Sunday, September 30, 2012

Indeed Brewing Tasting Room

Having been pleasantly surprised with Indeed's beers during the last month, I am happy to report that I finally got a chance to visit their recently opened tasting room.  Myself and several friends helped judge the first Nordeast Big River Homebrew Competition, and decided to head the mile down the road and visit this new arrival on the MN beer scene.  The competition was fun and the BOS and final results will be announced at the Big River event October 13.

Indeed seems to be located in a quasi-industrial area next to some train tracks in an old re purposed building that is half empty at this time.  Kind of a cool set-up with an old weigh scale in the hallway, and a really attractive wood bar.  They have kept a lot of the old character of the building with visible wood beams and industrial slide doors...was this a slaughterhouse or something?  No meat hooks at least!  The tasting area is very comfortable and relaxing, the perfect atmosphere for having a pint of beer and hanging out with some friends.  The tables are seriously solid wood with burnt-in signatures, and the chairs are similarly sturdy affairs that will safely seat even the biggest brew-fan!

Indeed has a great vibe, and their artwork on bottles and in the tap room really accentuates this.  They have a strange steam-punk meets French vintage absinthe posters feel that strikes me as perfect for this space.

There is also a small patio area just outside the tap-room and there was a Barrio food truck serving their wonderful food out in the small parking lot.  With an 80 degree sunny Fall day, good friends and good beers this was about as perfect a day as I can imagine!

Primary Fermenters Tony and Amanda
Fellow happy JAB member Bryce

Let us talk beers.  They serve 10 oz, 16 oz and 20 oz pours of all their beers with one or two cask beers and a nitro version of the Midnight Rider.  My favorite is the Day Tripper--a wickedly dry-hopped pale ale that really hits all my hop-loving buttons without being too bitter.  The Midnight Rider was fairly good, but I am not a huge fan of black IPA, feeling that the roast tends to clash with the hop making these too astringent for my palate.  That being said, this is one of the better examples of the style I've tried.  The Wet Hop was fresh and new, claiming 25 IBUs but tasting of 40's.  A bit harsh, but I liked it anyway.  The summit dry-hopped Day Tripper was a bit off, the summit hop gave it a weird oniony flavor that was not a hit.  Overall, not bad at all for a new brewery, I see a lot of potential here.  They also sell swag and bottles so you can take Indeed home with you.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Glenfiddich Scotch Tasting at The Happy Gnome

Is it beer?  Not really.  But to make Scotch, they make a beer, then distill the heck out of it counts!  I decided to try this on a whim, not being a huge fan of the Hard Stuff, but wanting to learn more about how to taste and enjoy spirits.  I have been getting more interested in oak aging my homebrewed beers and in commercial barrel aged beers over the last few years, so I'm coming into this a bit backwards.  Important things to know:  Glenfiddich is pronounced Glen-Fid-Ick, and means valley-of-deer.

The Gnome is known for beer and great food, but also has a huge selection of whiskeys and Scotches.  From time to time they do tastings or seminars and we were free this time!  They had some very tasty appetizers, and Sj and I had some food downstairs before the event.  Our friends Kevin and Carol were there too.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but this was a slick presentation with Bruckheimer production values.  They had a model in a short skirt and really-high-heeled red shoes adding eye-candy to the Scotch bottles, as well as big posters and swag.  We got Glenfiddich pens, glass droppers and a gift set of small tasting glasses to take home, along with a DVD about the distillery narrated by Mr. Big from Sex & The City.  There was a Scotsman (who currently lives in Texas) giving a talk and virtual distillery tour via a slick overhead.  This is one of the only Scottish family owned distilleries still in business.  The Spirits are aged in a mix of bourbon and sherry casks for a number of years, resulting in labeling as 12 year, 15 year, etc.

We tasted the 12 year first, aged in mostly bourbon and a few sherry casks.  Not bad, but a bit hot and burning.  Sj hated this one, and it was not anyone's favorite at the tasting.  Apparently this is one of the best selling Scotches in the world.  We also learned how to use our handy dropper to add a few drops of water to "open up" the Scotch, and I was suprised to find a significant difference in flavors.  That made the 12 year drinkable.  Later we had the 18 year, made from the same stuff but aged longer.  It certainly smoothed out, but was not my favorite despite its age.

