Monday, July 30, 2012

Excelsior Brewery

I finally got a chance to stop in at the new Excelsior Brewery, taking along my old friend Bryan. This is now the closest brewery to where I live, located in the Western Suburbs of Minneapolis.  I'm pretty sure the location used to be a mechanic shop, and is just off the main street in Excelsior.  The brewery has only been open for about a month and have actually been having a hard time keeping enough beer and growlers in stock to supply the demand.  That is great place to be for a starting brewery, but might be hurting them a bit on quality. 

Bryan striking a thoughtful pose
Since the new Surly Bill passed, breweries can have a tasting room and sell pints of their beer, and Excelsior has put in two movable stainless bars to take advantage of this.  When we were there they had two beers on tap, though they were actually poured from pitchers and not the kegerators hooked up to the bar.  Not sure what that was about.  The first I tried was the pale ale:  not too bad, had some malt to it with some hoppiness.  Overall not great, it seemed a little rough around the edges, possibly due to being served a bit too quickly after fermentation.  The second beer was a blonde.  For a supposedly light and easy drinking beer, it was pretty harsh and burning.  I'm hoping that they figure out their system and get some time to build up some good beers.  I won't count them out yet, but I wouldn't recommend a trip out there yet.  I tend to use my own homebrew as a barometer--if I can brew a better beer, I don't want to pay for an inferior one.  Since I'm my own worst critic, this is usually not an issue...

We were there on  a Saturday afternoon and the place was hopping!  There was a tour going on in the background, and plenty of folks walking in for samples and pints.  They seem to be doing a great job of getting their name out there and have great brewery swag available.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Dolce Vita Bourbon Tasting

Every month one of our local wine and liquor stores, Dolce Vita, in Chaska has wine or spirit tasting seminars.  These usually cost 10 dollars and if you buy a bottle that day you get $10 off the bottle.  This is the first such event I've been able to make.  The shop is located in the historic Depot building right next to a cool malt shop, and has a nice cozy feel with pleasant staff.

I have one bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon that I have used mostly for soaking oak cubes for beer making, but otherwise had very little knowledge of this popular liquor.  The seminar was really a good primer on the style and the distributor who gave the talk did a fantastic job of telling us about production, history and tasting of these spirits.

Basic bourbon facts I picked up:  bourbon has to have at least 51% corn, otherwise they also use rye, wheat or barley; they have to be aged at least 3 years in new oak barrels; barrels are sold to Scotch producers and brewers once used; use of corn and the new barrels make bourbons sweeter, heavier and thicker than most Scotch or whiskeys.  And lastly, to be called bourbon it must be made in the USA.

We tried three bourbons from Four Roses, which use rye and some barley from our local maltster Rahr!  We started with the Single Barrel.  This one was interesting with a maple-like flavor, but really seemed to burn and stay with you.  Not my favorite of the bunch, though it was unique in that the whole batch came from a single barrel and was not blended.  The Small Batch was a bit sweeter, fruitier and softer, aged about 7 years.  Apparently that version uses 4 different yeasts, which is fairly unusual in bourbon making.  Last of those was the Yellow Label which seemed boozy, but sweet and creamy, not bad for $21.95.

Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon Whiskey:  This was aged about 4.5 years and was more smokey and Scotch-like than any of the others we tried.  Also a single barrel, which are made here in Avon, MN.

Pritchard's Double Barreled:   This one is barrel aged for several years, then put into a new barrel and aged more, resulting in a much stronger wood character than typical bourbons.  I really liked this one, as it was smelled like vanilla ice-cream.  I might go back and get a bottle later...

Jefferson's:  We had several of these, all were very different.
1) Rye:  Aged 10 years, it was made of 100% rye, so not really a bourbon, but tasted to give us a view of the difference between bourbons and rye whiskey.  Strong mint aroma, with a nutty/toffee and spice finish.  Interesting, but I didn't like this one much compared to the others.
2) Very Small Batch:  Aged 10-11 years.  Classic vanilla, mildly fruity.  This was our intro taste to get us in the mood.  OK but nothing amazing.
3) Very small Batch Reserve:  Aged 14-16 years.  This had a fruit/peach aroma that was pleasant, with similar flavor mixed with vanilla.  Creamy finish, with more mouthfeel and smoothness than the Very Small Batch.  Not cheap, but much nicer for drinking.
4) 18 Year:  This was the winner of the night.  Of course it was the most expensive.  So I got a bottle.  This particular batch is actually 20 years old, despite the labeling, and the liquor comes from the same distillery that makes Pappy Van Winkle.  Also most of the barrels they used come from the same supplier as Pappy.  Our distributor guy said that this is very difficult to distinguish from that Bourbon white whale.  This smells fantastic and sweet with an almond candy and orange character.  The flavor is oaky and orange blossom honey mixed with vanilla.  Smooth and tasty, lingering but not burning.  I will not be wasting this on barrel aging beers...

Overall a great primer on the style.  Sj tasted along with me, and it was fun watching her gag and make faces while everyone else was eagerly sipping at these spirits.  Interesting that there were as many women at this as men, and not just spouses.  Join their e-mail list to learn about the future events.  I know I'll go back!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A beer Waconia!

