Friday, August 29, 2014

Brews Travelers 365 Enki Stop

Just a quick post today to mention a cool couple of guys that I met the other day.  High school friends Brandon Wurtz and Michael Roberts have a mission: to travel the country for every day of 2014 visiting regional and local breweries wherever they pass through.  Their project is called Brews Travelers 365 and their official website is HERE

At this point the guys are just past the half-way point on their epic journey across the country.  They began in Texas (where they live) and have been all over the USA since leaving.  While visiting the Twin Cities they had already stopped at Town Hall, Bauhaus Brewlabs, and had more on the list.  I ran into them at Enki Brewing in Victoria.  My friends and fellow Jack of All Brews members Jesse and Kent were already firmly ensconced at the bar when Sj, Anna, and myself arrived.  Brewery co-owner Dan, tasting room manager Dave, and brewmaster Jason Davis were also there.  Brandon and Michael were sharing some bottles of beer that they had accumulated on their travels with everyone and we got to join in the fun! 

Sipping on some Enki Tail Feather IPA, I had a great time hanging out with the Brews Travelers and all my friends at the tasting room.  Lets be honest, I always like hanging out at Enki, and nearly always have a friend or two show up when I stop by. 

I really enjoyed meeting these two bearded gypsies and hope that they are able to finish their journey.  I envy their ability to quit work and take this type of challenge on themselves!  Having met the guys and seen their blog, I'll be continuing to watch their progress across our great country and perhaps take some cues from them for future brewery visits on my own travels.  Though their blog posts have fallen behind, they keep up to date with Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Untappd.  Check them out!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

30 Words: Blend

The world is an epic forest
Of steel, brick, and concrete trees.
And people.
Lots of people.
The trick to happiness and survival is blending in,
Without losing your individuality.
This week's 30 Word Thursday picture was taken near my family cottage on Ottertail Lake.  My cousin Kathleen and I wandered the grounds of Lake Country Gardens Nursery with our cameras to take pictures of the various flora and fauna.  I discovered this little guy calmly nestled in a decorative plant, as if his vibrant green skin totally blended with the deep maroon of the leaves.  Check out the other 30 Word Thursday contributors on Erin's Treasures Found Blog!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp 12 Pack Post 1 of 2

I recently stopped in at The Liquor Barrel in St. Louis Park, just to see what they had.  With the Four Firkins so close, I had decided not to buy anything until the person running the check out noted my beer shirt and told me that they had the brand new Beer Camp sampler in the back.  I had no idea what this was, so I checked it out...and promptly bought it! 

The idea behind the collection of beers is for Sierra Nevada (one of the oldest and biggest craft breweries in the US for those who live under rocks) to partner up with different professional brewers and make a series of one-off collaboration beers.  The idea has been around a long time and one can find these fun collaborations all over the place, but I've never seen a large set like this!  This idea is also very cool for being able to try something from some of the breweries or brewers that are not normally distributed in your region.  Sierra Nevada has a brewery in California and one in North Carolina, and each brewery collaborated for 6 different beers for this collection.  Half are cans and half are bottles, continuing to make this one of the weirdest 12 packs I've ever seen.  The 12 pack release was also tied into the Beer Camp Across America tour, but they didn't really come through Minnesota.  I did see a couple of these beers on tap around town though.

I worked my way through the collection in no particular order, just going by what I was in the mood for at the time.  I had hoped to get this review out earlier, but I've been busy at Fringe Festival and a trip to Duluth, so I got behind!  Some of these reviews will be in more depth than others...who cares about consistency!

1) Myron's Walk by SN and Allagash:  This Belgian pale ale is fermented with Allagash brewery's Belgian ale yeast.  Stats are 5.3% ABV and 38 IBU making this a sessionable hoppy beer.  Since we don't get Allagash in Minnesota, the first exposure to the brewery I had was this summer in Belgium of all places at the Night of Great Thirst sour beer festival.  They were the only non-Belgian brewery invited to the festival and their Coolship lambic style beers were out of this world!

Aroma: Strong citrus and a hint of pine tree or juniper (see picture above) in the aroma.  A very sweet orange aroma as swirled accented by a bit of malt or caramel.  Spicy phenol of clove and mild sulfur at first that fades with time. 

Appearance: Deep gold in color with a bright white foamy head.  A slight haze and suspended yeast particles.

Flavor: Mellow flavor with dominant orange character.  Hoppy and slightly bitter but well balanced and smooth drinking.  Maltiness is noted at first, but fades to off-bitter finish that is fairly dry, finishes with an orange peel mild astringency.  As this beer warms I get more lemony coriander notes near the back end and the orange fades.  Light pine as well.  Phenols are hidden within the hop flavors, but subtly present.

Overall: I'm not a fan of American hops and Belgian beers as a general rule.  That being said, this is the best one I've ever had.  It manages to blend the character of both styles with a perfect balance.  Well done! 4.5/5

2) Electric Ray by SN and Ballast Point.  Since Ballast Point entered the Minnesota market they have promptly jumped to holding one of the top places in my heavy rotation for hoppy beers.  These guys know hops!  This particular beer is in the emerging India Pale Lager category, which I'm still not entirely sure about.  Clocking in at 8.5% ABV and 70 IBU this is really an Imperial beer.

Aroma: Strong citrus and grapefruit.  A hint of sulfur from lager yeast as swirled.  Sweet malt with a pilsner character. 

Appearance: Golden to almost orange in color.  Excellent clarity despite the hops.  A smaller white head that fades slowly.

