off the rails, over the moon, and vote!

Let me take a minue between pints, tours, photos, and travels to express my sincere gratitude for readers and friends like you.

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Blog followers have meant so much to me from day one. The mere fact that other humans subscribe to read my words the moment they are written both warms my heart and challenges me to deliver quality content. The credit for the growth that I have experienced as a writer goes entirely to those of you who support and encourage — and sometimes drink with — me.

Being nominated for the Growler Kind of a Big Deal awards has been such a pleasure. I am so honored to be recognized in two categories, as Best Minnesota Beer Writer and Best Beer Blog. Nominations are strictly based on the public’s vote, so to me this is extremely high praise. Many of you have made a point to congratulate me in person and I am overwhelmed by the support

learning the refractometer at Canal Park

learning the refractometer at Canal Park

What’s more, many of my readers and friends have prompted several good ideas for stories and dicoveries this year and countless Couchsurfing hosts have made this possible. I unearthed much of Denver’s beer scene becuase of another writer, Lilly Sue, and gracious host and homebrewer Andrew. I was invited to guest brew this spring at Canal Park, making a pilsner with the talented Jeremy King. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to give a talk to Urban Growler staff about women in beer. And right now I am researching Minnesota’s growler sale policies all because of my friend Ian’s frustration over accumulating the cumbersome containers.

LenienGoing from formulating a tiny travel blog while driving across Wisconsin (I started at Leinenkugel’s – betcha didn’t know that!) to writing for several platforms is a bit surreal. I have added regular writing gigs for The Four Firkins and Heavy Table this year, and despite the learning curve, I have enjoyed every sip.

Thanks a hundred times over to all of you. On the rare occasions when I open my laptop and think, why am I spending so much time on this? Does anyone even care?  I know the answer is yes. It is incredibly motivating. I owe you all a beer.

KoaBD_hashtag_1000x1000_100214If you have enjoyed reading as much as I have writing, please consider voting – polls close tomorrow at midnight.

And I look forward to another year of your good ideas, questions, rants, and challenges.

21st Amendment – San Francisco

If you have ever closely examined a 21st Amendment can, you may have noticed that their beer is canned here in Cold Spring, Minnesota. But when you dig a bit deeper, you will quickly learn that the beer and the company come to the Midwest from sunny San Francisco.

21st sign

I recently visited the brewery to better understand the origins of one of the first craft beers I fell in love with, Back in Black, which I toted on a kayak camping trip down the Root River. That beer, along with their fall seasonal, Fireside Chat, hold a special place in my liver.

The restaurant has a space in southeast San Francisco that fits in perfectly with the SOMA neighborhood, an area of modest gentrification and apparent growth. Walking there feels very familiar, like a grittier version of Minneapolis’ North Loop or Chicago’s Armitage neighborhood. Across the street is a window full of antique gowns and also a wine bar with an extensive high-tops that face the street, but boarded-up storefronts are only blocks away.

21st brewhouse

All beers served on premise are brewed behind the dining room in a tiny 30 bbl brewhouse. As a non-local, it was pretty shocking to see the quaint pub given their vast distribution and presence throughout the US. Visiting this pub before experienceing the cans would make it hard to imagine that this beer makes it into the hands of drinkers nationwide.

belgian 21st21st Amendment cans in Minnesota because they want to keep costs down but also utilize cans, not bottles. “Building a canning facility from scratch is an expensive task. If we had to build our own canning facility, our beers would probably be in bottles. But once we decided we wanted cans, we were determined to make it work. We figured there must be some breweries in the Midwest who wouldn’t mind increasing the production on their canning lines, so we started looking. We found a fantastic partner in Cold Spring, MN who was willing to work with us to meet our unusually high standards for canned beer.” -21st A

21st listI opted to try the Golden Arrow, a Belgian golden strong ale that doesn’t make it to Minnesota. This beer was brewed in honor of co-founder Nico Freccia’s birthday and uses arrowroot and golden raisins. It also cotnains Duvel yeast, a nice little treat.

