Tag Archives: Simcoe

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.

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Summit Extra Pale Ale

Finally, I got my hands on the six-pack of Summit Brewing’s Extra Pale Ale after my last trip to the liquor store ended up with me grabbing a totally different beer. Whoops!

Was it the beer of my memories?

Summit Extra Pale

This beer has been made continually since 1986 and there is a reason why: it’s damn delicious. Like I have said about other seminal beers of the craft beer movement in the United States, beers like Extra Pale Ale must have been revelatory to a drinking community raise on straw colored swill. I know that for me this was the case.

It is interesting to note how a beer with 45 IBU and 5.2% ABV is now considered to be a mild beer in relation to the much more high gravity and hop forward beers of the moment. My new favorite beer-in-a-can, Founders All Day IPA, comes in at 42 IBU and 4.7% ABV. Granted, a beer is not just the product of its raw statistics as anyone who is a fan of dry hopping will tell you. A beer can hit you with a blast of hop aroma and flavor, yet carry none of the distinctive bitterness.

Extra Pale Ale almost seems reserved in its use of hops. Horizon, Cascade, and Fuggle hops are not known as being “in your face” hops like the more in vogue hop varieties that are popular with commercial and home brewers alike. Therefore, when the beer is described as having a citrus finish the flavor is much more subtle than what would be left on the palate with a beer utilizing Simcoe, Amarillo, or Citra hops.

The only downside to Extra Pale Ale that sticks with me is that biscuit notes can come out well done or burnt. It might be like banana notes for me in that I cannot stand the slightest amount so I automatically veer toward hating that aspect.

Extra Pale Ale is a great example of the beginnings of the American craft beer movement and n excellent starting point to examine the evolution of our beer:

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As an aside, Summit’s head brewer Damian McConn has a hilarious BuzzFeed video where he “reviews” a flight of cheap wine. Oh yeah, there is some Boone’s Farm in the house. Check it out here.

Founders Brewing All Day IPA

Beers have gotten big. I do not mean Texas Roadhouse big where a beer comes in sizes approximated by milk jugs sizes. I mean that beers are both big in terms of alcohol and bitterness. When wheat beers are over 6% ABV and 100 IBU is not an uncommon benchmark for a pale ale to meet someone has to say, “Stop the insanity!” Sorry, I went all Susan Powter on y’all.

Founders Brewing out of Grand Rapids, Michigan answers the call to offer something that is just bigger with All Day IPA:

All Day IPA

The description is that it keeps your taste buds satisfied while keeping your senses sharp. At 4.7% ABV and 42 IBU this beer is right in what I consider to be the sweet spot of easy drinking pale ales. Right now I am waiting to tap two batches of my house pale ale which are calculated to come in at about 3.7% ABV and 35 IBU, so All Day IPA was a perfect tester.

This beer lives up to the billing of all day drinkability without putting you face down on the lawn. This does not taste like a watered down IPA at all. Sometimes a “session” pale ale can taste like a cop out where it seems that the brewer just doubled the water in the brew kettle to get down to spec. All Day IPA was a recipe that was obviously purpose built to come in where it did. This is the kind of beer that I think is often overlooked in today’s ever crowded craft beer market and it is a shame.

It is brewed using Simcoe and Amarillo hops, which surprised me a bit because I did not notice the sometimes overpowering flavors and aromas present in both of those varieties. Maybe I am still scarred by a Simcoe dry hopped IPA that still lingers in the back of my throat. Ugh.

Being available in cans also means that you can bring a few to places where regular old bottles or growlers cannot go. And it comes in a fifteen pack. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

I am hesitant to call any beer a truly smashing success, but like Toppling Goliath’s pseudoSue this particular beer hits the spot:

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SMASH American Session Ale

2014 is going to be the year of session beers.  You cannot swing an empty growler without hitting another variation of the theme.  You know how I know it is going to be the hot trend?  The term session has become almost meaningless like IPA before it.

Why meaningless?  You see brewers calling beers session ales that have alcohol levels ranging from under 3% ABV to over 8% ABV.  Bitterness levels are equally all over the map.  This is okay, but it does confuse the beer drinker.  It just requires a little leg work and tasting.  First world problem, I know.

