Education Programs at the All Pints North Summer Beer Festival

July 24th, 2014

In the hierarchy of Minnesota beer festivals, two stand out to me – Winterfest and All Pints North – both sponsored and organized by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. Winterfest is an intimate affaire. Ticket sales are limited and the space is cozy, in contrast to the sprawling outdoor festivals that are the norm. It has an air of elegant sophistication. The brewers – all Guild members – bring the good stuff in an attempt to out-do each other.

All Pints North is held at the Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth. Despite the spacious outdoor setting and large attendance, Bayfront Park with its bayside location and magnificent view of the iconic lift bridge give this festival an easy-going, relaxed feel. There is none of the hustle and bustle of the other fests.

All Pints North happens this Saturday, July 26th from 3 – 7 pm. Tickets are still available, although hotel rooms might be harder to come by.

As a beer educator, I like that the Guild values education at their festivals. They recognize that an educated consumer is a better consumer; that the enjoyment of craft beer increases with a little bit of knowledge. They also know that craft beer aficionados are eager to learn.

ABE-SquareSign 4ft

The Alliance for Beer Education (ABE) is a joint project of A Perfect Pint and the Better Beer Society dedicated to providing the highest-quality educational programing at Minnesota’s beer festivals. Collaborators Rob Shellman and Michael Agnew, both Certified Cicerones®, have a combined 11 years’ experience as beer educators. Their credits include the Better Beer Society University, BBS Brown Bag Blind Tastings, The University of Minnesota Department of Continuing Education, Cooks of Crocus Hill, Kitchen Window, and Betty Crocker, as well as countless corporate and private events.

The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild has partnered with ABE to provide the educational programming at this year’s All Pints North. We think we have put together a great lineup with some amazing guest speakers. Check it out!

Beer Barrel BBQ 3:30 – 4:00p
Chef Tony Beran (Lake Ave Café) and Nate Beck (Natedogs)

Minnesota summers offer the perfect weather to fire up the grill. Why not make beer a part of your cookout? Join Chef Tony Beran of Lake Ave Cafe, as he showcases slow roasted pork shoulder smoked over Surly Pentagram staves, as well as a sour cherry Pentagram sauce to pair with. Nate Beck of Natedogs is loved among the beer community with his delicious dogs and mustards. He’ll guide you through the process of creating your own unique beer mustard. Join us for a delicious lesson in outdoor cooking with beer and building the best sauce.

Backwoods Brews 4:10 – 4:40p
Jake Boyce (Day Tripper of Duluth)

Last month Duluth was named as Outside Magazine’s best outdoor city in America. Outdoor activity is central to the Duluth lifestyle. This session pays homage to that by exploring the potential and practicalities of enjoying beer in the backcountry. What’s allowed? What type of beer is best? Can beer be part of your campfire cooking? Come find out from adventure guide Jake Boyce and share your own stories about enjoying beer in the backcountry.

Homebrewing Berliner Weisse 4:50 – 5:20p
Jeff Merriman (Northern Brewer/Certified Cicerone®) & Jace Marti (August Schell Brewing Co.)

One of the growing trends in American craft beer is the revival of nearly-extinct beer styles. Gose, Grätzer, Sahti, and Berliner Weisse have all seen a resurgence in the last few years. With a little bit of know-how you can make great versions of these beers at home. Jace Marti from August Schell Brewing Company shares the insights gained from creating the Noble Star series of Berliner Weisse style beers. Northern Brewer manager Jeff Merriman brings it home with the practical knowledge for backyard brewers.

Terroir of Twin Ports 5:30 – 6:00p
Emily Vikre (Vikre Distillery), Bryon Tonnis (Bent Paddle), Heiko Edwardson (Red Herring)

Alongside craft beer, craft distilling is booming. And the two have turned out to be terrific partners with artisanal spiritmakers and small brewers teaming up in the production process. The popularity of beer cocktails shows that the final products work pretty well together, too. Find out how Bent Paddle Brewing and Vikre Distillery are partnering right here in Duluth and learn how to whip up a tasty treat from Red Herring cocktail whiz Heiko Edwardson.

Rob and I hope to see you in the tent. Cheers!

 

Schell’s 30th-Anniversary Wheat Beer Collection

July 18th, 2014

1984 Brewers Log. Photo courtesy of Jace Marti.

In 1984, the August Schell Brewing Company made history by being the first American brewery to make a wheat beer since prohibition. San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company has long claimed to have been the first, but new information reveals that this is not true. Here is Schell’s Assistant Brewmaster Jace Marti talking on MNbeer.com about the subject.

“I was at the Craft Brewers Conference 2 years ago, and met Bob Brewer from Anchor Brewing Company (what a perfect name for the brewing industry) who has worked there I believe since the beginning. He said that Anchor had always claimed to have brewed the first wheat beer in America, but he wanted me to double check because of when ours came out. I went back and check our records, and on July 17th, 1984, we brewed our first batch of “Weiss Beer.” And by an unbelievable coincidence, and completely unknown to each other, Anchor Brewing brewed theirs on the exact same day! The first two wheat beers brewed in America since prohibition were both brewed on the same day and neither one of us knew it till recently. I will say though, that we mashed in the night before and knocked out the next morning, when the brew sheet would have been filled out, so technically….” – See more at: http://mnbeer.com/2014/06/25/schells-weizen-series/#sthash.gGQXeIdk.dpuf

A wheat beer would have been a big leap at the time, particularly a German-style wheat beer with its peculiar, fermentation-derived banana and clove flavors and aromas. The Midwest was still hardcore American lager country. The craft beer movement was just getting started on the West and East Coasts. The likes of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Anchor Steam hadn’t yet penetrated the heartland. Summit was still two years from delivering its first keg of Extra Pale Ale. What were they thinking?!!?

