Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Eric's Top 10 Minnesota Beers & Breweries of 2014

OK, so one last list for the end of year Wrap Up.  I noticed that a lot of the places and beers that ranked highest on my other lists were not Minnesota born.  There may be a component of "familiarity breeds contempt" going on there, or more likely for me that there just aren't enough good sours for my taste being made in this state!  So I decided to do a local only list for breweries and beers.  Those who read the JABlog regularly know that I tend not to be too judgmental and avoid a lot of negative comments. There are certainly beers and breweries that I'm not a fan of (and will say so when in my cups) but I tend not to post those things.  I'd rather focus on the BEST of the bunch and give my blessing to those who are doing the greatest job of fostering great craft beer in our chilly state.  You may not agree with my listing, or my ranking and that is totally fine!  We all have different tastes and experiences when we try beers and visit breweries.  I would love to see some comments on this blog from readers to see what beers you think should (or not) have made my lists!  Or better yet make your own Top 10 and share it here!

Photogenic SRM chart sampler at Urban Growler

Eric's Top 10 Minnesota Breweries (as of 2014)

1) Steel Toe Brewing: My solid first place.  I love nearly every beer that Jason brews (maybe not the Summer Vice but that is a style thing).  The taproom needs some better light and maybe an increase in size, but always nice to stop by for a pint.

2) Bent Paddle Brewing: These guys have been hitting it out of the park from the get-go.  With years of experience in brewing great beers before opening, I can't say I'm shocked.  This is the one reason I'd like to live in Duluth.

3) Surly Brewing: Well this one is a no-brainer!  Surly continues to innovate and push Minnesota along as one of the biggest growing craft beer states.  I got a chance to check out the new brewery and it is a thing of beauty!

4) Town Hall Brewery: The beers at Town Hall are excellent as always.  They have dropped a bit down on my list this year for a few reasons--mostly service and food related.  I feel that since re-opening after the very needed refurbishing that the food quality and staff attentiveness has fallen greatly.  Still awesome beer though.

5) Urban Growler: I just visited not long ago and was very happy with the vibe, service and beers here.  Check it out!

6) Hammerheart: I still haven't visited the taproom, but nearly every beer I've had from them this year has been outrageous and flavor-packed.  Top of my list to visit in the coming year!

7) Schell's:  No Minnesota list can be complete without the second oldest family owned brewery in the USA.  Schells has rebranded themselves a bit this past year--focused more on their classic lagers and trying new and interesting sour beers to push the envelope a bit.

8) Indeed: I still really like the beers from Indeed and most are very good.  The taproom is still one of my favorites, though often crowded these days.

9) Summit: Mark Stutrud and his cadre of brewers continue to put out tons of high quality beers and can always be counted upon to have a tap handle in even the shadiest of dives these days.  Thanks go to them for bringing Craft Brewing to Minnesota.

10) Waconia Brewing: A new favorite and probably my most controversial.  This place is brand new but I love the feel of the place.  The owners and brewer are wonderful people and the beers are quite good.  And it is a few blocks from my home!

Did I leave some good ones off?  Of course!  Notables that almost made the list were Dangerous Man (too difficult to get in the doors and find a seat these days); Enki (still great guys and a comfy taproom, but I'd like to see more new beers this coming year!)

Keep in mind that I haven't even been to Sisyphus, Bauhaus, LTD, Tin Whiskers, and more!  So if you think I'm missing out, tell me and I'll try to get out there and check them out!  Please post your lists or any thoughts!!

Eric's Top 10 Minnesota Beers of 2014

1) Bent Paddle Double Shot: My personal best of show beer at ABR.

2) Steel Toe Before The Dawn: Dark barleywine goodness.

3) Steel Toe Wee Heavy: Rare, but not so hard to find that I can't enjoy it from time to time.  

4) Surly Darkness: Always something to look forward to.  I have only had on draft so far this year.

5) Hammerheart Rune Stone Stout: Tasted this summer at the Acadia Cafe...I'll suffer through a dirty glass and a crappy pour for this beer!

6) Bent Paddle Cold Press Black: Happily now available in cans in the Twin Cities!  One of the best coffee beers around.

7) Town Hall Czar Jack: Every once in a while you stumble upon a gem, nestled among the other already good beers.

8) Indeed Rum King: This is a last minute addition.  I cracked a bottle of this recently and was blown away by the complexity and balance in this big Imperial stout.  I have managed to have another glass of this and a sampler pour in the past week...Good job Indeed!

9) Town Hall Three Hour Tour: A perennial favorite of both myself and my wife.  One of the few well done coconut beers to be found anywhere.  Why do they not make more of this????

10) Enki Cacao Porter: This one mainly makes the list because I've probably had more of it than any other local beer over the past year!  With Enki being so close I can't help but stop by for one of these.

So many good beers and not enough space for them.  You may notice a lack of sour beers on the list compared to my previously posted Best New Beers in 2014 list.  The only real sours I tried from Minnesota this year were Berliner Weisse style beers from Schells and the similar Gose from Bent Brewstillery.  I like these, but they lack the complexity and true sourness that I get out of lambics and Flanders Reds.  Many of my favorites are dark beers but many are hard to find.  I'm actually shocked that more MN breweries don't specialize in Stouts and Porters since we have 10 months of winter here...

Monday, December 29, 2014

Photo Challenge #4: Holidays

After playing along with Erin's 30 Word Thursday weekly challenge on her Treasures Found Blog for the past year I have finally taken the plunge and started taking photography more seriously.  Starting with my iPhone, I soon found that the limitations of that device were getting to me.  Upgrading to a Cannon Eos Digital Rebel SL1 camera, I have started experimenting more with technique.  I have also invested in Photoshop Elements 12 and most of my post-production on photos will be from that program.  As a way to force myself to try new things, I'm doing a weekly photo challenge--each week focusing on a different photography or editing technique.  Some of these may be simple and others more difficult.  I encourage any of my readers to take part in the challenge!

The photo challenge for this week was simple: Take Holiday themed pictures of any type.  I didn't specify Christmas, so Kwanza, Hanuka, Festivus, pagan Solstice dances, etc. all were fair game!  I was hoping to get some photos of Krampus throwing some bad children in his bag to be eaten later, but didn't catch him this year...

I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get a picture of two of our cats passed out under the Christmas tree like furry presents.  The day was incredibly overcast and lighting was terrible.  I had to throw the camera onto a tripod to get the exposure somewhere usable.  Even then I'm not entirely happy with this shot.  But the cats are cute and they weren't about to move into better position for composition...

Again, I struggled with lighting on this one.  With grey light filtering through the window and under the shade of the tree, this present shot just didn't quite cut it without messing around with it.  I added a blur to soften this one up and give it a more dreamy feel.

This one is for my wife!  She loves penguins, and we received these hefty wooden guys from her sister's family for Christmas.  I used a white border to simulate the snowy surroundings that we lacked this Holiday season.

