It just keeps getting better.

Summit’s India Style Rye Ale, the third in their increasingly impressive Unchained Series, is just a superb beer. Brewer Mike Lundell incorporated a variety of rye malts in his creation, including Rye, Crystal Rye, Chocolate Rye and Flaked Rye, as well as several high alpha hops including Summit and Citra that make this a wonderful hybrid-style ale.

Pours with a beautiful amber coloring and thick rocky head of carbonation. I could smell this beer for hours and not get bored…like walking into a neighborhood bakery with loads of bready rye up front, and a pronounced citrus hop aroma. I’m also getting some type of earthy note, like fresh green onion. The taste is wonderful, a fleeting cocoa sweetness with some light caramel and roast that quickly cascades across your tongue into a dry, rye spicyness. Hops are certainly there too, about 60 IBUs that remind you this beer isn’t all about the rye. Mouthfeel is very full, great carbonation and lively spice that envelopes the senses. The beer clocks in at 6.3% ABV, but it drinks so well I wouldn’t mind having a few of these in one sitting.

Overall impression, while this is certainly one of the better rye beers I’ve ever enjoyed, the masterful balance is really what stands out in my mind as its defining characteristic, the best of both hops and bready malt. Like the previous two Unchained offerings, this is one of those beers you wish would find its way into Summit’s year-round lineup.

Rating: A

Where I Got It: Byerly’s Maple Grove
Availability: Limited Release
Price: $9.99 for a six pack

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“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)
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Magic Hat

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Downtown St. Paul is a quaint little area, a mix of the historic and new. Modern business towers mingle with 1930’s gangster-era theaters. Cobblestone streets lead to corporate coffee shops dotting several street corners. And the tattered remnants of Lowertown warehouses from yesteryear overlook sparkling condominiums on the Mississippi riverfront.

If you’re not careful, you might actually fool yourself into thinking you’re in a thriving city filled with adventure and things to do. But when 5:01 p.m. hits on any given weekday, that thought quickly evaporates as the place becomes a virtual ghost town. Throngs of white starched shirts and pressed business suits filter out of corporate monoliths to make their way to the burbs. Homeless people roll through Rice Park like tumbleweed. And bartenders at watering holes quietly work their way through the day’s Pioneer Press crossword puzzle, waiting for someone…anyone…to give them something to do.    

The scene at Great Waters Brewery on St. Peter Street was thankfully a little more lively than that when I showed up Wednesday evening, but not by much. It’s been a while since I’ve been there, and was glad to see a slew of interesting beers on draught. I sampled a few, all of which were mighty tasty:

Cask Rye Pale Ale Dry Hopped with Chinook
Of the eight or 10 beers on tap, about half were cask-conditioned, which I think is great not only for the beer geeks interested in supporting real ale, but also a fun way for your everyday beer drinker to learn more about the difference in unfiltered and unpasteurized ale pushed naturally from the cask. Their Rye Pale Ale dry hopped with Chinook was a great example, poured surprisingly clear with a nice medium amber hue and beautiful combo of the bready rye and pungent aromatic hops in the nose. Taste was not as malty as I expected, but rather a bit dry leading to a spicy finish thanks to the rye. A very enjoyable beer.

Rating: A-

KaizerWeizen Hefeweizen
Poured golden cloudy with yeast like a good hefe should. Really no head to speak of, but that’s likely more a function that it was served in one of their half-pint glasses. Faint banana and bubble gum aroma, leading to a fairly non-descript flavor of light grain. Fairly spritzy mouthfeel. While this was a very clean, obviously well-constructed beer, it only reinforced my general disdain for hefeweizens as a relatively mundane style (unless you’re talking about Weihenstephaner, in which case pour me another!).

Rating: B

Cask Oak-Aged Black Watch Oatmeal Stout
Another cask-conditioned ale in the form of an oatmeal stout. Very deep brown pour, with a really subtle oakiness in the aroma. And in fact, too subtle in my opinion. The bartender told me they age it in oak casks for about a month, which to me doesn’t sound like enough to really impart that unique barrel characteristic. Some nice chocolate and roasted notes in the nose as well. Taste was smooth, almost velvety from the oatmeal. But compared to other stouts, I’d say a bit light in the mouthfeel department. A solid beer overall.

Rating: B