Beer Dabblin’

I know I should be working on my real work for my real job, but discussing this is of far more interest to me at this point in time. Then I’ll get to work, I promise. This weekend, my boyfriend and a couple friends of mine went to the Winter Carnival Beer Dabbler, which was definitely a good time and a cluster at the same time: a cluster of a good time. Some highlights:

1. After getting pre-wistbanded (their attempt to handle the lines better than last year which one woman claimed were a mile long) at the Bulldog, we went on a hunt for some pre-beer dabbler eats. Lowertown, if you some of you don’t know, is pretty much only bustling during the week when Securian is in session, if you can even call it bustling. We found a variety of places that were either a) packed or b) crappy. So after walking in circles around Meer’s park, we settled on Barrio, a classy Mexican restaurant, where I insisted on getting a pre-beer dabbler Summit EPA (which, as always, was delicious, and went well with my tostada). It all worked out in the end, and by 4 we decided it was time to check out the festivities.

2. At this point, we saw a line going around the corner of the building where we new the beer dabbler was. Thinking, ‘oh yeah, we got prewristbanded, we’re fine’ we walk straight to entrance around the other side of the building, leaving the line behind us. The lovely man told us ever so politely to keep walking straight and to get into the line. Which line, you ask? THE line. The line that went all the way around the city block, that began a mere twenty feet in front of the man who had directed us to get into the line (Which be believed to be starting around the corner, closer to the entrance). He was wrong. The prewristbanding attempt was a massive failure and we waited in line anyway, got reprimanded by a cop for skipping the line (which I promise didn’t make sense), and still weren’t the last people to get into the beer dabbler. If you’re familiar with the farmer’s market, you can imagine how packed it was. Which was fine, until my feet started to freeze, which is no one’s fault but my own.

3. Ok, so no onto beer talk so you don’t just think I was pissed about the line situation and them overselling the tickets the wholetime (I was, and will no longer be attending any of the Beer Dabbler’s illustrious events): the favorite by far was Harriet’s Coffee Elevator Doppelbock. It was the most delicious stout made with Ethiopian coffee I have ever had (bold statement since I had originally thought it was Half Pint’s Stir Stick Stout, which will still always have a place in my heart and then there’s Surly Coffee Bender). I’m trying to get more information about where I can get more of it, and when I have it, I’ll let you know. Harriet has seriously proven themselves to be a great addition to the Minnesota Beer Scene.

4. A conversation I had with a guy waiting in line for Crispin: for the last three or four beer fest type events Crispin has shared theirspace with Fox Barrel, which definitely confuses people. They assume that that’s a kind of Crispin, which means a) they’re idiots, and b) Crispin isn’t differentiating themselves enough (or maybe Fox Barrel isn’t either). Either way, it’s spurred my deeper interest in ciders, which I will be posting in later blogs. But know that Fox Barrel is different from Crispin. They are not from Minnesota (California) and they only do pear cider. It’s actually pretty good stuff, and ciders in general are on the up and up. So why not try one?

5. I submitted my homebrew (that Mike and I made: a honey ginger IPA) in a homebrew competition for the first time. Yeah, yeah I know it’s something I should’ve done a while ago, considering my history with homebrewing (I mean, I’m not a 55-year-old dude who has been brewing since his 20s. I’ve been brewing for about four years). But I finally did it! I’ll let you know how it goes. I got a $5 gift certificate for Northern Brewer for even submitting my beer (which was a surprise to me) and like not worth that much but it was nice, for my next homebrew supply trip. I did realize, that I hadn’t taken off the old labels off my bottle (it was a reused Magic Hat bottle), so woops, it might be disqualified but they’ll still rate it. Either way, I’ll let you know! I’m excited!