I took a ton of pictures of crumpled wrapping paper carnage after our orgy of gift giving, but most of them didn't have the contrast I was looking for.  Again, I blame the dreary gray light and the lack of any lamp in the room for most of this.  Briefly a ray of sun shone through under the tree and I got this ONE shot that looked OK.  I decided to add a poster effect to accentuate it a bit.

And what says Christmas more than Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury from the Avengers?  Sam and these cool beers were part of my Christmas present so I tried taking this shot from several angles.  I liked the from below shot as well, but this one just had a cinematic point of view to me.  This one would have worked well for last week's challenge as well.

Thanks for checking out this week's work!  I hope you all had a great Holiday season.

For next week's Photo Challenge #5:  Sketchy!  Take two or more photographs and use photo editing software to change them to pencil sketches.  I've tried this a few times, but mostly just on a whim.  This is a good excuse to specifically look for a few photos that will lend themselves well to this type of effect.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Eric's Top 10 Breweries of 2014!

Top 10 Breweries I Visited In 2014

This was a tough list to make and many great places got left off.  I think the ones that made the cut stood out to me in some way...making it past my jaded "seen one brewery you've seen 'em all" mindset.  

1) Perennial (St. Louis, MO):  Perhaps the best beers I've had all year and amazing staff!  Add in the Side Project Brewery by the same brewer in the same facilities and you have the best of the best.  

2) Cantillon (Brussels, Belgium): Because it is Cantillon!  This place is THE brewery for a sourhead like me.  

3) Founders (Grand Rapids, MI) Duh!  Founders doesn't make a bad beer!  The shear scale of this place is overwhelming from a craft brewery.

4) Surly (Minneapolis, MN) This was a last minute addition to the list since I snuck in a visit right under the wire.  I'm impressed with the new place--truly a destination brewery!

5) Perrin Brewing (MI): A happy surprise with a huge selection of house brews.  Focus on the stronger ales and wood aged stuff.

6) Dark Horse (Michigan): Ghetto, comfortable, real.

7) The Brew Gentlemen (Pittsburgh, PA): An upstart brewery doing amazing things.

8) Jolly Pumpkin (Dexter, MI): Brewing the first real sour ales in America!  Everything is fermented in wood, not a stainless conical to be seen.

9) Waconia Brewing (Waconia, MN): Because this is now my Local.

10) Val-Dieu (Belgium:) Great beers brewed in an old Belgium!  Not brewed by monks though...

HM) De Dolles Brouers (Belgium): Hoppy beers in Belgium!  So this one got knocked down by Surly...

Since many of these are non-Minnesota, I plan on posting a Best of MN list in the coming week as well.  If you've been to any of these you agree with me?  

Thursday, December 25, 2014

30 Words: Christmas!

I received him on my first Christmas.
This faded and thread-bear ornament has traveled with me my whole life so far!  
To another forty plus…
Merry Christmas to all!

This week's 30 Word Thursday is pretty self explanatory!  With a picture and exactly 30 words I will continue to take part in this challenge for the coming year.  Check Erin's Blog where all this started!

I'll be posting some other stuff as the year winds down, so check back often!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Eric's Top 10 New Beers OF 2014

So to wrap up the year I've got a couple of annoying Top 10 Lists coming up for you!  I do these not as definitive best of all time lists, but more as an exercise in remembering some of the stand-out beers, breweries, etc. from the past year.  I'll be posting some more over the coming few days.

Top 10 NEW Beers I Tried In 2014

1) Perrennial Barrel Aged Abraxas: I tried this beer at the release party during the filming of the Limited Release show with Rob and Ron.  Not only was this one of the best beer events I went to this past year, the beer blew my mind.  Huge and complex, this spiced RIS aged in bourbon barrels was the Top O' The Mountain for me.  This is not only my favorite beer of the year but my favorite beer EVER.

2) Side Project Fuzzy: On that same trip to Perennial we got to try a couple of brewer Cory King's Side Project Brewery beers.  This insanely tart sour was like getting socked in the face with the world's biggest peach.  OMG time.

3) Tilquin Quetsche:  A relatively new lambic producer in Brussels, this young blender is taking all his cues from the classics like Cantillon but doing something all his own.  This sour blended ale is made with purple plums and is like nothing else I have had.

4) Cantillon Zwanze 2012: This is a rhubarb lambic, and as such is intensely sour.  But sooooo good for a sourhead like me.  While I had better Cantillon beers there (Lou Pepe Kriek) I've had those before so this one is the best new beer I tried from them.

5) Allagash Coolship Red:  I had to go to Belgium's Night of Great Thirst sour beer festival to try this American version of a fruit lambic.  I would put it up against almost any of the Belgians I tried there.  

6) Bent Paddle Double Shot: This was their barrel aged Double Black with cold press coffee, served at Autumn Brew Review and was my favorite of the festival.  I may have gone back like 6 times for more.  Sorry if you got there late and missed it...I probably drank yours!

7) Steel Toe Sticker Fight: A new double IPA that really hits my particular sweet spot when it comes to that style.  I like it better than the Size 11.  Call me crazy.

8) Upland Persimmon: This was shared with me by Andrew G. and was so unusual and intense that it stands out as one of the best sours I've had.

9) Poltergueuze: A homebrewed 2 year blend served to me at NHC Club Night this year.  Certainly the best homebrewed sour I have ever had.  

10) The Brew Gentlemen's There Was Only Fire: A chipotle double IPA that shouldn't have worked but was so balanced that it actually worked.  This one makes the list for being so ballsy!

Last Minute Honorable Mention:  Surly's Todd The Axe Man.  I just tried this yesterday at the brewery (might have had two...) and was really impressed.  This is what I wanted Overrated to be like!

Overall, a hard list to make.  I've had some better ranked beers during the year that I've had before, but I set myself the goal of NEW beers (to me) this time to let some new blood into the list!  Looking at the finished list, I notice that many of these beers were tried at events or shared with others.  The situation will often color or enhance the enjoyment of a beer, making it stand out in your mind beyond the simple taste memory.  You will also notice that all my favorite styles of beer are represented: RIS, DIPA, and sours galore.  All of these beers I would actively search out and drink the heck out of if given the chance!  Unfortunately only three of these are available now in Minnesota: Sticker Fight at the Steel Toe taproom, Todd The Axe Man at the Brewery, and I just picked up an expensive bottle of Tilquin at The Four Firkins this past week.

Any thoughts on this list, or do you have a top 10 list you want to share?  I'll also be posting a Minnesota specific list later in the week...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Thoughts on Untappd

I recently read Michael Agnew's article in The Growler about Untappd and serial drinkers.  He had included me in his group of informants for the work (showing that he both has good taste and does his research!)  If you haven't read his article yet, I suggest checking it out HERE, but come back after and read the rest of this entry!  Having taken the time to write up responses to his questions, I realized that I had most of a blog entry already written and my thoughts varied a bit from the tack that Agnew took.  Why not expand on this a little as an avid Untappd user for several years now?

