Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tim Roets To Open Jordan Brewery!

This past year I broke the news of Enki brewing on this blog and have continued to follow their progress over time.  Now I have a second bit of big news for my readers!  Jack of All Brews member and award winning homebrewer Tim Roets is going Pro! Tim is in the process of opening a nanobrewery inside the 150 year old sandstone walls of the Historic Jordan Brewery in Jordan, MN!  He was kind enough to give me first dibs on scooping the story, so here goes:

Seriously, did they even have cameras back then?

The Jordan Brewery is on the Historic Registry and has a long and storied past--a perfect place to put in a new working brewery!  From Doug Hoverson's Land of Amber Waters (the definitive history book of brewing in Minnesota,) I was able to dig up a bit of information on the brewery.  The larger of two breweries in the city of Jordan, the brewery itself was opened in 1866 by Frank Nicolin and Sebastian Gehring, soon becoming the largest brewery between the Twin Cities and New Ulm.  There were several ownership changes over time resulting in upgraded facilities like a bottling line and creation of an extensive network of caves carved into the stone bluff behind the brewery.  In 1902 Peter Hilgers took over the brewery, adding electricity and further expanding the distribution of the beer.  He was known to visit his local accounts to make sure that the quality was to his taste, often using a horse-drawn beer sleigh during his travels.
Modern day!

During Prohibition the brewery was converted to a chicken hatchery, but returned as a brewery in 1934.  Distribution reached across Minnesota and seven other states at this time!  There were several more ownership changes with the brewery eventually being purchased by Mankato Brewing Company to expand their production, but was closed shortly after.  Jordan beers continued to be produced in Mankato for a while and even bottled in Chicago for a short period.  After closing down the building returned to a chicken hatchery until damaged by fire.  In the 1990's the building was renovated by Gail Andersen into apartments and retail space.  Which brings us up to our current time-line!

Let me give a bit of background on Tim Roets.  I met Tim only two years ago when he won Best Of Show at Byggvir's Big Beer Cup (I was running the Renaissance Festival homebrew competition that year.)  I had Tim out to my basement bar to claim his prizes and immediately felt that I had discovered an old friend.  I am still shocked that we have only known each other for such a short period since it feels like I've known him for a decade or more!  Tim has been brewing since the early 1980's--in fact he has shown me a newspaper article he wrote on homebrewing back then.

A celebratory toast to Tim's new venture!

He has had many careers in his life so far, ranging from newspaper reporter/critic,  furniture/design pro, retail consultant, stay-at-home dad, and soon, professional brewer.  Throughout it all he has continued to return to his hobby of homebrewing, continually experimenting with new techniques and flavors.  He has made lagers, ales, sour beers, ciders, and even meads.  He started putting his concoctions into competitions a few years ago in order to get feedback from beer judges, and quickly discovered that he was raking in the medals for doing so.  He has won multiple medals at the Upper Mississippi Mash Out (one of the biggest competitions in the nation) including the taking home the coveted Eis-Anything trophy for two years running.  He's won two Minnesota State Fair blue ribbons (among others), and recently had a whopping five beers make it to the second round of the National Homebrewer's Competition in Philadelphia (the biggest homebrew competition in the world.)  

He is a bit melancholy that this is the last year he will be able to compete, but he can always play with the big boys and try to win some GABF medals...and ironically, the GABF Pro-Am will be his last homebrew contest.  A catalyst for his going pro, Tim's prize for his repeat Byggvir BOS in 2012 gave him a chance to scale up his homebrewed Kolsch at Town Hall Brewery with Mike Hoops, then travel with him as they enter it in the big show in Denver this October!  As Tim always says...great reason to enter homebrew contests!  That beer will be on tap soon, likely for the Byggvir awards at the end of August. (Check HERE for details on the brew day.)

How to describe Tim?  In a word: Intensity!  But that alone doesn't do him justice.  He is a man who has been in sales much of his life and knows how to talk to people.  His excitement about a subject is infectious and nearly palpable.  He does nothing by half-degrees.  When he grills, he doesn't throw a couple burgers on, he spends all day smoking a huge pork shoulder on Jamaican pimento wood and serving up jerked pork and chicken for 30 people.  When he makes a mead he isn't content to take what he gets--he tinkers with it, blending, fruiting, spicing to get a plethora of unique one-off beverages.  This intensity and single-mindedness will serve him well in his future career.  Tim is gregarious and inclusive--one of the most giving and people I know!  When he jumped in and took over as Secretary of Jack Of All Brews he promptly injected some of his energy into our group and pushed us to try some new things.  Infectious I tell you! 

Only two days ago Tim dropped this bomb on me.  He has been quietly working on this plan over the past month, not wanting to publicise it until he was sure things would work out... and if you know Tim, quiet isn't easy for him!  In fact I was thinking that something was wrong since he had been so under the radar over the past month or so!  Last night he invited Sj and myself out to the brewery for a tour.  He cracked open a bottle of Steel Toe Lunker to commemorate the visit, as the idea was hatched--Jason had no idea--in Steel Toe's taproom just weeks prior with fellow Jabber and Jordanian Jeff Malek.  A fine Minnesota brew to sip while wandering about the prestigious old place.

At this point in the game, Tim will occupy the first floor of the building and has been working on cleaning up the brew space.  The property has been well cared for by the current owner and isn't requiring as much infrastructure investment as I thought it would.  Nearly the entire place has 30 inch thick sandstone brick walls hewn from the excavation of the caves.with some smaller clay brick dressing around doorways and fireplace.  A huge old chimney starts on the ground floor and towers over the building itself.Tim is currently sourcing tile for the brewhouse floor and getting ready to install drainage.  He'll be working with the city and the landlord in the next few weeks with a goal of beginning the application process by the end of August--an outside chance there could be beer brewing in '13!  He has been working with lighting and color palattes as well, in order to furnish the space and accentuate the incredible architectural details of the building.

