Monday, April 21, 2014

One More Call To Help The Four Firkins!

I already wrote one post about these guys, but I just wanted to throw it out there one more time!  The Four Firkins is trying to raise enough money to put a down payment on a second store site in Woodbury and need help to get there!  The idea is to crowd fund this so they don't have to take on investors who may want to change the style or aim of the store...possibly taking away the very thing that makes The Firkins unique.  So help them out with a donation and feel good about supporting small business and bringing more good beer to Minnesota markets!  There are also some cool perks for some of the donation levels so check 'em out.

The campaign runs out on April 25 so get out there now and do it!  And watch the very well-done video about the project that is on the page too.  Check out their Indiegogo page HERE.  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Bank Brewing to Open Brewery in Hendricks, MN!

In my attempt to cover upcoming breweries, I came across Richard Drawdy, the brewer for the soon to open Bank Brewing.  The brewery is located in the small border town of Hendricks, MN and I'll let Richard tell you more about that in his own words!  When I first looked up the brewery I discovered that they are responsible for the Beer for Wildlife series of beers that include Rooster Lager and Walleye Chop.  They have been donating to wildlife conservation with profits from those beers for a couple of years now.  A friend of mine won a whole case of Rooster Lager at a Pheasants Forever benefit and shared a bunch with me a while ago.  These are pretty easy drinking lagers (and I have to admit that I had so many that I boiled up some amazing locally made brats in some of it!) that certainly appeal to the majority of beer drinkers.  The company is poised to make some big changes in the coming months!

So without further ado, here is the interview:

JABlog:  I like the wildlife conservation aspect of your current beers.  What made you want to take that path? 

RD:  The Beer for Wildlife line of lagers were born out of love for hunting, fishing, beer, and the desire to develop a way to give back to the land and preserve hunting areas.  When our proprietor Jason Markkula was on a hunting trip to Hendricks, MN there was a unique conversation that occurred in an old bank building turned hunting lodge.  Jason and his hunting buddies decided that he should start a beer company, brew his favorite home brew recipes at local breweries and sell the beer to local hunting enthusiasts, contributing a portion of every sale to land purchase and wildlife preservation.  Since 2009 these brands have been brewed seasonally to coincide with the hunting season they represent and the passion for crafting beer grew.  The old bank building, turned hunting lodge, has now been turned into the taproom at 200 S Main St. in Hendricks, MN.
JABlog:  I'm assuming that the previously mentioned beers were contract brewed off-site since you are now planning to brew on premise.  What led you to make that change?  Also do you plan to brew those beers at your new site?

RD:  You are right, the beers for wildlife are made in 15 BBL batches at Brau Brewing Company in the 12oz bottle and Keg formats and the Walleye Chop cans are coming out of Cold Spring, MN being brewed 75 BBL at a time.  The decision to move to a brew on-premise was driven by an opportunity that presented itself in Hendricks.  The historic creamery building at the other end of the same city block as the bank taproom was screaming to have a brewery in it.  After years of renovations it has a new life making beverages for fans to enjoy much like it once did as a creamery, now with beer instead of dairy.  It’s been fully restored with a 15 BBL brew length, 1500 BBL capacity brewing system on the main level and a loft with apartment and office space as well as rooftop patio on the upper level.  

The beers for wildlife will continue to be brewed the way our fans have always enjoyed them, out of the Brau facility.  This will free up the Bank Brewing Company to start fresh with new beers, facility, and brewing team.   

JABlog:  Hendricks, Minnesota is long ways from the present craft brewery action of Minneapolis and Duluth!  Why open a brewery in a small town nestled on the South Dakota border?

RD:  The location was a derived out of a love for the area and the people of Hendricks. The two abandoned spaces on main street were begging for a new life. In working with area economic development associations and historic preservation organizations we were able to give these two buildings a new purpose.  Hendricks is a great, supportive community that has been extremely excited to see this to completion from day one.  We have a burgeoning craft beer boom of our own over here on the border, with Brau just east in Marshall, MN, Wooden Legs Brewing to our east in Brookings, SD, Take 16 Brewing soon to open in Luverne, MN, as well as Gandy Dancer in Sioux Falls, SD, among others also in planning like Remedy Brewing of Sioux Falls, SD.
JABlog:  I like to know who my beer comes from!  Tell me a little about your brewing history.

