Sunday, April 18, 2010

Beer Club's First Field Trip

One of the things I had envisioned when I was coming up with the idea of Beer Club was that we'd do some field trips as a group. While some very loose versions of "group outings" had occurred (Josh & I going to Surlyfest, Paul & Paul & I going to Winterfest), a true group outing had yet to happen.

Surly was very high on my list because of its closeness and because of how much we all love their beer but the first one to actually come about was Brau Brothers. It started in January when they were doing a tasting at the Four Firkins and I spoke with Dustin about us possibly coming out. He seemed to be more than happy to have us so I started thinking about putting something together.

I later saw Dustin and his brother Trevor when Paul & Paul & I were at Winterfest and we once again spoke about the group going to the brewery for a visit. After plenty of emails to the group, we decided on April 10th as the date that would work for the most people. It was on.

I wanted to make sure it was a good sized group so I encouraged people to bring significant others and any friends that were interested and by the time it the day came around there were seven of us from Beer Club with seven other guests. The more I thought about it, I realized that New Ulm was less than an hour away from Lucan so I also set up a private tour of the Schell's brewery for the same day.

The day of the tour we all met at Brau Brothers at or around 11:00 for the tour. The Brau Brothers tour reminded me of the Surly tour because most of it takes place in one big room. Dustin told us about the day to day happenings of the brewery, the history of it and plenty of other info that we all wanted to know.
Besides that, we all got to have some good conversation with Trevor Brau and Dale Brau as well as sample plenty of beer from the nine taps that were flowing. I can tell you with some certainty that there were some new fans of some of the beers, notably the Sheephead. I got lots of positive feedback about that beer. Eventually everybody broke off into smaller groups and spent the rest of the time talking with each of the Braus and just having a good time.

We were told about Brau Fest, which will happen the first weekend in June. I really want to make it and hopefully can get a small group of friends to go too. If you don't have plans currently, mark it on your calendar and come have a beer (or ten) with me.
One thing I'd like to reiterate is how much I love to support not just a local brewery like Brau Brothers, but to support a great group of guys like the ones who run the place. All three of them were very genuine guys that you'd want to sit and have a beer with, no matter where they worked. One of the very cool things about the day was that they didn't charge for the tour, they just asked for a donation to the local Lions Club and we were more than happy to oblige.

After the tour we decided to stop by the Brauhaus for some food and to check out their offsale beer which included (of course) Brau Brothers. One of the things I noticed on their website and for some reason thought I needed to try was a "Beyond Insanity Wings Challenge". Since this is a beer blog and not a "Man vs Food" blog, I'll spare you the gory details. I will say though that in hindsight, I'm not sure it was a smart idea on my part. Apparently the success rate is only 15%. But I did it and will now be immortalized in Lucan on the plaque inside the Brauhaus. Look for me if you're ever there!

After we finished up in Lucan, we all drove to New Ulm to hit Schell's Brewery. A regular tour is $3 per person and if you want to set up a private tour for your group, it's $60 or $3 per person, whichever is greater. I figured even if there were only 10-15 of us that paying the extra $2-3 per person would be worth it to have the tour all to ourselves. We ended up with 18 people because four others joined us in New Ulm.

I had been on the tour several times before, most recently in January of this year, but each time it's a little different. Sometimes it's because every tour guide has their own style and set of information that they decide to share with you. Sometimes it's because new events are going on. Sometimes it's because a new gift shop & tasting room just opened. Sometimes it's because of whatever. Bottom line is that even if you've toured it before it's worth your while to check it out again.

Since I wrote a bit about Schell's a few months ago when I toured it, I don't have a ton more to add about it. One very cool part of the day though was being able to do both of these tours on the same day to compare and contrast how different they are.

Brau Brothers is a very small operation that opened only a few years ago and they are making beers that are very current in today's craft beer world. Their lineup fills several different niches and no matter what you like, you should be able to find something. Included in that lineup, they have a great flagship pale ale, a very drinkable cream stout, a light lager and even a big & complex sipper. Their tour consisted of basic background on the brewing process, how they got the company going and some plans for the future.

Schell's on the other hand, is a pretty good sized brewery that is the second oldest in the country and has a lineup of beers that very much sticks to their 150 year history of brewing German style beers. Their beers are in no way as diverse as Brau Brothers but they have a proven history of success. Their tour consisted of a detailed historical background of both the brewery and the family that has been running it since day one. They talk about how to keep their history alive in modern times and sustaining both their success and the Schell's tradition.

I'd also like to mention that we had a wonderful tour guide at Schell's. From the minute the tour started she was very chipper and friendly to everybody and did a great job putting up with a group full of wise crackers and comedians. She let us hang around well past our hour tour and answered a ton of questions that we had. Schell's is lucky to have a sweetheart like her working for them.

After the tour was over, about half of us visited another staple of New Ulm, Happy Joe's pizza parlor. I mention this for two reasons. First and foremost, if you ever make it to New Ulm you have to eat there, and I would highly recommend the taco pizza. Second, they had the new Grain Belt Nordeast which had just come out three days prior and wasn't even in the Schell's sampling room yet.

If I had known how fun this day was going to be it would have happened a long time ago. Kudos to the entire group for mobilizing and making this happen. Everybody contributed in a positive way to make the day a huge success and that includes not just the Beer Club members but the guests as well. Everybody did a great job asking questions, engaging in good conversation and representing what the craft beer community can be like.

I'm not sure what the next field trip is going to be but after this experience I can promise two things. It'll be soon and it'll be a damn good time!

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