Flavored beer can be a dreadful thing. It can be overly sweet, it can be syrupy, it can be acrid, and it can taste — in a word — fake. The use of flavors can taint a good product or render a mediocre product terrible.
Flavored beer can be a wonderful thing. Locally, we’ve got some examples that would do well nearly anywhere that beer is enjoyed — everything from Bent Paddle’s lovely Cold Press Black Ale to Surly’s Cacao Bender to the lovely Raspberry Tart of New Glarus Brewing Company. (We also have fond feelings about the beers in Schell’s Noble Star series.)
Along with the flood of pumpkin and Oktoberfest beers crowding the shelves right now come a couple of more intriguing customers from the old-school brewers at Summit in St. Paul and the newer-school craft-beer crew at Lift Bridge Brewing Company in Stillwater.
Summit’s new stout, Dark Infusión, is the 23rd in the Unchained series. As is often (perhaps uniformly?) the case with Unchained beers, this one is essentially bulletproof. You might’ve made different decisions from the brewer, but only due to personal taste, not due to anything being off-kilter or unpleasant. Unchained #23 is a smooth, lightly carbonated brew with a creamy, cheerful, malty character and a lingering coffee aftertaste that is both natural and clean, standing in for hops in terms of balancing the beer overall. There’s nothing syrupy or aggressively bitter here. Drinking this should be an uncomplicated pleasure for anyone who enjoys the marriage of coffee and dark beer. Dark Infusión gives the excellent (and perhaps reigning local champ) Bent Paddle Cold Press Black Ale a run for its money.
Lift Bridge’s Cowlaboration #5 Coconut Porter (brewed in collaboration with the Red Cow restaurant team), in contrast to Summit’s well-centered effort, is a pretty direct customer. Coconut is bold and present in the nose, and each sip starts mild and clean and ends with a serious coconut wallop. Compared to Summit’s offering, the beer is unidimensional — flavor rules the roost. Whether that’s a bad or good thing depends entirely upon how you feel about coconuts. And while the taste is pronounced, it’s not acrid or tainted with aggressive sweetness.