dsc01916Only 79 more home games until the Minnesota Twins vacate the Big Inflatable Toilet and head west to Target Field. I can’t wait for opening day next year. Hopefully we’ll be lucky enough to get tickets. But either way, it’s going to be a big change of pace for baseball fans in this state, as well as the downtown scene.

As much as I despise the uncomfortable blue plastic seats, horrifically bad food, and weirdly insulated and artificial atmosphere that makes you feel at times like you’re in a tent (well, in a way you are), some of my most memorable moments growing up as a kid are from the Metrodome. Snapper Mow-Em Down innings…Frankie Sweet Music Viola…Puckett’s catch in Game 6 of the ’91 Series…the wind tunnel leaving the game…and of course in 1987 when Mark Salas refused to give me an autograph as I begged and pleaded at the metal rail near the Twins’ bullpen. “Come back when the game is over kid.” I faithfully abided, only to find a pile of chewed up sunflower seeds where my favorite catcher once sat. I never did forgive Mark Salas for snubbing me that day. But karma is a bitch, as he was soon after traded to the Yankees that season, only to miss out on what would become the greatest World Series run in baseball history. Instead of a champion’s ring, the Twins organization gave Mark a crappy watch. Served him right. I hope it was a Swatch.  

During game two of the Seattle series last night (which ended in a fantastic and dramatic fashion with the Twins edging out the Mariners in a 9th inning rally), I weighed out my options of macro lagers at the concession stand, which as expected weren’t great. But, one shining ray of hope appeared on the horizon as I spotted a small red tap handle down the row of macro madness. Small script lettering adorned its side…Grain Belt Premium, or “Premo” as it’s known around these parts. August Schell Brewing in New Ulm actually makes this beer now after the brand changed hands multiple times throughout its long and storied history in the state. Grain Belt Premium, different than its predecessor Grain Belt, was developed in 1947 to cater to the changing tastes of the American demographic that were more interested in lighter tasting beers. So in many ways, it could be considered a forerunner to our now ubiquitous American adjunct light lagers. But to call Premium a macro wouldn’t be entirely accurate, given its limited distribution in the Upper Midwest. 

From a taste and aroma perspective, it’s not too dissimilar from Miller Genuine Draft or Budweiser. Sweet nose of grain and corn. No real hops to speak of, especially compared to triple-hops brewed Miller Lite, but if you really concentrate you get a fleeting sense of them. Taste is pretty smooth, more of the corn characteristic. Pretty highly carbonated giving it a full mouthfeel. I’m pretty sure the Metrodome version of this is your run-of-the-mill 3.2% ABV beer, but it normally comes in bottles at 4.6% ABV.  

I actually enjoy drinking this beer, partly because it’s locally brewed but also because it really isn’t that bad, all things considered. For the style of beer, I’d say it’s one of the better examples you’re going to run across. My buddy even enjoyed Premo so much after a handful of samplings that he felt inclined to sing Journey’s Greatest Hits into his mustard-covered bratwurst during the seventh inning stretch. Yet another Metrodome memory.

Rating: C+



dsc01284Occasionally, I travel for work, and get access to some pretty swank hotels now and again. First thing I usually do when I get to a hotel room is check out the mini-bar. Not that I ever partake in the $10 Snickers. But it’s just nice to know what you’re dealing with.

But what continually surprises me about these places, no matter how nice, is the consistently low quality of alcohol offered in what many would consider high-end accommodations. It’s not like people who can afford the rates on these rooms are just dying to get back to their 2,000 square foot Presidential Suite to quench their thirst with a Bud Light. But that’s what’s usually available, if you’re lucky.

Such was the case during our honeymoon when I walked into our suite in Mexico, a fantastic room overlooking a palm dotted swimming pool, perfectly situated to catch the Gulf breeze as it rolled in off the ocean. Given my previous travel experiences, I didn’t expect much from my all-inclusive resort when it came to beer. I’d been mentally preparing myself the whole plane trip down for what I could only assume was going to be some pretty awful macro garbage. I mean, with hundreds of self-serve bar taps located all across the resort property, it’s not like the place was going to be offering up Dogfish Head 90 Minute or Westmalle Tripel*.

