Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Not quite "Where's Waldo?"




Take a look at this picture. What do you see? No, Waldo hasn’t slipped his sly little self into this small, brick structure.

Here…take a look from another angle. Maybe you can see it now.

Still nothing? Ok, since you aren’t quite seeing it I’ll tell you what I see when I look at this now vacant, drive thru bank with a still fully functional time and temperature sign sitting in Eagan, just waiting to have new life breathed into it.

I see The Beer Bank, the south metro’s newest and possibly only destination for lovers of craft beer that promises “a fine craft brew in return for the deposit of your funds”. Nothing pretentious or fancy, just good beer served at a place you want to hang out at.

Having never gotten beyond the entrance of the former banking institution housed here (who were they?) to use the ATM in the vestibule I can only guess what the interior looks like. Probably your standard walk up windows, which would easily convert into the bar’s serving area, and some configuration of seating, cubicles and possibly some offices that could be scrapped for patron seating.

Is there room for a kitchen? I’d guess the answer to be not much, if any. So to solve the problem of what to eat with your fine brew, a couple of year round, do it yourself grills kept company by picnic tables, utilizing the existing drive thru canopy for some sun and minor weather protection. And for those of us, who might happen to lose that type of motivation after a beer or two, the ability to ring up any of the local food delivery joints, whose numbers and menus are clearly posted.

Yes, admittedly it’s a pipe dream. Heck, the property doesn’t even have an official for sale sign yet. There are probably zoning restrictions in place that would prevent this type of casual but desperately needed place to sprout in a highly visible location, easily accessible from two major highways. Plus, I have yet to find someone come knocking on my door offering to fund my pipe dream.

But it’s March. And I was just enjoying the warmth and sun, albeit bad beer, in Mexico only 48 hours ago. It’s grey, rainy day with the potential to require the snow shovel to make an appearance tonight. So it’s a day for dreaming.

Monday, March 30, 2009

I need a beer…

…a good beer, and in a very bad way. After only 2 days of our 4 in Mexico, that was my exact thought.

The all inclusive we stayed at served only Dos Equis, both the regular and amber varieties. In all fairness I’ll admit that Dos Equis amber is one of my preferred Mexican beers, along with Negro Modelo. However, when a mediocre lager is the only halfway palatable choice, it gets old fast. Really fast.

So by the time we were boarding the plane home I was so desperate for something resembling the beloved, flavorful, enjoyable craft beers I’ve apparently gotten spoiled on that I almost asked the flight attendant what their beer selection consisted of. Then I thought better of it. Knowing that she would rattle off a list of undesirable macros as my hopes for something worth paying for dwindled was more disappointment than I could bear as I kissed the sun and warmth of the past few days goodbye.

Instead I sat, dreaming of getting home, getting some dinner and picking something from our modestly stocked beer fridge (time for runs to both Cellar’s and WI) to cure my four day forced fast from the beers I love.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Good beer is in limited supply

Today may very well be the last day this week I can get a respectable beer.

Feeling the weight of that statement on my shoulders I was determined not to squander what opportunity there was to make sure I had at least one good beer before the curse of Corona (aka trip to Mexico) descended upon me.

Selecting from my limited options I decided to give Buster's some love as I've been neglecting them a bit lately. Their online beer menu indicated they had Flat Earth Extra Mdium as well as a couple Lagunitas offerings. With some skepticism about how current that menu really was, I headed over to get a first hand look at things.

To say their online beer menu was out of date would have been an understatement. Even the one I was handed as I sat down wasn't completely current, however there were a couple of intriguing beers listed: Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball and New Holland Dragon's Milk. A tough call, but the Eyeball won out...at least until I looked up and saw their tap handles. There was a Dark Horse and the Lagunitas appeared to be Imperial Red.

Upon asking what Dark Horse they had, I learned it was Scotty Karate and apparently the Lagunitas was in fact Hairy Eyeball. So I stuck with my original plan and ordered the Eyeball, along with some sea salt and vinegar chips.

The chips came out a beautiful golden brown, plucked from the fryer just before they crossed the line into burnt, thinly sliced and although they could have been a bit stronger with the salt and vinegar flavor, were quite nice. A great improvement since the last time I had ordered them, at least 6 months ago. (However, the $2 price increase over the online menu price was a bit jolting.)