6. I discovered there’s a new Wisconsin brewery that opened in Menomonie called Lucette. At first, the logo confused me, I thought it was some weird architectural black and white POS, then I realized it was a woman, like a mud flap pin-up, which is the same image on their taps. Their website says,“Lucette is hand-crafted by guys and brought to life by the artistry of a woman. Don’t be offended or embarrassed by her voluptuous curves or stunning assets—she isn’t. Lucette is an image of revolution and evolution, much like experience a non-macro beer for the first time. And what’s more, she is created from the finest ingredients by the hands of our own brewers, at our own brewery, and not by some mysterious brewery far away from “home.” In other words, she is not fake, diluted, or overproduced—she is 100% Lucette.” I’m torn, because this is a great way of describing a beer and their mission, and right on par with the market of men loving beers that say something about women (positive or negative, generally in pun form, e.g. Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch, which has had its share of issues with feminists across the United States). It’s just so… man. Of course all the brewers are men, and of course this idea of the ‘not fake, diluted or overproduced woman’ is the pin-up with big boobs and a tiny waist. It just confuses me (maybe because they called me out on it from the get-go, telling me not to be offended), and makes me wonder if they’ve even thought this hard about it. Probably haven’t, but who IS Lucette and what does it actually mean?

Ok, so that’s about it. Relatively uneventful underwhelming time at the Beer Dabbler, although I did get some free swag and cheese out of it (there was a huge line, of which I did not partake). I think I’m going to stick to just the St. Paul and Minneapolis Beer Fests from now on.


Minnesota, Know Your Local Breweries

Dearest readers,

As I sit in my not-so-cubical cubicle, I think to myself, what advice/knowledge can I impart on my avid readers today? As I peruse my daily blogs and articles about beer and the like, I realize that I find myself getting excited daily (yes, daily) about the new breweries that are opening up in the Twin Cities. Here they are, in lists, for your reading pleasure. Each brewery is linked to their website,and I’ve also made some brief comments about their flagship (first and best, generally) beer and their other good beers, if they got them. I don’t know if I’ve ever said this, but I’m always open to discussion and suggestions, so although I give off this air of over-confidence with my ‘know-it-all’ attitude, tell me what you think or if I missed anything!! Also, check out this related City Pages article.

The Ones You’ve Probably Heard Of (Good for you):
1. Summit: famous for their EPA, which is delicious, but I recommend the Oatmeal Stout
2. Surly Brewing: famous for their Furious, which is delicious, but I recommend the Coffee Bender
3. August Schell (related: Grain Belt): Famous for… being from New Ulm, the most German part of Minnesota; Grainbelt is cool because I work down the street from the old brewery (they were bought by Schell in 2002, but were originally brewing in NE)
4. Finnegan’s: famous for being at all of Macalester’s SpringFests until Surly came around. Contract brewed by Summit, but a very average beer IMHO.
5. Liftbridge: famous for y’know, the Stillwater liftbridge, and beer (flagship: Farm Girl)

The Ones You Probably Haven’t Heard of (Shame on you):
1. Brau Brothers: Try the Moo Joos, it’s delicious
2. Flat Earth Brewing: The Angry Planet is the best
3. Fulton: Sweet Child of Vine is their best, and they just got their first real brewery (in Mpls near the Twins stadium!)
4. Staples Mill Brewing Company: I had the Stout of Morning Destruction the other day and it was epic — 750ml limited release bottles, and so yummy in that drunk-after-breakfast on coffee/beer/bourbon type way
5. Lake Superior: The Kayak Kolsch is my favorite, which is weird because I normally like stouts, but it’s a great summer session beer*

The Newest Ones (Get with the program):
1. Lucid Brewing: Minnetonka has a brewery now, too, say what?!
2. Harriet Brewing: I’ve had the West Side, it’s awesome, and this Friday they’re having their one year anniversary at the Blue Nile!
3. Dangerous Man: This dude is a baller; there are antiquated MN laws about having a brewery within some amount of feet of a church and unlucky for him, NE has a lot of churches and a lot of nice spaces for breweries so he’s had to fight for his right to brew, so double support him (plus, sick logo!)
4. Steel Toe: SLP representing! The Number 7 I had at Muddy Waters was fantastic, I WANT MOOOAR
5. Mankato Brewery: So, so fresh; they were recently looking for support to start up operations (again?)
6. Boom Island Brewing Company: Across the river from my work, I only just heard about them and haven’t tried any of their beers
7. Bemidji Brewing Company: Even fresher than fresh, their website is not even complete and they’re still asking for support