The 15 year was very nice with a strong honey character and was a fan favorite.  We ended with a small dose of the 21 year which was quite nice in terms of smoothness and overall complexity, and has some small time on rum barrels.  None of these are the peaty smoky ones I love, but all very interesting.

As a bonus, the presenter had a single bottle of a very rare bottle of Malt Master reserve to let some of us die-hards try.  This was my favorite of the night.  What can I say, I have expensive tastes.  I will not need to spend hundreds of dollars on this though.

A very informative event and well worth the time and effort to get down there.  I'll sign up for any future sessions they do.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Stone Beer Dinner at The Happy Gnome

As usual Sj and I went to the nearly monthly Happy Gnome beer dinner last week.  With things very crazy at my work, I was happy for a break to relax and enjoy a fun evening.  As an added bonus my dad randomly came into town from Illinois and we were able to fit him into our reservation.  He has been to a couple of these with us over the last few years and seems to enjoy them.

This month was Stone, of the scowling gargoyle and "You're Not Worthy" fame.  We knew going into this that Sj and my dad might not be huge fans of the fairly "aggressive" hopping that most of the brewery's beer possess, but they seemed game and ready for a wonderful meal at least.  As with most of our dinners we sat with the usual suspects and made for a rowdy table of foodies.  The dinner is always upstairs in the firehouse room.  We were greated at the top of the stairs by the new general manger Ryan, and were happy to see that Catherine was there as well for one last dinner before moving on to greener pastures.  Good luck Catherine!  Bellying up to the upstairs bar we were given a choice of Meet and Greet beer:  Cali-Belgique the hoppy Belgian ale; or crazy hoppy 10 Year Anniversary IPA.  I had both because Molly and Paul are rockin' servers!

The food as always for freaking fantastic.  This is the ONLY place in the world I would trust to serve me aspicy steak tartare and not worry too much about E. Coli infection. 

Course 1:  The above mentioned tartare.  Yes raw beef.  But really tasty I swear.  And writing this a week later, I never got violently ill!  Served with the Levitation, a lighter bodied but still hoppy ale that did a great job of clearing the palate.

Course 2:  Bouillabaisse (way too hard to spell this correctly!)  A very pleasant sea-food stew served with grilled sourdough and dill creme, but was hammered into submission by the crazy hoppy 16 th Anniversary IPA, made with Lemon Verbena. 

Course 3:  The winner of the popularity contest for the night was the braised beef shortrib with truffled cauliflower puree and fresh grated horseradish.  Yum!  The pairing on this was amazing, and I'm fairly certain that Chef Brink braised the beef in the beer.  Pair a smoky beef dish with a strong Smoked Porter?  Crazy I say!

Course 4:  Venison loin!  Cooked to perfection and oh so tender, served atop bacon braised collard greens and corn puree.  This dish was so strong that it stood up to Arrogant Bastard Ale.  Bastard you have met your match!

Course 5:  Vanilla bean panna cotta with fennel confit and house made graham cracker.  This was a great way to finish the dinner.  Not everyone liked the fennel, but I thought it paired great with the special desert beer, the Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout.  Too bad I was feeling bloated by the end, and couldn't finish all of Sj's desert and beer.

I'm looking forward to the future beer dinners at the Gnome and hope that no drastic changes are made in the time-honoured traditions already in place. 
My dad!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Octoberfest updates

Despite my lack of daily posts, I have continued in my quest to have an Octoberfest/fest/marzen/fall seasonal beer each day this month!  Here is a quick run-down of the last week or so.  I have been too busy to give a huge write-up on each so you will have to settle with a cool picture and a rating.  I think you will survive!

1) Surlyfest:  One of the more interesting versions of the style I've had this month.  Not a traditional version, but what do you expect from a brewery called Surly?  It has a nice body and malty taste, but a spicy and bitter edge that makes it end quite dry and a little astringent.  They use rye and a fair amount of hops for this one, which certainly explains the flavor and mouthfeel I'm getting.  Not bad at all:  2 of 5 as an Octoberfest, but 3.5 of 5 as a nice beer.

2) New Belgium Red Hoptober:  Another quasi-Octoberfest.   I get a nice malty backbone to this, but a large amount of American citrus hops make it taste more like an American Amber.  Beautiful red color though.  Pretty much the same score as the Surlyfest.