My new home town of Waconia, Minnesota is not known for its restaurants.  We have one mediocre restaurant on the lake that hasn't changed its menu in 4 years and has a lousy beer list; a McDonald's and several Subways.  A few years back Terra Waconia opened up in the space that used to be The Green Room, and changed all that!  Craig Sharp and Tracy LeTourneau do a great job running the place and have managed to bring an upscale eating experience to this town.  The menu changes daily based on seasonal and local cuisine, so the poor servers have to memorize a fairly complex list each day.  Overall the restaurant puts out very good food, but is sometimes a bit slow, so don't show up if you are in a rush.  You should take your time and enjoy your food and dining anyway!

Terra does frequent wine dinners, and there have been a couple attempts at doing a beer dinner here before, with varied issues leading to fall-though.  Last night everything finally worked out!  I recently talked with Tracy about ideas of breweries to involve, and one that stood out was Brau Brothers.  Not too long ago they went through some re-branding, with new labels, tweaked recipes and focus on different beers, so I was interested in what they were currently doing.  They are also a family run, local company that would pair well with the style of the Terra Waconia.  For the beer dinner, they sent out Alex (not sure of his last name...) who was a great beer ambassador, educating the predominantly wine-loving clientelle. 

The food was excellent, my favorite being the arctic char.  All were served in a paper tray with parchment paper lining, which worked for a beer dinner, but wouldn't fly with a wine dinner.  I think this actually sped up the serving quite a bit, since the staff didn't have to spend a ton of time washing plates between each course.  The beers were better than I remember them, certainly some changes in recipe going on here.  My favorite beer was the Hop Session, a low gravity hoppy ale with (I think) Zythos blend hops and an experimental New Zealand hop that hasn't been named yet.  The meal was finished off with a stout float and biscotti that was quite nice.

Overall a great local experience and I hope there are more to come.  If you visit the restaurant, (and you should help keep them in business,) please tell them you want more!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Hunt!

Arrrrr! It be the hunt for the white whale of beers matey!

Certain beers have a popularity of almost mythic proportions.  Some of this comes from limited quantities, some from amazing taste, some from pure hype.  When these beers come out, most of the time you simply have to shrug and hope one of your friends brings one over to share some day, but occasionally things work out to where you can get them yourself.

Surly has many such high-demand but rare beers, most of which are really well brewed.  I know there are some Surly haters out there, but I think they consistently put out a great product and live up to much of their hype and attitude.  Each year they release an anniversary beer that is something completely wacky and different--even for them!  The first three years were keg only and every once in a while you can still get a taste at a festival.  Four was an imperial porter with espresso and was fantastic!  I still have one bottle, but have been warned that that beer hasn't aged well.  Five was Surly's first sour beer and was all Brettanomyces fermented.  Initially I was disappointed in the beer, but it has become much more sour and complex since last year.  Glad I have a few bottles stashed away yet!

This year is Syx, an "American Strong Ale" aged on six types of wood, using some sort of proprietary honeycomb technique.  It comes in at about 15% ABV.  It has a wicked looking logo.  With an ABV that high I think this one should be aged a bit before cracking one, but if anyone reading this has tried it, please comment about your thoughts!

Part of the appeal of these beers is purely due to the rarity and excitement they generate amongst other beer geeks.  I'm always amazed when friends bring out some of these Big Gun beers at brew club meetings and are willing to share with others, but then realize that this is really the only way to properly enjoy them.  Drink a bottle of Darkness on my own?  I don't think so.  Shared amongst others it increases in coolness, with each person adding their own thoughts and history to the beer, adding social as well as taste complexity to the experience.  Plus who can drink a bottle of 15% ABV beer on their own?

Yesterday, Syx was released in the Twin Cities, making me glad I live in Minnesota and sad I live out in the hinterlands.  After I finished a long day at work I decided to just try a few places in case they had a bottle or two hiding out.  I started in Eden Prairie, since someone on the Surly Facebook site had commented earlier that they got some there.  At the first Eden Prairie Liquors they had several left at 6PM which is very surprising.  The limit was two bottles to make sure more people get to try them, and I get that, but still wish I could buy my fill!  I then tried the other location, since they usually get shipments the same day.  I was able to get another two bottles there, but the cashier mentioned that that was the bottom of the barrel.  Word to the wise:  When you go into stores, ask them if they have the beer.  Most of the places I know keep them behind the counter or in the cooler.  In previous years I looked a place, didn't see the beer and left, only to discover that friends of mine had been there after me and received bottles.  Sucks being a Norwegian Minnesotan sometimes.  I tried one more place in Chanhassen, but they said it was unlikely that they would be getting any at all.  It sounds like within the 494 perimeter Surly distributes their own beers, but outside they have to go through other distributors.  Because of the middle-man issue the stores in the more distant suburbs get nothing, or small allocations, and these arrive sporadically and unannounced.  Apparently it drives the owners of stores nuts, because we fan-boys call constantly to ask when they will have the beers, and they have no idea.

In the end success.  Could I use a couple more for the cellar?  Absolutely.  Who knows, maybe I can find a few over the next week.  The thrill of the hunt calls to me...

Monday, July 23, 2012

Minnesota Inter-Club Campout 2012

Every year emissaries from various MN homebrew clubs converge upon an unsuspecting campground and proceed to have a weekend of homebrew festivities unrivalled by any other event.  Each year the campout is sponsored by a different club, who arranges the camp site and a Saturday dinner, and this year Jack Of All Brews stepped up to take control.  Mike Behrendt and Tim Roets did most of the work, so huge kudos go to them for all the time and effort they put into this venture!  We couldn't have done it without them, and all the other JABbers who showed up to represent us. 

This year we stayed at the KOA in Jordan, just 15 minutes from my home in Waconia.  Much closer than last year's event, which I think was in Duluth.  Apparently the festivities went on until 1:30-3 AM on Friday, but I was lame and didn't show up until Saturday morning.  When I arrived folks were serving up bloody-marys and waking up.  The previous night had had some rain, so things were drying out and the sun was starting to poke its head out from behind the lowering cloud-cover.  Our member Chris German from BSG/Rahr was kind enough to organize a school bus to Rahr for an early morning tour of the facility and new tasting room.  I missed that part, but see my earlier post about Rahr for more info on the place!  Most of the group was on the tour, which included coffee and breakfast, so it was pretty quiet at the camp when I got there.  Once the bus returned around noon, things got hopping!  Rahr was an awesome host and provided a huge bag of grain to each member of the tour group!
Bill with his big sack
Once our group had returned, we started to organize for our JAB beer/mead tasting.  Part of the camp-out is a homebrew competition which allows clubs to earn bragging rights and a sweet travelling trophy to show off for the next year.  The competition is run by the previous year's Master Of Malt (BOS) winner, and this year that was Susan Ruud.  Around 12:30 we settled ourselves on a tippy picnic table and started tasting our beers to decide which ones would represent JAB for the day.  There are four categories: Ale, Lager, Belgian, and Mead. 

JAB gang tasting meads
Mike's beers were really good, but ended up not going on as JAB, so he entered them under CRAZY...and apparently we chose poorly because he rocked the house with them: 1st for lagers with his pilsner for the second year running; and 2nd for his IPA in ales.  Next year we take Mike's beers first!  JAB also got some brewcred with 3rd place in meads for Tim's wacky tamarind and agave mead, and 1st place for my Sour Loser Flemish red! Did we wear our medals all night like geeks?  Oh Yeah!  Master Of Malt went to Al Boyce, for MHBA:  now he has to organize the competition next year.  I'll put his picture up because he is a great guy, and because he is a member of JAB too!

Al with his trophy
Heat.  Oh man was it hot out there!  I'm happy it wasn't raining on Saturday, but the humidity was insane sticky and the sun very hot.  We had a couple early casualties that I chalk up to combining the Rahr tasting room, judging the competition and the heat.  Not to mention some wicked sun burn.  I am now a true red-neck!  There were several distinct groups of us hanging out in whatever patches of shade we could find, though folks seemed to travel more once things got rolling.  I had a lot of great talks with folks I know and folks I didn't.  The incredible amount of beer on tap was certainly a help when it came to socializing!  Had Mike's great IPA several times.  Pat Sundberg from the soon-to-be-opened Jack Pine Brewery had an IPA and a roasty brown ale that get me excited check out his place. 
Jockey box heaven!
  Our Pit Boss Tim Roets was working on smoking a metric @#$%-ton of pork shoulder over Jamaican allspice wood all Friday, then started up his dueling Webers for hot and mild jerk chicken around 2PM Saturday.  With the help of some other JAB members he got some beans and rice with coconut milk cooking and some slaw to kill the heat.  During all this cookery, Tim maintained his high-energy style and helped us drink a bunch of beers and rum.  I wish I could bottle said energy and sell it on the black market...I'd be a rich rich man!

Jerk Master!
By 5:30 my stomach was trying to jump out of my abdomen after smelling this amazing smoking meat for three hours.  Tim served up several hot sauces (many home made!) and a bunch of pickled condiments to go with the pulled pork sandwiches and chicken.  Anyone who has been to one of the brewclub meetings where Tim tested these dishes out on us knows how amazing the food was.  Those who missed all three opportunities to lose!  The spice was perfect, hopefully not too much for the other Minnesotans who feel that black pepper is "hot."  I didn't see anyone taking food back.  I'm guessing the bar has just been set higher for future camp-out dinners.

After dinner we all hung out and drank more homebrews, with some good commercial beers making the rounds as well.  The sun started to go down, bringing a tiny bit of blessed cool.  Time for a big fire and Fire Jenga!  Best not to ask details.  Sj came to help us eat after she finished work and ended up staying later than she thought.  After all day in the hot sun, I was ready for a shower and a night in my own bed and hitched a ride back home with her.  I used to love camping, but I think I've grown soft in my old age. 

Over all I think this event was a smashing success!  Thanks again to Mike for organizing and Tim for cooking his tail off.  Thanks to all the 14+ JAB members (and wives!) who showed up to help and hang out.  It was great getting to shoot the breeze with some old friends, and some new, in a very laid-back atmosphere.  I think we had 8 or 9 clubs represented, and want to see more for next year!  Now we just need another club to step up and organize it.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Last night I tried a modified recipe from Draft magazine for a beer BBQ sauce. Here is my paraphrased version with some changes.

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 Cup onion chopped
1.5 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Cup ketchup
2 Tbsp Worcester sauce
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp molasses
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 Cup beer (I used homebrewed oatmeal stout)

Heat oil in sauce pan the toss in garlic and onion for 3-4 minutes.
Add all other ingredients then simmer for 30 min. Should reduce almost half.

