“I Voted” for Beer

So, it’s election day. You’ve voted, or are thinking about voting, and you deserve to be rewarded for it (GO VOTE – and don’t forget to educate yourself on who supports Sunday Sales, courtesy of MNBeerActivists).

Be thankful you live in Minnesota, not Kentucky or South Carolina, where you can’t buy alcohol on Election Day. Although it is illegal to drink and vote (obvi), here is a [CONSTANTLY UPDATED LIST OF] few Twin Cities deals that your coveted “I Voted” sticker can get you, after you vote.

Inbound Brewco: Buy one, get one beers all day with “I Voted” sticker

FREE BEER // Show us your #iVoted sticker, buy a pint, and the second one is on us // ALL DAY

A post shared by InboundBrewCo (@inboundbrewco) on

 

Sisyphus Brewing: $4 beers all day with “I Voted” sticker as well as a special barrel-aged beer from their cellar on tap.

We all deserve a beer after this election circus. #govote #mnbeer #becausebecause #vote2016

A post shared by Sisyphus Brewing (@sisyphusbrewing) on

 

Maple Island Brewing (Stillwater): “I Voted” sticker gets $2 off first pint

Town Hall Brewery: $1 for a pint at any Town Hall restaurant with “I Voted” sticker and FiveStars rewards card.

Fair State Brewing Coop: $1 off all beer and NA options in addition to a results viewing party 8-11pm. More importantly, you should consider #TonkTheVote – vote for Charlie Tonks for Best Craft Beard in Growler Mag’s Kind-of-a-Big-Deal Awards.

LynLake Brewing: $2 off a beer with a “I Voted” sticker

Modist BrewingWith your “I Voted” sticker get pPhresh – $3 for a pint, $2 for a tulip or a growler fill for $10.

Insight Brewing: Extended happy hour pricing 3-8pm ($3 pints)

Norseman Distillery: Not beer, I know, but $5 Harvey Wallbangers all night is a great idea!

 

Big Wood Brewery (White Bear): $1 off your first pint with “I Voted” sticker

 

Even liquor stores are getting into it! Lowry Hill Liquors is giving 10% off non-sale alcohol with your “I Voted” sticker.

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Monty Loves Beer

As some of you may know, a few months ago, I got a welsh terrier puppy – his name is Monty. In case you didn’t know, here is an adorable picture of him that my friend took while enjoying a happy hour on a nearby dog-friendly restaurant’s sidewalk.

Monty: little dog, big city

As a new pet owner, I’ve learned a lot of things, but one of the most important, and delighting, is that Monty loves beer. I know he loves it by how he gravitates towards my fermenters in the corner of the dining room, licking up whatever spills may have congealed around the sides, how he licks the sides of every can or glass I drink a cold one from and how he digs through the recycling just to keep tabs on which new brews I’m trying out. But, alas, dogs can’t have alcohol, i.e. beer. So instead he must live vicariously through me, watching me savor every sip. And savor I shall.

In an effort to help Monty watch me enjoy beer, and to have all of us enjoy the shit out of the summer since we’ve had the world’s longest winter, I’ve resolved to take him to as many outdoor/dog-friendly beer-related places as possible, including but not limited to: breweries, tap rooms, restaurants, bars, parks, drinking in the park, etc. So join us on our doggone fun adventure by reading summary posts here and following my live updates on my twitter @beerspectacles, with the hashtag #MontyLovesBeer.

Cheers!

Every Good Brewery Has a Creation Story

As many of you know, there’s nothing I like more than a good brewery creation story, especially when I’m on my one-billionth brewery tour. But I’m talking deeply-rooted cultural beginnings type of creation story that defines the brewery’s entire life and being, not just “I homebrewed and I was good at it, then a lot of people said I should start a brewery so then I did.” Like all of the world’s cultures, microbreweries have—and need—them too.  Something that reminds them of why they’re doing what they’re doing, what drew them into beer, what makes them a brewer you the consumer should come to know, respect and even love, like you would your a person. The creation story is frequently alluded to in the brewery’s name or the taproom décor or the beers they brew or the names they choose for those brews. But it’s everything. No creation story, no soul.

