10,000 Minutes of Minnesota Craft Beer Week

MNMO_Craft-beer-week-logo_Minnesota Craft-Brewers-GuildIt’s Minnesota Craft Beer Week – 10,000 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, 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.

2014 Autumn Brew Review Preview

Tomorrow is Autumn Brew Review day!

The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild knows how to throw a beer fest. The three they stage are always the best of the year. While Winterfest is the hands-down winner as “Best Fest” in my opinion, it’s hard to choose between All Pints North and Autumn Brew Review.

In Brew Review’s favor, it’s a bigger festival with more breweries and more beers to sample. This year’s lineup includes 109 breweries. With each one offering an average of three-ish beers, that’s a lot of tasting. The setting at the majestic Grain Belt Brewery building gives the festival a palpable connection to the city’s mighty brewing past. But then again, it’s hard to beat Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth as a site beer fest site. Oh, it’s so hard to choose…

There have been so many new breweries opening in the state in the last few months that I haven’t even begun to sample them all. That’s one thing that I am particularly looking forward to at this year’s ABR. Among the brand-new brewers represented are Bauhaus Brew Labs, Fair State Brewing CO-OP, Four Daughters Cidery, Pryes Brewing Co., Tin Whiskers Brewing Co., Veteran Beer Co. and Bank Brewing Co. Bank has been around for a while, but they have only recently begun making their own beer. I’ve been to some of these, but it will be great to sample brews from some of the others.

Minnesota is also being flooded by brands from other states, many of which will be represented at the festival. I’m looking forward to visiting with Bull Falls Brewery from Wausau, Wisconsin and Finch’s Beer Company from Chicago, Illinois. I hit both places researching A Perfect Pint’s Beer Guide to the Heartland. I’m glad to see their beer here at home. Others to hit are Fargo Brewing Co., Local Option, Stillwater Artisanal Ales, and Prost Brewing Co. Prost is a Denver brewery that makes German-style lagers. I was there a couple of years ago and loved it.

The program reveals that brewers will have some interesting beers on display. 2012 Alaskan Smoked Porter anyone? Or how about a preview of Dawn of Aurora “champagner weisse” from the Schell’s Noble Star Collection? Bent Brewstillery will be doling out something called El Guerrero Chilean Double Stout – undoubtedly something that brewer Kristen England brought back from recent beer-judging trips down south. Destihl Brewery from Illinois is bringing their awesome Gose. The Hoops brothers at Town Hall and Fitger’s seem to be trying to out-do each other with their fest selections. And Fitger’s Cherry Batch….

And speaking of cider…there are a lot of opportunities to sample the scrumpy this year. Cider makers at the fest come from both coasts as well as Minnesota. Among them are Wyder’s Hard Cider, Two Towns Ciderhouse, Schilling & Co., Angry Orchard Cider Co. and Ace Cider. Sociable cider Werks and Four Daughters Cidery are representing for the home state. I’m really into cider lately, so I’ll be hitting up most of these booths.

Things to remember at the fest:
– You don’t have to (read can’t) sample everything.
– Beware the “imperial.” A few of those and your day is done.
– Drink water.
– Hit up the food trucks. Food is good when drinking.
– Line up a ride home. Don’t be “that guy.”

The forecast for tomorrow is for low 80s and partly cloudy. You couldn’t ask for better beer fest weather. So hit up a hearty brunch (gotta get that base on), grab a bus, taxi or Über, and get your butts to Nordeast for a great afternoon of tasting.

Education Programs at the All Pints North Summer Beer Festival

In the hierarchy of Minnesota beer festivals, two stand out to me – Winterfest and All Pints North – both sponsored and organized by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. Winterfest is an intimate affaire. Ticket sales are limited and the space is cozy, in contrast to the sprawling outdoor festivals that are the norm. It has an air of elegant sophistication. The brewers – all Guild members – bring the good stuff in an attempt to out-do each other.

All Pints North is held at the Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth. Despite the spacious outdoor setting and large attendance, Bayfront Park with its bayside location and magnificent view of the iconic lift bridge give this festival an easy-going, relaxed feel. There is none of the hustle and bustle of the other fests.

All Pints North happens this Saturday, July 26th from 3 – 7 pm. Tickets are still available, although hotel rooms might be harder to come by.

As a beer educator, I like that the Guild values education at their festivals. They recognize that an educated consumer is a better consumer; that the enjoyment of craft beer increases with a little bit of knowledge. They also know that craft beer aficionados are eager to learn.

