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Friday, April 23, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. LII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the stout-hearted men and women of Glen Lake Wine & Spirits.

When you think of Stillwater, Minnesota beer is not the first thing that comes to mind. Book stores, coffee shops, antique stores, bed and breakfasts, and neutered metrosexuals carrying their wife's purse about town do. Oh, did I mention that our own Brian "Saint Paul" Ward is also a proud resident of Stillwater?

But there are still a few manly men in the greater Stillwater area including the founders of the Lift Bridge Brewery. They've been on the local beer scene for a few years and the reach of their distribution and breadth of their offering continue to grow. One of their year round beers that's becoming more and more available throughout the Twin Cities is Crosscut Pale Ale.

Brown bottle with light brown label featuring a nostalgic photo from the days when the men of Stillwater were really men.

Beer Style: American Pale Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 5.5%

COLOR (0-2): Golden amber. Slightly cloudy. 2

AROMA (0-2): Light hops with hints of grapefruit. 2

HEAD (0-2): White shallow head with decent lacing. 1

TASTE (0-5): Hops and caramel malt flavors are pretty well balanced out of the gate. More bitter and citrus flavors as it unfolds. Medium bodied with a thinner mouthfeel. Very drinkable. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Lingering bitterness. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Doesn't fit the usual American pale ale profile. More amber in color and more of the hoppy grapefuit taste you would expect from an IPA. Different is good in this case and Crosscut Pale Ale is an above average beer. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14


Friday, April 16, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. LI)

Another edition of Beer of the Week, brought to you as always by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can remove the fear and loathing from your liquor buying experiences.

Along with the beer itself, every Beer of the Week review also includes a look at the package that it comes in. The color, shape, and design on the bottle or can is part of the overall experience of enjoying a beer. Often, those brewers that devote the time and care to what's on the outside, also produce a quality product on the inside.

When it comes to the label itself, few can compete with the Maryland's Flying Dog Brewery. Every Flying Dog beer has a unique and attention grabbing label. If you think you've seen that look before, you probably have:

The rebel artist that creates all of Flying Dog's beer labels was introduced to Flying Dog owner George Stranahan by his long-time friend Hunter S. Thompson.

Ralph Steadman is the man who brings that "Gonzo" look and attitude to Flying Dog's labels. While it's difficult to describe, you definitely know it when you see it. And that we get an extra helping of that Gonzo look with Flying Dog's Snake Dog India Pale Ale.

The label has a reddish-orange label and features a bizarre, psychedelic snake-dog figure who looks like it would be right at home in one of Thompson's drug-induced hallucinations.

Beer Style: India Pale Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 7.1%

COLOR (0-2): Golden copper, mostly clear. 2

AROMA (0-2): Hoppy citrus. 2

HEAD (0-2): Off-white color. Good lacing and retention. 2

TASTE (0-5): Strong hops with marked bitterness. Lighter fruit and pine as well. Thinner-bodied which is a little unusual with the strong flavor profile. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Somewhat light and hollow. 1

OVERALL (0-6): A solid if unexceptional IPA. Workmanlike in that it covers the basics for the style, but doesn't really wow you in any way. Like most IPAs, it does make for a good beer to pair with most foods. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13


Friday, April 09, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. L)

Son: Wow dad, you must have reviewed like fifty beers of the week by now.

Dad: Nothing to be proud of son...

[pauses as son walks away]

Dad: [proudly]...Fifty beers...

Yes, believe it or not, this is the fiftieth installment in our Beer of the Week series. When Dan, the owner/operator of Glen Lake Wine & Spirits first suggested the idea of a weekly beer review, I doubt if either of us would have imagined that it would continue this long. But we're still going strong and with new beers coming onto the market almost every week, I don't see why it won't continue for the foreseeable future.

While I know that a lot of our readers don't live anywhere near the store, I would encourage those in the area to stop by Glen Lake Wine & Spirits when you get a chance. For a small, independent businessman like Dan there isn't going to be any government bailout to help him get through these tough economic times. In fact, with the increasing burden of regulation and the prospect of higher taxes right around the corner, it's probably tougher than ever to run a small business. His livelihood is solely based on the patronage of thirsty customers like you and he wants to do whatever he can to earn your loyalty.

Now, I'm not saying you have to do all your booze buying from your friendly neighborhood liquor store. I occasionally patronize some of the local chains (with the notable exception of one with an acronym name whose data collection polices have caused me to boycott their stores entirely for the last seven, eight years) and there are times when filling your liquor needs really is all about location, location, location. But one thing you should never do is shop at the municipal or "muni" liquor stores. What business the government has in being in the booze selling business in the first place is beyond me. But what's really appalling about munis is that they don't have to operate under the same regulations (many that are relics left over from the immediate post-Prohibition era) that privately owned liquor stores do. Government monopolies competing against private business on an unlevel playing field? Pretty easy call to make on whom you should support.

Okay, enough with the preamble. Let's get down to the business at hand. This week's beer is a newcomer to the Twin Cities market. Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon has been cranking out quality craft beers since 1988. But it was only of late (as in the last few weeks or so) that any of their product could be found on local shelves. We welcome Mirror Pond Pale Ale to Minnesota and hope it's a prelude of more to come.

Brown 22oz bomber bottle. Label has a tan background with oval picture depicting a glass-surfaced pond in the foreground and snow-capped mountains in the background.

Beer Style: American Pale Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 5.0%

COLOR (0-2): Dark gold and clear. 2

AROMA (0-2): Pleasant floral hops. 2

HEAD (0-2): Bright white and full. Good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Nice combination of moderately bitter hops with sweetly mellowed malt flavors. Light to medium-bodied with a slightly oily mouthfeel. Very drinkable. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Smooth yet tasty. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A very good example of an American Pale Ale. The flavors are subtle, but well balanced and rounded. Even though it came from a bottle, it had something of the taste and feel of a draft to it. The drinkability and smoothness make it a great summer ale option. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 15


Friday, April 02, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. XLIX)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the faithful folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help bring some life into your Easter Weekend.

Some may think it a tad sacrilegious to continue the Beer of the Week series on a day as holy as Good Friday. But there's no reason that beer and Christianity can't be compatible. From the Patron Saints of Beer to the monks who used strong beer to see them through their Lenten fast, Christians and beer have a long history together.

If the monks were looking for a hearty Lenten beer today, they might find this week's beer to be a good fit. From Big Sky Brewing in Missoula, Montana we have Bobo's Robust Porter.

Plain brown bottle. Label is has the standard big Sky look with a less than robust looking scrawny mutt in front of snow capped mountains and big blue sky.

Beer Style: Porter

Alcohol by Volume: 6.2%

COLOR (0-2): Deep black. How much more black could it be? None more black. 2

AROMA (0-2): Roasted malt with some chocolate and coffee. 2

HEAD (0-2): Voluminous, foamy brown. Good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Similar to the smell with roasted malt flavor followed by chocolate and coffee. Some light hop bitterness as well. Medium bodied with a creamy mouthfeel. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Silky smooth and dry. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Porter is one of my favorite styles and this is definitely a good one. Sometimes porters--like a good dessert--can be too rich to the point where they almost leave a sour finish. They might taste good after the first sip, but by the time you reach the bottom of the glass, you've had more than enough. That's not the case with Big Sky's Robust Porter. It's well-balanced and combines fairly strong flavors with a nice smooth finish. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16

May all of you enjoy a blessed Easter. And if you gave up beer for Lent this year, may you especially enjoy the end of your long fast.


Friday, March 26, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. XLVIII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help put the wind in your sails.

When it comes to the world of micro beers, the Full Sail Brewing Company in Hood River, Oregon is an oldy but a goody. Like some of the other craft brewers who have been on the scene for a while, there's a tendency to take Full Sail for granted at times. You tend to overlook their solid lineup of well-made beers that are among the most widely distributed.

So this week we stop and smell the roses with Full Sail's Amber Ale.

Simple brown bottle. When it comes to label, you can appreciate how much thought Full Sail puts into their graphic design. The neck label features a gorgeous outdoor scene with sailboats and canoes in the foreground at Castle Rock in the Columbia River. The main label has a great retro look with the Full Sail logo, beer name, and other information in classic font and stylish shapes with a light wood-grain background. Simply lovely.

Beer Style: Amber/Red Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 5.5%

COLOR (0-2): Rich dark amber. 2

AROMA (0-2): Mostly nutty with some malt, but weak. 1

HEAD (0-2): Off-white color, good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Toasted malt flavors with carmel and nuts. Pretty light on the hops. Medium-bodied and drinkable. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Smooth finish but a bit empty. 1

OVERALL (0-6): An above average amber ale. Not terrible exciting, but very solid. A good, tasty, accessible micro choice if you're looking for a six-pack to bring to a party that will refresh without slowing you down too much. If you have friends who like Leinie Red, this is a much better alternative that shouldn't frighten them off. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13


Friday, March 19, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. XLVII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week, brought to you as always by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who believe that bitterness belongs in your beer, not in your life (hear that, Atomizer?).

