Tag Archives: pilsner

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.

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Revolution Brewing A Little Crazy Ale

What is an American Pale Ale? Better yet, what is a Belgian American Pale Ale? When will this insanity stop? We should just start calling beers with crazy varietal names by something completely arbitrary so that it no one is any more confused by sign posts like pale ale or porter or stout or pumpkin peach ale.

Revolution Brewing brews a so-called Belgian American Pale Ale called A Little Crazy Ale:

A Little Crazy Ale

This beer will surprise you at a somewhat boozy 6.8% ABV. Even more surprising is that it drinks a lot more balanced than its middling 35 IBU would lead you to believe. Dry hopped with Citra and Cascade hops there is the presence of hop resins and aromas that do not contribute to the bitterness and help in balancing out the beer’s alcohol.

A Little Crazy is definitely “malt forward,” which accounts for the Belgian in its name. The brewery says that it is golden in color, but I would aim for a little darker hue like copper or amber when describing this particular brew. It is also carbonated a little lighter than more common American Pale Ales, which again I think contributes to its Belgian character. There is definitely some old world influence on this hybrid.

Be careful with this beer because it can sneak up on you. After a few you realize that this is not a session ale and you will find yourself wishing you had ordered a water that last round to clear your head a little bit. Grab a six pack and enjoy on a cool summer evening by the fire:

Purchase 3 Mug Rating

See what others are saying about Revolution Brewing A Little Crazy at Beeradvocate.

Backpocket Brewing NewBo Pils

Backpocket Brewing is getting to be known as the brewery of choice for collaboration beers. Recently, they have released a Swabian Hall Smoked Brown and Raygun IPA with the store of the same name in Des Moines. Today’s offering is NewBo Pils:

NewBo Neighborhood Brew

A while back the NewBo City Market, which rose out of the 2008 flood to become a hub of activity in the revitalized NewBo Arts district in downtown Cedar Rapids, collaborated with Millstream Brewery out of the Amana Colonies to make a pale ale. I wrote about the beer here.

This offering is a different beast. Instead of an ale, NewBo Pils is a pilsner. Pilsners fall under the lager family of beers which forms the other side of the beer world along with ales. Now, this beer is interesting in that pilsners are a traditionally Czech style of beer and the NewBo City Market is across the Cedar River from Czech Village. See the connection?

Pilsners, particularly summer pils, are supposed to be a crisp beer that you can drink as the temperature stays elevated into the evening. Served cold these are the ultimate lawnmower beers.

NewBo Pils pretty much nails that description.  For me, pilsners have an aftertaste that I somewhat disagree with and that I cannot place accurately.  It’s not the smokey or piney aftertaste of an IPA or the lingering mouthfeel of a high gravity porter.  It’s just something off.  It could be NewBo Pils or Natty Light.  The off aftertaste is present.

Here is the thing, pilsners are the style of beer that was bastardized by the mega-brewers to produce things like Miller Lite and Budweiser and Pabst Blue Ribbon. If you spent any time in a basement in college drinking beer from a keg you know the fundamental taste profile of a pilsner. Please do not say pilsner lager either. It’s just like saying tuna fish. A pilsner by definition is a lager.

Until someone comes up with something really daring or different a well done pilsner is going to taste like a well done Budweiser. This is not damning or faint praise, but it is the reality of the style. Now that lagers are the new frontier of craft brewing according to some and brewers are getting their feet underneath them from a technical perspective given the intricacies of brewing lagers there may be some exciting new beers to try that really push the envelope.

However, until that time comes to pass craft lagers are going to taste like well-done examples of America’s favorite style of beer:

Two Mug Purchase

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

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.

Taking a Trip Down Deschutes

Here’s the thing about the craft beer “scene” in the United States in 2013.  You can walk into any moderately curated beer section, even grocery stores with well-run liquor departments, and find really good beers that you had not heard of until that day.

Take Deschutes Brewery out of Bend, Oregon.  Until I walked into HyVee and saw a monster display of six-packs I had never heard of the brewery that I could remember.  Beer festivals do not count because by hour three of samples a lot of the breweries begin to meld into one amorphous picture due to the quantity of breweries and brews.

I took a flyer on four six-packs because I hate friends coming over and my latest two batches of homebrew—a Lefse Blonde and Fat Tire clone—are not done bottle conditioning.  It also helped that the six-packs were a manager’s special for the Fuel Saver program.  Each six-pack got me 10 cents off per gallon at my next fill up.  Yeah, I got marketed.

Started in 1988, so this is the twenty fifth year of brewing, Deschutes Brewery is actually one of the major players in the craft beer scene.  According to some estimates it is the fifth largest craft brewer and the eleventh largest brewery in the U.S.  Okay, my source was Wikipedia.  Busted.

I walked out of the store with a six-pack of Chainbreaker White IPA, Twilight Summer Ale, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, and Black Butte Porter.  Let’s talk about them in that order starting with the Chainbreaker White IPA:

Chainbreaker White IPA

First off, I am a sucker for any beer that references bicycles.  It’s something in the DNA of anyone who spends a lot of time on a bike that they will also probably love beer.  Spend some time around the moving carnival that is RAGBRAI and you will understand that there is some connection.  Thousands of people on bikes in the height of an Iowa summer fueled on little more than fried food and cold beer.  I digress.

