These are the voyages of the 4Runnership Theodosopouli. Our 3-day mission: to explore great new breweries; to imbibe in new beer culture and new civilization; to become sideways where we have not stumbled before.
Beer Date 1120.4
Beer Captain’s Log: Our destination is Dangerous Man Brewing Co. in the northeast quadrant of Minneapolis. There we encountered a Dogwood Coffee Dubbel, brewed with Dogwood Coffee Ethiopian Amaro Gayo beans, which lends to fruity subtleties in the coffee. This dubbel is a beautiful burgundy brown in color. It’s a malty and somewhat spicy brew with hints of biscuit bread, banana, and dried fruits. Dangerously delicious!
Beer Date 1120.7
Beer Captain’s Log: Our destination is Town Hall Brewery in the West Bank area of Minneapolis.
The local flavor was Big Citrus American IPA, an American IPA dry-hopped with Citra hops. Town Hall’s AIPA is golden orange in color. Big tropical fruits dominate this brew. Flavors of mangos, grapefruits, pineapples, and lemons really shine through. Only slight bready malt notes are present. Bitterly bold!
Beer Date 1121.4
Beer Captain’s Log: Our destination is Indeed Brewing Co. in the northeast quadrant of Minneapolis.
Our guide served up a Sweet Yamma Jamma Sweet Potato Ale, a fruit/vegetable beer. This is Indeed’s take on a fall seasonal. Brewing it with sweet potatoes and candied yams makes this a unique fall brew, deep caramel brown in color. The brew is well complemented with seasonal spices such as cinnamon, all spice, and (possibly) ginger. Magnificently malty!
Beer Date 1121.6
Beer Captain’s Log: Our destination is 612Brew in the northeast quadrant of Minneapolis.
Our quest uncovered a Rated R Rye IPA, an American IPA with Rye. 612 misses with this brew. Faint orange and brown in appearance, it lacked any spicy, earthy aroma that should be expected from a rye ale. Malts dominate with very little hop presence. One and done. Poor pint!
Beer Date 1121.8
Beer Captain’s Log: Our destination is Fulton Brewing Co. in the north area of downtown Minneapolis.
We took on Batch 300 American IPA, Fulton’s Anniversary Beer, the 300th batch of beer brewed by Fulton. The color was a brilliant sunset orange. The aroma is of catty stank….Wonderful! The hops are delivered up, down, and all over the palate with a very minimal malty presence. By far the best brew of our exploration. Dank and delightful!
With our exploration complete, livers in need of some rest and faith in the unconquerable craft beer world intact, we set our navigational numbers to 43.5364 N and 96.7317 W. Home was only a few clicks away!
Not our final frontier of beer!
- Kosta Theodosopoulos
Though I wasn’t specifically trying to buy a bottle of Deschutes’ The Abyss this weekend, I still came up short.
This particular passion play begins at Taylor’s Pantry, where I stopped to pick up a bottle of Schell’s Framboise Du Nord, the latest in the Noble Star Collection, and then figured, “HEY, WHY NOT.” Knowing it had just been released, I asked Chad if there was any Abyss in the back.
This was a surprise. In years’ past, I had never had trouble finding Abyss, yet here - just a day or two after release - it was sold out at my local haunt?
Wondering if this was a common occurrence, I did some JOURNALISTIC RESEARCH (i.e. - I called the rest of the usual suspects - JJ’s, Fogies). Over and over, I heard the same thing.
"Nope. We’re out."
It was at my last stop, though - HyVee Wine and Spirits on Minnesota Avenue - when it struck me that things had changed.
"Do you by any chance have any Abyss left over?"
The answer was what I expected. No. All out. “Someone came in this morning and bought all eight of our remaining bottles,” the clerk told me.
Sioux Falls has reached the tipping point. It takes less than it used to for a beer to sell out. Sometimes, all it takes is a lack of limits.
