Brewery Building & Collab Brewing

It’s been a busy time at Hoops Brewing. The brewery and beer hall are starting to take shape and we’re still on target to open in the spring.

In November, we finished demolition of the old Timberlodge Steakhouse space in the Suites Hotel building in Canal Park. The vision came to life as we pealed everything back to the massive posts and beams of the historic warehouse space and started construction in earnest with our General Contractor, Johnson Wilson Constructors.

Construction began in December with removal of the brewhouse floor and pouring of a reinforced floor with high-end quartz covering. Interior walls were roughed in and new hardwood floors are currently being installed. Other elements for the brewery are also being selected, such as a field trip to a local woodworking studio to look at handmade table samples.

Our Wisconsin-made Sprinkman brewing equipment is set to ship in the third week of March. We can’t wait.

What the beer you drink might say about you

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I am asked all the time what my favorite beer is. Those who know me personally tend to give me a hard time because my usual response is: “the one in my hand.”

Today, I’m going to take a deeper look at this question with thoughts on what beer styles people prefer to drink and what those preferences might say about them.

I’d have to say my three favorite beer styles are probably Pilsner, pale ale and wheat beer. All are traditional, ancient styles. This doesn’t mean I don’t love dozens of other styles, and I certainly don’t limit my beer enjoyment to just these three.

The love of Pilsner — arguably the most difficult style of beer to brew — shows a love of my craft and a goal to always challenge and improve. Pale ale love is all about hops and malt. It’s the balance of the two classic ingredients that speaks to the traditionalist in me. Wheat beer is a little less straightforward, but for me, the addition of smooth, spicy wheat to sweet malted barley really quenches a big thirst. Nothing is much better for summer enjoyment than wheat beer. It refreshes the soul.

So now that I’ve pulled the amateur psychoanalysis on myself, let’s do that with some other beer.

Lagers

  • Oktoberfest. You like the cooler weather of fall, the creamy sweet notes make you comfortable, and you can’t wait to drink beer in a crowd setting at a beer festival, hopefully singing drinking songs while you do.
  • American light lager. You’re a beer drinker who really enjoys drinking beer; if it works, don’t change it! The easy-drinking lighter beers are perfect for any occasion.
  • Amber lager. The often reddish hues are pleasing to your eye. The malty bready notes might make you crave a sandwich, and the sweet fruity aroma is a crowd pleaser.
  • Bock beer. An end-of-winter beer that brings to mind the first campfires of the year. The malty, smoky notes of bock beer are often enjoyed after a hike or gazing at the lake. You are probably an outdoors enthusiast who also enjoys the fact that you know what bock beer is as opposed to most beer drinkers.

Hybrid

  • Chile beer. A favorite style of mine. The beers tend to be enjoyed by thrill seekers who may enjoy the adrenaline rush the high heat levels that many Chile beers provide. A small category of beer but a very important one in my opinion.
  • Rye beer. Like the whisky drinker who prefers rye to bourbon, you are a flavor seeker. Rye has a pronounced earthy, spicy bite with slight tartness. Rye beer lovers are willing to do more searching as there are far less rye beers on the market.
  • Coffee beer. You are a coffee achiever morning, noon and night. The brewer that figured out that coffee really tastes great in many beer styles, especially dark beers, is your hero. You are tickled that you can enjoy a pint after a hard day and get a pick-me-up with your relaxation.
  • Session beers. You’re a knowledgeable beer drinker with a strong understanding of styles. Sometimes, you’re a bit more experienced (older), and the appeal of being able to enjoy a lower alcohol version of your favorite style is a huge draw. Oddly enough, many veteran brewers seem to fall into this group as well.
  • Fruit beers. You love flavors and fun, approachable beers. These are often really pretty with hues from orange to purple and are a great alternative to wine. These offerings could be called gateway beers — from mass produced to the small craft world of beer.

Ales

  • Stout. You like the water and some rough weather. The malty, acrid, chocolaty notes call to you. Your first pint was probably on an exchange trip to Ireland. A real beer drinker’s beer.
  • IPA. This is maybe the first craft beer you tried. The wonderful citrus and pine aromas really promised something great. The soporific effects of the hops immediately relaxed you, and the explosion of hop flavor in your mouth created a fan for life. IPA is by far the No. 1 craft beer style produced, I guess that means you have very good taste.
  • Double and triple IPA. You might have an eye on ABV (alcohol by volume) a little too much, but you love those hops.
  • Extra special bitter. An old school style that true aficionados tend to enjoy. Sometimes they also enjoy the fact that they are the only person in the joint that not only knows the four or five subcategories of bitter but also the only one who drinks bitters exclusively and is working hard to carry on the ancient style. Loyal.

