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Friday, October 11, 2013

A Little Monster Mash

A Little Traveling Music, If You Please

In a sort of everything-old-is-new-again twist, the growth of craft brewing has resulted in the return of the small, regional brewery - those breweries whose beers barely make it outside the borders of a few counties, much less across state lines. As we travel about the country, we make it a point to find brew pubs and micro-breweries along the way. Some of these bottle, some don't. The quality and style vary greatly, but it's always fun to try different beers.

I always try to jot down notes on the beers I try along the way. These notes get stashed in pockets, backpacks, and suitcases. I recently combed through all the nooks and crannies of our various travel gear and have culled some of these jottings. What follows, in no particular order, are my quick and dirty impressions of some of the beers I tried in a recent trip to the Midwest.

Points to remember:

1. I'm a hophead so I tend to be attracted to hoppier beers
2. However, I do like good, full-flavored Stouts and Porters
3. But I'm not really a fan of Belgians, wheats or fruit beers (or anything with the word "light" or "lite" in the title).

With that in mind, here are some beers you might, or might not, wish to try if you happen to find them.
Key:   **** = Keep 'em coming - great beer
           ***   = Very drinkable brew - I like it
           **     = Okay. If it were this or Bud/Miller/Coors etc. I'd get this.
           *       = Really?

THE PLACE: Lakefront Brewery - Milkaukee, Wisconsin
THE BEER: Fixed Gear American Red Ale
THE BASICS: STYLE: Red Ale; ABV: 6.8%; IBUs: 54; MALTS: 2-Row Pale, Caramel; HOPS: Chinook, Cascade;
MY TAKE: Surprisingly hoppy red ale. Nice malty backbone with hints of caramel and coffee.

THE PLACE: Rock Bottom Brewery - Milwaukee, Wisconsin 
THE BEER: Naughty Scot Scotch Ale
THE BASICS: STYLE: Scotch Ale; ABV: 7.2%; IBUs: 20;
MY TAKE: Malty with banana/clove taste and aroma. A hint of licorice.
THE PLACE: Rock Bottom Brewery - Milaukee, Wisconsin
THE BEER: Rock Bottom India Pale Ale
THE BASICS: STYLE: India Pale Ale; ABV: 6.5%; IBUs: 60; MALT: 2-Row Pale; HOPS: Yakima; HOW SERVED: On tap
MY TAKE: Cloudy, honey colored. Fuller bodied than most IPAs. Floral hops aroma, nice bitter finish. Not killer hoppy - but good. Very smooth

THE PLACE: Rock Bottom Brewery - again!
THE BEER: Rocktoberfest
THE BASICS: STYLE: Oktoberfest; ABV: 5.7%; IBUs: 24
MY TAKE: Subtle hop, hint of banana. Classic Oktoberfest
By the way, we had dinner there and had the baby brats and the Rocktoberfest Mac & Cheese - very good.

THE PLACE: Herkimer Pub and Brewery - Minneapolis, Minnesota
THE BASICS: STYLE: Rye Pale Ale; ABV: 5.5%; IBUs: 43; HOPS: Junga; MALTS: Rye
MY TAKE: Unfiltered copper color. Medium body with a dry finish. Mild hop presence. Easy drinking.
-I have in my notes: "They are out of the Lutz IPA!!!!"-

THE PLACE: Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN
THE BEER: Masala Mama IPA
THE BASICS:  STYLE: India Pale Ale; ABV: 8.2%; IBUs: 86; MALTS: American malts; HOPS:Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Crystal, Mt. Hood, Warrior
MY TAKE: Delicious! Nice hop nose with lots of grapefruit/pine hop aroma and taste. Balanced with a strong malt backing makes it less bitter than one would expect at 86 IBUs.

THE PLACE: Twin City Grill, Minneapolis, MN
THE BEER: Surly Furious
THE BASICS:  STYLE: American India Pale Ale; ABV: 6.2%; IBUs: 99; MALT: Pale malt, Golden Promise; Aromatic; Medium Crystal; Roasted Barely; HOPS: Warrior, Ahtanum, Simcoe, Amarillo;
HOW SERVED: On tap - later in pint cans
MY TAKE: Great beer. Nice hop finish. Caramel/toffee taste balances the hops. Nice, complex beer. Terrific. So good I bought a couple of four-packs to bring home.

