Karl Strauss Big Barrel Double IPA

January 7th, 2011 beckel

Karl Strauss. A name that will likely ring a bell for many beer lovers, young and old. OK, mostly old. Regardless, if you are unaware of the Karl Strauss Brewery and the man it was named after fear no more. Founded in 1989 as the first brewpub in San Diego Karl Strauss Brewing was started by Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner and was built with the wisdom and vast brewing knowledge of Karl, Chris’ uncle and a legendary brewer who has received the three highest honors in the brewing industry including the “Distinguished Life Service Award” from the Master Brewers Association of the Americas. You can read more about Karl and the breweries 21 year history on their respective wiki pages. Big Barrel Double IPA is the first in their new line of Karl’s Coastal Reserve series of big hoppy beers. The label notes that they wanted to start of the series “big” by using imported Nelson Sauvin Hops from New Zealand,  as well as Warrior & Ahtanum Hops. The bottle I have here is actually the 3rd release of this beer which was available late 2010 in select markets. With 90 IBU and 9% ABV this brew is sure to be a great introduction to a historic brewery.

Pours a brilliantly translucent copper hue with three fingers of bright white head quickly forming and hanging around for many minutes leaving a modest amount of lacing behind and a few millimeters of residual carbonation. Smells magnificently fruity with bright citrus balanced by wonderfully smooth malt esters and enjoyable bitterness. Flavor starts with smooth fruity hops, a variety of citrus esters, clean sweet malts complimented by assertive, but not over the top bitterness. The 9% ABV of this beer is completely hidden by the smooth hops and vibrant bitterness in this brew. Body is medium and the mouthfeel is almost silky. The myriad of citrus and fruit esters in this brew are delicious and amazingly smooth. Everything from peach to pineapple is present. Though it is full of plenty of flavors this brew is not overly complex but fantastically clean and palatable. A really delicious Imperial IPA that has obviously benefited from its barrel aging. Definitely the smoothest Double IPA I have ever tasted. Truly a delicious brew that I wish I had more of and would definitely pick up if it were available in the Minnesota market. Proper words allude me, but there is something amazing about the way the clean flavors in this brew are truly complex but yet remain simple and soft. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Karl Strauss Big Barrel Double IPA

Short’s Key Lime Pie

January 6th, 2011 beckel

No, this is not a food review. Though I could go for a slice right about now. Short’s brewing produces a large variety of year round and seasonal brews out of their Elk Rapids, MI pub including this unique brew made with marshmallow, lactose, lime & graham crackers. Some may call this a crazy concept, I even find it impressively nuts, but it garnered a gold medal at this years GABF in the experimental category so it can’t be too bad. Founded in 2004 and struggling to stay afloat in 2005, shorts has done magnificently in the following years growing 200% in the year 2009 and projecting 33% growth for 2010. Currently Shorts only distributes in their state of Michigan, so if your in the area send me some more of their brews.

Pours an interesting red hue with hints of brown. Barely half a finger of white head is produced and almost completely fades with in two minutes leaving just a hint of residual head. Aroma has lime esters that are somewhat vegetal and not particularly bright, notes of graham cracker contrast with modestly sweet malt and earthy bitterness. Flavors roll around your palate in a very unique way with lime lingering throughout and graham crackers hitting you mid palate and flowing throughout the finish. Marshmallow and lactose esters work with the lime creating a truly bizarre flavor profile. As you continue to drink lime esters play a central role in this brew creating a variety of citrus esters as you sip. Some flat and others more bright, finishing with a nice sweetness and a somewhat strange earthiness that is a bit rind like. While I don’t taste much alcohol in this 5.75% brew the level of acid almost seems a bit alcoholic. Some malt esters are present, but it is very difficult to isolate them from the graham crackers and other intense flavors. Body is medium and the mouthfeel is surprisingly clean. Overall this lime filled, marshmallow influenced brew is unlike any beer you have ever tasted. Frankly not a beer I would bother buying often, but intriguing none the less and a complex bouquet for your palate to play with. If you have the opportunity to sample it I would go for it as it is not a bad beer and is definitely fun but not something you will drink many of. I really enjoy the contrast of limes and graham crackers, but feel like this brew might be less muddled with out the use of marshmallows and lactose, though I understand the intent to emulate a key lime pie, even though it is not quite accomplished. If you dig limes this might just be the brew for you. As usual I enjoy the experimental ambitions of Shorts and would love to try some of their year round offerings as well as their other experimental brews such as Strawberry Short’s Cake & Turtle Stout. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Short's Key Lime Pie.jpg

