Victory Helios

January 26th, 2010 beckel

Victory Brewing Company out of Downingtown, PA is unquestionably one of my favorite breweries. Making delicious hoppy ales such as HopDevil, Hop Wallop and even their Prima Pils (an assertively hopped Pilsner). Earlier last year they decided to bottle some unique ales including WildDevil, their HopDevil wort fermented with Brettanomyces and to re-bottle what was originally called V-Saison under the new name Helios and make it more widely available in 22oz bottles. I never got around to sampling their Saison when it was available in 750ml bottles so I can’t wait to see their interpretation of this complex Belgian inspired style. This bottle has been sitting in my fridge for many months, but I’m sure it will still be lovely. Upon opening this bottle I was hit with a release of carbonation. I almost expected the bottle to overflow, but it only went about half way up the neck. Once I started pouring it was clear that this beer would produce as much head as you allow. Even after pouring very slowly into the side of my tulip over four fingers of bright white head was quickly produced and just as quickly opens up into larger and larger bubbles settling with in less than two minutes leaving a very small amount of head on the surface of the brew and a tiny bit of lacing. A massive flow of small bubbles through the center of the glass shows that this is surely one carbonated ale. Color is a completely translucent golden hue with no notable sediment, but that is because it is still sitting at the bottom of the bottle (the 2nd pour from the bottle was quite hazy and had solid chunks of sediment making it barely translucent and giving it more of an apricot hue). Smells of lemony citrus, earthy esters and a gentle yeasty funkiness. Flavor is full of a tangy lemon grass like citrus, soft malty sweetness and a variety of earthy esters followed by additional tartness and and a gentle funkiness. Mouthfeel is nicely dry and smooth and the body is appropriately full but not overly heavy. The 7.5% ABV of this ale is plenty subtle with the contrasting sour and sweet notes yet provides a nice compliment to this easy drinking Saison. Upon my 2nd pour (full of sediment) I had left the bottle in the fridge for a while as the first pour was consumed very warm. At a colder temperature and full of sediment the flavors are still very similar but (obviously) contain many more earthy yeast esters which are pleasant though less funky than when consumed at closer to room temperature and a bit less distinct. I suppose I really should have gently swirled the bottle to make it more even, oh well I still find the differences in flavor profile intriguing. Definitely a tasty beverage but not particularly astounding for the style. If you not a fan of bitter beers this should be right up your alley. A nice smooth American interpenetration of a Belgian (some will argue French) inspired style. Those into citrus forward somewhat yeasty beers will likely dig this one. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Victory Helios Ale

Boulder Killer Penguin

January 25th, 2010 beckel

Today I have a rather limited ale from the brewers of Boulder Beer Company out of, you guessed it…never mind. First brewed in 2002 this ale has been available for quite some time but has only been released as part of their Looking Glass Series of bottled ales since 2008. According to the bottle only one 50 barrel batch is brewed each year making this their rarest beer. Brewed in the colder months of the year and obviously intended to be consumed at the same time clocking in at a solid 10% ABV. Bottled in a fancy 22oz wax dipped bottle with a wooden seal proclaiming its year of 2009 I can’t wait to dive in (though it still needs to warm up a bit so I’ll be patient). I believe I sampled this ale once before at a tasting and found it not to be overly complex for a Barleywine, regardless the purpose of sampling a variety of beers is the experience and I am content with being an optimist. Pours a rather dark amber hue that becomes a very translucent bright red hue when brought to light. Head is a massive four fingers and consists of tight cream colored bubbles that settle after a few minutes leaving a solid millimeter and change of carbonation on the surface of the beer as well as a small amount of lacing around the glass. Aroma is quite nice, dark pitted fruit esters, Candi sugar, a nice dose of bitterness and a surprisingly limited amount of alcohol due to the contrasting malty sweetness. Tastes largely of dark pitted fruits, raisins, dates and plums in particular, a lot of Candi Sugar and a notable does of alcohol. Gentle esters of caramel and light bitterness are present, but not dominate at all. Body is light for the style and the mouthfeel is rather thin, but it sure is easy to drink for such a big beer. The 10% ABV of this beer will certainly be noticed by those not accustomed to such strong ales but the serious sweetness of this ale does a good job hiding it, particularly the more you drink. Not a very complex Barleywine but certainly not bad. If you enjoy easy drinking strong ales this might just be the beer for you. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Boulder Killer Penguin Barleywine

