Thursday, January 30, 2014

30 Words: Guardian

Patient and wise this endless sentinel perches atop a marble block,
Gripping its shielded namesake emblem in craggy claws of stone.
Awaiting the end of all things.
The challenge is one picture and 30 words every Thursday...not always beer related, but hey I have to stretch my wings sometimes!  This week's addition to 30 Word Thursdays (hosted by Erin at her Treasures Found Blog) is a picture I took with my iPhone 4S while in Belgium.  Check out the other entries on the blog!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Freehouse Brewery Review

I've been looking forward to trying out Freehouse since I first heard rumors of it brewing late last year.  I have been a fan the Edina Grill and 3 Squares (also Blue Plate restaurants) for their casual but still upscale menus and good beer lists.  That being said, I have more recently been disappointed in the dwindling beer selection at Edina Grill.  So, a brewpub to open under this aegis?  Sounds like a perfect idea to me.  However, the place has sparked some controversy: even before officially opening, Freehouse made the national news with a somewhat ludicrous beer pricing scheme, that luckily they seem to have revamped since then.  I always like to give breweries and restaurants a little to time get through their initial growing pains before making an official ruling on them, which is why I waited a bit to get out there.

I picked up my mom in Maple Grove and headed downtown on a Tuesday for lunch.  The day was a bone-chillingly cold -6 degrees F, and we parked a few blocks away in a metered spot.  As we shambled ourselves over the poorly shoveled ice-slicks that Minneapolis calls sidewalks, we did see some parking spots near the restaurant that may have been fair game.  Oh well, I'm a suburb guy and don't know my downtown well!  The place is near Be'Wiched and Burrough, an easy walk to Fulton in warmer days.  A large metal grain silo emblazoned with an orange Minnesota, led the way to the building, drawing me like a beacon toward beer and blessed warmth.

A smiling hostess quickly opened the door for us and hustled us into the warm interior. Upon entering the large one story brick building I was struck by the contrasts.  Industrial girders and piping painted in white and black lined the ceilings and some of the walls--stark and monochromatic.  A large stainless steel square bar appeared just to the left of the entrance with a metal hanging shelf structure above it loaded with empty growlers.  Lots of windows offered good lighting, even on this overcast day.  Once we were seated in the restaurant proper at heavy light-grained wooden tables, I had time to continue looking around myself.  The dining area itself had soft booths of muted colors and despite the stark nature of the place it felt at the same time very comfortable and relaxing.  One can see the brewery itself behind glass at the other side of the dining room, with an animated Freehouse sign across the glass, bubbling with simulated carbonation.

The menu seemed a bit schizophrenic.  Classic pub fare like sandwiches, burgers and fish & chips vie for attention with breakfast items all day.  The appetizers were a bit out-there: oysters, bone marrow, oxtail croquettes, salmon Scotch egg, Korean riblets.  We ended up splitting two dishes so we could each try more things.  The fish & chips was very good, served with a wonderful house made aoli/tartar sauce, and a mint pea puree.  The star of the show was the strangely named $1000 Burger.  Served on a house made English muffin, the patty is a combination of flavorful cuts of brisket, short rib, sirloin and rich duck fat.  The flavors in this burger are crazy good and any extra juices soak into the muffin rather than escaping to the plate.  I'm usually a ketchup fiend, but I didn't even use any on this burger.  After trying these solid dishes, I'd like to sample some of the other wacky concoctions on this menu.

Let's talk beer, shall we?  Brewpubs are a difficult proposition, needing to succeed at both brewing good quality beers, as well as having great food.  This is the main reason there aren't a lot of brewpubs going up in the state.  With new taproom laws in Minnesota, breweries can sell pints at their own places without having to deal with running a successful restaurant as well.  However, nearly every brewery we went to in Oregon had their own restaurant, and most seemed to be doing great business.  The brewer for Freehouse is none other than Tim Piotrowski, (Pio for short,) most recently an alumni of the Minneapolis Rock Bottom.  Check this link to see last year's interview that he was kind enough to do for this blog.  At this point Freehouse has four house beers which I will touch on, but they also serve a limited supply of other craft beers along their own.  They serve beers in a pint, "middy" and 5 ounce sample glass so you can choose how you want it served.  I like having options.

