Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Whale A Week: Side Project Saison du Fermier

Side Project Brewing's Saison du Fermier

This week we take a step into territory we haven't really covered in this series of beer reviews--Saison!  First a little history of Side Project Brewing.  Brewer/owner Cory King is the head brewer at the amazing Perennial Brewing in St. Louis--not only one of the best breweries in the city, but in the state and even the country.  As a side project he started investing time and money into his own small brewing project focusing entirely on barrel aged and funky beers in small quantities.  He brews these beers at Perennial on his days off and both businesses are entirely separate.  I got to meet with and interview Cory and the Perennial staff almost two years ago and they are a fine bunch of passionate people!  We were there on the day that Cory released this Side Project Saison fermented in Chardonnay barrels with wild yeast that he gathered/ranched from his family farm.  Not knowing what to expect I tried a sample and loved it.  I promptly bought my three bottle limit and dragged them back to Minnesota with me.  Cory told me that he expected them to get better by at least 6 months of age.  Here we are at over a year and I'm excited to taste what lurks in this large bottle... The beer has a 97 rating on Beer Advocate and 99 on RateBeer.

Our cast of characters for this tasting includes: Eric Wentling (me!)--BJCP judge, sour lover, Belgian beer fan, Cory King fan-boy.  Andrew Gieseke--amazing homebrewer specializing in sour and brett beers, brewer of the best grape lambic I've had other than Cantillion.  Janelle Gieseke--Andrew's tolerant wife, beer lover.  Sarajo--my wife who refuses to write out her impressions on my whale tastings to spite me, oh, and sour beer lover...  We had this beer as an appertif after Andrew and Janelle fixed us the best brunch I've ever had.  A fine way to finish an epic coursed meal!

Eric: Mild funk and pineapple.  Earthy, musty, but in a good way.  Complex.  Not sweet smelling but I get some malt.  No hop aroma.  Light tart orange peel.  Elderflowers.  Brighter aroma's as it warms, more mango tropical fruit.
Andrew: Hay, lemon, old wood/oak tannin.  Some dandelion stem and flower petals.  Touch of leather and little fresh cut grass.  Some hops.  Touch of pilsner malt, cracker/biscuit.  Some cellar must.
Janelle: Floral--daisies.

Eric: Bright golden color some haze present.  A huge and persistent head the brilliant white color of a unicorn's hide.  Bubbles super fine and meringue-like.
Andrew: Rocky head.  Hazy and cloudy straw color.  Lots of fizzy carbonation.
Janelle: The color of persimmons (deep yellow.) Cloudy.  Light frothy head.

Eric: Tart and incredibly refreshing right off the bat.  Orange peel mixed with partially unripe pineapple.  Malt present (pilsner?) but not a sweet beer at all.  Body light to medium with high zippy champagne carbonation.  There is some hop bitterness but not much flavor.  No alcohol.  Complex, bright, with a tart acidity.
Andrew: Honey, lemon-lime with floral cuts and dandelion.  A little cracker/biscuit.  Some hop bitterness and a sharp carbonation bite intensified by acidity.  Tons of lemon (lemonhead candy) and pineapple/mango.
Janelle: Light, citrus.  Medium carbonation.  Fresh.  Does not stick to mouth, good palate cleanser.  Slight tartness (brett).  Mainly front of tongue flavor points.

Eric: Wonderfully complex.  More sour and tart than typical saisons, but near perfect in my estimation.  Refreshing and crisp.  Much funkier than when I had this fresh at the release.  This has a lambic bent to it.  This is by far the best saison I've ever had the pleasure to drink. 5
Andrew: Super dry, lemon bomb with hints of malt and touch of hop bitterness.  Refreshing crisp thirst-quencher.  Lovely balance of bitterness, floral aromas, and citrus acidity.  Lovely beer. 5
Janelle: Reminds me of spring, refreshing and light. 5
Sarajo: It should be hotter and we should be outside.  We want the funk! 4.75

Overall rating: 4.94

Seriously Cory King is a freaking wizard.  That is all.

