Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Beer Club, Volume Six - Bocks!

I decided to go with Bocks for this installment of Beer Club in honor of Bockfest at Schell's Brewery in New Ulm. It ended up being doubly important this year because sadly my streak of seven years at Bockfest was broken this year. At least I had a good lineup of beer to help me feel better about it.

Rather than focus on one of the specific bocks like dunkler bocks or doppelbocks or heller bocks, I decided to throw a couple of each in there to give us an idea of the differences between them. Due to illness, vacation, forgetfulness and out of town visitors, we had the smallest group yet but the three of us made the most of it.

The first two beers we did were dunkler bocks, Sam Adams Chocolate Bock and Schell's Bock. I've been sitting on a couple bottles of the Chocolate Bock for awhile now and figured it was as good of a time as any to crack them. Schell's is the bock that always comes to mind for me because it's the one I've drank the most of in my life (even if 95% of it has come on seven specific days!)

The Sam Adams was unique, definitely chocolate chocolate and more chocolate. Not that it was overpowering, but it was definitely the main flavor in the beer. To me it tasted like a coco powder more than the chocolate I've tasted in other beers and I don't mean that in a bad way. I'm wondering if it was because they use coco nibs. I'm not even sure what they are but I know this is the first beer that I've had with them. Guess I'll find out when I finally try the Dogfish Head Theobroma. The Chocolate Bock was a decent beer but I'm not sure I'd run out to search for more of it at $10 a bomber.

The Schell's was as I always remember it, a perfect example of the style. Bocks to me are similar to brown ales and amber ales in that I can sit down with 5 different ones and notice that each one is different but have a hard time describing the exact differences. Another way to put it is that I know what bocks are supposed to taste like and this beer is the standard for me.

Next we moved to the two heller bocks - Sierra Nevada Glissade Golden Bock and Dead Guy Ale from Rogue. I've never had a heller bock before so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Well, technically I had the Glissade at a Sierra Nevada tasting a couple weeks ago and thought it would be a cool change of pace to throw in the line up. It has a light golden color with a nice pillowy white head. Aroma is bready, malty as is the flavor which also has some spicy and hoppy notes. Nice clean finish with a small hops bite.

The Dead Guy was a bit of an anomaly to me. I knew that bocks fell into the lager category but Dead Guy is advertised as Dead Guy Ale, not Dead Guy Lager even though most resources I've seen call it a heller bock. After some research and a few messages back and forth with Rogue, I'm just going to go with it being a hybrid, heller bock style ale. This is one I'd like to drink isolated from Beer Club to get a better handle on what I think of it. I know I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it. I'll update my thoughts on this beer in the comments section.

The last three beers on the list were doppelbocks. For a quick history lesson on these and to find out why so many of them end with -ator, click here.

First up was Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock. This beer is rated as the number one doppelbock on Rate Beer and it's easy to see why. This is a fantastic beer. Deep brown pour with a big creamy tan head. Sweet & roasted malty aroma and flavor with a sweet caramel finish.

A random entry to the night was Boulevard's Seeyoulator. I stumbled across this beer a couple weekends ago and picked it up because of the cedar aging. It wasn't till I was home that I even realized it was a doppelbock and decided to use it for Beer Club.

It was fantastic. Caramel color, LOTS of lively head, fantastic lacing. I poured the first glass quickly and down the middle like I do for most small samples and got a ton of head. I tried pouring more slowly and off to the side on the next two and still got quite a bit of head. Not a ton of aroma, sweet and malty is what does come through. Flavor is sweet, fruity, malty with a chewy mouthfeel. The cedar does come through in the flavor as well. Very cool beer, pretty unique for a doppelbock.

The last doppelbock was the Sam Adams Imperial Double Bock. It's a nice big chewy beer with a bunch of intense good flavors in it. Very sweet and smooth considering how much is going on in it.

We wrapped up the night with attempt at poking our bocks. You heard me right. If you've never been to Bockfest in New Ulm, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. Well, at Bockfest they have campfires set up to huddle around if you get too cold. They also keep hot pokers in these fires and if you ask, they'll "poke" your bock by sticking one right in the middle of your brew. This caramelizes the sugars in the beer and makes it sweeter and a bit smokey.

I procured a metal rod from Home Depot and we fired up the burner from my turkey fryer and gave it a try. It didn't come out exactly like it does at Bockfest but it was a pretty good attempt for our first try. I'd guess that there's a bit of "seasoning" on the pokers down at Schell's, something like a cast iron skillet acquires after many uses. It definitely had a reaction and gave everybody a good idea of how it works.

I think my favorite of the night would have to be the Celebrator. It's number one for a reason and I can't argue with it. The Seeyoulator was nipping at its heels for me though. I really liked the depth that the cedar seemed to give it.

Over the weekend I also tried some Paulaner Salvator and a bottle of Widmer Brothers' Reserve Cherry Oak Doppelbock. I found the Salvator to be a solid beer but if given the option, I'd go for the much more economical Schell's Bock and enjoy it just as much.

