Monday, February 29, 2016

Off The Edge of the World: Flat Earth Brewing Company

Flat Earth Brewing has been around for a while.  They were originally established in 2007 (open by 2008) by former Town Hall Brewing alum Jeff Williamson.  The name was based on the Flat Earth Society--a group that to this day believe that the world is not a sphere.  Most of Jeff's original names focused on science fiction or geeky subjects--he was nerdy before it was cool!  The old brewery was literally spitting distance from their much larger neighbor Summit Brewing, and was a pretty small affair nestled into a warehouse building.  Several of our homebrew club (Jack Of All Brews) members made a trip out there for a Saturday tour shortly after they opened.  It wasn't much to look at, and this was prior to legal taprooms in Minnesota, so we just had a few free samples and hung out with Jeff a bit.  The first time I ever tried Flat Earth beer was at a tasting they held at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival--again shortly after they opened.  I was impressed--especially with the Belgian Tripel and was excited for what they would do over time.  They were really in the forefront of the the craft beer renaissance here in Minnesota.

Sometime around 2010 Flat Earth had financial troubles which necessitated bringing in outside investors to avoid foreclosure.  In May of 2012 Jeff either left the company or was fired (there was a bit of confusion about that matter at the time and I've never heard what really happened).  The then assistant brewer Friday Bob Roepke continued on as the head brewer at that time, and continues in that position today. Fairly recently Flat Earth moved into the old Hamm's Brewery building in St. Paul and added a taproom for on-site pints and growler sales.

Frankly, Flat Earth is one of the few older breweries I've not reviewed for this blog. In part, it was probably still out of loyalty to Jeff, but he seems to be doing fine these days.  This year my wife and I each bought a PubPass -- a passport-like book giving you a free pint at each of the locations involved in the program.  We did this because it included several places we already like (Freehouse, Indeed, Bryant Lake Bowl) but also some we've been meaning to try.  As a last minute replacement (when Glockenspiel went out of business) Flat Earth became a new spot in the program.  Then, in a feat of beer trivia madness at The Happy Gnome we won some Flat Earth shirts, glasses, and a free growler fill.  OK, the world was clearly trying to tell us something here...time to get out to the brewery and check it out!

On an overcast day we set out from distant Waconia on our trek to the very Edge of the World--St. Paul!  In usual fashion, shortly after crossing the river, my car's GPS decided to have a seizure and try to send us in circles on roads that no longer exist.  Luckily, Sarajo was able to get Google Maps on her phone functioning and we eventually found our way to the huge old brick monstrosity of the Hamm's Brewery.  Much of the complex is decrepit, with holes in windows, crumbling brick walls, graffiti tags, etc.  The entrance to the taproom is actually down a fairly tight alley between two of the looming red brick buildings with a small sign claiming "Brewery" that is somewhat easy to miss.  Into the darkened recess you go but once inside, there's a wide central area providing plenty of parking.  The taproom is up a short flight of stairs and through a large wooden door with just a tiny chalkboard sign indicating that you are at the right place for Flat Earth Brewery.

I'd love to go spelunking in this old derelict pile...

Entering via the old fashioned heavy oaken door, we found ourselves in a dark (that day anyway) large open space with high ceilings and minimal lighting.  Thick brick walls fairly radiated the cold of a meat-locker, requiring us to keep our coats on for much of our stay. A few windows at the back of the taproom provide a bit of a view and some much needed light.  Strange old antique furniture including a throne-like chair, a mini pipe organ, and some large industrial scales are scattered about the space without much rhyme or reason.  For a room this size there was surprisingly little actual seating--one large table and a few more mismatched garage sale reject tables.  A small bar in the corner provides growlers and swag for sale.  On arriving we actually discovered someone we knew--Pio (the super friendly brewer for Minneapolis' Freehouse) and his friend Ryan.  Small world!

Continuing past our friends, we wound through some dark labyrinthine hallways and alcoves, passing odd murals, curling photographs, crumbling brickwork, groups of quietly conversing people, and outdoor patio furniture.  The dark, the cold, the twisted byways, bring to mind the dank subterranean vibe of a sepulcher or the Poe story The Cask Amontillado.  Eventually we made our way to the taproom bar (fairly high and without seating).  Our winter-coat-wrapped server was happy to serve me up two sampler boards so I could try through most of the line-up.  No worries about the beer getting warm here! We carted our beers back to the front room since there was no space to sit in the back room.  When we first arrived the place wasn't especially crowded, but by the time we left (4:30ish) the joint was jumping and the whole back bar was crowded with people standing by for beers.

Here's the part where I go through all the beers and give a quick thumbnail sketch of my impressions.  I'd go into more detail, but everyone would be bored (and my wife would probably be upset that I was ignoring her even more at the taproom!)  I rate on a 0-5 scale with 3 being my average beer, 4 is stellar, and 5 is one I'd take to a desert island with me.

Starting with the Flagships

1) Angry Planet Pale Ale: Citrus/orange aroma with some caramel. Flavor very orangey up front and a hint of sweetness. Not much body to it and the finish is bitter and dusty tasting.  3

2) Northwest Passage IPA: Hopping present in aroma and flavor, but not extreme.  Flavor sweet and biscuity with a dry and bitter citrus finish. Much better than I remember this one. Decent balance. 3.75

3) Belgian Style Pale Ale: (Up front, I don't tend to like super hoppy Belgian beers.)  Lots of ester, clove, fruity Belgian yeast character in aroma and flavor. Sweet balance to this one.  Citrus hops strong.  3

4) Cygnus X-1:  Classic porter.  A very pleasant mix of roast malt, coffee, and chocolote.  Balanced with some initial sweetness and finish is fairly dry.  A well done American style robust porter. The best beer they had by far. 4

Moving on to the Seasonals

5) Red Cape Ale: Brewed for the Winter Carnival.  Not much aroma here.  Flavor is subtle with a hint of roasted barley and caramel.  Off dry finish.  A decent Irish Red if that is what they were aiming for.  3.75

6) Spoon Thief: Oatmeal stout.  The body is thin, but there is still a slickness to it.  I get a meaty or brothy flavor that can come from yeast autolysis (breakdown).  Slightly astringent burnt finish.  Did not like this one at all.  2.5

7) Bermuda Triangle: Belgian Tripel with honey.  Aroma is fairly quiet--not much Belgian yeast character at all.  Flavor is very sweet and seems under-attenuated.  Bitter on the end.  Yeasty tasting.  Some green grape ester flavors as well.  A bit hot. 2.75

8) Winter Warlock: Single malt English barleywine based (if I remember correctly off Bass Number 1).  Very light in color with excellent clarity.  Smells and tastes like a strong but dry apple wine.  More cidery than many actual hard ciders I've tried.  Hot alcohol.  I couldn't finish this sample. 2.75

At this point I had tried most of the beers and we still had our free pints coming!  So Sarajo got the Cygnus X-1 (also her favorite of the bunch) and I got Black Helicopter.

