Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Harriet West SIde IPA Review

Name: Harriet West Side IPA
Style: Belgian IPA
ABV: 6.5%
IBUs: 40

Harriet Brewing. I recall this being the first "local" brewery that popped up in South Minneapolis when I lived there a few years back. I remember Harriet having the "Coming Soon" signage out in front when I was driving from my (former) humble abode to my undergraduate classes on a daily basis.

Then a couple of months before I departed for Chicago, they had their taproom grand opening, which I was unable to attend that day due to the high amount of projects I had going on at that time. Plus with graduation looming a little over a month away, I had to prioritize. However I did manage to try out a couple of their beers prior to their taproom opening, which bring us to the beer at hand.

Today's beer, the West Side IPA holds a special place in my heart. It's the first beer I ever had from Harriet Brewing, on tap at the Rail Station in South Minneapolis, which was amongst the very first places to actually carry anything from Harriet Brewing. I didn't take any notes or anything of the sort while I was there so today marks the first time I've done a proper review of a Harriet Brewing beer. And no, my visit to the food truck rally last year at Harriet does not count.

Appearance - Mildly hazy golden color with a light amount of visible carbonation. The head is nice and foamy with a good amount of retention but the lacing is more on the sparse side.

Aroma - Belgian yeasts and clove notes. I am picking on some floral hop and grapefruit sweetness in here as well. Aside from that, it's pretty yeast forward for an IPA

Taste - Very Belgian yeast forward but the cloves aren't exactly what I would call prominent. I'm getting some bitter hoppiness and grapefruit notes, along with some light citrus and floral hop notes; All in that order. There's also a candied caramel malt backbone that has an almost cotton candy/bubblegum-like quality to it.

Having this beer again makes me feel nostalgic, but not for the reasons you may think. I'm not talking about wishing to be an undergraduate student working part-time again nor am I talking about how things were "simpler" back then (though that wouldn't hurt.) I'm talking about wanting to live in the neighborhood of Howe/Minnehaha once again. One day, perhaps.....

As for the beer itself, it feels more like a Belgian Pale Ale than a Belgian IPA, but it's a really good beer either way you look at it. Right now, the availability is very limited, which is mostly just the Minneapolis-area for the time being. I'm hoping that sooner or later the availability is much wider and in bottles in the near future. Right now, if you ever find yourself in the Minneapolis-area, it's worth seeking out amongst the other offerings from them.

Harriet West Side IPA Review - 8.5/10

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Weyerbacher Merry Monks Review

Name: Weyerbacher Merry Monks
Style: Tripel
ABV: 9.3%
IBUs: 15

Ahhh Weyerbacher, a brewery that I haven't had since my days as an undergraduate. Based out of Pennsylvania, these guys are known for making some beers that are pretty strong. Today I've got their Merry Monks Tripel, though judging from the bottle artwork, I would think a more appropriate name would be Mischievous Monks. Look at him, he's acting like they just hid a dead body behind the casks in the background.

To date, I've had their Imperial Pumpkin Ale & their Blithering Idiot barrel-aged barleywine and it pretty much turns you into one after having a couple bottles of it. I'll do my best to bring them back for a review sometime in the near future.

Appearance - Hazy Dark Golden Color with a moderate amount of visible carbonation. The head is rather thin head with a light amount of retention and the same goes for the lacing.

Aroma - Belgian yeasts & cloves, followed by some figs and toffee sweetness. I'm also getting some light spices and light floral hop notes.

Taste - Belgian yeasts &  strong clove notes followed by toffee malts, strong figs & spices. Again, I'm getting those mild floral hops and a moderate boozy aftertaste with some yeasts and bitter hops.

A little too boozy for my liking in the aftertaste, but aside from that, this is actually a pretty solid Tripel. It doesn't deviate too much from the standard formula but then again it really doesn't need to. If you're looking for a pretty good Tripel, than this will do just fine.

Weyerbacher Merry Monks - 8/10

Friday, September 25, 2015

Indeed Let it Roll Review

Name: Indeed Let it Roll
Style: India Pale Ale
ABV: 6.2%
IBUs: 86

A new offering from Indeed Brewing? Don't mind if I do! Today I've got their Let it Roll IPA which, to my understanding, is their fall seasonal IPA. This past summer they had another IPA by the name of Let it Ride, so this leads me to believe that this is a fall seasonal. As to why it's called Let it Roll, I'm guessing it was simply a matter of convenience. Now all I'm waiting for is the inevitable release of Let it Relax Session IPA (That's a joke.)

Appearance - Very hazy dark amber color with no visible carbonation. The head is nice & foamy with some lacing that is on the spottier side.

Aroma - Rich citrus & mango notes upfront followed by some mildly pungent grapefruitness. I'm also getting some nice toffee & caramel maltiness with just a hint of yeastiness. Needless to say, I love the way this smells!

Taste - Pretty similar to the nose. You've got the rich citra hop and mango sweetness upfront and some grapefruit notes but there is a surprisingly strong bitter (not piney) hoppiness that jumps out of nowhere at the end of the palate along with some light yeastiness. There is also an encompassing toffee maltiness that shows up in the back of the palate and aftertaste, mainly to help balance out the bitter hoppiness.

At first, I wasn't a huge fan of the surprise bitter hoppiness at the end, but as I kept drinking this, it actually grew on me. As far as everything else is concerned, I love this beer. It's nice, rich and quite tasty. If this is truly a fall seasonal, than this could definitely be one of my favorites.

Indeed Let it Roll - 9/10

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ballast Point Calm Before The Storm Review

Name: Ballast Point Calm Before The Storm
Style: Cream Ale
ABV: 5.5%
IBUs: 15

There is a reason why mix-a-six selections exist. For some it means trying out a variety of different beers before deciding which one is worthy of a purchase of a regular pack. For others, like yours truly, it is a cost-effective means of trying out as many types of beers as possible and bragging about it to your friends. Of course, there is also the crowd that loves exploring and finding out brand new styles of themselves. In the case of this review, it means being able to try out a beer that, as a whole six-pack, would set you back way more than what it is worth.

