Friday, October 31, 2014

Finding Craft Beer Around Disneyland

Recently my wife and I celebrated our (lucky) 13th anniversary by taking a trip to Disneyland in California.  We did our honeymoon at Disneyworld in Florida, but this was my first time in CA.  I could write a book on our adventures in and around the parks, but since this is a beer blog, I'm going to focus on that!  Let's just say this about Annaheim: the craft beer revolution has been slow to arrive there.  I was able to find a few options for good beer, but had to search hard for them! 

We stayed at the Grand Californian Hotel right on Disney property, making for a very convenient commute into the parks.  This massive edifice of housing is quite impressive, clean and comfortable, but it can take you a while to traverse the length of it!

Disneyland itself is completely dry...being a family place and all.  This was very noticeable when we had a nice dinner in the Blue Bayou restaurant within the Pirates of the Carribean ride.  We had options of soft drinks, virgin mojitos, or lemonade to go with our main dishes.  Wine or beer would have been wonderful here! 

After a long afternoon of Disneyland chaos I was happy to find that our hotel Hearthstone Bar was open late and had a few options for craft beer (including Racer 5 IPA and Firestone Walker Double Barrel in bottles.) 

Accessed directly from our hotel, we were also able to visit Disney California Adventure (DCA).  This is the newer area of Disney, focused more on the Pixar era with giant mock ups of Cars scenery, Bug's Life, and even my old favorites the Muppets.  I discovered that Karl Strauss Brewing had a beer truck selling $8 pints of beer in plastic cups hidden away near the Wharfside eating area.  The beers were nothing stellar, but at least they were available!  The IPA was probably the best of them. 

Downtown Disney is the nightlife spot just outside the parks and hotels, with some Disney owned restaurants and shops as well as others like the House of Blues and Rainforest CafĂ©.  Most of these close pretty early (around 10 when we were there) so getting a night cap is unlikely at most places.  I think the best options for beers we discovered was at the Catal Restaurant and Uva bar.  They had about 10 taps at the bar and 5 in the restaurant, as well as some bottled beers to choose from.  I had a HUGE glass of Valiant DIPA that about did me in with my wonderful meal.  I highly recommend that place for dinner and beers! 

One would be remiss not to mention that The Bruery is a 15-20 minute cab ride from Disney property and have an amazing tap room.  I'll be writing that visit up separately!

So there you have it...a pretty short list, but I searched high and low and that is about as good as you will find right there at Disneyland.  I had a wonderful trip and really enjoyed the differences between the California and Florida experiences.  I do like drinking my way around the countries in Epcot though...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Inspired By Reading Book Club: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

This month I decided to take part in Andrew Thornton's Inspired By Reading Book Club.  This is a virtual book club composed mainly of artists, who take inspiration from the book to create artwork.  The group is predominantly jewelry makers, including my wife Sarajo of Sj Designs. 

The book this month is Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane, published in 2013.  We had a signed hardcover of this one already and I had been meaning to read it, so I jumped on board with this challenge!  I've been reading Gaiman's stuff since the 1990's when he was known for writing the Sandman comic series.  He was a true groundbreaker when it came to adding levels of complexity, myth, and characterization that was nearly unheard of in the predominantly costumed superhero comics industry.  I continued to read as he wrote a wonderful series called The Books of Magic in which a young bespectacled English boy named Tim Hunter discovers that he is a wizard and must learn to use his magic against those who seek to control or destroy him.  Sound familiar Harry Potter fans?  Yup this was written in 1993! 

I continued to read Gaiman's books, especially when he moved to novels, with Neverwhere, and American Gods.  If you haven't read so now!  Sj and I even got to have sushi with him and a group of musicians from the Twin Cities once, a very cool evening for us.  So that is a quick background of my history with this great on to the book itself!

I've noticed that Gaiman's recent works have mostly focused on children's books and those aimed at young adults.  Trust me, he doesn't dumb things down for the younger crowd, but keeps things complex and intriguing.  I would have killed for his smart kind of YA novel when I was younger, but there were limited options back in the 1980's.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane takes place in an older version of rural England and uses the somewhat detached and formal voice that Gaiman often uses in his books.  The book is told by an unnamed narrator after he goes back home to visit after "growing up" and is mostly a long flashback of strange events from his childhood that he has long forgotten.

