Thursday, May 30, 2013

Toto, I Don't Think We're In Kansas Anymore!

On the third day of our short trip to Kansas City we took a little jaunt off to Lawrence, Kansas.  At the prompting of a couple of my friends, I was interested in checking out two brewpubs located in this city.  About an hour's drive from KC, we arrived in town around noon with the first stop along the city's downtown main street at Free State Brewing.  This has the look and feel of a late 1980's classic brewpub, with a small restaurant area and a tiny bar in the corner.  There is also an upstairs area that I did not explore, but assume there is more seating up there.  We hit the place just before the lunch rush, because shortly after we were seated a line of patrons developed.  Our server was very helpful and knowledgeable about the beers, and brought us a large sampler of said beers.  The Miller IPA was wonderful, having a fruity Citra hop flavor and aroma with a thicker mouthfeel than most from oats in the grist.  The stand out beer was the Brightwater Saison, made with Nelson Sauvin hops.  I had a very good beer made with the same hops at the Boulevard tap room, but the Belgian yeast did something to this version that truly made the beer pop with the fine melon and grass of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  Wow!  Every beer here was solid, well crafted and balanced.  Brewer Geoff Deman really knows what he is doing, and I highly recommend a trip down to the brewery.  The fish and chips were also excellent, a perfect match to the beers!

Sj helping me out with a huge sampler!

Now full on good food and beers, we wandered along the main street.  Large sidewalks lined with bars, restaurants of varied cuisines, bookstores, art galleries and junk shops seem to go on for miles.  This was a warm and sunny day, bringing out a mass of people that just added to the feeling of activity rather than seeming crowded.  We discovered a very cool art gallery where I picked up a new large coffee mug.  

Brewing on high at 23rd Street

Once we had run out the parking meter (after Sj running back to feed it one time) we drove to the University area to visit 23rd Street Brewery.  This one is located near a more spread-out part of town and obviously appeals more to the student crowd.  The building is quite large and I bet it gets crowded in the evenings.  Lots of TVs for watching games.  The brewhouse itself is actually up above the bar, and with my fear of heights this does not appeal to me!  At the urging of my friend Chris, I introduced myself to Bucky Buckingham, the friendly and bearded head brewer.  He was a great guy and gave me more information on some of the beers as well as comping my beer sampler!  The beers themselves were pretty good, with some interesting stand-outs.  The Peppercorn Saison tasted a lot like a stronger version of my friend Dave Manley's Belgian Tafelbier and was very refreshing.  Apparently each year Free State, 23rd Street and Blind Tiger all do a collaboration beer and this year's was an oak smoked Gratzer.  Free State's was very light with minimal smoke to it, while 23rd Street's unfiltered version bristled with smokiness in aroma and flavor.  Interesting to try both within the space of an hour, and to hear the story behind them.  The Full Kimono was last year's collaboration, an Imperial Red that now tastes like strong Old Ale!  It sounds like Bucky is leaving to start a brewery in KC, so keep an eye out for him there.

Back to KC!  This was the night of Ali and Greg's wedding so we had to get back into town and get ready.  Our quick trip to Lawrence had taken longer than expected due to the outrageously good beers and bustling environs.  I broke out my new suit, Sj dolled herself into looking even more beautiful than usual, and we headed out via shuttle to the Lutheran church.  Huh, they have Lutherans down here too, who knew?    The wedding itself was very pretty and quick, and then off to the Loose Mansion for the reception.  A free bar with Guinness, mead and specialty cocktails certainly helped make this reception a great one!  The mansion itself was grand, with amazing woodwork detail throughout, and little nooks and crannies that we explored.  Apparently the previous owner earned his millions by inventing the Oreo cookie!  There was a very good buffet including my nemesis the macaroni and cheese bar.  Dang you lactose intolerance!  The band we had seen at The Record Bar earlier that week was playing the wedding so we already knew a few of the songs...I even danced!  This was one of the most fun weddings I've been to and I really appreciate being included in the festivities.
Awesome woodwork
Freaky details on a fireplace at Loose Mansion

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Kansas City, MO: BBQ & Boulevard Beer, Oh Yes!

