Saturday, June 30, 2012

Stagecoach Saloon at Hubbel House (Mantorville, MN)

Stagecoach Saloon @ Hubbel House

After touring Mantorville Brewing Co (MBC), I felt a need for a draft of the local brew and walked a block to the Stagecoach Saloon inside of the Hubbel House in historic downtown Mantorville.  

The place was full on a Friday night--the bar and a line for the main dining room.  The popularity was in anticipation of the Old Tyme Days happening on Saturday and Sunday.  I should have waited for the Saturday tour of MBC, but tonight was my only option.  Another time for Old Tyme Days.  Mantorville's twelve block downtown is a nationally recognized historic place, which is easy to see with a short stroll, but I think the walking tour with explanations would give a better feel for the history.

Stagecoach Amber Ale at Stagecoach Saloon
I sat at the bar and ordered a Stagecoach Amber Ale.  From the tour, Mantorville Brewing has been doing some maintenance and was a bit behind in the brewing, so the amber was the only MBC on tap.  Sadly, I was looking for the Smoked Porter--next time.  Chilled glass, which the haze can be seen slightly in the photo.  Perfectly fine draft, but it didn't live up to my expectations from the sample at the brewery.  For my second draft, I tested the bar with a beer I know a bit beer--Alaskan Amber.  In both cases, it didn't seem that the beer was 100%.

Pleasantly surprised, there were several veggie options on the menu--including a veggie burger substitute, a portabella mushroom club with fries and a veggie lasagna.  I went for the shroom sandwich with grilled peppers and onions.  In the dim light of the bar, the portabella was so thick I briefly panicked that they brought me a burger by accident. Good sandwich, though the fries needed ketchup--a personal criteria that fries should be good enough without a condiment of any type, whether or not I chose to dip.   In retrospect, I maybe should have tried the wild rice plate--maybe next time.

The Stagecoach Saloon is clearly not a beer bar, but they aren't trying to be.  It's a good hotel watering hole that's serving the folks that are more interested in old west re-enactments than the six taps at the bar.  My purpose for a local pint was to get a fresh, perfectly served draft of MBC beer.  Unfortunately, I will have to keep searching to give their beer a proper tasting.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Ruination 10th Anniversary IPA (Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA)

I've been lusting after this beer since I heard about it and tonight I get to drink it.  According to Stone, Ruination was the first year-round Double IPA on the market (several qualifiers in there, but a first).  It's the same palate hammering beer, but kicked up 3% ABV with double the hop additions to five pounds per barrel.  Here's Stone's explanation video with some pretty good beer porn camera work.  I like Steve Wagner's thoughts on how this anniversary edition really flows from Stone's success: bigger, better equipment and a lot more expertise to be able to pull off this beer.   Ruination is not only one of my favorite beers, but the only beer for which I have a bicycle jersey.  I bought three bottles assuming I'm going to like it.

Just off white head piles high on the first pour, but my camera failed, so the second pour is to the right.  It's exactly as advertised: Ruination but bigger. Very recognizable big flowery, spice and pine nose.  Higher alcohol is apparent in nose and taste, and there's a very slick, resiny characteristic in the mouth.  Big hop bite that spreads across the tongue and overtakes everything else; again, as advertised.  Compared to the standard Ruination, the 10th is slightly darker with more amber swirling around and a heavier mouthfeel.  The full bodied but not heavy contrast of standard is one of my favorite parts of the Ruination, which the 10th falls short of some of that balance because of the increased sweetness and oiliness.

As it warms, the hops go from biting to sinus clearing and the beer develops an almost whiskey like character as the alcohol becomes domineering.  Still happy that I bought three bottles, but don't think the 10th will replace the "Liquid Poem to the Glory of the Hop" that is Ruination IPA.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Newt's North (Rochester, MN)


For years, I've driven by Newt's on Hwy 52 through Rochester and never took the opportunity to stop.  In reality, it was vegetarian bias since it looks like a local meat-centric burger joint. In this case, it seems to have been a mistake. 

Some teacher friends (thanks Scott and Heather!) are regulars (after school happy hour), so when several coaches got together here for some Sunday afternoon out-of-season socializing, Newt's feel like our local.  Newt's is a fine pub with a very friendly feel and a solid beer list to keep you entertained.

