Searching for the line between "hobby" and "obsession"

Beer Events

Darkness Day 2012 at Surly Brewing Co.

For the third year in a row, I woke up super early on a Saturday to go stand in line  at Darkness Day, Surly Brewing Co.’s annual release of their Russian imperial stout seasonal offering. In 2010, friends and I arrived in line at 7:45am and were about half way through those who received one of the 1,500 wristbands available, giving us the right to purchase up to six bottles each of Darkness at $18 per bottle. In 2011, we arrived at 7:15am and were right in front of the last group in line to receive wristbands. Freaky!

This year, me and some guys from my homebrew club got in line at 5:15am to ensure that, with all Surly’s exponential growth and popularity over the past year, we’d be one of the lucky 1,500 people to receive wristbands. We were successful! I can’t be completely sure, but it seemed like based on how many wristbands Omar had left when walking by that we were 3/4ths of the way to the end of the line. We probably could have arrived around 6:00am and been ok, but that’s still super early anyway, so I’m glad we didn’t push our luck. Definitely colder this year (30 degrees) than in years past, though Darkness Day was also a week later this year, so that didn’t help with the temperature. Plenty of campfires going in line.


Nordeast Big River Brew Fest homebrew competition results 2012

The Nordeast Big River Brew Fest homebrew competition, put on by my homebrew club (Nordeast Brewers Alliance), culminated with the sour/wild/brett beer judging and best-in-show judging today along with the announcement of winners for all categories. Check out the image below to see the winners of the competition: I picked up three medals, a silver and two bronze. Check out my scores and the feedback: (more…)

I met John Palmer at Northern Brewer's grand opening

I met John Palmer last weekend, author of How to Brew (2006), a seminal homebrewing text for many who have picked up the hobby in the last few years. John was at Northern Brewer’s new Minneapolis location for the last two days of their week-long grand opening celebration, giving presentations on a few different brewing topics and selling his books (I ended up buying the one he co-authored with Jamil Zainasheff called Brewing Classic Styles). In addition to speaking with John about how to best avoid and eliminate acetaldehyde, we discussed his move to L.A. from Michigan, quitting his job as an engineer last year to promote his books full-time and the hoops one must jump through to get a book published.

I was able to attend John’s session that afternoon on foam, specifically head retention. John explained all the factors that go into creating a nice sustainable head in beer and gave some suggestions as to how to ensure retention. He got very detailed into the chemistry of this and honestly he lost me for a good portion of it. I don’t think I was alone, however. Not many people had questions when he completed his presentation, so either I was in a room full of chemists or everyone else didn’t quite understand what he was talking about enough to ask informed questions. (more…)

Northern Brewer opens a Minneapolis location

Northern brewer opened a Minneapolis location last month (they have two other locations in St. Paul, MN and Milwaukee, WI) under 5 miles from my house! Pretty excited. I went to check it out and buy supplies for my rauchbier brew day a few weeks back. The grain room is open and spacious. I was the only one buying grain at the time but the room could handle three or four people measuring grain at the same time compared to only one at the St. Paul location (Midwest can handle two effectively). The biggest plus is that NB Minneapolis has two – count ’em – two mills in a separated mill room.

The entire space seemed very planned and thought out, unlike NB St. Paul which comes across as a crammed afterthought. It was so spacious and clean I told the guy it felt like Crate and Barrel in there! He seemed troubled by that, which was my intention. And PARKING! They have dedicated parking around back, something NB St. Paul severely lacks.  (more…)

1st Annual Nordeast Big River Brew Fest

The Northeast Homebrewers Association (NBA) has been on the hunt for more members, mainly because we need to reignite some enthusiasm and generate fresh ideas for how the club can be successful – and maybe we even need to spend some time first defining “success” for us. In pursuit of new members, and in order to get into the 1st annual Nordeast Big River Brewfest free of charge, one of the founders of NBA got our club a booth/table at the event which was held Saturday 10/15/11 at the historic Grain Belt Brewery’s bottling house in Northeast Minneapolis. Unfortunately, the guy who coordinated it ended up being busy that day, but a few others from the club were able to man the both in his place.

We setup right next to the Northern Brewer table, so it was cool to speak with a few of those guys about brewing and the new location that will be opening near my house in Southeast Minneapolis in the coming weeks (yes!). We also managed to snag a few email addresses of interested homebrewers, so on the whole I think our presence there was as successful as we could have reasonably hoped. Also, it was a beautiful day so it wasn’t too terrible sitting at our location outside. (more…)

Darkness Day 2011 at Surly Brewing Co.

