Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Punktastrophy: The Redemption!

Early this fall season I published a post about the cursed pumpkin brew that Mike Lebben and myself attempted to create on the night of the Harvest Moon.  Follow this link for a recap of our epic brewing adventures.  Though told in over-the-top style, everything in that post truly happened, and it seemed that the disgruntled pumpkin gods were against us.  Mike continued his overseeing of the 10 gallon batch of Imperial pumpkin ale over the following month. 

Mike served his spiced version of the tainted brew to thirsty parents on Halloween from a giant pumpkin with a spigot.  Take THAT disemboweled pumpkin! 

I finally had a chance to visit Mike at his Wandering Eye Brewery for an official tasting of the beer.  Let's just say I was suitably impressed with the results, especially considering how many things went wrong with our process that could have resulted in a terrible beer! 

First I had a taste of the un-carbonated and un-spiced ale my from my half of the batch.  Remarkably after as much pumpkin slurry as we had in the wort, this sample is crystal clear!  A deep orange in color to nearly brown.  In the aroma I noted an earthy or peaty smell with a hint of maple syrup.  The flavor was sweet without being cloying and had a lot of real pumpkin flavor.  I sensed a subtle maple flavor at the end of the taste.  I was very excited about the blank canvas I now had to work with! 

Mike next  poured me a sample from his kegged and spiced version for a comparison.  Here is my official review along the same lines as the other pumpkin beers I have been blogging over the past two months.

Mike's Harvest Moon Imperial Pumpkin Ale

Aroma: I get strong nutmeg and ginger in the initial whiff of this beer.  A more restrained cinnamon comes out with swirling, mixing with a bit of apple ester to give a spiced apple cider aroma.  No hop aroma noted.  Some sweet malt and very subtle maple is also gleaned from this sample.
Appearance: Very deep orange to nearly brown in color.  There is a slight haze which is most likely chill haze based on the crystal clear room temperature version I sampled prior.  Not any hazier than the other commercial pumpkin ales I've tried.  This sample had very little head when poured, but I could rouse some fine white head with swirling.
Flavor: Somewhat sweet and very malty up front, but not cloying in the least.  Some melanoidins giving a toasty flavor.  I can pick up distinct ginger, allspice and nutmeg in the flavors.  This ends somewhat dry with a slight astringency that is tempered by the maltiness.  Slight alcohol warming as it goes down, but pleasant not distracting.  Medium mouthfeel.  I do pick up true pumpkin flavor in this beer, lurking in the background behind the spices.  No hop flavors. 
Overall: A remarkably balanced beer, especially given its troubled past.  A high alcohol beer, this has a pleasantly malty mouthfeel and warming finish suitable to the cold nights in Minnesota's November.  A bit more carbonation would be welcomed, and is easily fixed by putting it on more CO2.  Mike did a great job with the spicing, (making a tincture of spices in vodka) and it really enhances the pumpkin flavor rather than overwhelming it.  This is in my top tier of pumpkin beers that I have tried this season!  4.25 out of 5 (down from 4.5 due to low carbonation.) 

Next up is my version:

Eric's Pumpacolypse Brau:  I picked up my half of the batch from Wandering Eye Brewery and took it home very carefully!  Tasting the un-spiced base beer was very interesting--I could really pick out the pumpkin flavor, as well as a hint of the dark maple syrup that had gone into the fermenter.  I made a tincture of Penzey's spices including cinnamon, allspice, clove, powdered ginger and nutmeg, soaking them in some cheap vodka that I usually use to fill my airlocks.  After 24 hours in the booze, I ran the whole mix through a coffee filter and into another sanitized jar.  I then slowly added this to the kegged (but not carbonated) beer, tasting as I went.  When the flavors seemed right I finished kegging the beer and put it on gas to carbonate.  The result was right where I wanted it, but I had reserved some of the tincture in case the flavors faded once it was carbonated.  Based on my likes and dislikes from all the commercial examples I've tried, I went for a minimal approach.

Aroma: A subtle mix of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon.  Sweet malt and pumpkin flesh is strong after the initial zap of spices.  A hint of maple syrup and caramel. 
Appearance:  Just a tiny haze in this deep orange colored beer.  Carbonation was a bit light, but brought out a fine white head with swirling.
Flavor: Similar to Mike's version (obviously) in malt forward notes.  I do pick up the maple flavor, but on the back of the tongue.  The spicing is mild, but I can pick up nutmeg, clove and some ginger off the bat, with cinnamon trailing behind.  Medium bodied with some pleasant alcohol warming effect.  A mild astringency at the finish, but balanced well with the maltiness.  Carbonation is still not completely where I want it, but still higher than Mike's version.
Overall: Similar to Mike's version, but spices are a tad less prominent.  I really like this beer and managed (to my wife's chagrin) get through most of the keg at my birthday party.  4.5/5

I am very impressed with the way this beer turned out, in the face of its troubled past!  I would love to do this one again next year, with some changes in process.  First off, cut down the pumpkin a bit--just too much in there.  Increase the rice hulls to a ludicrous amount.  Cut the recipe from a 12 gallon to a 10 gallon to leave more room for additional rice hulls, water, etc.  This batch really overwhelmed the capacity of Mike's system the way we did it. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Report: For The Love Of Hops, by Stan Hieronymus

Continuing my series of book reports about good homebrew and beer related books, this month I look at the recent publication For The Love Of Hops, by Stan Hieronymus.  This book is one of the Brewing Elements series from Brewers Publications, a division of the Brewers Association.  The series aims to publish a definitive tome on each of the major ingredients in beer, starting with Yeast, then Hops, and the recently released Water.  I've got the latter as well, but need time to dig into that meaty book.  This series is really aimed at professional brewers and includes a lot of chemistry, biochemistry and large-scale brewing advice.  However, with the lines between professional and hobbyist blurring from the advent of the Internet and better general beer knowledge, a lot of the information is useful to the homebrewer as well.  Thanks for the book Keith!

Our hoppy journey begins with a forward by Ken Grossman (founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing) about his personal history with the hop and the change in the hop industry over the years.  Having been at the forefront of American craft brewing, his take on things is valuable and interesting.  I won't ruin it for you!

Next up is a fairly lengthy introduction by the author that spends some time on the history of hop growing and then to the idea that triggered the writing of this book.  The gist I got was that even the "hop experts" still have a lot of questions and Hieronymus drew the short straw to try putting all the info currently available into one small publication.  Brave man!

Chapter 1 starts with aroma, probably since aroma is the first thing one tends to notice about hops.  There is a lot of heavy science in this chapter populated with aroma wheels and spider graphs.  The author sites a lot of studies, resulting in plenty of information, as well as the obvious fact that this chapter barely scratches the surface of the subject.

