21 August 2017

Minnesota (mostly) nice

My vlogging buddy Brian went to the US National Homebrewing Convention in Minneapolis earlier this summer. He brought home a selection of local beers and I went over to give the benefits of my tasting acumen to his camera. In between takes I scribbled my own notes on them, because that's the kind of multimedia talent I am.

We started with Summit Brewing, second-largest of the established regional brewers, after the mighty Schell. First out was a can of Summit Spring Saison. This is an innocent 4.7% ABV and goes for the fruity side of saison, hitting peach and mango on the way. A very mild white pepper spice follows in its wake. So, all the elements of quality saison are present, but in a very understated way. It's crisp and polished rather than rough and rustic, and while I appreciate the technical expertise that has gone into creating it, I found it a little bit short on personality.

Summit Extra Pale Ale followed, with a bit of consternation over what constitutes an "extra" pale ale. Drinking it didn't really provide any answers. It's heavier than a typical American pale ale would be, and has a harsh acidity that makes it tough drinking. This is one of those beers that's simultaneously too bitter and too sweet, with none of the refreshment power that it's reasonable to expect at 5.2% ABV. Moving on...

The Summit trilogy finishes with Dark Infusion, described as a coffee milk stout but 8.5% ABV so I think it would be fair to wedge the word "imperial" in there too. After the first two middling-to-poor offerings this really redeemed Summit in my view. It opens with a gorgeous fresh coffee flavour, with all the creamy richness but no bitterness, and amazingly no boozy heat either. The texture is flawlessly smooth, though the lactose doesn't make its presence felt in any other way. Perhaps not the most complex of strong coffee stouts, but very relaxing to sip.

Bent Paddle is the next brewery up, and Bent Hop, their "golden IPA". So, like a Yorkshire bitter, then? Nope, just a classically constructed US IPA that's maybe a tiny bit paler than the usual. It's a reasonable 6.2% ABV and shows all the fresh citrus flavour anyone could want, giving a playful nip of acidic bitterness in the finish. "Golden" actually had me expecting something a bit blander than the norm, but this is certainly streets ahead of Summit's pale ale, and indeed the one that followed.

Xtra-Citra Pale Ale is the first beer I've had from Minnesota brewing icons Surly. It's only 4.5% ABV, and maybe that comedically low strength is why the brewers thought it would be OK if it was watery as hell, poured headless and looked downright ill. The first reluctant sip released a torrent of harsh lemon detergent, though thankfully the lack of body doesn't carry it very long. That there are bags of lovely fresh hops in play here is very apparent but it's hideously unbalanced and in need of bulking up.

Redemption for Surly comes in the form of Whalezbrah! a one-off they produced for the Convention. It's a wheat beer at its base, but then given the oak-ageing and Brettanomyces treatment. I really wasn't expecting to like it, but it's a triumph. Pouring a clear amber colour it smells enticingly funky, more soft autumnal ripeness than the decay that some Bretted beers give off. The flavour is driven by a spicy, woody perfume backed by a pithy bitterness, some mild but not intrusive funk, and then an astonishingly clean finish setting up the next mouthful. It's 7.5% ABV and tastes a little hot, even for that strength, but every mouthful is such a riot of flavour that drinking it quickly is out of the question anyway. This is one of those beers whose integrated elements have much to teach brewers who mess about with Brett 'n' barrels. I don't know if Surly has more like this in its regular line-up, but I hope so.

Cheers to Brian for the hospitality. If you want to watch pretty much the same nonsense in video form, here you go:

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