Crispin Cider Dinner at Kieran’s Irish Pub

Monday night Kieran’s Irish Pub played host to a sumptuous, 7-course, cider-pairing dinner featuring Crispin Ciders and Fox Barrel ciders. Kieran’s chef James Kelly and his staff whipped up some apple-tastic delights that were prepared and paired with cider. Attendees were treated to a taste of 2-Gingers Irish Whiskey, a brand commissioned by Kieran’s along with a few other local eateries for in-house sale. The menu also featured the charcuterie of Green Ox meats, a local purveyor of artisan sausages and cured meats, as well as a couple of new-ish treats from Crispin; “cream cider” and a new version of the Fox Barrel Pear Cider.

Until now the popular (at least in our house) Fox Barrel Pear Cider has been an apple cider flavored with pear juice. The new version is a true perry, made from 100% pear juice. Unaware that we had this new version in front of us, the first thing we noticed was an extraordinary aroma of flowers, honey, and pears. Thinking this aromatic explosion was due to the glassware, we started planning a trip to the kitchen store. It wasn’t until Crispin CEO Joe Heron let us in on the secret that we realized it was actually the cider. Besides the intensified aromas, the new recipe has a richer, fruitier flavor with interesting woody background notes. It’s a nice change.

Cream cider is actually Crispin Original served on nitrogen gas like Guinness. The problem with nitrogen gas is that is lightens the flavor of whatever it’s pushing. That doesn’t matter so much with the intense roastiness of a Guinness Stout, but with a lighter drink like cider it leads to a fairly bland experience on its own. It looks pretty though; bright golden color with a huge, cascading, white head.

We were served the cream cider in one of two cider/whiskey cocktails featuring 2 Gingers whiskey. I’m not a whiskey drinker. I’ve never been able to tolerate even the smell of it. However, the cocktails disguised the flavor enough that they weren’t too bad. The first of them was a Crispin Spritzer with Crispin Original, 2 Gingers, and seltzer. A wedge of lime added a nice tart citrus touch. The second, Ginger Cream, consisted of the cream cider with 2 Gingers whiskey and Canton ginger liquor.

The food and the pairings were fantastic. The first course, an Amuse Bouche consisting of warm Green Ox pork rillettes and wild mushroom 2 gingers fricassee piled on top of a chicharon chip and surrounded by caramelized-Crispin apples, was fantastic. It was like apple-cinnamon bacon. Amuse bouche means amusing bite, and this really was just a bite. It left me wanting more.

The second course was a butternut squash and pear cider soup. The cider flavor came through clearly in the soup and was a wonderful sweet/tart match to the squash. It made for a great pairing with the new Fox Barrel pear cider. Bleu cheese crusted walnuts and fried herbs added a savory touch.

The fourth course was another stand-out to me; seared sea scallops wrapped in Green Ox cured loin over a roasted tomato puree. It was infused with just a touch of chili oil that gave it some zip. The tomato puree was to die for and really set off the sweetness of the scallop and the saltiness of the cured loin. It was a little too salty for my dining partner, but I didn’t mind that. Paired with Crispin brut it was excellent.

The star of the meal was desert (no surprise there, really); crème de banana crepes. The banana crème stuffed crepes were had a dollop of semi-fredo made with Crispin’s the Saint cider. I had to ask the chef what a semi-fredo was. Seems it’s one of those high-tech, cooking-with-science creations made with liquid nitrogen; something about the intense cold coagulating the cream and other stuff that I only barely understood. Anyway, it was like cider ice cream and it was good. There was a drizzling of cider glaze, basically a Saint Cider reduction. The reduction process intensified the flavors, bringing delicious caramel-apple flavor and a bright, contrasting bit of acidity. The pairing with the Saint cider was fantastic. Fermented with Belgian ale yeast, the Saint has unique banana and spice flavors that perfectly complemented the dish.

