Friday, August 31, 2012

MN State Fair Homebrew Competition Wrap-up

OK, so I got completely skunked at the Minnesota State Fair this year.  This comes as no surprise for me, since I repeatedly get snake-eyes at this particular competition.  The one year I actually got a blue ribbon was the time I put an untested Mild ale into it, about three years ago now.  For some reason I seem to be able to medal with the exact same beers in different competitions, but not the State Fair!  For instance I put 5 beers into first round of Nationals and two went on to second round.  All five of those beers were put into State Fair...and nothing!  But I'm not bitter at all!

I feel that I received good feedback this year, and am very glad that the check box score sheets of last year's fair have gone the way of the dodo.  Each of the sets of score sheets I got included a certified of higher BJCP judge paired with a less experienced judge, so this was well organized.  My friends with The Primary Fermenters Homebrew Club took over the organization this year and did a great job considering how large this competition has become in the last few years.  Kudos to them and to all those who helped judge and steward.

I actually scored pretty high marks on most of my beers, so the competition must have been pretty stiff this year.  To score a 44 out of 50 points for a Belgian Specialty beer and still not get a medal tells me that the other beers were freaking fantastic!  My lowest scoring beer was an American Barleywine that I hadn't really shared with anybody before.  I think I'll avoid putting it in any more comps!  I'm actually happy that competition is high, as this points out the improvement in our local scene's brewing and judging skills.  I'll happily take my place in the middle if most of the homebrew around here gets so much better!

I'll keep trying!  On the positive side, a bunch of my friends and club mates from Jack Of All Brews and the Primary Fermenters won ribbons, so I can bask in their glory.  I really do value the friendships I've formed through this strange hobby and the super-nerdy offshoot of judging and taking part in competitions.  I get why some people have no interest in the competition side of things, but for me it gives me something to look forward to, people to meet with a few times every year, and some good homebrews to try.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

September and October Blog Experiments!

I haven't decided on exact timing for this, but I'm planning to try a couple of JABlog experiments this Fall season.  I've never been a huge fan of summer beers: kolsch, wheats, light "lawnmower" beers.  So with great enthusiasm do I greet the Fall beer line-up!  Welcome to malt territory!

Octoberfests:  Either September or October, I plan on attempting to drink an Octoberfest beer each day and blog my pics and notes about it.  I can't drink certain days of the week due to work, but I will try to make up for that with doing two on following days.  I'll try to get a good mix of brands and keep to Octoberfest/Marzen/Festbier styles.  It is doubtful that I can find 30 different Octoberfest beers, so might need to double up a bit.  Obviously October is ideal for this, but most of these beers come out in Sept and I don't want them sitting around a month before I try them...So I'm leaning toward starting in September.  I'm open to suggestions, and if any of you have an extra bottle, especially something harder to find around here, please share with me!  So far I have 10 beers stocked up.

Pumpkin beers:  I'm leaning toward October to try this one.  Pumpkin beers are very polarizing, with people usually either loving them or hating them.  I tend to like them a lot, and I can share them with Sj.  I won't have enough to do a beer a day, but I'll try to get through a decent number of them during this month.  So far I have Brooklyn Post Road, Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin, and Southern Tier Pumpking.  Again, if anyone has any other beers to share with me, or know where to get more types, please tell me!

Looking forward to trying something new!  And my followers can drink along with me as I go!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

JAB Family cookout 2012

Just a quick one today.  On last Sunday we had our fourth annual Jack Of All Brews Family Cookout!  The first year we had this was way back when we were first starting and it was hosted in the back yard of member Brett S.  We talked about doing it again for a couple of years and then member Kent O. got us access to a perfect spot for it.  This was at The Rosemount Pavilion in Eden Prairie, and includes a large indoor space with outdoor park area for kids to romp.  There is a huge gas grill, bathrooms, large cooler, running water, volleyball net, etc. 

This year we met again, doing our typical BYOM (bring your own meat) and a side dish to share pot-luck style.  Also Dave brought and hooked up the club jockeybox and populated it with a Dale's Pale Ale clone, his amazing session Belgian Tafel Bier, and a mango cider.  Later Scott brought a Gratzer made with oak smoked malt to hook up as well.  Kent had some bottles of his version of the Dale's to serve up as well...I think I liked the hopping on Dave's slightly more, (Falconer's Flight hop blend,) but both were excellent.  I didn't have time to grab a keg since Steven and I were coming straight from Renfest that morning.  I had Sj bring some commercial beers including a growler of Town Hall Smoked Porter yumminess. 

I had a great time, despite being a bit over-tired from working at Byggvir all weekend.  It was really nice to see a few of our earliest members and their spouses too.  And kudos to Kent for arranging the building again for us.

Overall we had a low turnout this year, and I'm not sure if it was a lack of interest or just poor timing.  This event was actually on our calendar since last year, but I know summers get busy for folks.  I would like to get some feedback on if people want to do this again, and also if there is a better way of getting the word out.  I'm wondering about trying to get spouse e-mails for "family" events like this and the Holiday party, since they usually do a better job of planning than us male homebrewers.  What say you?  I know I like the option of having the kids and spouses able to meet all of our members and hang out, rather than just have homebrew club Fridays as something the guys escape to once a month...