My first "artistic" endeavor for this book uses my main form of self expression: Beer Making!  The story takes place near and in a farm house, so I took this cue to create a classic farmhouse ale--the Belgian Saison.  This type of ale was typically made on a very small scale mainly for the people working on the farm, and as a result the "style" is really quite varied since every farm had their own recipe, yeast, and brewers.  Most of the brews were fermented on the warmer side resulting in a fruitier flavor from yeast derived esters.  I brewed up a fairly simple light colored beer mainly of pilsner malt, with some noble Saaz hops for bitterness and a hint of floral aroma.  The real player in this brew is the Belgian Saison yeast, which I fermented initially at 67 degrees, then ramped up to 70 for finishing.  The resulting brew is my take on the Saison farmhouse style and I've named it Hempstock's Farmhouse Ale.  I'll be taking some of this brew along for an in-person visit to the live book club meet up in Andrew's home town in Pennsylvania!

I'll try not to give too much away...but want to explain my pictures a bit, so if you hate spoilers, just scan the pics and ignore the words.  Let's be honest mostly we do that anyway!

 Much of the action in the book takes place at the farmhouse of the Hempstocks, a trio of women who live just down the lane from our narrator.  The youngest, Lettie, is just a few years older than the protagonist and takes him under her wing.  She tells him that the pond on the property is really an ocean, along with several other nonsensical things, but he takes this in stride in typical young child fashion.  I took this particular photo of a farmhouse along the pond at Phelps Mill in Ottertail, MN.  This is a place I grew up, swimming in the river, fishing in the pond, and climbing about in the then-decaying and dangerous mill building.  Testing out my new Photoshop Elements, I pasted in this seagull from a shot I took up in Duluth the same summer.  I think it ties in the Ocean aspect of the story...

Creeped out yet?  Gaiman's books often have an element of horror wrapped up in them.  At one point in this particular tale, after getting embroiled in some fantastical events with Lettie Hempstock, the protagonist discovers a disgusting worm living in a small hole in his foot.  In the bathroom he tries to get the worm out, and this is my take on it.  Not sure why, but I found this particular part of the novel especially nightmarish!  So I took this vision of the book and did a bit of a self all of you can have nightmares as well!

During the culmination of the book, the narrator has a desperate evening run through the farmer's fields to escape the villain and get back to the Hempstock farm and Lettie's protection.  I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how best to make this work in photography...starting in the spring and not really getting anything great until fall harvest time.  At our Minnesota Landscape Arboretum they had a special limited run of glass and metal sculptures throughout the grounds and this particular grouping of glass people rising and cavorting from the tall grass finally hit the sweet spot I was looking for.

Overall this was a book that was at once simple and complex, hitting many levels at a time.  I highly recommend it to any age reader.  I hope you enjoyed my write-up.  Please check out the other blog entries on this book--I'll be updating this blog with their URLs once everything is posted!

Friday, October 24, 2014

30 Words: Disneyland!

Fanciful sparkles in multicolored splendor,
wink and shine in atmosphere of wonder.
The great mouse looks down in glee,
smiling broadly at humans running free.
 The happiest place on Earth!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Minnesota Harvest Orchard


Recently, the fine folks at Minnesota Harvest Orchard in Jordan, MN invited Jack of All Brews homebrew club out to do a cider pressing demo.  This is the second year we have done so and we were excited to go back!  Several years ago our club invested in an old fashioned 1800's looking wooden cider press and have made good use of it over the years.  This old-school technology still works and looks great out at the orchard, taking one back in time to early American settler days in Minnesota. 

We arrived around 11 AM on a Sunday, swollen orange fall sun shedding rich light on the orchard grounds.  Already the place was bustling with people, but soon would be filled to bursting with families looking for autumn fun.

Over the morning and into the afternoon JAB members and their families trickled in and took part in the apple pressing process.  We soon got things into a pretty efficient pattern.  A few people would rinse the apples in buckets of water, then toss the apples into the grinder at the top of the press.  A few years ago one of our members added on a motor to this, making it much more efficient than hand cranking it!  Once the hopper was full, we would put the lid on it and hand crank the press, resulting in fresh apple juice cascading into our waiting bucket.  We found about 100 apples would give us just over 1 gallon of juice. 

