Monday, May 26, 2014

Day Block Brewing (Minneapolis, MN)

After a long winter, we took advantage of a sunny Saturday afternoon to go to Town Hall pint club for the first time in a while and then walked down the street to Day Block Brewing.

Day Block is next to Grumpy's Downtown on Washington.  So much beer side by side may look like a bad idea. However, Day Block is much more of an upscale, industrial chic compared to Grumpy's gritty character. My guess is that the clientele for the corner may not overlap much. Plus, with a brewpub and a beer bar, their offerings will likely compliment as much as they compete. Hopefully, the flow of traffic from the nearby apartments, Guthrie Theater, Open Book and the future Viking's stadium will provide more than enough customers for both bars.

Day Block back bar and brewhouse in background

We ordered a rack of all six samples. All of the beers were solid interpretations of the styles. Of the group, I order a draft of the Frank's Red Ale that had lots of body and a pleasant hop balance. Fruhlinhgsfest was my next favorite, in spite of it not being a favored style, followed closely by the Honey Amber IPA. The Spring Lager and Kolsch were both strong for their styles, just not styles I drink. Lot 56 was adequate but I had been expecting more from the description and Al's reviews of other hoppy Day Block beers.

Dinner was a cheese pizza, thin and slightly reminiscent of Pizza Paradiso in DC but didn't live up to that memory.  Thin crust, a bit greasy, full of cheesy goodness and a slight char on the crust, it was a good size for sharing.

I like Day Block. While not  in the same league as Town Hall (yet), it's likely a place we'll visit again.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Cerveceria de MateVeza (San Francisco, CA)

7/13/13 visit

When our friends Danielle, Kelli and family met up with us in San Francisco, they took us for a drink at a local lesbian bar, reputedly (and amazingly) the only one left in San Francisco. Along the route from our Castro apartment, I spied Cerveceria de MateVeza and we decided to return on our last night in town.

The bartender Brendan was clearly used to answering questions while pouring these unique beers, so we took advantage and moved into a couple open seats at the very small bar to drink and chat. As of last summer, the 20 gallon brewery had been around almost a year and a half.  They have a couple flagship beers—Yerbe Mate IPA and Morpho Herbal Ale—that are brewed off site with drafts beers brewed on site (I think, or some similar combination). The only food is El Porteno empanadas, some vegetarian, which were excellent and made us wonder why this wasn't our late night stop every night. Oh well.

MateVeza is worth a visit because of the mind blowing freshness of their brewing ideas. Avoiding traditional beer ingredients, their beers are balanced with spices like the IPA replaces hops with Yerbe Mate. Very unusual and amazing flavors out of these beers, and I haven't felt so adventuresome in my drinking for a very long time. The names and ingredients are not a standard part of my world, so each beer was a leap of faith, an effort that were mostly rewarded.

Server Brendan w IPA (full) and Vintage Morpho.
Beer and empanadas board (right). Brewery
can be in the corner. 
Here's a few notes on what  we sampled:

Fernet and Coke: supposed to be a beery replicate of an Italian liquor called Fernet mixed with Coke. Very herbal and fun. Brewer/bartender said it was blended to reduce the first versions herbal character. Not being familiar with the drink, I can only suppose it's accuracy.

Prodigal Saison: spicy nose with a fruity center to a dry finish. Awesome white lace. We both liked this one a lot.

Yerba Mate IPA: rust orange beer with a white head that lingers a bit. Floral nose with a pretty spice fruitiness. Dry finish that follows a light but not thin bodied beer with a slight caramel in the center. Brewed at Mendocino.

Vintage Morpho: aged version of their regular herbal ale that was fun to drink. Brendan let us sample of sour mash version of Morpho with a change of herbs that was still fermenting but showed promise. The heart of the Morpho could be clearly tasted in the new version, but it was a clear and interesting departure.

As a veteran beer hunter, I can often guess a lot about what's in my glass from website construction, atmosphere and descriptions.  Unfortunately, drinking a new place can sometimes be less than surprising or inspirational.  MateVeza is a place to stop when in San Francisco simply because it's so far off the beer map that it will return a wizened old drinker to a time when every beer was an adventure.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Healthy Spirits (San Francisco, CA)

Last summer, we had the great pleasure of living for a week in the Castro while being tourists in San Francisco. Most of the brewpubs and bars we visited were closer to downtown and, locally, the bars nearest the house didn't offer a wide selection of drafts. However, Healthy Spirits was a very welcomed source of great beer that was a few blocks walk (or a short bus ride) up the hill.