In 2011 Sj and I went on a tour of Ireland with the amazing Kansas City celtic rock band The Elders.  On that fated trip to the storied Emerald Isle we met two wonderful people:  Ali is sparkling (literally often covered with glitter,) effervescent and draws friendship like a flower brings honeybees; while Greg is solid, calm, yet quick with a grin or subtle joke.  These two had love we could see radiating off them in waves and at first we assumed they were newlyweds.  In fact this perfectly matched couple had known each other for years, but had only started dating fairly recently.  Fast forward to current day Kansas City and their upcoming nuptials.  They were kind enough to invite us down for the wedding and this was just the kick we needed to finally check out the home of our favorite band and of Boulevard beer!

On Wednesday we awoke early, packed up the car and started our trek due south on Highway 35.  The trip took about seven hours (minus a stop at the saddest Culver's ever in Iowa,)  and we were accompanied by a fine drizzle most of the way.  Sj and I spent the trip there and back listening to Stephen King's Duma Key on CD, narrated by John Slattery (Roger Sterling from Mad Men!) As per most SK books, it is enormous and we barely made it past half way through the book on the entire trip.  I was actually surprised that KC was almost as close to us by car as Milwaukee.  Maybe heading south just seems farther away!  We hit KC just at rush-hour, but traffic was nearly non-existent and we sailed through town and to our hotel.  This peculiar lack of traffic persisted during our stay resulting in relative ease navigating the city.

The first evening we were lucky to be able to meet up with Ali and Greg in between their extreme wedding decoration binges.  We met at The Record Bar, an old joint in a strip mall with a very relaxed and personable feel.  Bob Walkenhorst from The Rainmakers was playing that night and the band included Norm and Brent from The Elders.  They were a solid band, playing rock, bluegrass, country and Americana music.  Interestingly, The Rainmakers' lyrics were quoted in Stephen King's The Tommyknockers and Gerald's Game.  I'm pretty sure that Ali knew everyone in the bar and we met all sorts of different people over the evening.  They had several local brews on tap (as well as PBR) and I tried Mother's Three Blind Mice brown ale and Boulevard's Dark Truth there.  The food was standard bar fare, but with great names based on classic rock songs...I had meat-tastic sandwich fittingly called The Nuge.

Day two started early with a trip down to Boulevard Brewing.  This was one of the cornerstones of our trip to KC and had been percolating in my beer-addled brain since we met the brew master at a Happy Gnome dinner several years ago.  They offer a special 1.5 hour tour but it sells out months in advance and I cursed my inability to get into it.  They have a free tour a few times a day, with the ticket sales starting promptly at 10 AM.  Driving up to the sprawling complex just before 10, there was already a queue of thirsty beer fans forming out front.  We stood in line for a short time, with more people slowly adding to the snaking line behind us.  While waiting, we struck up a conversation with some people from Des Moines and they pointed us toward a new brewpub there for our way back to Minnesota.  More on that in a future entry!  The flood gates opened and we got our free tickets for the 12:30 tour.  The gift shop was packed with lots of good brewery swag including Patagonia clothing, glassware, mustard, and of course beer!  They offered a 10% discount with my AHA card, so I had to buy some brewerania for the home.  In addition to the discount you actually get a free pint of beer at the tasting room with your membership!  So at 10:30 AM we were allowed into the "closed" tasting room and got to bother Dane, a very pleasant guy who offered several suggestions of things to do in KC as well as letting us try several of the beers on tap.

The iconic chimney stack!

In addition to their standards, they had four experimental beers available and all were very interesting.  One was what they unofficially call Dillsner: a version of their pilsner with an experimental numbered hop that tastes like dill, cucumber and melon.  They had a West Coast IPA and Session IPA that were both better than the Single and Double Wide versions.  The stand-out was a beer made with Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand and muscat grape juice.  That unnamed beer was brilliant, with a light refreshing wine-like flavor and aroma.  I would buy a case of it if I could.  Dane said that they were tossing around the idea of making it a seasonal and I would highly encourage them to make it so!

