Archive for February, 2011

Woah Wyeast!

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Nice new smack-packs. I approve. Good job, Wyeast Laboratories.

New Wyeast Smack Pack

The large, beautiful, full-color photograph of Mt. Hood, with the clear blue sky, really sends the message of purity that you want from your yeast bank. The company’s symbol has always been the mountain, which towers over their office and lab in Odell, Oregon.

Breckenridge ESB and Regal

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

There’s an incredible special going on right now at John’s Grocery: a few beers from Breckenridge Brewery are only $4.99 per six pack. Other than these two, I believe the Lucky U IPA is on the same deal, and the 12-pack samplers are only $8.99.

First I’m trying the 471 ESB, called an extra special bitter on the bottle, but a strong Scottish ale on the website. A fairly hazy auburn beer with some buff-colored head. The nose has a toasty maltiness to it, with some dark fruit and nuts as well. There’s a bit of an herbal hoppiness lingering behind.

The body is very full, and the flavor has a significant malt sweetness. But the bitterness is quite pronounced as well, almost balancing the sweetness at first, before turning to an earthy, herbal hop flavor. There is just a hint of an alcoholic bite through it all. Toast, caramel, raisins, and dates from the malt are evident after the stronger flavors have died away. The body does leave a bit of a mouthcoating.

Now I’ll have the Regal Double Pilsner, which isn’t even mentioned on the website. Regal is very clear, a golden straw color. The head is creamy and just off-white. The nose is very light. Noble hops create a bit of an herbal aroma, and the pils malt gives a bready character, all almost imperceptible.

The flavor is likewise remarkably mild, especially considering the level of alcohol. The bread flavor is present through to the end, and the generous body also reflects the level of malt. A noble, herbal hop flavor is there, but not nearly strong enough. There is a fair amount of hop bitterness, more than balancing the malt. A bit of alcoholic tinge only seems to add to the bitterness. For a beer this strong to be this drinkable is dangerous.

+Breckenridge Regal Double Pilsner

3.8 (4-6-8-4-16)

+Breckenridge 471 ESB

3.5 (4-7-7-3-14)

Peace Tree, Day Three

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Alas, this is the final post in my triptych on Peace Tree Brewing Company of Knoxville, Iowa. Tonight I’ll have the last pair of beers currently available (outside of the brewery’s taphouse), two India pale ales. Fortunately it won’t be long before I can try more: a little birdie told me there’s an imperial stout coming in just a few weeks, and a Belgian blonde soon after that.

First up, the year-round Hop Wrangler 3, termed a “multinational IPA” for its combination of English and American malts and hops and Peace Tree’s Belgian yeast strain. Creamy ivory head sits atop a pale, rusty, lightly hazy beer. The hop aroma billows out, strongly fruity, with herbal undertones. Grapefruit, mango, and blood oranges intercut with pine and rose blossoms. Aromas of lemon and mint float above it all.

The bitterness is immediate, and though it is strong it’s also rounded and full, accompanied by a rich herbal hop flavor and just enough alcohol to notice. The spicy pine and mint of the English hops are joined by grapefruit from the American ones. A bit of a caramel malt sweetness in the background, and a bit of substance to the body, but overall not quite malty enough to provide the balance I would like.

From the Brewer’s Special Release Series (to my knowledge this beer is the series at the moment), I’m having the Double IPA. You know this beer was brewed at Peace Tree: it says so three separate times on the label. The double is a bit darker in color than the Hop Wrangler, more of a mahogany, opalescent, with some off-white head. The nose is strongly fruity with grapefruit and mango, as well as a piney herbal character, much like the Wrangler. However this one has a rich toasty maltiness that the other is lacking.

The difference between these two beers on the nose is not all that significant, but the flavor is worlds apart. The Double IPA has a solid malt character to balance the ridiculous hoppiness. The hops are still certainly the star: their exotic fruits and mint have an almost shisha-like quality, and the herbal character provides a grounding force. But the malt is not being pushed aside here, lending a flavor that reminds me of Hawaiian sweet bread, and creating a luscious body that handles the hops. Tasty.

Peace Tree has been making good beer and making it available, but not for very long. They stand in defiance to those who say the craft beer market is already saturated, proving that elbow grease and a little innovation is all it takes to carve out a niche and watch it flourish. If they can keep it up, they’re poised to go very far.

++Peace Tree Double I.P.A.

4.2 (4-8-8-4-18)

+Peace Tree Hop Wrangler 3

3.9 (4-8-7-3-17)

Peace Tree, Day Two

Monday, February 21st, 2011

A major factor in the success of the Peace Tree Brewing Company has been the wide availability of their beer. Distribution has always presented something of a chicken-and-egg problem for small breweries. Winning the shelf space of retailers without any brewing history is difficult, and taking away tap handles from other brands (especially ones from the big three brewers) can be next to impossible. Fortunately things have been changing, and the state of Iowa has slowly built up a craft beer culture. It is onto this burgeoning scene that Peace Tree has burst.