Flavor: Strong hop flavor throughout the entire taste!  The front end is very much orange zest with more of a tart grapefruit finish.  Some malt sweetness hitting in the middle, but this is not a sweet beer at all.  Very well attenuated and dry on the finish, leading to a medium to almost light body.  Finish is a tad astringent with a hint of sulfur. 

Overall: A sparkling and bright tasting hoppy beer.  The lager character contributes to the clean crispness, but the yeast throws me off a bit.  I like this a lot but I'd rather drink a Ballast Point Palate Wrecker!  4/5.

3) Yonder Bock by SN and Cigar City.  Cigar City is rapidly gaining popularity as the best brewery in Florida, making tons of unique beers like the sought after Hunahpu RIS.  Their Jai Alai is one of the best new hoppy beers I had last year.  This beer takes their flair for tropical flavors and adds them to a maibock style beer.  While the beer does not actually contain any tropical fruit, they have used a bunch of experimental hops to accentuate that type of character.  7.7% ABV and 45 IBU.

Aroma: Ripe mango, guava and passion fruit in the nose.  Sweet maltiness with a hint of sulfur.  Very hoppy for a maibock.

Appearance: Orange in color.  Huge off-white head that doesn't quit.  Excellent clarity.

Flavor: Sweet malt up front and really persists through the whole taste.   Lots of bursting tropical fruit flavors like mango, citrus, and guava.  Very smooth drinking.  Crisp lager finish but sweeter than many maibocks--the fruity hop accentuated that a bit. 

Overall: A really nice beer.  Not entirely to style for a maibock, but a neat take on it.  Doesn't taste like 45 IBU!  4/5.

4) Torpedo Pils by SN and Firestone Walker.  Firestone Walker is one of my favorite breweries.  I have yet to taste a bad beer by them (in fact I just cracked a 2012 Parabola that was heavenly) and I really wish they had distribution here in Minnesota!  This beer is a pilsner and clocks in at 5.2% ABV.  It has 45 IBU's of New Zealand varietal hops which puts it way hoppier than most pilsners.  Apparently they used the SN Torpedo to infuse the hop aroma.

Aroma: Fairly strong sulfur character to this one.  I do pick up some tropical fruit (pineapple) and some white grape as the sulfur is swirled off.  A slightly sweet and grainy pilsner malt character is picked up amongst all this mélange of aroma.

Appearance: Very light gold in color.  A fine white head that persists, but is not huge.  Excellent clarity.

Flavor: Definite malty pilsner notes.  The sulfur is strong in the flavor, overwhelming my palate.  I do get some Sauvignon Blanc wine notes as it warms.  Much more bitter than most pilsners should be.  Finish is astringent and bitter, cutting the malty body that I expect from this style.  End is dusty and stays on the tongue. 

Overall: Interesting.  That is Minnesotan for I didn't like it, but am too nice to say so outright.  The sulfur and bitterness is just too much for me.  Not well balanced for a pilsner and not crisp enough.  The worst of the Beer Camp box so far.  2.5/5.

5) Chico King by SN and 3 Floyds. This is a pale ale from the makers of Alpha King and Zombie Dust: two of the best Pale Ales around.  Between that history and Sierra Nevada pretty much inventing the American Pale Ale style commercially, I had high hopes for this beer! This is 6.5% ABV and 45 IBU.

Aroma: Crazy citrus aroma with some tropical fruit.  Mainly pineapple.  Some honey and caramel sweetness to the aroma.  No esters. 

Appearance: Deep gold to nearly orange color.  Fairly good clarity, but a subtle haze present.  Giant off-white head that does not fade.  I did serve this in a glass with a nucleation site at the bottom that accentuates the head.

Flavor: Balanced sweet malt with strong but restrained hopping.  Bright and lively hop flavors dance on the tongue, going from marmalade to pineapple to mango.  The finish is fairly dry but not astringent.  Mouthfeel is medium. 

Overall: This is a wonderful pale ale, bordering on IPA by stats and flavor but having more of the sweetness and body I associate with pale ale.  Perfect balance for my palate.  This is one of the best pale ales I've had in the past year outside of Toppling Goliath's Pseudo Sue and my friend Keith's homebrewed version.  4.5/5.

6) Canfusion Rye Bock by SN and Oscar Blues.  Oscar Blues is famous for being one of (maybe THE) first craft brewery to put beer in cans.  I've been to the original brewpub in Lyons, Colorado and had a great meal and beer sampler there.  These guys have expanded, and like Sierra Nevada, have a second facility in North Carolina.  The beer is 7.2% ABV with 45 IBU.  They also mention the high alpha Australia Ella hop varietal that I have not had in anything before this.

Aroma: Malty lager character with a hints of toasted bread.  Slightly floral with a bit of tropical fruit.  Spicy zip as swirled.  Barest hint of sulfur.  Interesting mix of hops and malt.

Appearance: Light copper in color.  Perfect clarity--served in a collectors item Roets Jordan Brewery glass!  Fine white head with tight and tiny bubbles.

Flavor: Sugary sweet maltiness initially.  This sweetness fades to a tangy and spicy note that is likely the rye malt.  There is hop flavor in this for sure: citrus, notes of bubble gum at tail end.  Balanced right in the middle between hop and malt. 

Overall: Very hoppy for a bock which cuts some of the desired malt character I look for.  Even for a Maibock this one pushes it too far.  I think I would like the balance better if this was an ale and not a lager.  Finish is fairly astringent.  Interesting but not amazing.  The rye really is highlighted though.  3.5/5.

