I remember my first Autumn Brew Review five years ago. What I really mean is that it was my first exposure to beer, that outside of some very basic better-than-average beer, was not Milwaukee’s Best. Beer that was not served on a piece of plywood covering a pool table, in a red solo cup or in a bro-filled bar.
I want you to close your eyes and imagine that.
Because it’s the beer drinker’s equivalent of being able to see in color for the first time. There were beers brewed with fruits and beers that tasted like coffee and beers that were sweet. Sour beers, session beers, beers that were the color of sunshine and beers the color of pumpernickel bread.
How far we have come since then.
I can comfortably say that at this year’s brew review, I don’t want to drink anything that I’ve consumed before. Not because I’m some sort of special snowflake, but precisely because the Twin Cities beer community has reached a point where we do have so many options. We don’t have to go far to drink good beer and we do not suffer for lack of variety.
So, for my Top 5 tasting choices (trying to narrow the number of beers on showcase at the Autumn Brew Review is somewhat of a joke), I decided to go with an all out-of-state lineup. We have an entire winter review dedicated to Minnesota breweries and their beers.
All beer descriptions are taken directly from the 2012 Autumn Brew Review Program.
Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY – Biere D’Hougoumont
Our limited edition Biere’d’Hougoumont is brewed with traditional French ale yeast, eight malts, French Strisselspalt hops and aged on white oak and hard maple wooden staves.
ABV: 7.3% IBU: 20 Style: Biere de Garde Serving Type: Draft
If I had to choose a favorite beer of the summer, it would have to be Ommegang’s Gnomegang. Partially because the keg at Devil’s Advocate blew immediately after we tasted it and came to the realization that we could drink no other, and partially because when we finally did find it at Grumpy’s it was served to us in pint glasses. Glory be. All of that talk about another beer aside, I’m never disappointed by Ommegang’s beers. Ever. And truly, I’ve never heard of Strisselspalt hops (my job here is not The Expert), so I definitely want in on that party. Plus, I’m a fan of oak. In wine, in beer, period.
Avery Brewing Company, Boulder, CO – Reverend
This beer is strong-willed, assertive, and pure of heart, a heart of candy sugar. It contains as many authentic imported Belgian specialty malts as the brewers could cram into our mash tun, and lots of Belgian dark candy sugar stirred into the brew kettle. A divinely complex and beautifully layered beer with hints of dark cherries, currants, and molasses, complemented by an underlying spiciness.
ABV: 10% IBU:– Style:– Serving Type: Draft
I want to say that my first introduction to Avery was a bottle of its White Rascal earlier this spring. Opposites attract, so Reverent was a logical second date. After running over the description, I’m not sure whether or not this is going to be a big-boned Belgian-arrangement or something so sweet that it will make me want to answer the phone saying, Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color? Truly, I can’t wait to take a whiff of this.
Bell’s Brewery, Kalamazoo, MI
The second in a three-part series of jazz-inspired interpretations on the French Biere de Garde style, Le Pianiste starts as a malt forward beer, combining biscuity, breadcrust notes with a light caramel flavor. Noticeably dry, the finish is crisp with a lively, refreshing acidity.
ABV: 5.8% IBU: 20 Style: Biere de Garde Serving Type: Draft
One of the most sought-after stouts in Bell’s history, Black Note Stout blends the complex aromatics of Expedition Stout with the velvety smooth texture of Double Cream Stout and ages the combination in freshly retired oak bourbon barrels for months. The resulting harmony of flavors captures the finest features of all three components: malty notes of dark chocolate, espresso & dried fruits, all buoyed by the warmth and fragrance of the bourbon barrel. Aimed squarely at stout and bourbon afficionados, Black Note makes a grand statement about the art of the dark. Will be tapped at 3 PM.
ABV: 11.5% IBU: — Style: Stout aged in bbls Serving Type: Draft
I know. I KNOW. I cheated! But here’s the reality: while Black Note is the beer I want to taste probably the most of all, it’s being tapped at…3:00 PM. While it is my intention to be mentally present and able to behave myself at 3:00 PM, we all know that it’s best not to make promises we may or may not actually be able to keep. Thus, I solemnly swear to you all that if I taste Black Note at the Autumn Brew Review (or at the Uptown Bulldog’s tap takeover), I will give you the rundown.
In the meantime, Le Pianiste. We’ll call this a lovely intermission because it’s only hitting 5.8% on the ABV scale, which relative to the rest of my top picks, is extremely light in comparison. Hell, after going through the rest of the program, it’s lighter than a significant number of the beers on offer. And I thought it would be nice to be able to contrast two beers in the Biere de Garde Style (the other being Ommegang’s Biere’d’Hougoumont). Sign me up. I could use a little bit of “refreshing acidity” in my life to cut through the other beers we’ll be sampling.
Widmer Brothers Brewing Company, Portland, OR – Old Embalmer ‘12
Old Embalmer Barleywine is great upon release, but true to its name, will have a perfect place in the cellar. Brewed with copious amounts of malts, this year’s version features Bravo hops that lend earthy and floral qualities for a brilliant balance & velvety finish.
ABV: 10.2% IBU: 75 Style: Barleywine Serving Type: Draft
Barleywine. Oh, barleywine. Can I confess for a moment? Barleywine had never passed my lips until last autumn. Now, we have a basement stash of it. Was it in the 90s this week? Yes. Does barleywine make me wish for winter? Also, yes. None of this matters, really. And for something that has nothing to do with the actual beer, it’s called Old Embalmer. I rarely pick beers for their names, but this is just too spooky not to.
Tallgrass Brewing Company, Manhattan, KS – Velvet Rooster
Our take on a Belgian-style Tripel. Clean and crisp, with subtle fruit notes and a touch of candy like sweetness. The beer has a Champagne-like effervescent that provides a crisp offset to its sweet finish.
ABV: 8.5% IBU: 33 Style: Belgian-Style Tripel Serving Type: Cans
Dear Surly, thank you for teaching us that good things can come out of cans. Fact: that I chose a can of something when I could choose a keg of something else may rank amongst my best decisions of the day, or the worst. The jury is still out, but I’m hoping that Tallgrass’ Canifesto (seriously) holds. From a general beverage perspective, I will openly confess that I have a deep and abiding love for champagne and club soda. I also love a good Tripel. So this just sounds like a treat.
Like I’ve said before, if you’re at ABR and see me, let’s grab a taster and do a proper cheers!
I’d love to meet as many of you as possible.
And until then, cheers!