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Friday, September 14, 2018

The Great Taste Caper 2018 - Day 5: Twinning (Part I)

Driving into the Twin Cities, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I'd been wanting to visit Minneapolis (and its twin brother, St. Paul) for close to a decade after first being introduced to Surly by Deuane and later having Town Hall's excellent Masala Mama IPA back in my Growlin' at the Moon days (a cool growler exchange program started by a long-time user of So, it was a "bucket list" kind of day for me. I knew I'd get there some day. Well, that "some day" was today.

Rolling into Minneapolis on a Tuesday morning has its share of setbacks... at least from a beer traveler's point of view. Case in point being that the majority of breweries have extremely limited hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (and in some cases Thursdays). Many are only open for four or five hours. Lucky for us, I planned in advance. There's nothing worse than being in a city for the first time and sitting in the car or your hotel trying to figure out what to do. I might not be good at planning for my future, or my retirement, but I can plan the shit out of a beer trip!

Outside Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery.

Thankfully, Town Hall isn't one of those breweries that are open only a handful of hours per week. Since they operate as a brewpub (i.e. they have a real food menu), they are open 7 days a week. So it was a no-brainer to start the day at a place that opens at 11 a.m. It was either that, or check out two or three record stores and a coffee shop, and I knew Brewslut wanted nothing to do with that alternate agenda (save for the coffee, of course).

When we arrived, I was excited to see the aforementioned Masala Mama on the beer engine. As soon as I saw that, I didn't even look at the rest of the menu. I needed to get some in my gullet STAT! I even ordered a full 20-ounce imperial pint pour, much to the surprise of my traveling partner. Brewslut too. I hadn't had this beer in such a long time, so I wasn't even sure exactly how good or bad it would be. Memories can play tricks on you like that.

Pleeps savoring his first whiff of Masala Mama.

A decade ago, this beer was the shit. Since then, it has dropped significantly down the latter of trendy "must-have" beers in lieu of huge hop bombs and later those damn newfangled New England-style IPAs to the point that nobody really talks about it much anymore save for some homers. But you know what? This beer still delivers! Quite frankly, I'd take this beer over 95% of the hazy juice bombs out there on the market today. This beer is like a blueprint of everything I love about the IPA style: sticky citrus and resiny hop flavors, a fragrant aroma, balanced malt support, and a wave of hop bitterness in the finish. And since it was cask conditioned, the body was pitch perfect with a silky, smooth texture. I mean, I crushed all 20 ounces pretty quickly, although I tried not to, as I wanted to savor the moment.

They have plenty of other beers besides Masala Mama. See?

Meanwhile, Brewslut was working on a small pour of Pitstop Cherry Lager, which was nicely done. Lakefront also makes a cherry lager, so perhaps Wisconsinites love cherries in their lager. The cherry flavor (courtesy of Michigan-grown Balaton cherries) was pretty dominant and authentic. Balatons are excellent for achieving that sweet-tart cherry pie character in beer. We used them at Tröegs in our Mad Elf Grand Cru, and I must say that it was an improvement over the standard version. I just like that nice, round tartness Balatons bring to the table.

I got a meeting at Town Hall at 12:30.

So, what do you order after polishing off a tasty 20-ounce IPA first thing in the morning? A barrel-aged Barleywine, of course. Enter Barley Vine, an American-style Barleywine aged in red wine barrels. Sadly, I couldn't find any additional information about this one on-line. Apparently, I was so enthralled that I forgot to check it in on Untappd. Hey, I'd been waiting many years to get here, so I was enjoying our visit sans iPhone. Our bartender was also friendly and chatty, and happily answered all of my questions.

Pleeps is more than familiar with vines.

After the barleywine, it was time to pack it in. We got Brewslut a patch for her ever-expanding beer satchel-turned-backpack. She's way behind on sewing on her patches, and it became kind of a joke while we were on the trip. I tried to find a patch at every brewery, and would often buy her one when she balked just because I believe that if you're going to collect patches, then you should get one everywhere you visit. Before we said goodbye to Town Hall, in what was becoming commonplace for this trip, our bartender at Town Hall tipped us off to a new brewery that had opened recently called Pryes (pronounced "prize"). Turns out they were close by and opened an hour earlier than the next place on our agenda. So, after a quick coffee and record store detour, we were off.

Exterior of Pryes' modern taproom.

We arrived at Pryes to find a garage-style brewery similar to ones we've encountered on the West Coast. This one was quite a bit more modern and inviting than your typical garage-turned-taproom, though. Handcrafted details can be found everywhere throughout the space. The wooden bar, tables and benches are constructed of black walnut and maple inlaid with brass. Aesthetically, the place comes across as a small airport hangar. Hanging from the ceiling glow dozens of caged Edison bulbs and two industrial-style chandeliers. It's a pretty sweet space, to say the least.

The beer menu looked promising and weighed heavily on hoppy and sour offerings, so we opted to share a sampler flight to test the waters. Here's the skinny:
  • Summer IPA - New England style Session IPA hopped with El Dorado, Eureka and Mosaic for waves of tropical notes.
  • Miraculum - Citrus-forward IPA dry-hopped with more than 50 pounds of hops.
  • Pineapple Sour - Sweet and sour ale brewed with lactobacillus and pineapple with mango added to bolster the juiciness.
  • Imperial IPA - Grapefruit and citrus-forward DIPA with a hint of pine and alcohol warmth.
There's a Pryes every time for Pleeps!

Nothing bowled us over, but the flight inspired us to stay a while and get a half pour of something else. We agreed that the pineapple sour was our favorite of the lot. This led to Brewslut ordering a pour of the Raspberry Sour Ale. Similar to the pineapple sour, the beer opens with lots of sweet-tart flavor (this time, it's berry at the forefront) and a hint of tannins. Overall, we enjoyed the pineapple sour more than this one. I went with the Northern Pale Ale, brewed with malts from three different continents. It was a tad too sweet and non-descript overall, but not bad by any means. 

Tap handles at Pryes.

While we were enjoying our beers, I glanced beyond where Brewslut was sitting and noticed a curved, narrow lane covered with AstroTurf towards the back of the room. It was reminiscent of a bowling alley. Turns out it is one of only a handful of "feather bowling" lanes in the United States (one of three, according to the bartender). The game is apparently a cross between Bocce ball, curling, and bowling. Sadly, I didn't get to play, but Pryes hosts a league at the brewery where feather bowling aficionados from Minnesota congregate to compete against one another in this obscure game. The wooden balls used in the sport closely resemble wheels of cheese, which were likely used in Belgium, where the sport originated. Below are some pics I snapped of the feather bowling lane:

Pryes was pretty solid for being one of the new kids in town, but we had to split and head over to our next stop. We were off to Steel Toe, where we met up with a pair of beer friends, James and Dean, both of whom live in Minneapolis. We originally met them through a mutual friend (thanks Dick Doc) way back during our Brass Rail Deli days when Brewslut worked there, and we'd gather twice a week to share beers. They'd also been to a few previous Ffej of Julys (my annual epic backyard bash), so it was cool to hang with some familiar peeps so far away from home. We arrived first, followed by James, and finally Dean about half an hour later. Dean even brought us a "welcome package" as it was our first time visiting his city. Gotta love that Minnesota hospitality!