Photo info: For those who notice my photo stuff.  This week I took a close up of the bottle label.  Then I superimposed the shadow of a light bulb taken at Iron Tap in Waconia.  I had to do a little tweaking in Photoshop Elements to get the transparency right so the bulb would pop a bit and mirror the bulb on the actual label.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Whale A Week: Surly Nein

Earlier this year for A Whale A Week I did a series on the Surly Anniversary beers starting with Surly Three.  I know, I know, I'm a Surly Fanboy...but hey they're my local brewery putting our sought-after beers that I can actually find!

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

Surly Nein

I did get to try a preview sample of Nein at All Pints North this year but decided to wait on this post until I had a bottle in my hands.  Nein is a 10% ABV monster Hefeweizen brewed with oak smoked malt, fermented with German Hefe yeast, and aged in charred oak barrels.  Apparently the idea for the beer came after a brewer's trip to Bamberg Germany (take me next time!), the home of smoked beers.  The 750 ML bottle is dipped in yellow wax and has the most intricate bottle art of a Surly beer yet.  The art is done by Erica Williams--a wonderful local Minneapolis artist who also did the Darkness 2014 bottle.  Check out her website HERE for some other awesome organic and ominous art!  Nein beer just came out this month so reviews are still trickling in. Currently it has a score of 87 on Beer Advocate and 97 on RateBeer, but both have under 20 reviews so far.

For this tasting I had over fellow homebrewer and neighbor Steven Mathistad on the spur of the moment.  He's always willing to come over on short notice for beer!  Also, my wife Sarajo and our cat Freya helped out.

Freya scopes out the competition

Eric: Strong smoked malt--oak or hickory aroma.  Subtle bacon on the back of the tongue.  Some herbal and almost fruity esters as swirled and as it warms up.  Hint of Band-aid phenol.  Some alcohol present for sure.  Sweetness.  Some tannin/oak character as well. Hefe yeast character not as strong as expected.
Steven: Slight smoky aroma.  Some roastiness.  Not as much here as I expected to find.

Eric: Deep ruby to amber-brown color.  Clear at edge of glass but difficult to see all the way through this.  Almost no head on mine when poured and dissipated quickly to nothing.
Steven: Dark brown color.  Virtually no head.

Eric: The oak is strong in this one!  Slight malty sweetness at first, but quickly fades to dry middle.  As it warms up I get a hammy flavor mixed with banana...somewhat strange.  Strong smoke and firm bitterness and tannin presence.  Alcohol warming for sure.  Body is medium.  The end is very dry--clean and crisp rather than astringent.  Not sure if bitterness is from hops or from oak and smoke, but I do get a bit of citrus as it warms more.
Steven: Bitter smoky malt flavor.  Not quite a fruity flavor...but close.

Eric: Not bad.  Not as complex as I expected from such an unusual combination of ingredients.  I think the intensity of the smoke phenols really overwhelms the German hefe yeast character.  Still a good beer that I'd recommend trying.  I like Surly Smoke much better.  3.75
Steven: Not very complex (lacking in different flavors).  Dry with an even dryer finish.  Not getting much "Hefe" character.  3.75
Sarajo: This made me think of honey baked ham.  3.75

Overall Score: 3.75

Photo info:  Not very complex this week.  Taken on my iPhone, Freya was very interested in her new big cat bartop rival!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Photochallenge! Macro Fasteners

Just a quick one this Monday.  The assignment for Week 41 was to take a macro shot of some type of fastener.  I struggled with time on this one and got mine in on Sunday.  I had planned on setting up some lighting in the basement and shooting some of my wife's fancy jewelry clasps...but that didn't happen.  Instead I used this picture on my iPhone of a telephone pole in Northeast Minneapolis.

While not technically a macro shot (since I didn't use a macro lens) it looks pretty good.  In this modern day of social media, (Blogger anyone?) we tend to forget that at one time social media was by telephone pole!

Here's another I took from a second pole in the neighborhood...