1) The kolsch is a very light beer, obviously aimed at the casual beer drinker.  A subtle brew with a light fruity flavor, but I picked up a hint of plastic in the nose that I didn't love.  Luckily that faded quickly.
2) The brown ale was slightly more flavorful than a Newcastle, but in that vein.  Dry finish without a lot of body.  A light roasty flavor adds some complexity.
3) The stout seemed like a dry Irish stout but the lack of nitro tap to smooth the dry astringency of the finish and add mouthfeel knocked this down a bit for me.  My mom described it as "watery." 
4) The IPA was pretty mellow, but very well balanced.  This seemed more like a modern day pale ale, since IPA's have gone more over the top in recent years.  If I had tasted this 5 years ago I would have thought it was hoppy, but not today.  This was my favorite of the bunch, and I'd be happy to have a couple pints of it.  Very good with the fish & chips too!

When it comes down to it the beers were all fairly safe, but all were clean and drinkable.  Pio is known for well balanced, drinkable beers, and as such he is a good choice for this type of brewery.  All of the beers went well with the food choices we had, not overwhelming the flavors in the food--an important thing to consider when running a brewpub!  They are apparently working on a hoppier West Coast IPA and a wheat beer now, which bodes well for further experimentation in their line up.  It also sounds like they hope to feature some of the beers in the other Blue Plate restaurants as well, much like Town Hall and Fitgers have done with their off-shoot sites.

The service we had at Freehouse was stellar.  From the pleasant hostess to our knowledgeable and attentive server, I felt well cared for during my visit.  My empty sample glasses magically whisked away, and I never felt rushed or pressured.  At one point a jovial, bearded manager stopped by and seemed genuinely interested in what we thought of our experience and the beers in particular.  Everyone I dealt with seemed to know their beer and food well.

Overall, I had a very pleasant experience at Freehouse.  Excellent service, good food and decent house-brewed beer made this a great place for lunch.  Having read an entertaining but less than glowing review prior to my visit, I had somewhat low expectations coming in.  I was almost disappointed not to be served a Lovecraftian dish, but my experience was apparently much better!  The setting was an interesting juxtaposition of industrial and comfortable.  At this point they lack a "killer" beer that I would make the trip out for specifically, but I look forward to stopping back in here again to try more beers over time...and to have another of those amazing burgers. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

30 Word Thursday: The Crux

The Crux:
Rays of Summer light dapple the shaded bartop,
Concentric bands of sparkling gold mimic the ring of union,
Deep copper warms eye and belly with its mellow glow.

This is my weekly entry into 30 Word Thursdays, a challenge started at the Treasures Found blog.  This week I used a pic taken with my iPhone this summer at Crux Brewing in Bend, Oregon during a visit for my cousin's wonderful wedding.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Make An Easy Mead!

OK, I've been doing the arty 30 Word Thursdays for the past two posts and am neglecting the beer info!  Between travel and then a bout of illness, I have fallen behind.  I thought today I'd do a quick post about mead making. 

For those who haven't been exposed to meads before, they are a wine made of honey as the fermentable instead of grapes.  Interestingly mead has been grouped with homebrewing for ages, and only more recently has it been included in more wine oriented media.  We homebrewers will take the orphaned and obscure fermented beverages without complaints!  The first mead I ever had was the old super sweet mead that had a knight on the label and came with a packet of spices to mull with the warmed drink.  It was less than impressive and I subsequently ignored meads for about 10 years.  Upon getting involved in the burgeoning homebrew community in Minnesota I discovered that several of the AHA Meadmaker Of The Year winners were from the area.  We had Curt Stock out to my house around that time to give a presentation on making fruit meads and this really started me off on wanting to try this for myself.

Making a mead is easy, but making a great mead is difficult.  I'm going to go over a basic recipe here for starters.  I have won a few medals for meads at smaller competitions like Byggvir's Big Beer Cup, but by no means am I a famous mead maker.  Consider this a beginner's essay.  Following these directions, making a mead will take under an hour of hands-on time--much quicker than even a stove-top extract homebrew.  Make sure to still follow good rules of cleaning and sanitation, though the honey and the high alcohol content of meads are a bit more forgiving than with beer.