9) Black Helicopter: Coffee stout.  This was one of the first good coffee beers I tried back in the day and was my favorite Flat Earth beer--that's why I saved it for last!  This version was served on nitro and had a thick tight off-white head on it.  Mild coffee notes and sweetness in aroma.  Much stronger cold press coffee in the flavor for sure.  The body is really thin--accentuated by the nitro I think--which makes this taste like a good slightly sweet cold press coffee on nitro.  Not as good as I remember, making me unsure if the beer has changed, my tastebuds, or if the nitro has altered it that much.  3.5

Overall the beers were a mixed bag.  My two favorites of old (Black Helicopter and Bermuda Triangle) were kind of disappointing to me this trip out.  The Cygnus X-1 was our favorite and I got my free growler filled with this.  One thing I'll point out here is that other than the Red Cape and Spoon Thief, the brewery hasn't exactly been changing up their line-up or trying many new things since 2012.  I'm curious to see how much they expand production or try out new recipes now that they have plenty of space in their new building. (Addendum: I did get to try a stout aged in Waconia's own J. Carver Distillery Gin barrels at Winterfest that was pretty interesting...)

Our experience at Flat Earth was (like the beers) a bit mixed.  The place is big, has parking, and had pleasant staff.  However, the place comes off as dank, somewhat somber, and a bit tomb-like.  Scattered oddities and mismatched furniture give it a thrown-together-from-grandma's-musty-storage-unit kind of feel.  Just to see the old brewery building (in all its derelict glory) it was worth the trip.  I'd love to get a chance to explore the rest of the grounds and building complex with my camera...  Here's to hoping that Flat Earth takes full advantage of the space, and starts experimenting more!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Whale A Week: Goose Island Backyard Rye

Now in my second year, A Whale A Week is my challenge to try (with an array of beer loving friends) a rare beer for every week of the year.  Last year I had a great time with this and have continued it for 2016.  Not every beer will be a truly "white whale" beer, but all are hard to find and a treat to try!

Goose Island Backyard Rye 2013

This week we try another special Goose Island beer from the Bourbon County line-up.  I've been drinking BCS since before it was cool (I was in Chicago prior to 2000 and had it at the brewpub) and have been excited to see all the new things the company is doing with the base beer.  Again--perhaps Goose Island is now owned by the evil overlords of beer, but they're still putting out some amazing beers.  This particular version is a Russian Imperial stout aged in rye whiskey barrels with mulberries, marionberries, and boysenberries.  I had to bone up on my fruit knowledge in order to do this write-up. Mulberries look a lot like raspberries, but grow on trees, and come in a variety of colors including white.  Boysenberries apparently are a cross between raspberry, blackberry, American dewberry, and the loganberry (I'm imagining a bramble bush key-party is to blame for this).  This cultivar was first documented in the 1920's and later grew to fame for its soft, tart-sweet maroon colored fruits. The last berry in question is the marionberry: turns out this is a fancy name for a cultivar of the indigenous blackberry from Oregon.  Now that we've refreshed our knowledge of bramble fruits it is time to taste!

This week's tasting panel was made up of: Me (Eric Wentling)--Homebrewer for over 20 years, BJCP National ranked judge, and grower of an out-ofcontrol raspberry bramble patch.  Beau Hammel--Homebrewer of tasty stouts.  Katy Hammel--Excellent wife who was willing to come out late on a work night!  Sarajo Wentling--My other half.  We served this beer into snifter glasses after warming up a bit.  The ladies didn't want to write stuff up--just taste the beers.  Because they are lazy!

Eric: Initially I get an almost artificial sweet-tart candy aroma.  As this blows off I get more real berry mixed with tartness--I pick up raspberry, blueberry mostly.  Some alcohol zip to the beer.  Vanilla and some tannic bite from the barrel (or seeds).  Dark cherry as it warms up.  Not as much roast malt as expected. Hint of chocolate. No hops. 
Beau: Moderate bourbon barrel.  Vanilla, coconut, fruit--generic berries.  Almost get strawberry whipped cream.  Sweet malt.  Cherry candy. 

Eric: Deep brown to an almost black color.  Very fine dark tan head--but it fades almost instantly to the edge of the glass. Opaque.
Beau: Very dark brown.  Opaque.  Very small dark tan head.  Poor head retention.

Eric: Burst of mixed berries and tartness up front.  Black raspberry sweetness.  Tart cherry.  Dark chocolate roast malt.  Sweet but the tart fruit balances the sweetness with some acid.  Warming but not hot.  There is so much going on here!  I keep picking up new flavors--raspberry, blackberry, strawberry.  Some vanilla from barrel and some tannin.  Almost no carbonation present.  Mouthfeel is medium to almost thick.  Finish is semi-sweet with a lingering fruit and tannic bitterness. No hops noted.
Beau: Very well balanced.  Alcohol.  Sweet but not cloying.  Strawberry, cherry candy, deep raspberry flavor.  Booze soaked dried fruit.  Alcohol balances perfectly.

Eric: So balanced!  Sweet and slightly tart without being sour or funky.  The berry flavors come through amazingly well.  So good.  5
Beau: This beer is incredible.  Great balance between booze, roast, fruit, and sweet.  5
Katy: Good enough that I won't share my pour with Beau.  4.5
Sarajo: Its berry-riffic!  4.5

Overall Score: 4.75

Photo info:  I took a shot of the label, then superimposed it with a shot of the ripening raspberries in my own backyard bramble from last fall.  

Monday, February 22, 2016

Girl Scout Cookie Beer Pairing...Minnesota Style!

For this past chilly February Jack Of All Brews homebrew club meeting, we tried something new as a special tasting event.  Last year I saw some tweets and facebook posts about pairing craft beer with the highly anticipated yearly release of Girl Scout cookies and was intrigued.  This year we decided to try this as a club event, and here are our results!

Looking at a few articles and blog posts on the subject from last year, I realized that many of these beers were not available in Minnesota (or were so rare that they might as well be.)  Why not stick with Minnesota craft beers only?  Challenge accepted!  Our treasurer Steven--who's daughter is a Girl Scout--supplied us with the necessary sugary discs for this tasting.  I took my Tuesday afternoon to visit a couple of local liquor stores for the perfect beers.

By the time we got to the cookie pairing our group had dropped from about 25 to around 15--more manageable, but still a lot of people to enlist in an organized write-up.  And hey, this was after tasting a lot of homebrews earlier!  I ended up just taking (spotty) notes as people exclaimed or commented on their thoughts.  I've attributed a few of the quotes.

Do Si Do's/Peanut Butter Sandwich and Waconiator Dopplebock

I had planned on using Schells Firebrick--thinking that a malty lager would be a good pairing with this fairly dry peanut butter cookie, but discovered a rare bottle of this even maltier seasonal from my own city's local brewery.

* Nice. Good.

* Maltiness matches well with peanut butter.

* The dopplebock seems less sweet with the cookie.

* The cookie makes it taste better (Bryan).

Shortbread and Steel Toe Wee Heavy

What to pair with a buttery sugar cookie famously from Scotland?  Why not a strong caramel-like Scottish beer like a Wee Heavy/Scotch Ale?  Steel Toe is one of my favorite breweries and I was happy to find a bottle of this locally.  Other potential options for this pairing would be other malty UK beers like English barleywine or old ale.

* Warm alcohol clears the sweet buttery mouthfeel of the cookie.