Finishing Up:  So overall the first half of the box is quite good.  Pretty much every one of these beers is quite hoppy (for base style) but most pull it off well.  I've saved a few of the funkier beers for the second post and I'll get working on those soon!  If you can still find one of these boxes--get it!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

30 Words: Angels

Not an overly religious person,
I found this tiny angel peaking from the foliage.
At this time I
For someone to help watch over those I love.
This week's 30 Word Thursday photo was taken in a park up in Duluth this summer.  The colors and sunlight were perfect.  The base picture was cool enough on its own, but I tweaked it using some special effects from Photoshop to make it a bit more surreal.  Check out the other folks doing 30 Word Thursday at Erin's Treasures Found Blog!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Minnesota State Fair Homebrew Judging

Just a quick one for today, but I wanted to cover the judging session I took part in this past weekend.  The Minnesota State Fair (The Great Minnesota Get Together don't ya know...) is kind of a big deal.  Thousands of hearty, stoic Minnesotans gather together on the grounds that spread city blocks wide, crowding in amongst the masses of humanity for a collection of foods served on sticks and a chance to watch the press of people milling around.  I don't quite get it, but people do love their Fair!  My mom will go there every day just for the people watching.  So with the Big Deal-ness of the Fair, the Homebrew competition associated with it is also a big deal.  For the past few years The Primary Fermenters homebrew club out of St. Paul has taken over the running of the competition, a big challenge for a smaller club.  Not to hurt anyone's feelings from the old guard who ran this, but I think the Fermenters have upped the game significantly in terms of organization, prizes, raffles for judges, etc.  This little post is my love letter to them!

I totally missed the deadline for getting my beers in this year, and lets be honest, I didn't have much homebrew that I thought would win me any ribbons.  They started judging in the weeks previous to get some of the smaller categories done, saving the big ones for last Friday and Saturday.  I was unable to judge Friday since it takes me more than an hour to drive to St. Paul in hour traffic from my home. 

I woke up way too early on Saturday morning, after a night of sharing some amazing beers with Derek and Carolyn Allmendinger.  Driving on the hazy fog shrouded rural highways, I was shocked to see something massive and winged lofted itself from the roadside right in front of my car.  Let me tell you that the wingspan on a wild turkey is most impressive when it is six feet from your windshield!  Narrowly missing a collision with this prehistoric beast, my heart took a while to settle down into normal lub-dub patterns once more. 

For those who have beer to the State Fair, one pictures the place as surging tide of human bodies, clustered in amongst the buildings and soaring rides.  Laughter, cries, carnival cacophony.  Heat and tangible sound waves, chaos and convulsions.  But driving in this early, before the Fair has officially opened, it was mysterious and somewhat ghostly.  I got my parking permit from some friendly police at the entrance.  I rode down empty and silent streets past shuttered food booths, closed buildings, and an occasional parked trailer.  Very strange.

I parked my car and found my way to the Horticulture Building where the judging was to take place.  There I once again discovered why I got into the BJCP beer judging in the first place.  I've been gone a lot this summer (fun things!) but have neglected to take part in several of the typical beer events that I usually do.  It was like coming home to see homebrewers and friends from all over the Twin Cities that I haven't seen in a while.  As usual at these events, I also met several new people who were fun to judge with. 

Registration and sign-in was organized very well and took almost no time at all.  I was set to judge stouts right away at 9 AM, not a bad breakfast beer style!  My judging partner and I did have a few unintentionally sour beers in our flight, but a couple were not too bad.  Luckily I was able to judge the mini-best-of-show round and got to sample all the highest ranked beers from the other stout judging groups.  We had a hard time deciding on the best, as a lot of them were excellent! 

After the first round had finished we had a sack lunch of sandwiches on bagels that was above normal competition fare in quality.  Some raffle numbers were read off with folks winning several cool prizes including 55# sacks of grain!  Later in the event I won an Oscar Blues sign for my collection, making this a doubly happy day.

After socializing (as much as I ever do) over lunch I made my way to another table to judge the much maligned Smoke and Wood Aged category of beers.  I actually like judging this category, but many folks specifically ask not to judge it.  I experiment a fair amount with different types of wood and spirits in my homebrewing so the chance to try well (and not so well) done versions of this is a treat to me.  Since I do a lot of these, I almost always have a beer in this category and don't get to judge it!  So missing the deadline on this competition actually worked out OK for me.  I got to try several good examples of smoked beers as well as some strong wood aged beers that I can't tell too much about since the official results haven't been announced yet... No spoilers here!

Mini-BOS for Smoked and Wood Aged: some tasty beers in there!

I really enjoyed this particular competition despite not having a horse in the race.  The Primary Fermenters (specifically Amanda and Tony Kutzke) ran a tight ship and everything was very enjoyable and smooth.  Thanks also to all the judges from various clubs who volunteered their time!

Good luck to all those who put beers in! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Schram Vineyard & Brewery Update

Not long ago I posted a teaser about the upcoming brewing capabilities of the new Schram Vineyard & Brewery in Waconia HERE.  Aaron Schram and his brew team headed by Nick Smith and Phil Peterson have now been brewing up a storm on their tiny1.5 barrel system and are currently serving beers on site!  I finally had a chance to get out to see the progress they have made on construction (slowed down quite a bit by torrential rains this spring) and try out the beers.

Located down Airport Road, after it turns from pavement to washboard dirt, the Vineyard is easy to find and parking is plentiful.  My wife and I wandered into the open air tasting area to a scene of bustling chaos!  A large local party was finishing up an event when we arrive:  a couple had apparently just finished renewing their vows and everyone was dressed in hip 1970's fashion to commemorate the original union.  Awesome long tan leather jackets, wide lapels, polyester suits, long hippy gowns--all assaulted the eyes as we entered!  Another large group of younger folks were happily smoking cigars and drinking wine down the hill near the bocce courts.  Several other smaller groups were up in the shade of the tasting area, trying wines and beers to their delight. 

