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

Brewery Tours

Private tour of Goose Island's production brewery

Recently I was able to go on a private tour of Goose Island’s production brewery led by their communications coordinator, Ken Hunnemeder. Goose’s flagship brewery is located not far from their corporate offices and just a few miles from their Clybourn brew pub I toured a year ago. It was an extremely hot 100+ degree day outside and of course inside the brewery it was much warmer. I bet if Goose does protein rests on their mash they probably didn’t even have to heat the water on the day of my tour. Room temp would have sufficed. HA!

Before walking around the facility I was able to try a few beers they had on tap for tasting. Most notable was the latest in the Fulton & Wood series, Black Mission. They definitely hit the mark with Black Mission in an attempt to recreate the flavor of a fig newton, though that doesn’t mean you should necessarily consider this a dessert beer. It had a dry finish and subtly spicy hop profile so as to work well with fattier meats like duck or lamb. The beer’s base malt bill is that of a Vienna lager, which makes sense when you taste all the caramel flavors from Vienna and Munich malts in this beer. The other sample I tried was Sofie, their saison. Though I’d had it before, I still reached for Sofie knowing this crisp citrusy Belgian ale with a hint of spice was perfect for accompanying the sweaty brewery tour ahead. (more…)

Father's day trip to Schell's Brewing Co.

Though I definitely wear my interests on my sleeve, let me just say my wife has the process of catering to those down to a science. This past Father’s Day (my first), she surprised me with a beer flight holder a friend spotted at a craft fair and a trip down to New Ulm, MN to visit the second oldest brewery in the country, Schell’s Brewing.

Schell’s is a two hour drive from Minneapolis, making this a perfect day trip. This historic brewery and well-kept grounds have been featured in various magazines, most recently in the March issue of All About Beer magazine. We arrived a bit early for the tour so we drove into town and had lunch at Joni’s restaurant and catering. I was surprised at how tasty their “New Ulmer” burger with sauerkraut was, especially because the decor of the place was quite… humble. It’s worth a taste if you’re ever in the ‘hood.

Back to the brewery! (more…)

Fulton Brewing Company


I finally checked out Fulton Brewing Co.’s new Minneapolis brewery on Memorial Day. My wife and I have friends that live very close by, so what better to do than have a happy hour on their patio, then grab a growler and some Black Sheep pizza to go? Tasty.

Fulton has broken out into doing a pale ale, which I would have liked to try but it wasn’t available in growlers and I wanted to give Lonely Blonde another shot while we were there. Still not anywhere near awesome, but It’s grown on me a bit. I skipped Sweet Child of Vine, as I just haven’t ever had a great experience with that beer. Tastes like hop oil and not a whole lot else. Not in a crisp fresh way either, rather just a muddled, oily hop mess. And don’t get me started on chill haze. :) Yes, I have problems with chill haze more often than not. I’m also a hobbyist. Lonely blonde didn’t have this issue, so I know they’re capable of producing a clear product. C’mon guys!

They’re tap room was quite large, taking up at least half if not 2/3rds of the building’s square footage. I wonder if they’ll knock down a few walls to expand back into the tap room in a few years… or maybe the plan would be to do away with the tap room at that point and just completely focus on being a production facility. I could see that happening. The tap room is just as much a promotion tool as it is a source of income. If they become larger, maybe cost/benefit will dictate that they use the space on fermenters instead of a large tap room. Time will tell. (more…)

45th Parallel tour and tasting

This past weekend, my wife and I jumped in the car with Josh from the Northeast Homebrewers’ Club (NBA), his wife and baby and headed to Wisconsin for a distillery tour. 45th Parallel in New Richmond, pretty cool place. They’ve been up and running since about 2006, outputting over 1,000 gallons of spirits per month. Mainly they focus on premium vodka but also are getting into burbon (plenty of barrels in the process of aging the mandatory two years), and some cheaper gin and vodka to expand their market. The tour was free and so were the samples afterwards.

I’m not crazy into hard alcohol, though I do enjoy a little whiskey and scotch from time to time. I wish they would have had their burbon ready. We tasted their flagship vodka, gin and limoncello, the last of which reminded me a bit of our trip to Italy earlier this year. Ahhhh, that was a nice trip.

I think one of the most interesting things we learned on the tour is that when the distillery owners were first looking for a location, they wanted to be in Northeast Minneapolis but couldn’t afford it due to the $30,000 licensing fee levied on distilleries by Minnesota. In Wisconsin? The same fee is just $1,000. Wow. And actually, the town of New Richmond so desperately wanted the distillery to call their town home that they bought the land for the facility. Not only is the license $29,000 cheaper, but a little Wisconsin town is so desperate for industry that they BOUGHT THE LAND for the place. Nice work, New Richmond. Now that’s you you debate. Also, the distillery happens to be location right next door to the place that makes the caps for their bottles. When I say right next door, I actually mean it’s two buildings next to each other in the middle of a field. They hand deliver the bottle caps the 100 feet from building to building. Pretty cool.

On the way into Wisconsin, we made a brief stop at Casanova liquors in Hudson on the way, picked up a pack of New Glarus Chocolate Abbey, Oskar Blues Old Chub and a few other single bottles. Also, Josh was in San Diego recently visiting relatives and brought me back some Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA. Lot’s of good beer came into my possession on this day. Excited to try these!