RD:  I am a home brewer and will always be one.  It is really a homebrewer's dream come true to be given the opportunity to take over a commercial system.  I'm currently taking a Chemistry of Beer course with the University of Oklahoma, as well as studying all the brewing texts I can get my hands on.  I've watched or listened to every episode of of Brewing TV, Basic Brewing Radio, and The Brewing Network and have learned an amazing amount from those sources as well.  In addition to those learning opportunities I have been helping the guys at Brau to brew out wildlife lagers once in a while to gain some commercial brewing experience.

JABlog:  Tell me a bit about your personal connection to brewing and craft beer.

RD:  Brewing to me has become an obsession, something that I think about doing all day every day.  It has captivated me with its raw simplicity and its archaic techniques, while its intricacies, complexities, and unknowns are what keep me coming back for more.  I know that there is no way that one person could possibly know what all the different combinations of water, grain, hops, and yeast taste like.  However, I see it as a challenge to try and figure out many of themes that form those relationships.  I love being a craft beer fan and am guilty for getting caught in the frenzy of always wanting to try the latest and greatest things that breweries dream up.  I will carry this desire into my role as brewer, always pushing the envelope of innovation and creativity while brewing new and exciting things regularly. I want to focus the majority of our time on brewing interesting, exciting, thought provoking, conversation worthy beers.  Not only that, I look forward to developing the community of craft beer in and around the Southeast Minnesota/ Southwest South Dakota area.  I believe that offering a wide variety of palate entertaining and educating beers will be a fun and exciting experience for everyone.  I am excited to brew beers that will span the gamut from classic to eccentric and everything in between.  What you can expect from me as a person is friendliness, openness, humor and fun.  I truly believe that life should be fun everyday and if its not then you are doing something wrong, this is why I am so grateful to be given the opportunity of taking a dream to reality and brew beer for a living!  

I am a very open person, willing to share anything and everything with you about our brewery, our beers, and myself so please don't hesitate to contact me via email, Facebook, Twitter, Untappd or in-person at the brewery and taproom.

JABlog:  What types of beer are you planning on releasing from your new brewery?  Are you aiming at the serious craft beer geek or more at the local casual beer drinker?  

RD:  I touched on this above as well but really what you can expect from us is things that excite the craft beer geeks and aim please the casual drinker with exciting flavors that temp their palates into further exploration.  There are a couple styles we plan to lead with the first of which is Wanted - a tropical hoppy punch of a session IPA.  This is a style that I have found myself wanting the most in the last year.  A beer that has all the hop punch and amazing aromatics you get in a Double IPA while allowing you to have a few amongst friends without worrying about the inebriation that comes with the DIPA.  Another beer that I have focused a lot of time on refining recently is Sour Bomb - a lemony, intensely tart beer that quenches my thirst for sours while being an everyday drinker. I look forward to playing with fruit variations on this one as well. 

JABlog:  How do you plan on  marketing your beer?  Taproom, bottles, cans, kegs?

RD:  I may be crazy with this idea but my initial plan is to take 80% of every batch into kegs and sell in the taproom as well as draft accounts.  The remaining 20% of each batch will be going into the 750 ml format with some great new label art, sold in the taproom only. So we will then be developing an archive of our bottle product since we will be taking some from each batch we can monitor how the beers develop over time. 
JABlog:  When do you plan to be up and running?

RD:  The facilities are nearing completion and we should be cranking out the first batches early this summer.

JABlog:  Thanks so much for the informative interview Richard!  I look forward to trying the beers and seeing how this new move for the brewery will go.  There may have to be a road trip involved!  I'll post an update here when the brewery opens as well.  For my readers, if you visit the brewery please post back here and tell us how it is!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

30 Words: Friendship

Thrown together by chance...or perhaps fate.

From humble beginnings we grow together.

Time passes with its bitter inevitability.

Over forty fleeting years many things change.

The best do not.

I'm continuing a weekly challenge from Treasures Found blog: check it out Here for more details and to check out the blog.  The man to my right in this picture is Bryan Keehl, my oldest friend.  We met in Kindergarten.  Both of us recently celebrated our 40th birthdays.  The sentiments of this week's 30 word quasi-haiku were written with him in mind, but count for all my friendships.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hijacked! Fruity Drinks on the High Seas

Hi there!  This is Eric's wife Sarajo (or Sj as he often calls me) doing a little blog takeover for the day.  Last week while my husband was stuck at home holding down the fort, I was off on a grand adventure with my friend Kathleen... cruising the Caribbean and making jewelry with about 48 other bead ladies!  Sound crazy?  Crazy fun!  I swear that this is a real thing.  You can check out my post all about the Bead Cruise over on my blog HERE.