* Not sure they mix well--the cookie is in one side of the mouth and the beer in the other.

* (Sarajo discovers dunking the cookie in the beer and the whole thing turns for the better!)

* All out dunkage!

* The beer and cookie have similar flavor notes, but this might be better with another beer.  Helles?  Pils?  Bitter?

Caramel DeLights/Samoas and Brau Brothers Moo Joos

Ideally I wished for a coconut stout but Town Hall's Three Hour Tour is long gone for the season.  I opted for the thick and milky Brau Brothers milk stout contrast a bit with the coconut and caramel of this cookie.

* Works with the caramel and chocolate!

* Cookie overpowers the beer.

* The beer overpowers the cookie.

* Flavors seem muddled together.

* Smoke shows up in the flavor of the beer with the cookie involved.

* Too much Yin, not enough Yang.

* Somewhere in between complementary and contrasting.

Lemonades and Surly Furious

Lemon icing topped shortbread cookies?  Lets get away from malty and roasty beers for once and try something citrusy like a strong IPA.  Surly Furious is a MN classic and has a bit of English malt and yeast character as well as a strong hopping.

* This was actually my favorite of the pairings--the lemon glaze on the shortbread really accentuated the citrus hop bitterness in the beer and made it taste even more Furious! (Eric)

* Sour of lemon rind!

* Yin and Yang!

* Thins the beer, but makes it better.

* (This beer was very polarizing--we were divided "emotionally" on this one about 50/50.  Some loved it, some hated it.  Certainly the most interesting of the pairings we tried.)

Tagalongs/Peanut Butter Patties and Fulton Worthy Adversary Russian Imperial Stout

This is my favorite cookie--laden with thick peanut butter, crisp cookie, and a somewhat waxy chocolate coating.  The strong flavors in this need something strong to stand up to it so a Russian Imperial stout is a good choice.  There are not a lot of RIS beers in Minnesota that are available in the bottle (other than Surly Darkness) but Fulton's Worthy Adversary is now year round!

* The beer is too bitter for the cookie.

* Not a good mix at all.

* Each are good on their own, but not together.

* (Several people did not like the beer.)

* This is my favorite pairing--smooth.  (Mike)

* The beer is thin, could be more chocolaty.

Thin Mints and Mankato Brewery Mint Stout

Thin Mints are probably the most popular cookie, and as a result we went with two pairings!  the first was a bold move when I discovered Mankato's Mint Stout sitting on the shelf right next to the other beer I had planned for this.  The pairing of like with like can be amazing, but other times can fall a little flat so this one was a bit questionable.  But hey, how could we pass up the opportunity to try?

* (A collective groan goes through the room as I pull out this beer.)

* Eric, what have you done?  What have you done??? (Chris)

* These wash each other out.

* Pairs well.

* These are a different type of mint and just don't quite go together.

* The cookie makes this beer taste better than on it's own.  But it still isn't good.

* Pepto-Bismol mixed with an after dinner mint.

* Like brushing your teeth, then drinking a beer before you go to work.

Thin Mints and Fulton War & Peace 

Fulton's War & Peace is a Peace Coffee infused version of the Worthy Adversary Russian Imperial stout.  Several other folks have suggested a coffee infused RIS (such as Alesmith Speedway Stout) to pair with this cookie, and this was the only local one I could find!

* The best pairing for Thin Mints is a glass of milk.

* I get chili or chipotle pepper from this pairing.

* Tannic notes from the coffee beans?

* Beer seems thin with the cookies.

Overall Experience

This was a fun event for our brewclub to try out and everyone had a good time.  What we discovered overall is that cookies and beer just aren't incredibly great together.  Most of the beers ended up tasting thin or more bitter after tasting the sweeter cookies.  In the end though, we got to eat cookies and drink beers, so everyone won!

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Whale A Week: Alesmith Barrel Aged Speedway Stout

Now in my second year, A Whale A Week is my challenge to try (with an array of beer loving friends) a rare beer for every week of the year.  Last year I had a great time with this and have continued it for 2016.  Not every beer will be a truly "white whale" beer, but all are hard to find and a treat to try!

Alesmith Barrel Aged Speedway Stout 2013

This is my second review of an Alesmith beer for A Whale A Week.  The first was last year for the Vietnamese coffee version of Speedway Stout and you can check it out HERE if you like!  This past summer my wife and I were able to get out to the brewery itself during the American Homebrewer's Conference in San Diego.  The space was in a suburban office park and was actually pretty nondescript overall.  We were both a little disappointed that they had no special release options on tap at all--just the stuff we can get in the bottle in Minnesota now.  Still a fun stop, but not the angelic choir experience I was hoping for.

The barrel aged version of the Speedway Stout is a strong 12% ABV Russian Imperial made with coffee and aged for up to one year in premium bourbon barrels.  The most recent special bottle release sold the bottles for $27 each at the brewery and this one is very tough to find!  There isn't much information on type of coffee or barrels used available.  The version we tried was from a big beer trade I did a few years back and is from 2013.  The beer has a score of 99 on Beer Advocate and 100 on RateBeer.

This week's tasting panel was made up of: Me (Eric Wentling)--Homebrewer for over 20 years, BJCP National ranked judge, home coffee roaster.  Beau Hammel--Homebrewer of tasty stouts.  Katy Hammel--Excellent wife who was willing to come out late on a work night!  Sarajo Wentling--My other half.  We served this beer into snifter glasses after warming up a bit.  The ladies didn't want to write stuff up--just taste the beers.

Eric: Sweet malt.  Toasted coconut.  Light roast coffee.  Vanilla notes (barrel?) Roasted dark malt leading to impression of very dark chocolate.  Aromas are all smooth and meld well together without being out of balance. Some alcohol zip.  No hops.
Beau: Prominent bourbon, vanilla, roasted malt.  Strong burnt coffee.  Brown sugar.  Dried cherries.  Oak really comes out as the beer warms.  Booze is somewhat solvent-like.

Eric: Dark brown in color to nearly black.  Fairly large dark tan head with fine texture that really sticks around.  More than I usually see in such a big ABV beer.
Beau: Caramel colored head (low to medium) with poor retention.  Opaque, very dark.

Eric: Powerful bitter dark chocolate with hints of vanilla right off the bat.  Seems very sweet at first, but ends dry, accentuating the bitter chocolate character.  Strong alcohol warming borders on too hot.  Body medium and somewhat creamy but that dry end makes it feel a little lighter--not as thick as expected.  Mild dark roast coffee notes, but subtle.  Some black cherry as it warms.
Beau: Medium mouthfeel, somewhat hot with a drying finish.  Strong bourbon flavor.  Alcohol comes out.  Tannins.  Roasted malt and chocolate are hiding behind the booze.  Very little hop bitterness.

Eric: Pleasant.  The dark chocolate is a winner (especially considering there isn't any chocolate in this beer.)  The coffee is pretty subtle, perhaps faded since 2013, but at least doesn't have that vegetal note that old coffee beers often have.  More complex as it warms up.  I still like the Vietnamese better.  4.25
Beau: Really nice booze/bourbon flavors and complimentary coffee/chocolate/fruit.  Could use a little bit more body.  Dry/tannin finish brings up booze and dominates the other flavors.  4.25
Katy: Mmm, I like it!  4.25
Sarajo: Ohhhh, this is good...  4.25

Overall Score: 4.25
Well this was the most standard score I think we've ever had in this series!  A solid beer.