One of the first beer styles that I embraced when I started to appreciate the glory of craft beers many years ago was India Pale Ale. The hoppy, bitter flavors of IPA as well as its rich history--the heavier hops better preserved the beer for the long journey from England to India--help set it apart from macro brews and gave it a special appeal that I still appreciate today. During my regular visits to the late great Sherlock Holmes brew pub in Minnetonka, their version of the IPA was my second favorite selection after Bishop's Bitter.

Over the years, I've quaffed many a quality IPA with some of my favorites brewed by Rush River, Anderson Valley, Tyranena, Mendocino, Full Sail, Highland, Sierra Nevada, Bell's, Surly, Mad River, and Founder's. I've also had plenty of Summit IPA, although I don't enjoy it as much as others because it's too rough around the edges. One of the measures of a truly excellent IPA is its ability to bring out the hoppy, bitterness while maintaining a smooth finish. You want to enjoy the rich flavors, but you want some subtlety as well and that's where Summit IPA misses.

Over the years, I also learned more about India Pale Ale itself. For instance, the origin of the name itself isn't quite as clear cut as had been previously believed:

IPA descends from the earliest pale ales of the 17th century. The term "pale ale" originally denoted an ale which had been brewed from pale malt. The pale ales of the early 18th century were lightly hopped and quite different from later pale ales. By the mid-18th century, pale ale was mostly manufactured with coke-fired malt, which produced less smoking and roasting of barley in the malting process, and hence produced a paler beer. One such variety of beer was October beer, a pale well-hopped brew popular among the landed classes, who brewed it domestically; once brewed it was intended to cellar two years.

The October beer of George Hodgson's Bow Brewery was the world's first India Pale Ale. Bow Brewery beers became popular among East India Company traders in the late 18th century because of the brewery's location and Hodgson's liberal credit line of 18 months. East Indiamen transported a number of Hodgson's beers to India, among them his October beer, which benefited exceptionally from conditions of the voyage and was apparently highly regarded among consumers in India. Bow Brewery came into control of Hodgson's sons in the early 19th century, but their business practices alienated their customers. During the same period, several Burton breweries lost their European export market in Russia because of new tariffs on beer, and were seeking a new export market for their beer. At the behest of the East India Company, Allsop brewery developed a strongly hopped pale ale in the style of Hodgson's for export to India. Other Burton brewers, including Bass and Salt, were anxious to replace their lost Russian export market and quickly followed Allsop's lead. Likely as a result of the advantages of Burton water in brewing, Burton India Pale Ale was preferred by merchants and their customers in India.

Demand for the export style of pale ale, which had become known as "India Pale Ale," developed in England around 1840 and India Pale Ale became a popular product in England. Some brewers dropped the term "India" in the late 19th century, but records indicated that these "pale ales" retained the features of earlier IPA. American, Australian and Canadian brewers manufactured beer with the label IPA before 1900, and records suggest that these beers were similar to English IPA of the era.

Hodgson's October beer style clearly influenced the Burton Brewers's India Pale Ale. His beer was only slightly higher in alcohol than most beer brewed in his day and would not have been considered a strong ale; however, a greater proportion of the wort was well-fermented, leaving behind few residual sugars, and the beer was strongly hopped. The common story that early IPAs were much stronger than other beers of the time, however, is a myth. Moreover, porter shipped to India at the same time survived the voyage, and common claims that Hodgson formulated his beer to survive the trip and that other beers would not survive the trip are probably false. It is clear that by the 1860s, India Pale Ales were widely brewed in England and that they were much more attenuated and highly hopped than porters and many other ales.

So IPA's popularity among the British in India may have had more to do credit terms and simple taste preference rather than because it was the only beer hoppy enough to survive the journey.

There are also many variants on the style. In addition to the classic English IPA, you now can also savor American IPAs, Double (or Imperial) IPAs, Black IPAs, and perhaps even Triple IPAs. Clearly not all IPAs are created equal.

In the past, Colorado's New Belgium Brewing had largely worked within the boundaries of their name by producing quality beers in the Belgium tradition. Which admittedly left them with a lot to explore and they've done that quite nicely. But they have never really gone to the hoppy end of the beer spectrum. Until now, with the release of Ranger IPA.

Standard brown New Belgium bottle. Simple yet attractive brown and green label with a big ol' pile of hops under the bold Ranger name.

Beer Style: India Pale Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 6.5%

COLOR (0-2): Clear amber-gold. 2

AROMA (0-2): Hops & tart citrus. 2

HEAD (0-2): Bright white, full. Good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Strong hop flavors with grapefruit, a little pine, and a touch of sweet malt. Medium bodied and drinkable. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Bitter, but still smooth. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A well-rounded IPA offering. A decent amount of hoppy bitterness without going overboard. A beer that would work well with burgers or steaks on the barbecue. Goes down fairly easy, yet still packs a flavorful punch. Nice to see that New Belgium can do hoppy too. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16


Friday, March 12, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. XLVI)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you courtesy of the chivalrous crew at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who treat every customer like nobility.

When you break down its ingredients, beer is not an overly complicated libation. The four primary elements are water, yeast, malted barley, and hops. Some beers do substitute corn, wheat, or rice for barley. While the cereal grain used and the way it is prepared can influence the taste of the beer and while fruit or herbs may also be added, the main determinate of the flavor--in terms of taste and aroma--of most beer is the hops. Hops also help to preserve the beer. Both the quantity of hops (the more hops, the more bitterness) and the type of hops used make a difference. While most people are probably familiar with just a few kinds of hops (Cascade, Fuggles) there are a large variety of hops that brewers can choose from.

In a particularly distinct category are the noble hops:

The term noble hops traditionally refers to five varieties of hop which are low in bitterness and high in aroma. They are the central European cultivars, Hallertau, Tettnanger, Spalt, Polish Lublin and Saaz. They are each named for a specific region or city in which they were first grown or primarily grown. They contain high amounts of the hop oil humulene and low amounts of alpha acids cohumulone and adhumulone, as well as lower amounts of the harsher-tasting beta acids lupulone, colupulone, and adlupulone.

Their low relative bitterness but strong aroma are often distinguishing characteristics of European-style lager beer, such as Pilsener, Dunkel, and Oktoberfest/Märzen. In beer, they are considered aroma hops (as opposed to bittering hops); see Pilsner Urquell as a classic example of the Bohemian Pilsener style, which showcases Noble hops.

As with grapes, land where the hops were grown affects the hops' characteristics. Much as Dortmunder beer may only within the EU be labeled "Dortmunder" if it has been brewed in Dortmund, Noble hops may only officially be considered "Noble" if they were grown in the areas for which the hops varieties were named.

Which brings us to our Beer of the Week, Samuel Adams Noble Pils:

Samuel Adams Noble Pils is brewed with all 5 Noble hops for a distinct hop character and fresh taste. Deep golden in color with a citrusy hop aroma, Samuel Adams Noble Pils is a traditional Bohemian Pilsner. The honeyed malt character from traditional Bohemian malt is balanced by delicate yet pronounced citrus, floral, and piney notes from the Noble hops. The winner of our 2009 Beer Lover's Choice election, this beer was chosen by over 67,000 drinkers for its crisp complexity and refreshing taste.

Standard Sam Adam's brown bottle. Label is also the usual Sam Adam's style with lots of hoppy green garlands to welcome Spring.

Beer Style: Pilsener

Alcohol by Volume: 5.2%

COLOR (0-2): Golden and very clear with noticeable carbonation. 1

AROMA (0-2): Light but a pleasant combo of hops and malt with hints of citrus. 2

HEAD (0-2): Bright white. Fades quickly but has good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Again, a nice balance of malt and hops. Fresh and crisp with moderate bitterness. Lighter bodied with a thin mouthfeel. Very drinkable. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Clean finish with lingering bitterness. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Another surprisingly good spring seasonal and one of the better pilseners out there. This is definitely a beer that will get you thinking about and longing for the warm weather of spring. Is actually well-suited to be quaffed well into the summer too. Refreshes without sacrificing flavor. Great choice to go with outdoor grilling. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14


Friday, March 05, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. XLV)

This week's edition of Beer of the Week brought to you as always by the sprightly folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help put the spring back into your step.

While we're just beginning to see the first hints of spring in the weather, the beers of spring have already made their presence known. When you look at the seasonal selections on the shelves, it's apparent that winter is passing into memory and spring is the hot new thing.

