Winterfest 2018


Winterfest 2018 is now a distant memory and the countdown for next year begins.  Friday night was an evening filled with incredible beers, fantastic foods, and many fancy folks.  Like most beer festivals where the beer is fantastic, the time flew by faster than I wanted.  Before I knew it, breweries were unhooking their tubing and packing up for the night.  All in all, the evening was a success.  I definitely had some favorite beers and bites, which I will list below.  There are also some critiques regarding how the food pairings went.  Bottom line is that I hope they build on what they did this year as it was a great time.

Best Beers of the Fest

Although I tasted many of the beers I highlighted ahead of time, there were a few I missed. Here are the five beers of the festival that really impressed me.

HammerHeart Brewing Company’s Midvinter Ø1 American Black Ale

When it comes to black ales, I am not always a fan.  However, this beer had a tremendous body to it and the roasted malt character of it was absolutely superb.  I was blown away by this beer.  Midvinter Ø1 was aged in an Aquivit barrel, which I am sure added to the unique complexity of the beer.  It was the perfect blend of spice and wood to compliment the beer.  I usually like what HammerHeart makes, but this is by far the best offering I have ever enjoyed of theirs.  It didn’t hurt that it paired fantastically with the smoked rib from the Minnesota BBQ Company.  I am not sure if this beer is available in their taproom or not.  It if is, you should head up there and try it.

Summit Brewing Company’s Barrel Aged Westie 7th

With all the delectable flavors or caramel, candi sugar, and dark fruit, this beer is great on its own.  However, the beer wizards at Summit decided that Westie 7th should be put in a Jamaican Rum barrel and that turned out to be a great idea.  To me, this barrel aged version has a bit more body than the original.  The sweetness from the rum barrel accents the existing sweet notes of the beer in a stellar way.  If you missed this beer at Winterfest, you can check it out at an event at Dark Horse in Saint Paul on the 19th.

Back Channel Brewing’s Padre Imperial Stout

This intriguing stout from Back Channel Brewing is packed with cacao, coffee, chipotle peppers, and vanilla.  The beer works well because it has a body to support all the flavors.  The chipotle heat is subtle and soothing as opposed to rambunctious and overpowering.  Then you have vanilla, which is also used with a delicate hand.  I have heard a lot of good things about Back Channel and the Padre is just another reason I need to make a trip out and see what else is brewing there.

Unmapped Brewing Company’s Quadruplication

This big, malty, and complex beer was just what the doctor ordered.  Unmapped Brewing just blew me away with this one.  The perfect blend of caramel, dark fruit, and slight booziness in this beer were perfect for my palate.  Sometimes, this style can come off as syrupy and under-attenuated, but that is not the case with the Quadruplication.  This beer paired well with several of the bold-flavored food offerings of the night and that also made me happy.

Barrel Theory’s MBA Threat Level Midnight

If every stout I drank for the rest of my life were half as good as this beer, I would live a blessed life.  Wow.  Great body.  A perfect mix of coffee, maple, and vanilla flavors.  This beer is damn-near perfect.  It is not surprising that it helped Barrel Theory win Best Beer of the festival.  This is the beer that I have been waiting for from Barrel Theory.

My Favorite Food and Beer Pairings

Specific food and beer pairings were definitely a fun change from Winterfests of yore.  All night long, my palate was dazzled and delighted by the fantastic foods available to go with the beers.  I appreciated getting direction from some of the breweries when it came to pairing, but I also enjoyed going rogue on a couple things to see how different things would compliment each other.

Spoon and Stable Walleye Slider and Urban Growler’s Big Dill

This was my favorite pairing of the night.  The Spoon and Stable’s walleye slider, a blend of potato and walleye, fried and then put on a bun, was fantastic on its own.  When it paired with the big dill, the flavors exploded.  The dill in the beer complimented the slider immensely.  The cream ale’s effervescence did a great job balancing out the fried slider so that it was not too heavy.

The Curious Goat Molé Tostada and Modist’s Ritual Night

This pairing proves that big and spicy flavors compliment each other extremely well.  The goat was perfectly cooked and luscious and the contrasting crunch of the tostada made it a textural thing of beauty.  With the heat from the bite and the heat from the beer, the flavors of chocolate were enhanced beautifully.  I could not stop going back for more and I need to try other things from The Curious Goat.

Nosh’s Whipped Foie Gras Parfait and Barrel Theory’s MBA Threat Level Midnight

Slap me silly and call me Zsa Zsa, this was decadence in overdrive.  Nosh’s whipped Foie Gras Parfait was a savory, velvety, delectable bite that, on its own, was a splendid revelation of flavor and texture.  When paired with my favorite stout of the night, it complimented the beer in such a great way.  All of the richness balanced out each flavor and it was such a wonderful way to showcase foie gras.

Travail Kitchen & Amusements Hamachi and Dangerous Man’s Gose

Unfortunately, I have never been to Travail Kitchen & Amusements.  I have heard many people rave about it and after the bite they served at Winterfest, I believe the hype.  Placed gently atop a thin slice of lemon, the Hamachi was then drizzled with a cream sauce, olives, bacon and green onions.  The chef instructed me to place it on the back of my hand and just down it in one bite.  I am all for efficiency, so I obliged.  The fish’s oiliness was the exact thing that kept the citrusy tartness from the lemon from completely stealing the spotlight.  All the flavors in this bite were thrilling to my palate and the gose from Dangerous Man, thanks to the ginger, lime, and lemongrass catapulted the flavors into the stratosphere of amazeballs.

Tweaks For Next Time

While Winterfest was, for the most part, a success, there are some tweaks that need to be made.  By 8:oo, only an hour into the fest, some booths were running out of food.  That was incredibly unfortunate because it meant that some of the beers weren’t showcased in the way they were intended.  Why did places run out of food so early?  I asked around and the restaurants said that they were told to bring 400 portions.  One restaurant said they brought 420 portions just because they knew they would run out.  Something needs to be done to ensure this doesn’t happen again.  In previous years at Winterfest, food is usually scarce after 9:00, but to have stations out of food after the first hour is pretty bad.

I know that Winterfest is a special event.  As the Minnesota beer scene continues to grow, it becomes harder and harder to find a venue to house all the breweries that want to participate.  I am not sure what the solution is.  The Union Depot, in my mind, is the perfect venue for this event.  It never felt cramped, and even at the places where there was a line, things moved quite quickly.  Although, soon even the Union Depot will be too cramped to house such a festival like Winterfest. I hope that they give it another try next year with this format because it was a memorable night of fun, food, and incredibly special beers.  Cheers, to the MN Craft Brewers Guild!