Garphish Brewing Company

This past weekend I had some time free, so I decided to check out the newest brewery in the north metro area, Garphish Brewing Company. When I say “north metro” that’s a bit of a stretch. This brewery is in the small town of Bethel, MN which is a roughly 30 minute drive straight north of where I live. It’s a mostly easy drive though once you get through Highway 65 traffic in Blaine. Seriously, they need to do something about that road.

I love seeing small towns in out-state Minnesota getting on board with craft beer. These are places where cheap macro-beer is king at the local bar, and if you’re lucky they might have a single tap of Summit EPA or Blue Moon. Infusing some cool new beer culture into these areas is a great benefit to the area, as it helps educate people on good beer, and it draws in people like myself who like to do some beer tourism.

One of the first things I noticed about Garphish was the building it’s in. They’ve renovated an old church into something really fresh and unique. It’s a traditional old church that feels like a split level home. The main sanctuary is up a half flight of stairs, and the fellowship hall is in the basement. For this remodel, the top level became the taproom, and the brewery went into the basement.

The atmosphere in the taproom is homey and small-town. The seating in the space is mostly old dining room sets that look like they just retired from someone’s kitchen. There are also couches scattered around that give off a thrift-store vibe and provide for some casual seating around coffee tables. Despite being in a small town that’s more likely to have a biker bar, Garphish evokes a cool hipster atmosphere that will make people from NE Minneapolis feel at home.

I ordered up a flight of four beers. They had five beers on tap, with a 6th having just kicked. I was told by the beertender that I have to try the Kölsch, so I added that to my paddle, along with an apricot beer, a mild, and a oatmeal stout. I headed over to a couch and started my tasting. I took my first sip of the Kölsch and was immediately assaulted with a cloying sweetness that screamed under-attenuation. I was surprised that the beertender recommended this beer, and I started to worry that I was in for a really bad experience.

I moved on to the apricot, and was pleasantly surprised with a decently fruity and well brewed beer. I’m very sensitive to the chemical taste of fruit extracts used in many fruit beers, however, I could tell this one was mostly real fruit. It was nice and smooth and had just a slight bit of fruity tang to it. My hopes were rejuvenated that perhaps the first beer had been a fluke. I then tried the mild, and from the first sip I knew that this was a very traditional Scottish type of mild. Very earthy and peat-y with a light mouthfeel, yet some texture to the flavors. I was very impressed that a small town brewery had the guts to brew something so unique to American palettes. This quickly became my favorite beer of the trip.

Finally, I tried the stout, which I found to be overly roasted. It was brewed properly, but I had to let it warm up quite a bit to let the roasty-ness mellow. It was while I was drinking this beer that I was surprised by a paper airplane that flew over the couch and crashed in to my arm. I looked behind me to see a young boy standing on the stage looking sheepish. His dad exasperatedly told him that he can’t do that to the customers, and that’s how I met Brandon, the owner and brewer.

img_2811Brandon came over and apologized for his kid, to which I informed him that it was perfectly alright and pretty funny. I was actually impressed with the kid’s aim! Brandon and I started talking, and I told him that I was from down in the cities, and loved traveling around checking out new breweries. We started talking about the beers, and I brought up my disappointment with the Kölsch. He was shocked that I thought it was sweet because he brewed it with tons of jalapeño. He then went back to the bar and poured two more samples and had me try it again.

What I tasted that second time was a completely different beer. I got lots of nice heat and a smooth crisp beer. I asked him if he had two taps of the beer with different batches, and he confirmed that he did. He brewed the beer two different times, and the second time, he used a different yeast. It appears that it made a huge difference, and he agreed that he’s never going to use that particular yeast again. I was so impressed with the proper beer that I went back in and re-checked it in to Untappd with a better rating.

We spent some more time talking, and he agreed that the stout was too roasty, and he was going to dial that back next time. He then shared some of his growth plans and how he’s put together some of the equipment that he’s using. One of the things that impresses me about a brewer is when they can have an honest conversation about their creations, and not get defensive. Talking with Brandon showed me that he’s got a good brewing head on his shoulders and I’m excited to see what else he can do to bring great craft beer to small town Minnesota.

I had a great time at Garphish, and although it’s too far away to be a regular stop for me, I can certainly see myself stopping by from time to time. They’ve got a great atmosphere and they’re brewing some decent beer. They’re doing a great job with teaching people about craft beer, and I’m happy to see the popularity of good beer spread to more than just the metro.

Soccer growing pains

I’ve been a season ticket holder of the Minnesota United FC for many years, and attended games back when they were just called the NSC Stars. This past week, the team released the season ticket pricing for next year for when the team moves in to it’s brand new stadium in the Hamline-Midway area of Saint Paul. Needless to say, there was some sticker shock at what it will cost to keep seats there. The internet does what it does best and there was a lot of gnashing of teeth, and complaints about the quality of play on the field. I even felt some of that frustration myself, but then I started coming to a different conclusion.

Some folks on reddit showed comparisons with our upcoming ticket prices, and the prices in other markets. Overall, we’re not out of line with what other markets are charging for their pro-soccer ticket prices. When you compare the prices to other pro sports teams here in Minnesota, we’re once again still in line with what’s expected at this level. That’s when it occurred to me, the problem isn’t the team or these new prices, but us old-time fans.

