Beer of the Week: Sierra Nevada-Mahrs Bräu Oktoberfest

It’s about high time I wrote on a beer from Sierra Nevada, a pioneer, a staple and a true favorite brewery of mine.

The brewery is legendary for its pervasive Pale Ale and legacy as a trailblazer in the craft beer industry, dating back to 1978. I didn’t realize how significant the company’s influence was until I read “Beyond the Pale” by brewery founder Ken Grossman. I highly recommend it.

As the book titles indicates, Sierra Nevada is more than a great pale ale. The brewery makes consistent, balanced beers of all styles. I especially look forward to the fresh-hopped Celebration Ale toward the end of every year.

This year the wait is tempered by the arrival of crisp, flavorful Oktoberfest. It is the second lager collaboration Sierra Nevada has done with a brewery in Germany—this time  Mahrs Bräu, of Bamberg.

I am a fan of the 2015 version made with Brauhaus Riegele. I drank my fair share of it before it left the shelves.

How wunderbar that not only is Sierra Nevada doing another collab, but it turned out awesome.

The 2016 Oktoberfest is lighter, but malty enough, with a blitz of spicy noble hops.

Sierra Nevada indicates that it is brewed with a number of relatively unsung American and German hops—magnum, palisade, saphir, crystal and record, which the brewery says has been “nearly forgotten.”

Nearly forgotten?! I’ve never heard of it, but this scheiss is great!

Just as refreshing as this beer, is the fact that Sierra Nevada continues to do new, genuinely interesting things. I see many veteran breweries throw themselves at cringe-worthy fads or simply go stale.

With a dedication to the beers it makes well combined with a willingness to branch out through Beer Camp and other collaborations like this, Sierra Nevada keeps it interesting and keeps its crown as one of the best in the business. They might even be the first brewery to make a tasteful Oktoberfest-themed game.

This Mahrs Bräu collaboration will likely remain my go-to light lager for the rest of 2016, preferably with some good butterkäse and crackers.

Rating: Glass – Growler – Case – KEG

More on my Sierra Nevada experiences here.

 

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Beer of the Week: Brewing Projekt WISCoast

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Brewing Projekt WISCoast.

I am proud of the brewing scene in Northwest Wisconsin. Breweries are relatively sparse over a large area spanning from the Chippewa River to Lake Superior, but most of the dozen or so make great beer. Some are among the oldest microbreweries in the Midwest—South Shore in Ashland and the one and only brewery in my county, Valkyrie. More recently, Hudson, Hayward, Superior, Menomonie, Somerset and other towns have become home to some skilled brewers serving beer in distinct spaces with great character. Oh, and there’s good old Leinenkugels.

Soon, the region may have its first mid-size craft brewer. After months of negotiating terms with the City of Eau Claire—without little evidence of progress—The Brewing Projekt reached an agreement to move into a larger, vacant space across the street from its current site in the heart of Eau Claire. The news came after a rally attended by more than 500 people, including myself. What a fun affair, with music, great weather and a dozen style-shifting, flavor-packed beers on tap.

It had been an extra-long time coming for these brewers, who had to cut through a considerable amount of red tape just to be licensed to brew, in large part because owner William Glass also owned Fire House bar in Eau Claire.

But where there’s a will there’s a way. Now, the Brewing Projekt envisions its new space as a destination brewery. It is my hope that the “Projekt” will be a stepping stone to making Eau Claire a destination city for beer lovers. Though much different than The Projekt, a block down Oxford Avenue, Lazy Monk Brewing makes superb representations of classic Central European styles—more about that here. Further, K Point Brewing is growing on the south side, Brewster Bros. and, of course, good old Leinenkugels up the road in Chippewa Falls. There are many more within 30 miles of Eau Claire, all serving beer on par in quality as that of most breweries in Madison, Milwaukee or the Twin Cities.

Eau Claire also offers other amenities prized by many beer lovers—an extensive system of paved trails and singletrack for bikers, good paddling waters, Ice Age hiking trail, challenging disc golf courses and a fantastic music scene highlighted by the Blue Ox and Eaux Claires festivals.

But let’s get back to the beer. My first from The Projekt, and a delight during the dog days of summer, WISCoast Pale Ale is a good introduction to the brewery’s distinct lineup.

First of all, having grown up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, I’ll drink anything with a cow on it. Citrusy hops and wheat make this an incredibly fruity, refreshing beer. The Brewing Projekt states, “Crafted to be wickedly crisp and totally refreshing.” Agreed.

Don’t wait for the expansion to visit The Brewing Projekt. Make a day or weekend of it. Eau Claire is very cool.