Let's start with beer. Not recognizing what the 21st Amendment Dark could be, I asked and the server wasn't impressed with the beer.  It turned out to be Brew Free or Die IPA, one of my favorites (I'm drinking it at home right now!) and not Dark at all.  The beer list is respectable, especially for Rochester, so that's fine, but the staff doesn't seem to be overly knowledgeable of craft beer.  But I'm use to Al at the Blue Nile as a guide, so maybe I'm spoiled.  But the staff made up for it in friendliness, even joining in our group photo.

It doesn't say it on the menu, but Heather said she knew of others that ask for a Boca Burger on any of the main burger combos.  So, I ordered the Shroom Burger with a veggie substitute, which was good and reheated well as left overs.  While just a Boca Burger, it was still very good and something I couldn't make as well at home (an eating out food criteria for me).  However, it would be great if that was listed on the menu so I wouldn't have to feel so high maintenance by ordering off the menu.

Ended with after lunch drafts of Alaskan Amber and Lagunitas IPA.  Both were well served and the beer is taken care of well at Newt's.  Inside information--a member of our group is related to the line cleaner of Newt's, so we know that it's done by someone we trust.  And, it shows in clean pints that taste fresh. Taking a closer look at my list, I evidently visited Newt's back in 2001 and had a Mantorville Stagecoach Ale.  My memory of this stop is vague, but it doesn't seem to mesh with Newt's North so I'm guessing I was at the downtown location (and the pictures online do seem to mesh with my memory).  Newt's is not a beer destination for those out of state, but it is a great local bastion of craft beer.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Iowa beer fests--now and then

Reading through my feeds, I came across this review of the Iowa Craft Beer Fest 2012.  Looks like a really good time and got me thinking of the only festival I've attended in my home state of Iowa.

Only a year into this hobby, my wife and I attended the Brewfest in Des Moines in 2002.  A small festival at that time, we sampled nearly as many new beers at Court Avenue Brewing as we did at the festival.  At least those I recorded.  I remember drinking  beers that I had already imbibed, even that early in my tasting career. The best samples of the fest were Rogue's Mocha Porter and Boston Beer's Octoberfest followed by Blue Cat's Hefeweizen, none of which are from Iowa.

The Brewfest is still going on and seems to have improved, slightly.  However, it's still mostly regionals and imports like Rogue and Unibroue with a few locals mixed in.  Less of a craft beer fest than beers distributed in an area, similar to the City Pages Beer Festival that I attended years ago.  I have since learned my lesson and I wouldn't go to either today, but we all make mistakes when we're learning.

So, it's been a decade since I've done a festival in Iowa.  Organized by the Iowa Brewers Guild, the ICBF looks like a very promising festival.  With this bit of information, inklings of improving Iowa beer quality from various articles that have crossed my path and a positive experience in 2008 for a day trip to Worth Brewing in Norwood, Iowa,  it's clear to me that Iowa deserves another chance.

Road trip, anyone?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Buffalo Sweat (Tallgrass Brewing, Manhattan, KS)

Buffalo blockage in Yellowstone 2006
Watching the most recent episode of Brewing TV featuring Tallgrass Brewing, my wife thought Buffalo Sweat looked like a promising stout.  She can sense the taste characteristics from the color of the head (and is surprisingly accurate).  So, I took the opportunity to try it again and see if Gloria could have a stout to drink at home.

Tallgrass Buffalo Sweat
Incredibly thick brown head the color of malted milk balls.  So creamy that it trails dark where the final line of beer fights through to join the luscious blackness on the bottom.  Heavy earthiness, roasted malt and light floral notes in the nose.  If a buffalo sweats roasted chocolate, it would smell like this--oddly.  Mouthfeel is unexpectedly light and the coffee comes across as acrid over the smooth sweetness in the mouth.  I could see where an all day coffee drinker would like this beer--a cold coffee taste lingers about.

Yellowstone 2006 when we got through the line of cars

I'm perfectly fine buying this four pack of Buffalo Sweat, but probably won't get another one any time soon for either of us.  I'm curious to see if a draft would mellow some of the flavors, so will give that a shot when the opportunity arises.  It's a perfectly good stout, but the flavor profile doesn't match with either one of us.

And the Buffalo Sweat name doesn't exactly get my taste buds watering.  However, taking a closer look at our travel pic, the two tone color of the beer has a striking resemblance to an actual buffalo's coloration.  I have no idea how Tallgrass came up with the name, so it's just an observation.  Creative names are becoming harder and harder to find in the booming craft beer industry, but this one doesn't leave me dreaming about the next one.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Amsterdam Bar & Hall (St. Paul, MN)

Amsterdam Bar and Hill.
Pedal Pub out front, but
didn't find out why.  