Daniel and I anticipate some good beers (okay, I do. Daniel's
hoping for some good chocolate milk)

THE PLACE: Obed And Isaac's Microbrewery and Eatery, Springfield Illinois

-Got to try 5 beers here-

Here's my Fast Five From Obed And Isaac's

Beer 1

THE BEER: Upside Brown Ale
THE BASICS: STYLE: Brown Ale; ABV: 5.5% (no other info available); HOW SERVED: On tap
MY TAKE: Molasses, toffee, hint of coffee, bread, yeast. Nice beer. Easy drinking.

Beer 2

THE BEER: Silly Pants Stout
MY TAKE: Hint of chocolate, sour, a bit watery, fairly light bodied for a stout

Beer 3

THE BEER: Oarslayer
THE BASICS: STYLE: Roggenbier -German style Rye ; ABV: 4.7%; HOW SERVED: On tap
MY TAKE: Strong banana aroma and taste, very Bavarian vibe.

Beer 4

THE BEER: Mother Road APA
THE BASICS: STYLE: American Pale Ale; ABV: 5.6%
MY TAKE: Nice APA! Very hoppy. Aroma of pine. Good bitter/hop finish. Terrific.

Beer 5
THE BEER: Long 9 Black IPA 
THE BASICS: STYLE: Black India Pale Ale; ABV: 6.8%
MY TAKE: Wonderful! Best-of-both-worlds beer. Pitch black in color, it would please both a Hophead and a Stout Heart. Dark chocolate, coffee taste with a solid hop bite. Fantastic beer. I wish I could get it around here. Next time in the area, I will bring multiple growlers!
MY RATING: ****+  

Next month, Ron and I give our takes on some Southeastern brews.

We Had Some Monster Mash

Yes, we had some Monster Mash, and darned if it wasn't a graveyard smash that indeed caught on in a flash - but first we sampled and rated some Monster beers. After having spent the first couple of falls trying Oktoberfests and Pumpkin Ales, we thought we'd like to do something else at this time of year. Well, Halloween is in October so how about "Monster" beers? We kept the definition of what constituted a monster beer pretty loose: a name evocative of Halloween and monsters, monstrously high alcohol or just monstrously good. You get the idea. As per our custom, we did the tastings in an order dependent upon the alcohol content of the beer - least to most.

Middle Ages Brewing, Syracuse, NY

The Beer Facts: Style: ESB (Extra Special Bitter); ABV: 5.3; IBUs: NA; Delivery System: Keg

What the Brewer Says: "This special bitter displays the subtle coppery hue of "old gold." It's depth of lingering hop flavor awakens the palate."

Color: Unfiltered honey gold

Pour: Decent off-white head

Aroma: Malty/grassy

Body: Medium

Taste: Initially well balanced sliding toward a bitter-ish finish. There are notes of bread, toffee/caramel, and a hint of banana.

Overall Impression: Well toward "Can't get enough"

Comments: "Not bad; I could drink this; Nice finish; Just enough hops; I could drink it all day - and still be standing; Another great beer from Middle Ages; Solid flavor; I usually go for the 'bigger' offerings of Middle Ages, but this is a mighty fine beer; It is nice and clean."

Victory Brewing Company, Downington, PA

The Beer Facts: Style: American India Pale Ale; ABV: 6.7%; IBU: NA; MALT: Imported 2-row German malts; HOPS: Whole flower American hops; Delivery System: 12 oz bottle poured into a pint glass.

What the Brewer Says: "The mythical HopDevil resides in the lore of farmers. Our HopDevil is the real deal. Bold, spicy and menacingly delicious. He's the product of distinctive American hops and meticulous craftsmanship. Arising from the heady wilds of our hopback and gently tamed with time, this Devil makes a great companion."

Color: Dark honey/amber

Pour: A bit less than a decent head

Aroma: Pine/hoppy

Body: Medium

Taste: Nice solid grapefruit hop punch balanced with notes of toffee and caramel. It also had a hops finish.

Overall Impression: Midway between "I could drink this" and " Can't get enough."

Comments: "Fills the mouth; It has a clean finish; Victory makes good beer; It hits the whole palate spectrum; It's well balanced malt to hops; Man, I like that beer; Victory is ours - and we are glad; It has a good malt backbone."

Ithaca Brewing Company, Ithaca, NY

Beer note: We reviewed this beer previously, but it fit the bill and we like it so what the hell. The comments are new.