Of the all the seasonal varieties, the beers of spring are usually my least favorite. Most spring beer offerings seem to be a variety of the bock style. While I like some bocks, they are often more on the malty sweet side of the flavor spectrum. I tend to be partial to the more hoppy, bitter beers and so don't usually welcome the beer that accompanies spring nearly as much as the weather.

We'll see if that pattern continues to hold true with this week's beer. Sierra Nevada Glissade Golden Bock:

As winter begins its slide toward the sunny days of spring, we bring you Glissade Golden Bock to help you enjoy the ride. Glissade is a remarkably mellow take on the traditional spring bock. With restrained sweetness, we emphasize subtle malt flavor, balanced against delicate aromas of spicy and floral European hops. This complex balance helps Glissade slide across the palate--bracing us against the last cold nights of winter, while its bright golden color turns our thoughts toward spring.

Standard brown SN bottle. Dark khaki-green colored label features a mountain valley in spring framed by hops.

Beer Style: Helles Bock

Alcohol by Volume: 6.4%

COLOR (0-2): Golden and a bit cloudy. 2

AROMA (0-2): Sweet malt with a hint of hops. 1

HEAD (0-2): White, thick off the pour with good retention and lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Sharp with a burst of bitterness. More hoppy than malty which is not typical of bocks. Medium body with thin mouthfeel. Good drinkability. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Crisp and clean finish. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Not what would you usually expect with a bock. More hoppy and bitter flavors and less of the sweet malt give it more of a sharper lager taste. I was pleasantly surprised by this beer and, as promised, it's a good choice to celebrate the coming of spring. Faster please. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14


Friday, February 26, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. XLIV)

This special end of the Winter Olympics edition of Beer of the Week brought to you Glen Lake Wine & Spirits, a venue that can help you own the podium in your life.

Since Canada is the host country for the 2010 Winter Games, I thought we should feature a Canadian beer as the games come to a close. And since Vancouver is the host city, a beer from British Columbia would make be an appropriate selection. Which leads us to Kokanee Glacier Beer brewed by the Columbia Brewery which is owned by Labatt Brewing which turn is now part of the Anheuser-Busch InBev global beer conglomerate. Which is a pretty good foreshadowing about what kind of beer to expect.

Brown bottle. Blue and silver label features an imposing snow covered mountain peak that's breaking outside the label boundary.

Beer Style: Lager

Alcohol by Volume: 5.0%

COLOR (0-2): Very light gold & almost completely clear. 0

AROMA (0-2): Faint odors of sweet malt. Not much to work with. 1

HEAD (0-2): Bright white. Not much volume with no lacing. 0

TASTE (0-5): Crisp with light malt and slight corn flavors. A lot of carbonation with a light body. Very drinkable. 2

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Clean with a light finish. 1

OVERALL (0-6): This is a technically classified as an "American adjunct lager" a.k.a. a macro brew. For what it is, it's not bad. Pretty bland, but inoffensive. I'd prefer it over a Bud, Miller, or Coors, but if I'm going to have to pay for a Canadian macro I'd rather go with a Labatt's or even better a Moosehead. No medals here. 2

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 6


Friday, February 19, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. XLIII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the fine Americans at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help you strike gold as you watch others experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

The question of which state sits atop the craft brewing hill is one likely to elicit passionate and lively debate among American beer lovers. As I've noted previously, Michigan's prowess in this area cannot be underestimated. California fields a craft brewing bench that's wide and deep, although given the state's relative size--geographic and population wise--that probably is to be expected. Washington and Oregon both have and storied craft brewing histories and when taken together as the Pacific Northwest, it's difficult to imagine another region of the country besting them. But when it comes to one individual state standing alone, the arguments for Colorado's claim to the craft brewing crown are difficult to refute.

In terms of both quantity and quality, Colorado ranks among the best. New Belgium Brewing's Fat Tire may be the best known craft beer from Colorado, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to Fat Tire, New Belgium brews a number of other quality craft offerings. And the list of other Colorado craft brewers is lengthy. Avery, Boulder, Breckenridge, Fort Collins, Great Divide, Left Hand/Tabernash and Odell are breweries that immediately come to mind. Plus Colorado has a slew of brew pubs throughout the state and again it's not just the quantity, it's the quality. The ones that I've had the opportunity to visit are among the best in the country, pairing good food with great beer.

The Colorado brewing scene is not just concentrated in the larger areas either. You can often find breweries and/or brew pubs in some of the smaller towns, especially in the mountains. Places like Idaho Springs with a population just under 2000. Home to our beer of the week, Pick Axe Pale Ale from the Tommy Knocker Brewery Company. In case you're curious, there's more to the meaning of the name than merely what the fevered imagination of Stephen King has brought us:

The Knocker, Knacker, Bwca (Welsh), Bucca (Cornish) or Tommyknocker (US) is the Welsh and Cornish equivalent of Irish leprechauns and English and Scottish brownies. About two feet tall and grizzled, but not misshapen, they live beneath the ground. Here they wear tiny versions of standard miner's garb and commit random mischief, such as stealing miner's unattended tools and food.

Their name comes from the knocking on the mine walls that happens just before cave-ins--actually the creaking of earth and timbers before giving way. To some of the miners, the knockers were malevolent spirits and the knocking was the sound of them hammering at walls and supports to cause the cave-in. To others, who saw them as essentially well-meaning practical jokers, the knocking was their way of warning the miners that a life-threatening collapse was imminent.

Plain brown bottle. Main label and neck label both feature Tommy Knockers. The brown, black, and tan main label shows one wielding a large pick axe while his partner appears to be dancing a jig. The neck label has a Tommy Knocker knocking back a beer.

Beer Style: English pale ale

Alcohol by Volume: 6.2%

COLOR (0-2): Orangish amber. Very cloudy. 2

AROMA (0-2): Hoppy with a slight metallic scent. 1

HEAD (0-2): Off-white. Good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Mostly hops with sweet malt and light citrus flavors. Medium bodied and drinkable. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Dry smooth finish with a hint of metal. 2

OVERALL (0-6): A nice little pale ale. Doesn't stand out that much, but it's very solid. It reminds me a lot of another pale ale that I just can't quite put my finger on. Possibly Smuttynose. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14

By the way, there's a free tasting of Naked Grouse scotch at Glen Lake Wine and Spirits tonight from 4pm-7pm.


Friday, February 12, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. XLII)

Another of beer of the week brought to you by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who seem to only get better with age.


One bourbon, one scotch, one beer
Well I ain't seen my baby since I don't know when,
I've been drinking bourbon, whiskey, scotch and gin
Gonna get high man I'm gonna get loose,
Need me a triple shot of that juice
Gonna get drunk don't you have no fear
I want one bourbon, one scotch and one beer
One bourbon, one scotch, one beer

Despite the admonition "beer before liquor, never sicker," beer and whiskey have a long and storied association. Often it's the kind of hardcore drinking that Thorogood is talking about. Most people are probably familiar with the Boilermaker. Although there are a number of variations in both the makeup of the combo and the process for downing it, the most recognized version is knocking back the whiskey in a swift shot and following it up by sipping on a beer. This is done both to the speed the process of intoxication and ease the burn of the whiskey, which in most cases was far from top of the shelf hooch.

But it's also possible to enjoy good beer and good whiskey together in a more civilized manner.. Sitting down in an easy chair with a good book, a quality whiskey (Scotch, bourbon, or rye), and a well-hopped beer is an excellent way to relax and wind down the evening. You don't pound the whiskey, you sip it. Follow it with a sip of beer and you've got a taste sensation. The subtle, complex flavors of the whiskey pair nicely with the more aggressive palate of the beer. A match truly made in heaven.

Brewers have picked up on this symmetry and created beers that evoke the whiskey connection. Tyranena Brewing has a Dirty Old Man Rye Porter. Goose Island brews a special Bourbon County Stout. Founder's excellent Red Rye PA is another example.

This week's beer of the week is as well. Michelob Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale is a winter seasonal aged in bourbon barrels that claims to be "rich with barrel aged flavor." Sounds great. But does it live up the promise?

Brown bottle with Michelob name engraved on top of the body. Label has a traditional font and features a snowman holding a beer wearing a scarf, hat, gloves, and (sigh) sunglasses. Like many of the big brewers efforts to cross over into the craft side, the design feels forced.