Some Surly News

January 25th, 2010 beckel

I tend to avoid posting much beer news as there are plenty of other sites (MNBeer & Beer News are my favorites) that do a wonderful job of informing the world about craft beer happenings and I feel redundant. Regardless today I have the wonderful opportunity to inform you the exciting news that Surly Brewing will be re-releasing a snazzy ale that was originally referred to as 16 Grit under the name Surly Abrasive Ale in cans. For those of you that are unfamiliar 16 Grit was brewed as a treat to Surly Nation at the end of 2008 when Surly was forced to stop off selling growlers on their premise due to foolishly restrictive Minnesota State Liquor Laws. While I’m sure the brew will taste a bit different this time around here is my review from the original production if your curious. Additionally Surly’s new bottling line will be getting a nice work out as they plan to bottle Surly Smoke and this years anniversary ale Surly Four in the near future in 750ml bottles. Since were talking news I may as well mention that the Surly Four release will be at The Blue Nile on February 23rd where the friendly bar manager Al who wrote the Surly Smoke label text works. Also Surly’s Mild will be released this year Feburary 2nd at Grumpy’s NE @ 7 pm.  Last but not least Surly has just redesigned their web page and it looks pretty darn snazzy, but it seems their still having some hosting difficulties as of the moment. I’m sure they’ll get it worked out though.

Surly Abrasive Ale Label

Surly Smoke Label

No More Growlers :(

No More Growlers 🙁

Founders Double Trouble

January 24th, 2010 beckel

Today I have another delicious Imperial IPA from the fine brewers of Founders out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Founders makes a variety of tasty ales, some strong, some subtle, but there is no question they love to play with hops. While not quite as big as their Devil Dance [review] which they call a “Tripple IPA” Double Trouble is still one impressive hop centric ale that any hop head should enjoy. Double Trouble is part of founders Seasonal line up and has been available for many years though I never got around to sampling it until the other week at Stub & Herbs. So after enjoying a number of pints there and seeing it on the shelves of The Four Firkins a few days ago when I was there for their insanely busy Unibroue tasting I saw no excuse not to grab a 4-pack and enjoy it some more. Pours a bright slightly translucent apricot hue. Three fingers of clean white head are produced that slowly open into larger bubbles settling after about 5 minutes or so leaving a small amount of lacing around the glass. Aroma is delicious. Nicely bitter, a variety of floral and fruity hop esters, orange, grapefruit and a very smooth and well rounded malty sweetness to contrast as well as a gentle does of alcohol. Tastes intensely of hops, gentle orange and more intense grapefruit are easily identified as well as other citrus esters followed by smooth clean malty sweetness and serious bitterness and additional hop esters in the finish. While unquestionably not a beer for those who aren’t a fan of hoppy ales the contrasting malt profile does a very nice job of creating a variety of flavors in this intense 86 IBU ale. The body is medium and the mouthfeel is very smooth with some nice sweetness on the tongue. Coming in at 9.4% ABV this is certainly a proper Imperial IPA though the bitterness and other hop esters do a very good job at hiding the solid ABV. If you are a fan of massive hops, particularly the citrus and bitter aspects you should dig this ale. As a lover of intensely hoppy brews this ale unquestionably gets a big thumbs up, keep up the good work Founders.  Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Founders Double Trouble Imperial IPA