He literally shines when discussing his ideas for renovating the old building and restoring it to its proper glory.  He hopes to upgrade the doors and install stained glass windows, as well as put in a bar for the tasting room side of things.  He feels that this opportunity to work with such a piece of history is his primary calling, and making beer here again after more than 60 years is simply a bonus!  He showed us the entry to cave system, filled with a waist deep crystal clear water that remains a steady 42-48 degrees year round.  While pumping the caves dry would be a losing battle, there is talk of building a deck above and lighting to display the cave system...perhaps even putting it to its original use: lagering beer!

Let us talk beer, you and I.  As mentioned before, Tim is a fantastic brewer.  His initial brewing goals are modest.  He wants to start with a small 2-4 barrel system he is designing with the help of perennial JAB award winner Wayne Doucette, with the aim of making a constantly rotating small batch line-up of beers.  For his style and personality I think this the right tack.  Having to produce a huge quantity of a flagship beer would quickly take a lot of the joy from the brewing process for him.  He has room to expand in the future if needed, especially if he can make use of those lagering caves.  I'm hoping he will eventually branch out and make ciders and meads, since they are one of his personal strengths--but walk before you run!  While brewing on the property before licencing goes through is not an option, Tim has taken some of the local water back home to Chaska and brewed a few batches with it already to familiarize himself with its properties.  He had me sample a classic German Alt that is young but already bursting with noble hop and melanoidin flavors.  While he leads the renovation at the brewery, Tim also plans to refine his recipes with the Jordan water and experiment with small conical fermenters/yeast culturing offsite in Jeff Malek's basement brewhouse down the road.

The new Jordan Brewery will be a small family business, aimed at supplying the locals with fresh locally made beer.  Tim has opened well over 50 retail businesses in his career, and his wife Steff Sanders brings her financial and legal experience to the table.  Together, they bring considerable business acumen to the venture.  Tim's sons Dylan and P.J. will be lending their young backs and experience in food/beverage service, and stepchildren Jack and Izzy will be soda tasters--truly a family affair.

Tim is currently putting his beloved BMW 3-series up for a quick--it screams to over 150 mph and is priced well below Blue Book to move, he'll tell you!--to help fund the process.  (He'll want to buy it back from you after he sells his first 500 barrels!) A Kickstarter campaign to help fund the taproom and furnishings will take place in the coming month or so.  I'll provide details and links when the Kickstarter is live, and plan on supporting him there as well.

I'm still a bit shocked that my friend is taking this plunge, but I think it will be a great venture for him and his family over the next few years.  This process will bring renewal and business to the city of Jordan and I'm excited about the move back to pre-prohibition days of most small towns having their own brewery (Victoria, Shakopee, Minnetonka, etc.) I can't wait to see how all this pans out! 

UPDATE!  Since I still get a lot of folks checking out this now historical page, I thought I would add a link to Tim's brewery website so people can follow his progress.  Check it out HERE.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Duluth Beer Scene: All Pints North 2013

This year Sj and I managed to get the six-pack of tickets from the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild which included two tickets to Winterfest, ABR and All Pints North.  Since last year we were forced to buy scalped tickets to Winterfest at the last minute, we wanted to make sure we were prepared this year, and were willing pay the price.  The bonus tickets to All Pints North just gave us the excuse we needed to schedule our first summer trip to Duluth! 

Last year was the inaugural festival and apparently they had low attendance.  Being the first year I think people didn't know what to expect and were less likely to take a trip all the way up to Duluth and take the risk.  It may also have been scheduled against another big beer event.  This year, between better PR, word of mouth from the previous year, and the six-pack tickets, the festival sold out.  Many folks from the Twin Cities were in attendance, including my friends Shawn, Randy, Andrea, and many more.  The whole weekend most of the breweries and pubs we visited were especially busy with the hoard of city-folk in town for the festival.  Very smart move for a tourist destination!  The night prior to the festival Surly did a tap take-over at 7 West (a local beer bar with lots of taps) and we caught wind of it before most of the other invaders.  We were able to get samplers of Surly Seviin, Syx, Darkness 2012, Smoke 2012, and Hell before the festival had even begun! 

The festival was held at the large Bayfront Festival Park, walkable from the Fitgers Hotel we were staying at.  Though I admit we had the free shuttle service drop us off.  The weather was hot and muggy, with a deeply overcast and ominous sky above us.  Despite the threat of rain we only received a few cooling sprinkles during the festival itself.  A cluster of festival goers were already in line when we arrived, many preparing pretzel, cheese, and beef-stick necklaces for wearable sustenance during the fest.  In line we happily ran into Thad and Elise, folks we have met at other fests and at Happy Gnome beer dinners.  It was nice getting to hang out with some people we knew already.  Some other people I know were in town for this and we never actually ran into them during the festival!  At the sound of the bagpipes (traditional for starting Minnesota beer events) we all calmly moved forward to receive our booklets and taster glass and get into the festival grounds.

There were four big tents with all the breweries situated underneath.  A large bandstand hosted some mediocre music once the festival got going.  There were smaller booths hosting, Northern Brewer and some more sponsors.  A special tent had educational programming throughout the fest: like a Better Beer Society blind sensory tasting; a talk by beer historian Doug Hoverson; and Michael Agnew of A Perfect Pint.   One big gripe I have about this and most beer fests we have been to in Minnesota is the lack of dump buckets and rinse stations.  There was only one trough with running water for the entire festival to use.  I like these events so I can taste as many new beers as possible, and don't want to get hammered by drinking the whole 2 oz pour from each brewery--I like to taste, dump the rest and move on.  Being outside, we could dump on the ground, but the area soon ended up muddy and sloppy.  More buckets people!

