Where I Want To Go: 13 Virtues

I almost hit a squirrel on my way here. It bolted out into traffic and as I swiftly hit the brakes, it doubled back, deciding that an encounter with my tires was against its best interest. This is a good thing. A little blessing in a year that has decided to emphasize the rough spots.

I’m in 13 Virtue’s tasting room, a cozy little space that is destined to be the start of some grand, open conspiracies; you know the kind, where everybody in the bar is talking about everything all at once. Good natured  shouting coupled with the occasional bleak joke, while all around in the restaurant everyone bellows nonsense.

Although the conspiracies are most likely to happen upstairs….oh yes. Let’s creep up there and trade wicked smiles, out of sight but not ear, so we know what we can get away with. Maybe sometime.

The Mildfire is a smoked amber: a delicate drink, sweet but light and with the smoke gently handled. I appreciate how carefully this beer was put together, the amber qualities enhanced instead of overwhelmed by the smoke. That takes some combination of practice, skill and probably patience that is to be lauded.

Don’t get me wrong; the smoke lingers. It’s the ghost whose presence is felt long after the initial impression is gone, though, easily swept away. But the easy banishment of that flavor is welcome, encouraging the next drink of beer and doesn’t take away from the nice qualities of the amber. I’m pleasantly surprised and definitely pleased.

The beer drinks slow, though. That may have to do with my tastes, however. I got a small glass and it was the correct choice. Not because it’s bad but because I can tell that I want to change the flavor profile soon. There’s a whole host of interesting ales to try and I’d like to see what else is going on.

I Had Beers In Canada (again)

And my Northern brothers and sisters, you really gotta up your game. I mean, I had to drink Sleemans. A lager that comes in a bottle that looks like this:

Seriously: Clear bottles? I can’t respect that. C’mon, Canada. You aren’t Mexico.

Although I suppose I got what I deserved when I bought a “variety pack” of beers that were all lagers of some kind. Dear Sleemans: you cannot add food coloring to your lager and call it a bock. It doesn’t work like that.

It wasn’t all bad though. I did manage to get to a proper pub and try a few things:

Block 3 lager
I’m told this is a Belgian lager and it is no lie: the oddly sweet nose, a a very sweet fruit slant with a dry finish. You can’t call this a normal lager by any means. It’s not bad but the yeast shines so brightly, I’m not sure about the beer. Is this a problem of expectations, or is it just that the style doesn’t support Belgian yeast flavors very well? I don’t know but I’m pretty sure this beer appeals to someone because it’s got interesting flavors and it isn’t flawed. Just not for me, I think.

Descendants Harbinger American pale ale
A pretty solid IPA. Or I guess APA. I’m glad to see a distinction being made:  hopefully this means that IPAs will start to be indicative of more balanced beers, while APAs push hops much further. That would be handy for drinkers and enthusiasts alike, I think.

Finish is dry on this beer but still a solid bitterness. It needs a little work though, there is something off here that I can’t put my finger on. A little dirty? The nose rapidly fades too and that’s not a good sign. This is a solid start but it still needs a little push.

Muskoka lager
This was a lager I could get into.  Clean and tasty, there isn’t anything to write home about here, and that’s exactly how it ought to be. Except I ought to note; it was a hell of a lot tastier than Sleeman’s beers which were content to provide mere whiffs of flavor. If given the option, gimme more of that.

Where I Want To Go: Mill Stream

Tonight I am a scene in a movie: Alone, heartbroken and in a town where nobody knows me, getting drunk at a bar that feels far from nowhere, with U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name on a jukebox that plays CDs.  I loved that song. Something about going into Nowhere and finding a place for yourself appealed to me. Where I was had been chipping away at me for so long, the idea that I could get out from under the city, the person I had been because of it, that appealed to me quite a bit. Still does, at least in concept and I like where I live now. It must be twenty years since I’ve heard that song, which is probably about how long it’s been since I’ve had a Moosehead.

Never really found a taste for Moosehead, though, despite being introduced to it at a very young age. I drink it now and it isn’t bad for a mass produced lager, though it skews a bit on the sweet side. Was it always sweet and I just couldn’t taste it or has the recipe changed over the past two decades, tweaked to appeal to a broader base? Tweaks like that have been done in the past but I didn’t much consider the taste of my beer twenty years ago so I have no point of reference.

