Friday, August 30, 2013

Byggvir's Big Beer Cup Award Ceremony 2013

On Wednesday the 28th of August a plethora of local homebrewers from several different clubs converged upon an unsuspecting Town Hall Brewery for the 7th Annual Byggvir's Big Beer Cup Award Ceremony!  OK, I guess Town Hall expected us since the back room was roped off for us, but that intro sounded way cooler...  In my previous post I spent quite a bit of space describing the competition itself, and here is a shorter description of the award ceremony. 

Right after work on Wednesday, Sj, Steven and I rocketed out of Waconia on our way to Chaska to pick up Matt and Anna.  From there mistress leadfoot (Sj) got us heading up I35W in great time...until some sort of accident farther up-stream caused a huge car log-jam leaving us in stop and go traffic for the next 35 minutes.  Luckily Jerry and Mike L. had saved us a large table and even had drinks waiting for us upon our tardy arrival.  Thanks guys, that is a wonderful welcome! 

The place was hopping, with most of the back dining room filled with eager homebrewers.  At least 10 JABbers were present, as well as some folks from MHBA, Primary Fermenters, and some of the other smaller clubs that I need to get better acquainted with.  Gera Exire Latour and Tim Roets had organized a few tables into first, second and third place prize piles before we arrived and set up a small microphone.  They were kind enough to wait until our carload of JAB arrived before starting the ceremony, but a lot of the folks had been there since about 5PM.  We promptly ordered food and got to work on our drinks.  I was pleased that there was plenty of Thunderstorm (a Belgian with lemongrass and orange blossom honey) to go around, though some of my less discerning friends (Mike and Jerry) who I won't name here are not fans.  They are incorrect!  The AC either wasn't working or couldn't keep up with the crowd and the 95 degree weather outside, so the place got pretty toasty as the evening went on.  That just reminded me of our Extreme Beer Judging at the Fest grounds, but minus the dust and turkey legs. 

Gera began the official proceedings with some background on the competition and about the special Historic beer category before launching into the winner list.  She would read off several categories and then take a break for Tim to read off some raffle winners (everyone present got a ticket.)  This was as nice way to extend the event a bit, giving us time to talk to winners, drink great Town Hall beers and eat our dinners!  Tim also came by a few times over the night with Beer Trivia for each table so we could win bottle openers and other cool prizes.  Tim and Gera did a great job on getting sponsors and swag this year so there was plenty to go around!  The Renfest medals had not arrived in time for the ceremony, but they had given us enough mugs that each first place winner received a large and colorful 2013 commemorative mug.  I was lucky enough to get several of my beers into the winner's circle and ended up with a large pile of prizes.  This more than paid back the cost of my entry fees to the competition.  A lot of my friends won medals as well including Jeff Malek, Kyle Sisco, Brett Glenna, Joe Lushine, Mark Glennon , Wayne Doucette, and more! 

Once all the categories had been announced, Mike Hoops came up to talk about Tim's Kolsch (the winner from last year's BOS round and currently on tap at the brewery,) and about the potential difficulty in getting into the GABF in the next few years.  He and Gera then announced the Best of Show winner that will be brewed at Town Hall for the coming year: Ben Adair's Colonial Ale!  This is the first time one of the historic beers has made it to BOS and I'm very excited that the beer will be brewed commercially.  I would have preferred if my stout or apricot beer had won, but hey maybe I have another shot next year!  Interestingly myself and Jeff both won medals in that category as well, but were apparently beat out by a pretty amazing beer.  I brewed a Gose beer with French grey sea salt and coriander specifically for this competition (mainly so I wouldn't have to judge the category for the fourth year straight!) and was pretty pleased with the result.  A perfect refreshing and tart beer for a crazy hot end of summer.

My rockin' swag!

Overall I had a great time at the award ceremony.  I loved hanging out at one of my favorite breweries with a bunch of my fellow homebrewers, and the event was a great excuse to get down there during the week.  Let's have a big "Huzzah!" for the 2013 Renaissance Festival and Byggvir!  Thanks to Town Hall, Mike Hoops, the MN Renfest and all of our other sponsors.

The official winner's list can be found HERE!

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Dust Bowl: Byggvir's Big Beer Cup 2013!

