My history of beer

September 23, 2013

Kelly and Oberon

I’ve been asked by a couple people recently how I came to adore beer as I do. If those folks were curious, maybe you are, too.

I always liked beer well enough, I suppose. In my youth in the early 80s, I tended to favor Stroh’s and Michelob. You can’t judge me—craft beer as we think of it today didn’t exist. I probably favored mixed drinks at that point anyway; I remember being quite fond of brandy old fashioneds at one point. The college years saw me drinking whatever macro beer was in the house party keg. Even in my thirties, I liked vodka tonics best, but it is at that point that I had my first memorable beer experience.

Kelly and NewcastleIt was 1995 and I was spending a lot of time at Rosen’s, the bar next door to my office building. I had graduated to “dark beer” by that point which occasionally meant Guinness Draught, but Newcastle Brown Ale was far and away my favorite. My friends and I ordered some cheese sticks to accompany the beer. Rosen’s, like most places, served them with marinara sauce for dipping. I took a sip of my Newcastle to wash down the dressed cheese and was utterly gob smacked by the burst of cherry flavor that I suddenly detected in the beer. Where had that come from?! I tried the combination at other establishments, but nobody else’s marinara did that to the Newcastle. It was eye-opening in a way I didn’t yet have the knowledge to comprehend (I didn’t yet know of the concept of intentionally pairing drink flavors with food flavors beyond, you know, the basic red wine with meat, white wine with fish). But sitting here writing about it eighteen years later, I still remember the moment at the tall table in the front window like it was last week.

Kelly and Summit EPADuring the passing years I began to add Summit Extra Pale Ale to my “dark” beer repertoire, because that and Guinness were what my bowling alley had on offer. Because Summit was a nice caramelly, amber color as opposed to see-through yellow, it was considered ”dark.” This was still early craft days; I had no idea that Summit was a craft beer. This wasn’t one of my epiphanal beer moments but it bears mentioning, it think, because Summit EPA is the original craft beer in town and remains one of the best and one of my favorites, even with all the upstarts that have come onto the scene.

Fast forward to 2005. One of my bowling friends was well into wine, and invited me to a wine tasting on Nicollet Island. I dutifully tagged along, listening to him geek out on trying to learn things about wine. I enjoyed tasting different wines and gaining a little knowledge, and I really enjoyed the food samples from local restaurants and wished they served bigger bites. I eventually found myself wandering over to the side tent where there were a few brewery tables set up.

Thinking back, I suppose Summit had one of the tables, but it was the Bell’s Brewing beers that I was most interested in sampling. A coworker adored their Two Hearted Ale so I wanted to taste that one, though I hadn’t yet gone to the hop side (that could be a whole other post about me and beer!). I tried the three or four brews that they had there, and it was the Oberon wheat ale that tickled my fancy. I took my sample and went back into the main room.

The first food table I encountered was manned by the chef from Murray’s Steak House who was sautéing up some buttered steak and mushroom bites. I love steak. I love mushrooms. I love butter. I ate the sample. I washed it down with the last couple sips of Oberon. And that was when I had my beerpiphany.

Just as the Rosen’s marinara had done something to the Newcastle, so did the steak-mushroom-butter combination transform the Oberon into one of the most amazing taste moments I still have ever had. All the flavors complimented each other perfectly. That was when I realized that beer could be something special.

As I aged, I eased into hops, and focused my consumption on IPAs. The craft beer movement took off and there was more beer in more styles available. My same coworker who liked Bell’s Two Hearted also adored Chimay Rouge Belgian trippel. That was another style that I just didn’t like the taste of. Yet.

Three Philosophers ready to serveNow it’s 2009. Some friends of friends moved from California to Minneapolis and we became friends. They are foodies and drinkies. They invited me over for Thanksgiving dinner. They did the research and figured out that Ommegang Three Philosophers Belgian quad was just the right beer to serve with one of the courses. To me it didn’t taste as “Belgiany” as Chimay had when I had tried it. And again, it paired absolutely perfectly with the food. Are you noticing a trend yet? The Three Philosophers had a milder Belgian flavor along with prune and cherry (but there was no marinara in sight). I tried other Ommegang beers (which are mostly all Belgian-style of one sort or another) and found them all to be gentle versions of their styles. I decided maybe Belgian beers weren’t so bad after all.

