Voyage North

If you have read several of my posts, I’m sure you’re noticing a recurring theme: I like going up north. When any opportunity allows me some extended time away, I can usually be found in my car headed up 35 in an instant. After a rather involved month of May, I was more than eager to get out of the Cities and enjoy some time in the woods.

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I went up to Grand Marais Minnesota, a place so far up the shoreline that when you look out over The Lake, you’re actually looking south (as opposed to likely looking east / northeast over the Lake when in Duluth). Unfortunately, the views weren’t exactly spectacular upon arrival. In the morning I woke up to this…

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Stunning 20ft of Lake Superior

But not one to let any fog dampen my spirits, I went out and explored the area which of course included a stop at Grand Marais’s own brewery, Voyageur Brewing. Situated right off the main road / 61, Voyageur nicely fits within the core of Grand Marais. At first glance, it’s a modest yet pleasant-looking building on the side of road with only its name across the top to identify it as Voyageur. No other bold signage sticks out to shout that the brewery exists, which I found refreshing. The inside, however, is a open space with lots of room for patrons. At the time that I visited, the brewery was understandably busy due to the long weekend and also to a local band performing. I grabbed a flight and decided to head upstairs to the rooftop patio, despite the weather conditions remaining mostly unchanged and the view offering one shade of gray.

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A flight on the rooftop

These beers are good brews. Each one that I tasted I thoroughly enjoyed, and my favorite turned out to be their Trailbreaker Belgian Wit. The Devil’s Kettle IPA provided a significant hop dankness that was potent yet balanced (and I was sad that I wasn’t able to visit its namesake on this trip). The Palisade Porter was the perfect dark beer option that I was craving on gray day. Others that I also sampled included their seasonals: Muddy Boots Maibock and the Maple Hill Smoked Roggenbier.

I find that I have more appreciation for well-made beers. Doing just that alone is worthy of praise. A brewery doesn’t have to make the craziest creation in the world. Certainly fun creations have their place and they’re enjoyable, but having a solid line-up of beer is just as important. Voyageur is doing exactly this. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I visited, and I walked away very satisfied. I would’ve been content to have any one of their beers on a given day, and I think that says something. In fact, I spied the Trailbreaker in a liquor store last week and reminded myself that I’d need to purchase some for myself soon.

If you’re up in the Arrowhead, I highly recommend stopping by at Voyageur to experience this unique north shore brewery. It’s a good location with good people and good beer. All in all, that sounds like the good ol’ Minnesotan way to me.

 

A Modist Opening

Mod beer

It started out where most of us hear a lot of news – social media. I’d been watching the hype grow on various outlets for some time, and as someone who likes beer, it naturally sparked my interest. It was all about the newest brewery on the block, Modist Brewing. So, a few weekends ago, I ventured over to take in the grand opening of Modist Brewing.

What a treat it was! The beer is delicious, the space is very accommodating, and the location is ideal. The taproom was naturally busy on the first Friday of being open, but the flow of people allowed patrons the opportunity to wander through the space to either take in the sights of the production area or enjoy the cityscape on the outdoor patio.

The beer that I grabbed for myself before I attempted to find my friends in the crowd was the pHresh. I was in the mood for something a bit lighter, and at 4.8% ABV with a tantalizing flavor description, my choice was easy. The beer was perfectly refreshing after my bike ride over to the brewery. With an incredibly clean texture and crisp flavor, I would’ve biked away dragging a keg of it behind me if I could.

So it’s no surprise that over the course of 3 days, Minneapolis apparently drank them out of beer as evident from this tweet from Modist the Monday following their open…

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Had I not joined up with my friends later than I intended, right as they were about to disband, I would’ve easily had another 2 pHresh beers. It’s one I that want to have in stock on a constant basis in my fridge, or in my car for any camping/cabin trips.

Keep brewing friends, because not only do I want to enjoy some more beers of yours soon, but so does the entire city! Congrats on your open and I will be back to see you very soon!

About a Stout

Stout

This is a beer alert blog post: the Goose is loose.

While out on a ride-along day with one of the Clear River reps in south Minneapolis on Monday, we planned to end our day at my habitual favorite spot, The Pig & Fiddle. Having already arranged to meet one of the staff members that afternoon, I went in knowing I’d have a beer and a good time chatting with my friends.

