About the only thing good to come out of a quick trip to Minneapolis for a funeral is that it gives me a chance to pick up beers that are unavailable to me in eastern Iowa. This usually translates into a run on four-packs of Surly, but I branched out this time.
Summit Brewing is a staple of the Minnesota craft beer scene. Founded in the mid-1980s, Summit has been cranking out high quality beer since. I think this long run of quality, however, often makes people overlook the beers the people at Summit make because you do not think of them in the same vein as the new crop of craft brewers. Just because they have nearly three decades of success does not mean that they are irrelevant.
Quite the contrary. Beginning in 2012 Summit embarked on a major expansion that will double the annual capacity to 240,000 barrels. Just think about that scale for a moment. The accepted definition of a craft brewer is one that brews less than 6 million (!) barrels per year. Even with a major expansion the good folks at Summit are not even close. Wow!
However, scale is just part of the story. Summit has been and is continuing to push the boundaries of beer. I picked up a pack of Meridian Session Ale which is part of the Union series:
At 4.5% ABV and 32 IBU, Meridian definitely qualifies as light enough to be a “session” beer. This particular beer is heavy on the citrus notes. It’s not veering into gimmick territory, but if you do not like lemon then I would steer clear. Part of the story with this beer is that it uses a new-ish hop variety called Meridian. The story behind Meridian is that it was the happy accident of an attempt to resurrect a variety of Willamette. I did not notice anything particularly earth shattering about the hop profile in Meridian.
BTW, a note on the packaging. A while back I lambasted the Third Shift Lager from the faux craft Band of Brewers for its use of plain cardboard as a sop to the DIY aesthetic of the craft beer movement. It looks like the Union series is also using a similar packaging which is a major departure from Summit’s other six-pack carriers. Granted, Summit is going through a bit of re-branding so this new package fits with some of the new logo designs. Maybe it’s the wave of the future.
No trip to the Twin Cities is complete without a little Surly. Not being able to get this canned goodness outside of the Twin Cities metro area turns me into a hunter of Surly when I am in the vicinity. It does not help that I forgot the arcane Minnesota blue laws that prohibit the sale of real beer on Sundays. Why?
I ended up with a package of Surly Furious and Overrated. Somehow, I have not talked about Furious previously which is odd considering it is one of the brand’s year-round beers and sort of the flag bearer for the brand:
Maybe it’s me or something that the brewers at Surly are doing, but despite a 99 IBU I did not think this was an overly hoppy beer. It was balanced by a mildly high alcohol (6.2% ABV) whereas similarly bitter beers I have seen from other brewers are easily over 7% ABV and some are starting to breach 9% ABV. Also, the hops are a blend of Warrior, Ahtanum, Simcoe, and Amarillo. Maybe not focusing on one signature hop—like 100 IBU of Willamette or Cascade—mellows the hop profile somewhat and makes the beer eminently more drinkable.
Whatever the reason I was surprised by how easily a can of Furious would go down despite of what the numbers told me.
On the other hand, there is Overrated:
From the second you open the can and begin your pour the distinct aromas of West Coast IPA assault your nose. Put the glass up to your lips and the headshop is right there in your glass. Granted, from the description on the can it seems like the brewers at Surly wanted to make a beer that kind of poked fun of the entire West Coast IPA beer scene. Why else make an intentionally hoppy beer and call it Overrated?
It’s not a bad beer. It’s just not what I have come to expect from Surly, which seems to take its location in the Twin Cities seriously and produces beers that are appropriate for the place. This is something that I think is lost on a lot of craft brewers. It’s one thing to pursue your craft and attempt to brew the best possible beer on the planet. However, each beer has a place and what is enjoyable on the northern coast of California will not be as enjoyable on Psycho Suzi’s patio. It’s not that one beer is better than the other, but that each has a place where it is more suitable. Just like a stout tastes better on a cold winter afternoon with a bowl of soup and a chilled wheat beer cannot be beat when the sun has fried your brain after a day of working in the yard.
Sorry for the moment of Zen.