Blacklist Artisan Ales

This past weekend, while in Duluth for a race, I took a brief break in the action to stop by the newest taproom on the North Shore, Blacklist Artisan Ales. I only had about 45 minutes between activities, and so we walked down Superior Street for a quick taste of what they had to offer.

I took a seat at the bar and ordered up a flight. They had a pre-set flight, which was fine with me, as I had just finished running 16 miles and wasn’t in the mood to think too hard. The beertender explained that they specialized in Belgian style ales, and on the flight I had a Belgian Wit, Belgian IPA, Belgian Golden Strong, and a stout on nitro.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Belgian beers, as I find the yeast flavor a bit too “strong” for my liking. I can’t explain it fully, but there’s a sweet character to Belgian yeast that I find distracting from enjoying the malt and hop character of a beer. I started my sampling with the Belgian Wit. It was pretty much as I expected, a very boldly Belgian beer, but on par it was pleasant to drink. The lighter malt body of the wit was refreshing, and since it was just a flight sample, I found the beer acceptable.

Before I went to the next beer on the flight the beertender offered me a sample of their Keller Vienna which they had brewed up just for their Oktoberfest celebration that was going on. There was polka music on the speakers, and a small stage set up for people to dance. The entire space is a beautiful old building, with windows facing the street as well as Lake Superior. It’s light and fun, and is the type of place I could see myself sitting at for long periods of time.

The second beer on the flight was their Belgian Golden Strong. Immediately I noticed that it had a much, much more subdued Belgian quality than the Wit. It actually surprised me a lot, as I was expecting an even stronger sweetness. Instead, I found a very pleasant and drinkable beer, that still hinted at a Belgian ancestry, but it didn’t knock you in the face with sweetness. I’ve only occasionally enjoyed Golden Strong’s, but this beer was something I could see drinking more of. That’s a high compliment in my book.

Next up was the Belgian IPA. Again, this beer had a much more subtle Belgian character to it. It was distinctly Belgian, but not so strongly that it overpowered the hop character. It was a well rounded beer that would appeal to IPA fans as well as Belgian drinkers. Finally, I finished up with their Stout on nitro. Holy cow was this a perfect stout! It had a beautiful hint of chocolate that balanced wonderfully with the roasty character of the malt. Serving it on nitro just made everything better, as the smooth finish left the chocolate notes dangling on your palate well after you had taken your sip. They distribute this beer in cans, but on CO2. If I want the nitro version, I’ll have to come back.

Finally, I was treated to a quick taste of their Spruce DIPA. This was a nice refreshing beer, but at 9.5% is has to be a sipper. I usually have a hard time tolerating such high ABV, so I was pleased I got to get a simple taste before ending my visit.

I can say without a doubt that Blacklist is worth stopping by. The space is warm and inviting, and our beertender was friendly and helpful. As for the beer, it is all brewed exceptionally well, and for a non-Belgian drinker like myself, it provided a lot to enjoy, while still being a Belgian-heavy brewery. I loved the balance that they were able to achieve in their brews, and I will most certainly be making a stop back here from time to time as I’m through the area. I’d suggest you put in on your list as well.

2017 Grand Traverse 16 mile

Last year, the wife and I did a spur of the moment race up on the north shore called Grand Traverse. This is a low-key event with four different distances (27, 21, 16, 10), that runs along the Superior Hiking Trail from Jay Cooke State Park to Fitgers Brewhouse. It’s a small event, but it’s growing in popularity. Last year a few of our friends came up to do it, and they joined us again this year.

This year we opted for the 16 mile distance (we did the 21 last year), and that meant starting at 8am near the Magney-Snively trailhead. We launched promptly, and soon were back in the woods around Spirit Mountain ski resort. I hadn’t run 16 miles in quite a while, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from my body, but when I started I was feeling great. I kept pace with a few other folks around me, but eventually had to stop to relieve myself, and then found myself all alone (which is how I like it).

IMG_1644I’ve gotten pretty familiar with the southern portion of the SHT, but with all of the new bike trail additions, there were moments where I had to stop and look around to make sure I took the correct turn. There were a few spots where I took a couple of steps down the wrong trail before turning around and going the right way.

One of the benefits of running the race this year was the weather. It was beautiful and perfect for running. Last year, the hillsides were shrouded in fog, meaning that we couldn’t see anything beyond 15 feet or so. This year I could see everything, and stopped far too many times to take pictures of the view I couldn’t see last year.

IMG_1649The portion of the trail from Beck’s Road to Highland-Getchell is VERY rocky. Even though I was feeling good, I wasn’t able to move as quickly as I would have liked because of all of the rocky footing. I was still having a great time, but it meant that I my feet ended up much more beat up than on a regular trail run. In addition, the course was VERY muddy, and I ended up with the back of my legs looking quite coated in brown.

IMG_1642I eventually made it to the second (and last) aid station of the 16 mile distance, and from my memory the only thing left was the climb to Enger Tower, and then the long descent to the path that leads to Canal Park. I forgot that the climb to Enger was a good mile in length, and by the time I got up to the top I was ready to be done. The descent down the other side is very rocky and relentless. I picked up a running partner on the way down and we chatted a bit to keep each other company on the tricky footing.

