Fulton and Harriet Brewery Updates

The Twin Cities metro beer and brewing scene continues to heat up. A while back I reported on the progress Lift Bridge is making with their new site in Stillwater. But Lift Bridge isn’t the only one moving into a space of its own. Both Fulton Beer and Harriet Brewing are pushing forward with their Minneapolis breweries. I had the opportunity to meet with Fulton’s Ryan Petz and Harriet’s Jason Sowards to get the low-down.

The Fulton space is on 6th Ave N in the shadow of Target Field. Looking out the front window in the future brewhouse area one can almost hear the roar of the crowd. The building is currently just a nearly empty industrial space. They have a long way to go before beer will start flowing. The equipment from the Fulton garage brewery has been moved in and the initial demolition phase is nearly complete. They still have to secure financing before a brewery can be ordered.

In the center of the space will be a tasting room and gathering spot with windows looking in on the brewery. The plans for the space include a 20-barrel Newlands Systems brewhouse and five fermenters. There is plenty of room to expand add fermenters for increased capacity. Rounding the corner from the brewery there is an area for keg filling and storage. Beyond that is planned the cool-room and distribution loading dock. Ryan showed me renderings for improvements to the outside of the building. It should be an attractive space once it’s completed.

For now the plan is to eventually move kegged production and small-batch, big-bottle beers to the new space and contract bottled production of their flagship beers at Sand Creek where they currently brew.

The Harriet Brewing space in the Seward Neighborhood is further along. Jason has moved the brewery in and is in the process of getting everything plumbed and electrified. Pipes, couplers, tools, and random bits of equipment are scattered all over the large brewery area. Jason bought a German-made Wachsmann system from a defunct brewpub in Japan. Two open fermenters came along with the brewhouse and additional closed fermenters are on the way. Before moving in the brewhouse, the entire floor was sanded and coated with epoxy paint.

The brewery is in the back of the building. As you move forward there are a number of rooms that will serve as tasting room and office. A while back Jason expressed an interest in having a small art gallery where local artists could display work.

Jason had planned to have his first batch brewed by now. Local bureaucracy and regulation has delayed that goal, but he still hopes to crank things up before the end of the year. Best of luck.

Fulton Photos by Mark Roberts.

Making Sahti on Brewing TV

Boy, I have been posting a lot of videos lately.

My brewing friend Mark Roberts and I have been making repeated attempts to brew Sahti, a primitive, Finnish beer that is still brewed pretty much as it was 500 years ago. Traditional Sahti is unhopped, unboiled, uncarbonated, flavored with juniper twigs, and fermented with fresh baking yeast. Mark’s wife is a Finn and they lived in Finland for several years. On a recent trip he was able to smuggle back some authentic bottled versions for us to sample, giving us a benchmark to aim for. With this benchmark in mind we made our third attempt in October. We are coming closer, but still have not quite hit the mark. You can read about our first attempt here.

For the third attempt Chip Walton from Brewing TV came and shot our brewday. Here it is.

Brewing TV – Episode 24: Sahti Throwdown from Brewing TV on Vimeo.

Dry Dock Brewing Company Post-GABF Interview

In the summer of 2006 I spent three weeks in Aurora, Colorado doing some theatre work with kids. Of course I used my off hours to explore the incredible Denver craft beer scene. One of the breweries that I found on Beermapping.com was Dry Dock Brewing. It was located in Aurora, just a few miles from my hotel. How could I not pay them a visit?

I jumped in the car and drove to the address. I drove up and down the street looking for any signs of a brewery, but found none. Frustrated, I finally decided to ask in the homebrew store that I had driven past. Surely they would know if there was a brewery in the area. That turned out to be a good call, as the brewery I sought was literally in the back-room of the store.

I went into the tasting room, a tiny, nondescript and somewhat makeshift bar area. It didn’t fill me with confidence about the beers I would find there. I took a seat at the bar and ordered the sampler tray. Out came six or eight beer samples representing a wide range of styles. As I worked my way through I was completely surprised. These were really good beers. I loved the vanilla porter. The hefeweizen was heavenly. There was an opulent old ale. But the best of all was the H.M.S. Victory ESB. I was surprised to learn that this beer had won a gold medal at the world beer cup earlier that year. They continued to win medals every since.

Having discovered all this great beer I spent a lot of time in that little tasting room during the rest of my Aurora stay. I was happy to go back to Dry Dock following this year’s Great American Beer Festival. Things have changed a bit since my visit four years ago. I got to speak and share a beer with owner and founder Kevin DeLange. Here’s the interview.

Check out other videos on the Perfect Pint You Tube Channel.

Ray Daniels, Lead Cicerone at the 2010 GABF

It was bad service of good beer that motivated Ray Daniels to start the Cicerone Certification Program a couple of years ago. In the first year of the program 17 people passed the Certified Cicerone exam. I was one of them, and the first in Minnesota. Now there are over 100 Certified Cicerones throughout the country. I think there are now five in Minnesota.

The goal of the program is to provide beer service training and credentialing to people in the beer industry. There are three levels of certification. The Certified Beer Server level is intended for front of house staff like servers and bartender. The Certified Cicerone Level is geared toward those with greater involvement with beer, including distributor sales reps, foodservice beer specialists and retail beer buyers. The Master Cicerone level is, according to the website, “for those who demonstrate the highest level of expertise with regard to beer.”

I interviewed Ray at the Great American Beer Festival in September. Here’s the interview:

Check out other videos on the Perfect Pint You Tube Channel.

Lift Bridge Brewery Moving Into Stillwater Site

Lift Bridge Brewery – Equipment Delivery from Lift Bridge on Vimeo.

Things are heating up at the soon-to-be Lift Bridge Brewery in Stillwater. The cooler is in place (and already in use). The brewhouse and fermenters are moved in. All that remains is to hook it all up, as if that’s a small task.  If all goes well, the Lift Bridge boys hope to be producing beer in their new home by the end of the year.

Dan Schwarz, one of the Lift Bridge partners, recently met me at the site and gave me the tour. Here’s what’s happening.

I walked through the front door into a spacious, sun-drenched front room. Every wall was windows, making it a cheery space. Although empty now, it will eventually become the brewery’s taproom. Schwarz says they hope to put in a bar space for sampling and growler sales. They want to make it “a place where people can hang out.” Don’t expect this space to be ready soon. As Schwarz explained, “It isn’t really the top priority. There are other things that are more important on the spend list.” Like a brewery perhaps?

Stepping through a door at the back of this room takes you to the brewery. It’s a large space, just under 10,000 square feet, offering plenty of room for the brewery, cooler, and keg storage; for now at least. The brewery sits to the left. On the right are the cooler, an office space and a workshop. Beyond the cooler on the left is space for keg storage and distribution. Delivery vans are currently parked on the other side beyond the brewery.

The cooler has capacity for 1000 kegs when stacked four high. Sampling taps have already been installed in the outside wall. You have to attend to the important things first. The cooler also has a historical pedigree. While moving it in, the guys discovered a plate identifying it as the property of the Grain Belt Brewing Company in Minneapolis.

The brewery itself, a 15-barrel Newlands Systems brewhouse and three 30-Barrel, glycol jacketed fermenters, sits on a specially installed floor with a curb to contain water. The floor is coated with a chemical resistant epoxy and has some grit to keep it from becoming slippery. Floor drains were already in place when they moved in. Schwarz says that running at maximum capacity they anticipate producing around 2000 barrels a year on the system.

2000 barrels leaves Lift Bridge with less capacity than their current annual output. They also will not have a bottling or canning line at first. Schwarz explained how they plan to deal with this. “At least for now the plan is to do a little bit more experimental and high-end specialty stuff here and continue to contract brew the other beers at Cold Spring. And we’ll see how it goes.” Draft production will also be moved to Stillwater. As business grows and they are able to expand, they may move all of their production to the new facility.

Expansion is built into the brewery plan. They have room in the current brewery space for 12 more fermenters and expansion of the specially-floored area would not be out of the question. Of course that is all in the future, but Schwarz says, “For now I don’t think we’ve overbuilt. But we haven’t boxed ourselves in either.”

To get thing off on the right foot in the new brewery, Lift Bridge is hiring a Brewmaster. Schwarz explained, “There is a significant difference between homebrewing and production brewing. We all realize where we are with that. And we realize that this is something that we could use some help with. We really wanted somebody to come on who could help insure the quality and the consistency of our beers and stay on top of production, especially now that we’re getting our own equipment.” Look for an announcement from the Brewery about this very soon.

At the end of the tour Schwarz said, “Brewing in Stillwater has been the goal from the very beginning. This is like a dream come true. We’re excited.”

Boulevard Brewing 21st Anniversary Fresh Hop Pale Ale

Boulevard Brewing Company of Kansas City, Missouri is celebrating 21 years of making beer on November 17th. That was the day in 1989 when founder John McDonald delivered the first keg of Pale Ale to a Mexican restaurant a few blocks from the brewery. At the time, Boulevard’s Pale Ale was considered over-the-top. The hop-happy direction of the craft beer industry in the intervening years has made it seem almost pedestrian. So to celebrate the anniversary of that original beer, Boulevard’s brewers have created a bigger and bolder pale ale. The newest beer in the Smokestack Series is 21st Anniversary Fresh Hop Pale Ale. It is a 7%+ ABV IPA with a relatively modest 44 IBU of bitterness. But juicy fresh-hop flavor abounds.

Here’s my notes:

21st Anniversary Fresh Hop Pale Ale
Boulevard Brewing Company, Kansas City, Missouri
Style: Fresh Hop IPA
Serving Style: 750 ml Bottle

Aroma: Deep and complex, hoppy nose; earth, orange/grapefruit citrus, melon, black pepper, garlic, mint. English in character but with other things going on. Light sweet malt with notes of toffee and biscuit.

Appearance: Voluminous and persistent, rocky, ivory head. Dark amber. A light haze that clears as the beer warms.

Flavor: Leads off with a bright, sharp, crisp bitterness. Complex and refreshing hop flavors; mown grass, wet leaves, lemon/orange citrus, melon, pepper, garlic, earth. Sweet malt with toffee and biscuit notes sits underneath, providing a solid bed, but letting the hops shine. From the crisp bitterness to the toffee/biscuit malt, the beer has a vaguely English character. The finish is dry and doesn’t linger long, leaving only faint wisps of earthy, lemony hops.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. High carbonation. Light astringency.

Overall Impression: I’m not typically a fan of wet-hopped beers. They tend to have a grassy, over-hopped character that I don’t find pleasant. This one is different. It is all about the hops, but has an adequate malt base to balance. Despite the high alcohol and grassy hops, it’s refreshing and easy to drink. The complexity of the hop expression provides evolving interest rather than vegetal disappointment.

Tallgrass Brewing Company at the GABF 2010

Minnesotans’ first encounter with Tallgrass Brewing Company came at this summer’s St. Paul Summer Beer Fest. I spent a good deal of time at their booth sampling beers and talking with the brewers. Having family roots in Kansas, I had a special interest in this brewery located in the college town of Manhattan, Kansas. I found the folks in the booth to be very approachable and friendly. And their beer (especially Oasis, a sort of big ESB) to be quite tasty. When Tallgrass beers were released in the state a few weeks later they immediately became favorites in the Twin Cities beer scene.

I talked with co-founders Jeff and Tricia Gill in their booth at the GABF this fall. Here’s the interview.

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Leinenkugel’s Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout

When you think of Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company you probably don’t think of Imperial Stout. Leinenkugel makes middle-of-the-road, mass-appeal lagers. If they did make an Imperial Stout, it certainly couldn’t be a good one. At least that’s what many beer aficionados might say.