While Untappd (and other apps like it) fulfill various needs and desires for beer drinkers, Agnew's piece focuses in on the concept of the Serial Drinker.  He describes a serial drinker thus: A “serial” beer drinker is one with very little brand loyalty. Serial drinkers tend to seek out new beers that they haven’t yet tried rather than sticking with brands that they know. They are the people who look at a beer list and say, “I’ll have this. I haven’t had it yet.” As usual with Agnew's work, he is incredibly well spoken and has spent much time thinking out his points before writing them up.  Also, as he often does, he takes a borderline controversial stance.  This is actually why I like reading his stuff: that devil's advocate view is often more entertaining and thought-provoking than the mutual back-slapping of most craft beer journalism!

When asked if I am a serial drinker my response is this:  I have some brand loyalty and certainly the more unique beers I try from a brewery that rate highly will increase that loyalty. On the other hand, I admit that I get bored easily and rarely buy a full 6 pack of any one beer--making me a serial drinker.  Let me use Odell as an example: Having visited Odell in Colorado when it was still a small local brewery and being blown away by their beers, I have been watching them closely ever since.  When they arrived in Minnesota I rejoiced and promptly bought a bunch of their beers.  After a while--when I could grab a 90 Shilling at many pubs and liquor stores--I mostly stopped actively searching it out.  However, I have had enough fantastic beers from Odell over the years that when I get wind of a new one coming out I will go looking for it.  For me this is brand loyalty, but not necessarily beer loyalty.  If I find a brand, say Leinenkugel's, that I have tried 8 beers from (giving them more than enough tries to get things right,) and rate them all 3 or under on a scale of 1-5, then that brewery is much less likely to intrigue me in the future.  For me, using Untappd allows me to keep track of these breweries and beers for future reference.

Back to the easily bored thing.  I like to try new things and the only way to find a new beer that you might love is to take a chance.  By doing this I run the risk of getting an inferior beer, but I could get something great! Then again, having had a lot of different beers from different breweries, I have a feel for which ones are likely to be good bets. Kind of like being a seasoned gambler who knows the odds versus being a green mark goggling around during their first trip to a casino.  I don't just choose my "new" beer willy-nilly.  I also sometimes look up a beer on Untappd prior to ordering, just to get a feel for what other folks have rated it.  If everyone says it is terrible, I might adjust my choices!

When there are so many recognized good beers around, why should I keep trying new ones instead of sticking with those?  I'll be honest, I use the old standbys as a beer life-line of sorts.  I always know those good beers are available and can use them as back-up if I get a lousy one. A recent example of this occurred just a few days ago at Old Chicago.  I had ordered a beer that was listed as an Imperial IPA (a favorite style of mine) but when it arrived I found it to be a black IPA that was not to my liking.  They were kind enough to replace it, and rather than risk a new failure, I went with a Schell's beer I have enjoyed in the past.  I also often try to get bars/pubs to give me sample of the untested beer before I buy a whole pint if possible.

Why not just drink my favorites (Surly, Steel Toe, Bent Paddle)? I love those breweries and almost everything I have had from them is wonderful. But after even one Furious, I'm in the mood for something completely different. And a lot of my favorite beers are more difficult to find (Imperial stouts, sours, barleywines, barrel aged) and are not as easily available. If I could have Darkness or Lunker any time I wanted...I probably would!

So why do I bother to check into Untappd?  I have several answers for this one!

 A. I like to keep track for future reference as mentioned above.  Did I like that beer before or did I give it a mediocre score? Once you try a lot of beers it gets hard to remember them!

 B. I also use the app as a Facebook-of-beer. I like seeing what my friends are drinking as well as toasting them, taunting them, or asking questions of them. And by doing this on Untappd, I'm not spamming all my non-beer friends and family with all my drinking hijinks. There is some element of showing off and competition going on there as well. I'm a big beer geek and when I get to drink a rare Cantillon or a Bourbon County Stout I want to share that excitement with other folks who will "get it".   Can this boasting be bad?  Sure, just like Facebook, forums, etc. there can be Trolls.  Not the kind with green skin wielding gnarled oaken clubs, but people who feel like they can say obnoxious things in the relative anonymity of cyberspace.  De-friend them and they will bother you no more!

 C. I have actually met local people through Untappd that I later ended up becoming real friends with, as well as arranging for some beer trades from other states, so there is a real life social aspect to this as well.

D. I have used the location features of the app to good effect.  One afternoon while hanging out at Town Hall Brewery, I checked in a beer on Untappd.  Doing a quick scan of what other friends were drinking, I discovered that one of my good friends had just logged in a beer at Town Hall as well.  I wandered the place until I found him and he joined our group for the evening.  This may not seem all that impressive to those who live in the Twin Cities proper, but I live in Waconia and rarely run into people I know when in Town!  On that same day I checked the Nearby Beers feature on the app and discovered that people were drinking Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout just down the road at the Nomad World Pub.  Our group was soon off, fighting through a crowd of folks waiting for PBR tallboys in search of this dark and precious fluid.

So basically I use this app for multiple reasons at different times.  Probably the only negative I see is that my (mostly) very tolerant wife will complain from time to time about me whipping out my phone to check in beers when she wants to be talking to me.  And I get that!  On the other hand I really enjoy checking in my ratings for beers and comparing to other people's.

In his article Agnew mentions the "gamification" of this app and gives some good information about this as a marketing tool.  With us being a technological society, and also one with a notoriously short attention span, apps and programs that keep us involved or reaching for goals like badges will keep us coming back.  Geek Alert: I play the incredibly addictive computerized card game Hearthstone on my iPad nearly every day.  Each day the game gives you a new goal and if you reach that goal you will earn virtual gold to spend on new cards.  So you can play some more.  And earn more virtual gold.  So you can get more cards.  Ad infinitum.  Yet I enjoy the game for what it is and for the interaction with other gamers, not just for the "gotta catch 'em all!" collector value.  There is something intensely gratifying about your cards coming out just right and sweeping an enemy player off the map with some epic combination that is a glory all its own!

Untappd has badges for things like drinking a certain number of lagers, or pumpkin beers, or Belgian ales, or a certain number of total unique beers.  I'm not really looking to win these badges but I do remark upon them when they arrive.  I'll admit I have sampled a cider or two from my wife just so I could complete the Johnny Appleseed badge though.  Call me a sucker!  I can tell that Agnew doesn't like the concept of drinking beers just to hit a number...and he isn't wrong in that.  However, Untappd also rewards the steady drinker with the 6 Pack badge for drinking the same beer for a week, and the Brewery Loyalist badge for drinking 10 beers from the same brewery in the past 30 days.

