Rating: A Plus

There are certain awe-inspiring events that happen in one’s lifetime that are difficult to explain to those that have not already experienced them. Watching Wizard of Oz on mute set to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon…finally seeing that damn 3D sail ship in the stereogram picture…and realizing that Michael Stipe wasn’t singing “Let’s pee in the corner.”

Attending the Woodstock carnival that is Dark Lord Day at Three Floyd’s Brewing in Munster, Indiana also falls neatly into this camp.

Having bravely ventured to Indiana (a feat in and of itself) for two consecutive Dark Lord Days, I can safely say the event is a beer festival like no other, complete with thousands upon thousands of raving craft beer fanatics from all corners of the globe descending on Three Floyd’s like a swarm of locusts to revel in the glory of Dark Lord, a Russian Imperial Stout that is considered by many to be the premier example of the style.

Joining me on our multi-state Kerouac-esque journey this year were a couple of notable beer blogger friends from the East coast, including Aaron at The Vice Blog and Dave at The Drunken Polack, as well as Stu from local blog Friday Night Beer and my social media-averse brother-in-law (love you @Steve). During the various legs of the trip, we also ran into numerous other beer brethren including Ryan (aka @esch), Shawn and Mike at Beer Genome Project, Beckel at Legal Beer, Dean (aka @ibeyou), and of course Mike and Nate from Thank Heaven for Beer.

The weekend included stops at local favorites Stub & Herb’s, Town Hall and Barley John’s; a brief visit to Surly for some swag; lunch at Ale Asylum and a tour of New Glarus Brewing near Madison; as well as a post-Dark Lord Day dinner outing to Flossmoor Station on Chicago’s South side. But in lieu of regaling you with a blow-by-blow transcript of every second of the trip, I’ll provide a greatest hits (and a couple misses) list from the weekend, as there were plenty of both. Here we go…

Best Beer of the Trip – Isabelle Proximus
Dave at Drunken Polack lugged along a few notables to sample at Dark Lord Day, including this whale of a beer that completely blew my mind. A collaboration brewed a couple years ago by Dogfish Head, Lost Abbey, Avery, Allagash, and Russian River, it’s one of the most softly rounded, imminently drinkable sours I’ve ever tried. Musty hay, a hint of sweetness amidst the sour, a definite A+. Notable Runners-Up: Oak-Aged Popskull, The Bruery’s Black Tuesday, and New Glarus Cran-Bic.

Worst Performance Carrying a Case of Dark Lord – Some Dude with Ripped Underwear
If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought I was at a grand finale on Fourth of July as the unmistakeable popping sounds of scores of people accidentally dropping their cases of Dark Lord on the street peppered the area. People stood staring for minutes at their broken bottles as if they were going to magically patch themselves back together like the evil robot in Terminator 2…too bad tears aren’t a suitable adhesive. And not to gross anyone out, but what’s with the torn Underoos on this guy? Word to the wise – hold the case from the bottom next time.

Best Homebrew – Mike’s 44% ABV Freeze-Distilled Strong Ale
I was floored by the quality of this unique brew conjured up by Mike at Thank Heaven for Beer. He started off with 45 pounds of grain for the five gallon batch, fermented with an alcohol tolerant yeast strain to get it to about 22% ABV, then freeze distilled the rest to eek out a few small bottles of this amazing beer. It seriously reminded me of Utopias in its liqueur-like characteristics, and man was it drinkable. Runner-Up: Nate’s “Three Kings” Triple, brewed with gold flakes, frankincense, and myrrh. 

Best Dark Lord Variant – Oak-Aged Dark Lord
I’m not one to complain about good old regular Dark Lord, whether from the bottle or served on draught. But the other variants offered up at the Three Floyd’s brewpub are worth mentioning (both good and bad). Vanilla Bean Aged Dark Lord (right), oft-cited as the best of the bunch according to Beer Advocate’s legion, tasted just fine but something with the vanilla bean aging process gave it the consistency of a sludgy milk shake and it turned me off a bit. The Oak Aged version, on the other hand, was something to behold. And ironically, it smelled and tasted more like a nice subtle vanilla than the other version thanks to the oak, without overwhelming it.  