Beer Style: Winter Warmer

Alcohol by Volume: 6.0%

COLOR (0-2): Amber and very clear. 2

AROMA (0-2): Vanilla and sweet malt. 2

HEAD (0-2): Noticeably carbonated with small bubbles. Off-white in color. Fades fast with little retention or lacing. 1

TASTE (0-5): Vanilla and caramel malt flavors with a bit of spice. No real trace of bourbon. Thin mouthfeel and medium body. Drinkable. 2

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Dry and a little empty. 1

OVERALL (0-6): While it doesn't really live up to the true winter warmer style, it's not a bad effort from Michelob. Can't really pick up any flavor from the aging in bourbon oak casks, but you can definitely taste (and smell) the whole Madagascar vanilla beans. It looks pretty good off the pour and doesn't taste completely bland. Which for a major trying to be a micro is about the best you can expect. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 11


Friday, February 05, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. XLI)

This edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who are always glad you came and, if you go there often enough, where everybody will know your name. You never know who you're going to run at the store either. Just this past Wednesday, I happened to bump into Johnny Roosh of Shot in the Dark renown. Mr. Roosh is apparently something of a regular and Dan (Glen Lake's owner/operator) always makes sure he has a fresh bottle of Boone's Farm Sun Peak Peach on hand to satisfy Johnny's imbibing needs.

By now, I'm sure everyone knows that because some rodent saw the comparative darkness that results from his body blocking light rays we're going to have to endure another six weeks of winter. Here in the Northland, we can only wish that would be so. Six more weeks of winter would be a walk in the park. We're likely looking at another two months of the long hard slog. And even then when "Spring" comes, it won't mean trees budding, flowers blooming, bird singing, blue skies, and sunshine. It will mean rain, wind, clouds, muck, and probably a late snowfall or two lest we get too hopeful that Spring has actually sprung.

But even though it still seems like a long ways off and it never really delivers on the promise, you can't blame us for dreaming of Spring. So even though it's ridiculously early to even be uttering the "S" word, our beer of the week is the first Spring seasonal of 2010. It's another offering from Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland called Garde Dog Biere de Garde:

Proving the French may actually know something we don't...Garde Dog is a traditional French Biere de Garde or "beer for keeping". This classic farmhouse ale was brewed in March for drinking during the spring and summer months. With its toasted aroma and spicy, malty sweetness Garde Dog will liberate you from the winter doldrums.

That's a promise of freedom that we all can drink to. In all my years as a beer aficionado, I've never heard of Biere de Garde:

The Biere de Garde is golden to deep copper or light brown in color. They are moderate to medium in body. This style of beer is characterized by a toasted malt aroma, slight malt sweetness in flavor, and medium hop bitterness. Noble-type hop aromas and flavors should be low to medium. Fruity esters can be light to medium in intensity. Flavor of alcohol is evident. Earthy, cellar-like, musty aromas and flavors are okay. Diacetyl should not be perceived but chill haze is okay. Often bottle conditioned with some yeast character.

Okay then. Now that we have the background, we can consider the beer itself.

Brown bottle. Usual gonzo style Flying Dog label with a rabid looking watch dog who would make the boldest intruder think twice. Tri-color design is a nod to the beer style's Gallic origins.

Beer Style: Biere de Garde

Alcohol by Volume: 5.5%

COLOR (0-2): Gold and mostly clear. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty, sweet with a little wheat. 2

HEAD (0-2): White and pretty thin. Fades fast. 1

TASTE (0-5): Malty sweet flavor with spices and a bit of a bitter finish. Light to medium body. Very drinkable. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Dry and mostly clean with a little lingering burn. 2

OVERALL (0-6): I haven't had any previous experience with the Biere de Garde style so I'm not sure how Flying Dog's offering compares. There's not a ton of flavor yet it is refreshing. This is a beer definitely best suited for warmer weather and I'd probably favor it over many of the other Spring seasonals. Assuming that we actually see Spring around these parts while Garde Dog is still available on the shelves. You might want to pick up a six-pack now and garde it until Spring does arrive in Minnesota. You know, June maybe July. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13


Friday, January 29, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. XL)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the shiny, happy people at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help you throw your love around and remember that there is no time to cry.

Cynic--Definition and More from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Main Entry: cyn*ic
Pronunciation: \*si-nik\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle French or Latin, Middle French cynique, from Latin cynicus, from Greek kynikos, literally, like a dog, from kyn-, kyon dog-- more at hound
Date: 1542
1 capitalized : an adherent of an ancient Greek school of philosophers who held the view that virtue is the only good and that its essence lies in self-control and independence
2 : a faultfinding captious critic; especially : one who believes that human conduct is motivated wholly by self-interest

During some period of our misspent youth, I can clearly recall our mother expressing surprise at how cynical my brother and I already had become considering our tender age. At the time, we regarded the cynical labeling as a badge of pride. What else could we be but cynical?

Today, I don't consider myself cynical per the traditional definition. Rather, I'd say I'm what Chesterton termed a "happy pessimist." Pessimist about the nature of man and the prospects for this temporal world. Yet happy about the eternal salvation available to all mankind through God.

Not that there aren't plenty of things to be cynical about these days, especially in these parts. Following the local professional football squad certainly lends one to take on a more cynical worldview. In the depths of winter, with spring still nothing but a distant hope, it's hard to be anything but cynical about the weather. On a national level, watching this week's SOTU address with anything but a cynical gaze would have been foolhardy.

Leave it to the crew at Surly Brewing Company to come up with a beer bearing the name that captures that mood. This week's beer is Surly's Cynic Ale.

Light tan can with standard Surly graphics. You can see why the bottom half of the drinker ying/yang is cynical. Definitely the pint is empty kind of guy.

Beer Style: Saison

Alcohol by Volume: 6.7%

COLOR (0-2): Gold, slightly cloudy 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty, sweet and a bit peppery 2

HEAD (0-2): White, not much retention or lacing 1

TASTE (0-5): Mostly malty and sweet with spice and light citrus flavors and a touch of hops. Medium body and thinner mouth feel. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Dry finish and pleasant follow through 2

OVERALL (0-6): Although this is not one of my favorite varieties of beer--and one that I probably would enjoy more in warmer months--it's another solid effort from Surly. They don't hold back or play it safe with any of their offerings and if you are a fan of the saison/farmhouse ale style, this would be a great choice for you. It's very drinkable and after knocking back a couple you might just find yourself taking a slightly less cynical view of the world. At least the world of beer. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14


Friday, January 22, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. XXXIX)

Another glorious edition of Beer of the Week brought to you as always by the cheerful chaps at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help put the hop into your step.

The states of Minnesota and Michigan have developed a bit of a rivalry over the years. I suspect much of it is based on how much they actually have in common. They both share borders with Canada, Wisconsin, and a four letter state to the south that they never tire of mocking (Iowa and Ohio). They both are known for lakes, forests, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits. Along with Massachusetts, they produce the most hockey players in the United States.

When it comes to sports rivalries, both states have had their moments. Of late, the Twins have had an edge over the Tigers (game 163 anyone?). Even though they're having a down year, the Pistons have had far more success than the Wolves as have Michigan's two Big Ten basketball teams when compared to the Gophers. Football is a spilt. While the Vikings have dominated the Lions since...well, pretty much forever, Michigan's college teams have far outpaced Minnesota's (as have teams from just about every state in the union for that matter). Hockey's fairly even too. The Red Wings have an obvious advantage over the Wild, but the comparison between the two states' many college hockey teams is much closer.

But there's one area where I must say Michigan enjoys a clear edge. As much as it pains me to admit it, when it comes to craft brewing, Michigan bests Minnesota. Yes, we have Summit, Surly, Brau Brothers, Lift Bridge, Lake Superior, and Flat Earth (among others). And these brewers all make some damn fine beers. But objectively, they just don't stack up with the variety and quality that Michigan currently brews up.

Founder's, New Holland, Arcadia, Dark Horse, and Stoney Creek are among the top-notch Michigan brewers that come immediately to mind. And then there's Bell's. Bell's Pale Ale was one of the first craft beers that I really got into. It was hoppy, cloudy, and had chunks in it (unfiltered). And it was tasty. Since then, I've enjoyed many a variety of Bell's and have rarely failed to be impressed with their product.

So when Dan--owner/operator of Glen Lake Wine & Spirits--informed me that he had a shipment of Bell's Hopslam Ale coming in, my taste buds began tingling in anticipation. Hopslam Ale is not a beer for everyone. Firstly, it's expensive. Close to twice the price that you would pay for a normal craft six-pack. And it's in limited supply, only available in late-January and February. Stores only get so much and once it's gone, it's gone. Finally, as the name implies, it's hoppy. So if you're some sort of sicko who doesn't like hops this is not your beer.

Brown bottle. Off-green label with Bell's logo depicts a guy who literally has just been slammed by enormous hops. Not a bad way to go.