Exterior of Steel Toe's Taproom.

I started off small, with a half pour of Size 4, session IPA with notes of candied citrus and tropical fruit. Right off the bat, I could tell this place was legit. Turns out that Steel Toe (according to James and Dean) is the place where all the brewers and brewery industry peeps in town gather to drink. It has the reputation as being the "brewers' brewery." High praise, indeed. Once I had a few beers, I could see why this place is so revered by the local brewing community. Brewslut opted for the Peach Mango Tart. Released under Steel Toe's "Brewer's Evolution" series (a journey through new interpretations of classic beer styles), this ever-changing lineup primarily features limited taproom exclusive releases. Tart with plenty of peach aroma, this also boasted a zesty lemon note with some tropical sweetness and a fair bit of pucker in the finish.

Since we were joined by our friends, I wasn't too camera happy here, so sorry for the lack of pictures. Up next was Dawn Juan, a strong dark ale infused with Dogwood Coffee. I'll always reach for a coffee beer when visiting a brewery, and seldom leave without at least trying it. Listed as an "occasional release," this coffee-infused strong black ale touts a dominant coffee aroma with traces of dark chocolate, black cherry, and roasted malt. This was very well done, and I enjoyed the dark fruit note of the strong ale that usually isn't present in a stout or porter.

After that enjoyable jolt of roasty, malty goodness, I reverted back to hops and upgraded from Size 4 to Size 7, Steel Toe's core IPA offering. This Pacific Northwest-style IPA offers a huge smack of zesty orange peel and a dry but clean bitter finish. With the first sip, I was transported back to Hood River, Oregon, and I knew that Steel Toe was legit. On the way out, I met one of the brewers and made sure to share a can of Nimble Giant with him. This place was definitely one of the stand-out breweries of these two days, and that's saying a lot!

Outside Modist Brewing Co.

Our quartet continued onward to Modist, a hip brewery with a modern flair that, while it didn't scream hipster, was definitely very SOHO in its presentation. James and Dean promised us great beer would be had, and they were correct. One of the bartenders heard that we were visiting from PA, and he was quick to profess his love for Tired Hands, one of our suburban Philly faves. As a matter of fact, he went on to inform us that the new brewery's modus operandi was modeled after Tired Hands forward-thinking beers, soft yet flavorful IPAs, and delicately complex flavor profiles.

Beer aside, perhaps the most curious (and praise-worthy) aspect of the brewery is its mission of drastically reducing its water use. Modist's brewery utilizes the region's first mash filter, a device which allows the brewery to brew using a fraction of the water and energy of a traditional brewing system. Pretty cool, eh? You can read more about this on their blog if you feel so inclined.

I kicked things off with Shook Mango, an IPA brewed with milk sugar, vanilla bean, tons of mango, and lots of Citra and Azacca hops. To say this beer was tropical fruit-forward would be an understatement. It was like a tidal wave hit Hawaii and swept Carmen Miranda off her surfboard. This beer looks like something you'd drink for breakfast or after a yoga session. I think there might have even been some mango pulp. This was a thick-ass beer for sure! It tasted pretty damn good too.

I dig the subway tile at Modist.

Brewslut enjoyed her pour of Foeder Sour 2, a sour ale brewed with a combination of wheat and malted barley, then fermented in an American oak foeder with pineapple, mango, and passionfruit. I concurred. This was indeed a nicely done sour. Plus it's always cool to see breweries embracing wood. Heh heh... wood.

Another beer I tried that would be suitable for breakfast was First Call, a cold press coffee lager.
Inspired by cafe con leche (Spanish for "coffee with milk"), this light-bodied lager is infused with Two Cousins Espresso from Wesley Andrews and bursting with coffee flavor and aroma.

By this time, we were pretty famished (drinking can do that to you), so I decided to take a stroll outside and check out the food truck. Then, this:

Thankfully, The Curious Goat didn't actually serve goat.

I know, right? A few minutes later, I was scarfing down some amazing potato and corn tacos from The Curious Goat food truck. Hot damn, these were tasty! Brewslut was equally impressed and even exclaimed her chicken nachos were the greatest thing ever. High praise indeed, as she loves her nachos.

Before we left, our server brought us a pour of the then-unreleased Lemongrab, a pink lemonade IPA brewed in collaboration with Dangerous Man (more on them next). This was given to us straight off the fermenter! To mimic the flavors found in pink lemonade, the brewers utilized lemons, raspberries, and Citra hops. This was really tasty and it was cool to get to try a beer that hadn't been officially released yet. It was also a nice way for us to end our visit at Modist. Overall, I really liked the vibe of this place. It reminded me of Modern Times with a hint of Tired Hands. It seems like they have their finger on the pulse of the Minnesota beer community, so I suppose the city is their oyster. I'd love to try some of their canned releases (wink wink, nudge nudge, guys).

Group photo! (l to r) me, Brewslut, James, & Dean. Photo by Pleeps.

James and Dean had to get back to their regular lives, so we regressed to our usual trio formation (don't forget about Pleeps) and headed to our next destination. If Modist was slightly hipster, then the walls of Dangerous Man were dripping with Moroccan beard oil. When we arrived, it was pretty much elbow to asshole (or perhaps suspenders to handlebar moustache would be more appropriate). The bar was a few people deep, and we quickly realized that this was the trendy brewery of Minneapolis. (Turns out the brewery's reputation stretches outside Minnesota, but more on that when we get to the actual festival in a few days.) We scoped out the medium-sized tasting room for open seating, and found a little alcove with an 8-person table tucked in the back of the room. A lone young lady and older couple were occupying the table when we approached. The single woman mentioned she was waiting for friends, so we grabbed two unoccupied seats and said we'd move if her friends arrived while we were still there. After a minute or two, the older couple skedaddled and we assumed control their seats. The young lady's party never grew beyond four people, so we had plenty of room to enjoy our beers.

This is a dangerous place...

