Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Darkness Falls Across the Land

Last Saturday was Christmas for beer geeks across the land, for it was Darkness Day at the Surly brewery. Darkness Day is the one day out of the year that you can buy the holy grail of beer, Surly's Russian Imperial Stout - Darkness. (Actually, this year if you're lucky you might be able to track some down at liquor stores somewhere but I digress).

I've been up and down the spectrum on Darkness Day starting with "oh, that sounds really cool, I'll have to check it out" to "it costs HOW MUCH per bottle???" to "well, maybe I'll just get a bottle or two" to "people start lining up at WHAT TIME??? guess I won't be getting any" to finally "screw it, I'm just gonna wait in line behind the total die hards but ahead of the lazy wannabes and see where it gets me."

My plan was to get there at about 9:00 on Saturday morning and hope that I was one of the 800 lucky people to get a wrist band that allowed me to buy my allotment of 6 bottles of Darkness. I talked Allison into coming with me both for the company (although I made so many new friends that day it wouldn't have been an issue) and for her wrist. I'm not sure how many of my friends that wanted me to get them a bottle actually had plans or how many just didn't want to put in the effort but I'm a trusting guy and a good friend (I think) and bought some extras for them. I feel a bit responsible for getting my small group of beer disciples into loving good beer so I thought I owed at least a few of them a bottle.

I envisioned the scene at the brewery dozens of times the week before DDay both while awake and while sleeping and as I was getting ready Saturday morning I decided at the last minute to push it and get there a few minutes earlier. When I came around the corner and didn't see masses of people lined up for miles I figured I got lucky. Sure enough, we set up our chairs at about the #225 spot in line (according to the rough count of our new neighbors in line). That was at about 8:45 and by 9:00 there was probably another 50-100 people behind us and shortly after that we were now in about the middle of a 400+ line of people.

So it seemed that we got lucky showing up when we did and even luckier because the weather was picture perfect. Sure, there was a brisk fall chill in the day but it was finally sunny and after a few Surly Coffee Benders to kick off the day and warm me up a bit I didn't even need a jacket. Speaking of Coffee Bender, Surly c0ntinued to be a kickass organization by bringing out a keg of Coffee Bender for those of us waiting in line. It's a true sign of class to support your fans by bringing out free beer when you have nothing to gain from it and that's a shining example of why Surly is as great as they are.

It didn't take long to find familiar faces in the crowd and to make friends with new faces because everybody there was there for the same reason, they love good beer and wanted to have fun. Because of that reason and because of the nice weather, the time seemed to fly and before we knew it they were opening the gates and Darkness had begun to descend upon us (I swear they picked Darkness as the name of the beer because it's so fun to write shit like that).

Once we got inside the gate we met up with Phil and Becky and proceeded to get the business side of things done. We hit the Surly swag room to buy a couple t-shirts and some glassware and then got in line to buy the beer. The girls went on a beer run while we waited in line to buy our Darkness.

Allison brought me back a Birch Aged CynicAle (I liked it, I think I like regular Cynic better though) Then, I heard the news... there was one keg of Darkness tapped and for sale. The girls went to wait in that line while Phil and I bought our bottles and brought them to the car and I returned to the beautiful sight of a goblet full of Darkness.

I had it for the first time a few weeks back when they tapped a Firkin of it at the 501 Club (see Surly Darkness and Surly Wet) and thought it was pretty good but I wasn't sure that it was worth all the hoopla. I'm not sure if it was the extra bit of carbonation zip that the keg provided over the firkin but that glass of beer was maybe the best glass I've ever had. The flavors were alive and dancing through my mouth like nothing I had ever tasted before. It must have been the slowest I've ever drank 12 oz of beer before, I'd take just enough to coat my tongue and enjoyed every drop I could.

The highlight of my day happened when I met one of my Twitter buddies, Surly Boy Wonder who I saw walking around. We had been chatting back and forth leading up to Darkness Day and when I saw him, I walked up to introduce myself. After a few words he handed me a bottle of 2008 Darkness. I thought he just wanted me to check it out so I gave it back to him and he told me it was a gift. I've always said that you can't beat free beer. Well, good free beer is better. A free bottle of vintage Darkness? Well that just cannot be beat. It definitely made my day and that says a lot considering how great my day was.

We spent the rest of our day there just taking in the scene and trying some new beers. After my Darkness was gone I decided to try the Smoke. I thought that even if I couldn't get any Darkness I could at least drink something that looked close to it. It was pretty tasty. Another highlight of my day came when I decided to try a glass of the Tea-Bagged Furious. It was right in line with the Darkness for me for how great it was. It bums me out that a lot of these beers aren't available year-round but I guess that just makes days like today that much more special.