Most Impressive Brewery Facility – New Glarus
I gotta say, I wasn’t sure what to expect driving down desolate, winding roads in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Wisconsin. But once we rolled up the hill to New Glarus Brewing and its commanding view of the Swiss-style hamlet below, I was immediately in love. The new brewery is one of the most impressive facilities I’ve ever been to…state-of-the-art brewhouse at its core, with a beautifully appointed tasting room geniously plunked in the middle of the gift shop. Not only did I walk out of there with a nice buzz, but also a bag filled with T-shirts, tap handles, and various other baubles.







Most Impressive Brewpub – Flossmoor Station
Man, these guys make some nice beer. Located in the middle of a tony neighborhood south of I-80, Flossmoor is in an old train station that’s been converted into a brewery and upscale restaurant. Their IPA knocked my socks off with its wonderful floral aromas and intense bitterness, and I also picked up a bottle of their Pullman Brown for home perusement. If we go back for DLD next year, a visit to Flossmoor for a more proper sampling of their other beers will certainly be on the agenda. Runner-Up: Ale Asylum, which surprised the hell out of me with their very good bar food (get the pulled pork sandwich) and their impressive roster of beers (try the Bedlam! Trappist IPA brewed with Citra hops that lend unique aromas of tropical fruit).

Oddest Beer Consumed – 1995 Sam Adams Triple Bock
At last year’s Surly Darkness Day, we met a couple really cool guys in line from Chicago who had driven up the night before completely unpreprared with not a beer between them. As any good Minnesotans would, we took them under our collective wing and indoctrinated them into the ways of drinking 10% ABV bombers of Russian River Consecration at 8 a.m. To repay the kind gesture, they tracked me down at DLD and offered up their slew of impressive beers…but amongst them all this one stood out. A 1995 Sam Adams Triple Bock? I had to try it, if for nothing else to see how terribly far gone it had become. My suspicions weren’t off by much, considering the cork snapped in the bottle, with the rest disintegrating into flakes as we attempted to pry it out. The beer poured like a gloppy mess with zero carbonation, and tasted like someone had soaked a Werthers in a glass of warm water for a few hours. One of the Chicago guys literally gagged and vomited after sampling it. I’m sure it was a good beer…right around the Y2K scare.

Best Beer Festival Innovation – Golden Tickets
The thought of inviting a few thousand drunken friends over to my house to trample the flower bed, leave piles of trash in the backyard, and potentially piss off my neighbors with debaucherous behavior doesn’t sound like my idea of fun. So I think the folks at Three Floyd’s should be commended for opening their doors to, what is by all accounts, a mob scene. And one of the things that keeps this whole thing running relatively smoothly is their Golden Ticket idea, which I think is a good one. Everyone there with a ticket is guaranteed beer up to a certain time, and everyone (hopefully) walks away happy. It’s especially nice for people like me traveling from several states away to comfortably know you won’t leave empty handed. Granted, the tickets were tough to come by thanks to a crashing e-commerce website, but they’ve acknowledged the issues and plan to remedy next year.


Sam Adams Utopias isn’t really a beer…it’s an experience.

Offered in extraordinarily limited quantities once every two years (there were only 53 barrels produced for this year’s version), Utopias is considered to be one of the tougher beers out there to get your hands on, and for good reason, taking into account the intensely laborious, time-consuming process Boston Beer Co.’s brewers take to produce this innovative brew. In its fifth release, Utopias has traditionally contended with such beers as Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA as the most alcoholic beer on planet earth*, coming in at a mere 27% ABV. But the strength of the beer, while certainly unique and more reminiscent to what you’d find in a fine liquer, is not all that sets it apart in my mind.

To brew this one-of-a-kind beer (and yes, it technically is a beer), they use a blend of two-row, caramel and Munich malts with a healthy dose of maple syrup to help kick up the gravity, likely to uncharted levels that would make your average hydrometer hide in fear. To balance the insane levels of malt, they hop with several Noble varieties including Spalt Spalter, Hallertau Mittelfrueh, and Tettnang Tettnanger to add a bit of spice to the concoction. For such a potently sweet wort, they use a number of high gravity yeasts to ferment, including Champagne yeast, and much like a fine distiller, they also blend a number of batches to come up with the finished product, some of which have aged up to 16 years in various casks including brandy, sherry, cognac, bourbon and muscatel. In short, Sam Adams Utopias is to American brewing what Cantillon Blåbær and other rare lambics are to the Belgian brewing tradition with all of the patience and care involved in developing it.