Photo details: Taking a picture of this shiny bottle with tons of gold reflections was mind-bogglingly hard.  Eventually I got a mediocre shot of it.  Not having the ability or time to go out and shoot some Formula One racing, I got creative instead.  I took a small chalkboard of Sj's and made some white lines, adding the car from our set of Monopoly on this impromptu speedway.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Get Bent! Bent Brewstillery

While in Roseville for the Minnesota Mashout homebrew competition this past January, I got a chance to visit Bent Brewstillery.  After two straight days clustered around a bunch of beer geeks judging beers in the basement of Grumpy's, where could I find a change of pace?  Yep, just a short walk through melting snow to a nondescript office park to hang out with even more beer geeks!

Bent has a bit of a storied past.  The building originally housed the Pour Decisions Brewery headed by brewer and scientist Kristen England.  The beers tended to focus on obscure/extinct/unusual styles that really appealed to the beer geek in me, but maybe made for a tougher sell on the average drinker.  They did some contract brewing for Bent Brewstillery at that time, using the owner of that company's homebrew recipes.  A couple of years into the endeavor, there were apparently some money troubles (I think mainly because one of the partners no longer wanted to have a part in things).  With the need for an infusion of money to keep things going, Pour Decisions merged with Bent Brewstillery in 2013.  England stayed on as head brewer, but the latter name was chosen and the running of the business side went to Bartley and Brenda Blume.  They kept this name because they wanted to create something new in Minnesota--the first brewery/distillery combination facility.  They have a sizeable 20 barrel brew system with 40 barrel fermentors, as well as a 5 barrel "experimental" system that England uses mainly for his continued passion of sour beers!  With the large brew system they also create the wash for distilling in their 500 gallon still.

The building has changed a bit since the early days, but still hides out in a quiet and seemingly deserted office park.  I used to laugh at the tiny little sign in the window of Pour Decisions, but the new brewery isn't marked much better--just a small vinyl banner over the door.  A food truck was parked outside next to the small patio area on the day I visited, providing vittles for hungry drinkers.  Inside the place is fairly dark, with a scattering of high tables and some up-ended barrels around the main floor space.  Thick and imposing spiky metal fencing bars one entry to the brewery and the distillery but you can see the stainless steel in the darkened space beyond.  Frankly I find this feature to distract from the otherwise warm and comfortable feel of the place.  The bathrooms deserve mention--fancy sinks in both, and a European style bidet in the women's room--much swankier than most taprooms!  And no, I did not infiltrate the ladies room...

A fairly small bar sits in the far corner, manned by two servers on this day.  There was often a long line to get beers but these two were quick and friendly, even when having to fill tons of sampler trays.
In the past I've had mixed feelings on the beers at Bent.  One would be amazing (sours for instance) and another would be flawed in some fundamental recipe formulation way.  I've been to the brewery twice previously and decided to hold off on my review until I could give it one last shot.  That time was now, and I was happy to discover that things are much improved from my previous visits.  I ended up getting a sampler of the entire line-up and tasting through them as we played dice games on the larger high-top table in the taproom.  I rate beers on a 0-5 scale, 3 is average for me, 4 I'll search out, and 5 I'll hoard.  I was already being anti social with my friends by taking notes, so these are pretty quick impressions not BJCP scoresheets!

1) Hil Yis!  ExperimentALE #7:  Made with New Zealand hops, this has a light gold color and strong tropical fruit notes of apricot and mango.  A somewhat bitter finish but a good and flavorful beer.  3.75

2) Nordic Blonde:  I still don't get this beer.  Amber blonde?  Oxy-moronic as a jumbo shrimp, this is one of the flagship beers from Bent and is in cans all over the place.  I have actively despised this beer in the past, but this time it wasn't as bad.  Amber in color with some hoppiness in aroma and flavor.  Somewhat bready and crisp which reminds me more of a Vienna lager than a blonde.  Still not a blonde. 3

3) Moar: A light Scottish ale but with American hopping.  Hoppier than any Scottish ale has a right to be, but the malty body of this is pleasant. Citrus hops are bright in aroma and flavor.  Very easy to drink. 3.5

4) Brother Vesper: A Belgian quad.  Complex, woody, dark fruit, caramel.  Dark cherry as it warms.  Warming and boozy.  Very nice beer.  4

5) Fest Hop ExperimentALE #8: Strong tea-like tannins.  Hoppy and fruity.  Mellow but well balanced and different.  3.75

Tyrone hams it up while testing out the hop infuser! 
6) Maroon & Bold: This is a hold-over from Pour Decisions and features all Minnesota grown ingredients including the hops.  Slightly sweet with mellow hopping.  More of a pale ale in flavor than an IPA.  3.75

7) Funked Up Series #6 Berried Gose: A German style gose (light, tart wheat beer with salt and coriander usually added).  Mixed berry aromas and flavors--blueberry, raspberry seem dominant to me.  Pretty pink color with some haziness.  Light saltiness adds complexity and balances the acid bite.  4

8) Malvasia Pyment: This is a honey wine with Malvasia grape juice added before fermentation.  Served in a wine glass.  Excellent clarity, light golden color.  Tons of tangerine, pear and honey flavors.  I like this a lot!  4.25

9) White IPA with fruit:  This is a batch that they were experimenting with--each day this week had a different fruit addition to the base beer.  Today's version was spruce.  I've had lots of sahti beers, as well as other spruce beers, but this was outrageously like drinking Pine Sol cleanser.  No thank you.  Would be interested to try the base beer or other versions. 1

This brewery still seems to have a little multiple personality disorder to me.  I get some beers that seem out of style just to make a point (Dark Fatha, Nordic Blonde) while others are aiming to be true to classic and rare styles like gose, Belgian quad, and pyment.  I love the fact that the place usually has a mead of some type on tap since they are so hard to find anywhere.  They also have cold press coffee available on tap if you need a pick-me-up after a hard day's drinking.

While I was wrapping up my tasting, a small group of brewers and distillers was getting a short tour of the distilling side of things with Bartley Blume himself and I was invited along for the ride. Bartley is a somewhat intense guy that really seems to be passionate about his distillery projects.  He pointed out the large still and a tiny little experimental one they use for small batch trials.  We got to sample the Gunner Ghost navy strength (114 proof!) gin--fairly bursting with flowery botanical aromas like lavender, rose, and coriander.  They actually use Cascade hops in the mixture which is a nice nod to the fact they are also a brewery.  This was a strong one, but very flavorful!  We also tried the Bent Anchor Poitin--an Irish style moonshine made mainly from the cast-off potato peels from Minneapolis hipster haven Anchor Fish & Chips.  This was surprisingly smooth and reminded me a lot of vodka but with a bit more character and body to it.  I was sporting my J. Carver Distillery shirt this particular day and mentioned their experiments with grappa, and within seconds Bartley had given me a taste of their test batch--not bad for a first effort!