Having a bit of time before One Voice performed at The History Theater, I parked in the flat lot across the street from the Amsterdam Bar & Hall in downtown St. Paul.  I've had a pint or two here before for happy hour, but have never stayed very long.

Gnomegang and tap list
Tonight I was able to have a few beers, dinner and run into a beer friend as well.  Started off the visit with an extremely well served draft of Gnomegang--a collaboration ale between Ommegang and Brasserie d' Achouffe.  Hazy yellow brew witha built up white head.  Strong spicy nose that doesn't quite forecast the sweet, pepper and yeast twang the fills the mouth and is very balanced.  I've had it before, but this was a particularly good draft tonight.
Dutch cheese broodje and frites

For dinner, I ordered a Dutch cheese broodje (small sandwich) and the smaller $2 happy hour frites (Belgian fries).  Multiple sauces can be ordered with the frites, so I tried the curry mayo and ketchup.  Having had frites in Amsterdam before, I need to have both mayo and ketchup to eat them.  While not completely authentic, the frites were definitely better than the ones I had last summer at Brugge Brasserie in Indianapolis. The onions were an addition I've never had before but I liked them.  The broodje was heated and excellent for just being a cheese sandwich.  It was definitely small, so ordered a second sandwich: grilled vegetable.  The very friendly waitress said it was her favorite, and it was extremely tasty.  I'll start with it next time.  Later in the evening, I was chatting with someone about the Amsterdam and she recommended the house cured salmon broodje.  Definitely enough foodsoptions of reasonable size and high quality to warrant more sampling.
Amsterdam coasters

Beer friend (and beer writer) Jim walked in with his wife Louise and I suddenly felt like I was in my local.  The bar was lively in the early evening on a Friday with the after work happy hour crowd chatting happily. With the summer sun, it was lighter inside than it has been when I've stopped in the past.  Nice atmosphere, but the music from the stage speakers behind me was a bit loud for easy conversation.  I've never been here late night, but the website (and stage behind be) indicates that it is a music destination, but I have no idea of its quality.  I haven't heard of it as a music venue like Triple Rock Social Club or the Blue Nile, but me not hearing of it for music does not mean much.   A final odd note--I noticed an excessive number of beer mats on the bar--seemingly strewn about for easy use.  For some reason, I like the messy look.

For dessert, I ordered an Amstel Wheat (to add to the database) and finished with a Deschutes Inversion IPA. Overall this is a good beer bar with a nice atmosphere.  Plus they always have La Trappe Quad on tap--an excellent go to beer for my wife.  I won't necessary travel downtown just to visit the Amsterdam, but a stop is definitely in order the next time I'm heading to a show or hopefully my wife's co-workers will do another happy hour here again.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

MGM Liquor Warehouse (Inver Grove Heights, MN)

MGM Inver Grove Heights
Every once in a while, it's easier to make a beer run at MGM Liquor Warehouse while grocery shopping at Cub than to head over to Arbor Pointe Liquors.  But, MGM is a convenience stop at best--not a place to trust.

Over the years, I've bought a range of beer at MGM. As a result, I now only by from the cooler since it seems that some of the craft beer can sit on the shelf while, especially singles that can often be severely out of season. Since a daily beer in six pack form is the goal if stopping, I look for something mainstream craft that's probably moving well--like a Summit seasonal, Rogue, New Belgium, etc.

 If you stop at MGM (possibly many MGMs, but definitely the one in IGH), buy carefully from the cooler and it will be just fine.  If you're looking for super cool singles, head to the Four Firkins or The Ale Jail.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

St. Paul Summer Beer Fest 2012 (State Fair Grounds, St. Paul, MN)

International Bazaar stage

According to my notes, I haven't been to the St. Paul Summer Beer Fest since 2009 when it was at Midway Stadium.  While 2009 was a perfectly good time, the Midway location wasn't the conducive location for a fun festival.  Good beer, but drinking in a parking lot didn't cut it and was a part of why I hadn't returned.  When some friends, Heather and Scott, suggested we do the festival together, I thought it was time for a return visit at the state fairgrounds location.

After a Chipotle stop, we showed up early to the fest and stood in line--to my surprise--in the sun.  I predicted we'd have rain, or at least clouds.  Plenty of sun (and a bit of a burn, unfortunately), but a great day to drink. Hit list in hand, we headed in at 1:30 pm, an 1/2 hour before the posted time.  There was a bit of confusion as to when to start serving beer--some people (Jeff and Gene!!!) got beer before 2 pm (and my theory was I wasn't cute enough).  At 2 pm, we headed back to the grassy area for Surly, etc in  for the start of the day.