This worked great! You can use a food processor to smooth it out, but I like the rustic texture of the cooked onions. The flavor was complex and tasty. I might add a bit of chipotle in next time. I froze half to be used later.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Byggvir's Big Beer Cup Promo

I don't have much to post today, so I thought I'd throw a promo poster up for the MN Renaissance Festival homebrew competition that MHBA and Jack Of All Brews is putting on this year.  Registration opens to put beers in this Friday!  The website is already up and you can register to volunteer to judge and steward right now.  This is for Continental styles (lagers, English Ales, Belgians, meads, ciders, etc.) and has a special historic category and award for those Gruits and Gratzers and odd-ball forgotten styles that aren't in the BJCP guidelines.  We have expanded the entries to include Russian Imperial and foreign extra stout this year too.  Come help us out or at least put some beers in!  This year one of the BOS beers gets brewed by Mike Hoops of Town Hall Brewery and will likely be entered into next years GABF Pro-Am competition!  Worth the effort to put some beers in!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Happy Gnome Cider Dinner!

As an early celebration of my wife's birthday I drove us to The Happy Gnome in St. Paul for the first cider dinner they have done.  The founder of Crispin was there and they brought some pretty cool things to try!  Usually Sj drives me to these dinners, but since she is such a cider fiend I let her have the fun this time...

As usual some of our friends, Carol, Kevin and Emily were there, and we got to meet a very sweet newer member of the Gnome's staff who was getting to actually eat at the dinner rather than serve.  A huge part of the fun at these things is hanging out and talking about beer, life, etc and this was one was no exception for us.  Emily had just been married, so had lots of fun stories to keep us entertained.

The Gnome used to be an old firehouse, and the upstairs area is called the Firehouse Room because of that.  When you head up the stairs you are greeted by Catherine the GM and can head over to the smaller upstairs bar for your meet and greet beer.  In this case the m&g beer was a cider: the Fox Barrel Blackberry Pear cider, which was quite nice.  Not too sweet, but certainly fruity.  From about 6-7 you talk and socialize, working up an appetite for the coming dinner.  Prior to the first course the main Minnesota distributor gave a talk about the company and went over each cider.  The usual way of doing this would be to discuss one or two at a time, but this guy kind of blew his wad by doing all the talking at once.  He was young and hasn't done one of these before, so we'll leave him alone!  The company started here in Minnesota, but the current cidery is in California, and houses Crispin and Fox Barrel.  Fox Barrel is all pear cider (perry) with some of the versions blended with fruits.

First Course!
Crab and scallop ceviche with lemon vinaigrette and wasabi oil.  This was very nice and worked well with the sweet Crispin Honey Crisp cider.  I'm not much of a sea food fan, but done at the Gnome, I'll always finish my plate!  The cider is really interesting and includes some honey in the recipe that really comes out in the final flavor.  It was the first specialty cider that Crispin came out with nearly 4 years ago when they started and was supposed to be a one-off experiment, and obviously has had some staying power.

Second Course!
Steel head trout atop a fried risotto cake and Swiss chard with side of corn panna cotta.  Yum!  Also fish, also tasty.  Paired with one of Crispin's more interesting ciders called Stagger Lee which is made with Gravenstein apples and aged for 6 months in rye whiskey barrels.  Not super alcoholic, but has a nice boozy tang to the end and is pretty tart.  I had this earlier in the year at home and wasn't sure about it, but the age has mellowed it out quite a bit.  There may be a few on shelves still, but they are done making it for the year.  They are soon coming out with a bourbon barrel aged limited release that they wouldn't tell us more about yet! 

Third Course!
Veal en crepinette.  Veal atop white beans, baby carrots, endive, and turnips with a veal demi-glace.  And topped with bacon.  Almost like a stew, this was really a hearty and filling dish, perhaps better for wintertime.  I pretend I don't know what veal is so I can still enjoy it.  The pairing on this course was the best in my opinion.  The Lansdowne cider is made with an Irish ale yeast and leaves a bit of the buttery character you see in Irish Reds.  There is also a good amount of molasses which gives this cider a darker, more complex flavor than the others.  I'm not sure I love the cider on its own, but with this hearty dish it was really perfect.  We were getting fairly full by this time, and two more courses to come!

Cheese Course!
Camembert cheese with balsamic reduction and a freaking amazing herbed cracker served with smurf-sized champagne grapes.  Being lactose intolerant sucks.  But the cracker was The Bomb.  I really liked the Browns Lane cider, my favorite of the night.  This one is made for Crispin by a small cidery in England and uses old-school English bitter cider apples.  It has a hint of carmelized sugar, but ends pretty dry compared to all the others we tried tonight.  Look for it!

"Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!"
Warm almond torte with rhubarb confit and a cider coulis.  Also had some crazy molecular gastronomy red spheres that looked like grapes, but burst in the mouth to release strawberry flavored liquid.  Very cool technique and I wanted more of those!  Very nice pairing with the sweet/tart Fox Barrel Rhubarb and Elderberry pear cider.  That one is worth a try as well. 

