Yesterday: Black IPA. Today: Multimedia Beer Experiences!

Yesterday I decided after another long day of work that it was time to brew that black IPA I was all big talk about. My friend, a local reporter, filmed me as I did it, and here’s what he came up with. Watch it to the end, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks for all your love and support. When the beer’s ready, you can have one on me! Cheers!

What You Need to Know: Minnesota Brewpubs are Fighting for Their Right to Brew

No one can deny it: Minnesota is in the midst of a fantastic and delightful beer renaissance. Things are changing and they’re changing fast. Part of why I’m here is to keep you updated on all things beer, especially as they relate to Minnesota. You may remember from an earlier post that there are many, although not a TON of brewpubs in the Twin Cities (unless you count Granite City, in which case, shame on you). The ones that are out there are really great, there’s no denying that, but I mean, what is there that ISN’T great about a brewpub? Craft beer brewed on a small scale? Check. You can visit the brewery? Check. You’re SITTING in it looking at the brewing equipment. You can eat there too WHILE you drink their beers? Double check (and sometimes they even PAIR the food for you! Swoon). You can support a local business while supporting your local brewery and local appetite with local friends? Check. Check. Annnnd… Check.

So what’s the deal? Well, you’ve heard about the Surly Bill, right? You know, the one that passed that allow Surly to build their destination brewery (still in the works)? Well that was great, but it didn’t do anything for our fabulous brewpubs and now they want a piece of the legislation-change pie too. If you’ve ever been to the Town Hall Brewery, and I hope you have, or if you haven’t, you have plans to go there in the very near future, you leave thinking ‘Damn. I want more of this beer.’ And it’s your right, as a consumer, to demand it. That’s what the new legislation is doing, making a strong push for brewpubs to be able to sell their beer offsite (bottles, growlers, on tap, whatever). Read more here, it’s not all sunshine and roses.

It’s a little complicated because there’s actually two parts to this. Not only is it legislation to allow brewpubs to sell their beer not just for consumption on-site, but it would also allow local breweries that do not currently sell their wares in cans/bottles in the state to sell them in growlers off-site (at liquor stores). That’s great news for breweries like Harriet (you have to go there to get your growler filled. It’s not a bad thing, but why just stop there? They want their beer OUT THERE to get more people IN THERE if you know what I mean), but Surly could care less (their cans are everywhere and they have a huge waiting list of other liquor stores that want some of that distribution).

I mean, I’m sure Surly cares, because for the beer scene right now it’s about helping others and creating a SCENE and not necessarily competition, but Surly already cans and is sold locally in said cans, so it’s all good. But wouldn’t it be sweet to be able to buy growlers in liquor stores? I mean not on Sunday because that would be sinful, but any other day of the week before 10pm?! Yes, please. Then I wouldn’t have to go to Duluth anymore for my growlers of the Big Boat Oatmeal Stout (or make my friends bring it back for me, thanks guys!), I could just pick it out of a growler line-up at the liquore store and come back for more.

Recently Herkimer hired a new head brewer to mix things ups and start making awesome beer again; Town Hall has one of the best brewers around; I’ve never been to Barley John’s but I want to and when I do I’m sure I’ll have a positive opinion about it. In general, a brewpub is easier to open than a brewery (you don’t have to slope all of the floors for drainage, you can use less space, you put less into it right away because you have restaurant revenue, etc.) but why are there so few? Probably because there isn’t that much growth opportunity, another reason for this legislation change. And there’s nothing worse than a brewer limited. Why hire a new brewmaster if you’re just going to tell them to ‘change things’ and then tell them ‘oh but don’t get too crazy.’ Brewpubs are putting in the effort to make good beer, restaurant-goers are putting in the time trying and loving brewpubs’ good beers, so why shouldn’t it be available at other places too (liquor stores, bars, etc.)?

Perhaps the title of my post is a little too apocalyptic, but if you know me at all, you know I stand by the things I say (never stand down!), and I stand by this. Even though this is legislation that’s fighting for brewpubs to expand and be able to make more beer and make more money on the beer they’re selling off-site, it’s really for the right to continue to brew, and not just be the sideshow to a restaurant. And let them brew, I say! If the legislation doesn’t pass and brewpubs can’t sell growlers of their beer, I guess they’ll still be able to brew, but it’s not the same, knowing that they are being denied something that, quite frankly, the people want.

