Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Happy Birthday to Al

Happy Birthday to Al, Happy Birthday to Aaaaallllll, Happy Birthday to you!

Where else do you go to celebrate someone else's birthday and they give you gifts? Like Darkness on tap. Or a firkin of tea bagged Furious with Amarillo hops. And there's a bag pipper playing "Happy Birthday." Damn cool!

Thanks, Al! You deserve a most excellent birthday.

Monday, June 29, 2009

St. Paul Summer Beer Fest

Sunday’s St. Paul Summer Beer Fest capped off a month that has been chock full of beer events. Like last Saturday’s Indulge, this was the first go around for this festival. I’m pleased to say that other than two minor items they did a fantastic job. And it certainly didn’t hurt that it was an absolutely gorgeous day to be outside at a beer fest, especially after the HOT weather we’ve been slogging through.

I’ll go ahead and get the two minor stumbles out of the way first.
#1 Apparently someone forgot to tell the organizers that us beer geeks are rabid about quick entry into festivals so the best way to appease us is to send two person teams down the line. One does the requisite ID check while the other tears tickets and applies wrist bands. A simple fix.

#2 While it was good to have water stations with dump buckets out in the center of the festival area, it’s also a super duper idea to have pitchers of water at each table. It kind of makes for an annoying disturbance to have to head to the middle between each sample. Again, a simple fix.

Now that’s out of the way, on to the good parts, in no particular order.
#1 Lots of places have good and/or easily recognizable tap handles. But then there’s a few that have really cool ones. Winner of “really cool ones” yesterday goes to Magic Hat.
#2 As I mentioned above in the first #2, water is an important feature at a beer fest. And no one took better care of folks yesterday than Barley John’s. Check this out! (picture courtesy of Cal)
#3 Crispin, which I was introduced to at Indulge, had a competitor this week. While I think Crispin makes a better product, Original Sin has some excellent artwork. Too bad they were only selling posters and not shirts. Hint, hint guys!!

#4 After enjoying seeing Chris at every event Furthermore has put on or been a part of, at long last I got to meet Aran!

#5 On a similar note, it was good to see Trevor, newest member and formerly mystery Beer Ninja, of Lift Bridge.

Two notable missing participants were Cold Spring and Great Waters. I’ll own up to not being a particular fan of Cold Spring in the past, but after having had their absolutely outstanding John Henry last week I was hoping to see them again and have some more of that beer. I didn’t get the skinny on why Great Waters wasn’t there, but did get to see half the team as Joel was helping out the Town Hall folks. Isn’t it great when we can play together nicely?

Overall, it was a great time and I look forward to this being an annual event on my beer calendar.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What a Beautiful Night

After a pretty warm day the evening turned out to be beautiful. Beautiful to sit outside, enjoy a well made fruit beer and a cigar.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tonight, a Three Way

A three way battle that is. After the fun we had with last week’s head to head battle of the coffee beers, this week we raided the beer fridge for IPAs.

The contenders tonight were Central Waters Glacial Trail IPA from our neighbor to the east, Wisconsin, Great Lakes Commodore Perry IPA out of Ohio and Stone’s simply named, IPA, making the trip from California.

Pouring the beers, Stone had the best head with full, small bubbles that stuck around. All to start with were difficult to coax a decent aroma out of but improved, as expected, as they warmed.

Central Waters took the cake for a very nice mouthfeel, that while not typical of an IPA, made for a very easy drinker. The up front taste was caramely sweet with a full tongue bitterness. Apparently they’re somewhat secret over there in Amherst, WI, keeping both the ABV and the IBUs a secret.

Commodore Perry, a two time Gold Medal winner at the World Beer Championships, was very drinkable with a bitterness that was milder than one would expect from an IPA. A multidimensional beer, it does come into its own as it warms, with a brown sugar sweetness to balance out the 80 IBUs and 7.5% ABV.

Stone, “brewed with the good stuff” according to the bottle cap, was the most bitter on the tongue with a sharp hop aroma that comes out as it warms. Similar in IBUs and ABV (77 and 6.9% respectively) to Commodore Perry, this was the one with the most hops jumping out.