Last year's epic post on Byggvir's Big Beer Cup was one of my most-read pieces of the year, so I figured I should do a recap to this year's event as well.  This homebrew competition takes place at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival as part of their Royal Ale Festival Weekend, and is currently in it's seventh year.  Personally, it was the first competition I ever put beer in and the first to award me a medal for my efforts--releasing the flood gates for me to become a beer judge and win lots more medals!  This was also the first competition in which I ever tried my hand at judging.  Between the relaxed (though loud and possibly dusty) venue and the easy-going nature of the competition itself, we encourage inexperienced judges to pair with higher ranked judges and let folks ease into the competition community.  I thought about trying to do this whole blog entry in Middle English or even a fake Renfest patois, but decided that would get old in about two sentences and let it go with an occasional "Huzzah!"

Behind the scenes organization takes many months before the actual competition.  Gera Exire LaTour, myself, Brett Glenna, Tim Roets, Jeremy Lawson, Wilbur Ince, and Steven Mathistad have been working at getting posters made and distributed, supplies wrangled, prizes/donations gathered, website updated, and much more.  This year we had a bit of a snafu with the website not allowing new registration (since all of us had old logins or admin accounts we didn't realize there was a problem until later in the game,) so we extended the deadline an extra week to allow for later entries.

Once our organizers had gathered all the entries from the local homebrew stores, we could get on with the labeling session.  Last year's was in my basement and trying to scatter 200+ beers in 18 categories throughout the space was crowded and difficult to say the least!  This year Tim Roets was kind enough the let us use the Historic Jordan Brewery (soon to be a fully operational brewery once more!) as a space for the organizing and later for a Friday pre-judging session.  I arrived early, having grabbed Tim's keys prior, and took advantage of the afternoon sunlight to take some cool pictures of the brewery building.  Jeremy and Brett showed up not too long after and the three of us worked on putting the entries in numerical order for ease of labeling later. 

Soon Gera, Wilbur, and Steven arrived and we dug into the next step: each entry must be assessed for damage, correct entry labels, etc.  Each entry is assigned a random number, and a neck label with the number and style category is placed on each.  A smaller number label is also placed on the cap to allow for easy organization in a cooler at the judging.  Since each entry is two bottles, we have to do all of this twice.  The entries that win gold medals in their categories have their second bottle go to the Best Of Show round on Sunday afternoon.  What happens to all the other extra second bottles you ask?  Depends on the competition really.  Mostly we mix them all together into a giant vat and make the people with the lowest scores in each category drink a German Boot of the resulting mess.  Ok, I might be pulling your leg a bit!  At Byggvir's we will sometimes crack open the extra bottle of the second and third place beers at the competition so volunteers can try some of the top examples of the styles (for education purposes only of course!)  One year we had a tasting at a Jack Of All Brews meeting focusing on some of the meads that were left over.  Sometimes it can be fun to track down the beers with recognizable flaws--again as an educational tool for brewers.  And mostly we end up recycling the bottles for future use in homebrews!  Now you know where your precious beer goes!

Once all the bottles had been labeled and anonymized, we organized them into categories in another of the brewery's rooms.  Then time for pizza, pickled ring bologna from the meat market in Jordan, Tim's homebrewed Mild Ale, and organizing the checks and paperwork.  As with any competition, some bottles come to us broken in shipping, or missing entirely, or having ended up in the State Fair competition by accident and sent back our way!  At this stage there are always some issues, and the 30 inch thick stone and iron walls made computer and cell phone use to fix them much more difficult.

While sitting in the main brewery, we heard a loud explosion in the other room followed by tinkling glass.  Quickly and carefully rounding the corner through the hobbit sized door we saw glass fragments that had been thrown 15 feet across the room from one of the entered bottles.  Strange but fortunate that it took that moment to expire instead of when we were handling it for labeling.  We very cautiously covered the second bottle with a box and later, using improvised bomb-squad gear, loaded it into a safe trash bag and disposed of the deadly item.  Gushers are common, but true bottle bombs are deadly.  Make sure to check specific gravities on beers you are going to bottle and that they are actually done fermenting first!

Between Tuesday and Friday all of us worked on our assignments:  Tim to gather prizes; Gera to work on gathering equipment for the judging itself; myself to organize the beer flights and make the judge lists; Wilbur to work on labels and paperwork.  Doing the flights was interesting.  We have 18 categories for this competition, so I had to condense the beer categories down in a way that made sense but didn't give us groups of beer that were too big or too small.  Once that was complete I had to do a complex logic puzzle (Sj will be glad to tell you that this is not my strong suit) to correlate judges' likes and dislikes, as well as making sure that they don't judge their own beers! 