That's right, I've got an offering from Ballast Point for this review and I have a lot to say about this beer. Before I do however, I'm going to go on a bit of a rant of sorts. There is no denying that Ballast Point makes great beers, and it's truly a great thing that they do. However, lately it seems that some of their offerings have become so high in price that you start to wonder if it's because of overall cost production or because they feel like it.

Case in point, Calm Before the Storm. I was terrified to buy this because the asking price is around $15 for a six-pack and it wasn't until last week when that I found this as a single bottle for a "reasonable" price of $2.89 that I finally decided to pick it up. I mean seriously, $15 for a cream ale? What gives? Is it made with the sweat of the last living unicorn on Earth or is it infused with golden flecks that we can barely see? I can find cream ales for literally half that cost and still get some great flavor. Well if they keep releasing new beers with this high of a price, it means that someone must be buying them.

Which brings me to my next question, what exactly does this beer have going for it? Well according to the label it's a cream ale that is made with coffee and vanilla. I'll admit that it is an interesting concept when you consider that those are flavor elements usually reserved for dark and/or heavier beer styles......but does it work?

Appearance - Mildly hazy amber color with some light visible carbonation. The head starts out rather foamy and about a finger in width before settling for a thin filmy appearance and some decent lacing along the sides of the glass

Aroma - Right away, I'm picking up on some coffee grounds and barley on the front of the nose. I'm also getting some light cereal grains, mild pale malts and just a touch of vanilla sweetness. If I close my eyes, it's like I'm smelling a porter or a stout of sorts

Taste - Mild vanilla & pale maltiness on the front of the palate, followed by some surprisingly mild coffee ground notes. The second half of the flavor is more lingering vanilla notes and light floral hops. The aftertaste is more of that lingering vanilla sweetness and light roastiness.

It is a good beer by itself, but it is definitely is not worth the $15 price tag that is attached to it and that seriously hurts the appealability of this beer. Which is too bad because the idea of adding coffee & vanilla to a beer style that seemingly only works in darker beer styles is actually an incredibly cool concept. If you're really curious to try this beer out, buy it as part of a mix-a-six before deciding if the $15 price tag is actually worth it.

Ballast Point Calm Before the Storm - 7.5/10

Monday, September 21, 2015

Lakefront Pumpkin Lager Review

Name: Lakefront Pumpkin Lager Review
Style: Pumpkin Beer
ABV: 5.8%

Now here's a beer I haven't had in about 3 years, Lakefront Brewing's Pumpkin Lager. I recall having this at the Fat Cat Bar in Chicago and found it to be quite good for what it was. Of course I wasn't taking notes at the time an account of me being on a date with the future wife; Hey, priorities!

Well the other day I happened to come into possession of this and I'm quite excited to try this out again. Also, the last time Lakefront had graced the pages of this website, it was all the way back in May 2014. Normally I'd complain about that but you can never have too many breweries to choose from.

Appearance - A fairly hazy dark orange color with a mild amount of visible carbonation. The head itself is quite thin in appearance but has some good retention but the lacing is quite lacking for the most part.

Aroma - Cinnamon & cloves with some moderate pumpkin pie and crust notes. Also getting some light pale maltiness and a bit of nutmeg. Compared to Shipyard, this has way more pumpkin in it.

Taste - Pumpkin pie crusts and nutmeg upfront, followed by some bready biscuit yeasts, cinnamon & clove notes. In the aftertaste, I'm getting some light toffee and pale malts with just a slight hint of pumpkin spice.

The flavor remains virtually unchanged from 3 years ago.....and that's a good thing. It's not overwhelming by any means but delivers in terms of overall flavor. If you're new to pumpkin beers and want to get into them, I'd suggest giving this one a spin and see for yourself.

Lakefront Pumpkin Lager - 8/10

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Shipyard Pumpkinhead Review

Name: Shipyard Pumpkinhead
Style: Pumpkin Beer
ABV: 4.5%
IBUs: 18

Fall is officially here and what better way to celebrate with some pumpkin beers? I'll be reviewing some pumpkin beers for the next couple of reviews, plus ones that I find throughout the fall season. We're starting it off with what is perhaps the most infamous pumpkin beer out there: Shipyard Brewing's Pumpkinhead.

Considered by many to be the worst pumpkin beer out there, this beer is almost always located near the bottom of the "Best of Pumpkin Beer" lists across the internet and is lambasted on internet forums like Beer Advocate, with some even calling it Bud Light with Cinnamon & even some calling it the worst beer that they've ever had.

...But is it really as bad people claim it is?

Despite all the hate this beer gets, it seems to keep selling year after year so there's obviously someone buying it out there. Plus there are a couple lists online that actually have this beer showcased closer to the top. I've been hearing about this beer for years so I've finally decided to try this beer out to see for myself how it really is.

Appearance - A clear wet straw yellow color with a very high amount of visible carbonation. The head starts out quite foamy but settles for a very thin white appearance. Also, there is no lacing to speak of.

Aroma - I'm picking up on some cinnamon & clove notes mixed with some allspice and nutmeg. I'm getting some very light toffee maltiness and a hint of pumpkin tucked away in the back of the nose.

Taste - Cinnamon & light nutmeg flavors upfront, followed by some cloves, light toffee sweetness and some light pumpkin notes. I'm also getting some light cereal graininess in here too on the back end of the palate. Aftertaste-wise, it's fairly dry save for some light nutmeg flavors and some very light floral hops.

So is Pumpkinhead really deserving of the hate it gets? Truthfully, I don't think so. Yes, it's mostly spices and the pumpkin element of the flavor is vastly overshadowed by the sheer spice aspects of the taste. However, as a spiced ale it's surprisingly not bad, even tolerable as a matter of fact. I do like the spiciness in here even though it's not as robust as it could possibly be. So while it's no New Glarus Spiced Ale, it's quite inoffensive for what it is and at its worst, it is simply just okay.

