Saturday, June 29, 2013

How To Eat & Drink Your Way Through Portland Oregon (Day 2)

(Warning: do not read if you are averse to hearing about the gratuitous intake of large quantities of unusual foods and fermented beverages!)

I awoke to a ray of sunlight dappling the surface of the psychedelic Gothic fantasy painting hanging upon the wall of our room in the McMenamins Kennedy School.  Quickly, for there was no time to waste, I sprang into motion!  An hour later, much less urgently, but sated on house-roasted coffee, myself and Sj left the tangled grounds to pursue the succulent object of our desires--Voodoo Donuts!  We opted for the less crowded but also less "classic" second location, in an old service station.  We waited only 5 minutes for the tasty dough treats here rather than the hour at the original site.  Voodoo Maple Bacon donuts...I've had the beer of the same name from Rogue and was now able to compare with the original inspiration.  Crispy salty bacon atop the sweet maple-glazed long john is simply sublime.  We also shared a mustachioed maple custard and another topped with rice krispies, chocolate and peanut butter.  Who needs lunch?  The vibe in the place was cool and shabby at the same time, accentuated by the young child in line pop-and-locking along to the blaring rap music.

Sj wearing the appropriate colors...
After finishing our caloric load for the morning, we headed out for a new area of the city to visit The Meadow, another place featured on Bizarre Foods America.  Having seen the episode and then tasting local dishes featuring the sea salts from this boutique dealer, I had to get to the shop!  Talk about specialty store: one wall was entirely artisanal chocolates, another was cocktail bitters (all tastable and well named) and a third section filled with rows upon rows of salts.  The place is small and packed with glass jars and bottles, like a cross between an old herbalist shop and a mad scientist's laboratory.  My kind of shop for sure!  One can taste all the salts, which gets a bit fatiguing on the palate, but is an amazing experience.  Products range from sea salts with unique tastes and textures, to some smoked on a variety of exotic woods, to a  plethora of flavored salts as well.  I ended up getting the Meadow sampler and a small but pricey glass jar of truffle salt.  I am very excited about trying these in my home chefery!

Our next stop was Laurelhurst Market (also visited by Andrew Zimmern) for a "light" lunch.  We entered the classy new building to find a working butcher's counter teaming with unusual cuts of beef, sausages, duck fat, and other wondrous and unrecognizable meat products.  During they day they serve sandwiches from the counter, but at night they open up the main restaurant as a fancy steak place.  We sampled a deli meat made of boar heart (better than it sounds,) then split a couple of sandwiches: the lamb leg was superb, but the grilled pork rillet sandwich was probably the best sandwich I've ever had in my life.  The shredded meat is formed into a fatty square, lightly sizzled on a grill which crisps the outside to a flavor and texture of bacon, but the center virtually melts in your mouth.  I want to move to Portland so I can have this again. 

Heavy with more food than we had expected to eat, it was past time to get to a brewery.  This is Portland after all.  On the way to one brewery that particular morning we passed no less than three others.  One can scarcely spit in the city without hitting a brewery.  Our goal this morning was the appropriately named Hair Of The Dog Brewing Company, recommended strongly by my friend Andrew and sundry others as a must-visit.  The brewery is located in a somewhat shady industrial area of town, in the shadow of the massive overpasses and just a block away from a cardboard box shanty-town.  I wouldn't want to visit here in the evening, but this time of day it was just starting to fill up with a mixture of locals and other beer tourists.  It has an old warehouse feel, with hanging salmon tapestries adding a bit of color and decoration.  We tried individual samples of all the beers, served in a very cool stemware cordial glass (which we bought to take home with us.)  Every beer was good, but the very best was the Adam: a dark ale with a smoke, leather and sweet complexity to it, reminiscent of Surly Smoke.  The Winter seasonal Doggie Claws from 2012 was an amazing aged barleywine.  The Fred From the Wood sampling that particular day was aged on peaches and lacked carbonation, making it taste more like a peach mead, but I'm not complaining!  A great experience and not to be missed if you are in Portland.

Beer Heaven!

From here we traveled a few miles to Apex: a beer bar and bottle shop with a vibe in between a hipster and biker bar.  They have some old pinball machines and a large outdoor seating area. There is a large back wall of coolers full of aged and special release beers that you can buy to drink there or take home.  Bottles of Cantillon and Eclipse were lurking in there, but with a hefty price tag attached.  I had a tulip glass of Boneyard Brewing's Nefarious Triple IPA that is brewed specifically for them.  It was like drinking a hoppy mango mimosa and I would put this beer up against Pliny the Younger and Heady Topper any day.  I washed the beer down with a Pliny the Elder that tasted like hoppy water after that!  Word to the wise, this joint makes you pay up as you order each tabs.  They are also cash only--shocking if they want folks to put down $75 for a bottle of Cantillon!  Across the street is Beer Mongers: a similar small bar and bottle shop with beers that a little more accessible.

