Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Best Beers of 2012

I try not to buy into beer geek hype, but Heady Topper delivered
It's been another great year for beer. Below I've pasted in my three top new-to-me beers. A few of my top brews were old favorites  and variations, like Surly's Furious double-dry-hopped in a cask, but I let myself sit back, enjoy, and not nerd out over notes. A few more beers at the top of my 2012 list: Boom Island Hoodoo, Oude Lambiek De Cam, Firestone Wookey Jack, and Hill Farmstead Everett. What were your top beers of the year? Comment or tweet at me @mdallyn.

Heady Topper
The Alchemist
American Double / Imperial IPA | 8.00% ABV

look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5
Picked up a couple six-packs at the cannery. I'm told they were packaged just a week ago.

I wasn't sure what to make of this beer at first, which says a lot because DIPAs aren't usually a surprising style with a lot of leeway. It's most easily described as "hop juice," not an IPA. The balance of hops is unique in that the flavor is huge, but it's never over the top, where overly-hoppy beers become perfumey messes (I'm thinking of Weyerbacher's old Hop Explosion).

The aroma has a clean and clear floral grapefruit character with an earthy, citrus seed edge—think about when you're eating an orange and you get a seed on your tongue. The flavor is intense but manageable. In addition to the vivid grapefruit and orange peel citrus, there's a vague grassiness, tropical notes, and an odd (and thoroughly unexpected) touch of barbeque sauce that fades as the beer warms.

I approached this beer as a skeptic, but it's easily one of the most complex beers I've tried, and one of the most drinkable at that. I should have bought a case.

Death & Taxes Black Beer
Moonlight Brewing Company
Euro Dark Lager | 5.00% ABV

look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5
Had this a couple times on tap on a recent trip to San Francisco. I'm always a fan of the style, seeking out new (at least to me) examples, and this is the best I've had. It has the agreeable drinkability of your standard dark lager or schwarzbier, but the depth of a great Baltic porter. There were fruity, cherry tones at times, and then dry toffee and cocoa with an interesting cola edge. I'm so impressed by how many, clean distinct (and delicious) dark malt flavors are crammed into this lager. Go find this beer. You need it.

Monk's Mistress 
Midnight Sun Brewing Co.
Belgian Strong Dark Ale | 11.50% ABV

look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5
Picked up a bomber for $12 at City Beer in San Francisco. In hindsight, I wish I'd picked up a second bottle. The beer open with a big spicy Belgian character that reminded me of Gouden Carolus Cuvee Van De Keizer (that's a big compliment). From there, the beer fades into subtle fruit and soft brown bready malts with a little toffee. What really sets this Belgian ale off, and sets it apart, are the clean, intermittent notes of chocolate that pop up. It's little touches like that that elevate this beer above other fine examples of the style. The body feels like a 8%-9% ABV beer, so watch yourself. It's delicious, just don't get too carried away. And make sure to buy a second bomber.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

My Favorite Pumpkin Beers

It's the weekend before Halloween and I'm going to be drinking pumpkin beer. You should too. I've got a growler of homebrewed pumpkin ale inspired by my commercial favorites on hand, and some Dogfish Head Punkin in the fridge—one of those favorites. If you're lucky enough to still have fall seasonals around, here are three worth drinking.

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale
Saint Louis Brewery / Schlafly Tap Room  |  8.00% ABV

This is easily the best pumpkin beer I've had. Sure, there isn't a great deal of deviation within the style, but this left a great impression on me. Compared to the other big pumpkin beers like Pumking and Weyerbacher's Imperial Pumpkin, this was richer in pumpkin flavor, while also being more drinklable. The taste is just a nice mix of pumpkin meat with dashes of spice and a mellow malt backbone. A must-try for pumpkin beer lovers.

Pumpkin Ale
Williamsburg AleWerks  |  8.00% ABV 

I wasn't sure what to expect after mixed results from other Williamsburg beer, but this hit the spot on a chilly fall evening. It doesn't exactly stand out in the crowd, but this isn't a style with a deep range. There's a rich pumpkin pie spice aroma and initial flavor, followed by a slightly nutty, toffee malt character. The body is light enough to not let on the strength, I was surprised to learn it's 8%, so watch out for this one. Definitely worth a try if you can find it. This is a fine example of the style.

Punkin Ale
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery  |  7.00% ABV 

I'm not sure where this appeared from in January, but I'm not complaining. I had a pint (low-head) with my soup and pizza at Liberty St. Tavern. The hops have died down a bit since October, but this is still about the hoppiest pumpkin ale you can find. It starts with big, pulpy pumpkin meat in the aroma and flavor which is followed by a bitter burst of citrus. This isn't the most complexx pumpkin beer, the malts never really came out. But I'd say it's the most balanced and certainly one of the more pleasant to drink.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Host a Beer Tasting

I've been talking with my friends at party-planning site Zokos about the elements of a good tasting. While there's plenty to be said for tasting technique, the beer's what really counts. So here are the five beers I'd pick for tasting that could please beer noobs as well as snobs.  

