Minnesota Cider Week at Town Hall

OSP-TOWNHALL-Cider Week Logo 2016Every once in a while you attend an event that just gets you all revved up. That was the case for me with a recent media preview for Cider Week at Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery. In attendance were eleven Minnesota cider makers, illness there to talk cider and sample out their wares to eager, order Twin Cities media hacks.

I almost didn’t go. Like the idiot that I can sometimes be, cheap I misread the invitation and went first to the wrong place. The event was only scheduled to run for an hour. By the time I got to the right place, it would be almost over. As I drove off, I thought to myself, “Screw it. I’ll just go back home.”

I’m really glad that I didn’t go home. The thing had me so jazzed up that I kept a few of the cider makers there long after the official event had ended. When I left the Town Hall Tap, I was totally juiced about cider.

The best cider is made from heirloom variety apples that are meant for juicing, not for eating. They provide the perfect balance of bitter, sweet, acid and tannin. For a long time these apples weren’t grown here in Minnesota. But over the last few years, several acres of them have been developed. Those apples are starting to find their way into local ciders.

Once cider maker using them is Milk & Honey Ciders in Cold Spring. They source most of their apples from their own five-acre orchard. The rest come from partner orchards in Wisconsin. They use several varieties of apple in their ciders, including Kingston Black, Arkansas Black, Chestnut Crab, and Dabinett. Milk & Honey ciders are fermented dry and feature a nice balance of acid and tannin.

During cider week, be on the lookout for Kingston Cuvée. This lovely cider is made with mostly Kingston Black apples. Also delicious was Grand Cru, made with all Dabinett. Both of these ciders won silver medals at the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition (GLINTCAP). Milk & Honey ciders will be featured in a cider dinner and seminar at Town Hall Tap on Tuesday, June 7th.

Also featured in that dinner is Sweetland Orchard in Webster, Minnesota. This family run orchard uses both heirloom and culinary apples in their cider – all Minnesota-grown. They planted their first cider apple varieties in 2010. Northern Spy is a single-variety cider that features high acidity for a bright tartness and is fermented to dryness. Drink this! Scrumpy is their mixed-apple cider with rhubarb and tart cherries. The cherry character is oddly very clear and subtle at the same time.

I’m always happy to talk with Jim Watkins from Sociable Cider Werks. He shared some interesting news and a great new product. Shandy Apple is the first seasonal offering that Sociable is putting in cans. Think shandy, but not sweet. It’s all about apples and lemon peel. It’s sure to be a summer favorite. My favorite Sociable cider, Spokewrench, has seen a recipe tweak that makes it even better. The stout-like, black malt flavors come through more clearly in the palate, giving more of that apple-chocolate blend that made that cider great to begin with. Sociable is entering into an alternating proprietorship arrangement with itself (essentially) to allow it to make apple wine. And they are expanding their barrel-aging program. All good news.

Another one to look out for during Cider Week is Number 12 Cider House in Buffalo, Minnesota. Their Sparkling Dry is my favorite. It’s a crazy complicated cider to make. They use ten apple varieties – all grown in Minnesota. Two different blends are fermented separately with different yeast strains. They are then blended together to create the final product. It’s definitely worth a try.

One of the more interesting cider makers at the event was Minneapolis-based Urban Forage Winery & Cider House. Their method is implied by the name. Urban Forage sources their apples from the city. They pick the apples from trees in various back yards and other city spaces. “Most people see them as a nuisance.” says cider maker Jeff Zeitler. “I see them as an asset.”

Their flagship Dry Apple Cider was intriguing. It was the only still cider that was on sample at the event. Fermented to dryness, it was full of fruit and had an interesting “poopy” aromatic from fermentation – but in a good way. Their Sparkling Pear Cider was not my favorite, showing what I considered to be some fermentation flaws. I’ll reserve final judgement on their cider. But the East Lake Street taproom is close enough to walk to from my house, so I suspect I might be doing a bit of additional sampling at some point.

Town Hall’s Cider Week runs from June 6 – 11, with events all week. Check these out!

Ciders Take Over the Taps at Town Hall Locations. Town Hall Brewery, Town Hall Lanes and Town Hall tap will each have at least 12 ciders on tap all week.

Tuesday, June 7, 7:00 PM – Cider Dinner and Seminar at Town Hall Tap
Enjoy a cider-paired course dinner from Town Hall Tap featuring presentations from cider makers representing Minnesota cider makers Milk & Honey and Sweetland. Tickets are $65 and limited — call (612) 339-8696.

Thursday, June 9 – Minnesota Cider Competition
Cider makers are invited to submit their homemade ciders for prizes, including a large cider collection.  Register and find more information at http://townhallcidercomp.com.  There is a $7 entry fee.
• Deadline to enter is 7 p.m., Sunday, June 5 — submit entries at Northern Brewer on Lyndale Ave. in Minneapolis. Participants must submit two bottles per category entered (Dry, Sweet and Other).
• Awards ceremony is 7 p.m., Thursday, June 9, at Town Hall Tap.

Saturday, June 11, 1-5 PM – Cider Fest at Town Hall Brewery and Republic 7 Corners
Discover hard-to-find ciders alongside favorites from local, national and international producers including Keepsake, Milk & Honey, Sweetland, Wyndfall, Yellow Belly and more. Tickers are $35 for unlimited samples and a Cider Week glass. Tickets: www.tempotickets.com/ciderfest

10,000 Minutes of Minnesota Craft Beer Week

MNMO_Craft-beer-week-logo_Minnesota Craft-Brewers-GuildIt’s Minnesota Craft Beer Week – 10, medical 000 Minutes of MN Craft Beer!

I have to admit that this fact snuck up on me. I’ve been deeply engaged in non-beer things for the past several weeks and haven’t been paying much attention the beverage world. When someone asked me on Twitter what beer week events I was most looking forward to, cheap my unexpressed response was, “There are events?”

Indeed there are events. Tap takovers, beer dinners, and special release parties are happening all over the state from now until May 15th. The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild has a rather confusing calendar of them here. For a more readily understandable listing check out this Growler piece on the subject. If you want a super comprehensive listing of events happening throughout the state, I’ve uploaded an amazingly full spreadsheet of fun things to do that was supplied to me by the Brewers Guild. So much stuff!

I had the opportunity yesterday to sample some of the seasonal and one-off beers that will be on offer this week. Here are a few favorites.

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery: Maibock and Hefeweizen. Two of my favorite beers from Town Hall. I once came into the brewpub particularly parched and slammed a pint of hefe. It’s that good and that easy to drink. I wouldn’t recommend slamming the Maibock, though. At least not if you want to keep drinking through the evening.

Finnegan’s: Freckled Rooster. This was not the beer I was expecting it to be. French farmhouse – I’m thinking malty with maybe a little bit of yeast character. Nope, this one is totally driven by yeast and is quite unique. A little bit of acidity. A whole lot of dry. A boatload of peppery hop and phenolic spice. Yum!

Hammerheart Brewing Company: Imperial Sköll Och Hati. Forget trying to pronounce it. Just order it by description. Big stout. Smoke. Bitter chocolate. A slight burnt edge.

Fair State Brewing Cooperative: Rye Falutin. A complex sour with loads of fruit – pear, lemon, apple cider – coupled with a small dose of barnyard, Brettanomyces funkiness.

Boom Island Brewing: Triple Brett. As long as we’re talking wild beers, try this one fermented with three different Brettanomyces strains. Not sour. Less funky. Lots o’ fruit – pineapple and pear.

Now get out there and drink some Minnesota beer.

Sour Beer & Wine Dinner Featuring Schell’s Noble Star Beers

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” alt=”” width=”307″ height=”164″ /> Jace Marti – Photo from The Growler Magazine

What: A Sour Beer/Boutique Wine/Small Plates Dinner with special guest, order Jace Marti, treatment of Schell’s Brewery
When: Thursday, October 1, 2015
Where: Salt Cellar Restaurant, 173 Western Ave N, St Paul, Minnesota
Arrive by: 6:15pm – Seated Small Plate Pairings start at 6:30pm
Cost: $80 (includes tax and gratuity). Price includes 11 libations, 5 small plates, 1 passed hors-d’oeuvre, and a panel of entertaining hosts

For the last few years, one of Minnesota’s most traditional breweries has also been one of its most innovative. And they are doing it by reviving a traditional, historic style – Berliner Weisse – using cypress-wood tanks that were purchased by that brewery in 1936.

