Northland Craft Beer

You say you want a Revolution!

Marissa Saurer - Wednesday, September 11, 2013

We've been visiting Beaner's Central for about a decade. We love our coffee, and Beaner's was, and still is, a great coffee house, which is certainly reflected in their name. Over the years Beaner's has evolved. Initially owner Jason Wussow offered a couple of bottled and canned beers, and featured the "Head Lock" a can of Guinness with two shots of espresso. A great pick me up. Eventually, about five years ago, Beaner's introduced three taps of craft beer including Lake Superior Mesabi Red, Special Ale and South Shore's Nut Brown Ale. Jason also experimented with some more commercial offering like Molson, but soon discovered that his customers preferred craft beer.

 

From that point on, Beaner's exclusively offered craft beer, and as the local craft beer scene began to boom, Jason was the first to introduce Borealis, a high quality, local (Knife River) nano brewery specializing in a line of Belgian style brews back in April of 2012. As recently as last August, Beaner's doubled to three more taps for a total of six all local beer offerings. In celebration of this recent expansion, Beaner's kicked off with a hugely successful private party, this is a great place to host a private event, with a stage for live music, a solid wine, food and of course craft beer options to offer. The customer appreciation event for Bent Paddle distributors which we were honored to be invited to, was a blast, and huge success. Big Wave Dave & The Ripples, rocked the place with their big, Chicago Blues sound. The horns were blowin' and the craft beer, conversation, and the taps where a flowin'.

 

We find it striking how the changes we've witnessed at the neighborhood coffee bar mirror in so many ways what we see taking place in our home town of Duluth, in the state, region and much of the US.  This trend is indicative of the craft beer movement nationally and the consumer trend of local is moving from fad to mainstream. Beer drinkers also want to support local companies that employ their neighbors; they want to support their local growers  through the food they eat, and, where possible, the agricultural products in their beer. As long as the local movement continues to grow it is a pretty safe assumption that craft beer sales will also continue to grow.

A Force of Nature

Marissa Saurer - Thursday, August 29, 2013

 

Thanks in part to Fitger’s Farmhouse Saison which was on tap at The Brewhouse a few months ago, I have really grown a new appreciation for this style. Farmhouse is a very well balanced and flavorful ale, so I was disappointed once it was gone. You can imagine﷯ my excitement when I ran into Fitger’s Master Brewer Dave Hoops a few weeks back, and he informed me that they had a new Imperial Saison in their pipeline. Saison, which is french for “season” was historically what the French speaking Belgian farm workers would drink during their mid-day breaks in the summer. Fitger’s Summer Lightning Imperial Saison, is NOT something you’ll want to enjoy if there’s any chance you have to return to work. Especially if you’re operating heavy machinery. Summer Lightning packs a jolt with a 10.2 a.b.v., so please handle with care.


The aroma of this beer reminds me of a fresh sweet apple chopped in half, with some melon undertones. At first taste I get a pronounced pear flavor with a slight sourness. Also, you will certainly notice the alcohol which is to be expected with an ale of this heightened octane. The Sorachi Ace hops contribute to a subtle back-end bitterness checking in at 47 ibu. Being a big fan of belgian styles, I am quite certain that some of fruitiness comes from a belgian yeast strain. There is also a delightful lingering spiciness brought on by rye malt. The taste finishes up crisp and brilliant with fresh lemon zest. It is rich amber in color. This is a wonderful ale to be enjoyed in moderation.

If you’re interested in trying something a little different, give Fitger’s Summer Lightning Imperial Saison a go. Sip and enjoy this high-powered beer before it’s gone, because like its namesake, this saison strikes hard and will be gone in a flash.

The Great Minnesota Get Together for Beer

Lee Witte - Thursday, August 29, 2013

 

Mirroring what is taking place throughout the state of Minnesota, the options for "good beer" at the MN State Fair have also been multiplying. Beer offerings at the fair nearly tippled between 2002 & 2012, to 75 different beers. With even more options in 2013. Based on my observations on opening day, there where too many to count.


For the best selection of craft beer in one place at the fair, you'll want to be sure to visit the Land of 10,000 beers exhibit, sponsored by The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. Located in the Agriculture Horticulture Building, near the base of the Sky Ride Gondola. In addition to having dozens of beers on tap, they have an awesome exhibit on display, including original artworks, a huge craft beer map, historical memorabilia and timeline infographics. I could have spent the entire day trying to take it all in. If you're a fan of craft beer, this is the must visit event of the year in Minnesota!
 
