Archive for June, 2012

Four New Craft Beer Projects in the Twin Cities Metro

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

The Minnesota beer scene continues its mighty growth surge. Yesterday was a big day for beer-world announcements – two very public and one that came to me late last night in an email.

612 Brew

I first wrote about the 612 Brew guys (and gal) in the Heavy Table two years ago (almost to the day). At the time they were working out of a garage just south of Uptown, brewing small batches and dreaming of big ones. They had done a few publicity events, leading me to wonder just exactly what they were. Were they homebrewers showing off their beer at very public gigs, or were they a production brewery that didn’t seem to have beer available anywhere but these shindigs? Turns out the homebrew side was closer to the truth, but they were in the process of getting licensed, so the TTB put a stop to those events.

Not much had been heard from 612 since, until yesterday. On 6/12 – get it, 612 – they announced that a lease had been secured, a brewery had been ordered, and things were moving forward to open a brewery in Nordeast. The building at the corner of Broadway and Central sits below street grade. It’s an old industrial building about to be redeveloped that the brewery’s press release says will feature “exposed brick and timber along with polished concrete floors, an outdoor patio and a rain garden, creating a perfect atmosphere for the brewery.” Indeed, renderings of the finishes space make it look very inviting. The team is working with local manufacturer Minnetonka Brewing and Equipment, to build a custom 15-barrel brewhouse designed to be architecturally compatible with the space.

612 is steering away from the big beers that have been all the rage in craft-brewing for the last several years. They plan to make lower alcohol session beers, starting with SIX, an American pale ale, and Rated R, a spicy and hoppy Rye IPA. Other brews are also in the plan including a German lager with ginger called Mary Ann (a Gilligan’s Island reference for those too young to remember). The plan is also to serve Indian street food in the taproom.

Fitger’s Brewhouse

The second big announcement came from up north. The Star Tribune reported that Fitger’s Brewhouse plans to open a new brewpub in downtown Minneapolis at 107 3rd Ave. N. They plan to open in late fall or early winter, but the brewery won’t be in place until sometime next spring or summer. In the meantime they will feature some made-in-Duluth Fitger’s brews along with guest taps from other Minnesota beer makers. The design may include outdoor seating and a possible rooftop beer garden. This is big news to many Twin Cities beer fans that currently have to trek the 150 miles to Duluth to enjoy some of the best beers in the state.

Blacklist Brewing and Wolf Revival

The last announcement came to me in an email with the subject line “Two More Beer Projects.” The first of these project is something called the Blacklist Brewing Beer + Art Project. The brainchild of 7-year veteran brewer Brian Schanzenbach and marketing guy/Certified Cicerone Jon Loss, Blacklist will operate as itinerant brewers in the mold of Mikkeller in Denmark, leasing time and space in other brewery’s facilities to make their beers, although they haven’t ruled out eventually building their own plant. They’ll form collaborations with regional artists to meld unique beers with artwork to match, a different beer and a different artist every month. The pair plan to work on a membership model similar to Crooked Stave in Colorado. Membership buys you a monthly shipment of beer and art starting in 2013. Different membership levels get you different amounts of each. Memberships are already available for purchase at the Blacklist Kickstarter project page. A glance at the proposed beer list reveals some creative concoctions including a lot of sours. How ‘bout a white grape strong Belgian golden or an imperial IPA with fennel and spruce.

But that’s not all. Loss and Schanzenbach are involved in a second project centered in Stillwater.  They are collaborating with the great-granddaughters of the Joseph Wolf family to revitalize the pre-prohibition brewery of the family name. They plan to introduce 750 ml bottles of Belgian strong golden and Berliner Weiss in Stillwater and limited outlets in the TC Metro later this summer. Initially these beers will be brewed at Dubrue in Duluth. Apparently the group is trying to purchase the old Wolf brewery buildings on Main Street in Stillwater, but are running into some difficulty.