Whatever they were thinking, it worked. Although it has gone through some changes over the years – the original version was a filtered Krystall Weizen – Schell’s Hefeweizen is still one of the best beers in an overall stunning lineup. Sadly it’s now just a seasonal, with a maddeningly short season.

To celebrate the beer’s 40th anniversary Schell’s has introduced a commemorative 12-pack that contains four different iterations of the Hefe – the original 1984 version, the current 2014 version, a Dampfbier, and a Weizenbock. I’ve been anticipating this for a long time.

Here’s my notes:

Schell’s Weiss Beer 2014
August Schell Brewing Company, New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: German Hefeweizen
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Fermentation character dominates with high banana and medium to medium-low clove. Leans to the banana ester side. Light lemony citrus. Medium-high saltine cracker or bread dough wheat malt. No hops.

Appearance: Medium gold and cloudy. Full, mousse-like white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Again, fermentation flavors lead. Flavor leans more to banana than clove, but clove does make a strong appearance. High notes of lemon citrus come in shortly after taking it into the mouth. Bready/doughy wheat malt with a touch of sharpness. Medium sweetness that lingers into the finish. There is no hop flavor. Hop bitterness is low. No alcohol. No astringency. Very low acidity.

Mouthfeel: Medium body, but mouthfilling. Pillowy. High carbonation. A bit of carbonic bite.

Overall Impression: A beautiful example of the Bavarian wheat beer style. Good balance of banana and clove, with neither one coming on too strong. Light and refreshing, yet filling at the same time. What more can be said? I wish this were still a year-round offering.

Schell's 1984 Weiss BeerSchell’s Weiss Beer 1984
Style: German Krystall Weizen
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Low banana, low clove, bubblegum. Low bready wheat malt. No hops. Sweet. Balance is to fermentation. Banana over clove.

Appearance: Medium-gold, mostly clear with slight haze. Full, fluffy, white head with excellent retention.

Flavor: Low bitterness – very low. Low bready wheat, not sharp. Low banana and clove yeast. Bubblegum. Low spicy hops. Medium sweetness. Finish is off-dry to semi-sweet.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium to medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: Light and refreshing if a little uninteresting. Like a wheaty, American lager with a bit of yeast flavor. Certainly adventurous for its day, but rather tame by today’s standards.

Schell’s Weizenbock
Style: Weizenbock
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

Aroma: Fermentation character leads – bubblegum, banana and low clove. Medium bready wheat malt. Low notes of stone fruit and black pepper. Light alcohol.

Appearance: Light gold and very cloudy. Large stand of mousse-like, white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Medium to medium-high sweetness. Bitterness is low. No hop flavors. High, bready and saltine cracker wheat. Clove spice is in the forefront with banana close behind. Low stonefruit and candied citrus background. Low alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Full to medium-full body. Some warming. Carbonation is high. Creamy and mouthfilling.

Overall Impression: Lovely.

Dampfbier
Style: Dampfbier (All barley beer fermented with wheat beer yeast)
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle

I took notes on this one, but I can’t find them anywhere. But as Boulevard Brewing founder John McDonald once told me, “That’s how it should be.” I guess you’ll just have to pick up the 12-pack and judge this one for yourself.

Summit Union Series #3 – Southern Cape Sparkling Ale

June 18th, 2014

Beer styles emerge for many reasons. Ingredient availability, economics, consumer taste, and water are all factors. Even climate can play a role, as in the development of “steam beer” in San Francisco where 19th-century lager brewers were unable to rely on frigid winters and ice to achieve cold fermentation and conditioning temperatures. Because these factors tend to be regional, beer styles also often begin as regional phenomenon.

And so it is with Sparkling Ale, the native-born style of Australia. From the earliest days of the Australian colony, beer was seen as a more wholesome and less intoxicating alternative to rum, whiskey and other spirits. A strong brewing industry, it was believed, would also have a favorable economic impact on the new colony, providing jobs and promoting agriculture. Brewing was encouraged and even subsidized with government grants.

Brewing in Australia was a difficult proposition at the time. Ingredient supply was sporadic and the warmer climate than that “back home” in England led to beer that was often subpar. This led to the closure of many of these original breweries. Those that survived sometimes adulterated their beer with opper sulphate, tobacco and cocculus indicus (a very bitter poison) to make up for their shortcomings.

Australian beer gained a negative reputation, leading to a growth in the market for imported beers, including the newly-rising lager beers. The warm climate created a demand from consumers for lighter, more refreshing brews, and lager beers filled that bill. Like the inventors of cream ale in the United States, ale brewers in Australia responded by creating a light, effervescent ale that came to be known as sparkling ale.

The style’s popularity was short lived. As lager beer continued to dominate, sparkling ale breweries closed, eventually leaving only one – the Cooper’s Brewery. Cooper’s Sparkling Ale is still available and until very recently was the only version of the style to be had in this country.

With its newest Union Series beer – Southern CapeSummit Brewing Company has brought us another, at least for a limited time. The Union Series is designed to showcase new and lesser known ingredients. In this case these new ingredients all hail appropriately from the southern hemisphere. Malts come from Australia and Chile, hops from New Zealand and South Africa. Here is Head Brewer Damian McConn giving an introduction to the new ale.

Here’s my notes:

Summit Southern Cape Sparkling AleSouthern Cape
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Australian Sparkling Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
ABV: 4.4%
IBU: 47

Aroma: Malt centered with underlying fruity hop and ester compliment. Honey – like a sheet of beeswax. Fresh bread and graham cracker. Juicy fruit gum. Dried apricots. Light white-wine vinous notes.