I've noticed that the app has occasional badges for specific breweries or beers, funded by those breweries. This doesn't seem to be secret or nefarious and the app is free.   Everybody wants to get paid right?  So perhaps a sucker is born every minute, and apps like these use subliminal methods to take advantage of that and direct our consumerism.  But one must weigh the risks and benefits!  I've also noticed that breweries are paying attention to what people are saying on Untappd.  This is a quick way of getting some feedback on beers for them, and probably drives them crazy if a beer is not as well received as expected.  Just recently we cracked a beer at an event that had gone unintentionally sour and the next day someone from the brewery had contacted us for information about it.

So, apparently from reading my own blog entry I'm Untappd's biggest fanboy.  Overall, I enjoy the app for what it does, but it certainly is going to fulfill different roles for different people.  I obviously have a different take on the use of this tool from others.  Thanks go to Michael Agnew and his article about this app and trends for prompting me to take a closer look at something I use regularly.  In that article he sums up with the question "Are you in it of the journey or the destination?"  This is a great question and relates as much to life in general as to beer drinking.  Personally I'm into the journey.  I view Untappd as a tattered old map (or my fritzy GPS that freaks out in St. Paul) that sometimes helps me find my way on that trip.

I'm curious if any of my readers have strong opinions on the issue of Serial Drinkers, or of using Untappd in general.  Feel free to chime in and tell me what you think!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Photo Challenge #3: Still Life

After playing along with Erin's 30 Word Thursday weekly challenge on her Treasures Found Blog for the past year I have finally taken the plunge and started taking photography more seriously.  Starting with my iPhone, I soon found that the limitations of that device were getting to me.  Upgrading to a Cannon Eos Digital Rebel SL1 camera, I have started experimenting more with technique.  I have also invested in Photoshop Elements 12 and most of my post-production on photos will be from that program.  As a way to force myself to try new things, I'm doing a weekly photo challenge--each week focusing on a different photography or editing technique.  Some of these may be simple and others more difficult.  I encourage any of my readers to take part in the challenge!  I'll try to post a link-up every Monday with the results of last week's challenge and the rules for the following week.

This week's Photo Challenge #3:  This one is a photo taking challenge, but one that can be done indoors.  The idea: take common objects from your home and do a classic still life portrait.  Looking at old paintings of fruit and flowers, this has been an age-old technique for practicing your lighting techniques in controlled circumstances.

So I had grand plans of coming up with some cool tableau for this challenge, but ran out of time.  As a "beer journalist" I figured instead of having a bottle of wine and some grapes on a table, I'd use beer instead.  Then I realized that a bottle of Surly Eight really required something more off the wall to go along with the dark and creepy bottle art.  So Max and the Wild Things decided to start their Wild Rumpus around this fine bottle of ale!  I had absolutely no light from outside so I actually had to set up my tripod for this shot...using a slower shutter speed to let more ambient light in.  I tried a few different versions (using overhead lighting in this particular shot).  I decided to add a vignette to this the focus attention on the middle of the photo.

Have I mentioned that I'm a bit of a geek before?  If not, here is your proof!  I'm a physician in real life, and have accumulated some questionable medical equipment over the years.  As a scientist and a bit of a skeptic, I love the discredited practice of Phrenology (predicting personality traits and intelligence by feeling the lumps on a person's skull) and was excited to finally get a phrenology bust for my library.  Combining this with some antique apothecary supplies that I inherited from my grandmother, I had the things I needed for this shot.  I took a bunch of pictures, adding a skull and various other items to the mix, but this was my favorite.  Again I struggled with the lack of any natural light, so added a small lamp just out of frame for some interesting shadow effect on the bust.  This worked very well on the skull as well, but none of those shots looked quite right.

So if any of my readers want to take part, please link your blog or website to the link below so we can see what you managed to accomplish with this task!  The link will be open until this time next week, so you still have time to take some pictures.

For next week Photo Challenge #4:  Since the Holidays are a busy time, I thought about skipping a week, but decided to embrace it instead.  Next week's challenge is to take at least two Holiday themed pictures.  Pictures of family, pets in funny costumes, Christmas trees, etc.  I'll post that one next Monday!

Friday, December 19, 2014

JAB Holiday Party Wrap-Up (Unwrap-Up?)

Just a quick review for those were not able to make it!  The Jack Of All Brews Holiday party has been going strong since our first Christmas pot-luck at Brett Schneider's place in Waconia (I think in 2006!)   And yes I will say Holidays, since we have members from different faiths in our mixed group of misfits!  From our very small first gathering we have continued several traditions.  We always encourage spouses to come to the party (and all meetings if they want!) so that we all get to know each other better.  This year Mike and Kristin Lebben were kind enough to invite our rowdy bunch of homebrewers into their basement bar.  Having just finished painting the basement, they improvised an awesome Christmas tree for us to use!

We continued our tradition of pot-luck and this year we had quite the glut of cocktail weenies and different specimens of meatballs!  There was plenty of food to go around as always.

And this wasn't all of it!  MEAT!!!
Of course we raided Mike's amazing kegerator, quickly emptying his stock of Cranberry Cider, Willie Nelson inspired "Always On My Mind Pale Ale," and bourbon barrel aged "Her Majesty's Purr."  We all spent time ogling Mike's Sabco brew system looming in the basement like some shiny religious idol to the gods of brewing.

Many amazing homebrews and commercial beers were cracked and passed around.  I vaguely remember some great Roets Mead and Cider concoctions figuring in there somewhere.  Others I remember are: Sierra Nevada Celebration ale, a disgusting sour travesty of a brown ale, overpriced swill from Guiness called The 1759, Keith Brady's wicked good IPA, Jolly Pumpkin Noel de Calabaza, and Alesmith Wee name a few!

We had door prizes of beers and beer memorabilia to hand out as well!

And of course the crowning glory of the party is the blind gift exchange!  Here everyone who wanted to take part brought a wrapped or bagged beer-related gift to put under the ghetto tree.  Then drawing names everyone got a turn picking out a gift.  We had some pretty impressive rare beers hiding in that pile!  Thanks to all who helped out and all who came for the festivities.  I look forward to doing it all again next year.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

30 Words: Punk

Outstretched hand presents a small round pumpkin.
A sprightly Fall dance before the coming chill.
Dancers caper and cavort this Allhallows Eve.
Then frozen under Winter's silent and snowy blanket.

This week's 30 Word Thursday picture is from a fall trip the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.  This was one of the last times I was able to go out taking pictures before Minnesota Winter set in.  A bronze statue of young girls frozen in play caught my eye.  I had seen this statue several times without any great thought given to it, but this time someone had placed a small pumpkin to balance in a tiny hand.  Suddenly the tableau spoke to me and I snapped a few pics.  Lacking the colors I was looking for, the picture languished on my computer, but wanted to do something with it.  Taking a fresh look and trying out some colored pencil effects on my Photoshop Elements program I came up with this.  Please check out the other 30 Word entries at Erin's Treasures Found Blog Here.  Also she has had a book of some of last year's 30 Word Thursday entries (including some by Sj and I) so you should buy one!  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Photography Challenge #2: Crop This!