So what was the verdict, you ask. For me Central Waters was a bit too touchy-feely and Commodore Perry a little more sugary than I want in an IPA. I prefer to be roughed up a little bit when I’ve got an IPA in my hands and Stone delivered. Although this was a much more difficult tasting than with the coffee beers from last week, Mag agreed that Stone took top honors.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Indulge a.k.a. Eating and Drinking Oneself Silly

Last night's Indulge was the advent of a new beer experience in Minneapolis; beer and food pairing on a beer fest scale. The event was highly anticipated around this household and amongst our group of beer friends. The beers primarily consisted of familiar offerings, so there weren't too many to be had that one hadn't tasted before. But that's okay given that this was a pairing event. I think it was probably easier for folks to do their own pairings with mostly familiar beers. Here's our take on the event:

What Worked
  • Our friend Cal had a spot-on observation that there appeared to be a lot of beer education going on. We don't know if this was intentional or if it was a by-product of having an event not crammed wall-to-wall with people. Nonetheless, I took notice of many brewers, distributors and reps offering up unsolicited information about the beer they were serving and beer in general. I thought that was great and this seemed like an appropriate forum for doing so. I was annoyed a few times by chatty-cathys preventing me from getting a beer by blocking the station, but this the exception for the evening and not the norm.
  • Thanks Diana for pointing out the Magic Hat #9 paired with the the blueberry stilton. That was, by far, my favorite pairing of the evening. Kris was very happy with the cheese pairings overall (Lefthand's JuJu Ginger with the mango cheese and Goose Island's Matilda with brie) well as with the moonpie-thingy (cake cookies with cream) pairings. Based on my conversations with folks, I'd say that damn moonpie-thingy and its beer pairings were very well received.
  • There was ample food, ample beer, water for rinsing at each beer station, plenty of room to move around, etc. AND, there was no music (live or otherwise). I loved that. I had no problems conversing with folks throughout the evening, except for having to compete with the hubub of the crowd. I'd rather be able to chat with folks than have to listen to overly-loud music that I don't care for.
  • Lots-o-cleavage! It was everywhere and it was great!!! Unfortunately, I couldn't get anyone to pair their cleavage with the caramelized bacon. Meh, next time.
What Didn't Work
  • Each food item had a card by it listing what beers would work well with it and each beer station had a sheet of paper stating what food was paired with it. That was great, but I don't think it was enough. The problem was that after getting some food, you really couldn't remember what beer pairings were suggested. It worked if you only took an item or a beer at a time and sought out one of its suggested pairings. And with already holding a book, a plate and a tasting glass, it wasn't feasible to jot down the pairings to seek out. Maybe a piece of paper or two with the pairings would have worked, but maybe not. I guess there probably isn't an ideal way to address this problem unless humans begin growing a third arm or something.
  • Kris was a little disappointed in the food and, most especially, how it was set up. There were two rows of food situated between three rows of beer stations. Kris felt that having the food placed by the breweries would have been better from a pairing perspective, but I think that would have been a logistical challenge (although it would have helped with the issue in the previous bullet). In her opinion, the simpler food items (cheese, bacon, etc.) were good and worked well with the pairings but the more complex dishes were a bit lacking. But when you're trying to serve food to 500 people, I can see the challenge. My big issue with the food was the black been pate and the scallop dish served in these little plastic spoon deals. I couldn't get the pate out of the damn spoon without going at like a dog with a bone (lots of licking, gnawing and ass sniffing).
  • It might have been better to have had more of the tall tables scattered throughout. It was very hard juggling a plate, a beer, a book, a pencil, a camera and cleavage at the same time. Heck, Kris' hand is a bit sore this morning from juggling these items. My hands aren't sore, but I guess I've got a bit more practice in juggling stuff.
Overall, Indulge was a great event. We both had a really good time and I think most, if not all, of our friends did as well. I look forward to this event in the future, especially if there will be more cleavage. Did I mention the cleavage?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Equal Opportunity Drinking

After being proud members of Town Hall’s Pint Club for about a year and a half, we just became members #4 and #5 of Great Waters’ version. Theirs is the MBA, Master of Beer Appreciation, and works a bit differently than Town Hall’s but I think equally as good.

Joining us in the top twenty were Lori & Paul (#1 & #2), Steve, Scott (who kindly also picked up memberships for Kat & JD) and Cal (he came a bit later so he didn’t get to be in the picture).