3) Left Hand Octoberfest:  I've never had this beer before, and the brewery is known for ales, so I had no idea what to expect.  A pretty classic tasting Festbier with a perfect balance.  4 of 5.

4) New Glarus Staghorn Octoberfest:  Probably the best American example I've had so far.  Malt bomb, but ends dry enough to keep you wanting more.  Complex malty and toasty flavors.
4.5 of 5.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Autumn Brew Review 2012

Better late than never, I'll give you folks the low-down on the yearly crazy beer experience called ABR. Each fall we have one of the coolest beer festivals in the Minnesota, usually held down on the grounds of the old Grain Belt Brewery guessed it: Autumn!  As with any outdoor beer festival, weather can be a trial, so dress appropriately.  A few years back it was rainy and really cold, but this year was about 85, sunny and still.  Even with shades, hat and sunscreen we were a bit red-necked and dehydrated by the end of the day. 

The first part of the process is getting tickets.  Back in the day, this wasn't such a big would be available for a while.  You could talk to all your friends, arrange a ride, plan lunch and then bite the bullet and get tickets.  Now, with the explosion of interest in craft beer, the tickets sell out within minutes and crash Internet servers.  This year they held back some tickets for a second round of selling and Sj managed to snag us two on that day.  Let's hear it for amazing wives!  If you miss the microsecond sales, your best bet to get into the fest is the secondary market.  Craigslist, beer forums, etc are a good way to get in, but you run risks of duplicate tickets and scams.  Many of the local brewers, homebrew shops, liquor stores, etc hold will raffle off tickets as well so keep your schedule open and your ear (or eye) to the social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and such.  My buddy Rob from Limited Release gave away a few tickets this year as a promotion.

You have your hard-earned or ill-gotten what?  Well, for starters you drive down to the brewery, preferably early to get in line and be right at the gate.  I recommend getting there 45-60 minutes before it starts.  This year it started at 1 PM, but last year they had two sessions.  I think a bunch of the really special beers ran out during the morning session and made a lot of the afternoon group a bit cranky... You receive a fresh taster glass to use on the grounds and take home.  Don't drop it.  As the afternoon goes on you hear more and more crashing sounds and the entire mass of drunken humanity will give a collective shout of  "OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH!"

Once in the grounds, the special beers (Surly) get huge lines right away, so getting your first one under your belt before the big crowd forms is a good idea.  Then you can spend your time tasting others and go back when the line ebbs.  There was a huge number of booths, and a growing number were Minnesota Craft beers.  I found that many of the "Big" craft breweries present (Lagunitas, Dark Horse, Capital, Big Sky, etc.) brought only their usual line-up and many of those were in bottles.  Meh, I can buy those anywhere.  As a proper beer geek with a low alcohol tolerance I want to taste the stuff you can't get anywhere else!  The big winners for me this year were Surly and Fitger's. Fitger's had a ton of special beers including the Cherry Batch and a bourbon barrel aged Imperial stout.  Overall the MN breweries brought it strong and I got to try great new beers by Indeed, and Pour Decisions.

Surly deserves its own section.  This year they had two lines, one for cask and special release stuff and another for their other beers.  The cask/special line had releases each hour and had the biggest lines at the fest.  I had the Wet in cask with fresh wet Simcoe hops, which was very good and a bit cat-pee-esque.  Also tried the bourbon barrel aged Pentagram, but that was acetic and nasty.  They also served up Three and a brett version of Bandwagon, neither of which I got to try.  The "regular" line included Fiery Hell (see my post on the Blackbird Dinner,) Darkness 2011, Bandwagon IPA, Smoke, Cacao Bender, Surlyfest and Syx.  I tried pretty much all of them and all were amazing except Bandwagon.

What happens when a ton of people get drinking?  The mad munchies happen.  There were about 6 food trucks out there this year, giving a bunch of options for famished fest-goers.  I had some fantastic mahi-mahi tacos from Barrio, and a Foxy Felafel sampler that was tasty despite its lack of meat. 

If you need a break from drinking there are booths for local beer-related things to stop by. was there, as well as Barley's Angels and Northern Brewer.  Also you can gather a ton of swag, stickers, posters, bottle openers, etc at this event.