Radeberger Pilsner
Classic, bitter German pils that proves these beers really are hopped. The bite and subtle, spicy hops flavor are balanced again a mild, bready malt profile that makes this a satisfying beer to drink, but also an easy crowd favorite. I enjoyed it on a hot day  

Dale's Pale Ale
The aroma has a light toffee and sweet bread background with big, sharp grapefruit. The hops take over with a crisp, near ripping bitterness and citrus rind for a very full hops flavor that's more on-par with an IPA (this beer does have 65 IBU's after all). The aftertaste is long lasting with the juicy, bitter citrus flavors. This isn't a beer you'd soon forget. A must-try for hops lovers.

Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar
A super smooth brown ale with big hazelnut in the aroma. If I closed my eyes, I would have sworn the nuts were floating in my glass. There was a nice, sweet cocoa, maple syrup and nutty mix to the taste.  

Westmalle Tripel
This big, almost champagne-like Belgian ale is a touch sweeter with drop of candy and caramel. However, the beer veers away from the barley and yeast character toward the underlying hops that give this a dry, spicy finish.  

Avery Hog Heaven Barleywine
Unlike the sweeter, maltier English barleywines, Hog Heaven balanced the big, fruity barley character with loads and loads of American hops. This creates a bitter, but balance ale bursting with dry citrus fruit from the hops, which slides into the more berry-like and caramel notes from the malt.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Homebrewed Belgian Wit

I've been on the road a lot lately, but with a little help from friends, was able to get my Belgian Wit kegged and carbonated. It was my first stab at the style and while it's fairly tasty, and I've only gotten positive feedback (it's hard to get people to complain about free beer), I think I fermented it too hot. It's been a sweaty summer and I'll stick to Belgian saisons again next August since they can take 80F days without any off-flavors. There's a very slight, but burnt sulfur note I could do without. I also think it came off a little too bitter for the style, but I can always live with extra hops.

Here's the recipe. Next batch I'll try a little coriander, vanilla, and citrus. I wanted to try a clean beer this round. This was also my first wheat beer with rice hulls. Based on previous lauterings, that half pound saved me 20-30 minutes by keeping the mash from sticking.

5 gal batch

5# Belgian Pils
4# Flaked wheat
1# Flaked oats
.25# Belgian Munich
.5# rice hulls

1 oz. Liberty (4.9% AA @ 60min)

Wyeast 3944 Belgian Wit yeasr

OG: 1.044
FG: 1.013
ABV: 4.5%

As always, thanks to everyone at ELF Gardens and the Jungle Room for your help.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Catching Up on MN Craft Beer

I was back home in Minneapolis for a wedding last weekend and had my work cut out for me. I'd once grumbled over the slow growth of the Minnesota craft beer scene, though there was no lack of good beer, as I watched the east and west coasts bubble with new breweries. No more.

Over my four nights I only scratched the surface of new brews, mostly catching up on the recent, but not brand new, breweries. While I had my fill of Surly, Lift Bridge, and Steel Toe, I couldn't get my hands on a pint of Badger Hill or Boom Island. Alas. Next time.

Anyways, here are the highlights from my trip. Damn there was a lot of good beer.

Irish Coffee Stout
Lift Bridge Brewery
Milk / Sweet Stout | 8.00% ABV

look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Split a bottle with a friend, though I wouldn't have minded having it all to myself. So it's a decent strong milk stout by itself, but the coffee and whisky add delicously mild complements to the smooth, roasty stout. Most coffee stout don't show so much restraint, often taking over the beer. Likewise with the whisky barrel character, I didn't even taste it until the beer started to warm up. Once obvious, I was tasting a smooth, spicy vanilla. Not on the thick side for the strength, though a great sipper. Glad I got to try this beer.

Surly Brewing Company
American Strong Ale | 14.50% ABV

look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Yup, that's a strong beer. Oddly, there was a clear sour funk when the beer was fresh off the tap and faded as it warmed. It tasted like a younger sourness, and, I suspect, could make this beer really interesting in a couple years.

This is a thick, fruity beer with a dry funky edge. I get apricot, marmalade, and tangerine up front and then a more toasty fresh oak barrel kick and wood astringency (not too much, just a touch). It's understandably thick for the strength, and well-balanced by the hops. It's a very good beer as is, but I think in a 12-24 months it could be great.

