The bad beer needs to stop

I don’t exactly recall if I’ve talked about this before on the blog so directly, but I feel like I need to say something about the rise of bad craft beer lately. It’s something that I’ve been seeing more and more of as small little breweries pop up all over the place, trying to get a piece of the pie. It’s more apparent in suburban breweries, or outstate ones, but sometimes there’s even an inner city one that doesn’t do great.

Those bad inner city breweries are rare though because they can’t survive in a market where there is competitors every few blocks. If you’re serving truly bad beer in NE Minneapolis, you’re going to be laughed out of the neighborhood before you’re open a month. Most breweries in the cities aim for mediocrity, which gets them by and doesn’t single them out as someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

However, when you get out of town a bit, and get into areas where there is only one brewery for miles around, it’s a different story. A few months ago I visited a brewery in Pine City called Three Twenty Brewing. They’re the only game in town, and the quality of their beer showed it. There was a paper-y, oxidized taste to much of their beer, and it didn’t make me ask for seconds.

This past weekend we headed down to a new place in Prior Lake called Boathouse Brothers Brewing. It was their opening weekend, and so they were packed with people. I got a flight and was immediately met with some truly badly brewed beer. There was almost no carbonation, and the flavors were all over the map. I didn’t even finish my flight.

I had also somewhat recently visited Blue Wolf Brewing in Brooklyn Park, and my initial impression was that it wasn’t too bad. Not outstanding, but passable. I was there during their opening week, and then a month later some friends visited and immediately texted me asking how I could have rated their beers so high. I stopped by this past weekend again and was floored by how much their beer had changed, and how completely terrible it had become.

In all of these cases, I think I know what the primary problem is. You have home brewers who can brew a decent beer, and then think that they can take on a full industrial system. However, things don’t scale up like you would think, and most non-trained brewers have no idea how to fix it. The paper-y taste in Pine City is probably due to bad processes that are letting air into the beer. The Boathouse Brother’s issues are a lack of understanding on how to carbonate beer at commercial scale. Blue Wolf is most likely an issue with poor fermentation practices and sanitization. These are all things that require training and experience to learn how to deal with. Simply brewing on a homebrew system is completely inadequate to learning how to run a production beverage facility.

It’s sad to see people drinking up these bad beers because they’re the only game in town. They don’t have other options, and so they’re stuck with either traveling to the cities, or suffering through someone learning their craft over months of practice, at the expense of their patrons. I get the desire to want to have a fun local taproom in your community. But people need to demand better than a job-training site for homebrewers. We need to insist that people hire trained and competent brewers to run these systems, or at least mentor homebrewers into how to use them successfully.

Let’s not settle for flawed beer. As craft beer fans, lets insist that people deliver on their promise to bring good craft beer to their communities. It takes time, knowledge, and training, but in the end it makes the craft beer community a better and stronger place.

Part 2 of an impromptu Decorah trip

After we visited Pulpit Rock we spent a leisurely night in the hotel, recovering from a long day of running and frivolity. Sunday morning meant one more run for both of us before a day off on Monday. Our hotel was right next to the Trout Run Trail, which is a paved bike path that goes along the Upper Iowa River. I only needed 5.25 miles so it was OK that I was still a bit stiff and sore from the day before. We came across some construction on the trail, but it looked open enough, and soon I was running along the flood plain on a crisp Iowa morning.

IMG_2463.jpg

After our run it was time for the return trip. Our plan was to stop for lunch in Rochester at a brewery that I had never been to, but had heard amazing things about, called Forager Brewing. As it turns out, they are a brewpub, and serve food. I saw pizza in their photos, so we assumed that was the type of place it was. When we arrived we realized that it was a lot more.

IMG_2467.jpgForager is known for it’s sour beers. I got a bunch of little samples and sure enough, I was pleased by a solid resume of pucker beers. One of them, called Todd Plump, was one of the most amazing sours I’ve ever had. It was opaque and purple (plum), and had this rich head on it that made you think about adding ice cream to it. It was sweet, slightly tart, and incredibly smooth. It’s a limited edition beer, so I doubt I’ll ever get to have it again, but I’m happy I got to have it at least once.

