Saturday, October 24, 2015

Harvest Beer Festival @ Bachman's on Lyndale

Hibiscus Sour by Fair State
I was lounging around on a Saturday watching a KARE 11 news segment on the Harvest Beer Festival to be put on by MSP Magazine over MEA break.  Usually travelling for the fall break, I decided to try the new festival.  If I had seen it earlier, I would have likely gotten tickets to the fresh hop festival at Town Hall Lanes with other beer geeks, so I had a little buyers remorse going into the day.

Showing up a half hour early, I wandered around the massive Bachman's on Lyndale hoping I was in the right place because my ride was gone and not coming back until after the fest. All the way in the back, the breweries were set up under an empty green house.  Nice gig, really.  Bachman's gets a lot of foot traffic for using a space that's empty this time of year, and host MSP Magazine likely doesn't pay a lot for the space.
Kathleen serving her brew for Sidhe

I got the VIP ticket to start drinking at hour early, but there were so few of us that I was unclear if anyone was pouring when it started.  I've met the folks at Sidhe before, so started there by talking to Kathleen and Rosemary. Their fall beer was Non-Kin Apple Cream, which had a bright apple taste and the beer was very refreshinga potential big seller for them.

A harvest fest, most brewers had a fresh hop or dry hopped offering. While not the popular winner, my best fresh hop of the fest was Lucid's Foto Fresh.  Clean and bright, it was everything you'd want in a fresh hop beer.  Unfortunately, not all of the fresh hop beers were as good, though some of it was presentation. Surly Wet was just poured out of a can, leaving it flat and not the spectacular beer that I've been drinking at home for the last week. Others were pouring out of growlers, which were also a bit flat after a few pours. For me the best beer of the day was Lactobac 2, a hibiscus sour from Fair State Cooperative. Fruity and floral with a singular sour base, this beautiful beer was a treat, serving to confirm my positive recent visit to Fair State.

Curried Mushroom Fries from
The Moral Omnivore food truck
While I had only a few top notch beers, there were plenty to try. I logged 33 new beers and two new breweries on the dayimpressive for a small festival. I showed without lunch because I under the impression that I was getting a complimentary Lotzza Motzza pizza from the VIP ticket. Turns out the pizza was all meat samples, so I had to buy a slice of cheese from the truck. Basic cheap pizza, but it did the trick. The curried mushroom fries (portobello mushrooms sliced and deep fried) by the The Moral Omnivore were a much better for my mid festival respite on a nearby bench.

And I was supposed to get a free T-shirt on the way out, but I forgot after a day of samples and walked out the wrong way. Oh well. Overall, I had a very pleasant day at the festival tasting in solitude. From overheard discussions, many of the patrons were learning beer and more than a few basic questions were answered by those pouring. At first, I felt like I was in the wrong place and that I had too easily fallen for the pitch of fresh hop beers on KARE 11. While not exactly Great American Beer Festival, the Harvest Beer Festival cheered a lot of locals on a bright fall day with some very good beer, including me.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Quaint Drinking Village: Waconia Brewing (Waconia, MN)

After an excellent stop at Excelsior Brewing, I headed out to Waconia to try another brewery named after a town. Waconia Brewing sits snugly in the corner of a mall. A food truck was outside on the street, inconveniently not in the parking lot, and it specialized in big, meaty burgers without a veggie option so I passed. 

I ordered a rack of samples rather than a pint to be conservative. Of the group, I liked the Lake Town Brown the best: dark brown with ruby highlights and a thick tan head; full nose with malt, minerals and chocolate; roasted nut and chocolate sweetness on the tongue; not a chewy beer, but just enough body to support the taste. Well done, but mind blowing. Wactown Wheat, Pontoon Pale Ale, and the 255 Amber Ale were all thin bodied, but the lightest ale, the Carver Co. Kolsch was well brewed, clean and had a nice flavor that may be popular in town. The final sample, the 90K IPA, was a reasonable IPA with good balance and a lingering hop that settled with pine and grass on the tongue.

A sign over bar says Waconia, Minnesota: A quaint drinking village with a fishing problem. And the beauty of the surrounding lakes and the friendly feel of the full bar makes the appeal of the area clear. If I lived nearby, I would happily stop in at Waconia Brewing for a pint, likely ordering the newest beer on tap and drinking the brown as a back up. For my trip, the beer wasn't good enough to spend the time for a full pint, but the locals crowding the bar seemed to be having a great time as I walked out the door.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

F-Town Brewing (Faribault, MN)

Walking up to F-Town Brewing on a summery Thursday afternoon, I was disappointed by the clear lack of air conditioning due to the garage doors being open. My dashed hopes of a cool bar where lifted by the first sip of IPAlicious: dark for an IPA with a creamy beige head on the top, cherry maroon in color with gold highlights around the edge, grassy nose with clear hops, but not fruity. The malty nose like a good amber ale with a big chewy body.

