Taproom Twirl

Dogs on a taproom tour

Dogs on a taproom tour

Many people take advantage of the lovely summer weather by going on vacation, either to “the cabin” or to more exotic locales. Mr. NN and I are less likely to do so, alas. Summer, to us, signals a time for triathlon training and gardening. (We really do need to get out more.) This summer, however, we have been taking advantage of our precious free time to visit some of the fine taprooms in the area.

Saint Paul, my fair city, is getting in on the taproom scene, in a big way. Burning Brothers, an entirely gluten-free operation, is just off the Green Line. Having previously been impressed with their flagship beer Pyro, an American pale ale, I was curious to see if they could pull off a gluten-free stout. Also on offer in their taproom were a couple Pyro infusions: Lime Shandy,

Is it "roll out the barrow" or "roll out the barrel?" As long as there's beer, I don't care.

Is it “roll out the barrow” or “roll out the barrel?” As long as there’s beer, I don’t care.

Orange Blossom Honey, and Blackberry. Normally, I would have gone for the blackberry, but the bartender cautioned that the berries showed more as an aroma than a flavor, so I opted for the Lime Shandy while Mr. NN got the pilot batch version of the imperial stout. The citrus of the Lime Shandy paired well with the hops to make a refreshing but not cloyingly sweet beverage.

But we’re all here for the stout, aren’t we? Is it possible to make the malt-bomb that is an imperial stout gluten-free? The answer: Mostly. Burning Brothers’ stout had the requisite roastiness, combined with hints of chocolate. Though it had an ABV of 10.5%, it did not taste like a strong beer, let alone an imperial. Maybe that has something to do with the mouthfeel. Do not let that discourage you, though – this stout is not watery or thin-flavored; it just may surprise you to fin you’re drinking an imperial.

Food trucks have a regular schedule with Burning Brothers, and they will only sell gluten-free items, as you are kindly asked not to bring any gluten-containing items into the brewery. They also sell GF chips and cupcakes. Though there are games and books to get you to linger there, the atmosphere is warehouse-y, lit from the high ceiling with fluorescents. They get points, however, for the Darth Vader clock.

Bang in all its glory

Bang in all its glory

Not far from Burning Brothers and across the lot from Urban Growler (which is now open! Grand opening later this month) is Bang Brewing. This is perhaps the most unusual brewery in terms of building choices: it’s in a converted silo. The few tables had been pulled outside, but there were a couple seats inside at the bar. Rough-hewn reclaimed wood and corrugated steel constitute much of the interior décor, which again does not really entice one to linger but at least it’s architecturally interesting. The beers were decent, though Mr. NN liked them better than I did. Minn, Neat, Nice, and Good were the names, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what is what. (Their website is no help, either.) Something’s a pale ale, something else has wild rice in it. Dunno. All of the ingredients Bang uses, however, are 100% organic.

On another weekend, Mr. NN and I attended an open house for 11 Wells, a micro-distillery on the East Side (St. Paul). Since the passing of the Surly Law, which most people know for its impact on microbreweries (shorthand: able to sell a glass of beer at the brewery), micro-distilleries have been popping up all around Minnesota, too, thanks to a vast reduction in the cost of a distilling license. And just this summer, the governor signed an omnibus bill that allows micro-distilleries to open taprooms where they may sell cocktails. (I’m so excited! It’ll be like the Old Sugar Factory in WP_20140621_001Madison, Wisconsin.) Many of these distilleries benefit from good access to the local grains and botanicals that go into the mix. 11 Wells is taking over part of the old Hamm’s brewery – they still have a lot of work to do—and their plans are exciting, to say the least. At the open house, they gave out samples of a “Minnesota Mule,” their version of a Moscow Mule (vodka, ginger beer & lime), but this one made with their Minnesota 13 white whiskey instead of vodka. Tasty. The name “Minnesota 13” comes from a variety of corn produced by the University of Minnesota in the 1880s, which was popularly used to make moonshine during Prohibition.

(Side note: Try Solveig gin from Far North Spirits and do a side-by-side taste test with Bombay Sapphire. You won’t need to mark the glasses – you’ll be able to tell the difference between the two by smell alone. They taste like two very different liquors. I’d still use Bombay Sapphire for G & Ts, but I actually prefer the Solveig. Mix it with amaretto and cream for a fine beverage.)

Across the courtyard from 11 Wells is the new location of Flat Earth Brewing, also taking over part of the Hamm’s facility. This new venue is far bigger than where they originated. For example, if you take a tour of the brewery, you actually have to walk now – into multiple rooms! The taproom was not fully set up yet, so they were handing out free samples. Once their taproom is up and running and 11 Wells is too, this will be a hot destination. Food trucks can park in the

Mr. NN about to ascend to the throne

Mr. NN about to ascend to the throne

courtyard and get customers from both businesses (they even had one for the open house), and there is talk of live music there, too. If you follow them on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll be in the know about their schedule and may even be able to hit another open house for free samples.

Our next new taproom destination brought us out of the Twin Cities metro area… all the way to White Bear Lake. (For non-Minnesotans, that’s basically a suburb.) Mr. NN and I went to WBL to do an evening 5K race along the lake. Beautiful lake lined with many lovely houses and gardens. The best part, other than Mr. NN winning a pair of socks for coming in second in his age group,

Door décor at Big Wood

Door décor at Big Wood

was that our bib number was good for one free beer at the Big Wood Brewery in downtown WBL. “Quaint” is the word to describe that section of White Bear Lake.

It’s like something out of a Hallmark movie. Nestled in there in the semi-basement of an event center is Big Wood Brewery, with at least ten beers on tap. Mr. NN got the Dubbel Entendre, a double brown, and I opted for Northern Belle, a Saison. (Saisons and Berliner weisses are my go-to summer beverages.) Both beers were solid, commendable, though not necessarily stand-outs. The milk stout (Udder something) was a disappointment, but the Wicked Ex, a West Coast-style IPA, was excellent, one of the best IPAs I’ve had in a while.

Lots o' wood + beer + non-glaring lights = coziness

Lots o’ wood + beer + non-glaring lights = coziness

The taproom experience at Big Wood makes it a destination for us. Its low ceiling makes it cozy, along with the rough wood accents, nautical-looking wall sconces, and Tolkien-esque interior doors. The pendant lights that line the bar are made from growlers of various Minnesota breweries. There’s plenty of seating, too. Menus are available for at least three different restaurants that will deliver there. The runners got to share an olive pizza from a place called Olive’s (appropriately), which was excellent. There’s a stage for live music, and Wednesdays are Bring Your Own Vinyl night – tell them which side of the LP you want and they’ll play it. We will be back!

If you aren’t already following your favorite craft breweries (or micro-distilleries) on Facebook or Twitter, I recommend you get on it soon!

So many Berliner weisses...

So many Berliner weisses…

Businesses are more likely to put current information out that way than update their website with every little change. (Some savvy ones connect their Twitter feed to their website, I guess, so that’s one way to stay current if you’re not on Twitter or FB.) The excellent flight of Berliner Weisses I got to try at Day Block Brewing come about solely because I saw their notice on Facebook.

With that, I think it’s time to update my status. Cheers!

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The New and the Old: Tin Whiskers and Bub’s

Robots like beer, too!

Robots like beer, too!

Beer lovers in Minnesota will have much to look forward to this summer. No, the new Surly destination brewery will not be open yet (that’s on the docket for early 2015), but several smaller breweries will be opening their doors, if they haven’t already. Sometime this summer, Urban Growler will finally be open to the public, making that little industrial corner of St. Paul a bit of a destination, thanks to the presence of Bang Brewing nearby and gluten-free Burning Brothers a short jaunt away.