Oh, and I totally forgot to take any pictures...told you I was tired!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Byggvir! The Nitty Gritty

On arrival Saturday, everyone signed in and the last-minute scramble to fill holes in judging and stewarding took place.  There were two rounds of judging, one in the morning and one in the afternoon with a break for organizing/lunch in the middle.  I think the actual judging went great, with only minor hiccups considering the lack of access to printers, etc.  Folks all got a cool red shirt ("Spock, please send yeoman Smith to investigate that new planet, I'm sure no harm will come to him...") to wear at the Fest.  There were also some cool bottle-openers for all volunteers and a raffle for some cool prizes.  I won a new Harriet Brewing shirt for Sj, accompanied by cries of "Rigged!"

Again each table was made up of at least one Recognized or higher BJCP judge with one or more judges.  Most of the flights were a manageable size of  4-7 beers, with larger flights like Stouts and Belgians being split between two or three groups.  I judged Scottish and Irish ales for breakfast:  malty in the morning is much easier than sours or hoppy beers!  Some pretty good beers in there.  A lot of the entries were from newer brewers and this is a great contest to get some constructive feedback on.  Also a great contest to get new judges to try their hand without the stress that comes with some of the bigger ones.  The atmosphere is relaxed and upbeat, with more than a few distractions.  I'll be honest the judging conditions are not ideal at this contest, but every one's beers are in the same boat, so it comes out even.  Sometimes a smoker will enter the tent and be shooed off.  Smells of turkey legs, unwashed Festie and the privies will occasionally waft across your nasal passages from time to time.  This year it rained off an on on Saturday, which at least kept down the heat and the ever present dust storm.  At one point there was a true downpour and a huge influx of dripping fest-goers shoe-horned into our humble tent for cover.  Welcome to the days of High Adventure!  Huzzah!

We had Todd brewing a batch of Renfest Lambic on his brew stand to appease the crowds, as well as to answer homebrewing questions.  I think he did a great job of talking up the hobby and our clubs.  We also had the MHBA fold-out homebrew displays, Midwest and Northern Brewer catalogues and pamphlets and stickers advertising Jack Of All Brews and MHBA. 

Both days we had some commercial beers to serve our volunteers, in case they didn't get enough during the judging process.  We had some growlers from Rock Bottom, some beers from our cellars, and on Sunday a keg of Harriet Wodan Weizen.

Mad monk!
Again, a lot goes into the background organizing that gets less recognition:  Checking in people.  Organizing score sheets, and documenting the the winners.  Cellarmaster in charge of getting the right beers chilled and to the right the judge tables.  Arranging the flights and the judges.  Tracking down sponsors for prizes.  Creating t-shirts and posters.  Printing posters.  Printing score sheets and pull lists.  Hosting sorting and judging at people's homes.  Managing social media.  Fending off fest-goers who want free samples...So thanks to all those who helped judge and steward, and especially to Gera, Eric-Bob (Jeremy,) Brett, Steven, Sj, Wilbur, Jonathan, and Pwadjeur.

After the judging is over we packed everything up, loaded up the cars and headed home.  On Sunday...Wash, rinse, repeat!  That's right, load the truck up with Sunday's beers, pull out all the First Place winning beers from Friday and Saturday for the BOS round, and head out to the fest before 8 AM.  Sunday went pretty much the same, just with less rain.  After the last round we had pro-brewers Kris England and Mike Hoops, as well as Pete Rifakes and Joel Stitzel in for Best Of Show judging.  Congrats to my JAB homies for winning a lot of bling!

The results of the competition are here:
The final award ceremony, prize giveaway, and announcement of Grand Prize will be held Sept 8 at Town Hall Brewery at 7PM with Mike Hoops present!  I'll be there, will you?

All-in-all a fantastic but tiring time.  Let's see you the reader help out with this next year!  Huzzah!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Byggvir! Pits, Mud, Beer and Adventure!

So all the pre-sorting was finished, and next up was actually judging all these beers for the competition!  Since we had nearly 100 more entries this year we decided to do a round of judging at my house on Friday night.  We ended up judging Bocks, English Pales, and Porters, separated into a total of 5 judging tables.  Each table (two larger tables and a bar actually,) had at least one BJCP Recognized or higher ranked judge, paired with a less experienced judge.  This was pretty laid-back and allowed some time to teach as well.  We had excellent pizza and plenty of my beer on tap to keep us going.  Folks were out at our place pretty late and I got to bed around 11 or later that night.  Everything went great though!

Gera, Eric-Bob, Andrew, Matt and Anna
Next was waking up at 6:15 to get dressed in my Renfest costume, strap on my dagger and accouterments, and get all those beers out of the basement.  Steven showed up right around 7:15 and we loaded up the car.  Then the ride to the fest in Chaska. 

Perfect cargo for driving cross-country at great speeds!
Each year the rock quarry right next to the MN Renaissance Festival grounds has continued to expand, and this year it has really taken over a large portion of the previous parking area.  I'm a bit nervous about the future parking situation!  With our special passes we were able to enter the grounds through the back entrance rather than wait in the already big line out on HWY 169.  With the quarry expansion, this was quite different from last year and it routed us directly into The Pit!  Fest workers were told to park in the pit, and we could see several cars parked dangerously close to huge mounds of gravel.  Yikes!  We followed several twists and turns onto gravel paths, past the shanty-town, up one-ways (sometimes the wrong way...) near sink-holes, and what seemed like goat paths to get up close to the grounds themselves.  Get out of the road people!  Not knowing where we were headed, we asked several helpful, and some not-helpful workers how to find the drop-off area behind our tent.  Wild goose chase does not begin to cover it!  Eventually we ended up in the complete wrong area and a nice lady let us drive into the festival grounds directly and we went muddin' through some large standing-water mud pits on the way to our tent.  Insert rebel yell and cue Dukes of Hazard music here!  Oh and must I remind you about the 150 bottles of beer rattling in the back of the truck?  The beers at judging were surprisingly clear...