On Friday evening we had a Pre-Fest judging and organizing session back at the Jordan Brewery in order to knock off a few smaller categories before the main event.  I had no idea how many people were actually going to show up and was concerned that it would three people judging 28 beers...but we ended up with 11 or 12 folks to spread the wealth around!  We made sure that Tim judged the historic category since he has won in that category several times and specializes in brewing crazy styles.  After the judging session, some of us organized the Saturday entries into boxes to be taken to the Fest in the morning.  I left around 10 PM, but I guess some folks were there into the wee hours chasing and struggling with a large bat that managed to fly in through the open front door of the brewery!  I wish I hadn't missed that excitement, since I keep thinking of the bat scene from the movie The Great Outdoors and imagining a bat stuck on Tim's face...

Awakening at 5:30 on Saturday morning (yes 5:30 on a Saturday...voluntarily) Sj and I donned our doublets, bodices, codpieces, flasks, leather mugs, swords, etc. and hopped in Steven's truck for the start of a long day.  We arrived at the Fest early, but had to sit in a long line of cars since they don't open the grounds until 8:00.  At least we were near the front of the line and were able to get a good parking spot once they let us in!  The gravel pit next to the Festival grounds has continued its inevitable expansion, its slow crawl now taking over more than half of the old parking area.  Festival workers apparently are having to park some distance away and get bussed in to work nowadays in order to leave more parking for Fest-goers.  The old entry gate for special events has been overshadowed by the burgeoning pit and is mostly out of commission, so we were at a loss as to where to enter the grounds.  Starting at one back entrance, we were then directed to last year's (now quite hidden), and then re-directed back to yet another ingress near the front of the Festival.  Upon arrival there, we discovered that this was only for the Pet-Fest and it took a bit of wrangling to figure out which entrance we were actually supposed to go to.  Eventually we discovered a tiny door near the front, almost completely obscured by shrubbery and flowering plants.  Huzzah!  No one was manning that entrance at the time so we walked through and ended up behind the scenes (not where we belonged) eventually having to spelunk our way into the actual festival grounds.  Always an adventure!  Having been through unusual circumstances with set-up at Fest before (see last year's post) I been prepared for some craziness.  I felt bad for all our other volunteers who probably had no idea it would be this difficult to get onto the grounds!

We're not in Kansas anymore...

Finally finding our tent, we went to work moving around tables and benches to our specifications while Todd Simmons set up his system to do a brewing demo during the judging sessions.  When the beer arrived (Tim had a coveted pass and was able to drive right up to the back entrance behind the tent) Steven went to work chilling down the beers in our large body coolers.  We papered the tables and got all the paperwork organized.  Volunteers started to trickle in and were put to work with further set-up until our judging time arrived.  As usual with Fest, some small things went awry, but nothing we couldn't deal with.

The morning and afternoon judging went without a hitch.  I had a great time talking with some old friends and met some cool new people as well.  A lot of novices got to try their hand at judging and stewarding and seemed to have a rewarding experience as well.  Steven did a great job again this year as Cellarmaster--handling and organizing all the competition beers.  The biggest trouble with the day was the elements.  The heat was oppressive with high humidity, and frequent gusting strong winds would blow sample cups over and set sail to much of our paperwork.  Blowing red quarry dust coated everything, including our sweat-drenched skins.  "No, that's not a nice glistening tan, its only my fine coating of perspiration and Fest-Dust (TM)!"  Interestingly enough I am currently reading a great Joe R. Lansdale book that takes place in the Dust Bowl during the 1930's and this day gave me just a tiny hint at what those folks dealt with.  I kept expecting a big humming plague of locusts to alight on our judging area!  Poor Sj is very heat intolerant (she gets crazy heat-rage) but was quite the trooper though all of this.  I felt worse for all the folks who brought their animals to take part in Pet-Fest!

