#BEERacketology 2012: The Final Pour; A Four Pack of Breweries Remain, VOTE NOW 41

Bells, Toppling Goliath, Russian River, and Surly made the Final Pour, it’s up to you to decide who makes it to the championship of BEERacketology.

Four breweries are left standing just weeks months after the start of our inaugural BEERacketology…thing… And here they are:

THE FAVORITE:  #1 seed Bells Brewery out of The Krakken region.
THE UNDERDOG:   #12 seed Toppling Goliath out of the DrunkHulk region.
THE WILDCARD:  #2 seed Russian River out of the #Flenker2012 region.
THE DIAPER DANDY: #2 seed Surly Brewing out of the Quick and Dirty region.

Here’s how we will break down this round.    We’ll take a beer from each brewery and give you our feedback on it, as well as other random shit thrown in.  Voting ends late Wednesday night.

SEMI-FINAL #1: Bell’s (MetsFanVI) vs. Toppling Goliath (Morehouse)

Bell’s Expedition Stout

by MetsFanVI

We’re down to the the Final Four. To no one’s surprise, Bell’s emerged from the Krakken Region as the winner. It came in as the #1 seed and was never really tested, beating Tyrenan, Oskar Blues, Anchor and Firestone Walker in the first four rounds.

So now I have the challenge of writing about a brewery that everyone knows and loves. Rather than trying to go through all their beers, I thought I’d review a particular beer they make. Bell’s is known for their stouts. They make a bunch of different kinds, most of which are highly rated. Expedition Stout is Larry Bell’s take on the imperial stout style. From their web site, it’s described as:

One of the earliest examples of the Russian Imperial Stout in the United States, offers immensely complex flavors crafted specifically with vintage aging in mind, as its profile will continue to mature and develop over the years. A huge malt body is matched to a heady blend of chocolate, dark fruits, and other aromas. Intensely bitter in its early months, the flavors will slowly meld and grow in depth as the beer ages.

Vintage aging, huh? Lucky for you*, it just so happens I have a few bottles stashed away in the cellar. I bought these at a special Bell’s release at John’s Grocery the summer Iowa moved out of the dark ages and lifted the ABV limits on beer. One of the cool things about Bell’s is they used to put a date code on their bottles which you could enter on their web site to see when the beer was bottled. Now they put a straight date on their so you don’t even need to look ip. Either way, these bottles are code 9384. According to the Bell’s site, this batch was bottled on October 15, 2009. Whoa. I kind of forgot about this beer. Let’s see what 2.5 years of of cellaring does to it!

Expedition Stout is a 10.5% ABV beer. That’s pretty much in range for the style. One of the things I like about it is it doesn’t taste like a giant beer. There is a little heat there but just enough to keep you on your toes. I also like that it comes in a 12-oz bottle. I’m not a fan of bigger beers coming in bombers, although I know that seems to be the norm. A 12-oz bottle allows you to drink one and not be a wreck or try a couple of different beers in the same night. Bombers don’t lend themselves anything more than “one and done.”

Poured into my official Brew Maniacs tulip (thanks Spank!), the Expo gave a very thin 1/8″ head that hung around just long enough for a quick picture. The smell is very sweet, almost syrupy, which is pretty typical for the style. You need a ton of malt to get this kind of body into a beer. The initial taste tells me this beer is way too cold. I get a little sweetness up front which gives way to a nice smooth roasty taste. Either way, I need to let this sit out for a little to warm up and let some of the favors come out. I’ll be back in a bit…

Are you still here? Good. The Expo has warmed up a bit and, as I suspected, it’s really starting to show its soul. Unlike a lot of imperial stouts these days, Expo is not barrel aged nor does it have any “extras” like coffee added it to. It’s just malt, hops, yeast and water. But, that combination leads to some remarkable flavors. You get bitter coffee and chocolate. Even a little bit of black pepper, but not enough to be distracting. There’s also figs and raisens. The age has really mellowed this beer and taken some of the body out of it. There is almost no alcohol flavor present. It really doesn’t have any “legs” in the glass either.

In keeping with a theme, I drank it with some “vintage” Girl Scout cookies. I found a box of Shout-Outs in the back of the pantry that my wife guessed were from last year. Shout-Outs are a “Belgian-style caramelized cookie” and they paired with the beer very nicely. I would have liked to try some Girl Scout Lemonades with the Expo, though. I saw on some beer show’s chef pairing Expo with a lemon-based dessert. I thought that odd but all the tasters raved about it. Alas, apparently my wife doesn’t hoard Lemonades so Shout-Outs it was.