On to the beers!  I'm not going to lie, we tasted a lot of beers that day and I stopped keeping track about an hour into it.  As a result my memory may be vague on some details, but I'll post some high and low lights of the beers we tried.  Since I had tried other local beers in the previous days I will talk more about those beers in my other blog posts.  Hence the absence of Bent Paddle on this list...

1) Because we had tried most of the Surly beers the previous night, the only one I had to try was their collaboration with Three Floyds called Urine Trouble.  "For that cat peed on the Christmas tree aroma."  Yup, as an owner of three cats, I think this is well named.  I did not really like the brett mixed with the strong hops though, and am in the minority by not loving this beer.

2) Schell Imperial Grain Belt Premium in cask and dry hopped.  I wanted to like this.  I really did.  But it was nasty and bitter and forced me to go all across the fest to find that one rinse station.

3) Blacklist Beer:  A new one in Duluth, featuring Bob McKenzie on the brew staff.  All Belgian styles but needing a little refinement I think.  The Or De Belgique was very tasty, but a bit under attenuated and sweet for my tastes.  The Imperial wit with Kaffir line had a lot of flavor, but maybe too much lime flavor.  I will certainly be watching for more from these guys over time.

4) Borealis Fermentery:  A tiny brewery from Knife River (just north of Duluth) that also puts out Belgian styles in 750 ML bottles only.  The Mon Cherries Belgian dubbel is my favorite from them, very well balanced.  The Raisin Liason Saison was more than just a cool name, mixing unusual yeast and fruit flavors.

5) Dangerous Man:  Chocolate and Coconut milk stouts were both fantastic, with the coconut being one of top three from the entire festival.  These guys are bringing it strong. 

6) Fitgers Brewhouse:  More on them in my upcoming  Fitgers blog post.  I had tried many of the beers at the brewery but they still had several new ones to try here.  Both Sj and I thought the Gooseberry Gose was one of the best of the festival, only being beat by our favorite from Town Hall--Hoops brothers smack down!  Red Wheat and Blue was a pretty tasty concoction as well.

7) Fulton:  War and Peace is one of my favorite coffee beers and I was happy to try it again.  Maybe twice.  They also brought a version of their Libertine Imperial red aged in 2 Gingers Whiskey barrels that is even boozier and tastier than I remember.  These two beers have really increased Fulton in my estimation.  Keep them coming!

8) Hammerheart:  A new brewery opening in Lino Lakes and focused on Celtic and Nordic culture.  These guys had a great display featuring a Nordic wooden shield, excellent artwork and tattooed servers.  All of the beers were very interesting, featuring oak aging, smoke, habeneros, etc.  They had an impressively long line throughout the festival.  I tried them all and was intrigued by the ideas, but feel that they maybe should get their base recipe styles a bit more refined before adding all the crazy stuff.  I had this issue when I first started homebrewing, wanting to add all sorts of fruit and spices and things to my beers.  Watch them though--and they have a cool aesthetic.

Celt-Punk Hammerheart!

9) Jack Pine:  Brewmaster Patrick Sundberg has really started making some great beers in his small Baxter, MN brewery over the last year.  Disclaimer: I contributed a small amount to his successful Kickstarter campaign, and this was the second time I have been able to try his beers.  All the beers he is putting out are incredibly clean and well balanced, perfect for his location and main clientele.  The Dead Branch is probably the best cream ale I've had in years, and the Duck Pond is easily better than Newcastle.  Check them out but don't expect Uber beers.

10) Pour Decisions:  Contining their tradition of making rare and extinct styles of beers to appeal to the beer geek in all of us, we sampled a great Gose (Salinity) and Verity (a tart and refreshing ale aged in a wine barrel.)  Always something cool to try here.

11) Rock Bottom:  Another day another brewer.  Pio has apparently moved on and Larry Skellenger from the Iowa Rock Bottom has taken his place as brewer.  His Evergreen Red IPA was a very nice and subtle spruce ale, and a good start to a new career move.

12) Town Hall:  Always one of my favorites, these guys continually impress me.  The mango IPA was probably the first IPA my wife has ever tasted that caused her to go back for her own sample!  And Russian Roulette (Belgian chocolate Imperial stout anyone?) was my favorite beer of the day.  They tied for best beer with Bent Paddle for it! 

Sj and I actually finished a bit before the fest was over, cutting ourselves off long before we got sloppy.  Restraint is good.  We headed over to Tycoons, the new upscale restaurant by the folks who own Fitgers Brewhouse.  They had some good Fitgers beers on tap, a few that were only at the restaurant, and very good food.  The smoked fish appetizer platter was a huge hit at our table and we ended up splitting two.  The place is very large and takes up much of the historic city hall building.  There is a large upstairs the was taken up by a post-beer-festival party for the brewers when we were there.  They have a small downstairs bar (located in the old jail area) that is worth just checking out if you can:  exposed brick, dark corners, and a creepy/cool speakeasy feel.

Overall, All Pints North was an amazing festival in a cool outdoor venue.  I would love to come back to it again in a year or two.  Other than not enough BIFs and dump/rinse stations I think this was one of the best festivals I've been to. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Castle Danger Brewery: Danger Is My Middle Name...

On our recent trip to Duluth we took a day trip up north to Split Rock lighthouse and its surrounding environs.  We very randomly discovered that my cousin IZ and his wife Emily were visiting her parents in Knife River--right along our route to the light house!  After a wonderful meal at the New Scenic Café just north of Duluth along Scenic 61, we met up with my family for a bit.  Emily's parents own a beautifully renovated home on an old camp site right on Lake Superior with lake access.  We had a great time hanging out, hunting for agates and drinking some Canal Park Maibock from a growler IZ had waiting for us.