I may be being shown off. That is OK, I suppose. Let the locals get their eyeful.

I think back to who I was when The Streets Had No Name came out and I wonder how’d I get to…U2 invading iPhones everywhere. Isn’t that what we do when we are confronted by our past? Maybe some people can shed everything but I doubt anyone can forever. There isn’t a straight line though, a stack of interlocking pieces that clearly say, “You were here, now you are here.”

Some moments appear, of course. Choices I made that pop up like signposts: where to live, whom to love, but so much more is nebulous. I cannot say I didn’t have a goal: I did but that goal has also failed me in ways I don’t know I could have predicted.

Do we need small, shitty towns stuck in the past to return to, to get us to examine our lives. A constant ghost in our own machines? That reminder that we should not outrun who we were but instead build on it? I don’t know and two Moosehead isn’t helping me decide the fate of tiny places, so I think it’s time to go home.

Especially since I could have spent the rest of my life without hearing Def Leppard’s Let’s Get Rocked, again. Nobody really needed to hear that song even once and some things that are in the past can just goddamn stay there.

I Got Hops!

Forgive me, I am using the size of my picture to make up for the minimal content. My buddy Cedric gave me about 24 ounces of hops that he’d harvested but he didn’t know what variety they were. They smelled spicy to me, with a citrus note so maybe Chinook? A possibility of Galena? I just don’t know but that’s never stopped me before.

So I tossed about half into a beer I was making last Sunday and took the rest to dry out, as you can see in the photo. I’m going to give it a week before tossing them into a plastic bag and storing them for the next beer I make, which will also be an IPA of some kind. Because if you have ten ounces of hops, you might as well overuse them.

On the road this week, so no Friday post, and coming back on Monday at an obscene hour, so I’ll see you in a week!

Where I Want To Go: Stein Haus

The Stein Haus is almost perturbingly quiet. Like the opening scene in From Dusk Til Dawn, where there’s so few people I’m almost expecting something really crazy to happen at any moment.

Thankfully, nothing does. I think this place may be so empty because of a slight case of not knowing what it is. When this was the Agenda I liked it but then it became a strip club called Assets (which is almost a clever title) and I never went but now it’s a ‘new’ place which makes the third change in as many years. Hard to develop an identity under such circumstances.

I get my beer, an Altborish Dunkel by Ayinger, sit down and all is well. Dunkels are an interesting brew; a bit like the diet version of a more roasted, chocolaty beer. It’s sweet but it finishes very clean, so I don’t get the aftertaste that an actually sweet beer might offer up.

The beer list is tilted towards the lighter, Germanic styles; I see pilsners, dunkles, wheat ales and from brewers predominantly from Europe. Anything that’s local falls into the same category: Pils from the Commons, Octoberfest from Ninkasi, Roggenweizen from Occidental. The exception (sorta) is the India Steinhaus Lager, which I’m told is brewed by Rock Bottom brewery for the Stein Haus. This is probably the hoppiest brew on the menu, I’m deducing, falling into the new ‘craze’ of India Pale Lagers.

The bartender is pretty nice; indulges my questions, gives me a sample of a beer that has no description and tells me where the house Lager comes from. So the Stein Haus has some good things going for it.

I don’t know how this becomes a neighborhood bar-a little more lighting around the beer list would certainly help-but we need more little interesting places to get beers in the outskirts of the city. Maybe this time, the Stein Haus will stick.

Chamomile Wheat ’14

I keep making this beer and it keeps challenging me but this time, I think I got it right.

The trick was to add the tea in at flameout, so that it’s far, far less likely for me to get the acrid flavors from that tea. Previously, I’d been adding the tea with less and less time in the boil, going down to five minutes and I was still getting some unwanted bitterness.

This beer has a nice note of vanilla and chamomile to it and tastes damn good. There’s a solid carbonation running through it which is definitely a positive.

Brew Date: 7.12.14

Steeping Grains
6 lb Wheat malt
1.5 lb pale
1 lb wheat

Fermentables: 4.5 lb LME

1.5 oz Willamette @60
.5 oz Willamette @10

Other: .5 oz Chamomile tea @ flameout

Yeast: Wyeast German Wheat

OG: 1.062

FG: 1.016

Bottled: 8.5.14

ABV: 6.2%

Where I Want To Go: Hopworks (2)

I had an extremely busy August. Too busy, in some ways; it began to intrude on my writing.