This one makes me wonder who put this little cat's cradle or dreamcatcher up on this post.  Was it an urban Blair Witch?  A friendly Wiccan?  Is this a protective charm for the neighborhood?  Is it the faded symbol of a secret society?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Whale A Week: The Rare Barrel's Ensorcelled

The Rare Barrel's Ensorcelled

This week's Whale A Week is an unusual sour beer from California--The Rare Barrel's Ensorcelled.  I first heard about The Rare Barrel when they were on The Brewing Network's Sunday Session podcast.  Just a day later I bought a large portion of a fellow beer hoarder's cellar from him and discovered a stash of Rare Barrel (fairly new to the market) in his stash.  Based purely on what I had heard from the brewer/blender Jay Goodwin on that interview I asked if he would throw in those beers for me as well.  I've now tried three of them and have been blown away by all of them!  I've been saving the bottle we tasted today for special occasion but wasn't sure it really qualified as a Whale.  In 2014 the beer won a gold medal in the World Beer Cup and just a few weeks ago won a silver in the 2015 GABF!  Now this is a Whale!  RateBeer gives it a 99 and Beer Advocate gives it a surprisingly low score of 89.

The beer is made of a blend of their dark sour beer fermented with Brettanomyces and Lactobacillus, making this very similar to Flanders red or old brown Belgian styles.  They age this in barrels and let it sour, then add raspberries for another few months.  The wax-dipped bottle I have is Batch 5 from 2014 and has had some time to age in my cellar.

Cast of characters:

Eric--that's me!  BJCP judge, brewer of sours, lover of sours.
Greg James--owner of the recently opened Iron Tap in Waconia, craft beer fan, sour newbie.
Sarajo--my wife, certified sour-head.


Eric: Strong raspberry, tartness, tannins.  A hint of roast.  Mouth puckering just smelling this deeply!  A slight hint of barnyard funk.  No hop aroma.
Greg: Fruity in aroma.  Hint of raspberry with a touch of oak barrel aging.


Eric: Deep brown to ruby color.  Fairly clear at edge of glass when held up to light, but very dark in color.  Fine off-white head that fades quickly to a ring of larger bubbles at side of glass.
Greg: Dark in color, but slightly transparent.


Eric: Not sweet!  Tart up front with a mouth-coating fresh raspberry flavor that knocks your socks off.  Tart, puckering.  Leaves a lingering candy raspberry tannic finish that is not overly sour.  Cherry notes and hint of vanilla.  Carbonation is fairly high and spritzy.  Body somewhat low, but typical of the style when not back sweetened.  No alcohol burn.  No hop flavors.
Greg: Slightly tart initially and smooths out later in the tasting.  Very sessionable.


Eric: I really, really like this.  Looking at my review, I struggled a bit to find complexity in this beer, but the balance was just so spot-on that I could just drink a ton of this beer.  The base Flanders Red style is perfect with a very complimentary raspberry tartness.  No real flaws at all.  5
Greg: A very nice beer that would definitely drink again being new to sours. 4.4
Sarajo: Dark and favorite!  4.75

Overall Score: 4.72

This was a great beer and fun to try.  I wish I had more of this one hiding in my cellar, but will have to make do with the other two Rare Barrel beers I have left.  First World Problems...Thanks to Greg for taking part and for providing me with a couple bottles of the coveted Zombie Dust!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Jack Of All Brews Octoberfest Wrap-Up

Hey folks,  here's a quick recap on the Jack Of All Brews homebrew club October meeting!  See every once in a while I use this blog for official club business!

As always we started the meeting with the club responsibility statement to make sure members drink responsibly.

Dave and Sarah have been finishing their basement and discovered untold piles of brewerania treasures hidden in those unplumbed depths.  They brought some of these riches to the meeting for us to look at and buy.  I got outbid on the massive solid glass Hamm's glass...Several of these items are still for sale on the JAB facebook group so send Dave a message if you are interested.  I thought the old posters, steins and wooden cases made great set dressing for our Octoberfest celebrations!

