Beer of the Week: Bent Paddle Black

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Bent Paddle Black Ale.

A rare summer day in Duluth–upper 70s balanced by a cool, gentle breeze off Lake Superior. This after quite literally 8 months of mainly cold weather.

Really a shame I wasn’t paddling a kayak, shredding trails on a mountain bike or hiking to an overlook of the Great Lake on the Superior Hiking Trail.

But I was doing the next best thing, sipping a few cold ones with friends in the taprooms of the Twin Ports. We were in town to celebrate the marriage of two good friends after all.
Home to eight breweries, Duluth has quality and variety that does not disappoint. There are distribution only Blacklist and Borealis Fermentery. Carmody and Dubh Linn add Irish pub options. Founded in 1990, Lake Superior harkens back to the early days of the craft beer boom.

In this most recent visit, I enjoyed quality food, beer and atmosphere at Fitgers (quirky, cool historic building) and Canal Park (beer around a campfire near the lake after dark).
The only better option might have been a deep dish pizza and any number of flavor-packed brews at Thirsty Pagan across the St. Louis River in Superior, Wisconsin.
But that’s a story for another post.

Given the recent expansion of distribution into my home state, I’m highlighting a Bent Paddle beer this week.

Set apart from other Twin Ports breweries, but following the no-food, taproom-first, distribute-second philosophy common to many breweries today, Bent Paddle frankly has a good thing going.

Tucked into a somewhat-shabby part of town in an unremarkable warehouse building, Bent Paddle’s street parking draws many a Jeep/Suburu with a kayaks/bikes on the rack. Inside, a mixed crowd gets into games of cribbage, marvels at a myriad of shiny tanks, all the while filling the ample industrial, yet rustic space with a dull roar of conversation.

The beers share the liveliness of the taproom and the bold, adventurous spirit of the North Shore—e.g. Roof Rack Lager, Harness IPA, Venture Pils and 14º ESB–a two-time medalist at the Great American Beer Festival.

The lineup is solid top to bottom. But needing some dark beer in the fridge as a contrast to many summer lagers and pale ales, I grabbed a sixer of the Black Ale on the way home.

Bent Paddle says, “This Black Ale drinks like a porter but is opaque like a stout. Brewed with a generous amount of oats to round out the flavor.”

I can’t describe it any other way. It seems neither a stout or porter. Black ale is a wholly appropriate title. The beer is jet black with an easy-drinking body, but full roasty, chocolaty flavor.

Such a satisfying beer, I’m going to burn through this six pack quick, maybe while enjoying a hobo dinner of sausage and root vegetables somewhere along the way.

Rating: Glass – Growler – CASE – Keg

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Beer of the Week: Central Waters Cassian Sunset

 

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Central Waters Cassian Sunset.

If Goose Island is #1 in the barrel-aged beer game, Central Waters might well be a close second. This is a common ranking in the Midwest.

In my book, however, Central Waters is #1. Granted, I’ve only had two vintages of the original Bourbon County Brand Stout. Reason: 1. Hard to get in Northern Wisconsin 2. Only released once a year 3. I’m not into shelling out extra cash or trading for beer 4. Goddamn InBev.

Alternatively, I can get better than a half-dozen of this Amherst (WI)-based brewery’s barrel-aged beers in a year’s time for less than $15 per 4-pack. This lineup is all affordable, consistent beers with big barrel character.

Granted, this has changed somewhat with tickets to the brewery’s anniversary releases selling out in minutes and the introduction of $40 per bottle Ardis Insignis.

So, is Ardis Insignis worth it?

Hell, I have no idea. I didn’t even bother to enter the raffle because I’m not paying $40 for 22 oz. of beer. Hey, I gotta draw the line somewhere.

No, rather I’ll be reviewing another recent release, Cassian Sunset.

Central Waters says: “A bourbon barrel aged imperial stout with local Emy J’s coffee, whole vanilla beans and cinnamon.”

First thought: “YAASSS! A new Central Waters beer!”

Second thought: “Oh no, they’ve taken a perfectly good BB stout and ruined it with spices and shit.”

You must understand, beers jam-packed with vanilla and/or coffee have almost always ended in disappointment for my taste buds.

Well, I bought some anyway. After all, I could attest to the fact that Emy Js has great coffee, having spent 4 years in college in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. And, Central Waters’ Brewhouse Coffee Stout is a rare exception to my “coffee beers suck” belief.

After my first glass, my suspicions seemed correct. I was ready to give away the other three bottles.

But, the first taste was from a shaker pint glass at a cold temperature. I felt I had done an injustice. So, a week later I had another from a tulip/snifterish glass at the proper temp. Big improvement.

Yes, the coffee, vanilla and cinnamon is there, but remain subtle enough. I still can’t say I’m a fan of these additives, but there is good balance in this beer. I certainly can’t fault Central Waters for trying something new with its tried-and-true barrel aging project.

This beer is, ultimately, another testament to the fact that Central Waters is one of the best in the business.

Too often beers are made extreme for extreme’s sake. Central Waters has certainly jumped in on the popular trends of incorporating barrel aging or huge amounts of sexy hops, fruit, peppers, spices, etc. But the brewery has also shown enough restraint and skill to produce flavorful beer that is also easy-drinking. I was surprised how quickly I finished my glasses of Cassian Sunset.