A fantastic night for all!  They also let us keep both the Crispin and Fox Barrel glasses, which is awesome.  After experiencing this event from an "I have to drive us back to Waconia" standpoint, I respect Sj's driving me to all those beer dinners far more than I have in the past.  Thanks sweetie!  And happy early birthday!  September beer dinner is Stone Brewing--be there!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Haute Dish

Earlier this week, Tony and Amanda of the Primary Fermenters met with us for dinner at Haute Dish in Minneapolis.  They were kind enough to cart some ill-begotten beers from Seattle for me in the back of their truck and I am quite excited to share those out soon.

For those who haven't been to Haute Dish yet, I encourage you to try it out soon!  They are an upscale joint that really takes their food seriously...yet without taking it too seriously.  For instance, I have never had duck served served so well and consistently as here.  One favorite that is usually on the menu is Duck In A Can:  They bring out a plate with a thick Texas toast with celery root puree, then pull out a large aluminum can with a picture of a duck on it.  They open the can with an opener and "Splootch" a duck breast with herbs and veggies drops out onto the toast.  OMG it is good.  And great presentation.  This visit I had Foie In A Can.  Yum!

They have a really good Charcuterie plate, and make/cure all their own meat products.  My wife isn't as much of a fan of these "sausage-fests," but she is WRONG!

The beer list here is fantastic, with at least 10-15 craft beers on tap and a bunch more in bottle.  I had Lagunitas Undercover Shut Down ale on tap, and Sj had Jacobins Rouge.  Correct glassware is always a must as well.

Hopefully our friends enjoyed the dinner as much as I did.  I'll certainly be back again, but it ain't cheap so I'll have to save up a bit again.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Limited Release!

One of my best friends from Hopkins High School, Rob Wengler, along with other friends Dave and Ron have been feverishly working on a fun web video series about hard to find beers.  The idea is to get to as many of the events surrounding these white whales of the beer world and document the process, event, and the beer for those who can't get to them.  The series is called Limited Release.  The first episode is up currently and deals with Kate The Great, a RIS from Portsmouth Brewery.  The show is about 20 minutes long and offers an interesting perspective on the phenomenon of the "special release beer."  The guys were also kind enough to share one of the beers with me to get my opinion on for the camera.  Warning:  I am not very comfortable on film, so bear with me! 

Rob came over to my bar yesterday and shared a 2011 Dark Lord with me and we recorded some footage for the upcoming episode about Dark Lord Day at Three Floyds Brewing in Indiana.  I've wanted to get to this for years, but haven't been able to yet, so I'm very excited to see it second-hand.  I really enjoyed this beer and appreciate Rob sharing a bottle with me!  Very sweet and candy-like, but complex beyond description.  Hopefully my crazed cat, Freya, is not too vocal and visible in the scene we filmed!

These guys do a good job and really want more exposure for the show, so check them out and share with anyone else who might be interested!  I'll post again when the Dark Lord episode goes live.  Next up after DL is this year's Surly Darkness Day from right here in Minnesota.  I'm hoping I'll be able to make the event this year, and maybe take part live in that episode.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Town Hall Pint Club

My favorite brewpub pretty much anywhere is Town Hall Brewery.  I know I've posted about it before and I'll surely post about it again!  Every year they open up a small number of Pint Club memberships, for somewhat exorbitant prices, but worth it to those who be able to take advantage if it.  You get a growler right away, and then 75 cents off regular pints forever.  Unfortunately it doesn't count on some seasonals and strong ales, but still pretty sweet.  Also every Saturday from 4-5PM you get free beers, with the same caveats as above.  I've had my membership for a few years now and still haven't quite paid it back yet, but I do live nearly an hour away from the place, and will certainly be showing up for years to come.

Yesterday my wife and I stopped over for Pint Club and stayed at the bar for quicker refills.  Talked to a very nice guy at the bar about local brewing events and beers while sipping a couple pints of Thunderstorm.  That is one of my favorite TH beers and usually comes out this time of year.  Made with honey and lemongrass it is sweet, tart and refreshing, just what you need for 90 degree days.  I now have two growlers of it to portion out over the next couple weeks at home.  I might be talked into sharing...if you are very nice!  They also had the Mango Mama and Twisted Reality barley wine on tap this visit, one of the better seasonal line ups I've seen in a while.  Get there soon!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Brewclub Meeting July 2012

On the second Friday of each month a crazed group of home brewers called Jack Of All Brews join together for a night of excess and insanity we like to call Brewclub.  Last night Tim was gracious enough to host the meeting at his place and to serve up some amazing grub.  As a dry run for next weekend's Inter-Club Campout he served up some wicked-hot jerk wings and his signature allspice wood smoked jerk pork.  If you have not had it yet--you must come to the campout to try it!

This month we covered a lot of upcoming events and competitions, including deciding to send Mike Lebben's porter to the AHA Club Only Competition.  Our style of the month was cream ales, so I gave a quick run-down of the style and we tried a commercial example (New Glarus Spotted Cow.)  Of course everyone bolted down the calibration beer in seconds instead of tasting along with my presentation.  Like herding cats I tell you!  Homebrewers are a thirsty and independent lot.  We had six home-brewed examples and the winner of the Golden Mash Paddle for the month was Keith Brady, with Mike Behrendt following close behind.  I was totally skunked, but I'm used to it.  One of our members, Matt, managed to wheedle a fantastic prize for this contest from one of the Rogue Public Houses which was really a fun addition to the paddle.  I actually plan on continuing this tradition with the paddle winner getting a prize each month in the future.
Keith shows off his prize!
We also had a set of secondary prizes this month for Best of the Rest!  Tim supplied a bottle of the Rogue bacon beer and Liftbridge Biscotti for Mike B's "Burn" (a fiery version of his cream ale,) and Scott's witbier.
Dead soldiers, with Scott and Mike in background

As always, a great night and a not so great next morning!  Thanks to all the old JABbers, and the new members who bring new ideas and fire to the club.