After playing along with Erin's 30 Word Thursday weekly challenge on her Treasures Found Blog for the past year I have finally taken the plunge and started taking photography more seriously.  Starting with my iPhone, I soon found that the limitations of that device were getting to me.  Upgrading to a Cannon Eos Digital Rebel SL1 camera, I have started experimenting more with technique.  I have also invested in Photoshop Elements 12 and most of my post-production on photos will be from that program.  As a way to force myself to try new things, I'm doing a weekly photo challenge--each week focusing on a different photography or editing technique.  Some of these may be simple and others more difficult.  I encourage any of my readers to take part in the challenge!  I'll try to post a link-up every Monday with the results of last week's challenge and the rules for the following week.

Last week we did a fairly simple transfer from color to B&W and I think the results were pretty interesting!  This week the challenge was a two-parter.

1) Take a picture that was "ruined" by something intruding in the shot, and cropping that out of the frame.  A very common and simple technique, but a powerful one in the day of digital editing.

Before:  A cute snapshot of my wife at the Keukenhof in the Netherlands.

New and improved!
Taking the picture with all the random distractions of passers-by, signs, and trees, I was able to easily crop all of them out.  Now I am left with a more portrait-like picture of my beautiful wife, rather than a casual snap-shot.  Keep in mind that this was actually the first day I used my new camera...and that it kept raining off an on every 30 minutes or so while we were there!

2) Take a decent picture and improve it by selective cropping.


This was a row of town-homes we wandered by in Pittsburgh on our search for the Church Brew Works.  I was drawn to the vibrant red against the white and raw wood, as well as the repeating pattern.  The picture is OK on its own, but lacked impact.  I was able to crop out most of the foliage and power lines in the background, as well as straightening the picture a bit.  I was also able to focus the eye a bit more on the central white window by doing this, using the Rule of 3's.  

I think this was a quick and easy challenge to show that sometimes simple edits can significantly change the impact of a shot.  

Feel free to add your own link to a blog or website on the link-up tool below!

Challenge #3:  Still Life!  This one is a photo taking challenge, but one that can be done indoors.  The idea: take common objects from your home and do a classic still life portrait.  Looking at old paintings of fruit and flowers, this has been an age-old technique for practicing your lighting techniques in controlled circumstances.  I plan on doing at least two pictures for this (more if I get fancy!) I've got some ideas for subjects…but we'll see what really works.  I also need some actual light instead of these gray days we have been having.  Or I need to figure out my flash!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

30 Word Thursday: Spring?

As I lounge inside,
Surrounded by an icy landscape
And steely gray skies,
I look back...
Or perhaps forward...
To vibrant colors,
Flowing waters,
Restful walks,
And green once again.

This week's 30 Word Thursday picture is from our trip to Belgium this past Spring.  I am currently wishing for some color in my life so I figured this one worked well!  I took this while on a walk with Sj through a park in Bruges.  Check out the other contributors to the 30 Word Thursday Challenge on Erin's Treasures Found Blog!  Also check back here next Monday for my other photography challenge reveal and link-up!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Grapes and Grain: Part 1

Over the past couple of years I have noticed a newish trend in brewing: adding grape juice to beer.  With meads there has long been the Pyment (a hybrid between honey-wine and regular grape wine), but this is a relatively recent idea in the craft brew scene.  Dogfish head probably pioneered this in the states with several of their experimental archaeological reconstructions, but Belgian sour producer Cantillon has been doing this for some time as well.  I managed to find a few of these beers this summer and wrote up this post at the time.  I had planned on posting this some time ago but it fell by the wayside.  I have now added a few more reviews and plan to do a second posting when I get through more of them!

Dogfish Head 61 Minute:  This is a 6.5% ABV pale ale brewed with the addition of Syrah grape must.  I picked this up as a single at Cassanova in Hudson, WI.  Poured into the appropriate Dogfish Head Riedel IPA glass.
Aroma: Citrus and grapefruit up front, but with a tannic grape skin aroma at the end.  Rounded hop and fruit aromas.  Slight sweetness.
Appearance: Copper to nearly pink color that is quite unusual for a beer.  Excellent clarity.  Large fine white head with hints of pink that is very persistent.  Nucleation sites on the bottom of the glass accentuate this effect.
Flavor: The hop bitterness and citrus flavor is dominant up front on the initial taste.  The citrus then fades to a somewhat dry red grape skin flavor.  The flavors all disappear off the tongue quite quickly leaving you with the impression of blandness at the end.
Mouthfeel: Smooth and almost creamy at first.  The finish is off-dry and a bit tart.
Overall: An interesting take on a pale ale and quite unique for my palate.  The grape adds complexity, but I feel that it draws some attention away from the hops in this style beer.  This was fun to try, but like a lot of Dogfish Head beers, it isn't one I'd drink much of.
Rating: 3.5/5

Cantillon Saint Lamvinus:  This is a lambic style beer made with true spontaneous fermentation at one of the oldest and best sour ale breweries in the world.  The brewery sources Merlot and Cabernet-franc grapes from the nearby Libourne region of France and are added to Bordeaux barrels filled with 2-3 year old lambic.  This is not a blended geueze.  The version I had was at the Night of Great Thirst sour ale festival in Belgium, and I did not note down what vintage it was.  In context of all those great sours, I didn't record a lot of details, but here was my impression of the beer.

Overall:  Very tart and dry like most of Cantillon's lambic beers, but with more body and a pleasant dark grape flavor on the finish.  Tannins are present but do not detract from the experience.  The melding of the grape and the sourness was flawless on this, actually elevating the final beer to be more than its separate parts.  For me this is the whole point of adding things to beer--trying to make something that improves the base beer or changes it in a significant and not gimicky way.  I really liked this a lot!
Rating 4.5/5

Cantillon Vigneronne:  This is the first grape infused beer that Cantillon made and was given its name in 1987.  They use late harvest Italian white grapes for this beer and add sugared liquor to kick-start refermentation.  This was tasted on the same night as above with the same difficulties in objective measurement, but here goes!

Overall:  In opposition to the Saint Lamvinus this one actually did not come out as well as I would have liked.  The grapes certainly mellowed the tart and sour lambic, but left it feeling lifeless and bland on my tongue.  The flavors were interesting, but I would take any other Cantillon over this one, even the unblended straight lambic.  This is a case (for me) where the addition of the grapes hindered rather than improved the overall effect of the beer.  Since this is one of the most sought after beers around, I'm sure that serious beer geeks will likely want to lynch me for this review.  But compared to all the other amazing sours I had that night, this one just didn't have the punch I was looking for.  Again, I'm not sure of the vintage, but assume it was from the previous year (2013).  Rating: 3/5.  Interestingly two years ago I actually rated this one higher than the Saint Lamvinus, so there is likely some vintage/year discrepency going on here.

