Southern Tier Krampus: See You In Helles

beer - southern tier krampus hellesAre you naughty or are you nice? That’s the question this time of year, when it comes right down to it.

Southern Tier’s Krampus, an imperial helles lager available for a limited time, certainly falls on the “nice” side, even if it’s named for a mythic creature that is anything but.

For the uninitiated, Krampus is sort of the anti-Santa Claus, a Germanic sidekick to the jolly old elf that many haven’t heard of, probably because it was decided a few generations back that he was probably too evil to be a universal Christmas tradition. Krampus is the enforcer of the “naughty” list, you see, and his job is to seek out the bad little children, stuff them into a bag, and carry them off to hell while the good children got to play with their brand new toys.

Hey, sometimes Christmas is a bitch. So be good, for goodness sake.

Southern Tier isn’t the first brewery to release a Krampus beer, but this is the first one I’ve personally seen that isn’t a dark ale of some kind. Brewers seem to equate Krampus with darkness, and for good reason, but Southern Tier took a different approach, choosing a relatively young German beer style that dates to 1894. I have to believe they created a helles lager as a play on where Krampus will take you if you don’t mind your mommy and daddy – well, that and because of Krampus’ ties to the Germanic region of Europe.

Getting down to it, this is a really good beer, even if it isn’t your traditional holiday brew. Bottom fermented, it pours a clear, burnt orange color with minimal white head. When you raise the glass to your face, it’s quickly apparent how bold this beer is – bold like Krampus himself, of course.

My experiences with helles lagers have been that they have a bite, but aren’t usually big beers. Krampus imperial helles blows all that out of the water with a big floral nose that invites you to sit there and soak in its essence for a moment before taking that first drink.

krampus cardAnd when you do finally imbibe, the hop and malt qualities engage you immediately – they pounce on your taste buds like Krampus on a sniveling 6-year-old. This crisp beer is brewed with two-row pale malt, debittered black malt, Munich malt and caramel malt, along with Chinook and kettle hops. It really drinks much more like a pale ale than any lager I’ve ever had.

The piney hop bite is strong but not lingering, which is interesting; the sting is temporary. What really makes this a good brew is the robust malt character, which asserts itself more subtly, sneaking up on you while you sleep snug in your bed on Christmas eve, thinking all is right … yeah, sorry. That’s hard to resist.

Anyway, even if Krampus isn’t a favorable tradition for your kids – it’s hard to believe they used to even make holiday greeting cards featuring this goat-like freak – but if his legacy continues to spawn beers this good, well, I’d say it’s going to be a merry Christmas after all.

This post was originally published by

Falls City Hipster Repellant Debuts at Liquor Barn

louisville beer - liquor barnI cruised by Liquor Barn out at Springhurst yesterday after work to (again) try Falls City Beer‘s Hipster Repellant IPA and to snag one of those cool Falls City mason jars. I hadn’t been to Liquor Barn in a while, however, and had forgotten just how much great beer they have on tap.

Of course, if you know what you’re doing and you have 40 lines at your disposal, you’ve got a pretty good head start.

I started off with a pint of the Hipster Repellant ($4, keeps the pint, a special deal yesterday evening), and perused the draft list as I enjoyed it and chatted with some of the staff and others on hand to get their beer on.

A great feature of the tap/tasting bar is that you can get two-ounce pours for 75 cents and six-ounce pours for $1.75 before deciding on a growler to take home. I didn’t get a growler this time around, but I did taste a couple of extra brews while I was there.

One was a beer I’ve been curious about for a while but had not gotten around to trying: Country Boy Brewing Jalapeno Porter. All I can say is that if you haven’t had this stuff, you need to. Like, today. It has such an intriguing depth to it — it possess all the characteristics you’d expect from a good porter, and adds a light jalapeno flavor, and just the tiniest bit of a spice kick that lingers on the palate. Nicely done.

I also had a six-0unce pour of Green Flash Brewing Company Symposium IPA at the recommendation of one of the Liquor Barn employees. I’ve had Green Flash beers before, but I don’t recall ever having the Symposium IPA. According to the Green Flash website, this is the third go-around for the beer since 2008, and I can see why they keep bringing it back. It has a floral and citrusy nose, and the flavors explode once you take a drink.

