: Very well balanced for such a big beer.  Not overly sweet, but still plenty of thick warming complexity. Not as oxidized as the previous beers in the series but less carbonation than the 2010.  Slight tartness that I can't quite figure out but doesn't seem infected. I actually liked the 2010 slightly more. 4.75
Tyrone: For a RIS, it is filling and alcoholic.  Sweet with the right amount of bitter as one would expect.  It lacked the chocolate and roasted complexity that this style typifies. 3.5
Annette: A very heavy, malty beer that has a great emphasis on the roasty, chocolaty, coffee aroma and flavor.  Hop bitterness is on the back end which balances with the heavy malt sweetness.  Perfect beer for an evening in January by the fireplace. 4
Bill: 3.5
Sarajo: A little tart.  4.5

Overall Score: 4.05

So there you have it!  This one still got a decent overall score but not as high as 2010.  Interesting that Annette picked up on more chocolate and coffee in this, while I just got a little bit, and Tyrone got none.  Proof that every one's palate is different and that's why we judge in groups!  Several of us also picked up on soy and oxidation as well as a slight tartness.

Has anyone else tried this beer recently?

Monday, July 20, 2015

NHC 2015 Trip: Lost Abbey, Stone!

Ok, so for those not in the know, the National Homebrewer's Conference was in San Diego this year.  My wife (Sj) and I were able to go out a few days before the conference began to explore some of the more popular beer destinations out there.  And there are a LOT of great breweries and beer bars out in San Diego!

We arrived by plane in the afternoon and since we had rented a car, we drove straight to Port Brewing/Lost Abbey in Escondido, about 35-40 minutes north of the airport.  Port and Lost Abbey are both from one brewery, but I think there's some legal mumbo jumbo where one is considered contract brewed.  In any case, the brewery is located in a light industrial area and is quite unassuming other than one external grain silo with both logo's painted on it.  Once inside you see a long bar and a plethora of taps to choose from.  The Port beers are mostly American styles (IPA, Imperial Red, etc.) while the Lost Abbey focuses on Belgian and other unusual strong ales.  Frankly it was a little overwhelming with how many choices were available for me to try!  The place was bustling and very hot inside when we arrived, many were familiar faces from back home including Terri Sarne and Curt Stock.

We slowly forced our way up to the bar and started working our way through as much of the stock as we could.  Our server would only let us get 4 samples at a time, and with how busy the place was, we did a fair amount of waiting.  I found the Port beers to be all well done and clean, with my favorite being the Board Meeting coffee brown ale.  But Lost Abbey is more my style with funky Belgians galore!  All were good, but some were better than others.  Most of their special beers (barrel aged) that they are most known for were not for sale to take out this particular day, but several were for sale to drink at the brewery.  We shared a small bottle of the tart and raisiny Cuvee de Tomme, and the bourbon barrel wonder that was Deliverance with Terri.  I really wish I had been able to grab some to bring back home to Minnesota!  The place was very cool and well worth a 30 minute drive north of San Diego.

Oh, and it was 90 degrees in here!

Since we were already in Escondido, and in need of sustenance, we drove a couple more miles to the famous Stone World Bistro and Gardens.  This is the huge, up-scale restaurant/bar/swag-shop of Stone Brewing, and is one of the inspirations of Surly's new brewery.  The place is very large and very impressive, with huge granite boulders, water features and bamboo taking up space inside and making one feel that you are eating outside (just less heat!)  We got there fairly early in the evening and had no wait to get a spot near the bar.  Apparently the grounds outside are very impressive, but I'll admit I didn't actually go out there--I got distracted by beer!

The restaurant makes a big effort to get locally sourced ingredients and as a result tends to be a little spendy.  The food was very good, but not quite as impressive as it sounded from the descriptions.  I do appreciate that they had lots of variety on the menu--vegetarian options, different cultures, etc.  The beer list was impressive and I was able to sample several good Stone beers.  At one point in my life I would have been in heaven with those beers, but we can get the majority of them in Minnesota now, so I had tried a goodly portion of them already.  They also had pages of rare bottles--most from other breweries including a bunch from Belgium.  Very cool, but why would you sell bottles of someone else's beer at your pub???  They also had an amazing amount of merchandise in their shop, along with growler fills for the locals.  I may have come home with a shirt and a bottle of beer...

