Tag Archives: Centennial

Revolution Brewing Fist City Chicago Pale Ale

Revolution Brewing is my favorite Chicago brewery—that disaster with the hibiscus ale being excluded—now has new to me—it was available this spring in cans—called Fist City Chicago Pale Ale:

IMG_0521

Described as “a supremely drinkable brew for those who love hops” and I would argue that it is the ideal craft beer replacement for schwag macro lagers that populate dive bars. Yes, I am looking at you Old Style. While I respect the adherence to the Old Style cult that has gripped Chicago since the mid-1980s, which is about the same time the rest of America gave up on the brand, it is time to stake your taste buds to something a little better and a little more local. Firing down pint after pint of super hoppy pale ales does not appeal to everyone, but Fist City could easily slot in as the “go to” replacement for forgettable canned lagers that come in thirty packs. Life is too short to drink beer based on its per can price.

The beer is really drinkable at 5.5% ABV and “just” 40 IBU. Yep, it’s about a percentage point higher in alcohol content than a basic macro lager but it is not a beer that is going to put you on your ass after drinking three of them.

Somehow the brewers managed to squeeze in every hop beginning with a C: Centennial, Citra, Chinook, Cascade and Crystal. Too bad there is not a Chicago hop variety. This leads to a somewhat muddied hop profile where none of the characteristics of any variety stands out. It’s not bad, per se, but it leaves the drinker looking for a particular flavor or aroma wanting something different. Call me a hop head or a beer snob. I like to taste and smell individual and unique hop notes. Yeah, I sound like one of those ass clowns in “Sideways” talking about notes of oak and udon.

Back to the matter at hand. If you need a six pack or thirty pack to take to your next event and want something that can please a lot of people without being boring—yes I am looking at the guy who always beings a twelve pack of Blue Moon to a party—give Fist City a shot:

Purchase 3 Mug Rating

See what others are saying about Revolution Brewing Fist City at Beeradvocate.

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Deschutes Brewery Pinedrops IPA

The second beer that I ended up with because of HyVee’s evil Fuel Saver program was Deschutes Brewery’s Pinedrops IPA:

Pinedrops

This beer pours a lot lighter than Fresh Squeezed IPA. Therefore, I would classify this as a more traditional IPA versus the emerging American Pale Ale style of beer.

However, the light body does not provide a good sounding board for either the alcohol (6.5% ABV) or bitterness (70 IBU). Perhaps it is from the wide variety of hops used— Nugget, Northern Brewer, Chinook, Centennial, and Equinox hops—or the general level of bitterness, but this beer leaves a lingering after taste that is not particularly pleasant.

It reminds me, unfortunately, of a lot of early craft beer IPAs that left you with the feeling of having drank some bong water with your beer. Those brewers were trying to mask deficiencies in skill by piling on flavors and aromas. Having drank well done beers from Deschutes Brewery before I know there is no need for these brewers to be hiding because the talent is present in the brewhouse.

Also, with a name like Pinedrops I was expecting a heavy, resinous profile that almost made you think you were breathing in the air of a temperate coniferous rain forest. Was that too much to ask?

At this stage of the craft brewing industry in America we expect more from our IPAs:

One Mug Homebrew

See what others are saying about Deschutes Brewery Pinedrops IPA at Beeradvocate.

Backpocket Brewing Jackknife APA

The Iowa beer trail stops in Coralville, about a half hour south of my domicile in Cedar Rapids, where Backpocket Brewing makes it home in the rapidly developing Iowa River Landing. Today’s offering is Jackknife APA:

BackPocket JackKnife

Clocking in at a modest 5.8% ABV and definitely non-intrusive 40 IBU—using Centennial and Cascade hops as the backbone for that bitterness—Jackknife is the kind of pale ale, American or otherwise, that would be quite welcome at a fall tailgate.

This is the kind of beer that you hope your favorite bar keeps on tap all the time because it hits a number of notes in an unassuming fashion that makes it an everyday beer:

Purchase 3 Mug Rating

The term “American pale ale” is at the same time foreign and familiar to me. If someone offers an IPA, I have a conception of what that beer should be in my head. Light of body, high in hop character, and enough alcohol to cut through the flavor. Offer me an American pale ale and I will hesitate. What does that mean exactly?

