Monday, March 21, 2016

A Whale A Week: The Manhattan Project

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!  This week we try something different.  Tired of just trying out one beer (and lets be honest how can I really shrink my cellar at this rate) each week, we're going to break out a bunch of them!

This week we're doing something different!  I discovered that I had two beers in my cellar that were based on the Manhattan cocktail flavor profile and thought it would be fun to combine the two into one tasting.  But of course we would have to mix up an actual Manhattan to compare with right?  I contacted Gina Holman, one of the owners of our local Waconia distillery J. Carver, who is our resident expert on mixology to come help us out!  The other cast of characters fell promptly into place as well.  We had myself and my lovely wife Sarajo as always.  We also had Dan Herman--homebrewer with the Primary Fermenters and sometime bartender.  Heather McNabnay--who mixed up the first Manhattan I had ever tried.  And last but not least we had over local beer/food/spirits blogger Paige Latham and her husband Rick Didora.  With this highly skilled and educated crowd we dug into our work!

Paige wrote up her (and Rick's) impressions of this event for her fantastic blog Alcohol By Volume, so check it out HERE as well!

Cascade Brewing's Manhattan NW 2011

For those who don't know Cascade Brewing out of Portland, Oregon--you need to try their beers!  They focus on mainly barrel aged sour beers and are putting out some of the best in the country.  Sarajo and I visited the Cascade Barrel House a few years back and stuffed our suitcase with corked and caged bottles of this liquid manna--including today's special vintage.  Most of their sours are lactic, setting them apart from many others.  It was with great excitement that two weeks ago I discovered Cascade on shelves here in Minnesota.  They aren't cheap, but worth it if you like sour beers!   This particular beer is aged in whiskey barrels with pie cherries and apricot noyeax (an almond flavored creme liqueur made from apricot kernels).  Unlike many sours, this one is high-test and clocks in at 11.5% ABV! 


Eric: Strong lactic sourness up front.  I do sense some malt sweetness under there as well.  Slight funky barnyard brettanomyces character.  Cherry present and tart but pretty subtle.  Mouth starts salivating at the sourness in the aroma!
Gina: Muted nose, not getting fruit, but sour yes.  Getting more funk.
Heather (or Penelope as her "bar name"): Granny Smith apple.  Star fruit. Amaretto.  
Dan: Bretty and a little almond.  Little to no cherry.


Eric: Slightly hazy, gold to amber color.  Fine white head that fades to edge of glass quickly.
Gina: Golden, amber, medium, hazy.
Heather: Bit cloudy, amber.
Dan: Amberish, clear, little to no head.


Eric: Sweet on the front end--fades to a tart cherry and cherry pit flavor at the end.  Strong lactic acid sourness with a hint of pedio and certainly some funky brett.  Sweet and sour candy-like.  I do get almond or cherry pit strongly.  Body is medium with a creamy mouthfeel--unusual for sours.  Carbonation is high.  Very much stays with you after the sip is done.  4.5
Gina: Acid, lemon zest, cherry pit, skin, tart, nutty, funk, raw honey.  Lingering finish with a balance of acid.  Nice body.  Like an amaretto sour.  4
Heather: Lemon rind.  Amaretto.  Better than an IPA!  3
Dan: Highly effervescent, yet somehow still slick.  Acid.  Cherry is there, but way behind the acid.  Citrus peel on the finish.  4
Sarajo: Amaretto sour all the way!  4.75
Overall Score: 4.05

Town Hall Manhattan Reserve 2016

Town Hall Brewery in Minneapolis has been one of my favorite breweries for years.  They remain a bit under the radar compared to a lot of the newer flashier brewery taprooms, but under the skilled hand of head brewer Mike Hoops, they've been putting out stellar beers for almost 20 years.  Dan and I are Pint Club members, getting access to free/discounted beers.  Their barrel program was one of the first in Minnesota and this beer is the culmination (for me at least) of that experience.  Sarajo and I first tried a version of this beer at Winterfest several years back and it has remained one of the best beers either of us has tried.  With the fairly recent Town Hall Barrel Aged Week events we got to try it again at the brewery, and our friends Randy and Andrea managed to get a couple mini growlers of it for us.  Thanks guys!  The beer is a strong golden ale (Grand Cru) aged in whiskey barrels with tart cherries.


Eric: Cherry is strong in this one!  Mixture of tart and sweeter Bing cherry.  Rye whiskey sweetness.  Tannin from oak mixed with a hint of cherry pit.  Malt present, but more honey-like.  Lots of complexity here.  Some mild Belgian esters.  
Gina: Inviting.  Jolly Rancher sour cherry!  
Heather: Cherries.
Dan: Bright estery Belgian.  A little alcohol burn but not much of a whiskey richness.  Nail polish.


Eric: Excellent clarity.  Deep red to orange in color.  Very minimal head.  
Gina: Amber, clear, healthy.
Heather: Gorgeous color--like a Manhattan should be!
Dan: Deep amber. Same color as true whiskey.  Tight white bubbles dissipate and cling to glass.


Eric: Mild sweetness up front.  Middle is cherry pit, raisin, maraschino cherry.  Mild vanilla.  Oak tannin or sherry notes.  Whiskey very mild in this.  Slight Belgian esters peaking through.  Medium mouthfeel--slick?  End is off-dry.  Warming all the way down the esophagus.  4.75
Gina: Cherry fruit, chocolate cherry, wood, tannin, char, cocoa!  Bitter and inviting.  Lingering finish.  Light effervescence.  Creaminess.  Softer mouthfeel.  Crisp. 4.75
Heather: Caramel, young maple syrup.  Holds up after a real Manhattan!  4.9
Dan: Cherry and Belgiany sweet stone fruit.  Vanilla in the middle.  A little nail polish solventy alcohol--in a good way.  Sweet finish.  4.75
Sarajo: Still just delicious.  I love Mike Hoops!  4.75
Overall Score: 4.78
Gina mixing us up some magic!
J. Carver Rye Manhattan

To top off our tasting of these two amazing cocktail based beers, we had Gina mix us up an actual Manhattan! Using J. Carver's 3rd batch of Rye Whiskey as a base, along with Fee Brothers Aromatic bitters, Luxardo cherries, and sweet vermouth, she served us up a great cocktail.  By this time our ability to write things up was failing, but I still jotted down a few notes.  In the aroma I got spicy sweet rye, some oakiness and hint of cherry.  In flavor I tasted sweetness up front, followed by a spicy rye malt finish and a bit of dryness from the Italian "sweet" vermouth.  Mild cherry flavor, but adds complexity.  Hint of cinnamon and clove.  Heather and I both picked up a little smoky flavor as well.  A wonderful caboose to our beer tasting!  

Gina also let us try the newly released J. Carver Bourbon alone and mixed up in my other favorite drink--the Old Fashioned.  I was frankly impressed with both the Bourbon and Rye, both having more complexity and flavor than some others I've tried.  

This was a fantastic evening filled with good friends and great drinks! Thanks to everyone for showing up and making this a stellar event!

No comments: