Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

2015 Firkin Fest at the Happy Gnome

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

The eightieth annual Firkin Fest at the Happy Gnome happened last Saturday, April 4th. Okay, 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

Monday, April 6th, 2015

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, 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!

Prost!

*Cost does not include airfare to Cologne

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Insight Beer Dinner at Fire Lake Grill

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

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, 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, 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, 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.

Fish-Course

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.

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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.

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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.

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

Surly Destination Brewery Grand Opening

Friday, December 19th, 2014

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, 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), 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, 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.

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

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

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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

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

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?

 

 

 

A More Personal Description of the GABF Experience

Friday, October 19th, 2012

There is something to be said for nursing a pint in a quiet pub.

The Great American Beer Festival is a beast. This makes my fourth festival. Saturday afternoon marked my 13th session – a small number in comparison to some beer writers I know, but still enough to be able to form a few impressions.

GABF is an exercise in pleasurable self-abuse; too much beer, too many too late nights, and definitely too much heavy food. The weekend – or week if you go for all of the surrounding events – will beat you up. But you’ll have a great time taking the whupping.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the GABF. The hall is immense; rows of brewery booths and vendor stalls seem to stretch to the horizon. And then there are the 12,000 people that fill it and the noise that comes from the voices of that many drunken people. As attendees try to hear and be heard they talk louder. This raises the decibels, necessitating an even louder shout. The self-perpetuating crescendo gives one the sense of standing inside of a jet engine. The roar is punctuated by the scolding hoot that moves from one end of the hall to the other every time someone drops a glass. The noise alone is exhausting.  Add buckets of beer and unpleasant yellow light that is always just a bit too dim and you have a recipe for sensory overload, at least to a homebody such as myself.

People talk about having a plan of attack at GABF. Some focus on particular beer styles, others on hitting certain breweries. I made a plan the first year, but found that my plan disintegrated shortly after entering the hall, succumbing quickly to the “empty-glass” syndrome; “my glass is empty, I’ll just fill it at the nearest booth.” I guess I lack self-control. These days I take more of a free-for-all approach. I have some vague notions of places to go and beers to taste, but mostly I just wander the aisles until I see a beer or brewery that looks interesting. I tend to focus on breweries I’ve never heard of in search of undiscovered gems. I avoid the most popular booths – places like Dogfish Head and Russian River. They have perpetually long lines. I don’t believe in waiting in long lines for beer, especially when there are 2690 other beers available.

The most frequent question one gets asked at the fest is, “tasted any stand outs?” This is such a difficult question for me to answer. Pour after one-ounce pour makes it hard to keep track. Along with planning, taking notes was another first-fest casualty. But it’s not entirely a blur. There were a few beers that rose above attention deficit and overconsumption. All the German-style beers from Live Oak Brewing Company in Austin, Texas were great. They make a hell-of-a hefe. La Cumbre Brewing Company’s Elevated IPA paired with a mighty hunk of lamb at Friday’s media luncheon was fantastic. And Founders’ Blushing Monk paired to Buratta cheese with pear brulée and cranberry jam was a definite highlight of the weekend. There were others, but mostly they all sort of blend together – and that’s okay with me. The festival to me is really about enjoying beer, not about picking it apart and checking it off. I’ll do that in other settings that aren’t so mind addling. Or maybe I’m just a bad Cicerone…

I do better at the GABF when I have a task to do there. I’m like that with events in general; I’m more comfortable working an event than just attending one. Without a purpose I tend to feel a bit lost. On Thursday night our task was to shoot video interviews with brewers from the upper-Midwest. We shot a bunch; almost an hour of video. I caught up with Todd Haug of Surly, Dave Hoops from Fitger’s, Gabe Smoly and Eric Blomquist from Summit, Matt Potts the Brewmaster at DeStihl, Joe Barley from Solemn Oath in Naperville, Illinois, and a few others. Those will go on up on this blog at some point. Hopefully this year I’ll get that done sooner than the week before next year’s festival.

