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After hitting Redamak’s burger joint and the antique shops of Saugatuck, Founder’s Brewery in Grand Rapids was up against some serious competition for my first trip to Michigan.

I wasn’t able to make it for Founder’s Fest, but I did stop in for a nightcap. The space is huge, and the patrons seem determined to fill every last inch of it with peanut shells.

3226249219_a3e6d7b335_bI started off with the Centennial, and solid IPA with a quick pine and citrus flavor. I immediately upgraded with the Double Trouble IPA. Not quite double, it’s about half again as strong and the extra sparkling smooths out the citrus into a more apricot flavoring. It even has a bright, almost sun tea quality to it. Extremely drinkable for a hoppy IPA. This is one of the best new beers I’ve had all summer.

I was delighted to see folks walking out with growlers, and after a half-hearted warning from the barkeep, I walked with one of my own.

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Spent the week in Portland again and some locals were kind enough to take me to Deschutes Brewpub. I’d had had both Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Black Butte Porter on previous trips, so I knew I was a fan. I started with a seasonal, the Cinder Cone Red. Most reds can be a bit much for me, but the Cinder Cone is smooth and malty. The brewery describes the beer as having a toffee flavor, which I found distinct but subtle. Each of Deschutes’ Brewpubs make their own exclusive experimental brews. I ordered the sampler to get a taste of the temporary menu:

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Gluten Free Golden Ale
A sorghum and brown rice recipe that comes off too thin and disparate in flavor. The bitterness lacks sharpness. I’m glad to see the offering, but hope they can improve the balance and overall effect.

Mirror Mirror
Part of the reserve series, this is an interesting take on the well-known Mirror Pond Pale Ale “doubled up to barley wine strength.” It certainly has a musty sweetness to it, but far more drinkable than the Mirror Mirror 2005.

Mirror Mirror 2005
Same recipe as the Mirror Mirror, but aged and therefore far more dense. This is a full-on barley wine set up in a variety of wooden barrels, including American Oak, Pinot, Port & Bourbon. This is a slow drinker.

Streaking the Quad, Bachelor Bitter, Pilsner #005
All three of these more conventional, but high quality brews are exclusives at the Portland brewpub. The Quad, however, is already missing from the menu after my return.

Our little crew stopped by Rogue (map) for a nightcap. I had the Juniper Pale Ale, which is made with juniper berries, same as their gin made next door. A touch heavy on the florals, but still smooth and appropriately unchallenging for a pale. It was a great finish.

Portland is always good beer hunting.

picture-5I Am A Craft Brewer from I Am A Craft Brewer on Vimeo.

“I Am A Craft Brewer” is a collaborative video representing the camaraderie, character and integrity of the American Craft Brewing movement. Created by Greg Koch, CEO of the Stone Brewing Co. and Chris & Jared of Redtail Media…and more than 35 amazing craft brewers from all over the country. The video was shown to a packed audience of 1700 craft brewers and industry members at the 2009 Craft Brewers Conference as an introduction to Greg’s Keynote Speech entitled “Be Remarkable: Collaboration Ethics Camaraderie Passion.” As is tradition for the CBC Keynote, a toast to the audience was offered. This time, the beers offered for the toast were all collaboratively brewed craft beers including Isabella Proximus, Collaboration Not Litigation, AleSmith/Mikkeller/Stone Belgian Style Triple, Jolly Pumpkin/Nøgne-Ø/Stone Special Holiday Ale, and 2009 Symposium Ale “Audacity of Hops.”

A re-cut version will be posted as soon as possible, and a program is in development to include even more of America’s amazing craft brewers. Please stay tuned!

3251177998_7a25a71fc8This month, I was lucky enough to get tickets to beer school at The Map Room in Chicago hosted by Greg Browne from Mickey Finn’s Brewery in Libertyville.

Browne’s never-fail themes (French Farmhouse Ales, Oktoberfest Beers, IPA’s, Beers from Indiana) range from conventional to obscure, but his latest “Canned Beers” proved divisive. For those who passed…thanks for the leftover tickets!

Browne started low-brow with PBR and Fosters, and that primed us for a few surprises. The complete list:

PBR
One of the earliest canned beers that served to revolutionize the industry. While bottle retain the cultural cache, cans do the real work, block all light and eliminating extra air better than any other beer container. Essentially, says Browne, “cans are mini kegs” when it comes to protecting our beer.

Bitburger
Similar to a Pilsner Urquell, clean, slightly crisp. Helped me forget the PBR. And they’re tall. Browne proudly affirmed that this is his stand-by.

Fosters
If you haven’t already had one, move on with your life.

Baltika Extra Lager 9
My first (knowingly) Russian beer. Baltika numbers their beers according to alcohol percentage (how very regimented of them), but they start with “0,” (how very inane) making the Special Lager 9 an 8%. Clean, bright, and from what I can tell on their Web site, it’ll get me sex on a cruise ship.

