Beer Events


Greg Koch, CEO and co-founder of Stone Brewing in California, is a man on a mission, a search for the authentic, no matter if it’s beer, food, or any other of life’s facets.  

“Mediocrity is dumbfounding to me,” Koch said. “One day, the thought of overly commoditized beer will be confusing for people. They’ll say ‘What? You actually drank that?’”

Stone hit the Twin Cities market in a big way this past week with a flurry of events and promotion around some of their decidedly non-mediocre beers including Arrogant Bastard Ale, Stone Ruination IPA, and the bold Stone Imperial Russian Stout. During a press event at the Happy Gnome I attended yesterday, Koch spoke on a variety of craft beer and industry topics, including preemptively addressing the room full of media by noting “in answer to the question that’s inevitably out there…they sold out years ago.” I failed to ask Koch what WAS his favorite Goose Island beer.   

Founded in 1996 in San Diego, Stone is the 15th largest craft brewery in the country, with international designs that include opening a full-scale production brewery in a yet-to-be named European locale (it’s down to Berlin or Bruges, according to Koch). The brewery is one of the fastest growing in the country, expanding production from a relatively meager 400 barrels in its first year to more than 115,000 in 2010. Not surprisingly, a “significant” amount of the brewery’s overall sales come from its home state, according to Koch. Yet with their rapid expansion, that number is presumably evening out with Minnesota marking the 34th state “to have the distinct honor and privilege of delighting” in Stone’s offerings, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the brewery’s famous “you’re not worthy” attitude and slogan. Tack on its wildly popular Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, an oasis of a gastropub in a sea of chain restaurants that Koch said has helped make a significant economic impact in San Diego thanks to increased beer tourism (ahem, Surly!), and it’s easy to see how Stone has made some huge ripples in the beer industry pond.

“Craft beer is a thing of joy, adventure, and creativity. I’m very proud to be a part of what we do,” Koch said.

Last year, U.S. craft brewers saw volume and sales increases of 11 and 12 percent respectively compared to 2009, according to the Brewers Association. It’s a continuing upward trend for the segment, despite the overall U.S. beer market remaining flat. Yet, craft beer market share by volume still hovers in the 5 percent range, with commodity brewers making up the vast majority. This doesn’t dissuade Koch, however, as he noted Oregon’s craft beer market share is nearly 30 percent, a potential window into what could be possible here in Minnesota.

“Places that do good business, do good business,” Koch said. “If a dozen breweries opened up here and the beer sucked, that would suck for all of us. If we operate on the artisanal side of the equation, the category will succeed. … As Sam (Calagione of Dogfish Head) likes to say, ‘together we are heavy.’”

Personally, I’m pretty pleased to see Stone here, as it saves me a trip to Hudson. Although, I’m having a bit of trouble squaring Koch’s nearly fanatical stance against the likes of Anheuser Busch Inbev while he simultaneously uses ABI’s local Twin Cities distributor to get his products to bars and retailers. Strange bedfellows, I suppose (and not sure what the alternatives might be, Stone is able to self-distribute in California). But with a deluge of out-state breweries flooding the local market recently (with more to come like Brooklyn), it remains to be seen if Minnesota beer drinkers will embrace these new offerings alongside their locally produced brethren, or be paralyzed by too much choice.

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Tony Robbins, take note: How to Fail by Aaron Goldfarb is not your average read.

 “Goldfarb…” you’re thinking to yourself. That name sounds kind of familiar. And you’re right, as he’s best known around these parts as the man behind The Vice Blog, in my opinion one of the most entertaining and provocative beer blogs around. With his first novel, Goldfarb uses his trademark wit to cleverly bring us the world’s first self-hurt guide, a blue print for failure success (emphasis on the blue). The book completely flips the self-help concept on its head, delivering a hilarious account of one man’s ill-fated journey failing his way through every aspect of life. And when I say every aspect, I mean every aspect. From the website:

In How to Fail follow the misadventures, misgivings, and massive mistakes of this satiric novel’s narrator Stu Fish as he tries to find success in 2010 New York. With hilarious chapters such as How to Fail to Make Your Parents Proud of You, How to Fail to Do Something Productive All Day, How to Fail in Love, and How to Fail All the Way to Rock Bottom, and even more ribald “footchapters” such as How to Masturbate at Work, How to Develop an Addiction, How to Get Usurped by Your Girlfriend’s Ex, and How to Acquire the STD That’s Right for You, there’s not an aspect of life How to Fail doesn’t tackle and offer a terrific non-solution for. All of this is delivered in perfect single serving-size chapters for our modern A.D.D. culture more used to reading blog entries on their phone while riding the subway or waiting in line at Subway than in carefully reading a book.