New: One place newly opened is Tin Whiskers Brewing in downtown St. Paul. As a St. Paulite, I am thrilled to note that my city is starting to get in on the

My favorite kind of rainbow.

My favorite kind of rainbow.

microbrewery action. Tin Whiskers, a venture started by three electrical engineers, featured six beers on tap when I went there last week with Mr. NN. There was the expected IPA (Flip-Switch: a bit too heavy on the bittering end of the hop-adding process, IMO, though Mr. NN quite enjoyed it), an amber (Ampere: hoppier than many ambers, which is not a bad thing), and then some more daring or experimental brews: a sweet stout on nitro (Short Circuit: very nice), a robust stout (a bit like burnt coffee), and a wheat with chamomile (Wheatstone Bridge: excellent and refreshing). The electrical theme is continued on the boards used for flights; they are repurposed circuit boards. Tin Whiskers experiments with different styles on a regular basis, so I would expect at least one or two new brews if I visited the taproom every two or three weeks.

A review of a new brewery is not complete these days without a review of the taproom experience it offers. Overall, it is a clean, well-lighted place. Lots of windows. Though it is in downtown, parking –even on the Friday I was there—is fairly easy to get on the street and St. Paul stops metering at 6pm.

Evidence of St. Paul's nightlife

Evidence of St. Paul’s nightlife

Around the corner, you’ll find Black Sheep Coal-Fired Pizza, Sawatdee, and Key’s Café. Like most taprooms, you can bring food in, and in the case of Black Sheep and Sawatdee, they will deliver right to the taproom. Upon entering, one is greeted by a large mural of a robot, the mascot of Tin Whiskers. The rest of the taproom is pretty pared down: several wooden tables and a long bar with open view of the brewing area. A pile of card and board games sat by ready to be played. One adjustment I’d like to see would be sound dampeners; with all hard surfaces, noise bounces around the room and makes it louder than it really is.

It's so ... gleam-y.

It’s so … gleam-y.

One other change that would be helpful is the menu. There is one up-to-date board on a side wall that lists the beers on tap. Seated at the far end of the bar, I could barely read it. The flip-boards near me were not up-to-date (or they had some sort of error) and they were confusing. Tin Whiskers has a system of listing beers as “alpha” (trying it out for the first time, open to feedback), “beta” (more established but still might need tweaking), “singleton” (a new, one-off rarity or limited quantity), and … um… one other that indicates it’s a locked-in recipe. The flip-boards listed did not name things as clearly as the menu board, so when we ordered our flights, there was much correction from the bartender on whether the beta listed on the flip-board was the same as the amber or stout or IPA we’d already put on our flight list. (Oh, another issue: The flights are not really a good deal. It costs $8 for four 4-oz. pours, which is okay if you want variety, but if you order a pint, you’ll pay about $6.50 and I believe one can also order smaller sizes.)

Overall: Tin Whiskers is definitely worth a visit, especially with unique beers like Wheatstone Bridge. I like it when brewers make something that isn’t found elsewhere.

Old: Last weekend, Mr. NN and I ventured to lovely Winona, Minnesota, for his participation in the Trinona (a triathlon). No, we did not see Winona Ryder,

Setting up the swim course in Winona

Setting up the swim course in Winona

and yes, she was named for this town. As the tri-sherpa, cheering spectator, and travel companion, my first order of business was to find any and all breweries or brewpubs in Winona. Just two blocks from the packet pick-up area, we found Bub’s Brewing (unfortunately pronounced “boobs”). I wasn’t expecting much from this historic brewing operation (there’s been a brewery at that location or in that family since 1856, if I read the menu correctly). However, their Black Forest Ale, a stout, was smooth and full-bodied. The blonde ale was even passable and refreshing, though readers of this blog will note that in general it is not a style I enjoy. The best part of Bub’s, however, was the Cellar Mushrooms: big mushroom caps stuffed with cheese, WP_20140607_001breaded and fried. A good way to carb-load before the tri, Mr. NN tried to tell himself.

Winona is not a large town, so Bub’s was the extent of our search. However, our brunch at the well-situated Boat House gave me an opportunity to sample a beer from a brewery I had never even heard of: Pearl Street Brewery, out of nearby LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The Boat House had their Smokin’ Hemp Porter on tap, which was a well-balanced porter – not too heavy on the smoke. I don’t know what hemp seed tastes like, but I thought I detected something a little different about the flavor profile. (Power of suggestion?) The beer actually paired rather nicely with the fantastic raspberry-walnut French toast I had.

So this summer, I plan to get out and visit the old and new. Summer can be a difficult time to impress me with beer (I’m more of a malt-fan), but I have no doubt that Minnesota brewers will surprise me with their craft. Cheers!

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Over the River and Through the Woods…

A cider sampling at Sociable.

A cider sampling at Sociable.

Despite the recent snows, the weather has been improving and, thus, I have been venturing out of the warm cave of my home. My beer travels of late have taken me to the new, the old, and the renovated, on the west side of the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers, as well as the east.

The first venue explored was Sociable Cider Werks in Minneapolis. It was packed on the Friday evening we visited, but we managed to

Nippled tanks? Intriguing.

Nippled tanks? Intriguing.

belly up to the end of the bar and secure two seats for our party of four. A food truck with a pizza oven was parked outside, wafting its savory scents across the parking lot, and people were able to get their pizzas delivered to them inside. The beverage menu offered three types of cider: a straightforward dry version, a hopped cider, and a dark cider made with stout grains. All three were interesting and flavorful, and we appreciated that they were made with Minnesota-grown apples. However… we’re beer drinkers. A small glass of cider is a nice change from time to time, but the tart aftertaste of a cider is not something that gets us clamoring for more. Fortunately, Sociable Cider Werks also brews beer!

The beers on tap trended toward the session-y side (low ABV), but they were an interesting assortment of styles: a Belgian-style single, a dark mild, and a Glacier EPA

Chalk means they change things frequently. I like that.

Chalk means they change things frequently. I like that.

. While not rave-worthy, they made for a pleasurable drinking time. We will definitely return to Sociable Cider Werks, especially since it seems they change up their offerings frequently. A honeydew mint cider? I’m on my way!

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The more attractive Town Hall

Now open, also in Minneapolis, is the newly renovated Town Hall Brewery, perhaps the most esteemed brewpub in Minnesota. The renovation, particularly of the restrooms, was greatly needed. Now there is more seating (or at least more adjustable seating), new light fixtures and flooring, and brand new bathrooms with an extra stall. (No more having to dirty dance with a stranger while you’re trying to exit a stall, ladies!) The charm of the old Town Hall was preserved, however, in the exposed brick walls, the fireplace area, and the elegant wood of the back part of the bar. The walls feature informative graphics, such as the monthly beer and event schedule in the main bar area.

Another addition is a broader range of guest beers. I am not sure whether the expanded list is a permanent feature or just a way to make use of the available taps until the brewery is back to full capacity production. In a smart move, the brewers must have planned in advance for the renovation closure by brewing up the concoctions for Barrel-Aged Week, which is normally in February. So shortly after re-opening, craft beer fanatics flocked to Town Hall to check out the reno while imbibing some of the best beer in Minnesota. Mr. NN and I were, of course, part of the flock. We went on Wednesday to check out the first three days’ worth of releases and again on Friday to try the double release of that evening. My socks were well and truly knocked off. “Project 3106,” as it was called, was the best, most interesting beer I’ve had in a while. It was a Belgian-style Strong Dark Ale aged in bourbon barrels with an addition of chocolate and kumquats. Yes, kumquats! The subtle citrusy notes played off the dark chocolate and boozy barrel-ness quite nicely. We plead: More like that, please!

