Brewery Review: Back Channel Brewing

The wife and I finally had some time to do a little brewery tourism recently and decided to hit a new place that I’d heard about, but hadn’t yet been able to visit: Back Channel Brewing. Located in Spring Park, MN which is along the shores of Lake Minnetonka, Back Channel Brewing is a small brewery that boasts an amazing taproom, with open air views of the water. The day we visited it was one of the first 75 degree days of spring, so of course we grabbed a seat near the open patio.

In keeping with the nautical, lake-life ambiance, Back Channel does a nice selection of lighter lagers and ales, perfect for sipping on the shore. That’s not to say that they don’t have anything darker and richer, but I applaud them for trying to win people over to craft beer by brewing something familiar. I ordered up a flight of four beers and took a seat overlooking the lake.

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I decided to keep most of my flight light, and got their SheeCat Leichtbier, Horny Sidekick American Light Lager and Alfred’s Blonde Ale. I also got their Crooks Haven Irish Stout on Nitro as a finisher. Right off the bat I was impressed with the brew quality of the lighter beers. It was obvious that they know how to build a solid flavor profile into a brew that is under 4% ABV. Each of these three lighter beers were solid, and I could easily see myself knocking back a couple of them on a beautiful summer night.

Once I finished these three lighter beers I got a short pour of their NE Pale Ale, which was an incredibly juicy ale. It had all the standard characteristics of a hazy pale ale, and it had a strong astringent taste to it that signified that the haze was coming from hops, which is what it should be in this beer style. It was really nice to drink, but it’s a beer style that isn’t going to last long, so hopefully they’ll work through their batch before the sediment drops and the flavor dissipates.

I finished off my beer tour with the Irish Stout, which was super smooth and dry, making it an excellent beer to complete the day. They also had a food truck there which specialized in making beer infused eats. Specifically they did some amazing chili that I got over some nachos. Along with a super soft pretzel, our food tummies were just as satisfied as my beer one.

The drive to Back Channel is down a single road through the lake, so it can get a little crowded on the weekends, but if you’re heading down this way, just enjoy taking your time and soak in the views. There are some incredible houses, and because of the economic nature of the area you might even see a Lamborghini or two. A sunny spring afternoon makes for a perfect backdrop to check this place out. Additionally, the Dakota Rail Trail is nearby if you want to bike on over from the Wayzata area.

Although a bit out of the way to be a regular stopping off point for us, I can certainly see heading out to Back Channel again in the future. It’s a beautiful area, and the beer is solid. Everything that makes a good taproom a place worth coming back to.

Shoe Review: Saucony Peregrine 7 ICE

This past winter I was looking for a new trail shoe for my runs on the local trails, as well as something that I could use on the roads around my house when they’re in sorry shape from a big winter snow or ice storm. I came across the Saucony Peregrine 7 ICE shoes when searching online, and since they were on sale, I decided to pick them up and give them a try over the colder months. Although this review is focusing on the version 7 of the shoes, there doesn’t appear to be many changes in the new Peregrine 8 ICE, so I would expect that everything I’ll say here applies, minus the rock plate that left the Peregrine for the v8 edition.

One of the things that appealed to me about the idea of the ICE shoes was the Vibram Arctic Grip outsole, which claims to be able to grip ice much better than a regular outsole. I got a chance to run on ice a little this winter, and found that the shoe performed OK, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations when it came to gripping ice. Maybe that’s because I never noticed the times when it added grip, but overall I still felt like I had to be somewhat careful, or switch over to using my screw shoes, for really icy conditions.

However, I did find one scenario where these shoes completely blew away my expectations… wet and slippery boardwalks. As spring dawned on the area, I found myself at a local trail that has many boardwalks along it. These were all soaking wet which usually means that they’re phenomenally slippery. However, the Peregrine 7 ICE shoes acted like sandpaper and gripped the wood amazingly. I still took my time and was careful on the boardwalks, but at no point did I ever feel even a bit of slippage. It was really amazing, although an unintended benefit of the shoe.

From a fit and comfort perspective, these shoes are what you’d expect from the Peregrine line. They’re soft and light, and feel nice and responsive. The standard lugs are well sized for light trails, and the shoes react well when climbing and turning around rocks and roots. With a 4mm drop, the shoes feel low, but still not zero-drop territory. I never had any ankle or Achilles trouble, despite being more of an 8mm guy.