Four years ago, I tried my first Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout. I’m not going to say I was a changed man - on the contrary, I thought it was boozy and thick and not at all what I wanted at the time - but I was blown away by what a beer could become given several months and what seemed like billions of pounds of malt. I was also blown away by the price. Not because I’m a prude, but because I hadn’t yet reawakened the homebrew monster inside and didn’t really understand all that goes into a beer as thick and boozy as Bourbon County Stout.
A year later? Taylor’s Pantry had several four-packs of Bourbon County Stout sitting out in a display. No one was clamoring for them. Most people didn’t know what it was.
Let’s think about that for a second.
Three years ago, the market for what has become the most sought after beer in Sioux Falls was nil. You could walk into a store and just buy it. JUST BUY IT LIKE YOU WERE BUYING MILK.
2011 saw no Bourbon County Stout.
2012 saw it sell out faster than ever.
And now here we are, where every new boozy beer is in danger of disappearing before we even get a chance to see it. I’m not sure we’re ready for the consequences of that shift.
This Friday is Black Friday, which means those with the strength to brave holiday shopping will be fighting back bargain hunters and cursing the unruly as they slink from store to store in search of holiday gifts. It’s the perfect opening volley in what has become a game of attrition: who can make it through the holidays with their sanity in check.
Black Friday is also opening season for this year’s Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout. Since Sioux Falls isn’t able to get other regional rarities like Surly Darkness or Three Floyds Dark Lord, we instead flock toward this Chicago-born beer just like thousands around the country.
I’m not convinced I’ll get one - not because I don’t want one, but because, as Philip Montoro writes in his Chicago Reader preview, “highly sought-after limited releases provoke the craft-beer boom’s grossest bull**: nerds with more free time than sense queuing up outside a liquor store before dawn, for instance, or shadowing a delivery truck from one stop to the next, or buying a shop’s entire bottle allotment to sell or trade online.”
It’s funny, but it’s true. While Sioux Falls is behind the curve on this level of hoarding, it’s still slowly creeping into the beer culture.
This is good - this shows that craft beer has truly infiltrated our fair city. But it’s also bad, because while we have plenty of people clamoring for great beer, near-national breweries like Goose Island and Deschutes are still reluctant to send large amounts of product, especially when they can easily sell out in their larger markets with little trouble.
This means that, if you really want something rare and big, you might have to be one of those nerds who sit out front of the liquor store waiting for a box of Bourbon County to be cracked open. It also means, if you own a liquor establishment, there’s a balance you must strike between getting bottles out the door and keeping people happy. Do you save bottles for good customers? Do you put in place a “first come first serve” unlimited purchase policy? Or do you limit the number of bottles you allow each person to grab, thus destroying any flexibility one might have in saving and savoring.
I don’t have the answer. It’s frustrating, beyond a doubt. As someone with a full time job (and as someone who values his time) I often never even have a chance at those big beers. But who am I to begrudge those who make pains? Is it about who wants it more? Or is it about who has access in the first place?
All I know is this: if you ask me to stand in line for electronics, clothing, gifts, toys or beer, I’m going to choose the beer every time.
Just don’t let the person in front of me buy eight of them.
- Corey Vilhauer
We’re going with a game-time theme in today’s blog. It’ll be like breaking in a new pair of cleats: both a thing of beauty and punishing at the same time.
Green Flash Brewing Company, hailing from sunny San Diego, CA (Est. 2002), has hit the South Dakota market, and thankfully so. They are known as pioneers in the craft beer industry. Recognized for pushing the envelope with their big, bold, unique styles, Green Flash beers have won numerous awards.
These beers are very visually appealing and flavorful, but also wallop a punch with their high ABVs. I may need a stretcher afterward or at least fake an injury to my liver, take a roll on the pitch, and be cured with a rejuvenating aerosol spray.
Our starting lineup: West Coast IPA, Imperial IPA, and Green Bullet IPA.
