Lupulin Libations

by Sean on April 6, 2010

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If you asked me what my dream job is, I would say a beer consultant. Well, Nick Rondeau in Minnesota is paving the way by opening his own. Check out his blog HERE
Nick was also kind enought to answer a few questions about the craft beer movement and beer tastings for me.

First, I asked a little about the history of craft beer in Minnesota.
I would attribute the resurgence of craft beer popularity in Minnesota to 2 breweries. These breweries really stimulated the palates of MN beer drinkers, which made them thirsty for more.
August Schell Brewing in New Ulm, MN is the second oldest family-owned brewery in the United States. (The oldest being Yuengling in PA.) The brewery is celebrating their 150th anniversary this year. They survived the Sioux Uprising, Prohibition, and buyout attempts from larger breweries. They have always produced high-quality beer, and all the family’s brewmasters had been trained in Germany. In the early 1990’s, they started to produce some tasty craft/specialty beers, which have become the major part of their business.
Summit Brewing Company was founded in Saint Paul, MN in 1986. That was pretty early in the realm of the modern craft breweries. Their flagship beer, Summit Extra Pale Ale, was new and different to the beer drinkers of Minnesota. It was much hoppier than anything that most locals had tasted before. It quickly became a local hit, and they brewery had to increase production to keep up. In 1998, they built the first new brewery in Minnesota in over 100 years. They currently produce a quality lineup including 5 year-round beers, 4 seasonals, and some limited series.
More breweries, brewpubs, and craft beer oriented bars keep appearing, showing how much Minnesota loves craft beer.

Then, what style of beer does he find return to the most..
Hmmm. I think the beer style that I keep returning to most is the Saison/Belgian farmhouse style. Ever since I tried my first Ommegang Hennepin, I’ve been hooked on the wonderful flavor complexity of those beers. It was malty, dry, fruity, spicy, and bitter; all at the same time. I had never tasted a beer like that before, and found that you can drink it in many different situations, with different foods, and at different temperatures. I’m also lucky that there are 2 craft breweries in Minnesota that produce a saison. Surly Brewing makes Cynicale and Lift Bridge Brewery makes Farmgirl Saison.

What is your ideal beer tasting?
Man. My dream beer-tasting, huh? There would have to be 12 beers, all big and complex. (I’d like more than 12, but I might not be standing at the end.) I would like to progress through these styles: Doppelbock, Scotch Ale, Saison, Flanders Red, Dubbel, Tripel, Quadrupel, Rauchbier, Roggenbier, Barleywine, Double IPA, and Imperial Stout. I wouldn’t be able to decide on the order until I picked specific beers, which could take a while…

What is the roadblock to getting more people drinking better beer?
The biggest roadblock is their own preconceptions of beer. Beer has an unfortunate stigma with most people that is associated with the light American pilsners like Miller, Coors, and Bud. Most people that claim they don’t like beer have only tried this one limited style. There are also people who like to say, “I don’t like dark beer.” That’s hard to get past because they have more than likely tried one beer that was darker than light yellow, and they didn’t like it. For some reason people associate the color with the flavor. If they only knew the tasty beers that they’re missing! My motto is that if a person says they don’t like beer (or don’t like dark beer), they haven’t tried the right one yet. There are so many different styles and flavors of beer that most people can find at least one that they enjoy. I have personally introduced people to beers that have changed their minds about what beer is to them.

Why is the world of craft beer so collaborative?
I personally believe that the camaraderie in the craft beer world was at least partially created by the big 3 brewers (Miller, Coors, and AB). They control so much of the market that it can be hard for craft brewers to even get a small piece of the beer business. This has helped the smaller brewers to be very supportive of each other and, because of that, they are happy when any one of them succeeds. I think this friendliness between the brewers has trickled it’s way down to the consumers. There is also something to be said about beer being the ultimate social beverage. Someone once told me that “beer is only as good as the people you’re drinking it with,” which can be true. You could enjoy a crappy beer in good company, but it would be hard to enjoy a high quality beer with the wrong people. Craft beer drinkers enjoy being social with each other. It makes the beer even better.

How do you run a beer tasting?
I try to choose a group of 10-12 beers, each of a different style. I make sure there are some interesting choices that many people have probably not tried, so they get a new experience. Then, as we taste each beer, I talk about the flavors, how it was made, and the history behind this specific style. I keep it relaxed and casual, and I encourage them to talk to each other about the beer and ask me any questions they might have. My goal is to educate people about beer and create a spark of interest that will keep them wanting to learn more and taste more.

What is your first beer drinking memory?
I believe the first beer I ever tasted was Old Milwaukee, when I was a kid. The first whole beer I ever drank was Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss, and the first 6-pack that I bought for myself was Rolling Rock.

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