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.