After killing time (and possibly brain cells) at the tasting room, we walked through some unsavory chop-shop areas along the Boulevard to Danny Edward's BBQ.  In classic KC fashion, this unpretentious place felt like a throw-back to the 1950's with cheap Formica tables, counter service and simple but extremely flavorful dishes.  The pulled pork sandwich was out of this world...but get the regular size, not the large!  Seriously, that bad-boy stayed with me all day!  Despite the counter service, the place had several ladies bussing dishes, refilling sodas and bustling about.  Perhaps TMI, but on entry to the tiny bathroom you are hit by a wave of BBQ smoke, making this the best smelling men's room in the world.

In the ghetto, KC
Which is more disturbing?

After levering my over-stuffed bulk out of the old rickety chair, Sj and I tottered back through the Barrio toward the brewery once more.  On the way back we passed a giant old derelict brewery, multiple examples of spray-paint art murals, shady tex-mex joints, and of course more chop-shops.  From a distance we saw a WWII era DC 3 prop plane soaring over the tops of the local squat buildings and self-storage facilities.  Drawn to this out-of-place marvel we headed for it and discovered a gem hidden amongst the tattered and somewhat decrepit surroundings.  This was the warehouse/storefront of The Roasterie, a 20 year old local coffee company.  They offer tours, have a relaxing cafe, have photo-ops and of course sell coffee.  We later picked up a bottle of Vodka infused with their coffee, and we will have to experiment with that little purchase...  This is one of the examples of why one should wander through new territory when traveling.

Upon our return to Boulevard we had a very nice tour of the facilities given by Ted and Dane and ended up in the tasting room for more free samples.  Between the morning excursion and splitting our afternoon samples we were able to sample pretty much all of the 12 beers they had on tap!  Not a bad deal for free, but plan ahead and get there early for tickets...they were turning away people at the door since they had sold out when we were there earlier.

After this we moved on to more ephemeral pursuits, taking a long and arduous hike to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  The grounds are epic with massively scaled shuttlecocks scattered about the area.  We wandered the sprawling sculpture gardens ogling great strange bloody bronzes, disturbing headless ranks of grey people, and shiny metallic trees that might have escaped from H.P. Lovecraft's Chthulhu mythos.  We spent less time in doors, but made sure to look at the photography exhibit since I have been messing around with my iphone camera recently.

After that, more walking to the nearby Westport District for dinner and a beer.  Since our friend Nick has been working at McCoy's Public House here in Minnesota, I figured we should stop by their primary brewpub site right there walking distance from our hotel.  The brewpub is located near The Foundry and Beer Kitchen (also owned by the same people, but not brewpubs.)  The bar and restaurant are inviting and hopping, with multiple levels of action, as well as an outdoor seating area with accessory bar.  We had an excellent bartender who served us up a sampler of the house brews.  How shall I say this...The beer wasn't good.  Per my wonderful wife, "The brown ale smells like lakewater."  And tasted like it as well.  The maibock was not too bad, but most of these beers had flaws that I rarely see at commercial breweries nowadays.  If the food is anything like our MN site, I can recommend it, but we didn't have any room left to try it during this trip.  I'm happy that McCoy's in Minnesota has moved to just commercial beers.

Off to bed and another day in KC!  Oh and check out my wife's blog entry for a different take on the same trip!

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!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Limited Release Episode 6: Hunahpu!

The newest shiny edition of Limited Release is on tap now!  This time Rob and Ron visit Cigar City in Tampa, Florida for the release of the spicy chocolate American Stout, Hunahpu.  I really liked tasting this beer for the episode, but wish I could have made it down to the release with the guys!

This episode, the guys also focused on some other nearby smaller breweries as well as Cigar City, including interviews with three brewers.  If you haven't watched the previous episodes: do it now!  Make sure to like Limited Release on facebook, tweet it, whatever...that is how these guys can gain enough popularity to get some funding and afford better equipment!  They also often have special give-aways for their fans.
The next episode will be a second trip out to Dark Lord Day where things did not go quite as planned...