After getting a sunburned neck, we were back on our way up north to hit the lighthouse.  We ignored the movie about the place, but checked out the small interactive museum in the visitor center.  They have tours every half hour, but we were behind schedule and did it on our own.  The light house itself is very cool, affording a lot of picture opportunities for a budding iPhonographer like myself.  There are also some short trails around the buildings and a really long set of steps down to the lake that parallels the old rail-line that used to bring food and supplies from the shore up to the keeper's

On the way home, we were able to stop off at the tiny Castle Danger Brewery located in the town of the same name.  Possibly the coolest name for a city and brewery that I've heard of.  From the website:   "The brewery is situated at Castle Haven Cabins, a small family resort in Castle Danger also run by Clint & Jamie.  The land was originally homesteaded by Jamie's great-grandfather in 1902.  Her grandfather Marcus Lind built the first cabin in 1933."  Down a long dirt road just off HWY 61, this place is easy to miss.  Neither phone nor car GPS will not get you there correctly...I speak from experience!  Use the directions from the website (if you can get cell service out there, which was iffy for us.)  We almost let it go, but eventually managed to find our way out to this interesting site.

Nestled in amongst well-kept cabins along the lake shore, we found the small, red garage/shed where the brewery itself is located.  They have no tap room and are a production brewery only, however they have limited open hours for tours, and growler and merch sales.  We happened in during the correct time period (mostly because of using up some afternoon with family, so it all worked out great!)  The brewery itself houses a 3 barrel brew system that is just a small step up from the stainless system I brew on at home!  So cute!  I enjoyed being taller than the kettle and the fermenters, it doesn't happen often.  They were doing a brisk business, with plenty of locals and tourists popping in for some growlers and shirts.  They had 4 taps and were serving samples in small cups so we could try the beers at the brewery.  I wasn't convinced this would be the case based on the info from the website, and was glad I had a chance to try them all.  I really liked the flagship Danger Ale: called an American strong ale on the website, but what I would call a malty pale ale.  They had a cream ale and a hoppy wheat beer on as well that were both respectable.  We didn't end up getting any growlers, mainly because we had already gathered a few from other breweries on this trip to Duluth.  In lieu of supporting them by buying beer, I'm writing this to get the word out! 

Overall I think this place is an interesting experiment.  It feels more like a hobby or labor of love than a brewery that has plans to take over the Minnesota beer market.  The brewer/owner, Clint MacFarlane, is self trained as a homebrewer and has managed to use the land they already own as a place for the brewery.  Apparently they recently hired a second brewer who has been trained at Siebel, and that should only improve the quality and quantity of beer they can put out.  I did see a sign in the brewery that said proceeds from merchandise would go toward purchasing a larger brewhouse, so they obviously have plans to increase production in the future.  One can find the beer on tap around the Duluth area and up north as far as Grand Marais.  Check them out if you are in the area, but check for directions and hours of operation before you make the trip!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Duluth Beer Scene: Canal Park Brewing Company Review

On our recent trip to Duluth we were pleased to discover a bunch of new local breweries since the last trip up there in 2011.  One such brewery is Canal Park Brewing Company.  Located smack-dab in the center of Canal Park, this place has automatic name recognition and one of the finest spots for foot traffic I've seen. 

From our hotel (Fitgers) we strolled down the Lakewalk to Canal Park, getting an excellent view of Lake Superior, incoming barges, and the lift bridge.  We arrived at the brewery just after 11 AM for an early lunch and the place was already fairly busy.  By the time we were done eating it was packed in there, probably due in part to the All Pints North beer festival that afternoon had bringing a lot of beer geeks in from the Cities.  I'm guessing the place is always pretty crowded though. 

Outside the entrance we were greeted by old kegs bursting with live flowers and plants.  This is a large building featuring lots of stainless steel, glass, exposed ventilation pipes and concrete.  The brewery still has the new-car-smell, with everything still being shiny and clean.  A nice bar fronted with deep blue tiles is located against the back wall with the serving tanks visible through large glass windows.  Overhanging the bar are unusual light fixtures made of Canal Park growlers with the bottoms cut off.  Several large chalk boards show off the variety of available beers in colorful chalk scrawlings.  They have a large and very impressive outdoor seating area for the few warm months in Duluth.  There is also a small shop near the entrance where you can buy shirts, hats, jewelry and other swag.  I can only imagine how expensive it must have been to build such a big place right in the main touristy area of Duluth, and they have obviously put a lot of money into the décor as well.

I had a burger and Sj had fish tacos for lunch.  Both dishes were decent, but nothing I would write home about.  (But will Blog about...)  Our server was very pleasant, but was so busy that we didn't get the best of service.  I did not have great luck with burgers on this particular trip to Duluth, with every place overcooking them.  Oh well, can't all be as good as Town Hall burgers. 

This isn't blurry, it's just how I was feeling that morning...

They had 10 beers on tap, available in a flight of 4 or a "round trip" of 8.  We shared the round trip so we could taste most of them.  Always hard to decide which beers to include in a sampler--that is why you get the sampler in the first place!  We had tried the Maibock the previous day with my cousin, so I could let that one go, and since I'm not a huge pilsner fan I let that one go as well.  Sj and I agreed that the best beer they had was Kessel Run ESB, and yes I drank it in under 12 parsecs.  The Dawn Treader Tripel and the Saison were pretty good too.  Overall the beers were respectable, but not nearly as good as Bent Paddle's.  They had a gluten free pale ale that was pretty hideous, but I appreciate them trying to do something like this.  I like the idea of a hoppy gluten free beer to cover up the usual weird taste, but this one had such an astringent aftertaste that I couldn't get more than a sip or so down.  Checking my phone just after trying this beer, I spotted a text from Shawn warning me not to get that one.  Too late!

