Thursday, May 31, 2007

Go East Young Man

Driving to my parents' cabin has taken on a whole new meaning. One has to arrive at Highway 63 in Wisconsin, near Turtle Lake. You can take 94 east to 35E north and cross over to Wisconsin via 8 to pick up 63, but why would you? It's much easier to zip east on 94 to 63, giving you the opportunity to stop at Chicone's Liquor Mart.

Chicone's (who's web site is still under construction) is the beer mecca for Minnesotans. They've realized that Minnesota's liquor laws prevent many wonderful brews from making it to the state, thus forcing beer geeks like myself to make the trip to Hudson once in awhile. Thankfully, I have my parents' cabin on the way.

Difficult doesn't capture the struggle of trying to pick out two six packs. Three Floyds, Hair of the Dog, Anderson Valley and Lagunitas are a few of the more well known breweries represented at Chicone's, but you can also find many quality Wisconsin beers you've never heard of. I ended up getting some Smuttynose IPA and Lagunita's Copper Ale, and a bomber of Anderson Valley Abbey Style Ale.

All were amazing, made more so by the fact that you can't find them in Minnesota.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

In a Galaxy...

I had one of those Moments I'll Remember for the Rest of My Life today. I'm sure Dylan didn't realize the pleasure of watching Star Wars: A New Hope with him would bring me. Of course, the viewing took a whole new meaning for me as well, and I'm not just talking about knowing that Darth Vader is Leia and Luke's dad, but that does sum up some of the intrigue.

Not surprisingly, Dylan was more fascinated by the cadre of unique creatures and whether they were nice or mean. I mean, how do you explain that the Jawas are just trying to survive, and that Greedo is only trying to make a buck from Jabba the Hut?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

New Beer

I've been meaning to hit up the Cellars in Roseville for some new beers, and finally made a trip over there. Ya see, they sell single bottles at 10% off a mixed six-pack, and so even though it's $10, its six beers I've never had.

I first dipped into the Rud Tulip from New Holland Brewing. It's an amber, with a forward bitterness that blends together well with the heavy malts. It was nowhere near complex as, say, Brian Boru from Three Floyds because nothing's like FFF, but it brought up some memories of Brian.

The $3.99 price for a 11.2 oz. bottle of Petrus Pale Ale, aged in oak casks for almost 2 years, intrigued me. I was expecting a sweet pale ale, but just got a mouth full of sourness. I hear this is how it is supposed to taste, but it reminded me of that sour batch of Hazed and Infused that passed through town recently. I'll pass on this again.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise came from a brewery not known for making quality beers. City Brewing out of LaCrosse, WI is known for light, mass-produced lagers, but their seasonals are worth picking up. Their pale ale is brewed with a mouthful of citrus-ey cascade hops, and can stand up to most pales.

It's been a good week for new beers. My mother-in-law knows me well. She brought with her from France a number of tasty treats, including Korlene, a French organic amber. It was well-balanced, with a pleasant nutty flavor. This would be a standard in my fridge if I could find it here.

Other new beers included a wonderful Triple from Sprecher Brewing, served at the Happy Gnome, and Ben's Irish red, sampled at a quality bottling session with Ben. Although they were both a little watery, his Fat Tire and my ESB will make for good summer pours.

Oh, and I almost forgot, session ended on Monday. Whew. I'm still recovering. That's all I have to say about that.

Friday, May 18, 2007

A spoonful of honey makes the session go down

The end of session is in sight and an agreement feels imminent. I realize how powerless advocates and lobbyists really are on the outside. Or rather not on the inside. As legislative staff, I found that I had many opportunities, working with the advocates and lobbyists, to do good things for people. But there is really a lack of apparent input being sought this year, at least not from the early childhood community.

But fortunately we're in the same boat with health care, property tax relief, the environment, transportation. And the boat has a hole in it. We fought the good fight, working with some key legislators. We positioned ourselves as well as did everyone did, but everyone is getting less. This is to be expected, but it's a little extreme this year, or at least that's how it feels to me.


So thank god for beer! (Was that smooth enough?)

I've been enjoying the Surly Bitter, a glass of flowery hopness you could drink all day. It reminded me quite a bit of Stone Levitation--low in alcohol, high in bitterness. Apparently, there are some casks of it floating around. The Surly that is.

Homebrew update
  • I'm bottling the ESB next week (heads up Ben).
  • I'll try the Saison soon. It probably needs another month in the bottle, but I need to check the gravity, right?
  • I owe a House staffer a bottle of Saison, traded for his mead. It's unfair really, as I already drank his mead. It was like drinking a glass of carbonated honey. Amazing. Not my thing, but amazing.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

One trial ends, another begins.

One week left of this legislative session. Some words to describe it thus far:
  • Intense
  • Engaged
  • Tedious
  • Shattered
  • Exhilarating
  • Betrayal
  • and of course, Rewarding

One week from now, I imagine I'll be brain-dead, sleep-deprived, wasted and most of all, relieved. We came in looking for $300 million in the upcoming biennium for early care and education, and will likely walk out with $40 - $80 million. It ain't nothing, but it's nothing.