Aaron and Ashley Schram were sweating and serving, helped out by Stacy and two other servers, but still struggling to keep up with the busy crowd.  Apparently there had already been a couple of Bachelorette parties that day and things were just staying crazy all day since.  I suspect that is a good place to be for a relatively new winery!  Despite their hustle and bustle, both of them took some time out to let us try their beers and discuss plans for the future. 

Aaron told me that they are still dialing in their brewery and tap system a bit, but are zeroing in on things.  In fact they are already having a difficult time keeping up with demand!  Aaron hopes to expand to a larger brew system when possible, but keep the small system for R&D.

I went into my beer tasting with an open mind, and was pleasantly surprised.  We started with the Blonde Ale (pictured above in wine glasses) and this was a refreshing and easy to drink blonde.  I caught a hint of buttery note in it, but not unpleasant.  Certainly this was a better example of the style than several of the other local higher gravity over-hopped versions I've had. 

We moved on to sample a Saison that could have used a bit more time in primary, and a pretty good and cloudy Hefe.  Aaron said that this version of the Hefe was not as good as the last, but I think they are doing pretty good on that front.  The porter was very good, but the carbonation was a little low that day. 

The favorite for both Sj and myself was the coffee infused brown ale made in collaboration with Jon Schmidt from Waconia's own Mocha Monkey coffee house.  This was a light bodied brown ale with a hint of sweetness and a strong but not overpowering aroma and flavor of coffee.  I'm used to drinking coffee stouts and porters, but the balance on this lighter ale was very good.  I would certainly go back just for a full pint of this beer! 

I think these guys still have a bit to learn about their brew system and serving set-up but they are already putting out better beer than some other Minnesota breweries that I won't mention here. 

While we sampled the beers, Sj and I wandered the grounds and took in the humid and slightly overcast late afternoon.  Watching the '70's crew frolicking around amongst the grape vines on the hill was a sight to see!  Bocce courts lay just below the hill that hosts the current tap room, empty of action when we were there, but crying out for future fun.  Landscaped terraces on the hill contain rose bushes, hops plants, and other decorative greenery along with accessory serving stations and seating.

Dusk falls upon the vineyard...


An arty view of the pavilion roof...

Right now all the serving is from the open air pavilion, but that will change when the main building is finished.  Aaron gave a quick tour of the future indoor tasting room and wine cellar, built Hobbit-like into the side of the hill.  This was just a mud spattered hole in the ground when I was here last, but is now a fully formed high ceiling structure that will host a large exterior balcony overlooking the beautiful vineyard.  Inside was all taped and mudded, but much work is yet to be done.  They hope to have this open by the end of the season, then spend some to the slower winter months renovating and expanding the tasting room.  I have high hopes based on the current look of the place! 

We had a great time hanging out at the vineyard and checking everything out.  This is a laid back type of winery (and brewery) that I'm very happy is within a bike ride of my home.  I had actually meant to sample some of the wines and meads and comment on them, but by the time we finished our tour and beer samples they were already closing down for the day.  That is fine, since now I have a good excuse to visit soon again before they close down for the season.  I'm impressed with the progress that the Schrams have made since my visit there under two months ago!  They have more to do, but even now have a great destination that is worth a visit.  I look forward to checking back in to see how they continue to experiment with brews as well.  Aaron and his brew crew have really embraced Jack Of All Brews Homebrew Club by allowing one of our award winning homebrews to be scaled up on their professional system.  I can't wait to try that with other members of the club!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

30 Words: Dive


Into the deep dark waters
I plunge
An endless dive with no finish
Around me, limitless ranks of others
In free fall

Learn to dive with grace

 This week's 30 Word Thursday picture was taken at Rosa Mexicano Restaurant in Minneapolis.  We tried this place out for dinner last week and had a great meal with excellent service.  I really liked the fancy and expensive water features in the place and had to take some pictures! I'm sure the staff there thought I was strange, but hey...

Check out (or do one yourself!) at Erin's Treasures Found Blog.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Acadia Cafe Review

With our recent multiple trips down to the University/Seven Corners area for the Minnesota Fringe Festival, Sj and I finally got a chance to try out the Acadia Café.  This place has been around for a while and has a reputation for being a good beer bar.  They even have a sign that proclaims "No Crap On Tap!"  We met some of our friends at the bar, regulars who have told me about the place for a long time.

I liked the look of the outside, with colorful hops painted across the sign, indicating a potentially good beer destination.  Inside, the place looks like a cross between an old English pub and a shady University dive bar.  Tin tackers from local and distant craft breweries vie for attention with old British Isles bar decorations on the walls.  A beautiful, stained glass and mirrored English style section of the bar hosts a dual beer engine for cask beers. 

The stained and sticky beer list was impressive, featuring many local brews by Indeed, Schells, Surly, and many more.  Plenty of craft beers from across the country were present as well, such as Tallgrass, Odell, Lagunitas, and Founders.  They had a bunch of somewhat expensive Belgian ales, and my wife ordered a Liefman's Goudenband that I've never seen on tap anywhere!  I ordered a cask Indeed Day Tripper to take advantage of that wonderful looking beer engine.  I was less than impressed with my pour: too much head and a dirty glass.  I expect cask beers to be cloudy potentially so I wasn't bothered by that part of it.  The next beer I ordered also had streaking inside the glass indicating poor cleaning from the previous user.

