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In some respects, one could consider Michelob Anheuser-Busch’s craft brand (if you’d like to take it that far).

Sure, they pump out millions upon millions of barrels of watery, adjunct-laden fizzy beer like Michelob Golden Draft Light, Michelob Ultra (yikes), and the ill-conceived Michelob Ultra Lime Cactus. But, like most of the larger brewers, they’ve flexed their national marketing clout and stolen a page out of the small craft brewers’ playbook to bring out a number of more flavorful beers, catering to what I’d call a transitional craft consumer…folks that reflexively walk into a liquor store to buy their standard case of [insert macro swill here], and instead walk out with a six pack of something like Shock Top. Are they realistically going to sway the 4% of the market that actively seeks out higher quality offerings from small, independent craft brewers? Unlikely, and it’s clearly not their goal. But the sheer volume of A-B’s captive audience makes the marketing proposition for the rest of the beer drinking public a good one for them.

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At GABF, I had the chance to attend a private tasting with Michelob to sample a number of their new and experimental beers, including the recently introduced Michelob Rye Pale Ale, which just hit the Twin Cities market within the past couple weeks. Rye P.A. fits neatly into this oxymoronic category of macro craft, and to my own surprise, I found it to be actually pretty darn good.

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According to Adam Goodson, their head brewmaster I spoke with, they brew with caramel and other specialty grains (he left out what I suspect is the main part of the grain bill…corn or rice), and you certainly pick up a very rich, toffee-like malt flavor that’s complemented by the spicyness of the rye. They also use five different hop varieties including Cascade and Columbus that put it on par with a number of more notable pale ales and IPAs on the market at 50 IBUs. However, I hesitate to call this a straight up IPA, as in addition to rye they also add grains of paradise for a nice pepper note in the aroma, and condition on a bed of juniper berries for a very faint acidic note in the finish. Overall, a pretty interesting beer.

In addition to the commercially available Rye P.A., I also sampled a handful of their experimental beers that aren’t on the market (and likely never will be), including a pear ale and a doppelbock. According to Goodson, at any given time Michelob has between ten to fifteen different beers working their way through the development cycle, with possibly one or two ever seeing the light of day. The pear ale was interesting, fairly light with just a hint of the pear in the aroma, but seemed more like some of their other standard offerings that had been gently infused with pear extract. The doppelbock was a winner, in my opinion, with a nice malty backbone and caramelized flavoring. Of any of the developmental beers, I’m hoping this one makes the cut.

While I perused the beers, I also chatted with Florian Kuplent, an incredibly nice and intelligent guy who leads Michelob’s yeast development group, and learned about the company’s ongoing research that includes a library of more than 300 unique strains, including a handful of Brettanomyces. Interestingly, they used one of these Brett strains for their single experimental barrel of Michelob Brett (seriously), one of the better beers I had at the Denver Rare Beer Tasting charity event during GABF (more to come on that).

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[previously…]

Saturday afternoon rolled around, and the sweet smell of booze, malt and hops poured out of our pale and yellowed skin as the three of us sat cooking like fried eggs on the aluminum outfield benches of the brand new Yankee Stadium.

I choked back the occasional involuntary puke belch, my stomach churning like a laundromat washing machine. The Vice Blogger repeatedly wiped flop sweat from his brow, squinting in the piercing sunlight to catch a glimpse or two of the game when his jackhammer of a headache would allow. And my brother-in-law spent nearly two full innings on a zombie-like expedition to find a cold bottle of water…anything to relieve the dehydration-induced misery we were all feeling after a hard day and night of serious craft beer appreciation.

This was no place or time to drink good craft beer. It was the furthest thing from our minds. This wasn’t even a place for a bit of macro hair of the dog. No, we were detoxing, and hard.

A chorus of cat calls erupted from around us, depending on the flow of the game. Nomar Garciaparra stood in the batter’s box, five years out of a Red Sox uniform yet still drawing the heated ire of diehard Yankees fans surrounding us. Compared to the Metrodome, where the worst thing you may hear coming from the mouths of Twins fans was some type of Lutheranized insult (“I tell ya, what an ooooverpaid jerk he is”), these Bleacher Creatures weren’t messing around. I was amazed at their continued need to have a one-way, lengthy conversation with players that clearly couldn’t hear them, and if they could, wouldn’t care. 

DSC02578“Sid dawn ya fuckin’ bum! Oh yeah? Well why don’t youse suck on deez!”

“Whaddya think dis is? Triple A ball?!! Do your fuckin’ job you freagin’ pile of…”

And this from the old women and children.

The Oakland A’s were easily handling the Yankees, so we cut our torture short in the seventh and caught a cab out of the Bronx and over to Harlem, home of Dinosaur BBQ. Most people that know me also know how much I love good BBQ. I used to work at a BBQ joint for several years in college, have been learning to use a smoker this summer, and am always the guy who loves taking over a grill, even when it isn’t my house or party. Now, one normally doesn’t think “New York City…good BBQ”, but after seeing this place on some Food Network television show a couple years ago, I made a mental note to visit the establishment the next time I was in town. I was excited to check it out.

DSC02586For those familiar, Dinosaur is somewhat reminiscent to Famous Dave’s, Minnesota’s answer to pulled pork and smoked brisket, minus the faux antique wall ornaments and servers in goofy pit crew uniforms. The greatest feature, of course, was the impressive draught list at the bar, something most BBQ juke joints fall down on. Allagash, Troegs, Stone, Dogfish Head, Brooklyn Brewery, and Ommegang, just to name a few.