Speaking of which, the beer list was packed with sours and hazy IPAs. I'd been getting hazed out, so we both opted for a sour this time. I spotted the word "peach" on the board, so I ordered the Peach Citra Sour. Although I couldn't find any details about this beer, I assume it's a sour ale brewed with peaches and dry-hopped with Citra. Mission accomplished. This beer was well-done and hit the spot, although I must admit I was a bit distracted by the boomy crowd noise and people watching.

At Dangerous Man, your name is PEACHES!

Brewslut went with something called Sour Delores #7 - Righteous Babe, which sounded like an experimental one-off beer. After doing a bit of research, it seems like this may have been re-released under the name Watermelon sour, as the notes for this beer are identical to Sour Delores: "sweet candy-like watermelon with a sour twist."

This was a whirlwind of a stop and we decided it was too hectic to stay for seconds. Since we had some extra time and were in the vicinity, we decided to swing by Surly just to scope it out before our "actual" scheduled visit the following day. (We would end up visiting Surly three times in a 48-hour span, but more on those visits later.) This would be a quick one-and-done visit just to survey the lay of the land. Besides, why wouldn't we want to visit multiple times? It's not like Minneapolis is two towns over from Annville. The proverbial "when in Rome" syndrome at work, indeed.

Rock sculpture outside Surly.

For my first beer from the source, I decided to explore uncharted terrain. Enter Rocket Surgery, a juicy, hazy IPA brimming with Citra and Denali hops for a blast of tropical fruit flavor. I was saving my pour of Furious (Surly's famous IPA) for tomorrow. The name of this beer struck me as a "Rickyism" (rocket appliances, anyone?) and seemed like a fun amalgamation of "rocket science" and "brain surgery." This was a solid stab at a NE-style IPA, although I'd take Furious or Abrasive over this any day. Still, it was great to finally be sitting at the bar at Surly. See?

Surly from the source + me = happy face!

I felt like I had reached a new plateau in my craft beer fandom. Minneapolis as a destination is the farthest we have driven to acquire beer from the source (at least with me in the driver's seat) so I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment as we sat and savored our beers. I'd often agree with my buddy the Professor that "the point of a journey is not to arrive," but in this case, I'd felt we did, in fact, "arrive." So, cross Surly off the ol' bucket list, folks!

See you tomorrow, Surly. I'm comin' for YOU, Furious!

We had time for one final stop, so we headed over to Fair State, where we closed out our first day in Minnesota in style. Fair State defines itself as a "Brewing Cooperative" rather than just a brewery. Check out this cool little bio:

We started a brewery because we love great beer. We made it a cooperative because we believe that when people come together, amazing things can happen. We share stories, come up with new ideas, and start to see the world a little differently. At Fair State Co-op, we’re brewing community.

Cooperation is key at Fair State Brewing.

Similar to MobCraft in its community-driven business model, Fair State differs in that it actually encourages fans to "buy in" to the brewery and become member-owners. That's a concept any would-be brewery owner should be able to embrace. And aside from this cool angle, the beer is pretty freakin' awesome too!

We settled in for what we thought would be one, maybe two beers each. Yeah, that didn't happen. We plopped down at the bar and in no time we were immersed in conversation with our jovial young bartender who'd only been working there for a very short time. He mentioned how Fair State was his favorite local brewery, which drove him to want to work there. I could relate, as the same thing happened with me and Tröegs.

Entrance of Fair State Brewing Cooperative.

The tap list was varied and forward-thinking, with plenty of interesting-sounding beers. The first one to garner my attention was the Smoked Apricot Sour. Smokey and sour might not sound like a winning combination, but trust me, it works. Throw in some fruit (in this case, apricots) and you've got a nice little complex beer. Fermented in stainless steel tanks with Fair State's house mixed culture, this slightly tart ale features moderate wood smoke and a hint of apricot.

Pahlay'Ahlay, a tropical fruit-forward pale ale, was up next. Brewed with flaked oats and wheat, and hopped with Citra, Simcoe, and Denali, this one definitely brought the tropics to the palate. Think lots of citrus with some juicy mango and pineapple notes and you get a pretty good picture of what this beer brings to the table. At only 5% ABV, this sucker is pretty sessionable to boot!

I had to try the Pils, and this one was a pretty solid interpretation of a German-style pilsner; dry and crisp with a grassy hop aroma courtesy of generous additions of Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops. This is THE classic pilsner hop, folks. I love when a pilsner has a notable sulfur component, which is typically the result of the lager yeast. This one delivered and did not disappoint.

View from our bar seats at Fair State.
The bartender said the Hefeweizen was a winner, so he gave us a sample. I usually don't gravitate to this particular style, but since he plunked one down in front of me, who am I to turn it away? This is a pretty traditional Bavarian-style wheat beer. Pale and spritzy with hints of banana, clove, and vanilla from the yeast. According to the beer's description, "No bananas were harmed in the brewing of this beer." Pleeps was happy to hear that!

I also couldn't leave without trying the Lichtenhainer. You don't come across this beer style very often. If you hate smoked beers, stay away. Don't care for sours? This may not be your cup of tea either. Me? I love 'em both so sign me up! I first stumbled across this antiquated hybrid of a beer back during our Drinksgiving trip to Charleston, SC, when we visited Westbrook. Oddly enough, it was also the first time I'd heard of another long-lost beer style called Gose that, since then, has spread like wildfire through the beer scene. Much like the American IPA before it, every brewery has to include a Gose in its portfolio these days. While the Lichtenhainer hasn't gained even a small percentage of the traction as Gose has, it is an interesting style that packs a lot of flavor for a small beer. This particular one is 100% barrel-fermented and brewed with 100% beechwood and oak smoked malt. I always appreciate seeing this style get some love from small breweries. It's an acquired taste, but next time you're out and about and see one on tap, get at least a small 4 or 5-ounce pour and give it a shot. The style is pretty rare, kind of like finding a dinosaur bone in your backyard.

Whatchu lookin' at, Pleeps?

We finished up our visit with Duluth Coffee Co. Vienna Lager. I seldom see lagers with coffee, but coffee is a flavor from which any beer style could likely benefit. The standard Vienna Lager is Free State's flagship malty beer, featuring Vienna, Munich, and Black malt. The coffee, a Mexican Finca Santa Marta cold press, comes courtesy of, as the name implies, Duluth Coffee Company.

All in all, this was an enjoyable visit and end to a pretty full day of brewery hopping. By this time, we were pretty beat and needed some rest, as we had another full day ahead of us. Since I'm into music, somebody told us we should visit Prince's studio while we were in Minneapolis. Sorry. Way too many breweries to hit.

Back at the hotel, we cracked a can of Citronic Pale Ale gifted to us by the fine folks at Bare Hands Brewing. As the name implies, this is a Citra-drenched pale ale with lots of orange and grapefruit character. It was a fine way to cap off our inaugural visit to Minneapolis. Stay tuned for Day 6 (part 2 of "Twinning") as we infiltrate the "other" city... St. Paul. Until then...

