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Top 25 Breweries to Check Out at GABF, Part 1

September 3, 2010 6 comments

"Great" is in the name for a reason.

The 29th edition of the Great American Beer Festival is just 2 weeks away.  Sadly, I’m not going to make it this year.  Even sadder, I’ve never made it.  It’s on my bucket list, I assure you, but I can only really afford one big trip a year and the last few years…well, it didn’t make the cut for one reason or another.  I already took my trip this year.  I went to Belgium.  I think that that’s a pretty good excuse.

But, just because I’m not going doesn’t mean that I can’t pretend.  I’ve decided to make a list of the 25 breweries that I would visit at the fest if I where going.  Hopefully, this will be of assistance to some of our readers out there that are going.  Of course, this list is strongly influenced by my beer experiences, which are most likely very different from yours.  Maybe you grew up in WI and have had all the New Glarus you can handle.  That’s OK, but I have had a very minimal experience with NGB and given that it is a very well-respected brewery with minimal distribution, I’d visit their booth.  Just a small example of the way this will go down.

Considering that there are roughly 460 breweries pouring at the fest, one needs to develop a game plan.  Otherwise, ones head would likely explode.  My general rule would be to make sure that all of the brewery’s booths that I visit fit into 1 of 3 main categories.

These categories are as follows:

1) Breweries whose product I have never tasted, due to never living or visiting within the distribution area, and whose product is met with great respect in the beer community.  Breweries who I may have never heard a “buzz” about before but have been big winners in past GABFs would also fit into this category.

2) Breweries whose product I have tasted before, but whose product is met with such a profound respect in the beer community that I would desire to drink said product at anytime, anywhere.

3) Breweries whose product I have tasted before in my time living and drinking in the Northeast, but are either missed greatly by me or have released new products since my departure that I have not yet tasted.

With as many breweries as are attending this year’s fest, these rules alone would by no means whittle the list down to 25.  I’ll tell you right now that I will be forced, quite painfully I may add, to leave some true gems off the list, but no one ever said it was easy to make lists like this.  Here’s my first 10 choices, in no particular order.

New Glarus Brewing Co. – I mentioned these guys above so I might as well put them on here first.  NGB only distributes to WI.  That makes it a bit of a challenge for a lot of us to get.  Thanks to a good friend’s willingness to share, I was able to taste a few of the standard releases about a month ago.  They were quality brews with great ratings from the community, but it’s their rarities that really put NGB up on a pedestal.  If they were pouring Raspberry Tart I just might get in line twice.

Dry Dock Brewing Co. – This is a very small brewpub out of Aurora, CO but it was awarded the Small Brewery of the Year at last year’s GABF.  That’s enough to pique my interest.

Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. – I hope to visit this Michigan brewery in December when I visit my girlfriend’s family.  Their Raspberry Eisbock and 4th Dementia Old Ale are both subject to a cult following in the beer community.  These are two of my favorite styles and I would have a hard time coming up with many beers in the world that I want to get my hands on more.

Foothills Brewing – This North Carolina brewery is mostly famous for their imperial stout called Sexual Chocolate.  Not only is it massively hyped on the internets, but it won the bronze metal last year in the Impy Stout category.  That gives it some pretty respectable cred if you ask me.  Timperial wants.

Pizza Port/Port Brewing/Lost Abbey – This is Tomme Arthur’s world.  Tomme is a living beer legend for a reason.  I’d steer more toward the Pizza Port offerings simply because I have not tasted their particular brand of grog.  There are four different Pizza Port locations that enter beer, and they all seem to do very well in the competition.  I’d lean more toward the San Clemente and Calsbad locales.

McKenzie Brew House – Even the biggest beer junkies in the West may have never heard of this one.  It’s actually in Glen Mills, PA which is the town that I grew up in.  The “town” (no actual downtown) is so small that I very rarely tell people that I grew up there in order to combat the blank stare that I would no doubt receive.  I just tell people that I grew up in West Chester, PA because there is at least a remote chance that they would have heard of that one.  Anyway, this is not only on the list because it fits into category 3 above but because they have been winning a bunch of awards lately.  Check them out, you won’t be disappointed.

Iron Hill Brewery – Another small brew pub that is near and dear to my heart from back east.  I’d venture to say that these guys make some of the best beer I’ve ever had.  Not a single trip back home will pass without a stop here.  Seattleites just may have sampled some of their product at Elysian’s Pumpkin Fest.

The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery – I couldn’t really name one particular reason to check these guys out, I just know that I have read about them for various reasons for quite some time now.  Another very high quality brewer from North Carolina.

Cigar City Brewing – If you have never heard of Cigar City, you need to read more.  These guys are absolutely blowing up the world of craft brewing right now, and they are still super new.  If I could get a little bit personal with you for just one moment.  I have a goal that I’m working toward.  That goal is to open my own brewery in the next few years (I know, aren’t I just so unique).   With this in mind, I am constantly analyzing breweries – learning from their positive and negative attributes.  There are two American craft breweries that have opened in the past few years that exploded in popularity right from the onset.  Obviously, I want my brewery to open in such a way as well.  Tampa, FL’s Cigar City and the next brewery on my list are two businesses that should be analyzed by all future entrepreneurs.