The 2nd chapter goes back to the history of hops in beer and farming, and is perhaps my favorite section of the book.  Gone are the complex scientific formulas and names--this is history folks!  Following this (too short) historic lesson is a chapter that focuses on the future of the hop--paying much attention to hop breeding programs in the current day.  If you don't know much about the subject, this is an eye-opening intro to the complexities of hop husbandry!  It is also interesting to learn how the process of selecting and breeding hops is handled.  Continuing in this vein, chapters 4 and 5 pay attention to the arts of hop farming and harvesting.

Chapter 6 is useful from a technical perspective, as it discusses differences in hop products like cone, pellet, and extracts.  There is also an extensive list of the currently available (some still new and rare) hops along with their acids, oils and backgrounds.  A good place to start for info on newer hops, but I wish there was a bit more about their aroma and flavor profiles included.

Chapter 7 is about IBU's and using the hops in the brewhouse.  Formulas, talk of kettle geometry and interviews with brewers cavort through this chapter!  This is the nitty-gritty for the serious pro brewer.  Following this section is one on dry-hopping, an essential discussion for modern brewing techniques.  Off flavors take the center stage in chapter 9 and explains how hops can go terribly wrong.

The final chapter is really a bunch of recipes from professional brewers around the globe.  These range from IPA's to Continental lagers from breweries like Firestone Walker, Fullers, Victory and many more.  If you need some clone recipes to try--this is a good place to start.

Overall I enjoyed reading this book.  For the serious home or professional brewer there is a lot of concise information in here.  One of the big things I discovered was that not even the big brewers and scientists know all that much about hops.  There is a ton of new information yet to be learned in the near future.  Think of this as more of a brewing textbook than an entertaining read.  While there are some good anecdotes, the main thrust of this book is hard science.  Even with my background in medicine (with plenty of chemistry classes lurking behind me) there are sections that my mind wants to shake off and ignore as too difficult to pay attention to!  For those just starting the hobby, read How To Brew or something a bit lighter to start.  But for those mega-geek guys like me who can never seem to get enough beer information, go ahead and try this out! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Turning 40

This past week I celebrated my 40th birthday.  Strangely, where 35 freaked me out, this year's slow tick of the death-clock didn't seem to affect me much.  I'm guessing that the big-freak at 35 was because I didn't really even start my official career until age 30 and hadn't settled in for the long haul yet.  I'll also admit that since then I have gathered a fair number of friends who are older than me, and seeing them remaining cool and fun makes me feel like there is hope!  I worry a bit about becoming behind the times, but so far I can still talk video games, books, and music with the young folks.  I still have no comprehension of Twitter and hate songs with auto-tuning, so maybe this is the start of the drift to irrelevancy... Or perhaps just maintaining good taste! 

For my birthday week we did a lot of fun things to celebrate, and with all this fantastic stuff to look forward to I really had a great time! 

The festivities began on Tuesday with a Tyranena beer dinner at The Happy Gnome.  This is a small Wisconsin brewery that was ahead of the big craft beer boom curve, but that I've not really paid much attention to recently.  I did try their Painted Ladies pumpkin beer as part of my pumpkin beer blogging experiment, but that may be the only beer of theirs that I've had in 2 years.  I was pleased overall with the beer quality, and the well balanced drinkability of all of them.  The Sheep Shagger was one of the best Scotch ales I've had in a while...though the label design's shepherd with a lamb on his lap looks way too melancholy...  As usual we had a great time hanging out with our frequent-flyer beer dinner friends, as well as the wonderful staff of The Gnome.  The food was amazing as always!

On Wednesday, (my actual birthday) Sj had a meeting in the evening and my plans were to sit at home moping alone with a beer and my PS3.  My friends did not agree with this plan!  Mike Lebben, as well as Bryce and Elise came over to share beers and keep me company.  They all brought some cool beers for me, and I took this opportunity to crack a couple of rare beers that have been languishing in my cellar.  We had the incredibly tart and complex Cantillon Kriek, as well as a 2012 Black Tuesday to celebrate!  Lucky for Sj, I saved some of both for her tardy return!  It was fun just hanging out with friends on a school-night.

Saturday I went over to Andrew's place and we played Shadowrun, a game I haven't played since I was about 15 years old.  Its a roleplaying game from the 1980's in which the futuristic world is run by evil competing corporations who hire players for espionage, extortion, and various other misdeeds.  So the dystopian future of the 80's is really just the 2000's?  Though in the game, magic has returned to the world including elves, dwarves and trolls... I'm still waiting for that to happen!  This was a fun way to spend an afternoon--basking in the old-school geek glory of sitting around a table and rolling dice to kill things.

During this summer's CONvergence in Bloomington Sj and I donated money to Fearless Comedy Productions at a level that allowed for Courtney McLean and The Dirty Curls to play our event.  What event?  Well, why not have a 40th birthday party for me?  This was the ball that started rolling down the mountain, soon to become an avalanche ending in an amazing and crazy birthday bash.  Dan and John from Enki Brewing in Victoria kindly rented out their brewery for my nefarious deeds.  We had food catered through Chipotle, which seemed to be a big hit. 

Since the party was on a Sunday, and draconian Minnesota liquor laws don't allow taprooms to sell beer then, we were unable to drink Enki beer at the event.  I was able to furnish my own brews though and had six on tap using the JAB jockey-box.  The crowd favorites seemed to be the Mild Mannered, the JAB de Garde and the ill-fated Pumpacolypse Brau.  I managed to empty three kegs to make room for upcoming brews! 

Later in the evening, the band arrived and performed two sets of their deliciously raunchy music for our entertainment.  If you have not heard of them, you should check out their website here.  Watch a video and prepare to have your mind blown.  I'm amazed at how a group of (mostly) gals can sing such disturbing lyrics whilst maintaining a straight face!  I was a bit concerned that my friends and family would be horrified, but I think the band was a hit.  They sang one naughty serenade to Andrew and Janelle's 17 month old boy, who stood in rapt attention for the entire song.  They sang me a wonderful new birthday song that reminded me of the disturbing fact that my parents once had sex, and congratulated me on not being aborted!  Watching the crowd's reactions was almost as good as watching the band--I know I had tears running down my face from laughing so hard.

We're with the band...

The party turned out amazingly and I thank the band, the guys from Enki, and everyone who came to share the fun.  Special thanks to my best friend since Kindergarten, Bryan Keehl, who drove all the way from Chicago to take part.  Bryan gave a great speech that got both of us choked up and rivaled the one he gave at my wedding!  He also acted as my beer mule--bringing me some awesome Three Floyds beer from our field trip out there last month.  Thanks to all those who brought gifts (you really didn't need to, but I appreciate them) and cards.  My friend Marty the blacksmith forged me a heavy bottle opener in the shape of battle-axe that I carried around like a jaded king's scepter most of the night.

Both still ticking!

