Saturday, January 24, 2015

Highway 1 Brewing Co (Pescadero, CA)


After a weekend in Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Aquarium, we headed north back to The City via Highway 1 coast scenery. We were planning to stop at Pigeon Point Lighthouse when we noticed a brewery on this lone stretch of California coast.

Being early in the day, we were the only patrons in the pub and ordered a sample tray at the bar and chatted with the waitress.  The Knuckle Down Brown was thin for the style and my least favorite.  Of my favorites, Amberdextrous is an amber ale that's slightly light but very flavorful with a hop bite and a burnt wheat bread underneath; Anna the waitress helped with the brew. Also in the running for best beer was Trollup, a Belgian ale infused with strawberries. Overall, Trollup was a hazy yellow Belgian Ale with a solid yeast funk. The strawberry flavor was light but it's a tough fruit to get a bold taste.

French Mexican is a glistening yellow saison with a white head that's infused with jalepeno peppers. Sounds like an odd combo (and it is), but the yeasty spice mixes nicely with the pepper for a very aromatic nose. Best in the place.

I loved this stop because they really seemed to be working hard to craft a brewery out of the stark coast. Every brewery story I've read seemed to come alive in Highway 1 Brewing. It's the only brewery I've seen marked off by kegs to separate it from the bardefinitely a brewery that is digging deep to make it work. Most of the ales had a house taste from the yeast, but the attitude and heart was apparent in the unique and bold beers.  Even though every beer didn't work, I would love to return in a year or five to taste them when they completely get on their feet.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Seabright Brewery (Santa Cruz, CA)


With tickets for an evening fireworks cruise, we arrived early to the port of Santa Cruz to park and find our way to the boat. Reading online, we were warned of the severe traffic on the 4th of July. Once settled, we used our phones to find a place to eat before the cruise. Seabright popped up within a short walking distance and we happily tromped up steep set of stairs from the dock to the main road for 1/4 mile walk.

Bustling on the holiday, we luckily got a quick seat on the patio and ordered beers and ubiquitous central California garlic fries. Heavily laden, we indulged in the sweet, punget fries with thick Gilroy garlic and downed a few good beers.  The Blur, a Northwest IPA, was my favorite, though only moderately hoppy.  On a summer day, The Stinger was light, sweet and an easy drinking wheat beer.

Seabright is a more than decent brewpub with a bit of a chain feel; however, it was the right port for us.  While not nearly as radical as our evening boat ride through an ocean filled with thousands of dark winged sea birds and chasing illegal beach fireworks, Seabright is a very respectable stop that we enjoyed.

New Bohemia Wurst + Bierhaus (Golden Valley, MN)

Without any planning of my own, I followed beery freinds to New Bohemia Wurst + Bierhaus in Golden Valley after the latest One Voice concert. Being a vegetarian, a bratwurst specialty pub hasn't inspired me to stop for a pint.  Serious mistake. Upon walking in, friends had already filled a long, sociable table and promptly asked me to try the pretzel with pepperjack cheese sauce: light, delicious and massive.

Overwhelmed by beer choices, it took time to pick a new beer to insure New Bohemia on my database. I settled on Lucid Duce, a more than satisfactory amber ale for the end of an evening. A well curated tap list, New Bohemia had a serious devotion to Minnesota with about half of the taps dedicated to local brews. The remainder had some very good national and regional brews.  I settled on New Belgium La Folie for a second draft.

A video DJ was playing tunes with a screen behind him to keep the party rolling, which inspired several singalongs by the choir. A lively and convivial place that still allows a conversation, I was pleasantly impress with New Bohemia.  A vegetarian option for a bratwurst in addition to frites and the above noted pretzel, there's plenty of bar food for every beer drinker.

The original location is in Minneapolis. More than acceptable options for food plus an concentration of several Minnesota brews for me to try is more than enough reason to push New Bohemia up on my drinking list.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Elevated Beer Wine & Spirits (Minneapolis, MN)

Out and about running errands and shopping on a Saturday, I took a little extra time to head up Hiawatha to give Elevated Beer Wine Spirits a try. I've been meaning to check it out for a while, but it's generally on the wrong side of the street when I drive by, usually when heading home from Town Hall or other pubs.

I will no longer make this mistake. Elevated's name is spot onnot just a fun pun because of the nearby grain elevators. The selection is spectacular.

