As a beer, there is very little that can be said about Summit’s Belgian Style Golden Ale that hasn’t already been said by Michael Agnew over on A Perfect Pint. There are few things a writer likes to admit less than being beaten to the punch by someone thorough, but there you have it — Agnew knows his beer, and he went into great detail about Golden Ale, the fourth in a line of “Unchained” beers by Summit.
Sweet malt that extends through to the finish, check. Palpable alcohol warming, check. Lots of fruit, right, check. Paradoxically high in alcohol (8.6%) yet refreshing, check. I drank it, I thought it, I discovered that he wrote it, and with a considerably higher level of specificity than I could muster.
In a nutshell, then, this is an exciting summer beer with a lot of punch and passion, and well worth drinking. What then, to add?
How about this: A quick survey of the Summit Unchained Series, now that we’re four beers in. What the hell have we learned? What are they up to with this series? What’s it doing for Summit, and what’s it doing for us, the Upper Midwest’s audience of serious beer lovers?
Five thoughts on the Unchained Series, as it stands.
1. It’s Re-Establishing Summit as a Local Craft Brewery
Despite their respectably large size, nobody who knows anything could credibly claim that Summit’s anything but a local craft brewery. That said: After years of EPA appearing as the default local craft option on taps throughout the area, a bit of boredom had set in, as contrasted with the massive, publicity-churning success of Surly and the toadstools-after-a-rainstorm emergence of numerous mini-craft brewers from South Minneapolis to Stillwater.
Thus: With the Unchained Series, Summit gets out there and puts its name on beer we haven’t necessarily tried before, made by brewers to entertain people who dig (and often homebrew) serious beer. Financially, who knows — could be a wash. But in terms of reminding folks that serious and exciting brewing happens everyday at Summit, a fine move.
2. It Develops the Brewers as Characters
Each Summit Unchained beer is attached to a particular brewer. Golden Ale was created by Eric Harper. Now his photo is popping up on A Perfect Pint; he turned up in the Star Tribune, the City Pages blog, and, earlier in the series, on Flak Radio chatting about Kölsch (another of his creations which was actually created by brewer Mike Miziorko, who himself popped up at numerous events).
Similarly, Eric Blomquist was attached to the esoteric but delicious 90/-, the second in the series; brewer Mike Lundell was linked to the India Style Rye Ale, the third Unchained.
Consumers get used to the idea of brewers as artists and artisans. Brewers get to emerge from the brew cave and bask in the sunlight of public acclamation, and — probably more importantly — flex their muscles to create something personalized and wonderful that they get to share with the world at large. Good PR, good brand building, good employee recognition and retention. Smart.
3. It Weds Classic World Beer Styles with Local Provenance
There’s a reverence for classic forms that runs through the Unchained series — it’s less about making up bold new American originals than riffing off of and referencing — and sometimes even closely approximating — great if somewhat lesser known styles from overseas. Thus, the Kölsch, Scottish-style ale, and the Belgian golden ale — understandable from a taste perspective, but not yet tamed, Americanized and done to death. (The IRA’s kind of its own animal, but, similarly, isn’t a singular beast, but rather a riff on an established beer style.)
That such foreign tastes can be replicated and played with locally isn’t all that surprising, but it’s still fun to see a smart riff on a lesser-known style pop out of your friendly local brewer in St. Paul.
4. The Name is a Double-Edged Sword
At first, Unchained sounds pretty cool — it represents liberation! Creativity! Freedom! And then, you think — wait a second, if this is the “unchained” stuff, does that make everything else done by Summit the equivalent of slave labor? Is everyone not involved in Unchained just dragging their feet from the moment they arrive at work, miserable, eyes on the clock? I’ve been to Summit a number of times, and that’s certainly not the vibe — but “Unchained,” by celebrating and embracing creativity, does simultaneously play into and reinforce grumblers who think the rest of the brewery’s output has been too stable and / or conservative.
5. It Highlights the Fact that “Minnesota Beer” is an Increasingly Serious Thing
In terms of sheer numbers of breweries, Minnesota may not yet be the equal of Colorado, or Oregon, or Wisconsin. But these days, there’s happily no lack of stuff to talk about, between Surly’s consistently interesting output, the numerous upstarts (Lift Bridge, et al.), and Summit’s Unchained Series. It’s a good time to be a local beer drinker, and there’s every sign that it’s just going to get better from here on in.