JAB Brewcred for the past month:  Byggvir's Big Beer Cup (Renfest!!) medals included 4 first place and one third for your's truly.  Josh Welch took a medal for his famous (he won a mash paddle with that one) brown ale as well!

Upcoming events:

1) Hoppy Halloween in Fargo.  Sj, myself, Tyrone, and Annette are going up for the festivities this year.  Anyone else going to Fargo??  Entry is still open and if you get them into Midwest or Northern Brewer by the 16th they'll pick it up and drive it up for you!

2) Primary Fermenters/JAB bulk cider buy at MN Harvest Orchard in Jordan October 25. Here is the link to the facebook event.  Sign up and pay on the google doc linked on that.   Festivities at Tim Roets' almost open brewery after the cider...

3) Next JAB meeting is at my place again on my birthday November 13th!  Mash paddle style is wood aged beer, so dust off those old bottles and bring them in for us to try!  I know I've got a couple!

4) December meeting plans:  Anyone else want to host this one?  December is no mash paddle, just a big pot luck with homebrews.  We always do a secret beer gift exchange as well.

Mash Paddle:  This month's mash paddle was for Octoberfest beers.  Bryan Budahn was an overachiever and did an extract and all-grain version!  Overall we liked the extract version the most (strange right?) and Bryan took home the coveted Golden Mash Paddle for the month.

The happy victor!  
Because we had an extra prize we also had a secondary contest between the other homebrews of the night.  The winner was Joe Lushine for his brown ale!

Then we had bratwurst feast, and a ton of commercial Octoberfest beers.  Octoberfeast!!!  We sampled German as well as American versions galore.  My personal least favorite was the watery skunk anal gland leakage that was Hofbrau.  Second on that list was the musty basement rotten cork tasting Sprecher Octoberfest.  My top three in order were Ayinger, Waconia Brewing, Town Hall.  I had a great night and hope everyone else did too!  What were your favorites or least favorites from the incredible line-up of beers??

Friday, October 9, 2015

A Whale A Week: Dark Horse Barrel Aged Plead The Fifth

This week's entry into A Whale A Week is a rare little gem that has been hiding in my cellar for a while:

Dark Horse Barrel Aged Plead The Fifth

Dark Horse Brewing Company is a cool little brewery in Marshall, Michigan, that has been putting out unique beers since 1997.  They have a style all their own and are one of the more unusually breweries you'll ever see.  They have a tiny little brewpub on site that serves some killer chili.  Out back they run a motorcycle repair shop, a skate-shop, and a homebrew supply store.  Not to mention the somewhat MacGuyver-esqe brewery itself!  Last year's National Homebrew Conference was in Grand Rapids and my wife (Sj) and I went on a couple of organized bus tours of local breweries before the conference began.  We ended up on a bus with Ron and Denise, a very cool couple also from Minnesota, that we hung out for the rest of the conference.  Our visit to Dark Horse was a high point for all of us so I broke this beer out when they were finally able to make it out to my bar in Waconia.

Cast of Characters:

Eric: Me!  BJCP judge, homebrewer, fan of barrel aged beers.
Ron: Accomplished homebrewer and winner of medals/ribbons in the IPA category.
Denise: Big fan of IPA!
Sj: My wife who refuses to write out her tasting notes to spite me...

This beer was a 12 oz bottle, dipped in silver wax.  Served into small snifter glasses to make it go around 4 ways.  This has a rating of 99 on Beer Advocate and 100 on Rate Beer.  It is brewed with a "top secret root."

Eric: Aromas are more subtle than expected.  Vanilla, bourbon, tannin.  Some roasted grain.  A hint of smoke.  Sweet burnt sugar.
Ron: Roasty.  Slight vanilla.  Fleeting aroma.
Denise: Soft nose.

Eric: Near black and completely opaque.  Very fine tan head that almost instantly disappears.  Some legs on the glass that Ron pointed out.
Ron: Black.  Little to no head.  Little bit of legs on glass.  Smooth an silky.
Denise: Dark, rich in color.  Soft head.