Beer crowds under the bazaar 
For taking notes, I only took a pen and decided to rely on the festival program because the organization seemed promising online.  For a festival, my main consideration for a program is the ease of use when drinking.  Period.  For the Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison, my main critique of the festival is that the program becomes useless  because it lists the breweries by state. It's impossible for me to find the state, then the brewery, etc.  It needs to be alpha order or something very clear and easy to navigate because--well, you know why.   With large numbers in the corner for each brewery, the program for the St. Paul Summer Beer Fest looked to be good organization.  

However, since the matching numbers weren't on the brewery booths, I had to look at the map in the center of the guide to see which set of numbers I was near and then head to the general location in the festival program to flail around until I found the actual beer in my glass.  In short, the program was hard to use.  The numbers would be great if the physical space was clearly marked for each brewer so that it could be easily located.  I would think that the brewers would want patrons to be able to very easily get to the right spot in the program since the purpose of the festival is sell more beer through name recognition. Plus, there wasn't an alpha order list of the breweries, so it was very difficult to find a brewery by name because the only option was to scan the entire list for a particular brewery. Maybe fewer patrons care about this than I do, but I don't see where program confusion is a benefit for anyone.  I would prefer an alpha list with the numbers beside the name to locate on the map.

While my analysis of the program may make it seems like I didn't have a good time, I really enjoyed the festival.  While the picture above looks crowded, it was not a problem to get from beer to beer.  Everything is very much contained is an easily navigable space. The music from the stage was great and served as a nice background when not too close to the stage--it was a bit loud for me when right up front. Locating the festival at the International Bazaar is a great idea and the setting is a plus that will encourage me to return.

For the pre-festival prep, my hit list had 39 beers that are new to me from breweries I've tried before and 14 brand new breweries.  This should be more than enough to keep me entertained for four hours. As it turns out, it was more than enough.  I counted 38 new beers on the list--not all of them from the original hit list.  The accuracy of what was offered compared to what was listed in the program varied considerably from brewery to brewery, so I tasted several that I wasn't aiming to drink.  Nine new breweries on the day as well, which is really good for a local festival.   McNeill's Brewery from Vermont was best new brewery I sampled; good beers across the board, the Dark Angle Stout was my favorite.  For a new Minnesota brewery, Third Street Brewhouse from Cold Spring was a good initial experience, especially the Lost Trout Brown Ale.  However, Olvalde's Brynhildr's Gift was easily the best beer on the day--an amazing brew that I will most definitely be finding in the near future.

A very affable festival, I ran into a lot of friends: beer, work and family.  In fact, I had so much fun chatting and hunting beers, there are only two pics that I took at the last minute.  To finish the day, I had planned to eat at the fest and ride the (free--another great idea) Bus #3 to downtown St. Paul to see my wife's performance, but friends  offered a ride after dinner at the St. Clair Broiler.  Breakfast for dinner fit the bill with a four egg cheese omelet (provolone and smoked gouda), well done hash browns and wheat toast.  Lots of other veggie options, so will have to try to get back at some point.  

If you haven't been to the St. Paul Summer Beer Fest, it's time to check it out.  If you haven't been in a while, like me, it's definitely time to give it another chance.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Brit's Pub & Eating Establishment

Fuller's London Pride @ Brit's
Brit's Pub & Eating Establishment
Brit's Pub is one of those eating establishments that has a great reputation with a wide range of people.  It seems everyone has been there one time or another.

As a beer geek destination, it doesn't really hold up. While Brit's does have 20 taps by my count, they are the basic UK bar line up: Speckled Hen, Guinness, Newcastle, Boddington's (maybe the prettiest poured pint ever), Strongbow and the like.  I noticed locals from Fulton and Surly as well on this trip.

For many, Brit's is the stop when going to Orchestra Hall for a show.  Today, that was my excuse to have a couple of pints while Gloria prepped with One Voice for the opening concert of Chorus America, which was a great concert for those who like choral music.

For today's stop, I started with the Fuller's London Pride on cask to go with a true British feel.  It was tasty and well served.  It's the only cask engine, but at least they seem to be handling the cask well from this sample.  I had a cask of this at The Blackfriar in London, possibly one of the coolest pubs in the world.

