Sunday, March 21, 2010
The VoiceOfReason is out in Colorado with her nephew visiting siblings, including the infamous JeremiahJohnstone and the ColoradoKid. Normally I never let her attempt this dangerous mission without me because the snow is usually great at about 10,000' this time of year. This year however, work conspired to keep me stapled to the Twin Cities area. I was gone last week and my boss is gone next week. In the week between we needed to keep the plates spinning and i just couldn't make my escape. I received a report that Friday morning dawned in Idaho Springs,CO with fresh powder, a fact that made me even surlier and more uncommunicative than I already was. Wind, waves, and temps in the mid 20F range, as well as a first hand report from Podman, convinced RonO and I that staying in the area was a good plan. We thought about paddling around here but the lakes still have a foot of ice or more on them and the Mississippi River is at flood stage, peaking today in the metro area. So what does a man do when he can't ski, kayak or play outside? He drinks beer.
We had discovered that a bar called the Happy Gnome was having the 2nd Annual Firkin Fest in a big tent in their parking lot. Forty breweries from as far away as Maryland, Colorado, and Oregon send a total of 68 firkins for sampling. A firkin, for the uninitiated, is a small keg thats filled with cask conditioned ale and pints are poured either by gravity or pulled from the keg with a beer engine. The beer carbonates naturally in the firkin and does not need to be pushed from the keg with CO2. When a misguided individual sips a lovely Miller Lite, Bud Lite, or something even worse, at the required 35F, the taste sensations are cold, CO2 bubbles, and a flavor not far removed from bottled water. When these beers warm up a bit, lose carbonation, and get down near the bottom of yer long neck, they become virtually undrinkable, urine-like in their flavor profile. Cask ales, firkins, 'real ale' if you will, has fairly light natural carbonation and the flavors really stand out and blend well when the beer is served at around 50F.
A group of the usual suspects, seven strong, took off for St Paul with our designated driver, the BemidjiIntelOfficer. The crowd was much larger than expected (what a surprise), beer ran out early, and the line to the porta potties was around 15 minutes. Next year they need to figure something out because this event does not seem like it will be getting smaller anytime soon. Once we were all bellied up though, the inconveniences were quickly forgotten. Drink tickets were a buck a shot for a 4 oz sample and all of the SKOAC Renegades in attendance sprung for a twenty. It was nirvana. Summit had their outstanding Winter Ale in the cask and it was even more complex and savory than the regular pushed product. Surly had their Mild ale, the finest session beer in the midwest in my humble opinion, and it too was sublime. My buddy Dale from Lake Superior Brewing brought Strong, Dark, and Handsome as well as Sir Duluth Cocoa Oatmeal Stout (GalwayGuy will be licking his chops when he reads this). Bells had their formidable Hop Slam, weighing in at 10% ABV, and the new kids on the block, Brau Brothers from the Marshall, MN area, had Elisha's Old Ale. This beer reminded me of Theakston's Old Peculier Ale, a beer that was my Holy Grail when I was homebrewing, attempting to replicate the flavor in at least a dozen batches. My results were always eminently quaffable but nothing like what these pros had on display in St Paul on Saturday.
Even though the tent was too small, the line too long, the number of dunnies (as the porta potties are referred to by the MFSL) inadequate, and the beer supply disappearing way too early, it was a pretty unique day for beer lovers. The beer loving continued at the Half Time Rec in St Paul, since I felt that a designated driver volunteer needed to be utilized to the utmost. St Pat's day continued there as the Irish Brigade performed, and we adjourned to the secret bocce ball court in the Half Time Rec basement. I still need an outdoor fix and am weighing several options today. It was hard to beat cask ale tasting as a fall back plan however, and I think my compatriots would agree with that wholeheartedly.