Overall, this is just a fantastic beer. Two and half years may put it past its prime. But, it certainly makes it a much more drinkable beer. It’s not as aggressive and attention-grabbing. It just seems to be missing that extra something something it has in its youth. Either way, I’d still put it up against any of the hard to find imperial stouts. Despite its ubiquity, this is a must-try beer. Beer Advocate readers give it a 93.** Rate Beer readers give it a 100 both for style and overall. So don’t take my word for it. Just go try this beer. But, I suspect if you’re reading this blog, you already have.


* Actually, it’s lucky for me as I get to drink it. You just get to read about it.

** Interestingly, though, the owners at BA only give it a 65. But that review is from 2003 and their big complaint was lack of carbonation. I’m not sure I’d knock 30 points off an imperial stout for low carbonation. But then I don’t have a beer review site. Oh, wait. Yes I do. The hell with them.

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Golden Nugget: Damn near my last beer on this earthly plane

By Morehouse

The yellow stuff, some of that is Golden Nugget. You'll be clawing to get it like zombies for brains in a few years. Instead of "braaaaaaiinsssss," you'll be zombie squawking "Nuuuuuuuuuuggggggettt"


The weather radar on my phone looked like an axe murder.

The red flowed over the orange and yellow with some genial splotches of green. OK, it looked like an axe murder of ET. Either way, it was not good. It was the storm system of the century of the day. It was bad in Oklahoma, it was bad in a place called Thurman, Iowa, yet another Iowa town I’m just hearing about for all the wrong (weather) reasons. And it started to swirl into bad in North Liberty.

It was a celebration of entrepreneurial-ship. We met up with good friends who happen to be sponsors for our podcast. We were the No. 10 podcast in the country last week, according to iTunes. In the age of gagging media, it’s something. My colleague and I love doing it, so we jumped at the chance to meet up with Brian and Dan, great guys who are damn funny.

I figured bad weather, so I drove the 2002 Highlander to the spring game, knowing we’d meet up at Red’s Alehouse in North Liberty. Dan drove a new car. He heard the word “hail” and sweat started to form on his upper lip.

Lightning burst. Serious and fierce lightning. The power flickered. The gentleman owner of Red’s popped into the back room. His voice was maybe on low-level alert, calmly giving everyone directions to the basement. Michael sat across the table. We know what’s in Red’s basement. It has one of the finest beer collections in our area. We were good with this and started checking to see how many brews our jackets might be able to mule out.

Then, it got serious. The bloody murder on my phone was digitizing on the big screen TV via a local station. The weather lady was sitting down, so how bad could it be? What’s that sound? The North Liberty tornado bell or horn or party favor belted out the warning. Lights flickered again.

Our waitress was undaunted. She made her round, ignoring the weather warning, and asked if we were good. No, we weren’t good. I was out of beer.

The lacing of my second Golden Nugget from Toppling Goliath held to the sides of my pint glass. The lights went out for a second, not a good sign. I am not an alarmist. I’ve been through tornados. Well, not actually in a tornado, but I’ve been around them a few times, once a few years ago here and way back in my early newspaper days in southern Minnesota.

Goddamnit, if I’m going to go out, I’m going to go out with Toppling Goliath and Golden Nugget. I totally ignored the waitress’s cleavage (hey, my life was flickering before my eyes at this point) and asked for a Golden Nugget.

I don’t know if the Toppling Goliath folks consider G Nugg their flagship, but it’s a strong statement.

Citrus, floral, just want you want out of an IPA. It’s a simply glorious rush of orange and lemon at first, with the lemon being a strong opening statement. The hop profile ranks up with all the IPAs that you know and love. Yes, I’m looking at you, Ruination, and you, HopSlam, and, YES, you, Dreadnaught. Yes, Dreadnaught, you!

It’s 6.8 percent. It’s also about as good as it gets for an introduction, at least for me, to golden nugget hops. Hop aroma launches out of the glass. Fruity with a bit of the bitter. Just a wonderful hoppy burst. Easy to drink. Blows a lot of the name IPAs out of the water. Right there with my faves (mentioned above).

My usual spot for G Nugg is Parlor City in Cedar Rapids. I’ve been meeting there with Sparky, the Brewmaniacs actual brewer, for the last few weeks. Here’s what got my attention: Last Thursday, we were there and Sparky had a G Nugg and then something else and for the next beer said, “I’m not making that mistake again, I’m going back to the Golden Nugget. I’m stuck on that beer.” This got my attention because Sparky is a curmudgeon’s curmudgeon. He thinks Ebenezer Scrooge was more than fair with his clerk mule Bob Cratchit.