High-speed pic of less scary area of The Pit

Next order of business is unloading the car, stocking all the beers in our two large body-coolers according to time and category of judging, then back to the truck to find more permanent parking.  Then walking back up the goat-path with a stream of Festies to get allowed in the back B-Gate, and walking through the fest grounds to get back to our tent.  I'm getting tired just writing about this.  Everything is set and organized by 9-9:30 when we start judging.

Next installment...judging and results!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sorting for Byggvir's Big Beer Cup 2012

Since Jack Of All Brews is co-sponsoring Byggvir's Big Beer Cup this year, and since Steven is cellarmaster, we hosted the sorting session for all our entries at my place earlier this week.  In the past this competition has consistently had about 150 entries, making it a smaller but more manageable size than some of the other local competitions, (Mash-Out and MN Fair I'm talking about you!)  Part of this has been due to the limited categories, but also I've found that this competition attracts more new brewers and folks not already involved in the beer judging community around here.  It is a nice stepping stone to get a couple beers in a competition and know the ropes before moving on to bigger contests.  Since I won my first ever medal in this competition, I make sure to help out with it and to put some beers in every year.  This year one of the Best Of Show beers will be brewed by Mike Hoops at Town Hall Brewery for the GABF Pro-Am competition!  I'm guessing that is the biggest reason for the increase to about 250 entries this year.  We also added in Foreign Extra Stout and Russian Imperial Stout.

So what happens after the deadline arrives and everyone has dropped off their entries?  Well, the Cellarmaster, and hopefully other volunteers, drive all over the Twin Cities picking up all those entries at the various drop-off points.  This year we had 5 homebrew supply shops as drop-offs, with the majority being left at the Northern Brewers and Midwest Supplies.  Keep in mind that each entry is two bottles and that leaves us with nearly 500 beers in the back of a truck.  Add in Minneapolis/St. Paul traffic and your Cellarmaster has a hair-raising ride back to the western suburbs! 

With everything back safely in my now-crowded basement, Steven and I do an initial sort, getting the entries into a rough order by entry number.  Then we get a bunch of us to help out with the next steps.  Our big sort was this Monday and we had eight of us on-hand to help out.  Two volunteers help put each section into order and bring them to the labelers in small batches.  Two people remove the entry labels from each beer and put on our stickers with randomly generated numbers to make sure the judging is truly blinded.  Each bottle gets one label on the neck and another on the cap...Yup 1000 labels done in one night!  One or two more people remove the recently labeled bottles to be placed in BJCP categories to make placement for judging easier.  We also made sure to taunt my basement-dwelling cat with lots of fun boxes and papers.  Then clean-up.  Oh, and we drank some homebrew and commercial beers too.  No we did not cheat and sample from the contest entries! 

This entrant was not messing around!

It is very interesting to see some of the packaging that comes along with the entries.  We saw bottles in plastic bags; laminated entry labels; cellophaned up boxes; wine bottles; funky caps; etc.  There were late entries; entries that were never really submitted; double entries; and lost entries (only one though!) But in the end we catalogued and organized everything into a semblance of order!  I had a good time and would highly suggest being in on this part of a competition in the future to see how the nuts and bolts of the behind-the-scenes stuff works.

Next up is a round of judging this Friday, to make up for the increase in entries this year.  I'll give more info soon!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Carver County Fair

Every year the local county fair comes along, and with it come fattening foods, crowds and a homebrew competition?  Since I first moved to this neck of the woods, I have been visiting this fair and have grown to love it in a way that I do not love the bigger Minnesota State Fair.  I guess I like the fact that I recognize about a third of the people wandering the grounds rather than this being a vast sea of humanity.  Several years back I noticed wine bottles in the Agriculture building, and decided I would try putting some of my homemade wine in the following year.  When the next year arrived, I found a spot in the booklet allowing for homebrewed beer as well!  This was the first "competition" I ever put a beer in.  They asked for a whole 6-pack at that time, which seemed excessive, but I was willing to give it a try.  I picked six of my least favorite beer, (don't waste the good stuff!) and had my mom make a cool label for me.  I won!  Of course there was no other beer in the running that year, but I wasn't going to let that get me down.  I went on to enter several other real homebrew competitions and eventually became a beer judge.  Humble beginnings!

Over the last few years the beer section of the Fair has changed.  At our urging they moved it to one bottle instead of a sixer.  With the start of our Jack Of All Brews Homebrew Club in the area, we had more interest and brewing going on, so the category enlarged to include more types of beer.  At first they didn't quite get it, and we had categories such as: Ale; Lager; Octoberfest; German/Dark; Stout.  Each year it has changed and improved.  Last year I offered to reorganize the categories for them and they took my advice.  I suggested sorting into several areas such as Belgian, Stout/porter, light and dark lagers, light/hybrid ales, specialty, fruit.  Also they added a spot for mead in the wine section.  And then this year most of us completely forgot the fair!  I won several ribbons, but didn't have much competition.  Next year we will have to publicize some more! 