My second Darkness Day… I knew the event would have much larger attendance than 2010, but even I underestimated the amount of people that would show up so early! Just to be safe, I asked buddies Dan and Cristof if we could get going about a half-hour earlier than last year. We were very lucky we arrived when we did – 7:15am as opposed to 7:45am in 2010 – as we were about 10 people ahead of the last people to receive wristbands to purchase Darkness. 10 people. Dang. Arriving a half an hour later last year, we were 1/2 to 2/3 of the way to the end of the 1,200 of those receiving wristbands. If this type of growth continues, we’ll need to show up at about 6:00am next year in order to get wristbands.

Things were much more organized this year. They handed out wristbands much earlier (they got to us at about 9:30am), which made things much less awkward. Also, the event opened at 11:00am instead of noon, which gave us some time to grab a few beers, hang out and listen to some heavy metal bands while the line for Darkness bottles died down. We all got different beers on tap: Moe’s Bender (vanilla bender), Darkness, Damien (a fruity ale based on the second runnings of Darkness, and a tea-bagged cask version of Furious. (more…)

Beer dinner with Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn Brewery

Man I’ve been busy. Again. Not only with work doing the day, but I’ve also been working pretty hard to book my cover band’s 2012 summer/fall wedding schedule (we’re placing an emphasis on weddings next year, which means brides are looking to discuss and sign contracts right now). This, along with keeping up my beer-related activities has left zero time to sit on the couch and actually blog about those experiences. But, I’ve found some time on a Sunday morning to crank out a bunch of posts for the coming weeks, so here I go.

A few weeks ago, I learned through the St. Paul Homebrewers’ Club (SPHBC) that Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster from Brooklyn Brewery would be coming to town to put on a few events in promotion of Brooklyn Brewery’s arrival to Minnesota this year, as well as his new book, The Oxford Companion to Beer (which has since been met with mixed reviews – here is a dissatisfied contributor’s). The event my wife and I attended was a beer dinner Sunday night 10/9/11 at Grumpy’s up in Roseville, MN.

Garret had a lot of great beers to show off and food pairings to match. I don’t remember too much detail from this event, however, as there were only four people (one of which was my pregnant, abstinent wife) at my table set for eight and thus we received just as much beer as any other table. I took full advantage of this scenario and felt HORRIBLE the next day. :) I can relay that Garrett was nearly as engaging a public speaker as he is skilled with the mash paddle. It was refreshing to be unexpectedly entertained by his dialogue, as he seems completely comfortable discussing his beers and promoting the brewery in front of an audience. When Garret came around to say hello to our table, I asked him how he’s developed his public speaking skills and it sounded like it has a lot to do with a broadcast journalism background (that I’m not sure he ever ended up utilizing). I was pretty buzzed by the time he made it to our table, so forgive me if I’m totally remembering that conversation incorrectly. (more…)

1st Annual Minneapolis Beer Fest

My wife is pretty cool. I’ve mentioned this before but thought I might as well score some points and say it again, especially because it’s legitimately warranted. She sent me a link to a Crowd Cut coupon for the first annual Minneapolis Beer Fest saying I should check it out. Knowing she’s pregnant and can’t drink, I responded with “yeah that’s cool but the only problem is you can’t really enjoy access to hundreds of beers to sample unless you plan to cab it and that can be expensive” thinking she meant I should go with one of my friends. Apparently she meant that she would come with and be my DD for said event. Since we were getting 1/2 off with the coupon, she didn’t see much issue with paying the $15 entry fee. Now that was cool. AND… I got to drink for two (instead of her). Double the selection for the same amount of time spent in line at each booth. Guys – I’d seriously consider getting your significant others pregnant if possible. We’re about 5 months in and it’s been all fun and no work so far. Of course, I can blindly expect this trend to continue indefinitely, right? (more…)

Surly's 5th at Pizza Nea

"Omar, what do you think of Barking Dog Beer as potential competition?"

This past Wednesday, I met up with Cristof and Dan (of Sammy’s Golden Porter and Darkness Day fame) at Pizza Nea in Northeast Minneapolis for one of many celebrations Surly Brewing is having for their 5th birthday. Each of these events features some interesting variations on the Brooklyn Center brewery’s standards and seasonal brews.

The party we attended featured a cask of their Abrasive Ale (more or less a double IPA) that had been aged in oak barrels. I don’t believe I’d tried an oak-aged beer before, no less one that I’d also tried many times over in its original form (from both cans and tap). The oak aging, and more likely the cask conditioning, gave Abrasive a much smoother body than it normally has, making it dangerously drinkable. The 8.8% ABV didn’t hit me hardly at all until the middle of my second pint. Then bam! Sneaky.