And he loves G Nugg.

Back to Saturday night.

The rain replaced oxygen outside. I’m pretty sure goddamn frogs were falling out of the sky. The nice waitress — if tornado bells don’t make this woman flinch, we need to party — brought my Golden Nugget. The lights went out for just a second. The tornado horn/bell continued. Is there a more harrowing sound for midwesterners? Can nature conjure anything more insidious than a night tornado?

Michael was on the ropes. Soon, his wonderful wife, Jen, would pick him up. Smart move on so many levels. Brian was downing whiskey and laughing his ass off. Dan worried about his car. I tried to get Scott hooked on the G Nugg, but he’s not quite ready for the happiness. I’ll get him there.

The lighting snapped like a lockerroom towel on a bare ass. I stole a look up to the heavens.

This much, these few minutes with this wonderful, brilliant beer, you damn well better let me have this, no matter how much I’ll have to pay for it later.

Hey, we made it through another one. I’m going to consider Golden Nugget tornado repellent.

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  • Toppling Goliath (83%, 171 Votes)
  • Bells (17%, 37 Votes)

Total Voters: 207

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SEMI-FINAL #2: Russian River (Flenker) vs. Surly (storminspank)

The Sours, Oh the Sours!

By Flenker

Consecration – the act of dedication to the service & worship of a deity.  Yes, it’s a tired cliche to use a definition, but that sounds about right for my feelings towards Russian River.  The first beer of theirs that I had was Pliny the Elder.  When I saw it, I freaked the hell out.  I did the same when I found it on tap when I was in Denver.  Not that I “worship” them, but I can say with confidence that they’re one of my top 5 breweries, if not #1.  So, you might say I’m pleased to see them make it this far, and even more pleased to have an excuse to pop open a bottle I’ve had a little while and review it.

Russian River Consecration

Hello beautiful.

Russian River’s Consecration is an ale aged in oak barrels with currants added.  It says so right on the label.  It also says it’s a sour ale, barrel aged 4 to 6 months, then lists all the good bugs that are in it – Brettanomyces, Saccharomyces, Pediococcus, and Lactobacillus.  If just reading those names doesn’t get your mouth watering, then I don’t think you have any hope.

It pours a dark red, almost brown.  Very small head to it, but it could have been the way I poured.  Lots o’ little bubbles clinging to the side of the glass.  The black currants are there in the nose, as is the sour.  O the sour.  There’s even some chocolate hanging out in the back.  Hey chocolate!  I hope you’re ready to party!

Initially, it’s light on the tongue, and then BOOM you’re soured.  It’s a puckerer.  Mouth waterer.  I love it when that happens.  Again, the black currants are there in the taste, and the chocolate comes out a little more.  And all of the funkiness you’d expect from a beer aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels.  A little bit of the oak is present, but it takes 2nd (or 3rd) stage to everything else.  This isn’t the sourest beer I’ve had, but it’s up there on the list.  I think it has more “funk” than straight-up “sour,” if you know what I mean.  Horse blankety.  Not one to slam, that’s for sure.  It’s a sipper.  I think as it warms, more of the funk comes out.  The bottle mentions a tobacco taste, but I’m not getting it. Maybe at the far, far end, but it’s a stretch.

Russian River has a neat bottle log section on their site, much like Bell’s.  My bottle is labeld as batch 004×4 – brewed March 25, 2009, and bottled February 5, 2010.  I wish I had a few bottles from different runs to taste and compare.  I love doing that stuff.

This beer.  So good.  And a good representation of the barrel aged beers Russian River makes.  I’ve yet to try them all, so I can’t say it’s my favorite.  Actually, I think I can definitively say it’s not my favorite, as I liked Sanctification more.  Still, that’s like saying I like carnitas tacos more than I like adobada tacos.  Either way, I win.  This is a borderline A/A+ beer, world class all the way.
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Surly you can’t be serious. I am serious and don’t call me Surly

By Spank

So my favorite Surly isn’t in season right now, that sucks.  So I guess I’ll have to drink multiple Surly beers to make up for it.  I didn’t feel like typing, so instead I made an elementary-school quality video of some Surly brews.  Watch it if you want.  I feature Abrasive Ale and Furious although after I finished the video I realized I didn’t talk a whole hell of a lot about the beers themselves.  I rambled like a prepubescent teen (cracking voice and all).