I'm not sure who judged this year, but there were some short notes on the back of the ribbons so someone was trying!  Based on the language used I think it was a wine person...they mentioned SO2.  The second year I put beer in this competition I was actually at the fair when they were judging and no one had a bottle opener.  I saw the ladies and one guy who were judging trying to use pliers and door hinges to open them!  Very funny, but abusive to foamy beer!  Collecting the beers at the end, all the caps were mangled and punctured like they had been through a garbage disposal.  Next year one of my friends taped an opener to one of his entries.

I love the fact that buried amongst the canned veggies and best local produce, there is now a chilled soda case for beer.  No longer does the beer sit in a hot barn for all week, quickly skunkifying.  I also like that there is no entry fee and ribbons are awarded along with a cash prize!  I took home $67 dollars in prize money for my 8 beers/meads this year!  I can make a couple of batches of beer with that money!  Thanks to Dave for gathering my ribbons and bottles for me Sunday night.

Now let's see how those beers do in State Fair!  I'm guessing I don't get cash money for any ribbons I get there...

Still have no idea what some of these ribbons mean...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Beer Review: Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel (Calvados Edition)

Thought I'd post a quick review of a phenomenal beer I had last night.  I have had some mixed results with Mikkeller beers in the past.  Some are amazing, some not so much.  I will give them credit for trying a ton of unusual ingredients and methods, as well as brewing at various breweries, but sometimes they do not hit the mark.  Beer Geek Brunch Weasel is a direct hit! 

This beer is made with the Civet Cat coffee beans.  The most ripe and perfect beans are eaten by the Civet cat, (actually more of a weasel,) and then pooped out.  Apparently enzymes in the cat's digestive system change the beans and add an unusual flavor and smoothness.  Workers then gather and wash the beans, followed by roasting.  Yup, weasel poop coffee.  Because of its rarity this is one of the most expensive and sought-after coffees in the world.  And Mikkeller put it in a beer.

This is listed as an American Double/Imperial Stout and certainly has all the character one would expect from the style.  The aroma is fantastic with dark fruit, sweet malt, a hint of alcohol and coffee of course.  Color is black as sin with a fine head that fades quickly.  It has a firm bitterness to back up the sweetness and high alcohol.   Flavors are complex with dark fruit (plum, black cherry, and a bit of tart apple,) chocolate and dark roast coffee flavors are also dominant.  Some alcohol warming and a bit of tannic astringency is noted on mouthfeel. 

This version of the beer is aged in Calvados barrels which adds some interesting character and booziness to the brew.  I've aged Barleywine on this apple brandy before with good results, but thought it would get overwhelmed in a RIS.  Guess I was wrong!  They make a bourbon and cognac version I'd love to get my paws on.  It also comes in little 10 oz bottles, for about 12-14 bucks a bottle.  Worth it!  And really, Sj and I can split one of these and it is just about the right amount for an after-dinner desert drink.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lakefront Brewery: Milwaukee, WI

Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, is a place I've been dying to visit for years.  I have had a few of their beers in bottle with mixed results, but have been told that on tap is the way to try them.  Last year my cousin was married in town and most of my family managed to get there without me!  Though they were nearly late for the wedding...  This year, another cousin was getting married and I figured I'd try again...

The brewery has been in business since 1987, and has really led the craft beer movement in Milwaukee.  Even in the great brewery city, the typical Miller and other bland lagers still dominate the beer landscape.  The brewery is in an old warehouse building made of light colored brick, with bizaro modern art out front.  Some sad looking hops grow over the railings. 

Within is a huge tasting room with a small stage and high ceiling.  This would be a fun place to have an event!  There is a nice stainless topped bar with two servers pouring off 4 taps each and bottled beer in the coolers behind the bar. 

Tours happen nearly every day, with registration on line for guaranteed entrance, or you can risk it and just show up.  The tour costs $7 and includes an 8-10 oz cup with 4 tokens.  The tokens can be used for one fill off the taps, or use two for a bottle of beer.  There is a small serving station located deeper in the brewery so you can refill about half way through the tour...a very nice touch!  My wife and I tried a bottle of the Pumpkin beer which was pretty good, and a bottle of Fixed Gear hipster red ale which I really liked.  There is a Northern Brewer homebrew kit for that one.  I also tried the IPA which is more malty than hoppy, and much better fresh than in the bottle.  The pilsner was so-so.  I bought  bombers of the Rendezvous Bier de Guard and Bridge Burner to take home.  The tour itself was one of the most entertaining I've had in nearly 40 brewery tours.  Our guide, Josh, was incredibly energetic and funny, making the tour group really take part in the adventure.  He made a ton of Doctor Who and other Sci-Fi/gamer references that I think only Sj and I laughed at.  We got what you were laying down, Josh! 

At the end of the tour you exchange your hopefully empty glass for a Lakefront pint glass, or $2 off other swag you want to buy.  I bought a Boot and a sign because I'm a sucker for merch.  They also give a 10% discount for AHA members! 

Overall the beers are decent, but not my favorite in the world.  The tour, though, is worth the trip and you WILL have a good time!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Water Street Brewery: Milwaulkee, WI

On a recent trip out to Milwaulkee for my cousin's beautiful wedding we had time to walk over to Water Street Brewery for a quick lunch and beer sampler.  The brewery has just celebrated its 25 year anniversary, showing some impressive staying power in this beer-centric area. 

The decor and age on this place is the best reason to try it out.  This is a historic building from the 1800's and the fantastic brickwork makes it an unusual place to see.  They have a huge collection of brewerania including an enormous beer can collection, bottle openers and tap handles, as well as some cool old WI beer signs. 

Wall O' Cans
The bar itself is double sided and reeks of age and use...but in a good way! 