The point of this story you ask?  As I hit age 40 I find myself in the enviable position of having everything that I really want out of life.  I'm married to a wonderful woman who loves me and keeps me on track.  I have a busy job that I really love to do, and that provides me with the money to not worry about the little things as much.  I have a ton of great friends and a healthy family.  My hobbies of homebrewing and beer-blogging are an outlet for my creative side.  Now that I've reached this stage, I find that (for me) life is really about the experience.  Life is a series of experiences, some good, some bad, but all lead you along the road that becomes your history and your future.  Why do I love beer so much?  Each beer I have is an experience.  It will never be the same again, that special combination of company, location, food, etc.  Beer is meant to be shared--as are all great experiences like concerts, theater, sporting events, and even birthday parties.  The company and the event means more than the liquid in the glass.  This is the reason I continue my long-winded babbling about beer and beer events--I'm attempting to put into inadequate words the feeling that these things engender.  This is also a journal and remembrance of a series of (mostly) enjoyable events that make up the current chapter of my life.

To all my friends, family and other readers: Stop and enjoy those moments that make up your life.  Here's to another chapter and the next 40 years!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Pumpkin Beers: Imperial Punk!

In this issue I continue my slow slog through all the pumpkin beers I can get my hands on!  I've made my way through a large portion of my stash and will continue to chip away at it.  I'm getting to the tail end of the pumpkin beer season and some of these are no longer available at the store, (and some are from outside our distribution area anyway,) but keep these reviews in mind for next year's batch!  First up a couple of Imperial pumpkin beers!

Sam Adams Fat Jack: This is Samuel Adams' Imperial pumpkin beer, clocking in at 8.5% ABV.  Made with 28 pounds of pumpkin per barrel as well as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice.  They make note of smoked malt in the recipe as well.  This is unusual in that the brewery makes a regular pumpkin beer as well: check out my review of Harvest Pumpkin ale here.

Aroma: This beer has a strong malty aroma with a hint of nutmeg.  There is a subtle smoky note melded with a mild cinnamon.  Overall not as aromatic as many of the pumpkin beers I've tried.
Appearance: A deep ruby color with excellent clarity.  Pours with a huge off-white head that seems to last forever. 
Flavor: A pleasant malty sweetness at the start that settles into an off-dry, almost roasty finish.  I get some nutmeg and a bit of ginger, but pretty subtle.  There is a somewhat creamy mouthfeel.  I also get a bit of alcohol warming down the back of the throat.  Light cinnamon and smoky notes as it warms. 
Overall: This was much better than expected.  I don't pick up much pumpkin, but the malty backbone and creaminess of this beer is very nice.  The spices, dark malts and smokiness add a lot of complexity to this beer and makes you want to keep trying it.  I know you will be shocked by this, but it goes very well with pumpkin bisque (I used the last of my organic CSA pumpkins for this!) 4 of 5 rating.

Southern Tier Pumking: Another Imperial pumpkin ale at 8.6% ABV, probably the first of the style that I ever tried.  I have noted some variation year to year-with last year's being overly bitter and hoppy for my tastes. The bottle verbiage makes a big deal about the pagan roots of this Halloween and pumpkins, and is a fun read.  No mention of spices on the website or the bottle, but I can sure taste some in there!

Aroma: Powerful malty nose with a perfume-like vanilla and pumpkin-flesh aroma intertwined.  I actually smell pie crust!  Perfumy fruity esters present and a whiff of alcohol.  Possibly some nutmeg as it warms. 
Appearance: Light orange in color with crystal clarity.  Large white head with fine bubbles that lasts for some time.
Flavor: Strong malt that was noted in aroma, but not cloyingly sweet.  I get some hop flavor and bitterness in this beer.  The mouthfeel is medium, but the taste ends with a slight astringency from pumpkin and hop.  I do taste vanilla, nutmeg and cooked pumpkin.  Some alcohol warming as it goes down. 
Overall: Probably the best showcasing of the actual pumpkin flavor I've tasted.  The pie crust flavor really takes this to the next level.  The sweet flavors are well balanced by bitterness.  I really like this one!  4 of 5.

O' Fallon Pumpkin Beer: We used to find O' Fallon on our store shelves in Minnesota, but I haven't seen them in a long time.  I can't say I ever loved the one I tried, but they had a ton of unusual fruit beers.   I picked this up along our trip to Alabama.  5.6% ABV, and uses pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves per the website.  Interestingly also uses white wheat in the grain bill.

Aroma: Sweetness with a cooked corn aroma.  Smells creamy.  Hints of nutmeg and cinnamon.  Green apple as it warms.
Appearance: Dark gold in color, but not quite orange.  Large and fine lacy white head.  Slight haze.  Head does not persist long.
Flavor: Very sweet start.  Strong apples and cinnamon like old fashioned baked apple sauce.  Nutmeg trails after the apple pie flavor.  Light body but has a strange mouth-coating effect.  I taste corn in the flavor as it warms.
Overall: This beer tastes very corny, which combined with the slick mouthfeel is likely DMS from poor fermentation or incomplete boil.  My wife said it best: "This tastes more like a cider than a beer."  2.5 of 5, and both of us dumped it after it warmed up a bit.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Three Floyds Brewery

On a recent trip to Chicago, my childhood friend Bryan and his girlfriend Megan took me on a little field trip to the not-so-bustling town of Munster, Indiana for a visit to the fabled Three Floyds Brewery.  I've been a fan of their beers for ages, though I admit some of that may be the fact that I can't buy them in Minnesota.  In tone, the brewery has a lot in common with our home-team Surly Brewing: screw-the-man attitude, vibrant art style, irreverent beer names, and cult-like fan following.  All the things needed for greatness among the beer geek community.  And like Surly, they get by on more than attitude--they put out consistently good beer.


We arrived about 30 minutes before the brewpub opened to find a large line snaking into the parking lot from the main entrance.  This was no special event day, but apparently the place is always packed.  Luckily it was a balmy 50 degrees and sunny in small-town Indiana that day, but I wouldn't brave the elements in the middle of winter for it!  Squatting beneath the bulbous Munster water tower, the brewery building is essentially a large warehouse with an attached small brewpub.  There is a pub entrance and a second, smaller, door for walk in bottle sales.  A few minutes before official opening, an employee, using his best carnival barker's voice, explained the rules to those of us in line.  He explained the free tour times and allowed us to sign up for them.  Interestingly once in the brewpub, if your tour time comes up, they will save your seat for you until you return.  A nice perk since tables are hard to come by.  I do have to say, that the staff was great and despite being busy they really knew how to deal with crowds.

We were escorted to a small table near the rather minuscule bar and settled in for some great beers.  The bar itself is oddly decorated with a series of framed bottle art, Three Floyds event posters, and a mix of old toys and action figures.  Shelves of bottles, more toys and odd nick-knacks also surrounded the room.  Murals of Gumball Head the cat lined the walls near the restrooms.  Again I was shocked at how small the brewpub and bar is, with the popularity of the brewery such as it is.  Supposedly they had a recent expansion, but they obviously didn't go crazy with it! 