Liquid aside, the bottle holding the beer is something to behold in and of itself, like a piece of art. Designed by a noted Brazilian glassware manufacturer, the container is a miniaturized copper brewing kettle with advent-like sliding doors that reveal a picture of the brewer/patriot himself, Sam Adams.

Utopias poured into a snifter (my special commemorative Riedel glass is on order!) with no perceptible carbonation. Awe-inspiring amber coloring, like staring at a beautifully crafted stained glass window in its magnetism. The beer had legs for miles that slowly sank down the sides of the glass when swirled, like a nice wine or single-malt scotch. Piercing notes of raisin, plum, honey, vanilla, and caramel in the nose mixed with a stinging wave of alcohol. Taste is immediately sweet, with an unparalleled symphony of caramel, honey and oak. The alcohol burn in the finish is really no burn at all, but rather a soft blanket of warmth gently coating the tongue. Surprisingly light mouthfeel, truly masterful in its complexity, and easy to see how the prestigious Wine Enthusiast Magazine gave Utopias its highest possible rating of 96-100 points several years ago.      

It’s difficult to compare this to anything, considering the beer doesn’t really have a stylistic equal. But if you’re looking for a warming, after dinner drink that resembles something like a sherry or cognac, Utopias is your choice.

Rating: A+

* Scottish brewer BrewDog has recently laid claim to the strongest beer in the world title with their forthcoming Tactical Nuclear Penguin. Looks like Jim Koch may have to up the ante with Utopias 2011.


“Are you in line?”

“Is this the line?”

“Are we in line?”

“Do you see a line here?”

Not sure if it was more crowded this year, or if the heat was messing with people’s ability to discern the pouring lines. But once everyone actually figured out how to get beer, this year’s Autumn Brew Review held at the old Grain Belt Brewery in northeast Minneapolis proved to be another success.

Don't think she's a fan of accordion

Don't think she's a fan of accordion

I was happy with the day on at least two fronts. The weather generally cooperated (even though it was jungle hot and the skies opened up at the very end), compared to last year’s event which was blustery, overcast, and cool. Also, my brother, who’s normally a strict brown ale kind of guy (I told him I’d make him a beer called Cry Baby Brown soon), surprised the hell out of me by willingly venturing into the depths of some very hoppy IPAs and DIPAs. Bell’s Hop Slam turned out to be his favorite of the day, so I hated to break it to him that the beer’s seasonality made it one of the tougher ones to find every year.

As for me, after trying about 40 different offerings, a few certainly stood out in my mind.

First, there’s a reason why the line at the Surly booth was 100 deep all afternoon. Surly head brewer Todd Haug certainly knows what he’s doing, and the brewery’s Jesus Juice, their Three anniversary braggot aged in a pinot noir barrel, could be the best beer I tried all day. A superb combination of sweet caramel, spice and honey notes, matched with a vinous wine-like characteristic that makes for a hugely unique and complex beer. I could have stood there getting refills all day, but at more than 10% ABV I likely wouldn’t have made it past 3 p.m. A definite A+ in my book.     

Furthermore’s Thermo Refur was also unbelievably good. According to co-founder Chris Staples, they brew with a boat load of dark malt, organic red beets in secondary, and a medley of five different yeast strains that give it a distinct barnyard mustyness. Love the actual beet flavor, which leads to a slightly bitter finish and puckering twang. I’m not even going to try and classify the beer, other than to say it’s some sort of sour ale, but it all seems to work very well together.     

Brau Brothers’ Purple Sting with Lemongrass also proved very unique, and very enjoyable. Dustin Brau described it to me as a buckwheat honey rye ale infused with lemongrass, and you certainly get a nice mellow rye characteristic that blends into a mildly citric, dry finish. Compared to Jesus Juice and Thermo Refur, this one is definitely more of a session beer that I would love to see in bottles at some point.      