The food was decent.  My wife got a macaroni and cheese with lobster and shrimp, while I had the sausage platter made across the street at Usinger's.  The spaetzel was horrid though.  Service was excellent with frequent check-ins and knowledgable staff.

The beer.  Not a reason to visit this place.  I really wanted to like them when they arrived in an aged wooden eight-sample tray.  The newspaper menu was pretty nifty with historic pictures of the building and beer information.  All the lagers were filled with a strong butterscotch diacetyl flavor and aroma that indicates either poor fermentation temp control or bad yeast management.  The ales were a bit better, with the best being a malty pale ale.  The raspberry weiss was made with real fruit and that came out in the flavor and aroma, but the base beer was lost in it.  After tasting these I looked around and all but one of the 15 people seated around us were drinking sodas or mixed drinks.  This was noon on a work day, so that might explain it.  Or maybe they are locals and know better. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Limited Release Episode 2: Dark Lord Day!

Here is Episode 2 of Limited Release, a show created by Rob, Ron and Dave, whom I have known since high school.  They are getting better at this and the 8-bit graphic reconstruction of buying beers is hilarious!  Enjoy the wonders of Dark Lord Day without waiting in the cold rain and terrible lines!
I also have a cameo as Beer Expert in this one, so you have to watch it...

If you missed the first episode, check it out too.  Next up is this fall's Surly Darkness Day!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fringe Day 7

Since I somehow forgot to ask off early from work we ended up missing the first show of the evening.  We really wanted to see that one, but have pre-bought tickets to the Final showing so we can make it later.  After scarfing down pizza we headed once more downtown.  All three shows we saw were one-man shows at the Huge Improv Theater in Uptown.

1) The Billy Willy Show:  A strange monologue about a washed-up child country music singer from West Virginia.  Slow delivery and very quiet, but witty and kept us laughing.  I was pleasantly surprised.

2) SuperHappyMelancholy-expialadocious:  A one-man show about depression.  Funnier than it sounds.  The actor talks periodically about his own issues with depression, but takes on the personas of various self-help and religious talking-heads to show the scope of dealing with this problem.  Sad, humorous, concerning.  I felt the show made me think, and Lepore has amazing range.

3) Someone Is Wrong On The Internet!  This is a one-man show by one of my personal favorite actors /improv guys from the Twin Cities, Kelvin Hatle.  A middle-aged, boring man starts blogging and spirals out of control in his life.  Filled with hilarious internet rants and flame-wars, this show actually makes a great point.  The high point of my Fringe day!  This one hit a bit close to home, as I AM writing a blog...Trying not to go on too many rants or flame-wars so far...

Now we miss a few days of Fringe to go to Wisconsin for a family wedding.  Hopefully someone has enjoyed my long lists of Fringe show reviews.  I have also been posting these on the website, as this is how the actors get people to come to their shows.  I also hope that my readers might become interested in trying some of these shows out, or maybe check out next year's Fringe.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fringe Days 5 and 6

After our Republic interlude, I'm back to blogging about the last few days of Fringe Festival mayhem.  Keep in mind that this festival goes through this coming Sunday, and there is still time for you to get to a couple of these shows!  On Monday we hit three more shows:
1) Sneak Thief--A fun comedy jewel thief caper show.  A nerdy guy who can't keep a job answers a want-ad and ends up helping out a jewel thief.  I really liked this one, it had a good heart and acting.

2) Taiko Flash--Big Japanese drums!  For nearly an hour.  An interesting experience and the drummers were obviously having a good time.  This is not quite my thing, but good to try something new.  This group is at Fringe nearly every year and we have not seen them before.

3) Broken Hill--A dramatic show about three men stuck in a tiny cabin in the frozen north dealing with loneliness, insanity, and emotional baggage.  Well acted and throught-provoking.  The only real problem with the show that I found was that the plot doesn't really move.  I would have liked a bit of resolution rather than just a snap-shot of these intriguing character's lives.  My friend Amy Luedke is in the show and does a great job as well.

Tuesday time for four more shows!  We had a crazy early dinner at Town Hall, and tried the newly released MPLS hoppy lager.
1) Dance Money Grind--A dance show about the crazy dance marathons from the 20's to 50's.  A combo of dancing, jokes, skits and vaudeville acts.  The cast was really into this and it showed.  Not my usual cup of tea, but I'd recommend it.

2) Steampunk Apocalypse--This was about what I expected, a wild and somewhat uneven romp with time traveling Victorian villains and heroines.  The actresses who played the Victorians did a fantastic job!  The cast on this was huge (25 people!) I felt like they tried to fit too many things in one hour.  They could easily have let out the whole vampire angle and it would have been a tighter show.  The rats were fantastic though!

3) Pop Up Musical--The best show we have seen in the last two days, I wouldn't miss this one!  They are in the tiny Experimental Theater in the basement of Rarig, and have been selling out, so pre-order tickets if you want to see them.  Four vigorous and happy people sing their hearts out doing various famous show-tunes with the other's periodically holding up signs with info about the songs and singers.  The cast really went for it.  Simple, but great fun.

4) The Urban Hermit--A one-woman storytelling show with guitar, violin, and wash-bucket base playing interludes.  Rachel Nelson really is a talented lady and brings you into her personal story of growing up a loner, dealing with alcohol abuse, and learning to interact with people.  Her telling truly transports you.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


For a break from Fringe Festival updates, we now bring you a review of Republic bar and restaurant.

