Testing the old marketing rule that people always want what they can't have, this year's Autumn Brew Review served up heavy doses of the world's most endangered beer ingredient: hops.
Hopped-up beers boiled over at the eighth annual festival of libations, held last Saturday outside the Grain Belt Brewery in Minneapolis with its usual, sold-out-in-a-day attendance of 2,500. For one day only, you would have never known there was a worldwide hops shortage going on.
Favorite hops-laden flavors of recent Brew Reviews -- including the Surly Furious, Tyranena's Hop Whore and Rush River's Bubblejack IPA (India Pale Ale)-- were joined by such new standouts as Minneapolis Town Hall's Fresh Hop 2008 and Brau Brothers' Fresh Hop Ale.
Town Hall's heavily hopped brand, on tap at the brew pub for a limited time this fall, was a crisp brew with a powerful wallop comparable to Boulder Brewing's Hazed & Infused (but, for obvious geographic reasons, much fresher tasting). The Brau Brothers, from puny Lucan, Minn., balanced out its wet-hops-spiked, kegs-only ale with caramely Vienna malt.
Also among the best of the new hop crop was a slightly darker but no less pungent ale called Harvestor, one of four excellent brews by the day's standout newcomer: Stillwater-based Lift Bridge Brewery, in operation four months.
Lift Bridge's crew verbosely and rightfully boasted of the Harvestor's freshness (the hops allegedly were picked two days earlier from a "secret patch" in Stillwater). Their enthusiasm was as infectious as their brews, which also included the Pioneer Pale Ale (a bold IPA), the oak-aged, malt-roasted Slab House Dark (Belgian strong ale) and what will probably become their flagship brand, the earthy-flavored Farm Girl Saison.
Saison beers -- French ales associated with late-summer harvests -- were also prevalent at Brew Review '08. The best was the just plain refreshing Dumaine DuPage French Country Ale from Warrenville, Ill.-based Two Brothers Brewing, which also boasted a divine hefeweizen, Ebel's Weiss.
Other saisons included the (take a breath before saying it) Cherry Saison Imperial Oak Aged Cherry Ale, from Southern Tier of Lakewood, N.Y., another newcomer with a big (ahem) buzz. More conventional but thoroughly satisfying was a French oak-flavored saison from Great Waters Brewing Co., a St. Paul brew pub.
Perhaps the most unique new brew of the day was Obscura, a bold but surprisingly accessible Mexican lager with coffee and maize flavoring, served by Wisconsin newcomer Furthermore. I got there too late to try another odd standout, the Serrano Pepper Ale from the St. Croix Brewing Co. The St. Paul-based newcomer's maple and cream ales failed to make much of an impression.
Also decent but ho-hum were the new brands from Cold Spring Brewing Co., including its pale ale and Honey Almond Weiss. Only Cold Spring's unfiltered and malty Ebony Wheat was distinctive.
Nobody stands out at the Brew Review like Surly, though. The Brooklyn Center-based microbrewery once again had the longest lines of the review for its Darkness 2008 and again for its Oak-Aged Cranberry Saison. Good luck finding those brews anywhere before the next Brew Review (Feb. 6 at the History Center; details at www.mncraftbrew.org).
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658