Tag Archives: New Belgium Brewery

New Belgium Brewery’s Spring Blonde

The liquor store can be a frustrating place for me.  Given that I brew almost all of my own beer now the few times a year when I find myself pacing the beer cooler is an exercise in frustrated decision making.  I want to try something new—a new style of beer or a different brewer—but it seems like the cooler is just filled with derivative beers from a few larger craft brewers.

I went to the section populated by New Belgium Brewery’s offerings hoping to find the newly released Snapshot, an unfiltered wheat beer, or Accumulation, a white IPA.  Instead, the only new beer was Spring Blonde:

Spring Blonde

It’s described as a Belgian-style ale with “drinks malty, sweet and wonderful. And the easy Nugget hopping pedals towards a dry, lightly bitter finish.”  Forgetting for a moment the constant use of cycling metaphors in New Belgium descriptions, I found that the beer was really lacking in delivering any of those defining characteristics in a way that might have been considered intentional.  Sure, there were elements of maltiness and hoppiness but nothing that anyone would write home about.

According to New Belgium, Spring Blonde is a “seasonal” beer so if you want to try your hand at a six-pack you might want to jump soon because it may disappear from shelves quickly as more summertime seasonals round the bend.

In all honesty, the beer came off like a well-executed version of a pale American lager.  Overall, I thought this was a very weak outing from New Belgium.

Purchased One Mug Rating

First August Beer Thoughts

The weather the past couple of weeks has bordered on perfect for Iowa in mid-August.  I am talking about mid-70s during the day, abundant sunshine, and temps that drop into the 50s at night.  Perfect for sitting around a patio fire and enjoying a few homemade beers.

Lefse Blonde Ale

The Lefse Blonde recipe kit from Northern Brewer really intrigued me because it was described as “this Belgian-style blonde ale features the same generous malt profile and spicy yeast character of stronger Dubbels and Tripels, but its more modest gravity means you can enjoy a couple and remain upright and hard-working past Compline.”

For the past month or so, I have found myself imbibing stronger and stronger beers which usually means my nights end earlier and my mornings start later.  Or at least start a little slower.  Nothing starts later when you have two children below the age of six in the house.

The first pour was promising:

lesfe blonde

According to my iBrewmaster calculations this beer have it coming in at ~5.2% ABV and a modest ~26 IBU.  The alcohol in the estimate seems a little high after having had a few pints, however I know that some beers drink lighter than the stated alcohol level would have you believe.  Based on mouth feel alone I would have pegged it at around 4% ABV.  Oh well.

The real winning aspect of this particular beer in the heat of Iowa in August is that it is effervescent.  It’s not just about the bubbles, but having long lasting bubbles in the brew helps.

The recommended yeast was Wyeast 1762 Belgian Abbey II, which according to its description is known for its dry finish.  True to the description the Lefse Blonde really does finish dry and clean.  Not quite lager-like, but much cleaner than American style pale or amber ales.

This is a real winner of a recipe.

Phat Tyre Amber Ale

The Phat Tyre Amber Ale kit, also from Northern Brewer, intrigued me for a different reason.  By the name you can guess that it is a take on New Belgium’s classic Fat Tire Amber Ale.  I remember a time when Fat Tire was not distributed widely in the Midwest and people treated it like some kind of golden liquid from a faraway land.  My father may have talked about a time when people bootlegged Coors from Colorado, but for my generation we bootlegged Fat Tire Amber Ale from Fort Collins.

It looked right after an initial pour:

phat tyre ale

Something however is just not right with this beer.  Even though it used the same yeast as the Lefse Blonde—Wyeast 1762 Belgian Abbey II—the flavor was very different.  I am not talking about the malt profile or the hops, but the flavors that the yeast is primarily responsible like those arising from esters.  Thankfully, the beer does not have that banana smell that I cannot stand.  Nothing will ruin my mood more than having a batch turn out to have banana aromas or flavors.  It does not go down the drain, but it quickly becomes the beer that I serve my guests.