This is NOT a clean glass, nor a properly poured pint...

We ordered food from the bar, taking a tap handle mounted on a heavy base as our order indicator back to the table.  I went safe and got fish & chips, Sj got a quesadilla.  The food was decent, but very typical of "bar food".  The fish and fries were tasty, but an unhealthy portion of grease glistened everywhere, including all over the paper lining the basket it came in.  Not haute cuisine, but it would do in a pinch.

The place hosts live music frequently on their small stage, as well as Nintendo Night, and some beer events like Beer & Beast.  We were there in the early evening and didn't catch any special events so I can't speak to those. 

Overall, I think this place was interesting, but not high on my list for food or beer.  I was happy with the beer list, but felt that the unclean glassware and iffy pouring did not do it justice.  I got the impression that this was just a college bar trying to differentiate itself from the other local bars by catering to the craft beer drinking crowd.  This is only one man's opinion from one visit, so don't hunt me down with pitchforks and torches if Acadia is your favorite local!  Given how close it is to Town Hall and Republic, I would much rather head to either of those locales for a pint and dinner. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

30 Words: Bright!

Differing from my usual style
of dark and moody
use of shadow
and monolith
This scene of riotous paint
drew my eye
and sparked my interest
A burst of color
This week's 30 Word Thursday scene comes from a recent trip to Duluth.  The bright sun on these incredibly colorful tables and chairs just really interested me.  I tested out a new blurring effect on this to get across more of the color and less of the hard details.  Check out the other 30 Word contributions at Erin's Treasures Found Blog!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Fringe Again!

Alright, back to my epic attempt to see as many shows in the Minnesota Fringe Festival as I can this year!  So far we are up to about 24 shows and the shenanigans continue through this coming Sunday.  I'm finding that writing short reviews of the shows makes me think a bit more critically about them, so I'll continue doing that. 

Oh, and Town Hall released one of my favorite beers: Thunderstorm yesterday!  We had to take a late night stop there yesterday to partake.  Honey, lemongrass!  Yum!

There has been an interesting conversation going on in the Ultra-Passer's private Facebook group about rating scales for the Fringe shows. 
My own personal scale is this this:
1 star = Utter crap, why did I not walk out of this? Don't see this!
2 star = Not very good, some sort of fatal flaw, not recommended.
3 star = A decent middle of the road show with some redeeming qualities.  Worth a shot if you need to fill a slot in the schedule.
4 star = Really good
5 star = Top of the line, really do not miss this!

I've been finding that many of my ideal ratings would put me at half stars (mainly 3.5) but the official Fringe site doesn't let you use halves.  I tend to round up in those cases. 

1) Kafka Nuts.  Up front, I really like these guys, in fact some of my all time favorite Fringe shows have been from them.  Having seen them at their best, I felt a bit disappointed in this show.  Bits were funny, and it had lots of puns and one-liners, but lacked the total over-the-top action that the description of the show in the program described.  This is family friendly, and I appreciate the modern nod to the old Vaudeville styles.  I have to give it a 3 (good but not great.)

2) The Tiger in the Room.  This is the third show we have seen this Fringe with Natalie Wass in a main role and she continues to impress.  This show was a bit more cerebral than some, spending a lot of time on different memories and relationships of varying types.  Well written, well acted, at times quite poignant.  I recommend this as a good psychological drama. 4 of 5.

3) The Death of Brian: A Zombie Odyssey.  I had heard mixed reviews of this show, but decided to take a risk.  I was pleasantly surprised!  Ricky Coates really takes risks with this dark and often disturbing show, pushing himself and the audience to the edge of what they can take.  True live horror with impressive physicality.  I'm a horror fan and this "Did It" for me.  My only real gripe with the show was that the audio clips that the actor "interacts" with were very loud compared to his own performance. 

A Trip to Duluth! For Beer!

Continuing with my travelogues of beer based tourism for the summer, I thought I'd spend a bit of time talking about our recent trip to Duluth for the All Pints North beer festival.  Sj and I went to the fest last year after getting the combo pack of tickets for Autumn Brew Review, Winterfest, and APN.  We ended up having such a good time that we made sure to do the same thing this year!  I took off work early on Thursday and we drove up to the character-filled city on the shores of Lake Superior.

Day 1: Thursday

We arrived in town early enough to stop at the best brewery in Duluth: Bent Paddle!  The tap room and brewery was so new last year that the place still smelled of wet paint.  Now, a year later, the place has a more lived-in vibe and was nearly full of patrons, a mix of business people after work, bike enthusiasts, hipsters, and an old friend named Brad.  This is truly a melting pot of beer lovers!  They had a large number of beers on tap, including two nitro versions and a firkin of their Cold Press Black Ale with vanilla beans.  Of course I had one of those and it was heavenly!  They had just recently changed their tap handle design and had the old ones for sale--so I had to get one for my collection at home.  Now if only I could find a Steel Toe and a Surly tap I'd have all my local favorites on display...  During our brief visit we had the good fortune to run into Peter Mack, one of the awesome brewers previously of Rock Bottom and Town Hall. 

From Bent Paddle we headed to Fitgers Hotel to check in and get settled before dinner.  I've mentioned this place before so I'll keep it short here.  Not the cheapest place to stay in Duluth, but it is right along the Lake Walk and one just has to go down the hall to find Fitgers Brewhouse for a fine pint of beer.  They have wonderfully attentive staff and free shuttle service around Duluth.  We made great use of that shuttle! 