I would say that based on this recent visit, I would recommend Bent as a taproom to visit, especially if you live on the St. Paul side of things.  I respect Kristen England's beer and brewing knowledge to the utmost, and now having met Bartley Blume I feel that he has a lot of passion for the distilling side of things.  I think that with these two each focusing on their areas of expertise Bent Brewstillery is finally becoming what what it was destined to be.

Since I've recently widened my boozy pursuits to include cocktails, I went ahead and bought a 375 ML bottle of the Gunner Ghost to try out at home.  I made a fairly classic martini with it to showcase the gin.

2 oz Gunner Ghost Navy Strength Gin
1 oz Ransom Dry Vermouth
3 dashes Dashfire Number 1 Orange Bitters
Shake with ice
Garnish with lemon twist

This turned out pretty tasty, but very strong and very dry!  The vermouth I used actually had botanicals in it already and in retrospect I'd choose something more mellow to pair with this beast of a gin.  The Dashfire bourbon barrel bitters (another local company by the way) adds a bit of fruity complexity and accentuates the citrus hops in the gin.  It took me a while to drink all of this due to it's powerful flavors and alcohol.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Whale A Week: Three Floyds Dark Lord 2012

Now in my second year, A Whale A Week is my challenge to try (with an array of beer loving friends) a rare beer for every week of the year.  Last year I had a great time with this and have continued it for 2016.  Not every beer will be a truly "white whale" beer, but all are hard to find and a treat to try!

Three Floyds Brewing Dark Lord 2012 Vintage

This week we point our attention to a famous brewery from Indiana, Three Floyds!  Located in the small border town of Munster, the brewery started up way back in 1996.  They have grown and become quite famous for their "Its Not Normal" style beers.  I've had the pleasure of getting to the brewpub where it all started a few times now.  The tour was nothing special, but the beers and the food were fantastic!  Each time I went, there was a big line outside 45 minutes to an hour before they opened, so plan accordingly.  The brewery vibe is very Heavy Metal and irreverent, surely influencing other breweries such as Surly here in Minnesota.  In fact Surly and Three Floyds have done a couple of collaboration beers such as Urine Trouble, Baller Stout, and Blakkr.

Dark Lord is the brewery's most famous beer.  This is a big 15% ABV Russian Imperial stout brewed with coffee (Intelligentsia) and Mexican vanilla.  Available in bottle since 2004, the beer is released only one day of the year--Dark Lord Day--at the brewery.  This day has become an epic event with people camping out and traveling across the country to take part in the festivities and get a few bottles of this rare beer.  My friends Rob and Ron of Limited Release actually recorded the 2012 festivities for their show and I've linked it to the bottom of this post if you want to see what this is all about!  Oh and Rob brought me the bottle we are tasting for this Whale A Week from that excursion.  Thanks Rob!  Dark Lord is rated 95 on Beer Advocate and 100 on RateBeer and is much hoarded and traded.  I first tried a bottle of this shared by Chris German of BSG at a Jack Of All Brews event held in his home brewery--perhaps around 2009?  For me that was one of the best beers I had ever had up to that point and it became my unattainable White Whale--until I got to try it again in 2012!

For this tasting we gathered up the largest group I've ever used in one of these tastings--our entire group of Jack Of All Brews officer's--during our 2016 planning meeting.  Things got a little chaotic!
Eric Wenting: Me! BJCP National ranked judge, homebrewer for over 25 years, stout fiend.  Sarajo Wentling: My tolerant wife.  Tyrone Babione: BJCP judge, writer for BSG.  Annette Babione: BJCP judge, knitter extraordinaire.  Joe Lushine: Homebrewer, guy who hates judging beers.  Shawn Wischmeier: Judge, homebrewer, beer hoarder.  Steven Mathistad: Homebrewer, craft beer lover.  While reading the bottle we saw Cyrillic writing on the bottle and Tyrone managed to translate it visually with a cool app on his phone--we were all blown away by this seemingly magical effect!

We cut off the thick red wax on the bottle with The Hopsecutioner (my battle axe shaped heavy steel opener made by my blacksmith friend Martin Pansch).  The bottle opened with only a small fizzing sound.  The beer was poured into a group of waiting snifter glasses for our expectant crowd.

Aroma: In which our party get ready for an complex and sweet beer.

Eric: Dark, dark chocolate.  Deep dark candied cherry is strong.  Vanilla notes.  Hint of roast.  Very sweet smelling and sugary.  Slight oxidation (papery) as warms up.  Raisins.  No hops.
Annette: Dark Chocolate, cherry, toasty coffee, wood (oak) drifts lazily.  Smells like the syrup you wish you could have on a pile of pancakes.  Hint of soy sauce.
Joe: Malt forward.  Small hint of hops. Soy sauce.
Steven: Slight smokiness.  Raisin.  Wet cardboard.  No hop aroma.
Shawn: Chocolate, raisin, molasses.  Deep malty aroma.  Sherry or port-like aroma--like an aged English barleywine (Thomas Hardy's).
Tyrone: Black strap molasses entices one's nostrils deeper into a dark pit--a siren song beckoning those who have only known the light to disappear into darkness.  Sweet songs of perfumed pit fruits, plums and dark cherries, mask the forbidden.  A slight oxidative note warns of old warlock magic ahead...

Appearance: In which our explorers bemoan the lack of head...

Eric: Deep brown to nearly black in color.  Hint of ruby highlights at edge of glass so it isn't completely opaque.  Very fine light tan head fades quickly to a ghost.
Annette: Black in color.  Opaque.  No head.  Rings around edge with little lacing.
Joe: Opaque.  Hint of red.
Steven: No head.  Very dark brown.
Shawn: Dark, opaque.
Tyrone: Dark brown center--absolute clarity with bright orange halo framing the edges.  No head or noticeable carbonation.

Flavor: In which fruit and fortified wine notes cavort across our palates, and Tyrone gets even weirder...

Eric: Holy chocolate covered cherry!  Bourbon-like vanilla notes.  Very very sweet.  Not much roast to this.  Hint of hop flavors.  Alcohol is present but not hot.  Smooth finish but borders on cloying for me.  Dark cocoa.  Not picking up coffee.  Raisin and dried cranberry as it warms up leading to a tartness and a sherry-like oxidation.  Almost no carbonation accentuates the syrupy thick mouthfeel.
Annette: Chocolate cherry that feels heavy but drinks light.  The choco/cherry syrup coats delightfully.  A light bittering compliments the malt and sweet notes.
Joe: Very sweet.  Low bitterness.  Caramel flavor.  Thick!  Maybe a hint of oxidation.
Steven: Plum.  Very sweet.  Doesn't taste like 15%!
Shawn: Same raisin, molasses, dark malt as aroma.  Sherry-like flavors.  Grain bill a bit too much, even for a RIS.  Bordering too malty, giving a strong, overly malty finish.  Flat profile.
Tyrone: Chewy Fig Newton drops a juicy load in the puckering back pockets of my mouth.  A sweet almost golden raisin-like sweetness comes close to making the intrepid hero torn away--until it washes away in a smooth finish, calling him back to his heroine siren.

Overall: In which we all need some water...