West Coast IPA will wow the crowds. Coming in at 7.3% ABV and the MVP of the team, West Cost IPA will always be an all-star. It starts out with a severe kick of hops, which should be expected, with a vibrant combination of citrus, grapefruit, and pine. The medium orange-amber color is inviting. Expect a slightly dry finish. This is a multi-dimensional player in the field of IPAs. This first beer is a thing of beauty; a cross-goal header into the corner.
Coming in at 9.4% ABV and a solid mid-fielder, Imperial IPA will have a long career. Imperial IPA pours a cloudy yellow/orange. Aromas are of pine and alcohol. It’s crisp and refreshing, not too heavy and not too light. A solid IPA to have on your team.
The final beer is like a broken play, or a trickling left-footed shot past the goalie. Green Bullet IPA, at 10.1% ABV, lacks a few skills. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good IPA, but is short on some qualities. The hop aroma is fair, it’s decent tasting, and it packs a kick. Honey apricot in color, this sweeter tasting IPA just doesn’t do it for me — too boozy.
Keep an eye out for Green Flash Palette Wrecker IPA to make a call-up in January. It’s a killer beer!
Not only can you find these wonderful IPAs on draft at select bars, they’re also in four packs and 22-ounce bombers in area bottle shops. Be sure to imbibe on Green Flash’s full all-star lineup, which includes (at this time) Barleywine Ale, Le Freak Belgian/Imperial IPA Ale, Hop Head Red India Pale Ale, and Double Stout Black Ale. They truly have a winning team. All are well crafted!
- Kosta Theodosopoulos
I have a funny habit. When I go to a grocery store, I *have* to look at the beer cooler.
I marvel at the colors and brands, and I comment to myself about each out-of-character beer on the shelf. “Oh, this one sells Nordeast tallboys!” “Oh, this one carries the entire line of Odell!” “Oh, this one is just like every other gas station, except they decided their obligatory craft beer is going to be Fat Tire instead of Blue Moon.”
Am I thirsty? No. Will I buy any beer? No. Why do I do it?
I don’t know. I’m just curious. I love the regional and class affectations each cooler brings. I love thinking about the decisions that led to each marketing decision. I’m weird. Probably.
While grocery stores and gas stations have their own culture of beer selection - they are, ultimately, one of the few places that serve an all-encompassing audience; everyone needs food, everyone needs gas - I’m even more obsessed with viewing beer labels at an even more cold and sterile and all-encompassing facility: Airports.
Airports are weird places. For just a few hours, you’re in what’s the equivalent of a really expensive mall. You make bad decisions. You’re bored, so why wouldn’t you eat a Five Guys burger? You’re stuck, and that lack of mobility subconsciously sends you into a panic. Airport bars are there for you. Apparently.
There are few places where we can be exposed to entire regions of beer as quickly as in an airport. You can go from Chicago to Atlanta in just hours and find the logos of several new breweries all along the way. The standard lineup is always a mix of national light beers, a handful of nationally-distributed craft beers, and two hyper-local craft beers - Surly in Minneapolis, or Goose Island in Chicago, or New Belgium in Denver.
An airport in Philadelphia, where I spent an hour, served Yuengling. An airport in Hartford, where a late flight stranded me for three hours, served two Long Island beers I thought I’d never see again. There are local themed bars - Boston has Sam Adams, Denver has New Belgium - and there are no fewer than a thousand Chili’s Too locations in case you need to find Miller Lite.
Airport bars are weird places, too. I don’t care what time it is, there’s always three people alone at the airport bar, all three of them with an empty glass, all three of them staring into a screen - a television, a phone, a laptop - and all three of them patiently waiting for the regional beer that most closely matches their hometown favorite.
I want to make this clear: I’m cheap, so I rarely go to the airport bar. But I check every major airport bar to see what’s on tap, just as I would in the grocery store. One out of four times, I’ll order a beer with dinner as I’m waiting on my flight. And while I don’t think airports count as part of the regional culture - their sterile walls and cattle-call lines betraying any cultural guideposts they may have installed - those few beers are as close as I can get to knowing what it’s like outside of those walls. Outside of that security. Outside of the difficulties that come with extended travel.