The hangar for beer

The hangar for beer

Across the river and into Wisconsin, Mr. NN and I found ourselves in Hudson with some time to kill. We discovered a little brewery called American Sky Brewing, complete with hangar-styled taproom with seven or eight brews on tap, live music, and a food truck. We had a Russian imperial stout (a little weak but still tasty) and a coffee stout that we enjoyed. The brewery runs free tours with free samples of beer every Saturday at 4:00. On Friday nights, they also play movies, such as The Goonies. Other events, like a free bacon and beer event, promised fun, too. I would not necessarily drive from the Twin Cities just to hang out at American Sky, but if passing through Hudson, it is worth a stop.

Another stop worth hitting is the historic Casanova Liquor. Minnesotans are always looking for good liquor stores on the Wisconsin border, and Casanova may be one of the best. (If you’re not familiar with this

Not the entrance

Not the entrance

region, here’s a primer: Minnesota bans Sunday liquor sales, but Wisconsin doesn’t. Minnesota also has other beer-related laws and regulations that keep some breweries from selling here. While there are some breweries that sell in Minnesota but not Wisconsin, there are more that choose the Cheesehead State over the Land of 10,000 Potholes.) I have long been a shopper at Chicone’s, near the Country Market, south of I-94. They have a very good selection. I may now be swinging just north of 94 to hit Casanova, though it kind of smells funky in there. Not only is their beer selection quite large, it is diverse and even featured some beers and breweries I have never seen before—and I’ve seen a lot of what’s available in this area.

Not far from Casanova is the Stone Tap, about which I have heard a lot. They have a well-curated beer list and interesting, innovative dishes made with high quality ingredients. I had wild boar gnocchi while sipping some Dogfish Head Namaste. I certainly felt at peace. The setting is casually sophisticated and cozy. Another venue I hope to revisit on a regular basis.

An informational wall at Town Hall

An informational wall at Town Hall

One final note: My posts may be decreasing in frequency (as you may have already noticed). Alas, I now have full-time, gainful employment that keeps me in beer money but reduces my available brain-space for writing. I may go with much shorter posts, too, just to keep the beer-related information flowing. If you have a Twitter account, you can follow my more up-to-date commentaries there. Most of what I post now are my reviews of beer on the Untappd app, which you should get (it’s free) if you don’t already have it. It’s a good way to keep track of what you’ve tried and what you think of it. The best part? They give you badges! For drinking beer! I love me some badges. I’m trying to catch up to Wil Wheaton.

Cheers!

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Beer & Health: What Ales You?

What the doctor ordered?

What the doctor ordered?

Did my title pun make you groan? Just be glad I didn’t go with “Beers to Your Health.” (Ha! Gotcha. I’ve already used that one.)

Readers of this blog may have noticed that I have not been posting much this year so far. Part of the reason has been the blasted polar vortex, also known as “a slightly worse than usual Minnesota winter.” When the temperature is dangerously low and the roads are icy, we are less keen to venture out and seek new beer experiences. Another reason for the reduction in my beer writing has been health. Namely, I’m trying to shed a few pounds. With the aforementioned winter scene, running outside (my main calorie-burner) is now reserved primarily for people who are looking to lose weight via the loss of body parts through frostbite or who are seeking to twist their ankles in order to get out of dancing at their cousin’s wedding (you know who you are). The treadmill at the gym is a great way to hate running, so consequently… many of us get a little extra padding this time of year. I eat pretty well and I rarely drink calories in the form of soda or juice. Beer, on the other hand….

I like to keep up with health studies, particularly if they help justify my favorite vice. Alcohol presents a hugely mixed bag of blessings and curses for those who imbibe. But let’s start there. Blessing #1: Those who drink moderately live longer than teetotalers. Researchers are not quite sure why, but they think it may have something to do with reduced stress and the social aspect of drinking. I’ve long said it: Beer is the beverage that bonds. New research suggests that alcohol lengthens telomeres, the little aglet-type dealies on the ends of our DNA that cause aging and disease as they become shorter. This leads to the next question of what “moderately” means. It differs for men and women, partially due to average body size and partially due to a difference in an enzyme that breaks down alcohol (ADH, alcohol dehydrogenase).

The one on the right might actually be two.

The one on the right might actually be two.

The recommendation for the upper limit on alcohol consumption is up to one daily drink for women and up to two for men. It is important here to understand what “a drink” means in this context: Wine (non-fortified) = 5 ounces; spirits (80 proof) = 1.5 ounces; beer = 12 ounces.

But hold on just a second. Did you see that there wasn’t a descriptor for “beer.” When you see that, you should understand that the guidelines are referring to the common beer that is widely consumed across the nation. That is, MacroCrap. MacroCrap beers are light lagers and rarely go above 5% ABV. Granted, there are many craft beers that are 5% or less, but there are even more that are “double” this or “imperial” that — and that means that you are probably hitting 9% or higher. So when you calculate your daily alcohol units, that 10 ounce glass of Lift Bridge Commander barleywine (oh, it’s yummy stuff) has more than twice the volume of alcohol as the guideline expects for beer and, at 12.5%., should actually be consumed under the guidelines for wine. Yep, that 10 ounce pour counts as two drinks. (I know. Bums me out, too.)

So what are the health issues with exceeding the recommended weekly alcohol amounts? (FYI, I respect booze and hope you do, too. Therefore, I will not cover issues of binge drinking, alcoholism, driving while impaired, or even heavy drinking, as I firmly believe in being a responsible drinker.) Curses #1 & 2: There’s obviously the effect on the liver, but there is also a link between moderate drinking and breast cancer. As someone with a family history of breast

Enjoying the product of these Lift Bridge tanks and contemplating our health.

Enjoying the product of these Lift Bridge tanks and contemplating our health.

cancer, I must acknowledge the risk every time I raise a glass, though I am heartened that the studies show only a “modest” increase in the risk. Speaking of being “heartened,” we come to Blessing #2: Moderate consumption of alcohol has been shown to reduce risk of heart attack. Yay! I also have a family history of heart disease, so maybe Blessing 2 and Curse 2 balance out the risk.

There are other studies about the health benefits and detriments of booze. While alcohol is a “super-sugar” and therefore can be harmful for diabetics (Curse #3), some studies have shown that moderate drinking can also reduce the risk of developing Type II diabetes in the first place (Blessing #3). But this back-and-forth is about alcohol in general. What of beer in particular?
 
For women with a gluten sensitivity, drinking beers gives them a higher risk of developing the skin disease psoriasis (Curse #4). However, beer has also been found to be a good source of silicon, which is a key ingredient in increasing bone density and preventing osteoporosis (Blessing #4). The beer types that contain the most silicon are lighter in color (read: not roasted) and highly hopped. So rejoice, all you hopheads out there! And a big cheer for beer in Blessing #5: Beer is the only alcoholic beverage to be linked to a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease. (I’ll have one for you tonight, Uncle Roger.)
 
(Note for you gluten-sensitive types: Burning Brothers in St. Paul is in full production now and they only make gluten-free beer. I tried Pyro, their flagship American pale ale, and was very pleasantly surprised. Other gluten-free beers I’ve had have not been satisfying, usually lacking depth or complexity. This beer, however, has a nice floral nose, strong hop flavor, and a pine-to-citrus aftertaste with just a hint of caramel. Though I have no problem with gluten, I would gladly drink this beer again.)
 