Eric: Smoother than I remember it, but it has been a few years!  Still very sweet. The chocolate covered cherry flavor is unreal and more spectacular than most actual cherry beers I've had.  Almost tastes barrel aged due to the oxidation and vanilla.  I gave this a 4.5, but ended up dropping to 4.25 because the finish was so sweet.
Annette: Delicious!  While this could have gone the way of cough syrup, it instead was a beverage best served over ice cream.  The coffee, chocolate, and cherry notes blend nicely with the hop bittering--mixing perfectly.  4.2
Joe: Good beer.  A little out of balance toward the malt for my taste.  Is a little cloyingly sweet to start but finishes surprisingly dry.  3.5
Steven: Smooth, medium body.  Very enjoyable.  4.25
Shawn: Exceptional balance in ingredients.  Aging improved the beer a lot and gave way to sherry-like character.  Beer has a bit too much specialty malt character, however, to be excellent.  Alcohol warmth is very appropriate.  The aroma was my favorite part of the beer.  4.25
Tyrone: The Dark Lord rises from the syrup molasses swamp.  He trudges through a thicket of crushed and fermented figs, dates and prunes rain from broken branches and trunks; his skin stained with the crushed souls of raisins.  4.75
Sarajo: It fell a little flat for me.  3.5

Overall Score: 4.1

Below is the Limited Release episode for Dark Lord Day 2012!

Photo info: This week I took a close up of the bottle label and superimposed it with Photoshop Elements over a macro shot of a Warhammer chaos warrior miniature I painted back in my teens.  I thought it was "metal" enough!
Also I created a new Whale A Week intro photo using one of my only watercolor paintings (the other one was stupidly given to a girl) from about 1993.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Brau Brothers Brewing!

Not long ago my wife (Sarajo) and I took a field trip to the far and distant land of Marshall, MN to visit one of the more venerable craft breweries in the state--Brau Brothers Brewing Co.  I live in Waconia (a far far western suburb of Minneapolis) and Marshall is about a 2 hour and 15 minute drive (mostly) west of us--getting close to the South Dakota border.  No man's land.  This fine winter day, we warmed up the car and headed out over the frozen windswept tundra of Hoth Western Minnesota.  The car's windows creaked with the cold and dry gusts scattered granular snow in small drifts across the winding country roads before us.  The car's thermometer topped out at negative 13 degrees F along our frigid trek.  A thankfully bright sun warmed us inside the frosted windows of our vehicle, rainbow hued sun dogs shimmering in the air to each side of it in a miraculous fashion.

Across an abandoned wintry scene more reminiscent of a bleak desert, we wound our way through the countryside, snow crusted farms and fallow dune-like fields speeding by our windows.  Occasionally, we would have to jerk the car into the oncoming narrow lane to avoid an especially large snow drift.  This was truly remote, yet the hostile environment had a sort of wicked and pastoral beauty to it.  Finally, we entered the outskirts of Marshall, a larger city than I expected, with a population over 13,000.  Civilization at last!  We followed our trusty GPS to the "new" site of Brau Brothers.

A little history lesson before we continue.  Dustin and Mary Brau (along with help from his two brothers) started in 1999, opening a small brewpub called the BrauHaus in Lucan, a town with a population of just over 300 souls.  These guys were truly pioneers of craft brewing at the time.  With just a handful of breweries in Minnesota at the time (Schells, Summit, Town Hall, Great Waters, Fitgers, to name a few) starting a brewpub in the world's tiniest town was a bold move.  They continued on for a while, but in around mid-2000's with craft beer starting to "grow up" in the state they decided to expand into a true production brewery in order to supply beer to the budding tastes of the Metro area.  In 2006 they opened their larger brewery in Lucan and began packaging beer for us Minnesotans who were thirsty for a change.  I remember first trying the beer at a wine and beer event at the Arboretum (mainly wine at the time with just a couple of breweries involved.)  The Brau family were there in force, sampling their beers and trying to educate the palates of all those wine drinkers!  I loved the folks and enjoyed the beers, making a note to keep an eye on their progress.  A few years later, Sarajo and I were at a small beer dinner at the now defunct Pairings and got to talk with Dustin and Mary Brau quite a bit over some amazing food and great beers.

As the craft beer scene has continued to grow dramatically, the Braus have also continued to grow.  Their growth has been steady and sustainable, unlike some of the huge exponential growth of some of the bigger regional breweries in the state (Surly, Summit).  Taking advantage of their rural location, the brewery location in Lucan hosts its own hop yard--providing fresh hops for the seasonal IPA 100 Yard Dash--as well as its own barley fields.  In 2012 it was time to expand the brewery's footprint, and to get a bit closer to a larger city in order to capitalize on taproom and food sales.  The Braus bought a huge old Runnings (off-brand Fleet Farm for you city folk) building at the outskirts of town and starting brewing on a slightly larger scale.

Snapped with my phone and frostbitten fingers...

Here's where we come in!  Bundled against the bitter cold, dodging angry wampas and frozen tauntaun carcasses along the way, we made our way into the enormous building.  Within, I was struck immediately with just how massive the place really is!  Crazy high ceilings, girders, and either insulation or sound-baffling line the roof.  Across from the entrance is a small area filled with Brau Brothers swag (shirts, tin tacker signs, glassware, etc.)  But once you fully enter the space, the center point to the taproom comes into glorious view!  The 1956 Lucan firetruck that Dustin Brau used to fight fires on sits behind the long brick-fronted, stainless steel bar.  Even this large red firetruck is dwarfed by the available space in the taproom!  The serving taps actually come right out of the side of the truck, with restaurant storage available in the back of it.  This is an incredibly cool feature for a taproom and really makes it stand out.  Several large booths, high-tops, and regular sized tables provide copious amounts of seating around the taproom space.  We were there on a Sunday afternoon and the place wasn't especially busy, but they have space for large events if needed.  We met up there with our friends Tyrone and Annette Babione--fresh from helping out at a beer festival in Mankato--and quickly ordered some beers.  The taproom was a bit chilly, but frankly this wasn't surprising considering the outdoor temp.  Our server was a young guy, fairly new at the place but helpful and earnest, getting us our beers quickly and without fuss.

We were all excited that Dustin Brau himself was kind enough to come in on this Sunday to give us a personal tour of the place!  First he took us into the spacious brewery proper, pointing out their 1995 15 barrel brew system, rescued from a long-closed brewery in Richmond, VA.  "This isn't exactly a Cadillac system, but we've learned how to make it work for us," Dustin remarked as he told us the story.  The floor in the brewery had to be built up in order to provide drains for overflow, so you have to take a big step up when entering the brewery floor.  It was a bit chilly back there, and I wished I had not left my coat back at the booth!

Dustin Brau showing off the brewery!

Next we took a trip into the even cooler barrel storage room.  I believe they put out their first sour beer last year, and have been working at creating a small sour and barrel aging program for the brewery since.  Sealed off from the regular beers, this room was filled with several used barrels, most filled with slowly souring beer.  I'm a huge sour-head so this program gets me interested!  Surprisingly, Dustin commented about how quickly the locals took to the sour beer and wanted more when it was gone!