Brau Brothers Rainwater Stout

January 23rd, 2010 beckel

Today I have the newest special release from our very own Brau Brothers Brewing out of the very small town of Lucan, Minnesota. The brothers Brau make a number of delicious brews so if you are unfamiliar I would highly suggest one of their mixed 12-packs which can be purchased at many local retailers for a reasonable sum and are a wonderful introduction to their products. Rainwater Stout was brewed late this summer with some local hops and aged in Madeira Oak for a number of months. Additionally it is the first time they have bottled in 750ml bottles. Brau Brothers are calling this a Very Special Old Dark, or VSOD but who cares about titles, lets see how it tastes! Pours a very dark black hue that is almost completely opaque with only a little bit of light shining through the very rim of the surface. Head is a tight two fingers and of a light creme chocolate color that lasts for a few minutes leaving only a very small ring around the glass indefinitely. Smells strongly of roasted malts, coffee, chocolate,pitted fruit and even gentle nutty esters are present as well as a modest dose of alcohol. Quite nice. Flavor is of a variety of fruits, gentle coffee, roasted malt, caramel, and slightly tangy, almost sour esters. Body is very light and the mouthfeel is quite thin but nicely smooth. While oak aging most likely has contributed to reducing the obviousness of the alcohol in this almost 10% ABV brew I am still trying to determine what else it has influenced other than a very gentle oak character. A nicely roasted Imperial Stout with a very unique flavor profile. A bit less complex and lighter bodied than I expected but unquestionably unique and tasty. If you enjoy unique easy drinking strong stouts and roasted malts this might just be the brew for you. With all of the delicious ales that Brau Brothers have produced I can’t wait to see more experimentation. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Brau Brothers Rainwater Stout

Avery Samael’s

January 21st, 2010 beckel

Today we have another Ale from Avery Brewing’s Demons of Ale series that goes by the name Samael’s. A few months ago I thoroughly enjoyed a bottle of their The Beast [review] a Grand Cru from the same series and am looking forward to seeing what this bottle has to offer. Avery Brewing produces a myriad of delicious ales out of Boulder, Colorado and I can’t wait to see what complexities arise from this 16.45% oak aged English Strong Ale. This particular bottle is dated April 2009 Batch 5. Pours a rather translucent deep but bright red hue that produces one finger of white head that fades within a minute or two. Aroma is complex reminding me a bit of and oak aged sherry. Notes of caramel, toffee, intense vanilla, cherry, pitted fruits and a solid dose of alcohol. Flavors are smooth and sweet with with vanilla esters from the oak aging playing a central role. Complex malt profile is predominately sweet and contrasted with modest bitterness perhaps from the hops but more likely from the intense alcohol. Some fruity esters are present but it is difficult to isolate them with the intense alcohol and vanilla notes. A complex array of caramel, toffee, cherry, vanilla and ethanol esters are most prevalent to me in this brew. Body is medium and the mouthfeel is very smooth. Alcohol is more than evident in this ale but it is still impressively smooth considering it is 16.45% ABV which likely has to do with its oak aged conditioning. While not as complex as The Beast those who enjoy smooth, sweet, highly alcoholic ales with heavy vanilla notes will certainly find this brew a unique experience. A tasty very strong ale that I would happily sample again on occasion. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Avery Samael's

Gouden Carolus Noël

January 10th, 2010 beckel

Today I have what is sure to be an interesting Christmas inspired ale from the brewery Anker out of Mechelen, Belgium which crafts Gouden Carolus brand ales. I have enjoyed a number of their ales, particularly their Belgian IPA style Ale Hopsinjoor and can’t wait to see what this 10% holiday ale has in store for me. Coming highly recommended by Alvey of The Four Firkins I can’t wait to dive in, so lets get to the good part. This attractive holiday inspired 11.2 oz bottle is labeled L 0743 03/08/10. Pours with one finger of rather tight tan head that completely dissipates with in two or three minutes. Color is a dark brown hue that reminds me a bit of a slightly watered down dark coffee allowing no light to pass through. Strong aromas of alcohol, rich caramel and toffee are most notable with Belgian Candi sugar most assuredly used in this recipe. Gentle dark pitted fruit esters help round out the nose. Flavor is quite nice with the caramel and toffee sweetness expected from the aroma as well as a delicious gentle roasted malt character and decent dose of alcohol that nicely contrasts with the serious sweetness present in this ale. Gentle herbal esters and a variety of dark pitted fruit notes add additional character to this ale creating one tasty brew. Body is medium for a Belgian Strong Ale and mouthfeel is quite smooth and almost a bit creamy. While not an ale for those afraid of ABV clocking in at 10% I feel the somewhat strong alcohol esters add a wonderful component that helps make the lack of bitterness less relevant. Definitely not your typical holiday ale with more Beligian Yeast, dark pitted fruit and Candi Sugar notes than the typical herbal onslaught of many in the style. If you enjoy complex Belgian Ales with a myriad of toffee and caramel flavors than this is the holiday beer for you, or just a solid ale to drink anytime you want something hearty. Unquestionably one of the best holiday inspired ales I have had an opportunity to consume. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Gouden Carolus Noël