Bryan doing his "Robert The Bruce" impression!

They offer samplers of their four "regular" beers: Dreadnaught IPA, Alpha King Pale, Mild and Robert The Bruce.  All are good beers but RTB is far and away the best--a wonderfully malty and complex Scottish ale.  They had an extensive list of other beers, and offered most in full or half pints, though some were only served in 8 oz snifters (mostly double IPAs.)  Between the three of us we were able to sample many of the beers that fine day.  Still bloated from a huge dim-sum repast in Chinatown earlier in the day, we stopped drinking due to lack of room rather than too much alcohol.  I enjoyed the War Mullet and Permanent Funeral (both DIPAs) very much.  Bryan and I were very surprised that in addition to over-the-top hoppy, the brewery had several very restrained examples of classic Continental beer styles like and Oktoberfest (Munsterfest) and Schwarzbier (Das Kleine Schwarz Einhorn).  I wish there had been more time, and more room in my distended gut, to try everything, but we did fairly well.  Several of the beers on tap were collaborations with Metal groups, and similarly themed loud Metal music pervaded the pub.

We hit the free tour after our drinking was done.  You get what you pay for.  The entire tour took place in about 15 feet of warehouse space.  Our tour guide was good and knew his stuff, but this was a very fast tour that barely scratched the surface of such an infamous brewery.  I did like the artwork on the walls, including some old D&D art from the Dungeon Master's Guide of my youth.  Looking at the bourbon barrels filled with future incarnations of rare Three Floyds beer was intriguing.  They also had just received a large oak foedor as used by Rodenbach and New Belgium, but hadn't decided what to do with it yet.  I also spotted Brewers Supply Group malt shipments that my friend Chris is probably responsible for.  I was disappointed that we really didn't get close enough to look at the packaging line, or even the brew kettle, though I guess if you've seen one you've probably seen them all.

When done with our tour we joined the (now shorter) line for bottle sales and purchased some beers to take home with us.  They had a limitation to 2 cases of beer per person, and nearly everyone in line with us left with two big case boxes!  They did have a lot of t-shirts, but I was disappointed in the other brewery swag.  I would have bought a sweat shirt, or tin tacker or posters...but they were all out of those.  Pretty much beer, t-shirts and pint glasses only.  Come on guys, with your dramatic artwork and logo this is a huge area of potential money making for you!

I really did enjoy my trip out to the brewery, but have to admit I was slightly underwhelmed after the hype I have heard.  I wanted more grandeur and pomp!  I still need to get out there for Dark Lord Day one of these years (as seen on Limited Release in two separate episodes). 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Pumpkin Beer Extavaganza

I will get through all these pumpkin beers before November is out!  I WILL!  Here is the next batch, some are available around here and a few are gleaned from my recent travels outside of Minnesota.  I'll also talk about some non-beer pumpkin drinks...

Harpoon Pumpkin UFOHarpoon is a brewery that opened in Boston back in 1986, and has been making craft beer ever since.  This is actually the first beer I've ever tried from them, since they have no distribution in Minnesota.  Per the website, this is a beer made with German Munich and Vienna malt, and the brewery makes a big deal about it being unfiltered.  Pumpkins and unnamed spices round out the recipe.
Aroma: Nutmeg, cinnamon and actual pumpkin abound in the aroma.  No hop scents.  I get a slightly fruity ester profile that accentuates the sweet malt.
Appearance: Copper in color with a slight haze (as promised).  A bit of sediment despite smooth pour.  There is very minimal head to this beer and what is present disappears quickly.
Flavor: Sweet maltiness with a medium body.  I get some nutmeg and possibly vanilla in the middle of the taste.  As it warms up I taste pumpkin flesh and a hint of ginger.  Balanced to the malty side and lacks the astringency I see in many pumpkin beers.
Overall: A very well balanced beer.  This comes off as malt balanced but not overly sweet, with some pumpkin pie spices present.  Some complexity here, and I get a true pumpkin aroma and flavor to the beer--one of only three I've found so far in my tastings.  Low carbonation hurts it a bit.  I would happily drink more of this if I could find it!  4 of 5 score.

Redhook Out Of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter:  This is a seasonal offering from Washington's Redhook Brewery.  Per the website: "Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter is dark chestnut brown in color and is made with pureed pumpkin. Cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger are added to the whirlpool and maple syrup is added during fermentation. This full-bodied, rich roasty porter makes you want to eat turkey and watch football, or build a bonfire." 
Aroma: Nutmeg and cinnamon up front.  Some roast malt is present, but not extreme.  Some sugar and sweetness noted.  No esters or hop aromas.
Appearance: Opaque dark brown to nearly black in color.  Has a fine tan head that is easily roused.
Flavor: Roast malt and a hint of sweetness up front.  Fades to a ginger and nutmeg finish with a slight astringency.  Not a lot of malt in the flavor, and the body seems thin.  No real pumpkin flavor.
Overall: I like the concept of pumpkin porters, but this one falls short to me.  The spicing is not heavy handed, but the astringent finish and light body hurt this one for me.  I'd like a bit more residual sweetness and mouthfeel out a porter.  3 out of 5.

Terrapin Pumpkin Fest: This is a brewery out of Athens, Georgia that has been putting out flavorful craft beers since 2002.  I picked this up in Alabama at Wish You Were Beer.  Made with real pumpkin, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon.
Aroma: Plump real pumpkin aroma!  Sweet malty notes, followed by nutmeg and cinnamon.  No hops noted.  A hint of ginger as it is swirled.
Appearance: Deep gold color with a slight protein haze.  Rocky off-white head with large bubbles at edge of glass.  Very persistent head.
Flavor: Sweet and malty at first, but ends off-dry and very drinkable.  Not a cloying sweetness at all.  Strong nutmeg/allspice and ginger flavors after the first malt hit.  Cinnamon flavor trails behind but distinct.  I do taste pumpkin flesh and ends with a subtle astringency that I've come to associate with real pumpkin.  Medium mouthfeel, almost creamy.
Overall: A very good Octoberfest beer, that is well balanced in its own right.  The malty sweetness plays well with the spicing and evens out any of that astringency from spice and pumpkin.  Very drinkable!  4/5.