It’s definitely an interesting time to be a beer fan in Minnesota.

Minnesota Cheese Festival as Metaphor for…Something

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Last Sunday saw the first annual Minnesota Cheese Festival. The event was heavily publicized and highly anticipated beforehand, then roundly trounced afterward. Over 3000 tickets were sold in advance and even more at the door. I have no idea how many attendees there were in total, but it was certainly too many for the number of vendors, leading to overcrowding and long lines. There probably weren’t enough volunteers to manage things, and those that were there weren’t easily identifiable. And only one vendor of beer and wine was nowhere near enough.

Criticisms flowed hot and heavy in the aftermath as disgruntled, fromage-famished ticket holders tweeted of hour-and-a half waits to seize a single sample. Valid complaints all. Cheesefest organizers have heard and already posted plans to remedy the situation for next year.

My purpose here is not to rehash what has already been well hashed. Instead I want to examine what I observed. My booth at the festival was at the front near the entrance. From it I could see the whole thing as it went down from promising start to ugly finish. What I saw was quite frankly one of the most bizarre things I have ever observed.

The Line

It all started quite innocently. A few people got in line at one of the booths, but rather than forming a line in front of the booth, they formed it parallel to the booth so that it curled around the side. As new people entered they simply joined onto the end of the line. More and more people meant longer and longer lines and eventually several long lines as new arrivals unquestioningly took their place in the queue. Before long the crowd had organized itself into multiple, intersecting, single-file lines that snaked at a snail’s pace past every booth. Each conversation with a cheesemaker slowed the whole procession down. It all formed spontaneously and organically. And it was the worst possible arrangement.

The whole thing would have gone more smoothly if people had been willing to leave the line and mill about freely from booth to booth. But once in line they wouldn’t budge. The initial line went right past my booth allowing me the opportunity to talk to people as they waited. Over and over I asked the question, “Why are you in line?” The universal response was, “I don’t know.” I usually followed up by asking where they thought the line was going. Again, “I don’t know.” I must have asked at least 50 people these questions. Always the same response. “I don’t know.” They just saw a line and got into it, and then complained about being in it.

Over and over I suggested to the stranded that the whole thing would go faster if people got out of the line. “You should get out of line.” I said. The organizers did the same. But again the reaction was always the same – cold, hard stares that suggested we were somehow crazy. Looks that said, “I’m in line, damnit.” It was like a Samuel Beckett play; Vladimir and Estragon waiting in vain for someone named Godot without knowing why, but unwilling to abandon the wait.

Adding to the absurdity, one of the cheesemakers shared with me that he had used the line to his advantage. As attendees snaked by, this vendor sold them bags of curds so that they would have some cheese to munch on as they waited in line for free cheese.

Afterward

The craziness continued in the aftermath as the complaints rolled in. In a Facebook comment thread the suggestion was made by many that the organizers should have instructed people not to form lines as they came through the gate. “Next year specify no lines and that might help.” I can hear that conversation now. “You may walk in circles. You may form wedges in groups to push your way through to a table. But under no circumstances should you form a line.” Really? We need to be told how to navigate a festival. I go to eight or ten beer festivals a year, including one in the very same space. Never have I seen a crowd organize in this strange way.

I engaged in a twitter exchange with one angry cheesehead afterward. I don’t know why I kept the back-and-forth going, but I did. In her last tweet she said sarcastically, “entirely right- A group of 3000+ should direct itself…lucky #mnnice prevented looting.” Groups that large and larger self-organize all the time. In fact, this one did just that, only in the most inefficient way. As I responded, “the organizers can’t be blamed for attendees who act like lemmings.”

Final Thoughts

When I related this story to a friend of mine a couple of days after the event we could not stop laughing. The more I thought about it, the more absurd it seemed to me. We both came to view the Minnesota Cheese Festival as some kind of grand metaphor for the human condition. A metaphor for what, I don’t know, but certainly a metaphor for…something.