For you athletes out there (and as a runner myself who also does duathlons and triathlons, I guess I count in that designation),

Triathletes in need of beer.

Triathletes in need of beer.

beer can aid in your post workout recovery, which is a good thing given the number of running events that serve free beer afterwards. Early studies were done in Germany with marathoners given non-alcoholic beer. The polyphenols in beer were shown to decrease inflammation. Building on that, a Canadian company has developed a post-workout beer beverage that is low calories, very low alcohol, high nutrient, and high protein. I’m skeptical of its drink-worthiness, though, and I have a feeling that the runners of the Chicago Marathon might riot if their free Goose Islands beer ever get swamped out for a near-beer. A study cited in the workout beer link suggests that alcohol impairs protein synthesis, which is important after a strenuous workout. However, not only were the subjects in the study consuming excessive amounts, they were not drinking beer, they were drinking vodka! Not going to get any polyphenol boost there, guys.

 
More research must be done on beer’s benefits … and I suppose its drawbacks, if you must. I will take it upon myself to study the effects of moderate post-running beer consumption … as soon as it warms up a bit.
 
 

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Now Open: Day Block Brewing

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Barn art? No, a new brewpub!

January 27, a bitterly cold day here in Minnesota, saw the opening of the newest brewpub in the state: Day Block Brewing in Minneapolis. Two days later, once the temperature rose into the double digits above zero, I headed over with some trusty beer-loving friends to try it out. On Washington Avenue, just a block down from the Loft Literary Center (one of my other haunts), Day Block’s location is great for accessibility, but parking can be tricky. Mr. NN and I were fortunate enough to snag a spot in the parking lot (they score points for having one), and there is a street nearby where the meter rate is just 25 cents an hour, but the closer spaces are more expensive. (And no, I’m not divulging which street has the cheap parking; otherwise you’d steal my fallback parking spots!)

Main bar area

Main bar area

The first thing I noticed upon entering the spot (formerly the location of Spill the Wine) was how open it felt. For one thing, they knocked down the wall to the adjacent site, so it is larger than Spill the Wine. Secondly, they kept the large floor-to-ceiling windows on the front that prevent the space from feeling closed in. Though there are many tables and seats at the two bars, there could actually be a few more, if they should need them. Beyond the spaciousness, the brewpub itself is keeping things minimal: exposed brick walls, a basic tin panel background wall behind the taps. No frills, nothing fancy. Not very photo-worthy … but that’s not why we go to brewpubs, anyway, is it?

No, it’s not. Let’s get to the beer. Currently, Day Block has six beers on tap. It can be hard to choose which to get in a 16 ounce

The Six

The Six

glass when you are trying out a new place. Fortunately, Day Block offers two flights, either four samples or all six. Mr. NN and I split the six sample flight, so we would know which beer we would want to order. Here’s the line up:

  • The Winter Witbier was light and lightly effervescent on the palate, with fruit esters and a hint of spice. Decent, though better for someone looking for a subtle beer, as opposed to a strongly flavored one.
  • Frank’s Red Ale, their American amber, was surprisingly solid for a red. It’s not normally a style I go for, but it ended up being the beer I chose to have in a pint. If you like mid-range beers (not too hoppy, not too malty, not too roasty), then you will enjoy this one.
  • Hippity Hop Pale Ale was the beer about which we had the least to say. I could have actually appreciated more hops in this one.
  • Day Block Porter was problematic for me, considering that I thought it would be the obvious choice for the beer I’d want in a pint. I love porters. The first sip of this ale was fine, a solid robust porter. However, subsequent tastes left me with an aftertaste that I could only describe as “cigarette butt.” Maybe “old, burnt coffee” would be another way to put it. None of my table mates had a problem with the beer, though. Mr. NN normally doesn’t like porters, so he didn’t order it, and the other two may not have had enough sips for the aftertaste to kick in. Maybe my taste buds went haywire. Dunno.
  • Northern Discovery IPA was a solid IPA, though I did not care for it as much as the IPA at the Freehouse. In my opinion, it was too heavy on the bittering hops without being well-balanced by malt or shifting the hops addition more toward flavor / aroma. (That addition happens later in the boil.)
  • Day Block Black IPA was a surprising favorite of Mr. NN’s and of mine. The ale comes in at 8% ABV, which is a bit higher than a standard IPA. The higher alcohol, which comes from more malt, moderates the hops and gives the brew a nice balance.

Do you notice how I am not raving about these beers? While none of these ales came across as amateur, they also did not wow us. This is not a destination I’d

The Four

The Four

hit if I just wanted a beer — not with Town Hall just down the road. (It’s currently under construction, however.) There is another reason to spend part of your evening at Day Block: the food.

Pizza is the name of the game at Day Block. The “Bahn Mizza” called to me first. Vietnamese pork,

Half-eaten Bahn Mizza

Half-eaten Bahn Mizza

gochujang mayo, scallions, pickled slaw…. yum. The crust, the part of a pizza that can make or break it (IMO), was a good combination of oven-baked crusty with light and chewy. We also tried the one vegetarian pizza on the menu, “Roots,” which had squash puree, root vegetables, and ricotta. That received mixed reviews from our table. Some loved the hint of curry in the puree, others thought it seemed too “one-note” and could stand to have the flavors amped up.

The appetizers largely received thumbs-up from our group. The bacon flight offered three dipping sauces with three types of bacon, each differently cured or smoked.

A picture's worth a thousand calories.

A picture’s worth a thousand calories.

Gimmicky? Sure. Tasty? You bet. The flight of pickled vegetables was less thrilling but still a tasty nibble, and one that you wouldn’t have to feel guilty about eating. The garlic knots were rather bland, but the pretzels with two mustard sauces were excellent.

We did not stay for dessert, though the cheesecake did sound interesting. We were full and discovered that the new branch of Izzy’s Ice Cream, my favorite ice cream in the entire Midwest, was just a block away. (Btw, if you are interested in beer ice cream, they sometimes offer a Guinness ice cream or Summit Oatmeal Stout.)

I am not bothered by a brewpub where the beer is adequate to solid (not exciting), as long as the food offers a reason to come back. The Freehouse and Northbound Smokehouse are similar in that regard. (Northbound is now making more of an effort to have special seasonals available. Their “Snownami,” a double chocolate raspberry stout, may just lure me back there and off my diet.) Minneapolis Town Hall, on the other hand,  is a brewpub that draws you in with its exceptional beers. The food there, however, is forgettable. Pretty standard pub fare. Town Hall Lanes and Town Hall Tap are caught somewhere in the middle — the food is a step up from the Town Hall parent but the beer is a step down, in that there is a limited amount of the specialty beers.

So what can you take away from this review of Day Block Brewing? Here’s my score sheet:

  • Beer, on average: B- / C+   Note: I’d definitely try any new seasonals or releases, but I would not rush back just for the current beers.
  • Food: B+  Note: Focusing just on pizza helps establish their identity, though if you’re not in the mood for pizza, there is nothing else that would draw you here (read: the beer is not a draw on its own).
  • Atmosphere: B- / C+   Note: While I like the clean sparseness of the space, it lacks character. Get some art in there! The bar area is about as boring as can be. With many hard surfaces, it can get loud quickly, so they should consider putting up sound dampeners (curtains, fabric wall hangings, etc.).

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My Favorite Beers of 2013 & What’s Up in 2014

Happy New Year from Ninkasi's Niece & Mr. NN!