We have now visited this place enough times for me to give a decent review of it.  Located in the historic Preston's Building in the 7 Corners area of the University, Republic is a relative newcomer to the craft beer scene.  They have been increasing their tap selection and now only have craft on tap, and some macro stuff in bottles.  They have a fine range of local, other US craft, and some Import beers.  A stand out for me was the Sunner Kolsch from Germany served in the proper stange glass.  They also have Kwak from Belgium served in their wacky wooden-framed glassware.  The staff seem well trained in beer serving and styles as well.  One guy I saw pouring was an outright master at pouring from the taps, knowing just the right amount of height and angle to achieve the correct head on each different beer.  A friend of ours, Emily, has been serving here for a while too, and we got to see her the other day.  Tap lines were all clean and they serve a cask beer every Wednesday I believe.  They also serve samplers of 3 eight ounce beers for $10.  Not cheep, but a nice way to work your way through the beer list.

The decor evokes age with the old oak bar and paneling as well as the antique Preston's stained glass that they left intact.  Good move!  And some stuffed animal heads on the wall of course!  There is a separate dining section in the other half of the place, but most people seem to sit on the bar side.  This time of year the outside patio does a brisk business as well.

We have food here twice now, the first time being soon after they opened and not a fantastic experience.  Trying again yesterday we were happier with our food.  I ordered the hanger steak, (not a common cut of meat around here,) that was cooked perfectly served with crispy fries and a side of sugary carmelized carrots.  Sj had the hanger steak salad, that could have used a little more excitement.

Overall, I'd recommend stopping in here for a sampler and a snack, but probably wouldn't choose to eat here regularly.  Oh, and make sure to stop across the street at Town Hall Brewery as well!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Fringe Day 4: six more shows

Getting tired now.  We have been going non-stop since Thursday of last week and no sign of stopping.  Yesterday we managed to hit another 6 shows, with a break one more time for Town Hall dinner.

We saw:
Analyzing the Bully--a show put on by teens about bullying, but well done, not preachy.
The Hungry Games--in which Tom Reed mocks the mockingjay.
Fringe Orphans--short attention span theater with a bunch of quick skits.
Room For Cream--a nightmarish tale of a theater major forced to find a real job at a coffee shop.
Curt and Laura Used To Be Good At Gymnastics and Stuff--a two person team telling uncomfortable but funny stories of their gym class experiences in school.
Happy Hour--a set of dance numbers each relating to a particular drink.  The high point was the very seductive but tasteful dance based on Argentinian Malbec.

Not a bad day at all!  Today we head back in the afternoon for three more shows.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Fringe Day 3: In which our hero sees six show in one day...and has some beer

Our third day is where things really got rolling.  Up way too early in the morning, we took a trip to Northern Brewer to take advantage of the 25% off glass carboys and to drop off State Fair entries.  Then off to 7 Corners area for the first of many shows!  We arrived a bit early and had time to stop into Republic and say hi to one of our friends, Emily.

The next many hours are a blur of lights-on, lights-off, monologues, comedies, drama and music.  We saw six shows in one day, but had to take a break to eat dinner at Town Hall again.  Avoid the surly bartendress there.

A quick run-down of shows:
The Complete Works of William Shatner (abridged)  This was a pretty funny show in which Shatner from the 50's and several of his well-known characters are transported to a world filled with hollow rocks and lizard men.  Most of the actors in this are very involved with Convergence so we knew they would be a good bet.

Font of Knowledge:  A fun noir telling of the secret story of the discovery of the Helvetica Font and the fight to prevent the 1950's Communists from using it to destroy the world.  Sound wacky?  Yup, but well acted with a lot of quick witty dialog and excellent fight choreography.  I'd certainly recommend it.

Going Down on the Queen of Minneapolis:  Not as dirty as it sounds... A fun situation comedy about a Minneapolis based company that has booked their office party on a boat, in which people get drunk, fired, promoted, and drugged.  Not necessarily in that order. I wasn't so sure during the first 15 minutes, but was really enjoying it by the end.

Romeo & Juliet on the Moon:  This was a purposefully cheesy remix of R&J set on the moon.  Before the viewer can get annoyed by this concept, several audience members including a snotty theater critic, a militant feminist drama teacher, and a nerdy Star Trek fan all take turns talking over the drama and giving their own take on it.  A very clever way to spice up a show.  I really felt the end was the high point.

Scarborough Fair:  This was a pleasant show by two somewhat odd-ball musicians bent on bringing music by Simon and Garfunkel back to the masses.  The banter between the two was funny and a bit awkward...reminding me a bit of Flight of The Conchords.  Some songs were done very well, others were deliberately mangled for laughs.  Not a bad show.

Class of '98:  This was my stand-out for the day and is currently in the lead for Fringe favorite.  Two geeky adults answer and add in the paper to try out a new time travel device and go back in time to their high school in 1998.  In their attempts to change their own futures and be less nerdy, the pair cause all kinds of paradox problems and hilarity.  The acting by the adults and the teens was fantastic and I honestly would have been happy if this went on for another hour.

After the long day of Fringing, we decided to try out Fringe Central at the Crooked Pint. A lot of the actors and fans hang out here as an after party.  We had a pint and congratulated a few of our favorites.  And then went home because we are old and have a long drive.  Staying out until after 1 is for young punks!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Fringe Day 2: In which our intrepid adventurer sees more shows, and drinks beer...