Laurelwood Workhorse IPA

January 5th, 2011 beckel

Today I have another west coast IPA, this time from the folks at Laurelwood Brewing out of Portland, OR. Founded in 2001 with a 7bbl brewery, Laurelwood has grown extensively in the past 10 years currently operating 6 pub locations (if you count the soon to be re-opened pizza co.) including two locations in PDX airport. Their website stresses their support for the community, locavore and families. Aside from appreciating their moral stance I always respect breweries that list their ingredients giving Laurelwood more points before even sampling their brews. Workhouse IPA is brewed with 2-row, Crystal 40 & Carapils Malts. Simcoe, Amarillo, Cascade & Columbus Hops. Dry hopped twice and rocking a solid 80 IBU; I’m getting thirsty already.

Pours a relatively dark, slightly brownish red hue with very little head created initially. As you continue to pour carbonation erupts from the bottom of the glass and cascades up creating about a finger and a half of tight white bubbles. After a minute or two the carbonation fades leaving a small amount of residual head and nice lacing. Aroma is full of fruity hops, lots of orange and passion fruit esters that scream Simcoe & Amarillo with out being overly orangy as both hops can be depending on utilization. Brilliant malty sweetness on the nose adds a nice richness and contrasts the fruity and bitter esters wonderfully. Tastes of sweet dates, passion fruit, orange, grapefruit, earthy hop esters, notable malt sweetness and mild bitterness. This brew is full of citrus as well as a diverse variety of other fruit esters and an impressive malt backbone that makes this beer border on many of the flavor profiles often found in Imperial IPAs. While it just misses the imperial bill at 7.5% ABV the alcohol is almost completely hidden by the robust hops and sweet malts, making this palatable brew far to easy to drink. Body is medium and the mouthfeel is well carbonated and relatively clean. As I continue to drink this brew the pitted fruit esters continue progress towards the middle of the palate and are a very unique and enjoyable character that is very unexpected for the style and make me very curious about the yeast used and more so where the heck it is coming from. My assumption is it is a mix of fruity hop esters playing with my senses and producing independent flavors, but it distinctly reminds me of esters many Belgian yest strains create. This is definitely a creative brew that challenges style parameters and will be enjoyed by many. There are so many diverse hop esters in this brew I am almost tempted to call it a bit confused but it is simply delicious and IPAs as a style are not intended to be overly balanced. If you are into fruity hoppy brews you will be in heaven with this one. If you are looking for sincere bitterness you will not find it, but I think most hop heads will still enjoy the diverse blend of hops and malt. Definitely something to check out if you make it to Oregon. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Laurelwood Workhorse India Pale Ale

Green Flash West Coast IPA

January 4th, 2011 beckel

Today I have what is said to be a shining example of a West Coast IPA from Green Flash Brewing Company out of Vista, California. Founded in 2002 by former pub owners Green Flash has earned a reputation for utilizing the abundant hops conveniently found in their region to make delicious hoppy brews as well as a variety of Belgian inspired Ales that I was previously unaware of. I was lucky enough to get a few bottles of this brew as well as a bottle of their Hop Head Red Ale from an acquaintance in Oregon. While not available in any states immediately around Minnesota, you can find plenty on the coasts as well as a few states in the Midwest (Ohio, Illinois & Colorado).

Pours a lovely orange red hue that brightens greatly when brought to light. A clean two fingers of off white head is produced and clings steadily creating a very attractive pour. After many minutes you are left with a few millimeters of residual head and a good amount of lacing. Aroma is full of bright, rich citrus with notable grapefruit, orange and lemon dancing about your nose backed up by rich malts, nice bitterness and a hint of alcohol. Flavor is very hop forward with massive orange and grapefruit citrus hitting the tongue followed by intense bitterness finishing with enough malt sweetness to cleanse the palate a bit with out making you forget you are drinking a sincerely bitter brew. Citrus esters are beautifully fruity and complex, even with serious grapefruit esters this brew avoids the almost tart acidic esters that sometimes come from over use of Centennial and Cascade hops that I feel plague some “West Coast” India Pale Ales. While malts play a supporting role in this Ale it is a very important one with soft caramel and grain esters complimenting the fruity, bitter bouquet of hops in a way any hop head is sure to appreciate. Body is medium-light and the mouthfeel is smooth and clean, making this 7% ABV brew exceptionally quaff able, provided you like bitterness. While this may not be appreciated by people who prefer classic English examples of the style the brilliant bitterness and overall hop profile is exactly what I am looking for in a seriously hoppy IPA. If you’re lucky enough to get some of this brew fresh you will be a happy person. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Green Flash West Coast IPA

