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

Town Hall Barrel Aged Week 2015 Starts Today

When Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery got its first barrel in 2000, see barrel aging of beer was not yet the thing that it is now. Brewmaster Mike Hoops had heard rumblings at a Craft Brewers Conference about this crazy thing that some breweries were doing with their beers – putting them in used barrels. The result was an almost magical fusion of beer, viagra barrel, and booze. Hoops wanted in. A Jack Daniels barrel was obtained and Czar Jack was born.

As barrel-aging has expanded nationally, the Town Hall barrel program has expanded along with it. One barrel became several. Even more were added when additional cellar space opened up after the recent renovation. The barrel program is Mike Hoops’ baby. These are the beers of which he is most proud. In 2009 he got the chance to really show them off when they held the first Barrel Aged Week, now an annual event.

Hoops and crew go to the distilleries themselves to pick up barrels, creating relationships with distillers that help to insure they get the barrels they want in a world where used barrels are becoming scarcer. Even with these relationships he has concerns about getting some of the barrels they have used for many years.

This year’s Barrel Aged Week kicks off tonight at 5pm. It will include nine beer releases over six days, ending on Saturday the 21st. Whether you go one day or every day, these barrel aged beers are worth checking out.

Tonight’s release is Manhattan Reserve, a cherry grand cru aged in Woodford Reserve barrels. Grand cru is a nebulous term that doesn’t really correspond to any actual beer style. Every brewery’s grand cru is unique. For Mike Hoops the term just refers to the beer that a brewery views at its “celebratory” brew. The base beer for Manhattan Reserve has been brewed at Town Hall for around ten years. It’s a Belgian style beer with plenty of fermentation-derived fruit and spice. Tart cherries come through strongly in both the flavor and aroma, boosted by apple and orange notes and a touch of acidity. Caramel, vanilla, and bourbon offers a sweet counterpart. Effervescent carbonation and peppery spice complete the picture.

Two of my favorites will hit the taps on Saturday. Brown Label Belgian Bruin is a maple brown ale fermented with Belgian yeast and aged in a Woodford Reserve barrel. Big chocolate notes lead, accompanied by dark fruits like plums, prunes, and cherries. A low balsamic acidity brings to mind a Flanders Oud Bruin. Vanilla, oak, and subtle spicy note like cinnamon are in there too. Delicious.

Duke of Wallonia is an imperial witbier aged in a red wine barrel. This is a vinous beer with an interesting juxtaposition of lemony tartness and darker, red wine fruit. Coriander comes through loud and clear, but doesn’t get soapy or vegetal. Orange peel is subtler, but still adds some character.

I’m told the “brewers’ choice” beer will be released on Tuesday night. Foolish Angel is aged in Angel’s Envy barrels, a new distillery partner as of this year. I didn’t get to sample this one, but it is described as a “massively malty” and “beautifully smooth” Belgian quadrupel.

The barrel-aged beers are being sold this year in the new 750 ml growlers. This should allow for folks to get more than one brand to take home. Pre-sale took place on Sunday, February 8th, but a certain number of growlers have been reserved for purchase through the week. If you buy a glass of a particular beer in the brewpub, you will be given the option to purchase a growler of that same beer as long as supplies last.

A lot of people like to cellar these beers, some for a number of years. That is of course your decision, but I would suggest that growlers are not the best container for further aging of beer. They are not optimally designed to limit exposure to oxygen. Remember also that these beers are already well over a year old. They have already been aged. According to Hoops, “We’re releasing [these beers] when we’re pleased with how they are going to be received by consumers.” I say buy it and drink it. A beer not consumed is a beer wasted.

Daily beer released are at 5pm Monday through Friday. Saturday will have releases at 11am and 3pm.

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery at the 2013 GABF

I don’t think I am saying anything controversial when I submit that the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery is one of the best, try if not THE best, advice brewpub in the Twin Cities metro. The beers are well-made and often quite interesting. The food is always tasty. The atmosphere is comfy and inviting. Although I don’t get there as much as I would like, ampoule it’s one of my favorite places to drink in Minneapolis.

Town Hall has stood the test of time to become a Twin Cities fixture. Founded in 1997, it celebrates 16 years of beer and food this year. Town Hall has not only survived, it has expanded. With its two satellite locations, the Town Hall Tap and the Town Hall Lanes, doing well, owner Pete Rifakes is turning his attention back to the mother ship. Plans are in the works to renovate the 7 Corners brewpub and expand brewery capacity.

In this 2013 Great American Beer Festival interview Rifakes and brewer Mike Hoops talk beer, bowling, and building a better brewery. Just a warning, the planned renovation means the restaurant will have to close briefly sometime next year.

2011 GABF Interivew with Mike Hoops of Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery is my favorite brewpub in the Twin Cities. Not to knock all of our other great brewpubs; I just enjoy everything about Town Hall from the beer to the food and ambience. It’s all there for me. It’s also the source of some of the most inventive and interesting beers in the metro (or even the state for that matter). Aside from a great lineup of year-round beers, search including the nationally sought-after Masala Mama IPA, here Mike Hoops and his brew crew turn out a slew of seasonals and one-offs. There’s a beer release of some kind every week.

In this interview we are sampling one such one-off beer called LSD, sickness a strange concoction made with honey, lavender and an assortment of odd-ball ingredients, created by brewer Josh Bischoff. Shortly after the interview was completed Hoops learned that the beer had won a silver medal in the GABF competition. Shortly after the GABF ended, Josh Bischoff left Town Hall to become the head brewer at Indeed Brewing Company. Just one example of the weird and wonderful things happening in the MN beer scene.

Additionally, I get Mike Hoops’ take on the direction the Midwestern beer scene is taking and the defining character of the region’s beer.