I also got to meet up briefly with several friends at the fest, though it was so crazy busy that it was tough to stay together with a group for more than a few minutes.  If you have an especially tall friend with a really loud looking shirt you might be able to make this work though (I'm talking about you Rob!)  A couple of my friends were there and I never found them!  Hope they had a good time there too.

The heat and the sun, as well as a conspicuous absence of potable water made this event a bit tough to handle for me.  It was hard not to get dehydrated and trying to drink a barleywine or stout in that climate was difficult.  But I powered through, still having a great time.  I tried to just have a taste of these beers so I could try more, but there were only two dump/glass-rinse stations in the whole place, which made this problematic.  By the end I was hot, full and almost a bit queasy, but not especially intoxicated.  Overall, a fun way to spend the day, and I'd recommend it to anyone who has never been there. 

Oh and not to forget my Octoberfest plans, I did try the Great Lakes Octoberfest again on tap.  Not bad, but not my favorite.  Still a bit too one-note.  Especially compared to some of the crazy stuff I had that day!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Brewclub and Octoberfest update

On the second Friday of the month Jack Of All Brews has its monthly meeting, and this month I hosted in my basement bar.  We had a great mix of some of our old-school members and new arrivals to mix things up a little.  The weather was wonderful and we were able to spread out onto my patio and light a fire in the firepit.  My firewood has been sitting around waiting for a fire for so long it went up like a torch! 

We had a huge list of homebrewed beer and mead to try, including some of the winning brews from the Byggvir and State Fair competitions.  It was incredibly hard to pick a winner and the two runner's-up were a Galaxy IPA and a Stone Ruination Clone both by Aaron.  The winner of the monthly Golden Mash Paddle was Andrew G. for a Framboise that was as good as any commercial examples I've ever had. 

Next month is Octoberfests and Fest celebration at Tim's place, since I'll be in Belgium! 

I have still been working my way through Octoberfests for the month:

1) Great Lakes Octoberfest: 
Not bad, but more one-dimentional than I expected from them.  They do an amazing Dortmunder Export, and I thought this could use more malt complexity than I found.  Still a nice beer.  3.5 of 5.

2) Schell's Octoberfest:
Served from tap into a leather mug at the MN Renaissance Festival.  Subtle taste of...leather!  Quite refreshing on a dusty 85 degree day at the fest.  I do have a bottle of this that I can try untainted later, but for now I'll count this as a 3.5 of 5.  Oh and yellow jacket wasps really love Schell's as well!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Blackbird Brewmaster's Dinner 2012

Every year in the week prior to the Autumn Brew Review beer festival, there is a Brewmaster's Dinner that is not easy to get into.  My lovely wife got us in this year and it was an amazing time!  We were joined by our usual suspects from the Happy Gnome beer dinners, Chris, Hassan, Carol and Kevin, as well as Bryce and his wife Elise. We saw some other familiar faces from the local foodie beer scene too, but didn't have enough room at our table for all of them! 

The restaurant is small and has a surprising amount of deer heads and antlers on the walls for a place called The Blackbird.  The feel is rural and homey despite its location right in Minneapolis.  Sj and I arrived early and stood outside for a short while until they let us teeming massing into the restaurant.  Upon entering we nabbed a big table and started in on the huge spread of charcuterie, house-made pickles and kim-chi, deep fried olives and almonds.  We had the Dave's Brew Farm Matacabras to pair with this mass of great food and it was difficult not to fill up on both before the dinner had even begun!

Before each course the brewmasters or distributors would say a few words about the beer, the brewery and the pairing, then the real fun would begin!  One of the best things about this particular dinner is getting to learn about several breweries and meet the folks who make your favorite beers in person.  It is also cool to see those people interact and talk with each just adds a whole new level of excitement to the event.  Dave from Dave's Brew farm talked about his strong ale.

Second course was a nice chestnut crab (my favorite apple!) salad paired with a wacky Brett Pomegranate Halcyon beer from Tallgrass.  The brewer basically told us how he made a 5 gallon batch of this with a carboy and heat belt, just like homebrewing!  The beer was interesting, lots of citra hop, but dry and somewhat sour.  The pairing was very nice, but I can't drink too much wheat beer or risk migraines...

