Despite being left a fried, frazzled husk of a being from my day job the past couple of months, I have actually had the opportunity to try some interesting beers. There’s a bit of something for everyone here.
Last month, my sister, who shall be known only as “Face,” travelled to Boston with her husband. While he had day-long meetings for work, she entertained herself by visiting the sights. One of the highlights for her was taking a beer tour with Boston Brew Tours. This company was started by a home-brewer who was frustrated by how tours of Boston breweries seemed limited to Boston Brewing (Samuel Adams) and Harpoon. While both of those are still considered “craft breweries” due to their limited production compared to the MacroCrap brewers, they are not representative of all, or even the best, brewing that the Boston area has to offer. So for approximately $85, my sister went on a tour of the Sam Adams facility, as well as some micro- and nano-breweries. I was not there, alas, so I will spare you too much second-hand reporting. Suffice it to say that, with regards to Sam Adams, apparently most Bostonians snigger when they hear of the iconic “Boston Lager” because most of the nationally popular beers produced by the Boston Brewing Co. are now actually made in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Outside of Boston, however, is where the brewmasters get to play. That’s where some of the fun and funky stuff is made. Face got to sample “Grumpy Monk,” which was her favorite of that visit. As part of the tour, my sister also got to visit Mead Hall (possibly for lunch) and see the kegs and barrels beneath the bar floor — over 100 craft taps!–and see the instructions on each one from the brewer about how much pressure and what temperature would best serve their beer. Face’s favorite part of
the entire tour, however, was going to a remote warehouse district wherein lay Night Shift Brewing. The name stems from the fact that the three founders (all former home-brewers, I believe) started the brewery while still possessing full-time day jobs. At least one of them is now full-time at the brewery, which produces some unique beers. Face loved them all, though she brought back a bottle for me of one she couldn’t drink, the year-round Viva Habanera. (Face seems to possess more of that “Scandahuvian” DNA that prevents one from being able to tolerate even the mildest of spice heat.) I noticed that the batch number, ABV level (6.5%), and bottling date were hand-written on the label. Not printed in hand-writing script, but actually written by a person with a pen. Cool. The beer itself was one of the better pepper beers I’ve had. Habaneros are a truly hot-hot pepper, but they have one of the best flavors, if you can neutralize or reduce the tongue-burning heat. Though this beer, which is a rye ale with agave nectar, does have a kick, it is well-balanced with the rye and subtle sweetness of the agave nectar, allowing the delicious habanero flavor to peek through. I would love to try more of Night Shift’s beers, such as the Trifecta (a Belgian-style pale ale aged on vanilla beans) or the Honeydew (a saison brewed with honeydew melons–yum!), but they do not sell outside of Massachusetts. ::sigh:: Gotta get me to Boston soon.
If you can’t make it to Boston, but you’re interested in a similar brew tour, try GetKnit Events’ North Shore Craft Brewery Tour on June 1. As of writing, there were still 13 seats available. This tour leaves from Roseville, MN, and takes you to Duluth and some points north. For $109, you get round-trip transportation (it’s about 2.5 hours one-way to Duluth from here),
breakfast snacks (coffee and pastries), lunch, dinner, tours of various North Shore breweries with samplings. If I didn’t have a family reunion that same day, I’d be on that bus!
I am always willing to give local microbreweries a second and even a third chance. If you’ ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I have not had kind words for Pour Decisions Brewing in Roseville, Minnesota. Though I appreciate the attempt to expand the offerings of session beers (beers that are below 5% ABV), the beers need to have flavor and not have a watery finish for me to consider them worth drinking. Lately, Ward 6 restaurant in St. Paul’s Eastside has been the site of Pour Decision’s partial redemption. Previously, I tried PD’s Maroon & Bold, an IPA made with Minnesota hops and barley, and a decidedly non-session beer at 7.5% ABV. Though I found it too aggressively hopped for my liking (95 IBUs), I applauded PD’s step into Beers with Flavor. Last weekend, I chanced upon another new PD release at Ward 6: Infidelity, a Burton ale. A Burton ale is described as being something between a strong English mild and a British bitter. Oh, and it is pretty bitter (90 IBUs), but tolerably so — and it’s 7.2% ABV. I probably would not buy it again (I got a free glass with purchase!), but I think the hopheads around here would appreciate it. It was too hoppy for Face, so she ordered Pubstitute, the session Scotch ale which I
panned. I took sips of her beverage and found that it has gone up in my estimation. The caramelly flavor which I expect in a Scotch ale now follows through instead of dropping off right after the beer hits your tongue. It’s still light on the palate and lighter on flavor than I like, but Face liked it. I would not hesitate to suggest it for someone who is looking for a lower-alcohol beer. I see that Pour Decisions has a line of interesting ales that are out now or soon to be released, including some sour beers like Ambiguity, a sour smoked wheat. Huzzah! I hope it’s as good as it sounds.