As for the Widmer, it was phenomenal. As I always say, give me any combo that involves imperial stout, bourbon, oak aged or cherry and I'm all in. This stuff was awesome. It bummed me out that I waited so long to try it because I figured it was all gone. I was lucky enough this week to track down a couple more bottles of it before it completely disappeared. I'm going to hold one or both bottles for awhile and see how they age.

I'm already looking forward to next month's Beer Club, I'm leaning towards doing Trappist Ales after discovering that Chimay makes cheese. If you have any advice on Trappists, please let me know. Until then - Cheers!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Winterfest 2010

So I've been all in to the craft beer scene now for less than a year and as of ten days ago I had yet to attend one of the big beer festivals. I've been to Surlyfest and Darkness Day but I'm talking about the kind where you can drink a billion samples of kick ass beer all under the same roof. I barely missed out on Autumn Brew Review last year because by the time I had discovered its existence I had already set up my annual Freedom Fest and couldn't back out.

So needless to say when I saw that the tickets for Winterfest in St Paul were going on sale awhile back I had to jump on it. After asking several people to go it ended up being (my cousin) Paul and (my co-worker) Paul and me. I soon found it it ended up being easiest to just adopt co-worker Paul as "my other cousin Paul". Scratch that last sentence if you didn't see the sit-com in the 80's.

We lined up rides to and from the venue and decided to get dropped off at Great Waters which was around a half mile from the Minnesota History Center. We kicked off with a couple of pitchers and a good meal to get a good base in our stomach before proceeding to drink as many beers as we could in 3 hours. We discussed our plan to hit everything we wanted and try as many "must try" beers without getting totally smashed.

All in all, it was a total success. We had great timing for getting in line because even though we had to wait quite awhile, 90-95% of the crowd was behind us. We were in the first wave to attack which was a good thing because Surly was the first booth there and I knew I wanted to try the One (lager aged in a fresh Bourbon barrel for one year), Two (Oak aged Cranberry Stout) and Three ("Jesus Juice" Brewed with 50% honey and 50% German Dark Munich malt, aged on toasted White Ash and aged in a French oak Pinot Noir barrel) year anniversary beers for sure. Also ended up trying the Four (Double Espresso Milk Stout).

Todd from Surly

After we got those knocked out (before some people even got in) we proceeded up to the second and third levels. Long story short, within the first hour we had tried about everything on my hit list (basically any big stout or IPA or anything with oak-aged, bourbon or cherry in the description) and just took a relaxed approach to the rest of the night.

It was awesome being there with hundreds of people that you knew you had something in common with (I can't imagine a Bud Light drinker dropping $50 on an event like this) and you could walk up to just about anybody and start chatting about beer (and we did).

I didn't take detailed notes because I was there to just see what tasted good and to socialize. But I did keep track of what I tried and here's what was memorable to me:

Schell's Dry Hopped Maifest - The only beer I tried from my hometown because I have the other three sitting in my fridge. It was unique because it was uncarbonated, unfiltered and served from a Bavarian Stich-Fass (not sure exactly what that was). Cool because it was unique and I'm all over unique beers.

Barley John's Unoaked Rosie's Reserve - Basically their Rosie's Old Ale without the bourbon cask aging. I was surprised at how big and tasty it still was. I can't wait for Rosie's to come back again (and to try the Dark Knight for that matter).

Brau Brother's Rainwater Oak-Aged Stout and Brau Brother's Elisha's Old Ale - I've had the Rainwater before but really like it so I figured a quick sample was in order. The Elisha's was pretty good stuff too, I hope it'll be available to me sometime soon. Also got to chat with Dustin Brau again, very cool guy. He invited Beer Club to come out and take a tour of the brewery sometime and hopefully I can get it organized sooner tan later. I figure a swing down to Schell's to make it a 2-for-1 day would work well too.

Cold Spring's John Henry 3 Lick Spiker Ale - I have seen ads for this in my beer magazines several times and thought it sounded like something I should try. I was right. I can't believe I never realized it was from a Minnesota brewery. Looking forward to getting more of this soon.

Fitger's Bourbon Barrel Aged Edmund Imperial Stout - Check out my hit list criteria and you'll see that this covered pretty much every thing (including the cherries that it was racked on). Fitger's sounds like a place I really need to visit. Who can argue with the scenery of the North Shore and beer this good? I'd have to work Lake Superior Brewing in as well.

Flat Earth Grand Design Porter - I would have never tried this if (my cousin) Paul wasn't raving about it. S'more infused anything didn't really sound like my cup of tea but he kept saying how I needed to try the vanilla porter. It was money and we weren't the only one who thought so because it won the Snowshoe award. I went down to get a growler of it this past weekend but sadly, there was none to be had. Hopefully next weekend.