Happy New Year from Ninkasi’s Niece & Mr. NN!

I am a sucker for lists, any kind of list. Best-of / worst-of lists, grocery lists, to-do lists…. Not all of them make for good reading, but all can be considered helpful in some way. Around New Years, we are inundated with lists of the highlights and lowlights, the best and the worst, of the year that’s passed. I don’t always agree with the ranking of the items and sometimes I think things are put on certain lists that don’t deserve to be there and other things are left out. However much a person may agree or disagree with the contents of these many lists, a person’s reaction can be as illuminating as the list itself. Recently, Draft Magazine put out their list of the top 25 beers of 2013. My reactions were thus (in list form, of course):

  • I haven’t heard of half of these breweries.
  • Even of the breweries I have heard of, some of those specific beers were not seen in Minnesota.
  • One of the entries is also on my list.
  • Of the few that I have tried, I was underwhelmed by the majority.
  •  My own list will look inadequate by comparison. ::sigh::

For those of you not in easy distance of Minnesota, I do apologize; many of my favorite beers of 2013 are not available outside of the state. As I see it, that is just balancing out Draft’s list, which features many brews unavailable here. One additional note about my list: Some of these beers may have been available in earlier years; however, I have tried to keep my list to beers that made their initial appearance in Minnesota in 2013, or thereabout. As 2014 is already losing its new-year smell, I shall waste no more time. In 2013, I enjoyed these beers the most:

  • Amuste by Odell (CO): I do love hybrids and innovations. This 9.3% ABV Imperial porter is aged in wine barrels and contains juice from Tempranillo grapes (grown in Colorado, not Spain). It has a slightly sour tang in it, while not being a sour ale, and the dark malt goodness of a jacked up porter. Love.
  • Imperial Wit with Lime by Blacklist (MN): This nomadic brewery makes a different beer each month. In 2013, we were lucky enough to get our hands on the Imperial Wit with Lime, which is no longer available. It was a perfect fusion of fruit and grain. Thankfully, Blacklist is now available in the MSP area.
  • Black Ale  and Golden IPA by Bent Paddle (MN): Another northern brewery that made the trip south, to the delight of  Twin Citizens. The Black Ale (6.0%), a brew between a stout and a porter, marries the best of the two styles. Mr. NN, not a huge fan of standard stouts and porters (I married him anyway), likes this beer when he wants a dark malt beverage. The Golden IPA (6.2%) is a pleasantly floral IPA that reminds me of sunlight coming through the leaves. The price point for the cans is such that we could have these are our “go-to” beers, the ones you might bring to share at a party without breaking the bank or that you might always have on hand at home.
  • Dublin Raid by HammerHeart (MN): Sorry, folks. As far as I can tell, you can only get this at the brewery taproom in Lino Lakes, MN. This peated Irish Red Ale (6.5%) is so much more than the sum of its parts. I may possibly have had a cask or barrel-aged version when I was there, but I can’t be sure. The peaty-ness comes through, as well as smoked malts and rye. It’s a riot in your mouth. HammerHeart seems to do a lot of smoked beers, and now some of those ales are available on tap. But not this one.
  • Berliner Weisse by White Birch (NH), tied with Star of the North by Schells (MN): I previously declared the Berliner Weis (or Weisse) style to be the Style of the Summer. Maybe the year. Though this style has been around for quite a long time, it has only recently made an appearance (or resurgence) on the wider American craft beer scene. If you like effervescence but do not like fizzy pop, then you might like this.
    Something yummy from Schell's

    Something yummy from Schell’s

    If you like light-on-the-palate but you don’t like sweet, then you  might like this. Germans traditionally serve this (sometimes to kids!) with a syrup of woodruff or raspberry to cut the tartness. This two versions of the style don’t require any such modification, in my opinion.

  • Rise of the Burghers and the Fall of the Feudal Lords by Olvalde Farm (MN).: This beer from the one-man brewery in Rollingstone, MN, only crossed my lips once, but I have been on the hunt for it ever since. It’s a riff on medieval German ales brewed with herbs and bittered with hops and horehound. I recall it having the finish of a subtle red wine or fruit leather, a hint of sourness. If you can find it, let me know. I need more!
  • Cascara Quad by New Belgium (CO): This 10% ABV dark ale is brewed with dates and coffee cherries. It’s a quad that harkens to the leathery sweetness of cherry pipe tobacco. Plus it has llamas on the bottle. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I love me some fruit leather-raisin-sour cherry-pipe tobacco aroma and flavor profiles.
  • Bombay Berzerker by Clown Shoes (MA): Another big 10% beer. This one uses a chocolate stout as the base and adds ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and vanilla. Worth going berserk over, indeed.
  • My own homebrews! Both of recipes that I made from Extreme Brewing by Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head turned out wonderfully. As I mentioned in my post, I tweaked the recipes WP_20131015_002a bit to use up ingredients that I had on hand and I also added candied ginger to the stout. “Eldritch Root” (the stout with candied ginger an licorice root) and “Bog Braggot” (a cranberry braggot) may just have to make appearances in homebrew competitions in 2014 — if we don’t drink it all first.

Looking forward, I think 2014 holds plenty of excitement for the world of craft beer, particularly in Minnesota. These are the breweries/brewpubs that are either scheduled to open this year or opened in 2013 but that I have not yet been able to visit:

  1. Urban Growler. Opening in the spring in St. Paul. Read about my visit to their open house here.
  2. Day Block Brewing. Opening this month! (Grand opening on the 27th.) This pizzeria / brewpub is in the space formerly occupied by Spill the Wine.
  3. Wenonah Brewing. Just opened in Winona, MN.
  4. Tin Whiskers Brewing. Opening in downtown St. Paul, maybe this spring.
  5. Pryes Brewing. Still looking for funding for a Minneapolis location.
  6. Burning Brothers Brewing. I can’t tell if they are actually open yet, but they are producing. It’s an entirely gluten-free brewery in St. Paul.
  7. Kinney Creek Brewery. Already open in Rochester, MN. Finally something other than the hospital!
  8. Enki Brewing. Already open in Victoria, MN.
  9. Jack Pine Brewery. Already open in Baxter, MN.
  10. Bang Brewing. Already open in St. Paul, MN.

There’s one other development on the craft scene: spirits. A lesser-known provision of the so-called Surly Law is that business people who went to start a micro-distillery can now pay a licensing fee of only $1000 – $3000, as opposed to the previously prohibitive $30,000 fee.

Now made entirely in Minnesota! (Minus the olive, of course)

Now made entirely in Minnesota! (Minus the olive, of course)

Since that change, there have been at least 11 licenses issued. (Read more about it here.) In addition, a law was passed making it legal for the distillery to give out small samples of their products. Here are some of the craft spirit makers that we may find passing our lips this year:

  1. Vikre Distillery. Open in Duluth.
  2. Du Nord Craft Spirits. Minneapolis.
  3. Norseman Distillery. Minneapolis.
  4. Wander North Distillery. Minneapolis, not yet in operation.
  5. 11 Wells Spirits. Not yet open in St. Paul.
  6. Lost Falls Distillery. Minneapolis. Has Kickstarter campaign.
  7. Panther Distillery. Osakis, MN.
  8. Bent Brewstillery. Roseville, MN. Pour Decisions Brewing, which I have often panned but occasionally praised, has merged with a distillery to form this new company. The beer is different, the taproom will be improved, and spirits will also be poured!