Beer Style: Double IPA

Alcohol by Volume: 10.0%

COLOR (0-2): Golden and cloudy. 2

AROMA (0-2): Strong, hoppy, tangy grapefruit. 2

HEAD (0-2): Full, white, and thick. Good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): An explosion of hops. Powerful flavors of bitter hops and citrus overwhelm the taste buds (in a good way). Medium body and mouth feel. 5

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Great finish. Taste follows through and lingers nicely in the mouth. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Wow. In all the years of beer rating, I've never had a perfect score. In the past, I've held off in the hope that there's always something better out there. But it's hard for me to imagine that a better beer exists. Considering its 10% ABV, Hopslam is remarkably smooth and doesn't have much of a burn at all. Drinkable might not be the exact word for it, but I definitely could see putting down more than a few of these in a sitting. That could certainly catch up to you in a hurry. Hopslam would go great with a well-dressed burger or anything spicy or just about anything for that matter. Heck of a beer. 6

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 19


Friday, January 15, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. XXXVIII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week once again brought to you by the bon amis at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help bring joie to your vivre.

Anyone with the least bit of familiarity with modern European history no doubt recognizes the name Alsace-Lorraine. The region is nestled between France, Germany, and a little bit of Belgium and while it's now part of France, ownership of the area has been much contested. By 1798, it had officially become part of the French Republic. After the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, the German Empire annexed the region. It reverted to French control after the German defeat in World War One. In 1940, the Germans once again goose-stepped their way into Alsace-Lorraine and it became part of the Third Reich. Five years later, the Nazis were defeated and it once again became part of France and remains so to this day. At least until the Germans get feisty again.

Like France itself, when you think about the Alsace-Lorraine region and drinking, beer is not the first thing that comes to mind. But France is more than just wine, champagne, and cognac. This week's beer of the week is the second in the series to hail from the land of the Franks. It's Fischer Amber Ale which is now brewed in Schiltigheim, which despite its German-sounding name is indeed in France and is in fact a suburb of Strasbourg.

The bottle is brown, squarish, and weighty with the beer name and brewery etched on it. It has a nice hefty, old-style feel to it. There's really not much to the yellow label which wraps around the neck other than a church steeple and coat of arms.

Beer Style: Amber Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 6.0%

COLOR (0-2): Amber, very clear. 2

AROMA (0-2): Skunky in a good way. 2

HEAD (0-2): Light volume, off-white color, not much retention or lacing. 1

TASTE (0-5): Bitter but not overly sharp with slight hop flavor and some sweetness. Light body and thin mouth feel. 2

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Crisp, but a bit hollow. 1

OVERALL (0-6): This is a decent beer. Probably wouldn't pair that great with most food, but would make for a good party beer (especially at 6% ABV). Very drinkable and quite refreshing it goes down easy yet also satisfies the palate just enough to make you want to have another. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 11

Next week's Beer of the Week will feature a very special, limited release brew that already has me drooling in anticipation.


Friday, January 08, 2010
Beer of the Week (Vol. XXXVII)

This already long winter of our discontent edition of Beer of the Week brought to you as always by Glen Lake Wine & Spirits, where all the spirits are strong, all the displays are good-looking, and the service is above average. By the way, if you stopped by the store looking for Surly Coffee Bender (last week's featured beer) and were disappointed not to find it available, fear not. The Surly distributor hasn't been by of late, but the next time he swings in he will be tasked with ensuring that Coffee Bender is on the shelves.

From the SpongeBob SquarePants episode Not Normal:

TV: Then join me as I take you on a "Journey into Normality."

SpongeBob:(transfixed) Normaaaality.

TV: The life of a normal person is rather simple. (door opens with a fish smiling and dressed professionally for work) Here is your typical average Joe on his way to work. See how he is dressed. (hair is combed neatly) Even his hair is boring. (zoom in on the dimples) Notice his features, nice and smooth without a crater or freckle to be seen.

SpongeBob: (rubs his face) Craters and freckles?

TV: In his office space, Mr. Normal, at least that's what it says on his name tag works at a steady and monotonous pace just as all the other normals do. Take note of how they communicate with each other.

Other Mr. Normal: Hi, how are you?

TV: At the end of the day Mr. Normal packs his things and goes home to merrily start the cycle again in the morning.

SpongeBob: Yeah...

This week's beer is a seasonal product from the Blue Moon Brewing Company (owned by Coors) in Colorado called Full Moon Winter Ale.

Brown bottle. The label has a white background with a massive bluish-white winter moon that dominates a winter setting with flakes in the sky and a snow-covered cabin. The wavy lined graphics are similar to other Blue Moon brand designs.

Beer Style: Abbey Dubbel

Alcohol by Volume: 5.6%

COLOR (0-2): Dark amber, very clear 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty, faint 1

HEAD (0-2): Off-white color, light volume, not much retention 1

TASTE (0-5): Mostly malty, somewhat sweet. Light mouth-feel and thin body. 2

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Thin and wispy 1

OVERALL (0-6): Words like pedestrian, milquetoast, and inoffensive are not ones you want to use when describing a winter beer, but that's exactly what comes to mind with Full Moon Winter Ale. It's not a bad beer mind you (quite drinkable in fact), it's just missing the hearty, full-bodied flavors that you look for in a winter offering. It's very ordinary, average, and normal. You could also say it's hollow in a way. While it looks pretty good on the outside, there's just not much there at its core. So as you prepare to settle in for a wintery Wild Card Weekend, I would suggest you imbibe one of the many other winter beers that stands out from the crowd. 2

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 9


Thursday, December 31, 2009
Beer of the Week (Vol. XXXVI)

This special New Year's Eve edition of Beer of the Week brought to you as always by the hail fellows well met at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits, who can help you take a cup of kindness yet as you say good riddance to 2009 and welcome in what has to be a better year in 2010 (doesn't it?).

There are two great forces in the universe that provide the equilibrium necessary to sustain life. One is usually associated with the day. The other the night. One is usually hot. The other cold. One serves to stimulate. The other to sedate.

I speak of course of coffee and beer. They are the ying and yang of beverages that--in the proper balance--bring harmony and happiness to life. Coffee is the energy that begins your day by fueling the mental and physical processes you need to face the challenges ahead. Beer is the calming reward at the end of the day that helps you wind down and relax your senses. They have a symbiotic relationship and are often proportionally intertwined. The more beer you have the night before, the more coffee that you will need the next day. Like love and marriage, it's hard to imagine that you could live with one and not the other.

But what happens when you disturb this natural balance? What if, instead of having the two forces acting in opposition to each other, you combine them together as one? Obviously such a joining would raise some metaphysical concerns, but I'm happy to report that it does not result in the end of the universe as we know it. Instead, what you get is Coffee Bender from local brewing sensation Surly.

Surly is not the first brewer to combine coffee and beer. Years ago when I was in Seattle, I came across Red Hook's Double Black Stout. It was a joint effort between the Seattle brewer and Starbucks and was quite good. Now, there are a number of brewers who produce high quality coffee beers, although that may not be true in the future if the nanny ninnies at the FDA have their way. Enjoy your coffee beer while you still can.

Standard pint sized Surly can. Surly logo set against a foaming mug that's blasting off with brown, tan, and black background colors. You gotta love the look of the Surly graphic design.

Beer Style: American Brown Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 5.2%

COLOR (0-2): Dark brown close to black. 2

AROMA (0-2): Strong coffee aroma with hints of chocolate giving it a mocha like scent. 2

HEAD (0-2): Light tan. Full with good retention and lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Dominant coffee flavors again accentuated by chocolate. Thin mouth-feel, lighter body, and overall smoothness make it surprisingly drinkable. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Smooth and a bit dry. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Surly claims that Coffee Bender refreshes like an iced-coffee and that claim definitely holds up. While it delivers delicious coffee flavors it also makes for a good whistle whetter. If you like coffee and beer, you'll enjoy this tasty combination of two of the best things in life. Best of all it can be savored year round and at almost any time of day. Whether you want to ring in the New Year at midnight or kick start the next morning with a little pick me up, Coffee Bender will fill your needs. You're going to have spend a little more, but it's worth the additional investment. 5

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 17


Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Beer of the Week (Vol. XXXV)

Whether it's trying to find a last minute gift for the guy who has everything (you can NEVER have too much whiskey) or stocking up in anticipation of the Great Christmas Blizzard of Aught-Eight, Glen Lake Wine & Spirits is the place to go for all your drinking needs. They once again make this special Christmas edition of Beer of the Week possible.

There's not many things that temper my desire to enjoy a good beer. A nasty winter head cold however usually diminishes the pleasure of drinking beer enough to dissuade me from partaking. The beer doesn't taste the same and the very things that make beer what it is--hops and barley especially--usually exacerbate the stuffed nature of your head. It's one of the many reasons that God invented whiskey, which is actually a most welcome tonic when confronted with a cold.

