Gastronomic Fight Club SM

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Friday, June 01, 2007

BEER REVIEW: Upstream Brewing Co.

posted by snekse

Session #4: Local Brews

As the host of this month's Session, I thought pretty long about which brew pub I wanted to feature for our Drink Local theme. A quick search shows at least 5 qualified candidates that I could have chosen from here in Omaha.

Omaha Breweries and Brew Pubs

For me, the first one that jumped into my head was Upstream Brewing Company. It's probably the biggest and most well known in the city with two locations, one in the historic Old Market downtown and the other on the complete opposite side of the city in West Omaha. But was this really the best choice?

Well, after weighing my options it seems so. Granite City Food & Brewery is based out of St. Louis Park, MN; That disqualified it as did the fact that they mix the wort off site. Jaipur Brewing Company makes a jalapeño beer that I've always wanted to try, but they're really more known for their food than their beer. The Nebraska Brewing Co. just plain isn't open yet and Aksarben Brewing Co. is no longer open. Then there's Jobber's Canyon Restaurant & Brewery. To be honest I really don't know much about them, but I've heard from others that it seems as if the owners just decided to open a brew pub because they're trendy and attract tourists (which is perfect given their Old Market location). And since they are no where near my house, I didn't feel bad for not picking them.

And finally we have Lazlo's Brewery and Grill, which is actually the closest to my house, but since they are really out of Lincoln, that's strike one. Strike two is that they don't brew the beer on the premises and strike three is that they don't even brew their own beer! How do you not brew your own beer and get to use the word "brewery" in your name? They used to brew their own beer, but split the brewing part off into a separate company - Empyrean Brewing Company. Sadly, it is also the oldest brewery currently in operation in the state of Nebraska, founded all the way back in 1990. Yes, you read that right. That's not to say Empyrean doesn't make a decent beer, just that Lazlo's is disqualified from being a "brewery" in my book.

The Beers of Upstream Brewing Co.

So now we have our brew pub - now what beer should we have? Well, I've recently discovered that I don't have the vocabulary and/or palate and/or knowledge to describe a beer beyond it's standard style profile. To accurately describe the differences between two Nut Brown Ales that I'm not tasting side-by-side is something I've not yet worked up to. So I decided to try them all and just take some basic quick notes. The larger take away will be just what I thought in general of the beers. In addition to the flight I ordered at their Legacy location, I also picked up a special 750ml bottling of their August 2005 Belgian Style Grand Cru which is being distributed by the local Whole Foods.

To preface my notes, you should be aware that I have a bias towards darker beers. I tend to enjoy porters, bocks and stouts. I do drink almost any style, though I shy away from bitter beers such as IPA's and ESB's. Also, the flight was tasted with Upstream's Fish & Chips, while the Grand Cru was drank at home with (leftover) Blonde Pizza. Now on with the notes (or just check out my cheat sheet).

O! Gold Light Beer - Basic Bud Light, just a little creamier.

Honey Raspberry Ale - I've never understood why people mix fruit flavorings in beer. I have yet to have one I liked. This tasted like raspberry soda mixed with beer. Like a Mike's Hard Raspberry or something.

Gold Coast Blonde - Heavier in style. Reminds me of Michelob. Would rather have a Budweiser than this. Maybe I just need a bratwurst to go with this.

American Wheat - Initially hard to taste beyond the lemon in the glass. Very easy to drink and better than most wheat beers I've had. Great summer beer.

Capitol Premium Pale Ale - Very nice. Interesting spice blend. Very distinctive taste. And for some reason I had a note about fish water. Why, I don't know.

Firehouse ESB - Didn't mind it, but it's still not something I'd order.

Double India Pale Ale - Actually really nice! Smells (and kind of tastes) like bug spray, but I guess for some reason that's okay to me... It has an almost floral character to it. Some minor honey notes as well. This has convinced me that I need to try a dry-hopped beer. If I can get the same aromas and tastes without as much bitterness, I'm all on board.

Dundee Export Scotch Ale - This has always been one of my favorite beers. It's like candy. The scotch flavor is subtle, but definitely there. It didn't quite appeal to me the same way after drinking through 70% of the flight, but I know this beer well enough to recommend it.

Blackstone Stout - Weak in body, but lots of coffee upfront, chocolate on the finish. Very drinkable. You could tell just from the mouth feel that this was a very low alcohol beer. Just 4.4% ABV. A session stout.

Sunshine Lager (Seasonal Brew) - Opps, I drank this last. Probably a mistake. My only note is "Blah. Better with food. Basic."

Cask Conditioned Ales - No cask conditioned ale for me. It's only served in their downtown location. BOOOOOOOO.

Upstream Grand Cru (Brewed Aug 2005)This beer is nothing like I expected. It's far better. The color was much different than I was expecting. I was told this is the same as their Belgian-Style Tripel with some additional yeasts, so I was expecting something a little darker. The brewers notes ("Earth, Honey, Citrus, Oak") are almost dead on, though I'd say the fruit is more of a stone fruit, like peach or apricot. What's so unusual is the fact that the fruit is obviously there, but it's so subdued that it doesn't get in the way of the other complexities playing tag with your taste buds. The thing that struck me most was the oak. Just the aromas of this beer immediately made me think of a wine tasting we did at a where the tasting itself was done next to mountains of oak barrels filled with wine. It was the exact same smell. This easily makes my top 25 list. (For more information about this beer, see the update below)

So there you have it, one beer fan's opinion of 11 beers from Omaha's Upstream Brewing Company. If you'd like a second opinion, feel free to peruse the notes on beeradvocate.com. Also be sure to check out brewmaster Zac Triemert's tasting notes, the origins of some of the names and the cool logos for each beer on the Upstream website. Hopefully all these will help you decide if Upstream needs to go on your "to drink" list or not.

Oh, and if there's a spirits blogging event, Upstream will be starting to make their own distilled spirits in the very near future. How cool is that?

***UPDATE***
I got the following information from brewmaster Zac regarding the Grand Cru.
The Grand Cru is essentially the same beer as the Belgian Specialty Ale (BSA). In 2004 we brewed the BSA, oak aged it for one year, bottled it and it was a good beer. In 2005 we did the same thing and used the same barrels. However, when we bottled it in 2006, I noticed that the beer was amazing; the best we had ever produced. So I decided that the beer was worthy of the wine nomenclature, Grand Cru – meaning the best of the best. The reason it was better than the year before is due to the yeast that have taken up residence in the oak barrel from the first year. I am very excited to see how this year’s vintage turns out. It will be bottled in July 2007 and available no later than November 2007.

RELATED LINKS:
Session #4: Local Brews Round-up (A Field Guide)
Omaha Brunch Bunch: Part 1
RESTAURANT REVIEW: Upstream Brewing Company (Coming soon)

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