IPAlicious feels like an "old" IPAmore to style, with a malty base to support the hops before craft beer pushed the hops to shine over the malt.
The caramel and malt flavors are punctuated by the solid hop bitterness. An excellent IPA that doesn't have the flavor of 100+ IBUs, but the hops are needed to burn though the malt. Nice balance and enjoyable to drink.

After looking at the brewhouse, I traded my empty glass for a Nutso, an excellent nut brown ale.  I sampled both Nutso and #1 American, a pale ale that was good but didn't quite measure up to the nut brown for me. At the bar were patrons Tracy and her father Charles. They told me about the Fleckenstein Brewing connection.  I assumed the F of F-Town simply referred to Faribault, but there's a history connected to reviving the Fleckenstein name, a historic brewery in town. In researching, I found a difficult to navigate website giving the history of Fleckenstein. The Faribault Heritage Preservation Commission has a much more understandable video. chronicles the fight over the Fleck's brand name without a conclusion in the article. The Growler makes the clear connection between the controversy and the opening of F-Town. Tracy and Charles at the bar said their last name was Fleck, the reason for their drive.

Two of the three people behind F-Town were in the brewhouse when I walked down to look at it. Talking to Travis while his kids played emphasized the family nature of the operation. Only open two weeks when I visited, sales pressure was already outstripping production. From the articles, these beers have been tested over time and worked on to make this brewery a success. All that I tasted were solid and point to being popular. I sat down to write up some impressions and ended up chatting with more locals at the orange picnic tables that naturally bring everyone together. While I didn't find AC, the shade and friendly locals combined with good beer made F-town a pretty cool stop.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Craft in Cans: Give Me a Tallboy!

On my last few visits to local liquor stores, I've noticed a new sensation: I turn my nose up at bottled beer. Not every bottlejust six-packs. Bombers, or 22 oz bottles, of beers are perfectly fine, mostly because they are generally something a bit more special, while a six-pack is something I'm looking to drink every day. It seems that I have a preference for canned craft beer, especially 16 oz tallboys. Surly tallboys frequent my fridge.

One of my recent tallboy favorites
I toured the original Surly brewery in June 2006, according to my database. The image of Omar talking about the hopes and dreams of the new brewery still lingers in my thoughts, including the revelation that Surly was going to can. Oskar Blues is famous for canning early, and Surly was going to follow. The most sensible argument at the time from Omar was space. Cans packed more efficiently and space was very much at a premium in the old brewery. Omar went on to discuss the benefits to the beer, but that sounded like rationalization: Surly had little choice but to choose cans.

Now, it looks like amazing foresight. I think Surly's quality in the can is part of the reason other breweries have joined the bandwagon. The benefits of getting to beer in market in better shape with less stigma took care of the rest. An article in MarketWatch on craft beer in cans summarizes the benefits versus costs from a total perspective rather than from my consumer's view.

While only one beer drinker, I seem to have a clear bias for cans. Besides freshness, not having to worry about being light struck in the liquor store, etc, a tallboy fits well in my favorite Brooklyn Brewery daily-drinking glass; I can pour the full can with a proper head and be happy with one for the night. In the old days, beer geeks always looked for corked and caged as a sign of quality. Then, caps were better for beer, so a wax dipped bottle was the beery grail. Now, the informed beer geek knows that cans rule and I, for one, will keep buying tallboys.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Take 16 Brewing and Sterling's Cafe (Luverne, MN)

Kick the Can IPA
Driving from a family reunion in my Iowan home town, a route I'd had driven nearly every weekend for three years in high school to my wife's home town of Luverne, I now sat down at the bar of Sterling's Cafe and ordered a Kick the Can IPA from Take 16 Brewing about twenty minutes before closing on a Sunday night. 

Kick the Can IPA is a beautiful beer in the glass with a solid hop nose of citrus and grass, almost like an fresh hop smell. The malt balances a clear bitterness and an underlying sweetness. Excellent IPA and I was sorry that I didn't bring growlers along. For those not familiar, Kick the Can is a childhood game, one that I played with cousins on my grandma's farm in the 1970s, which is my guess as to the origins of the name.  
Brewery on Main Street
A local softball team walked in a few moments before closing, so I had time to have a second beer, Stormy Jack. A smooth and easy drinking Irish Stout, it just confirmed the quality of this southwest Minnesota brewery, whose named confused me. I was chatting with my sister-in-law about my plans to beer hunt at Sterling's. She said the local highway through town used to be Highway 16. Growing up in Iowa, I know that road names with locals can remain for decades; for example, the country black top near my home farm was known as Old 9 even though the highway had been moved north before my memory. Just a theory. 