Part of the problem may be that the room in which the beer was fermented probably had temps a little higher than normal.  Another issue may be that Belgian-style beers or ones that use Belgian-style yeasts are prone to developing different flavor profiles over time.  I may just need to allow the beer some extra time in the bottles for the flavors to really mellow or even out.  At least that is my hope.

What’s Next?

Right now I have a batch Le Petite Orange in the carboy.  It is about halfway through its primary fermentation, so I am quite a few weeks away from any tasting.

New Belgium Sampler Seduction

Does every serious beer drinker know the moment when they transitioned from being a casual beer drinker?  I cannot pinpoint an exact moment, but there are two watershed events that definitely signify my conversion from the unwashed masses of pale lager drinkers.

The first was my introduction to Newcastle Nut Brown Ale my first year of college.  Until that point beer had been Old Style or Natural Light or Busch Light…you get the idea.  It was all about copious quantities of questionable quality.  That first bottle of something other than insipid swill was like going into hyper drive on the Millennium Falcon—all rush of starlight and what not.  Okay, maybe it was not just like that but after one bottle there was no going back.  I still have a Newcastle bar mirror in my basement by the homebrew corner as homage.

The second was my several yearlong love affair with New Belgium Brewery’s Fat Tire Amber Ale.  In the dark days of craft beer’s emergence in the United States it was difficult to get many beers outside of their locales.  You could Rogue in the Pacific Northwest or Sierra Nevada in California or Dogfish on the eastern seaboard, but you might be stuck with nothing if you lived in a small college town in southeastern Minnesota.

Fat Tire became like a unicorn or white buffalo.  If a friend was coming back from Colorado…beg some space for a case or two.  Once distribution started in Kansas City my sister-in-law became a conduit every couple of months for sought after six packs.  I used to ration out the beers like a prepper consuming the last bottles of Coca-Cola on Earth.  Once distribution became widespread in Iowa, my love affair waned.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all.

All that being said, I still maintain a special place in my heart for the beers of New Belgium Brewery even if I do not frequently buy them anymore because so many new-to-me options exist.  It’s the same story with Summit Brewing out of St. Paul, Minnesota.  It’s less a commentary on the beer being produced by these trailblazers and more a story about the emergence of so many excellent breweries.  The carboys bubbling away in my basement may also have something to do with my infrequent visits to purchase commercial beer as well.

Light on bottles of homebrew due to my zealous sharing over the Memorial Day holiday, I found myself in the liquor store staring at a sampler pack from New Belgium.  My love of the sampler pack is well-documented.  As is New Belgium’s way the sampler is named a Folly Pack because…well…the marketing department decreed that the theme of the brewery is to “follow your folly.”  I will play along.  This particular Folly Pack contains a beer in the Revival series.  My pack contained Loft, but others this year have contained Springboard, Giddy Up, and 2 Below.  In addition to the Revival series beer the Folly Pack contained Fat Tire Amber Ale, Sunshine Wheat, Ranger India Pale Ale, and Blue Paddle Pilsner Lager.

Fat Tire Amber Ale is a classic:

Fat TireLike Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Fat Tire Amber Ale is a classic that has stood the test of time.  A mild beer (18.5 IBU) with a moderate alcohol level (5.2% ABV) is easy, easy drinking.  Willamette hops provide a nice aroma and lingering bitterness in the back of your mouth that really make you think of “American craft beer.”  It’s hard to imagine a time when a beer with 18.5 IBU would have been considered on the forefront of beer making, but when the choices were Miller High Life or Miller Lite this was groundbreaking.

Sunshine Wheat is even lighter:

Sunshine WheatLike the wheat that is it namesake, this beer pours like the color of recently harvested shocks.  It’s an amazingly light beer (14 IBU and 4.8% ABV) that reminds me a lot of the departed Mothership Wit, which by the way was one the impetuses behind me starting to brew my own beer.

