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Dec 04 2011

Beer O’Clock

Today, I leave Minnesota. Luckily I’m writing this post a day in advance, because right about now I’d be too teary-eyed to write, no matter how many notes I’d already taken in preparation for this post. I expect that, once home, I will revert to my less adventuresome and more hermit-like self, e.g. the lousy Canuck of my blog tagline.

One of the things I regret most about being a teetotaler through my university career (though the fact served me well in my studies) is that I simply didn’t have any experience with beer at all, so when I started drinking years later, my first experience was with the commercially mass-produced pap that is Molson Canadian. I was turned off of beer for a very long time thereafter. Until I started drinking Rickards Honey Brown, which introduced me to the novel concept that, hey, beer is actually possibly quite drinkable and even — dare I say it — tasty.

Since then, I’ve tried a whole lot of different kinds of beers, and usually I go for a new beer if one’s available on the menu. I go for a known-good beer if I can’t find one that’s novel, and if there are no four- or five-star beers (by my own ratings), then I’ll abstain. I wasn’t really taking notes before this trip, but I’m going to make a fresh start of it once I get home. For the record, Innis & Gunn’s original, a Scottish import, is my gold-standard 5-star beer. It’s a toffee-tasting, intentionally skunked (e.g. stored in a clear glass bottle) ale, deriving much of its flavor from the casking process. I have, in the process of collecting “empirical data” for this post, discovered I strongly favor stouts.

Here are my notes for the various beers I’ve had opportunity to sample while in Minnesota. I tried to note wherever possible how much I had, what percentage alcohol it was, and how it was served. I tried to stick to roughly 355ml (12oz, you yanks!) servings wherever possible, but in some cases, I only had a slug off someone else’s beer. (All from my own table, I assure you. I only wandered around the restaurant demanding drinks from other patrons the once.)

Bell’s Java Stout
355ml, 7.5%, brown bottle
****.
Biting, dark, toasty. Some chocolate, mostly coffee flavor. Not unlike a cold mocha. Very good stout.

Rogue Dry Hopped St. Rogue Red Ale
355ml, 5.1%, brown bottle
***..
Strong malt and hops flavors. Not a bad red, but I prefer Sleeman’s or Rickards’ Red.

Rush River Winter Warmer Winter Ale
355ml, 8%, brown bottle
****.
Very strong malt, sweet finish, made as a Scottish ale. Like an unskunked, smoother, creamy (but less tasty) Innis & Gunn

Rush River Imperial India Pale Ale
355ml, 9%, brown bottle
**…
Sour (citrus?), smooth, not nearly as much honey as the bee would imply. Decent cold, but not one I’d seek out.

Bell’s Best Brown Ale
355ml, 5.8%, brown bottle
***..
Good for a brown ale, but I’m not much for brown ales. Lots of flavor texture in it, I’m sure a brown ale drinker would enjoy this much more than me.

Ben Zvan’s Raspberry Cream Stout
1 pint, 5.5%, homebrew
*****
Delicious. Bloody delicious. Chock full of chocolate and raspberry flavors. Shame I can’t take it with me, because it’s all gone.

Rogue Mocha Porter
355ml, 5.1%, brown bottle
****.
Very much like a liquid bar of dark chocolate. Very few other flavors, very creamy. A good drink, but with little complexity. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Grand Teton Black Cauldron
355ml, 8%, draft
***..
Translucent, malty, chocolate-colored, tastes incredibly thick, ends like cocoa. I suspect mine might have been watered down, because commenters at the website seem to think it’s “black-hole black”.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
1 drink, 10%, draft
***..
Mildly citrusy but very chocolate still. Clean finish. Maybe a bit overly complex, and I’m averse to the anise flavor to begin with (I hate anise).

Bell’s Sparkling Ale
1 drink, 9%, draft
****.
Cloves are the dominant flavor, a little bit of honey. Excellent creamy ale, especially if you like the taste of cloves. I could see drinking this with ham.

Tallgrass Buffalo Sweat Stout
355ml, 5%, draft
*****
Amazing stout. Sweet, creamy, pitch black, and completely drinkable. Probably my favorite of the trip outside of Ben’s homebrew batch.

Surly Furious
1 drink, 6.5%, draft
*….
“WTF. What is wrong with this?” Those were my exact notes from immediately after tasting it. Very bitter, strange aftertaste — I have no idea what vegetable I tasted in it.

Surly Coffee Bender
355ml, 5.5%, Canned
****.
An excellent ale. Maybe a 4.5 stars. Makes up for the Furious. Tastes of coffee, caramel, chocolate.

Lagunitas Pilsner
355ml, 6.2%, Draft
***..
Slightly fruity, sweet, clean pilsner. Drinkable but not one I’d seek out.