Overall, a good visit. Now if they could just keep the online beer listing current I'd be inclined to stop by more often, especially between 3 and 6 M-F for happy hour.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hope for Humankind

I came across a story today on the BBC website that cheered me up immensely. Check it out

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7961208.stm

There are a few things that I especially enjoyed. First, I was happy to hear that the kid was saved.

Second, I was happy that the kid was saved by Spidey and juice. Could you imagine how damn cool it would be if you were helped by a superhero? I mean, there you are, trying to get a cab home in the rain after having had a few too many beers at a work happy hour. All of a sudden, some dude dressed up like Spider-Man or maybe Captain America pulls over, hops out, offers you a juice box and then a ride. And does this because he wants to help. Hell, any superhero worth his cape would probably swing by Taco Bell for you too on the way home.

Third, I was delighted that the reporter was thoughtful enough to explain why the firefighter had a Spider-Man costume in his locker at the station. That makes this a damn good story instead of a weird, creepy story.

You rock, Spidey!

EDIT:

Weird, about an hour after posting this, I saw a promo for a special story that KSTP is running on a related topic. And I also came across something on City Pages.

I've changed my mind. Not cool. Creeeeeeepy.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Festing the Firkins


Yesterday's Firkin Fest at The Happy Gnome was quite impressive. They had something like 66 casks of beer, compared to around 20 last year. And the brewer turnout was great. They may have had more firkins than the real ale tent at the Great Taste of the Midwest. The set up and overall format worked well also. $1 a ticket basically got you one sample. Here's what I liked and didn't like about the event.

Liked
  • The two special tastings, Thornbridge Jaipur and Ola Dubh (Special Reserve 30) from Harviestoun, were more than worthy. I was especially impressed with the Ola Dubh. Hands-down my favorite beer of the afternoon. The Jaipur was great as well, but I kept finding myself comparing it to American IPAs, which does no justice to English ales and is shameful on my part.
  • Well, I already said I liked the fantastic selection. I was very happy that our local heros were present, including Brau Bros., Flat Earth, Lake Superior, Lift Bridge, Schells, Summit and Surly. But I was also delighted to be able to get Dark Horse, Avery, Rogue, etc. Colorado was very well represented, and rightfully so, with Boulder Beer Co., Breckenridge, Flying Dog, and New Belgium, in addition to Avery.
  • Sprecher had a Scotch Ale that was interesting. I didn't actually care for it, but the emotional response it illicited was interesting. The description Scott gave it was spot on, which is why this is a high point. He described it as the smell and taste of an ocean breeze mixed with seaweed. That fit it exactly.
  • Kris and I also had a chance to re-try our first ever sour beer. A couple of years ago, we had a sour from New Belgium that we both agreed tasted like stomach bile. Interesting, but we didn't enjoy it. New Belgium had their La Folie on cask yesterday and we both tried it again. Our palates have evolved a bit since our first tasting. It is still quite tart, but I kind of enjoyed it. Kris didn't like it. Of course, if it isn't Duchesse de Bourgogne, it's crap in her book.
Didn't Like
  • 1 oz pours just plain stink. I'm gonna pay $12 for a 12 oz. beer normally? In some cases, yes. Some cases. I know you're trying to make money and I won't begrudge you that. Heck, I support it. You wouldn't do the event if you couldn't make money. Makes sense. But c'mon, 1 oz pours!? Hell, and I'm not a tight-ass. I would've been willing to pay a bit more per ticket for a 2 oz. pour. 1 oz pours...sheesh. Didn't care much for $2 beer programs either.
  • Some beers just don't work well in Firkins. I was disappointed in a few beers I had. I love Rogue, but didn't care for their Charlie cask. There were a few others that I normally like but that I didn't think worked in a firkin. And, inexplicably, the gold medal winner from the judges went to Two Brothers. Two Brothers makes some damn good beer, but their winning selection was blaise in my opinion. There were far more worthy beers available. I think Lift Bridge's crowd-judged gold meal Farm Girl Kimono was well deserved.
  • Live music - meh. Live music is okay, but not when it is too fricken loud and about five feet away from you. We left after the live music began because you couldn't chat with anyone anymore.
  • Why weren't there brewpubs represented?
Overall - a nice event and a great way to kick off spring. Thanks Happy Gnome.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Warming up for Firkin Fest

Man, I hope Kris and I didn't spoil ourselves for Firkin Fest today. We had some friends come over to play games and drink a few beers. Normally game playing and beer drinking are done with my old stand-bys and favorites like Two-Hearted, Dead Guy, Summit EPA, Singletrack, etc. But not last night.