1) Find yourself some honey.
This is honestly the toughest part of mead making.  A 5 gallon batch of mead will require 12-18 pounds of honey, and it can be hard to find in bulk like that.  With the recent colony collapse disorder honey prices have risen somewhat steeply as well, so a gallon (12#) jug of honey is likely to cost over $40.  When you compare this the cost of a wine kit at the local homebrew shop it isn't that crazy.  The quality of the honey can have a big impact on the resulting mead as well, so ideally try to learn where your honey is from and what flowers the bees were using.  Most commercial mass produced honey is blended from multiple sources and as a result is fairly plain/generic in flavor.  The most sought after honeys for mead making are tupelo and orange blossom (good luck finding them in Minnesota).  Each single source honey has a unique flavor, and some are better for meads than others...experiment!  Northern Brewer and Midwest both have some honey available in a pinch, but your best bet is finding someone who raises bees and make a deal with them.  I was lucky enough this year to find one of my work-mates who is raising bees and he brought me 12 pounds of his fresh honey.  I'm assuming it is wildflower (a mix of various sources of nectar for the bees).

12 pounds of honey awaiting the magic of fermentation

2) To heat or not to heat.
Most old recipes call for either boiling or at least pasteurizing honey for making mead.  Based on years of experience (and more from all those great local meadmakers) this is not worth doing and actually results in a loss of flavor and aroma particles.  Honey is essentially sterile, so there is really no need to boil it.  You may need to heat it if there has been crystallization, either by direct heat or adding a small amount of near-boiling water.  Crystallized honey is just fine, but does make this step more involved.  In fact most sellers of honey will be unable to sell their crystallized honey for as much and will often give you a deal on buying this from them.

3) Just add water.
You can use any water for this, but there are some caveats.  If you don't like the taste of your tap water, don't us it.  Mine tastes like a swimming pool due to added chloramines, so I use bottled spring water.  I wouldn't use distilled, as the yeast will need some calcium and other ions to grow and function correctly.  I usually add my honey (room temp or warmed if needed) to a 5 gallon brewing pail, mainly to use the estimated volume measurements on the side.  For 12 pounds of honey I will usually add water to get up to a total of 4 gallons.  This will leave you with a sweet to semi-sweet mead depending on your yeast and fermentation.  The typical store bought kits will recommend 12 pounds for a 5 gallon batch, but this nearly always finishes very dry and not as honey-like as most people expect--think honey champagne. 

4) Stir.
Doing this with a spoon is a pain, especially if your honey is pretty firm.  I use a paint mixer attachment for my drill.  My wife likes to tease me that the only reason I bought a drill at all was to mix mead and grind grain.  She is correct.  With this method of stirring you can make sure the honey is completely dissolved in the water, rather than clumped up on the bottom of your bucket.  This also adds enough oxygen to the mixture (or must) for good yeast health.

5) Take your vitamins.
One of the biggest advancements in mead making over the last several years has been an increased understanding of yeast health.  Honey has tons of sugars for the yeast to break down and turn into alcohol, but lacks a lot of the micronutrients and free amino nitrogen (FAN) that are supplied by beer wort and most fruit juices.  As a result, adding nutrients for proper yeast health and energy is the way to go.  I use a mix of 2/3 DAP and 1/3 Fermaid K, mixed to that ratio and stored in a spice jar.  This mix supplies the needed nitrogen as well as other minerals and nutrients needed.  I use 3/4 tsp of this mixture at the initial stirring step.  I do another 24 hours after the fermentation begins.  Another at 48 hours.  And one final dose at about 2 weeks, or when fermentation is slowing down.  This stepped addition will keep supplying nutrients to yeast when it needs it the most--during active fermentation.  The stirring process at these times will also add more needed oxygen and whip out the accumulating CO2.  Mead is not as sensitive to oxygen as beer, so you can feel safe about doing this.  Prior to using this method meads often stopped fermenting early resulting in overly sweet product, as well as resulting in stressed out yeast that led to more off-flavors in the final mead.