For the record, here’s my complete review of Surly Wet (my favorite Surly beer) from last year:

The long and short on Surly Brewing:

GOOD:  Their beer, their sense of community/volunteering, their attitude
BAD:  Their supply, their distribution,  their attitude

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  • Surly (64%, 87 Votes)
  • Russian River (36%, 49 Votes)

Total Voters: 136

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  • David

    Gotta pull for Bell’s here..  The only beer I can purchase locally.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mattafett Matt Fettkether

    Bell’s and Russian River.  There really is no contest.

  • storminspank

    I think it might take a huge push to hold of TGBREWS’ army.

  • http://www.facebook.com/m.mcmulllen Madison McMullen

    @Marcmorehouse:twitter  your prose is so engaging! Love the G-Nug tornado story!!!

    • marcmorehouse

      Thank you! Next round of storms, I’ll be in my car with some Nugg in a growler, ready to save the say for some Iowa town.

  • marcmorehouse

    I’ve only had it once and would need another shot, but TG’s Kentucky Brunch is in the same league as Expedition (and I love Ex).

    TG has range that this format didn’t allow me to explore.

    I keep asking my wife, do we need anything from Decorah? My daughter will be off to college in a few years. I’ll plaster her room with Luther propaganda.

    • Drew

      You are way off.  TG’s Kentucky Brunch is in a completely different league than Expedition.  It is ridiculous how much better it is. ;)

      Expedition is solid, but cannot compare in the slightest.

      • marcmorehouse

        I have a bigger sample size with the Exp. I’ve only had the KB once. I’m sure I’d come around. It was so damn good! Loved it!

      • http://www.facebook.com/m.mcmulllen Madison McMullen

        You guys rock! Any chance you’re making another trip this weekend for some Mornin’ D and Naughty Temple???

        • Drew

          I wish!!! If I haven’t been planning for a year to hit Founders Black Party I would be at TG drinking all the Naughty Temple and Morning Delight I was allowed!!

          As it is I will be having lots of KBS, CBS, etc within walking distance of my hotel room, so not a bad tradeoff.  Not to mention hitting 3 floyds, The Livery, etc along the way!  Still, if I wasn’t meeting friends I might change my course.

    • storminspank

       Kentucky Brunch is much closer to KBS than Expedition, in my opinion.

  • marcmorehouse

    “Hey chocolate!  I hope you’re ready to party!”

    I’m so happy that I’m going to KC this weekend. I might allow Flenker to call me “Chocolate.”

    • MetsFanVI

       Wouldn’t be the first time.

      • marcmorehouse

        Don’t be hating!

        • MetsFanVI

           Hold me.

          • storminspank


  • TG Chief

    We are whipping up 15 bbls of ZeeLander and have almost 20 bbls of pseudoSue to either celebrate our victory or drown the agony of defeat! Either way HopPatrol wins!

    • marcmorehouse

      I love both those beers!

    • Jrhorner77

      You just made my…month…year maybe?

  • MetsFanVI

    Great googily moogily. TG is up on Bell’s and it’s not even close. I am, as they say, surprised. This little contest is turning into so much PR for TG you’d think we’re on the take. Say, that gives me an idea…

  • Drew

    Honestly, I can’t think of 1 beer that Bells has that TG doesn’t offer something that tops it.  Not one. And just when you think maybe they only do IPAs and Pale ales well(ridiculously well that is), they throw Assassin, Morning Delight, Kentucky Brunch, Rover Truck, Robusto porter, Murphy’s Red, Rush Pilsner…and on and on…

    • storminspank

      As much as I love Toppling Goliath and I mean LOVE TG.   Hopslam beats anything that they brew.  And TG does not have a Belgian like Hell Hath either.  And they also don’t have anything like their 3rd Coast Ale or anything like Bell’s brown ales. Again, I absolutely love TG – G Nugg, PsuedoSue, Zeelander, et al are amazing IPAs, but they aren’t better than Hopslam… not yet. Clark is kicking some major ass in the stout sector, for sure. I’m hoarding this bottle of Mornin Delight in my fridge like its the last beer on the planet.