Appearance: Medium gold and clear. 1 inch, creamy, white foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Malt centered with more-than-balancing bitterness that lingers into the finish. Same honey notes from the aroma. Graham cracker and low toast. Sweetness is low. Hop bitterness comes midway, hitting the back of the tongue with a cutting sharpness. Hop flavor is low, providing a bit of spice and limey citrus. Subtle stone-fruit esters round it out. The end is all hops, with long-lingering bitterness dominating the dry finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium-high carbonation. Light astringency.

Overall Impression: Delicate but forceful somehow at the same time. A super-dry finish and slightly higher-than-normal carbonation keeps it light and lively on the tongue. The waxy honey notes ground it. Bitterness is stronger than I personally would prefer, but not enough to stop me from drinking it. For some reason I have the urge to make salad dressing with this. Hmmmm…..

A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland

June 2nd, 2014

A Perfect Pint's Beer Guide to the Heartland

In December 2010 I embarked on a journey to catalog every brewery in four states; Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. Three-and-a-half years, over 10,000 miles, 30 hotel rooms, countless road meals, and a whole lot of beer later, the job is complete.

I am thrilled to announce the publication by the University of Illinois Press of A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland, a comprehensive compendium of brewing in the upper-Midwest. In it I profile 236 breweries, of which I actually visited over 210. On my visits I talked to brewers and owners, toured facilities, sampled beer, chatted up customers and tasted food to get a clear picture of the story behind each and every place.

Every profile includes the basic who-what-where, along with other information such as brewery size and maker, lists of beers, nearby attractions, amenities, and my personal notes on what made each place unique to me. I also give my personal pick for which beer to try from every brewery. It’s a great companion for beer travelers to the region.

In addition to the brewery profiles, three historical articles at the beginning chart the rise of the brewing giants after prohibition, tell the story of the Grain Belt brand, and show how old lagering caves are now being put to other uses. In the back is a glossary of beer terms.

The book is currently available at all the online booksellers as well as in major bookstores. If you want a signed copy, order it from my Perfect Pint Square Marketplace page. I’ll sign it and ship it off to you.

I’ve got a number of signing events schedules for the coming weeks.

Keep an eye on the Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland Facebook page for more events as scheduled.

Bent Brewstillery Moar Scottish Session IPA

May 19th, 2014

The session IPA train continues to roll. Smaller versions of America’s favorite beer keep flowing from breweries all over the country. The first Minnesota-brewed example of which I am aware was Summit’s Unchained #12: 100% Organic Ale released in early 2013. Now Roseville-based Bent Brewstillery has jumped on the trend with a new year-round offering called. Moar. Billed as a Scottish Session IPA, the beer delivers a low-test India ale with a decidedly British bent.

I’m a bit hard pressed though to figure out what classifies this as a “session IPA” rather than simply a special/best bitter. The ABV falls within the range for the best bitter style and the IBUs are only four points higher, an amount of extra bitterness that would go undetected by all but the most discriminating palates. In character it’s not too far off from the best bitter description offered by the BJCP. But you know what? Session IPA is a recently made up style anyway, so I’ll play along.

Here’s my notes:

Moar
Bent Brewstillery, Roseville, Minnesota
Style: Session IPA
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle

Aroma: Caramel, biscuit and oranges. Fresh. Hops dominate slightly with the character of a freshly peeled orange. Low herbal/minty notes underneath. Toffee and dry-biscuit malt aromatics offer support. No alcohol. Low esters reinforce the orange hops.

Appearance: Medium-light orange/amber with a slight haze. Full head of creamy, white foam with low retention.

Flavor: Hops dominate. Medium-high bitterness rides through from start to finish. Citrus and herbal hop flavors carry over from the aroma, reinforced again by fruity esters to give the impression of freshly peeled orange. Malt offers some sweetness to balance the bitterness, but gives way to a super-dry finish. Flavors of toffee and biscuit linger after swallowing along with bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium-low carbonation. Low astringency.

Overall Impression: Bent brewer Kristen England has done it again. Most session IPAs attempt to deliver IPA-level IBUs in a beer that can barely support them. England has opted instead for balance. The bitterness here is in line with the weight of the beer and the ability of the malt to offer support, making for a more drinkable beer. And malt character hasn’t been forgotten either. Toffee and biscuit flavors do more than just give the hops a place to sit.

Spiegelau/Rogue/Left Hand Stout Glass: How’s it Rate?

May 13th, 2014

spiegelau-stout-glass

My view is that until very recently, the majority of beer glassware selections have been based more on tradition than on what the glass actually delivers from the beer. Beer folk scream and wail about the cursed, straight-edged, shaker pint, but aside from larger volume and a bulbous protrusion that helps you keep hold of your glass when you’ve had one too many, I’d be hard pressed to say what a Nonic pint does that’s any better. And really, if you can’t grip your glass, it’s probably time to head home anyway.

When it comes to the right glass for the right juice, the wine people have it over the beer people in spades. They have a glass for nearly every varietal. And instead of tradition, they use science to design glassware that delivers the best experience from each grape. They pay attention to aromatic dispersion. They shape each glass type to deliver wine to just the right location on the tongue. To paraphrase glass maker George Riedel, “Wine glass design isn’t about emotion, it’s about physics.” Don’t believe it makes a difference? Take a Riedel class and see for yourself.

But beer glassware is coming of age. In the last couple years brewers have been collaborating with Riedel subsidiary Spiegelau to design beer-specific glassware with particular styles in mind. The first was the IPA glass designed with Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head that came out in 2013. While it was met with vociferous controversy in the beer blogosphere, my own comparative test found it to be at least minimally effective at delivering a better IPA experience.