Rating: Glass – GROWLER – Case – Keg

 

 

Beer of the Week: Summit Keller Pils

 

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Summit 30th Anniversary Keller Pils.

Oh, the sizzingly dog days of summer. As I write, it is hot, humid with a strong south wind that warns that a thunderstorm is coming. Not good weather for doing much, except perhaps cooling down with a refreshing pilsner.

I’ve found none better this summer than Summit’s 30th Anniversary Keller Pils. It is one of four anniversary beers the St. Paul brewery is releasing this year. Given the brewery’s legacy of producing a variety of flavorful, easy-drinking beers in its regular lineup—like the summer-ready Pilsener—I find this one most appropriate and welcome to my taste buds.

Given the rarity of kellers or zwickelbier on American shelves—a damn shame in my opinion—I can only compare this to the excellent occasionally-released Yokel or Zwickel from New Glarus.

German-style Kellerbier is traditionally akin to classic Pilsners in taste, but differs with its hazy appearance and low effervescence. There is also more of a yeasty character and, overall, is bigger on aroma and flavor–seriously, why are there not more kellers?

This beer’s ingredients are somewhat foreign to me, but produce amazing results. The base malt is a traditional Barke Pilsner, which creates a very full body and flavor in this beer. The noble Tettnang and Hallertau Melon hops produce noticeably spicey, floral notes. Summit brewer Damian McConn explains more here.

For me, Summit’s Keller Pils goes down incredibly easy with a satisfying full, zesty finish left tingling on my tongue with every sip.

The heat has ruined my appetite, except for this sweet, crisp, complex lager. I just have to crack open another can.

Rating: Glass – Growler – Case – KEG

 

Beer of the Week: Bent Paddle Black

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Bent Paddle Black Ale.

A rare summer day in Duluth–upper 70s balanced by a cool, gentle breeze off Lake Superior. This after quite literally 8 months of mainly cold weather.

Really a shame I wasn’t paddling a kayak, shredding trails on a mountain bike or hiking to an overlook of the Great Lake on the Superior Hiking Trail.

But I was doing the next best thing, sipping a few cold ones with friends in the taprooms of the Twin Ports. We were in town to celebrate the marriage of two good friends after all.
Home to eight breweries, Duluth has quality and variety that does not disappoint. There are distribution only Blacklist and Borealis Fermentery. Carmody and Dubh Linn add Irish pub options. Founded in 1990, Lake Superior harkens back to the early days of the craft beer boom.

In this most recent visit, I enjoyed quality food, beer and atmosphere at Fitgers (quirky, cool historic building) and Canal Park (beer around a campfire near the lake after dark).
The only better option might have been a deep dish pizza and any number of flavor-packed brews at Thirsty Pagan across the St. Louis River in Superior, Wisconsin.
But that’s a story for another post.

Given the recent expansion of distribution into my home state, I’m highlighting a Bent Paddle beer this week.

Set apart from other Twin Ports breweries, but following the no-food, taproom-first, distribute-second philosophy common to many breweries today, Bent Paddle frankly has a good thing going.

Tucked into a somewhat-shabby part of town in an unremarkable warehouse building, Bent Paddle’s street parking draws many a Jeep/Suburu with a kayaks/bikes on the rack. Inside, a mixed crowd gets into games of cribbage, marvels at a myriad of shiny tanks, all the while filling the ample industrial, yet rustic space with a dull roar of conversation.

The beers share the liveliness of the taproom and the bold, adventurous spirit of the North Shore—e.g. Roof Rack Lager, Harness IPA, Venture Pils and 14º ESB–a two-time medalist at the Great American Beer Festival.

The lineup is solid top to bottom. But needing some dark beer in the fridge as a contrast to many summer lagers and pale ales, I grabbed a sixer of the Black Ale on the way home.

Bent Paddle says, “This Black Ale drinks like a porter but is opaque like a stout. Brewed with a generous amount of oats to round out the flavor.”

I can’t describe it any other way. It seems neither a stout or porter. Black ale is a wholly appropriate title. The beer is jet black with an easy-drinking body, but full roasty, chocolaty flavor.

Such a satisfying beer, I’m going to burn through this six pack quick, maybe while enjoying a hobo dinner of sausage and root vegetables somewhere along the way.

Rating: Glass – Growler – CASE – Keg

Beer of the Week: Central Waters Cassian Sunset

 

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Central Waters Cassian Sunset.

If Goose Island is #1 in the barrel-aged beer game, Central Waters might well be a close second. This is a common ranking in the Midwest.

In my book, however, Central Waters is #1. Granted, I’ve only had two vintages of the original Bourbon County Brand Stout. Reason: 1. Hard to get in Northern Wisconsin 2. Only released once a year 3. I’m not into shelling out extra cash or trading for beer 4. Goddamn InBev.

