Tag Archives: Surly

Drinking Local in 2019

One of my 2019 “resolutions” was to drink local.  Now, I already spend most of my beer dollars on local beer but I thought it would be instructive if I really went out of my way to drink local and record the results.

Here is how things shaped up for the first three months of 2019:

First Quarter 2019 Beer List.png

Big Grove Brewery, ReUnion Brewery, Lion Bridge Brewing Company, SingleSpeed Brewing, and Exile Brewing are all breweries from Iowa.  The six pack of Denver Beer Company Incredible Pedal was purchased in Colorado, so I am going to count that as local.  Therefore, the only non-local beer that I purchased for home consumption in the first quarter of the year were two six packs from New Belgium and Lagunitas.

Away from home things look a little different.  Most of the beers I consumed were either purchased at the brewery taproom (Barn Town Brewing, Lion Bridge Brewing Company, Big Grove Brewery) or close to the brewery (SingleSpeed Brewing, Clock House Brewing, Green Tree Brewery, Outer Range Brewing, Bonfire Brewing).

I did end up drinking some Lagunitas IPA at an event in Davenport.  This was the most “craft” option available and it goes to show how far beer has come in the last decade.  When you are somewhat disappointed that Lagunitas IPA is the best option you know things are pretty good right now in the state of beer consumption.

The only other non-local beers that I consumed away from home were a Surly Liquid Stardust that I was eager to try when it became available on draft at a local establishment and Roadhouse Brewing Mountain Jam that was recommended to me by a server in a Colorado stop.

Looking back I would say that my efforts were solid.  Only Lagunitas, owned by Heineken, would not be considered a craft brewer under the guidelines set forth by the Brewer’s Association.

Minnesota Beer Odds & Ends

My brother came down last weekend from the Twin Cities, which means that I have a refrigerator full of Surly Coffee Bender.  Additionally, he always brings some other beers down depending upon what he runs across in a trip to the liquor store.

This trip yielded Fulton Brewery’s Sweet Child of Vine and Third Street Brewhouse’s Lost Trout.

Fulton Brewery started operations in 2006 in a garage. Literally, in a garage.  Check out the story here.  The packaged beer that comes from Fulton is actually brewed at Sand Creek Brewing Company in Black River Falls, Wisconsin.  In March of 2012 the taproom opened and beer started flowing that was brewed in the Twin Cities.

Sweet Child of Vine, besides being a great take on the name of a classic Guns ‘n Roses song, is an India Pale Ale:

Sweet Child of VineThe beer is well-balanced, with the alcohol of 6.4% ABV being countered nicely by the 69 IBUS and a strong malt profile.  Unlike a lot of IPAs that blanch out the malt profile to really showcase a lot of hop flavor, Sweet Child of Vine strives to achieve a more English note.  This is no hop bomb blast.

This is a beer that I would really like to try on tap.  Luckily, this beer will be available on tap at Target Field in Minneapolis.  Can’t wait for baseball season to start.  Less than one month until pitchers and catchers report.

Third Street Brewhouse’s Lost Trout was not so successful:

Lost Trout Brown AleA brown ale, Lost Trout drinks too sweet.  Not enough bitterness and not enough alcohol are present to balance out the sweet.  In reality, I do not know if there would be enough of either unless this beer was a high gravity hop bomb and that might not be enough.

Oh well, more beer…



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.

Back to the Madhouse

A while back I wrote about Madhouse Brewing’s Pastime Pale Ale and Honey Pilsner.  Now, Madhouse Brewing is back with Hopburst IPA and Coffee Stout.

Hopburst is described as “balanced with huge additions of our unique hop blend.”  The hops are Warrior, Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo, Citra, and Simcoe. That may set a record for different strains of hops in one beer.  Well:

There is no doubt that this a very hop forward beer.  The description says that the hops are added late in the boil, so there is not the smack you in the teeth hop aroma that you get from dry hopped beers–for better or for worse, you be the judge.

The bitterness (55 IBU) and alcohol (7.2% ABV) are balanced by the malt base, so the beer does not come off as a one note hop explosion or burst, if you will.  Nonetheless, this is a beer you pick up if you are looking for a very particular American style of beer.