Summit Seasonal Winter Ale
****.
355ml, 6.1%, Draft
Dark, nutty, heavy, very quaffable.

Negro Modelo
355ml, 5.4%, Draft
***..
Mexican beer. Caramel colored. Slightly sweet, pleasant and inoffensive. By far better than the well overrated Corona.

Orkney Red MacGregor Ruby Ale
2 drinks, 4%, brown bottle (500ml!)
**…
Strong florals, very hoppy. Bitter, too complex for my tastes.

Leinenkugels Apple Spice
355ml, 4.9%, brown bottle
****.
Much like a non-alcoholic apple cider mixed into a beer — very tasty. Apparently discontinued. Shame.

Bell’s Two Hearted India Pale Ale
355ml, 7%, Draft
**…
The two hearts are sour and hoppy. A star for each heart. Bummer way to end the beer list on this trip.

16 comments

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  1. 1
    Lorax

    Not sure what to think. Furious is my (currently) favorite beer, so I must take it personally that you gave it 1 star. Of course from NIH standards the lower the score you get the better, so maybe it all works out. Ill admit it is a different beer. I find it to have some pretty strong fruit flavors, which I generally dislike in beers. It is also overhopped in my opinion, which I generally also don’t like in beers (which is why I do not enjoy sierra nevada’s ales). However, I find the balance of both fruitiness and hops to be perfect. It’s a flavor smack in the mouth, but still my favority. Not as much a fan of the Bender, but the Cynic is quite good. Too bad you didn’t get to try the Abrasive, I think it’s released today.

    Anyway, pleasure saying ‘Nice to meet you’ and “Nice to meet you’ on my arrival and departure respectively at Bar Abilene. Have a safe trip back.

  2. 2
    Paul Little

    An interesting list. I’m a huge beer fan, and seek out something new and different whenever I buy a beer. But I don’t think I’ve ever tried a single beer off your list. Probably a regional thing. I found that as a new beer afficionado, I leaned heavily towards the flavourful ales, porters and stouts. As I’ve educated my palate, I have gained an appreciation for the Pale and India Pale ales that have a stronger hops component. I’ve been facsinated by looking back at reviews I did of beers from several years ago and seeing how my thoughts have changed over time. I currently seek out the aggresively hopped Pales and IPAs as my go-to beers. Although intentional hop-bombs, like the Surly Furious, or the Stone Arrogant Bastard do nothing for me. Enjoy your exploration of everything Beer!

  3. 3
    redskyonmars

    What about in Halifax? Skeptics in the Pub (uh-oh, a plug! ) is meeting at Maxwell’s Plum on Dec 11.
    Any recommendations?
    Their beer menu.

    My go-to is also Innis and Gunn. And I lean towards stouts. I really like the St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, and Murphy’s is my fall back. Three or four years ago I bought two bottles of Black Pearl as a treat (not to be confused with Black Pearl put out by a ?national? brewery) from Garrison’s. I’ve been trying to find something as good ever since. Apparently that was a small test run for the Christmas market, and I’m not sure they’ve made it again. Whenever I try a new beer, I’m always comparing to the memory of the Black Pearl. Maybe it wasn’t as good as I remember, maybe I fell for the marketing (if memory serves it was about $6 per bottle, and the necks were dipped in black wax), maybe it was laced with crack. Meh, it was probably sour anyway.

  4. 4
    Nadine

    I am an IPA drinker, not much of a stout drinker, but I must recommend Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout – it’s the one stout that I truly enjoy (out of a very small sampling) – also check out Wells (?) Banana Bread Stout – it really tastes just like banana bread! Not that I’d want a full pint of that … but a taste is fun!

  5. 5
    VeritasKnight

    At this rate, we’ll be upgrading you to “So-So Canuck” before too long.

  6. 6
    Quincyme

    I have to say my favourite stout is Gillespies (another Scottish import) with Murphys a close second. For bitter, it has to be Timmy Taylor’s Landlord.

  7. 7
    JoeBuddha

    I’m a huge barley wine fan still in mourning at the demise of Old Nick. However, the Double Bastard is pretty close; far more Nick-like (and less overly bitter) than the Arrogant Bastard. Not for the faint of heart, though…
    I also like me some Moose Drool and Black Butte Porter is an acceptable utility beer when I can’t get anything else.

  8. 8
    Gregory in Seattle

    Mass-produced beer is like sex in a canoe: f-ing close to water. You have some fine suds on your list, though.

  9. 9
    DuWayne

    Ack, Bell’s.

    Given your taste, I would strongly suggest you try Unibreu if by chance you haven’t yet. It’s even fucking Canuckistanian.