Woodchuck Pumpkin Cider: This is one of the "Private Reserve" series of seasonal ciders from Vermont's Woodchuck Hard Cider.  Sj loves the Granny Smith variety and that is her go-to drink of choice with many foods.  Most of the other varieties we have had from this large cidermaker have not been as much to our liking.  Seeing this one on the shelf prompted us to grab a bottle and see how it stacked up to the pumpkin beers we have been working our way through.
Aroma: Sweet cider apples, but mostly smells like baked apple pie.  Strong cinnamon and maybe some allspice.  Grape bubblegum as it warms.
Appearance: Deep orange color (this cider uses caramel coloring for that effect).  Almost no head.  Pettilant, with very mild carbonation, noted with swirling.  Excellent clarity.
Flavor: Very sweet apple that reminds me of cinnamon apple pie.  Possibly a hint of ginger burn at the finish.  No pumpkin flavor noted.  Not incredibly complex.  Cloyingly sweet on the tongue and makes me want a sip of water afterward.
Overall:  Way, way, way too sweet to be drinkable.  Mellow warm pie spice but more like apple than pumpkin.  We didn't finish this...not worth the calories. 2.5/5.

Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin: I'll admit, I wouldn't be caught dead buying a six-pack of this.  My beer geek friends would disown me.  But the kind waiter at Old Chicago let me have a sample of it, so here it is on my list.  It is from a small sample glass and that may have affected aroma a bit.
Aroma: I get nutmeg followed by sweet caramel and then a hint of allspice.  Some corny aroma mixes with some fruity pear and apple esters.  No hop aroma.
Appearance: Deep gold in color with crystal clarity.  Fine white head, that seems to last.
Flavor: Fruity sweetness up front, followed by flavors of allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg.  No real pumpkin noted.  The apple and corn flavors make this taste more like apple pie.  Creamy mouthfeel, but ends somewhat flat.
Overall: Not a lot of complexity, but has the proper mix of spices.  Not as bad as I thought it would be--I've had worse this season.  I'm dying a little inside by giving this a 3.5 out of 5.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Beer Scene: Chicago (Musings From Chi-Town)

Continuing my travelogue of a recent trip to Chicago, and in no particular order, here are some more great places to try out if you love beer and food.

Revolution Brewing:  I have heard great things about this brewery over the past couple years, and my friend Chris suggested I check them out when in Chicago.  So I actually made this my first stop on our trip, dragging Sj with me into a somewhat shady area at night.  This is the main brewery site on Kedzie Avenue in a manufacturing district on the Northwest side, but they also have a more accessible brewpub site that I will visit on a future trip!  Upon arrival from our cab, we were not entirely sure we had found the right place, briefly worried we had been dropped off in The Hood--soon to be found rotting in a dark alley with empty pockets. 

The building is in a large warehouse with only a small, difficult to read neon sign above a small entry door to betray its identity.  Climbing a set of stairs past a wall mural that indicated we were on the right track, we came to a large open tasting room.  We arrived in the early evening and the place was pretty quiet at that point.  About half of the room was sectioned off for a private event for cyclists that was just starting, but there was plenty of space for all of us.  A large stack of bourbon barrels sat against one wall, filled with beer and awaiting their turn for bottling.  We could have just made a guided tour, but had an appointment with friends and couldn't linger too long...I was more interested in getting time to try all their beers than seeing more stainless steel fermenters!  From where we settled into the long bar, we had a nice view through glass of the brewery proper.  They are a pretty sizable brewery (60 barrel) and keg and can at the facility. 

Our servers were very helpful and gave me some light-hearted crap for not bringing them some Surly beers when they found out I was from Minnesota.  We were able to try individual sample glasses of all the beers, varying in price depending on the beer.  They had about 15 different beers on tap and we did not have the time (or capacity) to try them all...I was very impressed with the variety offered.  Beers ranged from Bier de Garde, to rauchbier made with 100% smoked malt, to several bourbon barrel aged concoctions.  I really enjoyed the Working Mom: an Imperial brown ale aged on Appleton Rum and Woodford Reserve Whiskey barrels--complex, sweet and boozy!  Also quite nice was the Red Skull Imperial Red ale and the Deth's Tar bourbon barrel aged Imperial stout.  We were able to pick up a bottle of the latter to take home with us!  I also picked up a large black fist shaped tap handle for my collection, that may have been the reason my carry-on bag was rechecked at the airport on the way home. 

Within 45 minutes of getting there, the large tasting room was getting crowded, loud and filled with folks wearing skinny jeans and touting ironic facial hair.  An old fashioned popcorn popper provided free sustenance to the hungry beer drinker (me).  We asked our server what the options were for getting a cab out of the area and he didn't outright laugh at us, but did offer advice on what streets to walk up to get back to civilization.  Hand on wallet we marched outside ready for a cautious hike.  Luckily a late-comer to the hipster bike event pulled up in a cab at that exact moment and we were able to both direct them to the proper entrance and snag their cab for ourselves.  I've become soft living in the country.

Swank bar at Fountainhead!

The Fountainhead:  This is a beer and spirits bar lined with tons of dark mahogany wood that conjures up feelings of old world pubs, but less cluttered.  My good friend Bryan took us here in between events.  The beer menu is freaking 14 pages long!  14 pages!  Whiskey and Scotch take up another 8 pages or more, so if that is your thing...drink up.  They have a small back Barrel Room for extra seating and events.  By all reports, the food is excellent as well, but we just stopped in for a drink.  I was impressed with the vibe of the place--comfortable and upscale, but not pretentious, everyone there seemed to be very relaxed and having a good time.  Service was very knowledgeable and quick when needed.  It took us a while to make our way through the huge beer list (which included tons of beers I'd never heard of) and eventually tried out some of the stranger ones.  There was a whole group of beers that had been collaborations with local breweries and chefs (including Stephanie Izard from Top Chef/Girl & Goat, as well Fountainhead's own Cletus Friedman.)  I would love to come back here again and strongly
recommend it to serious beer geeks.

The beer menu!

Bangers & Lace

Bangers & Lace:  This is a place that Shea and Kathleen clued us into, taking us there for Sunday brunch prior to our flight back to Minnesota.  We also got to meet up there with Michael, another friend and local librarian. This restaurant and bar specializes in (surprise!) sausage and beer.  They have 32 beers on tap a ton more in bottle to choose from.  Looking at the oh-so-subtle sign out front, I would never have even noticed this place much less stopped in.  They have an old fashioned long bar and a bunch of old poorly taxidermied animals on the walls, giving it a 1940-50's feel.  Tin ceilings and truck-stop stools complete the picture.  I tried a couple of great beers here, including two different Gose beers!  The brunch food was all amazing: can you say foie gras corn dogs?  And bacon sausage!  Sausage made out of bacon--the best of both worlds!  I would come back for the food alone, but the varied tap list would keep me here a while!  I was only sad that we had a flight scheduled and I couldn't hang out here as long as I would have liked. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Halloween Round-Up and Unusual Pumpkin Beers...

In my effort to try and review as many pumpkin beers as possible this Fall, I have dug deep into the cellar this week and discovered some dusty treasures within.  We will start the show with a couple of sour pumpkin beers--at least they are different!  I will admit that I had a cold for tasting the first three on the list, and that could have influenced my senses a bit (especially aroma) and is partly why I chose powerful beers to try at this time.