Day two started off after taking off from work slightly early to beat the rush-hour traffic down to Minneapolis.  Our first two shows of the day were at the Rarig Thrust Stage on campus, so after the first show we were able to run out of the theater and get back in line for the second.

The first show we saw was Candide, put on by the Four Humors Theater Company.  It was a fairly humorous and very condensed version of the enormous novel I haven't read. And probably will not read.  Ever.  But the group did a good job of it and there were several good moments in the play.  I enjoyed it, but I've seen this company do much better over the years.

The second show was Joseph Scrimshaw's Nightmare Without Pants.  This Scrimshaw brother is always a Fringe favorite, and somehow always manages to get a show in a possibly rigged lottery system.  But I wouldn't have it any other way!  The show is about a snarky woman who doesn't know how to be happy, who has a horrible dream involving lack of pants, running out of PBR, and the Anger Pony!  Yes it is very strange, but by the time the end of the show arrives most of off-kilter stuff has come full circle and ties well together.  I'd highly recommend it, but get there early to beat a huge line...

Then off to Town Hall again for dinner and a couple pints of Cask Masala Mama IPA.  Fringe always gives me an excuse to stop at my favorite brewpub multiple times in a week.  The Crimson Oat red ale is a really nice malty treat that even Sj liked.

And last but not least we walked up the block to The Southern Theater for a stand up comedy act by Ben San Del called the Agony Of Fools.  I've seen this guy in various things over the years and he is truly a local treasure on the comedy front.  He is one of the Rockstar Storytellers and does a great job with stand-up as well.  This show was funny and a great way to end the day of Fringing.

On the way home we were caught in a monsoon, resulting in an extra long trip back to Waconia and narrowly avoiding downed trees.  The adventure never ends folks!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Fringe Festival Day 1

I'm going to post a few days worth of events that have nearly nothing to do with beer.  I know, it may be the sign of the apocalypse...

Every year at this time of the Summer, an event called the Minnesota Fringe Festival takes place all over Minneapolis.  This is somewhat hard to describe without being there, so bear with me a minute or two!  Basically, over a week and a half, in 15 different theaters, more than 160 different shows are performed in rapid-fire procession.  Each show is 45-60 minutes long and you have a short amount of time to get between venues for the next show.  There is stand-up comedy, improv, music, dance, poetry readings, Shakespear, drama, thrillers, and lots of crazy stuff that can't be categorized.  With the shows being short and cheap you can take some chances and might see something amazing.  Or you can see a show so horrible that you will talk about it for years...  Most are pretty good.  Over the years we have been taking notes and looking for actors and theater companies that have done a good job in the past to start our event planning. 

To get into the Fringe you need to buy a $4 button and wear it through-out.  Tickets to each show are $12, but getting 5-10 show punch cards gets you a discount.  They also have a student discount.  Sj and I are crazy and do the Ultra-Pass which allows you to go to as many shows as you can fit into your schedule.  Because of this, we can be a little less picky about choosing our shows and sometimes find some less noticed gems of shows.  And some stinkers...  The hard part is getting from venue to venue.  A bunch of the shows are at the Rarig Center on campus and that is a good base of operations, with the Southern and Theater in the Round being easily walkable.  Some, like the Bryant Lake Bowl are harder to get to in a short time, so you might have to miss a few shows here and there if you really have your heart set on something.

I highly recommend going to a show or two, and you will probably want to go back in the future.  In the early years of our Fringing, we went to a show here or there because we knew someone in it or it sounded funny (Kung-Fu Hamlet.)  Soon we were buying punch cards and next thing we knew we were doing ultra pass and hitting 60 shows in 12 days.  This has actually increased our regular theater going as well, since we see shows during the year featuring our favorites from fringe.  Last year we saw Hamlet at Theater in the Round, and then at Fringe we saw a Hamlet/StarWars mash-up that featured the same actors who played Hamlet and Ophelia in the legit showing! 

Each show is performed 5 times over the week at the same venue.  As the week goes on, the website starts to get reviews of the shows and you can zero in on the most popular shows.  The first few days can be more of a crap shoot. 

Yesterday afternoon was day one of the Fringe. 
1)We saw The Gentleman's Prattfall Club, a very funny slapstick physical comedy show featuring Joseph Scrimshaw.  These guys were seriously crazy, throwing themselves into chairs and landing flat on their backs on the floor.  At one point Scrimshaw actually rolled, leapt and sprawled all the way down the stairs of the theater right past my chair!  Insane stunt!  The other actor actually split his chin and was bleeding all over himself during the last part of the show, but he just incorporated it into the banter and dialog.  Fantastic!
2) Billy Beechwood and the Mountain of Terror:  A very wacky and somewhat childish show, with a good heart.  Not my favorite of the night, but these actors go for it.
3) Ashland:  This theater company has done retellings of Red Riding Hood and the myth of the Selkie in the past, and this year do a version of Cinderella that takes place in the Dust Bowl era.  The company does the whole show using a combination of singing, acting, and mime that is so immersive that you can't help but be transported to the world they are describing.  I can't even explain it.  First night, a standing Minnesota!  See this now!!