For months now, we have had two bottles of Clown Shoes beer (from Massachusetts) in our cellar and then our fridge. We had been saving them for an occasion when a dark beer-loving friend would come over and share in a tasting with us. Many times Mr. NN reached for one of those bottles, only to have his hand slapped away. “We must do a side by side comparison!” I would cry. Why? Because the bottles were Blaecorn Unidragon, a Russian imperial stout, and Vampire Slayer, an imperial American stout. I wanted to see if there was a discernible difference between the two. With tasting glasses lined up (ones garnered from various beer tasting events and festivals), we cracked them open. My friend Jen, a fellow home-brewer, was the first to put the word on an upfront flavor in the Vampire Slayer: coffee. Mind you, coffee was not added to this beer, but the roastiness of the malt, which is smoked with various types of wood, gave it that appealing coffee-esque bitterness. Bold but reasonably smooth flavor, 11% ABV. By comparison, the Blaecorn Unidragon had slightly less aroma but a punch-you-in-the-face wallop of flavor. Whereas the imperial American stout got its bite from the roasted and smoked malts, this Russian imperial stout got it from “aggressive American hops.” Mr. NN detected something herbally and noted the pronounced
“heat” (detectable alcohol) and Jen suggested the flavor of licorice. Again, just as with wine tasting when people say they detect or taste tobacco or grass clippings, these ingredients are not actually in the beer (not these beers, at any rate). Though both beers are worthy, the Vampire Slayer got our votes for the better of the two. This experience of a side-by-side comparison was easy and fun to do. I recommend taking two beers of the same or a similar style and running an informal tasting panel of your own.
As this is still Craft Beer Week, not just in Minnesota but around the country, there are many opportunities to sample some excellent local beers. The link will take you to a page with many of the goings-on, but there are actually more events than what is listed there. Check with your favorite beer-related establishment to see if they are running any special events. For example, last night Northbound Smokehouse in Minneapolis was giving away free pint glasses to anyone wearing gear from a Minnesota brewery. Mr. NN and I donned t-shirts from Surly and Town Hall and received pint glasses from Northbound and Bad Weather Brewing, one of the new breweries that opened this spring. (Btw, Bad Weather’s Windvane is a very pleasing red ale.) While at Northbound, we two quality beers: Northbound’s own Rabble-Rouser, a dry-hopped Scotch ale, and Fulton‘s Expat, a rye saison. I’m coming to appreciate both saisons as a summer beer and Fulton Brewing. While I still think the ever-popular Sweet Child o’ Vine IPA is not very good — I couldn’t tell it was supposed to be an IPA the first couple of times I tried it– and I do not like blonde ales, Fulton has come out with some tasty stuff lately. Their Russian imperial stout, Worthy Adversary, is indeed worthy. Expat is light on the palate but has the spice of rye to keep it interesting and full of flavor. We only had room for one beer a piece, so we had to pass on Northbound’s Ground Rule double IPA (8.8% ABV). Oh, was Mr. NN tempted! Tonight (Friday), they are offering $3 for a 10 oz. glass of their Big Jim IPA infused with cara cara orange zest. Tomorrow, Indeed Brewing is having a release of LSD, a beer once made at Town Hall, consisting of lavender, sunflower honey, and dates. Jen and I wax lyrical about this beer, so we’re looking forward to revisiting it. On Sunday, the Happy Gnome is offering $4 all day for any Minnesota beer, including Bad Weather, Lift Bridge, Third Street Brewhouse, and many others.
See? Beer, beer everywhere and too many drops to drink!