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Pour Travelin' in our backyard

As it would happen, the weekend of September 7, 8, and 9 offered a rare Saturday with absolutely nothing on our agenda. Friday, we were heading to the York Fair to attend the Alice Cooper concert (which was awesome, by the way), and on Sunday I had Rock Music Trivia, which I host at the Corvette Grille in Annville. But Saturday? We had a whole lotta nuthin' goin' on!

So... what to do?

We thought about heading up to "The Pub" (aka Selin's Grove), but we get there so often that I thought perhaps it was the right time to cross off a few places right in our backyard that we hadn't had the opportunity to visit yet. So after breakfast, I whipped up a quick itinerary, and we were off by 12:30 p.m. or so.

I'd been wanting to visit Cox Brewing Company since I first sampled Fat Cow, a Baltic Porter with coffee, at a local beer festival. I would've gotten there a long time ago, but the Tasting Room's hours are extremely limited. Cox is only open to the public three days a week at three hours a pop. That's only a 9-hour window of opportunity in a week. Since we had nothing going on this particular Saturday afternoon, it seemed like enough of a reason to make the short drive to Elizabethtown, where the brewery is situated. (OK, technically it's in Rheems, but the GPS address is E-town.)

Entrance to Cox Brewing.

The place itself isn't much to look at. It basically situated in a large garage next to a deer meat processing business. Inside, a cobbled together brewhouse, small fermenters and other equipment mingled with a small bar area and a few scattered tables and chairs. I was surprised to find twelve beers on tap, especially given the minuscule brewing system. This place ain't fancy by any stretch of the imagination. They serve their beer in plastic cups. There's not in the way of decor, save for some military posters and memorabilia decorating the walls. As a matter of fact, the brewery is owned by veterans and some of the beers are named after military terms. After perusing the list of available beers, we decided to each get a sampler flight of four different beers. Here's the complete run-down:
  • CH-47 IPA - Named after a Chinook helicopter, this IPA likely features hops of the same name.
  • Melon-X - The "X" stands for "experimental." This one is a pale ale brewed with watermelon.
  • DIPA-X - "experimental" double IPA with a sweet malty backbone and sticky citrus and floral hops.
  • Liberty Lager - American lager with lots of bready and malty cereal grain character.
  • The White Feather - hefeweizen with traditional notes of clove, banana, and bubblegum.
  • Fat Cow Coffee Porter - Baltic porter with coffee added. 
  • ESB - English Style Bitter with a dominant caramel note.
  • After Burner - oatmeal stout with a hint of roast and chocolate.
The Fat Cow was far and away my favorite of the bunch. This one boasts a smooth texture and moderate coffee presence amid a hint of dark fruity esters. The Melon-X was pretty refreshing, and the watermelon came through nicely without being too overpowering. Neither of the IPAs were memorable, and the ESB could use some tweaking, but overall I was pleasantly surprised at what this tiny brewery is putting out. It's nice to see the brewing community in Elizabethtown area continue to grow.

For some reason, the opening of Twisted Bine completely fell off my radar. Apparently, they've been open for about six weeks. I guess I'm slipping in my old age. I remember when one brewery used to open every six to nine months. Now a brewery opens every other week, it seems! Oh well... it keeps me busy, I suppose. Based in Mt. Joy just a few blocks away from long-time player Bube's Brewery, the tasting room is modern, sparsely decorated and wide open, with a huge wrap-around bar in the center of the room. They have "snack bar" type food service, whereby you walk up to the window, order, pay, and get a beeper. We ordered some fried cheese curds for a snack. At seven bucks an order, I was miffed when the guy at the window charged me $8.60-something "after tax." Last I checked, sales tax was $0.06 on the dollar in PA and my math skills aren't that bad. Oh well. They were tasty.

Twisted Bine Beer Co. in downtown Mt. Joy, PA.

As with Cox, we opted for a sampler flight, although we only shared four beers this time. I decided to go for the IPA flight, which included the following hoppy beers:
  • Newcomer - 4.7% ABV session IPA aggressively dry-hopped with Citra and Mosaic. 
  • Test Btch #1 - Unfiltered IPA dry-hopped with Simcoe and Amarillo for abundant tropical fruit notes.
  • Barbara Street - NE-style IPA dry-hopped with Citra and Simcoe for a citrusy punch.
  • Appletree Alley - NE-style IPA dry-hopped with Mosaic, Simcoe and Ekuanot. This hop combination produced an odd green pepper/vegetal note amid the dominant fruity notes. 
Sampler flight at Twisted Bine.

Newcomer was my favorite of the flight. The other three were all pretty similar in execution and flavor, although as I said, the Appletree Alley had some funky vegetal notes that are present in a lot of Trillium's beers (one of the reasons why Brewslut ain't too keen on 'em). Based on the names of its beers, it appears Twisted Bine tips its cap to Trillium, as two of the beers are named after "streets" (well, one is an alley). After perusing its beers on Untappd, I discovered a few others named after streets, which Trillium does quite often. Just an observation, not a criticism. It's good for young breweries to acknowledge influence and take cues from more established breweries. While none of these beers knocked my socks off, this place definitely shows promise and, if anything, will make Bube's up its game quite a bit. Not too shabby for six weeks into the game. 

After Twisted Bine, it was back to E-town for our inaugural visit to Moo-Duck. I'd heard mixed reviews of the beers here from a variety of people. Opinions were all over the spectrum; everything from "one of my favorites in the area" to "the worst brewery in PA." Finally, I just had to visit and judge for myself. Located adjacent to the Amtrak station, Moo-Duck has been on the local scene since 2014. I honestly can't believe it took me four years to make it there. I mean, I live 15 miles from E-town (give or take).

We found a pair of open stools at the bar and set up shop. Inside, it's got a garage vibe like Cox, although it's set up more like an actual tasting room. I also appreciated the various stuffed animals behind the bar. Sadly, Pleeps wasn't joining on this little excursion. I'm sure he would have made fast friends with the little duckling chilling out near the taps. Once again, we opted for a sampler flight and chose from the dozen or so available beers. Here's the skinny:

  • I'm a Farmer - Harvest ale brewed with PA ingredients including Colonial Pilsner and Double Dutch Malts from Deer Creek and wet Cascades from Sunny Brae Hops.
  • Pops Smoked Porter - Porter brewed with cherrywood smoked malt.
  • The Big Mango - 10.5% ABV imperial IPA brewed with mango.
  • Mistopheles Imperial Coffee - Imperial milk stout brewed with lactose and aged on coffee beans.