Next was a glass of Stella Artois, the Budweiser of the EU.  A better beer than Bud, but it is a ubiquitous beer much in the same vein.  However, SA likes to maintain a more sophistcated profile, so I guess that's why there's a separate tap for it.  The website, as with most macro websites, was relatively useless in telling me why, but the video of the 9 step process to pour a chalice of SA (SA's word--they are fussy about that as well) points to how serious they are to have a well poured beer.  Or, at least how serious they are about making it look like SA is a high end product.  When I asked the waitress what it did besides keep it ice cold, she shrugged sarcastically and said "nothing".
Can see ice build up on neck of Stella Artois'
own special dispenser.  
Featured choirs, including One Voice, listed
to the right on the sign.  

I didn't eat here tonight, but have generally been very happy with the food and service at Brit's.  The beer is well served and the place is cozy and a generally a great place to have a chat.  Besides the less than adventuresome beer list (though true to their marketing), the only other negative I've had with Brit's is that the bar seems to smell funny to me.  Not sure why--spilled beer stank maybe, but a minor detail and it seemed less pronounced on this trip.  I don't go out of my way to drink at Brit's, but I'm perfectly happy when I find my there, pint in hand.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Hefeweizen (Town Hall Brewery, Minneapolis, MN)

Town Hall Hefeweizen
Snow white head drifts heavily on top of a burnt sunset orange ale.  Haziness enhances the color, and I assume that this beer is unfiltered and full of vitamin laden yeast.  Strong spicey yeast nose with plenty of banana and fruity esters characteristic of the style.  Fruitiness--banana, mango, lemon--continues in the taste with a solid bite on the tongue.  Assertive, full beer for the style, which is why it's one of my favorites.

A perennial Town Hall favorite, just wait and it will come around again if you missed it.  BA's on  BeerAdvocate aren't nearly as glowing about this beer as I am.   Reading through the reviews, it seems like they are drinking different beers.  In my experience, this has been somewhat true.  When I opened the growler, I decided to do the review, in part, because it's a good version of this brew.  Not the best that I've had, but really good.  However, I've had it a couple of times that it's not quite up to its own standard.  Not sure if it's a variability of the batch or if time affects this one.  Showing up when it's tap has proven to be a good strategy in the past when I've had the better pints of hefeweizen.

Plus, though I don't generally care about styles (thus why I don't judge homebrew competitions), TH's hefe, like Masala Mama, probably won't win a medal at GABF any time soon.  Medals are about hitting the style bullseye and some of Town Hall's beers just don't hit that target--but when they are this good, I surely don't care.  I don't drink medals.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Torpedo (Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico, CA)

The awesome dry hopping technique used to create this IPA is from Sierra Nevada's hop torpedo.  The hop torpedo is a cylindrical device that controls the hop contact.  Normal dry hopping is inefficient because placing hops in a bag hides much of the hoppy goodness it the center away from direct contact from the beer.  A quick search yielded this pic of the hop torpedo.  More hop, less cost: everyone is hop happy.

Thick creamy off white head that continues to grow from the strong effervescent bubbles flowing up in the afternoon sun.  Overflowing with grapefruit, citrus, a bit of lemon and clean, assertive spice in the nose.  Sweet biscuit caramel notes support the Magnumb, Crystal and Citra hop combination. The promise of hops in the nose is fulfilled with a strong bite that spreads along the tongue.  7.2% alcohol points to a fairly large malt bill and it shows in the mouthfeel.  Alcohol hotness is slightly apparent.  Excellent IPA and it's a bit over the top for the style--which is perfect for me.

If you have any inclination to savor hops, try this beer.  I love the 16 oz tallboy bans, but the packaging was terribly inconvenient.  Hard to carry and no obvious way to hold on to it.  A minor issue but not great marketing.  Take home the awkward four pack and enjoy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

birth of a beer obsession (part 3) Blue Moon

birth of a beer obsession (part 1)

birth of a beer obsession (part 2) Rolling Rock

The fluffy white head pours hard and dissipates almost immediately.  Shimmering gold with amber highlights for the body.  Light spice in the nose that is the standard wit beer orange peel and coriander with a bit of floral hoppiness underneath.  Sweet, fruity taste that lingers with a bit of spice along the sides of the tongue.  Sits in the mouth well, which is one of the characteristics I originally liked about this beer.

Tonight's bottle isn't the draft beer that I had in the Chicago Bennigan's over a decade ago.  That's my fault since it took me a while to get to this post.  Recently, I had a draft of Blue Moon when at a non-geek bar. Blue Moon tends to be my standard back up beer when it's the best beer in the tap line up.  It tends to be fresh in most places.  Guessing Blue Moon moves well to make it my a safe choice.

