We now know how grueling is too grueling when touring breweries with my mother-in-law and her friends.
At the end of our 2016 tour, we coasted into Hudson, clumped around a table at Pitchfork Brewing together, and declared that 75 beers in one day simply could not be repeated. It was exhausting for taste buds, tummies, livers, GPS voices, passenger seats, my deodorant, and all people involved. We were not doing this again.
Last August, we stopped at 12 locations and tried 80 beers.
The breweries were closer, you see. We were touring Minneapolis! There are breweries everywhere! Three in the North Loop! Three in … whatever you call where Boom Island, Pryes, and Dangerous Man are! 100,000 in Northeast Minneapolis! We can’t miss Town Hall Brewery! Republic Seven Corners is a top-five beer bar in Minnesota, and it’s right across the street from Town Hall! And Day Block Brewing Company is nearby! We can celebrate at the end with bacon flights and pizza!
It was so intense, it took me almost 11 months to compile!
I promise we learned our lesson after last year’s tour, but aren’t the best stories made before the lessons are learned? Of course they do! As always, we assigned scores to each beer we tried and calculated a winner at the end of the day. The winner is revealed below, but we don’t list the scores. Check out stories of past tours here!
Last year’s story begins at Inbound Brewco. By opening at 11 a.m., they got our crew to themselves for an hour before any other breweries opened.
To see any picture in its full-sized glory, just click on it.
Back when I played League of Legends, there was a champion named Darius whose ultimate move was to jump 100 feet in his air with his 1,000-pound axe and cut his target in half (all figures approx.) Our bartender at Inbound Brewco was Darius. It was early yet; his 100-foot hop chop was still on cooldown.
I collected cash from everybody and walked on up for our first order: two flights, a few pints, a few tulips, generally the amount you’d expect for a bunch of hacks who haven’t properly calculated how much they’d be drinking that day. Still on cooldown.
An Apricot Pale Ale set off the first oohs and aahs. It’s not my favorite from Inbound – that’s the Rye Saison – but the Apricot Pale Ale gave us everything we wanted, balanced and clean. One friend of my mother-in-law, who came with her husband (nicknamed “Miss Theater Mischief” for reasons forgotten) were #AllInOnThisBeer, sharing a pint and getting a growler to go. The Hibiscus Saison made smiles during its trip ’round, and so did the Chocolate Belgian Quad. The crew was lukewarm to the Rye Saison, but whatever: I finished the sample and bought a pint for myself.
Miss Theater Mischief gathered a group of ladies to get pictures of the sink in the women’s bathroom, then we left. No skulls or axe blades were harmed.
FULTON BREWING and MODIST BREWING COMPANY
I have memories tied to most tables at the Fulton Brewing taproom, and the ghost of today’s table was the proverbial King Boo of table ghosts. I didn’t tell them about the time three other dudes and I split a five-pound cookie at this table, or the time I very drunkenly interviewed a beer historian for my podcast. I also didn’t tell them about [REDACTED].
We got sunlight from an open garage door and Maddy and Maize chocolate caramel popcorn. We shared a skyscraper of Lonely Blonde; a curvy, slender vessel of Pils; a tulip of Libertine, Fulton’s imperial red; and a tulip of Worthy Adversary, Fulton’s imperial Russian stout, because what is danger when you’ve got sober drivers? Our heroes sat at their own table, cups of water proudly in hand.
We were at odds over Libertine. Half of us threw elbows for it, myself included; the other half was wrong. Imperial. Libertine. Powerful words for a powerful beer.
We agreed on the popcorn, though! At $6/bag, Maddy and Maize doesn’t make popcorn you load a punchbowl with and eat during a Netflix binge; but you eat that $6 popcorn and think “Yeah, this is how $6 popcorn should taste.”
Lonely Blonde: My mother-in-law cautiously compared to it to the standard chug fare when she was a “beer-drinkin’ youngster.” It’s not an insult. Lonely Blonde is the weapon Fulton employs when the Busch Light pallet crowd comes in, and that beer f’in executes. I’m a Pils guy myself, but I can respect a sip of Lonely Blonde and a smile in reflective contentment. Lonely Blonde does that, too.