A warm fennel-sausage and potato salad with arugula and Browns Lane cider vinaigrette was nice, but would have been better had it actually arrive warm. The main course was a cider marinated brisket served with root vegetables roasted in honey and Honey Crisp cider with a whiskey and cider demi-glace. The flavor was very nice, especially the vegetables, but the brisket was a bit overdone; easy to do with brisket.

All in all it was a fun evening. I’m all about beer and food pairing, but I’m starting to see the potential of partnering cider with food as well. I might have to expand my pairing vocabulary for my clients’ private beer dinner parties.

Recap of Firkin Fest 2011 at the Happy Gnome

Saturday afternoon saw the return of Firkin Fest to the Happy Gnome in St. Paul. This was the fourth year for this annual celebration of cask-conditioned beer. Unseasonably cold weather didn’t discourage beer-lovers from turning out. There were at least a billion people there (okay, not really). It was damned cold for us non-VIP-ticket-holding schlubs who arrived early to be near the front of the line. After nearly an hour waiting, my toes had gone numb. It took a while to stop shivering despite the heated tent. A big barleywine was definitely in order.

Last year I took the Happy Gnome to task for a load of logistical issues that marred the fest. This year some changes were made that fixed many of the problems. The line was handled much better this year, as staff worked their way along it early checking IDs and giving out wristbands. This really sped things up once the doors opened. Despite huge numbers of people swilling large amounts of beer, the wait at the port-a-poties was nominal. In fact, a female friend of mine said that she never encountered a wait. Well done!

The only blot on an otherwise fantastic fest was the crowd. The organizers took a step in the right direction this year by limiting the number of tickets sold and increasing the size of the tent. The number of people was still way too high. By mid-fest one really couldn’t move. I started choosing which beer to taste next based on what booth was closest instead of what I really wanted to try. Getting from one side of the tent to the other was just too daunting a task.

Think about it. At Winterfest the MN Craft Brewers Guild has three floors of the History Center. They sell 700 tickets. Autumn Brew Review and The St. Paul Summer Beer Festival both take place in large parking lots. They sell around 1500 3000 tickets. The Happy Gnome sold 1600 tickets for Firkin Fest; a festival that took place in a tent not quite the size of a football field. It was simply too many people for the space. I got into the tent at 1:00. By 3:00 I could no longer stand it. I was out the door by 3:30, despite the fact that there were still a number of beers I would like to have sampled. I know that I was not alone. As I was making the decision to leave a number of friends were doing the same, and for the same reason.

I’m sure that the Happy Gnome calculated the number of tickets they had to sell in order to turn a profit. In future years, however, they really need to either further restrict the number of attendees (I would say by half) or double the size of the tent to take up the whole parking lot. As it is, it’s really unpleasant. For about the same amount of money I’d rather drink five pints of cask ale in the relative calm of the Town Hall Brewery.

There was more beer (always a good thing). While last year’s fest featured 65 casks, this year’s was projected to include more than 80. I don’t know the final tally, but there was a lot of beer. Another plus – I didn’t witness any gross mis-handling of firkins this year, at least during the time that I was there. Last year was a cask-lover’s nightmare of firkins turned on end to get the last sludge-filled drops. It may have happened at the end, but I didn’t see it.

Fulton Beer Company took the Golden Firkin award this year with their War and Peace, a Peace Coffee infused version of the Worthy Adversary Imperial Stout. Along with their Beer Dabbler win last summer, this should give some of the haters out there pause. In the industry it isn’t about whether a gaggle of nattering beer-nerds think a beer is the best example of such-and-such a style. It’s about whether or not people want to drink it. Given Fulton’s upward sales curve and recent People’s Choice recognitions, clearly they do. I didn’t try War and Peace this year, but I’m told it was good.