Bent paddles on the brewery floor

You’ve heard them all. Half Pints brewery in Winnipeg was started by a man who began his brewing career at a Big Brewery where he would get free beer at the end of every shift. A family man (who told me that there are two types of brewers out there: scientists and drunks, he of course being the former) who just wanted to top off his day and get home, would only order 8 ounce pours, earning him the nickname, and name of his future brewery, “half pint”. Bent Paddle in Duluth was started by a man who, while brewing at Rock Bottom, and was looking for a mash paddle that would do the job juuuust right, and realized he had the perfect thing in the trunk of his car—a bent canoe paddle. It worked wonders, and beyond becoming the name of his own brewery, it is now a mainstay on the floor.

These stories are for real. These people are for real. Sure, maybe these quaint stories have been molded into the truths that are told by tour guides or bartenders or local beer nuts, but if we believe them to be true they are true and their stories become our stories. Like them, I’m sure you have a story of when you first discovered craft beer. Of when you first discovered your love for homebrew. Of when you began your journey into commercial-microbrewing. Mine to come at a later date.

I would say the stories are what makes craft beer so fascinating. But the weird thing is, the Big Guys have them too. They are some of the oldest and most historically-significant corporations of our time and their stories are deeply rooted in some of the same things our favorite craft breweries are, like the entrepreneurial spirit, elegant craftsmanship, and building a tradition based on that of our forefathers. But beyond that, they helped build statistics as we know it today, branding as we are in awe of today, and industry that many can only dream of. But what makes their stories different? My uncle, who pretty much only drinks Miller Lite connects to the brand as much as I connect to Indeed Brewing (which is, for the record, probably my favorite Minneapolis brewery) but dare I say he connects on an even deeper level. It was the beer his father, my grandfather, drank every day after a hard day of work a machinist; it was the beer he guzzled in college; and it is the beer he now chooses for his games of golf.

So as much as the craft beer revolution is based around being the other, microbreweries setting themselves apart from the Big Boys by defining themselves as something they’re not, intentionally creating a cultural fission between micro and macro, I only see the two becoming more similar, more united, more one. I mean, Summit is already doing throwback labels, building a brand based on nostalgia and a history of quality – um, that sounds familiar!

But I don’t have an answer to this and I definitely don’t have a solution, perhaps because I don’t truly see it as a problem (Cocky Liz just thinks “Well, macrobreweries just keep losing market share, and clamber to gain it back to no avail, so no worries. Right?”). Maybe the issue is that as craft beer lovers we’ve built a healthy amount of hatred towards the category leaders; we want to support our local favorites, our friends, our city. But how different are they really?

The Craft Beer Movement: Insider or Outsider?

“I can’t believe I became part of this movement,” I said to Hannah as we sat on the couch watching TV one lazy post-work day. I continued, “Of all the things I could’ve gotten into, it never ceases to amaze me that I got into something that is actually now a thing.” How did I know that craft beer and home-brewing were going to become as big as they are? How did I know that my love for craft beer would grow into something much more, something bordering on obsession?

The truth is, I didn’t know, but now that it has become this thing in my life I’m grateful. And I can’t help but think my own involvement helped spur the movement along. I like to think that my research and involvement helped it grow, in my own small way, as I immersed myself into craft beer culture throughout and after college. But maybe I didn’t. In 2007, craft beer was already a thing, home brewing was already a popular pastime, enjoyed by middle aged men everywhere, Minnesota already had several cart breweries and more in the works. I was just another supporter, standing watch as craft beer exploded in my face.

But Surly Brewing didn’t really open until 2006. It didn’t really become popular until the following year when it entered the main stream. It was no longer for bicyclists and beer geeks, it was for the people. People like me. Which makes me wonder, if there weren’t people like me, where would the craft beer industry be? I’m just a fangirl, going to beer fests, pretending I know more than others and that I have some claim to the movement, a little piece of the MN faction.