There’s no practical reason that I care about what beer is being sold inside some store or restaurant that I may never see again. But I believe the difference in regional selections from store to store - and from bar to bar - helps prove that, despite our tendency to gravitate toward mass-market products, each of us live in a very different place, with different beers and different people and different lives.
Peeking into the airport bar isn’t practical. But I still do it. It’s what keeps me in my personal rhythm. It’s what reminds me that I’m still a person, not just a ticket and a name.
And sometimes, I stop. Sometimes the loneliness of travelling alone and the frustration of being shuttled around with little regard for humanity leads me to a small bar in the G Concourse of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Sometimes, I pull up the fancy iPad menu and see a rare jewel: Surly Darkness 2013. Sometimes, I have to stop being cheap, press a few buttons, and nod appreciatively as my glass of smooth, dark Surly-style imperial stout is placed in front of me.
Sometimes, I have to give in and relax and understand that while airport bars are weird and desperate, they can also be a beacon in the storm. Sometimes, I find something fantastic in all of that sprawl.
But I’ll never know if I don’t look. And that’s what keeps me looking.
- Corey Vilhauer
With the daylight waning and darkness dominating, this time of year is ripe for hibernation.
As I hunker down for the season, trade in my two-wheeler for snow shoes, and accept that my belt may have to move a notch or two, I long for snow-filled evenings with a crackling fire and bold beer to warm my soul.
Dark Horse Brewing suffices. With their five-month stout series, belly-warming scotch ale, and spice-filled winter warmer, I’m positive you’ll find a way to cure the cabin fever blues (or at least become content with staying inside).
The first beer I opened, as early dusk (5 pm!) approached, was Dark Horse’s Scotty Karate Scotch Ale. The beer is a clear, dark chestnut color with a syrupy appearance. The smell is like freshly baked wheat with an intense malt presence, and slightly boozy. There’s a creamy, bready malt flavor throughout, not overly sweet with a hint of caramel and bread crust. There’s a touch of fruitiness to it, but I can’t pinpoint what exactly. The finish is malty sweet. With this beer coming in at 9.75% ABV, it’s definitely a bone warmer.
As the evening grew darker (faster than I remember), I cracked the One Oatmeal Stout. According to the brewery, this beer is “one in a series of five stouts produced to help ease you through the cold and grey Midwestern winters.” The series will commence with Plead the 5th Imperial Stout in February. The beer itself pours thick and black as motor oil. On first sip, there’s a flavor that I find reminiscent of baker’s dark chocolate and bitter espresso. This is a beer that you could have instead of dessert after your big helping of comfort food.
Hunkered down by the roaring fire and craving one last brew with which to lift and warm my spirit, I decided on the 4 Elf Winter Ale. This is classified as a winter warmer, which is the general name given to any cold weather ale with spice additions and a strong alcohol content. The 4 Elf doesn’t disappoint in this regard. The spice aroma is amazing, full of clove, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. That doesn’t overpower, though, as it is supported well by a chocolate body and well balanced, warming alcohol. To be honest, I couldn’t help but be thrown back to the Fig Newtons from childhood. Of the three, this is my favorite.
You can find all of the Dark Horse seasonals around town currently. I know Good Spirits Fine Wine and Liquor and Look’s Market carry them.
The winters are long and cold. Warm your belly and keep your spirits lifted.
I’ve always been skeptical of Fancy Beer Glasses. I saw them as high-margin accessories, sold for the sake of exclusivity and not necessarily with the best intentions of the beer in mind. Could beer really taste better in an expensive glass? Was this a scientific fact, or was it just the assumption that “more expensive” is synonymous with “better quality?”
I’ve been skeptical, but I’ve also been a part of the culture. Sure - I’ve had fancy beer glasses in the past. I loved them. They were comfortable, and I’ll admit they make me feel fancy. But I’d use them with caution. (Let’s be honest. Nothing says “arrogance” like pulling out a set of special glasses.)