Moving on, we checked out the vintage 1975 bottling line.  They really don't make them like this anymore!  We also got to discuss the water treatment used in the brewery.  One thing that sets Brau beers apart from some of the other MN breweries is the fact that they use reverse osmosis water to start and then build up the water salts to suit each beer style they make.  This process apparently started back in Lucan where they had high radon levels in the water and the whole area was forced to do RO water treatment.  I think water and mineral salt control has a huge impact on the final quality of the beer--after all beer is over 90% water!

Dustin spent quite a bit of time with us, showing off all the nooks and crannies of this enormous brewery space.  We saw the small lab area, the label machine, the basketball hoop (yup this place is that big).  Whilst freezing our limbs off, we spent some time hanging out in the walk-in cooler while Dustin cracked open some beers to fill our now-empty glasses.  It was still balmy compared the outside temps!

Once the epic tour was over, we all settled into a large booth in the taproom and ordered some much needed food.  The menu is extensive and features a lot of locally raised bison.  I ordered a house cured pastrami sandwich that was quite good, but could have used a sturdier bun.  The hand cut fries were great and they also had sweet potato tater tots!

While waiting on our food, I tasted through much of the beer line-up.  Here are my bullet-point reviews.  I rate on a scale of 0-5 with 3 being standard OK beer, 4 I'll actively seek out, and 5 I'll hoard.

1) Bohemian Pils--Light straw color.  Up front noble hopping.  Hint of DMS.  Crisp and drinkable.  3.5

2) Quad--Belgian strong ale.  Lighter in color than expected--more of a light amber.  Slightly hazy.  A bit boozy with a candy-like sweetness. Ends dry and a touch astringent.  I like this now but would love to try with 6 months of aging! 4

3) ESB--Bread, hint of caramel, hop bitterness well balanced.  Very nice and comforting.  4.25

4) White Cap--Belgian Wit with orange peel and coriander.  Spices certainly present without being overwhelming.  Mild Belgian yeast character.  A very summery beer--way better than Blue Moon. 3.75

5) D'thai--A lager made with Thai Jasmine rice.  Slightly fruity aroma.  Very light in color.  Brisk, hoppy, crisp and wonderful.  Anyone could (and should) drink this beer--even your craft beer hating neighbors.  4.25

6) Bancreagie--Scotch ale with peated malt.  Aroma of peat fire smoke.  Flavor is sweetish, but ends dry.  Smoky flavor but not overwhelming.  Mellow compared to the last time I had this (2 years ago).  A bit fruity as it warms up.  3.75

7) Old 56--Named after the fire truck, this is the beer aimed at non-craft beer drinkers. Some corn flavor.  Bright, very light (lite?) but actually has some grain flavors.  A very good light beer option.  I'd drink this over PBR or Coors any day. Very nice dry finish. 4

8) Bourbon Oak ESB on cask--Hint of tartness.  Oak is too strong and astringent.  Bourbon not really present.  Not my favorite, but not terrible.  3

9) Moo Joos--This one is the flagship milk stout.  Sweet, roast, coconut.  Hint of sweet tart.  Great creamy mouthfeel.  Milk chocolate flavors.  3.75

10) Ring Neck Braun--Brown ale.  Mellow, a bit sweet.  Hint of diacetyl.  3

11) Tiramisu--Version of Moo Joos.  Aroma of coconuts. Flavor is harsh dry cocoa.  Tart finish is off-putting.  2.75

12) Village Tart--A sour!  Aroma is barnyard (but in a good way!) Flavor is tart with some malt flavors to back it up and give body.  Mouthfeel is medium.  A good base sour that cries out for the addition of some fruit! 4

That is a lot of beers to try!  I was excited to see a couple of cask beers, as well as a good mix of lagers and ales.  Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of beer, especially the lagers, which tend to be harder to pull off.  My least favorites were the experimental versions of regular beers--which is often the case with such one-off experiments--but I appreciate them trying new things in the taproom.

Prior to my visit out to the taproom, and the occasional bottle of Moo Joos in The Cities, I had frankly almost forgotten about Brau Brothers.  They were at the forefront of the local craft beer boom in Minnesota, but seemed happy to stick with their rural location, not urgently pushing for more expansion and market share. In a way, this slow growth method is more sustainable and fits with their small town way of life.  Supply the locals.  Send some beer to the Twin Cities.  Do a little contract brewing for some other smaller breweries in MN and South Dakota.  Buy a giant building and grow into it.  I had thought recently (while sipping that Moo Joos at a friend's holiday party) "What ever happened to these guys?"  Now I know, and am quite happy with the progress they have made.  The beer quality is excellent overall, and they seem to be happy with what they are doing.  Dustin seemed as energetic and "into it" as he did back at the start of things.  He has plans for a fully Brau Estate beer made with their own hops and barley, as well as expanding the sour and barrel aging program.  Yes please!

I think it's safe to say that we all had a fantastic time visiting the brewery, and really appreciated the time that Dustin spent with us.  I highly recommend the place for food and beers, but it is a serious trek from the Twin Cities area!

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Whale A Week: Dry Dock Bligh's Barleywine 2013

The lapping of waves against the scarred hull of the ship and the shifting shadows of the sunlight through the sails lulls most into sense of relaxed bliss.  Creaking joists and the incessant rubbing from the rigging ropes keep time with the roll of the deck beneath our hoary bare feet.  Hard and sometimes splintered wood echos quietly underfoot as we sidle across the deck in that classic sailor's waddle.  Ahead is the darkened shade of the hatch to below decks and our prize.  We quietly lower ourselves into the waiting dark, smells of oak, saltwater, dried fish, assail the nose, still better than the unwashed stink of our traveling companions.  There we go.  Aye, our goal is there ahead of us.  Quiet now, for the Captain can not know what we are about...skulking about below in storage when we should be mending sail or swabbing the deck.  There it is, the large keg there on the bottom of the pile.  Inside rests liquid gold, or perhaps more liquid courage--something we will need for the detestable things we must do.  As we fill our wooden cup with this strong and boozy brew we toast silently an end to gathering breadfruit and to that terrible tyrant. We finish, instilled with new vigour, knives pulled and muskets primed.  It is time...

This week we travel (by boat!) to Aurora, Colorado for a rare treat from Dry Dock Brewing Company.  Dry Dock was founded opened in 2005 and has expanded a few times since their humble start as an offshoot of a homebrew shop.

Bligh's Barleywine was the brewery's first barrel aged beer and is a beefed up version of their HMS Bounty Old Ale.  The barleywine is named after the infamous Captain Bligh of the aforementioned HMS Bounty. The first batch came out in 2008 and is released yearly now.  The original recipe was created by co-owner Kevin DeLange and then assistant brewer Jim Denier and the bottles still bear a facsimile of their signatures.  For those who read my blog frequently, or live in the Western Suburbs of Minneapolis, you may recognize the name DeLange:  Kevin's two brothers Peter and Bob recently opened up Waconia Brewing here in the city of the same name!  Small world it seems...  Back to the beer!  The English style barleywine is aged in whiskey barrels for 7 months and released to much applause.  The beer has a 95 score on Beer Advocate and a 99 on Rate Beer.