After we finished judging, Tim had prepared a Post-Fest party for us back at the brewery.  Sj and I were hot, sweaty, filthy and exhausted...but Tim's cooking is something sublime and neither of us were going to miss it!  The brewery is built right up against the cliffs resulting in a natural air conditioning for the place, so we were at least able to cool down our sun toasted brains.  Timmy's Kolsch (Tim's Town Hall beer) was flowing from a keg for our libations and dinner was a stellar spread of Jamaican pulled pork and huge hot dogs from the local meat market.  Something like 20 different condiments, hot sauces and pickled vegetables rounded out the repast.   Tim does nothing by half measures!

Jerky Dog! (hot dog with jerked pork and bonus condiments)

A fair number of people showed up for the party and Tim even had a drawing for prizes.  I won a pound of Saaz hops, so I'd better get cracking on some Pilsners!  Sj and I had to leave a bit early due to an impending catastrophic migraine (thanks heat, beer, sun, beer, and more heat)  but the party went on pretty late that evening even without us.

Tim giving away awesome prizes to his lucky guests

On Sunday the hated alarm again sounded out its call to arms at 5:30 in the morning.  "Why did I volunteer for this again?"  I loudly asked myself, using my Minnesotan passive-aggressive super powers to make my wife suffer with me.  Sj got to stay home due to heat and an incoming cousin visit necessitating some swift home cleaning.  Steven picked me up again we headed for the Fest.  This time we had inherited one of the magical passes that allowed us into the back parking entrance, letting us get in before the crowd of waiting cars.  We hustled over to the tent and started cleanup--a ton of empty cigarette packs and PBR tall boys--from the previous night's Festie Festivities.  This day we had a stumble right off the bat with our flight pull sheets not arriving on time, requiring a bit of a late start, but we still ended up completing our morning flights in time for the afternoon to begin.

The serious business of judging beers!

Once again, our day consisted of tasting beers, with the addition of ciders and meads.  If Saturday was an extremely hot day, then Sunday was its terrifyingly searing older brother.  The temperature topped out at 98 degrees with high humidity, resulting in the lowest attendance I've seen at the Renaissance Festival in my life.  There was no grand parade due to concerns about cast members and their pets passing out from heat stroke.  My friend Hassan was happily Morris Dancing his way around the Fest though--a brave man indeed.  Let me tell you that the privies were not a pretty sight, nor a pretty smell.  I fervently hope that they were checked frequently to pull out the folks who may have passed out from the steaming effluvium.  Even the flies seemed lethargic and lackadaisical.  Poor Joe Lushine was a trooper as our daily demo brewer, generating even more heat with his burner and boiling wort.  Tasting high alcohol sweet meads in this type of environment was difficult to say the least.  The dust was not as extreme as the previous day though.  Small favors.  I will say that the environmental roulette that one plays with scheduling this competition can add to the character of the event and to that of the participants.  Every score sheet will return to its beer's owner coated in sweat, rock dust, dried beer, turkey leg drippings and more.  Take a little Renfest home with you, one and all!  Huzzah!

After the sweltering afternoon round was complete, our Best Of Show round began in earnest.  Mike Hoops and Pete Rifakes from Town Hall, Al Boyce and Jeremy Lawson all got to taste the top beer in each category and try to narrow down the BOS winner.  I was not able to watch this process since I had some beers in this competition and potentially may have had a beer in this final round (fingers crossed.)  One of these top scoring beers will be brewed with Mike Hoops on Town Hall Brewery's system and entered into next year's Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am competition.  This is probably the coolest prize for any homebrewer to win:  getting to brew with one of the best brewers in the country with the chance of winning a medal at the GABF?  Heck yeah!  I thank the folks at Town Hall for offering up this gem of a prize to our competition and also to all of our other sponsors for donating prizes and supplies to it.   A large number of awesome people contributed to making this event happen: MHBA, Jack Of All Brews, organizers, judges from many clubs, stewards, spouses, sponsors, and more.  Thanks to everyone for making this a great and truly unique experience.  Most importantly, we have to thank the Minnesota Renaissance festival for hosting the adventure!   Despite minor mishaps and tropical heat this is hands-down the best homebrew competition I've ever taken part in and wouldn't miss it for the world!

Best Of Show deliberation featuring Jeremy Lawson and Mike Hoops (and the disembodied hands of Pete Rifakes and Al Boyce)

The winners will be announced live at Town Hall on Wednesday night.  The event starts at 5:30 and the ceremony will begin around 6:30.  Good luck to all those who entered beer!