I’m on the fence as to if I would buy these again. They got a lot of use this winter, and I loved wearing them, but I’m not sure the ICE technology was worth the extra premium (had I not gotten them on sale). If you can find these on clearance, you can’t go wrong, as they’re a solid trail shoe. You might get some benefit from the ICE protection, but even if you don’t, they still will give you many miles of durable use.

Brewery Review: Torg Brewing

The Twin Cities brewery and taproom market has exploded over the past 7 years, and one of the most common questions that people ask is if we’re approaching saturation. As a case in point, on multiple occasions my Beer & Bikes group that I ride with will hit multiple breweries in an evening. If we discover that the brewery we’re at for the evening is doing an event (or Trivia that we’re not interested in participating in) we’ll just have one, and then bike a couple blocks away, and sure enough there’s another brewery.

Despite a few areas being a bit more saturated than others, I still don’t think we’ve hit actual saturation yet though. That’s because until every city/neighborhood has a brewery  to call it’s own, there’s still room for growth. For many people, the brewery taproom is a place to gather and be with other people. Similar to how a coffee shop serves as a gathering spot, the brewery taproom can be a central community spot for an area. Similar to how the traditional pub in the UK seems to function.

Needless to say, I was overjoyed to hear that my area would be getting a taproom, just 3 miles by bike from my house. I was also excited to hear that they would be specializing in more English style beers, which are some of my favorites. I love beer with solid malt backbone, and ESB’s and Irish Red’s are two of my all time go-to styles.

img_3555Torg opened up in 2018, and since then we’ve found ourselves visiting on a regular basis. It’s close enough that we’ll sometimes swing by for a pint on our way back from running errands, or have a spur-of-the-moment gathering with my biking friends. It’s close and comfortable, which makes it a great neighborhood taproom. They have a great patio on the upper level, and despite the noise from the very busy Highway 47 nearby, it’s not objectionable to sit there for long periods of time.

On the topic of beer, I’ve been very happy with the choices they offer. Just like many new breweries, they had a few struggles when they first started, with some text books “new brewer” mistakes, but everything seems to have now settled down into good quality beer. The Woman of the House oatmeal stout is a solid choice for days like yesterday when the wind was howling and snow blowing everywhere. It’s light and flavorful, but feels comforting on a cold day.

The Kilted Yoga Irish Red ale knocked it out of the park for me. It had just a subtle hint of peat, and a solid malt backbone that I love in my Irish reds. Squirrel Nutkin and Bridged’s Bathwater are two other great English style beers with a smooth character, mellow earthly hop profile, and nice low ABV for easy drinking.

img_3494There are of course a few issues that I have with some of their beers, in particular the ones that are claimed to be on nitro. They’re not as smooth and creamy as nitro usually should be, and feel like there’s a bit too much CO2 still adding carbonation in them. It’s gotten better over time, but I still feel like this is one area of improvement. I’m also not a huge fan of some of the hops that have been chosen for some of their new beers. I’m sensitive to certain hop families like Simcoe and Falconer’s Flight, which both taste like a cat litter box smell to me. This is my issue, but I feel like a couple of their newer beers are giving me this type of flavor, and I’d love it if their next new one didn’t have this same issue.

A couple of niggles aside, I am overall impressed by Torg Brewing. I think they’re putting together a solid lineup of good tasting beer. Along with the fact that they’re right in my neighborhood means that they’re quickly becoming one of a few go-to places when I’m thirsty for a nice taproom.

 

Fired up about Firefox

Something that’s been bugging me a lot recently is the trend in technology to adopt a “surveillance capitalism” model of doing business. In Shoshana Zuboff’s recent tome on the topic, she dives into the nature of this new reality that we find ourselves in, and the pitfalls that we’re facing because of it. Quickly put, surveillance capitalism is about how our personal data, behaviors, and desires, become commoditized and sold on a marketplace for the purpose of targeting us with specific advertisements. Or far worse, for the purpose of altering our behavior to match a certain worldview or philosophy.