In general white or wit beers are not synonymous with the characteristics on an India Pale Ale (IPA).  The white beers are known for clean profiles and citrus/spice notes while an IPA is known for body and hops.  Mixing the two styles is a really interesting idea that works pretty well.  I would have classified this beer as a hopped up white beer rather than an IPA, as the name indicates, because the body of the beer just screams white ale.  Even though there are some pretty strong hop aromas and flavors, the light body does not allow them to linger very long so the effect is somewhat transitory.  For that reason the beer drinks a lot lighter than its alcohol (5.6% ABV) and bitterness (55 IBU) might suggest.

Chainbreaker White uses four different hop varieties, but the one that has me the most intrigued is Citra.  This particular variety has been showing up in a lot of craft beers and homebrews.  The last two times I have tried to order recipe kits using the hop it has been backordered.  A trip north to Minneapolis may be required so that I can get my hands on some to experiment.

Twilight Summer Ale is also a kind of hybrid:

Twilight Summer Ale

Craft beers brewed for the summer season are truly something that is very welcome.  At the start of the craft beer renaissance, it was like people expected you to drink heavily hopped and malted beers even in the heat of a Midwestern summer.  Sorry guys, but something lighter is appreciated.  Over the past few years brewmasters have really obliged our summer palates.

If Chainbreaker White IPA had an ensemble cast of hops than I guess Twilight Summer Ale is working from the Robert Altman script by including Northern Brewer, Amarillo, Cascade, Tettnang, and Brambling Cross.  Even though it is only one of the five varieties used, you can really taste the inclusion of Amarillo.  Like Simcoe, Amarillo is a variety whose flavor and aroma can cut through even the heaviest hand elsewhere in the brew.  At times this can be a detriment to the beer because it overwhelms subtler notes, but not with Twilight Summer Ale.  The inclusion of Amarillo brings hop aroma and flavor to the beer without imparting too much bitterness and making you feel like there is a Lucky Strike stuck in the back of your throat.

Surprisingly, Mirror Pond Pale Ale does the opposite of Chainbreaker White IPA and Twilight Summer Ale:

Mirror Pond Pale Ale

This beer drinks heavier than its alcohol (5% ABV) and bitterness (40 IBU) suggests.  If you put both Chainbreaker White and Mirror Pond in paper bags to sample I am sure that most people would point to Mirror Pond as the “heavier” beer.

Maybe it is on account of Mirror Pond relying solely on Cascade hops rather than a mix of four hop varieties.  I have found that single hop beers tend to really accentuate the “hoppiness” of that particular variety in a manner that is outsized compared to its stated bitterness.  It is like the undercurrents in aroma and flavor that might get lost in an ensemble shine through like a saxophone solo.

The other culprit is probably the malt.  Pale malt is heavier in body than either pilsner or wheat malt so Mirror Pond is going to have a heavier body, which may confuse the palate as to which beer is bringing the hops to the party.

Nonetheless, Mirror Pond is a very successful take on the classic American Pacific Northwest pale ale.  This style of beer, along with amber ale, are the standard bearers for the American craft beer renaissance.

Black Butte Porter is not a summer beer:

Black Butte Porter

Obviously, as a porter this is a dark beer.  It is also a heavy beer, more so than its alcohol (5.2% ABV) and bitterness (30 IBU) would dictate.  It is nice to see a porter not be overly bitter because it allows for the roasted and chocolate flavors of the malt to really shine.  I think a lot of porters and stouts are given a healthy dose of hops to mask the bitter flavors from roasted malts.  It takes a deft and delicate hand to get the right amount of flavor from roasted malts without making the beer reminiscent of burnt marshmallows around the campfire.

What is really nice about moderately bitter porters is that the beers are allowed to be creamy and even “bready.”  It’s an odd adjective “bready,” but I think that it describes the near chewiness from heavy bodied beers that do have a correspondingly heavy bitterness.  Maybe there is a reason a lot of beer champions refer to the product as “liquid bread.”

It is fairly obvious from my comments above that I came away impressed with the work that Deschutes Brewery is doing.  As the fifth largest craft brewer in the United States, it’s also apparent that a lot of other beer drinkers are thinking the same thing.  Go out and give them a try.

Giving Credit where Credit is Due

One of the good things about people knowing that you are a “beer hound” as I am is that your gifts tend to center around beer during the holidays.  Seems logical right?

When someone comes from Colorado or Minneapolis they tend to bring me a few 22 ounce bottles of something I cannot get in Iowa or a trunk full of Surly Coffee Bender—thanks to my brother who really came through this past weekend with a nice delivery of Twin Cities-centric beers.  However, what does someone local do who wants to bring a host gift to a little holiday season get together?  The answer appears to be a Samuel Adams sampler pack:

Sam Adams Sampler Box

Offhand I kind of scoffed at the idea of Sam Adams.  Why?  I have no idea, honestly.  I put them in a category of craft brewers who have gotten so big that they have left behind some of the craft and adopted some of the macro.  I think that this is an unfair characterization.

