Many people have a desire for rarity, an affinity for anything that is unusual or hard to find. No matter your interests or hobbies I can assure you that among them exists something rare, an item or experience that is desirable to those who love their passion. Even within our shared passion of beer, rarity exists and is worthy of pursuit. Luckily it was within reach of Minnesotans on March 29th at the Northern Lights Rare Beer Fest.
The 2014 Rare Beer Fest, presented by Chop Liver Craft Beer Festivals, was held at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. At $100 a ticket ($20 for a sober cab) the event may seem pricey, but believe me it’s worth every penny for a true beer lover who is seeking out unusual and hard to find beers. In order to showcase their product at the event brewers must make sure that their beer fits the conditions of a ‘rare offering’. This includes beers that were brewed specifically for the event, limited in their availability, or at least a 2012 vintage. For 3 hours ticket holders had access to some of the rarest beers from across the country available to them for unlimited sampling. Thirty breweries (10 of which were from Minnesota!) presented at least 2 beers, with many breweries showcasing 4-5 brews. Included in the ticket price was food provided by Bon Appetit, and excellent food at that. We were also treated to live music during the event by The Zacc Harris Trio, which only lent to the indulgent feeling of the night.
I was also interested to learn that a portion of ticket sales went to Pints for Prostates. Started in 2008 by Rick Lyke, a prostate cancer survivor, the campaign seeks to raise awareness among men of the dangers of prostate cancer and how screenings and early detection can save lives. I do love beer, but when my beer is partnered with a charity event or cause, my love of said beer and event does increase exponentially. Pints for Prostates had staff on hand to discuss their cause, as well as a silent auction with all proceeds going to the group. I invite you to check out this great cause yourself at http://pintsforprostates.org.
I know you’re wondering about the stars of the evening though, the beers themselves. Admittedly, I sampled many, and was quite grateful to my own sober cab for driving me home in the evening. (Thanks again Mark!) Andy and I were lucky enough to volunteer pouring beer with Brau Brothers for the night, and we owe them a huge thank you for letting us see what happens on the other side of the keg for the evening. We were able to see how hard each brewery works, not only making the beers we’d be sampling, but setting up a great experience. So much work goes into staffing and setting up a booth for these events, and while an incredibly fun experience, it is hard work! I truly loved getting to meet so many people and explain each offering to them, chatting about their evening, and the love of beer that we all share. And while you might not realize it, pouring the perfect glass from a tap is a talent all in its own. As a former bartender, Andy had experience in this, and didn’t laugh at me too much when my first couple pours were a little larger and foamier than they should have been.
Andy pours an excellent beer, especially compared to me.
Since we started the night behind the Brau booth I’m going to start the beer reviews with the Brau booth. And while it might seem biased, I can honestly tell you that the beers they brought were excellent and among my favorites for the evening. Admittedly, they were offering two of my favorite styles of beer, a porter and a sour. Their Rubus Black, a strong porter coming in at 9% ABV, left a malty chocolate taste on my palette, but it was the added blackberry that hit the forefront and really made me take notice of the complexities of this beer. The chocolate notes and blackberry played off each other proving that there is a reason why chocolate and berries work so well together. Using the blackberry though was a nice touch, as it’s an often over looked berry (in my opinion) in the beer world. I’d love to see this on the shelves someday. (Hint!)
The second offering from Brau Brothers was their Bancreagie Sour 26, with the addition of raspberries. With an ABV at 11.5 this sour packed a delicious punch. I love sour beers, and while I understand they are not for everyone, I hope that everyone in attendance had the chance and openness to try this sour. Expertly executed, this sour was not only sour of course, but it also had a tartness that it owed to the raspberries. The tasting booklet mentions that this was brewed smokier and heavier, and aged 8 months. All of these aspects definitely came across in the tasting. I could drink this all evening long, a feat for any sour beer lover like myself. Well done Brau Brothers, well done. (braubeer.com)
Since we didn’t have all night, we had to be choosy with our beer decisions. Likewise, without filling pages covering every tasting, I have to be choosy with what beers I review. And if we’re really being honest, with an event like the Rare Beer Fest there really isn’t any that really miss their mark. Yes, they might not be in a style that serves everyone, but for their target audience they work. There were certain beers though that were not only amazing, but memorable. It’s those beers, the ones I’m still thinking of months later as I write this (hey…it’s been busy at the day job) that I’m choosing to review.
The evening view from the Minnesota History Center
I’m going to start with a familiar name in Minnesota, a name that is lauded in some circles and viewed in others as over hyped. Every circle though will agree that Surly Brewing Company has been an important brewery in recent history of craft beer in the state. I am among those that like Surly, but I’m not always on friendly terms with their price point. All the more reason to indulge myself when at the Rare Beer Fest! Even more reason when I saw their offerings for the evening. I knew what I wanted when I saw it, Barrel Aged Sÿx, 2012 vintage. Gold in color, fruity on the tongue, it tasted like fall. There was a woodsy warm feeling to the beer, the kind of feel and flavor that’s perfect to sip on a cool night around a bonfire. With 15% ABV, it’s definitely a slow, sipping beer, but one you’d be happy sipping on for the night. (surlybrewing.com)
I’m picking another Minnesota brewery for my next beer, going with one from my home county. As a Washington County farm girl, Lift Bridge Brewing is a beer after my own heart. Every time I’m anywhere near Stillwater I stop in for a Silhouette, so of course I stopped by the Lift Bridge table for a 2014 Barrel Aged Silhouette. I love this Russian Imperial style stout beer and wanted to see how barrel aging it would change its flavor and feel. Barrel aging the beer not only seemed to me to make it a darker, deeper hued beer, but fuller as well. Flavors of roasted coffee beans brought an indulgent richness to the beer that great stouts aim to have. The Barrel Aged Silhouette was a rare beer indeed. (liftbridgebrewery.com)
I decided to head out of state and hit up San Diego, CA brewers Green Flash Brewing Company. I enjoy their Le Freak and wanted to give the Super Freak a chance. We get Super Freak when Le Freak is aged in red wine barrels for 12-16 months. The freaky result is a slightly tart, oaky vanilla flavor, with red wine tannins biting at the edge of your palette. Super Freak is super good, and I wanted to drink it straight from the red wine barrels it was aged in. Now that would truly be super freaky. (greenflashbrew.com)
Finally I can’t finish without mentioning the Jalapeño Cream Ale from Wasatch Brewing Company from Park City, UT. I was intrigued by the idea of a beer brewed with 130 pounds of fresh jalapeños, and I was not disappointed. The spice from the peppers did bring heat to my palette, but not a burning or overwhelming heat. It was the perfect type of heat – smooth and mellow – the kind of heat that leaves you wanting more of the beer, not a glass of milk. The best part though was the fresh feel and flavor of the pepper that carried into the beer. This cream ale tasted green, fresh off the vine from a summer garden. I do wish I had a six pack of this in my fridge as it would be the perfect with any dinner with a little heat to it. (wasatchbeers.com)
Fellow MN rare beer lovers at the Brau Brothers booth
We headed back to the Brau Brothers booth for a shift serving our fellow beer lovers at the end of the night, and I can honestly say it was as much fun for me to pour beer as it was to drink it! So, would I go again and spend the money on this event? My answer is a solid yes. The Rare Beer Fest isn’t just a festival of beer. It’s a festival that focuses on the chances brewers take experimenting with new ingredients, the science of how aging a beer changes its flavor and feel, and most importantly an event that connects beer lovers and brewers over what we consider rare. If you truly like hunting for a rare beer to drink, this is the event to find what you’re searching for. I encourage you to go – you won’t regret it. (rarebeerfest.com)