Overall, I liked this brewpub, but with some reservations.  We did not get the best food or service, but this might have been at least partly due to the massive influx of beer folks that day.  The beers were average to slightly above in quality.  Certainly if you are walking around Canal Park, I would recommend stopping in and trying some of the beer to make up your own mind. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Guest Blog: Tim Roets Brews With Mike Hoops!

This installment is a Guest Blog by one of the winningest homebrewers I know: Tim Roets.  As grand prize for the 2012 Byggvir's Big Beer Cup,  he won a special brewday with Mike Hoops of Town Hall Brewery!  This is Tim's account of how the day went and should serve as inspiration for folks to enter the upcoming 2013 contest which features another chance to win this amazing opportunity!
Town Hall at 6:30 AM
 With temps expected in the 90s on brewday, Mike Hoops had no problem convincing me to get to Town Hall early and get right to brewing our version of my 2012 RennFest BOS Kolsch that will be entered in the Pro-Am competition at the Great American Beer festival in Denver this October.
First thing for those who haven’t met him – Mike is an incredible guy who truly understood how much this brew meant to a homebrewer like myself, and made sure that it was an experience. With the opening of their new Town Hall Lanes this week, he had been running hard for weeks doing setup and said he was relieved to be able to spend a day at the brewery just brewing with me.
Town Hall brews on a 10-BBL system that is visible from the back dining room, and has several 10 and 20-BBL fermenters in that space – 20-BBL batches are brewed in a double brew. Downstairs are more fermenters and brite tanks, barrels, grain/hop storage, a cooler and a small lab, where Mike keeps the meticulous records needed to be a commercial brewer.
Tim gives us a gun show!
 Keeping track of each step of the process on a clipboard, we worked steadily in the small but surprisingly spacious brew area. He let me work at every step – wielding the mash paddle, loading grain in the auger, adding the chemicals and the hops, scrubbing down the fermenter and removing 8 garbage cans of spent grain from the mash tun with a well-used garden hoe on the way to being Grade A pig slop.

The dirty work!  And a sweet shirt...
 We even toyed with the recipe and added a bit more of the nice, mild Hersbrucker hops he had on hand at the end. During the breaks in the action, we chatted over coffee, discussed water chemistry and surprising details (The Germans say Kolsch should have a pH of 5.6-5.8!)
Tim hopped up on brewing
 Cool stuff in the barrels, too, a “Manhattan” (up-North cherry-juice style, we both agreed) Cherry Grand Cru aged in Bourbon barrels and a dark one with Kumquats and chocolate! He was also excited about the challenge brewing a American-Style Lager for the bowling alley to replace the PBR, and had some sweet old-school logoed bowling-alley pilsner glasses arrive as we were speaking.
Hoops doing something scientific in the lab!
 We had some lunch over a nice season Calypso Pale Ale, finished up, then hung out in the bar sampling and hanging out with the staff until almost 5pm! It was an incredible opportunity, and one of the best reasons to enter homebrew contests. Thanks to Mike Hoops, Gera and Eric (for pulling off the amazing prize!) and all the friends and JABers who attended the Byggvir awards ceremony last year, and I hope to see all of you at Town Hall when we tap it in about 6 weeks!
Then on to Denver….
--Tim Roets

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bent Paddle Brewing Company Review

I have been waiting patiently for Bent Paddle Brewing Company to open for years, and now it has finally opened its doors and is putting out excellent beers.  Some background first:  The brewery was started (at least in planning) in 2011 and just opened for the public in May 2013.  CEO and Director of Brewery Operations Bryon Tonnis has been brewing for more than 12 years, and was putting out fantastic beers at the Minneapolis Rock Bottom prior to this venture.  Colin Mullen (now President and Director of Brewery Communications) had his start as the brewer at Barley Johns.  I had the pleasure of meeting Bryon several times at RB brewmaster dinners and festivals and have been hoping to see him back in action.  Also several years back I won a brew day at Barley Johns at a silent auction and was able to help out Colin with a batch there.  He is a really mellow guy with a lot of brewing knowledge to share.  Not to forget them, (but I haven't met them yet), wives and partners Karen Tonnis and Laura Mullen are probably the true power behind the throne! 

On our trip to Duluth for the All Pints North beer festival this summer we finally had a chance to get to the brewery.  The shuttle driver from Fitgers (more on that place in another post) was kind enough to pick us up from dinner and drop us off at the brewery.  We were very happy of that since the place is about a 2 mile walk from the Canal Park area...doable, but a bit much after all the walking we had done already that day.  Our friends Randy and Andrea had brought their bikes and ended up meeting us at the brewery after dinner as well. 

Upon entry, I was struck by the mixture of exposed brick, deep chocolate paint and stainless steel in the place.  It was a nice combination of new industrial and comfortable history.  There was plenty of seating and a long bar the back of the building.  One can see the brew house through a large pair of sliding glass doors near the bar.  I hate taprooms that hide the equipment!  Lurking at a table near the bar when we arrived was my good friend Shawn and friend Brad!  We happily ended up hanging out with them for a while until our other friends arrived and Shawn wanted to head over to Canal Park Brewing. 