Izzy's artwork

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Happy Gnome Harriet and Lucid beer dinner

Probably my favorite restaurant in the Twin Cities is the Happy Gnome in St. Paul.  We tried this place out for the first time several years ago when they had a special mead dinner featuring the meadmaker from White Winter and Ken Schramm the author of The Compleat Meadmaker.  The food and the pairings with the meads blew me away, and my wife and I have continued to go to most of the beer dinners they have.  There is a dinner nearly every month and they try to have a brewer present for the event.  There is something about sharing tables with strangers, excellent food, and hearing a brewer talk lovingly about their beer that elevates this experience beyond the sum of its parts.  Over the years we have met several sets of good friends at these events and grown to really love the staff here. 

The most recent dinner featured two newer Minnesota breweries, Harriet and Lucid.  Neither have quite the portfolio to do this alone, but paired together they did a great job.  At the meet and greet before the meal, they served us up some Lucid Air, a nice light summery beer that is my favorite of theirs.  While sipping this brew, I was able to talk for some time with Jason Sowards of Harriet.  I've heard a lot about this guy, and it was a great time getting to finally meet him and talk brewing.  I can really get on board with his philosophy and how he has embraced art and social media to further his brewery.

First course was a freaking amazing lamb carpaccio paired with the Harriet Wodan Weizen.  And excellent course and a very good pairing.  Following this was a roasted halibut served over green curry barley floating in a lake of flavorful tomato bisque with mussels.  I'm neither a fish nor a mussel fan, but this was one of the best dishes I've ever had.  Every ingredient shone alone and in combination with the other flavors.  This was paired with the Harriet East Side IPA which is brewed every 100 batches.  Belgian IPA is not my favorite style, but this one is a bit maltier and uses European hops instead of the citrusy American hops, leading to a smoother mix of hop and yeast esters.
Course the third was a duroc pork tenderloin with amazing sides and sauces.  A fantastic dish, but couldn't compare to the previous one!  The pairing on this one was with the Lucid Dyno pale ale, and I think the food overwhelmed the beer a bit.

Next up was a truffle cheese (yum!) and the Lucid Saison.  This was the first time I had tried this beer and I think they hit the style spot on.  An excellent way to clear the palate after this creamy pungent cheese.

And last but not least was a butterscotch panna cotta with hazelnut crunch and spoon shaped tuille.  Wow!  I was very full by this time, but it was so good!  Also, the edible spoon was for looks not try to scoop panna cotta with it!

If you haven't been to one of these dinners, do it now!  Not cheap, but you get what you pay for and you will have something to remember for the future.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Homebrew Tester

One of the roles I really like to play is that of the homebrew tester.  As one of the only BJCP ranked judges in our club at this time, I often get requests to try beers and give feedback.  I love to do this for people!  Not only do I get to keep my judging skills sharp, but I get to try cool new beers. Testing out beers at meetings is more difficult to do with the chaos of multiple beers and many people, so smaller groups or one-on-one is really the way to go if you want better feedback.  Entering competitions is another great way of getting a couple of blinded judge sheets, and I still do this with beers I'm not so sure about.  I find it harder to judge my own beers sometimes, usually by being too critical if it didn't turn out exactly like I imagined. 

My friend Jeff brought over a few beers yesterday and we sat at the bar and worked through them.  Jeff makes some great beers considering he hasn't been brewing all that long, and only recently moved to all-grain.  The main reason he likes my opinion is to figure out where these beers might fit into competitions.  I think that it's extremely smart to do before wasting your money on beers by putting them in the wrong category.  Just because you brewed an IPA doesn't mean you ended up with one!  If it is not hoppy enough, maybe it really should be a pale ale.  Or certain beers like blonde and cream ale have a very similar taste profile and might do well in either category.  And some beers just won't fit a a style, even if they are a really nice and drinkable beer.  Some of my best beers just don't fit a style and so I reserve them for drinking and enjoying only!

I encourage everyone to get opinions on your beers if you want to keep improving.  Even if you aren't a competition person, learning about those styles and guidelines will help you understand the process and final product. 

Oh and to all of you who have shared with me, thanks!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Convergence 2012, or 4 Days of Mayhem

Ok, so this is not especially beer related, but since I did drink some beer this weekend I'll count it anyway. 

Every year thousands of people converge on the Bloomington, MN DoubleTree for a convention that defies all logic and explanation.  This is called Convergence and is one of the larger and crazier Geek/Nerd conventions around.  The goal of this con is to give a wide variety of people who are into Science Fiction, fantasy, horror, Manga, Anime, etc. somewhere to gather and share those things with others of like mind.  Visitors vary from newborns, to 80 year olds; from all social classes; from all genders and sexual preferences; all races.  Despite these differences, they all share a love of genre books, movies, comics, TV shows, games, etc.  Oh, and there is some serious crazy @#$% that goes on too.