The Noble Star Series of wood-aged Berliner weisse beers from August Schell Brewing Company have been some of the most interesting beers to come out of the Minnesota beer scene. Sixth-generation brewer Jace Marti has served up seven, Berliner-inspired, tart treats in the series, with more on the way.

It is said that Napoleon’s invading armies called Berliner weisse the “champagne of the north.” Many have compared wild-fermented and sour beers to fine wine. Believe me, wine drinkers love them. So what could be more natural than bringing wine and sour beer together in one extravagant meal?

Salt Cellar in St. Paul is thrilled to announce its first Beer/Wine dinner featuring five of the Noble Star beers (maybe one that hasn’t yet been released). Jace Marti will be on hand to talk about his beers and the new Star Keller, wood-aging facility that recently went into production.

We’re talking five courses, people! Salt Cellar Executive Chef Alan Bergo has paired each beer to a hand-crafted, small-plate dish. I’ll be on hand to help talk to those parings. And it’s not just beer. My favorite sommelier Leslee Miller is bringing wine to the table as well. That’s two beverages for each course! What? That’s crazy talk.

It might be crazy, but doesn’t it sound delicious? You know you want to be there.

Seating is limited and reservations are required by September 25th. You can make them by calling Salt Cellar’s General Manager, Blake Watson at 651-219-4012.

Altbier in Düsseldorf

In the days of old, viagra prescription before the advent of railroads, medicine freeways, and automobiles, people traveled less. The distances between the cities and towns felt further than it does today. Commerce did occur, of course. But generally, each village was a semi-isolated community where residents identified more strongly as citizens of the town than of the nation or state.

This relative isolation led to the creation of local specialties – crafts, cheese, cuisine, and even beer. Brewers brewed beers that were adapted to locally available ingredients and water supplies. Einbeck had bock beer. Dortmund had Dortmunder lager, a strong-ish, balanced, golden, lager with a pronounced hop presence. There was the weissbier of Berlin and the altbier of Düsseldorf. It’s not that these brewers set out to create a “style,” they just made beer the way it was made in that particular place.

Düsseldorf’s altbier wasn’t always called “alt,” the German word meaning “old.” It was once just called “beer.” Through the 1800s the new-fangled lager beers were on the rise. The crisp, clean, cold-fermented brews caught the imagination of beer drinkers and quickly spread across the land. But there were a few holdouts. In places like Düsseldorf and Cologne brewers clung to their old-style, top-fermenting ales. And so the term “alt” was applied to differentiate them from the rapidly encroaching “new” beer.

Altbier is an amber-colored, malt-forward style that features the warm, nutty, toasted bread flavors of German, kilned malts. Bitterness can be assertive, but is never harsh. Low notes of spicy, German hops complete the picture. It’s a crisp, easy-drinking beer designed to enhance social gatherings.

Zum Uerige

While it was originally a wider regional specialty, altbier is now heavily associated with Düsseldorf and especially with that city’s Altstadt or “Old City.” The city center was mercifully spared bombardment during World War II, leaving its cobblestone streets and medieval structures intact. With over 300 bars, the Altstadt is known in Germany as “the longest bar in the world.” It is the historical and cultural heart of the city.

Im Füchschen

The Altstadt is also the heart of modern altbier. Many of the brewpubs that have defined the style for our age are located there within a few hundred yards of each other, including the famous Zum Uerige, Im Füchschen and Zum Schlüssel. The oldest altbier brewpub, Schumacher, is only a 10-minute walk. It opened in 1838. There are bigger altbier breweries, but these quaint, old pubs where beer is poured from wooden casks, are the best place to get the true feel of the style. A relaxed stroll from one pub to the next is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Altbier is drunk from distinctive, straight-sided glasses in 0.2-, 0.3- or 0.4-liter sizes. When your glass is empty, waiters will quickly set a new one down in front of you, making a mark on your coaster to keep track of how many you’ve had. The beer will just keep coming until you tell them to stop.