I found it shortly after we arrived; unfortunately, it was after trying several other places. Minnesota friends happened to be in The City at the same time, and we had an impromptu barbecue at our apartment. The very friendly and knowledgeable help at Healthy Spirits allowed me to bring some very fine bottles to our group of beery friends. In short, it's the only beer store I've found that rivals, or surpasses, the Four Firkins. If spending any time in or near the Castro, this is the place to stock up.

Here's a sampling of the week:

Triple Voodoo Grand Cru. Healthy Spirits exclusive barrel aged version of the TV Grand Cru. Dave told me that he bottles from full barrels of bourbon to sell in the shop and then sends the barrels to local breweries. Honey, blue agave nectar, coriander and orange peel are added to this version. Burnished copper color with dark gold highlights and an off white head that falls quickly. Elegant nose with the above plus fig and some alcohol underneath. Smells a bit like a quad but lighter. Flavors meld well and flow over the tongue. Very good ale and a great first beer from this brewery.

Stone RuinTen.  Unable to find this at home before leaving, I was so happy to buy a couple. Just awesome.

Knee Deep Brewing Hoptologist DIPA. Brash and harsh bite on the tongue. Good if you like a sharp hop bite. Almost white head over a shining amber gold ale. Enormous citrus nose and a light biscuit base. Sweet on the tongue followed by strong hop bite that has a burn that feeds the beast. Fun hop forward brew that I would enjoy more when more hydrated. Almost sweet finish and a lingering hop.

Knee Deep Simtra. Marmalade ale with a white head. Clean, singular hop nose. Slightly oily taste and some hop bite but the sweetness and the bitterness don't meld completely. Not as good as the Boneyard we had at Toronado this afternoon. Hop lingers nicely on he tongue.

Pretty Things Ale Project Fluffy White Rabbits. These guys can be hit or miss,and this one is a miss for me. Muddled nose with some clear spice from hop and yeast, but the balance just doesn't make it. Side of the bottle says floral, and it is that. But this hazy orange beer with a white head has a lot of promise and is clearly well crafted, it falls short for me.

Triple Voodoo barrel aged Inception. Bottle 244 of 432 made for Healthy Spirits by aging in a barrel provided by HS. hazy gold ale with circling white film from a head that barely forms. Spice, yeast and light pepper nose that seems muted compared to the straight Inception but nice. Fruitiness on the tongue that finishes dry nice but unusually like the straight better. Straight version of TV Inception rated a bit higher for me, though I love that HS does it's own specialty aging.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pitchfork Brewing (Hudson, WI)

Intending to try a new brewpub last weekend, an invite by a good friend to drink at the very first Spring Festival at Pitchfork Brewing in Hudson was welcomed. I've heard rumblings from several beery friends that Pitchfork was worth the trip.

Ten dollars bought the glass, which is a pretty cheap festival ticket these days, and then five dollars a pint afterwards. Plus, drinking with a good beer friend means twice as much tasting.  I started with the Maple Maibock, a solid and drinkable but slightly out of style maibock, which is good for me. The cask of Jen's Cherry Pale Ale was fine for a round but lacked balance. Robin liked the Quite Right UK IPA, very much the English IPA that I didn't love. However, the cask of English Pale Ale w/ Kent Goldings drank like a trip to London, authentic, tasty and well served. 
Oatmeal Stout

My favorite was the growler of Oatmeal Stout that I saved for last. Billowing brown, fluffy head over an opaque black stout. Light roast and chocolate in the nose over sweetness, soft water and more than a hint of hoppy spice. Slightly acrid bite feels dry to balance the sweet, full bodied malt and the characteristic smoothness of oatmeal.

I remember seeing pics of the Pitchfork bar being built, and the loving craftsmanship is clearly evident in the bar. The servers are friendly and proudly serve their fare. Added to this is locals who are comfortable in their new spacefelt a little like bar in my small Iowa hometown, except the beer was good.