After a day of beer lunches and brewery tours, Friday night’s session was all about the Farm to Table Pavilion. This is a little piece of heaven. Off in a side hall, it is a welcome relief from the thunder of the main hall. And it’s all about great beer paired with great food. Brewers and chefs are teamed up to create miraculous combinations. Small plates and small pours – you just stay in there all night and revel in it. Where to even begin? How about Firestone Walker Pale 31 paired to lemon-roasted chanterelles with cannellini beans and chardonnay grapes? Or maybe Sun King Oktoberfest with butternut squash mousse, sesame beer brittle and toasted celery marshmallow is more your speed. And of course there were oysters – lots of oysters.  You couldn’t go wrong with any of the 24 pairings in the room. I didn’t want to leave.

Saturday morning we sat through the awards ceremony and then headed back into the hall. Here’s where that task-less confusion set in. After two solid days of drinking and eating I walked into the crowded hall and immediately thought, “Is this really where I want to be?” Of course after a few samples it was all good. But how to manage this my last session of the weekend? Sample all the medal winners? Without a written list, that was beyond my mental capacity at this point. And so I wandered, tasting as many of them as I could remember or as had signs indicating their medal status. And so it was that the official fest ended for me.

The drinking and eating of course did not. A fancy dinner Saturday night was followed by pints at Prost Brewing, a new Denver brewery specializing in German-style lagers. There I accidentally stumbled upon a meeting of beer writers from all over the US, as well as a couple of scribes from Canada and the UK. Interesting conversations did ensue. Look for a piece inspired by this meeting in the next issue of The Growler.

Ah, Sunday! Sunday is the best day at GABF, mostly because GABF is over. Everyone has left town. All is quiet. We always like to stay this extra day. It’s a day to unwind from the chaos with a long hike in the mountains. That’s always followed by beer. This year we took in Funkwerks in Fort Collins. A number of people who I respect had recommended this tiny brewery that specializes in saison. I had long wanted to visit. The beers didn’t disappoint. Every beer in the sampler was top-notch. An experimental witbier temporarily called Nit-Wit, a Berliner-weiss kind of think called Leuven, and a Green Tea Saison were particularly good. Finally a nightcap of beers and appetizers in the nearly-empty Falling Rock Taphouse.

There is something to be said for nursing a pint in a quiet pub.

 

A Few Takeaways from the 2012 GABF

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

The 2012 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is over. The 31st installment of this showcase of the American beer industry was bigger and badder than ever before. 49,000 people attended four sessions that featured 2700 beers from 580 breweries. In a testament to how popular craft beer has become, those 49,000 tickets sold out in about 45-minutes – and we thought selling out 700 Winterfest tickets in under a minute was impressive. The festival and accompanying full week of surrounding events brings 7 million dollars of economic impact to the city of Denver.

The GABF competition is the largest such competition in the world. This year 185 judges evaluated 4,338 entries from 666 breweries. The upper-Midwest region fared pretty well in the medal count.

Minnesota

Category: 19 American-Style Sour Ale, 34 Entries
Bronze: Fitger’s Framboise, Fitger’s Brewhouse, Duluth, MN
Category: 30 Bohemian-Style Pilsener, 53 Entries
Silver: Summit Pilsener, Summit Brewing Co., St. Paul, MN
2012 Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am Competition
Bronze: Classic American Pilsner, Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN
Brewmaster: Mike Hoops, AHA Member: Kyle Sisco

Wisconsin

Brewpub Group and Brewpub Group Brewer of the Year
Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company, Madison, WI
Category: 4 Fruit Wheat Beer, 38 Entries
Silver: Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., Chippewa Falls, WI
Category: 5 Field Beer or Pumpkin Beer, 63 Entries
Gold: Whole Hog Pumpkin Ale, Stevens Point Brewery, Stevens Point, WI
Category: 23 Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout, 65 Entries
Gold: Fourteen Fourteen, Central Waters Brewing Co., Amherst, WI
Category: 42 German-Style Doppelbock or Eisbock, 19 Entries
Gold: Uber Bock, Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co., Madison, WI
Category: 37 American-Style Amber Lager, 45 Entries
Gold: Point Oktoberfest, Stevens Point Brewery, Stevens Point, WI
Silver: Staghorn Octoberfest, New Glarus Brewing Co., New Glarus, WI
Category: 34 American-Style Specialty Lager or Cream Ale or Lager, 34 Entries
Bronze: Mickey’s Malt Liquor, Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee, WI
Category: 33 American-Style Lager, Light Lager or Premium Lager, 51 Entries
Silver: Miller Lite, Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee, WI
Category: 30 Bohemian-Style Pilsener, 53 Entries
Gold: Hometown Blonde, New Glarus Brewing Co., New Glarus, WI
Category: 54 American-Style Amber/Red Ale, 87 Entries
Silver: Fixed Gear American Red Ale, Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee, WI