      • Drew

        I disagree 100% about Hopslam, though it is definitely solid itself. I like both Gnug and PseudoSue better than Hopslam. And the best part is no stupid honey headache later!!!! ;)

        Bells Browns, meh…Hell Hath, meh… But you have me with 3rd Coast, good call. I forgot about that one. I see Bells beers and the only ones I pick ever are two hearted, Hopslam, Oracle, and 3rd Coast. The rest is fairly average for me. But then again that’s why it’s great to have more and more good breweries, everyone has different tastes.

        • http://www.facebook.com/mattafett Matt Fettkether

          I smell homerism.  You are probably one of 3 people on the planet that think any of TG’s IPA’s are better than Hopslam.  There is only one IPA better than Hopslam, and it is Pliny The Elder, and that is because I have never had Younger.  You also forgot about beers such as Oarsman, Wild One, Batch 9000, Batch 10,000, Cherry Stout, Java Stout, Milk Stout, Winter White, The Oracle, and lets not forget Two Hearted.  Toppling makes great beers, but world class they are not.  A couple of years and we will see.

          • Drew

            Matt, that could be true but not because I’m a homer. I bought a case of Hopslam this year and have had it many years, but not one of my favs, just different tastes. I use to love Hop Wallop way more than Hopslam too. But something has changed in their beer or my taste buds cause I don’t find Hop Wallop to be as good as I once thought either.

            I agree with you about Pliny, it’s my current favorite. Funny thing though, had a relatively new bottle of Pliny taste test against a draft of Founders Double Trouble and it was difficult to pick the best, though I did pick the Pliny.

            And I should clarify my statement, I sdidnt mean to say TG had a better beer in each style, I just meant that there always seemed to be a better TG beer that I would pick over most Bells beers. I guess I’m just not all that impressed with bells, as Imsaid, different taste and tastes change. Only stouts I even like from Bells are Expedition and somewhat Kalamazoo. I on,y really care for 5-6 of Bells beers, which is where I’m coming from. So for me, this is an easy vote, as it appears for you. Cheers, and thanks for the great beer debate always fun. Maybe I’ll drink a Two Hearted tonight, I do love it.

            • MetsFanVI

               I don’t totally disagree with Drew but I’m not sure I’m willing to say TG is better than Bell’s. Part of what draws me to many of the TG beers is they’re new and I haven’t had a ton of them. I’ve been drinking Two Hearted for years as I used to live in Michigan. I remember when it was a seasonal brew and only available in the fall and winter. But right now I think I’d rather have a G-Nug. Is that because G-Nug is a better beer? Not necessarily. I just happen to like it more right now. I haven’t had the opportunity to drink 100 G-Nugs like I have Two Hearted.

          • Drew

            While we are at, how in the hell is Founders not still in this?

  • marcmorehouse

    Mail-order beer came through yesterday. The Pliny was outstanding. I’m going to take care of the Redemption tonight.

    • Arndog77

      Where do you order from Marc? Been thinking of trying that.

      • marcmorehouse

        Qualityliquorstore.com — Great selection of Cali beers.

        • Arndog77

          Thanks! I’ll give it a try.

  • cflynn2

    You’re short one vote for Bell’s. The site is displaying the results and doesn’t give me a chance to vote in that match up (and no, I’m not trying to vote twice). I had no problem voting in the RR / Surly match.

    • MetsFanVI

       I’ve heard from others they aren’t able to vote. Try deleting your cookies and clearing your cache.

      • Drew

        Yeah, took me awhile to get vote buttons too.

  • TG Chief

    Just wait until you try our good stuff. I am not joking, we will be improving our creations steadily and bring these beers to you 9 -14 % better over the next 18 months. We have set our goal on process improvement as high as any brewery on Earth. We are far from satisfied. I drank from our 28 experimentle batch of our HOPSMACK! today and can honestly say we will be making some of the best double IPA ever quaffed in the Hawkeye Homeland soon! And if you are ever lucky enough to taste the Kettle Klogger we take home we will never get to leave the brewery. Let’s go Hop Patrol!

    • marcmorehouse

      I’m totally intrigued.

      And I’m still asking my wife if she needs anything from Decorah. I’ll be happy to make the drive.

    • MetsFanVI

       I won’t be happy until you improve your beers 17%.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=57804028 Michael McCoy

       Blah blah blah blah blah.  I’m just jealous since I can’t get any down here and Golden Nugget is still the best IPA I’ve tried.

  • MetsFanVI

    RIP Bell’s. RIP Russian River. No way Surly gets past Toppling Goliath in the finals. TG Chief proves his prescience in naming the brewery.

  • David

    Nice win TG!  Now bring your beer to Des Moines please! 

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