Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Duluth or Superior? You decide.

You may have the noticed the unusually long lag time between the last couple posts. While it could be attributed to generally laziness (it wouldn't be the first time), it's actually because I was engrossed in some in-depth research for Capitol Brewhaha. While covering politics is certainly amusing, it is no where near as fulfulling as the effort it takes to find and learn about beer.

Case Study One: Norshore
My research first took me to Duluth and, more impressively, Superior, WI. I was dragged up north by a friend of mine who is soon to be married and wanted to usher out his single days where, I'm told, many of his better ones were spent. A visit to Duluth-Superior is not complete of course without a cashew burger and a fine beer at the Anchor Bar in Superior. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for New Glarus beers, I ordered a Spotted Cow from New Glarus Brewing. As the saying goes, when in Wisconsin....The more I drink this the more I enjoy it--it's a great session beer, and perfectly accommodates just about any meal.

I was anxious to continue my studies back at our weekend accommodations, where my keg of homebrew was finally going to be tapped. But thanks to the persistence of Altronix, a stop at Twin Ports Brewing was in order. Let me take this opportunity to say that the next time you're in the Duluth-Superior area and looking for some great microbrews, please pass right on by Fitger's Brewhouse, cross the bridge and go to Superior. Both have great beers, but the commitment to service and the happiness of their customers is on a much higher level at TPB.

Case in point: TPB doesn't normally don't open for business until 4pm on weekdays, so when our party of 12 pulled up at about 3:30pm, and employee (manager?) Steve Knauss was locking up and leaving the parking lot, after apparently just checking on some of the beer, we thought we were screwed. But no, he rightly sees the potential, turns around and opens the bar early. He proceeds to gives us free samples to help us decide what to order and puts on some good tunes, ensuring us that our satisfaction is his top priority. But the cherry on top was a private tour of the brewery. Granted, it consisted of standing in their one room brew room and him explaining the brewing process to us, but it was by far the best and most complete tour I've ever had. While I wish I could give you more insight into their beer--their amber ale sticks out in my mind as amazing--but really, the amazing quality of the beer was surpassed but the top notch service we received.

Compare this to Fitgers, who despite being told on several occasions over several weeks that a group of 20 was headed their way on this particular night, and subsequently giving us assurances that they could accommodate us, in the end, they couldn't. They didn't even try. Nope, they were understaffed on this Saturday night, and I guess didn't need our money. Needless to say, we ended up somewhere else for dinner.

But I digress. Back to that homebrew. I had agonized over transporting a five gallon keg of beer 150 miles, leaving it sit in a hot car for 4 hours, all the while keeping it cold. This was accomplished by keeping it in a garbage can with--get this--ice. Amazing stuff, this frozen water. Still, 7 weeks of cleaning and waiting and bragging, and the pressure is on. Literally. We got back to the resort we were staying at--nice blinds BTW--and I hooked the keg up to the CO2 tank, adjusted the pressure, and let it flow.

My heart raced, because the last time I sampled it, it was a bit off. Tasted a little moldy and mildewy. But this time? The time that mattered? The Bitter End was perfect. The smell was full of hops with caramel undertones. Even though I wasn't really sure how much pressure to put on it, the carbonation was right on, giving it a nice head and a velvety appearance. But what really made the difference? The taste. It was thick and chewy, and that hint of wet cardboard was washed away by the hops (although even my hop-timid friend JL had two glasses, so I knew it wasn't too over-the-top). The only problem with the beer was the amount; 5 gallons doesn't last too long at a party, and it was cashed by night fall.

Many more beers were sampled over the course of the weekend, but none could match the quality (and experience) at Twin Ports Brewery or the personal touch offered by The Bitter End. And that concludes the Norshore Case Study. Results? Duluth is a fine city to drink beer in, but don't neglect Superior.

Up next: Case Study Two: Munster, IN

Monday, August 28, 2006

Moving to...Mississippi?

By now you've probably seen the new Pawlenty for Governor TV's flashy, short, positive, and generally a great ad.

It should come as no surprise that T-Paw can produce a good ad, given the fact that he has $2 million in the bank--I saw the ad and thought to myself, "Oh f**k." Not so much because Mike Hatch has a lot to compete with, but mainly because it's filled with BULLSHIT.

As Roving Reporter recently pointed out:

" 'Funding schools at record levels' is technically accurate, but if he wanted it to be technically and literally accurate, he would need to add the word 'low' between the words record and levels. Tuition at the U has increased nearly $20,000 in the time T-Paw has been "funding schools at record levels." But I guess this was a stroke of campaign genius, because since we have a less educated workforce, we have a lot of new minimum wage paying jobs replacing all the high paying professional jobs this state once attracted. So, yes, we probably have more jobs than we did when he took office, but the number of jobs that pay a liveable wage has gone down dramatically under his watch.

If he wants to be governor of Misissippi, I encourage him to move there, and not bring their standards of living to this once great state."

Well said RR, well said.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Awesome; I F***in' Drank That!