Also, I was never fully convinced. Beers are beers - some are better and some are not - but taste is subjective. You like what you like, regardless of the glass in which it lives, so what’s the point?
It was with all of this skepticism that I walked into the party room at Tinner’s last week to attend a beer/glass pairing seminar put on by the folks at J.J’s Wine, Spirits & Cigars and led by a sales rep from Spiegelau - a company owned by Riedel, the OTHER fancy glass name you might know. The set-up: four Spiegelau glasses (a tall wheat beer glass, a standard lager glass, a "stemmed pilsner" stout glass and a newcomer: the sought after IPA glass) and a standard branded pint glass, which we learned was actually a “shaker glass,” and was for the rest of the night referred to as a “joker” glass.
As in, you’re a joker if you drink out of it. (I know.)
We passed around the beer, pouring half into the “right” glass and half into the “joker” glass. We sampled them both - first from the Spiegelau glass, then from the standard pint - and we would be helped along by the Spiegelau sales rep. “Do you taste the chocolate?” “A bit of caramel.” “Citrus and grassy.” The joker glass would get rough treatment. “Have you ever been to a house that has cats? Tastes like that, right?” “Musty and old.” “Flat and gross.”
We learned about the science of the glass - how smoother and thinner glass leads to better beer. We learned about every nook and cranny of the process, at each step our fearless leader reminding us how advanced the Spiegelau method is and how important it is to drink only out of these fancy glasses. We were given planters - PLANTERS!!! - to dump our “joker” glass beer into. “Once it goes into one of those glasses, you can’t save it. You might as well dump it out.”
The bad part is that, if there were any misconceptions about how snobby these glasses could feel, the seminar did little to dissuade them. These are snobby glasses. These are glasses of the well-heeled. These are glasses for the upper crust.
The good part is that, as arrogant as the fancy glass treatment sounded, he was accurate on several counts. Because the thick glass of your standard pint glass pulls coolness away from your beer through conduction, it really is a lesser alternative to the thin Spiegelau glasses. Additionally, well constructed glasses help keep a beer’s natural carbonation going, leading to a constant bubbling that provides more head, not to mention more aroma, which makes up a huge percentage of our ability to taste beer.
Those fancy IPA glasses? They’re pretty cool. Our IPAs DID taste better out of those glasses; the ridges on the bottom swooshed up our beer just enough to let loose with some righteous hop aroma. Those snifter-style “pilsner” glasses are perfect for thick, heavy stouts and barleywines; the edges curve in to trap what little carbonation a thick beer still retains, and the aroma is pulled in like a heavy blanket on top of that tan head.
But when they say in the class, “Never drink out of the bottle,” I have to call them out. When they talk about bringing your own glasses to a Spiegelau restaurant, I have to shudder. Beer isn’t an exclusive consumable. It’s not caviar. It’s not $100/bottle brandy. It’s beer, and while it has made great bounds in the “acceptability” department, it has not yet crossed over into the land of arrogance and exclusion.
Near the end of his opening pitch, our Spiegelau sales person equated beer to a high definition film. You could watch it on a crappy 1950’s black-and-white tube, or you could watch it on a high-cost 75-inch high definition television. It’s going to be better on the higher-cost television. Your beer will be better in a Spiegelau glass.
That’s not the point, though, is it? Beer can’t be equated to methods and vessels. It’s content. You drink beer because you like how it tastes, not because of the color or presentation. So beer isn’t a high definition film. That’s the wrong metric. Good beer is like Breaking Bad or Arrested Development - highly rated shows that give you great content in addition to good aesthetics. You could watch Breaking Bad on your high definition television, sure. Or, you could watch it with a sub-par connection on Netflix at an airport. Either way, you’re going to love the story - only the visual aspects will suffer.
This is how I feel about these glasses. The beer will be good regardless of what you put it in. But it will be a little better if you put it in the proper glass. Don’t get me wrong: these glasses are fantastic. They are fun. If you know someone who loves beer, you should totally buy him or her some Spiegelau glasses for Christmas.