My picks for best-of-the-fest this year went to British and British-style beers. Bitter & Twisted from Harviestoun Brewery and “Jaipur” IPA from Thornbridge Hall both went down well and brought me back for seconds. Bitter & Twisted was a nice session bitter with a floral “heather-like” character that really set it off for me. Jaipur was a great English IPA with a bigger, grainy-sweet malt backbone and balanced hopping. It was surprisingly light-colored, which made the big flavor even more surprisingly pleasant. Sticking closer to home, Summit’s Gold Sovereign Ale was every bit as good on cask as I had expected it to be.

In addition to these, I really enjoyed Rush River’s Lyndale Brown with pomegranate and green tea. It was like nutty, chocolate green tea with a strong hazelnut finish. Crispin’s Desert Noir cider was also a favorite. Stronger and sweeter than I expected, it was strong, yet fruity and refreshing with nice notes of agave. I like that Crispin keeps trying new things with cider.

The award for most unusual beer has to go to Psych-Oasis from Tall Grass. What happens when you infuse an Extra ESB with candy cap mushrooms? You get something that tastes like fenugreek and dirt, but in a good way. This was another one that brought me back for more. I liked it. Although I wouldn’t probably want to drink a pint of it.

All in all Firkin Fest was a good event this year. Fix the crowding problem next year and it will be a great event.


Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale from Stone Brewing Co.

Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale is another style bender from Stone Brewing Co. Beer Advocate calls it an “American Black Ale” (now there’s a vague designation). Ratebeer says it’s a Black IPA…Nah, too much roast. I’m calling it an American Imperial Stout. But again, does it really matter?

This is one from Stone that I had never tried. I was happy to have the chance. Here’s my notes:

Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale
Stone Brewing Co, San Diego, California
Style: American Imperial Stout?
Serving Style: 22 oz Bottle

Aroma: All of the aromatics are surprisingly low. Pine and grapefruit hops with balancing levels of coffee-like roast. A bit of alcohol becomes apparent as the beer warms.

Appearance: Opaque black. Full, rocky, beige head that sticks around.

Flavor: Much more roasted malt character than the aroma lets on. Stout-like and Creamy. Coffee and dark chocolate. Bit of sugary sweetness. Slightly astringent roasted-malt bitterness gives a boost to the medium-high hop bitterness. Although it’s a bitter beer, the perceived bitterness is lower than the claimed 90 IBUs.  Brassy pine and grapefruit hop flavors with some orange notes peeking around the corner. A touch of alcohol comes as the beer warms. A second bite of roasty bitterness hits on the way down and lingers into the finish.

Mouthfeel: Creamy and rich malt balanced by a bit of hop and roast astringency. Medium-full body. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: I don’t tend to favor hoppy black beers, especially those with high levels of American hop flavors. Roasted malt and American hops often do battle in my mouth. This one was quite nice.

Stone’s triumphant march into Minnesota happens next week. Stone Week Minnesota kicks off on Tuesday the 29th and features pub specials, tap takeovers, and beer-store tastings at location throughout the Twin Cities. Co-Founder and CEO Greg Koch will be on hand along with a gaggle of other brewery reps.

Yet Another New Beer Sales/Distribution Bill in MN

An already-interesting year for Minnesota beer just got a little more interesting.

We’ve already got Sunday sales bill (not restricted to beer) and the “Surly Bill” going before the state legislature. Now a new beer bill has made its way to the capitol. S.F. No. 1013 proposes changes to the brewpub license.

Currently brewpubs are allowed to hold a retail license (meaning they can offer a full bar) and to sell draft beer manufactured on the premises for on-site consumption. They are also allowed to sell their own beer in growlers for off-site consumption and to sell their own beer at other retail outlets owned by the same entity (i.e. Town Hall and Town Hall Tap). Brewpubs have an annual production cap of 3500 barrels and are not allowed to sell beer to distributors for the retail market. They cannot sell beer for off-site consumption in any form but growlers.

The changes proposed in this new bill would eliminate the 3500 barrel limit for brewpubs and allow brewpubs to sell beer to wholesalers for distribution to the retail market. In other words, you could be able to get beer from Town Hall, Fitgers, Herkimer, or any other Minnesota brewpub at your favorite liquor store or beer bar. Some other states allow brewpubs to sell beer to distributors, including California, Utah, Wisconsin, Oregon, and New Mexico, among others.