But I didn’t just have any beer. As I sat down, I was promptly told that the Goose Island Bourbon County Stout had just been tapped. And when you hear that, you don’t say “no”. I immediately ordered one. A winter beer making a sneaky springtime appearance? Well played Fiddle, and I’m all for it, especially since I have taste for dark, strong beers. The Goose Bourbon County Stout doesn’t disappoint. It clocks in at 14% ABV. BeerAdvocate rates it as a 100, which is no surprise. I sipped it over almost 2 hours and got more animated as the time passed, likely to the amusement of my drinking companions. This beer will get to you… 

And because I was among friends, the infamous beer shots were frequent. After downing a shot of our 8.5% Hoodoo dubbel, conversation turned to the fact that I own a chainsaw and currently have it in the trunk of my car.

“Who just drops the fact that they have a chainsaw in their trunk?!” my Clear River rep exclaimed. The beer buyer for Pig & Fiddle gave him a deadpan look back and replied “…why do you think we have Boom Island on tap?” Perhaps I should use my chainsaw as a selling point more often…

If you want to get an amazing beer on tap that you are not likely to find anywhere else, get down to Pig & Fiddle ASAP and order yourself a pour of the Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. You will not be disappointed.

So don’t meander, get that gander.

Millstream Brewing

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Maybe I’m deviating a bit from my “Marta Drinks MN” motto for a moment as I’m writing today about beer from Millstream Brewing out of Amana, Iowa. But, I was drinking it at Grumpy’s NE, so I was, in some way, still drinking MN. I’m betting Pat would back me up on this.

Having made fast friends with the guys at Clear River (our distributor), I’ve heard a lot about unique beers and other beer events happening in the area. While out with one of the reps last week, I overheard that a special firkin of a Peanut Butter and Jelly Back Road Stout from Millstream was going to be served that Friday at Grumpy’s. As it turned out, Millstream owner Theresa was going to be visiting town and Grumpy’s NE had agreed to feature several Millstream taps as the beers of the night for Friday. Making a mental note, I planned to visit Grumpy’s that Friday to try a few Millstream beers, especially this PB&J stout.

At 4pm on Friday, I headed up University to meet with Clear River and Theresa at Grumpy’s. Having this PB&J stout in my head for several days, I immediately ordered a pour, very eager to find out what it tasted like. The Back Road Stout is a regular offering from Millstream, and this was a dressed-up version for the occasion.

This beer did not disappoint. I was greated with smooth chocolate notes and a perfect hint of peanut butter, very well balanced, but what surprised me the most was the prominent raspberry flavor. For me, the raspberry really completed the beer and made it taste very much like peanut butter with raspberry jelly. With enticing flavors and a very smooth body, I had to remind myself to savor the beer, and not down it in one gulp.

The next beer after the PB&J Back Road Stout was one that I was somewhat apprehensive about, but after hearing reports from the guys, I decided to go with it. Millstream makes a witbier called John’s White Ale, but this one had been aged on Jack Daniels whiskey barrels and was cleverly named John Meets Jack. I wasn’t entirely convinced that a witbier aged on whiskey barrels would taste very good, but Theresa insisted. “We just decided to give it a try and see what happens,” she said. “And it turned out really good!”

She was right. The added dimension of whiskey gave this beer a nice boozy quality while still retaining the lighter flavors typical of a witbier, all combined in an incredibly smooth texture. Like the PB&J, this is a beer that could’ve disappeared fast. I never would have imagined that a whiskey barrel-aged witbier could taste so good, and now it’s the only thing I want to drink. Of the two beers, I think I have to say this one was my favorite… but it’s a really tough call.

It was a great evening of good beer, friends and making new friends – Theresa was a delight to talk to! If you happen to be down in Iowa, plan a detour over to Millstream and see what they’re all about. You won’t be disappointed.

Post Script – to round out my weekend, I then enjoyed a bottle of the infamous Ride the Wendigo by Clownshoes that I’d had over at The Happy Gnome along with the Chokolat by Southern Tier, both split in the good company of another craft beer fanatic. It was a beer-filled Saturday to follow Friday, but hey, that’s what weekends are for.

Urban Sauna Society

Sauna

Last week as I was monitoring social media for Boom Island and vaguely wondering what I wanted to do over the upcoming weekend, I happened to catch a quick glance at a tweet from the Growler: “Sauna visits Dangerous Man.” I’d heard of this unique, mobile sauna before, called Little Box Sauna, having seen a few other articles drift in through various social media platforms about its residencies downtown and at Como, made possible through the 612 Sauna Society. As an avid sauna fan, I hadn’t investigated the Little Box Sauna but was more intrigued when I saw it paired with a nearby brewery. After offering a session to a friend of mine as a birthday gift, I booked us some tickets and we were set for Saturday!