Ready to ferment!

The orchard itself is massive, with a huge main building holding a gift shop, food counter, and now a bar.  Outside were another portable bar, a food truck serving amazing pizza, and more!  Add in the world's shortest sunflower maze, hay rides, ponies, (evil) petting zoo, and apple catapult, and you have a ton of entertainment! 

This year, Tim Roets and his sons Dylan and PJ are presiding over Minnesota Harvest's new farm winery.  Tim is currently working on his own brewery in Jordan as well, but hit a big snag when this spring's monsoon rainfall caused a mudslide into the old Jordan Brewery building where he was setting up shop.  He still hopes to be brewing by this winter.  In the mean time, he is making apple ales, hard ciders, and meads for the orchard.  I got to try a few of his concoctions and was impressed as always with his ingenuity.

A jovial Tim Roets showing off the new tasting bar!

Overall this was a really fun way to spend a fall day!  Thanks to the Minnesota Harvest folks for having us out and providing apples, and to Tim and his sons as well. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

30 Word Thursday: Barn

Dying summer light
throws long shadows.
Cool breeze rattles remaining leaves,
and swinging lantern.
The last gasp of fall before inevitable winter comes.
Inside, friends gather,
celebrating the bountiful harvest.
This week's 30 Word Thursday photo was taken at the Minnesota Harvest Orchard in Jordan, MN.  Our homebrew club was out for a cider pressing last Sunday and had a great time.  I'll be writing up that event separately (hopefully to share later this week.)  Check out the other 30 Words at Erin's Treasures Found Blog!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

30 Words: Fall

Looming clouds part momentarily,
Leaving a patch of blue
Green, yellow, rust, crimson.
Leaves shimmer and shake
Temporarily illuminated by flashing beams
Cool breeze wafts by,
colorful detritus spiraling
This week's 30 Word Thursday pic was taken at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum on Tuesday of this week.  I stopped by on my way back from Minneapolis and wandered the grounds with my camera.  It was amazing to me how drastically the place has changed.  Two weeks ago I was snapping shots of flowers, bees, and butterflies.  Now fading leaves littered the paths and flowers were mostly a thing of the past.  Photos were tough since the thick clouds would cover the sun periodically.  Check out the other 30 Word Thursday challenge entries at the Treasures Found Blog!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lazy Loon Brewing: Victoria, MN

So back to beer related stuff!  I was recently excited to discover that one of my homebrew club members was secretly converting his garage into a production brewery...unexpected and very cool!  I met with owner and brewmaster Jonathan Lueck to check out his facility and get the skinny. 

Proud papa showing off his beery offspring!

Getting to Jonathan's home in Victoria, MN was a pretty quick trip for me from Waconia.  His home is on a lot that used to host a decrepit farmhouse and some of the left-over debris remains...currently being used as a haunted house for Halloween.  In the attached garage of this unassuming but nice home lurks stainless steel, pallets of cans, and large lager coolers.  The door to the house from the garage apparently had to be sealed over to conform to regulations for a production brewery.   I have to say that this brewery garage is the first of its kind that I have ever visited--and after visiting hundreds of breweries, that is saying something!  Not only is Lueck brewing small batches there, he has his own Cask manual canning line as well.  The canning line has the ability to convert to an automated system in the future and handles 12 and 16 oz cans.  Each can is labeled by hand in advance of filling.

Canning beer on a small scale!

Jonathan has a degree in Economics, and is a practicing CPA and Attorney focused on small business consulting.  With said background he certainly has the knowledge needed to start a successful small business, something that many brewery owners lack.  He spent a great deal of time and effort looking into the necessary laws and requirements needed for opening his brewery and as a result was able to get his home brewery going fairly quickly. 

When asked about the origins of his interest in beer, Jonathan responded: "
With a German farming background, I seemed destined to have an interest in beer.  My hobbies have always involved being a “creative craftsman”.   As I started to learn more about how beer is made, the more I appreciated the craft of brewing.  The  potential for creativity is endless."  His favorite beers to drink are lagers and change with the seasons.  He mentions specifically migrating back to Schells since they have done an amazing job at developing craft lagers.