Now comes the stout glass created by Spiegelau in collaboration with Rogue and Left Hand. Compared to the IPA glass, the announcement of the stout glass was greeted with relative silence. I’ve seen nary a blog post or tweet saying “yay” or “nay” regarding its efficacy. With that in mind I decided to give it a try.

The promotional materials for the glass make four main claims.

  • The voluminous, open bottom glass base drives beer and aromatic foam upward into the main bowl.
  • Ultra-pure quartz material makes for unsurpassed clarity and flawless, true color presentation of stout beer.
  • Wider, conical bowl significantly amplifies aromas and also provides superior flow to mid palate, improving the taste, mouthfeel and finish of complex stout beers.
  • Stark, angular shape and open base creates dramatic visual cascading effect into glass as beer is poured.

Stout Glass Test

To test these claims I pitted the new glass against the standard shaker pint and a Spiegelau tulip glass. Each glass was washed at the same time, using the same protocol. A full bottle of Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout was poured into each with similar vigor. I evaluated each glass for appearance, aroma, and flavor. One caveat must be stated. It is impossible to do a blind taste test of glassware, therefore it is possible that my evaluation was skewed by my subjective impression of each glass.

So how did the stout glass do?

Appearance

Contrary to Spiegelau’s claims about the stout glass, I did not notice any significant enhancement of the cascading effect in the foam. In fact, there was no cascading in any of the three glasses at all. I’m told that you have to pour pretty aggressively to get that from the Nitro Milk Stout. I apparently did not pour aggressively enough. That said, in terms of head formation and retention it was a toss-up between the stout glass and the shaker pint. Both formed a dense, creamy, half-inch head that stuck around for the entirety of my test – about 20 minutes. The stout glass has etched nucleation points on the bottom, but that didn’t seem to make a difference in this case. The tulip glass formed less head and the retention was considerably shorter. Both the tulip and shaker pint left the beer inky black and opaque. The narrower bottom on the stout glass did allow for a better evaluation of color and clarity. The design of the stout glass is attractive and certainly makes a stronger impression than the other two glasses.

For overall effect on appearance I give the edge to the stout glass.

C360_2014-05-12-20-29-16-268

Aroma

Here is where the biggest difference was seen, and the stout glass really delivered. The shaker pint gave only the faintest of aromatic impressions – vague notes of coffee and bitter chocolate with no hop aromatics. The tulip allowed for a more layered experience of the roasted malts, with stronger coffee and chocolate character coming through. The stout glass exploded with olfactory satisfaction. Overall the aromas were far richer and more nuanced. Textured tones of café mocha with subtle dry-roasted, Oreo-cookie chocolate became apparent. My notes say “coffee and cream.” Faint licorice and herbal hop aromatics were also apparent.

For overall aromatic delivery the stout glass wins hands down.

Flavor

Here is was a tie between the stout glass and the tulip. The shaker pint gave a full-flavored experience, but it seemed overly thick and sweet – more milk chocolate than bittersweet. In contrast, both the tulip and the stout glass emphasized a drier roast. The milk stout sweetness was there mid-palate, but better balanced with roasted malt and hop bitterness – less milkshake-like than from the shaker pint. The coffee and cream character came through in both, as did the bittersweet chocolate.

Finding very little difference between the flavors from the stout or the tulip glass, I declare it a tie.

Conclusion

Based on its slight edge in appearance and huge lead in aromatics, I give the Spiegelau stout glass a hearty thumbs up. It delivers the goods and looks stylish as well. There is one downside to this glass though. It is a total pain in the ass to clean. The bowl on top is tall enough that it is impossible to reach to the bottom. I had to use a fork to move my sponge around in the base. But if you are a glass geek it is probably worth the effort.

The stout glass is available for order at www.spiegelauUSA.com. Branded versions can be had at www.rogue.com and www.lefthandbrewing.com.

Brewer Interview: Dane Breimhorst – Burning Brothers Brewing

May 12th, 2014

Burning Brothers Brewing

In a recent Minneapolis Star Tribune column I profiled Burning Brothers Brewing, Minnesota’s first and only gluten-free brewery. For the column I did an extended interview with co-founder and head brewer Dane Breimhorst. We talked in-depth about what it means to live with Celiac disease, how gluten-free beers differ from other beers, and the challenges of crafting gluten-free brews that actually taste like beer. What follows is the nearly-full content of that interview.

Let’s start with your background. What’s the path you took to get here?

I grew up in a small town. And I actually grew up hating beer. In this small town the only beers were a lot of the larger brand beers, and I just didn’t care for them that much. I thought that’s how beer tasted. I thought that was it. I drank it on the farm all the time because after a hot day there is nothing like an ice cold lager. But what I did like to do was make wine. So I started off at eighteen making country wines. If it rotted I made wine with it. Then somebody had this beer kit at a garage sale. It was one of those Mr. Brews or something like that.

Add water and stir?

Add water and stir, ferment it and wait. And it tastes horrible. But I was curious to see if I could make it taste better, because I was also really into cooking. I used to run a little gourmet club when I was in high school and I would ferment anything that fermented.

So it seems like fermentation has been a theme in your life.

