If you haven’t been over to Kramarczuk’s in Northeast Minneapolis, I recommend you go as quickly as you can.

It’s a fantastic little neighborhood sausage maker, bakery and restaurant all wrapped into one. They’ve been making some of the best sausages this side of the Mississippi since 1954, and have truly made a name for themselves as a Minneapolis landmark. This last weekend, several of us got together for a little spring cook-out, and my friend tossed Kramarczuk’s andouille and curried brats on the grill. It was seriously some of the best stuff I’ve ever had. And paired with two incredible IPA’s and a nice imperial stout,  you couldn’t really ask for a better evening. Here’s the rundown on the beers:

dsc01886

Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel

This is a fantastic and unique blend of a Belgian IPA/Tripel from Brasserie d’Achouffe. Pours with a big yeasty head, with all kinds of champagne-like carbonation escaping from the beautiful lemonade colored beer below. The hops are certainly there in the nose, but the yeast also plays a nice role, kind of like each knows their place in the symphony. Some apple and pear notes come through as well.

Taste is magnificent. Unlike the nose, which trends more to the IPA side, you get more of the sweet malty tripel effect combined with some of the yeast and alcohol. A spicy finish that keeps you coming back for more. Really one of the more complex and well-balanced beers I’ve had in a long time. I’m hoping Alvey at the Four Firkins still has some of this in stock.   

Rating: A 

dsc01883Southern Tier Oak-Aged Unearthly Imperial IPA

As if Houblon Chouffe didn’t impress me, along comes Southern Tier with its enormously complex Oak-Aged Unearthly Imperial IPA.

My wine conoisseur friend, who has one of the more finely tuned palates I know of, couldn’t get over how well the oakiness came through like a fine wine. Not too much, but perfectly balanced with the combination of piney hops and caramel malt.

Pours with a great amber coloring, not a big head but you still get a great nose of the oak and hops. Taste is extraordinary, just so much going on. At once you get the big malt backbone, some caramel, maybe a little vanilla. Then the oak coats your mouth as the bittering hops come back in full force. Very thick and dense mouthfeel, something you just want to savor for hours.

Rating: A 

dsc01897Boulevard Smokestack Series Imperial Stout

One of Boulevard’s offerings in their Smokestack Series, and I’d have to say probably not my favorite of the bunch.

Pours with a jet black coloring, not much head, but a chocolately aroma mixed with possibly some licorice or molasses. A smoky quality in the taste, which I didn’t pick up in the nose. The sweet malt balances the bittering hops, but you do get a somewhat dry finish. Mouthfeel was a little thin, considering the style. But a decent imperial stout, nonetheless. I’d like to try it on its own sometime, instead of following a couple other big beers.

Rating: B

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dsc017121Had a great time at yesterday’s FirkinFest at the Happy Gnome. Lots and lots of great beers, and very good conversations with some of the local brewers and other craft beer lovers.

I did a short write-up on the event for Heavy Table, which was a lot of fun to do and a nice way to spend a beautiful Spring afternoon.

In no particular order, here’s the full list of the beers I tried that may not have made it into the article:

  • Steamworks Oak-Aged Conductor IPA – nice and oaky, well-done
  • Dark Horse Plead the 5th Russian Imperial Stout – solid chocolate notes, nice finish
  • Surly Bitter Brewer – haven’t had this one before, and really enjoyed it, nicely balanced biscuit flavoring
  • Tyranena Dirty Old Man Imperial Rye Porter – excellent, one of the better beers I had all day
  • Lift Bridge Kimono Girl Saison – very enjoyable, nice and citrusy
  • Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree IPA – a hop blast
  • Brau Brothers Sheap’s Head Imperial Lucan Ale – very nice hop character, could be the best offering I’ve had from them
  • Bell’s Hop Slam – it’s Hop Slam…what else is there to say
  • Big Sky Dry-Hopped Scape Goat Pale Ale – smooth and refreshing
  • Summit Dry-Hopped IPA w/Amarillo – great hoppy nose balanced by caramel malt
  • Summit Dry-Hopped IPA w/Kent Goldings – more earthy and subtle version, enjoyable
  • Rush River Bubblejack IPA – have had this once before, not too impressed
  • Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout – surprisingly hoppy for the style, enjoyed it
  • Lagunitas Old Gnarlywine – not sweet enough for me, a little too much heat from the alcohol
  • Harviestoun Ola Dubh 12 Year Reserve – definitely get the scotch cask in there, really liked it
  • Surly Tea-Bagged Furious – good, but not as hoppy as I’d expected it to be
  • Surly Oak-Aged Bender – fantastic
  • Left Hand Milk Stout – very enjoyable
  • Furthermore Three Feet Deep Dry Irish Stout – smokey and peatey, pretty good
  • Surly 16 Grit – amazing beer, slightly different than the first time I had it

Many years ago when I was in college, my fraternity brothers and I decided one day that we were going to expand our alcohol horizons and start drinking the “good stuff.” After all, we’d poured through every conceivable macro brew and cheap booze known to man (and some that should have never seen the light of day). So instead of Fratty Natty (Natural Ice Light) or Hawkeye Vodka (we were in Iowa), we started trying things like Bombay Sapphire, and Absolut (yes, we thought that was good at the time). But one alcohol we mistakenly got into was Jim Beam 8 Star. A blended bourbon produced from the dregs and runoffs from Jim Beam’s normally decent whiskey offerings. It’s so bad they don’t even list it any longer on their company website. I think they’re embarrassed. But man, did we love it. We mixed it with everything…Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and even Mountain Dew. But we never took it straight. That would have meant immediate death. As this bourbon was toxic. The kind of stuff you’d expect Appalachian mountain men to consume at backwoods gatherings under the cover of darkness. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was drinking this concoction when I was duct-taped in the middle of January to the front porch Corinthian columns of the neighboring sorority house by my buddies, and my pants pulled down for all the world to witness. Oh, and they rang the doorbell too. All I can say is, I was in the pool.  

Approximately 12 years later, enter Allagash Curieux. What a unique beer. My palate must be getting more precise, because even before I really looked at the bottle label I took one sip and immediately thought “wow, this tastes like a really good triple aged in oak barrels.” And I guess I was right.

I have to give Allagash serious credit. Because they pulled off what could be a difficult brewing task…combining what is normally a fairly delicate beer style with a healthy dose of oak. Only an ale with a high alcohol content could handle something like that, otherwise the oak would overpower the whole thing. And this one comes in at 11% ABV, so plenty strong enough to balance the hints of bourbon imparted by the casks. This beer is aged for 8 weeks in Jim Beam barrels (and I’m guessing not the same ones used to make Beam’s 8 Star). The result is a fantastically complex ale. On one hand, you have a world-class Triple, and on the other, a hint of some of the finest bourbon out there.

Poured from a bomber with a small head. Pretty hazy, light golden coloring, seem to be lots of yeast floating around. You immediately smell the oak. It’s great. The website talks about coconuts and vanilla in the nose. I can buy that. Probably more coconut than vanilla as the ale warmed. Before I get into the taste, a warning…sip this one. Cherish it. Because it’ll sneak up on you and knock you on your ass. It starts out with that distinctive triple flavor…very Belgian. Then immediately kicks into the bourbon, providing a very dry finish.

I think Allagash has found a way to put happiness in a bottle. Nice recommendation, Vice Blogger.

Rating: A