Shipyard Pumpkinhead - 6.5/10

Saturday, September 19, 2015

F-Town Ipalicious Review

Name: F-Town Ipalicious
Style: India Pale Ale
ABV: 6.5%

Earlier this year, a sleepy little town about an hour south of Minneapolis & St. Paul by the name of Faribault, Minnesota opened up a brewery called the F-Town Beer Company. I recall hearing a couple years ago about plans to open a brewery there but under the name of Patriot's Brewing Company but I'm guessing the name got changed along the way and now we have F-Town.

Since the brewery opened up in July, I wasn't expecting the beer to be distributed in stores until much later due to possible capacity and the window in which the brewery has been open; Not to mention location. So imagine my shock when I was at the store last week and saw this beer on the store shelves

Which brings us to Ipalicious, which is their IPA offering. Like many Minnesota breweries, they too are opting for cans instead of bottles. The personified hop with horns on the can artwork is trying to do its best Two-Face impression....while being engulfed by flames.

Appearance - A very dark and hazy amber color that is almost brown in color. The dark color and sheer haziness makes it hard to determine if there is any visible carbonation but I do see some bubbles clinging to the sides of the glass. The head is about a finger in width with a very foamy appearance and the lacing is also very abundant and sticky.

Aroma - Strong piney hops & potent caramel malts followed by some bitter citrus notes and light yeastiness. I'm also getting some light roastiness in here as well but it's very dank smelling otherwise.

Taste - Not much change here from the nose but with a couple of exceptions. You've still got those strong dank piney hops but there's also a big caramel malt backbone here that almost completely overshadows the hop profile. You've got those bitter citrus rind and yeasts in the back. The other difference here is that the roastiness is a notch stronger than in the aroma. The aftertaste is a mix of light roastiness and strong bitter hoppiness.

I can tell what the brewery was trying to go for with the flavor along the lines of Dark Horse's own Crooked Tree (At least I think so) and, to be fair, they're somewhat successful at capturing that essence. I'd say if this had a bit more sweet citrus & a little less pine dankness, that this would be a perfect textbook example of a malty IPA. As for me, I like it and I'll happily drink it.

F-Town Ipalicious - 8/10

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Stone 19th Anniversary Thunderstruck IPA Review

Name: Stone 19th Anniversary Thunderstruck IPA
Style: Imperial IPA
ABV: 8.7%
IBUs: 95

It seems like only yesterday that I reviewed Stone Brewing's 17th Anniversary Götterdämmerung IPA.....well, not really but you get the idea. Yes, I think I'll mark the middle of September as Stone's Anniversary IPA time from now one.  Last year's offering, which was a brown IPA, didn't quite impress me as the previous offering so this year, Stone is going back to a more traditional approach with an all Australian Hop & Malt IPA called Thunderstruck.

Now before I start, I wanted to point out that the description of the beer on the label is.....weird. Don't take my word for it, it's clearly in the description:

Ella, Galaxy, Topaz, Vic Secret—no, these aren’t the names of the performers at your local “gentlemen’s club” (at least as far as we know). Rather, these are exotic, and admittedly rather sexy, Australian hop varietals that have been dancing on the minds and palates of the craft brewing intelligentsia around the world of late. We’ve been openly flirting with them via test batches, and they’ve become popular around our brewhouse thanks to their sensual flavors and aromas. So in developing our celebratory anniversary beer, we decided it was time to seal the deal and take these down-under-wonder beauties to the main stage at Stone. And what better way than allowing them to strut their stuff in the spotlight as the sole focus for the luscious tropical, peachy, citrus-like flavors and slightly resinous, aromatically dank earthiness of this special, all-Aussie consummation! 

Gentlemen's Club? Sexy? Flirting? Sensual? Strut their stuff? Stone, are you seriously trying to sexualize your beer ingredients? I don't know where your mind is at but the hop names you mentioned wouldn't make me think of stripper names in the least. You could've made an effort to throw in some more kickass AC/DC references but that's the route you chose to take instead?

You know what? Let's just see how the beer is....

Appearance - Hazy dark yellow color with no visible carbonation. The head is quite thin in appearance and the lacing is more on the spottier side.

Aroma - Rich citrus hops with some mango, kiwi, and apricot notes with some light strawberry sweetness. I'm also picking up some plentiful yeasts and some toffee maltiness. Contrary to what the description says, not getting any least not yet.

Taste - Not much of a difference compared to the nose. You've got that rich citrus hop sweetness with those mango, kiwi, and apricot sweetness. I am picking up on that bit of piney hop dankness towards the back end of the palate, along with some yeastiness & toffee malts. The aftertaste is mainly bitter hops with a very light hint of strawberries.

Thought I do find the sexualization of the ingredients a bit odd (and unnecessary), this is certainly a much better IPA than last year's offering in pretty much every way. It's a nice and robust, fruity flavored IPA that will manage to please anyone who is a seasoned IPA fan. Just ignore the seemingly strange description and we'll be good.

Stone 19th Anniversary Thunderstruck IPA - 9/10

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Michelob Golden Light Review

Name: Michelob Golden Light
Brewed By: Anheuser-Busch
Style: American Adjunct Light Lager
ABV: 4.1%

If there is one thing I've learned in life, it is that there are some things in life I may never know. Things like: What is the meaning of life, are we alone in the Universe and why does Michelob Golden Light continue to be the most widely consumed beer in Minnesota?

Yes, despite the fact that the number of breweries in Minnesota is projected to top 110 by the end of 2015, Michelob Golden Light (Mich Golden Light as it's lovingly called here) is still the most popular beer in the State of Minnesota. Brewed by Anheuser-Busch, Michelob Golden Light is a Midwest-exclusive beer, meaning that you won't be finding this beer anywhere except in America's Heartland. This beer is pretty much available on tap in every bar in Minnesota, liquor stores have dedicated whole displays to this stuff and if you're at a social gathering, chances are you will see this beer sitting right next to the Leinie's or Summit EPA.