Across  from the Palace Theatre on main street, Sterling's is just down the street from the brewery, so it's about as fresh as you can get all four Take 16 brews. More importantly, Sterling's did an excellent job of beer handling and representing the brand. Check the website for the likely to be growing list of places with Take 16 taps. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Finding Gold: Excelsior Brewing (Excelsior, MN)

After having lunch with a former student, I had a free Saturday afternoon for some beer hunting. Heading west to Excelsior Brewing in Excelsior, MN, I admittedly had low expectations.

I'd tasted Excelsior at the 2013 Firken Fest at the Happy Gnome and was completely unimpressed. But I didn't think a cask ale fest was a fair test of the brewery. Nine months later, I picked up a couple bottles at the now defunct Four Fikins. While clearly better, I still wasn't impressed.

MinneGose at Excelsior

When I arrived at Excelsior, I struggled to find a parking spot and then was surprised by the exceptionally long line to get a draft at the bar. One stool was available next to a couple at the small bar, so I jumped on it and ordered t MinneGose (Min-uh-Gos-uh). Say it like the exaggerated Fargo pronunciation of Minn-eh-Sew-ta. MinneGose is an exceptional summer ale with the tang of the sea salt and coriander from the description floating over a fresh bread character of the wheat beer.  Each sip filled the mouth with this slightly sour and lemony sun gold beer.

With another brewery in the area, I had a tough choice: try another beer or move on. Conversing with the couple at the bar (moving to New Jersey next week and on a last weekend in Minnesota drinking fling) and the pint were both excellent, so I decided to quit while I was ahead and not fight the crowd, preserving the glow of a great beer drinking experience. I'll wait a bit and find Excelsior again to check out if the rest of the beers live up to this visit.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sidhe Brewing (St. Paul, MN)

Every year at school, there are always a few students who desperately work for an A, but can't see the path to earning the grade: heartbreaking for me and frustrating for the hard working students. Unfortunately, Sidhe Brewing  is working hard but just not making the grade.  

I've known about Sidhe (formerly Four Elements) Brewing for a long time because the owners attend many One Voice concerts, one of which where I was introduced to the brewer Kathleen and we chatted a bit about their beer adventure. There was even an earlier, smaller, location in St. Paul before finding its present home. To keep from repeating history reported elsewhere, take a look at A Perfect Pint's first look

The small door on Jenks Ave belies the comfortable space at the bottom of stairs. On a Saturday afternoon, the place had several scattered customers enjoying the hot summer day with AC and a beer. I hunkered down at the bar to do all eight samples offered today. 

Senor Sol Victorious, a clone of Victoria Mexican lager, was as advertised, clean and very drinkable. Requested by the building owner for the locals, I'm guessing it pairs well with food from the Mexican restaurant in the same building. Next, I liked the Barking Cat, a strong golden Belgian ale. Having the most flavor and complexity, this 9.9% ale was a bit hot and not quite balanced. Finally, the Dark Moon Rising was serviceable dry stout that I considered getting a full pint. None of the beers warmed up well. This test is of limited use at Sidhe because the lighter styles are meant to be colder, especially Senor Sol and the Bast Kissed cream ale. My rather sluggish style of drinking doesn't fit well with some of the styles. 

In reading the menu, Sidhe's mission is to brew approachable session beers for all beer drinkers, not catering to the old school geeks like me. So don't expect a Surly Furious or Stone Ruination at Sidhe. I think this is an admirable mission, especially in the diverse, up-and-coming neighborhood. Sidhe has a real chance of making themselves a community pub, for locals to congregate and commune over lighter, flavorful session beers. However, this raises the bar for Sidhe. It's easier to homebrew a stout than a pilsner because the dark flavors allows for wiggle room to hide flaws. Big, and especially dark beers, are more forgiving, thus why I generally brew big. To focus on session beers, the brewing techniques must be perfect and, to get more flavor out of a small grain bill, the creativity must be inspired. 

While I think many of the ingredients for a great local pub are present, at the moment, in spite of my hopes and desires for these women brewers and owners, Sidhe is coming up short of top marks. However, my evaluation is just that: mine. Beer media is biased towards more radical brewing, so the buzz (including mine) will likely be slanted against them. Quite a few patrons in the bar where happily drinking, chatting and playing games throughout the time I was there. Often by the end of the school year, some students who persevere and continuously strive for improvement will learn how to make the grade. The philosophy and location of Sidhe seems to be well matched, so hopefully the locals will make Sidhe a success in spite of a low beer geek grade, which will give the brewery time to mature and find their path to better beer.  