A recent thread on the Northern Brewer beer forum reminded me of all the clever things you can put into crappy beer to make it better. Who'd ever think to add orange juice, Fresca or tomato juice to beer? How about a shot of whiskey? Sunkist and ice are a great addition to that warm, flat keg of Miller Lite left over from a party. Or really added to any Miller products, flat or not, warm or cold.

But by far some of the oddest--and best--mixtures come by experimenting with Guinness. We're all familiar with a black and tan and the snakebite, but how about adding an egg or champagne? My good friend from Chile introduced me to the heavenly malta con huevo, which consists of an egg, 1/4 cup sugar or to your liking, and a can or bottle of Guinness, thrown into a blender and mixed until frothy. Last night I had a Black Velvet, an appropriate name for champagne mixed with Guinness.

Which brings me to the real reason for today's post: to find an excuse to somehow talk about the recently released Beastie Boy concert film, Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That!, which I watched last night while drinking my Black Velvet (how do you like that transition, eh?).

I'm not one to be able to sit through a concert on the big screen, let alone a TV, but Awesome was awesome. The premise, and what made it so damn good, is that, according to the website:

"On Oct. 9, 2004, the Beastie Boys handed out 50 cameras to audience members at their sold-out performance in New York's famed Madison Square Garden. These 50 different passionate perspectives, shot from the point-of-view of the audience, take the viewer deep inside the world of a live Beastie Boy show, prisimatically and kinetically capturing the experience of a live musical performance like no film has ever done."


The editing is excellent and more than makes up for the amateur shooting. Those with some knowledge (or not) of turntablism and DJ-ing will be in awe of the mad skills of Mix Master Mike, clearly the best DJ the Boys have ever joined forces with. His live mixing leaves nothing to be desired, utilizing random samples from 80s hip-hop classics as well as fresh new beats.

Of course the real stars are the triple threat. Even as they approach their 40s, they don't miss a beat or a line, and keep the party going til the break of dawn, y'all. (Isn't that a great photo? They're like 17!)

So if you're looking to get your B-Boys jones on in style, mix up some Guinness and champagne and pop in Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Grandmas for Kelley

I spent some time talking with my grandmother this weekend, and inevitably our conversation turned to the dangerous realm of politics. It's always tricky engaging your 86 year-old grandma in a political conversation, urging her to cast aside her lifelong affiliations and vote for "the other guy." Nonetheless I continue to try.

I started with an easy target: Dallas Sams. He's a pro-gun, pro-life, anti-gay marriage democrat from Staples, MN, and my grandparent's state senator. I figure if I, a life long democrat, committed to liberal ideals, can support someone like Dallas Sams, then surely my conservative grandma can. I've never gotten a commitment from her, but I continue to sell Dallas as a helluva nice guy and a great state senator. It's dems like him that continue to keep the Minnesota State Senate in democratic control.

So when I read in the paper that Steve Kelley had been endorsed for Attorney General by the DFL this weekend, I thought it would make a good teaching moment.

Kelley is the opposite of Dallas Sams in terms of the issues, in terms of style, really, in terms of everything. Steve is a wonk's wonk, and is just the kind of guy I want looking out for the State's best interests. As a bonus, he's great on all the issues I care passionately about: the environment, transit, early childhood education. And he can beat Rep. Jeff Johnson, who comes across as a partisan, party-focused Republican (which is why his website talks about how "the office should not be about partisanship and political advancement.") Kelley, as chair of the Senate Education Committee, has been in front of the spotlight and has proven he can stand the heat.

But before we get to that, we have a primary to get through. Let me just say I am generally biased towards DFL-endorsed candidates. So if, by some fluke, another dem had been endorsed, I'd likely be making the case for them--well maybe not here: Kelley is the only candidate I personally know and is a pretty nice guy. But back to that primary. Solicitor General Lori Swanson and former Congressman Bill Luther will be the other deems on the ballot, so I should probably offer a word or two on them.

I don't have anything against Swanson personally or politically. My only caution with her was when I saw her on TPT's Almanac. She was representing Hatch on driver's license data privacy. Hatch was right, and I agreed with Swanson here, but Eric Lippman from the governor's office tore her apart and got her waaaaay off message. It will happen again. View the video here.

I think Bill Luther is a tough politician, and would make a strong attorney general. But he just comes across a little smarmy and, well, icky. Call me petty. Oh, and there was that shot of him drinking in a Capitol office, in the same Fox 9 "story" as ousted state representative Scott Waslik. Granted, he wasn't a voting member of congress or any other body, but the video is there, and could be damaging. And Rep. Johnson will use it. Again, petty.

No, my vote will go for Kelley, I want the class nerd, the guy who was president of the honor society--the guy who can understand and effectively explain Minnesota's complex health system--as the next state's Attorney General. He has a massive organization in place from his failed run for governor, and is ready to run a tough campaign on the issues that matter. I believe he can do it.

So there's my case for Steve Kelley for AG, Grandma. He's smart, likeable and comes off nice on the TV. What else can you ask for?