But I'm a professional. Well, maybe more like a glorified amateur. But the Beer of the Week must go on. For neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of cold stays me from the swift completion of my appointed rating. And this week that rating is of Flying Dog Brewery's K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale.

Brown bottle. Usual Gonzo style Flying Dog label with a crazy-looking K-9 shredding on a snow board with a blue and white wintery background.

Beer Style: Winter warmer

Alcohol by Volume: 6.4%

COLOR (0-2): Very clear brown. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty and sweet. A little light. 1

HEAD (0-2): Pretty thick off an aggressive pour. Off-white color. Decent retention and lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Mostly sweet malt with light roast flavor as well. Light bodied and a bit thin. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Sharp finish with some hoppiness. You can definitely taste the alcohol even though it's not exceptionally strong. 2

OVERALL (0-6): While doing some background research on this beer, I noticed a number of reviews that were not very favorable. It seems that some take exception to Flying Dog calling this a "winter warmer" when it fact it's better categorized as another style such as brown or pale ale. Frankly, I don't care that much about such esoterica. While it may not fit into the traditional categories, I found K-9 Cruiser to be a decent winter beer. The thing that really stands out is the alcohol taste. Again at 6.4% ABV, it's not unusually strong for a winter beer, but for whatever reason it comes through and in a good way. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14


Friday, December 18, 2009
Beer of the Week (Vol. XXXIV)

Another special edition of Beer of the Week brought to you as always by the festive folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits. They're the ones who make these beer reviews possible and they can help make your Christmas and New Year's events merrier than ever. It's about more than just beer too. Dan the owner is actually more of a wine guy and is a noted connoisseur (and consumer) of the finest fruit of the vine. He'll take the time to assist you in picking the perfect wine to compliment your holiday meals. If you're looking for a gift for the guy who has everything, you can't go wrong with a good whiskey. And Bill at Glen Lake has years of expertise and experience in recommending the right bourbon, Scotch, or rye to satisfy the pickiest whiskey palate.

Glen Lake Wine & Spirits is conveniently located right on Excelsior Boulevard in beautiful downtown Glen Lake. Easy to get in, easy to get out, and easy to get what you want. All Christmas shopping should be so simple.

This week we have a special beer double feature with both attractions coming from hometown favorite Summit Brewing Company. Summit's Winter Ale was probably the first winter beer that I ever tried. It definitely was the first one I ever truly enjoyed. I can recall looking forward with anticipation to the appearance of the distinctive red-labeled bottles on liquor store shelves as fall faded into winter. While the label has changed over the years (regrettably), the beer has remained one of my all-time favorites and I always make sure that I savor it as much as possible during the all-too-short season.

Stout brown Summit bottle with engraved logo. Label is the standard Summit format with light-brown color, faint St. Paul backdrop, logo, and beer name set diagonally in red rectangle.

Beer Style: Winter Warmer

Alcohol by Volume: 6.2%

COLOR (0-2): Dark amber-brown. 2

AROMA (0-2): Sweet malt with a little hoppiness at the finish. 2

HEAD (0-2): Light tan and creamy. Not huge off the pour, but lasts nicely. 2

TASTE (0-5): Again mostly roasted malty flavor with a touch of hoppy bitterness. Hints of coffee and caramel. Medium-bodied. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Smooth and creamy. 2

OVERALL (0-6): I've been a fan of Summit Winter for so long that it's hard for me to be objective about this beer. It's not a heavy hop hitter or a big bold beer, but its flavor is rich and full while remaining quite drinkable. It pairs well with many of the comfort foods of winter (especially chili) which makes it an excellent seasonal selection. After all these years it still holds a warm place in my heart. And taste buds. 5

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 17

Our second beer today is the second in Summit's Unchained Series:

Welcome to our new line of limited release beers called the Unchained Series. The series is an opportunity for our brewers to show off their skills and creativity. Each beer in the series will be presented by an individual brewer-the style is their choice and they are running the show!

The first beer in the Unchained Series was Kolsch, which was excellent. It's been followed by the 90/- Scottish Style Ale:

We're excited to introduce the second beer in our new Unchained Series: 90/- Scottish Style Ale brewed with heather. Named after the old practice of taxing beers based on their strength, 90 Shilling is a traditional Wee Heavy style from brewer Eric Blomquist.

Usual brown Summit bottle. Label follows the Unchained format with black and white industrial craft look. Green Summit logo with brewer's signature set in black on bottom.

Beer Style: Scotch Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 7.0%

COLOR (0-2): Dark brown. 2

AROMA (0-2): Rich malty aroma. 2

HEAD (0-2): Off-white color, but not much volume. 1

TASTE (0-5): Excellent taste combo with roasted malt with smoke and even a little peat flavor fitting the name. Not much on the hop side. Medium bodied. Frankly, I'm not sure if I could pick up the heather or not. Whether its noticeable or not it definitely works in this beer. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): The finish is a little dry, but well rounded. 2

OVERALL (0-6): This beer sneaks up on you. At first glance and taste it doesn't appear all that exceptional. But the more you drink the more it grows on you. Its flavors are complex and rich. The timing of the release is perfect as its just the kind of hearty beer you want to enjoy in winter. Summit scores impressively again by breaking the chains. 5

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16


Friday, December 11, 2009
Beer of the Week (Vol. XXXIII)

Fraters Libertas Beer of the Week is brought to you as always by the warm-hearted folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits. They have everything you need to conspire as you drink by the fire and face unafraid the plans that you've made living in this winter wonderland.

If you were forced to spend the rest of your life trapped on a desert island and could only drink one beer, which one would you choose? I would answer the question with a question and inquire about the location of said atoll. If it was in a tropical clime, I'd want to go with a refreshing yet tasty summer beer like Paulaner Hefeweizen. But if it was in a locale that was more prone to colder temperatures, I'd want a more hearty winter offering to see me through the chilly days and nights. And based on the winter beers that I've tried up to this point, were I to have to limit myself to one beer, my choice would have to be Sierra Nevada Brewing's Celebration Ale.

Short brown bottle. Festive label is bordered in holiday red and features a cabin in the mountains surrounded by snow-covered pines. There's a wreath on the door and a fire in the hearth. Sierra Nevada logo set in poinsettias frame the beautiful winter scene.

Beer Style: IPA

Alcohol by Volume: 6.8%

COLOR (0-2): Rich brownish-orange and slightly cloudy. 2

AROMA (0-2): Strong hops with citrus and pine scents. 2

HEAD (0-2): Off-white and thick. Good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Powerful hop flavor with nice bite to it. Full-bodied and rich. Great taste without being overpowering. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Lingering bitterness that finishes smooth. 2

OVERALL (0-6): 2009 is another excellent edition of Celebration Ale. Sierra Nevada's offering continues to be the gold standard when it comes to winter beers. I can't imagine a better way to a spend a cold winter's night than curled up in front of a roaring fire with a six-pack of Celebration Ale. 6

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 18


Friday, December 04, 2009
Beer of the Week (Vol. XXXII)

After a brief hiatus for holiday and vacation, we're back with another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you as always by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help you bring tidings on good cheer to almost anyone this Christmas season.

When you're in warmer climes it's tough to get into the winter beer season. I experienced this recently in Miami when the both the urge and the opportunity to enjoy winter beer was limited. Palm trees, sunny skies, and temps in the eighties are just not conducive to the heavier, heartier styles of beer. This was reflected by the paucity of winter offerings on store shelves in Miami. One winter beer that was available was Samuel Adams Winter Lager, which is this week's featured brew.

Brown bottle. Standard pattern Sam Adams label with light blue and white colors. Barley snowflakes in corners provide some winter flavor.

Beer Style: Winter Bock

Alcohol by Volume: 5.8%

COLOR (0-2): Dark amber, very clear 2

AROMA (0-2): Light hops and malt 1

HEAD (0-2): Off white color, good off the pour with some lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Mostly malty flavor with a faint hint of spice. Rather light-bodied and thin. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Not much follow through. 1

OVERALL (0-6): It's a decent tasting beer and is quite drinkable. However, it's not really my idea of a winter beer. While Sam Adam's bills it as a "rich and hearty dark lager" I found it to be on lighter side when it came to flavor, mouth-feel, and body. You need something with more there there to get you through the long nights of winter. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 12


Friday, November 20, 2009
Beer of the Week (Vol. XXXI)

This week's edition of Beer of the Week brought to you as always by the festive folk at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits. They've got everything you need for holiday cheer whether you've been naughty or nice.

