Social distancing is the new normal. As we hunker down at home, virtual happy hours online have become popular, with friends sharing drinks and conversation via social media.
Liquor stores are still open and many breweries and brewpubs have beer available for takeout and delivery. It’s time to prep for drinking in. Having a well-stocked beer fridge containing something for all occasions and moods is now more important than ever. And stocking up helps local breweries and brewpubs whose businesses are impacted by the mandated closings.
Of course you will want a good supply of light, crushable beers for everyday consumption. Fortunately, Minnesota brewers provide a great assortment of these to fill your needs.
Cream Ale is a brand-new year-round offering from Schell’s. From its pale yellow color to its creamy, balanced profile, it’s everything a cream ale should be. A base of bready malt with just a touch of toast and corn is perfectly matched by delicate bitterness and floral/citrus hops. Cream Ale is light, crisp and low-alcohol, making it perfect for everyday drinking.
Another great local option is Supergiant Golden Ale from Able Seedhouse + Brewery. Malt takes the lead in this one, but just barely. The crackery flavor and gentle sweetness stays just a hair’s breadth ahead of the hops’ tangerine, lemon peel and pineapple fruitiness. The off-dry finish brings whispers of toast, tangerine and long-lingering bitterness.
It doesn’t get more crushable than Provider Ale from Steel Toe Brewing in St. Louis Park. Hops have a slight edge over malt in this beer. Bitterness is sharp, but not too aggressive. Hop flavors center on lemon pulp, black pepper and minty herbs. Malt plays backup with delicate sweetness and a hint of toasted cereal.
In addition to something light, you will want to have some fuller-flavored and more food-friendly beers. Once again, our local breweries have got you covered.
Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub currently has two beers available for takeout — Smokehouse Porter and Wild Rice Amber — that would satisfy this need nicely.
Seventy-five pounds of wild rice gives Wild Rice Amber a nuttiness that makes it a great accompaniment for many foods. A touch of caramel and hints of vanilla and dark fruit push pairability even further. Bitterness is low enough to stay out of the way.
Smokehouse Porter is made with a small amount of house-smoked malt that gives it a very subtle hint of campfire. The beer leans on caramel, but the sweetness is tempered by roast malt bitterness and notes of coffee and chocolate. This would be great with roasted or smoked meats.
Some foods do call for some hops. Windvane Red IPA from Bad Weather Brewing in St. Paul gives you those, but with a hefty backing of caramel malt to keep the beer food-friendly. Citrus and pine lead the way, enhanced by the spicy flavors of rye malt. Bitterness is moderate, but still high enough to cut through richer dishes.
Hop lovers can’t be without a supply of IPA. With four different beers included, Summit’s limited-release IPA sampler pack provides a one-stop shop to satisfy this need.
First on the list is, of course, Saga IPA, Summit’s year-round standard. Hops are the star of this West Coast-style IPA. It’s brash, bright and bitter, but without becoming unbalanced. A bitter bite leads off, followed closely by bold pineapple, tropical fruit and citrus hop flavors. Sweet and slightly biscuity malt fills in the bottom to provide support.
Elderflower IPA brings together the bold flavors of New Zealand hops with the subtle aromatics of elderflower. Elderflower is known to spirits fans as the flavoring element of St. Germaine liqueur. Its profile has been described as floral with notes of citrus, vanilla and passion fruit. In this beer, its expression is floral with some honey-like traits. These provide a lovely counterpoint to the ripe melon blast from Rakau and Bru I hops. Bitterness is moderate, allowing the flavor to shine.
Slugfest is Summit’s foray into the hazy, juicy New England-style IPA trend. True to style, the bitterness is low, but still sturdy enough to give the beer some structure. The main event is succulent tangerine, melon and lemon hop flavors that practically drip down your chin. At just 4.7% alcohol, this beer could almost fit into the crushable category.
The final and most aggressive selection in the sampler is 21 IPA. This beer takes its name from the many multiples of sevens in the recipe — 7% alcohol, 70 bittering units, seven malt and hop varieties. This is a big but balanced IPA that is mostly focused on hops. Citrus and pine resin are the leading notes, but there is an ample background of squishy fruits like ripe melon and papaya to add depth and complexity. Bitterness is bold, but countered by a slightly sweet and biscuity malt.
Finally, when the isolation makes you feel stir crazy, you’ll need something special to lift you out of the doldrums. That’s when barrel-aged beers come into play.
Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery has been putting beer in used spirit and wine barrels for 20 years. They have arguably the best non-sour barrel-aging program in the state. Because their annual barrel-aged beer week was just a month ago, their takeout and delivery selection is great. The current menu shows three options available.
Double Barrel Xtra Milk Stout is a strong, sweet stout, aged twice in two different bourbon barrels. It will send your dulled senses into overdrive with deep layers of baking spices, chocolate, oak, vanilla, bourbon, caramel and toast. It’s rich enough that you’ll want to sip it slowly through the night.
Twisted Trace is a bourbon-barrel-aged American barleywine. While the citrus and resin hops of the American style are there, this one draws some inspiration from the maltier English barleywine style, with deep caramel and dark fruit notes. Time in a barrel further tames the temper of the hops. Notes of dark berries, vanilla and bourbon make this an intensely tasty treat.
Barley Vine is a variety of barleywine that is aged in red wine barrels. The character of red wine rises clearly from the malty depths of the barleywine, showing off with scintillating notes of grapes and spice. It finds a perfect complement in the dark fruits, chocolate and caramel of the beer. This is a great sipper for contemplating what you’ll do when all this is done.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at email@example.com.