Tag Archives: Chinook

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.

Advertisements

New Belgium Long Table Farmhouse Ale

Beer from New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado used to be like a revelation. A twelve pack of Fat Tire Amber Ale was treated like a gift when someone was thoughtful enough to bring some back from the Front Range. Times have changed and I have not been impressed with their recent exploits. Nonetheless, nostalgia will get me from time to time and I picked up a six pack of the recently released Long Table Farmhouse Ale:

Long Table

This a beer that drinks boozy (6.2% ABV) with little bitterness (20 IBU) or body to balance it out. When I think of “farmhouse ale” or a saison I am generally thinking that it will be a lower alcohol beer that is easy drinking. Think light beer with soul.

Long Table has none of that soul. With a small amount of bitterness and no dry hopping there is little hop aroma or flavor. With nothing hitting your nose or tongue your palate is left to deal with a thin beer hitting you in the face with alcohol and esters. There are a lot of peppery notes in this beer, but it comes across like someone just cracked a peppermill over the bottle before packaging.

Long Table tastes like it is a derivative of other similar New Belgium beers. The plan out of Fort Collins seems to read like Hollywood’s—reboots and sequels. When is the reality of what New Belgium is brewing—thin variations on a theme—going to overcome the perception of the brewery—pioneering spirit of American craft industry, environmentally friendly, socially conscious, employee owned, etc.? With breweries in two states and a near total coverage of the continental United States it feels like New Belgium is brewing and marketing toward the middle ground where it is offering little different from the craft labels owned by the macro brewing giants.

If you are an aficionado of thin, boozy beers with little else to tickle your palate crack open a Long Table:

Purchased One Mug Rating

See what others are saying about New Belgium Long Table Farmhouse Ale at Beeradvocate.

 

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.

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.

New Belgium Ranger IPA

It was Memorial Day and I was looking for a beer in a compliant container. I needed beer in cans to satisfy The Man and his desire for safety. Okay, I think that if people are going to be drinking in a public place, like a park, it is a good idea to drink from cans so that no one ends up taking a spill onto some broken glass.

Unfortunately, my go-to canned beer—Founders Brewing’s All Day IPA—was out of stock. Sucked back into the unenviable position of choosing amongst the masses of options my hand fell onto a twelve pack of New Belgium Brewery’s Ranger IPA.

Making its debut in bottles in the first part of 2010, Ranger IPA was part of a wave of beers that started to increase the hop content in somewhat more mass market beers. Prior to this time a lot of hoppier beers were reserved for taprooms and more localized markets.

Several years later, how does Ranger IPA hold up:

Ranger IPA

This beer does not drink as bitter as its 70 IBU rating would suggest. Chinook hops are a smooth addition to any beer and seem capable of imparting a resinous bitterness without overpowering every other flavor. One of my favorite extract recipes from Northern Brewer is the Chinook IPA, which is a single hop beer showcasing that particular variety. In fact, I have a keg of Chinook IPA that should be ready to serve in the first week of June or so.

Ranger IPA is also dry-hopped which leads to a burst of aroma when your nose first hits the glass. With the very resinous notes of Cascade hops you expect a more bitter punch from the beer, but because dry hopping does not contribute to the bitterness it is just not there. It’s kind of a trick that is common to many dry hopped beers. I used to think this was a gimmick, but I have come over to the side of dry hopping and believe that it allows for another layer of complexity in the beer without going down the tastes/smells like a headshop route. No one wants to think they are drinking bong water.

If you can overlook the campy Beer Ranger marketing ploy give it a try. It’s a very good exemplar of a modern American version of an IPA.

Recently I have been pretty harsh on the beers coming out of New Belgium Brewery, e.g. Snapshot or Spring Blonde, but Ranger IPA is somewhat of a redemptive beer for the brewery. It shows that a properly focused beer can come out of a rapidly expanding brewery with national distribution intent.

Purchase 3 Mug Rating

Chinook IPA Redux

This past summer I brewed a batch of a single hop IPA using the Chinook hops variety.   I was a fan of the beer, noting that at ~52 IBUs, as calculated by iBrewMaster, it seemed to be perfectly balanced with its modest alcohol level.

Not being one to leave good enough alone, I recently returned to the same recipe:

Chinook IPA Redux

This time, however, I changed the hopping a little bit.  The recipe actually calls for the beer to be dry hopped approximately one week into fermentation depending upon the activity in the carboy.  For my first batch I did not actually dry hop the beer.  I do not know why exactly.  It probably had to do with some recent sour experiences with dry hopped beers that were over the top in terms of hoppiness.

So, one ounce of Chinook hop pellets were put into the carboy and it was sealed for another three weeks.  The results really speak for themselves.  This may be the best beer that has ever been made by my hands.

Whereas the first batch was a pretty standard IPA the dry hopped version is outstanding.  The extra resinous flavors and aromas, without the accompanying bitterness that would have been contributed via boiling the hops in wort, produce a wonderful assortment of palate sensations.  This is a beer that is never boring.

Slowly I have been coming around to the idea of dry hopping beers.  It is the effect of having tried beers that use the technique to produce a unique beer without being a gimmick.