Last night turned into a Surly night. We pulled out growlers of 16 Grit and Coffee Bender, both of which were still well carbonated and hadn't lost a step (or gained a step, I guess) flavorwise. We then followed up with bombers of Darkness and Southern Tier's Jah-va. Not to be outdone, our friends popped open a bomber of Ommegang's Three Philosophers.

Needless to say, the games degenerated into giggling and burping and scratching the dog's drooly head.

Anyway, I don't know how the hell I didn't get Firkin Fest on the event listing to the left. No matter. You should be going to mnbeer.com for that kind of info anyway.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday morning musing

This morning overhearing coworkers talk about last night’s episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” (and then on to the fact that one of them was a couple weeks behind on “Friday Night Lights”) got me to thinking about how much my TV viewing has changed over the last couple years. At this point you may be wondering if somehow you stumbled upon the “Evil” mspbeer blog (“Seinfeld” reference in case you’re confused), but bear with me.

So these days even though there are some shows I vaguely try to keep up on – “Anthony Bourdain”, “Top Chef”, “Intervention” – with the exception of Top Chef, they are not series shows. And thank goodness the powers that be at Bravo understand this type of TV watching behavior and will often run three consecutive episodes back to back to allow slackers like me to catch up.

Instead of trying to keep up on the latest TV shows, I’m much more likely trying to keep up on the latest tappings, what new seasonals are in at Cellar’s, what beer might be about to run out at Town Hall before I get there for Pint Club and if there’s anything in the current beer fridge inventory that tickles my fancy. Which got me to wondering if that makes me sound like an alcoholic or if I have enough friends doing the same thing, and understand the motivation behind it, that I appear normal.

Enough coffee induced musing for now. Come back in the next couple of days to hear all about our adventures at Firkin Fest. Woo-hoo!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Planned to get Surly, got Rode instead

Last night we headed over to Stub & Herb’s for their Surly night, featuring 8 Surly brews on tap. We weren’t sure exactly what time things were to begin (Mag thought he’d read 8 pm somewhere) but since we needed dinner anyway we went early.

Sure enough, when we got there the chalkboard proclaimed the festivities would start at 8. In the meantime they did have some Surlys on tap, just not all of them, but I wanted to see what else was available, thinking I’d wait until 8 for some Surly.

I could hardly believe my eyes when the third beer on the menu was Flat Earth’s Rode Haring. Trying not to get too excited just yet I ordered one, half figuring the menu was old and I’d be told they didn’t have it. The bartender hesitated upon hearing my order, thinking they didn’t have it. Taking a sample off the tap, he found they did indeed have it!! Apparently they had pulled it off a while ago so they could put Extra Medium on and now that that had been drained, the Rode Haring was back.

With this beer being virtually nonexistent (at least until 2010) I was in heaven and enjoyed every pint of it I had. Oh, and the Coffee Bender, served in the appropriate Surly coffee mug, was pretty darn tasty, too.

P.S. Thanks to the meter reader who took the time to read the note I had put on my dash, look at the meter and then leave me a note saying she had reported the dead meter to the shop.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Best Things Come in Small Packages

Yes, this is true and it applied very well at Al’s Imperial March Day of Big Beers at the Blue Nile. We resisted the urge to show up promptly at 2 pm when the show was to begin and made a very un-McDowell-like, fashionably late entry around 4 pm.

We found only one beer to have been completely consumed by then, the Bell’s HopSlam Ale. Sure, I would have liked to try it but there were plenty of other treats to be had to be upset about missing just one. Al, in his infinite wisdom, was offering sets of three, four ounce pours in addition to 12 ounce glasses. With this kind of line up small packages was the way to go.