I’d offer an interview with the author himself, but Goldfarb is currently occupied on a book tour bender across the east coast, hitting 30 bars in 30 days to try and wrap as many vices as possible into a month-long period. I’m guessing it’ll make for amusing fodder for his follow-up book, Everything You Wanted to Know About Shitty Atlantic City Bars But Were Afraid to Ask.

So put the kids to bed, grab a beer, and cozy up to a copy of How to Fail. I assure you, it’ll be the most fun you’ve had failing in a long time.

There are certain awe-inspiring events that happen in one’s lifetime that are difficult to explain to those that have not already experienced them. Watching Wizard of Oz on mute set to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon…finally seeing that damn 3D sail ship in the stereogram picture…and realizing that Michael Stipe wasn’t singing “Let’s pee in the corner.”

Attending the Woodstock carnival that is Dark Lord Day at Three Floyd’s Brewing in Munster, Indiana also falls neatly into this camp.

Having bravely ventured to Indiana (a feat in and of itself) for two consecutive Dark Lord Days, I can safely say the event is a beer festival like no other, complete with thousands upon thousands of raving craft beer fanatics from all corners of the globe descending on Three Floyd’s like a swarm of locusts to revel in the glory of Dark Lord, a Russian Imperial Stout that is considered by many to be the premier example of the style.

Joining me on our multi-state Kerouac-esque journey this year were a couple of notable beer blogger friends from the East coast, including Aaron at The Vice Blog and Dave at The Drunken Polack, as well as Stu from local blog Friday Night Beer and my social media-averse brother-in-law (love you @Steve). During the various legs of the trip, we also ran into numerous other beer brethren including Ryan (aka @esch), Shawn and Mike at Beer Genome Project, Beckel at Legal Beer, Dean (aka @ibeyou), and of course Mike and Nate from Thank Heaven for Beer.

The weekend included stops at local favorites Stub & Herb’s, Town Hall and Barley John’s; a brief visit to Surly for some swag; lunch at Ale Asylum and a tour of New Glarus Brewing near Madison; as well as a post-Dark Lord Day dinner outing to Flossmoor Station on Chicago’s South side. But in lieu of regaling you with a blow-by-blow transcript of every second of the trip, I’ll provide a greatest hits (and a couple misses) list from the weekend, as there were plenty of both. Here we go…

Best Beer of the Trip – Isabelle Proximus
Dave at Drunken Polack lugged along a few notables to sample at Dark Lord Day, including this whale of a beer that completely blew my mind. A collaboration brewed a couple years ago by Dogfish Head, Lost Abbey, Avery, Allagash, and Russian River, it’s one of the most softly rounded, imminently drinkable sours I’ve ever tried. Musty hay, a hint of sweetness amidst the sour, a definite A+. Notable Runners-Up: Oak-Aged Popskull, The Bruery’s Black Tuesday, and New Glarus Cran-Bic.

Worst Performance Carrying a Case of Dark Lord – Some Dude with Ripped Underwear
If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought I was at a grand finale on Fourth of July as the unmistakeable popping sounds of scores of people accidentally dropping their cases of Dark Lord on the street peppered the area. People stood staring for minutes at their broken bottles as if they were going to magically patch themselves back together like the evil robot in Terminator 2…too bad tears aren’t a suitable adhesive. And not to gross anyone out, but what’s with the torn Underoos on this guy? Word to the wise – hold the case from the bottom next time.

Best Homebrew – Mike’s 44% ABV Freeze-Distilled Strong Ale
I was floored by the quality of this unique brew conjured up by Mike at Thank Heaven for Beer. He started off with 45 pounds of grain for the five gallon batch, fermented with an alcohol tolerant yeast strain to get it to about 22% ABV, then freeze distilled the rest to eek out a few small bottles of this amazing beer. It seriously reminded me of Utopias in its liqueur-like characteristics, and man was it drinkable. Runner-Up: Nate’s “Three Kings” Triple, brewed with gold flakes, frankincense, and myrrh. 