Overall, I definitely wasn't offended by anything I sampled. Pops Smoked Porter is more of an entry-level smoked beer for those wanting to "test the waters." It definitely has more of a sweet smokey flavor that is approachable. Although it was a tad thin for the style, it had a nice subtle roasty flavor with a hint of smoke. The Big Mango exhibited an odd aroma (possibly an off-flavor), but it tasted as described: lots of juicy mango and tropical fruit. The Imperial Coffee version of Mistopheles may have been my favorite beer of the day (up until that point, anyway). It boasted a rich, velvety mouthfeel and the coffee flavor was present but not over-the-top. It was a fine execution of the style.

One other thing that's noteworthy about Moo-Duck is its support of the local community. In an effort to support a variety of charitable organizations in its backyard, the brewery features a special "charity brew" on tap at all times, with $0.50 of each pint sold benefiting a different charity. Pretty cool, eh?

While I don't like rating breweries, I'll leave it at this: I would stop in again for a beer when I'm in the area.

We'd heard through the grapevine that Tattered Flag had hired a new brewer a few months ago. Additionally, two very respected beer friends mentioned that their beers had improved dramatically since the new brewer had taken over. With the new guy now firmly in place, I'll officially go on record and say that the beers I sampled at Tattered Flag shortly after it opened for business were among the worst I'd ever had. I was so turned off that I didn't even blog about it because, well, I'm just a nice guy, I suppose. Don't get me wrong, I'll bitch about annoying kids or people that we encounter along the way in our travels, but I've always kept criticism of the breweries I visit constructive and sparse. Once I started working at a brewery, I didn't even assign score ratings for my Untappd check-ins.

So I felt a second chance was in order. Well, I'm happy to report that this is no longer the case with Tattered Flag. What we experienced during this visit was nothing short of a complete 180. I'd always thought the place itself was cool; a unique building with a rustic vibe and lots of character. The food seemed to receive a good bit of praise (although we'd never eaten there). Plus, the whole veteran angle should be commended. However, the beer was the one piece missing from the equation. And if you're a brewery, this is a pretty important component. It's like their beer was an unsolvable "x" in an algebra teacher's worst nightmare.

View from our bar seats at Tattered Flag.

With only about 7 beers available on tap, we decided to go with the two most interesting sounding beers and order full pours. I was eyeing up a tiramisu variation of the Boulangerie Stout. Turns out "Boulangerie" is French for "bakery," so this is likely one of those newfangled pastry stouts I've been hearing about. This rich stout boasts notes of dark Belgian chocolate, coffee and a hint of cinnamon. It wasn't too sweet and it wasn't too thick. It was kind of right on the nuggets, to be honest. I was definitely digging it despite being skeptical. Once I got through the initial few sips, I was confident that this place had finally got its shit together.

Over in Brewslut land, she was working on something called Fatum Series Kumquat Sour, a kettle sour ale brewed with 50 lbs of kumquats. Based on a few other beers under the "Fatum Series" moniker, it seems like this is a sour beer series. Man, those little grape-looking things are sour! Plus kumquat is just so fun to say! I gotta tell you, this beer was awesome! I really liked its thicker, more viscous body compared to other lighter, highly carbonated sour beers that are in the majority. This was my favorite beer of the day. Brewslut loved it too. To top it off, the bartender was awesome. She was friendly, attentive, and very talkative, a combination I love. I can't stand when a bartender stands in the corner on his or her cell phone when it's not too busy. Here's some advice: talk to your customers! Engage them. Ask them where they're from and what their favorite beer is. (For the grammatically challenged, that last sentence is a good example of how to use "their" and "they're" in a sentence. So there you go. Woo hoo! Got all three!)

Aside from having an in-house distillery on premises, Tattered Flag also has its own coffee bar. Well, not a separate coffee bar; it's an extension of the actual bar. They also serve nitro cold brew, which made me happy. I made sure to order some to go before we left. On our way out, I noticed the brewer working down below in the brewery. I yelled down to give him the thumbs up because he really has turned this place around, at least from a beer standpoint. I'm really looking forward to seeing how everything plays out for Tattered Flag. One thing's for sure, though... we'll definitely be back in the near future!

Since we had about an hour to kill before dinner, we decided to swing by Ever Grain, where we bumped into our friends Terri and Mike at the bar. We caught up with them over pours of two new IPAs we hadn't tried yet: Fuzzy Mackerel and Sweet Pine. The former is a hazy DIPA with lots of tropical fruit and citrus pith notes. It finished a bit more bitter than I was anticipating for a "hazy" IPA. It was OK, but didn't live up to Blue Detour, the last IPA I'd tried during our previous visit, and consequentially my new favorite beer at Ever Grain. The former is an American IPA infused with pineapple and hopped with Citra and Columbus to enhance the tropical notes of the pineapple. It was a bit too sweet for me overall.

After our quick one-and-done visit to Ever Grain, we were off to have dinner at Bangkok Wok with my nephew Kyle and his girlfriend Kelly. I was down for some Thai cuisine, and it didn't disappoint! I love me some curry! The restaurant is BYOB, but I took the opportunity to take a little break in my drinking day, as we'd already been to five breweries.

Afterward, we headed over to the brand spankin' new Mellow Mink, just a few blocks down the Carlisle Pike from Ever Grain. Focusing primarily on sour beers and farmhouse ales, Mellow Mink had just celebrated its grand opening over Labor Day weekend. Since Brewslut and I were attending RushCamp! (yes, it's an actual thing), we missed the opening celebration, which I'm sure boasted a veritable "who's who" of the local brewing scene. The Mellow Mink crew had been building up some hype across social media in the months leading up to the opening, and their stuff looked legit.

It was pretty busy when we arrived, which I figured would be the case considering they'd only opened the week prior. Seven beers were available during our visit, the majority falling in either the sour and saison category. They rounded out the line-up with a hazy IPA, an oatmeal stout, and an amber ale. I led with Hop Moon, a dry-hopped golden sour ale. Brewslut went for Superfruit Tapestry, a blonde sour ale with raspberries and passionfruit. Both were well executed, although we both preferred the latter with its blend of sweet-tart berries and acidic passionfruit notes.

Superfruit Tapestry, our favorite at Mellow Mink.

By this time, my nephew's friend Eric had joined us. He's into the craft beer scene and has plans to some day open a small nano brewery in the Harrisburg area with his friend and homebrewing partner, Mikey. Seating is challenging for larger groups, as the majority of the tables are for two people. the bar, while fairly large, isn't very conducive for more than three people, especially if you plan to converse as a group. So we gathered around a tiny round table near the front entrance.