In addition to the Land of 10,000 lakes exhibit and dozens of locations throughout the fair to find craft beer, the University of Minnesota has an interesting display on Minnesota's agricultural production of crops, barley, wheat & hops, that are common ingredients in craft beer. There are exhibits on MN wines production, grape production and apple/cider production. So what ever your adult beverage of choice to drink, ferment, or desire to learn more about, you'll find something for you at the fair.

The City of Beer

Marissa Saurer - Thursday, August 15, 2013

 

 

Our craft beer exploits recently brought us to the big city to weigh in on a few noteworthy spots in Minneapolis.


The Future—

We had heard rumors of a brand new brewery opening up on Washington Ave. It turns out we had jumped the gun on Day Block Brewing, who isn’t quite up and running yet. However, we are in contact with the DB team and will be doing a feature story on them once their operation is online.

The Brewery—
From there we motored over to to Fulton Brewery for a little pre-game pint. Their friendly taproom opens early on Minnesota Twins game days to accommodate thirsty pre-game crowds. Sweet Child of Vine happens to be my favorite of their brews with a perfect BBB (Balance of body/bitterness.) Also, Fulton has its roots in the Northland as their President Ryan Petz is from the Grand Marais area. In fact, The Gun Flint Tavern in Grand Marais pays homage to Fulton by featuring their beer on tap. Also, I must say as a professional graphic designer, they probably have the coolest logo of any of the MN breweries.

The Ballpark—
After our warm-up beer we shuffled off to Target Field for the Twins-KC game. A gorgeous day, a beautiful ballpark, and a struggling team, and what do you think we most care about? What are the beer options at Target Field? Well, here’s what we found out. As expected, there are plenty of macros or “domestics” as they are called. (I’ve never quite gotten that moniker). However, we were heartened that on the main level toward the left field corner, there is a kiosk called “Minnesota Brews” which sells Grain Belt Premium, Grain Belt Nordeast, Summit, Third Street, Schells, and Finnegans which I didn’t know was brewed in Minnesota. Although it wasn’t at the MN Brews kiosk, we were also able to find Surly Furious. Though not completely void of craft and local options, I would certainly say that Target Field is nothing to write home about as far as craft beer is concerned. Earlier in the season we posted on our facebook page the top 10 major league ballparks for craft beer, and it’s clear as to why Target Field did not crack the top ten. It’s this girls opinion that they would be well-served to include Lucid, Fulton and Bent Paddle in their beer mix.

The Taphouse—
Disappointed in both the final score and the craft beer options, we shifted gears to take in a place we hadn’t been before. The RePUBlic is a taphouse in the 7 corners area with a diverse selection of 57 taps in many styles from just about everywhere. Our bartender was both friendly and knowledgable on craft beer. Keeping it local, Lee went with the Surly Seven which I found to be a bit too sweet.

The Brewpub—
From there we took the short walk across the street to The Town Hall, where I ordered what was to be my favorite brew of the day. Their White IPA was so good and grapefruity that we had to buy a growler to take north with us.

The Sports Bar—
At this point, I would say that we’re having a pretty good day, which just also happened to be my birthday. We noticed in an advert in the City Pages that The Pourhouse in downtown Minneapolis generously offered a free pint on your birthday. I couldn’t pass that up. Located in the old Lumber Exchange Building, we wrapped up our Minneapolis beer tour with a Darkhorse Crooked Tree IPA, and their Spicy Shrimp Flatbread. For a sports bar, The Pourhouse has an impressive selection of local craft beer including Fulton, Lucid, LiftBridge, Badger Hill, 612, Surly and Big Wood with great Happy Hour values.

I know that we barely scratched the surface of what the Minnie-Apple has to offer. There were many other options within the same area, including but not limited to Gluek's & Crooked Pint Ale House, but you need to draw the line somewhere. Amazingly, all of these places we visited that day were within the same 12 block area. Needless to say, we will be back to explore another layer of the Minneapolis craft beer scene.

Great Beer Where the Pavement Ends

Marissa Saurer - Friday, July 26, 2013

 

There certainly is no glut of craft breweries in extreme Northern Minnesota. Perched on the edge of the wilderness lies Ely Minnesota, an oasis of craft beer. Head brewer Ben Storbeck of the Boathouse crafts solid offerings with about half of dozen styles on tap. Perhaps to his chagrin, Ben’s Blueberry Blonde Ale seems to be the signature brew at The Boathouse. This weekend is the Ely Blueberry Festival, so I’m sure there will be many of these animated fruit beers consumed. (See video below). What Ben and assistant brewer Joey Colarich are actually even more proud of is their Smokey Scotch Ale which recently won a People’s Choice Award at the Hopped Up Caribou Beer Festival.