We managed to make it through: Southern Tier Gemini Unfiltered Blended IPA (the only 12 oz we ordered), Tyranena Hop Wh0re Imperial IPA, Moylan’s Moylander Double IPA, Moylan’s Double Kiltlifter, Avery Hog Heaven Barleywine, Eel River Raven’s Eye Russian Imperial Stout, Southern Tier Choklat, Tyranana Chipotle Smoked Imperial Porter, Flying Dog Double Dog Double Pale Ale, and Bell’s Expedition Stout.

I have to give “Best Beer of the Night” honors to Eel River Raven’s Eye Russian Imperial Stout. I think this is the first time I’ve had any Eel River product and if this is any indication of the rest of their stable of beers then I’ll be eager to try more. The aroma is a very nice chocolate roasted malt, as opposed to Choklat with a very yummy scratch-and-sniff chocolate bar aroma. The flavor is similarly roasty but the best part is the smoothness, reminiscent of a milk stout, that hits you after a five second delay. Even at 9.5% this is an easy drinker that is well balanced enough to be had for a long session of enjoyment.

We didn’t see as many of our usual beer friends there as we expected, which was fine. It’s not like we know ALL the beer geeks in town and it’s great to see new faces showing up to help us support our favorite haunts. There was also a very entertaining woman, who it was probably going to be a very early night for, that apparently had won a chili cook off earlier in the day and at least part of the prize was a headless Ken doll (well, not exactly, there was a chili pepper to replace the original skull), wearing only a loin cloth and named Chief Chili Head. Ok, then…happy for coming!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Is the Mob Running the U of M?

Okay, this has got nothing to do with beer or beer ramblings. It just got me so whipped up, I have to say something.

So, I'm getting ready to take the last class of my graduate education at the U. It's a bitter-sweet moment because I've had some great classes and met some fine people but I've also had some horrible classes and met plenty of worthless people. I've yet to figure out if the enormous price tag (thanks U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo and ABC for footing much of the bill) is worth it. And yet, I've got a sense of accomplishment and I'm feeling a little pride about walking out of there in May with an MBA in my pocket. So, the scales seemed to be tipped towards an overall favorable opinion of the experience.

But then I had to go through the always-painful book purchasing. Fine. It must be done. Okay, so do I have any options? Ah, yes!!! I can purchase a new book (that I'm sure we'll never use) for about $150. I can probably find a used book on Amazon that might cost me $100 or maybe less. Oh wait, it appears the on-line book store is offering me a new option! I can purchase an e-book for only $88. Hmm, it appears to be a bargain option...well, maybe not a bargain but at least the least expensive option. And I've never used an e-book before. Maybe I should check it out. Sure. What the hell. I'm in a good mood because it's my last class afterall.

Okay. I've now placed my order. Hmm, I expected to get e-mailed a link so that I could download the book. No e-mail. Ahh, I see. They are sending me something. Okay, it must be a book on CD. Perfect. I can hold on to the CD in case I need it later.

A couple of days later my package arrives from the U of M bookstore. Ahh, my CD! Wonderful. I tear it open to see what goodies are in this package. Wait! There's nothing in here but a receipt. Why would they just send me a receipt? Oh, I guess they sent me a receipt that includes a url for an on-line book store as well as the PIN I need to get the book. Hold on a sec... did they just charge me $5 god-damn dollars to ship me a god-damn package...a PACKAGE...with nothing but a god-damn receipt in it? They did! I can't effing believe it! No...no, that's not true. I can totally believe it. That's pretty consistent with much of my overall U of M experience.

I guess it makes sense. As as part of my Masters in Business Administration education, they are teaching me how to totally screw customers by providing questionable value at a ridiculously high price. Ahh, I see the point now. Thanks U! I can't wait to trample my first unsuspecting consumer!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I'm Mr. Fancy-Pants


For some reason (prolly not a good one), Kris and I had never been to any of the many beer dinners around town until last night. I don't know why we waited so long to attend one. It was fantastic.