By now, a couple of years ago in 2011, I had embraced the craft beer movement with full enthusiasm. I had beer geek friends and many acquaintances in the industry. I eagerly tried new, different beers whenever I could. I started attending beer classes. I was voluntarily ordering Belgian beers and liking them.

Except…

Within the Belgian genre live sour beers. And within sour are lambic and Flanders. I tried to wrap my taste buds around sours because many beer drinkers who knew far more than I really liked them and I wanted to be on par with my beer-smart friends. But I was struggling to get to a point where I could drink more than a sip or two.

Finally, one of the classes was about sour beers. We had samples of several of the major styles, including a Flanders. And then it happened again. As soon as the class leader described it as tasting like a barnyard or a horse blanket, I turned the corner. Now, those funky Flanders beers are my favorite of the sours. Horse blanket. HORSE BLANKET! What a fun way to think of a flavor! I’m glad I persisted in my effort.

I suppose the broad takeaway from this is that trying new things can lead to incredibly rewarding experiences. When you’re contemplating whether to go with something outside your comfort zone, remember, you’re not making a lifetime commitment and you might very well surprise yourself.

Horse blankets!

notes from the Belgian/sour beer class

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These two photos are the earliest and latest ones I have of myself. What has happened in between? Funny you should ask. Let’s take a look.

Ages ½–10

I’d swear I remember when the baby picture was taken. I have other toddler memories, such as what the kitchen in our first house in Manteno, Illinois, looked like. Yellow and floral.

We spent many summers in Bloomington, Indiana, while my dad worked on his PhD at Indiana University. He finished the work but his committee denied him of the degree.

To this day I have dreams that involve the house on Main Street in Ada, Ohio, where I grew up. I’d love to get back inside that house for a look. I remember listening to Winnie-the-Pooh and Peter and the Wolf records in the living room on our big, console stereo. It was a big deal when I got to operate it myself. We moved to a different house when I was eight.

Ages 11–20

Our new house was a block inside city limits. Most of the time I’d walk or bike to school, but if I wanted to ride the schoolbus, I walked over to Grandview Boulevard.

I spent countless hours in the city swimming pool. I spent countless hours playing Kick the Can with the neighborhood kids. I crashed my friend’s brand new bike that I rode around while she was inside eating supper. There was a horse at the end of the block, where the town suddenly turned into the country. There was a woods at the end of the block that seemed very big at the time. In it there was a treehouse.

We moved to Wisconsin two days before I turned fifteen. During the first year, my sophomore year in high school, it was novel and fun and not completely awful because it was to the small city where my grandparents lived and I already had a couple of friends. Then in my junior year, I grew to resent having been plucked from where I had grown up. I became a troubled teen. I stayed out all night one time without communicating with my parents. I broke up with my boyfriend which upset my parents who liked him a lot. Their reaction was very formative. I considered dropping out of high school.

I worked as a professional radio deejay.

I graduated high school.  I started college. I dropped out of college.

I moved out of the house. I moved into the house.

I went back to college. I dropped out of college.

I moved out of the house. I moved into the house. I still have nightmares that for one reason or the other, I have been forced to move back in with my parents at my current age with my youth issues, such as no boys in my bedroom.

Ages 21–30

I started technical college. I transferred technical colleges. I dropped out of technical college.

I moved out of the house. I went back to college. I dropped out of college. Rinse and repeat.

I moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to go back to college. I finished college! My mom proudly told a friend that I was graduating at age twenty-six. Her friend asked what my PhD was in. Sadly, it was just my bachelor’s degree, in English, after eight years.

I went to Europe for the first time on a trip with my parents that was a graduation present.

I worked for a year at a job that was pretty dead-end but which got me lots of promotional copies of albums on cassette. I decided to go to graduate school.

I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to go to the University of Wisconsin for meteorology. I learned that a boy who had been one of my best friends growing up and who also went to Wisconsin for meteorology was, in fact, gay and that we’d never have that chance to get together that I had been denied when my parents ripped me away at age fifteen.

I flunked out of graduate school when I failed calculus for the second time. I began to get serious about bowling.

I went to the local technical college, Madison Area Technical College, and met Chris Gargan. I graduated with my commercial art degree and have been a graphic designer ever since.

