So I've been all in to the craft beer scene now for less than a year and as of ten days ago I had yet to attend one of the big beer festivals. I've been to Surlyfest and Darkness Day but I'm talking about the kind where you can drink a billion samples of kick ass beer all under the same roof. I barely missed out on Autumn Brew Review last year because by the time I had discovered its existence I had already set up my annual Freedom Fest and couldn't back out.
So needless to say when I saw that the tickets for Winterfest in St Paul were going on sale awhile back I had to jump on it. After asking several people to go it ended up being (my cousin) Paul and (my co-worker) Paul and me. I soon found it it ended up being easiest to just adopt co-worker Paul as "my other cousin Paul". Scratch that last sentence if you didn't see the sit-com in the 80's.
Great Waters which was around a half mile from the Minnesota History Center. We kicked off with a couple of pitchers and a good meal to get a good base in our stomach before proceeding to drink as many beers as we could in 3 hours. We discussed our plan to hit everything we wanted and try as many "must try" beers without getting totally smashed.
All in all, it was a total success. We had great timing for getting in line because even though we had to wait quite awhile, 90-95% of the crowd was behind us. We were in the first wave to attack which was a good thing because Surly was the first booth there and I knew I wanted to try the One (lager aged in a fresh Bourbon barrel for one year), Two (Oak aged Cranberry Stout) and Three ("Jesus Juice" Brewed with 50% honey and 50% German Dark Munich malt, aged on toasted White Ash and aged in a French oak Pinot Noir barrel) year anniversary beers for sure. Also ended up trying the Four (Double Espresso Milk Stout).
After we got those knocked out (before some people even got in) we proceeded up to the second and third levels. Long story short, within the first hour we had tried about everything on my hit list (basically any big stout or IPA or anything with oak-aged, bourbon or cherry in the description) and just took a relaxed approach to the rest of the night.
It was awesome being there with hundreds of people that you knew you had something in common with (I can't imagine a Bud Light drinker dropping $50 on an event like this) and you could walk up to just about anybody and start chatting about beer (and we did).
I didn't take detailed notes because I was there to just see what tasted good and to socialize. But I did keep track of what I tried and here's what was memorable to me:
Schell's Dry Hopped Maifest - The only beer I tried from my hometown because I have the other three sitting in my fridge. It was unique because it was uncarbonated, unfiltered and served from a Bavarian Stich-Fass (not sure exactly what that was). Cool because it was unique and I'm all over unique beers.
Barley John's Unoaked Rosie's Reserve - Basically their Rosie's Old Ale without the bourbon cask aging. I was surprised at how big and tasty it still was. I can't wait for Rosie's to come back again (and to try the Dark Knight for that matter).
Brau Brother's Rainwater Oak-Aged Stout and Brau Brother's Elisha's Old Ale - I've had the Rainwater before but really like it so I figured a quick sample was in order. The Elisha's was pretty good stuff too, I hope it'll be available to me sometime soon. Also got to chat with Dustin Brau again, very cool guy. He invited Beer Club to come out and take a tour of the brewery sometime and hopefully I can get it organized sooner tan later. I figure a swing down to Schell's to make it a 2-for-1 day would work well too.
Cold Spring's John Henry 3 Lick Spiker Ale - I have seen ads for this in my beer magazines several times and thought it sounded like something I should try. I was right. I can't believe I never realized it was from a Minnesota brewery. Looking forward to getting more of this soon.
Fitger's Bourbon Barrel Aged Edmund Imperial Stout - Check out my hit list criteria and you'll see that this covered pretty much every thing (including the cherries that it was racked on). Fitger's sounds like a place I really need to visit. Who can argue with the scenery of the North Shore and beer this good? I'd have to work Lake Superior Brewing in as well.
Flat Earth Grand Design Porter - I would have never tried this if (my cousin) Paul wasn't raving about it. S'more infused anything didn't really sound like my cup of tea but he kept saying how I needed to try the vanilla porter. It was money and we weren't the only one who thought so because it won the Snowshoe award. I went down to get a growler of it this past weekend but sadly, there was none to be had. Hopefully next weekend.
Granite City Batch 1000 - I had it before but I wanted to swing by for a sample just so I could bug them again about putting this on their full time draft list. I like their other stuff but for the most part it's more for people who are dabbling in non-BMC products. This stuff is something I'd seek out and would cause me to make a trip to GC just for the beer.
Great Waters Vulcanus Rex & Great Waters Cherries Dubbelee - The Vulcanus Rex was unique and pretty tasty but a bit too smokey for me. The Cherries Dubbelee was right up my alley. Who wouldn't like a cherry & vanilla flavored Belgian double?
Lift Bridge Belgian Biscotti - They served it with a scoop of ice cream made from the beer just like a root beer float. Goodness gracious it was tasty. I sure hope we can get our paws on this delightful treat come summertime.
McCann's Maple Quadruple - Not sure if I'd drink this on a regular basis but I'd love to get my hands on some and try to make pancakes with it. How could that not taste fantastic?
Rock Bottom Vanilla Oak Infusion Imperial Stout - Doesn't the name say it all for me? I friggin' loved it. Also got to skip the line (not on purpose) because I was just trying to get a rinse but the pitchers were empty and the girl told me to come on up and get beer anyway. Who was I to refuse?
Town Hall Twisted Jim - Barley wine aged in oak from Jim Beam? Predictably delicious.
Surly One - My favorite beer of the night. Tasted almost like a more intense version of Darkness with some beautiful bourbon aging on it. Ridiculous.
Surly Two, Three & Four - Loved 'em all.
It was a night to remember and I can't wait to do it again next year. Hell, I can't even wait for the next festival of this kind. It was like unleashing a kid in a candy store with a dozen Willy Wonkas running the store.
New friends from Rochester & Alvey from the Four Firkins