Yup. If it rots you can ferment it. I didn’t care if it was grain or if it was dandelions or gooseberries. I didn’t care whatever the heck it was. I’d go to the grocery store and walk through the produce section going, “Wow, there’s a lot of wine in here.” I’m making everything into wine.
But so when I turned 21, I had a Red Hook Extra Special Bitter. I was hooked. All of a sudden I got something different and I started diving into it. Kölsch? I was like, “What is that?” There wasn’t a lot of literature on it and the internet wasn’t huge, so I just started dabbling and anything that looked weird I’d buy. At one point in time I became a stout fanatic to the point where we used to go see an Irish band play every Tuesday night and I would order a pitcher of Guinness and I would dunk my Oreos® in it all night long. And I got other people ordering pitchers of Guinness. All of a sudden you’d see people going into this Irish bar with Double Stuffed Oreos®. I mean people were sitting there listening to the band and dunking Oreos® in Guinness and drinking. It was a new fad in this particular pub. It lasted at least a month or two.
So from there I just started exploring brewing a little bit more. And then my friend Thom and I, we’ve been friends since we were nineteen, we both started thinking that we had enough knowledge of it on a small system, like a little 15-gallon, half-barrel, 20-gallon system, that we could make a brew on premises work. I think it’s a fantastic idea and if it’s marketed right I think that the Twin Cities could use another one. And I thought that if we opened one up in Northeast or over in that area that it would rock. So we wrote up a full business plan on it. We continued to brew. We started brewing together to see where we were both at. We priced it all out and had the business plan written, and we were about to execute it when we got slammed by a brick wall. I was diagnosed with Celiac and that was the end of that. Right away we looked at the business plan and said there’s just not the market for a gluten-free brew on premises and there’s no way that I could run a regular brew on premises without killing myself.

What exactly is Celiac disease?

Alright. So Celiac is an autoimmune disorder. Meaning that when my body ingests a certain amino acid protein strain found in a variety of grass that is the wheat family it triggers a self-attack. Wheat, barley, rye, spelt, all of those grasses are related to each other and they all contain gluten. Well, all grain contains a gluten protein, and that gluten is just a protective amino strain that protects the grain. This particular strain of gluten from that particular grass family affects some of us to where our bodies ingest it and it triggers a self-attack. So my body will actually attack itself and it will do so mostly in my small intestine. It destroys the small hairs that uptake nutrients and you actually become malnourished. So after I was tested, we actually had to go through a full test to see what my vitamin levels were and I was practically third-world country. We had to bump everything way back up again. And when I get sick I can tell because all of my nutrients go down and for the next couple of months I’m prone to any kind of illness because it’s an immune reaction. So for me it feels like the flu times ten, about 48 hours of nasty. Then about a week or two of recovery.

I know there are degrees of Celiac. Some people it’s fairly mild, some people it’s intense. You’re on the intense end of that spectrum.

This is what they’re trying to figure out. It doesn’t seem like it’s so much the severity of the actual disease itself, but the severity of the reaction, the outward reaction. Some people get nothing but a little bit of heartburn. That becomes chronic and of course it’s bad for the esophagus. But the problem is that they are still doing the same damage on the inside. So yeah, my symptoms are pretty severe. There are people out there that are much more severe than I am. My aunt has Celiac and she’ll actually break out in hives all over. I don’t. I just puke out of every orifice. And sit around in the fetal position for a while wishing I was dead. Then after that it’s alright.

So I notice that you were wearing rubber gloves at Winterfest.

I learned a lesson at Hops for Hunger. I was pouring beer all night at Hops for Hunger and I was drinking my beer as well. But as soon as you hand someone your glass, a lot of times they are going to rinse out that previous beer. The glass is soaking in beer. It’s all over everything. So it was all over my hands. So every single time I was drinking my beer I was rubbing more gluten onto my cup and into my mouth. It usually takes about 24 hours for the symptoms to really kick in. I was so bad. I hadn’t had that kind of reaction in a while. Unfortunately brew day doesn’t care about that. I think I did a 16 or 17-hour double brew run that day. It was just running back and forth from the bathroom to the brew floor just wanting to die. I mean, everybody helped. We all kind of chipped in. It was Thom and I for the most part and we just rocked it out. Then I went home, tried to get some sleep, and came right back in the next morning. Welcome to owning your own business. So now when I’m pouring we bring a box of gloves for me to wear.

Sticky hands are just part of a beer fest. You end up with beer all over everything.

I know. Actually, people were kind of whispering about it. “Oh my god, does he hate beer that much? Why is he wearing gloves?” I’m Burning Brothers. I have celiac. It will kill me.

So to get back, you had this business plan and you had to throw it out.

Yup. We were pretty bummed out about it. We weren’t quite in the position that we thought to open an actual package brewery. So I went out and bought pretty much every gluten-free beer that was on the market. Back then that was only three or four. I didn’t like them. They just weren’t my thing. I’ll never cut them down. I’ll never cut down any beer out there. It’s up to personal preference. But it wasn’t my thing. I didn’t like it and I was determined to make my own. I obviously know how to brew beer and so does Thom. So Thom was like, “Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s see if we can brew a gluten-free beer.” We spent years trying. We threw the kitchen at it. We were trying different spice combinations, anything just to mask that sorghum flavor.

So my take on gluten-free beers, most of them, is that you can’t approach it thinking that it’s going to taste like beer. If you accept that and judge it on its own merits, then some of them aren’t so bad. But you have to rid yourself of that expectation.

We kind of approached it that way at first, but I said why not raise our standards up and say this should taste like beer. I want to make it as close to beer as possible. And not just beer, but I want to make it a well-balanced beer, as balanced as I can possibly make it. That was my thing. I missed beer

So what do you have to do to make a gluten-free beer? What’s different than regular barley beer?

You cannot use barley, wheat, rye, spelt, all the main ingredients in beer as we know it today.

So what do you use instead?