The Altstadt of Düsseldorf is one of the stops on the Grains & Grapes Adventure Tour – A Taste of the Rhine River. We’ve teamed up with Altbier Safari to give you guided tours and samplings at five Altstadt brewpubs – Zum Uerige, Im Füchschen, Schumacher, Brauerei Kürzer, and Zum Schlüssel. You’ll taste the best that altbier has to offer in the place that it was meant to be experienced.

In addition to altbier in Düsseldorf, A Taste of the Rhine River will take you to a kölsch brewery in Cologne, and wineries on the Rhine and Mosel Rivers. We’ll visit castles, cruise the Rhine, and end up at the greatest beer festival on earth, the Munich Oktoberfest. It’s going to be a great trip.

To learn more or to sign up visit our friends at Defined Destinations.

2015 Firkin Fest at the Happy Gnome

The eightieth annual Firkin Fest at the Happy Gnome happened last Saturday, medical April 4th. Okay, online it wasn’t really the eightieth, but it has been going on for some time now. I went to my first in 2010 and it was a couple of years old by then.

For those who haven’t been, Firkin Fest is a celebration of “real ale” – that is beers that are naturally re-fermented in the container from which they are served and poured from the keg using gravity instead of being pushed with CO2. The result is a smooth, creamy-textured beer with relatively low carbonation that is served at cellar temperature of around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Real ale or cask-conditioned beer is the traditional beer service of England.

Firkin Fest has seen its highs and lows over the years; great beers mingled with serious over-crowding and too few porta-potties, exquisitely well done casks of straight-up beer and monstrosities with added extras like Peeps or mushrooms. Cringe-worthy cask abuse has been common as pourers turn the firkins on end in an attempt to squeeze out every last drop and end up pouring glasses of yeasty sludge that drunk festival goers lap up like nectar.

This year saw some changes to Firkin Fest. While in the past the firkins have come from breweries across the country and the globe, this year every brewery represented was Minnesota born and bred. This meant fewer breweries and fewer beers than previous years, but there were also many fewer attendees. I don’t know whether the lower attendance was intentional. Marketing doesn’t seem to have been all that good for the event. I didn’t even get a press release and I get press releases for EVERYTHING from brewery openings in the UK to announcements for the Hay and Forage Expo. Whether it was intentional or not, it was certainly welcome. This event has historically crammed so many people into the small tent that getting from one booth to the next was an unpleasant chore. That was not the case this year and that made me happy.

Firkin Fest has always been a place where brewers see what kinds of craziness they can stuff into a cask. Sometimes these experiments work. Sometimes they just seem ill advised. This year felt to me like there was less experimentation. That’s not to say there weren’t some crazy casks. Wasabi and pickled ginger, anyone? But for the most part infusions were limited to things like coffee in stouts or citrus zest in IPAs. Many of the casks were simply dry hopped. This also made me happy. Sometimes simplicity is best.

There were a few standouts.

My personal best-of-show was Schell’s Starkeller Peach, which will be the next installment of the amazing Berliner weisse series. Tart lactic acid and sweet, sweet peaches were what this beer is all about. Yummy! Jace Marti says it will be bottled in the next couple of weeks for release later this month. I can’t wait to try it with the proper level of carbonation.

Summit also scored high with an El Dorado dry-hopped version of the new Hopvale Organic Ale. In a tent full of heavyweights, this light, refreshing, hoppy brew was a treat. The added hops gave a nice, citrus boost to its already hoppy aroma.

Staying on the hoppy side, Triple Hop Size 7 from Steel Toe was a treat. Size 7 IPA is already the best IPA in the state. Add a healthy dose of dry hops in the cask to boost that heady hop aroma and you have a recipe for hop heaven.