I could have picked anything else to devote my time to, to become my hobby or pet interest and cause in life. In the past I cared about more important things like HIV in subsaharan Africa, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, corporate social responsibility; not that I don’t care about these things anymore because I do, I just don’t blog about them. I don’t think about them on a daily basis. I don’t drink them. I don’t consume them. That’s what draws me to beer and craft beer culture. It’s more than a drink, a theory, or a product, it’s a way of life. It’s a way of life I share with many others, that gets me excited when I meet a kindred spirit who likes what I like and drinks what I drink, it’s my own little club that I can choose to share with others, and when I do, it’s oh so meaningful.

But then I meet people who are part of the movement who I don’t like: the middle aged man who loves craft beer and wants to financially support a brewery but who thinks I’m nothing more than a little girl who’s interest in craft beer is “cute.” We are not kindred spirit, we are not in the same microculture. He is everything that is wrong with the movement, elitist and demoralizing. And what about the beer snob, someone worse than me, who insists my favorite craft beer is not worthy of such title, and has plans to start the next new local microbrewery? I am them from from years past, small and stupid, my tastes unrefined and my knowledge sub-par. He is everything that is wrong with the movement, superior and disrespectful.

And then there’s me, for I too am at fault. With my knowledge I too alienate people, haughtily explaining why a room temp pint glass is better for beer than the frosty mug they grew up drinking from, scoffing at the only “local” beer on the menu at a fancy restaurant in Iowa: Leinenkugels. Have I gone too far inside the movement such that everyone else is an outsider? Such that anyone else who wants to be part of the movement, can’t be, or isn’t good enough to be?

That’s not what it’s all about, and that’s not the way to keep the movement growing and changing. That’s what keeps it stale and stagnant, the same old people making the same old beer because they know best, they know the most, they have the most at stake. Thinking that your thoughts and opinions dont matter because you just dont understand. It’s not your way of life.

In the most recent issue of the Beer Advocate magazine, on the list for what to expect in 2013 is “a stronger backlash toward those who take themselves and craft beer too seriously.” Truth. Beer is for fun, beer is for drinking, and sometimes we just need to shut the hell up and enjoy a cold one, whatever glass it comes in. So this is my goal as we move into 2013: enjoy craft beer. Love craft beer. Share the love, don’t hoard it or save it for insiders like yourself. Support knowledge and the quest for knowledge so that other people too can claim the movement for their own because it is also theirs. It is a cause worth caring about, but first people have to learn and embrace why it’s worth caring about to begin with and they can only do that if the movement is open and caring of them too.

Happy New Year and cheers to 2013!

Livin’ the American Dream: Opening a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Brewery

Every homebrewer dreams of one day taking their hobby one step further and living the American dream: becoming a craft brewing hero. It just seems like the logical next step, you’ve been brewing for x number of years and what else is there to do next? Sell your beer, hear compliments form the masses, grow even bigger, supply the United States with your beer and your love of beer. And why not? Everyone keeps telling you it’s wonderful and they would definitely pay for it at a bar, it’s legit, so you should open your own brewery already!

But anyone who knows anything about the craft beer industry knows how hard it is to open a microbrewery, much less a tap room or figure out how to convince distributers to sell said beer.  It’s much more complicated than the simple dream of artfully crafting the best tasting beer – which many of us believe we are already doing. But everything tells us how easy it is, the sheer number of breweries opening up makes us think, “Hey, if they can do it, so can I!” but it’s hard. Really hard. Work you to the bone and cry every night because you’re not sure if you’re going to make it hard. But once you do, you’re guaranteed to be as cool as Omar, and don’t we all want to be as cool as Omar? He’s the owner of Surly, in case you’re not in the know. It’s time to stop admiring the modern art and saying, “Oh, I could do that,” when in reality we probably couldn’t, but we want to so bad. It’s time to put our money where our mouths are. Literally. Shit is expensive.

But having said all that, the dream still lives on, even in me – especially in me. We as homebrewers and craft beer lovers can’t help but think about what could be; because we constantly surround ourselves with and support other microbreweries that grew up out of the same dream, like surrogate children, we love them, and secretly or not so secretly long for one of our own.