After I walked into the room and dropped my suitcase next to the bed, I apprehensively cracked the door on the mini-fridge. I could only imagine what swill was awaiting me. Well, much to my surprise, it wasn’t Corona. Instead, two slightly chilled cans of Modelo Especial gleamed back at me in the soft light of the mini-fridge. Great. I shut the door, and filed the knowledge of the two cans away into the far reaches of my brain, hoping for better pickings at the hotel lobby bar.  

Fast forward a couple days. After a long morning laying around by the pool sipping mojitos, I drunkenly wandered back to the room for a mid-afternoon siesta. Instead of laying down right away, I decided I’d settle in to read my book on the patio. The setting couldn’t have been more relaxing. Light breeze taking the 85 degree edge off, palm trees gently swaying with leaves peacefully rustling in the wind. Even though I’d just eaten lunch, I realized I had a little craving for some peanuts from the mini-fridge, which in actuality weren’t peanuts at all but some kind of strange Mexican nut that were much crunchier and more pleasing than your run-of-the-mill jar of Planters. I opened the fridge to grab the bag of nuts (don’t ask me why they were in the fridge), and briefly caught the cans of Modelo Especial out of the corner of my eye. I stood there for a moment, staring at them. They stared back, not saying a thing. But yet, it was like they were taunting me. They wanted to be opened. And I was just the guy to do it.   

I capitulated, going against my better judgment. After all, I was a little tipsy and wanted to keep the party going. And what are peanuts (or unfamiliar Mexican nuts) without a beer?

Modelo Especial poured into a plastic hotel cup with a flimsy head of large and rocky bubbles that quickly dissipated, just barely masking what was almost certain to be an offensively bad lager beneath. I think my main problem was that I didn’t serve it ice cold, as most macro lagers are at least “drinkable” that way. But the mini-fridge had barely been able to keep the can cooler than room temperature, which only accentuated the seriously corn-like aroma. The taste was relatively non-descript, pretty much like your standard American macro lager. Just plain bad. There was definitely nothing especial about it. I tried choking down half the glass, but decided it wasn’t really worth it. I was on vacation after all. No need to punish myself unnecessarily when I was within short walking distance of anejo tequila. 

Rating: D+

* Note to self: Open resort that serves the entire line of Dogfish Head for free. As much as guests want. Charge $1,000 a night. Retire at age 35.

dsc00813Jimmy Buffett…you should have stuck to cheese burgers.

I’m not going to spend alot of time on this one. It’s not really worth it. Ridiculously terrible beer. Intensely sweet lager punctuated with hints of moldy rice adjuncts. Maybe even ramen noodles. Supposedly brewed with a “complex blend of hops giving the beer a distinctive hop note taste.” I think what they mean is they dry hopped with sticks of bubble gum. Any beer that comes in a clear bottle should automatically get an F.

Rating: F

My first lager review. And what better way to kick things off than with Surly Brewing here in the Twin Cities. Bier for a Stein, From a Can. These guys are known for brewing beers that don’t adhere to any particular style, but taste fantastic. Novel concept! Take Surly Bender…an oatmeal brown ale. Surly Cynic…a Belgian Saison that tastes like it was steeped in apricots and peaches.

Now, enter SurlyFest Lager, a dry hopped rye beer. Not exactly what the Germans had in mind when they enacted the Reinheitsgebot. According to Surly, they brew with a combo of Vienna, Pilsen, and Rye malts, and hop with Summit. And the hops are what really come at you with the first sip, much bolder and inventive than any other Oktoberfest I’ve had. Simply by conditioning or habit, you’d think that you’re enjoing a nice IPA. But then the taste hits you…clean, crisp and mineraly (I’m inventing words now) with strong hints of rye mixed in. This is the kind of beer you wouldn’t mind sitting down at a long wooden table in Munich to enjoy one after another, each time expertly replenished by an exuberant bar maid named Ermentraude  wearing a tightly fitting dirndl and toting approximately 18 steins with one hand.

SurlyFest comes in at 6.5% ABV, which, compared to most of the high-octane beers I’ve been drinking lately doesn’t seem like much. But I could easily see this one becoming a nice session beer. Only problem is, Surly limits their production to only one batch per year. Guess I’ll have to wait until next fall to enjoy it again.      

Rating: A-