I still like this beer and will claim it as my gateway beer over Rolling Rock--unless pushed.  While Rolling Rock is a cleanly brewed beer, it lacks a the craft quality to really serve as a gateway beer.  However, between my lack of knowledge and the state of beer in the early 1990s, I think I can be forgiven.

birth of a beer obsession (part 2) Rolling Rock

birth of a beer obsession (part 1)

Rolling Rock was my original gateway beer--the one I hide in the closet.  When living in California, I would pick up a 22 oz bottle of RR and a Tombstone pepperoni pizza on the way home from speech or debate tournaments.  For the sake of self edification, I'm once again popping the top on the iconic green bottle to see what I was thinking.

Stark white head that's fluffy but falls to nearly nothing on top of a barely gold lager.  Poured beautifully into the glass as the effervescent bubbles created the head.  Unfortunately, that was the best part of the beer.  With a heavy swirl, I was able to pull the smell of mostly corn into the nose with extremely light floral and apple notes.  Watery mouthfeel that is mostly cream corn but a slight spice hidden underneath.

While this may have been my first regular beer (for several years), this is hopefully my last bottle of the Extra Pale.  Nothing really wrong with the beer if you're looking for a macro-adjunct American lager that's extremely light.  Rolling Rock is cleanly brewed with no imperfections.  It is exactly as advertised.

One thing that might've got me back in the day--the upscale pitch on the back of the bottle: "From the glass lined tanks of Old Latrobe we tender this premium beer for your enjoyment, as a tribute to your good taste.  It comes from the mountain springs to you"  "33".  I can be a bit of a sucker for context, a weakness that I always consider when drinking beer today.

birth of a beer obsession (part 3) Blue Moon

Magic Hat and bottling videos

One of the rarities of a brewery tour is the bottling line.  Generally, the tour is on a Saturday when the production facility is down, which makes it legal to walk through.  Besides, bottling lines tend to be very noisy as well. We've seen running facilities a few times, usually in places where the tour is looking through a window rather than walking through the brewery.

One such tour was Magic Hat Brewery last June.  We were driving through Vermont on the way to Ben & Jerry's, a sign for Magic Hat appeared in my path.  Hard not to stop.  The tour was self guided through a carnival-like hallway with video on very beery topics and memorabilia.  It ended with an overlook of the brewery in production.  Convenient and I hit next on the video that explained that beer is made from four ingredients.
Our pictures from the Magic Hat bottling line are included in this post.  Below are links to videos that have crossed my beer reading over the past few months.  Each video covers a different angle of running a production bottling line.

First is Troeg's that shows a standard, full production bottling line in motion.

Second, is Brooklyn Brewery's  video showing how to finish a bottle conditioned beer--in this case, bottles of Brooklyn 1.  Besides an extended explanation by Garrett Oliver, it's interesting for highlighting the challendges of not only a 100% bottle conditioned beer but also corked and caged bottles.  

Third, Jolly Pumpkin's video shows the bottling of La Roja.  Bottling at home like a homebrewer, the amount work that is needed for a small or fledgling brewery is apparent.

And, finally, the new canning line at Oskar Blues putting out their Deviant Dale in 16 oz tallboys. This one shows the machine going in for the first time, and the joy of a faster, high quality, lower effort fill seems to just radiate from them.  16 oz cans are my favorite packaging at the moment, so I hope more breweries head this direction.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Laurel Tavern (Studio City, CA)


Instead of going to one of the big shows on our recent December trip to Los Angeles, we saw Love Sick at Theater Asylum in Hollywood.  After an interesting and educational evening in the underbelly of Hollywood theater, I headed to Laurel Tavern in Studio City to see Stacey, a former student from when I taught at Taft High School, for her birthday gathering of friends.

Laurel Tavern was a good stop to see an old friend and meet a few new ones, but it started out weird.  I'm walking into the bar and someone--the bouncer as it turns out--steps in front of me.  Only in LA do you have to stand in line to get into a beer bar.  Evidently I've lived in the Midwest long enough that standing in line to get into a bar isn't acceptable, especially when it's vacation time.