Best Dark Lord Variant – Oak-Aged Dark Lord
I’m not one to complain about good old regular Dark Lord, whether from the bottle or served on draught. But the other variants offered up at the Three Floyd’s brewpub are worth mentioning (both good and bad). Vanilla Bean Aged Dark Lord (right), oft-cited as the best of the bunch according to Beer Advocate’s legion, tasted just fine but something with the vanilla bean aging process gave it the consistency of a sludgy milk shake and it turned me off a bit. The Oak Aged version, on the other hand, was something to behold. And ironically, it smelled and tasted more like a nice subtle vanilla than the other version thanks to the oak, without overwhelming it.  

Most Impressive Brewery Facility – New Glarus
I gotta say, I wasn’t sure what to expect driving down desolate, winding roads in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Wisconsin. But once we rolled up the hill to New Glarus Brewing and its commanding view of the Swiss-style hamlet below, I was immediately in love. The new brewery is one of the most impressive facilities I’ve ever been to…state-of-the-art brewhouse at its core, with a beautifully appointed tasting room geniously plunked in the middle of the gift shop. Not only did I walk out of there with a nice buzz, but also a bag filled with T-shirts, tap handles, and various other baubles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most Impressive Brewpub – Flossmoor Station
Man, these guys make some nice beer. Located in the middle of a tony neighborhood south of I-80, Flossmoor is in an old train station that’s been converted into a brewery and upscale restaurant. Their IPA knocked my socks off with its wonderful floral aromas and intense bitterness, and I also picked up a bottle of their Pullman Brown for home perusement. If we go back for DLD next year, a visit to Flossmoor for a more proper sampling of their other beers will certainly be on the agenda. Runner-Up: Ale Asylum, which surprised the hell out of me with their very good bar food (get the pulled pork sandwich) and their impressive roster of beers (try the Bedlam! Trappist IPA brewed with Citra hops that lend unique aromas of tropical fruit).

Oddest Beer Consumed – 1995 Sam Adams Triple Bock
At last year’s Surly Darkness Day, we met a couple really cool guys in line from Chicago who had driven up the night before completely unpreprared with not a beer between them. As any good Minnesotans would, we took them under our collective wing and indoctrinated them into the ways of drinking 10% ABV bombers of Russian River Consecration at 8 a.m. To repay the kind gesture, they tracked me down at DLD and offered up their slew of impressive beers…but amongst them all this one stood out. A 1995 Sam Adams Triple Bock? I had to try it, if for nothing else to see how terribly far gone it had become. My suspicions weren’t off by much, considering the cork snapped in the bottle, with the rest disintegrating into flakes as we attempted to pry it out. The beer poured like a gloppy mess with zero carbonation, and tasted like someone had soaked a Werthers in a glass of warm water for a few hours. One of the Chicago guys literally gagged and vomited after sampling it. I’m sure it was a good beer…right around the Y2K scare.

Best Beer Festival Innovation – Golden Tickets
The thought of inviting a few thousand drunken friends over to my house to trample the flower bed, leave piles of trash in the backyard, and potentially piss off my neighbors with debaucherous behavior doesn’t sound like my idea of fun. So I think the folks at Three Floyd’s should be commended for opening their doors to, what is by all accounts, a mob scene. And one of the things that keeps this whole thing running relatively smoothly is their Golden Ticket idea, which I think is a good one. Everyone there with a ticket is guaranteed beer up to a certain time, and everyone (hopefully) walks away happy. It’s especially nice for people like me traveling from several states away to comfortably know you won’t leave empty handed. Granted, the tickets were tough to come by thanks to a crashing e-commerce website, but they’ve acknowledged the issues and plan to remedy next year.

They’re finally here…the much sought after Golden Tickets for Dark Lord Day 2010.

This year’s trip to Three Floyd’s Brewery in Munster, Indiana will be a little different than last year, primarily because of the motley crew that will be joining me for the weekend including Aaron at The Vice Blog, Dave at Drunken Polack, Stu at Friday Night Beer, my brother and brother-in-law, and a few other friends.