What we’re experiencing is the natural evolution of a second-tier team moving to a top level professional team. When I first started going to games in 2011 we were lucky to get 2000 people in the stadium for a game. Ticket prices were inexpensive, and the entire event was very low-key. What we’re moving to is a completely different world. We’re on the top stage in the country, with 20,000 people at a game. We’re getting national TV coverage, tons more food and drink options, a state of the art (privately funded) stadium, and opportunities to bring in even bigger events that feature world famous teams. None of that comes cheap.

For those of us who can remember the days of super cheap tickets ($10 gate tickets), and a homey, low-key environment, this change is a big deal. This isn’t the same event that we remember 7 years ago, and because of the transition taking year, it’s felt slow in coming. In many ways it’s much better, with better play, better competition, and a great game-day experience. The fact remains though that it costs more money.

For those people who are struggling with this change, I offer a suggestion. With the growth of MLS here in Minnesota, there are even more minor league teams to support. Both the NPSL and WPSL have multiple teams in the area, and all of them are reminiscent of the game day feel of old school NSC Stars (or Thunder). The ticket prices are low, and you don’t get the whole game-day experience of an MLS team, but maybe that’s good enough. Perhaps, for some people, simply picking up a few game day tickets for the Loons, and then supporting our smaller market teams, is the better way to go.

The growth of soccer in Minnesota is a good thing for everyone. We all need to decide how we want to interact with all of our new choices, and what’s the best for each of us. If anything, we should be happy about all the new choices that we have, and how it makes soccer a better sport in our area overall.

The lessons of winter

There are many things that winter teaches you in Minnesota. How to dress appropriately, the difference between types of snow, and often, how to simply have fun and enjoy it. However, one lesson that we were reminded of this year was that it’s always better to deal with the aftermath of a snowstorm in the morning than in the middle of the day.

Back in January we had a big storm roll through; nothing out of the ordinary, just a basic 6-8 incher. The problem was that it started around mid-day, after everyone had gone to work already. St. Paul Public Schools didn’t decide to end the school day early until it was far too late, and they paid the price. Many of their busses got stuck on the streets, and some kids didn’t make it home until after midnight. It was a complete debacle and PR nightmare.

This weekend the weather started to predict a big snow for Monday. As the hours got closer and closer it appeared that we were in for another repeat performance with a heavy snow hitting around mid-day again. After having learned their lesson in January, almost every school district in the area announced on Sunday eventing that they closed for the day Monday. Frankly, it was a wise move.

However, the weather decided to take it’s time, and the apart from a bunch of freezing drizzle, the main snow didn’t start to fall until late afternoon in the cities. Having lived in Minnesota almost my entire life, I know that tomorrow will be cries of complaint that there was no reason for school to be closed. Despite the fact that even the slightest shift of the storm track could have caused a repeat of January.

You see, in Minnesota our memories are short and selective when it comes to weather. We complain about the cold, or the snow, or the horrible job that the snow plows do. But then we forget that we’ve done this over and over, every year for all of the lives that we’ve lived here. Nothing we’re experiencing this winter is that different from any other winter in our history. In fact climate change has made things even a bit milder than when we were young.

Yet, we keep thinking that weathermen are all-knowing seers who can predict a storm path to the very minute and square foot. We believe that All-Wheel-Drive means we’re invincible and can ignore all road conditions. And we think that our lives are so busy and important that we can’t be inconvenienced, even a bit, to just let nature do it’s thing.

Fellow Minnesotans, let’s try, just this once, to remember what winter here is like, why we respect it, and why it’s an important part of what makes us who we are. Tough, bold, and hearty.

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.

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The new art

This past weekend, as I’ve mentioned, I headed down to Milwaukee with my son. The reason I went down there though was to get some new tattoos. My artist moved down there a couple years ago, and so the only time I can get art from him is when he’s doing a guest spot in town.

I had originally intended to get a new tattoo when my artist was going to be at the Minneapolis Tattoo Convention. However, I got sick that week and decided that having the flu in a room full of people with open wounds wasn’t a great idea. So I decided that instead of waiting for him to come back, I would head down to where he is, as a fun weekend trip. My wife was out of town last weekend as well, for work, so it ended up being perfect timing.

IMG_2280.jpgI decided that since I was traveling all that way that I should get two pieces instead of just one. We began the day with the first piece that I was intending to get at the convention, a nice Green Lantern symbol on my right, inner, forearm. It came out really good, and I loved that we decided to put a background on it. We debated it back and forth, but I’m liking where it turned out.

IMG_2281.jpgThe second piece I got was something I’ve been wanting for a long time, a tribute to Minnesota. My artist and I worked together on some ideas, and what he came up with was absolutely brilliant. It captures much of what makes Minnesota unique with it’s three distinct biomes. We’ve got a bison, and wind farm, in the southwest, all the way up to the lake in northeast. In between are different pine cones and leaves that make up the Minnesota landscape. The background is a rust red, to denote the mining industry that has shaped our state, especially in the northeast.

I’m incredibly happy with how these turned out, and it has given me ideas for some other pieces in the future.