Back in my JABlog days, before joining the wonderful cast of characters at Beerploma, I would always do a personal beer-centric wrap-up for my personal year. I figured I’d continue that trend here. As part of this process I’ve usually done my Top 10 Minnesota Beer List and Top Minnesota Brewery List and those are already up. I’m going to start this post with a run-down of my exploits and such over the year (with links to appropriate blog posts for more details if you are so inclined), followed by an overview of my impressions on the beer scene over the year, and will finish up with some predictions for 2017! Here goes…
2016 The Beer In Review
I started the year out continuing my weekly series of rare beer reviews shared among other beer geeks, called A Whale A Week. I kept this up for about half the year, but ended up getting busy and a little bored with it so let it peter out. I did get to try some amazing beers and hang out with some lovely people through this process and it continued to remind me how much of a social aspect there is to beer drinking. I may revamp this series on a more intermittent schedule for Beerploma in the future if there is any interest! I’m only mentioning new breweries that I reviewed here, I can’t count the number of times I visited others like Waconia Brewing, Surly, Indeed, and Steel Toe…
In January, fighting cabin fever, my wife Sj and I visited a bunch of breweries to get us out of the house. The first of these was Bad Weather Brewing where we had a good time tasting through their offerings. I still have to get back there again since I think they are much improved from their start! Next was an excursion to Delano to visit the two breweries there. Lupine has a cute and comfortable taproom with some underrated beers on tap! South Fork started out with one of my friends brewing, but he has since moved on…I felt they weren’t quite up to snuff but it has been nearly a year since I was out there now. Any more recent word on them? We next went to Minneapolis to check out Able Seedhouse with a group of good friends and enjoyed the experience. I appreciate that most of their offerings are sessionable, but most seem a bit thin and borderline astringent for my taste. I’m looking forward to them actually doing their own malting and trying new things–this may take them up a notch for me.
In February we continued our explorations–doing a way better job of not being shut-ins like usual. On possibly the coldest day of the year we braved break-down and blowing snow to venture out to Brau Brother’s Brewing in Marshall for food and a great personal tour by Dustin Brau himself. Well worth the trip and reminded me that they really are putting out good beer. I got out to Roseville to Bent Brewstillery and did a review around that time as well. I took a second trip out more recently to interview Bartley Blume about the distilling side of things as well–check it out HERE. While out in the St. Paul side of things we also visited Flat Earth in their new/old digs.
Into March we took a trip out to White Bear Lake to visit some homebrewing friends and check out Big Wood. I felt that they were much improved from my early experiences and balanced on the edge of becoming legitimately good in my book. Next we visited Wabasha Brewing in their old tiny basement taproom–I need to check out the new improved taproom that Dan has blogged about! Following this were a few beer pairing dinners at Birch’s On The Lake–which quickly became one of my favorite brewpubs anywhere!
Into April we arranged a trip and tour out to Moto-i for some house made sake and some great Japanese style food. Seems like a light month…
Moving into May, my wife Sj and I met up with two good friends for a week long epic trip to Oregon in search of food, beer, cocktails, and more! Our first day we hit HUB, and Pelican Brewing. Second day we molested rabbits, slipped through Salem to visit the wonderful Vagabond Brewing and Gilgamesh Brewing, then off to Portland and our hotel/brewery McMenamins Kennedy School. Day three was insane with a walking food and drink tour, Lompoc Brewing, Hair of the Dog, and Upright Brewing to name a few! Day four took us out to Hood River–home of some of the best breweries in Oregon: Full Sail, Pfriem, Logsdon, and Double Mountain. Day five just about killed me with visits to Stung Fermented meadery, Coalition Brewing, Culmination, Commons, and Cascade Barrel House. Day six contained even more food as well as trips to the Rose Test Garden, Japanese Gardens, Breakside Brewing, Bushwhacker Cider, and McMenamins Edgefield Estate. Our final full day included Sokol Blosser Winery, Ecliptic, and Stormbreaker Brewing. And then we had to return to Minnesota. Final tally: 21 breweries, 3 distilleries, 17 pubs/bars, 1 meadery, 1 cidery, and 1 winery. Liver needed a break. And you know what? I had some great beers out there, but Minnesota is putting out equally good beers! I was actually a little shocked at how well our breweries (the good ones anyway) hold up to those from this beer destination.
By June we had time to visit Oliphant Brewing in Wisconsin (now available in Minnesota!) and the amazing Lift Bridge Brewing in Stillwater. We also took a road trip to Milwaukee to visit some of my family and take Sj to the enormous yearly Bead & Button Show. Yes we visited a bunch of up-and-coming breweries but I got lazy and didn’t write them up. Despite the city being known as the brewery capital of the USA, the craft scene there is very young–about where the Twin Cities were before the advent of the tap-room law.