Despite the over-abundance of this beer, I have never had this. Normally I'd say that I never even bothered with it but the truth is that I have intentionally avoided this beer because I have heard how it is through word-of-mouth. Frankly, the only reason I am reviewing this beer is because it's football season and plus I figured since this is the beer everyone drinks, I may as well see what all the fuss is about.

Appearance - Pale yellow color with a moderate amount of carbonation. The head is initially quite foamy upon the initial pour but it gradually settles to a thin white appearance.

Aroma - Cardboard and grains, mixed in with some pale malts, and light boozy sweetness. Nothing too bad here but maybe I should've had this from a can instead?

Taste - Light pale malts, grains and cardboard upfront that falls away to what I can only describe as a watery finish. I wish I could say there was more to the flavor but there isn't. I am also literally getting no aftertaste from this at all; It's that dry.

This is the beer of choice for Minnesota?!?! I can't understand for the life of me why people would continue to drink this when there are so many options out there to choose from! Like I can understand if it's a hot day outside and you need something that isn't going to knock you out but....really?

Honestly, the only thing this beer has going for it is that it's relatively inoffensive in terms of taste but it is just so incredibly bland! Having Michelob Golden Light in Minnesota in this day and age is the equivalent of the movie Fifty Shades of Grey; Everyone may see it but it still makes it a terrible movie.

To anyone reading this that drinks this stuff on a regular basis: Please, there are so many more options to choose from out there. Have a Surly, visit a local taproom or at the very least, try out something that has hops in it! We are better than this!

Michelob Golden Light - 3/10

Rogue Beard Beer Review

Name: Rogue Beard Beer
Style: Wild Ale
ABV: 4.8%
IBUs: 25

Ever come across a beer that is so bizarre and out there that you just had to try it out? Well, in the case of Rogue Ales' Beard Beer, that was sort of the case. You see this beer came out while I was living in Duluth, and while I had access to pretty much every Rogue beer under the sun there, the Beard Beer was always the one I could never seem to find and was seemingly only available in the Twin Cities. Whenever I came back to visit, the Beard Beer was nowhere to be found. That was until last weekend when I stumbled upon this at Blue Max and thought to myself "Why Not?"

As you may have guessed from the name, this is beer with a yeast strain found in the beard of Rogue's Brewmaster, John Maier, who has not shaved since 1979/1980. In fact, that's his mug on the front of the bottle, beard and all. It's also a beer that has it's own Wikipedia page. This raises a couple questions in my mind. Why they decided to look in some guy's 35 year old beard is beyond me.

Regardless, even without the beard yeast (which did churn my stomach just a little bit when I first heard about the concept,) this is still somewhat of a niché beer considering that the brewery classifies this as a Wild Ale; Which again is not surprising considering that it comes from a beard that is literally quite a bit older than I am.

Appearance - Fairly clear golden color with a high amount of visible carbonation. The head is about a finger in width and white in appearance with some pretty decent lacing for the most part.

Aroma - The front of the nose is primarily yeasts with some green apple & clove notes. I'm also getting some pale malts, a bit of grains and light biscuit notes. For a wild ale, it's surprisingly Belgian-like.

Taste - Belgian Yeasts, mildly sour green apples, and a bit bit of clove spiciness make up the front of the palate, followed by some pale malts and light bitter hops on the end of the palate with a hint of graininess.

I'm shocked! This tastes way more like a Belgian than wild ale, though you can still tell it's a wild ale due to the light but lingering sourness. If there was one beer that I would choose as a gateway into sour or wild ales, this beer would be it right here. It's got a manageable amount of sourness to it, yet it's familiar enough to most craft beer drinkers in terms of flavor. On top of that, it's got a really nice flavor to it. For a sour beer, it's on the lighter side but from a Belgian perspective, it's really good!

Rogue Beard Beer - 8.5/10

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Evil Twin Soft DK Review

Name: Evil Twin Soft DK
Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 10.4%

I'll admit when I first saw the label for this beer, I stared at it for a couple of seconds trying to figure out what the name for this beer meant and of course the first thing that popped into my head was literally.....poop. Given Evil Twin's penchant for giving very bizarre names to their beers, I wasn't terribly shocked to learn that it is, in fact, named after a soft dookie. The backstory is that the head brewer was changing the diaper of his son when the idea for the name hit him.

Getting past all of that nonsense, Soft DK is an Imperial Stout and there's really not much else to say from it. I only hope that this doesn't taste like poop....

Appearance - Pitch black with no visible carbonation. The head is brown in color and quite thin in terms of appearance. The lacing is also rather spotty as well.

Aroma - Strong chocolate maltiness & vanilla sweetness followed by light oak notes & some roasted barley. There's also an encompassing bitter hoppiness that comes off as fairly mild, but noticeable.

Taste - Strong citrus & bitter hops and chocolate malts upfront, followed by some light vanilla notes and roasted barley. Unlike the nose, the hoppiness are very in your face in the flavor. Aftertaste is a mix of roasted barley & a touch of bitter hops.

This is by no means the most complex Imperial Stout, but it does come across as very robust in terms of the overall components of the flavor. Don't let the name fool you or scare you away, if you see this, I'd recommend checking it out.

Evil Twin Soft DK - 9/10

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Stillwater Artisanal Surround Review

Name: Stillwater Artisanal Surround
Style: Imperial Stout
ABV: 10%

Time to revisit one of the most.....peculiar breweries that I've come across in recent memory, and that brewery is, of course, Stillwater Artisanal. Today I've got their Surround, which is part of their contemporary series. It's described by the brewery as an Imperial Oak-Smoked Wheat Stout, but everyone else classifies this as an Imperial Stout.

You're probably looking at the label and saying to yourself "Gee willikers, that's got to be the strangest thing I've ever seen!" Well there's a reason why it looks like that, which I pulled from the brewery's website:

Label Design Notes: Surround's geometric pattern is based on a piece of tape used by an early analog computer that may have been used in multi-track music production during the 1960s. The type is set in Helvetica Neue LT Std so that we can maximize the area used for the pattern on the label without compromising legibility of the mandatory text.

