Blind Beer Tasting: Relying on Our Other Senses

Last Friday, I went to a blind tasting hosted by Heavy Table and the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild – my first ever. And, boy, it was tough. Never in my life had I been so faced with the inability to react to visual cues and branding. I was left to focus on my other beer-drinking senses, rather than my “does this label suck?” sense – which, if you know me, is very hard to turn off. But at the same time it was liberating to not have to worry about the company, style, reputation or branding (I guess, until after, when it was revealed and some of our opinions proved surprising).

What was fun though was experiencing the “back to basics” approach that a blind tasting brings out – it’s not about the fancy label or name (or lackthereof), how the beer fits the style guidelines (although they were in flights kind of organized by style or flavors, Brown bag 40sor recognizing it has a high ABV,  hence the tulip glass. All of the beers we tasted came in tulip glasses or beer festival tasters, adding to the intrigue (and frustration). Much like these 40s (had a few weeks ago at World Street Kitchen), hidden inside brown bags, you don’t know what’s there or how to feel about it before you taste it and truly know how you feel about it. I spent most of my time swirling and smelling – I could not get enough of the scents. Next time you have a beer, although you may look like an idiot, close your eyes and breath it all in. Never have I had so many memories or feelings flooding my brain. BEER FEELINGS!

That all being said, it was cool for me to see which beers I really liked – those that I liked with and without the branding (Indeed Burr Grinder, Summit Frost Line Rye) and those that surprised me, both positively and negatively. Check out the article to read more and see some cool pictures!


Every Good Brewery Has a Creation Story

As many of you know, there’s nothing I like more than a good brewery creation story, especially when I’m on my one-billionth brewery tour. But I’m talking deeply-rooted cultural beginnings type of creation story that defines the brewery’s entire life and being, not just “I homebrewed and I was good at it, then a lot of people said I should start a brewery so then I did.” Like all of the world’s cultures, microbreweries have—and need—them too.  Something that reminds them of why they’re doing what they’re doing, what drew them into beer, what makes them a brewer you the consumer should come to know, respect and even love, like you would your a person. The creation story is frequently alluded to in the brewery’s name or the taproom décor or the beers they brew or the names they choose for those brews. But it’s everything. No creation story, no soul.

Bent paddles on the brewery floor

You’ve heard them all. Half Pints brewery in Winnipeg was started by a man who began his brewing career at a Big Brewery where he would get free beer at the end of every shift. A family man (who told me that there are two types of brewers out there: scientists and drunks, he of course being the former) who just wanted to top off his day and get home, would only order 8 ounce pours, earning him the nickname, and name of his future brewery, “half pint”. Bent Paddle in Duluth was started by a man who, while brewing at Rock Bottom, and was looking for a mash paddle that would do the job juuuust right, and realized he had the perfect thing in the trunk of his car—a bent canoe paddle. It worked wonders, and beyond becoming the name of his own brewery, it is now a mainstay on the floor.

These stories are for real. These people are for real. Sure, maybe these quaint stories have been molded into the truths that are told by tour guides or bartenders or local beer nuts, but if we believe them to be true they are true and their stories become our stories. Like them, I’m sure you have a story of when you first discovered craft beer. Of when you first discovered your love for homebrew. Of when you began your journey into commercial-microbrewing. Mine to come at a later date.

I would say the stories are what makes craft beer so fascinating. But the weird thing is, the Big Guys have them too. They are some of the oldest and most historically-significant corporations of our time and their stories are deeply rooted in some of the same things our favorite craft breweries are, like the entrepreneurial spirit, elegant craftsmanship, and building a tradition based on that of our forefathers. But beyond that, they helped build statistics as we know it today, branding as we are in awe of today, and industry that many can only dream of. But what makes their stories different? My uncle, who pretty much only drinks Miller Lite connects to the brand as much as I connect to Indeed Brewing (which is, for the record, probably my favorite Minneapolis brewery) but dare I say he connects on an even deeper level. It was the beer his father, my grandfather, drank every day after a hard day of work a machinist; it was the beer he guzzled in college; and it is the beer he now chooses for his games of golf.