The Beer Facts: STYLE: Red IPA; ABV: 7.0%; IBUs: NA; MALTS: 2-row Pale, Crystal, Chocolate; HOPS: Cascade, Chinook, Amarillo - dry hopped with Cascade and Amarillo; DELIVERY SYSTEM: 12 oz bottle poured into a pint glass.

What the Brewer Says: "The name Cascazilla is a play on both the name of a gorge in Ithaca called Cascadilla and the monster amounts of Cascade Hops we use to make the beer. The predominant flavor
and aroma of this beer comes from fresh American hops. Cascazilla gets its distinctive red color from a healthy portion of caramel malt, which also lends to the beer a heary body and sweetness. It is a hoppy red ale!"

Color: Unfiltered copper (almost amber)

Pour: Decent head

Aroma: Flowery hops aroma

Body: Between Medium and Full

Taste: Bitter hop finish balanced with caramel malt sweetness

Overall Impression: Can't get enough!

Comments: "It's a beautiful color; It's not overly hoppy, but still a great-tasting beer; This is real drinkable; Not an over-the-top hop; There's more hops in the nose than the palate; Still much hoppier than your average red ale; Makes for a real nice beer."

Heavy Seas Brewing, Halethorpe, MD

Beer Note: Ditto above beer note! (Fit the bill because it's "monstrously good")

The Beer Facts: STYLE: American India Pale Ale; ABV: 7.5%; IBUs: 45; MALTS: 2-Row, Caramalt, Munich; HOPS: Warrior, Simcoe, Palisade, Centennial, Cascade, Citra; DELIVERY SYSTEM: 12 oz can poured into a pint glass.

What the Brewer Says: "Our flagship beer, Loose Cannon wins people over at first smell. The carefully cultivated interplay of (hops) creates a most fragrant IPA - its nose bursts with notes of grapefruit, herbs, and pine. Bitterness is somewhat subdued by the floral quality that pervades the taste...It won a second place CAMRA award ath the 2010 Great British Beer Festival."

Color: Wheat

Pour: Decent head with nice lacing

Aroma: Hoppy - grapefruit/pine and other hop notes

Body: Medium

Taste: Leans to the hoppy, with notes of caramel and slight grapefruit - though not as much as the aroma would lead you to believe

Overall Impression: Can't get enough!

Comments: "It's hoppy with a bitter finish; It really hits you between the eyes; It just keeps getting better and better; Since it was 'hopped three times' Tony Orlando must drink this before Dawn; It's another one with that nice hop to caramel malt balance that makes it easy to like."

Great Lakes Brewing, Cleveland, OH

The Beer Facts: STYLE: Imperial IPA; ABV: 9.1; IBUs: 80; MALT: Harrington 2-row Base Malt, Caramel 30; HOPS: Simcoe, Willamette

What the Brewer Says: "Lake Erie Monster stories are like fish stories. Drink a few of these handcrafted Imperial IPAs and you're bound to start boasting and weaving wild tales of mythic proportions. Drink more and you might even have visions of South Bay Bessie, the freshwater cryptid for which our Lake Erie Monster is named, lifting her scaly head avove the surface of Lake Erie. Or
 the Cuyahoga River. Or a kiddie pool. Actually, if you see Bessie in a kiddie pool, take it easy. You've probably had too many."

Color: Unfiltered copper

Pour: Better than decent off-white head

Aroma: Malty/grassy

Body: Medium to Full

Taste: Initially sweet then works toward hoppy/alcohol finish. It has notes of toffee.

Overall Impression: Between "I could drink this" and "Can't get enough"

Comments: "It's a light barley wine; After-taste sticks with you; It has a horehound taste to it; There's a heavy alcohol taste on the back end of the swallow; A couple of these and you'll need to be sitting down; I'd drink it while watching a football game in my living room; I didn't really care for it - it's a little too alcohol-y; I feel there are many more Great Lake beers that are better." 

Left Hand Brewing Company, Longmont, CO

The Beer Facts: STYLE: Imperial Russian Stout; ABV: 10.2%; IBUs: 45; MALTS: 2-Row, Munich, Crystal, Chocolate, Roasted Barley, Black Barley, Flaked Oats; HOPS: Magnum, US Goldings; DELIVERY SYSTEM: 22 oz bomber

What the Brewer Says: "Good morning. You've woken up dead. You're in ruins. But don't be discouraged. Here's a black ale to brighten your day.  Wake Up Dead lurks in our cellars for over 4
months before being unleashed. Hints of raisins, black licorice, coffee and dark chocolate are followed by earthy, herbal hop notes. Any apprehensions about the rest of your day are quickly forgotten, for whatever the mind expects, it finds. Sometimes you're not in the mood for what everyone else is having."