I started on the path to geek back in elementary school when my mom  handed me amazing sci-fi and fantasy books.  I was reading Lord Of The Rings and Roger Zelazny before most kids were reading at all on their own.  Teachers questioned my choices, asking why I couldn't read Beverly Cleary and Judy Bloom books like everyone else.  I continued to love the field, seeing the Star Wars movies in the theater, watching Star Trek on our old black and white TV, and eventually picking up a red box filled with a fairly obscure game called Dungeons & Dragons.  Despite all these truly geeky interests I have always toed the line between my geek side and the "normal" side.  I continue to do this and only get to really unleash this side of my personality when around my old friends or at this convention.  It is quite liberating to be able to talk about rare books and odd imported TV shows with others who don't give you a blank look and desperately try to move the subject to "safer" territory.

At the con my wife and I went to several good panel discussions about various topics: the best genre movies of the year; writing strong female characters for novels; drinking with geeks; etc.  The latter was very fun, with the panel members getting passed mystery drinks and getting progressively more "fun" as time went on.  They didn't quite know what to do with the Rogue Voodoo Maple Bacon Ale--but did comment that it was like having sex with Miss Piggy.  Not a bad description...being especially funny because there was a woman dressed as Miss Piggy in the room!

There are bad movies playing all weekend in Cinema Rex.  There is a dealer room where one can buy books, rare DVDs, corsets, jewelry, blasters, swords, games and more.  The Harmonic Convergence room hosts story tellers and live music, some good some not. 

And the parties.  The two hotel levels around the pool are larger Cabana rooms and are all rented out by groups to throw parties during the evenings. The posters for the parties are sometimes better than the actual thing.

Some of the parties are lame..."hey we are just going to hang out in a room with our friends and watch bad movies."  Others are very cool such as the Mos Eicey Cantina and the  Zombie Party.  Many will serve snacks and strange liquors.  Zombie Snot is a personal favorite of mine.  Other parties are just kooky like the House of Toast:  toast, with your choice of over 100 toppings ranging from nutella to anchovies.  Pretty fun after visiting those rooms with the suspect cocktails. 

Lots of folks get dressed up as their favorite characters from Dr. Who, Star Wars, Bronies, and many strange fuzzy-eared manga characters that boggle the mind.  Where else can you share a drink with a Klingon, see 6 slave-Leias  and chastise a storm trooper for being a little too short? 

Beam us up!
When the weekend is through, it is difficult to return to "real" life, but at the same time you usually get so exhausted that the idea of vegging on your own couch is very appealing!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

NHC Events

It is hard to explain what NHC is to those who have not been there.  Describing it as a combination of education, trade show and drinking festival doesn't even begin to cover it!  I'll hit some highlights though and do my best.

1) Swag
Once registration opens, you can get your dorky badge and a big bag of swag.  In my bag were packs of hops, coupons, pens, bottle openers, advertisements, a dangerous frisbee, and assorted other cool beer items.  We also get a fantastic tasting glass to cart around the rest of the weekend, since there is such easy access to beers.  Included in your entry swag are commemorative beers: this years were all commerically brewed with local breweries from homebrewer recipes!  We got an Elysian saison made will all Washington ingredients including honey, apple and mint; a dark sour from Black Raven; and of course an IPA from Alaskan.  I'm excited to try these out on my homebrew club buddies at home.
2) Opening Toast
The head of AHA, Gary Glass gave a nice speech at the start, followed by talks from the local organizers.  Beers are handed out and toasts are made. This year they actually had a Senator, who was instrumental in changing local law to allow homebrew sharing and competitions, give a quick talk as well.
3) Hospitality Suite
From about 10-5 the hospitality suite is open for business.  Here you have several clubs taking turns serving up homebrews, as well as a couple of commercial breweries like Rogue and Widmer sampling their wares.  Several homebrew supply places like Northern Brewer, Midwest, Morebeer and High Gravity have booths.  And there are a whole bunch of new products or hop and yeast suppliers on hand to answer questions and give out stuff.  I did snag quite a few shirts, hops, etc.  Northern Brewer had a "take a picture of Chip" for a free shirt campaign going.  Before I even knew about that I was talking to Chip and he was complaining about everyone stopping him to take pictures...and I promptly pulled out my phone and snapped a pic!  Ha!

4) Seminars
Throughout the day there are three one hour seminars on brewing/beer/etc going on, with the first starting at 9AM.  Wow is it hard to get up for a 9AM lecture when you have been out late the previous night, more so when they are serving up IPA during the lecture.  High points for me this year were a talk on current and historic IPA by Mitch Steele of Stone brewing; a panel discussion on running homebrew clubs; and a wierd ingredient lecture with suitable samples from Dick Cantwell of Elysian Brewery.  The Elysian Jasmine IPA is really wacky.

5) Lagunitas Party
Lagunitas sent out their recipe for Hop Stupid, (which is hard to come by in MN these days,) and encouraged homebrewers to make their own versions for the party.  They rented out a small suite at an adjoining hotel and filled a bathtub with bottles of Hop Stupid.  My friends with the Primary Fermenters brewed a version and got me in.  Very crowded, but very fun, with the Lagunitas guys sending us off with extra bottles for home!

Hop to it, stupid!