Despite this amazing boom in small business in Minnesota, there are still some legal hoops to jump through. Distilleries cannot sell bottles of their product on premises, nor can they sell cocktails made with their spirits. I hope these laws can be changed, as it will help these small companies show their wares to best advantage and make the tours of the distilleries another fun outing. (The Old Sugar Distillery in Madison, Wisconsin, is a great place to stop in for a tasty cocktail.) Also on the legal docket: Sunday alcohol sales in Minnesota. Governor Dayton said he would sign such a bill, should it land on his desk, so let’s start calling our reps!

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,300 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 55 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Now Open: The Freehouse

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The Blue Plate Restaurant Company has added a new venue to its list of Twin Cities area restaurants, which includes the Longfellow Grill and the Lowry. All of the Blue Plate restaurants offer good food, often with an innovative tweak, a relaxed but fun atmosphere, and a respectable beer list. The Freehouse, their new place, however, may just be the jewel in their crown: It’s a brewpub! With a tag-line of “Breakfast to Beer,” how could we not check it out as soon as possible? And with the place being open 6:30 am to 2:00 am daily, “soon” was sooner than we would normally expect to get into an exciting new restaurant.

Yesterday, Mr. NN and I headed over to Minneapolis for a mid-week breakfast. That alone we appreciated; so many places are just open for breakfast or brunch on the weekends or they don’t open early enough during the week (okay, not that we got there early. It’s just nice to know that it’s an option.).

Lobster Toad in a Hole

Lobster Toad in a Hole

Readers of this blog may be aware by now that Mr. NN is a breakfast fiend. Not only is he a pancake artiste, but whenever I am out of town, I can be pretty sure that if he cooks any of his meals, it will be breakfast. (By contrast, when left on my own for breakfast, I will scrounge for crumbs, but for dinner I will whip up something interesting.) The Freehouse had many good options for breakfast, but we opted for the Lobster Toad in a Hole and the Brew Grain Cakes. The Lobster Toad in a Hole had plenty of sweet lobster meat, a tasty béarnaise, and perfectly poached eggs (soft only, puh-lease!). The Brew Grain cakes with the orange preserves were tender and sweet with the orange adding a nice tang. And did you catch the name of the pancakes? That’s right, folks. They made them with spent grain flour! The waitress verified this fact and pointed out that there were various other menu items that made use of their grains, including the Hippie Burger (the vegetarian burger). That’s just smart: They have plenty of it, and it adds flavor and interest to their baked goods. Bravo!

Now on to the beer! Sure, it was well before noon on a weekday, but we had to sample the ales of Minnesota’s newest brewpub. At the moment, the Freehouse just has three options, but by the end of the week, they should have a fourth. Eventually, they aim to have ten house-brewed taps.

Behind Mr. NN, the summer-time patio

Behind Mr. NN, the summer-time patio

The current options are No. 1 (a kolsch), No. 2 (an IPA), and No. 3 (a brown ale). No. 4 will be a stout. Mr. NN ordered the IPA and I tried a pony of the brown ale. Another plus is that you have three size options: a pony (3 oz.) for $2, a middy for $4, and a pint for $6. The brown ale was solid, which is about the best descriptor of a brown ale I can think of. As brown ales tend to be mid-range in both malt presence and hops, those two flavor components should meld together seamlessly in a beer that has evident flavor but nothing overwhelming. Some brown ales miss the mark by being too weak or watery or overly hopped to throw off the balance. This was not one of those. I would order their No. 3 again, as well as the IPA, which had piney notes from the hops and enough malt to form a platform for the bitterness of the hops. Well done!

There were not many customers there that morning, so we wandered around the restaurant. The builders did it right by making the place large

(read: many seats) but breaking the area into different seating possibilities. In the bar area, you can sit around the bar or at four-seater high-tops or long and narrow high-tops that would either work for larger parties or for mingling with strangers. Going up the steps, you come to the main dining area with booths and tables. Slightly off-set from there and up some more steps (if I remember correctly) is the Volstead Lounge, a cozy area with lights formed from kegs and a bottle cap portrait of Andrew Volstead. Ever heard of the Volstead Act? That was also known as the Prohibition Amendment.

The Volstead Lounge

The Volstead Lounge

Odd choice for a brewpub, no? Well, Volstead was from Minnesota (a fact I just learned), so the Freehouse is paying ironic tribute to one of our native sons. Eventually, the Volstead Lounge will be made even cozier with the addition of curtains.

With no plans for dinner, Mr. NN and I returned that same evening to experience Happy Hour. There are two happy hours at the Freehouse, both Monday through Friday and in the bar only: one from 4-6 pm and the other 8-11 am. Freehouse beers are $4, as are Bloody Marys (made with Hopquila!) and mimosas. For $5 in the evening, you can get wine or various nibbles. An extra buck, and you can get their featured cocktail. We ordered amply off of the happy hour “bites” menu: caramelized Brussels sprouts, oysters on the half-shell, Korean riblets, and Jack’d up mussels cooked with their kolsch. The sprouts were wonderful, the oysters were meaty, the mussels were served in a nummy curry broth. The riblets,

Moving bubbles on the letters

Moving bubbles on the letters

marinated in a kalbi sauce, were good, too, though perhaps a bit overcooked. The featured cocktail, which I ordered, was a Brown Ginger, was a refreshing concoction of their No. 3 brown ale, bourbon, and ginger liqueur. Mr. NN and I also tried a pony of the No. 1 (kolsch). It had more flavor than we were expecting, though it is not our preferred style. Only slightly more tinted than water, it would be a good gateway beer for someone accustomed to quaffing lite lagers.

If their three existing beers don’t appeal to you, never fear. The Freehouse also has a respectable guest

He would not approve.

He would not approve.

beer list, all served 16 oz. for $8–some of those guests beers are better values than others. The cocktail list is also tempting, and it includes beer cocktails and breakfast cocktails. Breakfast cocktails… ah, life is good.

In addition to the good beer and excellent food, the staff is friendly and helpful. Jack and Liz, two of the managers, made a point of stopping by to chat with us. (Okay, Liz recognized Mr. NN from her previous restaurant, but still … it was busy last night, so it was a nice thing to do.) The final plus I will mention is that this downtown Minneapolis restaurant has a good-sized FREE parking lot, a rare thing in that location. Hmm… I would tell you to check this place out and tell your friends about it, too, but then it might get crowded and we might have a harder time getting a seat, so…. Just pretend I never mentioned it, okay?  ;)

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A Beer Lover’s Gift Guide

I bought three of these, one to keep.

I bought three of these, one to keep.

Judging by all the winter and holidays ales on the shelves, I would say that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Mr. NN and I put up the tree last night and, once again, I was struck by the beverage-orientation of our holiday décor. We have beer lights and glass beer mugs and a keg and two six-packs and a brewery memento and the go-local Minnesota beer ornament at the top of this page. (Lest you think we are just beer people, we also have a wine barrel, two coffee mugs, a tea pot, and three vodka martini-related ornaments on the tree.) You see, we regard our Christmas as a creative expression of ourselves: our hobbies (we have an oboe for Mr. NN and an orchid for me), our passions (some Star Wars ornaments, all the beer ones, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears), our travels (the Eiffel Tower, a gourd Santa from Peru, a gold one from

Ah, brings back foamy memories...

Ah, brings back foamy memories…

Washington, D.C., and one from Pike Brewing in Seattle), our past (lots o’ old family ornaments), and … well, I’m not sure where the Cthulhu with a Santa hat fits in.