Both of us arrived to Dangerous Man wondering where this sauna on a trailer was hidden, but we soon were able to figure it out – simply by following the smell of the fire. We were greeted by our friendly host who gave us a quick run-down of the sauna procedures. After donning our bathing suits, we went inside and happily sat and sweated, the temperatures getting up to about 180 (which is still cold, according to the sauna meister). Joined by 4 other women (2 of which were from the Sheridan Neighborhood Organization and made it all happen), all of us had a great time sitting, sweating and trading stories about other sauna experiences and life. Whenever a cool-down was needed, we’d walk back outside in the middle of northeast wearing nothing but a bathing suit, our faces red from the heat and streaked with sweat. As one of the women commented to me after I was about to go back in after a cool down, “You’re very pink. It looks good on you!” I laughed in appreciation, as I’m known for being very pale (and was the most pale of the bunch, not to my surprise). Water for drinking as well as dousing is available, and I opted to do a quick douse by splashing a bit of water on my neck and sternum.

After our relaxing hour and a half together that had all of us lazing on the outdoor chairs, slathering on coconut oil that I’d brought, we were completely refreshed and in need of a beer. My friend and I intended to go into Dangerous Man, but the atmosphere was too lively after our quiet, almost meditative sweat session, so we opted for the nearby Mill NE. There I had a Hammerheart beer, which seemed very appropriate after doing sauna. My friend took a sip and commented “Oh yeah, that’s a Marta beer.” Apparently I’m becoming known for my liking of darker, stronger beers.

It was an amazing way to spend an afternoon and I highly recommend having a sauna session with Little Box Sauna. Even though it was at Dangerous Man, no beer was allowed in the sauna itself, only water. I have, however, been known to drink beer in a sauna far up north where the owner (and my good friend) doesn’t just allow beer in the sauna, he encourages it! Granted, you have to proceed with caution when you’re enjoying a beer and sauna at the same time  but if you usually employ common sense, I doubt you’ll have any issue. Just be sure, whether there is beer or not, to bring water into the sauna – you’ll need it!

After the Saturday sauna session and celebratory beers, I returned home and came close to passing out on my couch. If you do decide to have a beer, either during your sauna or after, it’s probably best to be somewhat close to a place where you can allow yourself to rest. There really isn’t anything quite like doing a good, hot sauna to make you feel refreshed, even if it means you’re likely to take a nap for the rest of the day. Keep your eyes open for the Little Box Sauna in the future – you just might find me there.

 

The Fun in Beer

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Girl Scout Cookie Flight + Beer Pairing at Sisyphus Brewing

Sometimes, beer can get serious. Maybe a bit too serious. We can sometimes fall into the habit of critiquing beer too much – analyzing the flavors, aromas, texture and more – and in doing so, we can forget to simply enjoy having a beer in the first place.

This past week I got to attend two events in which all the seriousness of beer got put aside for a moment, and I had the opportunity to just enjoy beer in some unique settings. These events were the Girl Scout Cookie Flight + Pairing at Sisyphus, and the Clown Shoes Barrel-Aged Madness takeover at The Happy Gnome.

When I first heard about the Girl Scout Cookie Flight at Sisyphus, I was immediately determined to go. Not only did it combine two of my favorite things (beer and cookies), but the concept was just fun. Who wouldn’t want to go sample Girl Scout Cookies paired with beer? I didn’t want to miss out, and made my way over to see just how well cookies and beer can go together.

And the experience of tasting Girl Scout Cookies with beer? Surprisingly good! The staff set out the beer flight and a pre-arranged plate of cookies, and instructed guests how to try the two together. In sampling the cookies and beer, it almost seemed as if the beer had been brewed with this particular Girl Scout cookie flight in mind! The flavors of the beer nicely complimented those in the cookies themselves, and it was a great way to spend time after work. My favorite was the Winter Warmer paired with a caramel samoa – the right amount of spice in the beer with the sweetness in the cookie resulted in the perfect pairing.

The next event was the Clown Shoes Barrel-Aged Madness at The Happy Gnome. After being tipped off by my friends at Clear River (thanks, guys) and hearing hype from them about it for several weeks, I knew I needed to check this event out. And what an event it was…

The “lightest” beer on the Clown Shoes barrel-aged menu was 11%. I opted to play it safe and ordered that option, which was the Ride the Wendigo, a Scotch Ale aged in cognac barrels. The beer was incredibly smooth and could have gone down real easy, but I know better than that and slowly savored it over conversation with the Clear River group. Other beers that were featured included Itasca Loonidragon (Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels), The Entertainer (American Amber barrel-aged in cabernet barrels), Crasher in the Rye (Imperial Stout aged in rye & bourbon barrels), Extremely Angry Beast (an Imperial Stout concoction), Flight of the Angry Beast (American Strong Ale, another mix of multiple beers), Space Cake (double IPA), and Moses and the Misfits (Imperial Cream Ale).