6) Take your temperature.
I use one of those temperature strips stuck on the outside of the bucket to keep a basic measurement of the fermenting must.  This isn't incredibly accurate, but prevents extra opening of the lid risks of letting infection in.  Keep the fermentation temperature on the lower side, as higher tends to give you more of those rocket-fuel or paint-thinner flavors.  I aim for mid-60's.

7) Yeast!
I use 2 packets of Lalvin 71b-1122 (Narbonne Strain.)  Rehydrate your yeast per packet instructions in warm water.  This prevents shock to the yeast if added directly to the sugary must.  Some people add Go-Ferm at this step to give those yeast a little nutrient kick.  I do that when I remember to.  After about 15 minutes add the yeast to your must and you are good to go.  You can experiment with different yeasts, but many beer yeasts will not fully attenuate a higher gravity mead.

Rehydrating yeast getting ready to ferment some honey

8) Transfer to secondary.
I usually leave the fermenting mead in the bucket for 2-4 weeks before transfer to a glass secondary.  By then the majority of fermentation will be done, but if there is still a fair amount of active bubbling in the airlock--leave it for a bit longer.  I use a glass secondary mainly so I can see how clear the mead is getting, and I'll leave it in there for a few months to finish fermenting and to clear.  I find that young mead often has a sulfur-like note that fades with some time in a secondary. 

9) Tinker.
Most meads done this way will be drinkable, but not all will turn out exactly as you want.  The magic and the skill in mead making lies in what you do after fermentation and clearing has occurred.  Back sweetening, blending, adding flavorings, tinkering with acid levels, are all options at this point.  I'm not going into that advanced stuff here, but know that there is plenty more you can do after the fact to make your mead into something better.

10) Bottle or keg. 
I put mine in beer bottles and keep them in a Tupperware container.  Meads have a propensity to start refermenting in the bottle, resulting in popped corks and exploding bottles.  Following specific gravities from start to finish may help prevent this, but since many still have residual sugar it could be an issue if warmed.  Kegs don't run this risk, but I don't pour meads by the pint so I rarely serve them this way.  If you want carbonation, the keg is the way to go. 

Beyond that, the sky is the limit.  Add fruit and you have melomel.  Add grape juice and you have pyment.  Add malt and you have braggot.  Add herbs and you get metheglin.  Add cider and you get cyser.  Not to mention experimenting with dry, semi-sweet, and sweet meads of differing alcohol content!  And then trying different types of honey to mix things up!  Also if the honey cost is prohibitive to do such large quantities, try a one gallon batch with about 3 pounds of honey for starters.  Meads are not just for Renaissance Festivals anymore!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

30 Words: Obfuscation

This week's 30 Word Thursday challenge from the Treasures Found Blog is a picture I took while in Bend, Oregon for my cousin's wedding this past summer.  Inside an art gallery, I looked outside through a cascading water fountain over glass and had to take this picture. 

Looking outward on the day, I see fluidity.
The hard becomes soft, the solid becomes liquid.
Ripples obscure vision.
Are these tears for lost chances, or joy for those taken?

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Picture Is Worth 30 Words

My wife pointed out a fun blog hop started by the wonderful artist Erin Prais-Hintz on her blog Treasures Found, to try out 30 Word Thursdays.  This is a fun challenge: using an image as inspiration, try to write something in exactly 30 words to bring across what it means to you.  As a wanna-be photographer, I've got plenty of pictures that haven't seen the light of day and this seems like a good excuse to throw some of them out into the Interverse.   All the images I'll use are my own, and all are taken with my iPhone 4S.  I do use some camera apps to enhance or improve some of them in case you notice that the colors are just a little too perfect or funky.  As my usual readers will know, this blog is mainly about homebrewing and craft beer, but hey even that gets old sometimes!  And yes, I'll have some beer-related pics as well.  I'm going to post this today (Friday) because I didn't find out about this challenge until late last night.


Rolling waves clear conspicuous evidence of human habitation. 

Endless expanse of empty sand stretches to rosy horizon.