This supped-up bourbon barrel stout is decadent, like maybe spice cake, brownie and coffee ice cream mixed together. That sounds a little strange and excessive, but damn, I’d be a fool not to try it.

Rating: Glass – Growler – CASE – Keg

Beer of the Week: Base Camp S’more Stout

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Base Camp Brewing S’more Stout.

For those who love beer and love to travel, naturally, beercations are a must.

I’m heading to Asheville, North Carolina this week. I can only hope the trip is as good as the one I took last fall, visiting the Pacific Northwest. I spent most of my time in three legendary beer towns—Bend, Portland and Seattle.

I have many great beer memories from the trip. I watched the sun set behind the Three Sisters mountains—after climbing South Sister earlier that day—with a few hoppy ales and an amusingly drunk mother-daughter combo at Crux Fermentation Project in Bend. I talked politics with an odd duck of an old man at the hole-in-the-wall taproom of Wingman Brewers in Tacoma, Washington over a P-51 Porter.

But the best company I had in my travels was my cousin Bean—real name Jenny, short for Jelly Bean—who lives in Portland. After not seeing each other for 3-4 years, we reconnected in perhaps the best way possible—over beers. We had an absolute blast meeting other people’s pups at the Lucky Labrador, marveling at the $1,500 Dave at Hair of the Dog and enjoying a warm night from the comfort of the Bailey’s Taproom patio—so much in fact we swiped a couple glasses, either just for laughs or for a memento of the many laughs we had that night.

Perhaps the most distinct taproom we visited was that of Base Camp Brewery, themed to recreate the feel of a remote mountainside. Also distinct was the S’more Stout. I had high expectations, but did not expect my glass to have a perfectly roasted marshmallow as a garnish. Given a quick scorch from a blow torch, the marshmallow was a delightful touch on a great beer.

I feel a little strange about this review, having just found out about this incident, but I won’t hold it against the beer. It was also one of the few beers I had on my beercation that I could find in the Midwest—in a sleek, 22-ounce, aluminum, bottle-shaped can no less.

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Despite the badass vessel, having it a second and third time does not compare to the first. Beer is always better in a taproom near where it was made, especially if enjoyed with good company and maybe a toasty garnish.

Regardless, this stout is rock-solid with plenty of roasty and chocolaty notes and a smooth, sweet finish. At 7.7% it is middle of the road for a stout and a good beer to stuff in a backpack on a hike out to quiet spot under towering trees and bright stars. I’ll build a fire and have a cold aluminum cup in one hand and a sticky s’more in the other.

Rating: Glass – Growler – CASE – Keg

Bonus photos from Bend!

A six pack of Wisconsin stouts for International Stout Day

Today, Nov. 5, is International Stout Day, a celebration of one of the best loved beer styles in the world. The day is comes as the fields brown, the forests bare their branches and the nights grow longer and darker here in Wisconsin. Thankfully, this state’s breweries understand the yearning for a roasty, chocolaty treat. I drink dark beers all months of the year, but I definitely make a point to stock up on the black beauties for winter. Here’s what I’m reaching for today, tomorrow or in April because these dark ales are delicious.

South Shore Rhoades’ Scholar Stout

South Shore Brewery has served up this Wisconsin stout lover’s favorite for much of the Ashland brewery’s 20-year history. Coming in at 6.1% ABV, this beer carries a velvety mouthfeel and chocolaty sweetness. This is one of the oldest stout brands in Wisconsin, and few rival its flavor even today.

Stone Arch Vanilla Stout

If anything complements the roasty, chocolaty malt of a stout, it’s vanilla. This Appleton brewery uses natural vanilla to produce a 5% ABV oatmeal stout. Many vanilla stouts are too heavy on the vanilla, but this one is just right. The subtle vanilla melds with the caramely, chocolaty nature of this beauty.

Sand Creek Oscar’s Oatmeal Stout

Sand Creek Brewery’s oatmeal stout is true to form with this strong-bodied 4.5% brew. There’s a rich nutty, chocolaty taste and enough hop presence to balance the delightful sweetness. This is easily the best brew you’ll find in this Black River Falls brewery’s homey taproom or your hometown bottle shop.

Lucette Slowhand Stout

Stout is all about the malt. Lucette takes this notion to the next level with Slowhand. There’s little to no flash of hops in this beer. It’s all roasty coffee dryness on a creamy body, packing a modest 5.2% ABV. Like many of this Menomonie brewer’s creations, Slowhand is a distinct beer and a wonderful take on this iconic style.

Milwaukee Brewing Company Polish Moon

We can’t talk about stouts in Wisconsin without mentioning a milk stout. This Milkwaukee brewery makes a fine one. Brewed with a well-portioned dose of milk sugar, this dark, silky beer has extra sweetness yet remains quite drinkable at 4.5% ABV. Like the namesake clock on Milwaukee’s heavily-Polish south side, this stout is a landmark in Milwaukee.

Central Waters Brewers Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout

There isn’t a style of beer that stands up better to the bite residing in the wood of a bourbon barrel. Amherst’s Central Waters harnessed the wonders of barrel aging a decade ago. It’s flagship in this project is this stout aged in oak barrels. At 9.5% ABV, it packs a punch but less of one than similar barrel-aged stouts. While boozy, the oak and vanilla flavors this beer produce a savory treat.