During my recent trip to the Twin Cities over the July 4th holiday I got a chance to stop at the excellent Four Firkins in St. Louis Park. If you get a chance and you love beer then a trip to this beer lover’s nirvana is a must. The store is chock-a-block full of beers from around the world, but of particular interest to me were the Minnesota made beers that I do not have access to just a few hours south in Iowa.
Bent Paddle Brewing has intrigued me for months. The word coming out of people who had visited Duluth, Minnesota was that this small brewery—along with other breweries in the area—was producing great beer. Founded just over a year ago in May 2013, Bent Paddle Brewing’s reputation has grown steadily making me a thirsty guy.
True to their backcountry paddling—i.e. canoeing for those who did not grow up with visions of the BWCA in their heads—ethos the beer from Bent Paddle Brewing comes in cans. Why? Cans are lighter than bottles, do not shatter, and in most places bottles are not allowed because of the risk of glass breakage. Plus, cans crush down nice and easy for transport back to civilization. Leave only footprints, right?
I ended up with three beers from Bent Paddle: Venture Pils Pislener Lager, Bent Hop Golden IPA, and Paddle Break Blonde. I am going to take these beers in that order starting with Venture Pils:
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I am done with pilsner lagers. As a style of beer I find that the difference between a well-executed version and Natural Light is getting surprisingly slim. I also find the style to be sorely lacking in anything approaching interest. All of the beers seem to taste the same and that flavor brings me right back to high school or my first couple years of college when sucking down Busch Light was considered the height of a weekend’s entertainment. Oh how times have changed.
This is not to say that Venture Pils is a “bad beer” in any way shape or form, but if I am going to go out of my way to get a craft beer from a different brewery I want something with a little more originality than a pilsner lager. That being said, someone could pick a six-pack of Venture Pils and be very happy that this was the beer they were drinking beside the water while their friends are crushing Coors Light.
Overall, I am going to say that it is middle of the road and built not to offend:
Bent Hop Golden IPA is another story:
It is amazing to me that a beer with a mid to high alcohol content (6.2% ABV) and bitterness (68 IBU), which would have been considered extreme a few years ago, is positioned as a volume style brand staple. In this regard Bent Hop delivers.
Eschewing the more traditional malt profile—using pilsner, 2-row, and crystal malted grains as opposed to a primarily 2-row and crystal—Bent Paddle starts off with a different flavor base that is unique without being overbearing. If you poured this out of the can into the glass someone would probably think you were firing down an apricot or pumpkin beer instead of an outstanding IPA.
No single hop flavor or aroma particularly stood out on its own, instead the beer has more of a bouquet of flavors and aromas. While I appreciate the dedication of a single hop IPA as a showcase for a single set of flavor and aroma there is a definite skill in blending hops over the course of several additions to build a complementary set of flavors and aromas.
Pick up a can or ask for a pint of Bent Paddle Golden IPA and you will not be disappointed:
Lately, I have been down on “summer” beers because I think they are aiming for a lower common denominator of flavors. Plus, most of these derivative beers tend to be lagers which I am quickly slotting into my “dead” category of beer styles. Bent Paddle took a different approach and gave us Paddle Break Blonde:
It’s a summer beer by way of Belgian blonde ale. This is what a summer beer should be. It’s light to the palate (20 IBU), but packs enough of an alcohol punch (6% ABV) that you are not going to need to take more than a few before you’re ability to operate machinery of any kind is severely impaired. In fact, it could have stood to come in a little lower in alcohol so you could have more than a few if you so desired. I guess it stays cold up in Duluth a little longer than anywhere else in the Midwest so I am going to cede that style decision to the brewers.
Unlike Bent Paddle where a lot of the character of the beer comes from the hops, in Paddle Break the Belgian style yeast is allowed to shine by giving off esters of flavor that would have been lost in a “bigger” beer. It drinks clean and leaves you wanting more:
If you happen to find yourself in Duluth make a stop at the Bent Paddle taproom and enjoy their wares. You will be glad that you made the effort. At the very least, if you find yourself in the distribution area take the time to seek out a six pack or more. Again, it is worth the effort.