The Ones That I Hadn’t Even Heard Of (and don’t have opinions on, unfortunately):
1. Big Wood (Vadnais Heights, MN): The newest of the new
2. Leech Lake (Walker, MN): I’ve heard more about them recently but I don’t know how new they are
3. Olvalde (Rollingston, MN): I lied, I think I’ve actually had/heard of one of these Farmhouse Ales
4. Dubrue (Duluth, MN): Apparently all up in Duluth, I had no idea
5. Castle Danger (Two Harbors, MN): New as of March 2010, looks pretty sweet

The Ones That Don’t Really Matter But Are Still Interesting (Not craft breweries per se):
1. Cold Spring: A lot of historical significance for the MN beer scene, but generally average beer
2. Pig’s Eye Brewing Company: Gross cheap-ass beer, but still exciting because St Paul was almost called Pig’s Eye, which makes no sense — silly pioneers
3. Vine Park: Doesn’t count because it’s like homebrewing extra light; you go there, they brew for you, you call the beer your own — good for corporate parties

Brew Pubs of Note (My favorites):
1. Fitger’s (Duluth): Home of one of my favorite stouts of all time, the Big Boat Oatmeal Stout; definitely the best brewpub in Minnesota
2. Town Hall Brewery (West Bank): An awesome brew pub, great food, topical beers that they brew, and just a neat building overall
3. Herkimer’s (Uptown): Uptown’s only brewpub? I feel like I find myself here when other (better?) places are full… but still good

For more about good brew pubs, check out this article from Michael Agnew (A Perfect Pint)

A message from the MN Craft Brewer's Guild


* (Thanks to Blackmer for bringing this up, sorry!) ‘Session Beer’: a beer that’s light/pleasant enough to drink many of in one session (ie. a beer you can drink lots of, not drink one of and feel like you ate a steak, had a milkshake, and just want to take a nap like the big baby you are. This is especially important in the summer when you’re doing a lot of session drinking and I mean, it’s summer, so you don’t want to gorge yourself on Russian Imperial Stouts for hours, if you know what I mean).

A Brief Yet Watered-Down ‘Triple-Hops Brewed’ Introduction to Homebrewing: The Basics

There’s been a lot of talk about homebrewing; around the office (if your office is filled with cool Millennials doing projects about Millennials, like mine is), the water cooler (if you have one to go with your pager), among your friends (if they’re cool enough, like mine), in the gchat (that we’re all on all day long anyway, except for Hannah), the text messages (Maybe), all up on your tweeter with the twatterings (ok, just mine), but I bet you’re thinking to yourself, ‘WTF is homebrewing? I can haz confuzzon.’ Here is Liz’s brief yet watered-down introduction like the ‘triple-hops brew’ we know and love (ahem, Miller, get with it, you can’t add one hop leaf three times during the boil and claim it’s triple-hopped), just the basics. We can get into nuance later. I’m here to enhance your life, not confuse it. So here we go.

It’s important to note, that this is meant not necessarily as a guide to start homebrewing for the first time, because if you were, I would direct you to a very different set of reputable resources (which I will do anyway, in future posts/pages) that aren’t speckled with my loving anecdotes and sparkling rhetoric, as much as I know you value them. This post is meant to give you an overview of what homebrewing is and how it can help you understand what breweries do when they brew their beers (although they do it on a much larger scale, duh, while homebrewing is generally done in 5 gallon batches, resulting in approx. 50, 16 oz. beers). A big thanks to Dajana from work for taking these photos during our work homebrewing session this summer that I have included to help you undersand what I’m talking about if you didn’t already know.

1. The recipe, the equipment, the time.

Find a recipe, either on the internet (there are a billion websites), in a book (there are a billion books), from a friend (maybe you don’t have a billion homebrewing friends, but you can make them), from a kit (a pre-made box full of everything you need, all measured out and ready for your use) or from your mind (bold move). Find the equipment you have lying around your house/basement/garage/trunk and clean the shit out of them (if you’re like me and have stuff that you never really cleaned that well from the last time you last-minute brewed). Find the time to brew. Depending on how you go about it, brewing can take 3-6 hours and is best done with a beer in hand. I like to take the easy way out and do the 3-hour path, but it’s totally up to you, and you’d probably be cooler if you took the more challenging route (think ‘The Road Less Traveled’). I will be discussing the 3-hour path here (also known as ‘extract brewing’ but you could also do it with the ‘partial mash brewing’ method).