So as much as the craft beer revolution is based around being the other, microbreweries setting themselves apart from the Big Boys by defining themselves as something they’re not, intentionally creating a cultural fission between micro and macro, I only see the two becoming more similar, more united, more one. I mean, Summit is already doing throwback labels, building a brand based on nostalgia and a history of quality – um, that sounds familiar!

Summit Throwback labels

But I don’t have an answer to this and I definitely don’t have a solution, perhaps because I don’t truly see it as a problem (Cocky Liz just thinks “Well, macrobreweries just keep losing market share, and clamber to gain it back to no avail, so no worries. Right?”). Maybe the issue is that as craft beer lovers we’ve built a healthy amount of hatred towards the category leaders; we want to support our local favorites, our friends, our city. But how different are they really?

13 Days of Pumpkin Beer – Day 13: Avery’s Rumpkin

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#13 – October 13, 2013: Rumpkin by Avery Brewing Co. (Boulder, CO)

It’s the moment you’ve ALL been waiting for; the 13th beer review in the 13 Days of Pumpkin Beer guest blog!  And what better way to celebrate the 13th spooky-scary day, than after a horror movie at the $3 theater and a beer review at midnight??  PS, “The Conjuring” is terrifying, and most likely not complete BS, according to my resident lawyer.

Color: Amber, gold, and russet

Year of conception: 2010

ABV: 18.53%

Cost: $12.00 + tax for a single 12oz bottle

Availability: Not.  I had heard rumors about this beer, but was unable to track it down until the beginning of October at a small, upscale liquor store next to my gym.  Sales were limited to a SINGLE BOTTLE PER PERSON.  Oh, and did I mention I called every day for a week to see if they had it in yet??!

Description by Avery Brewing Co.: “We wondered what would happen if a monstrous pumpkin ale, plump full of spicy gourdiness, were aged in fine fresh rum barrels to add suggestions of delicate oak and candied molasses. Rumpkin is what happened! This first member of the Annual Barrel-Aged Series was brewed with roasted pumpkins from a local Boulder County farm, and spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger.”

From first sniff, one can tell that this is not your average beer; much like Tracy Jordan’s “Werewolf Barmitzvah” is a spin-off of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Avery took significant creative liberties when crafting Rumpkin.  Fall spices wrapped in dark rum invade your nostrils and encourage you to test your pumpkin, er, rumpkin ale limits!  The ale itself is a sweet, slippery, syrupy beverage that conveniently slides down your gullet and quickly invades your blood stream.  The unlikely combination of hard alcohol, beer, and pumpkin may create many skeptics, but one sip and skeptics everywhere will wish they were simultaneously carving pumpkins, watching football, and jumping into piles of fallen leaves.  While not your “typical” pumpkin ale and rather pricey, I encourage everyone to raise their gourds and toast this Pumpkin King!

Pie Pieces: 4+ –  Super-duper cool Jack-o-lantern!

13 Days of Pumpkin Beer – Days 11 & 12: Wynkoop’s Pumpkin Ale & Epic’s Imperial Pumpkin Porter

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#11 – October 11, 2013: Pumpkin Ale by Wynkoop Brewing Co. (Denver, CO)

Note: Wynkoop Brewing Co’s website is very user-unfriendly, and has absolutely NO mention of their pumpkin beer = FAIL. Granted, this beer was created a little over a month ago and is part of their “even smaller batch” series.  But STILL.

Color: Honey blonde

Year of conception: 2013

ABV: 5.5%

Cost: $8.99 + tax for 4-pack of 12oz cans

Availability: Colorado (all people from MN must come to CO in the FALL!)

Description by Wynkoop Brewing Co.: “A gently spiced English-style brown ale enhanced with pumpkin three ways: fresh roasted, pureed and flaked.”