Ages 31–40

I moved back to Minneapolis. I worked through a temp agency and met my two best friends, Jim and California Rob. I became employed at my current position which I’ve held for over sixteen years. Oh my goodness, I began to grow up!

I became a published author, though not in the way I imagined as a kid. But my name now appears in the Library of Congress, so that’s something.

I went to the United Kingdom for the first time and fell in love with it. I realized that London is my soulmate. I will live there someday.

I got more serious about my bowling.

Age 41–present

Along with other spending, all of my trips to England contributed to my declaring personal bankruptcy. I learned that it’s not actually that difficult, in the big scheme of things, to live without credit. Except for being deprived of more trips to England.

I kept getting more serious about my bowling. People think I’m joking when I say I take three balls with my to league. The people who are really serious take six or eight.

California Rob moved to California. Jim got married. Possibly in the opposite order. I began my descent into curmudgeonhood.

Oddly, still in my bankruptcy, I was able to procure a mortgage and buy my first home, a condominiumized apartment. Gotta start somewhere. The housing market tanked. I am stuck unless I want to take a significant loss in my selling price.

I began to develop my love of craft beer. I hate saying “craft beer” because it’s such a buzz-term right how. But if more people like it, more will be made and that’s not a bad thing. My gateway beers were Bell’s Oberon and the local Summit Extra Pale Ale.

I have slowly and surely been gaining weight.

Last night, I picked up a twelve-pack of Summit’s Silver Anniversary Ale. Then I went to the preseason meeting for my Monday bowling league. Then I stopped at a bar that had a firkin of a special, grapefruit-infused version of Odell Brewing St. Lupulin Extra Pale Ale, a current favorite of mine. I was chit-chatting with the young patrons on either side of me about beers in general and India Pale Ales (my preferred variety) in particular. My bartender asked me—almost accusingly, as though I were a spy for a distributor—who I worked for. When I said a small graphic design company, he blinked and said, “You know a lot about beer.”

That made me feel really good.

Tonight, I enjoyed some of that Summit Silver Anniversary Ale.

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Over the course of various posts, you have learned how much how much I love Bell’s Oberon beer. I’ve extolled its virtues and touted it as a favorite sign of spring. Well, as of a year ago, Oberon has had to share the spotlight. It’s like Cate Blanchett’s character in the movie “Bandits” said—”What if I don’t want to choose? What if, together, you make the perfect man?” Well, Oberon and, now, Odell Brewing’s St. Lupulin extra pale ale make it impossible for me to choose my favorite spring seasonal and both have me anxiously awaiting spring.

I was first introduced to St. Lupulin a year ago during an enjoyable outing to a Minnesota Twins game with a good friend. We stopped at another of my favorites, Pizza Lucé (downtown), for solid and liquid refreshments before the game. Pizza Lucé has a decent beer list and they have a couple of spots that they rotate with seasonals and limited/special editions. I chose the Odell St. Lupulin because theretofore I had never had an EPA other than Summit’s completely delicious one.

Well, one sip in and I was in love.

I learned that Odell was new in town a year ago, and as new varieties appeared in various places, I made sure I tried every one of them. And as with the other five of my favorite breweries*, I have yet to meet one I didn’t like even if, generally, I don’t like that variety. I love all Odell beers, it seems.

As such, I’ve made it a point to follow their happenings around town. And in doing so, I’ve been getting to know the people associated with bringing this fine product to me, including Doug Odell himself.

Okay, so it was more a brush with fame with Mr. Odell than “getting to know.” In the last couple of years, I have made it my mission to get a photo of myself with the owners of each of my favorite breweries. Thus far, I have four and a half out of six. I am missing Sierra Nevada, and for Surly, I have Mr. Ansari, Omar’s dad. Guilt by association.

A week or two prior to my meeting Mr. Odell, I had attended the release party for another of their seasonals, Red Ale. Coincidentally and very happily, that event was held at the very same Pizza Lucé. 

That was the same evening that I got to meet a local online friend, Holly, in person for the first time. Holly is an online acquaintance of my friend Rob’s friend Sara. Rob is my best friend from here who moved to California. Sara is one of his best friends there. Keeping up?