But don’t think that you aren’t getting the real thing if you don’t use them. Don’t think you need to dump your beer because it’s been tainted by the scratches of your home glassware, or by the glass bottle in which it sat for weeks. Our Spiegelau salesperson kept referring to our pint glass as the “wrong” glass, as if by using it we were somehow committing some atrocity, as if this beer was so fragile and tender that even pouring it into the “wrong” glass would kill the hops and turn it into something equating cat urine.
He told us that beer tastes better in the Spiegelau glasses. And he was completely accurate.
But he wasn’t right.
Good beer is what you make of it. Glass or not, your Zombie Monkey porter is going to be good. Glass or not, your Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat might taste like crayons. Glass or not, “joker” or not, straight from the bottle or not, your favorite beer is going to be your favorite beer.
- Corey Vilhauer
My afternoon opened with a feeling of lightness and fun. Not knowing of the impending danger, I cracked open Tallgrass’s Brewing’s original Pub Ale, the first beer the Manhattan, Kansas Brewery produced for public consumption. Its smooth, mild, sweet flavor and its autumn brown hue hearken to days gone by in TV Land and Pleasantville, where ignorance was truly bliss. The can has a retro look, which further helped to lull me into a false sense of security. The smell invokes feelings of a safe home…or brewhouse. Even the instructional video added to the calm (before the storm).
As afternoon waned into dusky darkness, a noise in the distance gave me pause, making my hairs stand on end. What was that? But knowing I had to finish my blog, I ignored the nagging feeling of dread and continued on to my next beer, Ethos IPA – The Beer that Legend Foretold. According to the legend, it came from an ancient race of brewers that hunted hops, which I believed would give me strength to brave the night. Others believe the Ethos came from the post-apocalyptic future (perhaps a post-zombie-apocalyptic future?), bringing the secrets of beer to the cave dwellers. With its big, juicy, hoppy bite, it awakened a sixth hop sense that alerted me that something was out there. Something…undead. But what was it?
Breaking news out of Manhattan: Possible escape of the Zombie Monkie.
The situation now CRITICAL, there were only two things I needed to do to save myself. First, I had to crack the only known weapon against the infected Simians: Zombie Monkie Robust Porter, the official beer of the zombie apocalypse. Second, I needed to flee! With its tactical grip to prevent slippage, can in hand I raced away. The beer, pitch black as night, made me feel secure that it truly could be used against the undead primates. Chocolaty aroma, hints of coffee (to keep me alert), and a frothy head eased my fears and kept me moving toward safety. Reports out of Manhattan claim the beer is “very tasty”, and it is. But are these creatures, the “Zombie Monkies”, truly secret weapons created by the government, as this Former Director of Secret Government Projects claims? We may never know. What I do know is I managed to escape to tell my tale. Others may not have been so lucky.
Seek out the entire line of Tallgrass brews at your favorite bottle shops and watering holes. It may just save your life…
Fear no beer. (Also: check out the links for some funny videos!)
- Kosta Theodosopoulos
My first saison felt like a mistake. It was weird. I figured maybe it had gone bad - something was messed up, because why are there cloves in this and why is it so carbonated and EWWWW maybe we shouldn’t be drinking this.
I was wrong. I SHOULD be drinking this, and after trying a second unrelated saison I realized that, SERIOUSLY YOU GUYS, there’s really nothing better than a cold and perfectly crafted saison.
We can thank French-speaking Belgians for the style, which originated during the farming off-seasons and stored for hotter weather. (“Saison” means “season” in French.) Originally, there was no true “saison” style - it was a term used to describe these farmhouse summer refreshers, not a taste profile - but now the description has been standardized as a dry and spicy or fruity (and refreshing) ale.
The gold standard - both in tradition and taste - is Saison Dupont, a beer that ferments at ridiculously high temps (about 20 degrees hotter than normal ale strains) that causes considerable yeast stress. And while stressing out yeast might seem like an offense actionable by PETA, it’s responsible for many of the flavors we seek out in saisons - the spiciness and the fruitiness and high carbonation.