Pumpkin aromatics excite the drinker when first sniffing this beer.  But unbridled excitement quickly dissipates into angry disappointment when taking one’s first sip.  While the pumpkin is apparent from the aromatics, upon imbibing the godly-gourd flavor disappears and is replaced by a boring, malty English ale completely void of pumpkin.  However, this beer is still delicious, and the initial fragrances ignite the imagination.  But much like Charlie Brown in the pumpkin path waiting for the great pumpkin, I’m unsure if the pumpkin flavor is real, or just a figment of Linus’ imagination.

Pie Pieces: 2.5 – Still Ripening on the Vine

#12 – October 12, 2013: Imperial Pumpkin Porter by Epic Brewing Co. (Salt Lake City, UT)

What is it with Salt Lake City and brewing pumpkin beer?  How do the Mormons do it, without being able to drink alcohol??!  Seriously, HOW? (Editor’s note: the beer scene in Utah is bumpin’, but is definitely not driven by Mormons. The conservative liquor laws have actually forced craft beer to push the envelope in the state. All bottles and all high gravity. AWESOME.)

Color: Very dark, chocolaty brown

Year of conception: 2011

ABV: 8.0%

Cost: $7.99 + tax for a bomber (22oz.)

Availability: 14 states across the country, including (allegedly) MN!

Description by Epic Brewing Co.: “The essence of the fall!  This beer explodes with aromas of sweet spices giving way to chocolate and roasted malt.  Flavors are reminiscent of fresh-cut pumpkin and chocolate and complimented by hints of clove, fresh Madagascar vanilla beans, nutmeg and allspice.”

This is the twelfth release of Epic’s Imperial Pumpkin, and yet the pumpkin is missing.  The stout as a whole is just that, a stout, but not a bad one per se.  But in terms of it’s pumpkin-y goodness, it’s as if Epic took all the chocolate candy from Halloween, threw in some pumpkin seeds, and dubbed it king of Halloween-town, without any reason except for the high alcohol content putting “imperial” in its name.  Even Jack Skellington had reason to doubt his appointment as pumpkin king, and I feel like this beer may be better off in the hands of Sandy Claws than advertised as an overture to autumn.  Even though it is a tasty stout, I don’t appreciate the price tag or deception, and am royally disappointed with its pumpkin title.

Pie Pieces: 2.5 – Still Ripening on the Vine

13 Days of Pumpkin Beer – Day 10: Denver Beer’s Hey! Pumpkin

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#10 – October 10, 2013: Hey! Pumpkin’ by Denver Beer Co. (Denver, CO)

I have a certain bias towards LOVING Denver Beer Co., as I worked with an owner’s wife at Children’s Hospital Colorado.  And yes, I do go to DBC occasionally just to destroy my significant other in Candy Land and/or “accidentally” cheat at battleship.

Color: Honey brown

Year of conception: 2013

ABV: ???

Cost: $14.99 + tax for a growler

Availability: only Denver, CO for now, sorry!

Description by Denver Beer Co: “As the weather turns cool this spiced beer is sure to warm you up.  The pumpkin brew has a gorgeous, unmistakable “pumpkinguts-orange” pour thanks to over 100 pounds of real pumpkin used in the mash.  The nose if full of cinnamon and nutmeg spices with a drink that is a melody of autumn and a lingering finish that will have you reaching for your sweater.”

*Disclaimer: I bought this growler 3-4 weeks ago, so the flavor may no longer be accurate.  The nutmeg and cinnamon are still potent aromatics, but the beer itself isn’t as special as I remember.  It’s more of a “pumpkinguts-orange” flavor than pour, and the spices disappear when imbibing the liquid.  There’s nothing intriguing about this ale except that it is only available at DBC, and that I would have been happier reviewing a glass than a growler (#whitegirlproblems).  Given my track record of only viciously slamming one beer thus far, I think I will take one for the team for not drinking my growler sooner and preserve DBC’s dignity, giving them kudos for their sportsmanship and effort, a la Denver Broncos circa 2012.  Maybe next year guys, maybe next year!

Pie Pieces: 2 – Green