I should add that this is not to say that barrel-aging beer is not serious. In fact, I’m sure it is quite the opposite given that the brewer needs to determine what beer would age and develop well in what particular barrel. But the experience of tasting the result – big, strong, flavorful beers – is just fun in itself.

So drinking beers with ABV that’s only in the double digits? Eating cookies that were intentially paired with beer? I’ll take it – that all sounds like a good time to me!

Drinking North

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Winter scene on the Superior Hiking Trail

Going “up north” is something that seems innate in most Minnesotans, and I’ve definitely got it bad. I have a love affair with getting up to Duluth and beyond. Not only is the scenery stunning at any point of the year, but it offers an opportunity to enter another world, one that is inspired by the wilderness that is right out the backdoor.

I enjoyed a long weekend up north in earlier this month and on my recent trip, it was my aim to not only get away from it all but to also visit a few specific places up north. Here’s a recap of where I went and what I tried…


 

Castle Danger Brewing

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My first venture out was to Castle Danger Brewing where they are responsible for crafting one of my favorite beers, which is their Castle Cream Ale. On this excursion to their taproom, I opted to get their Big Dumb Stout on nitro, which had been brewed with maple syrup from Sawtooth Mountain Maple Syrup Co. just up the shore out of Lutsen. The experience of drinking this beer was one of the smoothest that comes to recent memory. With a thick body but velvet texture, this beer slid down easy which was welcome after my non-stop drive straight up from Minneapolis to Duluth. One of the bartenders offered me an exclusive staff-only version, being a miniature stout float, and the Big Dumb was handed to me in a tasting glass with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on top and a spoon on the side. The results were perfect as I enjoyed perusing my Superior Hiking Trail book and plotted out a hike for the next day.


 

Bent Paddle Brewing

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The following day, I took off on a 3.5 mile hike on the Superior Hiking Trail near Crow Creek. After cutting trail for myself (sometimes through knee-deep snow) and going up and down 2 ridges, I was ready for a beer and headed into Duluth to visit Bent Paddle. Being a Friday afternoon, it was filled with locals out supporting their local taproom. I started with a Venture Pilsner which was the perfect, refreshing brew after my hike. As luck would have it, I found myself seated at the bar next to a rep from Bauhaus, and the two of us drank away the time while discussing a variety of beer-related topics. We were then treated to a quick peek into the production facilities along with a fast taste of their soon-to-be-released barrel-aged Double Shot Double Black Ale. I had to remind myself that my sample was being shared with me from one of the staff, and that I couldn’t down the entire thing, which I came very close to doing.  My next beer was a special cask featuring mosaic and simcoe hops, a stark but tasty contrast to the Double Shot.

I highly enjoyed my visit to Bent Paddle. Not only do these guys brew good beer, but they’re taking a stand for the environment which is an issue that is close to my heart. I love our northern Minnesota scenery, and I’m proud to see (and support) a brewery that also believes in preserving that for generations to come. Well done!


 

Vikre Distillery

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The next day was my visit to Vikre Distillery which is located in a prime location in Duluth: right by the lift bridge on Lake Avenue. In an old brick building and with the tanks fully visible, you feel a bit like you’re stepping back in time. I sat at the small bar and decided to try a flight of 4 spirits: 2 gins and 2 aquavits. Each one was distinctly different and offered a unique tasting experience:

  • Boreal Spruce Gin – for me, lavendar was the prominent aroma and flavor that I encountered in this spirit, highly enjoyable
  • Boreal Cedar Gin – my 2nd favorite among the 4 that I tried. Aged on cedar wood and with hints of sumac and currant, this was a spectacular and unique gin
  • Ørevann Aquavit – this was the winner and came home with me that day, and I am already in need of another bottle… spiced with caraway, the hints are lovely of cardamom and citrus
  • Voyageur Aquavit – a specialty acquavit that had been aged in cognac casks

I rounded out my visit with the very fitting Girl From the North Country cocktail, and the staff was extremely pleasant to talk with during my visit. As soon as I’m back up in the area, I’ll be returning here immediately.