The one thing that my sweet husband asked in return for letting me go off on a girls trip (other than rum cake, of course) was for me to take notes and pictures of the fruity cruise drinks I consumed and report back for his blog.  So, I'm now making good on that promise.

My first cruise drink was sort of an accident, but it was also one of the fruitiest/cruisey-ist in many ways.  The Aquarium bar was out of one of the components for my first choice drink and I panicked.  I didn't notice that the drink I ordered, the Batidas, had half  & half in it.  Also, I missed that there was supposedly a choice of fruit (not a blend of them) and the waitress didn't clarify what I wanted... so what I ended up with was basically an adult strawberry milkshake!  It wasn't terrible, but the half & half made it VERY rich and it just wasn't what I was expecting.

iPhones are not great at low light... but here's me with my Batidas on the first night of the cruise.
Day two our group had our disco party in the Chamber night club.  We got free drinks and I tried the Yellow Bird.  I'm not entirely sure what was in that other than rum, but it was a little watered down so I can't really give it a fair review.  That night also brought about the discovery of my favorite drink of the cruise, the Elderphire!  Made with Bombay Sapphire gin, elderflower, sugarcane, and fresh lemon this drink was sweet, tart, and refreshing.  This is the only cocktail I ordered multiple times.  Perhaps that makes my "research" a little less complete, but sometimes you want what you want.  We also tried the Elderflower Lemonade which was similar but not quite as tasty as the Elderphire.  It's a mix of elderflower, Absolute vodka, and lemonade.

Elderphires in love?  I loved how they usually did something cute with the straw wrappers!
On day three (night actually!) we went back to the Chamber night club for a little dancing with our new friend Kashmira where we all ordered Lemon Drop martinis.  This was a pleasant suprise for me since I'd ordered this drink (at least I think it was the same thing) someplace else and it had been way too tart for me.  This one was a nice blend of sweet and tart!

Three little Lemon Drops all in a row...
Day four was a port day in Nassua.  Kathleen and I had an excursion to Blue Lagoon Island to play with the dolphins.  We had some down time after that so we had Bahama Mamas on the beach while lounging.  This felt like the perfect drink for a hot beach day! It was a mix of rum, grenadine syrup, orange and pineapple juices... yummy and tropical for sure.  Later that day while lounging by the pool, I indulged in what amounted to an adult Kool-Aide... also known as the Pomegranate Spritz.  My photo of that one did not turn out at all but it was a lovely red/pink but a little too light on flavor for my taste.

Bahama Mama on the beach.  It doesn't get much better than this!
On Day five we didn't order any fruity drinks... can you believe it?  But don't worry, we did put a dent in a bottle of wine at dinner!  The next day we made up for our lapse.  In the afternoon we checked out the jazz themed bar on the 14th floor and I ordered my new favorite drink, the Elderphire.  Kathleen tried the Captain's Caipirinha which was made with Captain Morgan spiced rum, Leblon Cachaca (a spirit made from distilled sugar cane and the official spirit of Brazil), sugar and lime.  It was interesting but far too boozy for me.  My dad would have said that it would put hair on your chest!

Captain's Caipirinha
After dinner we joined several other ladies from our group at the Schooner Bar for music trivia.  I tried the Frozen Mojito while Kathleen tried a very pretty drink called the Goombay Smash.  The Frozen Mojito flavors were pretty true to the traditional version's and it was very tasty and refreshing.  The only downside is I felt like the aftertaste stayed with me for awhile!  The Goombay Smash was another rum based drink with two different types (one coconut), Cointreau, lime and pineapple juices.  I think that I'm just not as big a fan of rum overall... and especially not when it's coconut flavored.  so I was happy with my choice for this round.

Goombay Smash (and a little of my mojito on the left).  Poor lighting strikes again!
Day seven it was back to my standby Elderphire while we listened to the live band play and watched folks dance up in the 14th floor bar.  We did some dancing ourselves when they played the occasional faster song.  Kashmira also ordered a yummy Frozen Mudslide that I got to taste.  A great dessert drink if you want something with coffee and chocolate flavors.

I would have to drink far more than I normally do (and probably spend all my cruise time at the bar) to try all the drinks available on the ship.  Hopefully this gives you a little taste of what is on offer and maybe an idea of cocktails you might want to try in the future either on land or at sea!  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Four Firkins Expansion Need You!