This weekend I was in New Jersey visiting my friend Laura and we went to a local brewpub called Harvest Moon and I was chatting about the new Minnesota laws with one of her friends and it occurred to me: Minnesota DOES have antiquated liquor/beer laws, and it makes me sad and excited at the same time. To me it’s just a constant reminder that we’re behind everyone else (a fact which is sometimes thrown in my face by my East Coast friends about the Midwest in general). Just LOOK at Colorado or Oregon and their killer beer scene. They’ve been doing it for years, they’re pros. And here we are, weak little Midwesterners trying to get our shit together to be anywhere CLOSE to what they are. But we still continue to try.

I may sound angry, but I’m not. It’s more motivating than anything. It’s inspiring to know that things can still change and we’re making it happen, and that ultimately, it can happen for other states too if they want it to and they’re wiling to fight for it. We’re making waves and people are noticing. It’s just a bummer that we have to make the stupid waves to get what we want—why do these laws still exist? Then again, if it all came easy and we all drank wonderful craft beer all the time like we were from Portland (#RCTID) or something, our beer wouldn’t taste as sweet, the literal fruit of our labor.

So, support your local brewpub and smile because you’re from Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, legislation changes, and hopefully in the future: 10,000 brews.

A little Minnesota Beer nostalgia for you. The Grain Belt Beer sign in NE, a reminder of what NE used to mean for beers and brewing, and a taste of what it could be.

Can it, Already: Why Canned Craft Beer is so Cool

You’ve seen it in liquor stores and are probably familiar with it in your home, especially if you love Surly: canned beer. Why is it so cool? Why are so many more craft brewers going in this direction versus the more traditional pry-off top bottles (please, screw off tops imply cheap and, ew… macrobrewed beer.)? Just the other day I was at Pat’s Tap on 35th and Nicollet and they had a whole blurb about how they love cans and why they’re better than bottles (Side Note: Pat’s Tap is a great place, you should definitely check it out. They have great cheese curds, although not top five. Ok, maybe top five, but definitely NOT top three, which for the record are 1) Groveland Tap (bonus of great beer selection), 2) Bulldog Uptown (also bonus of great beer selection and, obviously, locale), 3) State Fair (non-bonus of expensive limited beer selection)).

Anyway, not the point. The point is that beer in the can is cool and there have been many recent articles/blogs about why exactly that is. Well, that article is about science, saying they are equal. Don’t bother reading it, the only real sentence that matters is that science says: “I would expect that the difference between amber glass and aluminum cans is minimal as far as photodegradation is concerned.”  Photodegradation is the light impacting the overall taste/flavor/carbonation of the beer, which is the main reason why people have said amber bottles are the way to go. In case you didn’t know, clear glass lets in all the light, so that definitely impacts the beer (“photodegradation”), resulting in what some people refer to as “skunked beer,” which mostly refers to the lack of carbonation in the beer and just being generally gross. Either way, you know that beer that comes in a clear glass bottle is a) not a respectable beer, because b) the proprietors couldn’t be bothered to put it in an amber glass, so chances are it sucks. Just. Saying. Oh and in case your wondering, green bottles are ok, but amber ones are better. Clear ones are the worst. Cans? They’re just as good as amber bottles. WHAT?

So then you think back to the last time you ordered a PBR at the bar and you’re all like “Hmm… but what about that aluminum taste? I don’t like that. I just bought the PBR because it was cheap and it adds to my cool image.” And good question; the point is that beer, like wine, is not meant to be drunk in the receptacle it came in, be it can, bottle, or bag (ahem, don’t pretend you don’t drink Franzia, the world’s most popular wine). That’s why pouring it into a glass (I’m not going to be a dick and say the ‘right’ glass; a glass is good enough) is really important. This is something that has to happen even if your beer came in the fanciest amberiest glass bottle of all time. The point is that yes, beer from a can will have a slightly more aluminum taste if you’re putting your slobbery beer-thirsty mouth against the stupid aluminum can to drink (chug?) it. So just pour it in a glass and quit your bitching. Then again if you’re getting a PBR at the CC Club or something, they might laugh at you when you order a tallboy of PBR and ask for a glass (I mean you paid $2 for it, it’s not worth their time or money to clean a glass for you). But you were the idiot that ordered that PBR in the first place. Just drink it out of the can and save yourself the trouble.