After 20 min or so, I was inside, saying hello and drinking a Bayhawk Chocolate Porter.  Solid brew and well served, one of sixteen taps of mostly west coast craft beers.  I can see where Laurel Tavern is a good local pub and the menu looks above average.  While the beer was well served , I struggled to find something new to have from a decent but not inspiring beer list.  Fine if you're meeting a friend, but I wouldn't go out of my way for Laurel Tavern again.  

The Rail Station Bar and Grill (Minneapolis, MN)


Along Hiawatha Ave is a billboard for a new-to-me multitap called The Rail Station, so decided to check it out when I had some time before One Voice's performance at the Harmony in the Park concert at Minnehaha Park.

Lucette's Slow Hand Stout
Hitting The Rail Station reminded me a lot of my recent stop at the Hopkins Tavern, including the meat raffle but minus obvious signs of gambling.  Looking around the bar, there were all ages--toddlers to grandparents and everyone seemed to know each other.  Very much a local bar that happens to serve craft beer.

I found several brews to add to the database, but only had time for two.  Started with Lucette's Slow Hand, an American Stout.  Super smooth with a light roast, it was nice on a hot afternoon.  For the second pint, I tried Brau Brothers Sheep Head from Lucan, MN.  According to the Brau website, Sheep Head is a style splitting malty IPA, which was good enough that I have to try it again some time.

For dinner, I ordered the quesadilla from the appetizer menu.  Not many veggie options plus the servings of dishes going by seemed large.  The service was fantastic, friendly and very fast.  Since I was in a hurry to make the concert, attentive service was appreciated today.  Dinner was basic but fresh and good.

The Rail Station has a nice tap list of 40 beers (according to the billboard) with a representation of macro beers to light craft with Surly Furious being the far end of the spectrum.  Not a bar to make the beer geek drool, but boundary pushing for the clientele. Looking around the TV laden bar, many of the customers in the happy hour/after work crowd were drinking mixed drinks or macro specials in a bottle.

But a significant portion of us were drinking craft.  Beers were well served, clearly very fresh and the beer clean glasses that left a lace.  There's always the fear that an out of the way multi-tap isn't serving enough to maintain freshness, but, from my short experience, there's nothing to complain about here.
Plus, I really like the concentration on Minnesota craft brews.

Great local bar that I enjoyed and made me want to live in the neighborhood.  While it's not a destination bar for the beer geek from out of town, I would encourage anyone to try The Rail Station if you find yourself in the Longfellow neighborhood.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Stone Night at The Republic (Minneapolis, MN)

Greg Koch of Stone @ The Republic

I am an unabashed fan boy of Stone Brewing.  When I saw that Greg Koch was visiting Minnesota, I had to stop in at the Republic for the night.  Turned out that I was woefully ill prepared for the evening.  I saw someone else have Greg sign the recent Stone book The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.--same one I bought in December when I visited the brewery--but didn't think to bring it along.

As it turns out, I shook hands with Greg and briefly chatted with him in a group.  He was around all  night talking with other patrons, but I became distracted talking to friends and the good conversation helped balance the drafts of special Stone beers that came along with Greg.

Started with the Double Dry Hopped Sublimely Self Righteous: dark black with a clinging brown head, clean taste with a heavy earthy hop in the nose from the dry hop.  The draft was very smooth and the hops lingered off the back.  I'm in love with the regular version of this beer and the dry hopped version lived up to expectations.  Not sure of the hops for the dry hopping, but seemed reminiscent of the double dry hopped growler I purchased last December when at Stone.

Second beer was the Smoked Porter with Chipotle Peppers.  Not being a fan of pepper beers in general, I figured I would at least have another beer for the database.  However, this may be the best pepper beer I've ever had.

Black beer that's brown around the edges.  Full, rocky tan head with a clear roast porter in the nose.  Chipotle pepper is very apparent in the nose--which scares me a little.  On to the taste: smooth as silk porter and....there's the pepper bite that's clean and lingers on the tongue, but is pleasant.  Spice blends extremely well and works in the beer like the high hops of most Stone beers.  Drinking the pint, the pepper lingers analogous to a good double IPA: present always and pleasant.

Ended the evening with a 2012 Stone Old Guardian Barleywine.  I buy at least six bottles of each year of this favorite barleywine, but don't often get it on tap.   Nice treat to end a fun evening.

Because Town Hall is across the street, I easily get distracted and don't often get to the Republic.  However, I will definitely come around more often if they continue to host cool events.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Otto (Victory Brewing, Downingtown, PA)

Picked up a bottle of Otto at the Blue Max on the way home from getting my car worked on.  No idea what it was--my trust in Victory was enough to pick up something new.  There was a very detailed explanation on the bottle why it was named Otto, but I didn't write it down and didn't find it on the Victory site.  Victory calls the beer a smoked malt dubbel.