Odell Jaunt:  I discovered this interesting beer at the Four Firkins in St. Louis Park.  Odell has long been a favorite brewery of mine and continues to come out with really unusual beers. This one is made with Riesling grape juice and aged on oak staves.  ABV is 7.6%.  Caged and corked, this one opens with a big "Pop!"

Aroma: Strong white grape aroma right off the bat.  I get some Belgian estery aroma after that combined with some sweet honey and sugary notes.  A bit of tart or lactic zip as it warms up.

Appearance: Golden color, excellent clarity.  Very effervescent with a huge long lasting white head. 

Flavor: Tart at first with flavors of white wine and golden raisins.  There is a sharp finish and a metallic twang that is unpleasant but fleeting on the tongue.  A sweet malt flavor lingers once the metallic has dissipated.  This is very dry and highly carbonated with a medium to almost light body.  I get very little oak flavor (vanilla, char, etc.) but it may add some tannin. 

Overall: An interesting beer, but not my favorite from Odell.  At first I gave this a 3 due to that metallic flavor, but as it warmed up and I got into my second glass of it this improved and I upgraded to a 3.5.

Boulevard Entwined Ale: This is special release from this summer that I am finally getting around to reviewing.  Sj and I actually got to try the test batch of this beer (called Nelson at that time) in the Boulevard tap room last year and loved it.  At the time they hinted that they might scale the beer up for commercial release and I was quite excited to find this on the shelf in Minnesota!  The beer is a sessionable 4.1% ABV and includes Muscat grape juice and the wine-like New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hop.  Using my glass from our trip, I served this one up in style!

Aroma: Unique aroma of white grape juice, sweetness of candy sugar, slight sulfur, and a hint of mustiness.  Almost smells like a Belgian golden strong ale (Duvel).  No distinct hop aroma.

Appearance: One of the lightest colored beers I have had this year!  Straw color with brilliant clarity.  Large white head that is persistent.

Flavor: Grape juice right up front giving this a light wine start, but fades quickly to a pilsner malt finish.  Fairly thin in body.  Slight sulfur notes in flavor, especially as it warms.  Very little hop flavor, but bitterness is present to balance the sweetness.  Not a very sweet beer despite its aroma.  Ends quite dry and crisp like a pilsner, but not astringent.  Very interesting.  Not quite as much Nelson hop flavor as I remember from the test batch.

Overall: A very good, refreshing and easy to drink beer.  The combination of the hop and grape juice really make this a unique beer that is worth trying.  Like a strange offspring of a German Pilsner and a fruity white wine! 4/5

Lucid Halucidation:  This is a collaboration with Waconia's own Parley Lake Winery (just down the road from me!) This is the second year of the collaboration, but I missed it last year.  This year they released the beer at their 3rd anniversary bash.  I was ill that day, stopping by quickly to get my bottle, but didn't get to enjoy the party.  I don't have a ton of information about the beer other than the fact that it is a Belgian style tripel with white grape juice added and clocks in at a hefty 12.5% ABV.  Coming in a large 750 ML foil-wrapped bottle, I served this in the proper glass.

Aroma: Somewhat tart and sulfury initially, but clears a bit when driven off by swirling.  I get more white grape aroma and the Belgian yeast esters of pear and clove.  Some sugary sweetness noted as well.  No hop aroma noted.
Appearance: Golden color with excellent clarity.  A fine, nearly white head that fades to edge of glass, but persists.
Flavor: Up front sharp white wine character that then fades to a light malt/pilsner type finish.  In the middle I get light banana and pear esters.  The end shows a return of that sulfur flavor on the back of the tongue.  Definite alcohol warming, but not boozy hot.  Lingering aftertaste of white grapes with a dry finish.
Overall: An interesting beer and a base style that seems to go well with the grape.  This is the best Lucid beer I've had to date, and is complex and unusual.  Sj didn't love this one, and at 12.5% ABV I didn't dare finish all hers as well. 4/5

The Bruery Atomic Kangarue:  Sj and I picked a couple of these up when we visited The Bruery taproom in Orange County a few months ago.  This is a collaboration with Smog City Brewing, who I have never heard of prior to this.  ABV is 9.5% ABV.  The beer is made with Semillon and Viognier grape juice, blended with a sour ale, dry hopped with Amarillo, and finished with Brettanomyces yeast!  Sound like a lot of stuff going on?

Aroma: The aroma on this is wonderfully complex and seems to morph into something different with every sniff.  Citrus, sharp lemon, mild pine--all coming from the dry hop.  Some tartness and hint of sour, but pleasant.  Some sweetish sugar and as it warms I pick up some white grape.  Definite Brett character.
Appearance: Deep gold color.  Slight haze from dry hop and some lees in the bottle.  A huge white head with fine and tight bubbles that persists for ages.
Flavor:  Up front hop flavor and bitterness with white grape, lemon peel, pear.  The beer is tart but not mouth-puckering like a geueze or lambic.  Slight alcohol noted, but drinks more like 6% than 9.5%!  Dry and lingering tart and bitter finish, but not truly astringent.  Leathery notes as warms.  Has some bone dry white wine flavors.  Body on the thin side, but not watery.
Overall: A bold and wacky beer that keeps changing things up.  By all rights, the hop, sour, and grape should fight each other, but these all just keep building on layers of aroma and flavor.  The grape really plays a supplemental role in this beer, not front and center like some of the examples I've tried. I could drink this every day and be happy.  4.5/5

Coming Up:  Now that I'm paying attention, I have discovered a veritable dragon's hoard of other grape-containing beers in my cellar.  I'll start working on a second group of these reviews ASAP!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Photo Challenge #1: Go Black & White!

After playing along with Erin's 30 Word Thursday weekly challenge on her Treasures Found Blog for the past year I have finally taken the plunge and started taking photography more seriously.  Starting with my iPhone, I soon found that the limitations of that device were getting to me.  Upgrading to a Cannon Eos Digital Rebel SL1 camera, I have started experimenting more with technique.  I have also invested in Photoshop Elements 12 and most of my post-production on photos will be from that program.  As a way to force myself to try new things, I'm going to start a weekly photo challenge--with each week focusing on a different photography or editing technique.  Some of these may be simple and others more difficult.  I encourage any of my readers to take part in the challenge!  I'll try to post a link-up every Monday with the results of last week's challenge and the rules for the following week.

So for my first challenge I set the rules of changing 2-3 pictures from color to black & white format.  I figured that this would be an easy one, since most photo software can quickly do this for you.  I discovered that it was more difficult than I thought to find pictures with enough contrast to really pop in black & white!  I also realized that subconsciously when taking pictures I actually earmark many of my more "industrial" pictures like old machinery, ironwork details, and brewery equipment as future B&W pictures.  All the pics I was drawn to initially for this challenge had little color in them and were already close to monochrome!  So I worked hard to dig out a few more unusual pics for this one and forced myself to stretch a bit.