2. The big-ass brew kettle.

I don’t want to get too detailed, but the Miller version: you boil water in your big-ass brew kettle (3 gallon), and add various things at various points. Like I mentioned in my previous post about the different beer styles and beer basics, the ingredients (water, malted barley/grains (the sugars), hops, yeast) are generally added in that order. The most important part of the process in which you add things is called ‘the boil,’ when the wort (as unfermented beer is called—pronounced like wert rather than wart, if you know what I mean) is at a rolling boil and hops are added. In general, the boil is about an hour, with ‘hop additions’ mostfrequently occurring at the beginning and towards the end (for that respective impact on the flavor of the beer; in the beginning it affects the overall body/flavor of the beer, while at the end, it affects the ‘finish’ of the beer). There are also a wide variety of hops that add different elements to the beer, so it’s not like all beers have hop additions of the same hop at different times, in fact, it’s pretty rare, but again, up to the discretion of the brewer—the hop chef. You’d be interested to know that hops are the only other relative of the marijuana plant species (they’re both cones), which is why sometimes when you’re drinking a really hoppy beer (or smelling straight-up hops as one often does) it reeks of that weed-like skunkiness.

3. The chill, the pitch

When the boil is done, it’s your sole goal to chill that wort as quickly, efficiently, and with as little contamination as possible so that, when mixed with water, the wort is at a temperature in which the particular yeast cells can thrive to make that wort into beer (yeast + sugar = alcoholz + CO2 and other byproducts). Like hops, there are many different kinds of yeasts, all that have a different impact on the beer and are meant for certain styles of beer or more practically, fermentation temperatures*. So you chill (literally) for a while. Sometimes in the snow. When the wert is at a satisfactory temperature, you pour it into the fermenter (preferably a glass carboy, if you’re using plastic, you haven’t lived. You owe it to yourself to get a glass carboy and be an adult about this). You add some water and then you ‘pitch’ the yeast. Pitching the yeast is a fancy way of saying ‘put the yeast in the wort,’ but it sounds cooler to say ‘pitch,’ and then you sound like you’re a) doing something special and b) know what you’re talking about.

4. The wait.

You chill some more (this time in the cool, not cold, way) for several weeks, months, or if you want to go there, years. You let the beer do its fermentation thing. You check it daily to make sure it’s looking good, to watch the movement, and feel the warmth (I kid you not, during fermentation it emits heat which you can feel). Eventually the fast bubbles and movement will stop and that means the primary fermentation is complete. Then you do some stuff (‘move’ the beer between carboys if you want to, add some things, or don’t, check some things out, etc.) and wait a little more.

5. The bottling.

There’s a scientific point at which the beer is supposed to be ready to be bottled (or kegged, if you’re fancy), but I rarely test that (it’s called gravity and you do it with a hydrometer), and I’m ok with that. I just go by time and my gut (i.e. beer belly). Beer’s good like that – so forgiving, and will probably taste great anyway. You do a two-hour long process called bottling that requires the help of at least one other person (if you’re like me, incredibly weak, and can easily coerce friends into helping you, especially since they know they’ll be drinking it later). You add a little bit more sugar to the bottles of beer and cap them. Some of the remaining yeasts eats that sugar to create CO2 bubbles INSIDE the beer. Sometimes beers explode. It’s an inexact science. You wait at least two more weeks, sometimes three, and then you’re ready.

6. The drinking.

Pretty straight forward. Because it’s homebrew (I repeat, ‘inexact science’) there will be a little bit of sediment at the bottom of the beer, which although isn’t harmful, isn’t ideal to fully taste and enjoy your beer. So when you pour your homebrew into a glass (which you should always do; even if you don’t have pint glasses, dear God, pour it into a glass), don’t swish it around in the bottom of the bottle as you pour because that just encourages the sediment to get mixed up in the good stuff and leave at least a half an inch of liquid at the bottom of the bottle to further prevent this from happening. You want to be able to see the unadulterated unpasteurized beer in the clear glass, see the bubbles dancing up the sides, smell the amorous aroma of the beer, and revel in your glory as it tingles your taste buds.

