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.