Not far from here we visited our 5th and final brewery in Portland (counting the McMenamins.)  Gigantic is a somewhat oxymoronic/ironic name, since the brewery is tiny, with a tasting room big enough room for a picnic and 2 high top tables.  They had three beers on tap including an excellent Vienna lager, a very well balanced IPA and a mediocre DIPA.  We ended up talking with some local beer geeks over our samples and getting some info on things we should try on the second leg of our journey to Bend. 

Our last stop of the night was Beast (within walking distance to our hotel), a restaurant we had heard about when the chef, Naomi Pomeroy was on Top Chef Masters.  Just prior to our walk, the skies let loose with a deluge of rain, making our walk a bit damp, but by the time our dinner was over the weather had cleared.  The restaurant has two seatings per night, family style with shared tables.  The dinner we had was six courses of wonderful and unusual fresh, seasonal fare, with wine pairings (they did have some beers, but I figured why not!)  As usual I was quite taken with the charcuterie plate of 6 different items including a mini steak tartar on cracker with tiny quail egg nestled atop.  I should have captured its splendor on film, but I jumped into my mouth and down my throat too quickly to do so.  The dinner was amazing, and portion sizes were just right so we did not feel ill after the meal.  We ended up getting to know our table-mates and three couples at the table were celebrating anniversaries.  A really nice guy named Randy who was sitting next to me also had a beer going to second round of NHC...a very small world indeed! 

We had taken part in the early seating (6:30) and were done with dinner way too early to go to bed.  We strolled through the lush verdure of an old neighborhood back to our base of operations at the Kennedy School.  Taking this time to further explore our environs, we peeked into the Detention bar, where they have a lot of bourbons and Scotches, but also too much cigar smoke.  Heading down the hall we settled on the Honors Bar, just big enough for about 6 people.  Sj had some sort of cocktail and I had a pint of Ruby (their trusty raspberry ale.)  When the bar closed down at 10PM we moved on to the Cyprus Room, a bar specializing in quiet Caribbean tunes and rum drinks.  I'm sure my friend Tim would have known just what tropical concoction to order there, but I ended up with some Laphroig instead!  Just a short stagger and off to bed.  Sj and I really managed to make the most of this day.

Up Next:  To Hood River and Bend!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

NHC Banquet and Award Ceremony

After a long and amazing blur of a week in Seattle for the NHC, the big finale arrives with a bang.  For those who take the time to go the NHC--make sure to sign up for the banquet!  And get in line early so you can sit with friends.  On the positive side, there are usually plenty of amazing homebrews and commercial beers being shared in line since no one wants to cart them back home.
Line of doom!
After finding yourself a spot at a table, the AHA big-wigs will give a talk and announce the winners of raffles, followed by a talk from Sean Paxton the Homebrew Chef.  Most of the food includes beer or hops in the recipe and are all paired with beers.  This year's food was even better than when I had it in Minnesota. 
The chef really outdid himself with the desert:  Trifle (pudding) with Russian Imperial stout doughnut.  Wow!  Unfortunately we were all feeling a bit full and bloated by then and I was unable to finish mine.  Wasting amazing dessert sucks.

Just before the trifle beats up Drew

John Maier from Rogue has been a big sponsor of the banquet for years and usually gives a brief talk and furnishes 3-6 different beers for the event.  This year he went above and beyond by brewing up a batch with Denny Conn and bottling that up just for us!  By the time that beer and the Old Crustacean were out I was soooo done with beer.

Once we are all fat and happy, (how could you not be after all that food and beer,) the sponsors are thanked and the National Homebrew Competition second round winners and brewer, cider and meadmakers of the year.  My table was skunked this year, with none of us taking home any bling, but a couple of the MHBA and St. Paul guys took home some medals.  Congrats guys from Minnesota!  The club of the year is always a big deal, and this year was taken again by the Brewing Network.  It was quite interesting how half the crowd went crazy and the other half were conspicuously not clapping.  Justin Crossly and his cohorts took the stage and he said something along the line of, "Do you hear that?  That's the sound of the rules changing soon..."  Overall the combination of good food, beers and excitement make this an event not to be missed.  Next year is in Philly...who's going?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Things To Do In Portland, Oregon...If You Love To Eat And Drink Too Much...

I've been off the last week for my cousin's wedding, which he was kind enough to have in Bend Oregon.  Since Sj and I have been wanting to get out there for years, this was finally the kick we needed to get us out to the Pacific Northwest.  The last time we were there was for Ladd's twin brother, Shawn's wedding at least 5 years ago.  High time to revisit the area and try some new things! 

 We left on a Tuesday morning, and arrived in Portland at 1 PM their time.  Both being quite hungry, we made a bee line for something edible.  The week prior to our trip we just happened upon the Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre Foods America episode that had been filmed in Portland, and took a few of our cues from the show.  Andrew did not steer us wrong!  The first place we stopped was Olympic Provisions, a place specializing in house made charcuterie (salami, sausages, etc.)  We stepped past the intriguing meat counter of a working butcher shop, past hanging haunches of aging swine, and into the very tiny dining area.  They had four different charcuterie platters offering up a wide variety of mysterious meat products for our consumption.  We chose the classic French plate which contained one of the best things I've ever had to eat: a pork rillet topped with a bit of olive oil and crunchy sea salt from The Meadow.  We also shared a sandwich of spicy Spanish sausage to really get our meat on.  They had a couple of local beers on tap and great servers.  Go there.  Seriously.  For those playing along at home, they have a Salami-a-Month club that you can order from their website!