As I see the term get used to describe more and more beers—much in the same way that session is getting applied to beer types of all kinds—my mind coalesces around these salient adjectives or characteristics:

  • Heavier in body compared to a mainstream IPA; Uses toasted or roasted malts to impart a deeper reservoir of flavor to offset hoppy bitterness
  • Fairly mainstream and one-note hop profile; These are not beers that incorporate a half dozen novel hop varieties because that would create a flavor traffic jam with the increase in body
  • Middle of the road alcohol; You may call it session-able because the beer is clocking in below 7% or so in alcohol, but most people would just call it drinkable
  • It should not be gimmicky in any way; These beers are the spiritual ancestors to such crowd pleasers as Budweiser in the red can or Coors banquet just better in every conceivable way

Maybe I am making too much a marketing ploy to get me to pay attention to a beer when the shelves are full of IPAs to the point of confusion. Sometimes the paradox of choice comes into play when I wander the craft beer case.

Too bad this beer is not in cans. It’s the kind of beer you would find in a cooler being passed around after a hike or a bike ride or the aforementioned tailgate. Trust me, tailgating in Iowa City needs a serious upgrade from the generally insipid swill that inhabits the hands of the Hawkeye faithful in the fall.

See what others are saying about Backpocket Brewing Jackknife APA at Beeradvocate.

If you get a chance Backpocket Brewing has a nice taproom and restaurant in the Iowa River Landing area that can be quite lively when the weather turns pleasant and Iowans stream to outdoor drinking venues. By May 1st most of us have thrown off the shackles of winter and early spring in order to enjoy the great outdoors, usually on our bicycles, before the cold creep of winter threatens. This is also known as Big Ten football season.

Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils

I have been harsh to lagers lately. Most of the lagers I try leave my palette with an off taste that is not quite burnt. It’s not musty or soapy either. It’s just an odd flavor that makes me want to pour the beer out and grab the nearest pale ale.

Since I was such a fan and consumer of Dale’s Pale Ale while in Colorado I brought home some Mama’s Little Yella Pils:

Little Yella Pils

What is this liquid masquerading as a lager? It has none of the bad traits I associate with the breed. It, dare I say, drinks smooth like my favorite ales. What alchemy have the brewers at Oskar Blues conducted to create such a monster?

First off, this beer is true to style meaning that it does not employ the use of so-called “adjuncts” like corn and rice. Say what you want about corn and rice in beer, but the traditional recipes used in Europe do not call for the ingredients. These beers also do not use a lot of the ingredients modern American brewers are using to craft stunning beers—yes, I am looking at you Surly Coffee Bender.

Second, the hop bill consists solely of Saaz hops. This is a very traditional hop for pilsners and seems more in place in this style as opposed to more common American craft beer hops like Cascade, Centennial, or Willamette. A pilsner lager is normally an easy drinking beer—hence the use of this style as the backbone of American light lagers that are meant to be consumed in units measured by 24 cans—so a potent hop really interferes.

The end result is a “smaller” beer that begs to be quaffed. I came home from a three hour long hike with my daughter and enjoyed a beer on the patio as the sun was setting. It fit the moment perfectly.

This all kind of surprised me because Oskar Blues is known for being on the more aggressive side of craft brewing. It’s not Stone Ruination aggressive by any means, but several of their beers are pushing higher alcohol and/or bitterness levels. This is not a brewery known for making session beers. Heck, the main line beer—Dale’s Pale Ale—clocks in at 65 IBU.

It’s a malty, not too hoppy easy drinking beer from a brewery better known for trying to knock your socks off:

Purchase 3 Mug Rating

Faux Craft: Colorado Native Lager

What is craft beer? This is a question that is vexing the industry as formerly small batch brewers grow and expand or big brewers make moves into the craft market via mergers, acquisitions, and brand extensions.

Take Blue Moon for example. To most people who occasionally drink beer it is a craft beer. It is not carrying the label of any of the big three—Miller, Coors, or Budweiser—and it is a style of beer that differs dramatically from your typical light American lager. However, for its entire life Blue Moon has been brewed under the aegis of Coors.

Colorado Native Lager is another product, like Blue Moon, that is brewed by a subsidiary under the aegis of Coors. This time it is brewed by the AC Golden Brewing Company—AC for Adolph Coors perhaps—which operates a brewhouse within the larger Coors complex in Golden—hence the Golden in the name.

The marketing gimmick is excellent. It is brewed only with ingredients from Colorado and it is available only in Colorado. Sort of creates the same mystique that Coors had in the 1970s when people would make road trips to the Centennial State in order to bring back a trunk load of the banquet beer. Can you imagine someone doing that now? We would think they were insane.