Holly took off and I stayed for one more. As the Odell people were winding things up, I introduced myself to two fellows, Hanszee from Odell’s distributor Capitol Beverage, and Todd the local Odell rep. It was the end of the evening and maybe they were looking to get rid of the rest of their stuff, or maybe they just appreciated my enthusiasm for their product. Hanszee gave me an Odell bottle opener key ring and a Red Ale t-shirt.

That was the start of my beer t-shirt collection.

Giventome_kellnodell_blog

A couple of weeks later I was excited because Doug Odell was coming to town and his meet-and-greet was being held at another of my favorite establishments, Brit’s Pub. I dorkily showed up in my Red Ale t-shirt, and it was about an hour before anybody came over to talk to me. Happily, it was Hanszee, and I explained to him my desire to get a photo with Mr. Odell, but that I was having a shy attack. Hanzee took charge and marched me over to Mr. Odell and my mission was accomplished.

There was no contact between me and the Odells for months after that. But then, spring drew nearer and I had a concrete date for the release of St. Lupulin. In quite the anticlimax, it turned out to be a week later than I had been led to believe but when it happened, the release party was thankfully at an establishment downtown and I was able to attend, barely. My parents were arriving for a visit at about the same time. I ignored that fact to go get a taste of springtime nectar.

Hanszee and Todd were there, as well as some other Odell associate who physically resembles Todd, and oddly, Nate the local Stone Brewing guy. Huh?

I was recognized and greeted, and though I would have loved to stay for two or three, I had to get going. On my way out, Hanszee offered me my snazzy St. Lupulin t-shirt. I was very excited!

A few days later one of my local stores, Zipp’s Liquors, had an Odell tasting. Turns out, Todd was there to pour. Then the following week, after a Zipp’s-sponsored major beer tasting, I got to hang out with Todd for a while, as well as a few other beer suspects including Hanszee and Tyler from Zipp’s, during a Double-Double mini-event. Double #1: Myrcenary double IPA. Double #2: Double Pils. A month earlier I had tried Myrcenary for the first time. Instant favorite!

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One of the things about Odell Brewing is that the label artwork and hand-lettering is just beautiful. Such are the Myrcenary label and the St. Lupulin. I happened to notice that Todd had given a Myrcenary t-shirt to another patron. It didn’t take long before I was in possession of one myself. Heh.

So suddenly, I have five beer t-shirts, three of which are Odell**. Wokka! It’s a little bit silly how thrilled I am to have them, unless you consider how much I love what they promote!

Giventomemyrcenary_blog

*Bell’s, Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, Summit, Surly (alphabetical order, because I couldn’t be expected to actually rate them)

**The other two are Surly, which I bought after a brewery tour, and Great Lakes Brewing, which was given to me at the above-mentioned Zipp’s tasting. I like the Great Lakes Commodore Perry IPA.

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Odell brews I have brought home.

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Odell brews I have tasted.

Bottle images from the Odell Brewing website.

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One of my favorite breweries, Summit, sponsored a fancy dinner at Bank Restaurant downtown last night. I’ve seen the notices about previous beer dinners. This time, the restaurant was along the linear mile and three quarters between my office and my home, and on a Friday. The announcement said that Summit founder Mark Stutrud would be there to host it. I eagerly anticipated adding to my collection of photos of me with the owners of my favorite breweries. What a perfect way to end the work week!

I made my reservation for one. When I arrived at the restaurant my worst suspicion was confirmed. I wouldn’t get to sit at a small, corner table by myself reveling in good beer and good food. No, I would have to join a large, round table with a bunch of people I didn’t know, which would undoubtedly involve talking to them. I sighed and accepted the first beer, Summit’s delicious India Pale Ale.

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At this point, participants were standing around on the fringes of the seating area and bar. I had ended up between two groups, people who were obviously associated with the brewery, and civilians. Thankfully, the first of the hors d’oeuvres came around, the smoked kielbasa, red beet horseradish, and onion jam, daintily served on a funny spoon, followed by an oyster shooter, and fancy popcorn.

At this time, I should probably disclaim my overuse of the word fancy in this report.