No, this is not a New Year’s resolution to be a kinder and gentler me.  Rather, it is a realization that there is a lot of credit due to the vanguard of craft brewers who have ridden a wave of popularity to become quite large in the last few years.  I usually think of New Belgium and Sierra Nevada because both of these breweries were at the forefront of my awakening in terms of beer—the transition from Pabst Blue Ribbon and Hamm’s to Fat Tire Amber Ale was a jarring life transition—but Sam Adams should be on that list as well.

Perhaps more than any other craft brewer, Sam Adams and the parent Boston Beer Company has done more to propagate improved beer throughout the United States.  Furthermore, the vanguard of craft brewers has really opened up the minds of beer drinkers to different styles and ingredients in a way that would have been unimaginable without their efforts.  Can you picture one of the macro giants pursuing a sour ale brewing regimen?  Nope.

Let’s start with where it all began:

Boston Lager

It is hard to imagine a beer world where Boston Lager is not part of the landscape.  This beer has moved out of the purely craft domain and become something different.  When you are an option on the menu at Red Lobster you have reached a certain critical mass.

The beer is good.  It’s like a historical exhibit on where the craft beer movement started and you can understand how the movement evolved in one glass.  Here is a beer that came out in the late 1980s that had a full, foamy head, a dark color, and a considerable—for the time—hop profile.  At a time when people considered Michelob to be a premium beer, a pint of Boston Lager must have been a slap to the teeth.

Boston Lager stands up well to the times because it is well executed.  The Winter Lager feels like an evolution of Boston Lager:

Winter Lager

Utilizing a single variety of hops, Hallertau Mittelfrueh, Winter Lager has an easy drinking flavor that pairs well with the season.  Unlike a lot of “winter seasonals” this beer lacks the overpowering spice aroma and flavors that brewers pile on to make a beer for the cold months.  Dare I say that Winter Lager is a subtle brew?  I think that I would.

Old Fezzwig Ale is like a cousin to many of the homebrewed ales that I make:

Old Fezzwig Ale

Using Hallertau Mittelfrueh and Tettnang Tettnanger, the same in Boston Lager, produces a beer with a hop profile similar to what I make in my basement.  I mean that as a compliment, by the way, because I have an unabashed love of the beers I craft myself.

The inclusion of an ale is a nice counterpoint to a lager.  What’s the difference?  Ales and lagers represent the two families of beers whose primary difference is the type of yeast used for fermentation, which dictates the method of fermentation.  The primary supposed difference is that lagers produce fewer yeast derived flavors as opposed to ales because of lower fermentation temperatures allowing for a better expression of malt and hop flavors.  Considering that the variety of styles with the ale and lager families are so varied this distinction is becoming less important every day.  Let it be known, however, that the Miller Lite you hosted at that tailgate was a lager.

Holiday Porter is another ale:

Holiday Porter

It’s a pretty well-executed porter.  This style of beer is great during the cold months if the components are balanced.  Too often, a brewer will use the dark base as a platform to showcase a lot of alcohol and a lot of bitterness.  I have seen porters—and stouts for that matter—with IBUs above 100 and ABVs over 8%.  That is a lot of beer.

In truth, I would have liked to see Holiday Porter with less alcohol—blasphemy says the peanut gallery.  Hear me out.  Beer makers are tripping over themselves to make stronger and stronger beers—witness Bud Light Platinum—without really considering if it something that people really want.  I am not advocating for a hard cap on the alcohol in beer or anything, but brewers could learn that a little less alcohol can go a long way to providing a nice canvas to show some unique and subtle flavors that might get lost in a bigger beer.

Two of the beers included in the sampler pack were not so successful: Chocolate Bock and White Christmas.  I’ll address them in a descending order of approval with the bock first:

Chocolate Bock

This beer totally lacked any bitterness to counteract the sweetness that hits the tongue from the inclusion of cacao nibs.  There is a fine line to be walked with very dark beers when it comes to the interplay between sweet and bitter.  It is one of the reasons that I usually dislike milk stouts.  The inclusion of a non-fermentable sugar gives the beer a sweet thickness that I find unappealing.  This beer has many of those same characteristics.

The Chocolate Bock was a winner in comparison to White Christmas:

White Christmas

Sold as a white beer with spice notes for the holidays, White Christmas is one insipid liquid.  First, at 5.8% ABV there needs to be some body and bitterness for balance.  However, there is none.  The beer is very light in body—as you can see by the color—and lacking completely in bitterness.  So, there is a strong alcohol flavor and aftertaste that ruins everything from the first drink.

White ales are a hard beer to execute well, in my opinion, because the brewers instinct to go over the top is not rewarded as it might be with a stout or an IPA.  What usually results is a beer that is less than the sum of its parts in a major way and ends up getting poured down the drain.