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.
Last Friday, I went to a blind tasting hosted by Heavy Table and the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild – my first ever. And, boy, it was tough. Never in my life had I been so faced with the inability to react to visual cues and branding. I was left to focus on my other beer-drinking senses, rather than my “does this label suck?” sense – which, if you know me, is very hard to turn off. But at the same time it was liberating to not have to worry about the company, style, reputation or branding (I guess, until after, when it was revealed and some of our opinions proved surprising).
What was fun though was experiencing the “back to basics” approach that a blind tasting brings out – it’s not about the fancy label or name (or lackthereof), how the beer fits the style guidelines (although they were in flights kind of organized by style or flavors, or recognizing it has a high ABV, hence the tulip glass. All of the beers we tasted came in tulip glasses or beer festival tasters, adding to the intrigue (and frustration). Much like these 40s (had a few weeks ago at World Street Kitchen), hidden inside brown bags, you don’t know what’s there or how to feel about it before you taste it and truly know how you feel about it. I spent most of my time swirling and smelling – I could not get enough of the scents. Next time you have a beer, although you may look like an idiot, close your eyes and breath it all in. Never have I had so many memories or feelings flooding my brain. BEER FEELINGS!
That all being said, it was cool for me to see which beers I really liked – those that I liked with and without the branding (Indeed Burr Grinder, Summit Frost Line Rye) and those that surprised me, both positively and negatively. Check out the article to read more and see some cool pictures!
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.
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?
Hello! I know this a little late (a year and a month late to be exact), but I wrote it, so I want to post it. Plus it’s interesting and cool and I don’t do a lot of blog collaboration – I want to do more of that. A while ago, Nelli and Brian started a blog called Wine From Water. It’s awesome with all sorts of good recipes, commentary, and food porn photos, etc. Nelli asked me to write a little piece about pairing beer with a meal they made, so here we go!
I am so pleased to be blogging with Wine From Water; I’ve known Nelli and Brian for a long time, and well, let me just say that Nelli (and assumedly Brian) is a great cook and very adventurous when it comes to the palate. I’m just glad I have something to contribute to the mix (literally). Trust me, I know a lot about mac and cheese, because it’s pretty much the only meal I make (different variations thereof, including Annie’s, spruced up), and I know even more about beer. Here I’ve laid out different beer options for pairing beer with the two dishes Nelli and Brian have made, and a little bit about pairing beer with food to get your mind working. So next time you go to the liquor store after a grocery store run you can think about the flavors and come up with a pairing on par with the fanciest wine-only restaurant. Beer is for everyone, so I don’t want to hear that you don’t like beer. If you don’t like beer, you haven’t found the right one, so keep trying!
You pay a small amount for a meal, you don’t want to bust your budget on beer, but you still want it to taste good and compliment the deliciousness you labored over. With a meal like this, which is generally spicy, I would recommend an IPA. IPAs can help balance the flavors of robust meals like this one, because of their high levels of hops, and are good balancers for spicy and chili flavors (like the ones found in pepperjack cheese). Spiciness also part of their history. IPA stands for India Pale Ale, if you didn’t know the lore, now you do: when the British went to explore India they brought beer (good idea guys) and then they were worried it was going to go bad (unlikely) so they put some hops in the finished beer (called dry-hopping, hehe), which makes the finish (the lasting taste in your mouth once you’ve swallowed it) incredibly bitter and delicious.
If you’re from Michigan, a good standby is Bell’s Two Hearted, and it won’t break the bank, really (I would say on average, about $10 for a 6 pack, which is pretty standard for a nice craft beer). But if you’re from Minnesota, or can get your grubby little hands on it, have yourself a Surly Furious (more IBUs – international bittering units – than your mouth can taste). It’s about $12 for a 4 pack of tallboys. Or even better, and cheaper, you could get Rush River Bubblejack ($9 for a 6 pack).