Once we got to our hotel near the conference center, we decided to venture out once more before the day was done.  We headed to Toronado,  known to be one of the best beer bars in San Diego, figuring that Monday would be less busy than later in the week.  The vibe of the place was a little underwhelming, looking and feeling like pretty much any other bar I've been into, just lacking a big screen TV with sports on it.  They did have a large tap list to choose from, but having just arrived in town, I figured I'd get to try many of those over the coming week at NHC.  We waited in a short line to order our beer and food.  Refrigerated cases behind the bar bristled with rare beers, but the bottle list was woefully out of date and the first 4 things I asked for were no longer available.  The bartender seemed a little put-out that I was making her check on these things, but wasn't outright rude.  We finally opted for a couple of Almanac sours to share with some simple burgers to gnosh on.  We were happy to find a couple spots at the bar, as the place was busy but not packed.  The food was decent pub grub but nothing to write home about...wait I'm doing that right now!  Maybe I hit the wrong day, but I found several places with better ambiance and food during our stay in San Diego.  I'd certainly go back here if I was searching out a $40 bottle of Cascade beer...

At the Toronado

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Whale A Week: Surly Darkness 2010

Surly Darkness 2010

This week we return to our continuing 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 in Brooklyn Center.  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?

On October 25, 2008 Darkness Day was much more organized as well as publicized and by 10 in the morning, a line snaked all through the neighborhood around the brewery.  I arrived there around 9:30 or so and was able to get a spot fairly close to the front of the line.  A few folks from out of state had camped out overnight and shared some epic beers the night before.  They were feeling no pain.  That year 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 label was actually a sticker placed on the glass bottle.  The next year they began screen printing the bottles and scrapped the sticker.  Darkness Day itself featured live metal music, various Surly beers, and limited food options.  Check out my previous A Whale A Week post on that vintage HERE.

And we move on to October 24 of 2009 for another run at Darkness Day.  I was able to make this event as well, but now that the cat was out of the bag, crowds were getting bigger, requiring me to get there early.  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.  The event again had metal music, Surly beers on tap, Smoke right out of the bright tanks, and tons of swag to buy.  Last week's review of the 2009 vintage is HERE.

Which catches us up to 2010.  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.  This was the last Darkness Day I was able to get to.  My mom came with for her allotment and to keep me company in line, oh, and to drive me home after.  We arrived just at sunrise, about 6 AM and was several blocks away from the front of the line.  Most of the folks in front of us had camped out the night before and many were either half frozen or half-in-the-bag.  Not thinking about it, I hadn't brought anything to share in line so we just watched folks drinking beers, cooking breakfast on portable stoves, serving from portable kegerators, etc.  Yup this event had turned into some kind of crazy brewery tailgating thing over the past 2 years. We got our beer, enjoyed a couple of pints at the brewery, and headed out.  A good time, but getting much too crowded for my comfort level.

The bottle art for 2010 features a close up of a vampire, done by local commercial art and printmaking studio Aesthetic Apparatus.

For this particular tasting, my wife Sarajo, friend Anna Osborn, and I were invited over to Brian and Tina Ackermann's place for dinner and games (Pathfinder card game for my geek readers.)  Not until that day did I realize that it was Brian's actual birthday, so I quickly threw my 2010 Darkness into the car with our games to take along.  A little background on our cast of characters:  Me--BJCP National ranked judge, president of our brewclub Jack Of All Brews, and geek.  Sarajo--my wife, dark beer lover, with no problem judging me but less likely to judge beers. Anna--one of the few female homebrewers I know, proprietor of Irate Princess home brewery.  Tina--beer judging novice, but willing to give it a try!  Brian--a very good homebrewer who has recently started up the hobby again...and our birthday boy!

Eric: Deep dark bitter chocolate with a mild roasted malt aroma.  Sweet toffee.  Notes of sherry.  A bit of alcohol zip.  Dark bing cherry or almost dried cranberry aromas as it warms up in the glass.  No hop aroma.
Anna: Lovely--so vanilla!  It reminds me of that Creme Brulee from Southern Tier (that I love).
Tina: Coffee notes.  Toasted something...couldn't quite place my finger on it.
Brian: Chocolate covered cherry.  Toasted coconut or something else elusive.

Appearance: (Normally I combine these, but I loved our panel's descriptions so much I left 'em.)
Eric: Black in color.  Very deep tan colored head that is amazingly persistent for this style of beer.  Larger sized bubbles.  Completely opaque.
Anna: Black as night!  Beautiful.  Great carbonation.  Black is beautiful.
Tina: Deep ebony with a beautiful caramel head.  Even after 20+ minutes there was notable presence of head on the beer.
Brian: Dark as midnight.

