Local Beer Lessons, the Advanced Course

Recently, I was a grateful attendee at the second annual Brew Master’s Dinner, hosted at the Republic in Seven Corners. Several craft brewers were in town for the Autumn Brew Review Craft Beer Festival and the dinner was a chance to indulge in offerings from limited edition kegs showcasing regional ingredients. Matty O’Reilly and Chef George Finn of the Republic created five courses sourced from local farm produce to match the distinct beer choices that ranged from a light, Egyptian hop-less to heavy black smoke in a glass. Savoring the offerings, it was apparent that these brewers’ talents if redirected, could rival a chef at Chez Pannisse. Let me introduce five craft beers made by some really talented artisans that have made it hard for beer to not be on my list of all things food+art+local.


Appropriately, the first beer to lead the five-course dinner was inspired by some of the oldest recorded Egyptian beer recipes. The first couple sips of the HQT, which is the Sumerian word for beer, was lightly carbonated, malty, and to my surprise, had absolutely zero bitterness. I was reminded of breakfast and the smell of a bakery in the early morning. What was I tasting, a bit of citrus and something else? Strangely enough, this beer was trying to conjure my tongue into believing it was lemon jelly and toast! Our first food course to match was a light and creamy soup from local squash and prosciutto from La Quercia. Both were excellent choices and perfectly highlighted the HQT’s mellow toasty qualities.


Jumping on the mic, 21st Amendment’s, Sean Sullivan explained that the distinct malty flavor of this beer and lack of bitterness was related to the local geography of where the beer was produced centuries ago. With no access to hops that give bitterness to most beers and help preserve them, “the Egyptian’s concocted recipes made of herbs like coriander and thyme and roots like burdock,” for a drink that boasted the gentle herb, citrus and toasted flavors with no carbonation. When I did a bit of personal research later, I found out that HQT was actually rationed daily as a food for the workers who built the pyramids and that each worker was given the equivalent of more than a gallon a day for sustenance. For you history buffs and language nerds, the hieroglyphics are not from my imagination, HQT is barely a symbol away from the word for bread. 


After a mini-history lesson, and breakfast out of the way, I was introduced to “…a real German Heffewiezen with different hops than we normally use, making it similar to a Bavarian beer.” Who was the "we"? Left Hand Brewery’s Eric Wallace introducing Haystack Wheat, a beer you won’t find in one of their bottles. After a strong bite of bubblegum, the next most prominent flavors were nuttiness and malt that were a step stronger than the first beer, as was the bitterness of this brew. 


The small bite from good ole hops was nicely mellowed by the pan-fried goat cheese atop our second course, a field green & toasted pepita salad. The chipotle vinaigrette featured on the greens is a house dressing at the Republic and I was pleased not only that it was featured, but that it was alongside this beer of some intensity. Halfway through the course and a chat with my neighbor, I figured out that the bubblegum flavor of the Haystack was clove and we both concurred that the overwhelming taste we were experiencing was banana bread. Two courses down and bread on the brain, you can imagine my surprise when a hunk of fresh cut wood oozing with sap showed up overflowing a tiny half-pint sized glass.   


In course three we got our meats and starches, as well as a witty concoction by Odell called the Woodcut #5. Aged in virgin oak barrels, you would absolutely need an axe to cut it down! My experience was that this beer wasn’t as sweet as the handful of other Belgian quadruples I have tasted. It started off intensely bitter like you might imagine from something aged in fresh cut wood full of sap. The surprises continued as it leveled off with weight and a density of flavors you might taste in a darker beer, like a porter. Head brewer Joe Mohrfeld’s response to the result, “I look at myself as an artist that gets a paycheck.” What allowed Odell to brew such a complex beer was the use of 100% virgin oak barrels that haven’t had the season of a former brew. The results of beers brewed in them are wildly unpredictable, he explained. The shape shifting quality of this beer is probably what the chef had in mind when he decided to make a side of parsnips in mashed potato disguise. Such shenanigans did not end here and for the rest of the night, I felt like a kid discovering foods I’d never even seen before. 


Some of the best highlights were hearing about successes, trials and failures in making each beer. Machines don’t do the work. Instead, the brewers spend hours pouring 110 gallons of honey into vats, seeding peppers and seeking out special ingredients. Sometimes they fail big time pouring everything down the drain. While they may take traditional routes, many would agree that craft brewing involves a willingness to be creative and take risks to “try something funky.” To Omar and James, the brewers of the Surly 5, this means “bringing in a risky strain of yeast that could infect the whole brewery.” 