If you’re not into IPAs, that’s fine, but you’re missing out. Instead, you could pair this dish with a beer that accents the smokey flavors in the paprika topping, and can help tone down the spicy notes in the food: a porter. A cheaper more widely found porter is the Anchor Porter from Anchor Brewing, one of the oldest breweries in the United States. A good Michigan option: Founder’s Porter. Deep, dark, and delicious. That’ll run about $10, but the Anchor can be as cheap as $8.
Recently I’ve been itching to go to a beer dinner, a really delicious excuse to eat too much delicious food and drink too much delicious beer, but to be honest, they’re just too expensive. I mean $50 for a four-course meal with 4 beers is pretty reasonable, assuming that each of those beers costs $5, that’s $20 and then the dinner itself is $30. However the reason person within me thinks ‘wow, when was the last time you spent $50 just on food for yourself in a normal restaurant situation?’ I feel like beer dinners should just be cheaper – you’re a captive audience and supporter and blowing $100 on a weeknight meal for two just feels frivolous to do more than once a year. It’s ok to make it expensive sometimes especially if you’re involving a renowned chef, but to really get people excited and learning about craft beer and food/beer pairings, you have to make it more accessible – lower the cost.
However, it’s a two-fold situation. Beer-pairing dinners are the little brother to wine-pairing dinners, which are arguably more expensive and, for lack of a better word, ritzy. The discourse around wine is much more sophisticated and as are the people that talk about the ‘bouquet of the wine’ and nibble crackers in between tastings (that apparently you are not supposed to actually swallow). Wine is supposed to go with high-class food while beer goes with sporting games and burgers. But as we’ve seen recently ‘everyday’ food like burgers and grilled cheeses are become more popular, more ritzy, and definitely more expensive. So why not pair beer with those things instead of the unattainable Michelin star-type food you find matched up with wine? Well, some do, but then they charge wine dinner prices for it. Sure good quality craft beer isn’t cheap, but it’s definitely not fancy pants wine and that’s not what beer is all about so why charge like it is? Beer is for the people, even craft beer, believe it or not.
If craft beer is expensive then won’t people think it’s better and more elite, like wine? So then it practically needs to have events similar to those with wine. Craft beer no longer competes against crappy American lagers, it competes against wine. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, people who say they don’t like beer just haven’t found the right one. There is a larger variety of flavor profiles in beer than there is in wine because it can literally be or taste like anything – craft brewers are getting adventurous and by over-pricing beer dinners, people are missing out. Pairing craft beer with gourmet food isn’t the ‘next big thing’ because it’s here and frankly it’s unsustainable and further alienates people that craft beer has left behind. The future of craft beer and food is high-low beer pairings, bringing the people and the beer together rather than the beer to the people.
Last summer for a friend’s birthday we went to the Lagunitas and Heggie’s pizza beer-pairing dinner at the Nomad World Pub. It was awesome. For $20 we had four (five?) glasses of Lagunitas paired with five different slices of the famous bar-only Heggie’s frozen pizza. As an appetizer we had a handful of Totino’s pizza rolls in a whiskey glass served with a tasting glass of beer and then from there, the beer and pizza were flowing. Before every new pizza and beer, the local Lagunitas rep gave us a brief description of both and why they went well together – there were no white tablecloths, no cloth napkins for that matter, just a lot of beautiful patio and tasty beers. I honestly can’t tell you why there weren’t more people there – am I the only one who likes cheap craft beer and above average frozen pizza? Perhaps.
But my point still stands. Through that event, Lagunitas got their name out in the community, we got to try more Lagunitas than I have even had at a beer festival and we ate plenty – it was a successful beer dinner by all definitions. So now I want more but I have seen none. Unlike a wine-pairing dinner that teaches people that the only way to enjoy good wine and good food is to pay a lot at a fancy restaurant, the beauty of the high-low beer pairing is that it is inexpensive for everyone and a great way to focus on the beer and how to pair and enjoy it with everyday foods. That’s what craft beer is all about.