Alternatively, I can get better than a half-dozen of this Amherst (WI)-based brewery’s barrel-aged beers in a year’s time for less than $15 per 4-pack. This lineup is all affordable, consistent beers with big barrel character.

Granted, this has changed somewhat with tickets to the brewery’s anniversary releases selling out in minutes and the introduction of $40 per bottle Ardis Insignis.

So, is Ardis Insignis worth it?

Hell, I have no idea. I didn’t even bother to enter the raffle because I’m not paying $40 for 22 oz. of beer. Hey, I gotta draw the line somewhere.

No, rather I’ll be reviewing another recent release, Cassian Sunset.

Central Waters says: “A bourbon barrel aged imperial stout with local Emy J’s coffee, whole vanilla beans and cinnamon.”

First thought: “YAASSS! A new Central Waters beer!”

Second thought: “Oh no, they’ve taken a perfectly good BB stout and ruined it with spices and shit.”

You must understand, beers jam-packed with vanilla and/or coffee have almost always ended in disappointment for my taste buds.

Well, I bought some anyway. After all, I could attest to the fact that Emy Js has great coffee, having spent 4 years in college in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. And, Central Waters’ Brewhouse Coffee Stout is a rare exception to my “coffee beers suck” belief.

After my first glass, my suspicions seemed correct. I was ready to give away the other three bottles.

But, the first taste was from a shaker pint glass at a cold temperature. I felt I had done an injustice. So, a week later I had another from a tulip/snifterish glass at the proper temp. Big improvement.

Yes, the coffee, vanilla and cinnamon is there, but remain subtle enough. I still can’t say I’m a fan of these additives, but there is good balance in this beer. I certainly can’t fault Central Waters for trying something new with its tried-and-true barrel aging project.

This beer is, ultimately, another testament to the fact that Central Waters is one of the best in the business.

Too often beers are made extreme for extreme’s sake. Central Waters has certainly jumped in on the popular trends of incorporating barrel aging or huge amounts of sexy hops, fruit, peppers, spices, etc. But the brewery has also shown enough restraint and skill to produce flavorful beer that is also easy-drinking. I was surprised how quickly I finished my glasses of Cassian Sunset.

This supped-up bourbon barrel stout is decadent, like maybe spice cake, brownie and coffee ice cream mixed together. That sounds a little strange and excessive, but damn, I’d be a fool not to try it.

Rating: Glass – Growler – CASE – Keg

Beer Run Episode #5

We had such a great interview with Ryan Verdon of Real Deal Brewing that we couldn’t bear to cut the show down to a half hour. We talk about this Menomonie (WI) nanobrewery’s sessionable English-style beers, as opposed to “Barrel-aged barleywines of death.” Plus, Carl and I review a Porter all the way from Green Man Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina and look back at some classic beer commercials. “It works every time”

Beer of the Week: Surly Xtra-Citra

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Beer of the Week: Surly Xtra-Citra

Disclaimer: I am not a hophead. I don’t go crazy for IBU bombs. I might even say IPA is my least favorite style.

However, every once in a while I get a craving for a crisp, fruity IPA. Such an effect is often created with a good dose of Citra Hops.

A beer company rep I talked to recently referred to the hops as “Almighty Citra” for its popularity and difficulty to obtain in large quantities. Other breweries have had more luck, such as Marz Community Brewing Co.

There are also the hop hanchos at the well-known Minneapolis, Minnesota brewery Surly. Unlike the hop-loving public, I don’t seek out Furious, Abrasive or Overrated often.

But one of the latest releases, Xtra-Citra, had me intrigued. The beer screams summer from its sun-yellow can its sessionably low abv (4.5%) to the obvious fruity, spry Citra flavor.

My fridge void of a light, crisp ale in an adventure-ready can, I picked up four tallboys of Xtra-Citra.

Surly is generous in providing information on the ingredients on its website. The beer pours bright golden with an airy, white head. Fresh fruity, grassy aromas follow. The taste is more of the same. There’s lemon-lime and tangerine fruitiness, and a bitter, grassy, almost-saison like finish, likely helped by the Warrior bittering hops and English ale yeast.

As a showcase for Citra, this ale nails it.

But for this malt man, the citra is a little over-the-top. I like my citra balanced with a fuller body and another flavor/aroma hop like cascade.

Ideally, I’d have this beer on occasions where any fresh, light beer tastes good—on a hot day after manual labor, while fishing, between paddle strokes in a kayak or around a campfire with roasted hot dogs.

Rating: Glass – GROWLER – Case – Keg