Once we hit the pavement we decided to jog the rest of the way in. I followed the blue line into Canal Park and then down the lakewalk to Fitgers. I had really hoped to beat 5 hours, but alas, I just didn’t have that much in me and I managed 5:09:29. I would have had to really push harder on some of the earlier miles to make 5 hours a reality.

IMG_1648.JPGI climbed the stairs to the finish line behind Fitgers and met my wife. She had also started on the 16 mile route, but due to a sprained ankle a week ago, she only did 12 of it (which she was very happy with). She would have dropped down to the 10 mile race, except for the fact that the bus was full. The race director was happy to give her a ride back from the final aid station to help her get her miles in.

Once I finished, I got cleaned up and we waited for our friends to finish. They were doing the 27 mile and many of them decided to run together. They came up the stairs smiling and happy, and excited for what they had done. Once everyone was cleaned up we hit the brewhouse for some food. I had a burger that really hit the spot, with some delicious tater tots. When we finished eating we still had an hour before the recognition ceremony, so we headed down to a new brewery a few blocks away (I’ll write about that tomorrow). I tried out some new beer, and then headed back for the fun recognition ceremony and the door prize giveaway. I walked out with a nice pair of socks, and a great bike tire lever.

I really love this race. It’s a great course, nice and low-key, and a lot of great people run it. I know that they’re growing a bit, but I hope that they still do what they can to maintain that small feel. It’s a wonderful example of the trail community on the north shore, and an excellent way to spend a great autumn day.

PC: Wendi B


Hoops Brewing

This weekend we’re up north again, and I had the opportunity to check out the newest taproom in Duluth, MN; Hoops Brewing. The ownership of this brewery has a pedigree with Fitger’s in Duluth, and so I was excited to see what they had to offer.

We called ahead to Grizzly’s Woodfire Grill across the street and grabbed some takeout on the way. Once we arrived at Hoops we were handed a menu and we looked around for a table. At first I didn’t know if I was supposed to go up to the bar to order my beer, but I then saw servers running around to different tables and took a seat. Eventually, our server came over and asked us what we would like. They don’t serve flights, but in a round about sort of way I was informed that I can get 5 oz pours of any beer. Basically, this is make-your-own-flight.

As we ate our dinner and I waited for my beer to arrive, we noticed a gentleman next to us changing the TV channel. I recognized him as the owner and complimented him on the beautiful space that Hoops has. They are built into a gorgeous old brick building with lots of exposed wood and brick. It’s a really great environment, and I could see enjoying a lot of time in this space.

Eventually my beer arrived and I got to sampling. Since we still had some driving to do, and it was very warm out, I didn’t get anything too heavy. I stuck mainly to the pale ales and wheat beers, and ended up ordering a second one of their wheat beers when there was a mis-communication with the server about which wheat I had ordered.

Overall, everything was well made, and there were no flaws in any of the beers. Everything tasted as it should, and I enjoyed each of the beers. My personal favorite was the summer wheat beer, as it was light and refreshing with a little lemon zing to it. The perfect type of beer to have out on the patio on a hot summer night. I enjoyed it enough that I bought a crowler of it on our way out.

Since Hoops has only been open a week or so, I wasn’t expecting a ton of weird or unique beers, and what they have on tap is solid. Combined with a beautiful space, it’s a great place to hang out and drink beer. I only had one little complaint. I hate the paradigm of a server bringing me my beer.

I’ve been to dozen, and perhaps hundreds, of taprooms, and the only time I want to see a waiter/waitress is if they’re also serving food. I have no problem with standing in line and ordering my beer, like every other taproom. When I have a waiter to deal with I have to order beer on their schedule, as they’re trying to serve other tables. Then at the end of it all I once again have to think about tips and waiting for my check before I can leave.

I realize that during busy times, a brewery might worry that the line could get too long. However, other breweries have solved this problem with a large, dedicated space to order beer, and staffing it with 2-3 beertenders who are not tending the bar. I saw many, many servers last night that simply didn’t need to be there, when we could have all just ordered our beer at the bar. Perhaps others really like the idea of having a waiter bring you your beer, but it just irks me, and next time I visit, I plan to try and find a seat up at the bar so I don’t need to deal with waitstaff.

Despite my quibble about how you’re served, Hoops is a solid brewery, and is putting out good beer. It’s got a beautiful location, and is in the heart of Canal Park, so you know it’s going to be popular. I’m certain I’ll be hitting it again in the future as I pass through, and I hope to see even more unique experiments on the menu next time.

Twas the night before…

Made it to Duluth this afternoon for our alternate hotel plans for the weekend. I’m getting myself mentally ready for the big race tomorrow, while watching the live results trickle in about people I know running the 100 mile race. The weather is perfect, so I’m looking forward to that tomorrow. But, the overall anxiety and anticipation started setting into my brain a couple days ago. Therefore, tonight is about trying to relax and calm myself so that I can try and get some sleep tonight.

The North Shore and Canal Park is on way to get some zen into your mind as the waves pulsate into the rocky shore. Time to breath, enjoy some good food, the sound of the waves, and relax. Whatever happens tomorrow will happen, and it’s all about the experience now.