BB PyroI use an ancient grain, which some of the first records of beer out of Northern Africa were thought to be made out of, a grain called sorghum. It’s the primary grain in our flagship beer. That’s a 100% sorghum beer. I also use malted buckwheat and malted millet. I’m trying to experiment a little bit with teff, which is kind of a nutty grass. Wild rice as well. I’m not big on the rice, however. I’ve had a couple of companies ask me if I could sample their malted brown rice. But I always get a piece of paper with it that says “Please don’t feed this to people with celiac because there is gluten in it.” It’s malted on the same malting floor as barley. It’s stored in the same warehouse. I’m like, well then it’s full of it. Are you kidding me? I almost yelled at a couple of suppliers for bringing it into my brewery, because this is s gluten-free facility. We don’t allow it in the facility in any way. So now I’m taking some of that and very carefully packaging it and sending it out to my maltstress in Colorado and saying, “can you give me 20 or 30 pounds of this? I just want to try it to see what the flavor profile is.” That’s the big thing with gluten-free. You’re using different grains, but yet you want to try and get a lot of the same flavors as you would from barley.

So is the brewing process the same with those grains? Will they convert their own starch to sugar or do you have to use enzymes?

They convert. I have to use no enzymes whatsoever. They actually convert very easily, so they’re a little bit more forgiving. Sorghum isn’t. Sorghum is a pain. Sorghum is an absolute pain. That’s why most places will just extract the sugar by adding enzymes instead of using the malting procedure. They just grind it, add enzymes and pull out the sugars that way. But millet and buckwheat are easy. And quinoa as well, which if the price ever goes down on it we’ll run a batch. If I do end up running it, then we’ll do small, one-barrel batches of a tripel, because that’s my Everest. I’m pretty sure I have a recipe down that I can do it, but that will be quinoa, buckwheat, and millet all together with no sorghum in it.

So sorghum to me does have a particular flavor when it’s made into beer. It’s kind of all at once oddly almond/floral and then cider – like green apple cider. But your beers do not have that. There is a little bit of that floral/almond in there, but not as intense as in a lot of sorghum beers. And I don’t get any of that cider character. If this beer is 100% sorghum, why don’t I get that?

So when we were trying to do gluten-free beers at first, we were failing miserably. We just couldn’t do it. We stopped and took a step back and thought, “We’re starting to prove that Einstein’s theory is correct. We’re just doing the same thing over and over again. We’re adding spices. We’re adding this and that. We’re adding as many adjuncts as we can to try to mask flavors. Instead of trying to mask flavors, why don’t we tear it apart?”
You know, I used to be a fine-dining cook. I’m very good at pulling flavors apart palate-wise, at least for food. So I had to start training myself. I’m always trying to look at beer in that sense. With beer and with wine I’m always trying to pull the palate apart and taste it that way. But I kind of stepped back from the beer thing and I went more for cooking. The flavor profiles that I’m looking for are this, this, this, and this. These are the flavor profiles that are good about straight sorghum and these are the ones that are not. So how do we get rid of the ones that are bad? Then I tried to figure out what I had. As much as I liked brewing and fermenting, I was no yeast expert. I knew that different kinds of yeast do different things and give different flavors and different reactions, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what happens if you push a yeast here or there. I knew about steam beers, but why does that action happen? Why does it change the flavor so profusely? I started playing around with yeast at that point. I started playing around with hops, completely throwing the books out, throwing out the guidelines and asking, okay so how do I change this profile? I have to add this profile to it and that will neutralize it and make it inert. You know, I add a bitter to a sweet. I add a spice to a sweet.

So working kind of like I would do with food pairings, looking for interactions that will tone down certain things and bring out others.

Exactly. It took a while to really wrap my head around it and start walking down that edge. Now I’m so specific that I’ve kilned my own grains and malted my own grains. It comes to me already malted now, but it’s the exact same thing, so I already know what it’s going to taste like. I can actually send my maltster a sample of my particular roast and she will match it. So we started playing with that. I started pushing yeast a little bit too, trying to get some flavors that might be considered off in other beers. We actually look for them, because they contradict some of the flavors in the sorghum that we want gone. So clever use of hops and yeast is the biggest thing. Fermentation temperatures. How fast I cycle through a fermenter.

So that kind of gets to something you said to me earlier, that yeast is your best friend. Is that primarily the reason?

I’ve always been fascinated by fungus. When I was younger I used to grow mushrooms. Not the hallucinogenic ones. I loved growing edible, culinary mushrooms. It’s hard to find hedgehog mushrooms. It’s hard to find black chanterelle mushrooms up here. And there’s no way I’m going to pay that much for portabellas or creminis. I realized that I could get free spore prints from universities. Growing mushrooms was one of the most difficult things I ever learned how to do. You almost have to do it in a lab. I actually have a glove box and I’m taking spore prints and I’m inoculating plates. It’s like working with yeast. I feel very comfortable with it.

Dane Breimhorst(2)

Is there really a big enough market for a totally gluten-free brewery?

Yes. Absolutely. Right now the gluten-free industry in the United States is a 3.8 billion dollar industry. So it’s huge. And the number of cases is increasing yearly. The reason why is not because the number of people who have the genetic code for celiac are increasing, it’s that people are more aware of it and the tests are getting easier. The blood tests are actually pretty decent now. When I first went in, the blood tests were crap. You pretty much had to do an endoscopy and that scares people away from getting tested.
In some states you can be certified that you have celiac. I don’t know what that means to be certified celiac. “Wow! I have a sucky disease and I’m certified that I have a sucky disease! I can’t eat your food anymore! This sucks! Yay me!” But now more and more people are getting tested. That’s one of the things they are testing kids for now. It’s part of the allergen test.
That’s one of the reasons that we want to come out with the beers that we want to come out with. We want to come out with an American pale ale because to me when you’re trying to get into beers and you’re really exploring, there are beers that are better to start off with than others. And I think that the drinkability of American pale ale, especially with the citrus, it makes it a really easy summer beer to drink and it’s a beer that you can drink all year round. And it’s easier for those who aren’t hugely into craft beers. I mean, I have an American premium lager recipe. I’ve brewed it. It tastes like an American premium lager. It’s a pain to do, but I don’t mind doing it. But at the same time I’m like, “Do I want to put out an American premium lager? Do I want to do it?” I might eventually. I don’t know. As I got older I found a place for the American lager – before I got diagnosed. I actually really liked it when I went out fishing. That’s why I want to put it out. I want to put out a fisherman’s eight-pack. Just in cans. An eight-pack kind of thing.

You wouldn’t be the only one. A lot of craft brewers now are starting to put out American style lagers. Town Hall has one.

You can have fun with them. You don’t have to rip out everything with rice solids. I want to see how straw-colored I can make mine. I want to make it as clear as possible, as straw-colored as possible. It’s a challenge to make. It’s a hard beer to make. It’s a stupid-hard beer to make gluten-free because there is so much in the flavor that you have to hold back.

There’s not a lot to mask the sorghum flavor.

The other really difficult one is one that Thom my business partner has challenged me to do, and I’m not sure how I’m going to do it, but he wants me to do an English mild session beer. Trying to get a sorghum beer down in the 2% range, low 3% range – I have a hard time keeping it as low as I do now just because your first instinct is to rip out as much of the sugar from the sorghum as possible. That’s how you’re going to get alcohol from doing that. But to actually try to keep it low and still keep the balance. I’m thinking it’s not going to be a sorghum beer, that’s for sure. It might be just straight buckwheat, and I’ll use a bit of millet just as a pale malt in there.

What about roasted grains?

It gives you a real biscuity flavor if you just use it straight without malting it. If you malt it first you get a lot more of the malt tones in there. It’s still hard to pull that malt flavor out. But when you just roast it there’s no backbone, but a lot of biscuit. You can almost taste the burnt toast in there. It’s good in certain beers.
I was playing around with different stout recipes. I still want to create different stouts, because as I said before, when I was younger I fell in love with stout. I’d like to get back and do a really nice porter and a really nice stout and dive into some of the darker beers, the meatier beers like that. I use roasted buckwheat in one of the stouts that I was working on. It came out pretty good. The best stout I did was with quinoa, but I can’t figure out how to brew it on a large scale and have people afford it. That would be a 750 ml for 30 bucks almost. I know there are people with celiac who would pay that, but at the same time, I just don’t want them to have to. So it will take some time. Right now I’m working on something that’s just as good but doesn’t have quinoa in it.

That would be a hard sell. At 30 bucks you’re in the range of something like Deus Brut des Flandres.

I’m not up to that. I can only strive.

Talking to you it’s clear how your cooking and culinary background translates into brewing. But how do you see the connection?

Well…my attitude on the brew floor. My assistants hate it. I go right back into the kitchen mentality. One of them, thank God, has spent half his life in a kitchen, so he knows what it’s like to be yelled at. There’s a separating line between the brew floor and out here. Out here it didn’t happen. Just forget about it. We made beer. But I get pretty ornery back there. It’s funny, because I revert right back to that. If somebody misses something that’s really, really small it’s the most irritating thing in the world. To me as a cook that’s huge. On the hot side it’s not as bad because you’re not really as worried about contamination and all that, but I’m still, “I didn’t say that lever! Grab that butterfly and God damnit open it now! Jesus fucking Christ, let me do it!” I’m whipping down from the platform and I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to go over here and CIP something.” Actually, I’m trying to work on it.

Having worked for ten years in restaurants, that sounds very familiar.

Exactly. And I want to do everything at once, too. Just like in a restaurant. When they walk into the cooler and grab one thing and come out, I’m like, “what the hell are you doing? You’ve got stronger arms than that, pile it on there. You can take three boxes of hops out of there at a time, for God’s sake. It’s under a hundred pounds. You can do it. You’re wasting time.” Even though it’s not affecting the brew time whatsoever. You’re waiting for water to boil. Nothing is going on besides cleaning the brewery and prepping things out there. It’s not a big rush. But I get that cook mentality where it’s a rush and get it on. When that door opens, this place better be pristine and you’re mise en place better be set out perfectly. And you better be ready to cook some real food. Everything is done to order, baby.
But I also do that with the recipes too. I have my own wait staff that comes by to try recipes that I think are getting to the point that they are good. They come by and grab a growler and tear this apart. Tear it apart. My family, I’ll go to them for compliments all day long. But I want some constructive criticism, damnit. Tear it apart. That’s the reason we entered our beer into so many competitions while we still could. We entered the competitions just to get the feedback from the judges. We never told them it was gluten-free. I don’t want it compared to other gluten free beers. I feel like I have a product that can stand up against other gluten free beers on the market. I more want a product that can stand up to or at least hold its own weight against some of the craft beers. There is no way that I can top some of them, but I’m going to keep trying.

Stone Spröcket Bier Black Rye Kölsch

April 29th, 2014

Black Rye Kölsch!??! What the #&@$? Really?

I recently wrote a piece for the Growler Magazine decrying the tyranny of style. But really? Black Rye Kölsch? That doesn’t even make sense. Why evoke the word kölsch when the beer apparently has nothing kölsch-like about it? I mean, kölsch isn’t just a style invented for American competition guidelines; it’s an actual thing, defined by an international convention that spells out what it is and where it can be brewed?

Dick & Robbie’s Spröcket Bier is the first entry in Stone Brewing Co.’s Stone Spotlight Series, the product of an intra-brewery competition engaging all brewery employees in the creation of small-batch beers. As described on the brewery blog:

“in [order] to keep the ingenuity and enjoyability factors up at our brewery, we engaged in a year-long intra-company brewing competition that pitted single members of our brew staff and two-brewer teams against each other in a light-hearted yet extremely serious battle to see whose beer dream reigned supreme. That competition was dubbed the Stone Spotlight Series.”