Illinois

Category: 3 Fruit Beer, 58 Entries
Bronze: Strawberry Blonde Ale, DESTIHL, Normal, IL
Category: 18 American-Belgo-Style Ale, 71 Entries
Bronze: A Little Crazy, Revolution Brewing, Chicago, IL
Category: 46 English-Style Summer Ale, 38 Entries
Gold: Cross of Gold:, Revolution Brewing, Chicago, IL
Category: 48 English-Style India Pale Ale, 54 Entries
Gold: India Pale Ale, Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago, IL
Category: 50 American-Style Pale Ale, 109 Entries
Gold: Brickstone APA, Brickstone Brewery, Bourbonnais, IL
Silver: The Weight, Piece Brewery, Chicago, IL
Category: 54 American-Style Amber/Red Ale, 87 Entries
Silver: Fixed Gear American Red Ale, Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee, WI
Category: 70 Belgian- and French-Style Ale, 68 Entries
Bronze: Domaine DuPage, Two Brothers Brewing Co., Warrenville, IL
Category: 66 South German-Style Hefeweizen, 70 Entries
Silver: Ebel’s Weiss, Two Brothers Brewing Co., Warrenville, IL

I sampled so many beers during the four days of the fest that it’s really pretty impossible to pinpoint a favorite. But there are a few general takeaways:

  • Hops are still big – The largest category in the competition was American IPA with over 200 entries. The festival floor was filled with lupulin-loaded pales, IPAs and Double IPAs. That’s not to mention black, rye, Belgian and wheat IPA.
  • Big is still big – High alcohol beers were very prevalent. That’s rough when there are over 2000 beers to sample. Though many sounded good, I left a lot of those on the tables.
  • Odd ingredients are big – Herb, spice and vegetable beer was the second largest category in the competition. Brewers are experimenting more than ever before. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not.
  • Barrels are still big – Whisky, rum, wine, new oak, you name it; beer at the festival was put into every kind of barrel. As with odd ingredients, often that’s a good thing.
  • Sour is bigger than ever – As I wandered the hall, it seemed that nearly every brewery brought a sour or “wild” beer of some kind. DeStihl in Illinois must have had ten taps of sours. I tasted several sours from breweries across the country. Some were deliciously tart and delicate – champagne-like. Others tasted more like foot. Just because you can call it sour doesn’t mean you should serve it.
  • While all of this experimentation is exciting, it’s also resulting in a number of beers of dubious character.
  • If you go to the GABF, spring for tickets to the Farm to Table Pavilion. It’s like heaven. Beers from selected breweries are sent to chefs for pairings. Some of the pairings this year were simply phenomenal. I got totally stuffed on small-plates. The pavilion is in a side hall and attendance is limited. It’s a quiet refuge from the deafening roar and hubbub of the main hall.
  • GABF gives one perspective on who’s hot nationally. Long lines formed in front of booths like Cigar City, Russian River, and Dogfish Head. It was interesting to go to a festival and not see a long line at the Surly booth. This isn’t to say that lines didn’t form there, but they were relatively short in comparison. But frankly, in a hall with 2700 beers on offer, why wait in line for that one-ounce pour?

Old Chicago Gold Medal Mini Tour

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Truth be told, I don’t go to Old Chicago all that often. But they send me notices of each new mini-tour and every once in a while one will catch my attention – pique my curiosity. And so it was that the current one found me sitting at the Roseville location sampling beers.

Until August 19th, Old Chicago is featuring the Olympic-season-appropriate Gold Medal Mini Tour. The 8-beer tour is made up entirely of beers that have recently gone for the Gold in major national or international competition. This theme makes for an interesting and varied lineup. Remember that all of these competitions have Light American Lagers categories in addition to those for the more flavorful and funky brews. The Old Chicago selection of award-winners reflects that variety. At Roseville (three beers in the list vary from store to store) the list encompasses Michelob Ultra as well as Stone Cali-Belgique.