No matter what style you enjoy, it’s fun to talk about what you like in a beer and why — especially sitting at the pub with a pint in hand.

Share your story: In June, I wrote an article called “The Best Beers I’ve Ever Had.” My goal was to capture the feeling of enjoying a great beer during some of life’s unforgettable moments. I got some great feedback from readers about their own experiences. So, I would like to write a follow-up piece highlighting some of these stories, and more. Please email me at dave@hoopsbrewing.com and I will reach out to some of you to chat about your experiences. Happy best-beer-ever to all of you.

My job is to taste them all: The Minnesota State Fair Land of 10,000 Beers

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Most Minnesotans know about the State Fair. One of the largest in the U.S., the Great Minnesota Get-Together is loved by many and attended by millions.

The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild sponsors the “Land of 10,000 Beers” Craft Beer Hall exhibit at the State Fair. The Guild is the primary organization that promotes craft beer, beer education and beer quality throughout the state.

The exhibit features more than 300 beers from over 75 Minnesota breweries and brewpubs. This is the second year brewpubs — not just production breweries — are invited to pour at the “Land of 10,000 Beers,” thanks to a Minnesota law passed in the 2015 legislative session allowing brewpubs to pour at the State Fair. This is awesome because now the exhibit features the most Minnesota beers poured anywhere in Minnesota at the same time including brewpubs like Canal Park Brewing and Fitger’s Brewhouse that are not allowed by state law to distribute.

If you love beer, don’t miss this.

I have the honor of being the only professional brewer in Minnesota to be a national beer judge, and I was asked to participate this year in the very first quality control program for the exhibit. Each beer poured at the fair will be tasted by me along with my colleagues and evaluated on 10 quality categories including appearance, aroma, flavor, aftertaste and finish, balance and drinkability and technical quality. Pretty good job, if you can get it, huh?

I am thrilled about this because one of my main goals as a brewer is beer education and quality brewing. So, here’s a highlight of the experience and a few beer recommendations to seek out when you’re at the fair.

“The Land of 10,000 Beers” exhibit is located in the agriculture building right across the street from the haunted house. You’ll see educational posters, presentations and live seminars from brewers all over the state. You can try “flights” of beer, which are four 5-ounce glasses, each in different style categories. The flights are available to purchase and are labeled Sweeter, Hoppier, Lighter, Darker, MN Mix and Cicerone Select. So you can try beers from breweries all over the state in each category, if you wish.

In case you’re wondering, a Cicerone is a beer expert that has passed some very tough tests to become knowledgeable in all things beer. The Cicerone select is a flight of beers that have been judged by me and my colleagues, as the best of the best from the many great beers on tap.

A few breweries to seek out that I enjoyed during Week One: Minneapolis Town Hall, Lift Bridge, Day Block, Insight, Surly, Summit, Mankato, Steel Toe, Lakes & Legends, Tin Whiskers, Schell’s, Badger Hill, Barley John’s, Bent Paddle, Dangerous Man, Fair State, Fulton, Indeed, Lupine, Modist, Northbound, Urban Growler, and so many more.

During the first few days at the fair, I evaluated nearly 100 beers from all over the state. I was very encouraged by the overall quality of the vast majority. There are brewers making great lagers, funky sours, unique fruit beers — you name it, someone is brewing a beer with imagination and creativity.

Some interesting ingredients I came across included coconut, ghost peppers, chocolate, mango, wild rice, pineapple, cranberry, bourbon, white wine, blackberry, blueberry, apricot and licorice. Another very cool part of my time working down here has been the questions from folks visiting the exhibit. From the simple “How is beer made?” to “Tell me how different hops can affect the flavor of a beer?” or “Explain malted barley.” The time spent chatting with beer lovers is fun and really is the reason for the whole exhibit.

I’ll be working Thursday and Friday during the day at the exhibit. If you’re down here, stop by for a sample and say “hi.”