A Summit Maibock, as well as Mark Stutrud, also came around during the hors d’oeuvres, and I made what was probably a bit of a gaffe by asking for his thoughts on the Minnesota liquor law changes that Surly Brewing is advocating. I got an earful of a different perspective. What a way to make a first impression on a person whose beer you love! Well, I’ve never claimed to be good at small talk.

Summits_on_the_bar_img_010264

Mark moved on, and I became aware that the brewery group was wondering about facts related to Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. I spend half my workday listening to world news, so I felt compelled to interject what I knew. I was only trying to be helpful. I ended up talking for a few minutes to Sue and Carrie.

The restaurant guy who was managing things indicated that it was time to have a seat for dinner. Sue didn’t hesitate to invite me to join their table which I gratefully did, and that was the action that ensured my having the best time I’ve in a while.

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The delicious food arrived (as usual, my photographic documentation was thwarted by very low lighting). First was a fantastic scallop with bacon and some fancy, dribbled sauces. Mine was gigantic compared to the others which didn’t displease me, because I love scallops! It was served with Summit’s flagship Extra Pale Ale. That is hands down one of my favorite ever beers. Then came a fancy fried chicken puck (referring only to the shape, not the quality) with, among other things, Pop Rocks as part of the garnish, and served with cornbread and Maibock. The “main” course was a Red Ale braised lamb shank with barley and gravy, served with—you guessed it—Red Ale. For dessert, it was an oatmeal baking powder “coffee cake” served with ice cream made with Summit Porter and served with the same.

I so thank Sue and Carrie for being nice to me. You all know I would have been just fine lurking on the fringes keeping to myself. But it ended up being such a blast. Everyone around the table (clockwise from my left: Shawn (J.J. Taylor Distributing), Patty, Rollie, Mark, Sue, Carey, Katie, Tom (COO), and Dan) managed to engage me in conversation at least once. I think Shawn the distributor was getting annoyed with me because all the beers I was saying I liked weren’t ones he distributes, except for New Belgium Ranger IPA, one of my current favorites. I completely had a brain freeze about remembering how much I love Deschutes Hop Henge.

Anyway, I eventually figured out that Sue is Mark’s wife. I got my photo with Mark, and what I love about it is that we look like we’ve been friends forever. Well, I have been friends with his EPA for a long time. Oh! And Sue apparently went to highschool with Tony Magee, owner of Lagunitas and former sponser of my Monday bowling team. They were all engaging, but I could kind of check out when I needed to.

I think I will definitely try to go to the next Summit dinner, whenever that is.

Summit_dinner_menu

Not such a cheap date

August 21, 2010

Spending_smackshack_blog

Yesterday’s goal was to buy the cheapest thing on the menu. Today’s goal was to spend nothing. I failed miserably, because I didn’t have time to plan ahead. That’s a little bit of a lame excuse. I do often pack my lunch for work, but the extra whammy today was my attendance at the Twins game tonight.

So in chronological order, my FAIL went like this.

Lunch. Street food is just beginning to happen in Minneapolis. And it’s not really true street food yet. To be sure it comes from a truck or a cart, but at this time it’s pretty normal food and/or restaurants with a tiny satellite location on the sidewalk. Still, it is something new. Today I visited the Smack Shack at 1st Avenue North and 4th Street North. They do seafood and sausages. I got the shrimp po’ boy. It was delicious, but it was a pricey $9.00. And when a downpour happened while I was waiting for my order, I became stranded under their umbrellas and ended up eating there, where I was without my water that I would have been quite happy with at my desk as originally planned. I spent another dollar on a can of Diet Coke.
Spending_targetfield_blog

Supper. I had planned to stay at the office until it was time to go to the Twins game, but because I switched bags and forgot my key, I had to leave when the last other person left. That spurred my decision to check out the Town Ball Tavern within Target Field because I had plenty of time. As you would expect, the food was overpriced, but the Summit pints that I am powerless to resist at the ballpark were, at $6.75 each, 75¢ less expensive in the Tavern than on the concourse. I ordered the Twin Towns Turkey Sandwich (I think that’s what it was called), which was basically a grilled cheese and turkey sandwich, for $10.50—exorbitant, I know. I had three bargain beers as well.

At the end of the sixth inning, I could no longer take sitting in my seat, packed in on a warm and humid night with no breeze to circulate the stagnant air, so I retreated back to the Tavern where there was air conditioning and big screens and had one more bargain beer. Total beer savings, $3.00.