One really had to expect that this was coming. Such laws have been proposed in the past and failed to gain support in the legislature. The issue has also been a source of tension in the state’s brewing community. There has been some resistance among production breweries to allowing brewpubs to distribute. Except for the sale of growlers by small breweries, production breweries are restricted from engaging in retail sales directly to consumers. Brewpubs can sell beer (and other alcoholic beverages) directly to consumers, and at more than one location. Allowing them to also distribute into the retail market was viewed by some production breweries as creating unfair competition. The “Surly bill”, which would allow breweries to sell directly to the public, must, I suspect, be viewed by some brewpub owners in the same way. Putting both bills on the table would alleviate that perceived imbalance.

The question had already been raised whether putting all of these measures forward at once decreases the chances of success for any of them. Are brewers overreaching by pushing for too much, too fast in a state that has been resistant to changing anything related to beer manufacture and distribution? Adding one more bill to the mix just adds to the flood.  I think the answer lies in part on who supports and who opposes the bills. Powerful lobbies like the beer wholesalers and the MLBA, whose flip-flop statements about Surly’s bill have become the stuff of extensive internet chatter, could do much to stop the proposals if they apply their leverage in opposition. Get their support and the chances of success are greatly improved. This new brewpub bill would seem to benefit both groups’ constituents; distributors get access to new brewery accounts and retailers gain new and desirable products to sell. But will support of one take away support of the other? That remains to be seen.

Arrogant Bastard from Stone Brewing Co.

Arrogant Bastard is perhaps the best known beer from Stone Brewing Co. In many ways it exemplifies what the brewery is all about. The label copy arrogantly proclaims its bellicose nature. “This is an aggressive ale. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth.” From the forceful bitterness to the huge malt and hop flavors it is an unabashedly aggressive beer.

It has been a couple of years since I last deemed myself worthy of tackling this beast. I took the challenge last night. Here’s my notes:

Arrogant Bastard
Stone Brewing Co., San Diego, California
Style: Imperial Brown Ale
Serving Style: 22 oz Bottle

Aroma: Toast and bread crust lead off, with some caramel sweetness and dark fruits. Raisin. Hints of chocolate. Pine resin hop aroma is subdued. A touch of alcohol.

Appearance: Dark brown with ruby highlights. Full, creamy, ivory-colored head that is very persistent.

Flavor: Balance of rich, bready/toasty malt and pine-resin hops. Aggressively bitter. The bitterness hangs around long after swallowing. Malt flavors are a complex mix of toast, bread and raisins. Touches of tootsie-roll chocolate and coffee-flavored roast amplify the hop bitterness. Hops are mostly piney with some traces of grapefruit pith and earth. Alcohol notes increase as the beer warms. The finish is dry with lingering coffee and bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. A bit astringent. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: What is this beer? Ratebeer and Beer Advocate both call it an “American Strong Ale” – whatever that means. I’d call it big and bitter brown. Does it really matter? Whatever it is, it’s good. Ferociously bitter, but somehow still balanced. It would go great with a grilled steak; charred on the outside and raw in the middle.

Summit Unchained #6: Gold Sovereign Ale

Photo by Mark Roberts

Deadlines! Deadlines! I’ve had a lot of writing deadlines lately; deadlines for pieces that require me to taste certain beers. Meanwhile, many new and new to Minnesota beers have been sitting neglected in my refrigerator, begging…no, crying out for my attention without satisfaction.

Those deadlines have been met, at least for a few days. I can finally get to the bottle of Summit Unchained #6: Gold Sovereign Ale that has been waiting in the fridge; the bottle that has been taunting me since last week when I interviewed brewer Damian McConn at the brewery.