Eric: Sweetness up front.  I get a very light acidic tang that combined with the raisin and cherry flavors reminds me of a chocolate covered craisin.  Roast malt present but subtle, this is dark, but not a bitter roasty stout.  Sherry cask flavors from age and oxidation.  No hop flavors.  Mild coffee notes.  Slight anise or licorice flavors.  Moderate to almost thick mouthfeel.  Some alcohol present but not hot.  The elevated carbonation really helps to keep this from being cloyingly sweet.
Anna: Full flavor--lingers nicely and feels like a warm blanky.
Tina: Very smooth finish.  Something fruity up front.  As it sat there was a richness that wasn't present at first.
Brian: Full bodied, rich and velvety.  Chocolate and fruits.

Eric: A very good beer!  This reminds me of a dark chocolate and cherry milk shake.  There is oxidation here, but it adds complexity to the beer.  So far my favorite of the three vintages I've tried recently.  This one seems to be at it's peak, so I'd drink it now and enjoy! 5
Anna: I feel this has aged and held up nicely over time.  My opinion is that this is at it's peak, and may start decreasing in enjoyment over the coming year. 4.5
Tina: Very warm and restful--use in place of cognac.  I think this is the best dark beer I've tried. 5
Brian: Delightful and heavy.  Sweet and sticky. 5
Sarajo: "Vanilla and licorice shouldn't go together.  I'm a hater apparently".  4.25
And in response from Tina: "She'll shake it off."

Overall Score: 4.75

So what did we discover from this tasting?
1) That the 2010 vintage is very good and that you should drink it now.
2) That the women in our group are much more descriptive than our guys.
3) Darkness goes great with birthday cake and cherries.
4) Brian and Tina's cats can open all the cupboards in their house when being ignored by guests.

Stay tuned for our next A Whale A Week!  Next week will likely be Surly Darkness 2011...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Jack Of All Brews July 2015 Meeting Recap

Hey folks!  This is the quick recap of this past week's Jack Of All Brews Homebrew Club meeting.  We meet the second Friday of the month with a variable theme, so put it on your calendars now!  This month we had a fairly small crowd (about 15) but that's never shocking in the busy summer months.


1) Josh Welch will be brewing up his Sundrop summer ale with Waconia Brewing Company as the grand prize in the inaugural JAB/Waconia Brewing Competition.  I'll post details once we have a brew to try!

2) Mike Behrendt's Pub Ale is currently on tap at Schram Vineyards Winery & Brewery!

Upcoming Events:

1) Minnesota State Fair Homebrew Competition--this is one of the premier comps in the state and is run by one of our favorite other clubs the Primary Fermenters!  Registration is now open.

2) Carver County Fair--Entry drop off is Aug 3 from 5PM to 8:30PM, or Aug 4 from 8AM to Noon.  Free entry!  Check details of what to enter HERE.  Registration is HERE.

3) All Club Campout--This is from 7/31-8/2 near Cold Spring, MN.  Details are HERE on the the MN Homebrewer's site.


This month I gave a talk on making tinctures for addition to beers, meads, ciders, and cocktails.  We tried some of my Belgian Strong with a few drops of hibiscus tincture which changed the aroma and taste just a bit.  I also demonstrated the ease of adding vodka (or you could use everclear) to dried elderberries in a mason jar to start out a tincture for future use.  I hope to use some homemade bitters for a beer cocktail demo soon...

Mash Paddle:

This month's theme was fruit beers, and we had 8 entries for the Golden Mash Paddle.  Several of these were fruited versions of the group lambic experiment from almost 2 years ago.  In order we tasted them:
Joe L.--Orange Kolsch
John F.--Raspberry Rhubarb Cream Ale
Anna O.--Raspberry Wheat
Mike L.--Strawsome (strawberry lambic)
Andrew G.--Stawberry Lambic
Mike L.--Peachness (peach lambic)
Eric W.--Cherry Red (cherry Flanders Red)
Eric W.--Cherry Rhubarb Lambic

And the winner was Eric Wentling (that's ME!) for Cherry Rhubarb.  We had several grain, hop, and swag giveaways for everyone who entered this month.  Put those things to good use!