It’s not that Leinenkugel makes bad beer. For the most part they don’t. It’s just that their beers are not of the sort that appeals to the nattering nabobs of beer-geekdom. And Imperial Stout is the quintessential beer nerd’s beer.

But there it is, an Imperial Stout from Leinenkugel.

This week Leinenkugel is re-releasing Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout. I first tried this beer two years ago at the Autumn Brew Review. Someone brought me a sample saying, “Try this. It’s an Imperial Stout from Leinenkugel.” I too was skeptical. Then I tasted it. It was, in fact, a big, complex, full-bodied Russian Imperial Stout.

Big Eddy Imperial Stout was named after Big Eddy Spring, the water source for the Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin brewery for over a century. Big Eddy isn’t brewed in Chippewa Falls, though. That brewery only does lagers. Big Eddy and other ales produced by Leinenkugel are brewed at a Miller facility in Milwaukee.

Here’s my  notes:

Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout
Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
Serving Style: 12 oz Bottle

Aroma: Chocolate, molasses, and caramel. Like rich fudge brownies. Some minty, herbal hops add a whiff of refreshment. Dark fruits add depth; prunes and figs.

Appearance: Black as black can be. Sports a big, creamy, brown head that lasts a good long time.

Flavor: A complex blend of dark, roasty malt defines this beer; bittersweet chocolate, molasses, coffee. Dark fruits like figs and prunes swirl underneath. Moderate bitterness keeps the whole thing from becoming too sweet, while hop flavors add dashes of mint, earth, licorice, berries and citrus. The finish is remarkably light and dry, with lingering whisps of minty hops.

Mouthfeel: Thick and chewy. Full-bodied. Grainy. Low carbonation. Moderate creaminess

Overall Impression: This beer does surprise. One really wouldn’t expect it from Leinenkugel. But there it is; a thick, complex, bruiser of a Russian Imperial Stout. It’s worth picking up a four-pack.

Summit Unchained #5: Imperial Pumpkin Porter

Imperial Pumpkin Porter, the fifth beer in the Unchained Series from Summit Brewing Company, had it’s draft-only release in bars last week. The pre-Halloween timing of the release seemed appropriate for an ominously black pumpkin ale. According to the Summit website, the bottled version will be released the week of November 15th.

Brewer Nate Siats describes his beer as “a dark, chocolaty, full bodied beer with a slight bitter after taste. Evenly spiced with a hint of pumpkin, you would think you were sitting down for thanksgiving dessert. Perfect for a cool, fall afternoon or a holiday feast!”

Here’s my notes:

Unchained #5: Imperial Pumpkin Porter
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: Imperial Pumpkin Porter
Serving Style: 12 oz Bottle

Aroma: Sweet caramel, coffee and chocolate. Malted Milk Balls. Molasses. Faint hints of spice come in as the beer warms.

Appearance: Black. Low, dark-tan head that dissipated relatively quickly.

Flavor: Roasted malts dominate; chocolate and coffee. Like the cookie part of an Oreo Cookie. The roastiness is countered by sweet, creamy caramel and molasses. Moderate bitterness from hops and roasted malts. Spicy and herbal hop flavors accentuate the subtle flavor of actual spices. Cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg notes add intrigue and complexity without being in any way overpowering. Pumpkin flavors are almost non-existent, coming in only as a vague pumpkin pie flavor in the long-lingering finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full bodied. Creamy. Low carbonation.

Overall Impression: As this beer is made with pumpkins, it can be called “pumpkin ale.” Based on flavor, however, that designation is a stretch. Brewer Nate Siats stated that he wanted just a “hint of pumpkin.” In that he succeeded. I would like more. This criticism does not mean Imperial Pumpkin Porter isn’t a good beer. It’s mighty tasty, with balanced roasty and sweet malt. And I love what the subtle spicing brings to the flavor.