So again, you ask, why are cans so cool and why am I cool for drinking beer from them? Why do I see my favorite beers available in cans? Why do good breweries insist on canning their beer rather than bottling (besides the aforementioned fact that they let in just as little light as traditional amber bottles)? Surly’s slogan is “Beer for a glass, from a can,” not only saying that cans are cool (like their beer) but that it’s meant for a glass, like a real beer that you would find in a bottle, that you would also pour in a glass (HAVE I MENTIONED THAT YOU SHOULD POUR YOUR BEER IN GLASS?). Also, cans and canning is just cheaper, simple as that. And from a design standpoint, they also allow a slightly larger canvas from which to express the essence of the beer, which is important in a world where there are more and more breweries and differentiators are not only harder to establish but harder to show to the consumer. I mean, not all breweries can have special glass bottles made for their beer like they do with Vodkas; plus it goes against general beer conventions.

But I think it’s more than that. Ultimately, cans are a throwback to the age when the can was really the only option (and people were drinking it straight out of the can by the case-load) and craft beers are reclaiming this identity in a postmodern way (yeah that’s right, I went there. I’ll reel it back in, don’t worry); a can no longer means an average macrobrew. Craft beer now has all the versatility of the can but you get to drink the beer you love the way you used to drink Bud Light or maybe Milwaukee’s Best in college (chug, smash, toss). I say the reclamation of the can is postmodern because it not only references the past use of cans and the current changing face of beer, but it was cans that changed how beer was brewed/distributed in the United States in the first place that made it monolithic post-Prohibition, and here they are, doing it again, but diversifying. Reclaiming. Reforming. Recanning. And people are loving it.

So, is canning an attempt to reach the market of macrobrew drinkers by tricking them into buying cans, grabbing it instead of a case of Miller High Life? Does it make them feel better about buying a craft beer they once thought was too hoity-toity or didn’t even realize was a beer until it came out in cans? Probably not. But maybe? I’d say it’s more for beer geeks/snobs who want to take craft beer with them camping and not deal with bottles (because bottles don’t crush like cans, duh, and they can shatter or in some cases, explode). The question is if you as a beer snob invited some of your beer snob friends over and offered them some beer snob beer, would they feel wronged if you brought out some beer snob cans and poured them into glasses? I think they would be skeptical at first, then you would have some sort of abbreviated version of this blog post about whether or not it’s a big deal that their Fat Tire is now canned.

Then there’s the fact that there aren’t really THAT many breweries that can their beers. It’s still an anomaly. Check out this neat website that talks about all craft brews in cans and announces the new ones as they come out. It’s kind of exciting to think about the future of craft beers as they convert more breweries and people to using and drinking canned beer. But what does that mean for homebrewers? Are they going to have to start buying cases of fresh amber bottles from their homebrew supply store instead of reusing bottles? I mean, I doubt that all beer sales will be in cans for a while, or at all, so that’s good, but then what’s the point? I know that not all homebrewers = beer snobs, but the overlap is pretty big, so then does that kind of hinder canned craft beer sales? Wasn’t homebrewer reuse part of the reason Summit went to pry-offs instead of twist offs (besides the fact it makes them seem more legitimate, oh, and THEY WOULD TEAR THE SHIT OUT OF YOUR HAND WHEN YOU TRIED TO TWIST THEM OFF AND YOU HAD TO USE A BOTTLE OPENER ANYWAY)? But it could’ve also been that beer in pry-off bottles stays fresher longer than beer in twist-offs, but would you believe me if I told you it stays EVEN fresher for longer in cans? Because it does.

And then there’s the social phenomenon around the tallboy. How cool is the tallboy, you ask? Really cool. Just ask your local hipster. Go to your local liquor store. I don’t know how excited you were when you saw that Grain Belt now comes in cases of tallboys (yes, 24 16oz cans with that great checkered Grain Belt pattern), but I was really excited. This introduced a whole new level of beer appreciation into my and my friends’ lives, a level that we now refer to as the ‘Pounder Pack.’ I would be remiss not to mention that the term itself came from the official name on the case of PBR tallboys that we once (ok, several times and counting) purchased for a drinking game/activity known as PowerKart (but more on that another day), that we now use to refer to all cases of tallboys.

Needless to say, not only are cans cool but so are tallboys and the Pounder Pack (as was the packaging company that startedto encourage breweries to start doing it this way—recognizing, creating or propagating the trend, it’s hard to say). But for now, it seems that the Pounder Pack concept is just for beers that come from breweries that have the capacity to can at this scale (as much as I love Grain Belt it is by no means a craft beer, this I recognize), so it just adds to the popularity of the can in general. Then again, the twelve-pack of 21st Amendment comes in a fridge-friendly box and is always a solid brew (I had their Back in Black Black IPA the other day, and it was delicious). They can ALL of their beers and are proud of it. There’s something sexy about a craft beer in a well-designed can, and they do it well.

More cans, I say. Bring on the Pounder Packs of craft beer.