The nature of Ely Minnesota, like many tourist towns, are the seasonal population swings. During the summer it’s a challenge keeping up with demand. Conversely, during the long winter months, when you come to work in the dark and leave in the dark, you have to come up with creative solutions to achieve some sort of balance. The Boathouse combats this challenge by focusing on more time-consuming fermentations during the frigid days of the off-season. These include some of our favorites styles; Barley Wines, Pilsner lagers and Belgian Trippels, so we’re sure to back this winter. They also host beer dinners that pair great beer with great food. This gives the local chefs a chance to display their talents in a way that they normally do not get the opportunity the rest of the year.

If you’re a craft beer lover, which I assume you are, find your way to Ely anytime of year to enjoy the great outdoors, and the great craft beer offerings at the the Boathouse and Mike’s Liquor. When we were there last weekend, we met a couple of guys all the way from Indianapolis. These craft beer lovers loaded up their backpacks filled with full growlers to take back home. They clearly appreciate all of the tasty beer options that Ely has to offer.

All Pints North

Marissa Saurer - Tuesday, July 16, 2013

 

Last Saturday was a perfect day for sipping beer in “Beer Town Minnesota”. The second annual All Pints North Beer Festival at Bayfront Park in Duluth was a great success selling out with double the crowd of last year.


There were certainly no shortage of creative brews on hand. Some notable local examples were Carmody Irish Pub’s Damage Juniper Pale, Blacklist Brewing’s Sour Red, and Borealis Fermentery’s Raison Liason Saison.

There were many breweries representing from all over the region. New to the event this year was Jack Pine Brewery from Baxter, Minnesota. They offered a tasty hopped-up American pale ale called “Fenceline”, and Olvalde Farm & Brewing Co. featuring “The Auroch’s Horn, a crisp golden ale brewed with wheat and honey. The event was kicked-off by Visit Duluth, brewers from Bent Paddle Brewing and Fitgers Brewhouse and along with Mayor Don Ness sharing their thoughts on what makes Duluth the Craft Beer Capital of Minnesota. (see videos below).

Notable winners include:
Best Brewery Booth Display: Borealis Fermentery
Best Brewery: Bent Paddle Brewing Co.
Best Beer: A tie! Between Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery's Russian Roulette and Bent Paddle Brewing Co.'s Cold Press Black Ale on Nitro.

Czech Out This Lager!

Marissa Saurer - Monday, July 08, 2013

In our travels through Wisconsin last month, we paid a visit to Leos Frank in Eau Claire to learn more about his Lazy Monk micro brewery and tap room. The brewery is stationed in an old industrial complex sharing space with other businesses in suite 123.

 

An affable gent, Leos corrected me promptly when I commented on his “Eastern European” accent, pointing out that it was actually Central European. A home brewer 20 years removed from what was then Czechoslovakia, Leos started his American Dream of opening a brewery three years ago. Last year the Lazy Monk averaged 20 barrels per month, this year he’s up to 28 barrels and I can see why. This guy makes THE most authentic Bohemian Pilsner I have ever had, made here in the states. How does he do it? Lazy Monk only buys imported Bohemian pilsner malt, and imported saaz hops.

I’ve written about “taste of place” previously, and here’s yet another example of how that holds true. You can really pick up on the subtle yet distinct grain flavors of this lager.

The Lazy Monk currently self-distributes so you have to know where to get it. However, if you’re ever traveling on I-94, pull off on the Osseo exit to a place called The Loft and they’ll hook you up with a growler or two of this great Bohemian Pils Lager. The Lazy Monk has just recently started canning too, so you’ll be able to get four packs at the Just Local Food in Eau Claire. If pilsners aren’t your thing, their other flagship beer is a Bohemian Dark Lager, as well as alternating seasonal lagers that are all very good.

Leos deserves a lot of credit for remaining true to his roots in crafting such an authentic beer. But in my book, it’s his wife Theresa who gets most of the credit. You see, if it wasn’t for her, Lazy Monk would not be here in the states. She is the reason Leos moved to Wisconsin in the first place. The beer may be Czech style, but the love is American style.
Thanks Theresa and Leos! 

 

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