Ska Special ESB
The first of two great beers from Ska (fun, comical branding). And as Browne pointed out, there’s just something otherwordly about popping open a can and smelling a robust hoppy note. Out of the can, the fresh bitter tip opens to a malty aftertaste.

Mickey Finn’s Amber Ale
I love it when Greg brings us his own brew from Mickey Finn’s (last summer he brought the Hefe Weizen, which prompted a follow-up train ride to Libertyville). With a hint of caramel, Browne compares the Amber Ale to Fat Tire, but perhaps a little hoppier.

Boddington’s
Sweet, creamy, bitter, available at the six fine Irish pubs on your corner.

Capital Amber
A solid ale. Capital won’t blow you away, but it’s always good. Out of a can, it has a slightly crisper tone.

Youngs Double Chocolate Stout
A classic canned beer. Like a Guiness and Boddington’s, Young’s in the can uses a CO2 widget to make a smoother pour and keep it balanced. Cans were promptly disemboweled and their widgets passed around.

Not ideal to follow from a bunch of hoppy beers, but it’s taste is so iconic that it quickly subdues any previous bitterness. This is a complex chocolate.

Ska Modus Hoperandi
Another great selection from Ska, the Modus Operandi was a great kick at the end. High citrus notes and a perfect weight make it a smoother hoppy beer.

The season is changing (slowly in Chicago), and so is the header for Good Beer Hunting. Goodbye to the winter hunt. Hello outdoor seating and heady blondes.

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It’s too late now, but February was Strong Beer Month at historic Magnolia’s Pub and Brewery in the Haight-Asbury district of San Francisco. And brewers Dave McLean and Ben Spencer  didn’t take that name” lightly.”

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Magnolia’s is known for their unique cask ales, hand pulled from an impressive set of taps, up from the chilled basement. I imbibed in the Weekapaug Gruit, a Scottish-style ale likely named after the Phish song “Weekapaug Groove” (Magnolia’s has a decidedly Hippie past) and “The Other One,” a dark brew made with Blue Bottle coffee.

Recent visitors to Magnolia’s will hardly recognize the place. The trippy murals have been replaced with a shimmering gold paint and a more modern aesthetic overall. Better? I dunno. But the beer is just as adventurous, and the food still impressive.

Follow Magnolia’s on Twitter

This balanced and sparkling oak aged ale is one of the more crisp ales I’ve had in recent memory. Not weighty or musty at all, Southern Tier’s Cuvée (a fancy French wine term derived from cuve, meaning vat or tank) comes in three series, a French Oak, American Oak, and the third is a blend of the two.

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The beautifully designed box is both upscale, and workman-like in it’s simplicity. The rough particleboard feel is printed with white, black, and silver ink in a variety of patterns. It has a spare-no-expense quality but shows restraint.

Southern Tier describes the beer:

ALE IMPRESSIONS: Light copper color, slight malt flavor with mild bitterness, dry finish with subtle hop aroma.

And the barrel it was aged in:

FRENCH OAK IMPRESSIONS: Qualities of toasted coconut, almond biscotti and toasted almonds with a taste of honeysuckle.

These descriptions are well-understood with your first taste.

Southern Tier (near Lake Chataqua, southwestern New York) cranks out a lot of different specialty brews, including many seasonals. Cuvée 1 is an October, and I’m eagerly awaiting the February release of the Cuvée 2.

A photo series of some vintage beer cans found in a friend’s basement. Some rare ones. Olde Frothingslosh, indeed.

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Facebook photo album


webbieredegarde730A French-style Country Ale, the Southampton Christmas Ale (out of New York), known commercially as the Southampton Biere de Garde (or “beer for keeping”), is a malty, mild-spiced ale with champagne notes on the finish. The French-style Caribou Cafe in Philadelphia serves this Christmas Ale on draft, on the warmer side, making it open up like a hand-pulled cask ale.

For those whose idea of a Christmas ale is the spicier Anchor Steam (consistently one of the best), Southampton will broaden your expectations for holiday brews.

Caribou Cafe on Yelp

Jess Ward (of Fries with that Shake) picked up a 6-pack of Walt Wits for her Christmas Eve feast. On the nippier end of Wits, and light on the citrus notes, the Walt Wit is an unfiltered Belgian White out of the recently established Philadelphia Brewing Company in the Kensington neighborhood on the north side of Philly.

An xmas eve Walt Wit

An xmas eve Walt Wit

PBC is striking out on its own after the owner split off from his partnership with Yards. Yards took their brand to a new location and PBC kept the brewery, starting with a fresh name and new recipes in the old Weisbrod & Hess Brewery in Kensington.

The four main PBC brews, Kenzinger, Rowhouse Red, Walt Wit and NewBold IPA, as well as seasonal specialty brews can be found throughout the city, and especially at craft-focused bars like Johnny Brenda’s.