(Sort of related: the perception of off-flavors make saisons a more forgiving style for homebrewers, though only if you are willing to spend a little time or money making sure your fermenting beer stays super hot. I hate to brag, but the last saison we made was actually pretty impressive, a feat I’m sure has more to do with the style and yeast than my abilities to brew beer.)
While saisons have become one of craft beer’s golden children, it wasn’t always that way. The style had nearly died out, either through a lack of interest or difficulty in attaining the right yeast. Thankfully, imports of Saison Dupont revived the style, and now every brewery seems to have some kind of seasonal saison - the new summer go-to when brewers get tired of brewing hefeweizens, apparently.
Fun for brewers, and good for us. The introduction and celebration of what would normally be considered “off-flavors” means saisons run the gamut of taste, meaning there’s a higher degree of discovery and creativity in brewing and drinking a saison than there would be in, say, a brown ale or stout.
The new Odell Brewing Montage sampler includes a dry-hopped saison called Wellspring, which leans toward my sensibilities with great hop flavor and that always wonderful saison bite. You can get dryer saisons that border on a sour champagne, or you can get fruity saisons that are barely distinguishable from a hefeweizen. Even Blue Moon’s getting into the game with a farmhouse ale that tries to toe the line between saison and flanders red (and fails at both, offering instead a sweet syrup bomb that sits in your stomach like a rock).
Then again, maybe Blue Moon’s farmhouse ale was just another perceived mistake. Saisons and farmhouse ales are just different enough to instill a little surprise and discovery into the standard beer drinking experience, meaning where I saw a mistake in my first drink others saw perfection. It’s weird. But it’s no mistake - it’s just the way beer expresses its creativity.
- Corey Vilhauer
I must admit, it’s been some time since I last tried Lakefront Brewery beers—almost two years to be exact. They entered our market just as I was taking on a position as a brewery representative for a competing company and was pigeonholed into drinking only beers from the portfolio I was selling.
The original Beer City, USA (Milwaukee, WI), where the history of beer culture dates back more than 150 years, is where you’ll find Lakefront Brewery. Established in 1987, it’s celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. And contrary to its name, it’s located along the Milwaukee River. Lakefront’s original brews are lagers based on traditional European recipes. Recently they’ve turned their focus to ales, a few of which have gone on to win notable awards.
First up: Fixed Gear (American Amber/ Red Ale). Being an avid mountain biker, I’ve always been drawn to this beer’s packaging. Besides, biking and beers go hand in hand. To truly test this beer, I must ride first, reward later. With Leaders Park only a short jaunt from home, I did just that. A great ride always deserves a delicious beer, and Fixed Gear suffices! Fixed Gear pours a hazy, amber brown with a well blended aroma of caramel malts, citrus hops and earthy spice. Very drinkable and nicely carbonated, I would venture to say some diehard fans of another bicycle-themed beer would prefer this one.
Next: IPA (India Pale Ale). It’s no secret that I’m an IPA fan, but I’m ashamed to admit this is my first taste of theirs. It’s stellar! Burnt orange in color with a complexity of aromas including sweet citrus fruits, resinous pine, lemongrass and a hint of mint. The nose is one of my favorite things about this beer. The taste follows the smell: a nice mix of fruitiness and sweetness. A very solid IPA from every angle! If this was the only option for an IPA, I would drink the heck out of it.
Finally: Bridge Burner (American Strong Ale). This ale’s aromas remind me of a cigar store, with hints of dark fruits, mahogany and red wine. In fact, the beer itself—aroma, color and taste—are very reminiscent of red wine: big, bold, deep burgundy in color; rich flavors; and a tad boozy. Most aspects of this brew are little too blunt for me, but if you like red wines and would like to take a chance on craft beer, this is definitely an option.