One day, I want to open my own microbrewery, or nanobrewery, or brewpub – I’d even settle for liquor store. And if I don’t or can’t then I want to be part of one beyond what I am already doing right now – I want to help craft the beer and build the brand of a bright and shiny new brewery in Minnesota (or wherever else is in need of one, I’m looking at you Sioux City). I want to market it and pour it down people’s throats because as anyone in in marketing knows, you can market nothing better than something you love and truly believe in. And for me, it’s not better healthcare or Totino’s pizza rolls, it’s the craft beer revolution.

The dream was born for me when I was driving with my boyfriend and his parents to a family cabin up north by the boundary waters (if you’re not from Minnesota, the boundary waters is probably the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot of landscapes. Let me rephrase: it is the most beautiful landscape that makes me proud to be from this land. It’s all majestic with eagles and shit) and in order to get there we drove through Cloquet, a small town south of Duluth that is really more of a crossroads, but less Wild West and more Iron Range. They told me about this place, but I had no idea what to expect, and then there it was, as we slowed to a stop underneath its beautiful awning: Frank Lloyd Wright’s one and only service station. It’s small, and reminiscent of the aforementioned Wild West that he sometimes alludes to with his flat roofs and Route 66 stylings, but it was different; everything about it screamed Midwest, and sadly, Struggling. Just a few pumps and a garage, it was dead. No one was fueling here, taking in the shade from the greened copper roof, but there it stood, proud of its heritage, uncertain of its future.

The gas station is part of FLW’s Broadacre City Project, a “utopian vision of a new urban landscape”: suburbs in the city, cities in the suburbs – he had plans to put skyscrapers in the middle of the plains and everything. I mean, the man was crazy, but a genius. A reaction to and embracing the push to the suburbs, somewhat socialist in theory (everyone in this city gets one acre), his vision incorporated beauty and art can still reign, all with a touch of Japan.

I don’t know why he chose to put the service station in Cloquet of all places (it actually has something to do with its namesake, R. W. Lindholm, for whom he later designed a home), but this is where my dream truly came to life. I began to daydream, transforming the mechanic’s shop into a taproom, with its glass garage doors open to the summer breeze that Minnesotan’s seek in the warmer months up north, serving elegantly hopped and perfectly heady black IPAs – the oxymoron that pairs nicely with the historical surroundings. Would there be an oatmeal stout on the menu too, you ask? Of course. Available all year round.

Since it’s a garage, the floors would be already sloped, so that would be the easy part, but the difficult part is a much larger feat: transforming a national historical site into a brewery; I’m sure it wouldn’t be allowed. But think about the delight it would bring to travelers, wanderers, passersby, and more importantly the town and Minnesota as a whole. This was FLW’s dream: to bring functional art to the people through architecture whether they wanted it or not. The pumps would stay, of course, but the gas station would be transformed into a modern fueling station of sorts, bustling with people at all times of the year, because as Minnesotans we know that even in the winter we want our beer and are willing to go out in the cold to get it.

I was further inspired when I went to Marquette, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula where I drank at undoubtedly the coolest nanobrewery I’ve ever been to, Blackrocks. It’s a similar concept, make a house into a brewery, put in a bar, and make it the ultimate hang out place for pretty much everyone in and around the town including visitors like myself, hungry for a pint of the good stuff. They hang personalized mugs from the ceiling for the regulars and provide ever-changing wonderful beers – when I went there it was IPA week—exercising that brewer’s muscle.

Apparently the FLW gas station was recently sold and I’m not sure to whom or for how much or how well it’s doing now (according to this NPR article from August of 2008, the current owner is “not sure how long it can remain privately owned”), but I want it and I want it bad. I want to make it into a destination tap room and nanobrewery. I want the American dream.

