Monday, September 13, 2010

Beer of the Week

Over the past six months I have found a love of sour and wild beers. A stand out amongst crowd has been Flat Earth’s Extra Medium. Flat Earth, a St. Paul brewery which has been featured by us before, has done it again with this sour cherry beer.

I first got to try this tasty brew at the Muddy Pig and it has had a place on their taps as well as my heart for the past few months. Muddy Pig has become a frequent hang out for Ryan and I since our move to St. Paul and bringing great beers like Extra Medium is why. This is the description from Flat Earth's website:

This American wild ale was brewed using a blended strain of yeast that created this unique and refreshing beer. Brewed in the summer and allowed to age in an unjacketed tank for a year to fully develop its flavors. Extra Medium has an aroma of tart cherries, lemon and a slight inner city funk. It is refreshingly tart and sour with hints of orange marmalade, whiskey and citrus rind. Extra medium pairs well with salads, pungent cheeses and angel food cake.

The first thing that grabs you is the rich red color of this cloudy beer. The smell is an intoxicating blend of pungent yeast with notes of cherry, cranberry and apple cider vinegar. The carbonation is light which I prefer in sours. The taste is full a bodied sour cherry, with a yeasty vinegar and lemon notes. The sour taste is there but blends nicely with some malty sweetness.

This is an everyman’s kind of sour as opposed to some of the stronger tasting varieties. Wild but still palatable. If you haven’t been able to get into sours or wild beers I strongly suggest this one to help you appreciate the style.

Links of Interest:

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Friday, August 20, 2010

The Great Taste of the Midwest 2010

As we mentioned here, each year the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild holds a beer festival called The Great Taste of the Midwest ("GT"). Breweries are generally limited to the Midwest (although this year I saw two from Kentucky; I'm not sure if that's technically the Midwest), so it's not just a clever name.

The GT is held on the second Sunday of August at Olin-Turville Park on the shores of Lake Monona. The park setting is ideal, and the view of Wisconsin's capital is magnificent. There may be some more impressive locations for beer festivals (Breckenridge), but the GT is definitely towards the top of the list. I could live the rest of my life without going to another beer fest in a parking lot.

2010 was the 24th year of the festival and this year's fest featured some modifications that really improved the experience.

First, the "Real Ale Tent" was moved to the front of the fest for easy access. The Real Ale Tent is certainly one of the highlights, and deserves its spot at the front. The tent features cask-conditioned beer served directly from the firkin. This year's Real Ale Tent had notable offerings from Surly, New Holland, Jolly Pumpkin, and Flat Earth Brewery, amongst others.

Second, instead of having three giant tents, the fest now has five smaller tents. This allows traffic to flow much smoother. More time enjoying the beers and the park; less time standing in line for beer.

Included in the entry fee for the GT is a $1 taxi ride to anywhere in the county. Every beer fest in America should offer something similar. Period. This year we chose to walk, but it's nice to know the option is there. Chug Responsibly.

On to the highlights...

Some of this year's notable brews were:

Surly Cedar-aged Cynic. Wow. What more can I say? This one was available in the Real Ale Tent, and the cask-conditioning treated this beer exceptionally well. Lemony, with pine notes, and a slight banana smell. Cynic on its own is an exceptional saison; the cedar aging kicks it up a notch.

Surly Darkness. Surly's elusive Russian Imperial Stout was also available in the Real Ale Tent. You've had it; it's awesome. Guess what, it's awesome out of the firkin too.

Founder's Canadian Breakfast Stout/Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Canadian is aged in maple barrels, Kentucky in bourbon barrels. I preferred the Canadian, but they were both exceptional. You can't really go wrong with Founder's Breakfast Stout as your building block. Coffee notes, chocolate hints, a roasty malt backbone. The breakfast of champions.

Fathead IPA. From Fathead's brewpub in Ohio. I have to say I was rather impressed. You don't usually find a brewpub that competes with the West Coast big boys (Minneapolis' own Town Hall notwithstanding), but Fatheads holds its own. In fact, Fathead's Headhunter IPA won first place at the 2009 West Coast IPA festival. Very bitter with nice floral hop notes. If you're at the Cleveland airport, it's not too far away.

