Archive for April, 2011

I must admit that I had some pretty grand blogging plans for my current trip to the United States.  I had intended to write at least weekly on my various explorations of American craft beer.  As you can see though, these intentions have mostly gone unfulfilled.  The biggest problem has been reliable internet access.  For the majority of our time in the States, we have stayed with family who live in rural Ohio where internet connectivity is extremely problematic.  This has meant that most of my internet time has had to come through brief visits to the local Mcdonald’s.

Don’t let my lack of blogging give the impression that I have not been pursuing my beer passions while in the US.  Far from it!  In fact, I have had some pretty awesome experiences that have included some pretty amazing brews.  So, I thought that I would at least throw out a brief post sharing my run in with a rather famous brewery from here in the Midwest.  This brewing operation was not on my original brewing “must taste” list, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to sample some of these beers.  During a recent excursion to a highly rated beer store in Dayton, Ohio, I had the good fortune to acquire a few bottles – including a hard-to-find brew – from the Founders Brewing Company out of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

I knew that Founders had a sterling reputation among craft beer enthusiasts here in the States.  Much of their rise to predominance is vaguely familiar in terms of craft breweries.  Like so many other outfits in the US, Founders was started in the 1990s by a couple of homebrewers with an unquenchable entrepreneurial spirit.  After many years of unimaginative brewing, the company was stagnate and on the verge of bankruptcy.  At this point, the two partners, Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers, decided to change their strategy.  Instead of making what they called “well-balanced but unremarkable beers”, they followed their hearts and began brewing beer they would enjoy – brews with complexity, flavor, and depth of character.   This marked the beginning of Founders’ rise to one of the most esteemed breweries in the world.

As I mentioned above, I stopped by a well-known beer outlet during our stay in Dayton, Ohio.  Browsing through their selection, I came across a few shelves stocked with Founders beer.  Seeing their offerings, I was reminded that Founders had just recently released their Kentucky Breakfast Stout – a bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout that is released in limited amounts once a year to much fanfare.  I figured it was a long shot, but I asked the employee stocking the shelves whether they had any bottles of KBS left in stock.  She flashed a doubtful look and said she would check behind the counter.  After a quick glance, she let me know that they had sold out.  Much to my surprise though, she then offered to give up a bottle from her personal stash and allow me to purchase it through the store!  So, I left that afternoon with a bottle of KBS as well as a few other offerings from Founders.

So, what about that beer?  This beauty poured a pure, deep black with creamy, beige head. The aroma is coffee and licorice filled my nose. Taste was something spectacular!  There was amazingly smooth and complex with flavors of coffee, chocolate, and bourbon alcohol. On top of that, I found a nice lactose sweetness on the tail end that made it seem like for a split second you were drinking chocolate milk. The mouthfeel was amazing – smooth and creamy, not overly viscous, just perfect. This is truly one of the best beers out there.  Thank you lady from Belmont Party Supply!

I pick up a few other Founders beers that afternoon, but the one other brew I wanted to share here was their take on the classic Porter.  Aside from the Baltic Porter I had while visiting Three Floyds, I have never had the pleasure of trying a Porter before.  I must say, that if all Porters are anything like this offering from Founders, I am hooked!   The appearance of the Founders version was a solid black color with medium, beige head. The nose was sweet with roasted malts, coffee and some toffee.  And, boy did it taste good – amazingly delicate and complex with dark chocolate and coffee dominant but notes of roasted grains. The real strength of this beer was its hop profile – perfectly balanced with the malty sweetness.  It had a pleasant hop grassy and spicy hop notes that’s not overly bitter, which, combined with a nice medium body and creamy texture, was great on the palate.  Unlike Imperial Stouts, the real flavors of Porters are not overwhelmed by a heavy body, high alcohol, and huge malt bill.  The delicacy and balance have really sold me on this style of brewing.

Well, that’s a quick update on my ongoing introduction to American craft beer.  So far, it’s been an awesome experience.  My only heartache comes from the fact that there is so much to sample.  The more that I try, the more excited I get about the American craft brewing scene.  I’m slowly becoming convinced that the good ol’ US of A is brewing the best beer in the world right now.  It’s a great time to be a craft beer lover in America.


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I have always found it comical that the state tag line for Indiana is “Crossroads of America”.  Essentially, with this statement you are verifying that Indiana is merely monotonous countryside one drives through on their way to somewhere else.  Perhaps it is an oversimplification to say that Indiana is just a 140 mile wide expanse of farmland.  The dedicated Hoosier can certainly point to places like Indianapolis to show that the state has its cosmopolitan side.  Regardless, anyone who has driven through Indiana on I-70 can testify to the state’s overwhelming rural uniformity.

When it comes to brewing, then, Indiana would not strike the casual observer as a hotbed of great craft beer.  Seeing the repetitious scenes of farmland and prairie rolling past your car window would probably dispel any notion that this land could be fertile ground for a brewing revolution.  In fact, if one were so inclined to make stereotypical judgments based on socio-economic level, you would probably believe that you were in staunch BMC country.  Whether these judgments are accurate or not, I won’t venture a guess.  But, it was surprising to me that one of the most respected breweries in America can be found in the Hoosier State.  For those of you out there who love beer, you have probably already realized that I’m talking about Three Floyds Brewing in Munster, Indiana.