I perused my options, and quickly settled on a Smuttynose IPA, a small brewery out of New Hampshire named after a small island off the state’s coast. The brewery distributes as far west as Wisconsin, yet I’ve never seen it on my various road trips out to Hudson. The IPA poured with a great building head filled with pine and intense citrus hop aromas. I could already tell this was going to be a winner. The taste was extremely unique, about as bitter of an IPA as I’ve ever had. The interesting part was how the hop bite slowly strengthened, similar to the growing heat of a habanero pepper, dancing off the taste buds long after the beer had gone down. I was very impressed, an A- kind of beer.  

DSC02582The beer also went very well with the heaping plate of both regular and garlic chipotle pepper sauce hot wings we ordered as an appetizer. These weren’t your average, puny wings…they were nearly full-size wings (and legs) with a quarter pound of good meat hanging off each of them. And the sauces they were smothered in were nothing short of amazing. Embarrassingly, we ate so many of the wings that by the time we got to the bottom of the plate, all three of us were stuffed to the gills, with no room left for a main course. So having been to Dinosaur, I still have not tried any of their other more popular regular offerings. Next time. 

After a much needed afternoon nap to digest the BBQ and sleep off the last bit of hangover, we saddled up and made our way down to Greenwich Village and The Blind Tiger Ale House, one of NYC’s finest craft beer bars. Compared to Rattle n’ Hum and The Ginger Man, which were both relatively spacious by New York standards, The Blind Tiger specializes in cozy. The place was wall-to-wall craft beer lovers when we walked in, with only one empty seat available at the bar. We quickly grabbed it, and within a few minutes the folks around us took off, making room for our small group.

Blind Tiger’s draught and bottle list was fantastic. Nearly three dozen different taps, and tons of vintage stuff like Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout 2007 (on draught!), several J.W. Lees Harvest Ales from years gone by, Thomas Hardy 2004, Scaldis Noel 2007, and many others. They also serve up a handful of ever-changing casks, which if you sit there even for a modest length of time will change before your very eyes…everyone in the bar pauses when the bartender climbs up the step stool to erase the old offering from the chalk board and etch in the new one, like gamblers watching an oddsmaker at the sports book in Vegas. And as if fantastic beer weren’t enough, the bar also partners with a fine cheese shop down Bleecker Street to offer a number of pairings, something we didn’t get to try this trip but something I’ll definitely make a point to do next time around. 

We started in with Aventinus Doppelbock on draught, something I’ve had before in the bottle, and was as equally impressed by its presentation from the tap. It’s about the smoothest, easiest 8% ABV wheat beer you’ll find anywhere. We also tried River Horse Hop-a-Lot-Amus Double IPA, one of the cask offerings available. A nice beer, expectedly ultra-hopped, and unique in the sense that it was a “real ale”, unfiltered and unpasteurized, which lent its own set of taste, aromatic, and mouthfeel nuances.

The crescendo of the evening was popping a bottle of Brooklyn Black Ops, which in addition to being a bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout adventure in a bottle, may be one of the most difficult beer bottles in the history of beer geekdom to photograph. Not as much of the bourbon notes as I expected with this, which differed in opinion slightly from my drinking cohorts, but I did get a nice nose of chocolate, coffee and a tiny bit of banana. They apparently use champagne yeast to bottle condition, but it didn’t emit the kind of frothing head you might imagine. Taste was that of roasted malts, espresso coffee, and a bit of vanilla from the bourbon barrel. Mouthfeel a little thin compared to others in its category, but overall a very fine beer, likely an A-. And a very nice way to end what was a great trip to a city that should certainly be counted as one of the great beer destinations in the country, if you know where to look of course. 

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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+

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dsc02067This may be the first time I’ve ever ventured into Town Hall Brewery and been completely entranced by a beer not crafted by their own distinguished brewers.

At this evening’s First Tuesday Beer Club meeting, several of my friends commandeered a table on Town Hall’s patio overlooking the bustling traffic and noise of Seven Corners. It was a very nice evening, a gentle breeze the only reminder of the light rain that had quickly passed through parts of the city.

By the time I arrived, my friends had already lit into a sampler platter of Town Hall’s finest, including their Maibock, Golden Leaf Pale Ale, and ESB. But these beers weren’t the ones that caught my attention, fine and respectable in their own right as they were. After working my way through a couple Town Hall offerings, we ordered a glass of Hofstetten Granitbock, a very unique doppelbock from a tiny little brewery in Austria, and it completely caught me off guard in how original and delicious it was.

What really sets this beer apart is more the process in which they make it. During the boil, the brewers drop white-hot granite stones into the wort to help caramelize some of the sugars, an age-old Austrian tradition known as “stein bier” that dates back to the Middle Ages. From there, they ferment the beer in 200-year-old open stone troughs, resulting in a beer unlike most you’ve ever had before.

Poured with a very thin head and a beautiful rich chestnut coloring into a bowled glass. The aroma was distinctively mineraly, certainly leeched from the granite, with complex notes of sweet caramel and biscuit. Didn’t pick up much in the way of hops. The taste is that of toffee and dark fruits, very reminiscent of Chimay Red minus the yeast. You also pick up a little smoke in the background, again probably from the white-hot stones caramelizing the sugars in the wort. Despite the small head, the mouthfeel and carbonation levels were nice, giving this 7.3% ABV doppelbock a nice and creamy finish.

Stop into Town Hall and sample some before they run out.  

Rating: A-