ABE-SquareSign 4ft

The Alliance for Beer Education (ABE) is a joint project of A Perfect Pint and the Better Beer Society dedicated to providing the highest-quality educational programing at Minnesota’s beer festivals. Collaborators Rob Shellman and Michael Agnew, both Certified Cicerones®, have a combined 11 years’ experience as beer educators. Their credits include the Better Beer Society University, BBS Brown Bag Blind Tastings, The University of Minnesota Department of Continuing Education, Cooks of Crocus Hill, Kitchen Window, and Betty Crocker, as well as countless corporate and private events.

The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild has partnered with ABE to provide the educational programming at this year’s All Pints North. We think we have put together a great lineup with some amazing guest speakers. Check it out!

Beer Barrel BBQ 3:30 – 4:00p
Chef Tony Beran (Lake Ave Café) and Nate Beck (Natedogs)

Minnesota summers offer the perfect weather to fire up the grill. Why not make beer a part of your cookout? Join Chef Tony Beran of Lake Ave Cafe, as he showcases slow roasted pork shoulder smoked over Surly Pentagram staves, as well as a sour cherry Pentagram sauce to pair with. Nate Beck of Natedogs is loved among the beer community with his delicious dogs and mustards. He’ll guide you through the process of creating your own unique beer mustard. Join us for a delicious lesson in outdoor cooking with beer and building the best sauce.

Backwoods Brews 4:10 – 4:40p
Jake Boyce (Day Tripper of Duluth)

Last month Duluth was named as Outside Magazine’s best outdoor city in America. Outdoor activity is central to the Duluth lifestyle. This session pays homage to that by exploring the potential and practicalities of enjoying beer in the backcountry. What’s allowed? What type of beer is best? Can beer be part of your campfire cooking? Come find out from adventure guide Jake Boyce and share your own stories about enjoying beer in the backcountry.

Homebrewing Berliner Weisse 4:50 – 5:20p
Jeff Merriman (Northern Brewer/Certified Cicerone®) & Jace Marti (August Schell Brewing Co.)

One of the growing trends in American craft beer is the revival of nearly-extinct beer styles. Gose, Grätzer, Sahti, and Berliner Weisse have all seen a resurgence in the last few years. With a little bit of know-how you can make great versions of these beers at home. Jace Marti from August Schell Brewing Company shares the insights gained from creating the Noble Star series of Berliner Weisse style beers. Northern Brewer manager Jeff Merriman brings it home with the practical knowledge for backyard brewers.

Terroir of Twin Ports 5:30 – 6:00p
Emily Vikre (Vikre Distillery), Bryon Tonnis (Bent Paddle), Heiko Edwardson (Red Herring)

Alongside craft beer, craft distilling is booming. And the two have turned out to be terrific partners with artisanal spiritmakers and small brewers teaming up in the production process. The popularity of beer cocktails shows that the final products work pretty well together, too. Find out how Bent Paddle Brewing and Vikre Distillery are partnering right here in Duluth and learn how to whip up a tasty treat from Red Herring cocktail whiz Heiko Edwardson.

Rob and I hope to see you in the tent. Cheers!


Winterfest 2011 Recap

Photo by Mark Roberts

The bagpipes blared at precisely 7:00 on Friday night, signaling the start of Winterfest 2011 at the Minnesota History Center. The doors opened and the crowd of 700 local beer fans, some of whom had been waiting in line for an hour or more, flooded into the hall. Because I was doing educational sessions at the event, I had arrived early to set up. I got to witness the opening rush from the inside for the first time.

I attend trade shows for the college campus-activities market. There is a novelty attraction in the college circuit called Wax Hands, which consists of students dipping their hands into vats of hot wax and ending up with brightly colored molds of the “hang-loose” sign, “peace” sign, or some other such sign. As soon as the doors of the exhibit hall open, students make a frenzied dash to be the first in line for Wax Hands. I happened to be standing at the Surly booth Friday night when the doors opened. Surly Brewing Company is the Wax Hands of the local beer world. It was fascinating to watch as the line went from nothing to a long snake down the hall in a matter of seconds.

Photo by Mark Roberts

In fairness to Omar, Todd, and crew, Surly did have some interesting beers for sampling. Molé Smoke took their smoked Baltic porter south of the border with cinnamon, cocoa, and chili peppers. It had a slight tingling bite, but the chili heat wasn’t over the top. I wouldn’t have wanted a pint of it, but I enjoyed the sample. Pentagram, the single-barrel version of what will become Five, a multi-barrel, blended, sour beer brewed for their fifth anniversary, was very tasty and took the Great Snowshoe award as the crowd favorite.

