Photo courtesy of Allegra Smisek

The 2014 Autumn Brew Review took place on Saturday at the historic Grain Belt Brewery complex in Minneapolis.  The weather was warm, the craft beer drinkers were out in force and the breweries all brought their A-games.  I had lofty goals of getting out and trying all the beers that I highlighted in the program.  I even made a spreadsheet.  I know that some of you office monkeys who are reading this are thinking that you make spreadsheets every day, but I don’t even make my bed, so a spreadsheet is definitely next-level stuff.

My plan was to focus on the MN breweries and then maybe hit some of the other ones if they had something really intriguing or special on tap.  As with all plans, sometimes one veers off-script and changes some things up.  I didn’t make it even two-thirds of the way through my spreadsheet, but it was not for lack of trying.  I was not side-tracked by what typically plagues fest-goers; getting separated from the group then spending way too much time trying to find them or waiting in a line for that incredibly rare beer that everyone and their brother has been talking about.  Instead, I found myself spending more time talking to the people pouring the beers and really inquiring about what they had.  As a result, the time absolutely flew by and I have less beers to talk about for this review.  However, I came away understanding a lot more about what festivals should be about.  I immersed myself in the camaraderie and symbiotic relationship between those that market and create beer and those who talk and imbibe this wonderful creation we call craft beer.
The first beer that really wowed me was something that I had not had before.  I don’t know if it was the higher than fall-like temperature or the fact that I was wearing a prototype of a Nicaraguan designed Spankx for men, but I was in the mood for an IPA.  The Brau Brothers Smash Simcoe IPA was just what the doctor ordered.  I feel that sometimes, a brewer can really show their mettle when they use fewer types of hops or malt in a beer.  That way, the particular hop is front and center and the flavor is deftly on display.  Of course, that gives very little room for error and anyone with a decent palate will be able to tell if the brewer missed their mark.  This fine beer accomplished everything one would want in an IPA.  It had citrus notes and was incredibly refreshing, while at the some time, showcasing the Simcoe hop.  The program indicated that it is a taproom exclusive so maybe the next time you feel like a beer trip, maybe set your coordinates for Brau Brothers and try this along with many of their other great beers.

The next new beer I had set my sights on hailed from up north at Bemidji Brewing Company.  They had several good selections, but the one the piqued my interest was their special release of an Espresso Porter.  This beer was very much coffee forward, but where some might worry about the coffee taking over, I felt that it was just right.  Dark like the soul of someone who goes around literally taking candy from babies, this beer looked and smelled like every porter I have ever written about in my diary.  I would tell you to head up to Bemidji based on this beer alone, but they had several other offerings that made me excited to make the trip up there sometime in the not too distant future.

I spent a lot of time in this corridor of MN breweries

Not every brewery was new for me.  There is always the excitement about the tried and true breweries that never disappoint.  I will be the first to admit that there was a time when I would see Summit on a menu and think, “Summit EPA is good, but I want something different.”  Those days are long-gone.  Summit has upped their game in the last couple years and they are now releasing so many beers that make you think critically about what you are putting into your proper glassware.  Last year, Summit brewed their Rebellion Stout, and it was on the shelves for about as long as one can stand listening to Kim Kardashian speak.  This beer was on tap at some of the fine beer bars in the cities and I remember really wishing that I had been able to get my hands on more than just a six-pack of it.  The complexity and depth of flavor when the beer was fresh put it into a class by itself.  I remember listening to Damian McConn tell our BBSU class that this beer would be even better if one had the self-discipline to let it cellar for a while.  Well, I drank all of mine and I am glad that Summit has folks who understand how to stave off the siren call of a great stout because they released this beer midway through the fest and it made me very happy to be there.  Time has rounded out some of the flavors of this beer and while I didn’t feel like the dryness was as sharp in this beer after being aged, some of the the other flavors were allowed to come to the forefront making it a very special drinking experience.

Some other notable beers I tried came from Bent Paddle(Best of the Fest Award winner for their Double Shot Double Black), Surly(Winner of the best brewery and best display award), Bent Brewstillery, Tin Whiskers Brewing Co., Fargo Brewing Company, August Schell Brewing Co., BauHaus Brew Labs, Lakefront Brewery, Inc., Blacklist Artisan Ales, and Hammerheart Brewing Co.

I am curious what your favorite beers were from the Autumn Brew Review.  Tweet us @beerploma and let us know what you thought of the festival and the myriad of beer offerings.  What were your favorites?  ABR being one of the better festivals that happens in MN, I know that there were many people enjoying what our beer scene has to showcase.  Now, the bittersweet reality is setting in that I have to wait a whole year to do this again and, perhaps more depressing, I have to find a way to get out of these Nicaraguan Spanx.