If I have one criticism of American craft beer right now it is that brewers are forgetting the other components of beer in favor of being the most extreme in terms of hops.  Rarely do you see a brewer talk about the yeast strains or the base malts or adjuncts.  It is hops, hops, hops…

Nonetheless, I found Hopburst to be an enjoyable beer.  Madhouse’s Coffee Stout on the other hand:

Moderate in alcohol (6.0% ABV) and right at the traditional level of bitterness for a stout (40 IBU) I found this beer to be very unappealing.  The coffee flavor came across as “burnt gas station swill” rather than “coffee house excellent.”  Thus, the beer comes across much more bitter than its IBU would lead you to believe.

On top of the bitterness, the body of the beer was thin.  Ugh.  If you want to taste a beer that does a coffee addition right, get yourself up to Minneapolis for a Surly Coffee Bender.



Bike Trailer Kickstarter

Cargo bikes fascinate me.  I would love to own a longtail bike in the Xtracycle mold.  Maybe a Surly Big Dummy

But, I think these bikes are like owning a F-250.  Sure, I would use the bike on occasion for its intended purpose.  However, a more scaled down solution would be more sensible.  Like a trailer for my Subaru Outback.  I could always went a truck for the two times a year I really need the pickup.

A trailer would be a better solution to my desire to haul cargo or groceries or beer.  Yes, everything comes back to beer.

Most trailers are either too small–intended for small loads on tours–or too large–intended for more industrial applications.  Enter the Kickstarter project from Wandertec…the Tuba:

This is a Goldilocks size…just right.

Everything seems just right with what these folks are bringing to the table.  Interesting.  I can almost see myself towing a load of 22 ounce bottles to a friend’s place behind my Bontrager.


Holiday Beer Musings

Helping my brother move was the good thing to do, but there is always an ulterior motive when I so easily offer my help.  The four hour drive there and back was made worthwhile because of the Twin Cities’ beer scene.

Surly Bender and Cynic Ale

Surly Brewing in Brooklyn Center is a fixture of the Minneapolis craft beer scene.  Not readily available outside of the Twin Cities area I went up to move my brother with the intent of bringing home some beer to drink.

First up is Surly Cynic Ale:

Described by the good people as Surly as “a fizzy, yellow beer in a can” you can rest assured that the beer is much more complex than a can of PBR.    The Columbus hops really come through, in my opinion, in the aftertaste on the back of the tongue.  Not in a bad way, but it is a surprise from a beer that drinks so easily at the beginning.

Second is Surly Bender Ale:

This beer also has some surprises.  It drinks much easier than its color would suggest, almost like the easy drinking stouts.  There is little of the overhopped character that would be suggested by the use of Willamette and Columbus hops.  I was prepared to not be a fan, anticipating an overhopped craft ale but Bender surprised.

Northern Brewer’s Minneapolis Store

During the time I spent in college in Minneapolis, I biked past the Northern Brewer store in St. Paul probably a hundred times and never paid it one lick of attention—different priorities.  Now, there is a store in another of my old haunts near the Crosstown on Lyndale in south Minneapolis.  It is soooo convenient to where I usually stay when I am in the area.

The store is a mecca for the homebrewer.  It has only been open since Black Friday of this year, but the place is in fine form.  This is not the dusty, unorganized shop that many of us have begrudgingly sifted through in desperate hopes of beer nirvana.  Nope, this is the kind of store that could inspire people to pursue homebrewing as a passion.

On strict instructions not to go overboard on ingredients—due to the Belgian wit about to be bottled and the two cases of roggenbier still waiting to be consumed—I walked out with a reasonable quantity of products.  The big experiment for me in my next batch is using Wyeast 1272 American Ale II.  I have had good luck with Wyeast 1056 American Ale, but I was intrigued by 1272’s habit of being more flocculent than 1056.  A concern I have about 1272 is that it finishes “softer” so the flavors might be a little muddier.  The only solution is to brew some up.

You know you have become a homebrew nerd when words like flocculation and attenuation have entered into your normal vocabulary.

Olvade Farm and Brewing Company

At the liquor store, my brother pointed out a corked beer called Auroch’s Horn from the Olvalde Farm & Brewing Company.  Why?  Apparently some people we know in southeastern Minnesota are the ones behind the new brewery in Rollingstone, Minnesota.

When my brother comes down this weekend for the holidays he is going to bring a few bottles.  Report to come.