Thursday, August 10, 2006


President Bush, we're watching.....Don't f**k this one up.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Dashed Hopes: Summit Cask Update

I've never gone through so much trouble to try a beer and end up being so disappointed. Saturday I was all pumped about Town Hall Brewery having two Summit beers on cask, so my wife, the queen that she is, let me drag the family to Minneapolis for lunch and beer. I asked the server to try the Summit cask beers, and she brings me what was clearly not a Summit, but a steam beer (what is legally called a "California Common"). Friggin' amazing, but I didn't stuff the family in the car for a road trip across the river to try a regular tap.

After throwing a bit of a fit, the server, bless her heart, sent the manager over to ease my brewing worries. Apparently, all the websites failed to mention that this was in conjunction with Saturday evenings' Fringe Festival shows in the area, and that the kegs wouldn't be tapped until about 6pm for Fringe-ers to sample, and for the general public at 7pm. Fair enough, I thought. I'll just stop back later. An 8pm arrival would ensure me a sample, he said.

So me and a couple buddies show up at about 8pm, swagger up to the bar and order a round of Summit ESB on cask. "Nope sorry, just ran out." Apparently, Town Hall Pint Club meets Saturday evenings, and they, in conjunction with Fringe Fest attendees drained the keg in two hours. We weren't sure to blame Summit or Town Hall, but someone had slashed our expectations. Thankfully, the Great Northern Porter was still around, and while much better as a winter ale, its smoky coffee-maple overtones were amazing, even in August. If the ESB matched this, which I would expect it to, then Summit lovers have something to look forward to.

And what better way to enjoy beer on an August evening than outside? We proceeded to take our beers out on the patio, and were immediately approached by a server who said we need to pour our drinks into plastic glasses if we wanted to sit outside. Fine, ok, I suppose. But she hands us fresh-out-of-the-dishwasher-HOT TO THE TOUCH-glasses. C'mon, she didn't really expect us to pour our already warm beer into a 120-degree plastic glass?!

So we sat at the bar to enjoy our fine porters, watch the Twins sink the Royals, and drink more of Town Hall's finely-crafted beer. It's amazing how a good brew can solve most of the days' problems.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Cluck cluck

Are those chickens I hear in the distance, on their way home? The clucking reached a feverish pitch last Wednesday as St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman announced his 2007 budget plan, which included at the crux of it an 8.5% property tax increase, off-set by a reorganization of libraries and rec centers staff and hours. This comes as our elected officials at Ramsey County are considering a 5% property tax increase, and voters are going to be asked to approve $30 million for our schools this fall. It takes a brave soul to have one of your first major acts in office be a tax increase on homeowners, especially given what has transpired at the state in the last few years.

But back to those chickens. I half-expected them to head over to Mayor Coleman's house. I mean, the citizens of St. Paul elected a democrat after all. Is it really a surprise he wants to raise our taxes? But no, some of them made their way to former Mayor Norm Coleman's house, realizing that under his 8 years of rule there was a price to be paid for "holding the line on taxes," while at the same time increasing city services and handing out major subsidies to a few businesses. Some of those chickens were looking to roost on the East Side, at the home of the previous mayor, Randy Kelly, who had an affinity for fees and assessments rather than an honest budget discussion.

And the bulk of the chickens ended up at 1006 Summit Avenue, pecking at the steps of the Governor's Mansion. State cuts to local government aid have crippled many cities like St. Paul, forcing leaders throughout Minnesota to enact massive cuts and property tax increases. It was perhaps one of the most clever moves by the Governor, precisely because it lacks transparency, making it even more complicated to explain to the average citizen.

That's the real challenge come November: connecting the dots and ensuring the voters know where those chickens are going. And recognizing it's going to take honesty and the ability to make difficult decisions about our future to get our state back on track. As the Mayor said in his budget address, "Politicians who stand before you and tell you that there are simple answers to complex problems are either lying to you or they don't really get it. Solving a....deficit cannot be done without making tough choices."


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Summit Cask

Looking for something fun to do this weekend? Enjoy Summit beer? Then head over to Town Hall Brewery in Minneapolis and sample some Great Northern Porter and ESB on cask. What the hell is cask, you say? Cask is the process of storing the beer in the container it will be served from, as the fermentation continues throughout the serving process. Also called "real ale," the resulting drink is a much fuller and often smoother beer, served at a balmy 52 degrees. compares cask ales to "a whole food experience" while the bigger American breweries produce the Wonder Bread of beers:

We suggest “real ale,” which is essentially ale that is still alive and evolving with its continuing fermentation processes. High in vitamin B (from yeast), real ale is not filtered or pasteurized. It contains no artificial additives or preservatives, and it's as close to a whole food experience as you can find in beer. We're talking some old-school beer in the raw!

I for one am pleased as punch that in the last few years Summit has really expanded their beer lines and tried some new, experimental things, like producing cask ales. But if you're going to wait to visit Town Hall in a few days, think again. Once tapped, and the beer is exposed to oxygen, it needs to be drank within a few days. It's pretty amazing--the beer you start to drink is not necessarily the beer you finish! So really, Town Hall and Summit need you to help drink their beer this weekend.

Town Hall Brewery is located at 1430 Washington Avenue (Seven Corners area) in Minneapolis.