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Post game. By game’s end, I was hungry again (stupid beer) and so popped in to Pizza Lucé on the way back to my bicycle for a delicious slice of pizza with chicken, mushrooms, and onions, $3.95. Wonderful as their beer selection is, I did resist the temptation and just had some nice, cold water.

So that was fourteen hours, two meals, and one event out of the house. Grand total: $51.45. Ouch. It’s no wonder I’m always out of money.

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I suppose the time of day would determine what I would say to this. In a shootout at the OK Corral, water would probably win because it’s the most versatile and the best for me. For fun, well, you all know I love beer. But beer isn’t always practical, and I also covered it in a previous post. So for this entry, the winner is coffee.

I do coffee backwards. I drink decaffeinated in the morning and regular in the afternoon. It’s like this. I get addicted to the caffeine very quickly, so I have to be careful. If I have a couple of cups two or three days in a row, I fall victim to that awful caffeine headache if I don’t start getting my fix soon enough on subsequent days. That is why I started drinking decaf years and years ago. So that I wouldn’t get hooked on caffeine.

In the last year or two, however, regular coffee on a regular basis has crept back into my life, after lunch. It’s sort of like when I started smoking again the last time. I thought, oh, I’ll just have this one and it’ll be just fine. Next thing you know, you’re smoking close to a pack a day. Same with coffee. One afternoon when I was bored, a little sleepy, and there was already some made, I drank a cup of regular coffee. And guess what—I perked up. Maybe once a week I’d do that.

Well, now I’m drinking two or two and a half mugs an afternoon. On Saturday at home when I don’t make coffee for myself, I am visited by the splitting headache. I usually just take a few aspirin (not Excedrin, my prefered pain-reliever, because that’s got caffeine in it) and tough it out, only to start over on Monday.

I still drink decaf in the morning. My reasoning these days is that presumably I’ve just been sleeping all night and should be rested and not need artificial stimulants. I also believe that morning caffeine reels me in a day or two faster than afternoon coffee.

My name is Kelly and I am in denial.

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Just to recap on my beers of choice, we have (L–R): Summit Extra Pale Ale, Surly Coffee Bender, Bell’s Oberon, Lagunitas India Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.

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There is no logical explanation for this photo. I was commanded to make up a drink using what was on hand. What was on hand was Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Southern Tier IPA, and Magic Hat Black as Night Winter Lager. Unlike the Southern Tier IPA which I liked and had only one left of, I was willing to donate the Magic Hat to the effort as I was unimpressed with the first five of it, and I had 11 of 12 of the SN Celebration Ale left.

I was hoping for a result like a Black and Tan, and I didn’t know which way might be more successful. I knew I’d sacrifice both bottles, so I tried pouring it both ways. Zero visual success. Taste results, um, drinkable but nothing special. A little like each of the ingredients.

So, since that was largely a failure, or at least a non-event, let me tell you this about me and beer instead.

I have five favorite breweries. And I have met three of five of the brewers. They are as follows (in the cliché, no particular order):

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Lagunitas. I had the opportunity to meet Tony Magee in late summer. I convinced him to sponsor one of my bowling teams. Really.

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Bell’s. Several years ago I fell in love with Oberon, and then several others. I met Larry Bell about a month ago when he was in town. He taught me that the reason why I like hoppier beers now is because hops have estrogen. Beer is my estrogen replacement therapy. Who knew? (Dan, that’s why people say it.)

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Summit. From here in the Twin Cities. Summit EPA is my go-to beer. Most places have it. It is best at the Metrodome, where it flows cold and fresh. Eric—oh dear—Harper, is that you in the photo? I remember Eric, but not a surname.

Surly. My other favorite local brew. Furious is wicked good. Bender and Coffee Bender get me revved up! Haven’t met anyone from Surly yet.

Sierra Nevada. They’re in California, so I wouldn’t expect to have met anyone—oh wait, Lagunitas is in California, too, and they sponsor my bowling team!… Maybe Sierra Nevada will read this and at least get in touch. Celebration Ale is nectar of the gods, and Pale Ale is a good all-rounder. Torpedo IPA’s not bad either.

Red Seal Pale Ale is trying to sneak in to my best-of list.