New Belgium Kick: This is 2012's sour pumpkin ale made as a collaboration between New Belgium's Kim Jordan and Elysian's Dick Cantwell (also see my review of He Said by Cantwell.)  It was made with 75% ale with pumpkins and cranberry juice, and 25% ale aged in wooden barrels.  I couldn't find out if there was any wine or booze in the barrels.  I tried this ale last year at a brewclub meeting and really hated it, but kept my bottle hidden away in the hopes that it would improve with age. 
Aroma: Sour as anything!  Layered with acetic (vinegar) sourness and wild yeast sourness.  There is a musty forest floor aroma as swirled.  No spicing noted.  Some pineapple aromas as it warms.
Appearance: Deep golden color with a slight haze.  Small white head with large bubbles.
Flavor: Sharp bitterness up front and a strong sour zing.  I taste the pineapple esters from the Brettanomyces.  Tart cranberry and an astringent earthy note.  This has a very thin body and ends dry and raspy on the tongue. 
Overall:  I'm not a huge fan.  There isn't much to this other than SOUR!  Lacks complexity that I look for in sour beers and I don't get much pumpkin through that tartness.  I do like it better than last year (dumped) but still didn't have more than half a glass before I let it go.  A bit disappointed with New Belgium and Dick Cantwell for this one--it should have been amazing based on most of their other projects.  2.5 of 5 final score.

Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela: Jolly Pumpkin is a small craft brewery out of Dexter, Michigan that specializes in barrel aged beers.  Due to distribution issues the brewery recently pulled out of Minnesota and we can no longer find these amazingly complex sour beers in our area.  Strangely, it took them years to finally come out with an actual pumpkin beer.  La Parcela is that beer, made with pumpkin, cacao and spices.  I dug deep in the cellar for this one finding a bottle from Batch 610 circa 2010. 
Aroma: Fairly strong tartness is noted first.  I get earthy notes of a freshly tilled garden (but in a good way).  Brettanomyces horse-blanket aromas meld with a mild dry cocoa and nutmeg or cinnamon.  Some pear and apricot fruity esters are present as well.
Appearance: Deep gold to almost ruby in color, with no haze.  This beer has a huge fine off-white head that never seems to fade. 
Flavor: A very sour beer!  Light body that fades to a bone dry finish.  I get some earthy beet-like flavors as it warms (pumpkin?) combined with brett character that leaves a leathery, almost dirty character.  Mild nutmeg flavors.  Some oak tannins present.  A hint of bitter chocolate in finish.
Overall: This is balanced to the very dry and sour side.  Not much spice here, but that may have faded in three years since it was brewed.  The sourness likely has increased over time as well.  This tastes more like a gueuze from Brussels!  3.5/5.

Summit Unchained #5 Imperial Pumpkin Porter:  This was Summit's 5th foray into letting its brewers try out unusual recipes on a smaller scale.  This edition was dreamed up by brewer Nate Siats and included Sweet China Cinnamon, Jamaican Allspice, Powdered Cassia Buds, Ground Nutmeg, Ginger Powder, Ground Mace, and Ground Ceylon Cloves.  Released in October of 2010, I found it to be too bitter for me.  I left a few bottles in the cellar (more by accident than anything) and discovered them recently, lurking behind some bottles of Bigfoot.  A happy surprise!
Aroma: I get some molasses and boozy dark rum notes up front.  Some nutmeg and cinnamon are present and s spicy almost chili pepper note on the nose.  Strong semi-sweet chocolate aromas as it warms.
Appearance: Very dark brown with slight ruby highlights at edges of glass.  Fine tan head that fades quickly.
Flavor: Complex roast and chocolate flavor, mixed with a molasses and licorice root off-sweetness.  Medium bodied, but ends pretty dry.  Some oxidized sherry-like notes add complexity.  Spicing is mellow with just a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon.  There is a slight boozy warming note as it goes down.  As this warms up I get more coffee notes and an earthy astringency that may be due to the pumpkin.
Overall: This is tons better than it was last year--almost a different beer.  Age has added smoothness and complexity to this unusual beer.  I sipped this on Halloween night in front of a fire, while sneaking chocolate from our treat basket.  If you have any of these hiding in your cellar--drink them now! 4 of 5.

Swag from Hoppy Halloween!

I figured that in addition to drinking pumpkin beers, I should have some Halloween wrap-up as well.  First, I wanted to show off my swag for winning first place in the stout category at Hoppy Halloween with my perrenial favorite Olde Meconium Imperial Stout.  The guys at the Prairie Homebrewing Companions have been running this competition for 16 years now and really know how to put on a show.  I have yet to get out there for judging, but one of these years I'll make it.  They create different amazing ceramic beads for their medals, and I put entries in each year just to win one!  They also give out some of the best prizes I've ever seen at a competition.  I'm very excited about my swag this year: Pimp Deschutes track jacket; Jack Pine Glass (I contributed to Pat's Kickstarter and wish him much success); Honeycomb wood to put in a beer; bat shaped shuriken; and more!

A night out on the town!

I also wanted to give props to the crew at The Four Firkins for hosting cool Spooky Fancy Friday event at the store the day after Halloween.  Alvey was dressed up as a zombie Beer Barron; Ian as a disturbing Cat In The Hat; Doug as a distinguished English gentleman (who stayed in character all night); Michael as Heisenberg (I apparently need to watch Breaking Bad); and Bryan as a demented version of The Flash!  Sj and I dressed up in our steam-punk outfits for the event...because who wants to miss an opportunity to get dressed up? We talked Anna and Matt into joining us as well: Anna dressed up in her finest 80's gear (as if she was old enough to remember the 80's!) and Matt as Robin Hood--Man In Tights!  We sampled many fine beers including Jeff Williamson's Summit Unchained Bier de Garde and the newest Snowstorm from Schells.  We also sampled the disturbing Rogue Beard Beer that was inocculated with yeast from John Maier's beard.  Tasted Belgiany...

Once we had socialized and sampled enough we headed over to McCoy's Public House just down the road and had a wonderful dinner.  We were the only people dressed up in costume, but Bar Manager Nick Collins did not bat an eye!  He's good people. Having been sick on Halloween itself, this night out was a fine way to make up for it.  I still felt a bit off my game, but on the mend, and being with a lot of friends helped.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Interview With The Four Firkins' Jason Alvey!

Having become well acquainted with the fine folks from the Four Firkins, I thought it would be fun to do a series of interviews with these incredibly beer-knowledgeable people.  For the first installment we start at the beginning:  with the founder of the Firkins, Jason Alvey.  Alvey was incredibly accommodating in answering all of these questions in such a verbose and entertaining manner.  I was very interested to see his unique outsider's take on politics and the three-tiered system.  Without further ado, let us get to the interview!