I’m not sorry that I had visitors, or went visiting: this year has held a tremendous heartbreak for me and the presence of friends has gone a long way towards making things better. However, here’s where we get into the ‘stuff about being a writer’.

Curmudgeons that writers often are, we are loath to admit that we need people. This is, perhaps, less of a truism for beer writers because beer, especially craft beer, is an inherently social drink. People are part of the bargain. That doesn’t mean we aren’t still grumpy, just that we can easily find other, like-minded grumpy drinkers who are tolerable to us. But yes, we need people because writers are trying to explore the human condition and you just need humans for that.

So I sit at the bar with a FreshMaker-a Fuggle hopped beer-at Hopworks and am surrounded by people, most of whom are barely watching the football game. The beer is a nice one, with a lemony quality that runs into the finish but a malt forward nose so there’s a balance struck that makes it pretty tasty.

The other thing about being a writer, however, is that we have to do it alone. Nobody can put the words out for us. While this is often cast as a very lonely endeavor (and it totally can be) it is also a necessity for us to do our work. We must write alone.

And I have had too many people as of late. Posts for this week have been started at Ex Novo and the Stein Haus, only to be stymied by the presence of people and a willingness to engage with them rather than write. On the upside, this means I get to go back to those places (and you should check them out) but on the downside, I still had work to do!

The nice thing about Hopworks right now is that nobody knows me here and nobody cares. It is an odd thing to admit that I need a certain level of apathy to get my work done but it is clearly still true, and this is where we get into the ‘stuff about me’ part.

I like socializing with people and I’m perhaps too willing to ignore the work I need to do so I can engage with them. Normally? This isn’t a problem: I don’t live in a culture where talking to strangers is encouraged. But this August has been a blue moon for me so I am pleased to finally sit down, sip my ale and do the work alone. I don’t even need another beer (though I might have one) I just need to do the work.

Which is what managing heartbreak is about: doing the work. Engaging in the day to day, week to week tasks that keep your life from going off the rails, until you’re patched up enough to be human again. It is also, of course, what friends are there for, I just had to make a brief trade of one for the other, for a month.

Which is not so bad. Not at all.

Minneapolis pt 2

As I conclude what notes I had for my trip to Minneapolis, (which also included a beer run to Wisconsin, because Minnesota’s beer laws are weird) I’d just like to thank everyone I met (or re-met). It was very nice to visit and there’s no doubt in my mind that there’s a heck of a craft brewing scene alive and well in the area.

Brau Bros Moo Joos oatmeal milk stout. At some point a definition for what a stout is versus a porter needs to be clearly delineated. The styles are just so close, it’s hard for me to get a grip on what is what. Until then, I am sticking to my idea that a stout has stronger, denser mouthfeel. Oily, lasting flavors on the tongue. This beer has a very nice cold coffee nose, with a similar body: like an iced coffee on a hot day. But it isn’t dense; this beer drinks like a porter. The oatmeal does give the beer a chewiness that it might not have otherwise, but…I just don’t know. Do I knock it? Do I support it? It tastes good, at the end of the day. Why be a style fanatic? Try it, I say, enjoy.

Flat Earth Brewing: Ovni ale, biere de garde (pictured). The nose is reminiscent of a saison, with its spicy but  little funky scent. The flavors correspond to this and the Ovni is light with carbonation that bounces the beer off my tongue so it cannot overstay its welcome. I have to confess though, that this beer suffers from not being quite as awesome as the Perry Street Brewing imperial I had last week, a beer that is too fresh in my memory. Is Flat Earth’s contribution bad? Not at all. It only suffers because my comparison is so recent.

Steel Toe Brewing: Rainmaker double red. The nose is pleasant enough; a subtle citrus thing and the color is amazing. But there isn’t enough malt flavor in there and the  beer finish tastes like lemon. I had some high hopes for this one because the chap at the store recommended it but it’s not balanced enough for me  so I’m just not thrilled.

Milwaukee Brewing, Polish Moon milk stout (pictured). I have made a mistake at this point, not rinsing my glass before pouring this beer.  I’ve just had a Creme Brulee from Southern Tier and the flavors from the Southern Tier are just SO strong that they have bled into the taste of this one. That admitted, I would really like to mix those two beers now, because this drink tastes like a brownie.