Keeping myself on trend, I brewed up a batch of Northern Brewer’s SMASH American Session Ale:

SMASH IPA

iBrewMaster calculated the beer to be 3.8% IBV and ~48 IBU.  Ignoring the voluminous head of some of the bottles in this batch, it’s a pretty well balanced beer.  The bitterness is about perfect and the dry hopping adds a resinous after taste that lingers just long enough to enjoy without becoming annoying.

The beer could use a little more body to it to balance out the bitterness and “hoppyness.”  I would not suggest upping the alcohol content because I found this to be a very drinkable ale, but I would rather find a way to incorporate a malt structure that has a better chance of supporting the excellent flavors present.

I am a recent convert to the powers of dry hopping.  Between this beer and my recent dry hopped Chinook IPA  I am prepared to forgo my former opposition to the practice as gimmicky and embrace the effort to enhance the flavor or beer.

I did not like this beer as much as the second Chinook IPA, but that is not to say that I did not like this beer a lot.  I have been drinking this beer for the past couple of weeks and the great flavor has been appreciated during this recent cold snap and holiday break.  Even when I was sick and nothing tasted like much else there was something refreshing about a glass of dry hopped goodness bursting through to my taste buds.

In the past I have been leery of the Simcoe hop variety.  Beers I have tried using this hop always tasted like something was burnt or ashtray like.  It was not a flavor in the body of the beer, but something that sat in the back of the throat.  After drinking this beer I am going to chalk my suspicion up to the execution of the brew rather than the ingredient.    It would be interesting to duplicate this recipe using a different hop variety.  Citra, perhaps?

The verdict?

3 Star HomebrewMy New Year’s “beer resolution” is to develop a so-called house beer to have on tap in my newly constructed keezer setup.  The idea is to refine a single recipe rather than trot out singular attempts—dubbed a series of one night stands by a beer writer—in order to really nail down the finer points of that particular recipe.  Brew on.

A Whole Mess of Boulevard

Over Thanksgiving I found myself in Kansas City, which gave me the opportunity to bring home a whole host of beers from Boulevard Brewing.  At a local liquor store I was able to create my own six pack from six different varieties, which is the perfect kind of sampler.

Boulevard has been brewing beer since 1989.  In 2012 the brewery was the twelfth largest craft brewer in the U.S. just ahead of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and just behind Brooklyn Brewery.  When I moved to Iowa in 2001, Boulevard was one of the only craft beers available that was widely distributed and fresh.  Trust me, I went through a lot of six packs that were well past their sell by date in the dark days.

In those days I went through a lot of Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat.  As more beers have become available and my tastes have evolved I do not find myself drinking the beer very often, but that does not dim my fondness nor does it change my pleasant memories.

I decided to sample six beers that I had not ever tried: 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat, Bully! Porter, Pale Ale, KC Pils, Pop-Up Session IPA, and Single-Wide IPA.

Pale Ale is a workmanlike beer:

Boulevard Pale Ale

This beer hits all of the notes when it comes to a pale ale, but nothing stands out in particular about the beer.  I have said this before and I will say it again, the craft beer scene is moving so far forward that well crafted ales that are not standout in any way will get lost in the shuffle for awareness.  That is both a good and bad thing.

It’s good because it means that beer drinkers are getting access to new styles and techniques that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago.  It’s bad because good beers are just not making an impression.  It’s a new and crazy beer drinking world out there nowadays.

I have a real hard time with the trailer themeing going on with Single-Wide and Double-Wide IPA.  There is very little about trailers, trailer courts, or mobile homes in general that make me think about good beer.  Except maybe the insanity that is Trailer Park Boys, but that is another story much better told with a rum and Coke in hand.

Let’s start with the smaller of the two trailers:

Single Wide IPA

There is a lot going on here in terms of hops.  The beer is brewed with Zeus, Bravo, Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe, and Citra hop varieties.  In a world where brewers are showcasing one hop variety in a smattering of single hop brews Single Wide IPA is going the other direction.  It’s kind of a circus in a bottle.  Nothing is over powering and the beer drinks about perfect at 57 IBU.  You get a hop experience without getting tear gassed by alpha acid.

