Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Great Minnesota Beer Get Together

As you may or may not know, the 2010 National Homebrewers Conference was in Minneapolis (technically Bloomington) last month. Homebrewing wasn't really on my radar when tickets went on sale for all the events so the seminars and everything else really didn't mean too much to me.

What did mean a ton to me though, was that a lot of my out-of-town friends were going to be in the Twin Cities for the conference and I was going to get to meet some of them for the first time.

Twitter was something that started slow for me, something I did just to see what it was all about. It also coincided with the explosion of my craft beer hobby and I soon found out that the two went hand in hand. I tweet about plenty more than beer but the majority of my interaction is about beer and most of it is with friends I met because of beer.

My biggest problem about social media is that too many people use it as a substitute for real friends. "I have 258 friends on Facebook" "Oh yeah? How many would meet you at the bar for a beer?" "Ummmmmm" Exactly.

I understand it's not always feasible to have a beer with a Twitter (or Facebook or whatever) "friend" when you live in Minneapolis and said friend lives in Texas. But that's what made last week so cool, I got to meet several Twitter friends in person for the first time and got to drink beer with them and friends that I met on Twitter but have had the fortune to hang out with before.

Here's the quick recap. Melanie from Atlanta (aka @mstrachan on the Twitter) was the first in town, she arrived with her friend Eric on Sunday night. I had volleyball league that night though so we didn't meet up till Monday night when we had a few beers at Town Hall. Josh (aka @joshareed on the Twitter) and his wife Elizabeth joined Melanie, Eric, Allison, Marie and me for a pretty fun get-to-know-ya Monday night.

Wednesday afternoon is when it all took off. Brett (aka @BrettGlenna on the Twitter) got tickets for a bunch of us to go to the Twins game that night and I decided to invite everybody over to Isenberg's Neighborhood Bar that afternoon so I could showcase some of Minnesota's finest beers before the game.

Josh was first to show up and eventually the rest of the crew showed up - Brett with Frank (@fnbarrett on the Twitter), Maggie (@SudsyMaggie on the Twitter) and Norm (@NormskiBrewer on the Twitter) in tow and Allison with Melanie and Eric. Norm and Maggie are from Washington and Frank is from Iowa (but don't hold that against him).

I spent the days leading up to Wednesday assembling as many Minnesota beers as I could find and the final count ended up being around forty available for us to try. We got through just over two dozen of them (give or take) before it was time to leave for the Twins game. Everybody got a taste of beer ranging from Schell's to Brau Brothers to Summit to Surly to Lake Superior to Lift Bridge. Not everybody tried every beer, but everybody got their fair share of a taste of Minnesota.

It was also the largest gathering of "Getting Tanked with Frank" panel members in history. OK, it was the first gathering in the short history of the hottest new podcast on the internet but that's what made it so significant. I had met Frank once before and Brett several times but this was our first group gathering (minus Mar, Ben & Laz).

The Getting Tanked with Frank logo was also born that day:

Allison and I met up with Frank and his wife and kids and with Brett and his wife and Maggie down at Target Field where we got to hang with Norm for a bit too. It was a beautiful evening and we got to see a fantastic game from Scott Baker, 12 strikeouts in a 2-1 Twins victory.

The next night, I got off work and stopped by home to grab some of the beers that we didn't get to the night before and headed down to Bloomington were the gang was hanging out (sans Frank & family and Melanie & Friend who headed home).

I brought some of the beers that we didn't get time to try from the night before including Surly Furious, Surly Abrasive Ale and a growler of Town Hall's Masala Mama. Didn't get a chance to stay too long since everybody had to return to the fun of the conference.

The next night Allison and I again headed down to the hotel after work, this time with a growler of Barley John's Wild Brunette and the just-released-that-very-day Lift Bridge Minnesota Tan and Brau Brothers Rubus (an imperial blackberry porter). Also included for the west coasters was a bottle of Bells Hopslam, past its prime but still worth trying for those who never have before.

After having dinner at the hotel with the gang, Allison and I left them to their fun again and headed back home since we were leaving for New Ulm the next morning.

While I was in New Ulm, I wanted to try a Schell's Hefeweizen on tap since it was in season and I had a hot tip that it was at the B&L Bar downtown. I ordered a hefe for me and a Schell's Stout for Allison and posted on Twitter that we were there. Not long after, I felt a pat on my back and saw yet another Twitter connection sit down on the barstool next to me. It was David Berg from Schell's (aka @schellbrewer on the Twitter).

Dave and I have been conversing on Twitter for awhile and I've wanted to meet up with him for awhile so it was great to finally have the chance to get to do that. We had a couple beers and shot the shit for awhile and had a great time. If my parents weren't waiting for their Happy Joe's chicken, I have the feeling we could have had a few more than we did. At least we finally got to have that first one and I look forward to having more in the near future.

The next morning after making a Father's Day breakfast for my parents, we took off for the Cities to pick up Norm & Maggie from the hotel so we could head to the St Paul Summer Beer Festival. Allison dropped us off and we soon met up with the rest of the crew and began sampling.

I was a little disappointed that some breweries only showed up with one or two beers and that some only showed up with regular stuff that I could drink whenever I wanted but I did find enough to sample about 24 different beers.

I was surprised that I didn't run into more people that I knew but I did run into a couple of very important cogs in the Twin Cities beer community, Dan and Bryan from the Four Firkins. Always good to see those guys, especially outside of work.