Now, the Hunger Beast sated, we walked a few blocks under the monolithic overpasses to Bridgeport Brewery.  This is a venerable local brewery and one of the early ones to get distribution outside the Portland area.  The building is a large one, taking up much of a city block, but with little fanfare or attempt at getting attention.  Signage is minimal.  The pub itself is quite large, with multiple levels and seating areas.  Strangely they do not have a real bar, so you must order your drinks while sitting at a table.  The place was insanely hot when we entered, akin to a steamy sauna.  There were folks outside on the cooler patio, but apparently they were no longer serving beer out there, so we were stuck inside.  There was only one waitress working the whole place and we had a devil of a time getting served and then settling up when done.  We shared a sampler tray of beers that was fair, but not great.  The IPA was my least favorite, while the summer seasonal made with yuzu and lemongrass was at least refreshing in the heat.  The Old Knucklehead bourbon barrel barleywine was very good and probably my favorite of the bunch, but tough to drink in the oppressive heat.  Overall, not a fantastic experience, but I've had worse in brewpubs.  Interestingly, just about every brewery we visited in Oregon served food, a rarity in Minnesota thanks to a lot of old Blue Laws still in effect.

Next on our list of must-see places was the Cascade Barrel House.  This is where Cascade brewery has its barrel aging program, as well as a great tasting area to sample said beers.  They have a large outdoor seating area and an open tasting area/bar filled with tall tables made of old barrels.  Our server was quite good and knew a lot about sour beers.  About half the menu was their regular beers, and I'll admit we didn't even try any of them--we were there for the sours!  They did do tasters, but they were very small 2 oz stemware glasses and only 2 samples per person at a time were allowed.  The price was steep: 2-3 dollars for a sample, but keep in mind that all these beers are at least a year old and a ton of time and work go into crafting and blending them.  The regular sized glasses were more reasonable, but I had get samples in order to try them all!  Everything we had here was amazing!  They had a really good Gose (made with salt in the nearly lost German tradition.)  Lambics in flavors ranging from Kriek, to Apricot, to an amazing Strawberry all sparkled with intriguing fruit aromas and complex sour flavors.  One of their more popular beers is Vlad the Imp Aler, a Belgian strong ale aged on bourbon barrels; but they were also serving its un-aged and un-sour cousin: Anti-Vlad!  Most of my luggage space allocated to beer was used up at this early stop on our trip.  The best sour brewery I've been to outside of Cantillon in Belgium.

For dinner we met up with an old high school friend of Sj's that had noted our posts on Facebook, as well as her husband Josh.  We went to a cool hipster bar/restaurant with incredibly cheap $2.50 craft beer pints that night and ski-ball in the basement.  Totally can't remember the name of the place, but a cool stop. 

After this we headed back to our hotel, the McMenamins Kennedy School.  For those who have never stayed in a McMenamins before, I'll give a quick primer.  These guys buy old historic properties (many due to be demolished,) and turn them into hotels, pubs and theaters, trying to keep as much of the old character as possible, while adding strange trippy art and decorations.  Small creepy faces look at you from bends in pipes.  Odd cheshire cats peek from unexpected areas.  Each room in the hotels are named something unique.  The Kennedy School was an elementary school from the 1930's and keeps much of its charm.  There are multiple bars and pubs within each hotel, each with a different theme and different drinks, including house made beers.  Half the fun of staying at one of these places is exploring the nooks and crannies; finding the cool artwork; seeing live music or second run movies; discovering a soaking pool hidden on the grounds; wandering the forested grounds and making your way through a trail to find another hidden and isolated area to relax; and more.  These places are also notorious for having grumpy staff and mediocre beers, but we had great service while on this stay.

When we arrived back at our hotel, our friends joined us in the Boiler Room bar (located in the basement and incorporating parts of the old boiler and radiators into the design.)  We had a couple of those mediocre beers, and then I tried the McMenamins whisky sampler that tasted of rockets in flight.  I appreciate them trying their hand at distilling their own spirits, but they could use a bit more refinement.  From here we were able to head down the old wood-floored school halls to our room and crash for the night.  We fit a lot of action into just one afternoon!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Club Night NHC 2012!

Occupy NHC movement
Club Night!  Nothing can prepare you for this.  Nothing is like it.  Think a combination of beer festival and Sci-fi convention.  Local clubs and larger clubs from farther afield will put up booths ranging from a jockeybox with a small sign stating "we couldn't afford a big sign or booth, but the beers are tasty," to elaborate booths with interactive games and members with crazy outfits.  I took some pics to show a small cross section.  There were over 20 of these booths, serving fantastic, nasty, and mediocre beers, ciders and meads.  And the wacky cultist booth was serving cool-aid shots.