On the other end of the spectrum was Sideburns Chocolate Milk Stout from Lyn Lake Brewery. This already rich and creamy brew was conditioned on chocolate and vanilla that added extra layers of velvety smoothness. The beer’s sweetness was amplified, making it a delicious, drinkable dessert.

If you like cocktails, the go-to beer had to be Cobra Commander from Lift Bridge. Their 12.5% ABV Commander barleywine was casked with citrus zest and Falernum and rum-soaked oak. It truly was like drinking a rum cocktail. And a good one at that.

Grains & Grapes Adventure Tour: Taste of the Rhine River

Beer trips! Wine trips! Beer and wine trips!

We can hardly get over the excitement about Tour de Oregon. But now I am super-psyched to announce the second Grains & Grapes Adventure Tour with my Certified Sommelier, mind wine-buddy Leslee Miller at Amusée. GERMANY!

Tastes of the Rhine River will be an extravagant exploration of one of the most famous beer and wine regions in the world – the Rhine River Valley in Germany. Kölsch breweries in Cologne. Altbier brewpubs in the Altstadt of Düsseldorf. Vinyards along the Rhine and the Mosel rivers. A Rhine river cruise. A couple of castles (including Neuschwanstein Castle, which is really a don’t-miss destination). And it all wraps up at the biggest beer fest on earth, the Munich Oktoberfest!

This really is going to be the trip of a lifetime.

When: September 29 to October 6, 2015
How Much: $3399*

Trip Highlights

  • All ground transport in Germany
  • Beer tours in Dusseldorf & Cologne Germany
  • Winery visit on the Rhine River
  • Rhine River Day Cruise
  • Heidelberg Castle
  • Oktoberfest in Munich
  • Neuschwanstein Castle
  • 2 nights in Cologne, Germany
  • 2 nights in Rudesheim, Germany
  • 3 nights in Augsburg, Germany
  • 15 Meals including Daily Breakfast

Check out our travel partner Defined Destinations for more information and registration.

Hop on board! Leslee and I can’t wait to see you in Germany!


*Cost does not include airfare to Cologne


Insight Beer Dinner at Fire Lake Grill

Insight Fire Lake

Not all that long ago beer dinners in the Twin Cities were a rarity. Now you can hardly turn around without tripping over one. Despite their current ubiquity, thumb there is still something deeply satisfying about sitting down with friends to a fancy meal paired to great beer. I’ve interviewed hundreds of brewers, treatment but I still love listening to them introduce their beers and brewery with each new course. The chef emerging from the kitchen to explain each dish just adds to the elegance of the affair.

It’s especially exciting when the dinner is the brewery’s first, troche as was the case at Fire Lake Grill House in downtown Minneapolis last Tuesday. Five-month old Insight Brewing was feted in a five-course meal prepared by Chef Jim Kyndberg and his crew. Founder/brewer Ilan Klages-Mundt was on hand to unravel each beer and tell the tale of his world-wide journey of brewery apprenticeships. It’s really no secret that I’m a fan of Ilan’s beer, so I was excited to be able to attend.

Fire Lake is really trying to ramp up its attention to the local beer scene. They have held beer dinners in the past with Lift Bridge Brewing Company and Big Wood Brewery. In addition to showcasing Minnesota beer, these beer dinners allow the kitchen staff to flex their culinary muscles a bit. The menus feature dishes that wouldn’t ordinarily appear on the Fire Lake menu. One thing that impressed me is that Chef Kyndberg assigns a dish to each member of his lead kitchen staff. The dishes don’t all revolve around him.

It is clear though, that they are fairly new at this. I chuckled a couple of times listening to Chef as he talked about the difficulty of pairing beer with food – especially dessert. In my own experience, beer presents so many options to go with any dish that the difficulty is often choosing which direction to pick. Some wine sommeliers will even admit – at least in private – that beer is the more food-friendly beverage. And dessert is my favorite course to pair. But if the broad flavor palate of beer is not as familiar, I can understand having to put some extra thought into the pairing process.