This brings us to our last two beers and the, “You Love It or You Want Your Money Back” beer of the night: the Surly 5. It’s a sour ale, one that we don’t see much of in the states. You simply cannot ignore the strong vinegar flavors of the fruit. Sour ales are not generally the types of beer you down with ketchup and fries. Most need a stand-up partner like a super stinky and rich cheese, ripe bold fruit, or even spicy, fresh, homemade mustard. It is probably easy to understand that to bring ripe fruit flavors like cherry to the table, this beer was “...aged in former pinot wine barrels for several months of the brewing process,” according to Surly President Omar Ansari. Though this beer was served on one special night a month before as the Surly Anniversary release, Matty cleverly saved a single keg. Unlike some of the other nearly blind pairings, there was ample time to make a worthy cheese plate with many local fixings: Door County cherries, St. Pete’s Blue Cheese and Berkshire Farms’ bacon with caramelized Vidalia onions. This course was, in my humble opinion, the most pleasing and clever pairing of the night as well as a great show of support for local produce and collaborations.


So what came after for desert? The answer was course five, collectively called “Black and Tan.” The treat was a lovely butterscotch and chocolate pudding and the whipped topping was made with, yes, beer! A drink that could stand up to such a delightful treat would have to be something as big as Great Lakes Brewery’s Big Black Smoke. Like the Woodcut #5, this beer was true to its name in flavor. It reeked in a great way of heavy, thick smoke and tasted the same. More of a sipping beer than a drinking beer, it carried just as much intense character as the sour ale before, but wore it differently. If Surly 5 were a lanky horn player in a bright orange zoot suit at a burlesque club, the Big Black Smoke would be a bearded, round pipe smoker in overalls, relaxing in a lazy chair with a belly full of that delightful butterscotch pudding we all were eating. 


If ever one were to understand that beer in itself is food and art, it would be in a setting like this, where the brewers (artists) themselves bring you samples from the breweries (their studios) and share recipes, history and personal goals. Chatting with each of the brewers it was evident that every one of them had a keen interest in creating beers that were hyper local, representing the feel of their regions and including locally sourced ingredients. Joe Mohrfeld from Odell Brewing in Colorado is embarking on a project to create a new 2012 beer, called Footprint, that uses native ingredients from each of the ten of the states where they distribute beer. And what will they include from Minnesota? Yep, wild rice it is!


For some of the brewers in attendance, like Jamie Floyd of Ninkasi, the philosophy of engagement goes beyond sourcing local ingredients, to supporting local non-profits, education, arts and investing in our social resources. “In whatever way we can, we use our influence to support the community we live in.” It’s no wonder craft beer is on the rise in the Upper Midwest, when artisans like this embrace so many of the things we love: hard work, craft and a love of all things local. 


Even though the brew master’s dinner was one night, there are many seasonal opportunities to attend beer dinners and festivals in the Twin Cities. To start, I suggest heading over to taste some of the great local craft beer that revolves around the 32 taps at the Republic and grab a way affordable $9 Bacon Cheese Burger to match. For those who are bit hesitant about a visit to what used to be Sergeant Preston’s, this isn’t your typical college dude haunt anymore. “We removed ten televisions, video games and forty-two neon signs, to bring back the original pub feel.” Like the brewers, Matty O’Reilly has a deep passion for all things local too. You will find only local music revolving the music selection and as represented in the brew master’s dinner, the food comes from local farms and producers like 1000 Hills, Berkshire Farms, St. Pete’s and Fox Den Farms. These producers help them to serve organic meat and cheese, often from within 100 miles of the Twin Cities. 


If your desire is to learn from the brewers like I did, the Republic’s music room, Aux 1, is also a once a week host to Minneapolis/St. Paul Beer School, featuring four to five samplings and a lesson from the brewers (Wednesday, $5 each or $15 for a whole semester). Cheers!


The Republic is at: 221 Cedar Avenue S, Minneapolis, MN 55454 · Bus line, nice ride, bike rack, parking ramp, free meters after 6:00pm


All drawings are original art by Shaylie.


Shaylie loves to dig for great food, art and social adventures, like where to find white chocolate alligators South of Lake and answers to questions from experts like "What exactly is a kilderkin?" Her professional hats include freelance community organizing, grant writing, social media coaching and she also owns a dog walking business. Follow her on Twitter @shayspeed or catch her on LinkedIn: