Review: Blacklist Verte

By Ryan Urban

Last winter on a trip to Duluth, Minnesota, I made the goal to visit all of port city’s breweries. Bent Paddle, Canal Park, Fitgers and Lake Superior all offered distinct spaces and great beers.

After browsing Blacklist’s lineup, I searched the Internet earnestly to find its location. I was, of course, disappointed to find it didn’t have one. It was an increasingly-rare contract brewery only.

But, I received a serendipitous consolation, finding Or de Belgique on tap at the Tavern on the Hill restaurant.

I had never heard of Blacklist before that weekend, and had no real expectations.

But I was blown away at first sip. The beer is a malty 9.5% Belgian Golden Strong Ale with all the wonderful complexity associated with the best in the style–Honey, lemongrass, pear, banana, spice and more.

This past January, I visited the Twin Ports again. A quick “Google” revealed that Blacklist now had a taproom. It became the first stop.

In a long, but spacious building with minimalist reclaimed wood trim and barrel-based tables, my female companion and I enjoyed being waited on by a helpful server.

An export stout—simply titled Dark–caught my eye, and proceeded to please my palate. But what next?

Though it wasn’t on the menu, I asked for Or de Belgique, hopeful there was a bottle somewhere. No such luck. But the server pointed to Verte, which he said was Or de Belgique with some extra dry hopping. I took a bomber to go.

I popped it a week later, and was not disappointed.

Dangerously easy-drinking, Verte has the marvelous complexity of the original, with an added dimension with tangy aroma and dryness from the Saphir hops.

I’ll be seeking another bottle on my next trip north. Paired with a salmon plank would be perfect.

Glass – Growler – CASE – Keg

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Beer Run Episode #7

To listen now, click here. Or enjoy our blog recap first.

Beer Review: Ale Asylum Oktillion

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Not to be confused with this Disney villain—though we didn’t get her name right.

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We talked Oktoberfest variations.

Oktoberfest beer

Drink up the best of Oktoberfestbiers before they’re out of season.

In Brew News:

Self-Driving Truck’s First Mission: A 120-Mile Beer Run
World’s longest pub crawl: Maths team plots route between 25,000 UK boozers
Voldemort buys Northern Brewer and Midwest Supplies

Interview: Isaac Showaki of Octopic/Third Sign.

 

We gave a shout out to our good friends at the Handy Homebrew Show!

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Matt Paulson of the Handy Homebrew Show and our very own Carl Cooley.

Kick back, uncap and listen to our full episode below. Cheers!

Beer of the Week: Valkyrie Big Swede

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Valkyrie Big Swede

I live in a beer desert. I live in a town of 8,000+ that doesn’t have a brewery. I lived here 5 years before any place even offered an IPA or stout on tap. One Wisconsin brewmaster once told me Barron County is where craft beer goes to die.

But there has always been a single saving grace. Twenty miles down some county roads lies a beer Valhalla at Valkyrie Brewing in Dallas, Wisconsin.

When I think of Valkyrie, I think of small town charm, unique beers and nice people.

When entering Dallas, it would seem the last place to have a craft brewery, much less one that’s been around 22 years. With a population of 400ish, there isn’t much happening in Dallas. There’s a gunsmith shop, antique store, post office, fire hall, one bank, one gas station, a church, a park, a restaurant, another bar and Valkyrie. But owners Randy and Ann Lee keep the beer flowing for cheap ($1 for 8 oz.), served with smiles and hearty laughs that would make anyone feel more than welcome in their taproom, which is adorned with medieval weaponry.

When I think of VaIkyrie, I also think of truly one-of-a-kind beers. A Valkyrie beer never reminds me of another beer. There’s a smoked Marzen (Whispering Embers), coffee milk porter (Warhammer) and black licorice IPA (Raven Queen). Some are more traditional, like the Velvet Green Irish stout, Night Wolf schwarzbier and Abbey Normal tripel, but they are still all their own.

One of my favorites—right up there with Warhammer and Berserk Barleywine—is the Big Swede Swedish Imperial Stout.

What makes it Swedish? I’m not sure, but it has all the hallmarks of delicious big black stout. Loads of caramel, vanilla and booze all the way down. A year in the fridge makes it all the better.

It will be a go-to this winter while the brewery is closed (January and February). Make a trip before then to stock up. The best time is this weekend at Dallas Oktoberfest, featuring a kubb tourney, 1860s baseball, polka band and weiner dog races!

Rating: Glass – Growler – Case – KEG

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: 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 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: Base Camp S’more Stout

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Base Camp Brewing S’more Stout.

For those who love beer and love to travel, naturally, beercations are a must.

I’m heading to Asheville, North Carolina this week. I can only hope the trip is as good as the one I took last fall, visiting the Pacific Northwest. I spent most of my time in three legendary beer towns—Bend, Portland and Seattle.

I have many great beer memories from the trip. I watched the sun set behind the Three Sisters mountains—after climbing South Sister earlier that day—with a few hoppy ales and an amusingly drunk mother-daughter combo at Crux Fermentation Project in Bend. I talked politics with an odd duck of an old man at the hole-in-the-wall taproom of Wingman Brewers in Tacoma, Washington over a P-51 Porter.

But the best company I had in my travels was my cousin Bean—real name Jenny, short for Jelly Bean—who lives in Portland. After not seeing each other for 3-4 years, we reconnected in perhaps the best way possible—over beers. We had an absolute blast meeting other people’s pups at the Lucky Labrador, marveling at the $1,500 Dave at Hair of the Dog and enjoying a warm night from the comfort of the Bailey’s Taproom patio—so much in fact we swiped a couple glasses, either just for laughs or for a memento of the many laughs we had that night.

Perhaps the most distinct taproom we visited was that of Base Camp Brewery, themed to recreate the feel of a remote mountainside. Also distinct was the S’more Stout. I had high expectations, but did not expect my glass to have a perfectly roasted marshmallow as a garnish. Given a quick scorch from a blow torch, the marshmallow was a delightful touch on a great beer.

I feel a little strange about this review, having just found out about this incident, but I won’t hold it against the beer. It was also one of the few beers I had on my beercation that I could find in the Midwest—in a sleek, 22-ounce, aluminum, bottle-shaped can no less.

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Despite the badass vessel, having it a second and third time does not compare to the first. Beer is always better in a taproom near where it was made, especially if enjoyed with good company and maybe a toasty garnish.

Regardless, this stout is rock-solid with plenty of roasty and chocolaty notes and a smooth, sweet finish. At 7.7% it is middle of the road for a stout and a good beer to stuff in a backpack on a hike out to quiet spot under towering trees and bright stars. I’ll build a fire and have a cold aluminum cup in one hand and a sticky s’more in the other.

Rating: Glass – Growler – CASE – Keg

Bonus photos from Bend!