2012 GABF Interview with Tim Nelson of Fitger’s Brewhouse

Shortly after interviewing Dave Hoops in the Fitger’s booth at the GABF, I ran into the ebullient brewer again on the festival floor. This time he had Brewhouse co-owner Tim Nelson in tow. They confided that they had information to share about new doings at the Duluth brewpub. How could I pass up this opportunity?

The first bit of news was that Fitger’s had purchased an historic building in Canal Park. The plan is to renovate the old train depot and open a third “tied house” like Burrito Union and Tycoon’s Ale House, which the brewery already operates. This news has since been reported in other places.

The more exciting news is the possibility of a second Fitger’s brewery. The brewhouse has been in possession of a large warehouse building for a number of years. The plan is to eventually build a larger and more efficient brewery in the space to increase capacity. If you have ever been to the Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth, you know that the brewery is crammed into tiny spaces on multiple floors. Having followed Hoops through a brew day, I can tell you that it is not an efficient system.

A warning; toward the end of the interview there is some confusion about exactly which new operation is being discussed. I ask about a timeline for the new brewery. Nelson answers with a timeline for the Canal Park pub.

Four New Craft Beer Projects in the Twin Cities Metro

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.

Fitger’s Brewhouse at the GABF 2010

Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth is a multi-faceted brewpub/restaurant/musical-entertainment venue located in the original 1881 brewhouse of the old A. Fitger and Company Lake Superior Brewery.  With three different concepts under one roof (the Brewhouse Grille, Red Star Lounge, and Burrito Union), Brewmaster Dave Hoops has his hands full keeping over 20 beers on tap at any given time. And good beers they are, too.

I caught up with Dave during the Saturday afternoon session of the Great American Beer Festival. Here’s the interview.

Check out more videos at the Perfect Pint You Tube Channel.

Winterfest 2010 Recap

Friday night saw seven hundred Minnesota beer fans assemble at the Minnesota History Center for Winterfest 2010. The annual winter beer festival presented by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild is a showcase of all things beer in the land of lakes. Seventeen Minnesota breweries and brewpubs were on hand pouring over seventy-five beers. The arrangement of the History Center was much better this year than last, spreading out the brewery tables to prevent crowding of the narrow hallways and allow easier movement and more comfortable imbibing. The only downside to the arrangement was that it was sometimes a challenge to find the particular breweries that I was looking for. Another plus this year was the plentiful food. In past years the food was usually picked over and nearly gone by the time I felt the need to refuel. This year there was still food to be had at multiple feeding stations right up to the end of the event. One of the greatest things about Winterfest is the presence of the brewers behind the serving tables. The only missing faces this year were Jeff and Cathie Williamson from Flat Earth who just welcomed their new daughter Heather into the world a couple of days ago. I guess they can be excused for missing. Beer was flowing, kilts were on display (though fewer than in previous years), and it seemed all festival goers were having a great time.

So what about the beers? In general I found the beer selection to be wanting in comparison to past Winterfests that I have attended. The variety of styles was a bit limited, lots of heavy stouts and big IPAs. It seemed like the brewers brought fewer special beers this year and there were fewer that stood out in the crowd. That said, there were some real winners and a few that were not so great as well.

For my money, Town Hall Brewery had the most interesting and consistently tasty selection of beers at the event. If the lines at their table are any indication, I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Nearly everything that I tasted from Town Hall was wonderful. Especially noteworthy for me was LSD, an ale brewed with lavender, honey and dates. It has a wonderful floral aroma and a flavor that starts out dry and hoppy only to explode with honey and raisin sweetness mid-palate. I loved it at Autumn Brew Review and still love it now. Also impressive were Twisted Jim, an American barleywine aged in Jim Beam barrels, and Russian Roulette, a huge, rich, chocolaty imperial stout served on cask.

Recounting my top-five of the fest, starting at number five is Smoked Porter from Rock Bottom Brewery. This smoked porter is made with 25% cherry wood smoked malt for a char-pit kind of smoke flavor that is totally different than the familiar meaty smoke of the classic Rauchbiers of Germany. A year ago I had a cherry wood smoked bock at Goose Island in Chicago that blew my mind. Ever since, I have been searching for another cherry wood smoked beer that works as well as that one did. I have tried many, including a couple others at Winterfest. Most have failed. While it didn’t blow my mind, the Rock Bottom Porter really worked.

Number four goes to Flat Earth’s Winter Warlock Barleywine. I have always loved Winter Warlock. Lacking the intense caramel and dark specialty malts of most English barleywines, this golden barleywine finds layered depth in simplicity, just English base malt and sugar. The 2009 batch is good now, but will be even better next year. While I am talking about Flat Earth, let me move on to my number three pick, the Grand Design S’more infused porter. This was the Great Snowshoe best beer of the festival winner this year as chosen by the attendees. I hate s’mores, but I really do like this beer. Built on the base of one of my favorite local beers, Cygnus X-1 porter, it explodes with vanilla, cocoa, and graham cracker sweetness that really does remind one of flaming marshmallows on a stick by the fireside.

My number two beer is the above mentioned LSD from Town Hall. I described it briefly up top, so suffice it to say here that it is a floral and fruity delight. A truly unique beer.

For my personal best beer of the festival I chose Unoaked Rosie’s Reserve from Barley John’s. This is a huge and hugely complex beer. While others opined that they preferred the oaked version, I am somewhat tired of bourbon barrel aged beers. I’m not that fond of bourbon to begin with and I think they have been overdone. The lack of bourbon and vanilla flavors in this 15.5% beer allowed for the discovery of delicious caramel and dark fruit without a trace of hot alcohols. Another beer that coaxes complexity from simplicity.

A few other beers deserve mention. I enjoyed the Winterye Mix and Blackwatch Oat Stout from Great Waters Brewing Co. Surly Mild was delightful as always and Four was tasty, but I want to reserve judgment until I can actually taste more than a couple ounces. It took on a kind of chalky, charred flavor that annoyed me slightly the more of it I drank. Winter Wheat from Rock Bottom was a great palate cleanser to end the evening.

A couple of beers for me missed the mark. Fitger’s Undertow Pilsner seemed a bit thin and flavorless. It could be because I had been sampling the endless number of imperial stouts and barleywines before I arrived there, but normally I like to seek out a pilsner as refuge from the huge. This one did not provide it. Great Waters’ Vulcanus Rex cherrywood smoked beer took the char pit smoke to an unpleasant level. The Smoked Doppelbock from the Herkimer Pub & Brewery, another cherrywood smoked beer, promised greatness with the aroma and then failed to deliver. The worst disaster of the evening in my view was the Chipotle Wee Heavy from Town Hall. All I can say is what a waste of their great Wee Heavy.