Joining me, another lone traveler from distant lands arrives upon this hallowed shore.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Florida Panhandle: Props Brewery & Beach Liquors

This past month I was able to take a short trip to visit my dad, his girlfriend Kelly, my sister Kimmy, and brother TJ.  Sj went with me for this whistle stop three day stay to the Florida panhandle--a welcome escape from the arctic temps back in Minnesota.  Our condo was located in Rosemary beach, not far from Fort Walton Beach, where my research had pointed out a small brewpub called Props Brewery and Grill.  There was also a brewery located in our area called Grayton but they were not open to the public--I did get to try their pale ale at a restaurant  during my stay though.  As per my usual routine, I am driven to seek out new breweries and try them out wherever I travel.  Even if the results are not up to my standards, it hurts me in my beer-loving soul to let these places go unvisited.  Luckily my family was willing to play along and get dragged to lunch at this establishment. 

It is so unfair that liquor stores can't sell pints in Minnesota...

Kelly was coming in from a wedding and was to meet us at Props, so we got there a bit early and took a jaunt across the parking lot to the nearby Beach Liquors.  This is a pretty cool liquor store for Florida, and had an excellent beer selection, including a bunch of southern beers that can't be found back in Yankeeland.  I was also pleased to find that they had 14 taps of beer to serve you while you wander the store shopping.  I had a glass of a new favorite IPA, the Cigar City Jai Alai.  Sj and Kimmy both had a glass of B. Nektar Zombie Killer Melomel.  Seriously, what store or even bar has mead on tap???  We spent some time pestering the staff who were busy restocking shelves and puttering around the store.  I bought a bunch of beers to try during our stay in Florida: mostly Dogfish Head beers that I have never tried before, but also some Lazy Magnolia Pecan Brown for my dad, and a crazy good mango and pepper mead from B. Nektar called Necromangocon.  I do wish they had stocked more Cigar City beers, but was able to smuggle a couple cans of Jai Alai home with me.  Overall, a fun little trip and a good way to kill some time before lunch at Props.

The Fam!

On to the main course!  Props is located at the end of a strip mall (across the parking lot from Beach Liquors) and is pretty unassuming at first glance.  Upon entering, the place is somewhat dark and industrial looking with a small bar across from the entrance, complete with propeller tap handles.  The 7 barrel brewhouse is off the left and pretty open for observation.  Always on the lookout, I spotted our local Rahr malt from BSG stacked up in there amongst the fermenters.  They have added 15 barrel fermenters recently and this allows them to do a double batch for fermentation.  Airplane props are mounted on the walls and a huge propeller hangs from the ceiling as an overhead fan (not in use on this winter day unfortunately).  At least 6 large TV's are mounted from the ceiling or walls and were broadcasting all different football games.  For those who know me, sports are not my bag, so this dropped the ambiance a bit for me.  I'm sure other people would come visit just for a good place to watch "the game" though.  We were seated quickly and the service was very good.

That is a lot of TVs!

The food was pretty classic brewpub fare with salads, apps, burgers, mac & cheese, etc.  I had fish and chips that was pleasant and had a nice spice to the beer batter.  Everyone was fairly pleased with their orders, and the wait wasn't terrible.

I'd love to see that fan in action!

Kimmy and I shared 2 beer samplers so we could try all the offerings between the two of us.  The Flying Coffin IPA has a great name, but seemed a bit too sweet for me...maybe too much caramel malt.  The "Blonde" Bomber was a buttery diacetyl bomb.  I picked a bit of that up in a couple more of the beers, but not as extreme as the blonde.  I enjoyed the Jovie Ale spiced holiday ale quite a lot, having a subtle but present spice and higher alcohol content.  I have had worse beer at small brewpubs, but this was not good enough that I'd go out of my for it.

Overall, I enjoyed our lunch at the brewpub, and was pleased to find any craft beer in the fabled beer waste-land that is Florida.  If I lived or vacationed near here, I'd probably stop by again.  I'm pleased that the craft beer movement has even taken hold in this area, and wish the place luck in making a go of it.  I'd love to know more about the place, ie why is it called Props?  But not much information is present on their out of date website!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Travel Day: Sweetwater Draft House & Grill

On a recent trip back from visiting my family in Florida, Sj and I found ourselves with some time to kill in the Atlanta Airport between flights.  In need of sustenance on this busy New Year's Eve, we stopped in at the jam-packed Sweetwater Draft House and Grill.  Sweetwater is an Atlanta brewery that opened in 1997, named after the local Sweetwater Creek.  It started up after I was done with college at Emory, so I never got to try the beer before I moved back north.  I have tried a couple of the beers here and there since, with the 420 and the IPA being most commonly found, and would love to get to the brewery itself!

