John Garland and I sat on the back of a golf cart as Beer Dabbler Pride tick-tocked toward its conclusion. I recapped the evening to him, the highs and lows, the beer stains and flop sweat. He pointed out his new digs nearby, well enough that I know where it’s at, but not so well I could just walk up and knock on the door. He knows better than that.
I was exhausted; he was invigorated. To him, the party was only about to begun. I stepped over to Lupulin Brewing’s tent and brought back a sample to split. I wish I could remember what it was. It was dark, came from a bottle, and one of the best I’d tasted all night.
Enough about me, though. Here, now, is one of the state’s finest four hours of sampling as told by a Beer Dabbler OG; Two Harbors’ hit-makers; the brewery home team; and the man with the most reliable foodstuffs on wheels.
Nathan Beck, Natedogs
The beerfest was 30 minutes in when I approach the Natedogs cart. Most might coin this “the beginning,” but you might not if you’ve rung up 75 hot dogs already.
I watched Beck work his cart and his customers in tandem. His hands assembles, seemingly without his eyes’ supervision. He explained while he built that no, he doesn’t have ketchup; and no, you don’t really want ketchup. Try this mustard instead. Pretty great, huh? One by one, believers walked away happy.
That night, Beck had 300 dogs and a mission.
“Everything we do is going to Feed My Starving Children,” he said. “It’s based here in Minnesota; [and] for every dollar spent, that equals about four-and-a-half meals.”
I didn’t even have a napkin to wipe off my face with, let alone work through a math problem. Luckily, Nate knew: “If we sell every hot dog we brought, that will feed about 20 kids every day for a year.”
Beck worked Beer Dabbler with his wife, a luxury they don’t get to experience too often. For example, at St. Paul Summer Beer Fest earlier this month, he and his crew were spread out across two carts and a head-spinning number of gigs. They’d wake up after this Pride Dabbler and tackle three stops in one day.
“It’s a challenge,” he said, “but once you get it all on the calendar and get it all scheduled out, it’s not too bad.”
Five more people had lined up behind us, then two more. Another couple was checking out the menu from afar. They waffled, then made their way over.
It was the last I heard from Beck until the end of the night.
Joe Alton, The Beer Dabbler
The tall, slender form of Joe Alton came to a cross-legged seat in the grass. His shirt was a pure purple, his smile as bright as the sun bearing down on it.
“This festival has the best vibe of almost any craft beer festival I’ve been to anywhere in this country,” he said.
He was quick to bring All Pints North into that conversation, but said the first time he enjoyed himself at a Dabbler event was the very first Pride. “The people are lower-maintenance, the vibes are sunnier, the customers are brighter, and there’s just so much love in the air,” he said. “You can fucking feel it.”
That night, Alton (also The Growler‘s editor-in-chief) was a “float:” a roving one-man pack, putting out small fires and making sure everything was tip-top. He was the second one into the Beer-Dabbla Boat, after only the owner himself. Every task he handed out, he has done.
“It’s just odd to not have a specific task to be doing today,” he said.
In the past, Minnesota breweries were “married” with food trucks to bring attention to the marriage equality issue. With last year’s Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage (which happened on the same day as last year’s Dabbler), and the Minnesota brewery count soaring into the triple digits, Alton said it was time to revisit their format.
As a result, 52 breweries were on hand. Instead of trucks, they were paired with LGBTQ icons. The increase of breweries made Alton’s self-imposed objective easier.
“I made my objective checking in with the breweries I don’t get to spend time with in the off-festival season,” he said. “These festivals become a great opportunity for me to go spot-to-spot, checking on overall quality of the beer, seeing what they’re up to, what’s new, how things are going.”
Alton says the overall quality of beer is getting better by the day in Minnesota, and it’s important that brew crews who might not have hit the mark right away don’t just get swept under the rug and forgotten.
“I think we owe it to those breweries to check back on them if we’ve had a bad experience,” he said. “Fulton, great example: they had okay beer for the first couple of years. They’ve since become one of the powerhouse brewers. They hired a kid, Mikey Salo, who is doing really special things to their beer. I still deal with that. ‘Oh, Fulton, I tried that a while ago. It’s not my thing,’ and you have to implore people to give it another shot.”
Pete Bystrowski, Castle Danger Brewery
I was taking selfies with John Donnelly of Modist around 8 p.m. when two men rockin’ orange button-ups approached. The shirts were bedecked with ID badges and prison numbers, and Castle Danger icons pressed on just below the collars.
It was all part of Castle Danger’s homage to Laverne Cox, said Castle Danger’s Pete Bystrowski. Cox, the first transgender actress nominated for a prime-time Emmy Award, is known most prominently for her portrayal of Sophia Burset in Orange is the New Black.
“We wanted somebody that everybody knew, who was current in the media, who was doing a lot in today’s world,” said Bystrowski. “It fit our beer. All-around, it was a great match.”
Bystrowski and Mason Williams traveled about 185 miles from their brewery in Castle Danger to set up at the southern end of the Dabbler grounds in Loring Park. It was all love, said Bystrowski, and the reception they got was bright as their shirts.
What they gave back was a gift, indeed. “Orange is the new Cream,” they called it: infused with blood orange and orange rind, velvety, with pleasant citrus notes all the way through. It was luxurious, like something you’d drink by the pool in a fancy glass.
It was the latest in Castle Danger’s hit streak at the beerfests: their Mosaic IPA won honors at MSP Mag’s Harvest Fest last fall, their Sommelier George Hunter Stout crushed it at Winterfest back in February, and now tonight’s oooh!-inducing spin on their everyday cream ale.
With an hour to go, they were nearly all out.
Ethan Applen, Lakes and Legends Brewing Company
A few feet to the right of the stage, Ethan Applen pointed east.
“You can see our building from here,” he said.
Lakes and Legends Brewing Company opened last fall and assumed the mantle of Loring Park’s “home team.” From the festival grounds, Brett Favre could probably throw a football through their front window (well, if not for the buildings and such). On Lakes and Legends’ Pride Dabbler debut, they weren’t so much the rookies as they were co-hosts.
“It was like everybody coming to our backyard,” he said.
With the event winding down and the sun making its routine trudge out westward, Lakes and Legends was beginning to switch gears into after-party mode. At that taproom down the block, the patio furniture was out and music was kicking up. Back at Applen’s perch, the last of their feature beer was being served up: a poetic little sipper to honor 19-century poet Walt Whitman.
“Initially, we thought we’d do a witbier, but that felt too easy,” said Applen. “We thought, well, what about ‘Leaves of Grass.’ I’ve wanted to do something with lemongrass for a long time, [so] we figured out this lemongrass saison. It’s bright, little citrusy.”
It was livening, indeed, at an hour in which the masses were taking heavy steps and wiping their brows — so why did Applen, then, who spent nearly the entire time pouring, look like he just got here?
I pointed that out to him and he laughed.
“You should have seen me at load-in,” he said. “This is the nice thing about the brewery being close. I went back to the brewery, and I went into cold storage for about 10 minutes to cool down.”
RELATED: Castle Danger ran out of their Big Dumb Stout a long time ago, but you can read about it anyway. Come, let Pierre the Pantsless Voyageur into your nightmares.
As they tend to be, a few clean-up edits were made shortly after publication.