My Beer Myopia

 

As I stared at the long list of bottled beers at the Epic tap-less taproom, my mind drew a blank. I was stunned by the sheer volume of beers and only 30 minutes in which to drink them before they closed the place down. I have never seen so many beers available at a taproom before. My friend Blackmer and I bellied up to the bar where the above-average looking bartender stood chatting with another customer. This was no ordinary taproom, this was a tap room in Salt Lake City, Utah. What was once a notoriously barren desert of craft beer (due to a strict 3.2% law with a religious bent) now has a couple cactuses and, boy, are the cactuses flowering – at high gravity nonetheless (only because they have to; the law states that if a beer is above 3.2% it has to be in a bottle, so that’s a nice loophole).

The man sitting at the bar next to me, a business man also staying at my hotel but for a trade show, was also clearly very knowledgeable about beer, suggested I try their Copper Cone Pale Ale, saying it was one of the best he’s ever had. He asked me what my favorite IPA was – not just beer, but IPA. This is not the first time I have encountered this question but it was the first time I was hyperaware of my lack of beer knowledge in this particular situation and my desire to not only seem knowledgeable but interesting in my beer tastes. Anything I said wouldn’t have resonated with him, he doesn’t know Surly Furious or the Rush River Bubble Jack – or maybe he does, but he wouldn’t have truly understood what they meant to me on a deeper level, as a proud Midwesterner; he was clearly intimate with the beers of the West, and I was dumbstruck, paralyzed by my own inability to commit and be judged outside of my flannel comfort zone. I avoided the question, saying I would gladly take his recommendation but I sat tentatively on the edge of my seat. What had I gotten myself into?

The sad truth is I am honestly used to knowing more about beer than the majority of the people around me, and even if they have a strong opinion that I would fundamentally disagree with (I don’t believe in hopped-stupid beers and I firmly believe that Fulton is a good brewing company), we’re on the same page. Naturally I am one page ahead of them, or so I like to think, but that page is definitely in the chapter known as ‘Minnesota and other upper Midwest breweries.’ It was at that moment, as I took a bite into the best prosciutto and Gruyere panini I’ve ever had (it even had honey on it, what?!), I realized – I have become too myopic in my beer crusade. If I cannot even commit to a universal, or at least national, IPA that I genuinely enjoy, I am doing something wrong.

The real kicker is, however, the realization that I am ignorant of other awesome beers out there, making me the most insufferable beer snob akin to only those who reside in Portland, complacent with their local beer selection and ever-so-gently reminding you that no, craft beer from Portland is the best. I only really know my local beers, and as I said in my Growler magazine article, my favorite anytime beer is the Summit Oatmeal Stout (don’t even go there, I already recognized in said article that it is a silly choice, but I’m just being honest). If I am to be the craft beer lover and advocate I pretend to be, I need to do more in the way of higher education; as we all know, education doesn’t end in school, it’s everything you do all the time – good thing I drink beer all the time, so that part is easy. But the hard part is going out and seeking things you haven’t tried before and not just putting beers from the coasts on a pedestal as the end-all-be-all, an attitude that I attribute to my reactive Midwestern beer myopia, which in a way is almost just as bad. It is exploring all the styles, beers and breweries you can get your hands on to get a better understanding of the larger context, and more specifically, the ability to just shut the hell up and pick a favorite IPA that everyone knows and can relate to. So, watch out, America – this beer snob is about to get a much-needed beer education.

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.

Crispin Cider: Is Your Favorite Cider Company Becoming Bigger and Better or Just Bigger?

The other day I was perusing my favorite beer blogs as I’m wont to do and I came upon a certain piece of news that wretched my gut and made me want to vomit and yell at the same time. ‘WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?’ I screamed in my head, gawking at the headline. See for yourself. But don’t read the post. Just react. Check yourself. Think about your feelings. Now read my post…

It took me a second and then I got over it. Then I was just sad. Another one, gone. In case you didn’t click on the link, here’s the big news: MillerCoors has officially purchased Crispin Cider. Are you upset yet? Or are you with me, moping over here in thiscorner? Well, get over here, let’s talk this out.

So here’s why I’m upset: I feel betrayed.