Golen Arrow packs a serious punch but represents its 8.4% ABV with lots of yeast-derived flavor including smooth esters of banana and bubble gum.

The server was lovely and chatted with my family and I about our travels down highway 1. She let me try the MCA session stout which was far more flavorful than I expected and worked nicely in contrast to the Belgian. It had a strong coffee-chocolate component and enought body to be more substantial than the word “session” conveys.

There are plans to expand operations within California, which is very exciting for the owners who have always wanted to be closer to home. Production capacity is at an all-time high in Cold Spring — “We really have come a long way from brewing 1,000 barrels of beer at Third Street Brewery in 2008 to this past year producing 57,000 barrels.” — The stars now align to bring a new facility to San Leandro, CA.

More than just Giants fans and those looking for a quick burger will be impressed by a visit to 21st Amendment. The beer selection is obviously a huge draw, but they also have a nice happy hour, a creative menu, and even served a delectably fresh ginger ale to my mom all while providing great service.

Pryes Brewing makes its debut

Former homebrewer Jeremy Pryes is the new roomie over at Lucid’s Minnetonka brewing facility. Taking the spot vacated by Badger Hill, and brewing alongside the owners and Bad Weather Brewing, is Pryes Brewing Company (Bad Weather will be moving out soon, as well). The company was founded in 2012 but the beer has only been commercially available since about 6 weeks ago.

Founder Jeremy Pryes has experience in the food world and also serves on the board for the Community Hops Garden in south Minneapolis. He is certainly not new to brewing and has been a beer judge for years.miraculum

Pryes Brewing has one beer available at several local bars and restaurants, their Miraculum IPA. This beer drinks like a double IPA due to the very high amount of hops and what seems like more alcohol than is reportedly present. It is also fairly heavy in the mouth.

Prepare for big herbal and pine aromas and extreme bitterness throughout the taste. The notes of resin are overwhelming to the other flavors resulting in a less-than-complex IPA. There is a pleasant and mild fruitiness on warming which does add some dimension, but overall a pint feels like overkill.

miraculum2I have high hopes for Pryes Brewing and I expect that they will continue to improve, especially since they will be brewing alongside more experienced commercial brewers. Hopefully they will add more dimension to what is now their only beer on draft.

Due to the complexities of the Lucid “alternating proprietorship” model, Pryes’ location is merely temporary. Benjamin Schuster of Pryes told City Pages, “Eventually, we want to be located in the more dense, urban, and industrial areas of the Twin Cities, but are still early in the process of exploring a more permanent home. We’re looking to open a production facility as well as a small taproom with unique beers, meads, and other craft drinks.”

While I would not order this beer again, I am eager for their next release

serendipitous beer: Dunn Bros

I call it beer serendipity, when arriving at a restaurant for a light lunch only to find that the place serves beer. It is craft beer where you least expect it that manages to brighten my day, whether I am in the mood for drinking it or not.

Usually I am.

8:30 in the morning at Dunn Brothers near 26th and Hennepin … okay that time I was not. I ventured in on my way to run several errands, dropped my keys, spilled one thing or another. That kind of morning. The space had taken dunn bros baron a cozy theme and a handful of people gathered individually around their Mac books. This Dunn Brothers is inside the former black hole of restaurant space; Muddy Paws cheesecake emporium relocated after a fairly short stint years ago and the storefront had been sitting empty for a remarkable length of time.

Though I was visiting for a scone and my caffeine fix, I was pleased to see that the model of coffee + food + beer is expanding. This may not be of much importance to some, but as a writer who prefers to leave the house most days, the ability to transition from brunch and coffee to a quick pint while doing final edits is refreshing.

The coffee-to-beer options are expanding. In addition to classics like French Meadow who specialize in responsibly-sourced breakfasts and a gluten-free pastry case, Muddy Waters moved south several blocks in 2011 and has assumed the beer-bar role much more seriously. And of course, Freehouse has taken to encouraging beer for breakfast, as well.

Dunn Bros menuAnd while Five Watt Coffee is serving coffee drinks in the mixology theme reminiscent of alcohol, Dunn Brothers is actually serving beer cocktails in addition to tap beer. The to-go coffee environment is quite conducive for a quick drink after work, particularly if not everyone in your party is looking for alcohol.