The brewery has only been open a couple of months and only has a few flagship beers, but still offer a surprising array of taps.  The current basic beers are the Bent Hop IPA (very well balanced and better than many I had in Oregon), and Black Ale (riding the line between porter and stout and hitting all the right notes for me.)  To mix things up a bit they had a blonde ale that I didn't try and a cold press coffee version of the black ale on tap as well.  They also had experimental Calibration ales (and IPA and a Dark) both served on nitro for a change of pace.  Rock Bottom under Bryon was the first place I've ever seen an IPA on nitro and I'm glad they brought this trick with them!  They don't have samplers, but do offer 10, 16 and 20 oz glasses of the beers.  I was impressed with the overall quality of the beers, every one of them was incredibly drinkable and full of character.  This should not surprise me based on the brewing skills of both the brewers here, but I'm still excited by how well they are doing right out of the chute.  I believe that they tied with Town Hall for best beer at All Pints North the next day and the line at their booth was always long.  I was happy I had tried most of the beers the night prior to the fest so I didn't have to wait in those lines.

The shirts look nice and they actually have a long sleeved T!  Stainless steel growlers and locally made canvas growler cozies are pretty sweet.  If we didn't have such draconian laws on needing a separate growler from each brewery, I would have picked up one of those.  After visiting Oregon where every place will fill a growler you bring in, as well as having special beer stores that can fill them with other commercial beers, I feel like this is something Minnesota needs to change if they want to keep up with other brewery-heavy states. 

With the APN going on that weekend, there were tons of brewers from the Cities in town and we ran into Peter Mack (previously also from Rock Bottom and currently a brewer at Town Hall) at Bent Paddle.  Bryon and Colin were both present and I got to talk briefly with Bryon about the brewery and his plans for the future.  It sounds like they are having a hard time keeping up with demand for their beer locally so it may be a while before we get some distribution down here in Minneapolis.  Selling out of beer is a great place to start for a new brewery!

Overall, this place is fantastic and they are putting out some of the best beer in the state only two months after opening.  They have immediately jumped into my top five or six breweries in Minnesota, and I wish them much luck for the coming years.  Based on the response at All Pints North I think that many other beer geeks are agreeing with me!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Drinking With Geeks

Every Fourth of July weekend Sj and I go to a large Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention held in Bloomington, MN called Convergence.  We started doing this many years ago when we realized that both my friend Peter and Sj's friend Jody were both involved with it.  Since that first, somewhat awkward, visit we have become regulars and use this convention as a way of recharging our Geek Batteries (TM pending) for the year--catching up on the best genre movies, books, games, etc. from the past year.  These days I spend most of my hobby time with beer and homebrew related things, but this event always gets me going and reminds me where I started.  (Oh, and geek is the label we prefer nowadays instead of nerd, dork, dweeb, pencil-neck, poindexter, ad infinitum.  Geek is more of a smart person with an obsessive interest, not necessarily lacking in social graces.)

Cons are all different and even at the same one, people can have wildly different experiences.  Some folks take this time to game (roleplay, board, card, larping, whatever.)  Others go to most of the panel discussions and book readings.  The guests of honor are always interesting to hear speak--this year I got to see a couple of my favorite comedians Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett from Mystery Science Theater 3000.  There is always live music going on in the Harmonic Convergence theater: Sj and I saw The Dregs, Adam Stemple and Courtney McLain & The Dirty Curls this weekend.  Book signings, live theater, crafts, dealer room, art show and silent auction all round out the possible events to take part in. 

Trippy Tardis
The most important aspect of this event is the people, in all their glorious and zany variety.  Seriously, people watching is fantastic at these things.  Ranging from the classic overweight and scruffy guy in a Star Trek shirt to professional level super hero costumes, there is always something interesting to see.  Recognizing obscure characters from your favorite movies and books is always cool.  There were a ton of Doctor Who folks this year due to the increasing popularity of the new series as well as the British Invasion theme of this year's Con.  Sj and I did dress up in our steam punk outfits for one night, but little photographic evidence exists. 

Aboard the Brass Falcon

Why am I going on about geeks in my beer blog you may ask?  Because these guys know how to party!  Convergence split off from Minnicon several years back due to an increasing desire to embrace more than just books and to party more vigorously.  It has expanded greatly in the intervening years and has expanded to a four day event that broke 7000 attendees this year.  And the parties just keep getting bigger.  The Double Tree in Bloomington has a swimming pool and indoor patio area in the center of the large tower, surrounded by two levels of larger Cabana rooms.  All of these rooms are taken up by various groups and decorated impressively to host open parties for the evenings.  On Friday and Saturday night one can barely walk around these rooms due to a huge press of be-costumed and tipsy humanity.  Some parties are family friendly, with crafts/games and lemonade or teas and snacks.  The House of Toast is a perennial favorite:  coated in mylar with red lights to simulate being inside a toaster--and they serve free toast with any of 100 different toppings to hungry and drunken geeks.  Word to the wise: do not get the marmite and Dave's Insanity Hot Sauce on your toast like I did this year!

Many of the parties will card you at the door and offer a range of disturbingly colored and flavored theme drinks. 

"We'll take the green stuff..."

In a room made up to look like the helm of a dirigible, a fine gentleman in a top hat served us absinthe that tasted of both madness and despair.  And of tongue-numbing licorice.  Visiting all of these parties is entertaining to say the least.  Sometimes they are lame: just some people who all know each other renting a room out.  Others are impressive and embrace the theme they have chosen with much abandon. 

Almost more fun than the parties themselves are the signs all over the Con...

So in this party milieu, we wove between music, panel discussions and more parties.  This year the Double tree has expanded its bar's craft beer selection by having Indeed and Fulton beers available, as well as serving Romulan ale and other multicolored nerd drinks to a perfect target audience.  They seem to have really embraced the culture...and made a load money off of us!  While waiting in the 4 hour registration line (don't get me started on that cluster^%$&*) they actually came by with a cart loaded with beer, food and even jello shots.