Friday, August 23, 2013

JAB Barrel Exploits

I thought it was about time for an update on the Jack Of All Brews barrel experience!  Our red wine barrel arrived ahead of schedule, resulting in us scrambling a bit to get things organized.  We came up with a recipe for a Bier de Garde, a malty but earthy and sometimes funky French farmhouse style arising in the area bordering on Belgium.  We felt that this style would be a good showcase for the red wine and wood flavors from the barrel and I think this was a fantastic choice looking back.  Andrew needed to keep the barrel moist with water while we all brewed up the beer that would eventually take up residence within.  Some of the wine character was lost by this process, but we needed to keep a tight seal on the barrel staves or risk leakage and infection of our future beer.  Keep in mind that this is a 55 gallon beast that is quite difficult to move when empty and nigh impossible when full.  The most difficult part of the entire process was really the coordination of getting all the folks who were interested in taking part:  getting the beers brewed and then getting all of those beers together in one place!

When all was finally prepared a group of us including Andrew, Keith, Joe, Mike L., Mark G., myself and Sj met in Andrew's basement to fill this bad boy!  There was a brief tasting where we sampled each beer that was to go into the wood.  Taking a cue from the guys at Nordeast Brewers Alliance (who have been working on multiple barrels) we used the two-thumbs down rule: if two of us gave the beer a thumbs down, it would not make it into the barrel.  This is important to prevent putting a sour or infected beer in with all the others and essentially ruining the entire 55 gallon batch!  Most of the beers tasted similar with only one beer garnering a single thumbs-down.  We debated this a bit but decided that the flavors we were picking up were yeast derived and not infection.  We then took turns racking beer from the collection of plastic and glass carboys into the now empty barrel.  We of course drank some of Andrew's beer whilst doing this.  We ended up a bit short on beer, and in order to decrease the oxygen containing head space in the barrel added several gallons of Andrew's Belgian Dark Strong to the mix.  Since the base beer was fairly simple, we thought that this would only increase complexity and not drastically influence the entire beer.

Once all the beers were safely ensconced in their new wooden home, we left Andrew to clean up our mess.  As self-assigned cellar master, he would then periodically sample the beer to decide when it was ready. 

Last month the pioneers of the barrel project met again at Andrew's home fermentery to drain the barrel.  At first this was easy, but as the level of beer dropped, the height differential between the empty carboy and the barrel decreased--resulting in a very slow siphon.  They were able to lift up the barrel as it became lighter and stack some wooden planks beneath it to continue the process.  I had to leave early to pick up Sj from the airport and missed all the heavy sad! 

The final product was an interesting beer to say the least!
Aroma: Hints of toffee and sweetness with a spice (nutmeg, cardamom?) tinge.  Slight fruity esters as it warms.  A bit of alcohol possibly.
Appearance:  Deep mahogany amber color with a mild haziness.  Fine white head that fades to edge of glass quickly.
Flavor/mouthfeel: Has an initial maltiness but is not nearly as sweet as the aroma would lead one to believe.  This has a similar spicy flavor that hinted at in the aroma.  There is a red wine tannic note as it warms that results in a dry and slightly astringent finish.  This evens out the sweetness nicely.  There is a bit of alcohol warming but does not seem too boozy.
Impression:  A very complex beer that has sweetness and spiciness as well as an earthy and tannic finish.  An interesting take on the Bier de Garde style, but would fit equally well as a spiced Old Ale.

Once one has a barrel, you want to keep using it!  With most of the wood character leached out into the wine and then the JAB de Garde, we didn't think that much would be added by doing another regular beer.  So the third life of this barrel will be to house a sour beer!  This time we came up with a ball-park recipe for a lambic using some wheat and pilsner or 2-row malt with a bit of malto-dextrin. Most of the brewers just used a regular clean American ale yeast for the primary fermentation.  I used the Wyeast Lambic blend for both of mine, while Andrew used a mixed culture of yeasts from Cantillon and a couple other famous lambic producers that he has been propagating over the past year.  The base beer for this one is pretty simple with most of the unusual flavors derived from the wild yeasts and bacteria. 