I wished that we didn't have plans that night because it meant we had to leave a couple hours earlier than I would have liked. But since that was the only minor downer of the day, I can't complain. I got Darkness for myself and for some of my friends and had a blast doing it. Just like after Surlyfest, I'm already looking forward to next year's Darkness Day and will be bringing more people with me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Beer Club, Volume Two - India Pale Ales

So when I first envisioned creating Beer Club, the first goal I had was simply to find some people who would discuss all the good beers I was suddenly drinking. Since IPA's/Double IPA's are my favorite style of beer it was natural that I'd be drinking a lot of them (25 of the 95 beers that I've rated so far). Oktoberfest was too natural of a fit for the first Beer Club meeting since so many of them were coming out right before the first meeting.

The next meeting wasn't so natural to anybody but me and the more I thought about it the more I thought I might have made a mistake by picking IPA's so quickly in our lineup. Sure I had open minded people but still there were plenty who just weren't big fans of IPA's. Maybe I was just talking myself into it as well but I kept telling them that they just haven't had the right ones and that the concept they had in their minds of IPA's (bitter beers) wasn't completely accurate and I'd prove to them that they did like (the right) India Pale Ale's after all. (A little background if you're not completely familiar with the style, click here - India Pale Ale)

Another big part of the reason that I chose IPA's is because I figured I had some pretty good knowledge about them and could pick out a pretty good lineup. So while I wasn't going to learn much about the beer I knew that I could be a more effective leader/president/founder of BC/HMFIC and everybody else would be better off because of it. No use in the blind leading the blind this soon in the life cycle of the group.

After searching my brain's database and emailing Alvey at the Four Firkins, these are the ones that I came up with for tasting:

Founders Centennial IPA
Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA
Founders Harvest Ale
Stone India Pale Ale (IPA)

Two Hearted Ale
Surly Furious

I knew that the night would wrap up with Furious because I've been spreading that gospel for awhile now and Bell's Two Hearted and Stone's IPA have been two of my favorites ever since I've tried them. I wanted to throw Dogfish Head in the group even though it wasn't one of my favorites just because I knew it was a popular beer from a popular innovative brewery.

The Centennial and the Torpedo were on Alvey's advice and the Harvest Ale was a last minute addition by me. I didn't really want two from Founders but they were different enough from each other and I just fell in love with the Harvest Ale when I had my first one.

So, the group was a bit mixed up from last month's with Paul U, Kris, Mike and Pat returning and Phil and Brent joining as guest stars. All of the tastings went pretty well and people started to realize (much to my relief) that I was correct in that they did like IPA's, just didn't know which ones.

The star of the night was unquestionably the Founders Harvest Ale. I felt bad for the Stone IPA because it followed the Harvest and I couldn't believe how little support the Stone got until I started tasting it myself. Harvest was a TOUGH act to follow. Bell's definitely was well liked and the Furious performed like I thought it would (very well).

In retrospect I'm going to have to go back and re-rate some of these on Rate Beer because some of them lost a little bit when compared side by side to others and others gained a bit. I'm going to stay on record that Two Hearted and Stone's IPA are two of my favorite India Pale Ales, Founders Harvest Ale is officially my second favorite and Furious just cannot be stopped no matter what I put up against it. It is the godfather of all beers.

In hindsight, I may have still made a mistake by picking IPA's so early for the club even though they went over much better than anybody expected them to but at least everybody can get right to ordering one in the bar or picking some up from the store. In fact, I picked up some Harvest for Paul and for Kris when I made my run for more the next day.

I'm very pleased at how well the meetings have gone so far. People have been open minded and talkative and very receptive of everything way beyond my wildest dreams. Who knows? Maybe this thing has some legs and will be a fixture for a long time. I certainly hope so.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Barley John's Brewpub

I read a blurb about this place a couple months ago and put it on my "places to check out" mental list. Allison works with a girl who lives in New Brighton and after arranging some logistical details we worked it out so I could pick up her husband and the girls would meet us there after work and serve as sober cabs for us since we'd be there well before them (an hour and a half head start as it turned out). I had been to Granite City many many times before and really enjoy their beers but they've lost a little bit these days when compared to what I've been drinking. Still good beer but doesn't quite stand up to some of the really good stuff. I was curious to see if Barley John's was the same way.