My only disappointment was that I had missed lunch getting ready to go out and all of the food for the festival had meat in it. Pitchfork has a small menu of appetizers from Paddy Ryan Pub next door, so I headed there for something to eat. Two veggie options and but they were out of the brewpub pretzels, so lunch was Battered Cheese Nuggets; very good and it served reasonably well as a base for the beers. Leave your beer behind at Pitchfork and pay at the Paddy Ryan bar, and they will deliver the apps to you back at Pitchfork.

Overall, it was a great Saturday beer hunt and a relaxing chat with a friend. A strong beer list kept us going for several hours before we needed to leave, our bar stools filling quickly as the party started to roll. I went home with two growlers on the strength of the Pitchfork Pale Ale, the sampled West Wing Porter and the likelihood of a Sunday fill during speech season.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

On drinking alone

Growing up on a farm in Iowa during the 70s and 80s, neighbors would help neighbors with large jobs like baling hay, a job I enjoyed. One nondescript summer in high school, we were helping Juniormy Uncle Gerrit put up hay in his barn. I don't remember how the subject came up in, but Junior said that my dad "probably had two or three beers with dinner."  I responded that I had never seen my father drink in the house alone. An awkward pause later, we went back to work.

Don't misunderstand. My father was a good ol' boy who spent much of my childhood in a bar. In fact, I spent much of my childhood in a bar. We'd drive by Alley 7 to see who's truck was parked out back or I could be found doing my homework on the bar at the VFW after football practice. As of result of my father's fondness of beer (mostly Miller Light), and not being home except on Sunday and my mom's bowling night, my family and community thought he was an alcoholic. It didn't help that dad threw his empty 'one for the road' Miller Lite cans in the bed of his truck (in the days before open container laws) until I recycled them for extra cash. In the days before the ubiquity of soda, this beer was a thirst quencher to cut the field dust. My dad drank during the nadir of beer choice, so drinking alone could only be for one reason.  I understand and don't blame my uncle and others at all for their assumptions, my dad was not an alcoholic like his two brothers.

My father was the definitive social drinker. I would sit in a bar and watch him milk a beer or a Black Velvet and Coke at half or a third the pace of others. He never drank alone at home, but I can still hear his voice tell me to "Get  three beers, kid" when a pick up would pull up on our yard. My dad loved people and beer was the lubricant that brought them together.

Because of my family history, I didn't drink through high school or college, except for a few unfortunate episodes that seems to be mandatory in youth. In fact, beer as a hobby and blogging came from the strict rules I place on myself. When I started drinking beer on a regular basis a few years after graduating from Purdue, my reasoning was to have one good beer instead of three crap beers. I would pick up an over-sized bottle of Rolling Rock and a Tombstone pepperoni pizza on the way home from a speech tournament when I coached in Los Angeles. When younger, the demons of my family were so strong, I refused to keep any beer in the house except the one bottle I would pour that night.

Twenty years later is a different story. Today my demon is a hoppy burn. Or, whatever is new or unique. While the exquisite joy of drinking with friends—old and newly made has provided many a high point, the solo pursuit of beer can be just as sweet. Intensified since I started blogging, I seem to relish drinking and writing alone in a brewpub, savoring the first samples and crafting my impressions. Along with a sublime solitary brew is blended the guilt and shame of drinking alone, an presumption born from the whispers that swirled around dad.

My attitude about drinking at home alone didn't change overnight. My first step to drinking alone was during a Sunday football games; I found that sipping on a barleywine through an entire Vikings game, pouring the remainder of a chilled bottle at half time allowed the glass to warm slowly, creating a rise and fall in the taste throughout an afternoon. Then, in my first visit to the Toronado in San Francisco in 2004, drinking the likes of Ommegang Three Philosophers, the epiphany washed over me that a good slice of pizza and great beer are sufficient.

And here is my confession: I like drinking alone.

I smile at the sight of a freshly poured rack of samples at a new brewpub, and then, without distraction, I sip each in solitude and write. I look forward to focusing on a special bottle by myself sans world to imbibe the artistic glory of hop and barley. While beer writers praise the inherent sociability of beer, I, in opposition to my father, drink the drink alone for the sake of the drink. With the creation of the craft beer world since my father's time, we need to bury the stereotype of drinking alone. Beer is good with or without friends, and drinking alone should not carry the stigma of old.