Ooooh I get it...Surround, music, tape. Clever.....

Appearance - Pitch black with no visible carbonation. The head takes on a very dark brown color and is quite foamy in it's appearance. Lacing-wise, it tetters between sparse and moderate.

Aroma - Very strong smokey and chocolate malt notes. I'm getting some bitter citra hoppiness that comes off as almost cherry-like. I am also getting a bit of malted wheat in here but it is minor compared to the rest of the aroma.

Taste - Much like the nose, the smokey and chocolate malt flavors are very strong upon the first sip, followed immediately by some strong bitter hoppiness that does have a bit of a cherry tartness to it. Again, I am getting some malted wheat in here, but it's small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. The aftertaste is mainly roasted barley with some mild smokiness. It's worth mentioning that this does come off as slightly boozy but it doesn't hinder the drinking experience.

This is a pretty good Imperial Stout. The smokey aspect is quite nice and most of the other flavor characteristics are robust in their own way. My only complaint is that the wheat portion of the flavor felt underwhelming in a sense. That's still nowhere near enough of a reason for you to overlook this beer. If you see it, then you should check it out.

Stillwater Artisanal Surround - 8.5/10

Friday, September 11, 2015

Interview with Jeremy Cowen, Founder of Shmaltz Brewing Company

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure to speak with Jeremy Cowan, the founder of Shmaltz Brewing Company, to discuss the history of the brewery, the release of St. Lenny's Belgian Rye Double IPA, as well as the future of the brewery along with where the craft brewing industry is headed as a whole. In addition to running Shmaltz, Jeremy is also the also the author of the book Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah: How It Took 13 Years, Extreme Jewish Brewing, and Circus Sideshow Freaks to Make Shmaltz Brewing an International Success.

Before we start, I want to give a special thanks to Jeremy for sitting down and speaking with me. When I first started this blog, never in a million years did I think I would ever have the chance to sit down with someone like Jeremy, let alone anyone who is in charge of a brewery that is as well-known & renowned as Shmaltz.

How did Shmaltz Brewing first get started? Where did the name come from?

Schmaltz is chicken fat in Yiddish and so the idea was kind of like a nostalgic comfort food but for a new generation with craft beer. Shmaltz also means kind of an irreverent, corny sense of humor like Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks and I wanted to tie in that in with most of the beers that we do. In the middle of the word Shmaltz is the word “malt” and malt is obviously a very important ingredient in craft beer; There’s a lot of different types of malts and we take our recipes very seriously and we also try to have a lot of fun along the way.

And the name He’Brew, where does that come from?

He’Brew was an inside joke with from some of my friends is high school and we thought it’d be funny to have a beer called He’Brew and the tagline would be: Don’t Pass out, Passover.

Before we start talking about a beer you recently released, I did a little research and you released a beer called Death of a Contract Brewer recently. Now I’ll be honest with you, up until that point, I thought you had your own brewery but is a brewery of your own a more recent thing?

Yes, for 18 ½  years I was contract brewing in Northern California & New York. So when we opened the brewery of our own, I decided to put out a commemorative beer for our first grand opening party and decided to call it Death of a Contract Brewer. It’s a Black IPA; it’s brewed with 7 malts, 7 hops, 7% Alcohol and it ties into a to a Jewish ritual called Shiva, which is 7 days of mourning but also comfort for families that lose a loved one. We bring food and sometimes even alcohol and comfort family so kind of a riff on Shiva. Shiva means seven in Hebrew and so we used the 7 malts, 7 hops and 7% ABV. It was the first black IPA we ever made and it ended up getting a 97 on RateBeer. We had some labels level over after the party and we decided make some more batches and it became a permanent member of the family of beers. And this week…..actually next week, we are packaging our first ever 12-oz bottle 4-packs and those come out for Halloween so we’re really about it. We redid the packaging, redid the brand but kept to the same awesome recipe and we’re very excited about this new launch of 4-packs.

Now let’s talk about St. Lenny’s. First off, who is “Lenny?”

Lenny is Lenny Bruce, he was a Jewish Comedian in the 50’s & 60’s. We did a beer called Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. that was a tribute to him for our 10th Anniversary and the 40th Anniversary of his passing and it’s a 10% Alcohol, rye-based double IPA. 

Lenny Bruce

So for our collaboration with a friend of mine when we opened the brewery, we decided to do a Belgian version of that called St. Lenny’s, which is our 3rd year of doing that beer and this is actually going to be our last year we do that but it’s been really awesome beer. I love the flavors, they’re totally wild & unique and it’s a very exciting beer & fun to share with friends and beer geeks.

Now you said of friend of yours works at Cathedral Square?

Yes, Brian Neville is the brewmaster for Cathedral Square. He brews a lot of different Belgian beers so he had suggested we do this. He had talked about the collaboration and suggested this direction and then he actually came up with all the schtick, which was really awesome. The collaboration has been called The Immaculate Collaboration between Shmaltz Brewing. He’brew and Cathedral Square in St. Louis.

As you probably already know, I had the St. Lenny’s a couple days ago. Fantastic beer, great job on that! I mean, I loved it. It was a nice Belgian ale.

Thank you!

Now you said it was the last year you're going to be doing St. Lenny’s, is there a reason for that or just because?

It’s just a good time. Brian and I will continue to collaborate on smaller ones in St. Louis proper. He’s brewing small batch recipes. We did Saint Jewbelation at the end of last year and we released that in the tasting room and he sold some in St. Louis. This year we’re doing an Imperial Pomegranate Saison that’s aged in his bourbon barrels for about 6-8 months & we’re just calling it the Immaculate Collaboration now. It’s pretty cool, he packages them and takes our recipe and tweaks it a little bit, uses his yeast, and the first one, we used our Funky Jewbelation barrels and in the second one, he used his Avé Maria barrels and we get some for our tasting room and he gets some in St. Louis. It’s a cool project, so that will continue.

Since opening up this brewery in Clifton Park, NY, what would you say has been the biggest challenge for you personally?

Probably just balancing, trying to manage a national brand. We’re a very small company still. People think that because we’ve been around for a long time….we are spread very thin around the country and sometimes people think we’re a bigger company than we really are but I think that’s a good testament to how hard we work to spread the word; Being able to manage that. I have a wonderful national sales manager, I’ve got an amazing art director, I’ve a wonderful marketing manager but still I have to supervise the national brand and with 50 wholesalers around the country. We’re constantly putting out new products and new packaging and tweaking brands. At the same time, I’ve taken over being the senior supervisor of the factory and the brewery, so I’m involved with everything from staff to facilities and processed materials & equipment. So that’s been a big challenge, I never thought I would be learning about the production size and the depth that I’ve had to in the past couple of years.

What do you think the future holds for Shmaltz?

Well next year is our 20th anniversary, which is astounding to me. We’re going to be releasing a slew of new beers. We’ve got a barrel-aging program that’s up to about 400+ barrels, which is pretty exciting for a small company like ours. We’ve got sours, we’ve got straight barrel-aged projects coming out for next year. We’re bringing back a beer called R.I.P.A. on rye and that I think will be our IPA on rye instead of St. Lenny’s & it’s a rye barrel-aged version of our Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. 

Then Funky Jewbelation is our crazy-ass, barrel aged blend that we do once a year and we’ll have that coming out January for SF (San Francisco) Beer Week & New York Beer Week. For the beginning of year, we’re coming pretty strong with a couple of very special barrel-aged beers. Then there are a bunch of fun beer that we’ll be working on, that will be like the second year . Like Wishbone, our Session Double IPA, which went over really well last year. 8% ABV, summer double IPA, which is a little lighter than our 10% version but still pretty robust.

We’ve got our second year collaboration with the Pink Boots Society, they sponsor International Women’s collaboration brew day. So we did a beer called She’Brew this year and we’re going to do another giant IPA next year. With Triple IPAs, we’re going to experiment with that and have some fun. The years will just roll out with everything from variety packs to special release, barrel-aged stuff to focusing on a beer like Slingshot, which is the newest member of our core brand of beers. I love this beer, it’s a lager, which we really don’t do as much of since I sold the Coney Island Brands. 

We have two new lagers, Slingshot, which is year round and it’s 5% golden lager with rye & wheat and some Northwest hops.  We brewed Slingshot sort of as a lager for ale drinkers, so far the response has been really positive, it has a 97 on RateBeer and have gotten really wonderful reviews from folks who’ve had the chance to try it. We have one more barrel-aged monster called Bock Bock and it’s a huge Imperial Munich/Vienna Lager aged in fresh bourbon barrels for about 9 months and will come in around 11% ABV.

Right now, what is your personal favorite beer at the brewery?

Two days ago, I tired our brand new Reunion Ale. Each year we do a collaboration with Terrapin Brewing Company. It’s basically a big brown ale and each year we add different spices and tweak it and twist it and turn it around. 

This year we added, we made a big change to it which is pretty cool. I just tried it for the first time two nights ago and it’s an 8% ABV brown ale brewed with Chocolate, Cinnamon, Mexican Chili, vanilla, cocoa nibs and this year we added pumpkin for the first time. I swore that I would never make a pumpkin beer but somehow it just seemed like the thing to do this year. So we added pumpkin, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger. Then we brewed the entire thing with Belgian yeast, the same yeast we used in St. Lenny’s. It’s super fun, even with all those ingredients, it’s surprisingly balanced and manageable. It’s not super crazy, off-the-chart flavors. I just thought it was really effective and totally delicious; I just wanted to drink all of it.

If you could go back in time and tell yourself anything when you first started professionally brewing, what would it be?

The advice I give to new brewers all the time is to spend more time researching the industry. You can’t know all the pitfalls and twists & turns you’re going to run into. I mean, I had literally no idea what I was doing. When I first started, it was complete experiment, I had no experience in business or in brewing. So I spent years scrambling the vocabulary and the structure and the basic rules of the industry. I did a lot of research on as I was getting started, so most of my learning had to happen while I was doing the thing I was doing that I was trying to learn about and that has been extremely difficult over the years but once you get into the thick of it, you’re so busy and so stressed out that it’s very hard to take a step back and spend the time to learn what you’re supposed to do while you’re in the middle of doing it. So I always tell people and younger brewers who are just getting into the industry to take an extra 6 months or even a year to just learn and ask more questions.
It’s crazy now that they have classes. 

Now they have books and entire classes on how to start your own small brewery that we certainly never had back then unless you went to a graduate school program. Now there are so many more resources online and through publications, so it is a great time to start a brewery. On the one hand, there’s so many more resources and on the other hand there’s twice as many breweries as there were three years ago. It’s a pretty competitive place right now.

Speaking of which, every once in awhile, you’ll hear talk of a craft beer bubble bursting. Do you necessarily believe that?

No, I don’t think it’s a bubble, it’s just a massive expansion but a lot of the expansion has been local breweries with local beer and local markets. I tasted so many delicious beers around the country in the last two years. A few people say there is quality concerns but I tasted beers from the biggest craft brewers that have had quality questions and I don’t see it as an avalanche of closing that’s going to come up. What I think is going to be hard is that it’s going to be harder for small brewers to become medium size and get to that second and third step up; Whether it’s just demand for local beer or beyond the neighborhood. That’s a challenge because everybody’s next door neighbor has craft beer now, unlike 10 years ago. 