I picked up T and we were there by 5:00 hoping for a happy hour. Well not only were we there in time for happy hour, but apparently Monday's happy hour runs from 4:oopm to midnight. That's my kind of happy hour. After checking their website (http://www.barleyjohns.com/) for a list of beers I knew the one thing I had to try was their seasonal Rosies Old Ale which they describe as:
Triple fermented Wild Rice brown Ale brings an elevated alcohol percentage to the glass. Aged 8 months in Old Fitzgerald Bourbon casks (third use of the barrel) to add a subtle bourbon and vanilla note. Subtle sherry flavor and a brilliant red color. Served in a 5.5oz pour.

I was delighted when our server told me that those casks once held Pappy Van Winkle's bourbon in it. When I made mention of my excitement and saw that she also recognized the significance of it (it's a $100+ bottle of bourbon that's aged for 20 years) and I knew we had a server with some knowledge.

But I decided to start off with their Old 8 Porter first which at $3.25 a pint seemed to be like stealing. Their website says the following about it:
Dark, rich chocolate and coffee notes with huge malt characteristics. This is a meal in itself!
8 percent alcohol

I absolutely couldn't believe how amazing this stuff was. When I decided to check this place out, I expected at worst a place that served beer around as good as Granite City and at best a place that had beer that I liked as much as I used to like Granite City's beer. Just to be fair, I'm not trying to knock Granite City in any way, I still absolutely love going there especially for the food and the beer is still very good when compared to boring yellow fizzy beers but the Duke is just nothing close to a Surly Furious. I do think their beers are great gateway beers to introduce the masses to good craft brews. But I digress.

The Old 8 Porter was literally one of the best beers that I ever had. I wanted to just buy a couple growlers and go home and sit on my couch for the night. I gave it a very hard to attain 4.7 rating on Rate Beer with the following notes:
Dark brown pour with a foamy tan head. Heavy chocolate aroma with some coffee notes. Flavor is slightly sweet chocolate with roasted coffee coming through. Sweet, slightly smokey finish.

I wanted to keep drinking this the entire night but thought I'd switch it up a bit and tried the India Brown Ale both because it was seasonal and the concept of a IPA style mixed with a Brown intrigued me. Their description of it:
This kicked up version of an American Brown Ale celebrates the toasty goodness of a brown ale while exploring the explosive and flavorful world of the Amarillo hop.

I really should have had the Old 8 last because most beers would pale in comparison but this still went over well for me and I gave it a 3.8 and said:
Dark brown pour with a creamy tan head. Hoppy floral aroma, surprising for a brown ale. Hoppy caramel flavor with a slightly bitter finish.

Finally it was time for Rosie. I wasn't even leery of the $9 price tag for 5.5 ounces of beer because somehow I knew it would be worth it. She brought it in a small wine glass which raised my eyebrow because I figured if you were going to serve something like this you'd have a good snifter but whatever I guess. The color was a dark brown and it had little to no head. One whiff and I definitely could smell the effect that Pappy had on Rosie. It was a sweet aroma with lots of bourbon coming through. The taste was very overpowering in a good way, heavy alcohol came through (our server said it was an estimated 20+% ABV) and the bourbon was very evident. It finished very sweetly with some caramel notes and warmed me to the core.

This one wasn't on Rate Beer (at least not this version) but I would have given a 3 for appearance (I like a decent head on my beer), a 9 for aroma (I could have smelled it all night), a 9 for flavor (way more going on than I listed), a 4 for palate and an 18 overall for a total score of 4.3. This could change (likely go up) with subsequent tastings and I'll definitely be back to find out.

I knew that after tasting the Old 8 and Rosie that most of the other beers would end up being a bit of a downer (the one I had and two others that I sipped were anyway) and decided to finish with an Old 8 to drink with my burger (which was also very good but since this is a beer blog and not a food one I'll just say their menu is a bit high priced but the burger was a great value and very tasty).

More "research" will soon be conducted starting with next Monday for another happy hour (if not sooner) and hopefully I'll have some more to say about a few other beers (if I can resist just sticking with the Old 8 and the Rosie).

If you haven't checked this place out yet, do it. If you need someone to go with you, call me. I only work 10 minutes from the place and it's on my way home!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Surly Darkness and Surly Wet

I've been looking forward to Surly's Darkness Day for quite awhile now so needless to say I was pleasantly surprised when I heard that they were tapping a firkin of it last Tuesday at the 501 Club in Minneapolis. I was able to somehow convince a couple buddies who are far from beer geeks to join me and after figuring out the logistics, all of us could enjoy as much Darkness as we could get our hands on and then move on to $2 Coffee Benders (that's like stealing) without having to worry about who was driving.

We got there about a half hour before the firkin was tapped and they gave me the look that made me wonder if I was worried about getting there early for no reason. After grabbing a Furious to sip while we were waiting and chatting with Omar Ansari for awhile we grabbed a table close to the bar to wait for the Darkness to be unleashed. As it got closer to eight bells, the bar area got fuller and fuller as other beer geeks poured in.