Last night The Dining Studio (Create) hosted Jeff Williamson and his Flat Earth beers in a food-beer pairing dinner. Initially it was just going to be Kris and I going from among our group of friends, but Kat and Scott scored tickets at the last minute and Gene and Jeff were able to use some of Jeff Williamson's comp tickets.

As a rule, I don't like eating while drinking beer because the food very often changes the taste of beer for me, and not in a good way. And yet, in last night's pairing, I didn't experience this. Last night was truly the first time I enjoyed the beer more because of the food.

The folks at Create matched up a local greens salad with Raspbeery Belgian Pale, a seared/baked duck breast and chow-chow with '07 Winter Warlock, braised beef short ribs and mashed taters (okay, puree) with Element 115 and a fig pound cake with Trees. And it all worked! This was the first time I'd really had duck. It was seared then blackened and thus was really moist and a bit rare. I was surprised at how fatty the breasts were and I wasn't sure I would enjoy the duck, but man it was succulent and flavorful. I was surprised at how all the flavors stood on their own without getting lost when I took a bit of the duck with the mustard sauce and tart chow-chow all at once.

But as far as I'm concerned, the braised beef short ribs were the highlight of the evening. The aroma and rich flavor of the beef and demi glace gravy immediately made me think of mom in a big way. At the first bite, I was taken back in time to memories of eating ma's pot roast. I literally sat in my chair, bouncing and humming and smiling while I was enjoying the beef and thyme potato puree.

Now, I've had "fine" dining experiences in the past but, frankly, I've always been bored and a bit disappointed. I'm the kind of guy who could be perfectly content to eat pizza and burgers the rest of my life. Well not any more. Apparently Mr. Low-Brow is going to have to elevate things a bit and put on his fancy pants a bit more frequently.

Thanks Jeff, Philip, Desiree and Eric Bana-look-alike-guy for a great evening! By the way, here's a photo of Eric Bana-look-alike-guy. Do I lie???

Monday, March 2, 2009

Redemption

After the Smalley’s visit on Friday night I believe we were due for some redemption in the let’s-try-out-a-new-place category. As it turns out, that was just what happened on our visit to the Birchwood CafĂ© Sunday evening with the McG’s and the Shervey’s.

While I’m generally up for trying out a new place for the sake of trying it out, the specific lure that brought us to Birchwood was their Sunday special: 2 burgers + 1 pitcher of Surly = $30. Last night when we arrived the Surly options were Bender and THREE! A whole pitcher of Three might sound a bit excessive but I’m of the mind that when you can get it, you don’t pass it up. We all know that once it’s gone, it’s gone and the best we can hope for is that Four will be in the same league.

For most of the week their only burgers are turkey or black bean, but on Sundays, starting at 5 pm, they loosen up and offer Thousand Hills grass fed beef burgers. Although the weight of the burger is not listed anywhere, it must have been a half pounder. The burger itself was cooked to perfection and juicy, the bun the exact combination of substantial and squeezable and the toppings (roasted red pepper, red onion, tomato, lettuce, pepper jack cheese, and rosemary aioli) provided a solid supporting role that didn’t steal the show.

By the time we finished up the main course and got around to ordering from their amazing selection of desserts we saw the staff changing out the Surly tap handles. Looks like we helped to kill the keg of Three. On went Furious, which although is stellar in its own right is available year round so loses the limited availability novelty of Three.

Oh, quick note about the desserts. After the amazing hamburger and blue corn chips (which rock if you let them marinate in all of the yummy juices that come out of the burger) and most of the pitcher of Three, I didn’t really need dessert but one look in the dessert case and it was a no brainer. I had the carrot cake, Kat & Scott had the berry crumble and Mag, Sharon & Dave had the key lime pie. All amazing!

In addition to two Surly offerings on tap, there were cans of Surly Coffee Bender ($5), Flat Earth 22 oz ($7), Bell's Two Hearted ($4.50) and a few other craft and imports. You won’t find a beer list on their website so you have to take your chances on what they might have at any time but based on this first visit I’ll put my money that it’ll be worth the trip. One caveat: you must order food with your alcohol. Something to do with the conditions of their liquor license and likely the result of being situated squarely in a residential neighborhood. What I wouldn’t give to have a Birchwood sibling in my neighborhood!