Monday, May 20, 2013

American Craft Beer Week: One Week Among Many

So first off, let me be honest: I try to live each week like it is Craft Beer Week.  But for this official nod to the growing craft beer industry, I figured I'd go over what the week meant to me.  And Sj drove me around a lot so she gets props too! 

I think it was about three years ago that MN had its first CBW, which was pretty small and only involved a few brew pubs and mostly college bars.  That first one was not well publicised and seemed fairly thrown-together, but was still a cool thing for the budding local beer scene.  That year and the next they had a stamp book that people would try to get completed at each participating bar or pub and attempt to win prizes like a New Belgium bike.  Living out in the hinterlands I didn't even come close to finishing one.  During one trip down to 7 Corners for this we ended up at Preston's where they tried to tell us that the oxidized and completely flat cask beer they were serving was the way cask beer was supposed to be.  Things have come a long way in the last few years!  Now Preston's has been replaced by the very beer-centric Republic, and they actually know what a cask is. 

With the now wide-spread availability of craft beer in the Twin Cities there is no way that the old stamp method was going to work this year.  On the positive side, this points out the massive amount of options we beer geeks now have to find new and cool beers.  On the negative, this week seems less cohesive and is more of a collection of single-shot tastings/events.  I am actually surprised that many of the big beer places like Republic are not really involved in the official events, though many of them are still having special beers and tappings on their own.

Monday:  Not able to drink Monday so this is a wasted day!

Tuesday:  Sj and I both had Tuesday off, so we went to Uptown for haircuts and to refill on spices from Penzey's.  Having finished early, we walked in the 100 degree heat over to Republic Uptown for our first craft beers of the week.  Sj had a Curious Traveller Shandy (not really beer...) and I had the very pleasant and newly released Surly Diminished Seviin.  I think that this is a second runnings beer from the mash of Surly 7 (which is freaking awesome by the way...) and is a light and fruity Belgian Blonde or Single.  Perfect for a crazy hot day. 

After killing some time indoors, we braved the heat stroke to walk back to our car and then travelled to St. Paul for part two of our day.  Our favorite restaurant and pub in the TC: The Happy Gnome!  This particular week was the Grand Teton Beer Dinner, featuring the dynamic brewmaster Rob Mullin.  I have not been a huge follower of this brand in the past, but due to the always amazing food we signed up for this one anyway!  I was pleasantly surprised.  Rob's relaxed but funny talks between dishes were worth the price of admission.  We also got to meet the young (really can you legally drink yet?) and earnest son of the new brewery owners who lives in St. Paul.  The beers were better than I remember and the quality control and packaging have all been improved over the past few years.  My favorite of the beers was the Oud Bruin, I'd buy that one any day.  As usual, we had several friends with us for dinner and met some other folks at our table to talk to as well.  A great evening and a perfect kick-off to a beer filled week.

Wednesday:  This was our big outing for the week.  We spontaneously picked up our friends Matt and Anna and forged ahead to the 7 Corners area.  We started at Town Hall Brewery for one of their gratuitously yummy burgers and the special release of the Wee Jack.  This wee heavy aged in Jack Daniels barrels is really strong and malty, bordering on too sweet, but worth a try.  They also had the Russian Roulette (an amazing Imperial stout with cocoa nibs,) and this was the best beer of the night.  On our way into Town Hall we ran into Gera out on the patio, and then Mike L. inside doing some shady business dealings. 

Matt hamming it up for the camera!

While logging in all of our beers at Town Hall on Untappd, like good beer geeks, I noticed that someone had logged a Founder's Kentucky Breakfast Stout from the nearby Nomad World Pub.  So Mike joined us and our group put their trust in my beer-finding skills.  Off we wandered through the looming dusk and discovered that the Nomad did indeed have an unadvertised keg of KBS on tap.  About half of the crowd there was drinking KBS and the other half were happily downing PBR tall boys.  More KBS for us!  We sat outside on the patio watching Bocce until the hipsters got a bit too ironic for us (and smoked too many cigarettes right next to us...) and headed out in search of further adventures.

Dusk falls over Minneapolis

On the way back to the car we passed right by Republic.  Well...we might as well stop.  Sitting in their street-side patio area as darkness fell around us, we ordered a couple beer samplers and shared them around.  This evening of spontaneous pub-hopping/bar-crawling was incredibly fun and relaxing for me.  I hope that Sj and the rest of my friends had a good a time as I did.  To me this is what Craft Beer Week is all about.