We next drove up Scenic Highway 61 along the lakeshore to make our evening dinner reservation at the New Scenic Café.  Someone suggested this place the first time we went to Duluth years ago and it has become a mainstay in our dining choices!  About 20 minutes north of town, this little restaurant with its beautiful flower gardens hosts some amazing quality food.  This is fancy fine dining food in a relaxed atmosphere and the prices are not terrible compared to the Twin Cities.  We shared starters of Ahi tuna tacos and curried mussels and both were perfect.  We each had the duck breast for dinner since neither of us wanted to share! 

By the time we arrived "home" we met up fellow JAB member Shawn Kummrow for a beer upstairs at Fitgers Brewhouse.  The wheat wine was very tasty, but I enjoyed the Hoppelujia IPA more!  A full day done Sj and I ambled down the hall to a much needed rest!

Day 2: Friday

A late start today since no cats were present to scratch at doors, lay warm paws upon your face, or howl plaintively until fed.  The coffee at Fitgers is free, but that pale tan colored swamp water is not worth it!  The day was a bit overcast, but not outright raining.  Taking my camera along and crossing my fingers for sun, we headed back up along the Scenic Highway. 

We stopped at the French River Fish Hatchery.  A small river next to the hatchery empties into the lake and this gave me access to some great photo ops!  We wandered into the somewhat deserted hatchery grounds, not sure if we were really in the correct place, but taking our cue from the sign on the open gate saying they were open to the public.  After finding a hidden trail up to more old buildings we entered The-Hatchery-That-The-60's-Forgot!  An old decrepit "Visitor's Center" promised information, but was mostly out of commission.  The antediluvian displays were faded with time, decomposed and coated in a thick layer of dust and dead insects.  Another, larger building had a small nearly unmarked door that looked promising.  We entered this large, dank building to a strong aroma of fish, mildew, and moist age.  Were we really supposed to be in here?  Clicking on a switch, a small amount of hooded light flickered on above us, dimly illuminating huge tanks of lapping dark water.  Below the surface of these long pools swam thousands of small salmon and trout spinning gently in the mild current.  The light was too poor for good photos but this was pretty cool!

The 60's called and want their stuff back...

Afterward we hiked back to our car, running into Shawn and his family in the parking lot.  We then continued on our northward trek, driving past cheesy roadside attractions (as opposed to Wisconsin Cheese attractions), scenic overlooks, small towns, and resorts.  We ended up having a decent lunch at the Rustic Café, paired with a local Castle Danger IPA. 

We ended up at Gooseberry Falls for some epic photo taking and some light mountain-goat style climbing!  It was a struggle to get photos of the falls without people entering the shot, but with some creative angles and editing I think I got a few good ones. 

Once again not making it any farther north, we headed back to Duluth.  Our friends Randy and Andrea had just arrived in town and we met up with them a group of their other friends at Bent Paddle for a pint and some company.  Waiting in an epic line to get beer, we ran into Kat who bought us our round!  This time they had a firkin of Bent Hop dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin hops that was quite tasty. 

Later we met up with the whole crowd at a small local apartment that Kat was renting for an absurdly low amount of money.  Many great beers were shared including an oaked Imperial brown ale from Hammerheart, Mon Cherries from Borealis, Wit Noir from Blacklist, and Green Monster from Deschutes.  Lounging amongst old and new friends sipping on cool beers...This is how to spend an afternoon!

From here, Sj, Randy, Andrea, and I all took a brisk walk to Fitgers Brewhouse owned Tycoon's Alehouse for dinner.  With more fine Fitgers beers to choose from and very good upscale pub fare we all had a very pleasant evening.  With just a few blocks to walk back to our hotel, Sj and were ready to crash.  But wait!  Is that a text from Shawn saying he is right down the hall at Fitgers Brewhouse?  Guess I'll just have to go have one last pint of hoppy goodness and hang out a bit longer...Shawn seems to know everyone, so I got to meet several new people during this little stint at the bar.  A perfect end to a great day!

Day 3: Saturday

Desperate for real coffee this morning (see previous day's festivities to understand why...) we had the Fitgers shuttle take us to Canal Park area for some strong Caribou drinks.  We wandered about in the increasingly warm sun, getting a good look at the Duluth Lift Bridge and the pier.  We walked back to Fitgers along the Lake Walk, getting too much sun and plenty of exercise. 

Again taking the shuttle, we were dropped off for lunch at Fitgers Brewhouse owned Burrito Union.  These guys own quite the fleet of restaurants!  Located in a cool old building that retains much of its charm, this place is an upscale version of a Chipotle, but with better food and Fitgers beer!  We shared some really good fresh salsas and enormous burritos as a good base for this afternoon's coming festivities. 

After a very hot walk back to our hotel we prepared ourselves for All Pints North, making good use of the shuttle again to drop us off near the Bayfront Festival Park grounds.  Last year's fest was on a very overcast day and was quite comfortable.  This year's was very hot, muggy and the huge ball of fire sun was glaring its melanoma-inducing rays down upon us with extreme glee.  Not a cloud in sight to shield us from the sun and little wind to cool things down.  This did not bode well for staying hydrated and not regretting this whole thing tomorrow...

The festival opened at 3 PM, floodgates opening and hordes of thirsty beer geeks rampaging into the grounds!  Actually I think this was the most relaxed and calm festival crowd I've seen at a beer festival, making this one of the reasons I love this particular event.  With the heat and sun, Sj and focused on lighter, refreshing beers as much as possible.  Sweat streaming down my back, clothing sticking to me in unfortunate places, I trooped on, suffering for my chance to try new and unusual beers.  A bluegrass band played on stage adding a cool vibe to the festival.  The breweries were mainly from Minnesota, but there were some from other areas to mix it up a bit.  Many brewers brought special versions of beers, always welcome at this type of event!