IMG_2468.jpgHowever Forager also has amazing food. It turns out that pizza is just one little part of their menu. They also have incredible, made-from-scratch, food that comes sourced from local farms. I ordered up a breakfast skillet and it was filled with perfectly cooked potatoes, a little hint of bacon, and topped with two of the most perfectly poached eggs I’ve ever seen. Needless to say, we were both blown away by the food. I’ve decided that we’re kidnapping a couple of our friends and making them come here with us sometime.

IMG_2469.jpgWith our bellies filled with amazing food we proceeded to our final stop of the trip, LTS Brewing. I’ve been to LTS before and really enjoyed it. I brought my half-growler with me and just had to decide what to get. I tried a couple tasters, and everything was really high quality. One of them was a bit unique, their Go Big Rouge which is a Flander’s Red Ale style beer. This style of beer is slightly sour, yet more malty than a Gose. The yeast strain is very unique, and they are often blended with younger versions as they are aged. It was a very interesting beer, but I decided to just go with their Karma Kolsh for my growler. I figured that with such a cold Spring that we’ve been having, I better get a Summer-ish beer called Karma to try and tip the scales back to warm weather.

Soon enough we were back home. We accomplished our task of getting through the entire 5 hour podcast, and we loved listening to it. We also got to have a quick, spur of the moment get-away that created memories. We got to try new food, run in a new place, and sample lots of great craft beer. A very successful weekend if you ask me.

An impromptu weekend in Decorah, IA, part 1

This past week a running podcast that I enjoy called Ten Junk Miles, released a long interview with two ladies that I know who completed a double Arrowhead 135. They started at the finish line, 4 days before the start, and did the race backwards on their own. Then they started the race with everyone else and headed back 135 miles to be the first women ever to complete a double on foot. It’s an amazing story, and the interview clocked in at 5 hours.

I pinged my wife and the conversation went like this:

Me: TJM posted the Kate and Kari interview. It’s 5 hours long lol. Do you want to listen to the podcast together over the weekend or just on our own?

Wife: We can listen together. We should pick a road trip 😁 LOL
Where has good food?

And so, our weekend plans were born. I have been wanting to visit Decorah, IA for a while, since they have a couple great breweries that I’ve heard good things about. On top of that there were breweries along the route that I had never been to either. Decorah is 2.5 hours away, which means it’s perfect for a 5 hour podcast.

I was scheduled for a ~22 mile run on Saturday morning, and my wife needed to get some car work done, but we decided that by lunchtime we’d hit the road. I had a great run, and was feeling excited to hear a long podcast about other runners doing amazing things. We headed out around lunchtime and enjoyed a lovely drive through southern Minnesota.

IMG_2458.jpgOur first stop of the trip actually came before we hit Iowa. We stopped in Fountain, MN at the tiny brewery (612 sq ft!), Karst Brewing. This is a delightful little place with a handful of beers on tap. I got a few samples and then a half-pour of their cream ale. Their beers were all decently done, and I enjoyed getting some well made beer in small-town Minnesota. With our short stop out of the way my wife took the wheel and we continued our trip.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, and after dropping off our bags at the hotel, we headed to the famous Toppling Goliath brewery. They’ve made a name for themselves with their Morning Delight beer. You have to enter a lottery to buy it, and then you only get four bottles for $100. However, it’s an AMAZING beer. Unfortunately, our experience at their brand new taproom wasn’t nearly as amazing.

IMG_2460.jpgThey recently relocated to brand new digs about 5 miles outside of town. We found a parking space in a busy lot and proceeded to see what they had to offer. When we got inside there was a sign that said to “Seat Yourself”. The bar was full, and I didn’t see an obvious beer line, so we grabbed a table. I went to the bar and asked if people were service tables or if we order from the bar. I was told that we could just take a table and someone would be around. Then we waited… and waited… and waited.

IMG_2459.jpgFinally, I went to an area of the bar that looked like it was for growler sales and stood in line. It appeared that it was also for pints, and after a much longer wait than I should have had I finally had a flight of beers in front of me. It’s obvious that they have no idea what they’re doing in their brand new space yet, and hopefully their taproom manager will get things straightened out. From what I could see they need at least twice the number of servers that they had, as well as some clear signage about how to actually acquire beer.

On the bright side, my beers were all great, and especially a sour called Dragon Fandango. It was like a tart kool-aid and was amazing. Absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, they didn’t have it in ready-to-go bombers, and I didn’t feel like wading through the line again for a growler.