Granite City Batch 1000 - I had it before but I wanted to swing by for a sample just so I could bug them again about putting this on their full time draft list. I like their other stuff but for the most part it's more for people who are dabbling in non-BMC products. This stuff is something I'd seek out and would cause me to make a trip to GC just for the beer.

Great Waters Vulcanus Rex & Great Waters Cherries Dubbelee - The Vulcanus Rex was unique and pretty tasty but a bit too smokey for me. The Cherries Dubbelee was right up my alley. Who wouldn't like a cherry & vanilla flavored Belgian double?

Lift Bridge Belgian Biscotti - They served it with a scoop of ice cream made from the beer just like a root beer float. Goodness gracious it was tasty. I sure hope we can get our paws on this delightful treat come summertime.

McCann's Maple Quadruple - Not sure if I'd drink this on a regular basis but I'd love to get my hands on some and try to make pancakes with it. How could that not taste fantastic?

Rock Bottom Vanilla Oak Infusion Imperial Stout - Doesn't the name say it all for me? I friggin' loved it. Also got to skip the line (not on purpose) because I was just trying to get a rinse but the pitchers were empty and the girl told me to come on up and get beer anyway. Who was I to refuse?

Town Hall Twisted Jim - Barley wine aged in oak from Jim Beam? Predictably delicious.

Surly One - My favorite beer of the night. Tasted almost like a more intense version of Darkness with some beautiful bourbon aging on it. Ridiculous.

Surly Two, Three & Four - Loved 'em all.

It was a night to remember and I can't wait to do it again next year. Hell, I can't even wait for the next festival of this kind. It was like unleashing a kid in a candy store with a dozen Willy Wonkas running the store.

New friends from Rochester & Alvey from the Four Firkins

Monday, February 1, 2010

Beer Club, Volume Five - Imperial IPA's

(This took me WAY too long to finish but at least I got it in before February's Beer Club!)

Much like most of the meetings so far, January's Beer Club was timed around the release of a specific beer. This month that beer was Hopslam from Bell's Brewery.

As I mentioned in my first ever blog post, Hopslam was a different kind of gateway beer for me. It was the beer that sparked my interest in moving from the more popular craft beers like Summit, Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada into looking into the hoppier side of life and harder to find beers. I owed this beer a featured month in Beer Club.

It wasn't a hard lineup for me to come up with because I had several beers that I wanted to have in a Beer Club lineup besides Hopslam, including Ruination from Stone, 90 Minute IPA from Dogfish Head and Un*Earthly from Southern Tier. I added Hop Stoopid from Lagunita's because I thought it was a great beer at a good price (around $5 for a bomber). When Zipps tweeted to me that I should add Double Trouble from Founders, the lineup was set. It was gonna be an epic month.

One nice part about doing IPA's is that the order of the tasting is pretty easy, just do it from lowest IBU to highest. The problem I had with this last time was that the Founders Harvest Ale really blew a couple of beers out of the water that followed it because it was so good. I was hoping that leading off with the highly acclaimed (but low IBU) Hopslam wouldn't have the same effect. Luckily, it did not.

Another thing that worried me was that the two beers I went to Hudson to get (90 Minute and Ruination) didn't appear to be too fresh. I noticed that the 90 Minute had a bottling date of JULY 2009. Luckily for us, it still tasted just fine (and impressive for being a half year old). But I grabbed a bottle that I had bought a couple months ago and it too was "old" so I'm guessing that there's a good chance that I've never had fresh 90 Minute IPA. I guess I have something to look forward to.

The Ruination didn't fare so well however. I don't know if we got a bad batch of it or what the deal was but it really didn't taste like the Ruination that I love and it was the consensus that it was just bad (and confirmed later by two non-beer club IPA lovers who wouldn't even finish the sample I gave them). I opened a bottle that I bought last fall and it didn't have the fresh IPA taste but was still quite good and was further proof that the most recent six pack was just bad and not just old. Damn it sucks to pour $3 bottles of beer down the drain.

The rest of the lineup was awesome though. As expected, everybody loved the Hopslam and while favorites and reviews were mixed, everybody still really liked the Hop Stoopid and the Double Trouble (although I still think the Double Trouble was very good but can't touch the Founders Harvest Ale).

The Un*Earthly finished the night and I was a bit nervous on how it was going to taste. I've had about 4 bottles of this before Beer Club and it ranged from a decent IPA to one of the best things to ever touch my lips. My only conclusion was that this stuff is just very volatile and should be drank as fresh as possible. Luckily for us, this was one of the fantastic bottles and even at a whopping 153 IBU it was still one of the stars of the show and my favorite beer of the night.

Even though imperial stouts have been creeping in as a contender for my favorite style of beer, the IIPA's defended their territory very well and this group of beers reminded me of why I'm such a hop head and did a good job at convincing everybody else why they should be too.

February's Beer Club - Bockfest!

(see the comments section for Becky's notes on January's Beer Club)