Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Firkin Fest 2013 @ The Happy Gnome (St. Paul, MN)

I spend most Saturdays from February to April coaching my speech team, which I love.  However, it means spring beer festivals are a rare treat for me.  I made the tail end of the Firkin Fest 2009 for the leftovers after a tournament.  Being on Easter weekend, 2013 is my first opportunity to take in the entire fest.

And, I showed up an hour late.  On Saturday morning, my wife and I decided, just hours before the fest, to finalize the purchase a new car.  Between a test drive and the paper work, I walked right in the fest at 1 pm.

Food options on the HG patio
Just inside the tent, I jumped right in with a new breweryBad Weather Brewing. Their amber ale Windvane with Simcoe hops was a promising start. Only a handful of people that I recognize and the crowd seemed youngish for real ale. As with other Twin Cities beery events, the attracted crowd is expanding and the days of the veteran TC beer geeks gathering at the Firkin Fest seem to have passed.

Crowded in the tent around 2 pm-ish, movement was slow going and I decided on a geographical attack of breweries to save time at this point. Heading to tent's end, I sampled Lift Bridge and Surly. LB's Manhattan Barrel Project, a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout with maraschino cherry that had a sweet body with vanilla and clear bourbon in the nose that leads to slight alcohol in the taste and more than a hint of cherry. Nicely balanced beer that was smooth and fun.
Last view of our beloved Bug 
before trading her in

Other top beers of the fest were Flying Dog's Wildeman with Centennial hops with a light sweetness and lemon peel spice that compliments the hop excessively well. Down 'N Dirty by Tyranena was aged a year in a rye barrel that was oatmeal smooth with a chewy chocolate body that was light and alcoholic—easy, sweet and dangerous brew.  And, I would like a pint of Hinterland's White IPA, a delicate and extremely refreshing ale with a Simcoe kick. Themed beer of the day goes to Badger Hill's Toasted Peep Marshmallow Foundation Stout. Can actually taste the sugary sweet peeps burnt to 'smore perfection. Dry hopped and novelty ingredients on base beers was the word on the day.  On recommendation from a respected beer source, I sampled the Bell's Kalamzoo Stout straight up—and was reminded not to forget the simple, beautiful things in life.

As for the practicalities of the fest, it was a beautiful, chilly day that was cozy inside the tent until the east side brewers opened the flaps to drop the temp. Be prepared for a variety of temps and dress in layers. By the end of the day, the crowd thinned considerably and the chill crept in again with the lack of body heat but movement was much easier to hit the beers that were left. 

For taking notes, the program was accurate and specific, so it was easy to rate and remember the myriad of samples on the day. Assuming a real ale reveler shows up on time, slowly hit top choices and work down as the crowd falls to the wayside late in the day to finish easily with remaining beers. In 2003, I attended one of the last hostings of the Real Ale Festival in Chicago, a trip I regret not repeating. However, while I am glad to have made most of a Firkin Fest at the Happy Gnome, I am going to stop lamenting not being able to go more often.

By the happenstance of life clashing with beer hunting, I experienced the passing of two eras today. First, I'm the tentatively proud owner of a new Ford C-Max hybrid to replace our VW Bug that took us to our rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon and the Mayo Clinic every Wednesday for nearly two years while my nephew waited for and eventually received a heart transplant. Second, at the fest, I knew only a Town Hall pint club member, a couple of beer writers and several brewers. The old beer gang that could be counted on at every beery event in the early years has moved on and been scattered by the flood of younger beer lovers (many still learning how to pace at a festival). For me anyway, today was a transformation, and, while for the best on both counts, leaves me a bit melancholy.

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