Pelican India Pelican Ale

December 28th, 2010 beckel

Today I have a brew from Pelican Pub & Brewery out of Pacific City, OR. I know almost nothing of Pelican other than the massive notoriety received for their Mother of all Storms, a barrel aged Barleywine. Their website doesn’t say much about their history but it appears they have been winning countless awards since 1996. I was lucky enough to get this brew sent to me by an acquaintance from the area, but it appears you can also order their brews directly from their website, though the shipping is rather steep and they don’t ship to Minnesota…

Pours an attractive copper hue that is very translucent. Over three fingers of tight off white head blossomed as I poured, slowly but steadily building and creating an enjoyable presentation. A vast amount of lacing and residual head are left behind, but what is more impressive is the aroma. Fantastic notes of grapefruit, orange & lemon support an assertive bitterness and enough malt to create just the aroma I am looking for in an IPA. Hops are not as forward in the flavor with malty sweetness hitting my palate first, evolving into solid bitter esters and then the citrus hop notes found in the aroma finally shine. Intense grapefruit is the primary player in the hop profile making the use of Cascade abundantly obvious. The malt backbone is spot on to support the serious hops used in this brew but currently I am getting a notable astringency that could possibly come from the quantity of hops and overall bitterness of the brew, but more likely has to do with the hops deteriorating over time. This bottle has been sitting in my fridge for about two months and while the bottle isn’t dated I fear I have left this brew to stew for too long. Even with the imperfection that I fear I am at fault for this is one damn good beer with pretty much everything I am looking for in a quality India Pale Ale.  Body is medium and the mouthfeel is reasonably light for the style. At 7.5% ABV this ale is far too drinkable for those who love hops. The intense bitterness is more than enough to completely distract your palate from the alcohol content and encourage you to drink this 22oz bottle with out  a second thought. As the beer warms, or perhaps as I get used to it, the astringency lessens but I would still love to try this brew fresh from the tap for comparison. If you enjoy bitter, citrus laden, hop forward IPAs you will certainly enjoy this brew. A very solid ale that I wish I could get in my market. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Pelican India Pelican Ale

New Belgium 2° Below Ale

December 15th, 2010 beckel

Today I have one of my favorite seasonals from New Belgium Brewing Company. As a Minnesotan the name alone has a special place in my heart. When New Belgium made their way back into our market this was one of a few seasonals that I was very excited to sample, and though we didn’t get it until the next year I was quite satisfied. Their website calls 2° Below a Winter Warmer, but it’s more like an Extra Special Bitter, though the 6.6% ABV it will certainly keep you warm after a few. Lets see how it tastes on this lovely 16° winter day.

Two fingers of bright white head adorn this translucent copper colored Ale. The residual head and notable lacing are a bit surprising for the style, but create a lovely appearance. Smells of light grains, gentle nuttiness from the Victory Malt, Caramel Malt sweetness, a touch of alcohol and esters that remind me a bit of lager yeast (which is of course not present). Flavor is even more nutty than the aroma making this holiday ale a solid candidate for a variety of food parings throughout the season. Malt esters play the central role in the brew, as they should, but enjoyable citrus esters and mild bitterness compliment the malty sweetness and nutty esters creating a very palatable and well rounded brew. Body is medium-light and the moutfeel is relatively clean. While the 6.6% ABV of this brew is a nice bonus, it is not overly noticeable. This clean malty ale is unassuming but still has enough flavor to make most happy. While it’s past Thanksgiving this brew would pair perfectly with turkey and stuffing and probably similarly well with your Christmas dinner. A solid brew that I will happily drink, particularly in cooler weather. While not as hoppy as the beers I tend to gravitate towards this ESB is to style and has enough contrast to please most people. As with many brews from New Belgium’s catalog this approachable brew is a great gateway beer. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