They wasted no time at all building a wide distribution network. Though they are anchored by a dozen locations around Knoxville, including their own tap room, the real strength of their growth can be seen in the liquor section of Hy-Vee. Timing their opening just perfectly with a recent push by that store to expand craft beer and wine selections, Peace Tree beers are now available at more than forty Hy-Vees statewide. Considering beer purchasing is done individually by each local store, this illustrates a dedication to making their beer available.

But what is most impressive is the number of Peace Tree’s draft accounts in Des Moines and Iowa City. There basically isn’t a bar of consequence in either town without at least one of Red Rambler or Hop Wrangler. Peace Tree is quickly becoming Iowa’s own little New Glarus.

Tonight I will have two more beers. The first, a seasonal farmhouse ale, is brewed with not just corn, but also corn stalks. I’d also say that the name Cornucopia fits very well with yesterday’s discussion of roots. After that I will have a bottle of the year-round Rye Porter.

Cornucopia pours a very pale straw color, just barely shy of brilliantly clear. The head is bone white, just a thin little pillow that doesn’t linger. A rich but delicate bread character from the malt supports the fruity aroma that is the star of the nose. This characteristic raspberry peach calling card is created by Peace Tree’s strain of Belgian yeast. They use the same for (almost) all of their beers, but nowhere else does it shine like this.

A spicy yeast flavor and a alcoholic sharpness make this beer a bit more intense than one would expect. The alcohol turns quickly to warming, and the black pepper and coriander almost yield to the malt. The corn makes the body quite light, and the corn stalks give a bit of a graininess to the flavor. Certainly a beer to drink fresh.

Now to the Rye Porter. This one is a very dark, very hazy, chocolate color, with some creamy, sandy brown head. The nose is at first roasty, strongly of burnt toast. A light berry fruitiness grows to balance, and the roast character turns to coffee.

Rich toast and caramel marries with the spiciness from the rye, creating a deep and intriguing combination. Espresso and strong dark chocolate flavors balance the milky palate and sweet caramel malt residual. Very thick and rich, but still refreshing.

+Peace Tree Rye Porter

3.8 (4-7-8-4-15)

+Peace Tree Cornucopia

3.5 (3-8-6-3-15)

Peace Tree, Day One

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Over the next several days I will be tasting everything I can get my hands on from one of the most exciting new Iowa breweries, Peace Tree Brewing Company in Knoxville. They started making beer barely more than year ago, and hosted their grand opening just last March. However, as I understand it, they now produce as much beer as anyone else in the state.

What has driven this explosive growth? The powerhouse team behind Peace Tree, Megan McKay Ziller, her husband Scott Ziller, and her father Daniel McKay have managed to hit a sweet spot that has enabled their continuous expansion. In my mind it is three specific factors.

First, the beer. No brewery can have any measure of success without consistently producing drinkable and interesting beer. Peace Tree lured brewer Joe Kesteloot from the Cold Spring Brewery to capably tackle that side of things. This and the next few posts will certainly examine Peace Tree’s beers.

Next, the marketing. The label and tap art is unique and interesting but also classy and consistent. The bottled beers come in those squat, round bottles you’d usually see holding a particular Jamaican beer (“hooray, beer!”), which makes them stand out just a little bit more. And above all, the team has done a great job of getting accounts in some important Iowa bars and retailers, making their beer highly available. I’ll talk more about this later.

Lastly, it is authenticity. Peace Tree exudes honesty. The brewery is named for the old stump that today juts out of the reservoir named (questionably) Lake Red Rock. Before the area was flooded, this tree served as a meeting point for Native Americans, and later fur traders.

It is in that vein that tonight I taste two beers that are named for local landmarks. The Red Rambler is an homage to the building the Peace Tree brewery is in, which in a former life was a Nash Rambler dealership. After that I’ll have the Black River Gumbo Stout, named for the rich black gumbo soil of the Des Moines River. This brewery actually has a beer named for dirt.

The Red Rambler pours mostly clear, a beautiful copper to ruby color, with some creamy off-white head. The nose is light but very intriguing. The malt is most prominent, with plenty of melanoidins making toast and caramel notes. In the background lie nut and raisin aromas, with a bit of a fruity hoppiness adding character.

The flavor is very refreshing. The bitterness is immediately apparent – strong, but smooth. Rich malt flavors help bring it in balance, but this beer still leans towards hoppy. Herbal hops combine with bread and toast for a lively and interesting flavor. The body is present, but not full, and the carbonation light and creamy. The malt flavor lingers for a moment, the herbal hops just a moment longer.

The Black River Gumbo Stout is, appropriately, a very dark beer, black to all but the brightest of lights. The ample creamy head is pale bronze color. The aroma is rich with roasted malts. A toasty, woody, even smoky character is offset by a rich and sweet nuttiness. Hazelnuts and walnuts are joined by plums before being overtaken by burnt bread. A deeply mesmerizing aroma.