Many clubs embraced the Sasquatch theme

Chainsaw Squatch and these monks actually shaved their heads!
While I toured several breweries in the area and tried tons of other commercial beers on this trip, the wildest and the best were the creations of bold homebrewers.  Was there some bad beer poured at this event?  Yes, but also some of the most amazing!  Being West Coast, there was a preponderance for hoppy styles like IPA and pale ale, but plenty of stouts and porters, ESB's, and lagers. 

One of the better IPA's I tried was off this guy's back
The costumes and presentation is a huge part of the draw for this event.  I'll admit, I do occasionally judge a book by its cover and if the booth was sad and forlorn without wackyness, I might let it go untried.  One such unassuming group was the A to Z Brewers and every single thing they served was stellar.  Their cherry lambic was my favorite of the entire night and despite hundreds of beers to sample, I kept going back for more.  Great meads too, which were fairly rare.  Our group hung back by this booth for most of the first hour, not wanting to relinquish our prime spot.
Hippies from Eugene, OR

On the oposite side of the spectrum was a large group that had a stage with guitar tap handles, disco balls and music.  They also had members handing out VIP passes to try the really good stuff back stage, they had a great Berliner wiess back there! 

Best beer names...ever

There were randalls filled with coffee beans, hops and fruit with beers being poured through them.  Stout with ice cream in it...good, but chunky...  Coffee mead with cream...also chunky.  And of course some really good basic beers.

"Nobody #$%#@ with the Jesus"

All of this chaos ended around 11PM, but the party was far from over.  A large portion of us flocked over to the Sasquatch Social Club area where two of the larger groups had moved their booths to.  Had a Tang flavored Beermosa there...I have actually made a Tang beer before and mine was better!  I hung mostly with the Primary Fermenters this evening and after a while here I noticed that they were all gone.  I was getting ready to call it a night, when Tony texted me that there was more beer down the hall.  Not to miss out on anything cool, I changed my bedtime plans and went in search of the next room.  Apparently local liquor distributors had set up a room to sample some of their wares on a perfect audience!  Dogfish Head 90 minute, Midas Touch and Palo Santo were awesome!  After a while, we closed down the party and those of us die-hard enough to last out took home some extra bottles.  I'm pretty sure I ended up in bed by 2:30.  I am too old for this.  I didn't even do this in college!    Next up 9:00AM seminar on food and mead pairing...
Can't forget Sasquatch serving smoked/juniper beer from a keg on his back....

JAB Fall Yeast Experiment Post #1

So since we started the club back in aught-six, Jack Of All Brews has had a yearly experimental group brew.  Last year was a single hop experiment, but in retrospect, the base recipe really needed dry hopping for a more impressive hop character.  I'm thinking next year we retry that type of event with a refined recipe. 

This year I wanted to have a basic recipe that could be easy to replicate for all-grain, BIB and extract-with-grain methods of brewing.  The aim is a fairly simple grain base and just enough specialty malt to give it a little flavor and mouthfeel, with a subtle hopping that won't overwhelm the other flavors.  The star of the show for this experiment is really the yeast.  Taking this basic recipe and doing a different yeast for each batch (or even splitting batches if people really want to go crazy) should really give people a good taste of the differences to be found in the commercially available yeasts.  I went for a grain bill that sits somewhere between an ESB and an American Red, hopped with EKG at a level lower than either style to avoid a strong hop presence. 

All Grain Recipe for 5 gallon batch:
9# US 2-Row (Rahr if possible...and I have some extra from Rick if anyone needs some.)
12 oz Crystal 20
8 oz Crystal 120
8 oz Victory
1.75 oz East Kent Goldings at 5% AA at 60 minutes
0.75 oz East Kent Goldings at 5% AA at 15 minutes
Mash in at 152 degrees for 60 minutes
Boil for 60 minutes
Est OG is 1.056

Extract Recipe:
Substitute 6.5# Light DME for the base 2-Row malt.  Otherwise the same!

Everyone interested in taking part should post on the JAB Facebook Group; or show up to the June meeting!  We will randomly assign yeasts at the June meeting, assigning the remaining members who can't make it via FB or E-mail afterwards.  I'm hoping for a big turn-out like we had with the Belgian Brew Off last month!  Exchanging your assigned yeasts after the fact with other JAB members is totally cool as well!  We will have yeasts ranging from neutral (American ale) to Belgian (many) to German (Hefe, Kolsch) and possibly some lager yeasts if any are interested. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Homebrew Competition Packaging and NHC Second Round

When I first got a taste of winning medals and prizes from homebrew competitions, I found that a little wasn't enough and I needed more!  Back then there were not as many competitions as there are these days and I found that I had to try my hand at sending brews to distant shores.  That was also the beginning of the Pro-Am competitions and I really wanted to get one of my beers brewed professionally.  I won my share of awards by sending out beers,  (no Pro-Am) but the cost became prohibitive and I now mostly stick to local competitions with physical drop-off sites.  Paying for entry fees is enough without adding on shipping costs. 

By doing this for a while I did discover significant regional differences in judging and taste.  Send an IPA out to the West Coast and it better be a hop bomb or you are wasting your time!  I won tons of medals in mead around the country, but can still rarely win around here--mostly because the majority of BJCP Mead Judges are from MN.  Those guys are hard-core and in the larger competitions you are also in direct competition with them.  On the other hand, you usually get helpful feedback on those failing meads...