Please comment and tell me what you think of the episode and how I did in my tasting portion.  Interestingly, yesterday at the Steel Toe Taproom I met a cool guy named Joseph who actually recognized me from watching episodes of this show!  Of course he liked the Mickey's episode the best.  I'll never live that one down!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Belgian Bonanza! The JAB May 2013 Meeting Recap

Starting back several months ago our illustrious club secretary, Tim Roets, contacted several companies about supplying us with ingredients for a Club Belgian Brew-Off.  Wyeast, Whitelabs and all jumped on board and provided multiple yeasts, candi sugars and syrups for this event.  For the last few months we have been encouraging Jack Of All Brews members to brew us up some Belgian style beers and I'm impressed with how many people decided to take up the challenge!  We had 17 different homebrewed beers to try (a few people did more than one!) 

I took a trip to Belgium last Fall and had the time of my life.  Since coming back I have a new appreciation for the myriad styles of Belgian ales, with many of them not fitting into any particular category.  What better way to celebrate that unique lack of style with an open category Belgian Brew Off?  For this event I brewed up a Belgian Dark Strong ale using a D90 and D180 candi syrup in the batch.  I also brewed up a Wit as part of my Hefe-Wit experiment.   I didn't even break into my homebrewed sour collection! 

I had won a 6 foot sub from Subway from a benefit and thought this would be a great time to cash it in.  When Sj brought in the 3 foot cardboard carrier I was shocked by how big the sub was...and then she brought in the second half!  I figured that we would be eating leftover subs for days.  That entire thing was quickly devoured by the hungry piranha feeding frenzy that is Brew Club!  Not to mention bags of chips and jars of spicy pickles. 

Ever notice how Steven in the foreground of every JAB group picture?

For our tasting we started with the lighter and lower alcohol beers.  My Wit was first, mainly because it was on tap and easy to serve.  Dave brought his fabled 3.2% ABV Tafelbier, and a tart cherry version as well.  We moved to Saisons with the high point of Wayne's really tasty Petite Saison.  We had 4 Dubbels, a mystery Belgian, a golden strong, a grand cru, and two dark strongs.  I was surprised we didn't have any tripels.  Overall we had a huge amount of beers to try and most were very good.  JAB members are becoming darn good brewers in my humble opinion!  The overall clear winner of the Golden Mash Paddle was Dave for his cherry Tafelbier.

Dave the proud winner!

We finished up with tasting Dave's sour barrel aged version of the Surly wort from the AHA rally several years back.  Well worth the wait!  We also ended up trying some good commercial Belgian style beers like Ommegang's Gnommegang, Iron Throne, and Art of Darkness.  Also tasted were: Boom Island Hoodoo Dubbel, Pour Decisions Salinity (not Belgian but pretty interesting,) Lost Abbey Lost & Found and Inferno, and the Kasteel Donker.  Yes Donker.  I am now going to use that as a dirty word for all eternity.

Dead Belgians?

We had a great meeting with nearly 30 members in attendance and a huge range of homebrewed and commercial beers to try.  I have to say that some of our homebrews were better than some of the commercial.  Thanks to Tim for getting this rolling, though I feel bad that he wasn't there to enjoy the spoils of his labor!  Also our new JAB work shirts arrived just in time for the meeting and they look really sharp.  Thanks to Tim, Mike and Steven for making that happen.

We are nearly ready for our next JAB barrel beer, and we need volunteers to help brew up some beer for it!  We aim to do a lambic and details will be on our JAB facebook group if you want to take part.

Also next month we will be assigning hops for our JAB yeast experiment!  More details to follow....

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Terra Waconia 21st Amendment Dinner

I had decided to hold off on writing up any more beer dinners and focus more on homebrewing and other beer events for a while.  But the best laid plans and all that...

On May 1 Terra Waconia (our local fine dining/farm to table restaurant,) had a beer dinner paired with 21st Amendment beers.  I love this restaurant and their use of fresh seasonal and local ingredients speaks to the locavore foody in me.  I've also been a fan of the 21st Amendment beer since they started distributing here in Minnesota, so this dinner really appealed to me. 