For round two, I opted for Cloud Chamber, a sessionable New England-style IPA at 5.3% ABV. Brewslut decided on Apricot Estate Saison, tart farmhouse ale brewed with apricots. We definitely preferred our initial choices over these two. The IPA was a bit too harsh and "green" tasting, while the saison had a medicinal note amid the sweet apricot flavor. It was a little abrasive on the palate overall. All things considered, not a bad start for these guys at all. While we weren't too jazzed about our last two beers, the Superfruit Tapestry was delicious and Hop Moon came in a close second for me. I love me a nice dry-hopped sour, and this one didn't disappoint. I look forward to seeing how Mellow Mink evolves over the coming months. Plus, I'm always glad when another brewery opens near one that I visit from time to time. This is a welcome addition to the Pike!

Stay tuned for more from the Great Taste Caper 2018 currently in progress. Just thought I'd throw this in as a bit of a diversion. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Great Taste Caper 2018 - Day 4: We'll be back, Wisconsin

Day 4 of the trip saw us cover a decent amount of ground, from Milwaukee to Lake Mills, WI, before heading to the middle of nowhere, which in this case is Black River Falls. I thought it would be a good idea to get halfway to Minneapolis after visiting Tyranena Brewing, which proved to be exhausting. But more on that later.

For now, we're still in Milwaukee. We kicked off our Monday with a brewery that was thankfully open early. (NOT-SO-FUN FACT: Most breweries are either closed or open late on Mondays so workers have a day off since weekends are popular drinking days. This is decidedly inconvenient for Pour Traveler folk.) I found that the majority of breweries in Milwaukee were either closed on Mondays or didn't open until 4 p.m.

Outside Good City in Milwaukee.

So, thanks Good City to for falling in the minority. Upon our arrival, I was immediately struck by the branding of this place. I often have my eye on this type of thing, being someone who works in marketing for a brewery and all. The logo itself was one of the best I've come across: an old skeleton key with the letters "G" and "C" as well as a hop cone worked into its design. Clever. Inside, the place was super clean, modern and comfortable with lots of blonde wood and brick and contrasting black and chrome detailing.

Now that looks like a good city!

The brewery's three founders connected in Portland, Oregon, at the 2015 Craft Brewers Conference. While hanging out at a newly opened brewery, the trio hit it off and eventually hatched a plan to open a brewery together with a desire to help Milwaukee continue its growth into a mature craft beer city. I must admit that for an operation with only two years under its belt, they seem to have their shit together.

View from our bar stools at Good City.

Upon reviewing the draft selection, I was excited to come across a German-style Rauchbier called Stadt. Turns out this is a smoked version of its Oktoberfest lager brewed with German beechwood-smoked malted barley. sign me up! I rarely come across smoked beers and will always jump at the chance to sample one. Brewslut? Not a fan. So if the beer turns out to be sub par, I'm stuck drinking it because she hates smoked beers. Lucky for me this one was good!

From good to better, my next beer was something called BFG. Hmmm... Best Friend's Girl? Back From Gettysburg? Batman Fled Gotham? Bangin' Four Guys? Big Fuckin' Gorilla? Bert Forgot Gum? I could come up with funny acronyms all day. The official name of this beer, however, is "Big Friendly Goodness," and a name like that could only manifest itself as a huge 12-ish% ABV American-style Barleywine. This tasty concoction is brewed with malted rye for a distinct red color and subtle spicy note. Perhaps this could have been named "Better Forget Guzzling!"

Pleeps knocked my robot's block off!

With extra time to kill since most breweries didn't open until 3 or 4 p.m., we stayed for a second round. This time, we opted for Motto, a SMASH (single malt and single hop) ale brewed with pale ale malt and Mosaic hops. These stripped down beers geared to showcase the unique characteristics of a single malt and hop variety are becoming commonplace at craft breweries these days. Mosaic is one of the most complex and versatile of the newer crop of hop varietals, and this beer allowed its juicy tropical and resinous pine notes shine. We also grabbed a pour of Goodhaus, a double red IPA brewed in collaboration with Bavarian Bierhaus of Glendale, WI. This one was as anticipated with an assertive floral hop bite with a good bit of caramel maltiness and some citrusy undertones. Overall, this place is pretty legit, and they were one of my favorites with regard to branding. Before we left, I noticed that their crowler design closely resembled our Nimble Giant logo with its shield-like frame and gold, black and white color. Needless to say, I had to give them a can simply for the sake of coincidence. They'd never heard of Tröegs, so I'm sure they were happy to try a new beer. And with that, it was time to move on to our next destination.

Thanks for opening early, Milwaukee Ale House!

I'll admit that I didn't have very high hopes for Milwaukee Brewing. I worked them into the itinerary because there were one of only a handful of places that opened early. When we arrived, the brewery appeared to be situated in a high traffic area. Once inside, the layout and atmosphere reminded me of a "brewpub chain" that served mediocre beer to tourists, who happened to be in town for a conference or sporting event. My Spidey sense was tingling, but fortunately for us, it was a false alarm because this place was legit.

We set up shop at the bar and were quickly greeted by a friendly thirty-something guy. The draft list was hop-heavy, so we ordered accordingly. Hop Happy, my first selection, struck me as more of an old-school East Coast IPA akin to some early favorites like Bell's Two Hearted or Ithaca Flower Power. Brewed with not-so-trendy hop varieties Columbus, Cascade, Mt. Hood, and Bravo, this was a throwback to the type of IPA we were drinking a decade ago. It didn't knock my socks off, but it was fine as-is.

Brewslut ordered a pour of Earl Grey IPA, which I found to be an odd choice for her. While we've both since graduated from tea to coffee in our middle-agedness, I'll confess that Earl Grey is probably my favorite variety of tea, not just for the connection to Jean-Luc Picard, but also because of its flavor. However, I haven't had that many tea-based IPAs that I've been jazzed about. This one was no different. I think a robust flavor like Earl Grey tea would be much better suited for a Belgian Dubbel or even a saison. But an IPA? You'd think that since Earl Grey is flavored with the oil of bergamot (a variety of orange), it would be a natural complement to the citrusy notes often found in IPAs. However, this one was too earthy and floral for my liking.

Pleeps gets around just fine without a map.

However, one of the other IPAs we tried called MKE IPA turned out to be one of the more memorable IPAs of the trip. Brewed with generous amounts of Citra and Mosaic hops, this flavorful and aromatic IPA boasts notes of grapefruit pulp, passionfruit, and juicy mango. And this came from a can! I was getting a more West Coast vibe from this IPA, although it was a bit hazy, the crispness of the malt lead to a nice, dry and moderately bitter finish, which NE-styles don't really capture. Whatever style it's meant to be, it sure was pretty freakin' tasty!

Pleeps chillin' in Milwaukee.