One of the exceptions to my keeping it local is NHC.  The First Round of Nationals (the biggest homebrew competition in the world) is held in different regions.  Each of those 11 regions had over 700 entries for a total of about 7,767 entries this year.  There was a major mishap with most of the servers crashing and lots of people didn't get beers registered.  A lot of my local friends (Primary Fermenters Yo!) didn't make it.  When things went live again they had allowed too many entries from some of the other regions and ended up shuttling many of them into our not-filled-yet roster.  I noticed that many of the winners in our region (St. Paul/Midwest) were from Maryland, Texas and other non-Midwest states.  A lot of unhappy Minnesotans this year.  Somehow I made it in before the crash.  After First Round judging, the top three from each of the 28 categories (provided they get a score of at least 30) go on the Second Round competition which takes place at the National Homebrewer's Conference.  Now we are down to about 924 beers total for Second Round.

Since the first round was local I put about 5 beers in it this year.  One of them tasted lousy by the time I had to drop it off, and I had missed the cut-off for switching beers, so I ended up actually putting in four.  I had pretty good scores on all my beers, though overall less than at Mash-Out a few months ago.  One of beers that medalled at Mash-Out was my 5th beer that went south.  My English mild (named Mild Mannered) was the dark horse third place winner in the English brown ale category.  I feel pretty proud of this well-named 3.2% ABV beer that I've had on tap for the last 7-8 months. 

Feeling that this aged low alcohol beer probably wouldn't be in any shape to send out to second round, I saved 5 bottles and then re-brewed the recipe.  The second batch is just now carbonated.  I bottled 5 bottles of that one with my Beergun and did some tasting.  The first time was just myself and Sj: the older version was the clear winner with more aroma and estery character.  I took the last free bottle over to Tim Roets' place last week and we came up with the same opinion.  The old one goes on!  Of note, Tim has 5 beers/meads going on to second round! 

Now I had to get my three final bottles of Mild Mannered shipped off to Philly before the deadline of June 17.  Here is what I did for packaging.

First make sure to print out your bottle labels (my printer crapped out and I had to do some fancy footwork to get them printed that day.)  Most competitions will have an entry sheet to send along, but this was the second round and that was not needed.  For second round they also require a full recipe since the winners get published in the following issue of Zymurgy.  They also want a picture of you sent via e-mail for the magazine.   Attach the printed labels to the body of the bottle with a sturdy rubber band.  I keep a hoard of them around and well hidden from my OCD cat, Willow, who will find them and eat them no matter where they might be...

Next up wrap each bottle in bubble wrap.  I use scotch tape to seal the middle and ends and prevent the beer from sliding out.  This is probably the most important step.

Get out your box and throw some crumpled paper in the bottom.  Next put a garbage bag in the box and put in your bubble-wrap attired bottles.  The idea behind the bag is to minimize leakage if one bottle did leak or break during transit.  If the postal service you use finds a package leaking suspicious fluid they will trash it and you have lost all of your entries!  I have yet to have a broken bottle with this method, but anything is possible.  I have seen entries come in for contests I'm helping with that have not been packed well and had leakage issues.

Throw some more crumpled paper in there, so the bottles are not in direct contact with each other if possible.  This helps to prevent the domino effect with broken bottles.  Seal up the bag and press out the extra air.  Add more paper to the top/sides so everything is tight.  Tape up your box very well.  If you are very cautious you may want to print some "This Side Up" and "Fragile" markings on the box, but I'm not convinced this really does any good.   When you are done, you should not be able to feel/hear the bottles moving around when shaking the box.  If you do, then open it up and add more paper! 

Then the shipping.  Do not send via US Postal Service as this is illegal and can get you in trouble!  Most other companies like UPS and FedEx frown on it, but have more of a don't-ask-don't tell policy.  I always worry about sending them to homebrew shops, since you will get suspicious questions from the person mailing the item.  Many employees from shipping company/post-it places think it is illegal to ship through any companies and may give you grief.  You can call it glassware or yeast samples if needed, but I try not to say anything if possible.  Shipping ain't cheap.  Sending 3 my three beers so it would get there Friday (3-4 days) was $27.  I almost feel sorry for Tim having to send his 15 bottles to second round!  Ideally you should send them next day or 2 day to ensure that they don't sit in a hot truck or warehouse too long, but I couldn't justify that this time.  To last year's NHC I sent two beers that way and it cost me more than I care to put in print. 

Now its all in the hands of the parcel company to deliver my beery treasure safely and then for the BJCP judges to love it enough to give it a medal.  The numbers are daunting:  my one beer managed to make it through the enormous first round of nearly 8000 beers.   But having made it past the first round, I have around a 1 in 11 chance within my category total for a first through third place.  Of course remembering that my beer was at the bottom the ranking in first round, that number may be more of a long shot than sheer statistics can account for.  Then again, regional differences may help me out and everyone could love it!  Who knows, but if you don't play you don't win! 