Not only does Jonathan like to drink lagers, but also to brew them.  I asked him about his decision to focus on those styles for his brewery, and his response was very technical:  "Craft breweries currently have roughly 10% if the market.  The craft brewing industry continues to go after and gain additional market share.  However, the trend is to continue to seek additional market share with the same approach.  I took a step back and analyzed the market to identify an approach to reach the part of the market that craft beer has not focused on.  The answer was obvious, lagers."

The biggest question I had for him was "Why build your brewery in your own garage?"  In typical fashion he returned with a well thought-out and economics minded answer:

"Establishing a brewery on my property allowed me the opportunity to enter the industry without the pressure of producing at levels necessary to cover the fixed occupancy costs.  This gives me the ability to be flexible and creative.  The small batches and labeling of cans provides the freedom to continue to develop the brand through many styles of beer, rather than being married to a minimum order of over 90,000 pre-printed cans.  If you think about it, we have the flexibility of a taproom with the portability of a full production brewery.   The establishment of this brewery is also a proof of concept that a nano-brewery model can produce and package.  We are now in a position to consult with others who wish to enter the brewing industry, but do not want to mortgage their future to do so."

"The long term goal is to continue to work the business plan with a focus of moving the location off site.  The future location will be a production facility with a tap room.   We are seeking a location that will allow us to have a tap room that is an experience, rather than just another room to drink beer."

To me this sounds like a good plan for a small business--gaining a following and name recognition with the eventual plan to increase production over time.  This has a similar feel to contract brewing with another brewery, but with the benefit of having more control over your beer and the brewing process from the beginning. 

So what about the beer you ask?  Jonathan let me try out a few of his test batches before their unveiling to the beer world.  Up front, I'm not as much of a lager guy, but I do respect and appreciate well crafted lagers.  Lueck's flagship beer is the Lazy Loon Lager--an American pilsner style that will have a broad appeal to those who are wary of "Craft Beer."  I liked the taste I had, enjoying it more than some American lagers from the big guys. 

The next taste was a summer version of the Lazy Loon with lime.  I got to try two different batches, each using a different technique for adding the lime flavor.  Both were bright and refreshing, but my favorite was actually when I blended the two samples together!  Haters may hate, but there is something happy about a hint of lime in a lighter lager.  The base beer for this has more flavor and body than another popular "lite" version of lime lager.

The Volksfest is his version of a maltier lager for fall, not quite an Octoberfest/Marzen but in the same vein.  This was also a decent and drinkable beer, but a bit too sweet for my personal tastes.

His Hat Trick is a label that will potentially be like Schells Snowstorm--a seasonal beer that may be an entirely different style and experience each time.  An intriguing prospect for those who tire easily of the same old thing, and one that allows him some opportunity for experimentation in recipe design.  This is early in the life of Lazy Loon Brewing and Jonathan is clearly working on dialing in his small 1 barrel brew system and lagering methods.  As a result of this, there is going to be a bit more variability batch to batch than in larger production breweries.  He seems open to suggestions and is interested in trying new things.  He has some interesting ideas involving collaborations with Jack Of All Brews homebrew club that I'm excited about!
To finish Jonathan wanted to make sure to thank the folks at Surly for their assistance,  Mike at Vintage in Chanhassen,  and Jason at MGM (Chanhassen, Chaska, Waconia, and Spring Park).  His beers are already on the shelves, so you don't have to take my word on it: try them yourselves and tell me (and him) what you think. 


Thursday, October 2, 2014

30 Words

Soft feathery petals surround delicate bristle.
Bees softly alight, carrying yellow pollen on fuzzy bodies, perpetuating the endless cycle of life.
Reminding one that life is beautiful and sometimes fleeting.
This week's picture was of a flower from my back yard.  The basic picture looked cool (and I have another version of the original as is) but I decided to keep experimenting with Photoshop Elements effects until I found this particular effect.  It reminds me of the old crayon and black paint that I used to use in my childhood, so consider this channeling my inner child!  The sentiment certainly has some spill-over from the very difficult passing of a family friend last week.  See the rest of this week's 30 Word Thursday (and last week's as well) at Erin's Treasures Found Blog.