Off Color’s hibiscus gose: One of the 50 or so beers at Northdown’s amazing Lions, Tigers & Beers
On Wed 6/5 Northdown Cafe & Taproom hosts its second yearly Lions, Tigers & Beers benefit for a nonprofit no-kill big-cat rescue center in Sandstone, Minnesota, called the Wildcat Sanctuary. It provides spacious habitats for its animals—not just lions and tigers but also cougars, jaguars, lynxes, bobcats, caracals, servals, and more—but don’t get any ideas about visiting, because it’s not open to the public.
The sanctuary also aims to obviate many of its own reasons for existing with a No More Wild Pets campaign—and “wild pets” doesn’t just mean, say, a declawed white tiger languishing at the end of a chain in someone’s backyard in Las Vegas. Savannah cats and bengals, which are crosses between domestic felines and, respectively, servals and Asian leopard cats, are increasingly fashionable as pets (in large part because they’re more manageably sized), but they also tend to make everyone involved pretty miserable if you try to keep them inside—especially when there have been fewer domestic crosses in their bloodlines.
Anyhow. I don’t imagine you’re reading a beer column to hear about cats, though I could definitely carry on about them. And it’s not as though Northdown will have a lynx on hand at Lions, Tigers & Beers—but there will be more than 50 amazing beers from the U.S. and abroad, tapped in two-hour shifts from 11 AM till close. (The bar has only 12 handles.) Several were brewed specifically for the occasion, and many are hideously rare—either one-offs or never otherwise available in the States.
To preview Lions, Tigers & Beers, I wanted to review something impossible to try anywhere else, and Kate Gallagher from Northdown and John Laffler from Off Color obliged me on Sunday. Laffler dropped by with a growler of hibiscus gose, brewed so freshly it had yet to be carbonated or kegged; it arrived with a handwritten label on the cap that read “Kitten Sap,” but he and Gallagher have provisionally renamed it “Cat Sip.”
Off Color calls its straight-up gose “Troublesome,” and as per tradition it contains coriander and a bit of salt. Cat Sip (or whatever it ends up being called) also includes hibiscus, of course—the same sort of dried flowers used to make jamaica—as well as tamarind and chamomile. It looks a lot like pink grapefruit juice, though it’s slightly less opaque and has a bit of froth on top, even uncarbonated.
The beer smells intensely of hibiscus and banana, with an undercurrent of mellow grain like cream of wheat and a whiff of barnyard hay. The taste follows the nose and adds a fruity, earthy sourness—I get yellow peach and tart strawberry, plus a tiny bit of something faintly winey and caramelized that reminds me of dark stewed raisins as much as it does tamarind. Though Cat Sip’s alcohol content is a modest 4 percent, the mouthfeel is lush and creamy thanks to the salt; the beer is also slightly, pleasantly astringent, a little like cranberry juice. Laffler says he designed it to drink with gin, and I have to say it works—I tipped about half a shot into mine, and it was mighty nice.
The mind-boggling tap list at Lions, Tigers & Beers also includes a few fine adult beverages I’ve already reviewed in this space: the Off Color/Three Floyds collaboration Tonnerre Neige, Founders Doom, and Three Floyds Toxic Revolution. But that barely scratches the surface.
Mikkeller, Firestone Walker, and Three Floyds are cosponsoring the event, and between them they brewed 19 of the beers on offer (22 if you count collaborations). Firestone Walker is bringing its sought-after Parabola stout and Sucaba barleywine, as well as unfiltered DBA, Double DBA, and the new Pivo Pils. Mikkeller’s contributions include a version of the strong Belgian golden ale Nelson that’s aged in white wine barrels, the George! imperial stout aged in cognac barrels, and the last of only five kegs ever made of the Spontandoubleblueberry lambic.
The Three Floyds beer I’m most looking forward to is Urine Trouble, a collaboration with Surly made just for this benefit. Head Surly brewer Todd Haug (also the guitarist in long-running speed-metal band Powermad) calls it an imperial brett IPA, and says the brettanomyces yeast creates “earthy barnyard notes along with pineapple-cherry pie aromas and flavors.” Simcoe and Chinook hops give it what he describes as a “cat peed on the Christmas tree” aroma, which I fervently hope is the sole inspiration for its name.
I promise I won’t mention all 50 beers, but I’d be remiss not to name-check a few more heavy hitters: Cantillon Gueuze, Founders KBS, and De Struise Black Albert. The whole list, with tapping times, is posted online. Given the likelihood that you won’t be able to get to Northdown for any of the tappings between 11 AM and 5 PM, you may wish to know that starting at 11 PM the bar will do stragglers a favor by retapping kegs that don’t kick during their initial runs.
Lions, Tigers & Beers is cash only, and there’s a $10 suggested donation at the door. The event also includes a two-tiered raffle, tickets to which also cost $10 apiece. Grand-prize tickets are already on sale, and can be bought through closing time on Wednesday. You specify which prize you’re interested in, and you’ve got some great choices—among them original artwork from Don Rock, a New Belgium cruiser bike, a selection of nine bourbons from West Lakeview Liquors, and a “cellar starter” beer collection (Surly Darkness and Four, a couple years of Firestone Walker Parabola and Sucaba, and Three Floyds rarities including Murda’d Out Stout, barrel-aged cherry Behemoth, and moscatel-barreled Dark Lord). Regular raffle tickets are available only at the event, and earn you a shot at a variety of gift certificates, beer, brewery swag, and artwork (including some created by the Wildcat Sanctuary’s big cats). Winners will be posted online Thursday.
Northdown is also selling Lions, Tigers & Beers prints and shirts, both featuring the handsome Tony Fitzpatrick artwork in the poster above. All proceeds go to the sanctuary—raffle prizes have been donated, as have several of the kegs, so that more money will go to the cats.