I have been especially anticipating this Unchained Series release. I am a fan of English style pale ales and IPAs, more so than their American counterparts. I also have a more than passing interest in the history of English beer and brewing. The idea that McConn would reach back into old brewery archives to craft something according to a 19th-century recipe intrigued me to say the least. His decision to put a modern twist on it by using only recently available ingredients made it even more interesting.

McConn said that he was led to that decision by the practical impossibility of replicating an old recipe. “The problem with recreating a beer like that is that we can get a pretty-good, rough idea of the hopping rate, the original gravity, fermentation temps, mashing programs, and stuff like that, but we can’t replicate the ingredients.” He also cites modern brewing equipment as an impediment to accurately recreating these beers. Different processes and fermenter types will yield different tasting beers, and modern breweries are very different from their 19th-century predecessors. “The more I investigated beer from that time, the more I thought that I just wouldn’t be able to do it justice. I’m an all or nothing kind of brewer. I thought, ‘if I can’t do it as closely as possible to what it would have been like back then, then I want to try and put an interesting spin on it.’”

Although the ingredients and processes are new, they do cast an eye back to the old. McConn chose organic, floor-malted barley to reflect the labor-intensive malting practice that would have been standard at the time. In a nod to the cask-conditioning of beers, which was the norm back in the day, he opted to leave the beer un-filtered. The bit of yeast remaining in the bottle will allow the beer to further condition. It’s up to you whether or not to pour the yeast into your glass.

Here’s my notes:

Gold Sovereign Ale
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota
Style: 19th-Century English IPA with a modern twist
Serving Style: 12 oz. Bottle

Aroma: Bready yeast comes first. The malt gives a light touch of grainy sweetness. Fruity hops are dominant, but not intense; orange citrus and stone fruits. A background of earthy hop aromas keep it grounded.

Appearance: The ample, rocky, white head sticks around for a while. Deep golden color, veering toward orange, with a dense haze (I chose to pour the yeast).

Flavor: Hops are the star of the show, starting with a sharp, crisp bitterness that carries through and is accentuated by a dry finish. The beer is bitter, but the emphasis seems to be on later-addition, flavor hops. Juicy fruits explode from the glass; tangerine, oranges, and peaches. Especially peaches. Malts form a grainy-sweet, graham-cracker crust beneath the fruit. The malt character was so clearly expressed that it reminded me of chewing on grains of malted barley (without the husk). Faint, earthy, hop flavors appear in the finish.

Mouthfeel: Sharp, dry, and crisp. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: If this is what East India Pale Ale tasted like in the 19th century, then it is no wonder that English expatriates rhapsodized about it. Gold Sovereign is an extremely well-made beer; crisp and clean, with distinct layers of flavor. This is one of the best of the Unchained Series beers.

The Highs and Lows of Beer Travel: a Dispatch from the Road

Oh, what I put myself through in the name of beer.

Although I have made many covert allusions to it on Facebook and Twitter, I have not officially announced that I am working on a book for the University of Illinois Press. Tentatively titled A Beer Guide to the Upper Midwest, it will be a beer-travel guide to every brewery and brewpub in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. Any brewery that has an actual facility that can be visited will be included. There will be little beer-historical tidbits for each state as well. I have this dream of the upper Midwest becoming the next beer Mecca like the Colorado Front Range. Hopefully this book will help to push that dream a bit closer to reality.

But before the book can be written, there is the research. There are 150+ breweries in the four states that I am covering, with new ones popping up all the time. Putting together a comprehensive list has been a challenge as no one really seems to have a handle on the current brewery proliferation. I have to spend a certain amount of time tracking down rumors of this or that small brewery that might be starting to make beer in such and such a town. Then there are those that seemingly spring out of nowhere. I already know that will have to include a disclaimer in the introduction stating that, while I did my best, I probably missed some.