The specification as far as what it takes to manage wholesalers instead of self-distributing, what does it take to manage 20-30 staff instead of 2 or 3 & how difficult it is to make money in this industry when you have people coming into it who’ve had real jobs and 2 or 3 partners and then they realize “Wow, margins are slim and costs are high.” It’s a challenge to earn a living that you might make outside the industry, but there is enormous room for growth still. Just think about how many Walmarts, Targets, Grocery & Convenience stores there are out there and chain bars & restaurants that are way underrepresenting what craft beer could be in the coming years. That could be those top 50, top 100 national brands and then the local guys fill in something special & unique in any given market. I think there could be a very robust future.

Relating to that, earlier this year there was that Budweiser Commercial and their “Proud to be Macrobrewed” campaign and how it was a testament to how great they were. Some people out there have said that with this commercial, Budweiser was declaring war on craft beer. What are your thoughts on that?

Well, that’s just marketing. That’s their job but in my opinion, they’re not declaring war on craft beer because they have bought 2-3 craft breweries in the last 18 months so they obviously see future of craft beer as relevant and they’re committed to it. So I think that was that was their marketing department having a good time and then the probably someone else in that organization should’ve said “Hey by the way, we own Goose Island, Blue Point, 10 Barrel, & Elysian.”  Elysian has a pumpkin beer that they were making fun of, so I think their marketing department was having a good time….and that’s fine. If nothing else, it creates a wonderful conversation at a national level. None of us have the ability or budget to generate that kind of hype in that short of a period for all the people that then say “Well, that was rude” or “That was small minded” or  “Stupid." Then you have the rest of us, who get to post something on Facebook to get a kick out of it and respond.

I think that the macro beers will never go away but this country loves blockbusters. We love blockbuster movies, we love whatever the biggest selling thing is. When quantity is sometimes more important than quality in this country and prince is sometimes something we’re never going to be able to compete with at that level. At the same time, look at the ridiculous growth this industry has seen year after year based on really word-of-mouth marketing. I mean, there’s no big national marketing for any of the top 50 craft breweries in this country with the exception of Sam Adams, but whoever it is: Dogfish, Founders or these wonderful, regional breweries like Firestone Walker. 

They’re growing like crazy because of the quality of their products and they do a little bit of a better job managing their sales and marketing and that’s something we should all be proud of. It’s that the American consumer is understanding that and excited about it. There’s almost no other example as I look around at the marketplace of where quality wins consistently over quantity and muscle. It’s not in banking or real estate, there are no luxury items like craft beer that’s so inexpensive compared to it’s competitor. It costs a couple dollars more to buy a luxury beer compared to wine or spirits, they could cost 5-10 or even 20 times more . That story is so impressive and so amazing and we should be proud of being part of that. It doesn’t happen in music, it doesn’t happen in art, it doesn’t happen in the movies. It doesn’t happen anywhere else except in a grocery store really so the fact we are able to accomplish that is incredible.

Once again, I want to extend my thanks to Jeremy Cowan for giving me the chance to speak with him. I enjoyed speaking with him and I wish him the best of luck with the new brewery!

Be sure to check out them out on Facebook -

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Fair State India Pale Ale Review

Name: Fair State India Pale Ale
Style: India Pale Ale 
ABV: 6.4%
IBUs: 64

During my time in Duluth, many breweries opened up in the Twin Cities and I am only now getting around to trying them out. One of these breweries is Fair State Brewing Cooperative, the first running cooperative brewery in the state of Minnesota. I remember reading about these guys and had promised myself I would check them out. Due to my busy schedule, I've been unable to check out their taproom, which I've heard contains some amazing sour beers.

For the time being, I picked up a bomber of theirs from The Ale Jail, one of my regular haunts while I was an undergraduate. It's simply labelled called India Pale Ale. No fancy name, just straight to the point. I'll say this before starting the review, going to The Ale Jail for the first time in two years and seeing that not a thing has changed with the exception of the beer selection gives me the warm fuzzies.

Appearance - Bright yellow color with a very light amount of haze. There's a moderate amount of visible carbonation with a thin white head along with some soapy lacing.

Aroma - Bitter hops & orange peel upfront followed by some mild floral hops and bit of grapefruit bitterness. There is also a nice pale & toffee malt sweetness to help round things out.

Taste - Bitter hops on the front of the palate which lingers throughout but the citrus sweetness gains momentum as it goes on, along with the grapefruit bitterness. Also getting some moderate pale and toffee maltiness which resides mainly in the back and, again, provides a nice balance

It isn't anything I already haven't seen before, but the it's got a great flavor and the price tag for this beer (I paid about $4.99) for this, is actually a lot more reasonable than I was expecting. I would definitely recommend adding this to your shopping list should you come across it.

Fair State India Pale Ale - 8.25/10

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Toppling Goliath Rover Truck Review

Name: Toppling Goliath Rover Truck
Style: Oatmeal Stout
ABV: 5.7%
IBUs: 35

When I moved back from Duluth a couple months ago, I knew there were some breweries that I enjoyed on a regular basis that I would no longer access to and I'm not just talking about the many brewpubs up there. Amongst those breweries that I said goodbye to was Toppling Goliath Brewing, who had arrived on the store shelves in Superior, Wisconsin earlier this year. Some readers may even remember the numerous reviews I did of their beers.

Well a few weeks ago, Toppling Goliath made its way to Minnesota store shelves and beer lovers everywhere are going wild over it, for good reasons of course. Anywho, since most the beers currently available in Minnesota are ones I've already had, I decided to try the only one I haven't had called Rover Truck, which is an oatmeal stout. For reasons I don't fully understand, the label features a penguin driving a Range Rover and flying out of the back of the car. The only thing missing from this label is the phrase "#Swag" below the car; Ewww, I feel dirty just typing that.

Appearance - Pitch black with no visible carbonation. The head, upon initial pour, appears to take on a healthy dark brown color with a good amount of volume to it. However it quickly fizzes away, leaving a very thin filmy appearance. Also, there is no lacing to be had here.

Aroma - Potent chocolate malt and flaked oatmeal notes start things off, followed by some a moderate roasted barley profile. I'm getting some mild floral hop notes but it's buried under the rest of the nose.