I’m not going to get too deep into all of this in this post, but suffice it to say, I’ve been thinking a lot more about who has data about me, and how am I letting them use it. Months ago I started turning off various tracking tools that I knew were helpful to me, but resulted in my behavioral profile being made available to an unknown marketplace for unknown purposes. I love some of the convenience of technology, but because we’ve gotten so used to getting everything for free, we often forget that nothing is actually free. Instead of paying for services as we consume them, we allow our behavior to be sold as a form of currency, in exchange for the tools we like to use.

That all got me thinking about some of the tools I use in everyday life. In particular my web browser. I’ve been a Google Chrome user for many, many years. It is by far one of the most feature rich browsers out there, and it has become the de-facto standard for delivering internet content. It’s also owned by Google, which is the largest consumer of behavioral data on the planet. That means that many parts of it are inexorably linked with Google’s tracking enterprises, both to make our technology more helpful to us, but to also pay for it all through the marketing of our data.

To combat this, a few days ago I decided to download Firefox again, and give it another go. I’ve installed it on all my devices, and after a few addons that I’ve come to rely on, I’m all set up again to browse the internet the same way I was doing with Chrome.

One of the first things I noticed was how much slimmer and quicker Firefox was. Especially on a Mac, Chrome is a bloated memory hog. Firefox seems to be a much trimmer and efficient tool, and I’ve noticed a lot fewer processes running in the background. Granted nothing is ever going to be a fast or quick as Safari is on a Mac, but the added benefit of better addon and web application support is a palatable trade off.

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Additionally, I’ve found a few useful features with Firefox that are missing from Chrome. One in particular that I like is a little blue notification dot that appears in pinned tabs, when there is a new event in the tab that I need to check. This means that I can visually see a cue when I get new emails or other notifications, in a simple manner. This might seem like a small thing, but it’s something that I’ve missed for a long time since it was removed from Chrome.

I’ve only come across one issue with an app called Telegram that would not load correctly in it’s web interface. However, there was an addon in the Firefox marketplace that fixed the issue. Not sure if Firefox is just being too restrictive in it’s security, or if there’s an actual incompatibility.

So far my experience with Firefox has been overwhelmly positive. I’m going to give it a solid two weeks of exclusive use to see if I find any other issues or perks. However, based on the last couple of days, I think it’s really matured into a great browser, and a nice alternative for those of us who’d like to be a little less invested in the marketplace of human behavior.

 

Quick Review: Be Brave, Be Strong

I was introduced to Jill Homer’s adventures through the podcast Ten Junk Miles. One day, Scott, the host of TJM, posted a link to a sale on Jill’s books at Amazon. I decided to jump on it and pick up four of her works. My wife recently read her book that documented Tim Hewitt’s multiple Iditarod 1000 races, and she enjoyed it. I decided to try something different and read Be Brave, Be Strong: A Journey Across the Great Divide. This book documents her bike ride from Banff in Canada, all the way down the Great Divide Trail to Mexico, in the Tour Divide race.

One of the things I really appreciated about this book is Jill’s voice. She’s an excellent writer, and she tells the story in a compelling and engaging manner. Her descriptions are visual, but not flowery, which makes the pages flow by. I also liked how Jill weaved in the story of her relationships throughout the story. The story of her love life was intertwined with her journey, and if she had simply glossed over it, the book would have been much less interesting.

The story is told with great detail, highlighting every single day of the journey. When I finished reading, I felt like I could actually go on part of the trail myself, and have some semblance of where I was. Although, towards the middle of the book, I started to tire of the daily log of each day’s journey, I feel like the story would have been less impactful without it. If she had simply glossed over and combined multiple days, that were mostly uneventful, it would have disrupted the flow and rhythm of the story. Instead, we get to share in that experience of routine, and even boredom, that Jill documents.

Jill doesn’t sugar coat her struggles either. As she reaches her lowest points she doesn’t shy away from bitching about how much she wanted to quit. She’s open about her tears and doubts at every step of the way. You feel like you’re connecting with a real person, not some elite athlete who never seems like they struggle. It makes the journey relatable, despite the fact that it’s probably out of reach of most of us.

I’m glad that I was introduced to Jill’s work, and am looking forward to reading about her next adventure.