Now we have one more reason to slack off on the weekends, spending time at a pub drinking mighty fine beer, likely in the company of some mighty fine friends!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Coffee and Beer

I love coffee. I really love coffee in my beer. And these days it seems like I have more choices than ever for coffee beers.

Not long ago most coffee beers were stouts or porters. These were big, thick beers suited for cold weather drinking and they were delicious. Now, though brewers seem to be branching out, experimenting by pairing coffee with other styles of beers, many of which are well suited for warmer weather.

One of the locals, Furthermore’s Oscura, has just come back on the shelves and it prompted me to do a mini head to head taste testing of some of the readily available bottled or canned coffee beers.

Mag and I sat down tonight with Oscura, Surly’s Coffee Bender, Flat Earth’s Black Helicopter and out of Portland, Maine, Peak Organic Espresso Amber. On any given day I’d be happy to drink any of these but having not had any of them in the same sitting, it was time to taste test them against one another to really tease out what characteristics of each spoke to me.
Both Coffee Bender (5.1% ABV) and Black Helicopter (5.2% ABV) were light on the tongue, finishing clean, with Black Helicopter having a bit more bitterness and smelling the most like a beer.

Espresso Amber (6.8% ABV) and Oscura (5.3% ABV) were surprisingly similar in light amber color with Espresso Amber having the strongest coffee aroma, like a cold espresso. They were more full bodied than Bender and Heli with Oscura taking the cake with its silky smooth mouthfeel, the result of the flaked maize.

From oatmeal brown to stout to amber to Mexican brown, these are all wonderfully made, easy drinking coffee beers. Tonight, however the Sconie beat out its Minnesota and East Coast competition.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Got an extra $720,000?

That you would like to use to purchase my Beer Bank for me? No, not a loan. More like a generous gift. Anonymous donations welcomed.

In case you’re not an avid reader (and why not?) you might be slightly confused. To clear it up, check out my earlier dreams for this former bank that’s for sale.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

They're Heeeerrrrreeee!!!

Praise be to the Beer Gods for once again shining their favor upon me. Glorious Beer Gods, in your honor I shall kill 10 bulls and sacrifice 2 virgins. Or, um...do a happy dance and then drink some really good beer.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Got a Tan in Stillwater

Last night was the first Lift Bridge beer dinner at the Water Street Inn, Stillwater. Brad, Steve and Dan turned out and brought with them their new summer seasonal, Minnesota Tan. It’s a Belgian triple made with a generous amount of lingonberries that is highly drinkable and dangerous at 8.5% ABV. Just like the summer sun on the fair skin of many Minnesotans, this one has the potential to sneak up on you, but just like a fun day spent outdoors without the 60 SPF on, but it’ll be worth it. I don’t know when or where this will be available but I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for it.

Besides their great new beer, they also brought along one of my out of stock favorites, Harvestor. This is quite possibly some of the last left of the brew made from their own homegrown, fresh hops. Having matured, the hops are more balanced than when the beer was young so it’s a distinctly different flavor but still a great beer.

The five course meal started with their flagship, Farm Girl, accompanying a trio of stuffed hors d’oeuvres (pork egg rolls, blue cheese mushrooms and smoked sausage wontons).

Once seated the second course of slow roasted shrimp with fennel slaw & garlic beurre blanc was served with Biscotti.

Next up was a three cheese soup served with the above mentioned Harvestor. The pepper jack cheese gave the soup a great little kick.

The main course was a HUGE bone in ribeye steak with Crosscut. This was the downer part of the dinner both for the over doneness of the steak and the size. With so many courses, a piece of meat even one quarter of the size would have been sufficient but being the trooper I am, I devoured it. Thankfully, at that point there was an intermission.

In addition to giving time to make room for the upcoming dessert course we also enjoyed some nice cigars provided by Maria Caram of International Cigars (the price of the meal included 2 cigars). She had two varieties, a lighter and a darker cigar, and a couple different lengths to choose from.

Just about the time we were finishing up with cigars we were invited back inside for dessert, an incredible cranberry chocolate bread pudding topped with caramel glaze, chocolate and fresh cream. This was paired with Minnesota Tan and it was a great way to end the meal.