I feel betrayed for a few reasons:

1) Did you know Crispin isn’t even made in Minnesota? I guess I should’ve known that one. It’s made in California, it’s just BASED in Minneapolis (and the owner is South African, something that makes me like Crispin more because I know how the South Africans love their cider). Now it all makes sense. That’s why they partner with Fox Barrel—they’re also from Cali. So what part of Minnesota was I supporting by buying Crispin besides the prestige they add to the Minnesota beer scene as being a premium cider manufacturer?

2) Apparently the owner of Crispin, Joe Heron, feels that “People see these [companies like MillerCoors] as huge monolithic companies, but these are real people who are all about beer. They make their regular products, but they are just as much into the craft as anybody.” I get it, I’m one of these ‘people,’ and it makes me feel guilty, because I’m sure they are into the craft. But it’s a business and cheap crappy beer is also a business (I would know, I drink it too). I feel like he’s called me out on being a beer snob, elitist even, and hating these hard-working Americans because they’re not working for a true craft brewery and it makes me feel bad. Boo.

3) At my core, I feel like “there’s another good one, gone to the dark side.” But the point that Heron makes is that a decision like this means they will have a larger span of resources, expertise, and access to currently untapped markets. And it’s not just like they’re going to MillerCoors the giant, they’re going specifically to the craft and import division, the giant’s baby finger called ‘The Tenth and Lake Beer Company’ that works their magic to acquire companies like Crispin (with presumably the best intentions, based on point #2). Oh, and they own Leinenkugel’s. I think the part that bothers me the most is the length all these companies go to to hide the fact that they are indeed part of the giant. The village knows the giant is the giant even if he wears townspeople clothes – or does it?

4) The upside: Crispin promises its drinkership that yes, the quality will remain the same, and that it’s only going to get even better from here, now that they can continue to grow as the brewery we know and love. But Minnesota was just not enough. Too small, too local. Too ‘niche.’ Time to go to Colorado and play with the big boys. But should we feel happy for Crispin? Didn’t we beam as our friends who hadn’t heard of Crispin before tried it at our encouragement and loved it? Yes. Didn’t we get excited when we saw a new kind of cider they were experimenting with at our local liquor store? Yes. Shouldn’t we want to share it with more people so we never have to say, “Do you have Crispin down here? No?! Bummer.” Shouldn’t we breathe a sigh of relief?

5) Wasn’t this Joe Heron’s dream from day one? Isn’t this every brewery owner – no, homebrewer’s – dream? To make the big time, have everyone know and love your beer, ask their liquor stores to get it, belly up to the bar to indulge in it, and you have all the money in the world to do what you do, brew and share your brew with those who truly love it and love good beer? Yes. Shouldn’t we applaud him for his entrepreneurial genius and for making a fucking awesome cider with great branding? Sigh. Yes. Heron has played a huge role in making cider what it is today, and it’s only going to get better from here (see this article for more on that, it’s really interesting; cider’s market share is rapidly increasing, and Crispin’s sales in particular has grown over 300% in the last year). We should be happy. But why can’t I get this bad taste out of my mouth?

The blog post that shared this information with me has clearly made me think a lot more about my beer values and mores, while the author, Michael Agnew Master Cicerone, is seemingly pretty neutral on the topic, just sharing the news and letting us take it as we will.  But then the post ends, a billion thoughts running through my head, he says as a statement of fact that makes the doubt in the back of my mind gurgle to life, “That being said, Killian’s Irish Red is not the beer it once was.” (Ok, now that I’ve ruined it, go ahead and read his whole post) This, my friends, is why I was originally so upset and is not something I can talk/write myself out of. Because of this purchase and subsequent relationship, Crispin is no longer the cider I loved, even if it is. Even though I will still drink it and respect it for what it’s done to the beer and cider industry, I won’t love it as I once did with the same blind affection. And I know that even with all the innovation and distribution they might have in the future, I will never get that feeling back.