I just wanted to spread the word as far and wide as I can that my favorite all craft beer store, The Four Firkins, is looking to expand to a second location in Woodbury.  By doing this they hope to stay viable in a market that is becoming overtaken by giant behemoth liquor stores.  And they need YOU!  You can check out their Indigogo page below for details on the proposed expansion and they also have several incentives for contributors.  Also watch the short video done by the guys from Limited Release!

When I buy craft beer I try to support my local Waconia liquor store (Legacy Wine and Spirits) but when I'm looking for harder to find beers I head to the Four Firkins.  I love what these folks stand for and appreciate that they try to get to know their customers.  While a new store in Woodbury (across the world from where I live) doesn't directly benefit me, giving Alvey help in this venture is something I feel that I have to do.   Check it out and see if you want to lend a hand to small local business!


Monday, March 24, 2014

Hudson, Wisconsin: Make A Run For The Border

On a recent weekend my wife and I decided to make a day trip to Hudson, Wisconsin for some exploration of this close border-town.  With Sunday sales of beer still illegal in Minnesota, Hudson has really started to take advantage of thirsty Minnesotans crossing the border to spend money on alcoholic libations.  Living on the Minneapolis side of things I have never actually made this particular trek before, so this was an interesting experience.  From our house to Hudson took about an hour, and we left at around 4:30 in the afternoon.  All of the following chaos ensued over just a few hours!

As we passed the Welcome to Wisconsin display after the river, it strangely felt as if we had traveled far more than 50 miles to reach our destination.  Hudson is literally right across the border and it took only another 5 minutes to reach our first destination: American Sky Brewing Company.  This is a small brewery that opened in 2012 and has been supplying Wisconsin with beer for the past two years and will soon open up distribution to Minnesota.  We happened to get there on a special Spring Fest event day, so the place was hopping!  A very good blues trio was playing and The Hangar was quite loud.  They had a cool small circular bar near the entrance that was either made of silver plane wing or at least made to look like it.  Flags and pictures of WWII aviation lined the walls.  Picnic tables were set up further in the warehouse and we joined a very nice family from the area who gave us the local beer rundown in between sets of music. 

A busy place!

They had several special release spring flavored beers including one with grapefruit, one with lavender and a peaches n' cream.  They did not have samplers during the busy festival so I opted for a pint of the Cherry Blossom: a cherry infused version of their red ale.  The beer was not terrible, but the cherry was certainly extract or flavoring and lent a cough syrup flavor to the beer.  Sj's thoughts were that it tasted like Ludens Cough Drops, but not as bad as Cherry Robo!  Sj won this round with her pint of American Velvet, a pleasant coffee infused stout.  I would have loved to try the rest, but we had other places to go!  This was a fun little stop and worth a check.

A great setting!

Since were saving room for dinner, we headed out from American Sky fairly quickly after finishing our beers.  On our way out we saw one poor lady getting half-carried out of the place, trying to balance on tall stiletto heels.  We wound and slid our way through the icy roads of a half-abandoned industrial park and back to the highway for our next adventure!  Our new friends at the previous brewery had suggested we also try the new Pitchfork Brewing not far away.  Like many breweries, this one was a bit out of the way, tucked back off a no-outlet highway service road between an ice skate sharpening place and next to an Irish Pub in a small strip mall.  This place is tiny and understated from the outside and I never would have discovered it by accident.  The interior hosts a small dark bar and a few booths and tables.  Most of the building space is taken up by the incredibly small brewery (3 barrel?) visible through some glass behind the bar.  I instantly loved the vibe in the taproom.  Old pitchforks and country art hang from the walls in a homey rural fashion.  Milk pails used as lamp shades hand from the ceiling along with old burlap grain and feed bags.  Rustic dark stained wooden signs and chalk boards are tastefully displayed behind the bar.  There was even a standing bar table made out of an old pitchfork!

Our server was very attentive and pleasant, flinging down some old compact discs as coasters for us.  Mine was (suitably) Appetite For Destruction.  Welcome to the jungle indeed!  We were quickly served our shared beer sampler in an appropriately unaffected wooden holder.  They had a good mix of beers available including a brown, pale, UK IPA, and a stout.  I could see an extensive list of upcoming brews that shows a lot of variation in the brewery's line up.  I really wish I had liked the beer more than I did.  With such a fun and relaxing setting and great staff I was hoping for more fro the beers.  The best of them was a Munich dunkel but even that only rated a 3 of 5 on Untappd for me.  Most had a house flavor that was distracting and borderline tainted tasting.  Sj was not a fan of them either so it wasn't just me being a hater.  I love the setting of this hidden little homespun gem of a tiny tasting room but they have a long way to come before I'd recommend the beers.  Check them out just for the setting, and maybe they will be improving the brews by the time you get there--I can't find details but I think they just opened this year!

The next foray was to Stone Tap for dinner.  This was really the impetus for getting us to Hudson in the first place.  Catherine Pflueger (previously GM of The Happy Gnome) is the General Manager there now and we have been meaning to get there just to see her again.  She had organized a special New Glarus tasting for the night in question and we finally bit the bullet and organized this impromptu trip.  The gastropub opened in 2013 and has been getting rave reviews for their farm-to-table fine dining and excellent wine and beer list.  The building it is located in was built in 1875 and boasts many different styles of solid brick walls and old architectural features.  They apparently plan on expanding into the rest of the building to include a night club and more over time, which should be interesting.  They obviously took great care in renovation, showcasing much of the old building while updating it for a comfortable dining and drinking experience. 

We were smart enough to make reservations for a Saturday night (we overheard walk-ins being told about a very long wait for dinner) and were quickly seated near the bar in a wooden booth.  We took advantage of the special New Glarus tasters they were offering: Belgian Red, Raspberry Tart, Serendipity, and Strawberry Rhubarb--Oh My!  We shared a cheese-heavy charcuterie board (this is Wisconsin after all!) that mostly paired well with our sweet and tart beers.  Unable to decide on main dishes, Sj and I shared two of them.  The Wild Boar was perfectly cooked with a light smoky char on the outside served with the lightest pillowy gnocchi I've ever had, all brought together with a blue cheese sauce and raspberry demi.   The Quatre et Trois was an unusual combination of duck, veal, pork and chicken all formed into a flavorful and crumbly block atop a green bed of spinach, faro, quinoa and wheat berries.  Aesthetically that one was not as amazing, but the flavors were stellar!  Full to bursting, we took home a dessert of chocolate banana bread for later.  It was great getting a chance to catch up with Catherine and try out her new place.  I would highly recommend the Stone Tap to anyone who considers themselves a foodie or loves craft beers.  The beer list of taps and bottles was extensive with some items like Dogfish Head that we can't get in Minnesota (all of those were clearly marked so we could be sure to take advantage of the new options!)

Terrible picture, cool bar!

We finished dinner fairly late in the evening, but still had one more stop before returning to our land of 10,000 lakes.  The helpful server at Pitchfork Brewing had clued me in to the fact that Cassanova's (a local liquor store specializing in craft beer) had Toppling Goliath beers on tap.  The store had closed by the time we finished eating, but their attached wine bar The Nova was still open and serving.  Just a few blocks away from Stone Tap, we pulled up and entered the dimly lit and bustling little place.  I really liked the crowded feel and mix of antique and found furniture in the bar.  I'd like to stop in again some time when I have more to time settle in and enjoy the ambiance.  But this visit we were on a mission!  They were still able to fill me a growler of Pseudo Sue from the taps to take home with me to Minnesota--something that is still not legal in my state!

Considering we left Waconia at 4:30 in the afternoon, I think we had quite the evening in Hudson!  I would recommend checking out the town if you haven't already.  Take advantage of the fact that you can buy beer on Sundays in Wisconsin.  And that you can get growlers of commercial beer filled at restaurants and liquor stores.  And that brewery tap rooms can be open on Sunday.  And that you can get different beers that are not distributed in Minnesota... Wisconsin is still way ahead of Minnesota when it comes to beer and liquor blue laws, but I have hopes that this gap will continue to narrow of the next few years.  Currently there is legislation (strongly  supported by Jason Alvey of the Four Firkins) to legalize Sunday sales.  Sorry about the soap box, but I feel strongly about this! 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

30 Word Thursday: Tower

The dark eidolon looms above our cluttered lives.
A solid brick tower of sameness and conformity,
Rising to the sky bringing despair on those beneath its heavy shadow.
Challenge this!
This edition of 30 Word Thursday was taken whilst wandering through downtown St. Paul a few weeks ago.  I got a little emo in this one...sorry!  Check out the other folks contributing to this blog-hop at the Treasures Found Blog.