6) Pro Brewer's Night
Thursday night's festivities started at 8PM and went until about 11, with over 50 breweries in attendance.  Some of my favorites were the New Belgium Pink Peppercorn IPA and all the beers from Black Raven.  I had grand plans of taking more pictures and keeping notes.  That did not happen and the night was long.  After 11, many went on to party at the Sasquatch Social Club where more homebrew was served.  I went to bed like a lame panda.

7) Keynote Speech
This is often a high point of the conference, with a brewing luminary telling stories from the days of yore and giving advice to budding brewers.  Last time I saw this it was Mark Stutrud from Summit and everyone was really excited to hear his take on the past, present and future of pro and home brewing in the USA.  This year was Charles Finkel from Pike Brewing.  His speech was less than stellar.  I respect him as a person and what he has done for the brewing community, as well as for creating the stellar beers at Pike Brewery.  But that speech was pretty horrible.  He talked for over an hour straight with no real point.  He talked about cavemen deciding to grow grain instead of hunting sabre toothed tigers.  He talked at some length about the early days of wine distributing, listing off pretty much every wine that was available in the 1960's-70's.  Then talked about beer distributing in the 1970's, listing off every beer he could think of.  I felt like a senator being subjected to a filibuster of epic proportions!  He ran out of time before he could even really talk about Pike
or brewing.  One person in our row who shall not be named fell asleep and dropped his glass, then "went to the bathroom," and didn't come back.  Smart man...  Oh well, better luck next year!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Rock Bottom Brewery: Seattle, WA

Having just recently been to the Rock Bottom Minneapolis, it was interesting to try out the RB in Seattle.  The first time I was here was Thursday morning for the final NHC pre-conference event:  A beer breakfast to kick off the official NHC festivities.  A large line of folks started outside and just when we started to get pretty hungry they opened the doors, allowing a hundred famished homebrewers into the cozy interior.  Having been burned on the food front before at my Pike dinner, I was taking no chances and barged my way to the forefront and loaded my plate with eggs, fruit several types of sausage and crispy bacon.  These guys know how to cater an event!  The servers brought several taster glasses of beers throughout the event, including a very good kolsch, and a light honey summer ale.  The basic four beers, (kolsch, Belgian wit, red ale, IPA,) are all the same recipe as at the Minnesota Rock Bottom, but the others are different.  I met a great local couple in line and we ate together and discussed homebrewing and beer at great length.  Nothing is more of a social lubricant than beer and common interests!

It is Art!

I ended up back here for lunch one day, since it was walkable from my hotel and I knew the menu was good.  Of course it started raining on the way and I was a bit bedraggled by the time I arrived.  Who knew there was a soccer game going on and that the place would be packed.  Not even a spot at the bar to settle into!  After waiting quite a while, I was finally seated and ended up inviting another homebrewer to sit with me, as we wanted to make it back to the hotel for the Keynote speech in the afternoon.  It turns out that he works for my favorite magazine, Brew Your Own, in which pages I have seen my first published article.  I had a great time talking about East coast beer culture, sipping on a pint of chocolate stout and time flew before we realized we had to hike back to the hotel.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

There's a red house over yonder, that's where my baby stays

My friends Angie and Bob were kind enough to pick me up from the hotel in Bellevue and drag me to their stomping grounds in Renton one evening.  They took me to Red House, which strangely enough, is located in an old red house.  This place is amazing and I would strongly recommend it to any folks who love good food and an amazing wine and beer selection.  They have a whole back room beer cellar where you can choose a bottle to serve with dinner or buy it and take it with you.  They also had Russian River Damnation on tap, yum!  I'll admit I had just finished up a three brewery tour trip prior to this wonderful dinner and decided I'd had enough beer for the day.  I know, I'm weak...

We had dinner on a cute little patio and took full advantage of the unusual Seattle sunny weather.  The food and company were beyond compare!  We had a tapas sampler that would have been food enough, but then I had steak with truffle frites to take me over the edge into glutton territory.  I also picked up some bottles of rare ales to take back to the homeland.

Too much cuteness and yummy tapas

My friends also took me to visit their favorite pub in Renton and showed off their house with a wonderful view of the area.  That was a great day!  I owe you guys a meal!!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Georgetown Brewing Company: Seattle, WA

Our final brewery trip on day two was Georgetown Brewing Company, set in a large warehouse located in a fairly industrial area of Seattle.  Greeted by a big red sign proclaiming "Beer this way" we made our way into the spacious tasting room to try some of the best beers I had on this trip!  The tour of the brewery was done with half of our group at a time to keep it more intimate.  The head brewer, Manny, is the only brewmaster of Asian heritage that I've ever met, and really knew his stuff. 


The space was large and clean, with no bottling facility as they just keg at this time.  They do have growlers for sale though, and I wish I could have taken some home with me.

The beers!  My favorite was the Johnny Utah session IPA, coming in at 3.9%ABV with the hop flavor and aroma of a big well balanced!  I could drink this all day, which I imagine is the idea.  Every one of the hoppy beers was clean, with a perfect dry but not astringent finish, making you want to keep trying more.  They let us sample every one of the 8 beers on tap, and I loved them all.  I don't think that is just because it was the third brewery in our tour...
They also made one of the only porters I had in Seattle and that was quite roasty and smooth, making a nice break from all the IPA's.