* Ok, here’s the truth: I wrote this post before the previous one titled ‘Ales and Lagers: Best Friends and Lovers, the Yin and the Yang, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ but decided I was getting ahead of myself and need to first introduce you to the basic concept of what makes different beers different from each other.

Ales and Lagers: Best Friends and Lovers, the Yin and the Yang, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

I realize that some of you may already know the differences in different styles of beers, so forgive me if I’m assuming the worst, but bear with me. I need to do this so I can feel ok about talking about beer styles and other beer-related things. I just want to make sure everyone’s on the same page. If this is like taking 8th grade math and you’re a regular Tom, then go to the head of the class and shut up. Here we go…

Not all beers are created equal. In fact, that’s why they’re so beautiful, like the people of the world, each one is different and unique, with a different look, taste and smell. The ingredients are the same, in concept, but there are different KINDS of ingredients that change the outcome of the beer. Ok I’ve gone away from the ‘we are the world’ analogy, but I think you get the point. The four main ingredients in beer are: WATER, MALTED BARLEY/GRAINS (SUGAR), HOPS, YEAST. No one ingredient is more or less important and they all play a role, if you change any one of these elements in the slightest way, even if you change how much or when you added it during the brewing process, you create a different beer. Did I mention that’s why beer is beautiful? It’s like a chemistry equation you can keep changing (and not necessarily in ratios) that still results in the same great thing (assuming you don’t screw up too badly).

So, as you guessed, the variation in the ingredients is what makes different styles of beer. You may have heard of various styles, know a little bit about certain ones, have preferences, know which ones to avoid, and that’s great, you should. You should know these things if you’re drinking the stuff. There are two main categories of beer styles: ales and lagers, and then a ton of ones that go in each of the categories (and of course, some outliers). Ales are beers that are made with yeasts that are generally top fermenting and are fermented at higher temperatures (not hot, but warmer than lagers, think room temperature) while lagers are beers made with generally bottom-fermenting yeasts at lower temperatures (a little bit like refrigerator temperatures). Because ales are at higher temperatures and there is a wider range of yeasts available, there is a wider range of flavor profiles and styles within ales. Also in general, for homebrewing, lagering is much more difficult because it requires lower temperatures that a basement generally can’t provide, and ales are just more fun and vibrant (like young people). I’m not going to go into the styles that are considered ales and those that are lagers, that’s a lesson for a different day. We have to start small. Like my math teacher in high school used to say, you can’t build a house without first building the walls. And if you build crappy walls (with holes… in your education. Get it?) the roof will fall in on you. And you will die. However, for a taste, see the awesome image below for an overwhelming yet beautiful description of beer styles (note: this is not my image, but I love it and it’s beautiful and I want to buy it, or you can buy it, or you can buy it for me if you’d like, I’d love that, here).

In conclusion, and in reference to the title, ales aren’t really the Dr. Jekyll to the lager’s Mr. Hyde, but you see what I’m getting at—you can’t have one without the other and they’re both beers. There are good lagers and bad ales, and awesome ales and awesome lagers because they’re all beers; it’s all part of the circle of beer life.

Lesson One: How to Be a ‘Beer Snob’ and the More Nuanced, More Respected ‘Beer Nerd’

I’ve thought a lot about how to begin this whole blog thing, kick-starting it so you remain interested but also keep you wanting more. So I’ve decided the best way to go about this is give you a framework from which to work from, while at the same time telling you where I’m coming from. Lesson One: How to be a beer snob and the more nuanced, more respected beer nerd.

Some years ago, my good friend Zac was the editor of our college’s newspaper, and he began a new section that I dubbed ‘Food and Drank’ (it remains such today). In this section, I wrote my first column about beer and beer snobbery. Although some things have changed (you can see the original here), the idea remains the same (except probably a little bit less tongue and cheek). I’m going to give you the secrets of the trade, and as long as you don’t use them against me or try to one-up me with them in any way, we can stay friends.