EW:  Back in the early dark ages of technology and iTunes, I ran into a little local beer podcast called What Ales Thee.  I really enjoyed hearing about the local beers instead of just beers I couldn't find in Minnesota.  Turns out that one of the hosts was none other than yourself!  What got you into craft beer and interested in doing something like that podcast?

Alvey:  Ahhh yes. The old podcast. That was a lot of fun. Well, moving here from Australia I had never had much in the way of craft beer. I drank a great deal of beer down-under but not exactly good stuff. Once I moved to Minneapolis it didn’t take me long to become completely obsessed with the many different kinds of beer we have here. The podcast started as something fun to do with my good mate, Phil, but it turned into marketing for what would soon become The Four Firkins. We had thousands of people downloading and listening to our show. When we announced the Firkins beer store would be coming soon we effectively had a customer base of listeners before the store existed. Opening day was packed!

EW:  What did you do before starting the store?  And what made you take the crazy chance to open a beer-only store in Minnesota of all places?

Alvey:  I have always worked in retail. Here in the U.S. I worked for Erik’s Bike Shop for 8 years before I decided to open the Firkins. I had a good understanding of how customer service orientated retail should work. I didn’t see many liquor stores that were doing much in the way of that nor did I see any liquor stores that were focused on nothing but craft beer. I discovered that many of the liquor stores that we have here are second and third generation owned businesses. The owners are for the most part absent and they tended to run things in a very old fashioned way. 

I felt that because I was actually a craft beer customer and had experience in other aspects of retail I could do a better job than many of these old timers. After all, I was not born into it, I was a consumer and new exactly what consumers wanted! To me it seemed logical, obvious. I remember being baffled as to why nobody had tried to open a store like The Four Firkins already. 

As you can see we are still the only store in Minnesota that focuses entirely on beer. Our inventory turns over very quickly so it’s always fresh and our staff knows what they are talking about. Running an operation like this takes a lot of care and serious commitment. You can’t be an absent owner and have a store like the Firkins, it just doesn’t work. I do this and my employees do this because we all truly love craft beer. 

EW:  I imagine that you have some interaction with brewers/distributors, as well as customers. Have you met anyone really cool or interesting through your job?

Alvey:  Of course our customers are the most important part of all this. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be around! We meet really cool people all the time. We get a hundred people through here even on a slow day and most of them are awesome, happy and super fun people to chat with. I see where you’re coming from though and yes, we have had some pretty famous beer industry types visit us here at the store. Some of the more memorable ones were: Garrett Oliver and Steve Hindy of Brooklyn Brewery, Greg Koch of Stone Brewing, Jim Koch of Boston Brewing, Peter Bouckaert of New Belgium, Doug Odell from Odell Brewing, Greg Hall of Goose Island, Dave Engbers of Founders and many more over the years. Doug Hoverson author of The Land of Amber Waters has done a couple of book signings with us. We even had the honor of hosting a bonafide Trappist Monk from the La Trappe brewery in Holland, Father Isaac. We get visited frequently by our favorite beer knight – Sir Lanny Hoff. He’s kind of a legend. Let’s not forget of course all the local brewers who are every bit as much rock stars as the out state ones who come through. Our local beer scene would not be booming like it is without all those guys and gals. We are lucky enough to say we know all the local brewers very well. 

EW:  What is your favorite beer event to go to in MN? Or elsewhere...

Alvey:  Well, I don’t really have favorites. You could say I guess, that Craft Beer is my favorite alcoholic beverage but that’s about as narrowed down as it gets. In life I think it’s best to try all kinds of different things. Having “favorites” is to limit yourself. As for beer events, I like small intimate events as much as I like large festivals. There’s a time and a place for everything. I really appreciate events that have an education element to them. Like the classes that BBS holds at the Republic or like the ones we now hold at the Firkins….

EW:  Tell us about a couple newer beers you would encourage people to try right now?

Alvey:  OK, I went back and forth for some time regarding my answer to this question. Rather than waxing poetically about subtle hints of leather etc and going on about all the amazing locally brewed beers we have here now, I’m going to simply give you a list. You’ll notice this list is all foreign and none of them are new. These beers represent some pivotal beers from my life and I think it’s good for people to remember that a lot of these foreign beers are just as amazing as the locally brewed ones. So here’s the list, in no particular order:
  1. Hanssens - Scarenbecca Kriek
  2. Williams Bros - Alba Scots Pine Ale 
  3. J.W. Lees - Harvest Port Cask edition
  4. Schlenkerla – Urbock
  5. Gouden Carolus – Classic
Just remember to buy these from liquor stores that actually have fresh product! 

EW:  Are there any cool tastings or events on the horizon for the Firkins in the next few months? I loved the Game of Thrones release!

Alvey:  Yes, there are always exciting things happening at the Firkins. Not only do we host free events like the one you mention but we also changed at state law so that liquor stores can now host actual classes. We do at least one per month and focus on all kinds of topics from beer styles and histories to discussions about the three tier system and even classes about antique beer bottles and other collectibles. We are very excited about what we do and love sharing it with as many people as we can. 

EW:  As one who watched the news and videos of the process, I'm interested to hear: Any thoughts on the future of your seemingly one-man-vendetta against prohibition of beer sales on Sunday?

Alvey:  It’s far from a one-man-vendetta. There are 14 liquor stores in Minnesota that want to be open on Sundays and clearly the majority of consumers want the convenience of Sunday liquor sales too. Every poll taken in Minnesota shows around 70% of people think Sunday sales is a good thing, there is even a consumer group, the MN Beer Activists who are spearheading the effort. So why can’t we make it happen? The opposition is simply too strong. 

There are hundreds of liquor stores here in Minnesota that passionately oppose the repeal of the Sunday trade restriction. They do not want to be open on Sundays (for various reasons that all boil down to laziness and/or fear of change) and they will do anything they can to make sure it never happens. Unfortunately for us they have the numbers and they are all members of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) which is a large and powerful lobbying group. 

One senator told me earlier this year that he hears from the MLBA and its members every single day about how they don’t want to be open on Sundays. The same senator told me he never hears from regular people who want this repealed. 
That is essentially the crux of the problem. Most consumers agree that Sunday sales for liquor stores is a good idea but getting those people to go the next step and actually call their representatives is very difficult. Until the legislators at the Capitol start hearing from more regular consumers about the issue they are going to continue to do what the MLBA says. The Sunday sales restriction could stay in place for a very long time at this rate. 

We need to get the issue more media exposure and we need more people calling their representatives. We’ll try again next year!

EW:  Are there any other unusual loopholes (for good or evil) from the 3 tiered system of beer distribution that we might find interesting?