So, how does the beer stack up:

Colorado Native

First off, I am less and less of a lager fan every day. Some people will claim that the lager style is simpler and that the lack of any overtones from the yeast allows the hops to shine through. I get none of that with lagers. The aroma that gets me is burnt or off in some similar way that I cannot place.

Second, this beer is sweet. Not cider sweet or Smirnoff Ice sweet, but sweet like a shandy without the lemon hit to balance the sweetness somewhat. There is no sugar in the ingredient list, but I would not be surprised if some honey from the San Luis Valley made its way into the fermentation vessel.

Third, for a beer that claims in its hop bill to have Chinook, Centennial, and Cascade there is very little discernible hop flavor or aroma. It is very muddled. Generally, Chinook is a very distinctive hop—especially when used for dry hopping—and the other two hops are distinctive craft brewing staples.

Last, it comes in those silly cans like Coors Light that have a slightly different geometry than any other twelve ounce can in the world. Why is this a pain? Try combining a twelve pack of disparate cans and discovering that some of the cans are just a little taller. God damn it.

Overall, the gimmick of being made in Colorado from Colorado ingredients and available only in Colorado can take the beer just a little bit beyond failure:

Purchased One Mug Rating

In the past I have been harsh to other “faux craft” beers because I think there is something much more to being craft than purely size. It’s an ethos that is separate from the mega breweries that gave us pale liquid sold more by girls in bikinis than the quality of the drinking experience.

Bent Paddle Brewing in the House

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:

Bent Paddle Pilsner Lager

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:

Two Mug Purchase

Bent Hop Golden IPA is another story:

Bent Paddle Golden IPA

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:

Purchase 3 Mug Rating

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:

Bent 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:

Purchase 3 Mug Rating

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.

Summit in Cans

With two vacations coming up and no time at home during the weekend for the next month—yes, four straight weekends of time away from home—I have been hesitant to tap into any kegs of homebrew for fear of leaving them sit too long. Even with Perlick forward sealing faucets the mechanism can get gummy and it seems silly to leave beer under pressure with no one home to drink it.

To slake my thirst for beer I trudge down to the liquor store and wade through the cooler of craft beer hoping to find something to my liking. Imagine my surprise when I came across Summit Brewing’s offerings in cans. Apparently, Summit just began making its beer available in cans in late-May 2014. Here it is in June in eastern Iowa where I went home with a six pack of Summer Ale and Saga IPA.

Summer beers are an interesting breed and Summit’s Summer Ale is no exception:

Summer Ale

Like television networks dumping sub-standard shows on summer audiences rather than risk damage to fall slates I am beginning to believe that breweries do the same thing with summer brews. What is normally a rock solid brewery pumping out solid beer after solid beer and frequently producing outstanding beer will produce a summer beer that is a real letdown.

This is the case with Summer Ale. Billed as a beer for sunny days Summer Ale has odd notes that make me think it could not decide if it wanted to be a lager or an ale. It’s made like an ale, but the aroma and flavor that lingers in the back of my throat makes me think it is a lager. Plus it’s light (4.5% ABV) and not particularly bitter (32 IBU) give it more of a lager like profile.

Summer beers are also saddled with carrying citrus or fruit flavors. Although it is supposed to have a “fruity and floral aroma” I missed that characteristic entirely. At least Summer Ale did not try and pull off any potent fruit flavorings:

Purchased One Mug RatingSaga IPA should really be named Epic:

Saga IPA

This is a hell of a beer. Named after the Norse goddess who was the drinking companion of Odin—I am taking this word for word from the Summit website—this beer could also easily have been named Thor’s Hammer. Coming in at 6.4% ABV and 80 IBU Saga is packing a hell of a punch, but it is not a story about in your face bitterness or booze.   There is so much flavor with this beer.

The menu of hops employed is extensive– Centennial, Amarillo, Citra, and Rakau which is a variety I was heretofore unfamiliar—and dry hopping was also employed to amp up the flavor. With so much resinous aroma and flavor bursting forth you completely ignore the alcohol. This is a moment when I need to warn others not to drink an entire six-pack in a sitting because you will feel it hit you quite quickly. Learn from my mistakes young Jedi.

The only downside that I can think of with this beer is that it was not suited for a hot, humid weekend in June. Saga would be oh so perfect on a crisp to cold fall day with a plate of smoked meat and football on the television. Sounds like a vision. Saga is available as a year round beer for those of you who do not mind the incongruous melding of hoppy beers and high temps.

The verdict on Saga is an uncompromising recommendation on its excellence:

Purchase 4 Mug Rating