Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Return to the Motherland

I was in New Ulm last weekend visiting the parents and it had been almost four years since I've taken a tour of Schell's Brewery so I had yet to enjoy a brew in the new tap room. The agenda was a relaxed one so a Saturday afternoon tour seemed not only doable but mandatory.

I wasn't sure if they'd be doing tours on a 5 below day in January but not only were they doing them, the tour was full. The last tour I did ended up being a private tour because it was only me and the four guys with me who were there and it ended up being awesome because we got to see places that large groups don't get to see due to space constraints and it was our own Q&A session. I didn't expect to get that lucky again but part of me hoped we would.

For the most part, the Schell's tour isn't too technical nor do you get to see any of the actual brewing process. In fact, it's pretty much just a history lesson but luckily Schell's has quite an intriguing history since it's the second oldest brewery in the country, second only to Yuengling.

You'll get to tour the mini museum filled with artifacts from Schell's past, you'll get to hear stories about how the brewery survived the Sioux uprising without a scratch, how they made it through one of the darkest times in our country's history, how they've grown over the years to what they are now.
I've been on several tours at the brewery and even though they've been spaced over the years, I can safely say that that unless you go twice in the same weekend you're never going to get the same tour twice. So even if you have been on the tour before, don't let that deter you from checking it out again.

The worst case scenario is that you pay $3 to get to sit in the tasting room and try samples of about a half dozen different beers and then pick a full glass of one to finish your tour off with. Not a bad deal at all.

One bit of news is that the beer has been chosen to commemorate the brewery's 150th anniversary. After a series of candidates was released, the public chose Hopfenmalz as its pick to represent the historic year. I was very disappointed when our tour guide told us that this beer wouldn't be available until sometime next month but an impromptu stop at Cashwise Liquors proved our tour guide wrong. I sure hope they get the guy correct information so he doesn't mislead any more people who are looking for this beer.

I'll post a review of the beer sometime soon, I did try a bottle on Saturday night but my cold symptoms prevented me from getting a good gauge on it. What I can tell you though is that it was a pretty hoppy beer and very much in the style that you'd expect from Schell's.

I'll leave you with two very strong recommendations. First, make sure you get to New Ulm sooner than later for a tour of this brewery. Its history and the beauty of the grounds definitely make it worth your time. I'd also recommend doing it sometime this year because there seems to be a lot of cool stuff going on for the anniversary. (Just make sure you don't go during the festival-which-shall-not-be-named because it'll be way too damn crowded for you and I'll be sure to tell you all about it after I go anyway). Second, make sure you try a Schell's Snowstorm this winter. They change up the recipe for this seasonal every year and it's a pretty damn good Baltic Porter this year.

Zicke Zacke Zicke Zacke Zicke Zacke Hoi Hoi Hoi!

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Brush with Brewing Immortality

Monday morning I got a message from Shawn from BGP via Twitter asking if I was going to go to Town Hall that night to see Greg Koch from Stone brewing. This was the first that I had heard of it but I was all over it. I had heard that he was talking about coming to MN and was asking where a good place to have a beer in Minneapolis would be but I missed his tweet from the night before about being at Town Hall that night.

Now I'm not in the business in any way, shape
or form and didn't really have much to say to him but I've been wanting to go back to Town Hall for awhile now and this was as good of a reason as any. At least I could say I met the founders of two of my top breweries (Omar being the first) and maybe get a quick pic.

It was also cool to meet Shawn and Leslie, Allison and I sat at a table with them and had a few beers before and while Greg was at Town Hall. I tried their Festivus (fantastic, especially if you like coffee beers), their Angel's Abbey and their Masala Mama IPA (from a cask even!).

As expected, I didn't have much to say to Greg but it was cool as hell when he walked up to me, introduced himself and said he liked my shirt. Alway
s good to have an Arrogant Bastard shirt when you need to represent.

He was cool enough to get everyone together for a group shot and he even took a pic of the two of us. He had a few samples of some Stone brews for us which I gladly tried and then I thanked him and called it a night. All in all, I'd say it was well worth the trip. Thanks again to Greg for a memorable night!

2 of my 3 idols down, is a meeting with Sam Calagione next?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The 12 Beers of Christmas Vacation

Before I left town for my 6 days of Christmas vacation, I made sure I brought with me plenty of beer to drink and also made sure that I had plenty of new ones to rate. Here are the results.

The first night I had Flying Dog Horn Dog Barley Wine and Goose Island Pere Jacques.

I haven't had a ton of barleywines but this one seemed to be pretty decent. Big boozy beer with a thick chewy mouthfeel. The Pere Jacques was a 2008 vintage that I found that night. When I poured it there were quite a few chunks in it (yeast I'm guessing?). Strangely though, I didn't notice any of them as I drank the beer. It was another sweet, chewy beer that had some really good dark fruity flavors in it.
I only had one beer on Xmas Eve and drank it and rated it before (Yeti). Christmas day found me with a North Coast Old Stock Ale which was quite delightful on a cold snowy day. Not surprisingly, being a barlywine it tasted very similar to the Horn Dog but I liked this one much better.
Saturday I had a Bells Cherry Stout, a Verhaeghe Duchesse De Bourgogne and a Tyranena Sheep Shagger Scotch Ale. I tried the Bells at a sampling at the Four Firkins (and once from a cask at Stub & Herbs) but it was much better when you got a full bottle of it. Wonderful but subtle cherry and chocolate flavors make this beer amazing.

The Duchesse was my first ever sour beer and the jury is still out on them for me. I did enjoy it but it was such a departure from what I'm used to that it was tough to wrap my taste buds around. Even though it was obviously sour (in a balsamic/malt vinegar kind of way) it was almost like a sweet & sour flavor to me. The Sheep Shagger was a very solid offering, not too unlike the barleywines actually.

For my birthday I had a Traquair House Ale, a Fort Garry Pale Ale, a Dogfish Head Raison D Extra and finished the night off with a Founders Backwoods Bastard (previously tried and rated).

The Traquair was a nice oaky sweet beer with nice fruit notes. It was one of the best beers of the week for me. The Fort Garry was a local beer, much much better than a Labatt! It doesn't hold up to the rest of the lineup but compared to the stuff most Canadians drink this stuff is gold. What can I say about the Raison D'Extra? Just double the goodness of Raison D'Etre with its big raisin/fruit/boozy flavors and you have the D Extra!

My last beer before heading home was Avery The Beast Grand Cru Ale. This stuff compared very well to the D'Extra in its boozy, fruity flavors and the sheer mass of it. Not too often you can take two beers, add their ABV's together and surpass the 30% mark. Very good way to end the trip.

My last two beers are what welcomed me home, Anchor Steam Beer and Samuel Adams Imperial Double Bock. I'm not too familiar with the California Common style of beer so I wasn't the greatest judge of it. It was a decent beer but I'm guessing just not my favorite style. The Sam Adams though was a very pleasant surprise, I loved it. Sweet, malty, caramel, chocolate notes that just brought a smile to my face before I had to return to work the next day.

It was a beautiful way to spend a Christmas vacation and a very thoughtful present to myself!