Another odd choice for Brewslut was her next beer, O-Gii Imperial Wit, a collaboration with Milwaukee’s own Rishi Tea. This 9.2% ABV monster of a wheat beer boasts an Asian flair due to a blend of tea offering hints of chamomile, orange, and ginger. Seems as though the folks at Milwaukee Brewing love tea. And that's OK. Plenty of breweries have coffee stouts for those who enjoy drinking before noon. Overall, we were pretty impressed by the beers here, especially the MKE IPA, which was a personal favorite of mine. I wish I would have bought some to take home. Plus, our bartender was friendly and attentive although it wasn't very busy while we were there. But he poured a beer by mistake and gave us a freebie, which was thoughtful. So bonus points for that!

When we left, we still had some time on the meter, so we hopped across the street to check out a bottle shop. Well, it was more of a beer, wine, liquor, and lottery shop with glass "tobacco" pipes and a few other sketchy items. I was hoping to find some Surly or Toppling Goliath, but nothing was very fresh, so I only left with a 4-pack of the excellent Peruvian Morning, a bourbon barrel-aged imperial coffee stout from Central Waters. That's one that will age nicely in my cellar, thank you very much. I'd actually considered working Central Waters and the nearby Point Brewing into the itinerary, but this detour would have taken us well off the beaten path. They would have to wait for another time.

Well-played, MobCraft... well-played!

Back at MobCraft for our return visit, we were able to plow through the remaining beers we wanted to try the previous day. Again, sample size pours were in order because there were five more beers to be had. Here's the skinny:
  • Rhubarb IPA - a slightly tart IPA with a pinkish hue and contrasting citrusy hop notes. 
  • Nuance - Farmhouse Ale brewed in collaboration with 1840 Brewing Company. This beer was fermented and aged in fresh wine barrels for four months, conditioned with Brettanomyces Bruxelles and blended with apricots and peaches. 
  • Squeeze the Day - DIPA inspired by strawberry lemonade featuring strawberry puree and zested, juiced lemons as well as Citra and Sorachi Ace (the latter a lemon-forward hop variety).
  • Gentlemen S-Tart Your Engines - barrel-aged dark sour ale with berries and vanilla.
  • Sour Support - barrel-aged blended sour with raspberries and ginger.
This time around, it was Sour Support and Nuance that captivated me most. Since I'm a sucker for a nice spicy ginger beer (I love me a kickin' Moscow Mule... thanks Dano), the Sour Support sat well with me. Ginger can be a tricky ingredient to use in brewing, but this beer worked really well, in my opinion. As for Nuance (aptly named), there was plenty going on with it. Aging in wine barrels coaxed out notes of oak and dark fruit, while the Brett added a layer of funky, earthy complexity to the mix. Throw in peaches and apricots, and you get a hint of juicy sweetness that ties it all together.

All in all, I'd say that MobCraft was one of the breweries we visited on the entire trip that operates "outside the box." I didn't really focus on it during our last episode, but MobCraft's schtick is undeniably unique. Established in 2013, it touts itself as "the world's first crowdsourced brewery." What does that mean, exactly? Well, they basically turn your ideas into beer. Each month, the brewery leverages its fans (i.e. the "mob") to submit ideas for potential new beers. The ideas are then advertised on MobCraft's web site, and fans can vote on their favorites. The beer with the most customer pre-orders is the winner, and the beer is then brewed, packaged and shipped straight to customers via an online retailer. Or you can just pick up beer at the brewery. Pretty cool concept, right? So if you've ever had dreams of a particular beer and no brewery has yet to step up to the plate, then perhaps MobCraft can make your dream a reality. Glad we got to visit them twice.

Outside City Lights Brewing.

I don't know why, but something about City Lights reminded me of Portland, ME. Perhaps it was because it's situated near a body of water (OK... a river, the Menomonee) but still. I seemed to be transported to Portland momentarily. This was the last brewery on our agenda for Milwaukee, after which we would enjoy a nice little 45-minute drive to our next destination.

But first, a quick history lesson about the brewery. In 1902, the Milwaukee Gas Light Company began construction on the West Side Water Works, a campus designed to turn coal into gas to be used to light street lamps throughout Milwaukee. Over the years, Milwaukee established itself as the first beer capital of the U.S. with the forerunners of the day (Miller, Pabst, Schlitz, etc.) defining the beer industry. Fast forward to 2012, four brothers decided to enter the craft beer arena. After transitioning from a family-run business, the brothers partnered with some experienced industry moguls to create City Lights Brewing Company. The brewery occupies two of the buildings of the original West Side Water Works campus, hence the brewery's moniker. You can check out the full story here. It's pretty compelling.

Anyway, on with the beer. Once seated at our table, we were greeted by an extremely friendly young guy, which was a good sign. The tasting room was fairly small but very well kept and clean. The bar was packed with what I assumed to be regulars. One of them (a guy we'd dubbed "NF," short for "neck fat") seemed to be quite boisterous, loud, and glad he was off work for the day. Still, it was good to see a healthy crowd converged at a small brewery around happy hour time.

I decided to go with one of its signature beers, Coconut Porter. This is just as the name implies although it is enhanced by the addition of Madagascar vanilla beans. This beer boasted a rich blend of chocolate, coffee, and, as anticipated, toasted coconut. A worthy year-round beer, for sure.

Brewslut went with the Hazy IPA this time. Again, not too clever with the name of this beer. However, its flavor had plenty of character. This hazy IPA is hopped with Citra, Mosaic, and Amarillo for a big smack of tropical fruit. The grain bill features malted barley, wheat, and flaked oats for a silky texture. Double dry-hopping with Vic Secret (a new-ish variety from New Zealand) brings out even more tropical fruit notes, especially in the aroma.

Beer, please!
OK, thank you!
Sticking with dark beers, I opted for the Coffee Stout next. This tasty stout is brewed with seven different malts, Chinook hops for a hint of pine, and cold brew coffee from local Stone Creek Coffee. I enjoyed this one as much as the Coconut Porter. It seems like they do justice to their dark beers!

Brewslut decided to try the Mexican Lager. Brewed with flaked corn and fermented with a Mexican lager yeast strain, this easy-drinking beer elicits a refreshing island vibe. Motueka hops impart hints of fresh lime, giving it a margarita-like flavor. They even garnished it with a lime wedge.

Strike a pose, Pleeps!