Oh, and we had dinner and beers at Town Hall Brewery that sits right next to the Southern Theater.  So there was beer in this story after all!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Choosing beers for competitions

I thought I would do a little primer on picking out homebrews for competitions since MN State Fair and Byggvir's Big Beer Cup are both coming up this month.  There comes a time, (usually at the last minute with only a day or two left for entries,) that you have to look at your stock and decide what is worthy to send on to win a medal.  A lot of this depends on what you have in your cellar, how it is packaged, and also what competition it is going into.
Competitions are an interesting microcosm of beer geekdom.  They serve the functions of reinforcing good brewing practices and knowledge of beer styles.  If you win a medal or ribbon in a style category, you will feel good about your beer and keep up those types of practices.  If you don't win and get good feedback on your score sheets, hopefully you will be able to fix problems for next time.  Consistency is where good brewers are made, and competitions can help keep you calibrated.  That being said, judges are human with their own preconceptions and tastes, which can influence your results.  I've had a beer score 41 out of 50 in one competition and 29 at another in the same month!  The skill and BJCP rank of your judges can contribute greatly to feedback.  Does everyone need to compete?  Not at all, but a lot of us like the thrill of it and it gives us a good excuse to share the fruits of our labors with knowledgeable beer people within the context of a predominantly private hobby.  And it's sweet to win medals and prizes and get your name and brewclub out there in the homebrew community. 

There are some tricks to picking out beers for competitions I've learned after competing at, judging in and running.  No order to them and not all-inclusive.

1) Put the beer in the category that it tastes like--not the category you meant to brew.  If you brewed an IPA but it doesn't have quite the high hop character you planned, and is maybe a bit too malty:  put it in as a pale ale.  Did you brew a oatmeal stout but it is lighter in body and color than expected?  Maybe it is a brown ale or a porter.  Have a judge or fellow homebrewers try your beer blind and see what they think it is.  I just did this last night with a couple friends and we were able to fit some beers into styles they weren't meant as.

2) Put a beer in to win.  If you don't enter you won't win!  I have won awards for beers I didn't think were great, and totally flopped on beers I thought were amazing.  Sometimes we are our own worst critics.  Again, have friends help with tasting.

3) Know your comp.  For example:
a)Byggvir's Big Beer Cup is based on continental and historic styles, not accepting American styles of beer.  On the other hand, the special Historic category comes with a special medal and prize, and in the past has only had a handful of entries.  That one is easy to win if you have a funky kvass or gratzer or birch beer, etc.  This comp has had about 150 entries each year so is a smaller one and is less frequented by the big name brewers who hog all the medals in the bigger comps.  A good place to get your feet wet.  And this year the grand prize is possibly getting you beer brewed at Town Hall Brewery!
b) State Fair is also upon us.  Historically, this is a big comp, with 500-1000 entries, so it will be tougher to win.  Look at last year's entry list--if you want to win in a smaller category put a lager in! 
c) Upper Mississippi Mash Out in January is one of the biggest in the world and is amongst the "most prestigious" to win a medal at.  Your 40 point beer will probably do significantly less well here.  Don't bother putting your first homebrew in this one, it will just make you feel bad.

4) Learn your BJCP style guideline.  Ideally take the class, take the test and become a judge.  Otherwise the guide is free on the internet and they have a nice app.  If you know the ins and outs of the styles, you will be able to tell if your beer fits in the style.  Beer judging is based on how well your beer fits in the style category you put it in.  I can't stress this enough.  If you have an amazing vanilla porter and put it in under porters rather than the spice/herb/vegetable category, you will get crappy reviews or get it disqualified.  Taste the commercial examples listed in the style guide to get aquainted with what the style should taste like.

5) More info!  Most competitions ask for recipe.  The judges don't have this when they judge, so I usually don't even bother.  There is usually a space on entry forms for special info/remarks.  That is where you need to put any special info about your beer that you want the judge to see.  This is most important in fruit, spice, specialty, and wood styles.  What is it that makes your beer a specialty beer?  What type of wood did you add?  What type of fruit did you use.  The judges also don't have the name of your beer, so if you felt that by calling it a raspberry wheat all the info you needed was are incorrect!  Also only mention an ingredient if you can really pick it out on tasting.  If your honey addition didn't add a good honey flavor...don't mention it or you will get dinged for not enough.

6) Base beer style.  Before you add fruit, spice, wood, etc, you need a good base beer.  Practice your brewing of a good base beer before you start adding crazy stuff to your beer.  Or brew a batch and add stuff to half only.  Also make sure to mention the base style in your competition entries.  The judges might be able to tell what your cherry wheat is, but they might be unsure and will dock you points.

7) Don't be disappointed in results.  You will get some lousy reviews for beers you think are good.  Some may be wrong (bad judges) others may be style problems, others may be flaws that you aren't used to picking up.  Learn from the feedback and try to fix any problems that you figure out.  And remember, if you like to drink your beer it is a good beer, just maybe not worth throwing in competitions!

8) Go big or go home.  Often the beer that wins a category stands out because it is a bit more flavorful or higher alcohol than the others.  If your beer is slightly outside style, but you think it is very good, go ahead and try.  Also the judges don't know the ABV of your beer, just the percieved alcohol levels.  A nice mild easy drinking smoked beer will get spanked next to The Baconator Smoked Imperial Doppelbock.

9)  Double down!  If you have a beer that straddles the line between categories, you can put it in under each category.  I've seen some friends win two medals with one beer.  You can not put the same beer in the same sub-category though! 

10) Learn the limits of the system.  This one comes with time and experience.  I've found that certain categories are hard to win.  Braggots are one:  no one has ever had a commercial braggot so you will get crappy judging on this.  Specialty category is hard to win due to the extreme nature of these beers.  A subtle beer will not do well here.  IPA is the biggest category, so you will be up against a ton of beers.

All this being said, just put a beer in and start learning!  I'm ready to take home some bling this month.