I didn’t sample the whole flight, as for some of them there was really no need. But here is the full list with notes for those that I did try.

Blue Moon Belgian White Ale

Michelob Ultra – Believe it or not, I had never tasted Michelob Ultra. I don’t tend to spend much energy on light beers. So it was with a certain amount of excitement that I raised the sampler to my lips. How do they make it so sweet when all the carbs are removed? It’s a mystery – a marvel of modern brewing science. And of course there was the green apple note that is the signature of AB products. I could see this being okay on a hot summer day if it is really ice cold. People are always complaining that beers like this win medals. Remember, the big-boys invented the category. Whether  or not you like the styles – or the breweries – they make them better than anyone else.

Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen – It had been over a decade since I had a Widmer Wheat. This is another hot-weather quencher. Crisp and dry with wheaty sharpness, it differs from other American wheat beers in its inclusion of subtle banana and clove yeast character. This could make a tasty everyday fridge beer. Nothing taxing, but tasty all the same.

Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss

Schneider Weisse Tap 7 Original – This beer has won a ton of awards, and for good reason. It’s a great beer. It’s not called a dunkelweizen, but has many of the characteristics of one, including a dark-amber coloring. The sharp wheatiness is there. The full, yet light-bodied mouthfeel is there. Yeasty banana and clove are present, but not dominant. It’s rounded out by delicious caramel and dark fruit flavors with a touch of chocolate in the finish. Delightful! I just had to finish the bottle. Couldn’t let good beer go to waste.

Summit Extra Pale Ale

Stone Cali-Belgique IPA – Sometimes beers evoke images in my mind. While drinking this beer I could see the elegantly sleek outlines of modern industrial design; horizontal stonework, hanging light fixtures, exposed ventilation in the ceiling, and occasional flashes of corrugated steel. It’s bitter, but not the tongue scraper that I would expect from Stone. Peppery phenolics from Belgian yeast offer a nice complement to the spicy hops. A slight citrus edge adds bright highlights. The finish is clean and super-dry. This is an elegant beer.

Red Hook ESB – Another beer that I haven’t tasted in over a decade, this one took me back to the 90s when I lived in Chicago and waited tables at a restaurant in Evanston. It was a go-to craft beer at the time. Its reputation has faded since. It starts sharply bitter and then evolves to a caramel/toffee center. Bitterness lingers after swallowing. There was an intense fruitiness here; oranges and tangerines. It surprised us all. I don’t remember that strong fruitiness, but after more than 10 years, how much can I really remember of the taste of this beer?

MN Brewers Bringing it Strong to Duluth Beer Fest

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

The MN Craft Brewers Guild is heading out of the Twin Cities for the first time this weekend with the All Pints North Summer Beer Fest in Duluth.  If these exclusive and first-peek brews don’t make you want to sell the kids and pack up the house for a trip up north then I don’t know what will.

Fest Only Beers

Schell’s Fass Firebrick infused with red oak
Surly Fiery Hell aged on Hickory and Puya Chilies ON CASK!
Surly SYX (First Pour!!!)
Dubrue Strong Belgian Ale (First Pour) and Berliner Weiss
Badger Hill American Rye (First Pour)
Barley John’s Brew Pub – Cask Stockyard IPA with Sriracha(holy hot-sauce!)
Lift Bridge Brewing Co. Mango Hop Dish on cask
Summit Unchained No.10 Belgian Strong Dark on cask with Citra hops

But wait, there’s more!

La Lune Special Ale by Borealis Fermentery (Ever had Borealis Fermentery beer? I haven’t either. Can’t wait to try them.)
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I love pilsner. There will be pilsners a plenty from Harriet, Lift Bridge, and Vine Park.

Fruit & Spice beers anyone? Check these out.

Cardamom Porter  and Peppercorn Pale Ale by Barley John’s Brew Pub
Mon Cherries by Borealis Fermentery
Black Pepper IPA by Carmody Irish Pub
Apricot Wheat by Fitger’s Brewhouse
Mango Mama and Nitro Java Porter by Minneapolis Town Hall
Bourbon Barrel Coffee Mint Stout by South Shore Brewery
Cacao Bender by Surly

You wanna go, don’t you. There are still tickets left.

Glad I’m going to be there. I’m thinking my booth might be empty a good deal of the time…