Third course was my favorite of the night!  Todd Haug from Surly talked about the Surly Hell (a light crisp German style lager,) that they used chili peppers and Mesquite wood to magically turn into Fiery Hell!  This beer was freaking amazing, crisp and malty followed by a slow burn and dry finish.  The pairing was with a cold cream and corn soup with rock shrimp.  Unlike most pairings, where you taste the food and then take a sip of beer, this one worked in the opposite way.  The cool creamy soup cut the burn from the beer and was pure heaven. 

Surly Fiery Hell with amazing soup!
Fourth course was a deep fried maki and tuna that was also quite good.  That dish was paired with the Indeed Day Tripper, a fantastic hoppy pale ale with a ton of late addition hops from this new MN brewery.  I have now had two beers from them and am impressed!  Two of the people we were with thought this beer tasted a bit different from when they had it at Indeed's opening.

Our 5th dish was a pork tenderloin and pork belly atop a vegetable gratin.  That dish was great, but I was rapidly running out of space in my gullet and had to leave some behind.  The beer to go with the dish was Fulton's Libertine, a very deep red malty monster of an English old ale.  This is the best beer I've had from them and I'll seek it out from now on.  I don't think this is just the beer accumulating on me...

Final course was a chocolate cheese cake with a habanero cherry topping that blew me away!  Again I had to leave some behind, but made sure to scrape up all those spicy cherries.  Founder's Dirty Bastard was a nice pairing to end on.

We all received a pint glass filled with brewery stickers as a door prize.  I have hundreds of these things, but have to keep taking them.  It is a disease.  They also had stickers on the bottom of certain desert plates for a special prize of signed copies of the cool poster for the event.  That was my idea that I suggested on their facebook site, so I'll take credit.  Luckily Sj won us a copy!  Overall, this was an amazing evening of gluttony and sweet sweet sin.  The chef and staff are awesome and we will be watching this place like hawks from now on!  If only we didn't live an hour away!

Todd captivates his audience!

Bonus Material:

Not to let people think I've been falling down on the job with my Octoberfest tastings for the month, I will give a very brief recap of the last few!

1) Spaten (Take Two)--I retried this one with a donated bottle from Dave that had been stored correctly.  Much better than the skunk-bomb I had earlier, but still a slight hint of that.  Not as complex and malty as I expected, but good.  3 of 5.

2) Ayinger--A very nice beer.  This is really a classic Octoberfest with that layered malty/toasty flavor I'm looking for.  And it is slightly bigger than most!  Lighter in color than some, but I can tell this has been decocted.  4 of 5.
3) Brooklyn Octoberfest--This is certainly on a par with the Germans and seems very complex and malty.  Perhaps a tinge too much caramel malt?  4 of 5

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Continuing my quest to have many Octoberfest beers this month...

Things have been crazy busy this last weekend, between me getting Migraine From Hell (TM) and work stuff I have not been keeping up with my writing.  So here is a quick update that should catch me up on my daily Octoberfest experiment.

Beer #8:  Erdinger Octoberfest.   
This one was not what I expected at all!  From the print on the label this one is actually a wheat beer, so it really isn't a true Octoberfest style beer.  With all the strange takes on the style available nowadays, I'll count it.
Appearance: Slightly cloudy, light gold in color with a huge white head that lasts for days.
Aroma: Malty sweetness, spicy hop or even wheat character, some hints of lemon.
Flavor: A medium mouthfeel, ends fairly dry and lager-like.  Some malty sweetness with a bit of spiciness.  Not a lot going on here.  Not a clean lager, not a clovey wheat beer.
Overall:  Not a fantastic beer.  Sj and I thought it was bleh.
Rating: 2 of 5

Beer #9:  Shiner Oktoberfest.
Appearance:  A very classic looking label with, unfortunately, a twist-off top.  Pours deep amber with excellent clarity.  Thick white head lasts for a very long time.
Aroma: Strong malt aroma with a crisp lager character and a note of German hop.
Flavor:  Sweet malt, but layers of flavor here that taste of warm baking bread and sticky-rolls.  Some bitterness present to balance the sweet, but not overwhelming.  Balance much more to the malty.  Ends with an almost doughy dryness.
Overall: Quite a surprise for me!  Based on Shiner's Bock not really being a bock, I didn't have high hopes for this one, but was shocked by how good it was.  The complexity of flavor and mouthfeel on this was great.  So far this is my favorite O-Fest this year.
Rating: 4.5 of 5

