Friday, October 24, 2014

30 Words: Disneyland!

Fanciful sparkles in multicolored splendor,
wink and shine in atmosphere of wonder.
The great mouse looks down in glee,
smiling broadly at humans running free.
 The happiest place on Earth!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Minnesota Harvest Orchard


Recently, the fine folks at Minnesota Harvest Orchard in Jordan, MN invited Jack of All Brews homebrew club out to do a cider pressing demo.  This is the second year we have done so and we were excited to go back!  Several years ago our club invested in an old fashioned 1800's looking wooden cider press and have made good use of it over the years.  This old-school technology still works and looks great out at the orchard, taking one back in time to early American settler days in Minnesota. 

We arrived around 11 AM on a Sunday, swollen orange fall sun shedding rich light on the orchard grounds.  Already the place was bustling with people, but soon would be filled to bursting with families looking for autumn fun.

Over the morning and into the afternoon JAB members and their families trickled in and took part in the apple pressing process.  We soon got things into a pretty efficient pattern.  A few people would rinse the apples in buckets of water, then toss the apples into the grinder at the top of the press.  A few years ago one of our members added on a motor to this, making it much more efficient than hand cranking it!  Once the hopper was full, we would put the lid on it and hand crank the press, resulting in fresh apple juice cascading into our waiting bucket.  We found about 100 apples would give us just over 1 gallon of juice. 

Ready to ferment!

The orchard itself is massive, with a huge main building holding a gift shop, food counter, and now a bar.  Outside were another portable bar, a food truck serving amazing pizza, and more!  Add in the world's shortest sunflower maze, hay rides, ponies, (evil) petting zoo, and apple catapult, and you have a ton of entertainment! 

This year, Tim Roets and his sons Dylan and PJ are presiding over Minnesota Harvest's new farm winery.  Tim is currently working on his own brewery in Jordan as well, but hit a big snag when this spring's monsoon rainfall caused a mudslide into the old Jordan Brewery building where he was setting up shop.  He still hopes to be brewing by this winter.  In the mean time, he is making apple ales, hard ciders, and meads for the orchard.  I got to try a few of his concoctions and was impressed as always with his ingenuity.

A jovial Tim Roets showing off the new tasting bar!

Overall this was a really fun way to spend a fall day!  Thanks to the Minnesota Harvest folks for having us out and providing apples, and to Tim and his sons as well. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

30 Word Thursday: Barn

Dying summer light
throws long shadows.
Cool breeze rattles remaining leaves,
and swinging lantern.
The last gasp of fall before inevitable winter comes.
Inside, friends gather,
celebrating the bountiful harvest.
This week's 30 Word Thursday photo was taken at the Minnesota Harvest Orchard in Jordan, MN.  Our homebrew club was out for a cider pressing last Sunday and had a great time.  I'll be writing up that event separately (hopefully to share later this week.)  Check out the other 30 Words at Erin's Treasures Found Blog!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

30 Words: Fall

Looming clouds part momentarily,
Leaving a patch of blue
Green, yellow, rust, crimson.
Leaves shimmer and shake
Temporarily illuminated by flashing beams
Cool breeze wafts by,
colorful detritus spiraling
This week's 30 Word Thursday pic was taken at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum on Tuesday of this week.  I stopped by on my way back from Minneapolis and wandered the grounds with my camera.  It was amazing to me how drastically the place has changed.  Two weeks ago I was snapping shots of flowers, bees, and butterflies.  Now fading leaves littered the paths and flowers were mostly a thing of the past.  Photos were tough since the thick clouds would cover the sun periodically.  Check out the other 30 Word Thursday challenge entries at the Treasures Found Blog!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lazy Loon Brewing: Victoria, MN

So back to beer related stuff!  I was recently excited to discover that one of my homebrew club members was secretly converting his garage into a production brewery...unexpected and very cool!  I met with owner and brewmaster Jonathan Lueck to check out his facility and get the skinny. 