For those of us more mobile, I give you Pop-Up Session IPA:

Pop Up Session IPA

Session IPAs are hot right now.  Session beers are hot in general, but expanding the concept to IPAs is genius.  I have a SMASH American Session Ale in bottles waiting to be cracked this weekend that I cannot wait to sample.

Dropping the alcohol and bitterness, but keeping the IPA style is a great way to make a more approachable beer.  You could think of this style almost as a gateway drug to “bigger” beers.  It would also work well as a summer IPA when the heat is on and you want something a little more complex than a lawnmower beer.

80-Acre Hoppy Wheat, if you could not tell from the name, is a hybrid style:

80 Acre Hoppy Wheat

Wheat beers are generally not thought of as “hoppy” beers.  Generally, this style of beer is considered more a lawn mower beer.  However, what Boulevard has done here with 80-Acre is spot on as a hybrid style.  Granted, at 20 IBU this is not a beer that a true hop head would describe as hoppy but increasing the bitterness really works.  Maybe the lack of a very malty body allows a minor increase in bitterness to really shine.  It kind of makes want to try a dry hopped what beer.  Hmmm…..

KC Pils is a throwback:

KC Pils

This beer totally reminds me of the beers that I cut my drinking teeth on.  Those beers are fading into the brand sunset now as much better craft brews steal market share, but I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the beers served to me in plastic cups at parties in basements and fields.

What about Bully! Porter?

Bully Porter

Porters are getting to be an afterthought in the wide catalog of beer styles in the craft world.  Unless the brewer is a devoted student of the style the results are generally forgettable.  In this case Bully! Porter falls victim to that inattention.  There is nothing wrong with the beer, per se, save for the fact that it is not particularly memorable in any way.  It pours dark, drinks dark, and you move on to the next beer without a second thought.

Boulevard is doing excellent work in Kansas City and I am stoked to see that they are producing some different hybrid styles that do not fall into the convention of “more hops = better beer” school of thought.

In October 2013 it was announced that Duvel Moortgat Brewery of Belgium would be buying Boulevard.  We will have to see what the future holds for Boulevard now that it is part of a larger brewer, but I have faith since these are the same brewers who own Brewery Ommegang.  Although I wonder if it is the first shot in a wave of consolidation and acquisition for craft brewers given the sheer number that are operating today.

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.

Samuel Adams Harvest Collection

Someone should stop me from going to the grocery store without adult supervision.  I stick to the list—one which I made by the way—until the end when I begin wandering the “health market” section where my local grocery puts a lot of the natural or organic products and the liquor store.  For those of you who cannot imagine a full-line liquor store in a grocery store—I am looking at you people in Minnesota—it’s a damn nightmare because so many beer options are just a short stroll away from the produce.

A sampler pack from Samuel Adams got me again.  First it was …? And then it was …?  Now it’s …?  Someone save me from myself.  I think what gets me every time is that these twelve packs contain six different beers, so I am really able to sample some different varieties without much commitment.  That’s it I am a commitment-phobe.  Nailed it!

The six beers in the Harvest Collection sampler were Boston Lager, Ruby Mild, Oktoberfest, Hazel Brown, Latitude 48 IPA, and Harvest Pumpkin Ale.  Enough ink has been spilled about Boston Lager in this blog and every other beer themed outlet to fill several barrels, so I will leave well enough alone.  I usually save the bottles of that beer for visitors less inclined to experiment with a dry-hopped single hop IPA like the most recent creation in bottled in my basement.

Ruby Mild is a nice place to start:

Ruby Mild

The beer is truly mild with a low bitterness (20 IBU) and middling alcohol content (5.6% ABV).  I would be inclined to characterize this beer as an American amber ale, but the description from the brewer puts it more in line with traditional English ales.  The ingredient list supports this classification as it uses hops of European origin and malts more associated with English brews.  Had it been hopped with Cascade or Willamette hops instead of East Kent Goldings the story would have been different.

Nonetheless, it is an enjoyable drinking experience.  European hops tend to be less “in your face” than some of the more well-known American varieties and the flavor profile is a little more mysterious that it lends an air of experimentation when drinking beers hopped in such a way.