Alvey:  The entire thing, in fact, is fascinating. We are the only country in the world that has a legally enforced three tier system for distribution of alcohol. Growing up in Australia and having lived almost two years in London, England I have seen first hand how other countries operate with alcohol and I can tell you that what we have here is indeed unique. One can make a very strong argument that the craft beer renaissance we have today only exists because we have the three tier system. Without it we’d have “Tied Houses” like Australia and the U.K do and those Tied Houses really limit the growth of small breweries. 

A Tied House is the name given to a bar, tavern or pub that is either outright owned or sponsored by a single brewery. That bar will only sell the beers that the owner brewery produces. They won’t sell small independently owned craft beers. For them to do so would be akin to Burger King allowing The Blue Door to sell Juicy Lucy’s at B.K. It’s simply never going to happen.

Tied Houses exist in every other country in the world that allow the sale of alcohol. They don’t exist here in the United States anymore, but they used to, and it caused big problems. Tied Houses are considered a large part of the collection of problems that actually led to prohibition. Coming out of prohibition the federal government made them illegal here in the U.S.

If we allowed Tied Houses tomorrow, if Inbev-Bud and Miller-Coors were allowed to own and supply their own bars, the craft beer landscape that we know and love would virtually cease to exist. Inbev-Bud and Miller -Coors are two of the biggest beverage companies on the planet. Their cash reserves are vast. They could instantly throw up more Tied Houses than most people could imagine and put out of business many of the beer bars we know and love today. This would of course directly affect the sales of craft beer and the small craft breweries would begin to suffer. You can see how this situation could quickly lead to a bleak future for craft breweries. 

For comparison I’ll use Australia since that is where I spent most of my life before I came to Minnesota in 2001. In Australia many of the pubs I used to frequent only sold certain beers, the beers of the brewery that owned or sponsored that pub. It was to the point where we would have discussions about what brand of beers we wanted to drink (all mass produced garbage anyway so hardly worth any discussion!) and we’d go to the pubs that had those brands. When I was in my early 20s’ craft beer or “boutique beer” as it is now known in Australia, didn’t exist. No pubs would have carried it even if it did. 
Fast forward to modern day Australia and we have an only slightly improved situation. Australia has about 150 craft breweries compared to over 2400 here in the U.S. Australia has no second tier distribution network so almost all of those Aussie “boutique beers” are only available locally. After all, the big national breweries are certainly not going to carry those boutique beers on their trucks! There are some independent bars that now offer a small range of Aussie craft beer but they are limited and hard to find. When you do find them the beers cost twice to almost three times more than they do here in the U.S. Drinking craft beer in Australia is a very expensive hobby and they don’t have even a tiny fraction of the choice that we enjoy here in the United States. 

I’m not saying the Three Tier System is perfect but it does provide a number of very good things…

EW:  Thanks again for all the wonderful commentary and pointers, Alvey!  For our next Four Firkins interview I'll be getting together Michael Wagner over a craft beer and getting his take on the local beer scene!

Twin Cities Horror Festival II

It's horror!

This year my wife and I have been going to the Twin Cities Horror Festival at the Southern Theater (conveniently just next door to Town Hall Brewery).  We heard about this last year, but scheduling conflicts stopped us from going.  This year's festival is the second (Part II: The Revenge) time they have done this, and we made sure to be free.  Basically from October 31 through November 9, seven different theater and dance groups perform horror themed one hour shows at The Southern.  With a half-hour break between shows you have time to head down and get back in line (or take an hour off for dinner at Town Hall or Republic) for the next show.  I've been having a blast seeing these shows over the past couple days.

A perfect Edgar Allen

One of my favorites so far has been Edgar Allen: a creepily toned two person show about a young Edgar Allen Poe.  I can't give too much away in a review, but the acting was stellar and certainly hit the horror vibe without being excessive.  Katie Hartman has the voice of an angel and incredible control over her body language and expressions. 

Another great show was The Murderer Did It, by Four Humors.  This comedy group has put out consistently great comedy shows for years and are usually crowd favorites at the Minnesota Fringe Festival.  This year's Lolita was crazy funny!  As expected, this locked room murder mystery is a humorous take on the horror genre and reminded me a lot of the 80's classic movie Clue.  Well acted, funny and quite twisty, this show was a great one. 

For my final suggestion, I'd see Tainted Love by Erin Sheppard.  We saw a remounted version of last year's Bump In The Night show at Fringe and loved the mixture of bizarre storytelling by Courtney McLean and short disturbing dance numbers choreographed by Erin.  This year's show takes the same basic form, but all the stories and dance numbers center around twisted forms of love.  I am not a big dance fan, but these numbers actually tell a story by themselves and draw you in.  See it, you'll be surprised and possibly a bit creeped-out. 

I'll be heading out Tuesday to see the last two of the seven shows and will update this if there are any you must see.  Plenty of time yet to go catch a few of these shows, so get off your hinder and go see some live theater!

Since we are talking horror and Halloween style here, I thought I'd throw a couple more pumpkin beer reviews on this post.  I have a lot of these to get through before the month is out!

Timmermans Pumpkin Lambicus: I has this on tap at Town Hall (one of the few times I would order a guest beer at my favorite local brewery) before seeing one of the shows at The Southern.
Aroma: A strong mix of vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon.  I get a mild acetic tartness on the nose.  No hops.
Appearance: Crystal clear, almost a ruby color.  Large bubbles in head but disappears to nothing in seconds. 
Flavor: Slightly sweet and sour.  I do get some nutmeg and cinnamon flavors, but hidden by the tartness.  Not a lot of body to it.  Some subtle earthy notes that may be pumpkin or may be just a side effect of the bacteria/wild yeast.
Overall: This seems more acetic (vinegar) sour like a Flanders Red or Brown ale than a true lambic.  Not sour enough for me to really like it, but the spicing would be lost entirely if it was too sour.  Not a terrible beer, and one of the more interesting pumpkin beers I've tried this year.  3.5 of 5.

Northgate Pumpion: I tried this one on tap at Republic prior to another show on Sunday.  Actually Sj ordered it and I stole some (I was drinking a sampler of Imperial Stouts).  With my phone battery quickly dying, I had to resort to writing notes on a wet Bells this one might be a little messy!
Aroma: Powerful nutmeg nearly overwhelms some malty sweetness.  Some cinnamon and allspice as it warms.  Very strong spices.  No hops.
Appearance: Orange to auburn in color with a slight haze.  The beer has a small fine white head, that doesn't last long.
Flavor: Like the aroma has a huge nutmeg and allspice flavor that dominates this beer.  Medium bodied with some residual malt sweetness.  I like the first hit, but it ends insanely astringent with a strong ginger flavor/burn lingering long after the sip is done. 
Overall: I like the body and sweetness on this beer, but the spicing is too over the top and really ruins the balance.  The harsh finish makes this difficult to drink.  Sj and I left more than half the glass full.  2.5 of 5.