Half of build your own six pack aisles

From this first stop, I noticed a particular emphasis on Minnesota craft beers, giving the local drinker a full selection. I went home with two Blacklist beers but had five from which to choose. Plus, there were full choices of many Minnesota brewers that I have difficulty finding without going to the brewery (Steel Toe, for example), Next, I put together two full six packs of new beers from the by-the-bottle aisles (notice plural on aisles). The price of craft beer has risen since the old days (a decade ago) and I am more reticent to just try a four or six pack and being stuck with a less than amazing beer for a week. And, I've been sampling beers seriously since about 2000, it's rare for a store to have enough new single bottles to build a six pack. The Ale Jail would be an exception, but, for me, it's a bit far away to visit consistently. In addition, the local choice didn't reduce the offerings of top national brands. Today I went home with personal favorite Stone Ruination plus a six pack of Anchor's seasonal Christmas Ale.

Overall, Elevated is an excellent stop that I intend to repeat. I no longer live is a beer wilderness with two local liquors stores having a more than adequate selection, but the range is limited by my outside the inner ring location. Elevated gives me a relatively close alternative to the sort of quality associated with Four Firkins, The Ale Jail or Blue Max Liquors without the long drive.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Third Street Brewhouse (Cold Spring, MN)

Entrance to Third Street Brewhouse
After several attempts during trips to St. Cloud, I finally found the time to visit the Third Street Brewhouse, even making the 1 pm tour.

Brewing since 1874, Cold Spring Brewing today contract brews a range of beverages. For a more detailed summary of Cold Spring, check this MinnPost article. Knowing their background, I was amused that only top notch craft brewers like Tallgrass and 21st Amendment were mentioned by the guide. I noticed a TCHO chocolate box on a shelf, which the guide said they were using it to test a new brew. Compared to other brewery tours, Cold Spring is very slick and industrial.  A very cool set up, I can see where they can produce a lot of beer very efficiently to specs.

Bitter Neighborhood

After the tour, we sat as a group at the large, wood communal tables. All are brewed cleanly and good beers.  The Hunny Do Wheat Beer was an interesting wheat beer made with honeydew melon, which was very apparent in the taste. Too thin for my taste but I can see why others might like it. The Jack'd Up Autumn Ale, not a pumpkin ale but a spiced fall ale according to the description was a more unique interpretation for a fall seasonal and one the proved popular at the bar the night before. I finished the visit with a draft of my favorite of the Third Street line up: Bitter Neighbor Black IPA. It's a full flavored India Pale Ale that is smooth and quaffable, a great introduction so someone new to the style yet complex info to interest a beer geek.

Part way through my pint, I noticed a fellow coach sitting at the bar, someone I've met but haven't gotten the opportunity to know well. As always, beer as a common denominator accelerates the process. While the tour of the brewery and the samples were more or less what I expected, a good bar and a good beer still ends with a pleasant surprise.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Drinking at the 2014 State Fair

S'mores Beer from Giggle's
At a my little sister's wedding reception, I joked with my cousin Randy that I would love to see Joan Jett in concert but few have ever agreed to go with me and been available. But, now, I had a partner in crime for the state fair closing night concert of Journey with Joan Jett opening. So, I was going to the fair.

Don't get me wrong. I think the Minnesota Get Together is a pretty amazing spectacle. I just don't need to go every (or even every other) year. But living in Minnesota, events, family or fate (aka my mouth) will conspire to get me the fair occasionally. I decided to try to make the fair into a beer festival.

Based on the Growler's state fair guide, I had names of beers and their locations on a pdf.  However, I didn't include the map in the article for how to get to the places and had to download the state fair food finder app to get around. In the meantime, I walked by and recognized Mancini's al Fresco from my list. I was pessimistic about the beer gelato made with Summit's Oatmeal Stout. It was ok and the beery flavor was definitely there but it had too much of a acrid finish for me. Happy to get to the bottom of it.

Beer gelato with Summit Oatmeal Stout
Next was a bag of Tom Thumb donuts (my heart's true love and desire) to change the flavor in my mouth.  By this time I'd found my bearing and headed to the Ballpark Cafe, which was out of the minidonut beer. I settled for a Red's Apple Alea mistake. Clean apple flavor but without the fresh punch of a good cider. On the slightly warmish last day of the fair, it was more than refreshing for walking around. Should have tried the Burning Brothers on tap instead, but the gluten free scared me away since I hadn't heard of the brewery before.

In the middle of machinery row is Giggle's Campfire Grill. With very long lines, I jumped in and figured I would decide on the way.  When I got there, the S'mores beer was the only option in the line I had chosen, so gave it a try. Surprisingly, marshmallows don't soak up beer at all. I found the crusty rim to not be very tasty but the overall effect was fine, especially the comments from fair goers as I walked back down the street (it's so dark, that's that S'mores beer, etc). It's the kind of fun one expects at the state fair. Sadly, I was unable to return for the Walley Mac n Cheese on the menu. Oh well.