Beer #10: Two Brothers Atom Smasher.
Appearance: Nearly orange in color with a thick off-white head made of fine bubbles.
Aroma: Malty and sugary sweet.  Almost like a cinnamon bun rolled around with vanilla and Smarties candies.  Very subtle hop aroma.
Flavor: Like most of these beers, malty sweetness up front with a fairly full mouthfeel.  Flavors of vanilla, pear and cherry pit.  The malty flavor is fairly one-dimensional, lacking the layers of toast and bread I like in the best of these beers.  Ends dry and nearly tannic and astringent.
Overall:  This one is actually aged in large oak barrels.  This technique certainly adds some interesting flavors, but I think the oak hurts the finish of this beer.  Not a classic, but an unusual version of the style.
Rating: 3 of 5

Sunday, September 9, 2012

More Octoberfests!

Sorry about the radio silence...I'm still plugging my way through the daily Octoberfest beers!  On Thursday I couldn't drink, so I caught up on that Friday.  We took a trip to The Happy Gnome for a wonderful meal with a huge selection of beers to choose from.  We shared a plate of the Foie Gras and Duck meatballs in mushroom cream sauce with can Scott Brink chef the hell out of food!  I then had the wild boar chops and perhaps ate more than my fill.

I paired this wonderful dish with the Widmer OKTO, and the combination was quite nice.  This particular beer is deep gold to amber in color with a large fluffy white head made of fine bubbles.  The aroma was pleasant malty sweetness.  In flavor it struck me as a maltiness with a fairly strong bittering component.  I tasted warm toasted bread and an almost oaty flavor as it warmed up a bit.  The end was dry and just under my threshold for astringency.  Overall, very nice.  A 3 out of 5 for me.

This is what it looked like while the sun was still out!

Feeling that I was probably failing in my quest to have two of these beers on this day, but not being able to pass up a Goose Island Dominique from 2011, we headed home.  However, on the way home we discovered, via social media, that my good friend Dave had just tapped his homebrewed octoberfest and was relaxing out by his fire pit.  By the time we made it there, it was quite dark, but there was a cheery fire across the yard beckoning us closer with the hopes of good conversation and homebrew.  I was served a very pretty and clear orange beer in it's proper glass German stein.  I was pleased with the malty aroma and a hint of spicy hop.  The flavor was complex with layers of malt and bread and a subtle hint of cooked apple.  Bittering was spot-on making this end not too sweet, not too bitter.  I think the only thing that detracted was that slight apple flavor.   I know that this beer spent five months lagering, so it wasn't young.  I'd guess that came from yeast that needed a bigger starter.  I'm splitting hairs here, because I actually liked this one better than the Widmer I had earlier in the day!  Rating 3.5 of 5.  Thanks for sharing, Dave!  And we had a great time talking and hanging out!

Yesterday I was all cued up to head out for Summit's Backyard Bash and drink my fill of Octoberfest with a bunch of my friends.  This was not meant to be.  I ended up with the worst migraine I've had in years, losing vision and most of my insides.  Not a great day.  So I spent most of the day in bed and missed a great time.  Grrrr.  Traitorous brain.  I'll just have to catch up on my fest biers today!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Octoberfest Day 5: Spaten

Not much going on in my beer world yesterday, but I did try my 5th Octoberfest of the month, right on schedule.  This time I went old-school with one of the classic German beers with the unwieldy name of:  Spaten Oktoberfestbier/Oktoberfest Ur-Marzen. 
Aroma:  Redolent of dead skunk basking on the hot asphault along highway 494 at mid-day in summertime.  A mild sweetness wafts out over the skunk-funk.
Appearance:  Poured from a green bottle, this has a deep gold to light amber color with a fine white head that fades quickly.
Flavor:  Crisp lager character with a fairly light to thin body.  Some sweet malt, but very one-note with no complexity or toasted notes at all.  Firm Euro-Skunk flavor really overwhelms anything else in this beer.  I might pick up a slight flowery hop flavor in the finish.  Some bitterness present, but the skunkiness really accentuates this and makes the beer end astringent.
Overall:  This one was a big disappointment to me.  I was hoping for that classic malty decocted goodness, and instead got an astringent and funky blech beer that I couldn't finish.  Why do so many European beers use crappy green bottles that allow skunking of beer?  Do they feel that we American's expect that yummy "imported" flavor and aroma in our beers?  Do they serve them that way back in Germany?  If you translate Spaten from German, does it mean "The viscous and pungent fluid gently expressed from the pulsating anal glands of the Palawan Stink Badger?"
Rating: 2 out of 5.  I have still had worse beers...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Byggvir's Big Wrap-Up Ceremony