The beer description at the site notes that Green Flash placed a “profound emphasis on hop extravagance” — that’s putting it lightly. Apparently, the brewers added hops at every step of the brewing process, and the result is a highly complex and unique flavor in a beer that is still light bodied and crisp. Highly recommended.

Yeah, I’ll be going back to Liquor Barn again soon. Hope to see you there.

Peanut Butter Beer?

louisville beer - apocalypse brew worksPeanut butter beer has landed on the Louisville beer scene. And it’s pretty darn interesting, too.

I walked from my place in Clifton to Apocalypse Brew Works yesterday evening just to have a pint and hang out for a bit, and brew master Leah Dienes quickly said, “We just put a new beer on tap.” I looked up at the familiar blackboard listing all the current offerings, and there it was in the No. 6 hole: “Peanut Butter.” No fancy end-of-the world name, no ABV or IBU numbers – just “Peanut Butter.”

I had to try it. Wouldn’t anyone?

Well, I imagined it was one of those beers that would probably have just a hint of peanut in it; you know how some flavored beers end up with only traces of the featured flavor left to battle it out with hops or whatever? But when I took my first whiff, the nose of this beer floored me. It smelled like opening a bag of Reese’s Pieces or something. I couldn’t believe it. I was ready to pour it over some pancakes. Or dunk a banana in it.

The flavor is not quite so peanut-buttery, however. The peanut is there, but the beer ends on the palate as more of a sweet, mild nut brown ale. Not that that’s a bad thing. The good news is that the nose is so distinctive that the experience becomes very close to what it must be like to drink a Reese’s cup.

“Did you use Jif?” I asked Leah about halfway through my pint.

“We’ve got little elves who crush peanuts and make it for us,” she said.

louisville beer - apocalypse peanut butter beerI guessed the beer at about 4.5 percent ABV, and was way off.

“It’s between 3.4 and 3.8,” Leah said.

So it’s also a sessionable beer, which is also nice. I’m not into sweet beers, so I doubt I’ll be having much more of the stuff, but I’m glad I tried it. Cheers to Leah for coming up with yet another interesting concoction. Will this end up being the Watermelon Crack of autumn? Time will tell.

Against the Grain Rolls Out More Goodness

louisville beer - against the grain logoEveryone is buzzing about the Bo & Luke release on Sept. 14, but let’s not forget that Against the Grain rolls out good stuff constantly. I love stopping in to see what’s new. In my two recent visits, I tried a few different styles – one of which didn’t even yet have its clever name up on the board.

Black Pale Ale (6.2% ABV, “just over 40” IBU) – The bartender simply called this one a “black pale ale,” and as I noted, there was no description for it next to the “Dark” label on the tell-all ATG chalkboard. But this beer, whatever it’s called, is a really nice blend of hops and roasted malts. It’s like what might happen if an APA and a nut brown had a love child. I really enjoyed this one.

Pale Pattern Boldness (5.7% ABV, 40 IBU) – This is an american pale ale with a finish that is almost sour. In fact, it really caught my taste buds off guard, because the bitterness was oddly tempered. Otherwise, it’s about what you’d expect: a cloudy, dark orange ale with light head, medium body and plenty of legs. Solid, but not my favorite ATG brew.

Bitter As Appropriate (3.4% ABV, 30 IBU) – “Yes, please” is what I wrote in my notes. That pretty much sums it up: This is an easy-to-drink, light-bodied ale with just enough bitterness to let you know it’s there. A classic summer session ale, not unlike New Albanian Brewing Co.’s Houndmouth.

Craft Brew Crossover: Red Hook Meets Buffalo Wild Wings

redhook game changer handle - louisville beerThis week’s sign that some beer makers are still trying to figure out a way to make a “craft” beer they can also sell to your Corporate Light-drinking frat buddies is here: Redhook Brewery has teamed up with Buffalo Wild Wings to create an ale that attempts to cross craft-versus-corporate boundaries.

Announced back in the spring, Game Changer can now be had at Louisville-area Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants. Brandon Cutright, a manager at the Highlands location, said a 23-ounce Game Changer will cost five bucks. The beer contains 4.6 ABV and is rated at 25 IBU.

Which is to say that it’s sessionable and won’t overpower the regular Joe or Jane with hop bitterness.

“We’re not trying to get people who are already drinking craft beers,” Matt Licklider, director of brewing for Craft Brew Alliance, the Portland, Ore.-based parent company of Redhook Brewery, told “We’re trying to convert the 85 to 90 percent of people who are drinking domestics.”