Furious (left) and Oak-Aged Abrasive (right)

I’m not sure if I really liked the oak-aged Abrasive more than the original. I’ll say that I liked the first pint of it more than I would a first pint of normal Abrasive, but the oak got to be a little much after pint number two. For me, this is a great dinner beer and would be smart to pair with a meal of hot Asian barbecue, a spicy Mexican dish or a smoked salmon appetizer. I ended up ordering a shrimp pesto pizza to go with it, which probably wasn’t the smartest selection I could have made had I not been too buzzed to care at that point (afternoon snacks are key in these situations!). We also enjoyed a complimentary Furious with our pizzas, as that was the deal of the night – and apparently is the case on every Wednesday at Pizza Nea. Pretty cool of them.

All that aside, I sure as hell didn’t expect to meet and speak with the founder of Surly and the 2010 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the year, Omar Ansari as well as head brewer and the brains behind their brews, Todd Haug. But guess what? I did. (more…)

Harriet Brewing's West Side release party

Some friends and I hit up Harriet Brewing’s official release party for their first beer, West Side, this past Wednesday night at the Blue Nile up on Franklin Ave. I could definitely tell a difference between West Side and  the growler of “batch one” I’d purchased at my visit to the brewery back on January 29th.

The official first offering from the first brewery to open within Minneapolis city limits in decades hits the tongue as a bit thinner in body and hoppier than the preliminary batch one I’d tried previously. Flavors imparted by the Belgian yeast strain were still quite evident and more challenged for dominance by the hop profile than they were previously in batch one. I could see how the recipe has evolved as Sowards continues to dial in his new brew house. I found one thing odd though: Wednesday’s version of West Side had what appeared to be some chill haze issues. (more…)

Harriet Brewing is open for business in Minneapolis

I had the opportunity to stop by Harriet Brewing in Minneapolis this afternoon for their opening day. I was able to meet and speak briefly with head brewer Jason Sowards as well as other volunteers about the brewery and was among a handful of people to be the first to purchase a growler of their beer. Though the brew house is officially up and running, it seems like it will still be a while before they start to offer tours or focus on much else beyond production. Their main goal right now seems to be ensuring the brewery’s seven local bar accounts receive the beer they’ve ordered.

Harriet Brewing is operating on a German-built 8 bbl. system (one barrel is equal to two kegs, so they can produce 16 kegs per batch) purchased from a brew pub in Japan. They have four closed-fermentors that – if I heard correctly – can hold 10 bbl. each. Additionally, the brewery is also running two open-fermentation vessels. Apparently Jason has an affinity for sour Belgian ales that he will be bestowing on Minneapolis later this year. (more…)

Beer Night at Barking Dog

It’s January in Minnesota. It’s really freaking cold outside (wind chill of -19 a few days ago). What better to do on a Saturday night than get a fire roaring and invite some good friends over for some hot pizzas and cold homebrewed beers? Throw in a few microbrews for good measure, that’s what.

I had a great time introducing people to some new Barking Dog brews last night. Probably the most fun was administering blind taste tests where I pitted my homebrews against similar commercial versions and had people try and guess which was which.

Dead Soldiers on Beer Night


Darkness Day at Surly Brewing Company

Part of the reason I like Surly so much is because of their seasonal rare brews. It’s so cool to see a local brewery workingWaiting in line on Darkness Day at Surly Brewing Co. hard to keep their clientele entertained with new brews and clever marketing to go along with it. I’m proud they’re based here in Minneapolis.

Every year (since 2007 I believe), Surly has put out their Darkness brew around Halloween. This Russian Imperial Stout comes in a waxed 750 ml. bottle and weighs in at around 9% ABV. $18.00 each. Buddies Cristof and Dan accompanied me (“enabled” me) to wait in line at the brewery on Darkness Day in hopes of getting one of the 7,500 bottles available for purchase that morning (with just 7,000 more bottles distributed to local liquor stores this year — the number produced grows each year to get a little closer to meeting demand). Apparently guys who trade beer online (according to the two standing in front of me at the port-o-john that morning) go nuts for Darkness. “You can pretty much trade online for any beer you want if you’ve got a bottle of Darkness” I heard one of the guys say.

We arrived just after 7:45am Saturday 10/23. Armed with some Surly Wet and Surly fest, a newspaper, folding chairs and sack toss game, we sat in line until things started moving just before the 12 noon release. After the line got going, it took us until about 1:15pm before we were actually able to get to the front and purchase Darkness. (more…)