1. Recognize and emphasize the importance of local breweries.

I say this only half joking, considering I have a bumper sticker on my car that reads ‘Support Your Local Brewery’ from Fitger’s in Duluth, but it’s true. Local breweries, knowing your local breweries, and knowing which local beers are the most popular is the first step in beer snobbery.  These are the beers you order at a local bar, buy at your local liquor store, and have in your local fridge when your local friends come over. If you live in Minnesota, you should also know that the list of local breweries grows longer every day and you should be proud of it. Keep up with this list and get excited when you see these beers available (or be more active and push your local distributors to bring them to you). Say you’ve tried some but not others (as they start brewing more than just their flagship*). Say you want to visit their brewery**. Say you know the guy who owns it. Say he went to your college***.

Beer Nerd Tip: To be less of a snob and more of a nerd, respect non-craft local breweries and embrace them as part of your culture. i.e. if you’re from Milwaukee, you better like PBR.

2. Embrace beer trends while experimenting with your own.

When I say beer trends, it’s a little hard to explain because you have to be into the beer scene in the first place, but there are specific trends in beers that are worth noting and experimenting with. Some come and go, but some stay forever. Hops, for example. Yes, the IPA is a beer style but that super hoppy beer was a trend that is definitely here to stay, mostly because men (I’m talking REAL men) love hops and so much hops and IBUs (international bittering units) to the point that they can’t even taste them (but they know are there). Then there was sour beers, which aren’t for everyone (you know, the ones you were like ‘oh this beer has gone bad!’ until I told you it was spontaneously fermented and you were like ‘oh I get it but it’s still gross’). And most recently there was wet hops (most brewing using dry hops that are either in their original leaf form or pelletized for easy storage, but these beers used hops that hadn’t been dried to brew their beers, creating beers with more of an overall robust hoppy taste, not just hoppiness in the finish****). A real beer snob will homebrew their beers accordingly, to follow the trends, which is a difficult task, since beer, like technology, is crafted months/years prior to being drunk.

Beer Nerd Tip: To be less of a snob and more of a nerd, don’t just be aware of the trends, ignore them and go with what you know and love, that way you’ll never be disappointed or be accused of ‘trying too hard,’ which is the worst insult for a beer snob. 

3. Know when to back down and realize you can’t make everyone like beer.

I know this is probably the hardest to do, and I’m guilty of it too, but you can’t make everyone like beer. A wise man (Keith, the hottie informant) once told me that there are people out there who say “Oh I don’t like beer,” but really they just haven’t found THE RIGHT beer. There is a beer out there for everyone. Take my Mom for example; that woman loves her Leinenkugel’s Berryweiss, and I do not begrudge her it. I just accept and encourage her to drink whatever beer strikes her fancy because it’s a step in the right direction. It gets her into the bar, sipping other beers, and hopefully one day finding a better berry alternative. But, that being said, anyone who says they just really like wine and don’t drink beer is an idiot and deserves a long-winded lecture about how there is actually a wider variety of tastes/flavors and drinking experiences available to them in beer than wine (fact) and that if it wasn’t for the antiquated prohibition laws that still affect the brewing industry, beer would have flourished just as much as wine—BUT IT WILL AND THAT’S WHY WE’RE HERE. BEER FTW!!!!

Beer Nerd Tip: To be less of a snob and more of a nerd, after you suggest a variety of eligible beers to your friend who claims to not like beer or only like a specific kind of beer*****, let it go, know that you’ve tried, and sip on a pint of something glorious, you deserve it, after all.


* “Flagship Beer”: The first beer that a brewery brews and for the most part, the beer they are most famous for, probably because they make it the best. (E.g. For Surly, it’s the Furious)

** Or you can say you have visited their brewery, you know a little about the town/area/neighborhood it’s in, or what laws they had to change to make the brewery happen (Ahem, antiquated law Minnesota)

*** Truth. Omar Ansari of Surly Brewing went to Macalester is perhaps one of the most famous Mac grads outside of Kofi (and what did Kofi do besides play a lot of ping poing amiright?!)

**** “The Finish”: the taste a beer leaves in your mouth as you’re swallowing it. For hoppy beers, it’s that bitter taste that keeps on bittering.

***** And by ‘a specific kind of beer’ I mean ‘bitch beer’ or ‘light beers’ or ‘corn-based macrobrewed beers that have no flavor or substance besides sadness and puppy dog tears.’