This was taken in Ghent, Belgium at an unusual modern structure surrounded by ancient stone buildings and churches.  The patterns were odd and out of place, but intriguing!  I think the contrast is more noticeable in the B&W version.

This was taken in Chiny, Belgium during last summer's trip.  We saw big trout jumping in this river and wandered the forested banks.  I think the effect is very different in B&W: with the texture of the ripples more noticeable than the green trees and weeds in the color version.

This one is my favorite of the three!  Taking a brightly colored (yet having all shades of green) picture and then showing the off the gradations of that color in the B&W version makes this look more impressive to my eye.
So there you go!  First week down and many more to come.  I'll be focusing more on editing effects for a while, since Minnesota winters are not ideal for picture taking.  If you want to try this along with me, feel free to post your own blog links below on the Inlinkz widget.  I'll keep that open for the whole week to encourage more playing along!  Also share this challenge with any of your friends who are into photography…especially newbies!

Next week's Challenge #2 is another easy one, but a technique that is essential to modern photography: Cropping.  Since this is a pretty easy one I'm making it a two part challenge.  First I want you to fix a picture (by cropping) that is "ruined" by somebody's head, random passerby, car driving by, etc.  Second I want you to take a picture that is "good" on its own but needs to be cropped to either get closer up to the subject or to move it to a more pleasing spot in the frame.  I'll post my link next Monday for this, so you have a whole week!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

30 Words: Light

The last rays of wan light filter
through hazy glass.

Darkness creeps in,
held at bay by this feeble brilliance.

Around me loom shadows of derelict machinery, 
lost in time.

After a brief hiatus, I'm back to taking part in 30 Word Thursday!  The idea is this: take a picture (preferably your own) and write something about it in exactly 30 words.  I started this over a year ago now to take part in Erin's blog-hop version of this and have decided to keep it up this year as well.   Check out Erin's Treasures Found Blog for the other entries this week and feel free to try it yourself!  I took this photo at Phelps Mill, an old turn-of-the-century grain mill up by my family cottage on Ottertail Lake.  I grew up crawling around on the dangerous machinery and rotting floors of this place, so it was fun to go back and explore now that they have repaired it a bit.  This was also a place I used my mom's old camera to take pictures for a Junior High photography class!

In addition to the 30 Word Thursday, I have decided to try doing a weekly photography challenge over the coming year as well.  I will post my self-imposed challenge here (below my 30 Word Thursday for the week) and post the result within the following week.  Some of these will be photography, but many will be post-production photoshop effects (especially during the winter months when outdoor photography is more difficult here in Minnesota!)  I think these challenges will help me to learn more about photography and editing digital pictures.  Hopefully people will enjoy the process with me.  I know my blog is predominantly beer related, but I feel like mixing things up a bit!  If there are any other budding photographers out there who want to play along with these challenges--please do so!  Feel free to comment here with a link to your own blog or website, or send it to me and I can post it.  If I get a few interested parties I can make an official blog link-up like the 30 Word Thursday.

Photo Challenge 1) Black & White
Starting out simple: take three color photos and change them to black and white format.  Ideally these will have a different tone or impact when changed to black and white.  Other photoshop effects are allowed but the biggest change should be the removal of color.  Show the before and after pics for comparison.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Waconia Brewing Company Review

For those who missed it, I interviewed the owners of Waconia Brewing Company back in March of this year before they had started construction on their new building.  You can read my interview HERE if you want to learn more about Bob and Peter DeLange.  Since that interview I have been lucky enough to hang out more with them and their lovely wives (and co-owners) Kaye and Dee, and have been able to follow the progress of the brewery over time.  During the summer they offered up Founders Club packages (T-shirt, pint glass, bottle opener, sticker, and 12 growler fill tokens) for adventurous locals to buy into.  Founders also get a larger glass of beer at the taproom, which is never a bad thing.  I have membership number 1!  I figured I had to try to support these fine folks in my own town. 

The brewery had a soft opening just for Founders Club members the week prior to their official opening date October 22 of 2014.  I was able to swing in and try their first three batches of beer, but didn't want to do an official review until they were fully open and rolling.  I also got to take part in the Terra Waconia/Waconia Brewing beer dinner just before Halloween and blogged about that previously.  Just recently the brewery had their official Grand Opening bash featuring a pizza truck and live band.  I stopped by briefly and the place was standing room only!  So here is my "official" review so far of the brewery--keeping in mind that the place has only been open a month.

The brewery itself is located right in the middle of downtown Waconia, near Unhinged Pizza, taking the former space of a children's daycare.  So sad that they tore out the old tiny toilet seats.  It would have been hilarious watching taproom patrons trying to figure out how to deal with that!  The entrance is off to the side of the building, not incredibly visible from the parking lot. 

Entering into the taproom, I was impressed with the look right away.  While outside the place looked like any other strip mall, the inside transports you to another, more rustic land.  The walls are of reclaimed barn wood and offer a rural quality to the taproom that fits very well with our location out in the hinterlands of the Twin Cities.  Chairs and tables are massive things of solid steel and heavy distressed wood.  The bar itself is quite long and solid as well with plenty of seating.  A pop of technology in the rustic place are the two small iPad stations set up for credit card payments at the bar.  On one wall a large WBC logo made up of hundreds of blackened screws is drilled into the wood in an impressive work of artistry.  Some framed pictures of local photos take up space on unoccupied walls.  A cozy fireplace surrounded by four soft easy chairs takes up one corner near the entrance.  Overall one is struck by the natural and almost primitive look of the place, but beneath that is an eye to detail and sturdy construction.  This taproom is no slap-dash thrown-together afterthought, but rather a well thought-out comfortable place to share a beer and talk.  From my previous interview with the brothers, this is exactly the feel they were hoping to hit, and I think they have outdone themselves.  I find it aesthetically to be one of my favorite taprooms, right up there with Indeed for those who have been out there.

They have a good selection of WBC swag including t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats in several different styles and colors.  Two TV's are mounted above the bar, for the odd "game" but this is no sports bar...we already have plenty of those in town. 

But what about the beer?  One can order nonic pint glasses or samplers to taste all the beers.  The samplers come out in a heavy locally made wooden tray with an inlaid steel Minnesota shaped plate.  At this point the folks at WBC aim to have four standard beers: IPA, amber, kolsch, and wheat, on tap all of the time.  They will be doing a constantly rotating bunch of seasonal and experimental beers as well throughout the year.  I have now had the beers a few times and am ready to give my review.  Keep in mind that these are the first batches of beer that the brewer Tom Schufman has made on this brand new system and that he is just now learning the in's and outs of the process and of our local water supply. 

Carver County Kolsch: I like this beer.  It has a little bitterness on the tail end that is out of style that is likely from our very hard Waconia water.  The beer has a very clean and drinkable character that will appeal to folks used to drinking fizzy American lager beers.  I do get a hint of the fruitiness that comes from the kolsch yeast and sets it above those lagers in my opinion. 