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Bohemian Wine Bar and Pub

I recently had a get-together with some work mates of mine in Delano, MN.  We met at the very new Bohemian Wine Bar and Pub right in the old center of town.  Built in an old tire or auto shop, the pub has a large bank of windows fronting the street.  The main room is spare and wide open with local artisan paintings and photographs on the walls.  Some of the walls are painted a brick red and the rest (as well as the ceiling) are beautiful knotted and varnished wood.

Proprietress Sara Beamish serving up some beers to my friends!

The bar is at the back right corner, manned by Sara Beamish the co-proprietor of the place.  At the time of this writing they had 5 beers on tap, all Minnesotan, with a few bottles available as well.  Beers at that time ranged from Lost Trout Brown, to Lucid Air to Grainbelt (Nordeast I think.)  They also had a good wine selection, but I'll admit I didn't pay attention that side of things!  Spouses and non beer people will have plenty of wines to try.  They have a couple light snacks to serve like hummus and a cheese plate, but no real kitchen.  They also have a stage in the main room and most weekends have live music or other performers there.  The place definatly have a more upscale restaurant seating vibe than most small town drankin' bars.

I really like the idea behind this pub, admittedly because they are very into craft and local beers.  Sara was kind enough to take the time to answer some interview questions for me.  I was surprised at some of her responses, as you may be as well!  Overall I respect the love of exploration and discovery that drives this couple's dream. 

EW:  What prompted you two to open this type of venue as opposed to a typical small-town bar or restaurant?

Sara:  My husband and I are not satisfied with drinking much of what is offered to the public in terms of mass-produced wines and beers.  We really enjoy seeking out the beers and wines that everyone may not have already tried so that we can expand their knowledge base.  Our bar is the perfect venue to do that in; however, we were already doing that in our home when we would invite friends and family over for gatherings and parties.

EW:  Tell us more about your wine and beer for life/a year program.

Sara:  The beer/wine for a year as well as the beer/wine for a life program is a win-win situation.  For the people taking part in it, they receive a fantastic benefit: beer or wine!  There are slight differences in the programs which I will lay out.

1. The beer for a year costs $250, and this allows you to drink all the beer you like for one year.
2. The wine for a year costs $500, and this allows you to drink all the wine you would like for one year. 
3.  The beer for life program costs $1,000, and you drink all the beer you would like for life.
4. The wine for life program costs $1,000, and you are able to receive your first glass of wine each time you stop in for free. 

A couple things to remember are that the owners/servers reserve the right to cut you off if you are becoming too intoxicated (within the limits of the law), and this is not transferable to anyone else.  The 'For Life' programs expire at the end of the participant's life or the life of the business, whichever comes first (sorry for a slightly morbid statement!). For the beer or wine for a year participants, we are only allowing 20 people into each program. We currently have 5 people signed up for the beer.  Once the slots are filled, others will be placed on a waiting list. The people in each slot will have the option to renew when their year is up or the first person on the waiting list will have the opportunity to purchase the spot. We have 30 slots total for the beer for life and wine for life. Currently, we have 1 person already signed up for that. 

The reason it is a win-win is because this money is capital for us to complete our outdoor patio as well as move onto the next phase which will be a 3,000 square foot banquet hall or (fingers crossed...) a brewery in the back of our building.

EW:  What got you guys into craft beer and wines?

Sara:  Ken (my husband and co-owner) has loved craft beers for some time.  For the past four years, we have taken day trips and longer trips around the state, country, and even Mexico to find all the breweries and wineries we could.  We really enjoy doing tastings and immersing ourselves in the environment that comes with being at a brewery or winery.  There is something about taking a sniff of beer and smelling the aromas that can put you at ease for the afternoon!

EW:  Do you have any favorite local beers and wines that you would like to get into your place?

Sara:  We really are looking forward to getting in wines from Morgan Creek Vineyards out of New Ulm, MN.  It was the first winery we went to, and proceeds from the sales of that wine are going to be going into a fund that will promote the arts in Delano as well as New Ulm. My aunt, Bobbi, owned The Bohemian Bed and Breakfast in New Ulm which burned down in 2011 and took her life--one of the reasons we named our bar The Bohemian.  She was very much a 'bohemian' type of person and loved the arts. We are very excited to give back to the arts as a way to honor her memory as well as the memories of my two cousins who also died in the fire.

As for beers, we can't wait to get beers in from 612Brew.  They had a very interesting selection of beers, so can't wait to add them to our rotation.  We have already started to serve beer from Schell's, but there are so many to offer up! As fall comes around, we will definitely be serving their Oktoberfest as it is a favorite of Ken's and mine.

EW:  What are your goals for the future? Do you plan to increase your number of taps or carry some bottled beers?

Sara:  I gave our immediate goals with regard to the building renovations above. We are adding another three taps in the next week, and are working to increase the numbers to another three in the very near future. That would make for a total of 11 taps that we can keep a good rotation of craft beers on, which would appear to be one of the largest if not the largest selection of craft beers in the area! Depending on which path we take in the back area, we will add even more taps there.  We currently carry a gluten free beer, and are open to the possibility of adding some other bottled beers. So far, there hasn't been too big of a demand for the bottled beer, but you never know what the future holds!.