Thursday:  A long day at work today and no energy left to head downtown for an event.  I did fire up my brand new Kamado Joe grill and smoked some True Cost Farm brats and fresh sweet corn over cherry wood.  Once I got the hang of regulating the temperature by messing with the upper and lower draft system on the grill things went really well.  While messing with this I sipped on one of my few remaining hoard of Surly Abrasive in its proper 20 oz pint glass.  Ahhh!  Summer is finally here!  After our smoky repast (served with a very good Greek salad made by my wife) we had Matt over to watch an episode of Game Of Thrones on the DVR.  The usual adult content and violence ensued on the big screen, paired with a tasty desert snifter of Lift Bridge Irish Coffee Stout. 

Friday:  Both of us were pretty exhausted after work and debated the merits of going out.  CBW won out and we headed into St. Louis Park to visit the SLP Trifecta.  First was the Steel Toe Brewing taproom for the special release of three barrel aged beers.  I have crowed about their English barleywine, Lunker,  previously in this blog, and any excuse to have it again is worth the effort.  This time we got to taste a sampler of barrel aged Dissent stout, barrel aged Wee Heavy and Lunker.  Generous pours of amazing beers.  Sj and I both put the Wee Heavy slightly higher on our lists than Lunker!

Next up was a "quick" trip over to the Four Firkins (under a mile away.)  Pretty much the entire crew was working this particular evening.  I love going in there and getting to talk to Alvey, Michael, Ian, Bryan and Doug!  They were sampling an eclectic mix of beers including the Great Divide 19 (made with birch sap and aged on birch chips), the newly released Surly Bitter Brewer (one of my favorite session beers), and the Indeed Shenanigans.  We bought some beers while there, including a couple of bottles from Moonlight Meadery.  I'll probably do a blog entry about mead at some point in the future.

Finishing off the Trifecta, we headed over to McCoy's Public House for dinner.  Bar Manager, Nick, kept us entertained and handed us a newly renovated beer list.  We split a bucket of tater tots, and then moved on to Thai pizza and shrimp atop cheesy grits.  A perfect finish to a great night out.

Saturday:  Sj had to work Saturday so I was on my own.  I headed back down to Steel Toe for the Size 11 Triple IPA release.  I entirely missed this beer last year when it came out and really wanted to get a few bottles this time around.  They started selling right at noon, and I arrived within 5 minutes of that start time.  There was a cash line into the rear entrance to the brewery and a longer credit line into the front/taproom area.  I brought cash.  I got 6 bottles with little trouble and took them back to my car.  One of these is ear-marked for my mom, another for Rob Wengler, and one more to share at the next JAB meeting.  The other three are mine-all-mine!

The taproom still had the barrel aged threesome from the previous day on tap, so I had to brave the crowd and have those again.  Between all the folks snaking their way into the taproom for bottles of Size 11 and the crowd returning from dropping off those bottles, this tiny taproom was a sardine can.  But a sardine can with truly awe-inspiring beers!  I ran into Garrett and his son (who needs to come to a JAB meeting sometime and hang with us oldsters) and apparently missed Keith by minutes.  Great minds drink alike!  That was the extent of my CBW experience for Saturday, but I have some great Size 11 in the fridge now.

Sunday:  OK, by this day even I was feeling a little worn out from beer exploits.  Also there has been a lot of travel into "town" involved and gas jumped over $4 a gallon this week.  I almost let Sunday go, but saw a facebook post about brunch at the Northbound Smokehouse.  We had to go into EP anyway to pick up my freshly tailored suit, so why not go a little farther?  The food was pleasant but not quite as good as the lunch sandwiches had been on a previous trip.  The double IPA was pretty good too.  Once back home I settled into study mode and did that for the rest of the afternoon/evening.  By dinner time Sj and I worked on a growler of Town Hall Maibock, making me sad that I missed the Blessing Of The Bock event this year, but happy that I still got to try this wonderfully balanced lager.

Overall:  A lot of beer events and venues are to be found throughout the Twin Cities these days, especially during Craft Beer Week.  I'm guessing I could have found nearly the same amount of cool tappings, breweries, beer dinners, etc on nearly any week.  This was a nice excuse to take some time off from study and also to see good friends and spend some time with my wife.  Best thing of the week?  Probably our group Wednesday outing, but the barrel aged beers at Steel Toe were not to be missed.  Thanks again to Sj, and to my other friends!

Up Next:  Either an interview or possibly some reviews of places we stop at in Kansas City, MO...stay tuned!  And make sure to watch the Limited Release episode from my last blog post if you haven't yet!

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