Color: Black

Pour: Slightly less than decent tan head

Aroma: Sorghum or Aunt Jemimah syrup

Body: Full

Taste: Sweet with notes of sweet coffee, chocolate, licorice, caramel, molasses.

Overall Impression: I could drink this

Comments: "I could put this on my pancakes; Kudos to the name; WOW!; Should be served in a goblet; A definite dessert beer; Maybe an after dinner sipper; It's kind of like iced coffee with booze; It's definitely full-bodied; Would be great on pancakes or maybe vanilla ice cream; It has a very boozy quality; I think it well represents the style; It's truly a sipper."

Flying Dog Brewing, Frederick, MD

The Beer Facts: STYLE: Double IPA; ABV: 11.5%; IBUs: 85; MALTS: Light Crystal; HOPS: Columbus, Warrior, Cascade; DELIVERY SYSTEM: 12 oz bottle

What the Brewer Says: "This is a big beer that calls for equally big foods. Flavor notes: Citrus hops with sweet malt and subtle alcohol burn (like a kiss on th cheek)."

Color: Copper

Pour: Decent off-white head

Aroma: Sweet with alcohol

Body: Full

Taste: Initially sweet then straight to alcohol. There are notes of caramel.

Overall Impression: I could drink this.

Comments: "WOW - this is really warming; This is a winter-break-the-goblet-in-the-fireplace beer; Billy Fuccillo might even say this is HUGE; They don't disguise the alcohol at all; It's a good pirate beer; It's a rummy beer; I think it's a crude beer - bang! It's there; You could drop an ice cube in it and make it a cordial; It's a bit over the top for me; It tastes like a barley wine to me."

How'd this battle shake out? Most of the big beer we would enjoy in small amounts. The others fared very well with us. In the end the order of finish is this:

The first four were very close and universally enjoyed by The Guys

1. Loose Cannon Hop3 IPA by Heavy Seas - Not the hoppiest IPA out there but a real tasty, balanced beer.
2. Cascazilla by Ithaca Brewing - A terrific Red Ale
3. Beast Bitter by Middle Ages Brewing - A solid hop bite for an English style ESB makes this a very enjoyable beer - one likely to please both hopheads those who lean toward the maltier side.
4. HopDevil by Victory Brewing - A regular guest in my fridge - though it rarely stays there long.

The next bunch had us somewhat split, with some feeling they would "leave it on the shelf." 

5. Lake Erie Monster - Great Lakes Brewing - The strong alcohol presence was a turn-off for some. Others felt they would enjoy it as a sipper.
6. Wake Up Dead - Left Hand Brewing - No overtly negative comments on this one. The consensus was that it was good in small amounts. Sweeter than most of the GUYS go for.
7. Double Dog Double IPA - Flying Dog Brewing - Another sipping beer but, again, some felt the alcohol presence was overly dominant.

Mike brought a new twist to this month's meeting - a hops infuser. This is a device (pictured above) which can be filled with hops and placed in your beer glass to add a nice hop kick to the beer. We tried it out on one of Mike's own brews. It gives the beer an interesting green color (great for St. Patrick's Day - use it instead of the green food coloring). It definitely ups the hoppiness of the beer. Of course, Mike's brews are generally pretty hoppy to begin with. It would be interesting to see if it improved one of the mega beers. It'd be a great little thing to have if you're stuck in a restaurant that serves only the megas. Might actually make them palatable. What would it do to a light/lite? 


Another nod to craft beers in one of the hot TV shows. This time "The Walking Dead." While scouting for supplies in an abandoned supermarket, the survivors are set upon by a wave of zombies. As the survivors battle for their lives, the fight spills over into the store's beer section whereupon we see cases of Sweetwater IPA, Terrapin Rye Pale Ale, Terrapin Hopsecutioner, and Sweetwater Pale Ale. Very appropriate since the story takes place around Atlanta, GA and these are Atlanta beers. Check out the screen shots below. 
And, again, let us know about any craft beers you spot in films and TV.

Next month -
East Coast Beers.

The BOTB Guys