I was so excited to get back to Tyranena after a 6-year lapse. It also marks one of only three breweries we visited on this trip I'd been to previously. Since our last visit, they added a really nice outside beer garden area that unfortunately was void of patrons when we arrived save for a few stragglers. But Lake Mills, Wisconsin, is a pretty small town (less than 6,000 folks), and it was a Monday night, not the most popular night for brewery hopping. At any rate, I'd always been impressed by this small brewery's output, especially its barrel-aged beers. Established in 1999, Tyranena produces five year-round beers, eleven seasonal brews, and a wide variety of specialty beers. Its distribution footprint covers just four states: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, and Illinois. The names of each of its beers pay homage to the history and folklore of the Lake Mills region, referring to something quintessentially Wisconsin.

It's good to be back in Lake Mills!

I was hoping they had Scurvy on tap, an IPA brewed with orange peel. This was one of my favorites many years ago when we first visited, but sadly it was not available during our visit. However, the board was rife with about a dozen other assorted beers to keep me lubricated. Most were beers I had never tried before, so it was looking like we'd be here for a while. That, my friends, is an understatement!

I started off with what was, in my opinion, the most interesting beer on the menu. Sailors Take Warning! is a blonde ale brewed with agave and blood oranges with cherry purée added then aged in tequila barrels. Might as well go with the money shot right off the bat! The bar was sparsely attended, but we were kind of fatigued from drinking all afternoon, so we decided to chill out on the couch in the foyer for a bit. I got halfway through my beer and started getting antsy, so I headed in to check out the beer garden and, of course, got chatting with people at the bar. After a few minutes when I didn't return, Brewslut took my cue and came in to join me. By then, she'd been working on a half pour of Lost Adult, an unfiltered double dry-hopped Imperial IPA, and soon enough we were engulfed in conversation with the bartender, Dan (who was down from northern Wisconsin and celebrating his birthday), an older guy who works on the bottling line at the brewery, and a beer-loving couple from Wisconsin who were visiting the area.

Chillin' on the couch in the foyer at Tyranena.

Talking makes me thirsty, so it was time for another round. I opted for what could be Clubber Lang's favorite (or least favorite) beer, Wrath of Rocky, an imperial brown ale aged in bourbon barrels. OK, I'm sure the beer was NOT influenced by the Rocky movie franchise; that's just how my mind works. Plus, I love saying Clubber Lang. Tyranena's got the barrel-aging thing down to a science, as far as I'm concerned. Everything I've had from them that was put into a barrel and came out the other end has been pretty delicious. This one was no exception.

I decided to do a complete 180 and order a small pour of Helles for Real, a lightly hopped German-style Helles lager, just to change things up a bit. Helles Lagers don't get a whole lot of love from beer geeks, but I'm a fan. Same goes with pilsners. They are simple beers that aren't flashy, but when executed well they just hit the spot. This was a fine example of the style.

Back to being bludgeoned by barrel-aged beers (pardon the rampant alliteration), it was time for a fun-sounding beer called High-Class Broad. Like Rocky's Revenge, this too was an imperial brown ale. However, this one was aged in brandy barrels. I'll admit I'm more of a bourbon guy but this was pretty damn awesome too. Plus, I love a brewery that uses the word "broad" in one of its beer names. Non-PC for the win, Alex!

More barrel-aged goodness was up next with Imperial White Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels, golden stout aged in bourbon barrels. This one must be pretty new, hence no clever name. White stouts to me come across as imperial cream ales. I find it hard to call a non-dark beer a stout. Call me old-fashioned. But this one was rife with coffee and chocolate notes, and certainly tasted like a stout. Looks can be deceiving, I suppose. I look forward to seeing if this becomes a mainstay or a one-off.

By this time, it was pretty much Brewslut and I, plus the bartender, the bottling line guy, and Dan. And then there were five. The beer was still flowing, though. Up next was the evocatively named Balling the Queen, an Imperial IPA brewed with honey and hopped with Citra and Simcoe. I appreciate some well thought-out sexual innuendo in a beer name from time to time, and I had to chuckle upon reading this one aloud. (Although, in all honesty, pretty much anything with the word "ball" in it makes me giggle like a second grader.) I don't really recall much about this particular beer because we were - wait for it - balls deep in conversation with our new Wisconsin beer friends. Man, I love this state!

After trying pretty much everything I was really interested in drinking, it was time to revisit an old favorite: Devil Over a Barrel. This dark, decadent treat is a blend of an imperial oatmeal porter brewed with coffee beans and aged in Bourbon barrels (60%), and a porter brewed with coffee beans (40%). As soon as the first sip went down, it was like seeing an old friend after many years. It tasted exactly as I'd remembered it. This is one of the most coffee-forward beers I've encountered, and the bourbon and vanilla notes actually take a backseat to the assertive roastiness of this beer. Yet in all of its over-the-top coffee goodness, it still retains a lushness that's hard to explain. It's a special beer, and I'm still perplexed as to why I didn't purchase any bottles of this to take home. I've had it on plenty of occasions, though. This was supposed to be my last beer, as we had already fallen behind schedule. but birthday Dan wanted us to stay for one more, and who am I to argue with a guy who just turned a year wiser?

The taps keep comin' at Tyranena.

By now, it was small pours (it may have even been sample size glasses... at least for my next beer).
You don't see many altbiers these days, but Tyranena brews one called Headless Man Amber Alt. I'll admit that I rarely if ever get a hankering for a malty Düsseldorf-style Altbier (translates to "old beer" in German), but we'd already had pretty much every other beer available, so I figured I'd might as well get another Untappd check-in. Yes, it's a boring style. I won't regale you with the history of the beer, but if you're unfamiliar and so inclined, here's a link to the Wiki page.

I'm pretty sure I ended our epic visit with a half pour of Chief Blackhawk Porter, an English-style porter named after the Native American leader of the Sauk tribe whose name translated to "the black sparrow hawk," or Black Hawk for short. This one struck me as more of a robust porter, as I'm not a huge fan of the acrid, sour note that is a hallmark of most traditional English porters. Roasty with pleasant bittersweet chocolate notes, it wasn't too heavy-handed on the hop bitterness in the finish. And with that final sip, it was time to officially vacate the premises. We got there an hour-and-a-half early and left about an hour or so after we'd planned on leaving. After all that (including a T-shirt for Brewslut), somehow our tab was only $15. It was arguably the best $15 I'd ever spent at a brewery. It was an epic visit, to say the least!

I was pretty exhausted after the grueling two-hour drive to our hotel. It seems much longer than two hours, actually. But it wasn't. That was just me in dire need of a bed. I didn't even have a post-day beer before crashing. But the room was cozy and spacious (we scored a suite this time), plus it had a big free breakfast to boot, which was good because I couldn't find a decent breakfast spot in Black River Falls on Google. 

Stay tuned for our descent into Minneapolis and St. Paul for Day 5 and 6 of the trip, respectively. We've still got a lot of ground to cover, right Pleeps?



Until next time...