EW:   Thank you so much for spending the time to respond to my questions Sara!  I really like the place and would encourage anyone who lives nearby to stop in for a beer (or a wine if you swing that way.)  I really want you guys to succeed in this somewhat off the beaten path endeavor.  If I lived closer I would totally do the beer for life, especially with your plans to expand the taps!

The Bohemian Wine Bar and Pub
221 2nd Street North
Delano, MN 55328

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Drive-By Beer Tasting in Des Moines

Cool building in Des Moines

Coming back from our recent trip to Kansas City, we drove right past Des Moines, Iowa.  Having never really stopped in this flat yet fertile land, only driving through, I figured we should see if they had any brewpubs.  I had already planned on checking out the Court Street Brewery based on online reviews, but we were pointed toward a new brewpub called Exile by some friendly Iowans that we met whilst standing in line for the Boulevard tour.

We rolled into town around 11:20 on Sunday, with minimal traffic or fuss.  The car's handy GPS delivered us to the large old warehouse building that is home to Exile Brewing.  A huge Lady Liberty crown adorns the back corner of the building while a large rusted metal sign bearing the brewery's name looms above the front doors.  Inside the foyer is a very pretty mural with the Exile logo: Liberty's torch surrounded by flames.  To the left is a second seating/event room with a smaller bar, and to the right is the main bar and main dining area.  The entire place has been here less than 6 months and everything seems new and shiny.  The tables are massive blocks of solid wood.  The drink menu comes encased in covers made of verdigris coated copper stamped with the do these not wander off?

Our server was very good and really knew his stuff when it came to describing the beers and styles.  We were able to get all of the beers by sharing two samplers.  Almost all were classic German style lagers and spot on for style.  There was also an oatmeal stout just to be different.  All the beers are named after women: which is cool, but actually makes it hard to remember which beer was which.  The food we had while here was really tasty and quick.  My burger was served on a soft pretzel bun with multiple cheeses and was done perfectly.  The giant plate of Parmesan herbed fries with truffled dipping sauce were out of this world.  For such a young place, Exile is doing everything right.  Great food, helpful staff, and upscale feel, and very well done beers.  If there is a big enough desire for craft beers in Des Moines I think these folks will make it! 

In contrast to my experience at Exile, we drove a bit further down to Court Avenue Brewery.  This one is an old-school late 1980's brewpub housed in a historic brick building.  A large but dark (and somewhat sticky) bar sits in back, the ceiling filled with hanging mug-club mugs.

They make a lot of beers here, so I was excited to try them before heading back to Minnesota.  For $15 they brought out a large sampler in a complex ironwork carrier that was much finer that the beers it held.  The best of the beers was the Honest Lawyer IPA: a classic cascade tasting brewpub pale ale.  The Topping English ale tasted like dishwater.  A Belgian Wit was fairly well done with a strong orange flavor to it.  The 21st Amendment was a hoppy ale aged in Templeton Rye barrels and I had high hopes for it, but the flavors were not complimentary at all.  Having seen this type of barrel used to excellent effect at Steel Toe Brewing in St. Louis Park, I was disappointed to say the least.  Of the 8 beers I tried there, I only finished one sample.  I can't really recommend this place when there is such an excellent new brewpub not far away. 

Looks better than it tastes...

Is Des Moines, Iowa the new "spot" for good beer?  Probably not yet, but who knows...the Twin Cities used to be a beer wasteland not so long ago.  Go to Exile, you won't be disappointed!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Schooner Exact Brewing Co. Seattle, WA

Next stop in Seattle is Schooner Exact Brewing Company, (I didn't get an explanation of the name...,) for some beer and another tour.  This brewery is located in a warehouse right next to a Vespa dealer, and entry is right through the open garage door.  Within is a small bar with a few extra tables and a bunch of oak barrels filled with aging beer.  As a cool addition to the tour, Mitch Steele, brewer of Arrogant Bastard, and another Stone employee were already sitting at the bar and sharing homebrew and Schooner beers.  The beers were all very good, but the one we all kept going back to was the whiskey barrel aged imperial porter...nummy! 

I was amazed to see one of the brewers hand bottling in the background while we toured.  Just like we do at home!  Our stay here was not long enough!

Kansas City: A Bunch More Beer Stuff, and BBQ!

Continuing our epic but whistle-stop tour of Kansas City, Sj and I started out early in order to get everything else crammed into our final day there.  This being the Saturday before Memorial Day weekend, the city was much busier and bustling than previous days.

Our first stop was to see a ceramic bead maker that Sj had met online after buying some of her things on Etsy.  She kindly invited us into her home and we talked for a while and bought some very cool beads from her.  I'm very interested to see what kind of jewelry Sj will create from them!