And on to one of my favorite panels in the whole Con:  Drinking With Geeks.  They did this a few years back as an experiment, basically as an excuse to have the panel members drink in front of the audience and talk about booze and geekdom.  It quickly devolved into people from the audience giving them more booze and watching the panel (made up almost entirely of local comedians) get loaded.  The following year they skipped the pleasantries and moved directly into the drinking, and had a cash bar at the back of the room for the rest of us to use.  This year had no bar, but we were prepared enough to bring our own beer along.  The panel members were much the same as the previous years' and did a great job of drinking.  They would take turns passing around disturbing boozes that had been brought by panel members or the audience and giving their impressions.  Watching 6 people in a row try to choke down an alcohol made to taste like imitation blueberry pancakes was priceless.  Perhaps more fun that observing this strange spectacle is seeing the ASL interpreters try to handle the potty-mouthed and drunken chaos.  This panel and our enjoyment of it simply underlines the concept that geeks like to drink just like everyone else, but often have a better sense of humor about it!

Not to give the impression that all we did was drink during Con, but it certainly is a part of the experience.  Some of my friends don't go to the parties and that is totally fine, but I enjoy this social aspect of the event.  If you have a secret geek/nerd side to you, then you owe it to yourself to try this out some time. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Enki Brewing: Open For Business!

Back in January of this year I had the fortune to meet up with Dan Norton to discuss his upcoming scheme of opening a brewery in either Victoria or Waconia.  I posted the results and their cool logo in this blog and have been impressed with how many hits I continue to get on that posting.  In fact that post has the most hits of any I have written in the past two years!  Since January I have had a chance to hang out with Dan, his partner in crime John Hayes, and brewmaster Jason Davis several times.  I feel privileged to have been included in some of the planning and unrolling of the brewery and have been thrilled at their involvement with Jack Of All Brews.  I think this will be a great long term partnership for all of us! 

Enki Brewing is housed within the circa 1917 historic Creamery Building in Victoria (West of Chanhassen on HWY 5.)  I posted a mid-construction update a ways back that includes some pictures of the massive demolition and remodel required to get the building up to code for a modern age: check it out here.  Since then, they have continued to work long hours getting the place in shape to open for the Summer months.

Dan in front of the newly installed brewery prior to the opening

I stopped by the brewery on the night of their first batch, an evening fraught difficulty due to equipment issues, but giving them good experience on the new brew system.  When they initially told me that the goal was to open in June or July I thought they were insane...especially after seeing some other new breweries take well over a year to get going.  But in mid-June they quietly unrolled their first beer on a small local audience and have continued to have the tap room open for business!  At the time of this writing they are open Thursday and Friday from 4-10, Saturday Noon-10 and every other Wednesday for Victoria's classic car night.

Recently I have been traveling a lot (see my extensive notes on the Oregon beer scene and discussion drinking with geeks in previous entries) and actually missed the opening for the brewery.  I'm happy to say that I finally had a chance to get out there this Wednesday during the classic car night event.  The difference between the previous visits and today is extensive!  They have put in a small bar with tap connections directly to large serving tanks in a cooler behind the bar.  A door opens from the tap room to an outdoor Biergarten area that I think they will need to enlarge to make room for crowds.  The location is fantastic: right in the middle of the quaint downtown area and walking distance from School of the Wise and Floyd's for those who want some food after visiting the tap room.

John and Kent manning the bar!

At this writing, they had two beers on tap with more planned for the future.  Their first is called Citric Journey and is really not a beer that fits a current style.  By color I'd call it an American Amber, but the flavor profile is much more malty and toasty than that, ending with an almost roasted note.  Hops are present and contribute some bitterness and aroma, but this is not a very hoppy beer overall.  Clocking in at around 7% ABV it really goes down smoothly and the alcohol is very subtle.  For a first outing, I think this beer is a great start!  The second beer was just released this weekend and is an unusual Auburn Kolsch.  There was some issue with the filter not working right and the beer is a bit more cloudy than they wanted, but it does not affect the flavor at all.  A red kolsch is an interesting idea and one I have never seen before.  To me it lacks some of the fruity yeast character I expect in a kolsch and has a hint of roast that makes this taste more like an Irish red.  Don't get me wrong I like it, but I think it could do with a bit of tweaking to get the character they are looking for.  Overall for the first two beers to come out of the brewery, these guys are putting out interesting and very drinkable beers.  Their next is going to be a golden ale with the goal of having at least four beers on tap at a time.  Based on this visit, I'm excited to try more.


Compared to where Enki started, there has been much change to the brewery building, but it has kept some of the old feel including the rough walls, open timbers, reclaimed stained glass and the weird gargoyle faces on the side of the building.  The only issue I see with the place is that they may get popular enough to run out of space!  But that is a good problem to have for a brewery.  I'm very pleased with the tap room, the beers and the vibe here.  I'll admit I can't be a totally unbiased observer since I have known these guys for a while, but I try to be honest with myself and my readers.  Visit the brewery and tell me what you think!  Check them out on the Web, and Facebook.  Tell them I sent you!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bend Over: The Final Day In Oregon

Our final day in Bend, Oregon was a great one, filled with adventure and beer!  Ok, mostly just beer, but still awesome!  After having our freshly ground coffee in the room, and discussing the merits of removing fluoride from the water supply in Bend with the odd lady at the front desk, we headed out to see the sights of town.  I would have been happy heading right to a brewery, but strangely they don't really open until 11 AM, forcing us to find other entertainment before returning to the Ale Trail.  We discovered a couple of cool galleries and an art show just across the street from the hotel and spent some time perusing the local art scene. 