Update 8/1/15

Based on the photos of my first visit, a group of friends put together a afternoon at Sidhe.  We walked in late and joined Cards Against Humanity with a draft of Barking Cat. To be safe, on my last visit, I only was able to do samples. The draft of Barking Cat was much better than I had remembered from the sample. Slightly hot from the 9.2% ABV, it has a spiciness from the yeast and a warm, round Belgian flavor. Barking Cat is a short, potent pour, so I switched to a pint of Tri-City, which was also significantly better as well.

Glad I went back for a draft, which was much better than my first impression.  Moving from samples to a draft seemed to make a difference. Normally, I prefer to end with a draft for a full review, but it's not always possible.  Friends and full glasses seemed to make quite a bit of difference for Sidhe, and I encourage people to keep giving it a try.

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.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Highway 1 Brewing Co (Pescadero, CA)


After a weekend in Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Aquarium, we headed north back to The City via Highway 1 coast scenery. We were planning to stop at Pigeon Point Lighthouse when we noticed a brewery on this lone stretch of California coast.

Being early in the day, we were the only patrons in the pub and ordered a sample tray at the bar and chatted with the waitress.  The Knuckle Down Brown was thin for the style and my least favorite.  Of my favorites, Amberdextrous is an amber ale that's slightly light but very flavorful with a hop bite and a burnt wheat bread underneath; Anna the waitress helped with the brew. Also in the running for best beer was Trollup, a Belgian ale infused with strawberries. Overall, Trollup was a hazy yellow Belgian Ale with a solid yeast funk. The strawberry flavor was light but it's a tough fruit to get a bold taste.

French Mexican is a glistening yellow saison with a white head that's infused with jalepeno peppers. Sounds like an odd combo (and it is), but the yeasty spice mixes nicely with the pepper for a very aromatic nose. Best in the place.

I loved this stop because they really seemed to be working hard to craft a brewery out of the stark coast. Every brewery story I've read seemed to come alive in Highway 1 Brewing. It's the only brewery I've seen marked off by kegs to separate it from the bardefinitely a brewery that is digging deep to make it work. Most of the ales had a house taste from the yeast, but the attitude and heart was apparent in the unique and bold beers.  Even though every beer didn't work, I would love to return in a year or five to taste them when they completely get on their feet.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Seabright Brewery (Santa Cruz, CA)


With tickets for an evening fireworks cruise, we arrived early to the port of Santa Cruz to park and find our way to the boat. Reading online, we were warned of the severe traffic on the 4th of July. Once settled, we used our phones to find a place to eat before the cruise. Seabright popped up within a short walking distance and we happily tromped up steep set of stairs from the dock to the main road for 1/4 mile walk.

Bustling on the holiday, we luckily got a quick seat on the patio and ordered beers and ubiquitous central California garlic fries. Heavily laden, we indulged in the sweet, punget fries with thick Gilroy garlic and downed a few good beers.  The Blur, a Northwest IPA, was my favorite, though only moderately hoppy.  On a summer day, The Stinger was light, sweet and an easy drinking wheat beer.

Seabright is a more than decent brewpub with a bit of a chain feel; however, it was the right port for us.  While not nearly as radical as our evening boat ride through an ocean filled with thousands of dark winged sea birds and chasing illegal beach fireworks, Seabright is a very respectable stop that we enjoyed.

New Bohemia Wurst + Bierhaus (Golden Valley, MN)

Without any planning of my own, I followed beery freinds to New Bohemia Wurst + Bierhaus in Golden Valley after the latest One Voice concert. Being a vegetarian, a bratwurst specialty pub hasn't inspired me to stop for a pint.  Serious mistake. Upon walking in, friends had already filled a long, sociable table and promptly asked me to try the pretzel with pepperjack cheese sauce: light, delicious and massive.

Overwhelmed by beer choices, it took time to pick a new beer to insure New Bohemia on my database. I settled on Lucid Duce, a more than satisfactory amber ale for the end of an evening. A well curated tap list, New Bohemia had a serious devotion to Minnesota with about half of the taps dedicated to local brews. The remainder had some very good national and regional brews.  I settled on New Belgium La Folie for a second draft.

A video DJ was playing tunes with a screen behind him to keep the party rolling, which inspired several singalongs by the choir. A lively and convivial place that still allows a conversation, I was pleasantly impress with New Bohemia.  A vegetarian option for a bratwurst in addition to frites and the above noted pretzel, there's plenty of bar food for every beer drinker.

The original location is in Minneapolis. More than acceptable options for food plus an concentration of several Minnesota brews for me to try is more than enough reason to push New Bohemia up on my drinking list.