By this time, my nephew Josh (who is going along to the concert as well) arrives and we chat and take in the fair. After a malt break in the dairy barn and seeing the finishing touches on the butter sculpture of Princiss Kay of the Milky Way, we headed to the MN Brewer's Guild exhibit "Land of 10,000 Craft Brews."  My nephew and I opted to share the Flight 3 Hoppier, which include sample of Surly Furious, 612 Rated R, Schell's Arminius and Fulton Lonely Blonde. The Arminius was the only new brew in the flight for me, but it was worth hunting down. While the exhibit isn't going to blow the minds of any beer geeks, it was extremely popular and there were a tremendous amount of chatter about beer by fair goers around me. Sadly, the exhibit was robbed of $10,000 in cash, the first such robbery in the history of the fair.

Overall, beer hunting at the fair wasn't terribly successful.  The main reason was the each of the beers listed at locations can run out (like the minidonut beer) or they aren't all on tap at the same time. Trying this on the last day of the fair also wasn't a great idea. As we settled into our seats at the concert, we each hand a Summit EPA in hand, for which I was perfectly happy sipping this iconic Minnesota beer while the stage speakers thumped through my chest. While I didn't find much new, it was fun. Plus, the fact that I walked by so many craft beer taps at the fair is a comfort all by itself—a day at the fair is no longer hot dry walk for craft beer drinkers.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

To Style or Not to Style

Opening day at taproom
Bent Brewstillery
When I took the beer judge certification classes with the Minnesota Home Brewers, studying the BJCP style guidelines made it apparent that winning medals in home brew competitions is about hitting the bullseye. The style guidelines are the mark and winners hit the mark.

For example, one of my favorite beers anywhere is Masala Mama IPA at Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery. And, that's the straight pushed beer and doesn't consider Mango Mama or the cask version.  It's an amazing beer in any form and yet none of Town Hall's 14 medals at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) is from Masala Mama. My interpretation (shared by a others) is that Masala Mama is a fine IPA that falls in between styles. As a result, this amazing beer won't get a medal even though it would be a top national IPA if it was ever allowed to be released outside of the state.

All of which is back drop for my same night visit of Bent Brewstillery and Sisyphus Brewing. As the beer boom grows, every brewery is fighting harder than ever to carve out a niche in the heart of MN beer drinkers. Both breweries are attempting to do that but in very different ways.

I miss so many openings that I couldn't resist the Facebook post by Bent Brewstillery to celebrate their reopening as the merged company (Joining forces with Pour Decisions). I opened big with a draft of Dark Fatha, listed as an American Emperial Stout (and yes my spelling is correct). The menu description calls this a hybrid beer style that combines the feel of a light ale and the robust dark flavors of a stout. I think that descriptions at Bent Brewstillery will likely be important. Reading the tap handle in line, I read Imperial Stout and ordered. Tasting at the table, it seemed like a thin for the style and that's how it registered for me. However, reading the intention of the brewer, it really is light and refreshing while still being a full flavored ale that's cleanly brewed and excellent. However, checking out the reviews on BA, there seems to be some similar confusion and low ratings as a result.

On the Bentbrewstillery webpage for the opening today, it states specifically that one of their goals is to rebel against styles. In theory, many of us applaud this approach (unless you truly love the BJCP guidelines, which some do). Anyone familiar with Minnesota homebrewing or reads the AHA results will know of head brewer Kris England. No one has the success Kris has in homebrew competitions with knowing how to hit the style mark. So, I'm extremely confidant that I am drinking exactly what Kris intended. While style guidelines can be seen as restricting creativity, they are also map to what you want to drink, especially for those that are new to craft beer. For an all dog like me, a little reading solves the problem to enjoying an opening of some pretty cool beers that hit a mark all their own.
Sisyphus Brewing

Next stop was Sisyphus Brewing, which is taking a different approach.  With only four taps, the names are simple and straight forward.  My Brett IPA and Double IPA were excellent, and very much what I expected from the names. Sipping on a pint while listening to the comedy show that's laying the groundwork for a future theater, I ponder my evening and wonder which approach to a brewery is best. Or, if comparing even makes sense. As a veteran geek, my beery knowledge is a comfort in new situations, something I worked hard to achieve from the early days when tap lists were bewildering.  Drinking a variation of a clear target is something I enjoy.

Yet, tonight, I'm drinking from a growler of Town Hall's Sunshower, a honey lager interpretation of the awesome Thunderstorm with lemongrass and a serious hop bite that I can't seem to get enough. Velvety smooth lager with a lemony nose that draws me in and a lingering acidic bite of lemon and hops.  Love it and totally not a style.

When this began this post, I thought I had an opinion. Turns out, I'm conflicted. I find styles reassuring and helpful, yet want to be challenged by master brewers to break the very rules I learned to embrace.