Blue Paddle Pilsner Lager feels like a hop bomb after those two:

Blue PaddleIn relation to the two previous beers, Blue Paddles mild bitterness (33 IBU) and light alcohol (4.8% ABV) comes across more like what we think of as craft beer right now.  Using a hop like Czech Saaz, however, moderates any numerical bitterness because it is such a mild aroma.

Ranger India Pale Ale is a total departure:

Ranger IPAThe drawings of hop clusters should have been the giveaway.  Ranger is a strong beer (6.5% ABV) and fairly bitter (70 IBU), so it was a totally different experience from the other three beers.  The bitterness feels just about right for this kind of beer.  When IPAs start tickling 100 IBUs the bitterness gets overwhelming.  If you have ever had a beer with Simcoe hops, you know it because the aroma and lingering taste in your mouth is very distinctive.

What about Loft?


Apparently, Loft came out in the early 00s but I cannot ever remember seeing this beer on the shelf or on a tap handle.  Described as Belgian pale ale the beer is pretty light (4.2% ABV) and mild (25 IBU).  For anyone who remembers New Belgium’s Skinny Dip this beer will be really familiar.


Friday Linkage 1/25/2013

I have been really slow to post anything the past couple of weeks.  No excuses, just nothing to say really.  Do you ever have one of those stretches of time where you look back on the past couple of weeks and wonder what the heck you accomplished?  If it was anything at all?  Yep, that has been the past couple of weeks for me.

On to the links…

Japan to Build World’s Largest Offshore Wind Farm near Fukushima—Maybe there is a transition underway that comes out of the disaster at the nuclear plant in Fukushima.  I do not know, but this is a step.

LEDs Emerge as Popular Green Lighting—It looks like we have finally reached the inflection point where LEDs are going to be the dominant form of lighting technology.  This is a good thing.

Solar Panel Prices Continue to Slide—The story is not about the price of solar panels anymore.  It’s about the balance of system costs.  The U.S. needs to work on reducing the balance of system costs to speed adoption of distributed solar generation.

Today’s Seafood Special: Pig Manure, Antibiotics, and Diarrhea Bugs—Shrimp never sounded so good?  Our food safety system is a joke because the foxes are running the hen house.  The only way to guarantee a measure of safety is to know as much as possible about the supply chain of your food and strive to keep it as short as possible.  Yeah, it’s hard but this is the food we put in our bodies.

Popular Antibiotic Tainting Minnesota Lakes—Triclosan is just bad crap.  It’s not really effective as an antibiotic and now it is polluting our waterways because people are so afraid of germs that they expect the stuff to be in every product.  It should be banned.  Now.

Why is Coffee So Expensive?—I tend to fall onto the other side of this question and wonder why coffee is so cheap?  If you ever visit a coffee farm—I have visited several on the Big Island and Kauai—the first thing that will be striking is how labor intensive the effort can be.  Sure, a lot of coffee is harvested mechanically but high quality is coffee is picked manually.  Than you see how much of the weight is lost as the coffee bean is separated from the pulpy exterior.  Never mind transit, roasting, etc.  Now you get my point.

Not Just Another Brookylnite with Chickens—It’s easy to pillory the people with backyard chickens or fancy vegetable gardens as elitists, but growing or raising your own food with whatever resources are available to you has always been a fact of life for people lower down the economic ladder from your average hipster urban farmer.

New Pubs Send Profits to Charity—Why not, right?  Like any of these “schemes” however, I wish people would just donate $20 to their charity of choice directly rather than depend on an intermediary who takes a cut.

Saving Tasmanian Devils from Extinction—I have been following the story of the Tasmanian devils for years as the species looks at extinction from a virulent and contagious face cancer.  It’s a wild story.

New Belgium Brewery’s Kim Jordan Chats with the Denver Post—New Belgium Brewery is important in the beer world because it has helped spread the gospel of good beer.  For me, growing up in the Midwest, New Belgium and Summit in St. Paul. Minnesota were the breweries that produced beer that opened my eyes.  It’s always interesting to hear what people at the head of that movement have to say.