Taste - Sweet milk chocolate and oatmeal notes make up the front end of the flavor, which is followed by some moderate roastiness and a mix of bitter & floral hoppiness. The aftertaste is surprisingly dry for the style, save for a mild roastiness on the very back of the tongue and an even milder bitter hoppiness.

On its own, this is a very good oatmeal stout. The chocolate and oatmeal notes are nice & pronounced and the roastiness isn't quite as strong as you'd might expect from this style. If you're looking for a tasty, yet approachable, stout, this one is for you.

Toppling Goliath Rover Truck - 8.5/10

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Third Street Brewhouse Minnesota Gold Review

Name: Third Street Brewhouse Minnesota Gold
Style: American Pale Lager
ABV: 4.9%
IBUs: 15

In addition to their ever-growing list of special releases, Third Street Brewhouse has taken it upon themselves to add yet another addition to their year-round lineup. Interestingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly) enough, they've decided to go with a golden lager for their latest beer, aptly named Minnesota Gold.

Upon initially hearing this news, I started experiencing PTSD-inducing flashbacks of my college years. Why you ask? For those of you who are loyal readers of mine, you may recall I did a review a couple years ago on a beer called Cold Spring IPA. During that review, I mentioned that while I was visiting friends at St. Cloud State University a few years back, a beer called Hackstein was a beer that was widely consumed by the local frat boys and other broke college kids.

Exhibit A
I went on to mention that it was a cheap and absolutely nasty beer that carried a price tag of around $6.59, and to any broke college kid, that seemed like the deal of a lifetime. Well, guess who made that abomination? That's right, before assuming the nom de guerre of Third Street Brewhouse, these guys were known as Cold Spring Brewing. Will Minnesota Gold be a continuation of the misguided experiences of my younger self? Let's find out!

Appearance -  Mildly hazy yellow color with a mild amount of visible carbonation. The head is has a thin soapy-foamy appearance and the lacing is very sparse, to the point of being almost non-existent.

Aroma - Flaked corn and cereal grains make up the bulk of the nose. I'm also getting some light pale maltiness and a touch of light floral hops on the back end of the smell.

Taste - Sweet flaked corn & bit of graininess on the front of the palate, followed by some moderate pale malts and light floral hoppiness. The aftertaste is fairly dry save for some pale maltiness.

If all of the macro-lagers out there (Budweiser, Miller, etc.) tasted exactly like this, I can honestly say that the demand for craft beer would be nowhere near as high as it is today. What we have here is a nice & balanced lager that, while doing nothing too impressive flavor-wise, is a beer that I can see being a bridge that segways from macro to craft. On its own, it's nothing special but I could see myself having this on a regular basis.

Third Street Brewhouse Minnesota Gold - 8.25/10

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Great Divide Whitewater Review

Name: Great Divide Whitewater
Style: Wheat Ale
ABV: 6.1%

Summer may be wrapping up but I still have a couple of summer seasonal beers sitting in my fridge. Which brings us to Great Divide's Whitewater Hoppy Wheat Ale. Once known as Whitewater Wheat Ale, a hefeweizen, they decided to tweak the recipe, add more hops to it and increase the ABV as well. This is also the second hoppy wheat beer that I've had this year, with the first one being New Glarus' Hopster Ale.

There really isn't too much else to say, but it is nice to see the outline of something else besides a human being pictured on the label. Plus I do like the artwork on this label for some reason, more so than the other Great Divide labels I've seen so far.

Appearance - Mildly hazy bright yellow color with a mild amount of visible carbonation. The head is very thin with some light retention but the lacing is quite good and sticky

Aroma - Malted wheat and floral hops followed by some orange peel notes, some pale maltiness and even a touch of light hop bitterness.

Taste - Strong bitter & floral hoppiness upfront that is followed almost immediately by a solid malted wheat flavor. On the back end of the flavor is where the light bitter hoppiness starts to shine through and it's more prevalent than in the nose. I'm also getting that light orange peel sweetness. As for the aftertaste, it's almost all bitter hops save for a light malt wheatiness.

Much like before, there really isn't too much to say here aside from that it's a good beer. The flavor is a little more complex than the nose, which is always a nice surprise but it isn't too overly powerful at the same time, which will no doubt help in its appealability.

Great Divide Whitewater - 8/10

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Millstream Iowa Pale Ale Review

Name: Millstream Iowa Pale Ale
Style: India Pale Ale
ABV: 5.7%
IBUs: 45

Say remember a few weeks back during my review of Millstream's German Pilsner that I promised to review their Iowa Pale Ale? Well, I managed to get my hands on it for today's review. As you may have already known, Millstream Brewing is based out of Amana, Iowa and, judging from the location, wouldn't be the first place you'd expect to find a brewery.

The beer I have today, as mentioned before, is their Iowa Pale Ale. Now I had this beer about 3-4 years ago and when I picked this up recently, I noticed this was called an IPA. I recalled when I first had it, I had sworn that it had been an American Pale Ale but wasn't too sure. So I did a bit of research and sure enough, this beer was considered to be an APA (based on the reviews I came across on Beer Advocate) which leads me to believe the change in style was fairly recent since it was only recently referred to as an IPA proper.

Appearance - Hazy dark orange color with a high amount of visible carbonation. The head has a very thin appearance with some decent retention and the lacing itself is quite abundant

Aroma - Rich floral hops and bready biscuits upfront. I'm also getting some light orange peel notes, just a hint of bitterness and some light toffee maltiness.

Taste - Floral hops and mild bitter hops on the front of the palate followed by some yeastiness and a light toffee maltiness. There really isn't much else here aside from those flavors.

Despite Millstream's insistence of calling this an IPA, I'd be very inclined to classify this as an American Pale Ale due to the overall flavor profile. Plus if my memory serves me correctly, this tastes the same as it did when I first had it 3-4 years ago. However I would still consider this to be a reasonably good beer, albeit a more simple tasting one at best.

Millstream Iowa Pale Ale - 7.5/10