Brunette Nut Brown By Nebraska: While I get that brown ales are supposed to be basic, two dimensional ales, lacking complex flavor profiles, this just lacks any real substance. I cannot pick up any malt in the nose, the midrange flavors seem to be nonexistent and all I’m left with is the finish, which is effervescent, yes, but otherwise unremarkable.

Left Hand Sawtooth ale. I picked up this offering from Left Hand because while I was in Wisconsin, the person behind me in line brought something by them up to the counter and told me they were great.  So when I needed onnnnne final beer to close out my trip and I saw this, I took the opportunity.

This is an amber ale if ever I had one. Faint caramel in the nose, with a soft stripe of citrus running around the middle but nothing too forward, too obvious. The finish is malty but crisp and though the head isn’t very strong on this beer, the effervescence stays and keeps this beer from lingering. It’s a fine amber, the kind I wish I could reliably find in Portland but just haven’t seen. Or maybe I don’t remember? That’s more likely.

Minneapolis Visit pt1

So the reason that I didn’t have a Monday post is because I was in Minneapolis! I walked through parks, stood on the Mississippi River, hoofed it around the downtown area and drank a whoooooole lot of beer I hadn’t had before. As with my trip to Spokane, I took notes and I present (with mild editing, of course) for your edification (or your mockery) those notes.

Central Waters Imperial StoutCentral Waters Satin Solitude imperial stout (pictured). Tasty. I want more chocolate in this beer but it’s nice. I think it was about 6%, maybe 7, which is NOT an imperial but at least the mouthfeel for the style felt correct.

Surly Furious. Is this a red ale? It doesn’t say on the can but the pour suggests an amber of some kind. Citrus nose tilts the beer to pale or IPA. The middle is fruity and the finish is a bit rough on the hop bitterness so I’m going to go with IPA but it isn’t very well balanced, and the hop bitterness tastes a little like it’s been run through the dirt. It’s a nice looking beer, with some lovely amber tones but I am missing the malt flavors that might help balance this beer out or maybe cover that dirty flavor at the end. Regardless of anything else, that dirty flavor is out of place. As I finish the Furious, it commits the sin of becoming more bland, somehow. I wouldn’t mind trying something else but I don’t want to order four more cans to try it.

Indeed Mexican Honey; What a nice pilsner! The honey notes come up at the end, with a sweeter, herbal dimension that is pretty refreshing. It doesn’t warm up well though: some sharper herbal flavors come up as it warms and that’s a little off putting. However I’m hard pressed to penalize the beer for this because when it was fresh out of the bottle, this really tasted good. Split it with a friend.

Third Street Brewhouse Lost Trout brown; Nice soft roasty nose, light body, with a solid stripe of chocolate through it. 4.9% too? This is a tried and true brown ale, people and it is a solid damn beer. I wish I had more to say about it and I always like touting a good brown ale when they come up but I just don’t. Drink some!

Summit Oktoberfest (pictured): Feels and tastes a bit lageresque. It has that kind of crisp finish but with a ping of sweetness that hints at malt in there. The middle has a chewiness to it but the nose is a touch funky, almost lager lightstuck? Not quite. Is this what it’s supposed to be? To the Guidelines, Robin! And…yeah, it’s very much like what it’s supposed to be, except in the nose. That part is weird and not very malt forward. It’s not a bad beer though, so it’s possible that something may have happened in transition from brewery to glass. Also; both of the glasses in the photo are the Summit. For some reason, the pub I was in served my order in two glasses; splitting the pint, I guess? It didn’t feel wrong to be double fisting, but it was the first time I’d done it like this.

Mankato Ceres wheat ale; has this very soft citrus nose, which I dig on and the beer tastes pleasantly sweet, with a very clean finish. It’s highly drinkable and I’m damn pleased with it. The wheat gives it a little body but nothing too heavy, so I’m halfway done and already inclined to order #2, but no. I must try all the beers! Adventure time! Let’s have that Big Wood…

Big Wood Bark Bite IPA: first warning: the nose, which hints way more of wheat malt than anything else. The flavor reminds me of a goddamn watermellon jolly rancher. Holy shit this beer is bad. I hope the brewery has a horrible but totally non-lethal fire. (Please do not set the brewery on fire).