Nøgne Ø, Jolly Pumpkin & Stone Special Holiday Ale

January 6th, 2010 beckel

Here I hold one of the most intriguing and illusive collaboration ales of 2009 with a mere 20 cases making their way to my state of Minnesota. This bottle was brewed and bottled in Norway at the inventive brewery of Nøgne Ø with the help of the wild brewers of Jolly Pumpkin and always intense Stone Brewing Company. While I was unable to sample this ale last year when the first batch was brewed at Stone I am very pleased to have the opportunity to sample this the 2nd time around. Most of the unique ingredients used in this brew are local to the regions of the three breweries including Michigan chestnuts, white sage from Southern California, and Norwegian juniper berries. Both Stone and Jolly Pumpkin also brewed this ale on their setups this year but I do not believe either will make it into my local market unfortunately. However if you live near California or Michigan you might be lucky enough to find some. On to the good part. This ale pours a very opaque dark brown hue that appears black until you bring it to light. A relatively tight light brown 3 finger head is slowly created but quickly opens up and fades with in about 3 minutes leaving only a small ring of carbonation around the surface of the ale. Aroma is quite interesting with a herbal spirit like quality that i believe is coming from the juniper berries and somewhat reminds me of a gin but with different esters. A modest amount of alcohol is noticeable as well as gentle roasted notes. Flavor is very unique with strong herbal notes of sage, caraway and juniper easily showing their way through the solid malt profile of this ale. Finishing with a delicate nuttiness and a bit of alcohol. The combination of malted barley, rye and oats delivers a wonderfully clean and smooth mouthfeel but frankly I wish I could taste them a bit more over all of the herbal notes present in this ale. Clocking in at 8.5% ABV this is certainly a winter warmer and an easy one to drink at that with a relatively light body for the style. Over all this is a rather sweet herbal ale with very little bitterness present but enough roasted esters to give it a bit of contrasting flavor. An interesting and creative ale with a multitude of ingredients that certainly shows the skill and creativity of the brewers. If I manage to stumble upon a bottle brewed by Jolly Pumpkin I would be very curious to see what some aging in their lovely funky oak barrels might do to this recipe. While I am still in search of a Holiday Ale I particularly love I will give this ale plenty of credit for potential. If you are a fan of herbal holiday ales and dig juniper berries this might just be the ale for you, if you can find it. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Nøgne Ø, Jolly Pumpkin & Stone Special Holiday Ale

Mad River Jamaica Brand Red Ale

January 2nd, 2010 beckel

It has been a lazy past month and for those who pay attention I give you my condolences. However I believe I can make it up with what is sure to be another tasty ale from the fine West Coast folk of Mad River Brewing. While I didn’t get around to writing about their Barleywine earlier this month I assure you it is more than worth consuming and will be described in all of it’s glory as soon as I grab another 4-pack. Today I finally made the brutal trek over to St. Louis Park in the approximately -5 °F Minnesota weather to stop by The Four Firkins to pick up a few gems including this Jamaica Brand Red Ale that I have been meaning to sample for some time. While only the 2nd ale from Mad River I have had the opportunity to try the aroma alone already has me confident I will be satisfied. So lets get to the fun part. This ale pours a rather dark burgundy hue that brightens a bit when brought to light but is still incredibly opaque with small sprinkles of sediment settling to the bottom of the glass. A tight three finger off white head is easily produced when poured straight down the glass leaving a moderate amount of lacing around the glass and on the surface of the ale. Aroma is of modest hop bitterness and very light citrus esters as well as a decent amount of malty sweetness that is contrasted by a sharp alcohol note. Flavor is malt forward with sweet amber notes complimented by very gentle roasted esters and a nice gentle citrus hop character finishing with mild hop bitterness. Body is medium and the mouthfeel is very clean and smooth. While I was a bit surprised by how forward the 6.5% ABV of this brew was in aroma it is in no way over powering in flavor making this one smooth and drinkable ale. A well balanced red ale with enough malty sweetness to compliment the delicate hops and make one solid ale that most people should be able to enjoy. While not quite as hoppy as I expected based on its name this is one tasty brew that I will happily continue to drink. If you enjoy red ales in general and don’t mind some moderate hop notes you will be happy you tried this brew. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Mad River Jamaica Brand Red Ale