Many of our current Christmas traditions and customs have come to us from our British cousins. Included among them is a focus on making merry, eating, and of course drinking:

The word "wassail" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon phrase waes hael, which means "good health." Originally, wassail was a beverage made of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, nuts, eggs, and spices. It was served for the purpose of enhancing the general merriment of the season. Like many of the ancient customs, "wassailing" has a legend to explain its origin. It seems that a beautiful Saxon maiden named Rowena presented Prince Vortigen with a bowl of wine while toasting him with the words "Waes hael." Over the centuries a great deal of ceremony had developed around the custom of drinking wassail. The bowl is carried into a room with great fanfare, a traditional carol about the drink is sung, and finally, the steaming hot beverage is served.

While the recipe for wassail has undergone some changes over the years (and thankfully so), the British continue with the tradition of brewing up special drinks for the season. Such as our featured beer this week: Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale. Like some other brewers, Samuel Smith's creates a slightly different version of their winter warmer every year. Let's see how the 2009/2010 edition holds up.

Brown 12oz bottle with the brewer's name engraved on the neck. Gold foil wrapped bottle cap. A label that can only be described as busy features a vintage motorcycle parked in front of the "Taddy Cafe." Lots of various verbiage, chief among them the quote "Blessing of your heart you brew good ale" from one W. Shakespeare.

Beer Style: Winter warmer

Alcohol by Volume: 6.0%

COLOR (0-2): Clear light brown. 2

AROMA (0-2): Mostly malty. A little faint. 1

HEAD (0-2): Full white and foamy. Decent lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Sweet malt flavors with some hoppiness. Creamy mouth feel with a little heat. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Smooth, but rather light. 1

OVERALL (0-6): A good not great winter beer that features the distinct Samuel Smith flavor. Not as heavy-bodied as many winter offerings. Very drinkable yet tasty too. Given the price for a four-pack, I don't think it quite lives up to expectations. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14


Friday, November 13, 2009
Beer of the Week (Vol. XXX)

Another Beer of the Week brought to you as always by the right jolly fellows at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits. Why bother with the agonies of shopping at the mall when everything you need to spread holiday cheer is available at their store?

The coming of winter is not a welcome prospect for many. With winter comes cold, snow, and ice. Long nights and short days make the sun seem like an infrequent visitor instead of an everyday friend. Shorts are exchanged for snow pants, t-shirts for thermal underwear, and sandals for Sorrels. Winter can be a brutal and uncompromising season.

But it can also be a wonderful time of year. When I think of the coming of winter I think of three things: Christmas, hockey, and winter beer (not necessarily in that order). While I love summer and the refreshing beers that come with it, winter has become my favorite time of year for beer. Many of my favorite seasonal are winter beers. There's so much variety and so much flavor in the winter offerings that I never tire of them. In fact, I usually greet the end of the winter beer season with a sense of dread sometimes accompanied by panicked buying of the remaining stocks to try extend my supply just a little bit longer. Note to brewers: In Minnesota, winter starts in November and ends in mid-April (if we're lucky). Please plan your winter beer deliveries to our state accordingly.

It seems like with every passing winter, there are more and more winter beers available to choose from. And I plan to get through as many as possible in the coming months.

The winter beer season officially begins today with 2° Below from New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Standard brown New Belgium bottle. Label has typical New Belgium artwork with hops framing an outdoor winter scene. Snow on the roof, icicles dangling from the gutter, frozen pipes, and a thermometer reflecting the beer's name set against a harsh bluish-gray sky. Brrrrrr...

Beer Style: Extra special bitter

Alcohol by Volume: 6.6%

COLOR (0-2): Light brown and clear. 2

AROMA (0-2): Hoppy with sweetness. 2

HEAD (0-2): Full and white. Good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Interesting flavor profile. Malty with well-defined hoppiness and a little citrus and spice. Medium-bodied. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Alcohol follow through is a little sharp. 1

OVERALL (0-6): Not your typical winter offering. It took me a few attempts (four bottles to be exact) to get a handle on this beer. It's a tasty and hearty winter beer that not's too heavy. You can definitely enjoy more than one in a sitting and it's a fine beer to pass the long winter nights with. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 15


Friday, November 06, 2009
Beer of the Week (Vol. XXIX)

After a two week hiatus, baby we're back with another Beer of the Week brought to you by the good Americans at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits. Having spent the last few weeks in Asia, I'm glad to be back in the good ol' U.S. of A., home to the widest variety of beer anywhere on earth. When it comes to beer, America truly is a melting pot of many styles and flavors.

Even in places like Montana. You may have heard that the only thing that comes out of Montana is steers and queers, but make no mistake about it, the state produces some pretty fair beers as well.

Including this week's featured selection Big Sky Brewing's Slow Elk Oatmeal Stout, a limited release beer from the noted Missoula brewer.

Brown bottle. The label has traditional font featuring a scene with the moon rising over the mountains, a windmill, and of course a Slow Elk, which must be a sub-species of the traditional elk family. Wait a second. That's not an elk. It's a...cow with antlers tied on its head. Oh, the bovanity!

Beer Style: Oatmeal Stout

Alcohol by Volume: 5.4

COLOR (0-2): Dark ruby black. 2

AROMA (0-2): Roasted malt and coffee. 2

HEAD (0-2): Tan with good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Rich tastes with flavors of chocolate, coffee, and malt. Some light hops. Medium bodied and drinkable. 4

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Very smooth and a little creamy. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Oatmeal stout is one of my favorite beers and, although it's usually a style best enjoyed on tap, the bottles of Slow Elk I tried were quite good. It's a good transitional beer from the Oktoberfests of fall to the more hearty ales (usually) of winter. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 16

Next week: the ales of November come calling.


Friday, October 16, 2009
Beer Of The Week (Vol XXVIII)

This edition of the Beer of the Week brought to you as always by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits. They can help put the treat back into your tricks.

Ah fall, 'tis the season when a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of...

...pumpkins. Yes, pumpkins. Pumpkins play an integral role in the season from autumnal decorations to Halloween jack-o-lanterns to the pie that often accompanies the Thanksgiving feast. Even Saint Paul's favorite (and to my knowledge only) Halloween howler is an homage to the gourd-like squash:

How do hillbillies celebrate Halloween?

They pump kin.

That one never gets old.

While I admire pumpkins and their place in the season as much as the next redneck, that admiration is limited entirely to their visual appeal. When it comes to eating or drinking, I prefer to steer clear. Pumpkin pie? Nah. Pumpkins seeds? Meh. Any sort of potable that somehow makes use of a pumpkin? Not for me.

So it was with no small degree of trepidation that I approached this week's beer Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale, which is supposedly "made with the flavor of vine-ripened pumpkin." Um...we are still talking beer here, right?

Shorter brown bottle. Orange label with a Van Goghish rendition of a large harvest moon over a field of pumpkins.

Beer Style: Pumpkin Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 5.7%

COLOR (0-2): Clear amber. 2

AROMA (0-2): Mostly malt with faint hints of spice. 1

HEAD (0-2): Off-white color. Good pour. Not much lacing. 1

TASTE (0-5): Again, mostly malt with a little hoppiness. Surprisingly little spice or noticeable pumpkin flavor. Medium to heavy-bodied. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Hollow and lacking in follow through. 1

OVERALL (0-6): Better than I expected. The lack of spice and pumpkin flavor is a good thing. It's also heavier than I would have expected and does go down a little slow. A very average and inoffensive fall offering.

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 11


Friday, October 09, 2009
Beer Of The Week (Vol XXVII)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the gut volk at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who can help put the fest into your October. And by "brought to you" we mean they supplied the beer. Can't be too careful about such disclosures nowadays.

While they're not as bad as seasonal clothing (good luck finding a winter jacket in February), seasonal beers do not exactly track with the way the seasons are traditionally defined on the calendar. So even though it's only early October, you can expect to see start seeing fewer and fewer Oktoberfest beers available for sale. They'll still be on the shelves for a few more weeks, but even though the leaves have yet to raked and the pumpkins yet to be carved, we're already close to the end of the fall beer season.

So this week will be the last official Oktoberfest beer reviewed. Next week, we'll try to sneak in one more fall selection before taking a couple of weeks off until we enter the most wonderful time of the beer year: winter. Can't hardly wait.

This week's beer comes from Chippewa Fall, Wisconsin, a community no doubt still reeling from Monday night's Packer defeat at the hands of their cross border rivals now lead by their former savior. It's going to take a lot of Leinenkugel's Oktoberfest to numb that pain.

Simple brown bottle. Standard pattern Leinie label with a fall lake scene framed by autumn leaves. A Bavarian hat on the label provides a nice touch as does the white and blue checkered bottle cap.