The Big Gold Boat at Bent River Brewpub

Then there’s the travel. You don’t really realize how many 150 is until you try to visit them all. It means long days and weeks on the road racking up countless miles on the Big Gold Boat of a Chrysler that I drive. Brewery visits often start at 10:00 AM. Of course this also means that beer drinking starts that early. A four-brewery day is a long, beer-soaked haul in which, ten hours after beginning, I am struggling to fight my way through the last beers of the last brewpub’s 14-beer line-up. I just keep telling myself, “I will get through this. I will get through this.” It’s good to have a digital voice recorder. Note taking is by then pointless. Aside from the brown splotches of spilled beer that smear and obscure the ink, my already bad handwriting deteriorates to squiggly lines that more closely resemble a seismograph than language. One particularly long tasting session included the following, barely-legible words, “Personal note: at this point my palate is shot.”

10:00 AM Beers at Peace Tree Brewing

This kind of intense beer travel does have its benefits. For one thing, I believe it has greatly refined my palate. When you taste the many different beers of many different brewers in rapid-fire succession, the difference between well-made and so-so beer becomes starkly apparent; apparent in a way that actually took me by surprise. Beers that may have been fine had I just walked into a pub for a pint suddenly reveal all of their flaws. The great beers, the ones with beautifully balanced recipes and flawless process, sing all the more brightly. For the most part brewers in the region are making good beer. Some are making great beer. Some should maybe consider doing something else.

It’s a treat to sit down with brewers and talk about their beers. Their passion for the craft is contagious. I have gained interesting insights into beer, brewing, and the industry from these conversations. Many of them encourage a lively and honest back and forth about their creations that is certainly beneficial to me and I hope gives them some benefit at well.

It is interesting to learn about the range of brewery types out there. I have visited pico breweries that are making ten-gallon batches for a local market, and regional breweries working with fully-automated 120+ barrel brewhouses. In between there is every size, shape, and type of brewing operation imaginable, every one working with the same kind of passion and dedication to their product.

This year is going to be interesting. I can’t wait to see what unfolds.

Stone IPA

Stone Brewing Co. roars into the metro the week of March 29th. It’s a long-awaited moment for many Twin Cities beer fans. The brewery is particularly noted for big, bitter beers and bold braggadocio. I thought I would give a few of them a second (or third…okay fourth) try leading into the launch. The first up is Stone IPA. Here’s my notes:

Stone Brewing Co., San Diego, California
Style: India Pale Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz bottle

Aroma: Combination of citrus hops and stone-fruit syrup from malts. Actually less hop aroma than I had expected. Still pleasant though. Tangerine, pineapple, and sweet.

Appearance: Light amber to deep golden. Clear. Big, persistent, rocky, white head.

Flavor: Hits the tip of the tongue first with fruity, sweet malt, with a distinct biscuit character. English malts? Sharp bitterness grabs hold in the middle. Hops are definitely slanted to bitterness over flavor. Grassy and citrus hop flavors are moderate and make a good counterbalance to the malt. Citrus rind bitterness lingers well beyond the swallow.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with medium-low carbonation.

Overall Impression: A decent IPA, but I would like a greater emphasis on hop flavor over bitterness. That’s just my personal preference. I appreciated the biscuit notes that added complexity to the malt. It’s a nice beer, but it didn’t make me want to run out and buy a bunch of it.

Schell’s Stag Series #3: Rauchbier

The first time I had a beer brewed with cherry wood smoked malt was a couple of years ago at the Goose Island Brewpub in Chicago. It was a bock beer, and it was awesome. I downed many a pint during my two-month Chicago residency.

I’ve had a few other cherry wood smoked beers since. Most have failed. Cherry wood smoke has a sharper, BBQ pit character than the meaty beechwood smoke of traditional Bamberg Rauchbiers. I call it “char-pit”, but it reminds me of mesquite or chipotle peppers without the heat. That sharpness requires a reasonably sweet beer to balance it. When that balance is achieved, it’s amazing.

A couple of things got me excited when I learned that Schell’s Stag Series beer #3 was to be a classic Rauchbier. First, I love rauchbiers. And I love Schell’s beers. The combination was bound to be good. Second, they were using a blend of beechwood and cherry wood smoked malts. That really caught my interest.

