Posts Tagged ‘american beer’

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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Well, I’m writing my very first post from the Land of Freedom.  Our trip across the Atlantic Ocean went off without a hitch, and now my family and I are hanging out in the Chicagoland area before heading off to Ohio.  One of the first things I did once arriving in the States was find the closest specialty beer store.  I was able to pick up a few miscellaneous brews to kick off my American beer experience!  So, this Mash Tun will look at two American craft beers – one from right here in the Windy City and another from the Bluegrass State.

Goose Island IPA
I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I have never had an India Pale Ale.  It’s awful, I know.  Unfortunately, it’s a style that’s not very prevalent in Germany, so there hasn’t been much opportunity for me to get my hands on one.  Needless to say then, I was looking forward to finally experiencing this beloved brewing tradition.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I would like the hoppy profile of the IPA.  German brewing is not known for their heavy use of bittering hops.  Well, I had the chance to try my hand at the IPA my first full day back in America.

Although Goose Island wasn’t on my list of must-drink beers during my trip to the US, the brewery has been on my radar for a while.  During my initial beer shopping excursion, I had a slot left in my “build your own 6-pack”, so I picked up their take on the India Pale Ale.  This brew pours a slightly hazy orange color with light, quickly dissipating head.  The nose is citrus including orange and a little lemon plus sweet malts and nice dose of grass and floral hops. With orange and sweetness being balanced by grassy and floral hops flavor dominating, the taste resembles closely the aroma.  I was really pleased with the nice strong hop flavor which was not overly bitter. The brew had an amazing mouthfeel with light crispness, lively carbonation, and smooth aftertaste.  With one IPA now under my belt, I can definitely say that I’m looking forward to many more to come.

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale
I’m noticing that it is a huge trend in craft beer right now to brew using casks from liquor distilleries.  By far the most popular is bourbon barrels, but I also seen beer from brandy and other whiskey casks.  Personally though, I have never experienced beer from this unique brewing art.  Come to think of it, I don’t think I have even had bourbon before.  It just so happened that the friends we were staying with in Chicago were big fans of a particular barrel aged beer – the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale from the Lexington Brewing Company.  According to my friend, it’s actually illegal to export the beer out of Kentucky making it a particularly distinctive acquisition.  I’m skeptical of the accuracy of my friend’s information, but I was nonetheless excited to give it a try.

I like cool bottles.  For some reason, beer coming from a cool bottle just seems more drinkable.  This brew comes in a classic, almost antique style bottle with a black silhoette of a horses head on the label.  Out of this bottle pours a rich copper beer with medium off-white head. Of course, you get the strong whiskey scent right off the bat along with a nice malty sweetness. The taste is heavy on the bourbon with some vanilla and a slight fruity sweetness as well. The really nice thing about this beer, in my opinion, was how it felt on the palate.  The brew is very smooth – almost silky – as well as well-balanced with a medium body making it very drinkable.  It wasn’t the mind-blowing experience that some people might make it out to be, but the bourbon barrel-aged beer is a definite must-try.

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If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that my wife and I have been living the expatriate lifestyle here in Germany going on two years.  Living on this side of the Atlantic has afforded me the opportunity to delve deeply into European beer culture – particularly Germany and Belgium.  In fact, it was a trip to Belgium that first inspired me to learn all that I could about the brewing arts.  Although I’ve really loved experiencing all that Europe has to offer beer-wise, I regretted the fact that I didn’t discover true beer enjoyment while I lived in the States.

I have always enjoyed good beer though.  Even when I knew nothing about the craft beer scene, I was aware that there was a difference between the BMC stuff and the high-end, quality brewing.  However, the most exposure I have ever had to the American craft beer world was a memorable trip to New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Aside from them, I have virtually zero experience with true American craft beer.  Fortunately, that’s about to change.

This coming week, my family and I will be making our very first trip back to America since we left almost two years ago.  Since I’ve last seen those amber waves of grain, I have become an entirely different beer drinker – hopefully, a bit wiser and more discerning.  So, I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of our time in the States to become more acquainted with amazing American beer.  I have even come up with a “most drink” list of particular brewers that I want to concentrate on while I’m there.  Since all of our time will be spent in the Midwest, I’m focusing on some of the most well-known breweries from that region.  So, without further ado, here’s my American Beer Tour 2011 road schedule:

1.  Three Floyds Brewing in Munster, Indiana. We will actually be flying into Chicago and from there making are way across the Midwest visiting friends and family.  Luckily, my aunt lives a mere 10 minutes away from Three Floyds brewery and pub in northwest Indiana.  This world-renown brewery is going to be my first stop.  Unfortunately, I’m going to miss Dark Lord Day by a few weeks, but that’s not going to dampen my excitement for getting my mitts on some of their other beers.  In particular, I’m looking forward to trying out their Alpha King pale ale and Dreadnought IPA on top of anything special they might be serving at their brewpub.

2.  Bell’s Brewing in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Originally, we had planned on making a stop in Michigan which meant that a side trip to Bell’s would have been warranted.  Unfortunately, plans change and we won’t be going near Kalamazoo.  That isn’t going to deter me from making this awesome brewery a priority.  I’m hoping to procure various beers from the brewhouse formerly known as Kalamazoo Brewing Company over the course of our trip.  At the top of my list are, of course, the famous Hopslam Ale and Expedition Stout.  But, anything else I can come across, I’ll probably pick up too.

3.  Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, Ohio. Being a native Ohioan, there’s a good amount of pride knowing that one of the best breweries in America can be found in good ol’ Cleveland.  What I like most about this brewery is their excellent pale offerings.  In a craft beer world, where the heavy hitters like Stouts and IPAs seem to get all of the glory, it’s refreshing to find a brewery that can make some mind-blowing pale brews.  I’m especially looking forward to GLB’s Dortmunder Gold and their Burning River Pale Ale, both of which have earned high praise over the years.

4.  Hoppin’ Frog Brewery in Akron, Ohio. Just south of Cleveland is the old rubber capital of the world, Akron.  In this rust-belt town of some 200,000 people, you’ll find this small but quality brewery.  It’s definitely the least known of all the brewhouses on my road tour, but it’s definitely got some great beer.  In particular, I’m hoping to try their B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher Oatmeal Imperial Stout as well as their intriguing sounding Hop Master’s Abbey Belgian-style Double IPA.

Well, those are the highlights.  Of course, there will be specific entries in the weeks to come sharing my experiences of these various breweries.  Aside from these four, I’m hopeful that I will also encounter a few random surprises along the way.  If you have any suggestions of Midwestern breweries or beer that I have to try, feel free to point me in the right direction.  Bottoms up!  We’ll see you in America!

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