That said, they did a good job. The food was excellent and the pairings were generally good. On a couple of dishes they were extraordinary. The ambience of the private room was elegant and yet congenial. I do think that we were over poured. (Did I really just say that?) There were five beers and the pours were big. I had a pretty good buzz going by the time the dinner ended. Fortunately I had taken the train downtown. It might have been an Uber night otherwise. Also, brewer Ilan’s name was misspelled on the menu card. It seems important to me to get your guest of honor’s name correct. That attention to detail matters.

On to the pairings!

Starters – Paired to Lamb & Flag
Bacon Wrapped Quail Legs, Pork Belly and Scallop Skewers, Bacon Popovers in Beer Cheese Soup.
Not bad, but the smokiness of the quail legs and the scallop skewers overwhelmed the light, English bitter a bit. The bitterness of the beer clashed. A maltier brew would have paired better. The popover pairing, however, was brilliant. The smoke was there, but tempered by the beer cheese soup. The beer’s bitterness cut through the creamy soup. The popover dough and bacon brought out the beers subtle malt.

Fish Course – Paired to Yuzu Pale Ale
Miso Marinated Char, Furikake Rice, Red Curry Broth
This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The fish was perfectly prepared and the curry sauce had a flavorful, spicy zip. The impulse to use the Yuzu fruit infused pale was understandable. I probably would have gone there too. Unfortunately the beer’s bitterness amplified the curry spice to the point that the delicate fruitiness of the yuzu was overpowered. The very thing that makes the beer special was lost.


Poultry Course – Paired to Curiosity IPA
Applewood Smoked Beer Can Chicken, Chipotle Rub, Black Bean Salsa
Best pairing of the night. The dish was delicious. The spice was just right. Acidity in the salsa offered a bright, cutting contrast. Curiosity is perhaps my least favorite beer from Insight. It’s not bad, but it’s kind of just another IPA. Nothing special. The dish really brought out its best points. The fruity hops really popped. Its relatively modest bitterness didn’t over-amp the spice. The combination brought out the chipotle smoke.


Meat Course – Paired with Saison de Blanc
Pretzel Crusted Pork Rillette, Gribiche Sause, Pickled Carrots and Beets
Saison de Blanc is a Belgian-style saison made with Sauvignon grape must. The dish had the feel of Provence that worked well with the farmhouse ale. Herbal and herbal notes spoke to one another. The acid from the wine grapes cut through it all. The really magical part for me though was the acid/acid mix of the beer with the pickled vegetables.


Dessert – Paired with Door County Cherry Saison
Lefse and Dark Chocolate Stout Sauce, Mascarpone, Apricots
Door County Cherry Saison is Saison de Blanc with a pound per pint of tart, Door County cherries. The dessert was like an upper-Midwest tiramisu. You can’t go wrong with chocolate and cherries and between the glass and the plate there was plenty of both. The beer had enough acidity to cut through it all and the apricots added a nice touch to pull out some of the other fruity notes of the base saison. This was the second-best paring of the night.


Cheers to Insight and Fire Lake for a successful and enjoyable night.

Surly Destination Brewery Grand Opening

Surly Brewing Company officially opens their new digs this morning at 11am. So many words are being written/broadcast/Facebooked about this today that the news is hard to avoid. So many others have already given the basic information and said most of what needs to be said. I see no need to repeat what has already been oft repeated. I’ll keep my statement here brief.

Space: The building is beautiful. It combines a stark, sildenafil concrete- and-steel modern sensibility with warming touches of wood and light. The communal seating in the beer hall encourages socializing (which is what beer is really all about), look but there are a few smaller tables for those hard-core Minnesotans who may not want to sit with strangers. The most impressive thing about the space is that the brewery is the focal point. Every vantage in the building – both upstairs and down – looks onto the brewery through two story walls of glass. Beer is at the center of this place.

Food: Chef Jorge Guzman has taken the concept of beer hall food and stepped it up several notches. There is barbeque, help meat, shellfish, salads and snacks. They even have pizza and a burger. But the snacks include things like Foie Gras French Toast and Bone Marrow. My don’t-miss menu items (there are so many): Smoked Brisket, Bone Marrow, Charcuterie Board (especially the pheasant rillette and the smoked ham), Bitter Greens Salad. This is food for grazing. It’s not the kind of thing where you order yourself an entrée and go. Order a couple things and share among your group. When those are done order a couple more. Repeat until full.