The day’s entire line-up, in order of imbibing:

  • Southern Tier Unearthly IPA – the name speaks for itself
  • Bell’s Hop Slam – yep, still awesome
  • Tyranena Hopwhore – nice and hoppy, kind of reminiscent to their Scurvy
  • South Shore Nut Brown – not that familiar with these guys, but a very nice, biscuity brown
  • Brau Brothers Fresh Hop Lager – really enjoyable, a combo of about four or five fresh hops straight from their hop yard
  • Brau Brothers Purple Sting with Lemongrass – phenomenal
  • Ommegang Biere de Mars – love this beer, great example of a biere de garde 
  • Surly Brett – wow, the brettanomyces is potent in this one, might need some time to mellow
  • Surly Jesus Juice – an A+ for sure
  • Surly Bourbon Barrel-Aged Smoke – fantastic beer, much smoother than one might expect
  • Surly Darkness 2009 on cask – nice roasted notes, not as sweet as I remembered, looking forward to Darkness Day in October
  • Dave’s Brew Farm McAnderson Scotch Ale – have heard alot about this small brewery, but wasn’t too impressed, a little too much husk-like graininess in this one that turned me off
  • Moylans Hopsickle Imperial IPA – didn’t care much for this, almost TOO bitter, if you can do that in a DIPA
  • Two Brothers Cane & Ebel – not bad, could drink a few of these
  • Two Brothers Triple – very nicely done, sweet and smooth
  • Furthermore Thermo Refur – awesome
  • Lagunitas Lil’ Sumpin Extra – a winner
  • Victory Wild Devil – another winner, love the combo of Brett and hops
  • Victory Yakima Twilight Dark IPA – kind of reminded me of an IBA, nice dark malt and Yakima hops in here
  • Bell’s Old Ale – very impressed, definitely more on the English-side of the style spectrum
  • New Holland Ichabod Pumpkin Ale – much better in my opinion than most others out there
  • Summit Oktoberfest – a nice example of the style
  • Summit Oatmeal Stout – love this beer, wish they’d bottle it
  • Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence – dark fruits, some chocolate  
  • Ommegang Rouge – to this point I’ve been on the fence with sour ales, but this is a great beer, Flemish red aged 18 months in French oak
  • Tyranena Chocolate Imperial Porter – roasty and some coffee notes, pretty nice 
  • Tyranena Scurvy – tried this before at the brewery, and still enjoyable, nice citrus notes
  • Magic Hat #9 – a decent pale ale, not sure what the “secret ingredient” is in this one but I didn’t pick up anything too noticeable
  • Magic Hat Lucky Kat IPA – not bad, maltier than I expected
  • New Belgium Hoptober – at first thought this was going to be a Marzen, but not in the least. A nice blonde with some mild hop spice
  • New Belgium Sunshine Wheat – not a fan, too light for me
  • Brau Brothers Sheephead on cask – decent pale ale, fresh hopped and you can definitely tell the difference 
  • Rock Bottom Intoxicator Rauchdoppelbock – beechwood smoked malt in the aroma, pretty solid
  • Rock Bottom Bastogne Blonde – pretty nice, yeasty Belgian nose
  • Fitger’s Blue Label Grande Reserve – a nice Belgian dubbel with toffee and dark fruit flavors
  • Barley John’s India Brown Ale – very smooth
  • Barley John’s Wild Brunette – a great brown ale, love the wild rice
  • Granite City Duke of Wellington Pale Ale – plain, not much going on here (or my palate is fried)

Magic Hat


I think this might be my first hefeweizen review, and there’s a reason behind it. More often than not, I tend to feel like wheat beers can be thin and fairly one-dimensional. I think about beers — as nice as they are in their own right (because trust me, I know they have their own set of rabid fans) — like Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat or Bell’s Oberon. The wheat just doesn’t do as much for me in the complexity department like most other grains, specialty malts in particular. Thus, I don’t generally drink them.

After recently enjoying Aventinus, a weizenbock, and now this hefe from Weihenstephaner, I’m beginning to slowly change my mind on the broad category*.

An almost luminescent golden, hay colored cloudy pour. Massive billowing head, with a banana boat-load of fruity esters and a light gingerbread clove effect. A pleasing warmth in the nose.