Brown ale swirled with amber highlights with a dirty tan head that falls to a film.  Significant but not overpowering smoke in the nose on top of caramel and sweet malt.  There's an earthy spice blended neatly with the smoke.  Assertive Aecht Schlenkerla-like smokiness in the taste, but more subtle.  Lager-like smooth for a bottle conditioned ale.  Earthy spice of the nose comes out more in the taste, but the mouthfeel thins out as it warms.  Very good rauchbier, especially if you want it a bit towards the lighter but still unmistakable range of smokiness. 

Overall, I thought it was a good bottle and a great introduction to a smoked beer.  BA reviews seem a bit lower than my experience, but the warmed thinness and off-centered style may have foiled expectations.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Galactic Pizza (Uptown, Minneapolis, MN)


For our 25th anniversary, my wife and I went to New York City for a week, saw eleven shows in a week and a grand slam win by the Twins at Yankee Stadium.  For our 27th, we went to Galactic Pizza.  We have a habit of going big on 5s and 10s.

Galactic Pizza wasn't quite a grand slam, but definitely a good time that we plan to repeat. I've heard good things about the pizza, plus the superhero gig and earth friendly ethic are a fun planet-saving bonus.

Sitting by the table by the window facing Lyndale, we shared the Thailander--a pizza version of spicy Thai peanut sauce noodles.  We substituted mock duck for the chicken, which worked fabulously.  Incidently, every pizza on the menu has a veggie and vegan version, so equal opportunity eating for everyone.  The  rumored goodness of the pizza was true and, on a hot muggy night downtown, the inside AC was nice.

Drank a Flat Earth Angry Planet Pale Ale with the pizza.  Hoppy and spicy is a great combination that I've tried to repeat in varied forms recently.  Not many beers on the menu, but only one is needed to pair for a meal.  Grain Belt, Finnegan's and Surly Bender rounded out the beer list--a little something' for everyone.  And, all beers are Minnesota local make them earth-friendly for tranportation.  Plus, Finnegan's donates its profits to charity, so a perfect fit for the eco-friendly Galactic Pizza.

Good beer, great pizza and I feel good when I eat here.  Hard to beat.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Provider (Steel Toe Brewing, St. Louis Park, MN)

Steel Toe Provider
Took home a Provider because the sample impressed me.  And, the guy ahead of me bought the last Dissent.  A bit light for my normal drinking, but I thought a growler for week night drinking would be a good test for this golden ale.

Stark white head falls rather quickly in spite of an assertive pour. Hazy sunflower gold ale that's translucent with waves of old gold. Floral scented nose with a slight spice and fresh biscuity malt underneath.  Sweet beer that has a full and filling mouthfeel, which is what really attracted me initially.  In spite of taking up the light, psuedo-macro, lawnmower, everyman spot in the Steel Toe line up, hearty mouthfeel belies its light appearance.  It even warms nicely, again a contradiction to its assumed visual character.  The 5% ABV points to a stronger malt bill, which may explain the perceptual gap.

Overall, a very nice beer and one that I would try a draft, bottle or growler again.  I'm looking for a growler to share at the end of the year teacher party and Provider seems like it would be palatable for a wide range of drinkers. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Size 7 (Steel Toe Brewing, St. Louis Park, MN)

Size 7 is quickly becoming one of my favorite IPAs and gives me a strong reason to head back to Steel Toe for more growlers.  The attached photo is confusing because I just got my new glass from Lucid for my contribution to the kickstarter program.  No Lucid in the house, so Steel Toe is the inaugural beer.

Fluffy white head lingers to a lace on top of the copper ale that's shiny gold around the back lit edges.  Strong hop nose that's very much in the northwest style.  Heavy citrus, grapefruit with light spice and floral notes.  Sweet, light malt hides underneath an assertive, raw hop bitterness that lingers--a favorite characteristic of mine that I can see why others might find too much in the beer.

My senses of smell and taste are not as acute as some, so I often joke that if I like a beer a lot that it may be out of balance.  Steel Toe's quote on this beer:  If you ever call Size 7 balanced we’ll kick you where it hurts (in the hop sack).

As I finish this post, I'm polishing off the last pint of two growlers of Size 7 that I've worked through during the week.   This is a great daily IPA to satisfy the hop monster, right to the last pint. Drink this beer.