So the dust has settled, (literally...we are talking Renfest here...) and the final award ceremony for Byggvir's Big Beer Cup took place last night at Town Hall Brewery.  They had the whole back end of the restaurant set aside for us and we did a pretty good job of filling up that space!  Several of us showed up early to have some great pub grub before the festivities.  They had a fantastic Mild on tap and also the Twisted Jim Whiskey barrel aged barleywine.  Later on they brought around some sample cups of the Twisted Reality and Wee Heavy that weren't even on tap yet!  We dragged my poor mother-in-law, who hates beer,with us to this event but she was a trooper and hung in there. 

Gera gave a little speech and Jonathan read off the award winners.  I was surprised how many of the winners were present, and it was nice to be able to cheer for them.  Several winners were new to competitions entirely.  I was sad to not see Eric-Bob and Brett there though.  We ended up getting our prizes and medals a-la-end-of-Star-Wars.  I won a first place for my English Barley Wine (EBW) and third for my Flemish Red (Sour Loser.) 

The finale was the announcement by Mike Hoops about the winner of the Brewer's Choice Award:  To get a chance to brew your beer with Mike for the next year's GABF Pro-Am competition.  All of the first place medalists had a chance to win this one, so my EBW was in the running.  I certainly wish I had won this, but am extatic that the award went to fellow JAB member Tim Roets for his kolsch! 

I took the craziest pic of Tim I could find and put it through a 1970's filter as a passive-aggressive Minnesotan way of saying "I wish I could have won this..."  Congrats Tim!

For Day 4 of Octoberfest madness I had the Victory Festbier from a bottle, opened and tried while brewing in the garage.  This beer pours a very pretty deep amber to orange topped with a white head made of fairly large bubbles.  Aroma is malt and toast with a slight sulfury lager zing.  Flavor is bready malt but not incredibly sweet.  Very complex flavors.  Hop bitterness and lager crispness keep the sweetness down and this one is very well balanced.  Subtle noble hop flavor.  Ends dry but not astringent with a slight roastiness as it warms.  Body is medium to full.  Overall this is the best version I've had so far.  They use a traditional decoction and the hopping is restrained. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sovereign Estate Winery

Continuing in our local sight-seeing ventures we took a short trip out to Sovereign Estate Winery in Waconia, MN on the holiday.  I love the look of this place, and think it compares to several of the smaller wineries we saw on a trip to Oregon a few years back.  The grounds are expansive with grape vines growing up right along Lake Waconia.  They have a large tent for outdoor events, a baseball diamond, children's play equipment, and a beautifully manicured garden.

The winery itself is very easy on the eyes and has plenty of outdoor seating.  They have a nice tasting bar and gift shop inside that reminds me of a French winery.  They do their tastings differently here, with either a tasting of 6 wines in small glasses that you get all at once, or a different tasting up at the bar, with each wine paired with a small bite of food.  We ordered a cheese board, and made this into a light lunch.  I really like the wines here and especially dig the Talon Crest white.  This time of year they are serving the Sangria as well, and I was less impressed with that one.  Well worth a visit, and a nice place to wander the grounds and relax with a glass of wine!

For wrap-up I'll give a quick review of my day three Octoberfest experiment.  On the third day of September my true love gave to me...A Lake Superior Octoberfest!  Located in Duluth, this production brewery has been around for some time.  Often forgotten in the recent craft beer boom, these guys have been brewing beer in Minnesota since 1994.  Overall, I think their beers are decent, but haven't changed much over the years.  I have actually never had their Octoberfest before, so this was a nice one to try.  I had a bottle at the Old Chicago in Eden Prairie, served up by a very friendly bartender.
Aroma:  Malty sweetness.  No real hop aroma.
Appearance:  Deep amber to orange with excellent clarity.  Fine white head fades fast.
Flavor:  Sweet maltiness followed by a firm bitterness.  Some toasty or bready notes as it warms.  Has an almost astringent finish.
Overall:  Not a bad beer, but not my favorite Octoberfest.  The strong bittering and deep color actually seems more like an Alt beer.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Parley Lake Winery