255 Amber: A well done American amber that combines light hopping with a malty caramel backbone.  This is easy to drink but has some color and more distinctive ale flavors to appeal to a different audience.  A good transitional beer for sure.

Waconia Wit: This one wasn't my favorite.  Cloudy (but is actually required for the style) with lots of citrus flavor from orange peel in the boil.  I get too much sulfur from the aroma and flavor, probably from yeast.  I know that this one has not been as popular and they have already replaced it with WacTown Wheat--a more traditional and well done American Wheat beer served in a tall weizen glass.

90 K IPA: This is my favorite of the bunch!  A solid IPA that rides right in the middle of the style.  It has a very strong citrus hop aroma and flavor, but is not astringently bitter like some versions.  There is a bit of malty sweetness to balance the beer out.  Very easy to drink a pint of.  Interestingly I have talked to several people who think it is either too sweet or too bitter, proving that taste is very subjective for this style of beer! 

Belgian 342:  This was an experimental Belgian pale ale made with an experimental unnamed hop number 342.  It doesn't have quite as much Belgian yeast character as I'd like, but this probably makes it more palatable to more taproom patrons!  A sharp but pleasant hop bitterness pushes the boundary of the style, but in the end this beer is quite nice. 

Overall I think the beer quality already exceeds my initial expectations for a new brewery, but could certainly be tweaked a bit to make the recipes even better.  I actually try not to judge the beers from breweries under 4 months old and was going to wait on writing this up, but decided that they were good enough already to go ahead and do so.  I think that the current round of beers is better than several Minnesota breweries that have been open more than a year.  This gives me high hopes for the upcoming beers from WBC!

The brewery itself is a sparkling new stainless system that boasts a whirlpool tank for clarifying (and for hopping) the beers.  This is one of most spotless and well-lit breweries I've seen!  They serve beers directly from large serving tanks located in the walk-in refrigerator behind the bar. 

(Deliberately blurry…for that dreamy "I'm in a brewery" feel!)

I finally got a chance to meet up with Head Brewer Tom Schufman and ask him a few questions about himself and his ideas about brewing. 

1) JABlog: Tell us a little bit about your background: what did you do before coming to work for Waconia Brewing Company?

1) Tom:  I grew up in Eden Prairie (graduated 2000) then went to school at Bemidji State to pursue an Environmental Studies degree. Did a little work in that field and found I needed to go back to school in order to find a decent job. I decided to keep working odd jobs until I took a tour at Summit Brewing. There, I inquired about a temporary packaging position they were looking to fill, which I landed! Mostly grunt work, but I loved being there and got to leave with a few cases of beer at the end of my shift. It also helped my resume for an opening at Northern Brewer Minneapolis as a full time employee. There I got to brew multiple times a week and create recipes for people every day. It was a great job. New products to play with, new hop varieties always coming out, Blichmann Top tier in the classroom to pilot batch...again, great job. I also got to meet a ton of cool homebrewers & professional brewers while there. Brian Hoffman of Fulton often showed up to shop for the brewery and he posted an assistant brewer position on the cork board. I went for it, had a great interview, and got the job...part time to start. So full time at Northern Brewer, part time assistant at for beer! That lasted a few months before I quit Northern Brewer and went on full time at Fulton. As a fast paced & growing company, I moved up the ladder quickly learning a lot from Peter Grande (owner and brewmaster). I got promoted to shift lead brewer and got to work with a great crew before I heard of the Head Brewer at Waconia Brewing job. I live in St. Boni, so felt obligated and excited to apply. The dream of being so close to home, doing what I love and having a ton of control on the beer was a possible reality. I had a fun & professional interview with Bob & Pete and they ultimately chose me for the role, and I could not be any happier!

2) JABlog:  What is your favorite beer style to drink? (Or to brew for that matter!)  Also what are you planning on brewing us over the next few months?

2) Tom: I'm a seasonal drinker. Right now I'm digging on maltier beers and holiday spiced beers...but you can't deny Sierra Nevada Celebration in winter! I like to brew seasonally too. I'm brining in an English yeast strain soon & am planning on some dark beers for Dec/Jan. English beers are some of my personal favorites (Fullers ESB was my gateway beer). Expect some lower ABV hoppy beers for spring as well as a Maibock towards May. December will also bring our first single hop IPA series. Australian Topaz will be the first of many cool hops I've nabbed over the last few months. It gets me excited to try all the new hops out there and some JAB guys agree with me it's a cool experience to get to know hops like that. Small batches (10BBL) so they stay fresh but won't be here long and a small number of growlers will be sold. Watch our website and facebook/twitter for new releases in that series.

3) JAB:  How about longer term plans for the brewery?  Any barrel aged or strong ales on the horizon?

3) Tom:  With J. Carver Distillery down the road & a ton of wineries around us...barrel aging seems like a no brainer! Right now, we don't have the space for a serious program but I do plan on having a small fleet of barrels to play around with. I'm a big fan of brett barrel aged beers so down the road we will do that :) Also, with that English strain in house I'll definitely be making a Barleywine or RIS, I just don't know exactly when--as we need to keep up on our production beers which you can now find at some local bars & restaurants. I will find room to play around though! Oktoberfest for 2015 too!

4) JAB:  Have you had any new revelations/discoveries/fiascos since starting to brew on your new system?

4) Tom:  No new revelations, but it keeps me up at night sometimes trying to figure out a solution to some of our problems. I knew it was going to be tough to get it all running smoothly & keep it running smoothly. Our boiler had the wrong pressure sensor installed, and when I tried boiling water, it wouldn't boil. Dan at Enki had told me to check the boiler because the same thing happened to them, so tip of the hat to him!

Fulton had a 20BBL system and we have a 10BBL so it's was easier to go a bit smaller that it would be to go larger. Bob really has helped me a ton with troubleshooting help, running lines, keeping me sane while the buildout was in progress. The TEK mechanical guys out of Hutchinson did a great job for us too. You never know what's going to happen, but there is always a fist pound after Bob and I have a successful brew-day where minimally to nothing bad happens. If you ask other brewers, they will tell you "it's always something...." For real though, things seem to be running smooth now.

JAB:  Thanks Tom, so much for taking the time to respond and give us more info about you and the brewery!  I look forward to seeing what you do in the coming years!

For a newly opened brewery Waconia Brewing Company seems to be on the right track.  I like the beers overall, and love the feel of the place.  This is exactly what I was hoping for when I first heard rumors of someone opening a brewery in my town.  The DeLange family has done things right and one can tell that they put not just their money, but their hearts into this enterprise.  Since I have gotten to know the folks involved here, I can no longer claim to be perfectly unbiased, but I try to be honest with myself and my readers.  At this point as a Founders Club member, I'm invested in this!  I WANT to be excited about getting a growler of WBC beer to take home.  I WANT to hang out in this taproom with my friends.  So far so good!