Central Waters Illumination. A double-IPA with Galena, Chinook, Simcoe and
Centennial hops. Flowery and crisp. Tasted great as the day was getting hot.

Sam Adams Utopia. Ok, it wasn't really the best beer in the world. It has a really nice maple flavor, but it's more like drinking a liqueur than a beer. Maybe because it's 20% ABV? From the perspective of novelty, it was very cool that they offered this on tap.

Flat Earth Tripel. They don't brew this beer enough. Don't let the very light blond color fool you, this has an exceptional taste to back it up. Honey sweetness with hints of peach and apricot. Smooth big mouthfeel.

Keg Man! "A friend of Lakefront Brewery" in his own words, this guy was walking around the fest with a corny keg strapped to his back. Inside? Lakefront's Pumpkin lager. It's not the best pumpkin beer in the world, but neither is it the worst. I had to have some, once again, for the sake of novelty. More brewers should do this! After all, when I'm walking from one beer sampling station to another, I could use a beer.

The Bell's Tent. If your microbrewery has been around for 25 years, you deserve your own tent. Bell's really went all out, offering about 18 beers, including Hop Slam, 25th Anniversary Ale, Batch 9000, Eccentric Ale 2008, and many more. Not only did Bell's have their own tent, but they had a great location near the lake. Here's to another 25!

The Schell's Bus! If you're impressed that Bell's has been around for 25 years, you'll be astounded to know that the August Schell brewery of New Ulm, Minnesota, has been around for 150! I can't say I'm a huge fan of their beers, but hey, that bus is awesome!

Needless to say, after doing our beer fest duty and sampling the rarest high-gravity ales the Midwest has to offer, the day started to deteriorate amidst the rising heat, large pours, and bourbon-barrel everything. Somebody had been feeding alcohol to these animals! As a matter of fact, I believe we reached our beer fest zenith after chugging a few Bourbon Barrel Stouts. At that point it was either us of the bourbon barrels. We did what we had to do.

Looking forward to 2011! The 25th Anniversary of the Great Taste!

(Special Shout-Out to Colin & Cathy for the tickets!)

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Great Taste of the Midwest 2010 (Eve)

For those of you who are in the dark, beer-wise (I don't mean Guinness), each year the Madison, Wisconsin Homebrewers and Tasters Guild puts on its annual beer-fest, the Great Taste of the Midwest ("GT"). The GT brings in brewers from all around the midwest eager to sample their wares. This fest featured 115 breweries sampling around 500 total beers.

As the festival has grown over its 24 years, the evening before the GT has evolved into a festival of its own, with brewers rolling into town a day early to take over the taps at local bars.

This year BOTB was onhand to partake in the pre-GT festival (known locally as "Beer Fest Eve"). And partake we did.

The evening started off at the new "Gastro Cantina" called King & Mane.

As was the case in previous years, when the space was known as "The Local," Michigan based New Holland Brewing came in to take over. New Holland took over the entire selection of taps, offering a bevy of different brews.

BOTB started off with a Koelsch style beer as to compliment dinner. No need to swing for the fences on the first pitch. The Koelsch was excellent: crisp, clean, and fruity, with just a hint of hops. The Germans would be proud.

The Koelsch was quickly followed up with a small pour of the Imperial Hatter, a double-down on New Holland's flagship Mad Hatter IPA. The Imperial Hatter was darker and maltier than its cousin, with a huge bouquet of citrus hops.

After the Imperial, we switched to a cask conditioned version of the Mad Hatter called "Cask Hatter." The cask conditioning gave the Hatter a smoother mouthfeel and allowed the hops some breathing room. I had always thought that the hop profile of the Mad Hatter was a little muddled (but only a little). The cask allowed you to taste some distinct floral notes. Yum!

Then BOTB headed over to Brickhouse BBQ which was hosting Wisconsin based Central Waters and Michigan based Short's.