Cutright said the ale was made specifically to go with hot wings; I didn’t have any wings during my recent B-Dubs visit, but did have a sample of Game Changer. Brewed with a blend of caramel malts and American-grown cascade hops, it’s about what you would expect: a very mild ale with only a hint of hop bitterness. In fact, the nose carries far more hops than the flavor, at least when tasted alone. One assumes the flavor benefits from the variety of sauces one can pair with it. Also, the tap handle looks like a remote control, which I guess is kind of cool.

Game Changer, in my mind, signals yet another play toward the growing awareness of craft beer; Redhook and Buffalo Wild Wings are betting people with timid palates who nevertheless want to feel like they are too refined for Corporate Light brews might latch onto this ale. Hey, if it can serve as a “gateway” beer to someone who may actually have a palate that is looking to expand, I’m all for it.

As always, drink happy and, whenever possible, drink local. (Meantime, if you want to try a Game Changer on the cheap, every Wednesday is $2.50 pint night at Buffalo Wild Wings.)

Also, don’t forget to make your submission to my Name This Blog contest. You can win free Louisville beer!

Ten-Buck Steak and Beer at Cumberland Brews

cumberland brews L&N #152 - Louisville BeerGotta love Cumberland Brews; it’s a warm, cozy place with solid beers and great food. And sometimes you can also get a really good deal.

Take Thursdays, for instance. I stopped in yesterday for lunch upon hearing that Cumberland offers a Thursday special of steak and beer for 10 bucks. My immediate reaction was that it sounded too good to be true, and you know what they say about situations like that.

But I’m here to tell you that the New York strip I had was the real deal: eight ounces, tender and tasty, and seasoned with black peppercorn. And it came with a pile of delicious hand-cut fries and even a miniature red velvet cupcake. Oh, and for the $10, you also get a pint of your choice.

I mean, it’s darn near ridiculous. For the quality and amount of food I was served, I doubt I could have prepared that meal at home for the price. And that doesn’t even factor in the beer.

Oh yes, the beer: My pint of choice (OK, I may have had three, sue me) was the L&N #152, a “steam beer” that is actually a lager, but drinks more like an ale. Presumably named after the Louisville railroad (for which my dad briefly worked back in the late 1960s), L&N #152 has a dark body and plenty of hops — OK, perhaps not enough for a hophead (it’s 40 IBU), but enough to provide a familiar bite and tingle sensation on the palate. That’s good enough for me in the right situation.

It pours a deep amber with a creamy, tan head, and packs a nice malt body to go along with the hops. It reminded me slightly of one of my local favorites, Irish Rover Red, which as an ale that is more malty but with fewer hops. The L&N also has an almost dry sensation on the palate, which isn’t there in the Rover Red.

If  you haven’t tried it, I’d recommend it highly on a Thursday. Or a Wednesday. I’m told you can get a bison burger and a pint for $10 on hump day, which is a pretty sweet deal too.

Chilling With Michael Beckmann at Boombozz Taphouse

louisville beer - boombozz taphouse

The Boombozz Taphouse in the Highlands has, well, lots of taps.

Michael Beckmann sells a lot of craft beer at his Highlands Tony Boombozz location. A lot of it. And it’s not just because there is only one non-craft or non-local tap, either.

The general manager and brains behind the beers thinks a big part of what drives craft beer’s popularity is growing rebellion against big corporations. Secondly, people like to drink locally.

“Localness is what drives craft beer,” he said.

He told me this as I sipped a New Albanian Brewing Company Houndmouth, one of several local and craft beers I tried while sitting at the bar with Beckmann and his girlfriend Caroline. His taps are always rotating in new brews, stuff from local and regional breweries as well as from around the world. It’s quite a journey for the taste buds.

I also tasted Southern Tier Live, Widmer Alchemy Ale, Mikkeller Wet Hop Kellerbier, Country Boy Cougar Bait and Sierra Nevada Oliva Quad. I’ll spare you wordy reviews, but the Mikeller reminded more of a pilsner than an ale, and the Oliva Quad was so interesting, flavorful and ripe with plums that my first thought was that it would be delicious poured over pancakes.

Beckmann spoke of how he makes sure his taps always feature local brews, and that he does a “TALL4small” (tall beer for a short beer price) special every Thursday for local brews only. “I love supporting the locals,” he said. “And it works.”