But Surly’s weren’t the only intriguing beers on the floor. Looking at the program the day before the event made my taste buds tingle with barrel-aged Belgians, smoked beers, infused beers, fruited beers, and even some plain-old beers. There were three brand new breweries to check out. It was an awesome lineup as the members of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild brought their best to the fest. With so many beers on offer, I didn’t get to try everything I wanted to, but I did sample more than a few and found some standouts.

Photo by Mark Roberts

Superior from Fitger’s Brewhouse was perhaps my personal favorite. This was a strong version of a German Schwarzweizen or black wheat beer. At 9% ABV, it had a kick, but was still delightfully easy to drink. Chocolate flavors blended with doughy wheat malt and the unique banana and clove of the German wheat beer yeast. Brewmaster Dave Hoops first tasted the style on one of his annual trips to Germany and immediately wanted to make one. He said that this first attempt hadn’t quite hit the mark he was aiming for, but that he is continuing to dial-in the recipe. If this one missed the mark, I can’t wait to try it when he thinks he’s gotten it right. Fitger’s also got my vote for most attractive table display (see photo below).

Photo by Mark Roberts

Another standout for me was Port Odin from Town Hall, a traditional Baltic Porter that was aged for 18 months in French-oak, port-wine barrels. This one was rich and dark with deep roasted-malt flavors and hints of sourness beginning to peek around the edges. Complex and mysterious, Port Odin joined Surly’s Pentagram and Fitger’s Superior as my top three picks for the festival.

Other favorites for me included Dark Knight from Barley John’s, Flat Earth’s Winter Warlock, Fallen Angel Abbey Ale from Rock Bottom, and Vulcanus Rex cherrywood smoked scotch ale from Great Waters. I was very excited to see and sample beers from three new Minnesota breweries, Harriet Brewing, Big Wood Brewing, and Carmody Brewpub. Harriet’s Devine Oculust was very nice, as was the Scanlon IPA from Carmody. Unfortunately I didn’t get to Big Wood’s booth until the very end, when my palate and mind were both blown. The beers seemed tasty, but I’ll have to pay the guys a visit to make a more appropriate assessment.

Once again the festival was an intimate and well organized affair. Traffic flowed smoothly in the crowded halls of the History Center. The food was delicious and plentiful. The attendees seemed genuinely interested in sampling the beers and talking to the brewers. Cudos go out to Laura Mullen who put the festival together. Winterfest remains for me the best beer festival of the year.

Photo by Mark Roberts

MN Craft Brewers Guild Wants You to Have Winterfest Tickets

Winterfest tickets sold out in under a minute. Hard to believe, but true. It was a serious online crush to snap them up.

Didn’t get tickets? Well the MN Craft Brewers Guild, sponsors of the event that is probably the best beer fest in the Twin Cities, feels bad for you. They want to give you a chance to win tickets in the Minnesota Craft Beer Heritage Contest. Pen your most purple prose explaining why you are the ultimate Minnesota Craft Beer fan and you could win not only tickets to the event, but also early entry and a meet & greet with the brewers. A Mr and a Ms Minnesota Beer will be named, each taking home the coveted prize.

Interested? Here are the details from the website.

Prove Your Minnesota Beer Heritage
The Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild wants you to share why you are a true Minnesota craft beer lover. Have you toured every brewery in the state? Do you brew a unique beer for every season? Did you introduce your 80-year old grandmother to the state’s best IPAs? Or do you just have a love affair with the great beers of Minnesota, unmatched by any of your friends? In 200 words or less, tell us your qualifications and heritage when it comes to Minnesota craft beer. Please visit the www.mncraftbrew.org or email minnesotabrewers@gmail.com to submit your entry. The Brewer’s Guild will select two separate winners Mr. Minnesota Craft Beer and Ms. Minnesota Craft Beer. We want to celebrate thou who prove to be the most devoted Minnesota craft beer enthusiast. And please note the winners do not have to be affiliated.

The winners will be awarded four tickets to Winterfest, the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild winter showcase on Friday, February 4. The winners will also get a private meet-and-greet with some Minnesota brewers and early access to Winterfest.

The deadline for submissions is 10pm CST on Monday, Jan 31.

Get Writing!

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.