New Belgium 2 Below Ale

Rogue Morimoto Soba Ale

December 13th, 2010 beckel

Today we have one of the three brews in the Morimoto line of Rogue beers. The beers were made with input from Chef Morimoto of Iron Chef fame and are designed with food in mind, yet tasty on their own. You can read a bit more about Soba in my review of their Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale from two years ago. This bottle was provided by Lake Wine & Spirits as part of their “Citizen 4-pack” concept. I first had this brew in June of this year at the National Homebrewers Conference here in Minneapolis while enjoying a fascistic meal prepared by Sean Paxton AKA “The Homebrew Chef”. In that meal Soba Ale was paired with a simple salad with a variety of fresh fruits.

Pours a cloudy yet slightly translucent apricot tinted copper hue. Two fingers of bright white head are produced and fade slowly leaving attractive lacing and a few millimeters of residual head. Tinny bubbles flow to the top of the glass repeatedly, asking to quench your thirst. Grain aromas are forward and remind me quite a bit of wheat but with more earthy, husk like esters & nice lemon citrus to contrast. Lemon and other citrus esters hit my tongue immediately, followed by rich, sweet, complex, yet bright grains. Earthy esters are equally diverse, remind me of lemon grass, oats and almost a hint of dirt. Mouthfeel is relatively full and enjoyably dry. The light body makes this beer reasonably smooth and refreshing and very sessionable at 4.8% ABV. A good beer that is somewhere between an American Lager and a Wheat Ale. Complex yet refreshing this brew will be enjoyed by most and will pare well with anything from seafood and gently fried vegetables to caramelized pork chops with rich root vegetables. Not a beer I would buy a lot but a great beer for hot days and most meals. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Rogue Morimoto Soba Ale

Rogue Dead Guy Ale

December 11th, 2010 beckel

Today I have a beer, that like many others I can’t believe I’ve never gotten around to writing about. Dead Guy Ale is with out a doubt Rogue Brewing’s staple beer. I can’t even start to give Rogue enough praise for what they do for the homebrewing community and their reputation speaks for itself so I won’t bother. As I’ve said before I always appreciate how informative Rogue’s website is in regards to ingredients and additional information on the brews they produce. With Dead Guy Ale we are working with a grain bill of Northwest Harrington, Klages, Maier Munich and Carastan Malts. Perle and Saaz Hops, and as (almost) always Rogue’s signature Pacman Yeast. This is another beer that has been provided by Lake Wine & Spirits, this time as part of their Citizen 4-pack concept.

Onto the point. Dead Guy Ale pours an attractive amber tinted copper hue, with red and brown hues adding depth to the appearance. Almost 3 fingers of off white head was produced when poured into the middle of the glass, though less is typically created. The head retention of this ale is usually somewhat minimum, but this time around a surprising amount of lacing was created. Smells of sweet malts, cereal grains & soft bitterness. Rich sweet malt plays front runner followed by gentle citrus and very soft bitterness in the flavor. The reasonably light body and smooth mouthfeel makes this Maibock much more quaffable than many of the style. Sweetness is evident and the prime character in this brew, as is expected for the style, but Dead Guy’s hop characters, while subtle in both citrus esters and bitterness, does a fantastic job of creating contrast and showing the unique approach that Rogue tends to take to brewing. At 6.5% ABV this very drinkable Maibock is almost sessionable and will be very approachable for most people. While Dead Guy is one of the more simple brews from Rogue it is a good example of the beauty that can be created from simplicity. Both an easy gateway brew for those not accustomed to craft beer and a great beer for easy drinking on both hot and cold days, making it just right for this snow storm. If you enjoy Bocks and are looking for a bit more flavor contrast you will be all over this brew. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Rogue Dead Guy Ale

Brewdog Bashah

November 24th, 2010 beckel

Today I have what is sure to be an intriguing beer, for better or worse. Bashah is a collaborative brew made by two fantastic breweries; Brewdog of Fraserburgh, Scotland & Stone of Escondido, CA. Both breweries are big fans of collaboration and have made at least a couple beers together. This time around Stone went to Scotland to manifest this intense Imperial Black IPA (or Cascadian Dark Ale). First brewed in early 2009 I was very happy to see this beer on the shelves of South Lyndale Liquors a few months ago and couldn’t help but pick it up. According to the bottle this is batch 378 and it was bottled on 25/11/10…unfortunately that doesn’t make any sense as that would mean it was bottled tomorrow. Regardless I always appreciate well labeled bottles, perhaps they intended to suggest consuming it before or after that date. When purchasing this brew a friend at the store noted that he had sampled Bashah cold and couldn’t stand it, but had allowed it to warm and found it very enjoyable. While IPAs are one of the few ales I suggest consuming colder this is a good example of how important it is to allow complex brews to warm before serving. I have let this beer sit out for about 15-20 min and I think that will be just about right for serving.