Into July we visited Modist Brewing in Minneapolis and found them to be intriguing and refreshing–one of the best new breweries of 2016 for me. Sj isn’t as much of a fan, but several of their beers are hoppy and that isn’t her jam. We also took a trip out to Ligonier, PA to take jewelry making classes at the amazing Allegory Gallery. While there we took some time to explore Pittsburgh’s beer scene including Draai Laag, East End, Roundabout, Penn Brewing, Voodoo Brewery, Fat Head’s, and Four Seasons. Again I was lazy and didn’t write them up. Then up to Duluth for All Pints North–our favorite Minnesota brewfest, and to Superior for pizza at the amazing Thirsty Pagan.
At the end of the summer I found my excitement with blogging to be flagging and was saved from obscurity by Dan and Will from Beerploma asking me to join up. Just talking with Dan and discussing blogging and craft beer instantly re-invigorated my desire to write and stay involved in the local beer scene. This is just what I needed.
In September I posted my first Beerploma review of Lake Monster Brewing, and haven’t looked back since! My wife and I took our 15th anniversary trip to Disneyworld and Univeral Studios in Florida and I made an effort to document all the beer options on that trip as well.
This year I started to get into cocktails in order to widen my booze horizons. Here is a post on cocktail inspired beers! I think my favorites at this time are still Manhattans and the Old Fashioned, but I’m getting into gin drinks more recently. We took a trip out to Tattersall Distilling in Nordeast and had a fun visit. And of course J. Carver Distilling is right in my hometown of Waconia!
Throughout the year, despite minimal homebrewing, I continued to make it to Jack Of All Brews Homebrew Club meetings. These monthly meetings are always a high point for me and a great time to reconnect with friends and try some great beers. This year we did a variety of cool things including a Girl Scout Cookie and beer pairing event!
This year I’ve kept working at stretching my photography skills with weekly challenges, classes at the Arboretum, and online Photoshop classes. I’m enjoying this process and can already see a marked improvement in my pictures.
Wrap-up & Fortune Telling
Minnesota has come a very long way on the beer front since I moved back here after 2000. I would say we can compete with Oregon, Washington, and Colorado for high quality locally made beers, especially from the breweries who are finally hitting their strides (see my top 25 Minnesota Brewery List for those breweries.) With a new brewery opening every month here, there are more and more options for folks who love craft beer. I’m ecstatic at the idea of every little town or suburb having their own local brewery! However, we’ve started to see some upheaval in the local scene with Todd leaving Surly, Harriet Brewing closing, and more. To me, these are just growing pains, but show that not everything is rosy and that eventually the market will only support a certain amount of craft beer. I foresee a few more small breweries falling behind and closing up shop this coming year, but growth will continue to more than make up for it.
We need to keep educating people about beer–partially to move them away from the fizzy yellow water that the world loves so much, but mostly to help people know good beer from bad. I love it when non-beer friends of mine tell me that they enjoyed say… Waconia Brewing Kolsch–this is a sign that people are willing to step out of comfort and dip their toe into craft beer. On the other hand, my friends who love a local brewery with major fermentation flaws and lack of consistency in their beers make me sad. I want to make sure that beer quality is the rate-limiting step here. I want the breweries who respect the product and have passion to win out. What I don’t want is the biggest pocketbooks or marketing geniuses to rule the craft beer world. Hey I’m an idealist. Obviously breweries are a business, but I think in general the folks making the best beer out there rise to the top.
We’ve seen a trend to session beers the past few years, and finally some local breweries are making decent ones. The sour trend really hit us like a ton of bricks with kettle sours and gose leading the charge. For 2017 I’m interested to see the progression to more complex and nuanced sours: Wild Mind, Oude Oak, Indeed, and Fair State are all set to lead this charge. Now do it!
I look forward to visiting a bunch of new breweries (and distilleries) over the coming year. I also plan to visit a lot of breweries that I’ve thought were mediocre in the hopes that with some age and maturity they will start to swim toward the top of that proverbial craft beer pool. These days I have a hard time getting Sj to breweries that are untested or have been low on the list in the past, with her saying “Why would I want to drink bad beer when I can know I’ll always be happy at Town Hall/Surly/Indeed?” And she has a point. But my nature craves new experiences and sometimes drinking a crappy beer is part of that! I also do it for you–my readers!
With the National Homebrewer’s Convention (now called HomebrewCon for those who want to throw up in their mouth a little) coming to Minnesota this summer, I also plan to fire up my new electric homebrew system and get back into my oldest hobby more in the coming year. I’ll try to post some homebrewing blog entries and recipes as well.
And last but not least, I plan to make a serious dent in my obscene beer cellar before buying a bunch more beers. I’ve started to get some over-the-hill barleywines and stouts and wish I had drunk these earlier. Anyone want to help me out?