Again organizing the process of brewing and gathering was the hard part!  But thanks to the JAB facebook group we made it happen.  Most of the folks were not able to show up to the filling session, but were able to drop off their beers before that, so we had everything present.  The actual fill was just Andrew, Ben D., Janelle, Sj and myself.  No problem!  Filling is easier than emptying!  While sipping on Bruery Batch 50 Grand Funk Aleroad, we drained carboy after carboy into the waiting barrel.  We were not as concerned this time about mild infections or off flavor since we would be introducing quite a mélange of funk to this brew.  At the end, Andrew gently poured in the swirled yeast dregs from that wonderful sour beer and popped in the bung.  This is the last we will see of the beer for possibly a year or more.  Andrew plans on driving a nail into the barrel below the level of the liquid which can be removed every 4-6 months to taste the product without disturbing the pellicle on top and introducing too much oxygen to the brew.  The delayed gratification of waiting this long to taste the finished beer is going to be the most difficult part!  We could still use another 5 gallons to fill the head space and then another 5 gallons to fill in the angel's share over the coming year, so if anyone already has some ready or wants to still get in on the action, there is time yet!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Beer Hunter Movie

This past weekend I was lucky enough to take part in a unique beer experience at Republic in 7 Corners:  the special screening of the newly released Beer Hunter the Movie.  Here is my impression of the movie and the event.

Using my classic Beer Hunter glass to show off the wicked event poster!

For those unaware of who Michael Jackson was (living in a beerless cave in Outer Mongolia maybe?) I'll start with a little background.  Jackson was truly one of the first serious writers to tackle the subject of beer in print, and was responsible for the publication of The World Guide to Beer in 1977--the first book of its kind.  Nowadays there are many sources for beer information from books to magazines to internet forums (and blogs of course), but back then the craft beer world was virtually non-existent and even classic beers like London Porter were nearly extinct.  Jackson raised awareness of these unusual beers and was one of the first to organize them into distinct styles.  He is often credited with saving styles of beer from obscurity and I wholeheartedly agree with this opinion.  Over time he had a hand in educating the public about old and new breweries, embracing the fledgling craft beer movement in the 1980's and giving some legitimacy to the early pioneers like Pike, Summit, and Anchor Brewing.

In the 1990's Jackson hosted a short-lived but very popular BBC series called The Beer Hunter, which strangely never warranted more seasons.  I remember seeing one of these episodes on PBS in the mid-90's and found myself watching it despite the fact that I didn't like drinking beer, and was underage at the time!  I had brewed a few batches of homebrew with my mom, however and enjoyed the science behind the brewing process.  Learning about the variety of styles and flavors on the show was intriguing to me.   At the tail end of college I was re-introduced to craft beer and began to homebrew again--learning what I could from Charlie Papazian's books and an old beat-up copy of the revised World Guide to Beer that I picked up at a used book store.  Again Michael Jackson had direct influence on me and my new interest and hobby.  He wrote a wonderful piece in that book about my favorite local brewpub Sherlock's Home, where I would eventually hold the rehearsal dinner for my wedding.  I remember them having signed copies of all his books proudly displayed over the bar that featured possibly the only hand-pulled beer engine in the US. 

The Beer Hunter movie began as a Kickstarter to publish some of Jackson's lost film footage and increase awareness of his life and influence on world beer culture.  Most of the footage used in the movie was taken from 2004-2007 during filming for a DVD for his Rare Beer Club that was never released.  As such the majority of the film involves his later years.  Several sponsors helped get this movie made including local beer giant Summit and The Four Firkins Beer Store.  Ian Finch and Michael Wagner (of the Firkins) were instrumental in bringing together this special screening of the movie at Republic and deserve a special thanks for their hard work, but all the guys from the store were certainly involved as well.  The back room of the bar/restaurant was used for the event, with a small screen placed up the stage for viewing.  There was a cheese plate to share (darn you lactose intolerance!) and we were served a small glass of Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout--one of Jackson's favorites and featured in the movie!  Republic had made a small menu with special menu items paired with beers from the movie as well--a nice touch.  The classic English beer Fullers London Pride was available with all the proceeds from that particular beer going to Parkinsons research.

Silent auction!

This screening was actually the second of the day, with the earlier show having finished just before Sarajo, Dave and myself arrived.  My friend Rob Wengler of Limited Release fame saw that show but wasn't able to stick around.  We also ran into Al Boyce and Doug Hoverson at our showing--always cool to run into friends at beer events!  Included as part of the festivities was a silent auction (proceeds also going to Parkinson's research) for each showing, including cool gift packages from Summit, The Firkins, Samuel Smith, Surly, A Perfect Pint, and many more.  Before the film was shown, Mark Stutrud, founder of Summit, gave a short and heartfelt talk about his own experiences with meeting Michael Jackson.  To see how much it meant to Mark to have his brewery featured in the Second Edition of the World Guide to Beer in those early days of his brewery was impressive and emotional.