New Belgium Brewery Odds & Ends

After my trip to Colorado I was in the mood to sample more of what the brewing’s mad scientists across the Front Range had to offer.  A quick trip to Benz Beverage Depot yielded a couple of interesting beers from New Belgium Brewery: Brett Beer and Prickly Passion Saison.  Both are beers in the Lips of Faith series at New Belgium.

The Brett Beer is first:

The best Belgian beers that I have had try to find a way to balance the malt with either hops or alcohol.  With this beer I think that the New Belgium folks were trying to go the alcohol route—granted the beer is not that heavy—but it comes across as too much.  Like homebrewers who get obsessed with making the most potent brews possible without regard to flavor the Brett Beer just tastes of alcohol to me.

How about the Prickly Passion Saison:

Let me get this out of the way: I did not taste any prickly pear cactus at all in this beer.  In fact, it tasted like a well-crafted saison and nothing more.  That is no mean feat, but the inclusion of any other flavors seemed like a complete marketing gimmick to me.  Maybe my palate is just not very refined.

This seems to be a growing trend in beer land—gimmicks.  It’s no longer enough to produce a well-made beer.  It’s no longer enough to refine your craft to a level that allows the ingredients and method to be showcased in a subtle and surprising way.  Nope, now it is about brewing beer with yeast cultivated from some dude’s beard or uses an insane amount of hops.

With that being said, the Prickly Passion Saison was a good beer.  It was just not worth the extra price that I paid compared with other well-crafted saisons.

Beer Thoughts in a Time of Drought

One upside to living through the worst drought in the past twenty five years is that after a day of ferrying buckets of water to the plants you want to save a cold beer tastes mighty fine.  By the third beer, as the sun goes down, you even begin to forget that your grass is crispy and the dawn redwood you planted earlier in the summer is really having a hard time.  Ugh!

I was brewing a new batch of beer this past week.  As I was pouring the wort into the carboy, my four year old daughter stuck her head inches away from the carboy’s opening and asked, “Daddy, where’s the trub?”  Yep, my daughter knows about trub.  I am proud parent.

American Wheat

For a summertime treat I went back into my homebrew past to brew up a batch of American Wheat using an extract kit from Northern Brewer.  This recipe is the first one that I tried when I began homebrewing almost one year ago.

It’s my opinion that my skills have improved, but only the beer will prove that out:

Well?  I have mixed impressions right now.  My sinuses are burnt—a combination of the heat, allergies, and medication have left them somewhat desensitized—so nothing smells right.  A big part of beers is the aroma and this beer actually smelled burnt.  Literally, it smelled like burnt malt.  I cannot believe that is an aroma from the beer.

It’s easy drinking, which is good in a time of drought.

Patersbier & Mild Ale

The patersbier I brewed up a few weeks ago has been put into bottles and will be ready to drink in a couple of weeks.  One reason why I keep looking at a soda keg dispensing system is that it cuts out the bottle conditioning time.  There is nothing as bad as waiting for a beer to bottle condition.

One step that I skipped with the patersbier was secondary fermentation.  Since no additional ingredients were going to be added I just extended the time in primary fermentation and went right to bottles.  I am not a fan of secondary fermentation because it adds in the chance of contamination.  The color on this beer is very light.  It will be interesting to see how it looks coming out of the bottle.

Also in a carboy right now is a batch of mild ale.  This recipe is very light on hops.  It only calls out 1 ounce of U.S. Fuggle boiled for 60 minutes.

New Zealand and Australian Hops Arrive on the Scene

The more I brew the more I learn about hops.  Currently, the hop varieties from the Pacific Northwest seem to dominate.  How many recipes do you recall that spec out Cascade or Willamette hops?  Too many to count.  But, it looks like the folks from the southern hemisphere are looking to invade the U.S. beer scene.

New Belgium’s Shift Pale Lager, reviewed below, uses Nelson Sauvin variety.  I could not tell you about that particular hop because my palate is pretty weak at discerning the individual notes.