I finally managed to pick up a bottle and give it a shot. Here’s my notes:

Stag Series #3: Rauchbier
August Schell Brewing Co., New Ulm, Minnesota
Style: Rauchbier
Serving Style: 12 oz bottle

Aroma: Sweet toasty/caramel melanoidin with an overlay of subdued meaty and campfire smoke. Not so intensely smoky as Aecht Schlenkerla, but that’s okay. More like Spezial. Fresh. Just the faintest hint of herbal hops.

Appearance: Moderate, ivory-colored and persistent head. Crystal-clear. Dark amber color with ruby highlights. A treat for the eyes.

Flavor: Balanced interplay of caramel melanoidin malt with meaty, char-pit smoke. Like a charcoal grill after the cooking is done. The chipotle character from the cherry wood is very well expressed, and the beer is sweet enough to carry it. Hints of vanilla and raisins in the background. Finish is dry, with a sharp bitter kick that’s a bit astringent at first, but becomes less so as it warms. Spicy hop notes come in late and accentuate the spicy, cherry wood smoke. It leaves you with a lingering blend of cool hops, sweet raisiny malt, and wisps of smoke.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Crisp and clean. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: This is a well made beer that seems to gain intrigue as I continue to sip it. Great balance of malt and smoke. Nice blending of smoke flavors. It’s great to taste another beer that carries off the cherry wood smoke this well. Nicely done.

Stone Week Minnesota Begins March 29th

Caution, the following post contains hyperbole and sarcasm. Deal with it.

Once upon a time in Minnesota, thirsty beer fanatics in search of the over-the-top elixirs created by San Diego’s Stone Brewing Co. had to make a long and arduous trek across the St. Croix to Hudson, Wisconsin. Wisconsin of all places! The horror! The infamy! But we swallowed our pride and trek we did.

Then one sad and dreary day Stone Brewing Co. pulled out of Wisconsin. Rumors flew. Was it distributor issues? Inability to meet demand? It could have been anything. The only thing certain was NO MORE STONE!

But then other more encouraging rumors began to bubble up from the trub at the bottom of our collective fermenter. Greg Koch, CEO and co-founder of Stone Brewing Co. was making frequent trips to the Twin Cities. What did this mean? Did it mean anything? The questions were swirling. Had the land-o-lakes been deemed worthy to receive the Arrogant Bastard (the beer, not Greg Koch)? Would the Vikings ever get their stadium?

Then, while no one was looking, a Facebook page was started; Stone Brewing in Minnesota. A regional sales rep was hired; Nate Sellegren. Finally, a distributor was announced; Original Gravity. It was real. Our dark night of the soul was over. We were worthy. No longer would we be without our Ruination Ale or Vertical Epic. This was epic!

Now the day is neigh when Stone Brewing Co. beers will be unleashed upon the state. Today the brewery announced STONE WEEK MINNESOTA. Beginning March 29th, the Twin Cities will experience five days of beer madness, the likes of which the state has never seen. CEO and co-founder Greg Koch, described in the brewery press release as “Grand Marshal to the never-ending parade playing out in his own head”, will return to the Mini Apple and the Pig’s Eye (sorry St. Paul, that was your city’s original name) to oversee a week-long lineup of earth-shaking events. And of course there will be beer. Again from the press release, “In addition to providing a prodigious portfolio of nine highly praised year-round releases, Greg dug back in the archives to break out some vintage rarities, barrel-aged niceties, and other treasured oddities.” Translation: there will be some really interesting beer.

There are too many events for me to even attempt to list them all. However, the March 29th kick-off event at Stub & Herbs is off the hook with 32 Stone beers on tap, including a vertical flight of Old Guardian Barleywine going back to 2007. The whole grand itinerary of Stone Week Minnesota can be found here. Be sure to click and show the beer lists. There’s some pretty amazing stuff.