Late summer offerings include the menu at left, and for this fall they are featuring two wine cocktails plus three made with beer.

612 Brew Rated R, a rye IPA, is used in two of the four drinks including The Mayflower, also featuring ginger-infused cranberry juice and maple, which foams up into a fluffy pink head. Or try the same beer in the Rockin’ Rye which is made with a house rye syrup and cherry bitters.

I am not the only one who is enthused by the idea of coffee meets beer plus a decent menu. Customers at Dunn Brothers have expressed their surprise and delight at the unexpected find when stopping for a cup of coffee, according to several staff I spoke with. Whether people will consider this a cocktail or happy hour destination is unclear — tap beers have been moderately successful, but it has taken some encouragement for drinkers to go for the mixed items.

I certainly hope the model is very successful, particularly for Dunn Brothers, who is taking on not just alcohol service in an unlikely place, but also beer cocktails.taps Dunn Bros

food menu dunn bros

six cheers for Minnesota beer!

5,507 beers from 1,309 breweries were submitted to the Great American Beer Festival this fall. Out of the vast sea of beer, 234 breweries earned recognition in the form of gold, silver, and bronze. Minnesota was awarded six medals despite the competition being more stiff than ever!

Badger Hill PourA gold medal goes to Badger Hill for their White IPA – a stand-out summer beer in my opinion as well. Badger Hill also has exciting news in that they will be moving out of the dorms and into their very own place! Who will take their spot alongside Lucid and Bad Weather? That would be Pryes Brewing, featured in this issue of The Growler. The White IPA won in a category that I didn’t know existed, called the American-Belgo style. Okay, I get it. Perfect for summer, but in the cooler months, look ahead to our next medal winner.

The Wee Heavy from Steel Toe took another gold in the Scotch Ale category. No surprise to the regular taproom crowd which anticipates to the release of this beauty far more than other much-hyped, nationally-ranked bottles. It warms my heart to know that a beer from my hometown took such high honors at a national competition. Neighbors far and wide can get their 10.9% fix quite soon, as the brewery just announced an 11/16 release of Wee Heavy.

indeed mexican honeyAlso high on the ABV spectrum is the you-didn’t-expect-that-now-did-you situation from Indeed brewing, also known as Mexican Honey, a lager that packs a serious wallop of honey and heat. Taking a silver in the Specialty Honey Beer category, the folks at MN Beer Activists and I aren’t the only ones raving. Imperial lagers don’t always work. For one reason or another, often body or balance, plenty of imperial pilsners or double Helles attempts fall short. Indeed’s Mexican honey flies because of the balance of alcoholic heat, malt complexity, and true honey (not merely sweet) notes. Visit Indeed this weekend for their Hullabaloo, truly one of Minnesota beer’s most homegrown, fun, and noteworthy events of the year. Hi-Five me on Saturday!

Not surprisingly and most reassuringly, a bronze goes to Summit’s Extra Pale Ale. The essence of our state, bottled (and now canned) deserves much recognition not just as a stand-out beer but also for what it represents: our brewing history. With decades of experience but no lack of innovation, Summit should never go unnoticed. Knowing that national judges handed it a bronze is a reminder, though, that we don’t just love EPA because of its story, we love it because it is a damn good beer.summit EPA


Finally, two bronze medals were awarded, first to Bent Paddle for their 14° ESB, a balanced and classic extra special bitter representing the steady growth and dedication among north shore brewers. Despite the huge success of their seasonals, year-round beers from Bent Paddle still fly off shelves and are in high demand even in small towns and out-of-state. The second bronze went to Town Hall for their Buffalo Bock, a beer I do not believe I have ever tried.

Bent Paddle GitcheeSounds like it is time for me to head to Town Hall to enjoy their array of barrel-aged creations!

Congratulations to these and all Minnesota breweries for displaying such skill and prowess to the rest of the brewing nation. You make us very proud! Wisconsin also garnered six medals spanning all different styles. For the complete listings, click here.