Mark speaks about MJ as Ian looks on!

The movie itself was mostly footage from the last few years of his life, following him to The Czech Republic, Belgium, Ireland, California and of course England.  It was very interesting to see him still so involved in the then-growing beer scene: epic tastings at Dogfish Head, lectures, beer dinners, TV interviews, tours of breweries, etc.  The movie did a great job of capturing his life in those years and his subtle but strong personality.  It was a good documentary, but I would have appreciated a bit more from his earlier life and times.  There were a few moments when Jackson's personality shown through and the entire room laughed out loud, but overall the feel was somewhat melancholy.  I also felt that the long spots of silence in the film could have been relieved with some music, voice-over or editing down a bit.  What really struck me about the film and the screening was the event itself.  This was how Michael Jackson would want to be remembered--a group of beer-savvy people meeting over a few pints and being sociable with each other.  A lot of love went into the making of the film and to organizing this event, taking the whole thing to a higher level than simply watching a movie.

After the movie was finished the silent auction was finished up and we all had a toast to Michael Jackson with our freshly served Summit Great Northern Porter.  It was easy to get a bit choked up from the sad finale of the movie but again...hoisting a pint to the great man relieved a lot of that sadness.  This experience helped me personally to look back at the beginnings of my favorite hobby and realize just how far we have come since the 1970's when craft beer didn't even exist.  This blog only exists because of the groundwork laid long before I even cared to drink beer.  As humble as Mr. Jackson was, I think that his contribution to the craft beer revolution can not be understated.  I feel that he would be proud and excited to see the beer culture change so dramatically in the last few years.  I would recommend the movie, but if you watch it, get a bunch of people together, have a beer tasting and enjoy the moment. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Limited Release Episode 7: Dark Lord Redux

Episode 7 of Limited Release is now out on the interwebs and I wanted to encourage my friends to watch it!  Rob and Ron did an episode on Dark Lord Day in 2012 that was quite fun to watch, so if you haven't seen that episode yet--watch it first!  This is the Redux episode where their fans overwhelmingly suggested that they go back to Dark Lord Day for a second try.  On the way they stopped at Solemn Oath Brewery in Illinois and include a nice interview with the head brewer, John Barley (seriously I can't make this up!) 

Rob brought over a growler of Solemn Oath IPA for us to sample for the cameras. Tim Roets (currently working on re-opening the historic Jordan Brewery) and myself are in the episode giving our impressions of the beer and adding local color!  And no Mickie's was harmed in the making of this episode...

Watch it HERE!  I couldn't embed it properly in this blog....

So check out the episode (and the old ones if you haven't seen them yet) to get a feel for how these limited release parties really go down.  Share the episode on social media and like the guys on Facebook and Twitter to be up to date on the series and involved in promotions and giveaways.  The next episode is based on the Firestone Walker Invitational and should have some great footage and brewer interviews so stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fitgers Brew House, and Fitgers Hotel

On our recent trip to Duluth we stayed at the historic Fitgers Hotel, right on the shore of Lake Superior and walking distance to Canal Park.  The location can't be beat, especially with a lakeside room that overlooks this ocean-like body of water.  Plus, its a hotel inside the old Fitgers brewery building!  What better place for a beer geek to stay!  Much like a Gideon Bible, each room comes equipped with a copy of a book on the history of the building and of Fitgers Brewery.  I read it cover to cover and enjoyed my stay all the more for it. 

The building itself is a monolithic red stone structure with large double doors (manned by uniformed doormen/valets) opening into a lobby with a high ceiling.  The staff are situated behind an ornate iron lattice-work cashier's cage left over from the original building.  Parking can be a bear, so I recommend the free valet service.  They also have a complimentary shuttle that will take you into and back from the city before 11 PM.  We made much use of this during our stay in Duluth!  Down the hall from the hotel side is a small liquor store, Fitger's Brew House and the Red Star Lounge.  Downstairs is the Fitgers Brew Shop and some other boutique shops.