What would be really interesting going forward is to execute a similar recipe using another variety of hops, perhaps Citra, or play around with some different malts and specialty grains.  As the weather turns toward winter’s cold I might want to see what this recipe would be like using some rye malt.  Hmmmm, winter beers…

On the Iowa Beer Trail: Big Grove Brewery

The thing that blows me away about pulling up to Big Grove Brewery in Solon, Iowa is that it sits on the location of the infamous Joensy’s.  For those of you not familiar, Joensy’s was a grease pit of a restaurant famous for the ridiculous Iowa delicacy known as the pork tenderloin.  Yes, this is the sandwich where the meat patty is three or four times the size of the bun.  I do not know why it is done this way and in over ten years of living here I have not been given a satisfactory answer even from people who have spent their entire lives living in eastern Iowa.

That despicable eatery closed and the building was torn down to make way for Big Grove Brewery.  The same group behind several area eateries is behind this establishment and the professionalism shows. It’s a beautiful space inside.  You can get a great idea of what things look like at the Facebook page.  I did not want to be that guy taking pictures of a place while people were drinking and watching the Iowa Hawkeyes play a lackluster game against Wisconsin.  When the weather goes back to warm I will look forward to enjoying the patio space as well.

I wanted to get a sample of everything that Big Grove had to offer.  Five 6.75 ounce glasses of each house beer seemed appropriate, but too bad for me neither Solon Wheat nor the IPA were available.  Popularity is a helluva thing.  I was able to get pours of the dry stout, Dirty Little Secret, and DIPA (in order from left to right):

Big Grove

Dry stouts are a hard nut to crack.  As beer drinkers we have lots of expectations about what a dry stout should be like due to a large quantity of Guinness being poured down our throats from a young age to the great examples from both Irish and American brewers.  Big Grove’s version hits all the right notes and does not try to be gimmicky in any way.  I find this to be the best way to honor the style because a dry stout is a beer you fall back onto when the weather turns a little colder and you want something that is heartier than a light lawnmower beer but not veering into heavy winter beer territory.  Who am I kidding?  I could drink a dry stout in just about any weather because the style is surprisingly light given its color and the alcohol is never so much that a second pint will not get you into trouble.

I was not a fan of Dirty Little Secret.  It is a strong beer (~9% ABV), but the alcohol just seems to be amped up by the sweetness of the beer.  It was described as being a strong ale with a fruit profile.  It was fruity all right.  Like so many strong “sipping” ales this beer was crossing over into the territory occupied by wine and that has always been something that I did not like.

DIPA was a complete success.  Described as a “double” IPA, the beer oozed with a resinous hoppy goodness.  The beer uses a mix of Simcoe, Chinook, and Warrior hops.  That is a good thing because at 9.7% ABV there needs to be a lot of flavor to balance out that kind of alcohol.  There is also some sweetness present that lingers in your mouth for just about the right amount of time.  I am going to give credit to the locally sourced honey.

As a consolation prize I was also able to get the same size pours of Toppling Goliath’s Golden Nugget and Millstream’s Oktoberfest( in order from left to right):

TG_Millstream

Toppling Goliath is always putting out excellent brews.  If you have a chance to be in Decorah—which if you like mountain biking it is a must do for the region—take a side trip to the taproom.

Golden Nugget fall right into my wheelhouse in terms of beer.  It’s got the alcohol (6% ABV) and bitterness (56 IBU) that are just about ideal for an IPA.  The use of Nugget hops is interesting because I do not know of another craft brewer using this variety.

Recently, Toppling Goliath began packaging their beer for distribution.  This is going to be great because so much of what I drink is consumed at home.  A trip to the brewery or bar is an undertaking with two small children in tow.

Millstream is getting to be like Old Man River of the beer scene in Iowa.  When there were no other local craft brewers Millstream was in operation in Amana putting out a variety of traditional styles.  In the past I have found the beers to be hit or miss, but with the increase in competition I feel like the quality has improved to something much more consistent.

Okotberfest is proof of this growth.  The beer is solid in every way possible.  I do not have a lot to say about Okotberfest style beers because I find them to be the lawnmower beers of fall.  A good one is easy and satisfying to drink without requiring you to put on your thinking cap to decode just what it is that you are drinking.

Another thing that I want to mention is food.  Unlike the simple vittles offered at a lot of taprooms, Big Grove is as much a restaurant as a brewery.  The selection could best be described as upscale or re-imagined American.  Neither my wife or I was in the mood for a meal, so we stuck to some snacks.

Parmesan fries and a tater tot casserole were perfect for a late afternoon lunch replacement before picking the kids up from grandma’s house.  Yes, I said tater tot casserole.  This is not your average Ore Ida tots in some gloppy sauce.  The tots were extra crispy—the sign of fresh and hot oil—over a simple base of local ground beef and sharp cheddar.  Perfect food for a crisp fall day.

The Parmesan fries were fried well, but I do have to say that the Parmesan was probably shredded too early in the day and lost some of its signature bite.  There is a delicate balance with Parmesan and time is not its friend.  Disregarding the lifeless cheese on top, the fries below were excellent—again a sign of a fresh vat of oil maintained at the proper temperature.

I may sound like I am repeating myself, but there is no greater sin in bar food than a poorly maintained fryer.  Oil is not some ever bearing liquid of myth.  It needs to be replaced frequently or it will take on a bad set of flavors that will be passed on to every subsequent dish that is delivered to its maw.  Just watch an episode of Bar Rescue to know how ill-maintained most fryers actually are and it will make you appreciate the times you come across food that has come from oil that was loved.

When I get a chance I will be making a return trip to Solon to try the Solon Wheat and IPA as well as any other specialty beers that are tapped.  It was well worth my time on a glorious Saturday afternoon and it will be worth your time as well.