Upon pouring a pitch black hue spews from the bottle that is completely opaque and slowly creates a solid two fingers of tight, light brown bubbles. After settling for a few minutes very little lacing is left but a millimeter or two of residual bubbles persist creating a very nice presentation. Massive aromas of dark malt provide esters of coffee, tobacco and notable bitterness. Fruity hops are obvious but play a supporting role to the intense malt profile while adding some additional bitter esters. Esters of wood, tootsie rolls (minus the sweetness) & a slightly sour note on the nose are reminiscent of barrel aging, but this version of the ale is not (earlier this year two Reserve editions were released, each aged in different whiskey barrels with different fruits added). Dark malt flavors are so diverse it is hard to pin them all down. Intense coffee, roasted esters & fruity hops are most notable. The contrast between malt and hop bitterness is truly lovely and surprisingly not overpowering. Body is medium, but surprisingly light as is characteristic of the base style. Mouthfeel is smooth, but has a slightly chalky dryness that lingers a bit. Though Bashah boasts a solid 8.6% ABV it is almost completely hidden by the intense malt profile and notable bitterness present in this ale. Gentle sweetness and soft chocolate esters add nice contrast to the strong roasted and bitter esters present creating a surprisingly well rounded ale. Unquestionably the most complex India Dark Ale I have ever sampled and one of the strongest brews of its style. Overall an impressive ale that while not hop forward, does an amazing job playing with dark malt and solid hop profiles. If you enjoy the new(ish) style of Cascadian Dark Ales and are looking for a delicious, complex example of the style this brew is definately worth picking up, even with its ~$10 price tag. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

BrewDog Bashah

Hair of the Dog Ruth

November 23rd, 2010 beckel

Today I have what is sure to be a solid beer from a very exciting brewery out of Portland, Oregon. Hair of the Dog was founded in November of 1993 and is one of the most under hyped breweries out there. Though the founder and brewer Alan Sprints recently expanded his operation a bit with a new tasting room and a few actual employees, Hair of the Dog has always been a one man show. One man with a serious passion for old, forgotten & unique styles of beer as well as barrel aging, quality ingredients and brewing history. All of his beers have simple names, often as a tribute to someone respected in the industry, or in this case his grandmother. While not all are available to the public Alan barrel ages almost all of his beers, for experimentation sake, which I highly respect. If that weren’t enough effort, Alan still brews very small batches with his 4 barrel system, producing about 120 Gallons at a time. Though not available in my market I have been lucky enough to sample a number of his brews and am very excited to sample this Pale Ale.

Pours a pale, light orange hue that is rather opaque. Head is minimal with about a half a finger of clean white, tight bubbles that fade with about 30 seconds, surprisingly leaving a hint of residual head around the rim of the glass. Smells nicely of citrus, reminding me of mandarin oranges, clean Pale Malt esters, gentle sweetness and soft bitterness. Flavor is malt forward with simple grain esters and nice sweetness, gentle orange, lemon and other citrus esters come from the Crystal Hops, as well as mild bitterness in the finish that lingers but isn’t overly intense. Body is rather light and the mouthfeel is gently carbonated and slightly creamy. Alcohol is barely noticed and at 5.6% ABV this is definitely a sessionable brew. Certainly the simplest brew from Hair of the Dog but none the less a beautifully clean, incredibly approachable Pale Ale. If you enjoy a well crafted ales and are looking for an easy drinker Ruth is a good choice. Those who enjoy subtle hops and quality malt will enjoy this very balanced Pale Ale. While not a good example of Alan’s creativity, this brew shows the importance of balance and traditional styles. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on anything from Hair of the Dog you will not be disappointed. Give it a shot and ride your bike.

Hair of the Dog Ruth