Oh Good, The North Koreans Make Beer

As some of you may know, I recently returned from a week-long trip to visit my parents (and Owen!) at their new home in South Korea. It was awesome and I did a lot in that short time, but that isn’t the topic of this post. Sure, I had a few beer- and alcohol-related experiences, with soju (Korean cheap vodka?), Cass beer,  makle (Korean rice wine), even a maklerita at this Mexican/Korean fusion restaurant, which was delightful. But the most important by far was when I drank my first, and probably last, glass (and by glass I mean paper cup) of North Korean beer.

My parents had both been to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) and JSA (joint security area between North and South Korea) before and, well, they didn’t really want to go again. So I boarded the USO tour bus all by my lonesome, not knowing quite what to expect, but hoping that I dressed warm enough. The bus was completely full with all sorts of tourists, but only a handful of Americans, myself included. I sat next to a young Malaysian man, who I gave up trying to converse with when I said, “Where are you from in Malaysia? I used to live in KL.” There was a long pause and then he said, “Penang?” He spent the majority of the bus rides sleeping on my shoulder while I tried to hold back laughter. Oddly enough, I saw him at the Seoul airport when I was waiting for my flight home. Crazy.

After a short and very cold bus ride (the windows were frosted on the inside and outside), we arrived at Camp Boniface where a nice army soldier (his name was Srgt Blood, I shit you not), gave us a ‘briefing’ followed by a generally surly tour, where I decided he hated his job not only because he had to do this stupid civillian tour three times a week, but he wasn’t even in Seoul living on the sweet base with his buddies (which, a young GI later told me as I waited for my parents to escort me onto the base, actually “wasn’t really his cup of tea.”). We walked in two single-file lines a lot, had to wear special ‘guest’ badges (that Srgt Blood insisted be on our outermost clothing on our left lapel) and couldn’t gesture, wave, point, or do anything that would either a) incriminate us to the observing North Koreans as an act of violence/aggression or b) that they could use as propaganda saying how terrible the outside world is. I was very anxious the entire time.

A view of the North Korean Side of the JSA, with Srgt Blood

The DMZ is two kilometers on either side of the division between the two countries, and the JSA is the nice little place where the two countries come together for talks and to be generally petty (historically-speaking). We stood in two rows at the top of a small set of stairs facing the North Korean side of the DMZ, about a hundred meters in front of us. This was an especially important place not to gesture in any way, as one of the North Korean guards was standing at the top of his own set of stairs across the way, watching us closely, waiting. He stood next to a room with a curtain slightly open, just enough to see a camera scanning across our small crowd. Srgt Blood stood towards us when he talked so they wouldn’t read his lips, telling us the long sordid tale of various acts of aggression and compromises and broken promises. It all felt very theatrical, but in a life or death kind of way. I imagine it is not unlike how one feels at a Medieval Times (you know, the staged jousting match where everyone calls each other wenches and they serve you turkey legs and you’re forced to root for the blue team or the red team, depending on what side of the arena you’re sitting on). Like that, but with soldiers and rules that when broken, could have some serious repercussions.

Every place we stopped had a gift shop that sold various North Korean crafts or DMZ-related goods (like pieces of the barbed wire from the fence); this is where I bought Mike a bottle of North Korean made blueberry wine. We stopped at the ‘Third Tunnel,’ one of the tunnels South Koreans discovered their brothers to the north built in an effort to infiltrate Seoul, and climbed to the bottom until we hit the wall that indicates, this time from underground, the division between the two nations (this time, there was no guards, only men in hardhats). We oohed and ahhed and after the trek back up, were ready for lunch. At this point, I was making friends; I met a group of three British guys (Hannah would’ve loved it) who teased me mercilessly for ‘having a thing’ for Srgt Blood (which I did not, he was married anyway). But it was nice to have friends who could encourage me to take photos in front of various ‘photo spots,’ but especially with the young Korean conscript guards who really just wanted to bro it up with the British guys.