Parking lot hop yard!
By 11 we were just outside of town to visit Worthy Brewing, a fairly new and large brewery.  They are growing rows of hops outside the enormous pub and brewery, with its own little green-house.  The dining and bar area is large and wide open, with a modern feel to it.  Some of the wood used to decorate the place was reclaimed from the Oregon asylum where they filmed One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which explains the multiple pics of Jack Nicholson on the walls!  The food here was fantastic, elevating pub food to a new level: we had coconut milk clam chowder and prosciutto fig flatbread.  The brewery is well named, and the beers were indeed worthy.  They had a great Farm-Out Saison, a helles bock, Imperial IPA and a stout with vanilla that were all tasty and well balanced.  Between great beers, better food, cool vibe and good service, I highly recommend the place.

Keep driving
Our next trip was to Cascade Lakes, clear across town (OK a five minute drive).  Walking in this brewpub has an older feel, like a slightly shabby local drinkin' man's bar with sports on the TV.  We settled into the bar and got the sampler, as per our usual MO.  I was very disappointed in the beers here.  Out of the 6 or 7 beers we tried, only the IPA was drinkable, but still not good.  Most of the beers had off flavors hinting at either dirty tap lines or poor fermentation.  Feeling guilty, we left all of the samples unfinished, throwing cash on the bar on our hasty way out.  Blech.  How can a place like this stay in business in a city a made famous by breweries???  This was by far the worst brewery I visited in Oregon.

To clear the palate after our ill-fated visit to Cascade Lakes, we headed to Old Mill Brew Werks.  Apparently this is a new location for the place, in a nicer strip mall near the Deschutes River (and brewery,) with a nice view from the deck.  This place looked and felt more like a wine bar than a brewery, with no visible brewing equipment present.  Most of the folks here were drinking coctails and wine, furthering that impression.  They had about 6 good commercial beers on tap and 6 of their own.  I give the house beers a 50/50 good to meh ratio.  The best was actually a blonde ale (which I don't normally love) and the worst was a dry hopped version of the same beer.  Overall not bad, but not in my top Bend breweries.  Certainly better than the previous stop!

This is the Good Life!
Our next stop was one of the high points in my Bend beer adventures, probably my second favorite in town.  Good Life brewery occupies part of a warehouse, sharing a courtyard with a winery.  The actual tasting room is quite small decorated with some long knotty pine picnic tables and a bar with room for 5.  They do have a larger fenced-in outdoor area that they were prepping for their anniversary party when we arrived.  While here the bartenders and locals told us a bunch of the local dirt/history of the other breweries in Bend, and we had a great time socializing at the tiny bar.  The beers were all very good...probably the best hoppy ones we had in town.  My favorite was the Sweet As Pacific: a light IPA made with all New Zealand hops.  I even bought one of the aluminum carabiner tap handles for that particular beer.  This brewery completed our Bend Ale Trail experience--making 10 breweries in 2 days.  We stopped into the City Tourism building and received our commemorative mini silicone pint glasses for getting to all the breweries!  What other city has their own branded insulated growlers and tons of other beer-related swag?

Sj proudly showing off her hipster side on the Cycle Pub
After stashing our spoils we briskly walked to our 4 PM meet-up place for the Cycle Pub.  Since I know one of the founders of the original Pedal Pub in Minneapolis, I felt a little guilty about riding this rival pub, but this is what my cousins arranged so I went with it.  Sorry Al!  This is actually the first time I have been on one of these slow-moving contraptions and it was an experience.  We had enough folks signed up to have two of them filled to the brim with friends and family.  We had arrived early and this was the hottest day so far on our trip, so Sj and I were incredibly thirsty to start off.  We were forced to drink PBR from a can to survive.  I know.  I'm going to need to grow out ironic facial hair and wear a flat cap and skinny jeans now!  We headed off on the first leg of the trip, working up a sweat pedaling uphill.  Cars behind us either waved and called out to us or honked and gave us the finger.  We arrived en mass at 10 Barrel, which was already filled to capacity including their large patio area.  It took a while but I got a glass of Swill to quench the thirst and regain my energy before our exodus back to the cycle.  Our previous trip here was much more mellow!

Our next stop was nearby, back at Good Life!  The anniversary party action was all out back, so we were able to all fill the small tasting room and sit down in the shade.  One of my cousins had planned ahead here and called for pitchers, so we were quickly served up more wonderful hoppy ales to share.  I was happy to get to try another taste of Sweet As Pacific. 

Having completed our visit to Good Life, we headed back out on the trail for one more brewery: Crux.  This leg of the journey was nearly all up hill, and significantly farther away from our previous stop.  I lucked out by getting to sit in a spot with no pedals!  This time Crux was very busy, but we managed to find outdoor seating around a big wooden cable spool table in the shade.  I was able to try the one beer not featured on the sampler from the previous day: Tough Love.  This was one of the best beers I had on the trip--a bourbon barrel aged Imperial stout--and made me more than happy we had returned here.  After a while there was a fire started in the giant iron Fire Ball and dusk began to fall over the high desert and train tracks.  It was incredibly nice to hang out with my cousins and their friends in this setting, and bittersweet to say farewell at the end. 

On our way home, we went though Drake's park and caught the tail end of Deschutes' 25th anniversary bash there.  Most of the best beers were gone and the music was iffy at the time, but cool to stumble upon such a free event.  Realizing that we hadn't had dinner and it was going on 9 PM, we ended up at Brother John's for a late dinner.  All the heat, lack of food, and many breweries in a row had gotten to me and for the first time this trip was feeling a bit out of it.  The food helped immensely.  I would recommend the pub, as they have a great tap list and good food.  One more short stagger to get back to the hotel and our trip to Oregon was nearly complete. 

Overall, an amazing trip filled with wonderful scenery, satisfying beers and a truly great wedding.  Considering the short time period I think we managed to fit a lot into an extended weekend and would love to go back some time.  Thanks for reading along with my blatherings, and hopefully this will push you over the edge to visit some of these places for yourself!