Unspeakably horrific ancient ones aside, ’tis the season to be giving. If you are at all like me (and you just might be if you read this blog), then you probably have a preference for bottle-shaped presents. I will be giving recommendations on winter and holiday ales, to be sure, but what else do you give a person who rejoices in the foamy, fermented goodness and who is passionate about good beer? Draft Magazine has a gift-giving guide, but some of the recommendations are either not entirely beer-related (an axe? Really?) or are slightly silly (not always a bad thing). I decided to make my own guide. Here are my suggestions to make the holidays a little merrier:

Beer-related Ornaments & Decorations

Since I’ve already brought them up, why not complete the picture? The photo at the top of the page is new for me this year. It is made in Minnesota and can be bought at Bachman’s, the main location of which is located directly across the street from the Northern Brewer in Minneapolis. If there is a specific brewery that

your loved one likes, check the brewery’s website to see if they sell Christmas ornaments. Pike Brewing does, and Dogfish Head did — I think they sold out, however. If you are not sure what beer your loved one prefers, you can also go more general with your ornament gift. Many stores, including the above-linked Bachman’s and interwebs mega-seller Amazon, sell these very same ornaments or others in different styles.

Tiny little German brewers having a barrel of fun this Christmas.

Tiny little German brewers having a barrel of fun this Christmas.

One of my favorite decorations to put up this season, aside from the tree, is my Yulesteiner Brewery by Lemax, which I got at Menard’s last year. There are lights and spinning barrels and rotating “beer gnomes.” It also comes with sound, a rather drunken-sounded rendition of “Roll Out the Barrel.” (Thankfully, you can keep the volume off.) I have it sitting on a side table with fake snow and a couple little pine trees, so it looks right jolly.

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Beer Clothing & Glassware

If your loved one ever plans to attend a beer festival, you had better make sure that they have appropriate attire to wear to it. By “appropriate,” I mean “brewery t-shirt.” Again, this is easily done by going to the brewery’s website and shopping around. Most breweries have more than one design and some

A gift from Mr. NN's mama

A gift from Mr. NN’s mama

even offer women’s cuts and sizing. Surly Brewing has some of the best branding in Minnesota and you could outfit your friend–or even your friend’s baby–with Surly t-shirts, hats, jackets, sweatshirts, or onesies.

Want to try before you buy? Live in the Twin Cities metro area and want to save on shipping costs? Head on down to the Beer Dabbler store in St. Paul and load up on presents for everyone. WP_20131022_001They feature shirts, glassware, and other paraphernalia from most of the Minnesota craft breweries, plus a handful of foreign and other domestic breweries (Odell, Lagunitas, Alaskan, Stone, Duvel, etc.). I was impressed by the variety the small store had, not just with the brewery-specific items, but also with general beer-related art.

WP_20131022_002Another great place to get gifts for the homebrewer in your life is Northern Brewer. The kegging system too pricey for you? How ’bout a shirt? (I already have the “hop diamond” one — very comfy.) How about some glassware? Craft beer drinkers, and especially homebrewers, pay attention to the vessels in which they serve the beer, as some beers are better featured in a tulip glass, some in a snifter, and others in a pint glass. We like to get glasses from breweries we’ve visited, but when you’re a homebrewer, you don’t always have access to personalized glassware. That’s where Northern Brewer steps in. This one is my particular favorite, but this other one will do nicely, too.

Beer-related Food

If you follow this post, you are aware that I love to cook with beer, not just with one in hand. These days, many brewers are aware of the flavorful impact their beer can have on food and make things easier for you by selling the beer-infused product. You have probably already seen Sierra Nevada’s line of mustards at your local grocery (gift pack for $14, individual bottles for $3.50). Not to be left out, Founders offers their Dirty Bastard and Centennial IPA in mustard form for $7.50.

Elevated's hop candy temptations

Elevated’s hop candy temptations

But the food offerings don’t stop at mustard. Dogfish Head offers some tasty-looking pickles made with their 60 Minute IPA and “Hard Tack Chowder” infused

with the same beer. At Northern Brewer and Elevated bottle shop, you can purchase hard candy made with hops, Cascade, Saaz, and East Kent Goldings, in particular.

Of course, some of the best gifts are homemade. Pretzels pair well with most beers, so the next logical step is to make them into caramels. Oh, yes, readers! It can be done and it is awesome. I came across the recipe in a Food Network magazine, which you can read here.

A pan of uncut caramels

A pan of uncut caramels

The recipe calls for 12 ounces of a brown ale. I did not have one on hand, so I used 10 ounces of a farmhouse ale ( I think) we had left over from cooking something and 2 ounces of Ommegang’s Adoration. The caramels were the perfect combination of sweet and salty, crunchy and chewy. I will be making more of these for gift-giving, and I will

Mr. NN's holiday artwork

Mr. NN’s holiday artwork

probably use holiday ales to do so. If you like more snap to your sweets, you could also crack open a stout and make Food Network’s recipe for Pretzel Beer Brittle. Other homemade options: try experimenting with different flavors of beer bread or make cut-out sugar cookies made with beer. Wrap your homemade gifts up in a nice basket, and your loved ones will be touched (and gobbling up the goodness right quick).

Miscellaneous Beer Thingies

For the cycling freak: Jerseys from the brewery of choice (612 Brew, Boom Island, Summit are some local ones), bike bells and stem caps from New Belgium. For the avid bowler, you can purchase a New Holland bowling ball for $149. For the skier in your life, Founders features All Day IPA skis for $650.

After getting all sweaty their sport of choice, they can scrub themselves clean with beer soap. You can either get brewery-specific soap, such as this soap from Brooklyn Brewery, or buy style-specific bars at Elevated in Minneapolis, as seen in the photo.

For the homebrewer, you may also want to inquire what equipment they have or would like. Two pieces of brewing equipment that I would never do without are a wort chiller (runs from $65 – $200, depending on type) and an auto siphon (around $14). There are also packaged kits, whether the homebrewer does all-grain or extract-based. Or, if the person you’re buying for is interested in homebrewing but has not yet taken the plunge, you can get them started with an equipment starter kit ($50-$80).

Sudsy clean!

Sudsy clean!

For the person who wants to be festive while drinking their beer but not get their hands cold, you can get them Ugly Sweater Koozies from Sam Adams for $5. (Ideally, the koozies would already be wrapped around a beer.)

Perhaps your loved one likes to read. For the cook, I highly recommend John Holl’s American Craft Beer Cookbook. (You can read my review of the cookbook here.) For the homebrewer, I recommend these two books: Extreme Brewing by Sam Calagione (read about two brews I made that turned out wonderfully here)  and Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher. (Read a short excerpt from his book in this blog post.) For the beer lover / beer geek, try The Complete Beer Course by Joshua M. Bernstein or the impressive tome by Garrett Oliver and Tom Colicchio, The Oxford Companion to Beer.

In Draft Magazine’s gift guide, they recommend a Corkcicle, a device for chilling a bottle of beer from the inside. If you go to Bachman’s to get that nifty Minnesota beer ornament, you can also buy it there (look for “Beer Chillsner,” the specific type of Corkcicle).

Beer, Just Beer

Of course, the best gifts are bottle-shaped. This year, I am putting together a gift basket to raffle off at the Orchid Society of Minnesota (orchids are my other passion… that, and Mr. NN). In it, I have put three local, seasonal beers: Old Friend by Indeed, Yule by Boom Island, and Spiced Ode by Olvalde Farm. I’ve included the Minnesota beer tree ornament and some wrapped, homemade beer pretzel caramels.

You could put together your own gift basket, either around a specific theme (particular state or brewery or style) or just on the theme of “beer.” Many bottle shops now carry gift packs from breweries that include the appropriate glassware for the beer.