Yup, I only took one pic of the whole fest...too busy drinking!

Interesting Tidbits from the Fest:

1) Schells had one of the longest lines in the fest.  I wanted to try their newest sour beer made with cherries, but didn't want to wait that long...I'll have to try it in bottle soon!

2) Bells brought several interesting beers including a wonderful India Red Ale.

3) I got to try the Bourbon Barrel version of Mon Cherries--quite good with a hint of smoke.

4) I finally gave Carmody Irish Pub a second chance (after having a terrible experience at the pub in the past.)  I tried the Flanders Red, which I had heard good buzz on, but it way too acidic and not balanced well.  Maybe I'll try them again next year.

5) Got to hang out with Pio from Free House, Jason from Enki (and his very sweet wife!), and Ian (formerly of the Firkins.)  Though not all at once!  I love getting to see all these people I know through other beer events!

6) Hammerheart again had  huge line this year (though last year's was due to that being their first release to the public).  I have to say that they have come a long way in one year!  With smoked, spicy and barrel aged releases these guys really brought it strong.  Friends in the Primary Fermenters have been telling me how Hammerheart has become and now I need to get out to the brewery!

7) Jack Pine is always fun to try with their sessionable beers and this year was no exception.  Vengeance, a jalapeno infused cream ale, was perfect on this hot day.  Sj and I also got the dregs of a mostly hidden bottle of amazing barleywine!

8) Town Hall's Manhattan was as wonderful as always, but tough to drink this alcohol bomb on such a hot day.  I never made it back for Russian Roulette!

9) Didn't even make it to the Surly tent this year...too many new things to try.

And a lot more!  Clouds came out and the wind kicked up a bit after that first few hours making the day more bearable.  This is still my favorite beer festival, and I almost hesitate to spread the word about it in hopes of keeping it smaller and more manageable.  We left before the bitter end, wanting to avoid heat stroke and terrible hangovers, getting picked up by our shuttle nearby. 

Back to the hotel and a burger at Fitgers Brewhouse, and off to a very needed rest.

Day 4: Sunday (the Aftermath)

Thirsty Pagan!

Actually felt pretty good for the day after a beer fest!  We packed up and took a trip across the bridge into Superior Wisconsin for a lunch of pizza at the Thirsty Pagan.  Sj and I shared samplers and tried all the beers.  My experiences here have been hit and miss.  Most of the beers this time were decent, but not many stood out as exceptional.  Last year they had several sours that were great, but this year only a not-so-good Berliner Weisse.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

More Fringe 2014 Reviews

Ok, so I posted some proper beer stuff yesterday to appease my beer-folk.  Now, back to my coverage of Fringe Festival 2014

No travelogue today, just a bunch of reviews!  There is still plenty of time to check out some of these shows since Fringe goes through Sunday the 10th of August. 

Old school Fringe show advertising!  Who needs the Internet?

1) Green T's 2001: A Space Odyssey.  I'm not going to lie, I'm a big Science Fiction geek.  The movie 2001 was one of the first legitimate serious Sci-Fi movies made and holds a special place in my heart.  But it was cerebral, slow, and frankly sometimes a bit boring.  This production is somewhere between a play and dance--using human bodies as props and showcasing some really interesting movement.  The ability of the cast to simulate weightlessness on stage was impressive!  These folks managed to consolidate the lengthy movie/book into a pretty good version that actually made more sense to me than the source material.  Thank you voice-over exposition!  I'd rate this a 3.5 on my own scale but the official Fringe site only lets you use whole stars...I'll round up to 4!

2) Failure: A Love Story.  Frankly, this show was going to be just a gamble/slot filler, but both my wife and I quickly realized we had found one of our favorite shows of the day!  This story of lost love in the 1920's was at times funny, ridiculous, and truly heartfelt.  Difficult to describe, but the show really stuck with both of us, returning to our Fringe conversations all day.  Fine acting, use of movement, and ukulele that I actually didn't hate!

3) Jumpin' Jack Kerouac.  I'm not a huge fan of dance, but I like a lot of the authors involved in this performance--so I sucked it up and gave the show a chance.  The premise is taking authors (many of whom have never danced) and using their written input and Windy Bowlsby's choreography in a synergy of styles.  I was impressed.  Since my biggest nightmare is having to speak or dance on stage, seeing some of these folks go with it and risk humiliation was impressive.  One piece having to do with fathers was particularly well done to great emotional impact!  Keeping in mind the amateur nature of the dancers, this show really worked for me.

4) Austen-tacious!  I do not like Jane Austen.  At all.  But we needed to fill a spot and my wife does.  Trying not to think of the source material, this modern retelling of Emma was enjoyable.  The dating scenes were funny and some short musical numbers were well done.  Acted well, but at times overdone.

5) Uptown Bank Heist.  This was an entertaining heist play, but lacked polish.  Some of the character interaction was done well, but some of the dialogue just seemed forced and unnatural.  Plot lines got too convoluted at times and characters seemed to change personalities at times as well.  Entertaining way to spend a hour, but could be trimmed and straightened up into something better.

6) Everyday Hustle.  Since seeing one of Erin Sheppard's other dance pieces a few years ago I have become a huge fan.  This is from someone who really doesn't understand or enjoy most dance.  A great use of music, motion, and story.  In between numbers the hilarious Shannon Custer did readings from Sam L. Landman that were over the top comedy goodness.  It looks like there is a guest reader on different days and it would be interesting to see the differences...  This was a great show all around and I highly recommend it.  I'm looking forward to Erin's next crack at the Twin Cities Horror Festival!