Apparently the distribution representative was unable to attend the dinner at the last minute and Tracy asked me if I would be able to help out on the beer side of things.  I don't really consider myself a beer expert, but I have certainly enjoyed enough beer dinners to be able to fake it!  I am not, by nature, comfortable with public speaking, however I really wanted this dinner to be successful for Terra.  So I jumped in, and had a quick tasting of the beers with Tracy on Tuesday evening.  I made sure to do a little research into the brewery as well, just in case anyone asked me some tough questions.

I have been listening to The Brewing Network Podcast for a long time now and the 21A has been one of their sponsors for most of that time.  For years I listened to advertisements for the brewpub, including a hilarious club/dance remix of one of them.  They often have the brew master Shaun O'Sullivan on the program to talk about brewing and beers, so I feel like I have some second hand background knowledge of the brewer and brewery.  When I first heard that they were brewing and canning beers in Cold Spring, Minnesota I was excited that we would get to finally try these beers.  Then it took quite some time to start getting them in our market.  Now we get all their year-round beers and some of the seasonals, so I can't complain anymore!

On the day of the dinner we had Dave, Sarah, Mark and Kelly from Jack Of All Brews at the restaurant, so I already had a dedicated cheering section.  It turns out there were a few homebrewers from other clubs at the event as well, and it was nice to meet those guys.  Several of the diners were regulars of Terra's wine dinners and were just trying something new.  Hopefully my brief description of how to critically taste beer was good enough for the newbies in the crowd! 

Prior to the dinner service, Tracy ushered me into the small but clean and brightly lit kitchen for a pre-service.  This was a very interesting experience for me.  I am a huge fan of fine dining as well as a budding cook myself.  I like watching shows like Top Chef and Restaurant Impossible and learning some of the details of what goes on behind the scenes in those restaurants.  Chef Craig poured tiny samples of the beers for everyone to taste when discussing the pairings so that everyone knew what to expect.  Craig is typically a fairly soft-spoken guy who seems to avoid the lime-light and likes to stay behind the curtain doing what he does best--cook amazing food!  Seeing him in his element was impressive:  he was firm and no-nonsense, running his kitchen with an organized intensity.  I really enjoyed getting this peek behind the curtain!

Back out on the floor I shrugged off my innate social phobia and talked (probably too quickly) about the beers and the pairings.  I think that being the head of our brewclub has really helped me to get at least some small comfort level with talking to smaller groups...especially when it is a subject I feel knowledgeable about.  Tracy did a great job talking about the food courses.  Having been a part of the pre-service I was able to speak briefly about the potential flavor components in the dishes.  While in this intro period we were served the meet-and-greet beer Bitter American: a 4.4% ABV take on an English bitter, with a large amount of American hops.  This is a tasty session beer and a good one to open the show with. 

Not groundhog...

The first course was Ground Hog Nachos, as a way of getting back at Punxatawny Phil for allowing us to still have falling snow on May 1.  Everything was incredibly well seasoned and the freshly made chips were crisp and amazing.  Clarification: this dish was made with Ground Hog...NOT groundhog!  The dish was paired with the well-balanced West Coast style Brew Free Or Die IPA.  The beer was refreshing and the strong flavors cleansed the palate well after the nachos.

The second beer was the Marooned On Hog Island, an imperial strength oyster stout made with real oyster shells.  This beer has a roasty aroma with a hint of brine; flavors to match with a silky and salty finish.  The oyster is subtle in this beer, with most people not picking it out unless told about it.  The dish paired with the beer was a complex and layered golden lobster soup that truly accentuated that briny character of the beer.  The best pairing of the dinner by far!

Third course was a bison short rib that had been rubbed, marinated and then grilled for a melange of deep meaty flavors.  The pairing was interesting: using the Back In Black black IPA.  That style is not my favorite, but the pairing with the bison and the spice rub really brought out the roast in the beer and toned down the citrus notes.  This beer is made with 2-row grain from our wonderful local maltster Rahr in Shakopee!