Never having had the pleasure of trying Short's, we started with their IPA. It was a disappointment. Perhaps because the brewing world is awash in notable IPAs, the bar is fairly high. Short's was bitter, but without the nice hop profile found in quality IPAs. Short's IPA was well-hopped, but not hopped well.

We followed that up with Short's "Key Lime." I don't know why we were expecting this one to be tasty. In brewing there's a fine line between pushing the boundaries of the classic styles and making kitchy, novelty swill. It's hard to describe this one. It had a pale ale body, but with an odd graham cracker taste along side a tart acid taste. This one was truly awful.

The lone bright spot of Brickhouse was Central Waters' Peruvian Morning, a A Bourbon Barrel aged Imperial Stout made with coffee. You can taste coffee, of course, but also tobacco and vanilla. Rich and complex, this is creativity done right.

This it was on to Maduro, the perennial host of Bell's Brewery. Perhaps it was because of their 25th Anniversary, but Bell's went all out this year. There were pints of Hop Slam for $4; there were rarity's like Bell's rye beer, Kal-Haven; there was a Biere de Garde, La Pianiste; hell there was even Larry Bell! Cigars were smoked, pints were raised, and toasts were made to 25 years of Bell's brewing, Maduro, Madison, and the Great Taste of the Midwest.

It was the perfect ending to get us ready to tackle the fest on the following day. I think I even heard a group of people chanting "Lar-ry! Lar-ry! Lar-ry!" I might have even heard a "U-S-A!" chant. U-S-A indeed.

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Brooklyn in MN

I was notified by our future Senior East Coast correspondent Jacob Hoffman that Brooklyn brewing is coming to Minnesota. After greeting O'Dells and Deschutes in the same year, what more could we ask for?

Also, those Great Taste of the Midwest Reviews are coming soon. We just have to compile the photos.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Great Taste of the Midwest - Coming Soon

We didn't hit you with a beer of the week last week, but we have something big to make up for it. BOTB attended this year's Great Taste of the Midwest, held annually in Madison, Wisconsin. The fest is one of the countries largest, hosting over 100 brewers from all across the Midwest. We're talking hundreds of beers.

Once we get some of the pictures arranged, expect a full review of the festivities including "Beer Fest Eve" held at bars around Madison.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Minneapolis Hops To It

The Minneapolis City Council is considering an ordinance change that would allow breweries to sell growlers directly from their stock without going through a distributor. According to the Star Tribune, growler sales can add up to and extra $268 per barrel, making a start-up brewery a little easier to manage.

St. Paul's Flat Earth Brewing already sells growlers direct from the brewery. St. Paul was a step ahead of its bigger Twin, approving the growler change in 2006.

Here's hoping that Minneapolis sprouts a few new breweries.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Beer of the Week

Summit Brewing of Saint Paul is now on the fourth installment of their "Unchained" series.

Judging by the strength of the series, Summit should have come unchained long ago. While some of the Summit fleet seem like afterthoughts (IPA, Grand Lager), you can taste the passion in the Unchained series. The Koelsch is particularly good and has been receiving praise from across the beer community.

This week's BOTW is Unchained #4, a Belgian Style Golden Ale. It pours a straw color with a small white head somewhat smaller than other Belgian Golds (which tend to have giant heads).

The smell is fruity, yeasty and sweet. What are those fruits in there? Pear? Grape? There is definitely a hint of banana. There is a lot going on in the nose of this beer.

The taste is like the smell: fruity and sweet. Besides the sweetness, the beer has a complex yeast taste that is true to style. I think I can pick up subtle toffee notes from time to time.

While some Belgian Golds have a strong aftertaste, this one is relatively crisp. The pleasantly mild aftertaste makes this brew go down quickly.

My main complaint with this beer is that it is too sweet. Did the yeast not eat enough of the candi sugar? A little extra fermentation might add to the strength (literally) of this beer. Overall, another worthy effort in the Unchained series. I can't wait for #5.

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