Taste was more on the clove side versus banana, a bit spicy with a brief bite in the finish, all backed with of course a healthy dose of wheat. Medium-full mouthfeel, which as I noted is better than what I’ve come to expect with most hefes. Pretty light on the alcohol front, only 5.4% ABV. The beer paired extraordinarily well with my homemade shrimp chowder, the banana and clove becoming much more pronounced and pleasing after each spoonful of cumin- and cayenne-infused chowder.  

This is just a simple, straightforward and glorious beer. I guess if the billing on their label as “World’s Oldest Brewery” is true, they’ve got a bit of a head start on the rest of us when it comes to mastering your craft.

Rating: A+

* I’m trying to branch out in the homebrew department with wheats, as well, having just brewed a lambic-style ale. However, on second thought, lambics have just about nothing in common with your average hefe aside from the initial grain bill, so scratch that.

DSC02406From Westy 12 to Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout…this is shaping up to be “Fantastic Beer Week” at The Captain’s Chair!

Until recently, Founders was one of those highly revered craft breweries that was unfortunately not distributed in the Twin Cities, along with the likes of Stone, DFH, Three Floyds, and Russian River. Beer geeks far and wide drove countless miles to more beer-friendly locales to get it (i.e. Hudson, Wisconsin), spending loads of money and savoring every last drop until their next venture out.   

That all changed recently, and we now have ready access to what seems to be Founders’ entire line of year-round and seasonal offerings. I’ve been slowly procuring and sampling their stuff, and from what I’ve had to date, I’ve not been disappointed. A very solid brewery.

In that same vein, their entire line of Breakfast Stouts is amazing. To commemorate their launch in the Twin Cities, their local distributor held a handful of tasting events at Twin Cities bars, and I was fortunate to try the fairly rare Canadian Breakfast Stout over at The Muddy Pig. Over-the-top and aggressive with its intense aromas and massive ABV, but I completely admired it in an appreciative, beer geek kind of way. I’ve also had a few bottles of their original Breakfast Stout on my beer shelf for some time now, a very well-rounded beer. But their Kentucky Breakfast Stout, the most highly rated of the bunch (currently #8 on Beer Advocate’s “Top Beers on Planet Earth” list), has always eluded me.  

I stumbled upon it, or should I say it stumbled upon me, down at Dark Lord Day in April when an extraordinarily soused woman came over to our little group camped out on the lawn in front of the brewery, looking to make some beer trades. Fortunately, I’d brought along a load of Surly stuff for just that reason, and after a quick conversation I convinced her to trade a bottle of KBS for a can of Surly Furious and Bitter Brewer. Quite a value for me, and she was clearly pleased with her end of the bargain considering she’d never had any Surly. I like when everyone walks away happy.

I popped KBS to see how it stacked up to some other imperial stouts I’ve been imbibing of late, including my own. Poured very thick with minimal head. The “Kentucky” in the name comes of course from the fact that they age the beer in oak bourbon barrels for an entire year. Big bourbon, vanilla and caramel in the nose, tempered by some chocolate and coffee. I love one reviewer’s comments on Beer Advocate — “Like getting beaten over the head with a sack of fresh Colombian coffee and then getting a swirly in a bourbon barrel.” The taste is silky smooth, expertly balanced considering the 11.2% ABV and 70 IBUs. Tons of dark, roasted coffee and chocolate. It’s basically everything in an imperial stout I look for…rich, warm and pleasing with infinite depth in complexity. The mouthfeel was the only surprising aspect, not as viscous as I would have expected up front.

You’d be a fool to miss this one.

Rating: A+


I gotta say, my first reaction to the Michael Jackson news was “who gives a shit.”

But after a couple hours went by, and the more I thought about it, I had an uncharacteristic reaction to the whole thing. I actually got a bit sentimental. As weird as he was in his later years, and as much as I think the guy really did have some inappropriate relationships with children, I couldn’t help but remember back to me as a six-year-old…the Mini Captain. It was 1983, and I was down in our basement family room with my parents, anxiously waiting for the debut of Michael’s new video “Thriller.” My mom was a huge Michael fan, more than anything, and despite her love for the Gloved One she vehemently argued with my dad that it might be too scary for a young guy like me. My dad retorted back that it was just a silly video, just a bunch of stupid make-up and goofy dance moves.