Our second stop, just around opening time was 75th Street Brewery, a nearly 20 year old brewpub.  The place has an aged look and is fairly dark.  The distressed wood bar and the old fashioned taps reminded me of a classic German biergarten.  The tiny brewhouse itself peeks out from behind glass right in the center of the place, and can be seen from all sides.  We bellied up to the nearly empty bar and struck up a conversation with the pleasant bartender and brewer there.  I've learned to get over some of my innate Minnesota social phobia and have found that the best way to really experience a new bar or pub is to talk to the staff and other patrons by sitting up at the bar itself.  This is something I learned in Ireland--if you sit at a table you want to be left alone, but sit at the bar and you want to socialize!  The beers here were mostly classic brewpub fare with the Irish Red, Pale Ale, Etc.  The Muddy Mo Stout was probably the best thing there, with none of the other beers truly standing out as good or bad.  The Parmesan fries with truffle aoli were heavenly though!  They have a mug club where you can keep your own 1 liter mug behind the bar for frequent visitors, and we briefly met one of these elite members during our brief stay here.  I would go back here, but it wouldn't be my first stop when in KC.

Nearby, we stopped in at Bier Station, a neighborhood pub/beer store that had been suggested to us by one of the staff at Boulevard.  I love this place!  Located in a more spread-out suburb, there is easy parking and the joint is in a small strip-mall area.  A modern tall bar with ceramic backsplash and 21 taps are straight across from the entryway, glimmering in the sun and inviting one in to have a drink.  They have a small food/charcuterie menu of snacks for those who will be there a while.  Off to the right side there is a large bank of coolers containing a wide variety of bottled craft and import beers from all over the world.  One can buy any of these beers to drink at the bar or take home.  They have more seating at some tables in the center of the room, as well as a balcony biergarten on the second floor.  The bartender was attentive and knowledgeable, suggesting things to try and giving samples freely.  They do samplers of the beers, so we were able to try a few local beers we had never had before: Perennial Aria,  and 4 Hands Pyrus pear saison were my favorite and I took a couple bottles home for later!  I would love to live within walking distance of this place--truly a well-hidden gem!

By this time we were finally starting to get hungry and headed out for the Kansas City institution Oklahoma Joe's.  This is touted as the best KC BBQ joint in the city and is located inside a small working gas station.  The line snaked out the door and around the side of the nearly 2 PM.  So much for missing the lunch rush!  We shrugged our shoulders and joined the line.  Seriously, I've seen shorter ones at Disneyworld, but at least I didn't have to get on a roller coaster.  This was also the first day of our stay that the sun really came out and the temperature broke 85 degrees.  The smell of smoked meat would waft out of this place and induce the drooling reflex.  Annoyingly, when we arrived there were a couple kids from a traveling baseball team ahead of us, soon joined by the entire team and coaches.  Not cool guys, not cool.  By the time we got to the head of the line it was after 3:30 and we were hot, sunburned and famished!  But the ribs and pulled pork were a truly magical experience.  Yes, you should go, but wear sunscreen and leave your schedule open.  I picked up a couple bottles of their BBQ sauce from the gas station side for experimentation with my new grill at home!

Busiest gas station ever!

We found the renowned chocolatier Christopher Elbow in an out-of-the-way industrial area of town and bought some of the best chocolates I've ever had.  We next headed to the Historic Depot where they were setting up outside for a free symphony concert and where half of the interior was blocked off for a huge wedding.  All of the museums and what-not inside were closed.  All the areas that made for good pictures were taken up by the aforementioned events.  We had parked quite a bit away, up a large hill along the WWI Veteran's Memorial.  This made for a very scenic walk, but heading back up the hill in the heat, while wearing jeans and still weighed down by the late BBQ...

And onward for more beer!  We headed to Gordon Biersch, a chain brewpub specializing in German lagers.  We sat in the crowded but happy restaurant area since the bar was completely occupied.  The brewpub is located in the fairly new Power & Light District--an neighborhood that has been "renewed" to include a bunch of larger clubs and restaurants appealing to the folks who want to go out on the town.  The area was hopping, with plenty of clubbing and socializing going on, making me wish that the Twin Cities had something like this.  Like a Block E that didn't crash and burn.  We enjoyed the beer sampler at GB, with all beers being clean and under 5.5% ABV.  We split a flatbread appetizer which pretty much became out dinner.  That OK Joe's "lunch" was still sitting like a ton of bricks in our bellies.  Really tasty bricks though.  I would like to check out this place again when less full.

Just down the block was our final stop in KC, The Flying Saucer.  We had been told to try this place from several people as well as the high rankings on Beer Mapping and KC Beer Blog.  Despite a serious lack of room left in the old gut, I felt I could probably fit a little more beer in my esophagus.  We sat at the bar in easy sight of the large bank of taps.  Some of the things on tap were not on the chalk board or the written beer menu, so ask your server what's new!  We had excellent service and they had samplers available for us to split and get to try many new beers.  The walls are lined with plates, some with quotes from the frequent flyers here who have tried a certain number of beers (200?) Somehow I expected kitchy UFO and alien decor, but I like this more.  I enjoyed the mix of imports (sours, Belgians, German) as well as local and more broadly distributed beers.  Tap lines seemed clean as well...a potential issue with having that many beers on tap!  Despite being right in the middle of Club-Central this place was more of a large pub with folks socializing over a couple of craft brews.