Beer: Come on. It’s Surly.

I’ve been known on occasion to make statements critical of Surly. But this place is freaking amazing.










Cured + Crafted – A Prosciutto di Parma Tasting & Craft Beer Pairing


Sometimes I think that I am the luckiest man alive. That’s the feeling I got when I was asked to judge the Cured + Crafted event that’s happening this Thursday, July 31st at the Muse Event Center in Minneapolis. How could I refuse the invitation to sample and evaluate eight different beer and food pairings prepared by some of the Twin Cities’ best chefs, all incorporating Prosciutto di Parma. I mean seriously, who doesn’t love Prosciutto di Parma?

And then they sent me the menu. OMG! Someone hand me a napkin. I’m salivating all over myself.

Barbette with Boom Island’s Saison
Prosciutto-wrapped veal sweetbreads, fava bean tabbouleh, charmoula sauce

BoneYard with 612’s Gateway Park lager
Summer Shandy Infused Compressed Watermelon with BBQ’ed Prosciutto Crisp – Summer shandy made with 612’s gateway park lager, fresh squeezed lemon juice and lemon infused vodka infused into watermelon cubes and vacuum compressed, served with a BBQ spice rubbed oven baked prosciutto crisp.

Broders’ – Terzo with Indeed’s Shenanigan’s Summer Ale
Prosciutto mousse with pineapple mostarda, grissini breadsticks

Haute Dish with Bauhaus Brewery’s SkyDive Midwest Coast IPA
Prosciutto wrapped smoked pineapple, aji amarillo mayo, pickled fresno, cilantro, farofa

Porter & Frye with Dangerous Man’s Belgian Tripel
Crab cakes with a roasted fennel Yukon hash and prosciutto olive sofrito

Rinata with Fulton’s Sweet Child of Vine IPA
Bruschetta with Prosciutto di Parma with a spicy beer mustard, arugula and fresh sliced peaches, adding this to our house made sausage, Tuscan bread, and spicy mustard.

Union with Bent Paddle’s Venture Pils
Saffron corn pudding agnolotti, heirloom tomato smoked jam, thyme powder, crispy prosciutto

Wise Acre Eatery with Indeed’s Day Tripper Pale Ale
Minnesota Sushi – Proscuitto Wrapped Tater Dots with Wise Acre Eatery Rhubarb Ketchup

I’ll be judging with an all-star group of MSP foodies – Jeremy Iggers from Twin Cities Daily Planet, Sue Zelickson, Food Writer and James Beard Award winner, and Stephanie March, Editor Eat + Drink at Mpls St Paul Magazine. WCCO’s Jason DeRusha is MC.

But you too can live the lucky life. Tickets are still available for the event. And there will be plenty to do besides eat cured ham (as if you really needed more).

  • VOTE your paired-pick via social media to enter to win dinner for two at the winning Chef’s restaurant.
  • DRINK Craft Beers from Bauhaus Brew Labs, Bent Paddle Brewing, Boom Island, Dangerous Man, Fulton, Indeed and 612Brew. Head upstairs to the Parma Party Loft and see what’s brewing at the Summit Sampler Bar.
  • SIP specialty craft cocktails served by two of the city’s rock-star mixologists: Tyler Kleinow of Marvel Bar and Johnny Michaels. Featuring hand crafted, small batch spirits provided by Norseman Distillery.
  • BE A VIPP (very important prosciutto person) and enjoy the decadent specially aged Prosciutto di Parma hand-sliced by our Master Slicer Francesco Lupo, direct from NYC, paired with delicious cheeses provided by Broders’ Cucina Italiana.
  • GROOVE with DJ Jake Rudh who will be spinning tunes all night.
  • HAM-IT-UP in our Slo-Mo Video Playground.
  • GET INKED Tattoo Artist Garrett Rautio will ink the iconic Parma Crown logo onsite to adventurous guests. That’s right; you can get an actual tattoo at the event. Tattooed guests will be rewarded with a whole leg of Prosciutto di Parma to take home!