  10. 10
    Jason Thibeault

    Lorax@1: great to meet you too, hopefully next time around we’ll have a more proximate seating arrangement and we can chat properly.

    redskyonmars@3: plug away! I won’t be able to make this one, but I’d love to come out for a SitP at some time in the near-ish future.

    Since you’re an I&G fan too, I hear the Sleeman Cream Ale is close if unskunked, and have been meaning to try it but haven’t managed so far. I do like the Sleeman Honey Brown, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s good. The Propeller Porter is pretty good, probably a 3.5* on my current scale. And I really want to try the Pump House Blueberry — and will, hopefully, get to do so the next time I eat at the Port Pub in Port Williams, as Pump House operates adjacent to it.

    JoeBuddha@7: Moose Drool sounds epic. I would buy it on name alone. It’s why I went for the Buffalo Sweat, in fact.

    DuWayne@9: Haven’t seen any Unibroue in my neck of the woods, but they apparently have a Quebecois red beer called Maudite, which translates to “Goddamned”. I’m going to look out for that one.

  11. 11
    rutty

    Innes and Gunn are indeed very nice – my favourite Scottish beer by a mile.

    I’ve been to visit my sister in Toronto a few times and I’m visiting again this month (I live in the UK). On previous visits I have discovered some absolutely gorgeous beer from a Belgian-style Canadian brewery called Unibroue. I had a couple of bottles of La Fin Du Monde and fell in love with it:

    http://www.unibroue.com/en/beers/la_fin_du_monde/

    I will certainly be getting my lips around some this time too. I’ll keep your list in mind while visiting the odd Toronto bar :)

  12. 12
    rutty

    I see Unibroue has already been mentioned. I had La Maudite too – also lovely. You MUST try some!

    Dave

  13. 13
    sinned34

    A post about muthafuckin’ Beer! At last!

    I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting a post like this from you, Jason – what with that “Lousy Canuck” moniker and all. Although I’m supremely pissed that you posted this while I have practically zero time to comment, so I’ll have to leave this short comment relating my vast experiences with rotten barley broth.

    I’ll agree that Innis & Gunn is an excellent beverage, and note that I’m a fan of most styles of beer: stout, IPA, bitters, cream ale, dopplebocks, marzen, Belgian dubbels and trippels, etc, etc. Heck, I even like lager! Unibroue has a few excellent beverages, my favorites being Ephemere and Trios Pistoles. I also highly recommend Crannog Ales’ Back Hand Of God stout, if you can find it.

    Thankfully, I’m in Vancouver right now, and last night I discovered a place that has BHoG stout on tap. I also hope to run down to the Alibi Room to imbibe some of their three cask ales they keep on beer engine. (I love that place: 25 taps, and not a single macrobrew to be found – not even in bottles or cans!)

    Macrobrewed beer largely sucks, but those brewmasters working for Labatt’s, Molson, etc, really know their stuff. When you’re brewing to appeal to a large segment of the population, the end result is naturally bland and boring. Look at popular entertainment as the ultimate example.

    One of these days I’ll have to compare notes with you fellow beer drinkers.

    Wait, Ben Zvan homebrews beer? Finally, someone on FtB that I can talk to!

  14. 14
    DuWayne

    Maudite isn’t bad, but the La Fin Du Monde is fucking awesome. Bar none (unless something new has risen above in the past non-alcoholic few years) it is the best commercially available triple and kicks the shit out of several Abbey only triples I have had. The owner of the roofing company I used to work for has a comparable triple, but you have to be somewhat special and know him personally to get any of that.

    I have to say it’s heartening to know you’re a stout kind of guy. I was big on stouts and other heavy brews when I drank. What was rather sad about my brewing experience was that I failed utterly with stout, but brewed what was apparently a first rate lager. It actually won blind taste tests at a couple of beer clubs. Unfortunately lagers are all just piss to me, even my own.

  15. 15
    Ben Zvan

    @1: Furious is great, but it is a bit extra bitter. Some friends and I modified Midwest Supplies’ Ferocious clone to reduce the bitterness and up the aromatics.

    @2: Bell’s is in Michigan, Rogue is in Oregon, Rush River is in Wisconsin, Grand Teton is in Idaho, Tallgrass is in Kansas, Surly is in Minnesota, Lagunitas is in California, Negro Modelo is in Mexico, Orkney is in Scotland, and Leinenkugels is in Wisconsin.

  16. 16
    sinned34

    Would you guys stop all this talk about beer? I’m starting to develop a mancrush!

  1. 17
    CONvergence: The Horror In Clay | Lousy Canuck

    [...] she also had three Surly beers on hand, and she gifted Surly Amy Roth with a Surly Furious — you might remember what I thought of those — and handed me the infinitely better Surly Hell. That’s right, [...]

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