Sommer Vice
Steel Toe Brewing
Hefeweizen | 5.00% ABV

look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Had a pint at Republic on 7 Corners. Huh, reminds me of the old Summit Hefe (which I really enjoyed), as it's a crisp, spicy wheat beer with no fruity character. The clove almost tastes singed, and the dry toasty wheat and barley provide a great balance to the phenol spices. It's eas-drinking and quite refreshing on a hot day.

Lost Trout
Third Street Brewhouse
American Brown Ale | 4.90% ABV

look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

I don't often take notice of brown ale, but this has big cocoa and roasted barley flavors without too thick a body, like so many American browns. It's not sweet and fruity like an English, but also not as bitter as many craft browns. It's just a smooth, clean mix of dark grains that's appropriate in any weather. Check it out. Another fine beer from Third Street. It's great to see the folks in Cold Springs making solid beer.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

New Summer Craft Beer

It's been a damn sweaty summer. Thank God there's been good beer to match. I haven't been terribly excited about summer seasonal beers in years past, but craft brewers are finally coming around to building interesting, complex blond ales and wheat beers that are more than sweetish crowd pleasers.

Schmetterling Gose
Local Option
Gose | 4.50% ABV

look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Had a snifter at Brouwerij Lane in Greenpoint Brooklyn. Ah, so fresh, so refreshing. The aroma was a sharp mix of sour rose and berries with a big hit of fresh-baked bread. The toasty malt steps back a bit in the flavor and a mix of salty spices (with coriander) comes with with the pleasantly sour (gentler than a lambic) earthy fruit (almost like fruit skin) through the finish. I don't get a big salty taste or feeling, so I'd say it's well balanced. The body is on the lighter side, as I said, very refreshing. Check this beer out if you can. Easily the best gose I've had.

New Belgium Brewing
American Blonde Ale | 5.20% ABV

look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Picked up a six-pack while in OBX, seemed like a good beach beer. It was. Instead of the clean, bland blond ales you usually meet in the summer, this had a lovely mix of mild citrus hops and grapefruit sourness (not bitterness) that adds an extra-refreshing edge. The aroma has a mix of freshly toasted bread/malt and light apricot fruit. Overall, a great take on the style. I'm glad to see brewers finally figuring out how to make a fun and satisfying blond ale.

Summer Ale
Summit Brewing Company
K├Âlsch | 4.90% ABV

look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Mmm. Reminds me a bit of Summit's Kolsch from a couple summers back. The slight earthy mineral note is subdued, but there's still a wonderfully subtle character of bready malts, mellow citrus hops, and light fruit esters. Complex, yet drinkable, what a fine beer. It opens with fresh-baked bread and finishes with a dry grassy bitterness. I'll have another.

Kristalweizen | 5.20% ABV

look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4.5

Enjoyed a 16 oz can of Apollo, stamped best by Sept 2012. Is this really a kristalweizen? There's no sediment in the can, but the beer is a hazy amber. Either way, it's a fine wheat beer that reminds me of Weihenstephaner's hefe for the subtle, but rich, spicy clove yeast character. Slightly fruity (banana and orange) bread balance the phenols. The carbonation is a little lighter here, but instead of feeling heavier, it smooths the beer out. Great beer, best wheat beer in a can, maybe.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bucket List Beers: Moonlight Brewing

I spent a little time drinking in San Francisco, which offered a couple bucket-list beers from Moonlight Brewing Co.

Moonlight, a small craft brewer in Santa Rosa, has been quietly producing a couple of the best American-made lagers for years. Unlike most breweries their age (21 this year), they've never made any major expansions, never bottled, and rarely leave the Bay area. I was lucky enough to find their two most vaunted beers, Reality Czech (#1 Czech Pilsener on BeerAdvocate) and Death & Taxes (#1 Euro Dark Lager).

The Reality Czech was an excellent pilsner, but not the best I've had. Maybe this minor disappoint (really, it's tasty and worth trying) was what kept me from keeping notes on it. Death & Taxes, however, blew me away. After ordering a pint for myself, I insisted on a pitcher for the table. Nobody was disappointed.

Death & Taxes Black Beer
Moonlight Brewing Company
Euro Dark Lager | 5.00% ABV

look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I'm always a fan of the style, seeking out new (at least to me) examples, and this is the best I've had. It has the agreeable drinkability of your standard dark lager or schwarzbier, but the depth of a great Baltic porter. There were fruity, cherry tones at times, and then dry toffee and cocoa with an interesting cola edge. I'm so impressed by how many, clean distinct (and delicious) dark malt flavors are crammed into this lager. Go find this beer. You need it.