Every month, I try to capture beers in terms that make sense to an average drinker.
Along with that come metrics that are relevant to the average drinker -- namely, alcohol by volume (ABV) and International Bittering Units (IBU). Despite the fact that these numbers hardly tell the full story of a beer, they do help build some context for what the beer is like. It’s a lingua franca all beer lovers can come to before they even take a sip.
There’s been a near revolt in the beer industry against IBU. Many breweries have stopped listing (and possibly measuring) IBU, favoring stats like degrees Plato or specific gravity. Check your Untappd -- chances are many of the recent beers you’ve logged don’t come with a listed IBU.
IBU can be misleading. Fifty IBU can be tongue-scraping bitter or velvety mild, depending on how the hops are used and the style of beer. Likewise pH, which I sometimes sub in for IBU when discussing sour beers, has built up a reputation for being a poor determinant of the beer inside the bottle.
But this is why we don’t just read about beers. We drink them. Numbers are only a starting point -- a gesture toward some universal understanding. The truth beyond the numbers reveals itself after the first sip.
Surly Inherent Weiss
Hefeweizen, 9% ABV, n/a IBU
Do you like Thomas Pynchon? The fellas over at Surly Brewing Co. sure as shit do, and they’ve named their latest bomber in honor of the Inherent Vice author. Inherent Weiss bucks many of the traditions of the normal German hefeweizen, pushing the ABV to 9% (making it an exceedingly rare imperial hefe) and dry-hopping the living hell out of it with chinook and centennial hops.
The increased booze and bitterness are meant to challenge the banana and clove effects of the hefeweizen yeast, but those esters still come through in the end. There’s actually very little hop in the aroma, with Belgian and German wit scents leading off the pillow white head. But there is a grassy element -- similar to dandelion greens -- in the flavor, reminding you that the beer you’re drinking is as dense and complex as the American author it’s named for.
Summit Unchained 25: Vienna-Style Lager
Vienna lager, 5.1% ABV, 23 IBU
As the craft beer movement returns to classical styles more and more, the Vienna lager will inevitably return to its once-high position in the hearts of beer lovers. As usual, Summit is ahead of its peers, releasing their Vienna-Style Lager as the 25th edition of their brewer-driven Unchained series.
The predominant flavor in Summit’s candy-bodied seasonal is the Vienna malt, which is rich in caramel and cooked sugar. Since brewer Tom Mondor learned to love this style while cavorting in Germany, he chose to feature german perle and hallertau hops, bittering agents that bow nobly to the whims of the roasty malt body.
Lupulin Verticality #3
California common, 5% ABV, 35 IBU
“Lupulin” is the dust of the hop flower that lends that lovely bitter flavor to IPAs. And as such, Big Lake’s Lupulin Brewing is prone to making some of the dankest, lupulin-leaning pale ales available commercially in Minnesota. But for the third beer in their collaboration with Vertical Malt, brewer Aaron Zierdt opted to make a steam beer and showcase the versatility of his dad’s strip-mall brewery.
Despite pouring with the caramel body of a Sam Adams Boston Lager, Verticality #3 isn’t sweet or sugary. Zierdt used Mighty Axe crystal hops to back off the Vertical two-row and C40 malts, creating a clean brown elixir. As with any California common, the beer is fermented with lager yeast, since that strain works better in warmer summer temps. But the real spirit of Verticality #3 is how it uses only locally available ingredients to accomplish its goal of unencumbered refreshment.
Modist Deviation 008
Sour ale, 4.8% ABV, n/a IBU
The eighth edition in Modist’s style-defying experimental series, Deviation 008 is billed as a sour golden ale, but the beer isn’t the focus here as much as the yeast. With both brettanomyces and lactobacillus in the mix, the fun of Deviation 008 is tasting what each of the souring strains bring to the beer. Brett overtakes the aroma, giving it that barnyard funk we’ve seen in sour IPAs and ales, while the lacto runs the body, creating a mouth-flooding tartness common in kettle sours.
If this is all too microbiological for you, know this: Deviation 008 will surprise you. There’s not much in the way of precedents for a beer like this, especially in the local scenes. The hops and malts are so subjugated by the two competing yeasts that it’s hard to know what to make of it. Bosom food truck Curious Goat suggests pairing this beer with their breakfast poutine, though they’re probably just guessing in amazement like the rest of us.
Tin Whiskers Electric Love
Wheat beer, 5.4% ABV, n/a IBU
Have you gotten enough of hibiscus beers this summer? The tasty flower has worked its way into dozens of local beers, but St. Paul’s Tin Whiskers has upped the ante with its Electric Love witbier by adding another Southwestern plant to the mix -- namely cactus.
The addition of the cactus destroys the chewiness of the wheat in the beer, adding a cucumber-like freshness to the finish. Though the beer pours pink as a Jolly Rancher, there is no cloying sweetness. Instead, the hibiscus lends a temperate floral taste, covering up any hop character. The result is basically beer rosé.
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