The final dish was Tracy's heavenly strawberry-rhubarb crumble.  The beer pairing was a bold move in my opinion, but worked quite nicely.  Tracy told me that she had tasted the Hell Or High Watermelon Wheat beer and based on that alone had wanted to do this beer dinner!  Most dinners would have used this as a meet-and-greet beer or paired with a melon salad...but not Terra Waconia!  No, they paired it with a dessert course!  The beer itself is unique, with mild melon flavors and a fairly neutral wheat character.  The tart rhubarb really brought out the melon flavors in this beer, making it actually taste better than on its own, the sign of a great pairing. 

This dinner was probably the best food I've had from the restaurant and they obviously had a great time producing the food and pairings for it.  I appreciate the opportunity to be involved in the process and see a bit of what goes on behind the scenes for such an undertaking.  They were prepping ingredients for some of these dishes days in advance!  Hopefully those who hadn't been to a beer dinner before had a good experience and learned a little something about beer tasting and pairing.  Despite being the "beer expert" I feel like I learned something from both Chef Craig and Tracy that evening!  Keep those beer dinners coming guys!
And more glasses for the collection...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Mackenzie: An American Bar With A Scotch Flavor

Over the past year or two Sj and I have started to frequent Mackenzie Pub in Downtown Minneapolis.  This place has grown on us quite slowly, almost sneakily really.  I went there with Dave, Kent and Sj several years ago after a trip to Rock Bottom, and I remember thinking it was a dive bar.  More recently, Sj and I stopped here a few times either before or after shows at the Orpheum and I was shocked at how extensive the beer list was.  On one occasion I noticed a Goose Island Bourbon County Stout peaking out of the cooler behind the bar and Sj and I shared that before a show.  I figured now was the time to do a write-up on the place.

A small and unassuming venue from outside, Mackenzie looks like an Irish or Scottish pub based on their signage and awning.  There is a small vestibule with an aged looking stained-glass piper to greet you as you enter the building.  At first blush the place looks a bit like an old dive bar with a checkered floor and some some silvered macro-beer and whiskey mirrors adorning the walls.  At second glance you notice craft beer signs hidden here and there.  Then you notice the old bar backed with an ornate stained-glass design, and bristling with craft beer taps.  They have 24 taps, most devoted to craft beers, and often having special releases of those.  When we were most recently here they had 2011 Surly Smoke on tap, which our group promptly finished off.

If you frequent the place a lot, and they are in stock, one can join the mug club and get your own ceramic mug to keep at the bar.  Sj and I did this last time we came in.  You get your first beer in it free and thereafter you get 20 oz pours instead of the standard 16, not counting the big Imperial beers.  A cool benefit, but one that I know the bartenders must hate.

My friend Dan Herman (the gentle giant of the Primary Fermenters club) had his birthday party upstairs recently, and kindly invited us to partake in the festivities.  This was the first time we had been upstairs--a bit tight, but with a small accessory bar and its own set of bathrooms.  Dan had a keg of Odell IPA on tap up there for us, but a lot of us kept sneaking down for different beers from the many choices!  We had a great time there but I learned a valuable lesson that I shall share with you.  20 oz mugs are dangerous, and you can forget that you are drinking more than your average amount.  Open taps may also influence that effect.  I'm just sayin'.

There is a small kitchen which makes standard pub food and pizzas.  The tater tots are nice and filling.  We haven't had a lot to eat there so I can't give a ton of info on the food.  The staff is usually really pleasant and helpful too.  I have yet to have a bad experience with the bartenders or waitstaff here.   The other day, after the AHA rally at Summit, we had come downtown to hit the Butcher & The Boar Founder's Beer Bash, but all the good beers had sold out in the first 30 minutes and we left that zoo behind.  We meandered our way through the rain-soaked streets to Mackenzie and were able to find a good beer for all of us in much quieter circumstances. 

I recommend this place as a relaxed neighborhood bar with great tap beers.  They also do special events from time to time like the Long Dark Night when they served up a ton of Imperial stouts on tap.  If you are downtown for a show at the Orpheum, take five steps to the left and head on in!