Although Munster is situated in the northwestern most corner of the state – which is essentially an extension of Chicago – the area and its brewery are firmly imbedded in the life and culture of Indiana.  I actually have a personal connection with this part of Indiana.  My mother was born and raised only a few miles from Munster in the suburban town of Highland.  My aunt, who still calls this area home, would proudly call herself a Hoosier.  Even though I was raised in neighboring Ohio, I still try to make it back often to this place that half of my family calls home.  And, indeed, our trip from Chicago to Ohio a few weeks ago provided the opportunity to reconnect with this side of the family as well as the chance to make a very important excursion – a stop at Three Floyds!

Aware of the immense popularity of Three Floyds, I decided to hit their brewpub on a quiet Thursday afternoon.  I had also invited a very dear friend and fellow beer lover to drive up to Munster and meet me at the brewery so that I would have a drinking partner in my beer odyssey.  However, the recent outrageous gas prices convinced my friend to stay home.  Not wanting to pass up this opportunity, I headed to Munster by myself.  “Just great,” I thought. “Drinking alone – one step closer to alcoholism.”  Alas.  No use letting a silly little thing like alcohol dependence stop me from an amazing brewery experience.

The drive into Munster from where we were staying was a journey through American suburban sprawl.  Strip malls, Rite Aids, and Wal-Marts littered the path to Three Floyds.  The brewery itself is located in a bland, unassuming industrial park surrounded by distribution warehouses and tech firms – not exactly the type of place you’d expect a brewing operation.  Like a hermit crab, the brewery and brewpub inhabit the shell of one these old warehouses.  I was really surprise to see that the ample parking surrounding the brewhouse was completely occupied.  Not an encouraging beginning to my evening.

Walking into the brewpub, I was met with a completely packed out bar with a dozen or so people just standing around waiting for a place to sit.  Considering it was 6pm on a weekday, I was surprised to see the place so crowded.  As it turns out, the fact that I came alone proved to be an advantage in muscling myself a stool at the bar.  The dark pub had a very indie, Greenwich Village feel (not that I have ever been to a bar in Greenwich Village, but you know what I mean) – various pieces of pop art as well as beer paraphernalia hanging on the walls; a couple of tattooed, post-modern twenty-somethings tending the taps behind the bar; and a host of young suburban professionals enjoying their craft beer at dark-stained oak tables.  In all, a very appropriate locale to enjoy some world-class beer.

I ended up sitting next to an older gentleman at the bar who I found out was a regular at the brewpub.  He let me know that the crowds I was so surprised to see were a normal thing for Three Floyds.  In fact, if I had arrived any later, he said, I would have had to wait in line outside.  I counted my blessing that I had found a place to sit and proceed to peruse their beer menu.  Naturally, they had on tap the line up of standard Three Floyds offerings – Alpha King, Gumballhead, Robert the Bruce – as well as some intriguing limited selections that you’d only find at the brewpub.  Additionally, I was surprised to see them offering beers from other craft brewers from around the world including some of their competitors like Founders and Sun King.  Good for them.

But, I wasn’t there to partake in anything other than the best that Three Floyds had to give me that evening.  So, what about the beer?  For my first selection, I decided on one of their special offerings, their Baltic Porter called Topless Wych.  I had never tried any type of Porter before, so I was somewhat flying blind on this tasting.  The beer poured a deep black with creamy, off-white head that quickly dissipated. The aroma was heavy with roasted malts with notes of coffee and chocolate. After a few swigs, it became obvious that the taste was similar to the nose with coffee being the most predominant. On top of this, there was also hints of licorice and dark fruits.  What I really liked about this beer was the medium but delicate body and smooth mouthfeel which revealed the craftsmanship behind the brew.

For the second round, I wanted to diversify my experience by trying something paler but with a stronger hop character making an IPA the ideal choice.  Enter Three Floyds Dreadnought Imperial IPA.  Let me just say off the bat that this beer was amazing.  The appearance is what you’d expect from an IPA – slightly hazy, light orange color with medium head. The nose was what really blew me away.  As soon as the bartender pushed the half pint in front of me, an aroma of citrus especially mango and peach met my nostrils. The taste was just as extraordinary with the huge mango and peach flavors up front and a nice malt base underneath. Then there was the hops. Floral and citrus hop flavors were really powerful in this beer leaving behind a strong bitterness on the palate. Although the hops were heavy, the bitterness was not overwhelming being balanced by the malts. This was truly an outstanding beer.

Unfortunately, I had to bring my evening at Three Floyds to a close.  Being alone, I had to wisely limit my alcohol intake knowing I had to get behind the wheel eventually.  But, the trip was definitely worth the effort.  As a parting gift, I grabbed a six-pack of their Alpha King Pale Ale to go.  As I enjoyed this beer and a few others since my trip (including their Robert the Bruce Scottish Ale – Yum!), this amazing place is quickly climbing my list of favorite breweries.

Three Floyds has confirmed, as far as I was concerned, its elite reputation among craft breweries.  These guys have really proven how brewing beer can be an art.  I was sad to leave, but excited to continue exploring all that this brewery has to offer.  Although Indiana may be least among the states, it has shown through outfits like Three Floyds and others to be a real player in the craft beer scene.

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