The flavor is certainly roasty, but much less oppressive than suggested by the aroma, coming off more like coffee and chocolate. Fruity character from the Belgian yeast makes for a lively balance. Thick caramel and roasted malt flavors do battle with the herbal hops and fruity yeast across the surface of your tongue. Eventually the malt wins out, leaving a caramel malt sweetness and roast malt bitterness lingering for a moment, not unlike a good coffee.

+Peace Tree Black River Gumbo Stout

4.0 (4-9-7-4-16)

+Peace Tree Red Rambler

3.7 (3-8-7-4-15)

Minhas Craft Brewery

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

The Minhas Craft Brewery in Monroe, Wisconsin has claim to the title of second-oldest operating brewery in the United States, founded in 1845 as the Blumer Brewery. From 1947 to 2006 the company took the name Joseph Huber Brewing Company, and since the most recent acquisition, Minhas.Joseph Huber Premium Beer They continue to produce the popular Berghoff, Rhinelander, and Huber lines of beer, in addition to a few interesting new brews. Tonight I will be tasting two classics that date to the Joseph Huber days, a premium lager and their bock.

First up, the Joseph Huber Premium Beer, an all-malt lager. This beer pours a pale golden yellow color, with just a bit of a haze and a swiss-cheesy head. The nose is both grainy and sulfuric. The malt gives a rich bready aroma with some hints of barley husk. This is somewhat disturbed by a level of sulfur several ticks more than is appropriate: the smell of corn makes picking out the malt and especially the hops difficult.

This beer has the body that comes from an all-malt beer without being too thick or sweet. The bread and grain flavors from the malt provide a rich foundation. However, as with the aroma, the taste of this beer is overpowered by a cooked corn flavor.Huber Bock A bit of a fruity sweetness, reminiscent of pears, follows along at the end. Overall not a bad beer, save my one complaint.

On to the Huber Bock, which pours a very deep, dark mahogany color with a fair bit of creamy, sandy brown head. The nose is relatively mild, displaying a moderate sweetness with some caramel malt, bread, and toast characteristics. As this beer warms the aromas come out more, yet they remain elusive.

The flavor is malty and noticably sweet, though not too much so. Despite the rich toffee and caramel flavors, this beer is quite balanced. The playful sweetness teases your tongue as it dances towards the back, accompanied by hazelnuts and roasted chestnuts. A noble hop bitterness balances this with subdued herbal and earthy flavors. The full body supports this beer without getting in the way.

+Joseph Huber Bock

3.6 (3-7-7-4-15)

-Joseph Huber Premium Beer

2.5 (2-5-5-3-10)

(p.s. Enough of these non-local beers. Look forward to my next post about an exciting freshman Iowa brewery.)

Thirsty Bear Brewing Co.

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Last week was SF Beer Week. I understand there were a few good events all over town. Unfortunately I left just before it got started.

Also, all month long is the Strong Beer Experience at the Magnolia Pub and the 21st Amendment Brewery. I did stop by the latter for the three drinks I was allowed (it seems like a good idea that they have set that limit) and enjoyed them. It was a bit too crazy in the bar to take good notes, but I know I was a fan of the Imperial Jack, a beer which I understand was guest brewed by the folks at the Elizabeth Street Brewery.

The next night I had a few drinks around the corner at the Thirsty Bear Brewing Company. This certified organic brewpub also serves Spanish food that looked quite tasty, but unfortunately I was not at all hungry by the time I got there. The two vessel brewhouse and six fermentation tanks occupy the place of honor protected by a pane of glass behind the bar. They are situated in a depression in the floor that simultaneously puts the neatest parts of each tank at bar level as well as keeping the dirty operations from the eye of the visitor. They also have flamenco here! (though not the night I visited.)

I had two beers while at Thirsty Bear, a gravity-served stout and the IPA. The Cask Stout was absolutely pitch black, a black hole shade of black. The long-lasting creamy head was a deep ochre hue. First on the nose are light roast notes from the dark malts. This is followed by hazelnuts and nutmeg, and subtle aromas of toast. Overall light, but with an intriguing fruitiness.

Toasted and burnt bread flavors and some smokiness betray the roasted malts, but the smooth creamy palate is much lighter. As it is a cask beer, the carbonation is very mild, allowing the roasty bitterness to become somewhat more astringent.

The bartender recommended the Howard St. IPA, and I can’t refuse a hoppy beer. This one is brilliantly clear, the color a beautiful ruby tinted amber. It has some creamy head and an herbal nose with hints of citrus.

The hoppy bitterness is strongly herbal, bordering on the character of a California common ale, but there isn’t the same long lingering bitterness on the back of the tongue. The herbal hop flavor leans towards minty. The flavor is just a bit green, dirty but not very earthy. It has some body, but is perhaps a bit thin for an IPA.

Thirsty Bear Howard St. IPA

3.5 (4-7-7-3-14)

Thirsty Bear Cask Stout

3.4 (4-7-6-3-14)