While this is a predominantly beer-centric blog, I do from time to time partake of the "other" fermented beverages.  This weekend we have my mother-in-law in town from Alabama and thought we would show her some Minnesota wineries...she is not a fan of beer.  The first place on our list is Parley Lake Winery located in my picturesque Southwestern suburb of Waconia.  The winery shares the grounds of Deardorff Orchard within some very cool looking old barn buildings.  Several years back our brewclub pressed apples at Deardorff while Steve Zeller and Lynn Deardorff were working on their very first test batches of wines in 5 gallon carboys.  They have come a long way since then, making pretty good wines from Minnesota grapes, and some imported grape varieties.  This year they have moved the tasting room from a small outbuilding into the main apple barn to increase the size.  Even with that expansion, the bar was crazy-busy and the four servers were in-the-weeds trying to run about 25 samplings at a time.

They do tastings of 4 different wines for $4 or all 10 for $10 and you keep the customized glass.  You can take your sample and wander the apple barn or grounds with them.  They have a small petting zoo, hayrides for the kids, pick-your-own apples, and a fairly large shop with wine and apple products for sale.  Apple samples are always good, and we picked up some Ginger Crisp and Zestar apples for home.

I really enjoyed the La Crescent white wine.  For me it had the grassy and grapefruit aroma of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  I took home a few bottles for later.  The whites were certainly my favorite, and I think the reds need a bit more age.  The apple/grape wine was pretty interesting, but I really want these guys to start making hard cider!  That seems like a no-brainer to me.

This is a great place to take the family.  Do a slow sampling of wines as you wander the grounds.  On weekends they have the grills going for some hot dogs, and as it gets closer to Halloween they have pumpkins and live music.  If you get there at the right time they also sometimes have fresh pressed cider to try.

Last but not least, my second Octoberfest of the month was the Magic Hat Hex Ourtoberfest.  This was a pleasant surprise at a local restaurant here in town and fit my evil plan to have one of these each day during September.  This one is suitably malty in aroma and flavor, with a hint of hop bitterness and flavor.  Less crisp than the other versions I'm familiar with, which I attribute to the use of a German ale yeast instead of a lager yeast.  A hint of smoke in the finish which is not to style, but kind of nice.  This seems more like a pleasant Scottish 80/- than an Octoberfest.  Looking at the website they do put a bit of cherrywood smoked malt in there, but at least it isn't overwhelming like some beers that use that malt!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Octoberfest/Marzen experiment begins

For the month of September, I will be attempting to have an Octoberfest/Marzen/Festbeer each day.  For those few days that I can't have a beer because of work schedule, I'll try to have two the next day!
I now have a pretty good stock of beers, but if any of you find some cool ones or hard to find in Minnesota specimens, let me know!  I did manage to track down some of the BJCP preferred commercial examples of the style including Paulaner, Ayinger, Hacker-Pschorr, Victory Festbier, Spaten, and Sam Adams.  It will be interesting to compare these to the other versions I come across.

For September 1st I just happened to be having lunch at the Edina Grill with my lovely wife and her mother.  They have changed the tap list since last time I was there, and now only serve Minnesota beers on tap!  So Summit Octoberfest becomes the first beer on my list.  I was pleasantly surprised to have my beer served at correct temperature in a new sweet Summit glass.  Oh and my mother-in-law managed to get these wicked glasses for us to take home too...

Aroma: Not a lot going on here.  Subtle malty notes and a little floral hop.
Color:  Gold to very light Amber color with fine white head that fades fairly quickly.
Flavor:  Somewhat sharp bitterness and lager crispness that belies the malty nature of this style.  Fairly strong noble hop flavors and a distinct balance to the bitter side of things.  Ends with a fleeting malty taste then fades to a very dry finish.
Overall:  Not a bad beer by any means and would be easy to drink quite a few of them.  This version seems too hoppy and dry and lacks some of that malty smoothness I'm expecting.  Still, a very good beer to pair with banana waffles topped with praline sauce!

Today also happens to be my 11th wedding anniversary and we will be be having an excellent dinner at Terra Waconia to celebrate!   I can not believe that my wonderful wife has tolerated all my home brewing, beer collecting, and other assorted shenanigans for this long.  Raise a pint of something beery and help toast us to 11 more years of this wedded bliss!