Check out some pics of the distillery below: (more…)

Stevens Point Brewery

On the way to play a festival show with my band near Green Bay, Wisconsin last weekend, the drummer and I made a stop at Stevens Point Brewery in – where else – Stevens Point, Wisconsin, to check this brewery off my tour list. Honestly, I was a little disappointed in the tour. It was led by some cute college chick who was just rattling off a script as fast as she could. Some might find my complaint odd, but do you really want to learn about the nitty gritty inner-workings of a brewery from anyone but one of the brewers? Granted, if I wanted to be on a brewer-led tour I probably shouldn’t have shown up on a Saturday afternoon near the end of summer (this is me giving them the benefit of the doubt). She had her script down fine enough, but I held back all my beer geeky questions so as not to piss her off.

Also, note to the world: please don’t bring your screaming kids on a brewery tour. This is adult time. Thank you. (more…)

4th of July Weekend in Chicago – Part 2: Goose Island's Clybourn Brew Pub

On Saturday afternoon of our trip to Chicago over the 4th of July weekend this past month, my wife and I took the train with her brother and his wife from their place over to Lincoln Park and Goose Island’s original brew pub on Clybourn Ave. This is one of the places I knew I really wanted to check out during our Chicago trip. My recent affinity for Goose Island developed after being subject to their PR-tinged Beer School session back in early May at the Happy Gnome in St. Paul. The session focused on their recently expanded series of Belgian-inspired brews. I’ve been digging Belgian beers a lot in the past year, so their efforts in this segment prove to be a good fit.

Of the five beers from their “vintage ale” collection, I was able to sample four when Goose Island hosed Beer School. The one beer that wasn’t quite ready to serve yet at that time was their Fleur. I made sure to buy a pint of Fleur with lunch before we toured the brewery. It came across very clean with definitive yet subdued Belgian character. I didn’t really get much aroma or flavor off of the hibiscus and kombucha tea that is apparently added during the production process of Fleur. Definitely one of the least interesting beers of the “vintage ale” collection (I think Pepe Nero is still my fav). (more…)

Flat Earth Brewing Co.

It’s good to have goals. One of my long-term goals is to tour every brewery in Minnesota, and as many in other states as I’m able to. My first brewery tour was of Lakefront in Milwaukee back in 2005. I’ve since been back three times, but the tour is often sold-out and I’ve only been able to get in once more. Other tours I’ve done include Surly (MN), Summit (MN), Miller (WI), Anheuser Busch (MO) and Tommyknocker (CO).

I was able to add another to the list past weekend when some friends and I hit up Flat Earth Brewing over in St. Paul. This microbrewery (800 bbl. output in 2010) opened for business back in the spring of 2007 and runs a brew house purchased from a now-defunct San Francisco brew pub (that existed in a space near Fisherman’s Wharf now proudly occupied by a Hooter’s, ha!). They do four year-round beers (a Belgian pale ale, an American pale ale, an IPA and a porter) and seven seasonals. They do exclusively ales – no lagers – due to the extended aging time (AKA “decreased profitability”) required to properly brew lager beer. (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…)

Los Osuna Tequila Distillery

Ok, so this isn’t directly related to beer, but how many times in my life will I visit a tequila distillery?

The agave plant is steamed for 12 hours to extract juices, essentially like making and steaming wort.

My wife and I were on a cruise down the Baja to Cabo, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta over Thanksgiving this year for her brother’s wedding. While in Mazatlan, we took a zip-lining excursion that – to my pleasant surprise – happened to be on grounds owned by tequila distillery Los Osuna. We spent the afternoon in the trees above an agave plantation. Agave is what is fermented and distilled into tequila. At the end of zip lining we got to take a tour of the distillery and sip on as many tequila shots as we wanted.

It was cool to experience the tour with a firm understanding of the general fermentation process. I could pick out all the similarities (of which there were many!) and differences between distilling tequila and brewing beer. Essentially, the agave is harvested, dropped into a steamer dug about 8-10 feet deep into the ground, steamed for 12 hours until it gets to about the consistency and taste of half-cooked sweet potatoes. Juices are extracted through syphoning and squeezing of the agave and then open-fermented. I think they may have the opportunity to be less concerned about sanitation given the high alcohol content of the product. I didn’t catch the exact details as to how long fermentation continues for, but I know there were a few transfers involved to distill the tequila down to the proper strength (though the tour guide mentioned the last phase of distillation brings the tequila above the legal alcohol content percentage for the drink so it must be first watered down slightly for commercial sale). (more…)

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…)

Tour of Summit Brewing Company

I had been wanting to catch a Summit tour for many months and finally was able to do so on a Saturday in early October. I believe the seasonal on tap at the time was their Horizon Red ale. I recall it was pretty good, though not as good as their unchained series batch #3, the RyePA, an India Pale Ale made with rye. I think they had found one keg of that sitting around and had it on tap as well. That one far out-shined their seasonal offering.

The Tour
Summit has a very nice facility and a lot of fermentation capacity for what is (or what recently was?) a small midwest craft brewery (yes I believe they are too large to fit into the”microbrewery” category now).  They have two HUGE copper mash tuns well situated out front by the tasting room. I believe these are their only functional mash tuns but I could be wrong. The only problem I had with the tour was a pretty big one: the tour guide, himself. (more…)