Proud papa showing off his beery offspring!

Getting to Jonathan's home in Victoria, MN was a pretty quick trip for me from Waconia.  His home is on a lot that used to host a decrepit farmhouse and some of the left-over debris remains...currently being used as a haunted house for Halloween.  In the attached garage of this unassuming but nice home lurks stainless steel, pallets of cans, and large lager coolers.  The door to the house from the garage apparently had to be sealed over to conform to regulations for a production brewery.   I have to say that this brewery garage is the first of its kind that I have ever visited--and after visiting hundreds of breweries, that is saying something!  Not only is Lueck brewing small batches there, he has his own Cask manual canning line as well.  The canning line has the ability to convert to an automated system in the future and handles 12 and 16 oz cans.  Each can is labeled by hand in advance of filling.

Canning beer on a small scale!

Jonathan has a degree in Economics, and is a practicing CPA and Attorney focused on small business consulting.  With said background he certainly has the knowledge needed to start a successful small business, something that many brewery owners lack.  He spent a great deal of time and effort looking into the necessary laws and requirements needed for opening his brewery and as a result was able to get his home brewery going fairly quickly. 

When asked about the origins of his interest in beer, Jonathan responded: "
With a German farming background, I seemed destined to have an interest in beer.  My hobbies have always involved being a “creative craftsman”.   As I started to learn more about how beer is made, the more I appreciated the craft of brewing.  The  potential for creativity is endless."  His favorite beers to drink are lagers and change with the seasons.  He mentions specifically migrating back to Schells since they have done an amazing job at developing craft lagers.

Not only does Jonathan like to drink lagers, but also to brew them.  I asked him about his decision to focus on those styles for his brewery, and his response was very technical:  "Craft breweries currently have roughly 10% if the market.  The craft brewing industry continues to go after and gain additional market share.  However, the trend is to continue to seek additional market share with the same approach.  I took a step back and analyzed the market to identify an approach to reach the part of the market that craft beer has not focused on.  The answer was obvious, lagers."

The biggest question I had for him was "Why build your brewery in your own garage?"  In typical fashion he returned with a well thought-out and economics minded answer:

"Establishing a brewery on my property allowed me the opportunity to enter the industry without the pressure of producing at levels necessary to cover the fixed occupancy costs.  This gives me the ability to be flexible and creative.  The small batches and labeling of cans provides the freedom to continue to develop the brand through many styles of beer, rather than being married to a minimum order of over 90,000 pre-printed cans.  If you think about it, we have the flexibility of a taproom with the portability of a full production brewery.   The establishment of this brewery is also a proof of concept that a nano-brewery model can produce and package.  We are now in a position to consult with others who wish to enter the brewing industry, but do not want to mortgage their future to do so."

"The long term goal is to continue to work the business plan with a focus of moving the location off site.  The future location will be a production facility with a tap room.   We are seeking a location that will allow us to have a tap room that is an experience, rather than just another room to drink beer."

To me this sounds like a good plan for a small business--gaining a following and name recognition with the eventual plan to increase production over time.  This has a similar feel to contract brewing with another brewery, but with the benefit of having more control over your beer and the brewing process from the beginning. 

So what about the beer you ask?  Jonathan let me try out a few of his test batches before their unveiling to the beer world.  Up front, I'm not as much of a lager guy, but I do respect and appreciate well crafted lagers.  Lueck's flagship beer is the Lazy Loon Lager--an American pilsner style that will have a broad appeal to those who are wary of "Craft Beer."  I liked the taste I had, enjoying it more than some American lagers from the big guys. 

The next taste was a summer version of the Lazy Loon with lime.  I got to try two different batches, each using a different technique for adding the lime flavor.  Both were bright and refreshing, but my favorite was actually when I blended the two samples together!  Haters may hate, but there is something happy about a hint of lime in a lighter lager.  The base beer for this has more flavor and body than another popular "lite" version of lime lager.

