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Belt’s Beer Garden: Road Trip!

This week I feature two brews I picked up on my way to get some #MACtion!

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This season NIU football began the year against Wyoming...so my best friend and I took a road trip out to watch the Huskies play in Laramie. And, even though the game (and the season in general) didn’t go our way, I was still able to come home with a win…at least in the beer department.

In order to get to Wyoming from Illinois though, you have to go through the entire state of Nebraska…which, (sorry, but it’s true) is the longest 7 hours of your life. The only good thing about spending that much time in Cornhusker State is that you can find beers from places like Blue Blood Brewing Co.

Blue Blood Brewing was started by former law enforcement agents back in 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska. They have a core four year-round beers and a hand full of seasonal ones…including a beer they make specifically for Lincoln’s minor league baseball team, the Lincoln SaltDogs.

But I found one of their new experimental beers from their Robber’s Cave Series: Fresh Hopped Pale Ale (Exp. 02).

As you might have guessed, this is a fresh hop beer that uses hops picked off the vine less than 24 hours prior to brewing. This version is made with Glacier hops (grown in Nebraska) and is only available once a year. They added Cascade hops late in the process to give it more of a kick as well. A four pack of 16-ounce cans will set you back $10…so it’s not terribly expensive.

When poured, it’s a dark copper color with over a finger of off-white head that tops the beer. The bubbles build themselves quickly and stay for a decent amount of time…they really didn’t want to leave. As they slowly fizzled out, there was a ton of lacing at the top of my glass.

On the nose there is a slight dankness to this beer as well as a nice mixture of light fruit notes and a sharp pine. The scent of the earthy trees and pine needles was the prominent aroma; however, every so often there would be a nice hint of mango and grapefruit to balance off the smell. There was a bready malt backing that didn’t want to interfere with all the hops in there so it just clung to backend of things.

With my first sip there was a large fizz of carbonation up front that delayed the flavors from hitting my palate immediately. But when the flavors showed up (and they did!) it was interesting to say the least.

At first there was a subtle bready/yeasty malt flavor that added a nice sweetness to it. Then the hops showed up and pushed the malt aside. The foresty hops washed over my tongue like a liquid pine cone. Towards the back end of the sip there was that flash of citrus before the malty sweetness faded out the tasting.

There was a slight resinous quality to it that leaves a sticky feeling in your mouth. Since the malt cuts into the flavors again at the very end, this version of Robber’s Cave ends smoothly with very minimal dryness. The lacing that happened early on continued as the beer left my glass emptier and emptier – leaving thick clouds of bubbles hanging to all corners of the glass.

I was surprised it had such an easy finish and little hop bitterness for how high an ABV it has. The 7.5% ABV and is basically untraceable and the 42 IBU barely showed up for this one…although right in the middle of the sip you’ll get a tad hop sting before the late appearance of malt pushes that out.

This might not be the best fresh hop beer out there but it’s certainly a good option. Especially for those that like the piney, more English-like, pale ales/IPAs. It has a crisp finish, a good balance of flavors from the hops (although way more on the piney side), and a nice malt characteristic that cuts down on the bitterness…all while packing quite a punch in the booze category. Get your hands on it now before it’s gone for the year and you’ll have to wait until 2017. 8/10

8 beers

While in Wyoming I came across quite a few beer options. First I had Melvin Brewing Company’s Melvin IPA...which was really really good (and you should totally try that one too!). But that’s not the beer I’ll be talking about today.

Instead, I came back to Illinois with a six pack of Black Tooth’s staple IPA.

If you haven’t heard of Black Tooth, you weren’t alone. They began in November of 2010 in Sheridan, Wyoming and have been “creating fun, unique, and quality craft beer” since then…and the people of Wyoming loved them. Last year they were able to expand into a new multimillion dollar production facility and expanded their distribution to all of Wyoming as well as parts of South Dakota and Montana.

Of their three year-round beers I chose a their IPA, Hot Streak.

The beer came in a six pack, which was the usual price of $9.99, and carries with it a 6.1% ABV - which is a tad higher than average but nothing too crazy.

This IPA poured a copper color with some moderate head building up on the liquid. The slightly off-white foam reached a peak of over a finger before it started to slowly fizzle out. After a few minutes there was just a dusting across the top of my glass with some accumulation around the edge.

On the nose you could tell that they didn’t skimp on the hops. There were some really nice tropical aromas (grapefruit, oranges, and some lemon zest) but there was also a piney and grassy quality from the hops as well. Behind it all was a light bready malt; just enough to give it an even sweeter scent than the fruity hops would have done on their own.

My first sip was really smooth. Hot Streak had a medium body with a nice creamier mouthfeel to it. The flavors were quite subtle in their attack on my taste buds…initially the sip began with a dash of carbonation before the citrus notes slowly built up on my tongue - the grapefruit and orange leading the way.

The pine and grassy hops didn’t really come through in the taste like they had when I poured the beer. This was nearly an all-citrusy hop display with maybe a hint of a floral note…but not a lot at all. As the flavors fade, there is no real aftertaste that lingers on…and just the tiniest bit of dryness (if you’re not looking for it, I doubt you’ll even notice it).

Malt wise, just like in the smell, they were only there in the background – again providing a little sweetness to the otherwise bitter hops. And there was some bitterness. At 65 IBU, it’s not crazy bitter but the hops definitely stole the show in this beer.

After drinking more and more of the beer, all I can say is this: Hot Streak is soooo subtle with its taste. It’s a slow build up to a nice tropical fruit taste with some nice sweetness and then ends with a very easy finish.

Black Tooth did really well with this beer. It’s no wonder it won a gold medal at the US Open Beer Championship (2014). This is a really good beer and a great starter IPA. There are hops and some bitterness but the build up to the flavors/bitterness is so gentle and subtle that even those that have a hard time with IPAs will be able to drink this beer. If you’re in Wyoming…you now know what to look for. 8.5/10

8.5