Oktoberfest is another European inspired beer:

Oktoberfest

In my neck of the woods when six packs of Oktoberfest inspired beers—particularly the variety from Samuel Adams—hit store shelves several beer drinkers I know stock up for the coming months in the knowledge that it will disappear shortly.

If you read about the beers that are consumed on the Oktoberfest grounds the beers need to conform to three criteria: adhere to the Reinheitsgebot or “Bavarian Purity Law,” have an ABV equal to or greater than 6%, and be brewed within the city limits of Munich.  Obviously, this leaves a lot of room open for interpretation.

Given these criteria, Oktoberfest from Samuel Adams does not qualify.  It’s lower in alcohol (5.3% ABV) and is not brewed within the city limits of Munich.  However, this is America and we are known for not adhering to rules of style.  It’s what makes our beer culture so dynamic.

Regardless, Oktoberfest is an easy drinking fall beer.  It’s almost like the fall equivalent to summer’s lawnmower beers.  It’s easy to sit down by the outdoor firepit on a cool weekend evening and sip a pint as desiccated leaves blow past.

Speaking of fall flavors let’s discuss Hazel Brown:

Hazel Brown

Hazelnuts are one of those holiday delights from my childhood that stick out.  Every year about this time a bowl of mixed nuts in the shell would appear with a couple of nutcrackers on the kitchen table.  After dinner everyone would sit around with a beer or coffee and crack nuts until it was bedtime.  I always loved the delicate flavor of an actual hazelnut.

Too bad everything that is hazelnut flavored loses the delicate part in favor or amped up flavor.  Hazel Brown is no different.  You notice it from the moment that your nose hits the rim of the glass.  It’s like walking into a coffeeshop that is brewing a pot of hazelnut flavored coffee.  It overpowers everything and just sticks to your olfactory receptors.

I was really disappointed because brown ales or nut brown ales are one of the beer styles that I feel has gotten a short straw in the race to produce IPAs of increasing extremity.  Newcastle’s version is one of my formative beer experiences and I have enjoyed brewing examples of brown ales in my basement for a while now.  It’s a great style to brew yourself because it is very forgiving.

Everyone has an IPA nowadays and the Boston Beer Company is no different:

Latitude 48 IPA

In the description of the beer the hops used read like a menu of craft beer hop varieties: Hallertau Mittelfrueh, East Kent Golding, Zeus, Simcoe, Ahtanum, and Mosaic.  The big deal here is the Mosaic variety.  If you believe the hype than this is the next big thing in hops.  Described in different terms as “Citra on steroids” or “Simcoe, only better.”  With such a wide variety of hops included in the beer already I do not know if Mosaic was given a chance to shine on its own.  It seems like it needs to be used in a single hop experiment to really showcase the hop profile.

The other marketing rhetoric with Latitude 48 is that all of the hops are grown near the 48th latitude.  Okay, I’ll bite, why is this a big deal?  I cannot seem to find an answer.

In the end Latitude 48 is like an IPA with training wheels.  It’s okay, but there are literally hundreds of examples of the style that are better.  The beer is supposed to be mid-high in terms of bitterness (60 IBU), but I did not think that it drank anywhere near that which I am attributing to the muddled profile from so many different varieties of hops being used.  Editing is a skill that can be used to produce superior beer.

When the season begins to change pumpkin becomes the flavor of the month.  All right, the whole pumpkin or pumpkin spice flavored hysteria has gotten out of hand because you start to see items appearing at the end of August.  Sorry marketers but August is still very much summer in my neck of the woods.

Nonetheless, pumpkin ales are a big deal for the American brewing community and Samuel Adams has put forth their own example:

Harvest Pumpkin Ale

The first aromas that I noticed were unmistakably pumpkin.  But, it was more like the aroma of pumpkin that is left on your hands after carving a couple of jack-o-lanterns with the kids.

Honestly, I could not get over the aroma as I drank the beer which was really an unremarkable ale save for the pumpkin aroma.  I guess that pumpkin is like bananas for me.  Once I get a whiff, it’s all that I can think of for the duration of the glass.  Granted, I am also the same person that almost gags when I catch the first whiff of a pumpkin spice latte on my infrequent trips to Starbucks when the weather turns cold.