Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Baseball and Beer: CHS Stadium (St. Paul, MN)

I'm not a baseball fan, but I do generally make a yearly Twins pilgrimage. I liked the Metrodome with the cheap seats straight out from home plate. Baseball's pitch for me is a beer, shelling peanuts and conversation punctuated by the crack of a bat. I love the new Twins stadium, but it lacks the cheap date appeal.

With my sister and baseball-obsessed brother-in-law in town, it seemed a perfect opportunity to check out a Saints game at the newly opened CHS Stadium.  In short, I'm impressed.

Like Twins' Target Field, the Saints' ballpark setting is intimate and seems to bring the crowd into the game. I hadn't been to a Saints game for years, so I have little memory of Midway Stadium for comparison. But, for me, an $8 cheap seat is perfectly acceptable price for my level of commitment. Add in free parking at my wife's work instead of a trip to Minneapolis, it's a great deal. We took a walk around the stadium and my favorite part is that the craft beer wagon is right next to the cheap seats. Perfect! I have a short walk to beer and sit with people who don't mind others talking rather than staring intently at every pitch.

View from the cheap seats
And the all Minnesota beer list is extensive with the exception of North Lake Brewery off to the side. I started with a 612 Unrated Rye IPA to walk a lap around the park before the first pitch. For the next beer, a couple of innings in, a long line deterred me and I got a pint of Honey Brown Lager from North Lakebig mistake. It's enticing to go to the short line, but it's short for a reason. I assume it's ostracized from the other beers because it's brewed outside of Minnesota in spite of it's "Minnesota owned and distributed" statement on the website. Do yourself a favor and get back in line for the beer wagon, even if it's long. I learned my lesson and waited for a Badger Hill White IPA, which was refreshing, light without being thin, and included a significant and satisfying hop bite.  

The only real downside is that the angle from the cheap seats to home plate is hard right and my family sat to my left, which spun my head like a tennis match. South of the beer tent to the left of the bleachers are really cheap seats on a grassy patch (called the berm online) for $5 that has a straight on view; I'm a bit old for sitting on grass for nine innings. However, the drink rail seats behind the berm look perfect. Next time. I get a chance to check out the park again in a few weeks for the Internet Cat Video Festival organized by the Walker Art Center. I assume the craft beer wagon will be open and I look forward to a relaxing event of furry frivolity in a well designed and fun setting.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Burning Brothers Brewing (St. Paul, MN)

Not needing gluten-free products, Burning Brothers Brewing hasn't been at the top of my priority list. When friend wanted to check it out for the gluten-free reasons, it seemed liked the perfect opportunity. Burning Brothers' tag line is "Don't fear the beer." Not sure if it was quite fear, but I did have low expectations for a gluten-free brewery. The fear is unwarranted.

I had two variations of the same beer for the stop.  Pyro , their shimmering gold flagship, is much better than most American Pale Ales, a clean and refreshing brew on a spring day. Infused versions of Pyro are also available, of which I tried the orange blossom honey Fused; even more delightful.  If the crowded taproom was any indication, I'm not the only one who is enjoying the product.

On BA, the ratings of Pyro seem a bit low to me.  Most seem to be focusing on a light bodied mouthfeel. While not a heavy beer, Pyro is by no means light.  Some of the lower ratings seem to be from distributive sources, so drinking on site might be part of why I thought it was better. My only other gluten-free beer experience was more than a decade ago with Dragon's Gold by Bard's, the source of my apprehension. While likely a gluten-free cliche, Pyro is a beer that I'd drink because it's good, regardless of ingredients.

Listen to Burning Brothers: Don't fear the beer!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

21st Amendment (San Francisco, CA)


We took the opportunity to hit 21st Amendment for dinner before going to an amazingly long baseball game that went sixteen innings.  I made a brief stop at 21A years ago but wanted to check my memory since it was convenient with the game.  21A is lively brewpub with better than average line up of beer and good pub grub to go with it.  The spartan decor is causal and the crowd was lively.  The pub seems to benefit greatly by being near the stadium, so the beer is their standard line with a few additions rather than an adventuresome brewpub. 21A is a perfectly good stop that I would recommend to those going to a game, but I won't go out of my way to drink it again. I'll just buy six packs at home.

Drafts on site

Brew Free or Die: brash and hoppy IPA that's a bit better on tap than the cans I buy a my local store in Minnesota.

Big Cat Pale Ale: off white head over a marmalade colored ale; good nose with lots of citrus and fruit hops with heavy caramel; taste muddled but ok; disappointed in the taste compared to the promise of the nose.

Double dipped, beer batter, thick cut Onion Hoops
Love Boat: beautifully floral nose with the Mosaic hops; harsh singular hop bite on the tongue with the characteristic 21A caramel and malt base with a bit too much hops to balance; similar to Brew Free but a different hop blend.

Guest Drafts

Drake's Drakonic Stout: matches description well; strong liquorice and roast in the taste; alcohol and coffee lead in the nose; coffee more of a roast in the taste and a smooth, viscous taste with a dry bite to finish on top of the sweetness.

Half Moon Bay Brewing Co (Half Moon Bay, CA)


Half Moon Bay Brewing was a pub I've come across in my reading and it just happen to come at the end of our drive back from Monterey Bay to San Francisco. Great stop but not what I expected.

Beer was good.  The Mavericks Hefeweizen was to style and full of flavor. Next draft was Mavericks I and I Double IPA: cloudy orange ale with an off white head; strong hop nose with northwest citrus and caramel breadiness; sweet with a bite on the tongue.