Bob DeLange brought a bottle of this over to share at a Jack Of All Brews meeting last year and it was quite the hit.  I've been looking forward to doing a write-up on it in a more controlled manner.  We had a Whale A Week alum, Dave Manley over for this one, as well as my usual partner in crime and wife, Sarajo.

Dry Dock Bligh's Barleywine 2013

Aroma: In which Dave makes his O-face...

Eric: Strong toffee, caramelized sugars.  Mild English hopping gives an earthy and light citrus note.  Peanut brittle as warms.  Very sweet and malty smelling.  A bit of paper and tannin as it warms up more.  Not a ton of booze.
Dave: Damn!  Caramel, malt, slight oxidation--the kind that is just right for barleywine.  Love it!  I could just sit and smell this beer, but...I won't...  Not much barrel or bourbon.

Appearance: In which turbid chunks of yeast dance and play...

Eric: Burnished copper to deep amber color.  Despite a careful pour has a lot of yeast floaties in it.  Very wispy off-white head fades quickly to the edge of glass.
Dave: Poured cloudy--like liquid caramel.  Mild carbonation.  Floaties, but I don't mind.

Flavor: No mutiny in our comments here...

Eric: Ohhhhh.  Sweet.  Boozy.  Smooth.  In that order.  Balance is certainly to the sweet side but the hopping balances this enough that the beer isn't cloying.  I get tons of caramel and English toffee.  Mild oak tannin and some sherry notes from either oxidation or barrel.  Marshmallow and vanilla subtle as it warms up.  Slight alcohol warming but not hot at all.  A bit yeasty.  Not a ton of whiskey present.  Mouthfeel medium and mouth coating.  Finish is semi-sweet.
Dave: Malt, slight oxidation.  Creamy/slick mouthfeel--perhaps from the floaties.  Some barrel complexity.  Slightly alcoholic.  Definitely malty sweet.  Slight hops.

Overall: In which Sarajo gives an accurate description of both the beer and her husband...

Eric: A wonderful English barleywine.  I love this style and the whiskey just adds complexity, though fairly subtle compared to some versions--then again this is from 2013 and may have mellowed from fresher.  I'd compare this favorably to Steel Toe Lunker and Pelican Mother of All Storms.  I want to try this one fresh and see what the hopping and booze is like!  4.5
Dave: Enjoyed this quite a bit. 4
Sarajo: Kind of chunky, but sweet and yummy.  4

Overall Score: 4.17

Monday, February 1, 2016

If You Aren't Able, Might As Well Raise Cain

Not long ago, some friends of mine wanted to get together for a weekend afternoon in Minneapolis.  Being the beer geek I am, I suggested trying out the relatively new Able Seedhouse, and everyone was game.  The first I heard of this place was actually a review I saw from fellow blogger Paige Latham on her Alcohol By Volume blog, and I was intrigued right away.

A little history:  The head brewer is Bobby Blasey, a guy with an official American Brewer's Guild diploma under his belt.  The brewery is focused on locally grown grains, and has the goal of malting their own grains in house.  I'm not sure where they are sourcing said grains, but with Rahr malting of Shakopee being a local maltster I'm wondering if that might be the source.  I'm also unclear on what the brewery is doing to roast/kiln these malts.  This involvement in the processing of grains into what will ultimately become beer is a step beyond what anyone else in the state is doing for their beer, with a few exceptions like an upcoming limited release Brau Brothers estate beer.  I actually wish there was more info on the website about what they're doing since I think this is the thing that will distinguish Able from the hoard of other budding (sorry couldn't help it) breweries in the state.

Able Seedhouse + Brewery is located in the Logan Park area of Minneapolis in a somewhat industrial area (I know shocking for a brewery!)  This is not an area I had visited before, and I'm always happy to explore new places in the city.  Unfortunately the temp outside was hanging right around 0 degrees F that day, discouraging wandering around with my camera and dragging my group all over the neighborhood.  We were able to park in a lot right across the street from the brewery--something not always easy to do in Minneapolis.  We bolted across the icy street and into the blessed warmth of the large brick brewery building.

The place is huge, with high ceilings, open spaces, and minimalist design.  The decor is a strange mix of reclaimed or re-purposed materials, and newer spartan furniture.  A small bar sits within the taproom proper, the brewery equipment visible behind and partially cordoned off by a honeycomb patterned wooden screen on one side.  A large white mural with a naturalistic black pattern, possibly mimicking tree rings or seed layers, takes up a wall across from the entrance and provides a nice focal point for the brewery.  Huge windows provided rare and warming sunshine for us chilly travelers, but I'm wondering how bright it might get in summertime.  At least one garage door is placed in the taproom exterior wall that can be opened to provide access to a patio area in warmer months.  Some beautiful long and thick solid plank tables with natural curved lines provide seating, as well as some smaller high-top tables.

Two pleasant and helpful young ladies were serving patrons during our visit and seemed very interested and knowledgeable.  They were serving up the house beers with a few twists for us, as well as cold press coffee for those needing a little kick.  Let's go through the line-up shall we?  I rate beers on a 0-5 scale with 3 being an average beer I'd drink, 4 being a great beer, and 5 being the Holy Grail.

1) House Red: This one is hoppy and a tad astringent.  Hints of dark roast malt?  Seems like a cross between a hoppy west coast amber and an Irish red.  Very clean and dry.  3.75

2) Propers Pub Ale:  Not a bad beer.  Served on nitro.  Has the hop bitterness of an English bitter, but very little hop aroma.  A bit harsh on the finish.  3.5

3) First Light: American IPA.  Sage aroma mixed with tropical fruit/mango rind.  Flavor very similar to aroma, unique.  Very dry with astringent finish. 3.75

4) BLK WLF: 3.7% ABV Stout.  This is very much an Irish dry stout (in the vein of Guinness).  I get a strong roastiness, hint of caramel as it warms.  Very dry, despite addition of lactose.  At first too dry for my taste, but as it warmed up the body seemed to improve.  3.75

5) BLK WLF Neon: This version was mixed with the cold press coffee they have on tap.  Smoother body, sweeter flavor.  Strong fresh cold press coffee aroma and flavor.  This one popped!  I ordered a full glass of this one after my sampler was done.  4.25

6) Two Sparrows infused with Raspberry:  A wheat pale ale.  I didn't like this one. Astringency overpowered the wheat flavors.  Raspberry aroma and flavor were very artificial and medicinal.  The fact that there was no pink or red to the beer tells me that this was likely an extract and not real raspberry.  2

So overall, just one I didn't like, otherwise all were above average.  Everything was cleanly fermented and attenuated.  However, all of the beers really had an overly dry/astringency to them that really only fit stylistically with the stout.  I'm wondering if this is water chemistry related?  I've come across a few other breweries that have the same type of "house flavor" notably Sisyphus.  Insight Brewing used to have this issue, but right after visiting Able we went over there and their beers seem to have gained body and balance since last time I was there.  Might want to check in with them and see what they have done recently...

I give the taproom high marks for vibe, for while its open and somewhat sparse, it has a cleanness of line and decor that appeals.  We had excellent service and decent beers.  I was happy to be able to visit and write them up.  I won't blog about a place under 6 months old if I don't like them, but if I have overall positive things to say I'll jump ahead and do it!  I really want to find out more about what they are doing with the seedhouse!