We have alot on the agenda, and I’m hoping we can squeeze it all in…on the way down Friday we’re hoping to make a stop at Ale Asylum in Madison for lunch, a visit to New Glarus for a tour and tasting, dinner at Goose Island Clyburn in Chicago, and of course all the Dark Lord fun we can handle at Three Floyds on Saturday. I’m also looking forward to showing off some of the best beer spots the Twin Cities has to offer to my out of town friends flying in on Thursday, with stops at Town Hall, Stub & Herbs, Barley John’s, and Muddy Pig.

More to come on what’s sure to be another memorable beer road trip!

The first ever Beer Blogger Brew-Off is in the books, and a good time was had by all.

The quality of the beers brewed by the participants was incredible. It was clear these guys have spent many years perfecting their craft, and it was equally impressive how distinctly unique each beer was considering everyone changed only one ingredient from the base recipe we all used. Here’s what everyone went with:

My secret ingredient, which I didn’t really keep a closely guarded secret, was lactose, making my beer a nice milk stout. You can check out the recipe and brewday here. After my beer fermented out, I kegged half the batch for a New Year’s party, and split the rest off into a carboy for bottling at a later date. The beer from the keg was fantastic — chocolatey, roasty, and milky sweet. I would have had more than two glasses of it, but my friends had other ideas and decided to drink it all too quickly.

Here’s where the story gets grim…after bottling and shipping my beers to the brew-off participants, we settled in for the sampling, and it quickly became clear something was a little off when everyone cracked my bottles. A mildly sour aroma crept up on us, not completely off-putting (and in fact some friends have said they enjoy it) but not exactly what I was aiming for, either. The likely culprit? Bacteria from sanitation issues during the bottling process.

I’m a meticulous sanitizer…in most cases I think I probably overdo it (if that’s even possible). And I know this kind of thing can happen occasionally to the best of us. But frankly, it was a little embarrassing.

After sampling everyone’s beers, we informally declared local beer blogger Derek the brew-off winner with his molasses stout, a fantastically rich, full-bodied beer. Very well done. And I’m happy to say he left me with a sixer for my longer term enjoyment.

If you’re interested in hearing the entire brew-off discussion recorded by Peter at Simply Beer,  listen to the podcast here. Already looking forward to the next brew-off!

This year’s Winterfest, hosted by the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, was another success.

Thanks to lack of foresight and a busy work schedule at the time, I wasn’t able to score a ticket when they went on sale a few months ago. But thankfully my buddy Ryan had an extra to share, of which I was very appreciative. You inevitably bump into all kinds of familiar faces at these events, so it was also nice to chat with several of the brewers, Alvey from The Four Firkins, and fellow beer blogger friends like Shawn and Mike at The Beer Genome Project.

After learning that Flat Earth’s Grand Design Porter, a s’more-infused version of their Cygnus X-1, was the recipient of this year’s Snowshoe Award for best-in-show, I was pretty disappointed it wasn’t one of the beers I tried during the evening. But alas, despite my best efforts, it’s tough to sample them all.

My top beers from the evening:

Surly 1 – 4
Fine, call me a card-carrying Surly fanboy. Guilty as charged. I was at the front of the line at Darkness Day this year. I drove around town for hours trying to locate a four pack of their Hell when it was released in cans last summer. And I even clothe my three month old daughter in Surly onesies*. But objectively speaking, there’s no denying Surly’s line-up of anniversary beers were some of the most memorable of the night.

Surly Bourbon One was unreal, a bourbon barrel-aged doppelbock that was likely my favorite beer of the evening. Surly Two, an oak-aged cranberry stout, was tart and surprisingly refreshing. A version of Surly Three called Jesus Juice was a braggot aged in pinot noir barrels, as impressive as I remember from ABR. And the final beer, their soon-to-be-released Four, was a freeze distilled double espresso milk stout, predictably heavy on the coffee notes and pretty boozy.  

Schell’s Hopfenmalz
I really liked this beer, brewed to commemorate Schell’s 150th anniversary. Totally different than most of the complicated, fruit-infused stuff I was drinking at the event, but a very sessionable, hoppy amber lager that was a welcome change of pace. Thankfully, this is now readily available in bottles at your neighborhood craft beer store.