Eric: Sweetness up front with aged dark fruit like prune and raisin notes.  Mild vanilla and bourbon notes.  Dark chocolate or cocoa nib.  The finish is dry and roasty/malty.  Body medium--lighter than expected from appearance.  Carbonation is appropriate.  Slight umami as it warms up.  Vanilla and sweetness more apparent later on as well. Some alcohol warming but not hot.
Ron: A bit boozy, but not overpowering.  Chocolate and vanilla in the background.  Thick and creamy on the tongue.  Bourbon comes through nicely after warming.
Denise: Soft, creamy feel on tongue.  Sweet aftertaste.  Vanilla, bourbon.

Eric: This is one of the more well balanced big bourbon barrel aged beers I've had recently.  The aroma and flavor is pleasant but not powerful.  Deceptively easy to drink, accentuated by that drying finish.  Very tasty.  4.5
Ron: Very intense flavors without being too much. Score cut down for lack of head and aroma: 4.5
Denise: I like the overall flavor.  Not in-your-face.  Sitting by a fire sipping this beer is my idea of a perfect night.  4.5
Sj: It's nummy!  4.5

This may be the first time we've had 4 people independently get the exact same score on a beer.  This was a great beer and it was fun sharing with our friends.  Funny how we had to travel to another state to visit breweries to meet friends from here in Minnesota!

Photo info:  This was a composite of one picture of Dark Horse tap handles from their small upstairs tasting area after the tour of their Michigan facility and a shot of the bottle we polished off.  I added a sketch effect filter just to make this more monochrome and funky...why not, Dark Horse is off the wall....

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Inspired By Reading Book Club: Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore

This month I again took part in Andrew Thornton's Inspired By Reading Book Group.  Each month a group of artists (mostly jewelry designers), including my wife Sj of Sj Designs Jewelry, read a book and then do something "arty" inspired by the book.  I took part last month with some of my photos and based on Sj's excitement over this book I decided to try again.  Check out the rest of this month's entries at Andrew's blog HERE.

The book is Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.  Published in 2012 this one made it to the New York Times Bestseller list.  The main character, Clay, is a somewhat nerdy young man who ends up almost randomly working for a strange 24 hour bookstore in San Francisco.  With a history of growing up playing the equivalent of D&D and reading sci-fi/fantasy novels, the character hits close to home for me!

Throughout the book we discover that something more complex than book-buying is going on at this strangest of bookstores.  We eventually discover that (like a nerdier version of something by Dan Brown), there is an ancient society of bibliophiles all secretly trying to learn the secrets of life.

The cast of characters is really what makes this book fun to read for me.  Quirky, slightly odd-ball, without being caricatures, the people are all somewhat believable.  I was struck by the description of Clay's room mate Matt--"He works with crazy intensity, feeding hours like dry twigs into the fire, just absolutely consuming them, burning them up.  He sleeps lightly and briefly, often sitting up straight in a chair or lying pharaoh-like on the couch.  He's like a storybook spirit, a little djinn or something, except instead of air or water his element is imagination."  Now that is a description!  And even better, it seems to describe our very own Andrew Thornton adequately as well!

This book touches a lot on the difference between books and Internet/computer/tablets.  The parallels and discrepancies are scattered through-out the pages.  However the book itself isn't truly about books.  I think it's real focus on being human and what we want or expect out of life--and how we go about it.  While the story is mostly light and fantastical, this book's under-text is also deeper, leaving one with a new appreciation for friends and family.  I liked this one a lot!

Here's my entry for "art" this month!  I took some of my fancier leather-bound books and placed them into an area where they would get more light.  I used my plain leather mead journal (far right) for this shot as well.  In post production I added Aldus Manutius' name to the binding.  I also took a macro shot of the book-hands symbol from the intro page of Mr. Penumbra and then added that into my shot.  Then I did an emboss filter to those to make it look like the writing was printed into the leather.  Not stopping there, I added a painterly effect to make this a little more dreamy and unusual...