The Bruery – I feel like we talk these guys up on the blog all the time.  These guys are amongst the top ten breweries in America, hands down.  I really shouldn’t have to go into it any deeper.

I have 15 more to choose, so check back frequently in the waning days of the pre-GABF calendar.

Notes of a Beer Nerd: Jolly Pumpkin’s Fuego del Otono

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales' Fuego del Otono

Enjoyed on 1/15/2010

Brewery: Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales LLC.

Location: Dexter, MI

Beer: Fuego del Otono (Autumn Fire)

Web: http://www.jollypumpkin.com

Presentation: 750 ML – Brown Glass Bottle

Vintage: 2007

Style: Belgian Wild Ale

Barrel: Oak

ABV: 6.1%

IBU: N/A

Hops: N/A

Malt: N/A

Vessel: Tulip

Recommended Serving Temp: 50 degrees

Notes from the bottle: “To catch a bit of soft radiance in each bottle, we wait for fall colors to begin their bright and fleeting glow before brewing this wonderful ale under their autumn fire. Gentle amber malt blend smooth caramel notes, gently lapping against a shore of distant forgotten spice. A beer to sip, contemplate and enjoy.”

Bottled on: “Bottling 3” (?)

Flavor will continue to develop for some time to come.

Food Pairings: Indian, Shellfish

Cheese Pairings: Nutty ones such as Asiago, Colby, Parmesan

Beer Advocate: A-

Rate Beer: 96 (3.75)

Timperialstout’s Notes:


Ron Jeffries should be more of a household name in the brewing industry.  He has created, in my humble opinion, one of the elite breweries in America today.  The so-called “Brett Pack” (Tomme Arthur  of Lost Abbey & Port Brewing, Adam Avery of Avery Brewery, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, Vinnie Cilurzo  of Russian River & Rob Tod of Allagash
) has a glaring omission.

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales has all of the qualities that I would want in a brewery of my own.  They create unique and innovative ales (with a profound respect for history) on a small scale, with an ample dose of tender loving care, and most of all, passion.  They have been making delicious beers for the local community, and not forgetting about all of the beer nerds (like myself) in somewhat far off places, for a mere 7 years.

I think the word “artisan” is such an apropos word.  I strive to be an artisan in my own life.  Jolly Pumpkin seemingly achieves that descriptor, almost annoyingly, without effort.

A few facts about Jolly Pumpkin:  Jolly Pumpkin’s ales are created by using open fermentation.  Jolly Pumpkin’s ales are aged in oak barrels.  Jolly Pumpkin’s ales are bottle conditioned.

This is how they do business.  This is simply – what they do.  The trends in American brewing have had to catch up to them.

What does all of this mean?  Well, we will be witness to the earthy, funky, sour, acidic, and most importantly complex flavors of the Flanders region on Belgium, but made right here in the great U.S. of A.  The Great Lakes region will be our Senne Valley.

[Briefly, while we are on the subject - Michigan…what a magical beer land it has become.  Headline: Quite possibly stricken the hardest of all 50 states by our current economic woes, residents drown sorrows in really freakin’ good beer.  Enter: Arcadia Brewing Co., Bell’s Brewery, Inc., Dark Horse Brewing Co., Founders Brewing Co., Kuhnhenn Brewing Co., New Holland Brewing Co., and the list goes on.]

Fuego del Otono is a seasonal for Jolly Pumpkin with an October release, and is brewed with chestnuts and spices.  I don’t believe that this one is currently being shipped to Washington.  When I picked this up from a bottle shop in Portland, it was the first time I’d seen it.  Do you think I hesitated to get it?

Let’s see what she’s like.

A cautious pour reveals a beautiful, slightly orange tinted amber glow.   A nice off white head built on condensed tiny bubbles rises high, and though it eventually settles, it settles slowly and never fully disappears.  In fact, a solid centimeter or so of creamy head lasts nearly my entire experience with the brew, seemingly protecting it from the air above and offering a second taste on my upper lip after each and every marvelous sip.

The scent is all that I expect from an ale created and stored in the method that Jolly Pumpkin embraces.  It is simultaneously sweet and sour, like a mandarin orange.  Spices and fruit are in full effect, reminding me of that most gluttonous Autumnal celebration of ours we call Thanksgiving.  A Belgian yeasty essence brings a tint of dough and bread deep beneath.  Vinous and acrid.  The nuttiness seems to be hidden until it harms a bit, and is easiest to spot if you open your jaw and let the fluid move around beneath your tongue and hit the back corners of your mouth.   There is also a bit of chestnut buttery accent throughout, but most relevant well after the swallow.

The flavors linger and my mouth waters for some time after the swallow.  My tongue longs for another sip and aches at the thought that, eventually, the glass will empty.

Thank you Jolly Pumpkin, and keep up the good work!

If you like Fuego del Otono, you should try: Russian River Brewing’s Consecration; Lost Abbey’s Cable Car; and Brewery Ommegang’s Rouge Grand Cru

Disclaimer: This beer was purchased on my own with my own hard earned money at a local bottle shop and aged to perfection on my own.

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