Beer: Mikkeller “Six Pack” Direct From Denmark

crookedmoonI’m smitten with the beers of Mikkeller, a so-called “gypsy” brewer based in Denmark. Though my enjoyment rate is somewhere around 75% when it comes to the actual flavor of the beers, it’s hard not to flip completely for a brewer doing so many wild and different things with so many ingredients. Naturally, not all of the beers, which are brewed at various sites (hence the unofficial “gypsy” designation), make it to the USA. So I was overjoyed when a family friend arrived from Denmark, and equally stoked to receive six Mikkeller beers, only one of which I’ve ever seen around home.

Crooked Moon Tattoo (Double IPA) – I love it when the world’s best brewers take a big swing at something simple, and this DIPA fits the description. What better way to get to know a brewer than through this style? Gargantuan amounts of hops will greet you, and even if your palate has grown more tolerant of hop flavors, you won’t miss the in-your-face tropical fruit and pine notes.

spontanaleJonge Spontanale Four Month (Lambic) – One of the most fascinating things about Mikkeller is the lineage of the beers. It doesn’t get more interesting to hardcore beer geeks than to read about, for example, this lambic: “First released draft as 2 months old at Copenhagen Beer Celebration 2012. Later released carbonated at 4 months old.” The story adds flavor, even to a beverage as funky as this one. Sour grapes in particular, along with yeasty funk and a broader vibe of sour fruit dominate.

Spontankriek (Cherry Lambic) – Lambic is not my favorite style, and I doubt I’d return to any variety that I tried. But I’ll always remember this one and how it provided the feeling of biting directly into a wild, dark, ripe, firm cherry. It has a bit of the same funky presence as the Jonge, so it is hard not to draw comparisons between them. The slightest hint – and I mean very slight – of sweetness peeks though the tartness and carbonation, distinguishing the flavor. The color is incredible.

mexasMexas Ranger Tequila Edition (Chile Beer) – Adventurous drinkers may not blink at the mention of beer brewed with chiles anymore, but Mexas Ranger is bound to become a memorable name nonetheless. This is my favorite chile beer out of the six or so I’ve sampled. I wasn’t a fan of the Texas Ranger (a chipotle porter), so I was skeptical. But the tequila aging rounds out the spices so nicely, the slight twinge of heat becomes a welcome sensation instead of a hindrance. Chocolate and herbiness in the back make this a complex and unforgettable beer.

Piscator (Sour/Wild Ale) – Brewed as a tribute to Danish fishermen and meant to be paired with fish, this beautifully carbonated, remarkably amber beer introduces itself with a massive head and an aroma of banana and spice. An undeniable flourish of alcohol pokes through Belgian elements like brett, sour funk, caramelized sugar, and dark fruit.

nelsonNelson-Sauvignon (Biere de Champagne) – Another Mikkeller brew with a dazzling appearance, this impossibly amber beer is fermented with ale yeast and the ever-popular brett yeast, then aged in white wine barrels for three months. Nelson hops add flavor, and drinking this 750 ml bottle was an experience. At first, it’s like champagne – bubbly and fruity, followed by dry. Then, a hint of yeasty funk creeps through, and as the beer warms the hops begin to assert themselves. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.

The gospel of Mikkeller seems to be spreading, with global expansion in the works for Mikkel and his brother. Get your hands on a few of these outrageous creations and you’ll be converted as well.

Beer of the Week: Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Brown Ale

Raw Data:  Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan Brown Ale.  Brewed in Kiln, MS, USA. 12 oz bottle purchased at Kroger outside Knoxville, TN.

Pour is thin, and amber – the color of sweet tea, with an unremarkable head.  The aroma is full of maple, nuts, and caramel.  The taste isn’t nearly as sweet as the smell suggests.  It definitely shows its English Brown character in that regard.  The pecan really stands out among the other elements, which are a little too subtle.  The feel is just north of watery, and the finish is fairly clean.  Not a lot of lingering on the tongue, save the faintest hop bite.  There’s an odd, almost Belgian-like flourish of sweetness and alcohol at the end cut with a strange sourness.  This is enjoyable, but not as much as when on tap.

World Beer Festival, Durham, NC, October 3, 2009

wbflineBeer aficionados and assorted revelers of all types were treated to gorgeous weather, a historic setting, and an awful lot of beer, food and music at Durham, NC’s World Beer Festival, which took place on October 3rd. Upwards of 4000 attendees sampled over 300 beers from over 150 breweries – everything from local brewing mainstays, such as Foothills and Big Boss, to exotic brands from around the United States and the world. This was my first beer festival of any kind, and given my recent infatuation with craft beer, I felt like a kid turned loose in an amusement park.

All About Beer, a world-renowned magazine based in Durham, couldn’t have asked for a better day to throw their hometown festival. A nearly cloudless 80-degree day lent itself to a noon start and plenty of thirst. The $40 entry fee quickly became a bargain, as waiting beer booths covered the entire outfield of the historic Durham Athletic Park. I got right to it, first tasting Weeping Willow Wit from Mother Earth Brewing out of Kinston, NC.

wbfmotherSituated in the still-recovering eastern part of the state, which was ravaged by floods in 1999, the organic brewery – which started brewing just weeks ago – hopes to make a name for itself amidst a struggling local economy. They could put Kinston on the map, because the Weeping Willow withstood a host of challengers to stand as my favorite light, summery beer of the day.

As the music of Dub Addis provided a pleasant reggae atmosphere, I found myself not knowing where to go next. I made some tasting choices at random, like Fort Collins (CO) Brewery‘s Chocolate Stout (nothing to write home about) and Deschutes Brewery out of Bend, OR, whose Mirror Pond Pale Ale met my approval as a beer that could be enjoyed on a regular basis. Alas, I was forced to savor the few sips I had, as their beers are not available in North Carolina yet.