The Volksfest is his version of a maltier lager for fall, not quite an Octoberfest/Marzen but in the same vein.  This was also a decent and drinkable beer, but a bit too sweet for my personal tastes.

His Hat Trick is a label that will potentially be like Schells Snowstorm--a seasonal beer that may be an entirely different style and experience each time.  An intriguing prospect for those who tire easily of the same old thing, and one that allows him some opportunity for experimentation in recipe design.  This is early in the life of Lazy Loon Brewing and Jonathan is clearly working on dialing in his small 1 barrel brew system and lagering methods.  As a result of this, there is going to be a bit more variability batch to batch than in larger production breweries.  He seems open to suggestions and is interested in trying new things.  He has some interesting ideas involving collaborations with Jack Of All Brews homebrew club that I'm excited about!
To finish Jonathan wanted to make sure to thank the folks at Surly for their assistance,  Mike at Vintage in Chanhassen,  and Jason at MGM (Chanhassen, Chaska, Waconia, and Spring Park).  His beers are already on the shelves, so you don't have to take my word on it: try them yourselves and tell me (and him) what you think. 


Thursday, October 2, 2014

30 Words

Soft feathery petals surround delicate bristle.
Bees softly alight, carrying yellow pollen on fuzzy bodies, perpetuating the endless cycle of life.
Reminding one that life is beautiful and sometimes fleeting.
This week's picture was of a flower from my back yard.  The basic picture looked cool (and I have another version of the original as is) but I decided to keep experimenting with Photoshop Elements effects until I found this particular effect.  It reminds me of the old crayon and black paint that I used to use in my childhood, so consider this channeling my inner child!  The sentiment certainly has some spill-over from the very difficult passing of a family friend last week.  See the rest of this week's 30 Word Thursday (and last week's as well) at Erin's Treasures Found Blog.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp 12 Pack Part 2

Ok, I've been a bit off my game recently and haven't felt especially "write-y"  but I wanted to try to post something beer related here.  I finally finished the last of the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp beers and finished this write-up.

On to the second half of the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp 12 pack!  This is a cool collaboration series with several other noteworthy breweries from around the USA, all packaged into one box.  I'm not sure if any of these are still available but if you see one--get it!  I blogged about the first six bottles last week: see that HERE.  I'm going to keep my descriptions a bit shorter.

1) There and Back by SN and New Glarus.  I've loved New Glarus for a very long time, so I was looking forward to this particular beer.  The name conjures up images of Bilbo Baggins sitting in his hobbit hole after fighting off Smaug the dragon, fondling his One Ring and having a pint.  This English bitter seems to be one of the lowest alcohol beers in the pack, clocking in at only 5.6% ABV.  Poured into an English style pint glass.

Aroma: Malt up front with a pleasant toasted bread character.  There is a bit of herbal and minimally citrus hop in the aroma as swirled.  Very subtle fruity esters.

Appearance: Slight haze (may have been my pour) with a deep golden to almost copper color.  Large tight white head.

Flavor: A healthy bite of hops right off the bat--earthy and citrusy but not musty.  Fades to a mellow toasty malt flavor ripe with melanoidins.  Finish is dry with a slightly bitter tinge--but not astringent.  Fruity notes as it warms.

Overall: Hoppier than most bitters, and more American hop character.  Balance is great on this and it is very drinkable.  I could drink a few of these (if I had more!)  4/5.

2) Tater Ridge by SN and the Ashville Brewers Alliance.  The ABA seems to be a group dedicated to furthering beer education and knowledge, as well as organizing beer festivals and events.  This beer is a Scottish ale brewed with local sweet potatoes.  ABV 7% and 35 IBU.

Aroma: Very malty!  There is a citrus zing to it as swirled as well as a hint of alcohol.  Overall sweet aroma.

Appearance: Deep copper in color.  Good clarity but not perfect.  Fine off white head that fades fairly quickly.