This particular tap-house was crammed full of people, but we were able to get a small two-top table during the lunch rush.  Loud R&B music and the chatter of patrons thundered through the small space. The food options were limited to a small selection of salads, chicken wings, burgers and sandwiches--pretty standard pub fare.  We ordered beers, and IPA for me and a Georgia Brown Ale for Sj, but it took nearly 20 minutes to get them.  I was starting to feel glad we had a long lay-over as this wasn't looking good for actually getting food.  The IPA was fair, but to me seemed more like a pale ale, lacking the strong hop aroma and flavor I expect from the style.  When we ordered food our server seemed like he was having a hard time remembering what we wanted (boneless wings for me and a quesadilla for Sj) despite a distinct lack of complexity to our order.  A few minutes later he returned to clarify Sj's order again.  Twenty minutes later our food arrived: room temperature wings for me and a chicken salad for my wife.  Yup, despite re-checking with us our order was still fouled (fowled?) up!  A while later the quesadilla arrived and we were able to eat.  The silver lining to the extreme time-lag was that I did get to try a pint of the Festive Ale, a pleasantly spiced holiday ale.  When our bill came to us it was done incorrectly (chicken salad's revenge!)  Do I expect an amazing dining experience in an airport?  Not really, but there is an understanding that airport restaurants should be used to moving people through quickly and problem free.

I will not be stopping here again, but still want to visit the brewery itself.  When in the Atlanta airport I would suggest trying the small bar in the food court area--they had Sweetwater IPA and a Clown Shoes IPA on tap there without the loud music and poor service! 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Beer In Review: 2013

The new year is a time for reflection on the past year and for forward thinking about the future.  2013 was a good year for me overall.  As a beer geek, many of the things I did were beer related, and most were chronicled here in the JABlog.  For those who missed out, read my old entries to catch up! 

Brewing:  I didn't brew nearly as much beer this past year as I would have liked.  Usually I brew a ton of big beers in the fall to keep me busy over the winter months, but that just didn't happen before this deadly cold streak we have been having here in Minnesota.  It is now difficult for me to bundle up to brew in my garage when the outside temps are hitting negative 8 degrees F.  Call me a wimp.  I hope to brew a lot more for the coming year and to keep all 6 of my tap lines rotating frequently.  I did get to take part in the Jack Of All Brews club yeast experiment and our first barrel aging project resulting in a fantastic and award winning JAB de Garde.

Fame:  My brushes with fame this year include being featured in a few more fun episodes of Limited Release.  Probably their top viewed episode was on their trip to Russian River Brewery for the Pliny the Younger release and their subsequent punking by handing me doctored Mickey's malt liquor and watching me squirm on camera.  JABlog and Jack Of All Brews were nominated for The Growler's Kind Of A Big Deal Awards this year--alas neither placed in the finals!

Travel:  This was a year of many short trips, mainly for a slew of weddings.  Amongst the nuptials I was able to fit in fun brewery visits in Tennessee, Kansas City, Portland and Bend.  In Bend, we visited 10 different breweries in 2 days!  I also had quick visits to Alabama, Illinois (Champaign and Chicago), and Duluth (for All Pints North).  For 2014,  I look forward to a big trip to Belgium next May, another Duluth trip, and hopefully NHC in Michigan if I can get in.

Breweries: The Minnesota craft beer scene continues to blossom with new local breweries and better access to national brands that we have been denied previously.  I was fortunate this year to be able to break the news of two new breweries in this very Blog: Enki and the Roets Jordan Brewery!  Enki is now up and running, putting out very solid beers in the close-by town of Victoria.  Tim Roets is currently working with the folks from Minnesota Harvest Orchard to open a hard cider and apple wine store, as well as working on renovations for the old Jordan Brewery.  I'm really looking forward to seeing what he does in the coming year.  Bent Paddle from Duluth has opened and is putting out fantastic beers (that we can now get here in the cities.)  The folks on the West Coast (Green Flash, Ballast Point) have finally noticed us here in the Great White where is that Russian River beer?  I'm excited to try all the up and coming local breweries in 2014--please don't disappoint me Minnesota!