After much touring and standing out in the cold while our guide pointed out various parts of North Korea on the horizon (there is a village on the North Korean side of the DMZ that many refer to as ‘Propaganda Village’ that is basically a ‘multimillion dollar stage set’ of a town, used as a facade to keep up appearances. It is home to a flagpole that is taller with a larger flag than that of the town’s counterpart on the South Korean side, auspiciously called ‘Freedom Village’), it was finally time for lunch. We stopped at what she described as ‘the last stop before North Korea,’ a building on the border to the DMZ that some of the villagers from Freedom Village commute through to work (and by work, I mean farm, and they get paid a pretty penny for it, tax free; they make somewhere near $300,000 a year farming this land). It was a pretty bleak building that could have been another uninhabited train station (the other one we visited had been defunct for years because, well, there are no trains going to North Korea) despite the journalists who were milling around just in case something happened. But, lucky for us, our guide told us, we could get beer with our lunch—North Korean beer no less—for the small price of $10/bottle.

I was ecstatic, but I could not justify $10 for a bottle of what I assumed was another half-assed Asian pilsner (a la Tiger Beer from Thailand). So I asked my newly-made friends (thank God they were British) if they wanted to split a bottle with me. One of them, the more rambunctious of the lot, looked at me, back at his friends, and said, “Well, there are four of us. Let’s split two for $5 each.” We waited patiently in line for our cafeteria-style lunch of rice and veggies, miso soup, and satsuma (which I argued was actually just a tangerine, I will never know the difference), but as we neared the head of the line, we got nervous: there were only three bottles left. I shifted my weight between my feet as we made snide comments back and forth about how we would’ve punched the people in front of us if they took the last bottles. The young man in front of me laughed and said, “Don’t worry, we don’t want the beer.” I forgot, that guy was from Singapore and him and his girlfriend spoke great English. And at that moment, the staff brought half a dozen more bottles. We would get our North Korean beer.

I snagged a table near the end of the food line and four paper cups that said, “Have a break?” on them so we could split the beers evenly; I was not about to let these charming British men cheat me out of my fair share of a good story. Stuart grinned and poured the first bottle into the cups and handed them to us. Hungry as all hell, we ignored them, and the novelty they presented, chattering away and eating our rice. “Wait, has anyone tried the beer?” I asked. “Nope,” John said (the English teacher, living in Korea, who his ‘lads’ were visiting). I grabbed my beer and eagerly went to drink it. “What do you think you’re doing, Lizzypoo?” Stuart said. “First we cheers!” And as the first sips poured down our throats, I wasn’t thinking about the sights I’d seen, the Propaganda Village with the large phallic symbol, the green-suited guard closely observing us, the active minefields that flanked the road we drove on to get there, or the seemingly minute anecdotes that Srgt Blood told us about the historical interactions between the two countries. I was thinking about beer and only beer.

We paused for a second, taking it in. “That’s a proper pilsner,” Ryan (the third one and probably the one I could understand least) said. We all nodded. “Not like those American beers I know you like,” Stuart smirked. “Shutuuuuuup,” I said. “We have plenty of good beers in the States, you just haven’t heard of them.” As I tried to explain Surly and the wonder of the Furious to the unwilling British men, we enjoyed our North Korean pilsner. “Five quid a piece, it has to be good,” John said. I learned the nuance of British beers and how they are all superior to American brews because they come in big cans (“Bigger than pints?!” I asked, in awe), as we downed the second bottle for fear of our tour guide giving us the five minute warning and saying “Free time is almost over.” She did this many times during the tour, much to Stuarts ‘highly cultured’ chagrin, who claimed he wasn’t getting enough time at the sub-par museums (to be honest, it was just a lot of dioramas. But I did learn that the DMZ is actually a protected wildlife preserve in South Korea).

As we fought over who was going to keep the bottles, we all agreed none of us had space in our suitcases to bring it back, so we might as well get a lot of photos. Ryan took one of the bottles and insisted I take the other (the label less perfect of the two). Unfortunately, as predicted, it didn’t fit in my bag and I ended up leaving it in my parents’ living room, where it will probably get recycled. Like the experience, the bottle stays. Although the bottle is empty, and the beer is long gone, the taste remains on my tongue. With a sip and a sigh, I thought, “Oh good, the North Koreans make beer.” And a good beer at that. Have a break?

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.