He wants a visit to Boombozz Taphouse to be an experience, versus a get-drunk session; no two beer drinkers are created equally, and yet he also wants to make sure each person’s palate gets some respect. (He said one woman actually wrote a dissertation about how well she was treated at Boombozz as a female beer drinker. Apparently, the bar staff didn’t jump to the conclusion she would want a Blue Moon with an orange wedge.)

louisville beer - boombozz tap room beckmann

Michael Beckmann and Caroline Knopf both enjoy a tasty brew.

And while there is a shortage of such beers in the taps, Beckmann also makes sure there are “simpler” local and craft beers bartenders can recommend to customers looking for a new experience. The house BoomBrew, for instance, is the very drinkable Bluegrass Brewing Company Amber. In fact, in recent weeks there’s been no corporate beer on tap at all.

“We went through April and May without it, and no one complained,” he said. At the same time, “I don’t think anybody here is going to make you feel guilty about ordering a Bud Light.”

So, he makes sure to have the corporate beers always available in bottles, just to be safe.

But for those who like their taste buds to be challenged, the Boombozz Taphouse is a great place to be. Beckmann and his bar staff like to mix it up. Literally. For instance, he recently mixed the Southern Tier Live, Mikkeller Wet Hop and Widmer Alchemy Ale. Another popular blend was a Cumberland Brews Roasted Pumpkin Ale with a Southern Tier Creme Brulee.

“It tasted like pumpkin pie with whipped cream,” he said.

And next time you’re in, be sure to ask him about the seven-stout blend.

Anyway, for Beckmann, his position at Boombozz is like “a play thing.” He likes to not only treat his customers, but to also treat himself.

“And I’ve got the pick of the litter here,” he said.

Previewing the Fest of Ale and Wine

fest of ale logo - louisville beerThe 8th Annual Fest of Ale and Wine hits Clarksville, Ind., this Saturday, June 1. I can’t decide whether to practice my beer drinking in preparation or to drink nothing but water between now and then so that my system is cleansed for the delicious onslaught. (Chances are, it will end up being a blend of the two …)

Anyway, this year’s event promises 70-plus breweries, five craft beer distributors, six fine wine distributors, somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 craft and import beers, plus wine, food, a charity raffle … and lots of good times and good friends. Last year, the festival raised more than $9,200 for the WHAS Crusade for Children, which is even cooler.

But for your inner beer nerd, you’ll get to sample hundreds of beers from all over the world, be it Great Crescent Brewing from Aurora, Ind., or Paulaner Brauhaus from Munich, Germany. And of course, the Louisville beer staples will be on hand as well, from New Albanian to Falls City. One you will NOT see there this year, however, is Magic Hat. But you probably already knew that. You can even visit the provocatively titled House of Hops while you’re there.

So, to help set the stage, I had a chat with Todd Antz of the Keg Liquors, which puts on the event each year, to get a look into what we should expect when the Fest of Ale and Wine takes place from 3-7 p.m. this Saturday at St. Anthony’s of Padua in Clarksville.

Louisville Beer Blog: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions, Todd. For starters, tell me about the House of Hops. What’s that all about?

Todd Antz: The House of Hops is a location at the Fest of Ale that is dedicated to the Hop Head in all of us. It’s that special place where a person can go and blast away their palate with tongue-numbing bitterness.  OK, that might be a bit theatrical, but we designed this as a section of the Fest that is full of only hoppy beers.  Since the start, we’ve had the participating breweries offer up special kegs of some of their hoppiest beers.  This year, a couple that I’m particularly looking forward to are Bell’s Roundhouse Rye IPA and Sun King’s Bitch’n Camaro, another Rye IPA.

louisville beer - fest of ale

“Wait, you mean we’re NOT supposed to taste them all?”

LBB: Sounds delicious. I’ve been reading that 70-plus breweries are scheduled to attend, with roughly 200 beers. How far do you think the average person would make it if they tried to taste them all in an hour?

TA: If someone came into the Fest with a mission like that in mind, they would not make it far.  With so many offerings, we give the attendees a chance to try out something new, to maybe go out on a limb and experiment with a style they are not used to. Honestly, if you find a beer you don’t care for, dump it out and move on to the next.  What we are not about is being an “all you can drink to make a jackass out of myself” fest.  We keep an eye on everyone that is drinking, and if someone gets out of line, or gets a little too much in them, we pull them aside and give them a chance to re-hydrate and get themselves back together.