I think I'll now do a couple of my personal Top 10 lists for 2013. 

Top 10 Breweries I've Visited in 2013 (Based on beers, service, and vibe)

1) Steel Toe: The new tap room is too dark and too small, but always full and serving up Steel Toe's amazing line up of beers.  A high point this year was getting to taste barrel aged Wee Heavy, Lunker, and Dissent all at once.
2) Deschutes: This place was massive and I had a great time at the brewery and its sister brewpub in Bend Oregon.
3) Bent Paddle: A shining beacon of well-balanced but interesting beer in Duluth.  I'm glad that Bryon, Colin and Peter are doing so well right out of the chute.  Now please can the Cold Press for us!
4) Boulevard: An epic trip to Boulevard Brewery while in Kansas City, Missouri was a high point of that trip.  I've got my fingers crossed that things will only prosper under the new ownership of Duvel.
5) Town Hall: Always a favorite, Hoops and the TH gang continue to put out some of the best beers in the State of Minnesota.  I'm looking forward to seeing the place once their renovation is done.
6) Enki Brewing:  New and small, this is my local brewery.  Located in an old 1900 creamery building, it is a fun place to stop in for a pint.  Many of my friends volunteer here and every time I visit, I find someone to talk to.  I also was able to have my 40th birthday bash at the brewery.  I wish these guys more good luck for the coming year! 
7) Dangerous Man: I love the look of the place and the beers are stellar.  My only complaint is how crowded this place is.  Waiting in a line for 25 minutes to get served a beer is extreme.  They have rapidly outgrown their demand.
8) Revolution: One of the coolest newer breweries in Chicago, these guys have a Surly-esqe vibe and a huge selection of amazing beers.
9) Avondale Brewing: A hidden treasure of amazing beers located in Birmingham, Alabama.  Proof that this craft beer thing is spreading even to less conventional areas.
10) Pfreim: A small new brewpub in Hood River, Oregon that knocked my socks off with traditional style brews and amazing food.

I went to a lot of good (and some not so good) breweries in the past year, but these stood out for me. I still haven't been to the new Surly tap room, so that explains the suspicious absence from my list.  Honorable mention would go to Northbound Smokehouse, for the excellent sandwiches.  Oh and Cascade Barrel House was amazing too.

Top 10 Beers (that I can remember)

1) Toppling Goliath Pseudo Sue--Keith Brady brought a growler of this to our last JAB meeting and it jumped to the top of my list.
2) Surly Abrasive--a yearly favorite of mine with such a tropical fruit flavor!
3) The Bruery Chocolate Rain--Crazy good and crazy sweet.
4) Cigar City Jai Alai--Just tried this on tap in Florida, finding a new favorite IPA that I can't actually buy and drink where I live.
5) Goose Island Bourbon County Stout--Always amazing.
6) Sam Adams Utopias--Tried this just a few minutes before 2014.  I have a wonderful wife.
7) Surly Darkness--Yup always makes my list.
8) Heady Topper--Brought back just days off the canning line by Jason.  Thanks man!
9) Russian River Pliny the Younger (for reals)--It was better than a Mickey's
10) Enki Citric Journey--A great regular pint.  Hoppy but malty, a good mix between English and American pale ales.

Yup lots of hoppy ones in this year.  This is a tough list to make since I had so many great beers this year...a bunch of Cascade sour beers just missed making this list.

For 2014 I'm looking forward to a lot more beer related fun.  The way things are going, it will be hard to keep up but I'll do my best.  I will continue to chase the beers, the places and the experiences that really make me want to write.  Thanks for reading and offering me a venue to discuss the beer scene.  I'd love to hear more about what you, the reader think!  What are your hopes for 2014?  Are there any great breweries or beers that I should have put on my list?  What do you want more of in the blog? Interviews, homebrewing, beer reviews, brewery reviews, random musings, food, competitions?