The fair itself is so much fun and offers so many options, making sure you know about the “Land of 10,000 Beers” exhibit was my duty. Enjoy the fair and the last “official” weekend of summer.

The best beers I’ve ever had

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If I made a top 10 list of my “best beers,” it would probably contain five or so picks that are permanently on the list, along with others moving in and out depending on time of the year, availability, my mood and my style focus at the time.

The “quality” of a beer as far as best taste is subjective and could be discussed for thousands of words. My goal today is to capture the “feeling” of a great beer in an unforgettable moment. So on to the feelings:

My best and happiest memory of enjoying a beer was at 10:10 p.m. Oct. 15, 1998, in San Francisco. I had just returned to our flat with my sister-in-law, Lisa, after a 36-hour stretch of time that included two trips to the hospital (— the first being a false alarm). I had just witnessed the birth of my daughter, Daisy. We left my wife, Laura, at the hospital with our newborn to sleep — the nurse kicked us out. On our way home, we ordered a pepperoni pizza from our favorite spot, North Beach Pizza. We were famished. I grabbed a couple of Sierra Nevada pale ales, and we sat down in our breakfast nook to eat with a view of the Bay Bridge out the window.

As we sipped and ate, of course, I knew at the time it was a monumental moment.

As I write this, I remember every detail clearly, sharing the emotions of the day with Lisa, who had come from Minnesota to help. I was completely freaked out that I was a parent, but happier than any day of my life. Munching on the pizza, that beer tasted better than any beer I can ever remember drinking, anytime then or now. It felt like the reason beer was brewed in the first place: for me to toast my new daughter.

Most people who know me are probably sick of me talking about Sierra Nevada pale, but with this story and the feelings it transports, it’s no surprise I have a connection that will always be enduring and lifelong.

My second greatest beer memory comes from the great state of Alaska. During the summer of 1987, I worked on a fishing boat out of Dillingham. Summer in Alaska is pretty much light 24/7. The sun rises around 4 a.m. and doesn’t set until around midnight. It was arduous, dangerous work on the boats. We worked 20 hour days with four-hour sleep breaks.

On this night, I was ending a long shift on the deck. At the shift handoff, my friend and fellow deckhand, Mark, said “I have a couple of beers from a new brewery here called Alaskan Amber, want one?”

Since I seldom refuse a free beer no matter how tired I might be, I thanked him and accepted. We leaned on the stern rail and drank our beer. I didn’t know this then, but that beer was a very ambitious new brew, based on a classic German style called “alt beer.”

This is a malty, slightly sweet and fruity beer balanced with a perfect warm and inviting finish. I did not yet know this of course, but I will always remember telling Mark “This is the best beer I have ever tasted!” What beer wouldn’t be the best ever after a 20-hour shift?

I still drink that often, and I always think of that moment in time when I do. I often think about Mark who died tragically two weeks later, swept overboard during a brutal storm.

My third best-beer-ever story takes place in 2008. I was on my way to Oktoberfest in Munich, the planet’s best-beer-ever festival.

I landed in Amsterdam for a quick layover before boarding the train to Germany. I’d been to Amsterdam many times and had heard on many occasions from friends and the locals about a brewery housed in an old windmill somewhere in town. Enter: Brouwerij ‘t IJ. (Pronounced Brewery I.)

I called them and introduced myself as an American brewer from Minnesota. Hopeful, I inquired if they’d be willing to show me around. I was welcomed to stop up the next day at 10 a.m. When I got there, I was introduced to everyone and asked if I wanted to sit in on a brew. Did I mention this brewery was in a hundreds-of-years-old windmill? Of course, I did!

It was a sublime brewing experience that changed and enriched me as a brewer. When we finished the brew, I was invited to try their fresh Plzen. The beer was Brouwerij ‘t IJ’s nod to famous lagers from Czechoslovakia.

It was an ale brewed cold and gold, a true hybrid brew. It was so good, I was awestruck. The beer, right out of the server, inspired a long-term friendship with their brewer and staff. The inspiration extended to my return to Duluth, where I brewed a beer called Amsterdam Ale which we served at Fitger’s Brewhouse during my time there.

I am thirsty and homesick for Europe so much as I reminisce about this.

Happy best-beer-ever to all of you. Share your own “best beer I’ve ever had” experiences, and send me an email. I’d love to hear about them.