The good thing about this invasion is that it brings more options to the table.  For the longest time I remember every craft beer that I opened being an exercise in restraining my gag reflex because the over abundance of either Cascade or Willamette varieties made me think I was about to drink day old bong water.  A lot of breweries have gotten away from that heavy hand, but the trend is still prevalent.  If you want to experience a blast of hops like no other check out Stone Brewing Co’s Stone Ruination 10th Anniversary IPA.  Not only is it heavily hopped, but it also clocks in at almost 11% A.B.V.  This is a “big” beer.

Variety is the spice of life, right?

New Belgium Brewery Shift Pale Lager

There are times when even the most disciplined homebrewer runs out of beer.  I was one such homebrewer this week.  I found myself facing ninety degree temps and nothing read to drink for almost a whole week.  What’s a guy to do?

Go to the liquor store of course, but this would be the first time in a while that I had made a purposeful trip to the beer section of my local Hy-Vee’s liquor department.  One nice thing about not having made such a trip in a longtime is that there were a lot of new options.  Most of the new stuff from the macro-breweries sounded pretty vile.  Lime-a-rita or something like that from the makers of Bud Light.  Joy.

New Belgium Brewery’s new Shift Pale Lager caught my eye.  When I buy beer I tend to gravitate toward styles that I do not make myself.  Lagers fall into that category because I have not gone to the trouble to devise a fully climate controlled fermentation system preferring the room temperature joy that is ale.

True to its name, Shift is pale in color:

The taste is anything but pale.  Apparently, the beer uses four different hops (Target, Nelson Sauvin, Liberty, Cascade).  The neat trick is that this beer does not taste overhopped like so many other craft beers.  Oh sure, you can taste the hops but the bitterness and aroma are there in the right amounts.  Unlike beers that are heavy handed with varieties like Simcoe or Amarillo, which seem to be the hops of the moment, the mix of four varieties produces something that is more complex than a one note daisy cutter on your palate.

This beer definitely fits into the “lawnmower” category that I do not find derogatory in any way.

It’s available in 16 ounce aluminum cans so it is venue friendly.  This is important in the summertime when the safety police outlaw the presence of glass bottles.

Olympic Beer Controversy

What is the official beer of the 2012 Olympics?  Why, Heineken of course!

Huh?  These games are being help in a country that is home to the Campaign for Real Ale.  A country that has a long history of unique beers is going to be serving pale Dutch swill for the ever so reasonable price of £7.23 or just over $11.  Nothing like laying down over ten bucks for a schwag imported beer in England.

What’s next, ordering a Bud Light under the shadow of St. James Gate in Dublin?

Random Beer Thoughts

Latest Organic American Ale

My second organic American Ale turned out okay.  The hop profile was subdued with some of the aromas associated with more pungent American ales, especially the kind that predominates in the Pacific Northwest.  Here is a look:

I have not noticed a lot of difference between Wyeast 1272 American Ale II and 1056 American Ale.  My palate may not be advanced enough, but the beers taste similar.  The 1056 seems to produce a beer with more of a head and is more effervescent.  It’s about the only quantifiable difference I can pin down.  Maybe it is the preponderance of American style ales I have been drinking lately, thus I find myself…

Tired of American Style Ales

This winter my brewing has focused heavily on American style ales using Wyeast 1056 American Ale and Wyeast 1272 American Ale II with a variety of malt extract, steeping grains, and hops.  After drinking several batches and trying some brews from fellow homebrewers I can safely say that I am tired of the style right now.

With the weather turning warmer—it’s the end March and the temperature in eastern Iowa has tickled the upper 70s—I am looking forward to “spreading my wings” and brewing up something different.  The Innkeeper, an extract kit from Northern Brewer, is in bottles and should be ready in a couple of weeks.  This weekend I brewed up a California Common (a.k.a “steam” beer”) and an Irish Red Ale is coming on right after that.  I think I might try the AK47 extract kit from Northern Brewer and whatever else strikes my fancy, but it is not going to be an American Ale.

