Re-rockin’ the 902: Big Spruce Brewing

Big Spruce Brewing is a very cool microbrewery in Cape Breton. Just south of Baddeck in an area called Nyanza. I’ve already mentioned their brews: they make an Oatmeal Stout and a Pale Ale that they serve at the Festival Club. Quite excellent and certified organic, by the way. (‘Cause you know that’s how I roll.)

Image from Big Spruce Brewing
Other pics from me

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Volstead’s Select Pre-Prohibition Style Lager. NOM NOM NOM.

Volstead;s Select

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Andrew Volstead was a Republican Congressman from the 7th Congressional District in Minnesota. He sponsored the bill that forever bears his name, the Volstead Act, which created Prohibition. He also authored a bill that allows farmers to form cooperatives. Some good, some bad. After his time in Congress he returned to private law practice in Granite Falls, a small town in western Minnesota. He rests in the town cemetery.

bottle logoMy homebrewing buddies and I, collectively known as the Mulberry Junction Brewing Company, brewed this lager almost exactly one year ago. And we named it for Andy.

I’ve sampled a bottle or two since then. And just now I opened up another one, a full year after brewing day.

Holy mother of malt, is this good. Crisp. Dry. Smooth. Slightly hoppy.

Thanks for the inspiration, Andy. NOM NOM NOM.

Another fine product of the Mulberry Junction Brewing Company. Support local breweries.

Beers you must try: Bell’s Java Stout

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I seem to have a thing for coffee stouts. Well, coffee and beer are two of my favorite flavors so it’s pure economy on my part.

This one is spendy. A sixer set me back $16. But quite worth it, just not every week.

The coffee stout my fellow beer geeks think is best is another Michigan product, Founders Breakfast Stout. That one is great especially since it features Sumatra and Kona coffee, two of my favorites. Founders, however, is an Imperial stout, i.e., ass-kicking alcohol volume. This one is a milder stout: a session stout, actually. Features Sumatran coffee too, which has distinct flavors. Tropical fruit, spice, smoke, and maple. Coffee geek Ken Davids calls Sumatran “the Scotch whisky of coffee.”

Pair that up with a stout, with its roasty malty chocolatey flavor, and it’s a winning combination. I like this better than Founders, I think: all the pleasant flavors without the ass-kicking that comes with an Imperial stout.

Pours a deep mahogany color into the glass with a solid mocha-colored head. The head settles down and leaves the desired lacing on the sides of the glass. Coffee is the prevailing flavor (naturally), with a bit of chocolate and vanilla after the glass warms up a bit. Very little hop presence which is also a difference from an Imperial. Feels “chewy” in the mouth. Lightly carbonated. A dry roasty flavor on the back of the mouth that lingers nicely. The alcohol provides a wee bit of warming, which is ALSO a difference from an Imperial.

You probably aren’t going to buy this every week. (If you do, invite me over.) It’s one of Bell’s winter seasonals, though, so get some quick before it’s gone.

Beers you must try: South Shore Brewery Bourbon Barrel Coffee Mint Stout

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This beer is like jazz.

Mint in a beer. I know, right?

I had this for the first time in 2007 at the Autumn Brew Review in Northeast Minneapolis. They served up 2 oz. sample glasses, but that was enough for it to floor me. Not sold in MN, more’s the pity, so I’m on the lookout for it on my occasional pilgrimages to The Land Of Beer And Cheese. (South Shore Brewery is in Ashland, Wisconsin, way up on Lake Superior.)

Pours into the glass dark and rich, with a substantial mocha-colored head. The beer smells like a grasshopper pie, if you remember those. This is a sweet London stout, not a Guinness-style Irish stout, so the flavors meld together nicely. This beer is like jazz. Coffee, bourbon, oak, mint, vanilla, and chocolate are all there but none overpowers the rest: they each take their solo turn, and then fade back into the ensemble.

To be fair, though, it was so much smoother on tap than out of the bottle. Close, though, mighty close.

From Strange David’s awesome blog:

The taste is a fudgy chocolate, prevalent but not intense, and notes of vanilla sneak in too. The mint seems to fade in and out as it crosses the palate.

In fact, the entire beer seems to be about hinting at power but holding it in reserve. There is no single flavor that overwhelms, but the combined taste is a strong one. Surprisingly, there is very little aftertaste other than that astonishing mint that turns out to be an ingredient that the majority of brewers have overlooked.

All in all, it’s almost like having a nice chocolate stout after having had a good mint julep.

Brilliantly confusing beer.

I like being brilliantly confused, so that works for me.

This is a one-of-a-kind beer. It’s a seasonal offering, only sold through January, so if you’re in Wisconsin snap some up.

Beers you must try: Great River Roller Dam Red Ale

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(For those who like beer, this category is a compendium of beers you must try at least once. Note that all these featured here are beers of MODERATION. To quote a very wise man: drink less, and drink better.)

Irish Style Red Ale. This is how the excellent website defines it:

A bit sweet, with a lightly hopped tea-like flavor, and an even dextrinous body, Irish Red Ales are easy to please. Look for well-rounded and balanced flavors, and a pleasant toasted malt character in many examples. A drying finish is common.

If right now you’re thinking “Killian’s Irish Red,” go stand in the corner until I tell you to come back out. Killian’s is Coors Banquet with USDA Red #40 added. To paraphrase James Lileks: drink some tap water, then hit yourself between the eyes with a ball-peen hammer.

Great River Roller Dam Red Ale is brewed in Davenport, Iowa and available on tap and in 16 oz cans. Text on the can reads:

Roller Dam Red Ale is named for Mississippi River Lock and Dam #15, which is the largest roller dam in the world and just south of our brew house.

Irish red ales are lighter on the hops and heavier on the malt, sort of like a Scottish 70-shilling ale. The prevailing flavors are caramel and toffee, maybe vanilla, slightly biscuity, but not overpowering or cloying. A light mouthfeel with a slight creaminess, true to the style. A “kiss of the hops” (like Schlitz used to advertise) at the very end, drying and cutting the sweetness a bit. At 5.4% ABV, a fine session beer.

Sold only in Iowa so far. I’ll have to stock up if/when I’m down that way again. My sister Colleen brought me some back when she was at a writers’ conference in Iowa City. For someone who doesn’t like beer, she has phenomenal taste. A fine dam ale.