So I planted my garden this weekend and got the yard in tip-top shape for the arrival of spring, as well as the arrival of my brother- and mother-in-law in a week for almost 3 weeks. 3 weeks. We finished half of our basement this past autumn, adding a bathroom and a legal bedroom, and this will be the first time its to be used in the manner for which it was prescribed. I'm honored to offer up the new comforts for my in-laws, not to mention the alleviated stress the addition will bring me.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

For the secondary time

Ben and I transferred our beers to their secondary fermenters tonight. My ESB (right) was fantastic. I withheld dry hopping it with East Kent Goldings, as it already 5 ounces of hops in it, and it didn't really need more. Ben's Amber (a la Fat Tire) was a bit watery (a la Fat Tire), but he dry hopped it with about a half ounce of Hallertau (left). His will be a great session beer, no doubt. That's a bottle of Summit ESB on the counter, newly re-released and now available year round in 12- and 6-packs. Yey!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bottles and bottles

The Saison went into bottles last night! The final gravity was 1020, which, using a handy brew calculator, means the ABV is about 5%. I'm a little surprised that its so low, since I added a pound of candied sugar during the boil. It still needs another 6 weeks in the bottle, so maybe the gravity will change again. Either way, it will be a great session beer for the summer.

While bottling, we drank a bottle of Collaboration, not Litigation from Avery and Russian River. The story behind the beer is almost as good as the beer:

Salvation. The name of two intricate Belgian-style ales, created by us, Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing and Adam Avery of Avery Brewing. After becoming friends a few years ago, we realized that we both had a Salvation in our line-ups. Was it going to be a problem? Should one of us relinquish the rights? Hell no! we said. In fact, it was quickly decided that we should blend the brews to catch the best qualities of each and create an even more complex libation. In April 2004, in top-secret meeting at Russian River Brewing (well actually it was packed in the pub, and many were looking over our shoulders wondering what the hell was going on), we came up with the perfect blend of the two Salvations. Natalie, Vinnie’s much more significant other, exclaimed, We should call this Collaboration, not Litigation Ale! Perfect! we shouted. We celebrated deep into the night, (or is it morning?). Fast forward to November 14, 2006. After talking about it for over 2 years we finally decided to pull the trigger and Vinnie flew out to Avery to brew his Salvation exactly as he does in his brewery. This was blended with Avery’s Salvation December 11th, 2006. We hope you enjoy it as much we enjoyed brewing and blending it.

I couldn't have said it beter.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Conserve water; drink beer

I'm sick of the 2007 legislative session. This is my 11th session, although my first as a lobbyist, but survey says: this session is looooong. Everyone anticipated a slow start, with so many newly elected legislators needing to get up to speed about not only the issues, but about how a bill becomes a law.

But no, it slammed everyone, and now we're in the last two weeks, when stamina is needed most. Conference committees are wrapping up (or, in the case of the Education Conference Committee, just getting started). I worked almost 70 hours this week, including 25 in the last two days, and there's no sign of letting up until May 21st.


Thankfully I have a wonderful, understanding (sometimes) wife, and kids who still recognize me. Although I took Dylan to May Day today, and he definitely tested my tolerance and patience. Payback I suppose.

The parade, as usual, was inspiring. Paper mache, metal, and plastic bottles conveyed a positive message. Conserve water. Be raise awareness. Don't use bottled water. And, as usual, the sun came out and gave everyone the May Day they deserved.

Late nights in conference committees inevitably leads to closing out the evenings a local watering hole, which usually means the Muddy Pig, the Happy Gnome or Sweeney's .

One such evening landed me and a colleague at the G-nome, where they happened to have a variety of Big Sky brews left over from the beer dinner the night before. I had a version of their IPA, conditioned in bourbon barrels for 10 months. It really took the edge off of the hops--almost too much so. It was still interesting, and unlike any other beer I had had prior.

I wrapped the evening up with Flat Earth Brewing's sophomore release, Element 115, a California Common in the style of Anchor Steam. It's hard to compete with Anchor, but the 115 gives it a good run for it's money. I look forward to more releases from Flat Earth.

I'm sure the next two weeks with bring more late nights and more unique beers at one of St. Paul's top beer bars. It's a very small (molecular-sized) price to pay for missing my family.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Homebrew week

Well it's been a homebrew week, brewing, bottling and of course imbibing, because I recently heard that next to cleanliness, the most important part of making the stuff is drinking the stuff. It's good that someone finally put this into writing, as here I've been neglecting to sample various wares whilst brewing.

Ben and I got together Sunday to discuss love (well he did anyway) and figured, why not brew a couple batches? He went with a Belgian-style amber similar to Fat Tire, and I decided to embark on my first off-kit batch, choosing an ESB similar to Fuller's. I increased the amount of hops slightly, sure to cover up any imperfections. Fuggle hops are a nice mellow hop, which I grew for a brief time. They lacked any color besides green, which would be fine, except it was a lot of green as they took over the side of my garage. So I'll pay the dollar or so per ounce, and have some lovely purple vine to look at instead. It goes better with orange honeysuckle anyway.

So 3 ounces of fuggles and about the same amount of east kent golding hops should make for a solid ESB. I'm really interested in being able to distinguish between the multitude of hop varieties, and making your own recipes seems like a good way to accomplish this goal.

Back to brew day. As the wort was boiling, we drank some of the brown that Ben and some of his friends had bottled that afternoon. Very smooth, with a nice hop overtone. It will be even better when its cold and carbonated. All went well, and we'll be transferring the batches to their respective secondary fermenters this weekend. Which means I'll also be emptying the Saison into bottles this week to free-up a carboy.

Wrapping up brew week, I shared a bottle of stout with a friend, courtesy of a lobbying colleague. It was pretty amazing, and a great session beer. I'm looking forward to trying his pilsner this summer.

Final thought: This week has made me think that there are enough homebrewers working in government to start a Homebrew Caucus. So I'm starting it. Shoot me an email if your interested in joining.