The California Common or “steam” beer is a uniquely American beer.  The key feature of this beer is that it is fermented using lager yeasts at ale temperatures.  Needless to say, this results in a style that does not conform to the dictates of either traditional category although there is so much blurring of the lines anymore that the lager versus ale debate is somewhat moot.  Besides, if it tastes good who cares what official style the beer conforms to?

Originally a beer for working class patrons, steam beer was brought back to the modern beer drinker by the Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, which is also the traditional home of the steam beer style.  Compared to the other beers I have brewed the California Common was the most complex.  It involved malt extract added at two different times, hops added at four different times, and will require a secondary fermentation following primary fermentation.  It will also take approximately eight weeks from wort to glass.  Right now it is in the carboy, fully krausened, and bubbling away.

I am very partial to steam beers because it takes me back to graduate school at the University of Iowa where a friend of mine introduced me to a whole range of different beers, including Anchor Steam on tap at the Sanctuary.  Simpler times.

Taste Testing Organic Beers

The folks at Grist have decided to do a roundup of organic beers.  Apparently, New Belgium Brewery is going to be phasing out the high profile organic Mothership Wit.  The overt reason is a decline in sales, but I would say that the decline in sales is in direct correlation to the beer’s total lack of depth or complexity.  It’s a fine pale yellow beer and it’s organic, but that is all that it has going for it right now.  After one pint you sort of look at your choices and move on to something else because there is no point in drinking boring beer.

Organic beer does not have to be boring.  It’s about replacing ingredients, not necessarily cutting out the methodology that can make great tasting beer.  The past two batches of American style ale that I have made had both complexity and lots of flavor yet both were organic—the malt extract, steeping grains, and priming sugar were organic.  The hops and yeast were not.

When a Pint is Not a Pint

How much do we really think about weights and measures?  A pound is a pound, a gallon is a gallon, and a pint is a pint?  Right?

Nope.  According to Jordan Mackay the American pint is just too damned big.  The contention is that the newer ultra-hoppy beers of the U.S. craft beer movement are unsuited to being served in glasses 16 ounces and larger.  I tend to agree with this in principle because most of these beers are not quaffed with near the rapidity of a Pabst Blue Ribbon.

A pint is a somewhat arbitrary measure of beer volume because the variety of what is considered a pint varies dramatically based upon locale.  Get a pint in the U.K. and it is determined by law how much beer is included.  Note: I have a set of Imperial pint glasses from which I drink beer because the glasses can hold 16 ounces of beer with some room leftover for the head.

In the U.S. a pint is generally referring to a 16 ounce glass containing beer.  The Boston Beer Company, the brewer of Samuel Adams and arbiter of all things beer in the U.S., feels that there is something left to be desired in the common glasses used for beer consumption in this country. 

I do not know if I agree with the technical merits of one glass over another as I tend to enjoy beer in all its serving vessels be it pint glass, red Solo cup, das boot, or straight from the can.

Backyard Hops

This just makes me want to order some hop rhizomes from Northern Brewer, build a trellis, and get to growing my own hops in my backyard.  Keepin’ it local!

Cellar Raid

There is something strange about finding four years of a beer “vintage” in a local beer shop, let alone having the newest vintage and receiving an older vintage from a friend.  I have never been one to let a beer age for any period of time or to really enjoy the merits of beer that is aged outside of some of the sour beers being produced by craft brewers all over the U.S.

Maybe this is the next evolution in my beer education.

Waste into Something Else

WTF?  Breweries use 400 million tons of grain a year and most of it is thrown away!  I am glad the macro-beer and purveyor of thin lagers Anheuser-Busch is trying to find a use for the stuff.  I think New Belgium in Fort Collins has already beat them to the punch in using brewery waste in a bio-reactor to generate electricity, but somehow A-B will get a lot of credit for following.  Granted, the impact will be big.  It’s still a copycat.