Speaking of reflection, the story of the day might have been told by Mr. Theater Mischief, of when their kids would drink up their gin and vodka supplies on the sly, then fill the bottles up with water to postpone getting caught. SMART.
ALSO SMART: marching to the nearby Curious Goat food truck and ordering at least two bowls of poutine and two bowls of cheese curds (but I know there was more); then, walking into Modist Brewing Company and having 10-ounce servings of everything. If there’s only one photograph you look at in full-size, look at that one. Everything.
I hustled First Call, Modist’s first-class coffee lager, into everyone’s hands and watched their expressions. There were curious looks at that glass and “coffeeee … laaager …” They’d take a sip, Ooh!, and sneak another sip before passing it. First Call was a beer everyone loved, and that’s a sentence I could copy and paste on pretty much any day.
Yet, it was the cheese curds people kept talking about and it was a half-bowl of poutine being nestled into the trunk of a car. Have you ever seen Curious Goat cheese curds or poutine? It’s beyond comfort food; it’s discomfort food, the poutine especially. The gravy is thick, the beef is tender, and the French fries are hefty enough that just one could be enough if you weren’t really hungry. But regardless, you’ll eat them all. Have fun re-fastening your belt afterward.
BOOM ISLAND BREWING COMPANY and PRYES BREWING COMPANY
Boom Island head brewer and France Soccer Team Hater Kevin Welch was stuck working that day, so our visitation with him was limited to me overstepping barriers and bothering him while he sprayed his floor clean and tinkered with tanks.
“It’s fine,” I tell them, “I’m me.” Sincerely, The Worst.
I came back just in time to hear our friend “Miss Vermont” say “We were so bad” and Miss Mischief say “It wasn’t so bad back then. You probably couldn’t get away with it today. It was,” then a pause, then, “…easier back then.”
I didn’t ask.
The favored beer among the crew was the favored year-round beer of your humble author, a top one-percent beer top-one crazy night-starter: Boom Island’s tripel, Brimstone. It looks like treasure, drinks like velvet, and hits you like a Ferrari if you have more than one. You’ll be sore the next day, but hey: you touched a Ferrari.
“What a cute little spot,” said someone as we filed into the Pryes Brewing taproom. My notes were getting less clear at this point (see also: Brimstone, and everything else we had drank to this point). I don’t know exactly who said this, but here’s a ranking of our crew by most likely to have called the Pryes Brewing taproom “a cute little spot”:
1. Miss Mischief
2. The Gentleman
3. My wife
4. My mother-in-law
5. Gabby Ribbon
6. The Gentleman’s Wife
8. My sister-in-law
9. Mr. Theater Mischief
10. Miss Vermont
We debated the origins of feather bowling. Rather than get the exact story beamed onto one of our all-knowing pocket computers, we decided the origin to stem from bored farmers who had to choose between bowling with a cut of tree trunk or a piece of rotting citrus. We never reached a consensus on what they bowled at. Here’s the real story.
The real story with Pryes Brewing, as I’m sure you know, predates this taproom by a few years. It began with Miraculum, an exemplary IPA that for three years was the only beer made by Jeremy Pryes. One beer. Can you imagine keeping a brand in the public consciousness for three years with one one beer while you plotted your level-up?
You don’t have to imagine what kind of beer it would take to make that happen successfully. Miraculum is exactly that kind of beer.
ABLE SEEDHOUSE AND BREWERY
Remember back in December when I wrote that I regularly make my taproom-visitation decisions based on where the Potter’s Pasties food truck is parking that day? Well, guess what? Able Seedhouse and Brewery was added to the tour when I discovered Potter’s Pasties would be parked at their taproom that day. We forked at Pig Pies, and halved sausage rolls with a sense of spirituality you see during ceremony scenes on TV.
We didn’t see a single seed in this seedhouse.
With the Saturday drinkin’ crowd in full force, a lot of hittin’ and quittin’ and done by our crew after Able. We crammed into a corner at Sociable Cider Werks, swiped a couple of chairs, and huddled around a coffee-table-height surface. At 612BREW, we wormed through the patio crowd like a lava stream and found the last open table inside the taproom. At Bauhaus Brew Labs, we crowded one end of an outdoor table and eventually filled it when the people on the other side fled. In and out. In and out. In and out. We saw the parking lot at Indeed Brewing Company and didn’t even try it.