I mean really, how can you pass this up?

2013 Happy Gnome Firkin Fest Recap

The annual Happy Gnome Firkin Fest happened last Saturday. Firkin Fest is the Twin Cities’ biggest celebration of cask-conditioned beer, boasting some 80 casks from local, national, and international brewers. For fans of “real-ale” it’s quite the fete.

It’s also one of the Twin Cities’ most troubled beer fests. Starting about three years ago when “craft” beer really started to pop, the logistics of Firkin Fest got away from the organizers. Too many people crammed the tent. Too few porta-poties left people peeing on the trees. Long lines kept people standing in the cold and beer ran out with hours left to go. In short, it was a fat mess. 2012 was the first year in a lot of years that the Happy Gnome got it right. Then General Manager and lead organizer Catherine Pflueger left. I had concerns for this year. Experience with big events suggests that new organizers don’t necessarily heed past lessons learned.

Turns out my worries were for the most part unfounded. The tent did get tight as the fest wore on, but it wasn’t the all-out sardine squeeze of past years. The line to get people in seemed to move briskly – at least the tent filled up quickly once the doors opened. I never waited in any line at all to use the outdoor facilities. The food was tasty. I ate immediately upon arrival, so I don’t know how the food lines developed later. By the time I left just before 5 pm, the firkins were beginning to run dry, but no one was in danger of going thirsty. The one complaint I had was that I couldn’t find a trash can anywhere in the joint. I carried around an empty cheese-curd thingy until a brewer finally took it from me and put it on the ground under the counter. It was an oversight, but not one to ruin the fest.

The Beer

Casks have a big hole that kegs do not. You can stuff a lot of stuff into a big hole, and that’s what brewers tend to do at Firkin Fest. The results can be really tasty; O’dell’s orange IPA comes to mind – a personal favorite from both this year and last. But often times they’re not. Does that already hopped-up IPA really need extra dry hops? And alcohol-soaked Peeps? (Although by the brewer’s own admission the marshmallow chicks didn’t really taste like anything.)

My other pet peeve about the beer at Firkin Fest is the number of Belgian styles represented. Some styles just don’t belong in casks. High carbonation is an important part of the profile of most Belgian brews. It adds zip to the mouthfeel that helps lighten the body. Cask ale is by definition low carb (that’s bubbles, not starches). It leaves saisons and tripels tasting flat and flabby. And yet, there were saisons in abundance, each one getting a less-than-spectacular representation. The only one that worked was Surly’s Saison Brett. I think the barnyard funk of the Brettanomyces added a leathery bite that somewhat made up for the lack of fizz.

But there were some real standouts at Firkin Fest. My favorite was Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout. No tricks. No hops. No smirkins of this, that, and the other thing. Just Kalamazoo Stout in a cask. It’s a great beer to start with. It’s a style that’s absolutely appropriate for a firkin. It was fantastic. I went back several times and drank way more than my share.

I was pleasantly surprised by Crispin Cider’s Not You’re Mama’s Apple Pie cask. They started with The Saint, their cider fermented with Abbey yeast. They dosed it with additional sugars and then fermented it again with a different strain of Belgian yeast. To that they added apple pie spices. It really tasted like apple pie. Yummy!

Lift Bridge Brewery won the coveted Golden Firkin for the second year in a row with Manhattan Project. This was a fully-stuffed beer that I enjoyed. They added bourbon-soaked oak chips and maraschino cherries to a single-barrel aged version of Silhouette Imperial Stout for a kind of beer-based Manhattan cocktail. It was delicious.

Also worthy of mention was J.W. Lee’s Harvest Ale, always a favorite of mine. Schell’s Imperial Grain Belt was interesting, but like regular Premium was too sweet for me. And cask-conditioned lager is another fun experiment, but probably not a recipe for great beer. There were others, but travels prevented me from writing this any sooner and I left my program at home. My memory is failing me. Must have killed a few too many brain cells at the fest.

All in all it was a good fest. I can’t believe I didn’t take any pictures. What was I thinking?