From there we headed in to downtown Decorah for some yummy Mexican food at Don Jose. Every college town has a great Mexican place like this, and soon my gut was filled with enchiladas and tamales. We still had one more stop for the evening, Pulpit Rock Brewing company.

IMG_2462.jpgPulpit Rock is built in what appears to be an old car dealership, or garage of some type. It’s a quaint little building, and there are multiple rooms you can hang out in with your beer. I got a nice flight of english style brew and started in. Although the Heavy Lifter Lager left me a little disappointed, the Clarion ESB was great. All in all, a wonderful way to finish off the brewery tour for the night.

More in part two…

Breweries and soft drinks: a rant

Hey breweries!

You guys with all the awesome taprooms that I love to visit?

Ya you.

You all probably know how much I love visiting new breweries. I love the craft beer scene that we have here in the Twin Cities, and heck, even all over Minnesota. I love craft beer, and you guys have done an amazing job bringing high quality brews to the world at large. I love sampling all the new stuff you brew; weird concoctions (that sometimes don’t work out), and amazing new recipes that blow my tastebuds away.

You know what else I love? Hanging out in a comfortable taproom. I love sitting with friends and spending a couple hours just talking about life, politics, art, music… whatever. There’s nothing quite like a great taproom environment to help someone relax and enjoy themselves, either alone or in the company of others. Heck, I spend almost every Wednesday night of my life visiting different taprooms with friends (usually on bike), just because we want an excuse to hang out.

When I travel, I ensure that I hit at least a couple breweries on my trip. I love seeing what the beer scene is like outside of my Twin Cities bubble. In fact, my Untappd unique beer count goes through the roof whenever I travel, which is incredibly fun to see. Even when I’m not traveling, one of the regular activities with my wife is to visit a taproom, just to hang out. She knows how much I love craft beer, and trying new beers, and despite the fact she doesn’t drink, she loves being in a beautiful taproom and being together.

You know what I don’t like? When a brewery doesn’t think about the non-drinkers, and the designated drivers, in the groups of people who show up. I realize that you make almost no money on any soft drinks that you sell, but you also know what? If you don’t have non-alcoholic options available it makes it a hell of a lot less likely that my wife and I are going to spend time there. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a beautiful taproom, enjoying some amazing beer, and feeling awkward as my non-drinking spouse and friends sit patiently sipping their room temperature water.

And you know what else? I’m not asking for you to expand your horizons to weird and experimental craft sodas. My son could care less about your “IPA of sodas” made with lime and tonic water (it tasted like s**t). My wife doesn’t need your guava infused, rose-petal, cranberry kombucha soda hybrid garbage. They just want a solid root beer, Coke, or 7-Up. They’re not there to experience some incredible new flavor of pop. They’re there to hang out with friends who like craft beer.

No one is asking you to enter a new market segment. Really, it’s not that hard. Just run down to the local gas station and pick up a couple cases of some different flavors of pop and stick them in a cooler. That’s all. No one is going to think any less of your hipster, craft beer-cred because people can also ask for a can of Diet Coke or a La Croix. Those designated drivers and non-drinkers just want to hang out in your cool taproom with their friends and family. They want to experience the cool environment you’ve created. They’re not asking for much, just something simple to drink.

Oh and get this… if you want me, the craft beer drinker, to spend more money? Give my group a reason to stay longer. If my non-drinking friends who are hanging out with me have something to drink, I’m going to keep spending money, and drinking more of your beer. Isn’t that what you want?

</rant>

Death of a brewery

Today the news broke that local brewery NorthGate has ceased operations. I only recently learned that they had sold the business to an investor, and it appears that the new owners decided it was time to shut it down. This is a sad day, as this was one of my favorite breweries in the metro area. They brewed English style beers, and actually knew how to brew them well. My wife, and my Beer & Bikes group has been there many, many times. They were also big soccer fans and you would see dozens of scarves on the wall from teams around the world.

IMG_5043.jpgRunning a business is hard, and the world of small breweries is still somewhat unknown for many people. The level of competition in a growing market such as the Twin Cities, the level of distribution, location, and a host of other factors make for a complex environment to do business. Many of us have wondered how many of the new breweries would make it, long-term, and amazingly only a couple have closed so far. I just wish this wasn’t one of them.

IMG_4903.JPG