The beers we paused for were 612BREW‘s farmhouse ale, Red Stack; and Bauhaus Brew Labs‘ Slawhammer, an ale brewed in collaboration with Twin Cities fried chicken temple Revival. You’ll read about this one again later on.
We headed to Town Hall Brewery, where a little breathing room and some altered mind states led to some … ambition.
We pushed two tables of uneven height together, crammed our whole team around them, requested a pitcher of water, and ordered 10 full-sized beers. This is what we call “taking a breather.”
I had to share the experience of Masala Mama, a beer that’s been flawless for so long it’s hardly talked about anymore; and Hope and King, a scotch ale, one of the first craft beers I fell for in the Twin Cities. Mike Hoops’ name was one of the first things I learned about local craft beer, because I had Hope and King.
But hold on: they have Manhattan Reserve on tap today. Manhattan Reserve is a beer you stop everything for, and I stopped everything to have a drink of this beer. We’re not blessed with this beer every day. It’s a limited release, one you feel lucky to have even when you come knowing it’ll be here. A lot of people agreed with me at that table. Marmalade Sky, a pale ale; and Vava, a porter, also put up some impressive numbers. So did their Dortmunder. So did their Black H2O oatmeal stout.
After our 10-beer breather, we quickly huddled under the dim bar lights at Republic for a flight of four beers. We couldn’t have been there more than 10 minutes. It’s not Republic’s fault – as you know, every year, the National Frank’s Birthday beer bottle share takes place at Republic toward the end of January. Their food is almost always a little bit better than you expect, and it’s always priced a little bit lower than what you’re used to. Owner Matty O’Reilly has mastered the formula, that’s for sure.
Get a Brigade Burger when you go. Just trust me.
The papers were stamped and the manilla folder was slammed shut at Day Block Brewing Company with pizza, bacon flights, devils on horseback, and a speech I gave but couldn’t repeat if I wanted to.
I remember saying thank you to the drivers, the crew, my mother-in-law, our server, probably the bartender, possibly the folks at the tables near us, and I think some people as they came into the brewery. The 80th beer of the tour, officially, was Frank’s Red Ale. I sipped the last of it, lightly dunked it into its flight hole, and that was the end of the tour.
The point of adjustment is the obvious one. Last year’s push to try 75 beers was taxing; 80 was squarely too much. So, who won?
2014: Pitchfork Brewing, Barn Door Brown
2015: Oliphant Brewing, Mary Porter
2016: Summit Brewing Company, Havana Pub Mojit-ale
2017: Bauhaus Brew Labs, Slawhammer
Again: nobody is an expert here. I’ve toyed with the idea of presenting plaques to breweries whose beers “win” these tours, but it hasn’t happened yet. This year, Bauhaus Brew Labs’ Slawhammer was only three points shy of a perfect score.
It’s a perfect storm. You absolutely could put this on a Friday night track with a whole Tennessee hot chicken (Hornish and I have done exactly that at Revival); and yeah, it’d work with their cheeseburger, too (ditto); but you can get comfortable with this on its own. Sweetness from its malt welcomes you in. Under the right lights, it looks like sweet tea; and I swear, you taste a little tea in this beer.
Modist Brewing’s First Call finished only one point behind; Town Hall Brewery’s Manhattan Reserve, only two. If we had a Best Venue award, Inbound would win; Darius would win best bartender.
This year will see us return to familiar venues, larger spaces, and a slower pace. Inaugural winner Pitchfork Brewing is back in the mix, as is second-year winner Oliphant Brewing. Barley John’s, who made one hell of an impression with their food and drink programs on Year 3, is back on the route. We’ve got some new (to us) blood in River Falls’ Swinging Bridge Brewery and Rush River Brewing; Roberts, Wisc.-based Bobtown Brewhouse; and downtown Hudson’s Hop and Barrel.
With any luck, we’ll need to learn a new lesson next year.
RELATED: Bauhaus Brew Labs’ anniversary party is Saturday! There were a lot of Bauhaus introduction pieces written before they first opened in 2014, but mine was the best.