Oh, you didn’t know? One day every year, my mother-in-law puts me in charge of a day-drinking excursion and tips beers back wherever I bring her. Year one featured a rampage through Hudson restaurants and breweries. This brave soul, who hadn’t touched a beer in over 20 years, imbibed 25 in eight hours.
Well, her friends caught wind of this and they wanted in. Some came from as far as Vermont. Knowing this, I raised stakes from last year … raising my scope from 25 and aiming for FIFTY.
Did I succeed? Of course I succeeded!
It began where a lot of great days begin, at a sunshiny table in Hudson’s alpha beer factory. PROGRESS: 0/50
There’s an absolute wall of a man behind the bar at Pitchfork every so often, red hair, big red beard, looks like he could lift a LeCar and swing it at someone if agitated enough. This gentleman brought a circular table and set it next to our square table, making something perfect for seven people to sit comfortably at. Nice gentleman, he.
Pitchfork, if you’re unfamiliar, quietly churns out some of the market’s best beer. Their flagships are consistent, their specials inventive, and their headliner beer is “name a dog”-worthy. We had a little of everything.
One sneaky-good amenity is the adjoining restaurant, Paddy Ryan’s. You can get a good appetizer (or four in our case) to get that critical food layer down while you pass a gaggle of taster glasses around and a 20-oz pour from the firkin.
The French toast beer – complete with sugar and cinnamon rim – was lightly fought over, but the Cast Iron Oatmeal Stout was the winner here. It has a built-in advantage to this group, definitely a porter-and stout-favoring gang, but this beer’s hearty body and pick-me-up flavors put our collective engine in the right gear.
While the British Bitter fared well among her mates, my mother-in-law made her first “beer face” of the day. It looks like this:
That wasn’t at Pitchfork. When I ordered the food, I noticed a list of clearance beers going for $2.50 apiece at Paddy’s and steered the gang over next door. PROGRESS: 8/50
The beer my mother-in-law is looking so crazy about is a tripel made by Michigan-based Dark Horse Brewing. The rest of the pupu platter is pictured below it. Founders makes a damn fine porter (tell ’em, RateBeer!) but no lasting impressions were made by the others. Faces aside, of course.
While I hoarded the Founders, the crew reminisced about meeting a high school crush on a park bench to avoid unapproving parents, a cunning son who waits to buy clothing until he can take his parents – and their bank account – with, and who had to finish which beers. It was a short, boiler-plate visit.
We piled into the wagons and set off to Somerset, Wisc. PROGRESS: 13/50
Oh, you have 10-beer flights AND free food?! Wonderful!
I don’t even remember what Oliphant Brewing was celebrating, but they brought enough hot dogs and cake to reinforce everybody’s foundations for the next leg of the crawl.
Oliphant’s braintrust is connected to Minneapolis beer wizards Dangerous Man, so you know you’re in for something out of the ordinary. Oliphant makes that abundantly clear from the get-go, artwork and nomenclature alike. We sampled beers with such names as Groot Wit, Milkman Manbaby, and Plumbob Chamilionaire.
In the far corner, in the pink writing, are the words MARY PORTER. This whiskey barrel-aged porter was decidedly the best beer of the trip — I don’t mean just to Somerset, I mean the whole day. The blonde one, who hadn’t had much good to say about any beer to this point, was floored by it. The gentleman was, as well, but cautioned: “If you had two of those, you wouldn’t make it home without a ticket.”
Indeed, this beer took everything you’d love in your dream porter and crammed it into one glass … and, at 8.5 percent ABV, it’s perfect for drinking three, wondering if you maybe should have only had two, then going for a fourth.
Maple Island Brewing
“You just cant repeat Stillwater,” said the blonde. “I’ve been to a lot of river towns, but this is home.”
Our designated driver didn’t know “home” quite as well as the drunks did, but a GPS guided us to Maple Island Brewing. We made our way past the tanks, past the bar counter, past the band playing in a space roughly the size of a Twister board, and out onto the back patio. If nothing else, Maple Island’s got a killer view of the St. Criox going for it.
Not a lot of beers got high marks here, however. The blonde quipped “It tastes like you’re chewing on Christmas!” after the Pinecone Cannon IPA, and I’m still not sure if that was a compliment or an insult; but the I Scream sweet stout (made with ice cream) was a point of discussion, from its nose to its taste to the time you would drink it. We all agreed: good, pretty good, after dinner.
The Cup of Joe Freakshow became my mother-in-law’s second-ever enjoyable dark beer. Baby steps.
We set off to Lift Bridge. PROGRESS: 32/50
“You had your chores,” said the redhead to the blonde, “and I rolled you home a few times, but it didn’t matter how hungover you were.” I overheard this walking in.
It was the first time in a long time we’d rested indoors, and I could tell the heat was wearing them down. The pressure moments are what make the WINNERS, though!
My mother-in-law preferred the Chestnut Hill and the blonde dug the Oktoberfest, but (no shocker here) Hop Dish was the consensus winner. I want to call it a smooth-drinking IPA to piss off the beer snobs, but really: this citrusy, piney, strong IPA is the kind you just can’t go wrong with.
I tried to keep it a short visit to stay ahead of the sunset, and it very nearly didn’t work. PROGRESS: 42/50
Our last stop was nearly …
Tin Whiskers Brewing
Triumphantly, I walked in with my team to finish the tour. Surely Tin Whiskers has eight beers for us to bring back in flights, right?
WHADDYA MEAN ONLY FIVE?!
While the crew passed around St. Paul’s best individual beer (Wheatstone Bridge) and Tin Whiskers’ surprising best-of-show among team members (Watts Wheat Wine), dismay clouded my concentration. Where were my last three going to come from? I run ’round the corner to Black Sheep Pizza to pick up some pies while I ran through possible schemes.
My legion enjoyed the food, but they tried to throw in the towel.
“I don’t know, Frank,” said my mother-in-law, “I just don’t think we’re going to get 50 this time.”
Listen: if I said we’re going for 50, and we’re at 47, we’re getting the damn 50 … and I knew exactly how.
Black Sheep Pizza
So, sure: after we had eaten Black Sheep Pizza over at Tin Whiskers, we marched up the street now to drink at Black Sheep Pizza. It sounds silly, but don’t sleep on Black Sheep’s tap roster.
Exhausted, probably a tick dehydrated, possibly having a year or two chugged off of their lives, we amassed at the bar and I entered our finishing moves: Bauhaus Wonderstuff, Boom Island Thoprock, and a mead called “Kill All the Golfers.”
*Before you scroll to the comments to point out that this technically would not be 50 beers, why don’t you put your mouse down and go walk into traffic?
The verdicts didn’t surprise me: the light-drinking Wonderstuff was the belle of the last dance, while the 8-percent ABV Thoprock didn’t go down as easily for some as it might have at the start of the day, and the mead was sipped timidly and left for me to finish.
“See,” I said as they trudged out of the pizza joint, “doesn’t that feel better than it would have had we stopped at just 47?” I don’t know if I got answers so much as groaned curses and eye-rolls, but we’ll never have to compare the two because we don’t live in a world in which my tour team stopped three beers shorts of the goal.
The best part is, with so many new breweries open in the Twin Cities, we can push for 60 this year without batting an eyelash.
STILL GOT TIME? You can read about the day my wife and I hit 15 breweries in one day, or the dog named after Pitchfork’s Vanilla Rose Porter.