We each took a spot where we hoped to be noticed by the bartender and eventually got back to the table with 8 glasses of Darkness between the three of us. Here are my notes from it:
Appearance is that of...darkness. No head, sweet aroma with a soy sauce type of smell. Sweet, thick syrupy mouthfeel with little to no carbonation. Lots going on in the flavor with chocolate and coffee coming out the most for me. Nice smooth almost creamy finish.

To my surprise, my two friends (including Pat of Beer Club fame) also liked it. I didn't expect them to be big fans of such an aggressive beer knowing what they normally would choose. My main goal of course from this night was to finally get my taste buds on this insanely popular beer but I also to give it a taste to make sure I want to buy my six bottles of Darkness when the day comes (I do).

After finishing the night off with a couple Coffee Benders and a CynicAle, some very nice lady (I believe she said she was married to a Surly employee) gave me a kickass Surly T shirt on her way out of the bar. All in all, it was a good night.

I've been hearing plenty of buzz about the new IPA that Surly was working on lately, the Wet Hop, and I've been very antsy to try it. While imperial stouts like Darkness have been climbing my favorites chart, IPAs are still where my heart belongs. I ran into the brewery one night to buy a sweatshirt and they were in the process of brewing this and the place smelled like heaven.

I heard the first kegs were going to be unveiled at Roat Osha, a Thai restaurant the I've never heard of but it didn't matter, I wanted... nope, I needed to try this beer. So I convinced Allison to go there with me so I could give it a taste.

Turns out, it was damn good. The bar was crowded because of the beer and also the Twins game and I really wanted to try the food so we got a table and ate some amazing food while I sipped my beers. I was impressed at how well this beer went with spicy foods (I ordered mine a 5 out of 5 on the spice scale). Here are my notes:
Brownish red in color, not much head because of the pour. Very hoppy aroma, smelled a lot like tangerine to me. One of the best beers I’ve ever smelled. Flavor was more mild than I expected, sweet and tangy and still very hoppy with a nice lingering bitter finish.

I'm not sure if this makes sense or not, but in my very amateur opinion I usually draw a line between hoppy and bitter. I realize they go hand in hand but to me a beer can be very hoppy without being overly bitter (in either the good way or the bad way) and it can also be bitter without having the hoppy notes that I'm used to looking for and loving. Maybe one day I'll find out of it this is crazy or not but for not it's my story and I'm sticking to it.

That being said, it looks like more bars are popping up with kegs of Wet and I think I'd be doing myself a disservice if I didn't mosey around to those bars and enjoy them while I can. I'll make a toast to those of you who are unfortunate and do not have access to this Surly offering. I'll also think of how lucky I am to be living where I do, I guess part of me must have known deep down that Surly would be opening its doors less than five miles from me when I picked this neighborhood to buy a house back in 2005. Guess I'll have to toast to that as well.



As the NFL season drew near this year, I was really looking forward to tailgating again. Unfortunately due to a late starting season and two road games to start, I had to wait until the last weekend of September to get up at an obscenely early hour and drink beer before most of you were awake.

As you may know, I'm hooked up with the Finnegan's Irish tailgating group (mentioned here: http://bit.ly/Gqs6P) and so I usually don't bring my own beer because of both the convenience of drinking out of the tap and of course the charity angle to it. But I knew with all the new stuff I've discovered, I had to at least bring a couple other beers to add to the mix. I remember one of the first things I thought after trying Surly's Coffee Bender was that it would be fantastic to kickoff a tailgating morning with. So I did exactly that at 6:45 am the morning of the Vikings-Niners matchup.

A couple Coffee Benders followed by a Founders Breakfast Stout with a Surly Furious tossed in made it a fantastic morning. The nice part about drinking craft beers instead of the others that won't be mentioned is that you don't drink nearly as many of them and you're not running to the bathroom so damn much.

This past Monday Night's game demanded some thing special thrown in the cooler so I brought a Little Sumpin' Extra to kick off the afternoon of tailgating with and a bottle of Old Rasputin as the victory beer and it ended up going very well with the victory cigar I enjoyed after the game as well. Fill in the middle with few glasses of Finnegan's (and one grossly overpriced Michelob Golden Lite in the dome) and it was a very nice night of beer paired with an all time fabulous Monday Night Football game.

Not sure what the remaining games of the season will bring but I do plan on kicking off every morning with a Surly Coffee Bender because it's never too early to get surly. If you're going to any home games, stop by our Finnegan's tent in the Purple Two lot, also known as the Star Tribune lot. Skol Vikes!