7) Waitrix: Dominatrix Waitress.  I wasn't sure what to think about this going in and I'm still kind of in the same place after seeing it.  I enjoyed the show overall and it certainly had laugh-out-loud moments, but parts of it seemed a bit off to me.  Is this part really happening?  Is this a weird dream sequence?  I think that the actors did a good job with it, the restaurant critic was perfect, stealing the show for me.  I would rate this a 3.5 of 5.

8) Kitty Kitty Kitty.  We saw this one purely because Sam Landman was in it.  This is probably the most "Fringy" of the shows we've seen this season.  I'm honestly not sure if that is a good or bad thing! I'm left with plenty to think about…some things I wish I could stop thinking about!  But well acted and taken to the limit for sure.  We took some friends to this one, and I'm thinking they may not let us choose future shows for a while.  Still because of the unique factor I'm going with a 4.  Later that night at Fringe Central they did an Improv skit with Sam doing a scene from the show and another actress improving lines to fill the gaps--Almost better than the real thing!

9) Human-Nature.  Straight up, I'm not knowledgeable about dance, and do not search it out with any frequency.  This was a set of dance pieces, some linked and some not, that seemed a bit scattered for me.  Some of the pieces also just seemed to go on too long.  One set near the middle was obviously a tribute to a dance teacher and I actually connected to that one, but the others just didn't do it  for me.  I've seen other dance shows this Fringe that I enjoyed more.  Kudos for the hard work it must take to perform this type of show.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Lake Superior Brewing Company Review

On our recent trip to Duluth for All Pints North, I was able to make it to one of the older craft breweries in Minnesota: Lake Superior Brewing Company.  I've had a few of their beers over the years but will admit I haven't paid much attention to them recently.  This was a great excuse to re-acquaint myself with the beers and check out the brewery itself.  Only in the last year or so has the brewery opened up its doors to sell pints to thirsty patrons, so my timing was good!

Finding the brewery was somewhat difficult!  We trusted the GPS on my car, rolling silently along rutted streets of industrial Duluth in hybrid glory.  With both of us watching our surroundings, neither of us spotted the brewery where it was supposed to be.  We circled around a circuitous route, GPS angrily berating us to "Turn around wherever possible!"  Eventually we returned to the initial area indicated and pulled into a parking lot to reconnoiter and decide if we should let this one go.  And lo-and-behold, there it was!  At the very end of a little nondescript office building sat a tiny and also nondescript sign for the brewery.  Entering into a late 1970's or early 1980's looking building, we followed the small signs for the brewery, eventually coming to a dimly lit vestibule leading to a warehouse area.  Just to the left of the entry was a small bar and seating area made of light colored wood, busy with locals and other folks in for the beer festival. 

Talk about hidden away!

The space itself certainly looked like a production brewery that had been in this space since the 1990's.  Lighting in here was a bit darker than expected, giving the place a slightly shadowy effect and greenish glow.  A small stand across from the entrance hosted two friendly folks who greeted us and served us a sampler of beer from the taps in the wall behind them. 

Our sampler of 8 beers was served up in a vintage PBR tray which we carried to a high-top table near the bar area.  We started with the Kayak Kolsch--a light and slightly fruity beer that certainly fit the style.  This was one of my favorites of the bunch.  The North Shore Wheat was a fair hefeweizen, but I am not a huge fan of this style so my judgement is perhaps suspect.  The Special Ale was my least favorite of the samples--a pale ale that was a bit too sweet and had some buttery diacetyl flavors hiding in there among the hops.  Deep Water Black IPA was a newer one for them and was not a bad example.  But the biggest stand out was Sir Duluth Oatmeal Stout.  We had versions of this on CO2 and Nitro and both were excellent!  Overall I felt that the quality of the beers was decent, but many of them were a bit too "safe" for this day and age.  Even though I don't really like black IPA as a style, I do appreciate the brewery trying out something a bit more cutting edge. 

Seriously...make labels more like this!

About half way through our sampler, the friendly jokester who had served us came over to see what we thought of the beers.  It turns out that this was none other than the Head Brewer and co-owner Dale Kleinschmidt!  Very talkative, Dale gave us an impromptu history of the brewery and small tour, making this experience much more informative and eye-opening than I had expected.  Bob Dromeshauser opened the brewery and a homebrew shop in the basement of Fitgers way back in 1994, making this one of the oldest craft breweries in Minnesota.  Dale came on in the late 1990's and was there for the move to the current warehouse space in 1999.  The current owners of Lake Superior Brewing Company helped to found the homebrew club The Northern Ale Stars and the brewery has had a constant link with the homebrew hobby since its humble beginnings.  Dale also told us about the many brewers who either worked or interned at Lake Superior before heading off to other breweries, making this place an stepping-stone for many budding brewers over the years. 

At first glance, the brewery is not much to see, but with the addition of the history and stories I have to say that my experience was elevated.  I'm glad that the brewery continues to be successful, but do worry a bit about their ability to compete with the huge number of new craft breweries out there.  The beers were mostly good, but only the oatmeal stout blew me away, and that is not a very popular beer style these days.  Should a brewery change who they are and what they stand for to compete with others?  Hard to say, but I think they could afford to update a few things (like their somewhat bland bottle labels) and perhaps try more seasonals to widen interest in their beers.  From the perspective of a beer drinker who likes to try new things I think that would appeal to me more.  The tap room has limited hours, but I think this place is worth a stop, just to get a different perspective on some of the history of craft brewing in Minnesota.