So the coolest part of staying here is being able to walk down the hall to one of the best brewpubs around.  Fitgers Brew House is small, crowded, and often loud, but serves up some of the best beers in the state.  One can see the fermenters and serving tanks from the outside (glass windows) and from parts of the restaurant inside.  I have been on the tour which takes you back into the cramped brew space and another room where they were working on barrel aging: free and worth a try!  They have live music most Friday and Saturdays (one night's was entertaining, the other bordered on ear-bursting.) 

Fitgers Brewhouse--crowded and loud but great!

The food is a little hit and miss.  They serve burgers made with special Scottish long horned cattle that are fed the spent grains from the brewery, but served mine well done instead of the medium I asked for--a terrible waste of great beef.  Our waitress was not incredibly helpful or present.  In the past I've had better dining experiences here.

The beers are very good and served in great variety.  I got the sampler of 8 beers and still couldn't try all of them (including 2 cask versions.)  Overall I feel like the quality of their standard beers has dropped a bit since I was last here, but still better than 90% of the commercial beers we can get in Minnesota.  I wonder if they are pushing the timing of the beers in order to supply Burrito Union, Red Star, the Brew House and now Tycoon's with enough beer.  It is worth checking out all those places since different beers will be on tap at each... The porter was wonderful and the Red White and Blue was a great raspberry and blueberry wheat beer.

Downstairs is the Brew Shop where one can buy pre-filled growlers, shirts, metal growlers, and other swag.  The growlers from down there will last longer than the ones filled off the taps upstairs...and growler sales end at 10 PM, so plan ahead!  They have Jess Durfee blown glass tap handles for sale too (found upstairs on all the Fitgers taps) I actually have one of them on my kegerator at home! 

Overall the brewpub is a very solid place to visit and try a bunch of beers.  The hotel and complex as a whole is well worth the trip if you are in Duluth.  Getting carted around town by the shuttle was nearly worth the price of admission!  There is something elegant and old-worldly about a stay at this converted old brewery.  The ironwork grates, the door-sized iron safe, the aromas of age and history with a hint of mashing grain, all lead to a nostalgia for what once was. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Thirsty Pagan Review

Just a quick review today...I've been busy with Fringe Festival this past week without time to write anything meatier!  Check this place out.

Two years ago, when in Duluth, we were encouraged to check out Thirsty Pagan Brewing across the bridge into Superior Wisconsin.  At that time my impressions of the beer were less than stellar.  Many had diacetyl and other unpleasant off aromas and flavors, with none really sticking out as especially worthy to me.  I promptly marked them off my list of breweries visited, and had no desire to go back.

This summer we were in Duluth for the All Pints North beer festival and my friend Shawn strongly recommended I go back.  I hemmed and hawed a bit, but eventually tacked it on to my final day up north as a lunch visit prior to driving back to the Twin Cities. 

The brewpub is situated in a somewhat industrial area (I know, so is the whole city of Superior) in an old creamery building.  The bar itself is fairly small, with old fashioned pizza joint table and booth seating within the bar room proper.  Around this central room is an L shaped accessory seating area for busier times (this is where we sat last time we were here) with pink tiled walls left over from the creamery days.  The walls abound with interesting old beer signs (metal, neon, etc.)

We arrived there just at 11 AM, the place just starting to fill with the early lunch crowd.  Our server was very attentive and we promptly got our beers and then food.  The beer sampler contained all of their tap beers (8-10 if I remember correctly) and came out on a cool holder made of an old barrel stave.  Miraculously, all the beers but one were of very good to excellent quality.  The Lawn Chair was less than stellar, having a smoky phenolic character that was not meant to be there!  Sj ordered the auxiliary sampler of three sour beers--a new series in the last year.  The sours were very good, and I was wishing she would share more!  We actually bought a growler of the sour brown (really a Flanders Red style) to take home with us to crack at the JAB lambic barrel fill event later that week.  A growler of sour beer has to be a first for me! 

We ordered a special pizza made with a pureed white bean and garlic sauce and olive oil and spinach atop it.  This was remarkable and worth a trip just for the pizza--a perfect counterpoint to the varied beers I was sampling!  By the time we finished with our meal and samples the place was packed, filling the bar side and spilling into the outer ring of seating.  I would certainly go back to Thirsty Pagan and was pleasantly surprised at the change in beer quality!