My dad must have won out, as the lights dimmed and the short film popped up on the screen of our console television. I hid behind the couch for most of the video, scared out of my mind as the zombies curiously danced about, flinching as Michael appeared on the screen with sunken eyes and rotting flesh. It was one of those childhood memories that sticks with you, as it was such an iconic, shared moment in time across our culture. I’m a huge horror movie fan, but to this day, that video, as benign as it is compared to today’s standards, still gives me the chills. Maybe the news today snuck up and hit me the way it did because my mom, who died several years ago, always loved his music. Kind of the second passing of something that I held close. I don’t know. But either way, the world will surely mourn his loss for some time to come.     

Sigh. So back to the beer.

My buddy Aaron at the Vice Blog kindly shipped this one out to me, Aventinus Doppelbock from Schneider & Sohns. I’ve never run across it here in the Twin Cities (if anyone knows where it is around here, please, do tell). Aventinus is a weizen starkbier, translated from German “strong wheat beer,” or more commonly known as a doppelbock.

Beautiful pour into a slender pilsner glass, giving way to a rich ruby brown coloring. Fabulous head retention. Aroma of soft, ripe bananas and cloves. Very perfumey and light with some pleasant phenols in the background. Some yeast also present. The taste is mildly sweet up front, segueing into a lingering bite in the middle. Spicy, bready and a bit toasty. Nice carbonation throughout, prickly and refreshing. Nice mouthfeel. There’s really nothing about this that I don’t enjoy.

I’m not generally a big fan of wheat-style beers, but this one changes my mind in a big way. Clocks in at 8.2% ABV, and let me tell you, it’s dangerously…no, criminally drinkable. You’d think wheat would be too weak to mask that kind of heft in a beer, but Schneider & Sohn found a way to do it.

Makes me want to do the moonwalk.

Rating: A+



Some of the best beer in the world is brewed in the most unassuming of locations. Barley John’s in New Brighton certainly fits that bill. Tucked near the corner of County Road D and Old Highway 8, Barley John’s may not be as prolific in offerings as other legendary brewpubs like Minneapolis Town Hall. But they make up for it in quality.

When I was there over the weekend, I was informed that the brewhouse was under construction, meaning most of their beers weren’t available. A little disappointing, but manageable given the knowledge that they’re planning to double their capacity by adding two new fermentors. Of the handful of beers that were on draught, the two that I tried were more than excellent.

DSC02200Wild Brunette (Wild Rice Brown Ale)
What a uniquely delicious beer, and a perfect way to blend a very Minnesotan ingredient, wild rice, with a pleasing brown ale.

A bit of reddish wild rice residue in the small head ringing the glass. Definite wild rice in the aroma, which one might think would be odd, but it seemed very appropriate with a nice bouquet of earthy almond and vanilla coupled.

Taste was a mix of nuttiness and sweet malt, with some of the rice also coming through. Relatively strong for a brown ale, about 7.5%.

Rating: A-  

DSC02206Dark Knight
Oh, the Dark Knight. I’ve been waiting to try this one for quite a while, as it only makes an appearance very occasionally. For some reason I was under the impression it was their imperial stout, but turns out it’s actually a double fermented, barrel aged baltic porter that comes in at a whopping 13.5%. According to the brewery, they age the beer more than eight months in 15 and 20 year bourbon casks from Old Fitzgerald Distillery. And let me tell you…this beer is no joke.

Not much of the roasted, smokey quality like I expected, given it’s a baltic porter. But it literally smelled like a straight shot of bourbon, incredibly potent up front. One of the most aggressive beers I’ve ever smelled. Taste was complex as could be…lots of dark fruits, almost port-like in its intensity. More of the bourbon in the flavor as well. Big alcohol burn in the finish, but it didn’t turn me off. I had about half of my small snifter, maybe 3 or 4 ounces, and felt completely satisfied with it. Any more and I might have needed a ride home. This could be one of the best ass-kicker style of beers I’ve ever had, top five for sure.

Rating: A+ 

In addition to enjoying a couple incredibly nice beers, I also really enjoyed hanging out on Barley John’s patio flanked by rows of thriving hop plants. A very nice touch.


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