Beer Style: Oktoberfest Marzen

Alcohol by Volume: 5.1%

COLOR (0-2): Deep amber. 2

AROMA (0-2): Light toasted malt. Not a lot there. 1

HEAD (0-2): Off-white color, full. 2

TASTE (0-5): Slightly sweet malt flavor with light hops. Medium body. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Smooth, but not much follow through. 1

OVERALL (0-6): A workable if unremarkable Oktoberfest offering. Drinkable with decent flavors. Very much in the middle of the Marzen pack. 3

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 12

Here's a quick rating summary of all Oktoberfest beers reviewed here this year and previously:

Full Sail Oktoberfest 14

Paulaner Oktoberfest 14

Surly Fest 14

Bell's Oktoberfest 13

Capital Brewing Oktoberfest 13

Flying Dog Dogtoberfest 13

Summit Oktoberfest 13

Sam Adam's Oktoberfest 13

Saranac Oktoberfest 12

Tabernash Oktoberfest 12

Schell's Oktoberfest 11

Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest 10

Beck's Oktoberfest 9

Hofbrau Munchen Oktoberfest 9

Portland Brewing Uncle Otto Oktoberfest 8


Friday, October 02, 2009
Beer Of The Week (Vol XXVI)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who remind you that a glass a day keeps the doctor away. No wonder Atomizer is such a vision of health.

What do you think of when someone mentions Vermont? In the past, the name might have brought forth images of Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, the battle of Saratoga, skiing, and maple syrup. Today, you're more likely to think about Howard Dean, Ben and Jerry's, and gay marriage. The relentless march of progress, eh?

But one think you probably don't think about--I know I didn't--was beer. While the New England area is renowned for brewing--Sam Adam's, Shipyard, and Smuttynose come immediately to mind--Vermont isn't a state that I associate with beer. Turns out though that the list of Vermont breweries is actually fairly impressive:

* Harpoon Brewery - Headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, largest plant in Windsor, Vermont
* Long Trail Brewing Company - Bridgewater, Vermont
* Magic Hat Brewing Company - South Burlington, Vermont
* Otter Creek Brewing - Middlebury, Vermont
* Rock Art Brewery - Morrisville, Vermont
* Switchback Brewery - Burlington, Vermont
* Trout River Brewing - Lyndonville, Vermont

Other than Harpoon--which I've enjoyed on trips to Boston--I hadn't had a chance to try any of these Vermont beers. Until Glen Lake Wine & Spirits recently added Magic Hat Brewing's Number Nine Not Quite Pale Ale to their roster of beer.

Standard brown bottle. The funky orange & red label has a pronounced psychedelic feel to it. The design has a sort of ying/yang thing going for it too. I'm a bit of a beer bottle cap collector and Magic Hat's is nicely done (don't stare at too long or you'll become HYP-NO-TIZED). Judging from the look of the label and the vibe from the company's web site, Magic Hat fancies itself part of the counter-culture, which these days is more mainstream than anti anything. What else would you expect from Vermont?

Beer Style: Pale ale (or is it?)

Alcohol by Volume: 4.6%

COLOR (0-2): Golden and a little cloudy. 2

AROMA (0-2): Strong apricot scent. 2

HEAD (0-2): Bright white and full. Good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): More apricot flavors with some nice hops to provide balance. Refreshing and crisp. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Light with some lingering bitterness. 1

OVERALL (0-6): Usually I am not a big fan of fruit flavored beers, but for some reason this works for me. It's not overly sweet or tart and is very drinkable. This is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. It's the type of beer that you'll either like or hate. There's not going to be a lot of middle ground here. Put me down on the like side.

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13


Friday, September 25, 2009
Beer Of The Week (Vol XXV)

Last week, after waxing nost-alt-gically for a beer gone by, I stopped in at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits as I am wont to do on Friday afternoons on my way home from work. I wasn't looking for any particular beer to review, just wanted to check out the new arrivals and see if any of the existing inventory caught my eye.

The always affable Bill drew my attention to a brew from Vermont that recently has become available at Glen Lake. It's an interesting offering and will be the subject of next week's Beer of the Week.

After securing a six-pack of said beer, I spent some time perusing the rest of the Glen Lake beer stock. As I mentioned before, unlike most shopping experiences I view my time spent inside a liquor store as a pleasure not a chore. Even after I have completed my selections, I will often linger in the aisles taking in the rich varieties and choices that the wonderful world of booze has to offer.

My browsing paid off last week at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits when I made a most timely discovery. Hullo? What's this? An altbier, right here in front of me? Huzzah!

Of course I didn't say "huzzah!," but instead merely informed Bill that, "I think I'll try this one too." Recalling the glories of Summit's Alt last week had me all jazzed up to get my hands on that style of beer and now I had almost literally walked right into one.

This altbier comes courtesy of BluCreek Brewing, which bills itself as a "home of unique and all natural ales."

Based in Madison (in Wisconsin that is) while using facilities in pristine Black River area, BluCreek Brewing specializes in producing premium--yet unique, all natural hand-crafted beers that stand-out from the other beers crowding today market.

When you check out their selection of beers, the altbier is actually the most traditional style they offer. You're not going to find many brewers with Zen Green Tea IPA, Blueberry Ale, and Honey Herbal Ale in their lineup. They sound like beers that are good and good for you. "Honey, are you getting loaded AGAIN?" "Just trying to stay healthy dear." Several ounces of prevention...

Now, on to the beer.

Brown bottle. The label is in various shades of brown giving it an autumnal feel. It features a simple (very) rendition of a campsite next to a creek framed in barley. In the the background we see mountains which a camper--who appears to be clad in lederhosen--is hiking toward.

Beer Style: Altbier

Alcohol by Volume: 4.0%

COLOR (0-2): Dense medium brown. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malty and nutty. 2

HEAD (0-2): Thick pour, off-white color. Decent lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Some sweetness and roasted malt with nice hop flavor. Somewhat reminiscent of a brown ale. Medium body. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Smooth, but a little light. 1

OVERALL (0-6): Good flavor and very drinkable as well. It may not quite compare, but it harkens back to good ol' days of Summit's Dusseldorfer Alt. A great fall beer alternative to the much more ubiquitous Oktoberfest Marzens.

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14


Friday, September 18, 2009
Beer Of The Week (Vol XXIV)

Another edition of Beer of the Week brought to you by the clean and articulate people at Glen Lake Wine & Spirits who believe that alcohol is the best medicine. That's a health care proposal that I think we can all get behind.

The Who - Substitute Lyrics:

Substitute me for him
Substitute my coke for gin
Substitute you for my mum
At least I'll get my washing done

The role of a substitute is almost never an easy one whether as in the classroom, on a Broadway stage, on the television screen, or in a cup of coffee. You have to live up to the often unrealistic expectations that have developed about the one you're replacing and live with the inevitable comparisons.

Sometimes the substitute proves to be superior to the original as in the case of Mike Nelson replacing Joel Hodgson on MST3K. Sometimes the change proves to be a miserable failure as when Coy and Vance replaced Bo and Luke on The Dukes of Hazzard.

My favorite fall seasonal beer used to be Summit's Dusseldorfer Alt. It was a good example of the unique and relatively uncommon (at least outside of Germany) beer style:

Altbier (often abbreviated to Alt) is the name given to a form of German top-fermenting beer that originated in Westphalia and spread to parts of the Rhineland later.

The name Altbier, which literally means old [style] beer, refers to the pre-lager brewing method of using a warm top-fermenting yeast like British pale ales. Over time the Alt yeast adjusted to lower temperatures, and the Alt brewers would store or lager the beer after fermentation, leading to a cleaner, crisper beer than is the norm for an ale.

So I was shocked and saddened some years ago when Summit pulled their Alt from the fall lineup and replaced it with an Oktoberfest Marzen. Now, Summit's Oktoberfest (this week's Beer of the Week if you haven't already figured it out) is a perfectly capable fall offering and I happen to find it quite good. But there's a lot of Oktoberfests out there and not so many Alts. So every September, when the beers of fall come around I found myself pining for the original Summit seasonal and wondering what might have been. Sigh.

Anyway, on to the review.

Standard Summit stout brown bottle. Brown Summit label with logo and beer title in classic font set against orange background.

Beer Style: Oktoberfest Marzen

Alcohol by Volume: 7.4%

COLOR (0-2): Very clear, light copper brown. 2

AROMA (0-2): Malt with light caramel. 1

HEAD (0-2): Off white in color. Thick with good lacing. 2

TASTE (0-5): Malt flavors with more noticeable hops than most Marzens. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Long-lasting, but a little harsh. 1

OVERALL (0-6): A nice, well-rounded Oktoberfest beer. Good, strong flavor that packs a punch. It may not be a perfect replacement for the Dusseldorfer Alt, but as substitutes go this isn't too shabby a one. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 13

By the way, if you get a chance to snag some Summit Kolsch while it's still available in stores, I'd strongly encourage you to do so. Good stuff.


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