Eventually the day was wrapping up and Maggie, Norm and I had to figure out what we wanted for our last beer before Allison picked us up so that we could get Maggie and Norm to the airport on time.

We decided that it was fitting to end the day with a Surly. I hadn't been there all day since the program only listed beers that were already in my fridge at home. Maggie went up to grab a sample for both of us because I was busy BS'ing again and returned with the surprise of the day - Surly Brown Eye. Oops, I meant Surly IMPERIAL Brown Eye (sorry Todd!). I forgot the exact style that it was but it was a great way to end the day because it was easily my favorite beer of the day.

Thus ended an epic week of beer drinking with awesome people. Epic is a term that gets tossed around too much these days but I can't think of a word to better describe it. I was sad to see Norm and Maggie go, I had such a great time hanging out with them. I felt a lot better though because I knew we'd get to drink again hopefully very soon!

*Editor's note - Yeah, I'm a couple weeks late posting this son of a bitch. Sorry about that. I got writer's block for the events of the last day. OK, that's a lie. I just got lazy and then forgot about it. But better late then never. Now go drink a beer that was made close to where sleep at night.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


A couple Saturdays ago I attended my first ever BrauFest. As you may or may not know, Brau Brothers Brewing Company in Lucan, MN was the location of our beer club's first ever field trip (we even got our picture on the slideshow on their home page). The day we went included an open house at the brewery which included a self guided tour of the hop fields followed by a street dance outside the Brauhaus restaurant and bar (with supper in between at the Brauhaus for us).

I was hoping to get a good sized group of us down there again because it was the perfect set up for us. It's not too often that you can pitch a tent (or in our case, camper) right next to a brewery and drink beer until sleepy time and then sleep off all that beer until morning. Alas, a big group was not in the cards but we were not deterred.

I talked my sister Cheryl and her husband Bruce into coming and they met Allison and me at the brewery around 4:00 on Saturday afternoon with their camper in tow. What's better than owning a camper? Knowing someone who does! I was ready to sleep in a tent but glad that I didn't have to.

When we hit the brewery, I found out that rumors of the appearance of Rubus were true. Rubus is the newest Brau beer, a big ass imperial blackberry porter. Ignoring all rules about what order to drink beers in, I immediately requested one as my first beer. It was damn good too. Not too overwhelming with the blackberry, but just enough to give it a nice flavor. The 9.something% ABV was nicely hidden too. All that for only $5 in a Brau Brothers pint glass that you got to keep (and refill for only $3).

Now Cheryl and Bruce are pretty loyal to Michelob Golden Draft Light (no, I haven't disowned them yet) so I knew Rubus and Sheephead (7.7% ABV pale ale) were out. So we started Bruce off with their version of a light(er) beer, Old 56 and Cheryl had a Strawberry Wheat (and eventually switched to Old 56 as well.

Allison & Cheryl wouldn't hijack the van for me

I switched to Sheephead after a pilsner and soon realized that it was really growing on me. It's a big flavorful pale ale that, if you didn't know better, could easily be mistaken for an IPA. If you like big hops with big flavor, give it a try sometime. They went down way to easily and after a few of those and another Rubus, it was a wobbly walk up to the Brauhaus for me.

When we moved on to the restaurant to eat, we all ordered Brau beers again except Cheryl, who reverted back to Mich Golden form and ordered one. After I gave her crap and Bruce glared at her long enough, she changed her order to an Old 56 and stuck with it for the rest of the night. I'm not sure if they'll ever drink another Brau Beer (or craft beer for that matter) again, but I think I did my part to show them that their perception of craft beer is a little off (like most people's) and that there are some good starter beers for them in the better beer world.

I also bought Bruce an Old 56 t shirt and like I told him that the Brau Brothers might not be able to afford a Super Bowl commercial, but they can put a t shirt on a guy walking around Atwater, MN!

Bruce enjoying one of many Old 56's

After eating way too much good food, my stomach wasn't exactly ready to start drinking a ton of beer again so I decided to switch to the Brau Cream Stout. In spite of me being stuffed, it was still delicious to sip on which is a testament to how smooth that beer is. It was the perfect dessert/after dinner drink.

The street dance was pretty cool, not a lot of dancing going on except for the two little kids having a blast in front of the stage but the band (Hicktown Mafia)was pretty good and played a good mix of stuff from the 70's through the 00's and we had a pretty good time.

I read a comment online from somebody who went last year that said something along the lines of "it was mainly a bunch of locals drinking Bud Lights". For the most part, that's what it was again this year but I don't think you need to have a Mecca like Dark Lord Day with beer geeks crawling out of the wood works to be a good craft beer festival.

I actually appreciated the smaller crowd because you don't often get that kind of face time with the guys who run a brewery and as long as you have good beer to drink, having a good time is all up to you. I got to meet someone I've chatted with on Twitter at the brewery too and had some good conversation with her and her boyfriend. There's always an opportunity to meet someone new and talk about beer with them. Even if they're not big craft beer fans, you can still talk about it with them at an event like this one.

Hanging with Dustin & Trevor Brau

My goal is to get that good sized group to hit this thing next year and we can turn it into our own private beer festival (with a few locals thrown in the mix for fun). Or maybe word will start getting out and it'll get way bigger next year. Either way, I'm going to have fun and who knows, maybe my name will finally get on the plaque at the Brauhaus by then for eating those damn wings last spring!