I felt a little like we crashed the study party when a handful of us walked into Acadia Cafe on the West Bank of the U of M campus last night for our inaugural First Tuesday Beer Club meeting. Undergrads seated around pub tables with open books spread about, quiet conversations about the day’s lecture. A relaxed and scholarly environment mixed with the faint smell of hops and quality craft beer.

Calling our rendezvous a “meeting” might be a little formal. The small group was really a spin-off from a larger wine tasting circle, consisting of seven guys who realized that they all maybe enjoyed drinking and talking about beer slightly more than they do wine (maybe I’m just speaking for myself). After our last wine event, we decided to meet up at Acadia to test drive a few of their offerings, informally calling our gathering the First Tuesday Beer Club. But unlike the more rigid and structured wine events where scoring and extensive tabulations took place, we were just going to drink good quality craft beer and nod our heads in approval when we liked something. Maybe a few grunts mixed in for good measure.

We started the night with Surly Mild. I’d actually never seen this one on tap before, and was very eager to give it a shot. The menu described it as an English-style dark mild ale that resembled a malty version of iced tea. And that really wasn’t too far off. Given it was Surly, I was very surprised at just how little was really going on with this one. Barely noticeable aroma (save for the small hint of toffee), relatively nondescript taste, and thin mouthfeel. What immediately came to mind after taking a few sips of Mild was “session beer.” At 4.2% ABV, there’s no way anyone was going to have four or five or twelve of these and be in any danger of stumbling home. While this is probably a good stylistic example of a lighter English-style ale, it’s definitely the least favorite Surly offering I’ve had (Rating: C+).

The rest of the night went something like this:

Southern Tier Gemini Double IPA (far and away the crowd favorite – Rating: A-)
Rogue Yellow Snow IPA (so-so, pretty drinkable but compared to Gemini a little lower on the IPA scale – Rating: B)
Anchor Bock (very good…I’m not a big lager guy so I was pleasantly surprised – Rating: B+)
North Coast Old Rasputin (I’d had this in the bottle before, and was even more impressed with it on draught – Rating: A)
Saison Dupont Organic Farmhouse Ale (ick…something medicinal and uninviting about this one – Rating: C+)
Bell’s Sparkling Tripel 2007 (solid example of a Belgian tripel…yeasty up front with a nice, sweet finish – Rating: B+)
Bell’s Cherry Stout (enjoyable, nice way to cap off the night – Rating: B)

We each had our share, and ponied up the $8 per guy to settle the tab (seriously…I think they must have forgotten to put a couple pitchers on the bill). Next stop on the First Tuesday beer tour…The Muddy Pig. See everyone there.

dsc01019Better late than never.

Over the Christmas holiday, I sampled several unique craft beers, including Dogfish Head Theobroma, Sam Adams Chocolate Bock and Alpine Boris Imperial Stout. All very different in their own ways, but all respectable in quality and flavor. I figured I’d pull the reviews together in one round-up to help with my backlog of posts I need to get out on stuff I’ve been enjoying recently.

First up is DFH Theobroma. For those that aren’t already aware of the backstory on this one (Discovery Channel recently chronicled DFH Theobroma on their “How It’s Made” show focusing on beer), here’s what the DFH website has to say: 

“This beer is based on chemical analysis of pottery fragments found in Honduras which revealed the earliest known alcoholic chocolate drink used by early civilizations to toast special occasions.  The discovery of this beverage pushed back the earliest use of cocoa for human consumption more than 500 years to 1200 BC.  As per the analysis, Dogfish Head’s Theobroma (translated into ‘food of the gods’) is brewed with Aztec cocoa powder and cocoa nibs (from our friends at Askinosie Chocolate), honey, chilies, and annatto (fragrant tree seeds).”

Beer Advocate classifies this as a chile beer, although there’s a hell of a lot more than just chile going on here. Knowing this is a cocoa-based beverage, I expected it to be chocolatey and creamy, but this wasn’t at all the case. Initial aroma was something like grape soda. Very strange. The longer you lingered on the aroma, you eventually picked up some of the cocoa qualities, but it’s pretty faint. Coloring was something like an IPA, again not at all what I expected. The taste was relatively sweet, and the chile did come through in the finish, giving the back of your throat a hot sensation. Then again, that could be from the 10% ABV. Very heavy mouthfeel with lots of prickly carbonation, reminiscent of a strong, hefty lager, even though this is an ale. Overall impression…a very innovative beer with an interesting story, but not something I’d enjoy drinking all the time.

Rating: B   

dsc010222Next up is this year’s iteration of Sam Adam’s Chocolate Bock. First off, very cool bottle. Helps set up the expectation that what you’ll be drinking is on the high end of the Sam Adams artisan spectrum. And while Theobroma is representative of an ancient culture’s use of cocoa, this one is much more what today’s palette would expect with a chocolate-infused fermented beverage.

Poured with a nice fluffy head, giving way to a toasty, caramel malt aroma. Somehow the hops found a way to break through the malty clutter, coming through just a bit in the nose as well. Very dark coloring, like a heavy stout. But looks are deceiving. The mouthfeel is actually light and smooth, with pleasant notes of chocolate malt, caramel and butterscotch throughout the taste.

At 5.6% ABV, Sam Adams Chocolate Bock 2008 turned out to be a nice, refreshing lager.

Rating: B+ 

dsc010241And finally, Alpine Boris. I picked this one up from South Bay Drugs in San Diego, hearing decent things about this Imperial Stout that’s been barrel-aged and infused with coffee.

Poured with a small head that quickly dissipated. Very dark and opaque. Definitely picked up the barrel-aged qualities in the nose. Hints of bourbon or whiskey, mixed with dark fruit maltiness. Maybe vanilla.

Unlike some other Imperial Stouts I’ve enjoyed (like Surly Darkness or Oskar Blues Ten Fidy), there was a distinct astringent quality to this one. Pretty bitter, but I think by design. Could be from the coffee, I suppose. That aside, some nice dark fruits and roasted malts permeate the taste, masking the 10% ABV. Overall, a pretty decent Imperial Stout, but certainly not world-class.

Rating: B+