Corsendonk gift package at Elevated

Corsendonk gift package at Elevated

Whatever beer-related gift you give (or receive) this holiday season, it is sure to add to the cheer. Cheers!

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Craft Beer Cooking

Good stuff within.

Good stuff within.

Aside from being discriminating lushes —er, I mean, connoisseurs of fermented imbibables, Mr. NN and I are also foodies. We love to cook and eat and go out to restaurants. Mr. NN, a veritable pancake artiste, could write his own blog just about breakfast. The restaurants we frequent not only have good food, but they also tend to have good beverage options, beer in particular. Craft beer culture (and that of craft cocktails) has much in common with the foodie culture: tremendous care about the quality of ingredients, thoughtful preparation, and a dash or two of innovation. That is why the restaurant with the best beer list in Minnesota, the Happy Gnome, sees us as frequently as the bartenders at Cheers saw Norm: the beer list is exciting and ever-changing but the food cooked up by

Say "kimchi!" (Photo from www.grocery.com)

Say “kimchi!”
(Photo from http://www.grocery.com)

head chef Scott Brink is what gets us going back time after time. Sausage-stuffed quail with kimchi? Yes, please! (Having lived in South Korea for a year and a half, I am likely to order anything that has kimchi in it.)

This foodie-beerie aspect of our life is well-known, which makes us pretty easy to shop for. Hence, my sister bought us a book titled The American Craft Beer Cookbook by John Holl.  Tag-line: 155 Recipes from Your Favorite Brewpubs & Breweries. There is only one Minnesotan brewery represented, Surly with a ginger-garlic chicken stir-fry recipe (even though there isn’t a restaurant associated with Surly), so perhaps Holl will put some of the others in volume 2. (::hint, hint::) Really, though, it is beside the point where these recipes come from, as long as they are tasty. So far, we have tried four recipes, and a fifth is happening soon. Here are the results:

  1. Saison Vos Mussels. Strolling through the aisles of my local co-op, Mississippi Market, I spied mussels on sale for a tempting price. Living in a lake-filled but land-locked state, we get excited about shellfish though that excitement is tinged with a bit of fear:
    Food so good, you forget to take a pic until it's almost all gone.

    Food so good, you forget to take a pic until it’s almost all gone.

    Will we know a good piece from one that’s gone off? Will we be able to cook it enough so that it won’t kill us but not enough that it is overcooked and rubbery? Is that what that is supposed to look like? I couldn’t pass the mussels up, though, so we tried this recipe from Sly Fox Brewing in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Their saison is not available in Minnesota, however, so I substituted Wild Plum Farmhouse Ale by Tallgrass. With shallots, butter, garlic, and parsley, this meal / appetizer was sooo quick and easy, not to mention very tasty. I wish we had had some crusty French bread to sop up the broth, but even with our brown rice crackers it was good. The recipe only called for a cup, so we poured the rest of the beer into champagne flutes and toasted a great meal that took the fear out of preparing shellfish at home.

  2. Hopocalypse Ceviche. We first came to know and love ceviche on a trip to Peru. Mr. NN had a little trepidation at first about the idea of cooking fish solely with an acid, usually lemon or lime juice. No heat–cooking is all about chemical reactions, and those reactions can take place without heat. However, Mr. NN swiftly came around and
    My first ceviche & Pisco Sour in Pisco, Peru, 2006. A year later the town was destroyed in an earthquake.

    My first ceviche & Pisco Sour in Pisco, Peru, 2006. A year later the town was destroyed in an earthquake.

    was excited to try this recipe from Drake’s Brewing in San Leandro, California. Hopocalypse is a double IPA, which is not available here, so I used 2xIPA by Southern Tier. Cod and tilapia sacrificed themselves to be cooked in fresh lime juice with avocados, red onion, habanero, and coriander. It was refreshing, a little spicy, and quite satisfying. It made a ton of ceviche — we should’ve thrown a party.

  3. Grilled Diver Scallops & Fall Vegetable Shish Kebabs w/ Hazelnut Brown Butter. Continuing our exploration of seafood we do not normally cook at home (and that we pay a lot to eat at restaurants here in the Midwest), we moved on to scallops, one of Mr. NN’s favorite foods. The scallops were decidedly not on sale, but at $22 for twelve large scallops, it was still cheaper than getting them at a restaurant. This recipe uses Mama’s Little Yella Pils from Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont, Colorado. Again, that beer is not available in Minnesota, though it can be purchased right across the border in Wisconsin. My substitution was Klisch by Lakefront Brewery. Tons o’ vegetation in this preparation: four fennel bulbs (I used three), four parsnips, and butternut squash (I had 14 ounces of pre-chopped stuff). Our grill is currently out of propane–something I recalled at the last moment–so we decided to cook everything on the stove top, searing the scallops in a cast iron skillet. Another success! The scallops were buttery by themselves, but with the addition of the beer-based hazelnut and butter sauce, they were divine. The vegetable combination was a good complement, too, and there is plenty left over.
  4. Chocolate Ice Cream with Gonzo Imperial Porter. Flying Dog from Frederick, Maryland, of course, provided this recipe. Last Christmas, we got an ice cream maker attachment for our Kitchen Aid stand mixer, so I was ready to roll with this one. As you can probably guess, I did not use the named beer, but at least this one is available in Minnesota. I had a Zombie Monkie porter from Tallgrass hanging around, so why make the trip? (Okay, it’s not an imperial, which might have made a difference in the flavor, but we were not disappointed.) Making ice cream at home is quite easy if you have a maker; you just have to plan ahead for how long the various chilling steps take. This recipe only had a 1/4 cup of sugar in it, but it added more sweetness and flavor in the form of a 1/2 cup of dry malt extract. I used plain dark DME, but any variety would probably work well here. Just before the initial chill of the mixture, two tablespoons of whiskey or bourbon are added. Keeping with the beer theme, I chose New Holland’s Beer Barrel Bourbon. The resulting ice cream has a deep chocolaty flavor with a tweak–a hint of bitterness. Now the bitterness may not have been there if I had used an imperial porter or if I had chosen light DME instead, but we are not complaining! This is still really good ice cream. For adults only.

Not all of the recipes in this cookbook contain beer. For instance, the Fried Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette, which I will be making next, are just something that is served at the Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery in Austin, Texas. But they would go very well alongside a beer, wouldn’t they? (Btw, Brussels sprouts are one of my favorite foods.)

Wielding an alien spine? No, just Brussels sprouts.

Wielding an alien spine? No, just Brussels sprouts.

There are some nice touches in this cookbook, aside from the awesome recipes:

  • Background information is given on the contributing breweries / brewers.
  • Some recipes have suggestions for alternate beers you can try.
  • There is a “Road Trip” section at the back with information on breweries, restaurants & beer bars, hotels, and beer-related attractions for Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, Portland, San Francisco, and San Diego.
  • There is a short section on important beer festivals from Anchorage, Alaska, to Madison, Wisconsin, and places in-between (and beyond).

My one critique, and it is a minor one, is that some of the recipes call for ingredients that most people may not have ready access to, such as wild boar, duck fat, huckleberries, and tobiko roe. Not that any of these are impossible to get; it’s just that a person may skip those recipes if they don’t know how to get them, don’t want a hassle in trying to get them, or don’t want to spend a lot of money. However, without the occasional culinary challenge, where would we be?

Answer: Eating mac ‘n cheese from a box and drinking the same old boring beer. ::shiver:: Nobody wants that.

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Filed under Cooking with Beer, Food Pairings