Beer battered artichoke hearts for an appetizer. Very good and a fun to eat a local dish with all of artichoke fields coming up from Monterey Bay.  We then shared the garlic cheese bread with homemade marinara. I like our repeated encounters with garlic from Gilroy, which gave it an amazingly full flavor without it being overwhelming. I would eat a lot more garlic if it was like this.

Half Moon has more of an upscale restaurant feel rather than a brewpub. Sitting across the road from the beach, it has a relax vibe that's seems to be more about the food than the beer, but worth the stop.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cannery Row Brewery (Monterey, CA)


After a full and fun day at Monterey Bay Aquarium, we needed a place for a pint and dinner.  I had researched Cannery Row Brewery, so knew that it wasn't a brewpub. In spite of a personal pet peeve of bars with brewery in the name that aren't an actual breweries, the 73 taps were enough to mollify me.

CRB does have "signature brews " that are contract beers to try to live up to the name.  I haven't found similar beers in the past bars to be worth the effort, so I couldn't bring myself to try them. So, I started with a draft of Cismontane Black Dawn, which was smooth and almost tasted barrel aged. While, it didn't warm up well, it was more than adequate.  The follow up pint was Ninkasi Tricera-Hops. In spite of its formidable name, the nose was very weak; the beer felt imbalanced and fuzzy tasting, similar to its appearance: mediocre and disappointing. I keep trying Ninkasi and am often disappointed.

For a more local review, check out Brew for Thought. I agree with the food review. The Tortilla Flats Quesadilla with grilled portobello, three cheeses and assorted fixings was excellent and enough for a meal. Even better was the Chocolate Chip Cookie Skillet with ice cream on the side. Cookie warm and gooey and a bit underdone inside.  Perfect. 

CRB was busy on a Friday night and loud. We were happy that the band was only doing a sound check for a later gig, but it was comfortable enough on the edge of the bar with just canned music. Overall, the pub was better than going to a chain restaurant. Brew for Thought noted a lack of a big hoppy beer or more interesting sour or barrel aged beers; in spite of the large number of taps, it was surprisingly difficult to find a new draft for the visit.  CRB has a pretty standard list that was served well enough for in the heart of the tourist district of Monterey Bay.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Love of Beer Documentary

From The Love of Beer website:
News of the Pink Boots Society graces the pages of beer writing enough that I am at least aware of the organization and its support of women in the beer industry. But, my knowledge (and the knowledge of many is my guess) of the organization is limited. The documentary The Love of Beer goes a long ways to correcting that oversight by showing the origins of the society plus highlighting the hurdles faced by women in a presently male dominated industry.

While the film lacks some focus and could have benefited from tighter editing, I found the stories to be very interesting and well worth the time invested to get beyond the basics that show up in most articles on the soiciety.  For example, I didn't realize that Barley Angels was the consumer arm of the Pink Boots. Plus, just hearing the perspective of women from inside the industry and how their versions of coming up through the beer ranks have some distinct differences from those of male counterparts that are often featured in beer writing. Maybe not true for everyone, but I would've tried to watch the movie sooner had the title alluded to the movie's content more clearly.  Coming to the movie on Hulu, I knew nothing of it before viewing. Lacking the feminine angle in the title, my mindset set me on the wrong path as I discovered the true focus of the film.
With whatever minor reservations I have of the film, it's well worth the effort to watch and will reward the beer geek with a new level of understanding of our love of beer.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Tipping Point: Anhueser-Busch's Superbowl Ad Bashing Beer Geeks

A friend posted The Whine of the Craft Beer Children on Facebook in response to the beer geek bashing Budweiser Superbowl ad.  My friend agreed with the article's sentiment, and I can't argue even though I don't like the tone. I get it—an insulting ad is seen as insulting, so the writer uses an insulting angle to make a point. Message received.

However, I think the larger point is missed. Budweiser has thrown in the towel, and for good this time.

Screen shot from Budweiser Superbowl Ad: Brewed the Hard Way

At my last Superbowl party in 2006, I bought a bottle of AB Brewmaster's Private Reserve. It was a bigger than wine size bottle of premium lager that was a bit better than their average. To my friends at the party, I asked them what this bottle represented. Responding to their quizzical looks, I said "It's the beginning of the end. AB just admitted craft beer is real."

Today, craft beer is winning big and macro is losing at every turn. Now, AB is dropping pretenses and taking advantage of craft beer's middle age. As the pioneers of craft beer get long in the tooth and pass on their life's work, AB will take advantage of the opportunity. As a result, the beer world will become more complicated and the lines between macro and micro will blur. This ad simply marks a clear business decision in light of these changes. AB is just trying to re-frame its brand with those who identify with drinking thoughtless beer while purchasing enough craft brands to insure profits.

Craft beer will change too. As the number of breweries grow, the old school collaboration will first be tested and then finally snap. This part of the whine article is spot on—competition between craft brewers will soon be a matter of survival. The warm fuzzy story of pulling together against the common macro enemy is crumbling and the beer world will be forever changed. In the old days, say five years ago is all, a beer gathering meant seeing all the same faces as every other beer event. Today, I can't even think of attending all that is beery in the local scene, plus count myself lucky to run into a handful of familiar faces. To visit any of my favorite local liquor stores like Four Firkins or Elevated, the choices are beyond my financial and drinking resources to support craft brew; I now have to pick winners and losers.

AB knows what I know, or vice versa. They tried to wage war on an equal footing and got pummeled. Trapped in the corner by a steady downtrend, they are simply buying up the competition, rebuilding their own brand image and fighting their way out of a corner. Likely, they will play both ends and still make money in the new beer world in spite of a shrinking market share or anything a fussy beer geek says.