If you are the adventurous type, purchase Lakefront’s sampler pack. With eight different styles of beer in one pack, you’re more than likely to find a few enjoyable gems.
In the past, Lakefront beers were only available in bottles in six packs, 22-ounce bombers and eight-pack samplers in South Dakota. Global Distributing is now offering both the Fixed Gear and the IPA in kegs, with Bridge Burner soon to follow. Demand that your favorite watering hole stock these delicious brews!
Don’t judge a beer until you’ve had a glass of it!
- Kosta Theodosopoulos
As we waited to get into this year’s Autumn Brew Review, the rain persistent yet light, the line growing exponentially behind us, I thought back to the evolution of my taste. Of how, four years ago, during my first Autumn Brew Review, I stood near this same spot - right at the base of the historic Minneapolis Brewing Company, where the original barrels of Grain Belt once lived - with no expectations except the prospect of getting totally wasted and whooping and hollering my way home.
It was a naive and childish way to look at it, but up until that point - up until the 2010 Autumn Brew Review - I had never been to a beer festival. I had never traded a ticket for a glass on my way to trading sobriety for the gentle buzz of a barleywine. All I knew is that there would be a lot of beer inside those gates, and there wasn’t a lot of time to try it all.
It can be overwhelming. Autumn Brew Review brings over 100 breweries, some of which you’ll only see at the festival or in a small bar in their hometown. There’s an overwhelmingly Minnesota feel to the event; put on by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, a majority of the breweries represented are members, from brew pubs to upstarts to big names like Surly and Summit. Nearly everyone brings something special, and with thousands of tickets sold each year it can quickly turn into a suffocating press of pretzel necklaces and Russian imperial stouts.
Which is why the first time you attend, you find yourself rushing to try everything. Ooh! I’ve heard of New Belgium! I’ll try this! Oh! I’ve always liked Surly, so I’ll grab a Furious! Oh! This beer has huckleberries in it! I’ll try it! And then, after an hour of drinking everything and moving to the next booth, you are, to put it kindly, completely and utterly wasted.
It happens to everyone. Moderation is not quickly learned when your taster glass is bottomless.
In retrospect, though, I have learned. Year two saw me take a break by hopping on a Pedal Pub and getting tasting notes from Tallgrass Brewing. Year three saw me eschew traditional breweries in favor of those I’d never tried and, while I was at it, keep better track of what I was drinking for later reference. And this year - year four - saw me do the unthinkable.
I dumped out my first four beers. I dumped out a lot of beers.
Not because I hated them, but because I know my limits. Because drinking four “just okay” beers at the beginning of a festival is a sure recipe for failure. Because, more than anything, I knew that I wanted to be just as selective and conscious of my tastes at the end as I was at the beginning. More than that, I knew that, after four years of trying every craft beer I could get my hands on, I’ve now built up enough of a backlog of likes and dislikes - not to mention the backlog of beers I’ve tried and don’t need to try again - that I can stand to be more deliberate with my choices. Heck - I can even go back for seconds on the beers I rarely get and always love.
(Looking at you, Dangerous Man Belgian Golden Strong.)
At some point, we all move past the idea of festivals and tastings as an excuse for excess and unlimited variety. Maybe I’m getting old. Or maybe, when I went to Beervana at Monk’s this year and passed on the eight-sampler punch card in favor of three normal pours, I was exercising my rights as a deliberate craft beer fan. I’ll never be able to match the tasting prowess of a seasoned professional - nor do I want to - but at least I can still experience the surprise in getting something I’m sure to love for a long time.
I still left Autumn Brew Review this year with a heavy buzz and a loss of coordination, and after a few slices of pizza and an exhausting drive back to my friend’s house I wondered if I had seen enough. Had I experienced all I could? I forgot to try this one, and that one, and oh no I just realized that I forgot to go to this brewery and…
…and then I let it go.
There are so many beers in the world. We can’t drink them all. Which means the next step is simply enjoy the one in front of us and take advantage of opportunities when they arise.
See you at ABR next year.- Corey Vilhauer