Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winter Warm-up

I noticed last week, that Sam Adams has began running its TV ads for their new spring seasonal—an unfiltered Helles. Jim Koch and the boys in Boston may be getting a jump start on spring, but here in Albany it's still January. While it's been a mild winter this year, every now and again, Old Man Winter rears his ugly head, and out come the long johns and snow shovels. In that spirit, I thought I'd take a look at few American craft beers brewed in locations known their chilly temps.

Betcha' this guy could use a beer.
First up is a beer, from the home of Harley-Davidson and the Fonz—Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Milwaukee, with a mean January temperature of 23ºF, is the warmest location we'll be visiting on this trip—Although factor in the windchill off Lake Michigan and it's a whole new ballgame. My beer of choice from this icy locale is Lakefront Brewery's IPA. This beer really has become one of my favorites and I'd go as far as to say it's become my go-to IPA. Speaking of IPAs, I think IPAs get a bad wrap as "summer beers." Sure, I enjoy a nice hop bomb in July, but there's something great about a crisp, hoppy IPA to shake-up those long nights during the dead of winter, too. Lakefront's IPA hits the mark. It pours hazy gold, with an amazing, rocky head that seems to not dissipate throughout the drink. It smells of grapefruit and mango with a subtle caramel sweetness. Its tart and dry, especially in the back of the throat; with more of that citrus quality, mingling with a bready, biscuity, mellow sweetness. There's a perfect bitterness to this one—not overwhelming, but with enough of a zap to make you smile. This beer is bright, refreshing and the perfect choice to help warm up any of the dozens of gray winter days you might have ahead of you.

What constitutes "a lot of snow?" The average U.S. snowfall, for most American cities, is around 37 inches. Lake Placid, New York averages 119 inches—that's more than three times the national average. Lake Placid also has a mean January temperature of a balmy 16ºF. Most importantly, however, it's also the home of Ubu Ale, made by the venerable Lake Placid Craft Brewery. It pours chestnut with reddish highlights and its head is thin—spreading like a bubbly spider web floating on the beer. Cherries and toffee are prominent in the aroma, with a good amount of earthy hops. It starts with a hint of brown sugar sweetness, melting into an slightly nutty, leather-like, pipe tobacco flavor. There's a slightly burnt note to Ubu, with a peppery-raisin quality—almost like ancho chiles, without the heat. It's bitterness is noticeable, but not distracting and it's hops bring a subtle grassiness  to the fray, which matches the other earthy flavors. Ubu is complex and unique, to say the least. Its a long-day-at-work-and-it's-freezing-and-blustery-outside-so-I-want-to-stay-on-my-barstool kind of beer.

Last but not least, the grand city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, or rather it's northern suburb Brooklyn Center rounds out our arctic tour. Of the 50 largest U.S. cities, the greater Minneapolis metropolitan area (including its equally chilled-out, twin sister St. Paul), ranks as the coldest. According to NOAA, (That's shortcut talk for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Minneapolis had a combined daily, mean temperature of 19º—for the months (yes that's plural) of December, January and February. Holy tundra. Fear not, for Minneapolis (or, again, it's northern suburb Brooklyn Center) also brings us Surly Bender (and the Mary Tyler Moore show). Bender (The name always reminds me of Futurama) pours mahogany, with glints of scarlet, and like the Lakefront, its got a resilient khaki head, as well. You almost know what this beer is going to smell and taste like, simply by looking at it. In the nose, it's cocoa and caramel with a toasted nuttiness. In the mouth, it's a mix of woody-caramel and and black coffee like astringency. There's a creamy vanilla quality that flows throughout the beer, intermingling with the beer's inherent earthiness. There's a slight bitterness to this one, but I think it comes more from its dark malt rather than its hops, it's a mellow bitterness that reminds me of semi-sweet baking chocolate, rather than a typical, sharp hop bitterness. Bender is quite honestly, one of the best American Brown Ales I've ever had.

So, to all of you flip-flop wearing, sunshine basking, warm weather folks, out there, remember: Maybe those frigid winds that blow across Midwestern lakes, or the feet of snow dropped by Nor'easterns across the Northeast, might just add a little motivation to produce some damn, fine beer. The boys in Bean Town—where it hovers around the 30ºF mark in January—can try and get out ahead of Punxsutawney Phil, but as for me, I'll be looking to places like Lake Placid, Minnesota and Milwaukee, for my winter warm-ups until at least April


  1. Why was the Fonz so cool? In the heart of Harley country he rode a Triumph. And whats up with those Alpine Spring ads anyway? January isnt in the books yet! I always enjoy a nice slushy ride up to the Man o' Kent this time of year...

  2. Your writing about beers makes me thirsty - and hungry.
    Good stuff !
    Remember that the Fonz was a rugged individualist - so of course he rode a Triumph !
    Cheers Gravy-