Next Month:

Next meeting is August 14 starting at 6:30 at Mike and Joan Behrendt's place in Eden Prairie.  We will be having special guest Steve Piatz (author of The Complete Mead Guide to Mead Making) giving us a talk about mead!  The theme of the month is of course also mead, so bring your meads to share and for the monthly Golden Mash Paddle contest!  And maybe you'll learn something to improve your meads in the future.  Also Steve will be bringing some copies of his book to sell and sign so bring some money if you want one.  I already have my copy!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tin Whiskers Review

A few weeks ago my wife and I were in Saint Paul and decided to hit a couple of newer taprooms.  The first one we tried out was Tin Whiskers Brewing Company.  I had tried a couple of their beers at last year's All Pints North in Duluth and wasn't incredibly impressed--however, they were recently opened at that time.  I gave them almost a year to get the hang of things before getting to the taproom to review.

Tin Whiskers was started by a trio of electrical engineers, and much of the naming, decor, and style of the brewery nods to that background.  On their website their self-proclaimed mission is to "make technically excellent beers."  The taproom is located in the Rossmor building along with Sawatdee (meh) and Black Sheep Pizza (yum!) so food options are close.  On the day we arrived they actually had an Asian fusion food truck selling food inside to go with the beers.  The food smelled and looked wonderful, but we were meeting later for dinner at Tongue In Cheek, so didn't partake.

Robots need beer too!

Following the little robot sign outside we entered the taproom to find it fairly crowded and well lit by afternoon sun.  A large mural of their robot mascot hoisting a pint adorns the wall to the left of the entrance, drawing the eye and making one smile.  I'm a big nerd and really do like the way these guys have embraced that culture in their brewery.  There are a few large community tables across from the entrance with a mid-sized bar off to the left.  Behind the bar is the brewery itself, bristling with stainless tanks and equipment in easy view of the entire taproom.  This is something I value in a taproom--I want to know I'm not in some random bar, but in a working brewery!

Several groups of people, including entire families were situated around the tables, many playing board games together.  Being a big board game fan, I'm always happy to see others taking part, and also to see taprooms embracing the culture.  I've seen a similar trend at my local Waconia Brewing and at Insight recently.  Seeing folks playing games and having a pint is great and puts these taprooms into a different category than bars and pubs filled with sports on big screen TVs.

My wife and I sidled up to the bar and ordered a sampler flight to share, wanting to make sure we were able to try everything.  Our sampler came out on an awesome and unique circuit board and plexi-glass tray that continued their nerd theme.  But what about the beers you ask?  I'll give a quick run-down of my impressions.  Keep in mind that your results may vary according to personal tastes and batch.

The first two we tried were the Wheatstone Bridge and the special jalapeno version of the same beer.  The original was not bad, but a bit sweet for me.  It looks like it has honey and chamomile in it which added some interesting flavors to the normally bland American style wheat.  The jalapeno version really popped with a nice heat that evened out the sweetness for me.  Sj liked that one too.

The Flip Switch IPA was a bit different from many I've had recently.  I enjoyed the hop aroma and bitterness in the beer, but there was a dry, almost roasty finish that was unusual for the style.  Still, it was clean and easy to drink.  I actually ordered a pint of this after we were done with the flight, so it was my favorite of the visit.  I have a free growler fill from these guys and wish I had remembered to bring it...I would have taken this one home gladly.

My least favorite of the bunch was the Short Circuit Stout.  This one was flawed.  Stouts are normally among my favorite style of beer to drink and often and hide flaws more easily than many styles due to their bold flavors.  This stout, however, was bursting with apple Jolly Rancher flavors, consistent with acetaldehyde, a common beer flaw usually arising from poor yeast health or from fermentation being rushed.  After the apple faded a bit, there was a sweet middle to the beer and a decent roast finish.  Between the two of us we didn't get more than halfway though the sample glass.  This is one of their flagship beers, so tasting this makes me question their process and why they would release this batch to the public.  I'd be curious hear other people's experiences with the Tin Whiskers beers, and with this beer in particular.

So, my overall impression of the place?  I like the vibe of taproom.  Service was good.  The beers ranged from good, to OK, to fail.  If I lived close by I'd gladly stop in for some games and a pint, but I probably won't make a trip out there from Waconia very soon.  I love the beer names, geeky culture and logo--I even bought a tin tacker sign for my home brewing area.  I'd love to see this brewery succeed but I want to see some more quality control in their products since that's their own stated goal in brewing!