Spröcket Bier was created by Quality Production Assurance Lead Rick Blankemeier and Production Warehouse Lead Robbie Chandler. It was based on a rye kölsch homebrew recipe. Blackness was applied as a nod to the Stone reputation for extremity. Like the black IPA and white stout before it, it is an oxymoron of a beer. But can this contradictory brew be good?

Here’s my notes:

Stone Spröcket Bier Black Rye KölschDick & Robbie’s Spröcket Bier
Stone Brewing Co., Escondido, California
Style: “Black Rye Kölsch”
Serving Style: 22 oz. bottle

Aroma: Low roasted malt – French roast coffee and bitter chocolate. Doughy, bready. Confectioner’s sugar sweetness. Low spicy, blackberry/current Hallertau hops. Moderate fruity notes – tangerine or pear.

Appearance: Black and nearly opaque with reddish highlights. Appears clear. Full head of sturdy, creamy, beige foam with excellent retention.

Flavor: Dry, espresso roast hits tip of tongue. A bit or roast astringency lasts through to the finish. Mid-palate is very pilsner-like – low, grainy pils malt character and the spicy, licorice, blackberry/current of Hallertau hops. Hop bitterness is medium, enhanced by roast. Rye character comes out just before swallowing and after – dry, spicy, rye bread. Finish is dry with lingering bitterness and roast astringency. Low pear-like fruity esters. Midway through the bottle the roast falls back, allowing a more kölsch or pilsner-like beer to emerge.
Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium carbonation. Moderate astringency.

Overall Impression: My experience of this beer changed as I drank. Temperature? Palate conditioning? At first I didn’t care for it. It made me angry. Why even evoke the name kölsch? It had nothing particularly kölsch-like about it beyond continental hops and a certain yeastiness in the nose. A coffee-ish pilsner perhaps? Coffee schwarzbier? It was too roasty for schwarzbier, but came closer to that than kölsch. I enjoyed the moments when the pilsner-like characteristics came through, but then that dry, Irish-stout type roastiness would get in the way. Dry, dry, dry. Dry roast. Dry finish. All enhanced by the dry impression of rye. But the longer I drank, the less the roast got in the way. The pilsner/kölsch character began to burst through. It kept flipping back and forth between roast and kölsch – an interesting, schizophrenic flickering in my brain. By the end of the bottle I was kind of digging it. Still, I don’t think I would call it a kölsch.

Fulton Beer’s New Production Facility

April 17th, 2014

I first interviewed the guys from Fulton Brewing about four years ago. They had come out of nowhere to put beer in bars all over the metro. No one knew who they were or what they were up to. The interview was conducted in a garage in the Fulton neighborhood of South Minneapolis. We drank beers poured from corny kegs in a chest freezer. At the time they were contract brewing their beer at Sand Creek Brewing in Black River Falls, Wisconsin.

They have come a long way since then. I just a few years they opened their taproom near target field, taking over the brewing of all of the kegged product, while moving bottled beer production to Point Brewing in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Last year Fulton’s total production was around 15,000 barrels. That’s a lot of beer. This year they will complete construction of a new 7 million dollar facility in Northeast Minneapolis that will increase their capacity to a point that they don’t even know. For the first time Fulton will be producing all of its own beer in-house.

I had a chance to visit the facility last night. Quite impressive.


Beer & Wine University is back!

April 2nd, 2014

Beer/Wine University

Due to overwhelming success of our fall Beer/Wine University Series, Sommelier Leslee Miller of Amusee and Certified Cicerone® Michael Agnew of A Perfect Pint are bringing the popular libation bootcamp back – not just once, but twice a year!

Each session we promise to mix up the fun & education, so you can build upon your repertoire of delicious wine and beer knowledge. If you made it to our last series, come again! It’ll be different each time around.

The next session’s fun starts on April 17th and runs three consecutive Thursdays May 1st!

When: April 17, 24th & May 1st. Class starts promptly at 6:30pm and will run until 8:30pm.

Where:  The Carlyle Building, 100 3rd Ave S, Minneapolis

Parking: There is absolutely no inside building parking.  Street parking is available, along with an open air CASH pay lot across the street from the building.

Cost: $40 per class session or sign up for all three at once and receive a $20 discount!

Buy your ticket here!

Contact Leslee Miller directly at leslee@amuseewine.com for all questions & inquiries, DO NOT contact The Carlyle Building

Session #1 – April 17th: Back to Basics: Wine/Beer Bootcamp: Learn the basics of beer and wine with two of the Twin Cities’ most passionate beer and wine educators, Sommelier Leslee Miller and Cicerone Michael Agnew. From styles, regions, grape varietals to all the sensory perspectives of grains to grapes – Michael and Leslee introduce the basics of beer/wine in this introductory 2 hour course.

Session #2 – April 24th:  Pantry Pairings: Understand the basics of how to pair beer and wine to the world of food. Whether the dish is light and bright, salty and savory, or earthy and umami, you’ll learn the time-tested tricks of correctly pairing the right libations to the right foods and gain an understanding of when the ‘old school’ rules need not apply.

The best part…we’re pairing to all the easy eats that you prepare Monday through Thursday; things found in your pantry, from guacamole, chips & dip to Minnesota hot dish! We have the libation answers to your weeknight cravings.

Session #3 – May 1st:  Open that Bottle Night!: Looking to really step outside your box?  This is the class for you!  From weird and whacky grape varietals, obscure growing regions, and funky vintaged wines to the world’s most interesting specialty and extreme beers (and maybe a beer cocktail to boot!), this class takes your knowledge of beer and wine to the next level.  Beverage selections for this class won’t be revealed until the night of!