Flavor: Malty caramel and toasty flavors are dominant in the brew.  I do pick up on citrus hop flavors, but restrained.  Barest smoky note at end.  The finish is notable for a somewhat astringent end.  My wife (who loves Scottish ales) didn't like the finish and had me drink her half.  Oh well! 

Overall:  A very good beer.  I really like mix of American hops and Scottish style, but certainly not a great BJCP example of a Scottish ale.  I would drink more.  3.5/5.

3) Yvan The Great by SN and Russian River.  I love Russian River.  The only way we can get it in Minnesota is collaboration beers and having friends and family mule it across borders.  Known for both sour beers and some of the best hoppy ales in the USA, I had high expectations for this beer! 

Aroma: Very hoppy citrus (lemon and orange) up front.  After the first burst of hop, I gather a complex Belgian yeast aroma with banana and other fruit esters.  Hint of sulfur.  Some sweet candy sugar and bit of corny pilsner malt.

Appearance: Very light golden color with excellent clarity.  A fine white head with tight bubbles that fades fairly fast.

Flavor: In a word: Bright!  This beer has strong orange and lemon flavors that were hinted at in the aroma.  After the flash of hop, this fades to a wonderful bananas and cream flavor.  Some light pilsner malt character but more sugary.  The body is light and the finish is very dry.  Not astringent. 

Overall: Let me say up front that I dislike most excessively hoppy Belgian ales (especially with American hops).  This one blew me away by having a very harmonious blend of hop and Belgian yeast character.  By all rights this beer shouldn't work, but it does!  4.5/5.

4) Alt Route by SN and Victory.  An Alt beer (a style fairly difficult to find in the US--a German style ale brewed at lagering temps.)  ABV is 6.6% with 50 IBU.

Aroma: Some malt present with a subtle roastiness.  Candy sweetness with an almost Sweet-Tart twang to it.  Citrusy.

Appearance: Deep copper to nearly brown.  Large tan head with large bubbles. Slight haze.

Flavor: Sweetish malt flavors at first.  Sweetness quickly fades to a harsh bitterness that tastes of burning metal (ever throw tin-foil on a camp fire?) that just stays with you for several minutes.  Body is medium.  Balance wayyyyyyy to the bitter side.

Overall: My least favorite of the Beer Camp box.  Rough and bitter with terrible astringency.  Not a win for Victory...  2/5 and I dumped it.

5) Maillard's Odyssey by SN and Bells.  This is a darker beer of no stated style that plays up the malty and toasty quality of carmelized grain.  I tested this while brewing a barleywine so my notes are a bit spotty...

Aroma: Roasted malt with milk chocolate sweetness is dominant.  Slight metallic twang.  No hop aroma picked out. 

Appearance: Deep black and pretty much opaque.  Large dark tan head.  Very persistent fine bubbles.

Flavor: Just like the aroma promised!  Sweet malt and a milk chocolate and toasted bread flavor.  Fades to a smooth roastiness and a more bitter dark chocolate finish that is slightly astringent but not bad.  There is hop bitterness to even out the sweet but not much hop flavor (a shock for this box set!) Thick milkshake mouthfeel, but an off-dry finish.

Overall: My favorite in the box set!  Amazingly complex interplay between the malt and chocolate flavors.  Like an Imperial Milk Stout!  5/5.

6) Double Latte by SN and Ninkasi.  I love Ninkasi and was really looking forward to this beer--in fact that is why I saved it for last!  This is a 60 IBU and 7.6% ABV coffee milk stout.  The hopping is all nugget, not an incredibly popular hop these days.

I liked the aroma and appearance of this beer: a huge malt and roast nose and an enormous tan head.  The flavor fell a little flat for me.  The gratuitous hop bitterness and astringency accentuated the bitter coffee and roast and made this very harsh instead of creamy and pleasant.  Don't get me wrong I still drank it all, but not quite what I was expecting.