LBB: Sounds like a good policy to me. Which will be the first booth you’ll visit on Saturday? Do you have an annual favorite?

TA: I always have favorites, and being in the business as long as I have, you make a lot of friends in the industry. I’ve had people like Veronica from Bell’s, who has been part of all eight years of the Fest, and I try to make her my first stop for a ceremonial sampling of their Two Hearted Ale to start the day off.  It’s become a bit of tradition for me. Last year, we started our first timed tapping with a keg of Founders KBS that we tapped at 5 PM. People started lining up at 4:30 to get a crack at one of the best beers in the world, and they went through the keg in 20 minutes. What makes this even more impressive is that we were pouring two-ounce samples, and still went through 5 gallons in 20 minutes.  This year we plan the same thing, but the size of the keg has gone up to 7.75 gallons, so we might last 30 minutes.

LBB: Maybe I’ll get in line now. What would you tell someone about the Fest of Ale who had never attended one before?

TA: The first thing that I recommend is for people to bring fold up chairs, and find a place along the outside border of the Fest to set up. Four hours is a long time to stand around. Always have a ride prepared, whether its a designated driver, cab, but always be safe.  Most importantly is to take your time and have a good time. It’s a very laid back atmosphere, so there’s no need to run around to try everything out as quickly as you can. Most importantly, at least for me, is to remember that it is a charity event.  We do this to help raise money for the Crusade for Children, and everyone has always been most generous when it comes to supporting them.  We have a great raffle of beer related items, gift cards to local restaurants and businesses, and tons of other fun things, so remember to bring cash to help out the cause.

West Sixth IPA: More Than Just a Cool Logo

louisville beer - west sixth ipaFinally wrapped my taste buds around a West Sixth Brewing Company IPA this week. As you probably guessed, I’m now a fan.

It’s truly a well-crafted India pale ale, with all the hoppy goodness you’d expect and just enough malt characteristic for balance. I sensed a hint of citrus, with a minimum of sweetness (not a fan of the assertive sweetness found in some pale ales), and the beer’s mouth-feel was perfect, from my perspective. The creaminess of the body makes it drink lighter than the hoppiness would suggest, giving it a great combination of drinkability and flavor.

Normally, I kind of worry that craft beer in a can is going to be compromised from a flavor standpoint, but that sure isn’t true in this case. In fact, I’d drink this from a can any day over the highly lauded Bell’s Two Hearted Ale from a bottle. But that’s just me.

If you’re interested, West Sixth IPA got some pretty good marks over at Oh, and I really like that cool West Sixth logo … ahem.

ABV: 7 percent

West Sixth Logo Dispute to go Into Mediation

west sixth brewing companyAccording to a Facebook post from West Sixth Brewing, they’re making some progress in the West Sixth/Magic Hat #9 logo controversy. The post states that Cerveceria Costa Rica/North American Breweries has agreed to go into a mediation session with a magistrate judge.

This is expected to happen “within the next week or so,” according to West Sixth.

“We have no idea whether or not they’re willing to start at a reasonable place, since they still won’t tell us any settlement terms they would accept,” the post states. “While this makes us extremely cautious, we’re hopeful that they’re going into it in good faith and that this is not just a stall tactic.”

As you no doubt are aware if you are reading this, the beer-loving public has come out in favor of West Sixth by a large margin. In addition, Magic Hat was dropped from this coming weekend’s Fest of Ale over the issue.

“At the same time, however,” the post continues, “they’ve amended their lawsuit to up the stakes by including additional charges of ‘defamation’ and ‘false advertising,’ accusing us of lying throughout our posts online.”

West Sixth claims the Magic Hat folks are also “contacting distributors and individuals throughout the country accusing us of lying. And now they’ve asked the court for an injunction for ‘immediate relief’ against our public communications because they realize they have a lot to lose from the public hearing the truth about their legal tactics.”

What the Magic Ass-Hat (thanks Roger Baylor, for that one!) folks seem to have forgotten is that the burden of proof in the case of defamation will be on them. (The charge of false “advertising” simply shows how freaking stupid they must be. Good grief.)

Anyway, the Louisville beer community – and anyone with a conscience – is still firmly planted on the side of the good guys in this one. We have faith West Sixth will emerge smelling like a rose. A very hoppy one.