Minneapolis Town Hall Coconut Raspberry Festivus
This year’s Festivus, a mocha stout made with chocolate and coffee, is already an incredible beer. Add real coconut and raspberry, and you approach the divine. Sort of reminded me of their Three Hour Tour, a coconut milk stout, but the raspberry adds some nice fruity undertones. Very well done.

Fitger’s Blitzen Blueberry Chocolate Porter
Amazing offering. The Bayfield blueberries were incredibly pronounced, yet balanced with the rich chocolate notes of the beer. Like a dessert in a glass. 

And of course, the not so memorable:

Cold Spring John Henry 3 Lick Spiker Ale
Not sure if it was the fact this beer tasted more like a watery porter, or if the volunteers manning their table underwhelmed me with their clearly disinterested attitude. I guess I might be pissed too if someone woke me up. But either way, the beer was a pretty poor interpretation of a bourbon oak-aged imperial stout.

Lift Bridge Biscotti Float
Why mess with what’s already a really nice Belgian ale by adding a dollop of ice cream that had the consistency of pancake mix? Points for trying something a little different, but the flavors weren’t working for me. The ice cream seemed to somehow bring out the alcohol component a little too much, making it a boozy sundae.

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For anyone who’s spent any amount of time fiddling with a fermentor or enjoying a nice cold homebrew on a summer evening, Charlie Papazian is a man that needs no introduction.

His continued and untiring efforts since the late 1970’s to promote homebrewing and craft beer in this country — which include founding the American Homebrewers Association in 1978, the Brewers Association in 1979, creating the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup, and writing the seminal book on homebrewing in 1984 — have unquestionably made him one of the most important figures in the industry.

With the American Homebrewers Association’s National Conference hitting the Twin Cities this coming June, I recently had the opportunity to connect with Charlie about his perspectives on the growth in homebrewing, and how the craft beer industry has changed over the last several decades:

TC: The craft beer industry has undergone monumental growth since the early 1980’s. How has homebrewing played a role in this shift since you founded the American Homebrewers Association in 1978 and Brewers Association in 1979? 

CP: Homebrewers were and still are the foundation of the craft brewing community. Nearly all of the cutting edge and traditional styles of beer were elevated and championed by homebrewers.  They still are the vanguard of experimentation.

TC: What are your perspectives on how the Twin Cities – compared to other beer destinations on the coasts – has evolved as a beer culture the past couple decades?  

CP: I don’t have recent perspective on the Twin Cities beer community.  But I’m looking forward to the visit in June.

TC: Your book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, is considered by many to be the bible of homebrewers around the world. Since it was first published in 1984, how has homebrewing grown and changed in this country? What challenges or obstacles still exist in expanding homebrewing?

CP: Used to be you brewed because you couldn’t get a variety.  Now homebrewing is even more about the enjoyment of the hobby, and then going beyond that to make exactly the kind of beer you want to enjoy, as well as beer types you can’t get fresh otherwise.  Also, it’s damned fun!

TC: What’s been the most significant innovation in homebrewing equipment/technology/ingredients since you started? What kinds of innovations do you see having an impact over the next 20 years? 

CP: Quality yeast accessibility, no doubt.  Fresh hops and variety second, with variety in malt third.

TC: The Great American Beer Festival celebrated its 28th consecutive year this past September. How was your GABF experience this year? And what trends stood out in your mind?   

CP: It was fun. How can you really describe the Great American Beer Festival without actually being there! The biggest trend seems to be that increasingly more attendees are really serious about tasting all kinds of beer – and having fun.

TC: What have been some of your favorite, go-to recipes you’ve developed over the years?  

CP: Ordinary bitter a la Brakspears, Czech dark Lager a la U Flecku, Czech old style golden lager, imperial porter, cherrywood smoked malt lager, oatmeal stout, and a juniper chokecherry ale.

TC: What’s in the fermentor right now?   

CP: Lagering now, I have my Rogerfest cherrywood smoked lager #2, imperial porter, a Maerzen old style, and a Czech golden lager. 

TC: What advice would you give folks just starting out with their first batch of beer? 

CP: Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew!

For more information and to register for the 2010 AHA National Conference, visit the American Homebrewers Association website.

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