After a few stellar examples of styles like Whites (Weeping Willow, Hoegaarden), Pilsners (Moon River out of Savannah, GA) and Pale Ales (Mirror Pond, Thomas Creek‘s Up the Creek IPA), I began to reach out into the wbfmoonrealm of big flavor. I tried two “smoked” beers, which was a style that I had never had before. Holland, Michigan’s New Holland Brewing boasted an impressive list of beers, but I was urged to try their Charkoota Rye Smoked Doppelbock Lager. The immediate blast of smoky flavor and savory texture was like nothing I had ever tried before. I then gave Rogue‘s Chipotle Ale (Newport, OR) a try for comparison. While a perfectly good beer, the Chipotle couldn’t match the complexity and wallop of the New Holland selection.

Soon after a few more tastes of some heavy hitters, such as North Coast Brewing Company‘s Brother Thelonious (from Fort Bragg, CA, which carries a swingin’ 9.3% ABV), Atwater Block Brewery‘s remarkably unique Vanilla Java Porter, and Allagash Brewery‘s Black Belgian-Style Stout (Detroit, MI), food beckoned. The festival boasts a selection of local food that makes deciding what to eat very tough. I eventually passed up Rudino’s, Sitar India Palace, and Revolution in favor of the best bargain at the event – a two-dollar soft taco from wbftheloniousChubby’s. 2009 has been a big year for Chubby’s in the Raleigh/Durham area, and the restaurant has become a much-discussed favorite since the two locations opened. I found their basic chicken and rice taco to be fresh and perfectly sized, as it did not leave me with an overly “full” feeling at all.

I quickly traversed the booths in search of sweet, light, after-meal beers, as the jazz-funk sounds of Funkuponya replaced the reggae vibe with slick, frantic instrumental jams. I found the sweet beers in spades, and experienced some of my most memorable tasting with R.J. Rocker’s Son of a Peach Wheat Ale (Spartanburg, SC) and Founder’s Cerise (Grand Rapids, MI). Where the Son of a Peach balanced mega-peach flavor with a classic wheaty, unfiltered taste, Cerise simply bombards the drinker with many levels of cherry flavor, from sweet to tart. Son of a Peach is more drinkable than Cerise, which is almost a “novelty” beer in my opinion, but both were highlights of the day.

wbfroxyI couldn’t attend a beer festival in October without trying some of the seasonals on tap, and I fell in love with Magic Hat‘s Roxy Rolles (Burlington, VT). Out of the tap, this beer is probably the best amber ale I have ever tried. Nutty, with a malty caramel side, it also has a hoppy bite that makes it perfect for the fall. Speaking of Autumn, Terrapin Beer Company – one of the leaders in the southern craft beer market out of Athens, GA – offered their Pumpkinfest seasonal just in time for October, and it was smooth, spicy, and delectable. A special surprise was Great Lakes Brewing Company‘s Christmas Ale (Cleveland, OH). I was hesitant to try a winter warmer on such a warm day, but the chance at such a unique beer was irresistible. I was shocked at how accessible the beer was. It wasn’t a heavy beer, as I had expected, and the flavors were simply accentuated and presented, immediately imparting a holiday spirit via cinnamon and honey flavors. The Christmas Ale was one of a handful of beers that I considered tasting twice.

wbfcrowd2In the festival’s handy guide, I marked the beers that I tasted. This reference proved invaluable when recounting the day, as there were some beers that just didn’t make much of an impact on my memory. I barely remember trying Big Boss‘ Monkey Bizz-ness Farmhouse Ale (Raleigh, NC), and they are a beloved favorite of mine. Another one of my favorite breweries, Abita (Abita Springs, LA), offered their Andygator Dopplebock, which I had never tasted. I was underwhelmed by the mild nature of the beer, though in the beer’s defense, I like to be tested a bit more. wbfredoakAdventurousness aside, Andygator is a perfectly fine and strong Dopplebock. It just isn’t doing much beyond that. At least Abita offered something that isn’t available in stores in my area, unlike New Belgium Brewing. I was looking forward to trying one of the prolific Colorado brewery’s many special releases, but they only offered beers that are already available in every grocery store around.

wbfthomasI don’t know if I’m biased because I have lived in the south all of my life, but I thought the Southern brewers shone the brightest at the event, followed closely by the Michigan contingent. Michigan scored every time I sampled the state’s wares – Atwater Block, Founders, and New Holland would be a boon to any state’s brewery lineup. Aviator Brewing Company‘s Hot Rod Red (Holly Springs, NC) changed my perception of Irish Red Ales forever, and Big Boss’ Harvest Time Pumpkin Ale lived up to the hype I had been hearing. Thomas Creek, out of Greenville, SC, could soon be a force given their tasty, wide variety of styles and likable artwork and t-shirts, and Moon River has a similarly fun-loving vibe that comes through in their beer. Red Oak, a draft-only brewery in Whitsett, NC (just minutes from my home), scored big points with their Battlefield Bock. It’s not often I get to the brewery to try their special brews, so it was a real treat.

wbfmirrorIt’s as tough to convey the atmosphere and celebratory nature of the World Beer Festival as it is to explain the difference between a good “tasting” beer and a beer that can be consumed en mass. Festival favorites like Founder’s Cerise, New Holland’s Smoked Rye Doppelbock, and Atwater Block’s Vanilla Java Porter are perfectly good to inspect, analyze, and marvel at, but there’s nothing like Deschutes’ Mirror Pond Pale Ale or Mother Earth’s Weeping Willow Wit when it comes to drinkability. If you’re looking for a place to indulge your wildest and basest beer fantasies, you might find nirvana in October at the old ballpark in Durham.