summit-barleywineAs the post-modernists taught us- it’s all about context. You should know that the context of me sampling this brew includes me just coming home through a -5 degree evening and the disclosure that English-style brewing is pretty much as good as it gets in my world. Add the anticipation of a Hammer Horror flick on Svengoolie tonight and you pretty much get an idea of the setting.

This barleywine has the delicious mouthfeel of a good mix of malt with just a bit more hops flavor than most British ales. It warms the heart on a cold night and the mouth on the way down the tube thanks to the 11.5% ABV. Summit claims that toffee, marmalade and citrus ought to make up the taste (along with some spices) – my read is yes to the toffee, yes to marmalade, and after you are told it is there, not so much for the citrus (which is good for me). I think the citrus gets a bit lost in the high alcohol?

This is a great sipping beer for the winter. I’ll have to see if I can get some before we get completely snowed in. I will admit that the first swallow was bit overwhelming. The rest has gone down smoothly. Summit continues to hit the mark. It is the best of our many local breweries, and many of them make some excellent beers. I served mine in a snifter-like glass at about 50 degrees.


baderbrau-logoFull disclosure on this one- I am a bit of a pilsner snob. With so many mediocre American Lager/ Pilsners dominating the market for so many years I really do have a strong bias toward the great taste of traditional pilsners like the mighty Pilsner Urquell. Unfortunately, this “Chicago Pilsner” does not hold up.


Let me digress – Would a “Minneapolis” Pilsner be Grain Belt’s Nord’east? A St. Paul Pilsner be Hamm’s (the beer refreshing)? Both are reasonably tasty on a warm summer day and both much better than this Chicago entry. The Baderbreu simply lacks the crisp clarity of the pilsners I favor- it feels more like a lager of the mid-eighties variety.

This canned sample poured a good head but had little carbonation at 35 degrees, it did leave a nice lace on the sides of the Brooklyn Brewing shaker glass. If I see it on tap somewhere I’ll give it a second try, until then I’ll have to settle for the sold-out-to-the-big-guys Goose Island/ 312 options from the city of wind.

troispistoles1I had serious issues with this beer. After pouring the glass I offered a taste to my wife, whereupon she said she liked it and headed off into the next room! What to do? Fortunately she returned shortly with the glass half empty allowing me to continue the review.

A dark ale with good roasted malt and cherry flavor and just a tiny hint of hops. Poured a nice head and left just the right amount on the glass as I drank it. Not enough bite to drink more than one at a sitting but I did like the flavor and my wife REALLY liked it. Even at an ABV of 9.0 it did not have a high alcohol feel. This one  could sneak up on you.

Recommended. I had it at 35 degrees in a Guinness pint glass. Might be fun at bit warmer in a snifter while wearing a smoker jacket in front of a fire.

jps-craft-beer-4-cansIn the 24 beers of Advent schedule it is entirely possible that I’ve sampled this one out of turn. Nonetheless, let’s get to it.

I sorta liked this beer. It fails the German purity law on many counts and is outside my usual reaction to “they put what in my beer!?” but it is smooth and goes down just fine. No hops of note. Kinda sweet and chai-like, chocolate malts. Even though it went down fine I had to rate this one with a “4”- would only drink this if it’s free. Better than 21st Amendment’s Watermelon, but not as good as Pyramid’s Apricot Ale.

On a related note, the JP is for James Page. James Page was a very early microbrewery in the Twin Cities that made a fine lager and sold home-brew gear. I miss the lager- perhaps now that Stevens Point bought the label it will offer it again?

img_3677In the dance between malt and hops the Scotts favor the flavor of the malt. This brown ale is smooth and just a bit sweet, but very drinkable. Not the kind of taste you’d spend an extended afternoon with but certainly something tasty for the 11.3 ounces this bottle contained. Better than the more common brown ales and from a brewery deserving our respect I was glad to see this one in the mix.

Still, rated it only 5/10. Served at 38 degrees in a Guinness (did I cross a line?) pint glass.

Before I start- please see Isaac’s post on this beer. I’ll leave out some of the details that he covered so well. And, for those just going us, we are in the 24 beers of Advent event. Day 1: Two Brothers Heavy Handed IPA.

2brosIt’s an IPA. No brainer, I close my eyes and imagine that I’m working the Imperial Railroad as we make our way through India. To get any kind of beer here it’s going to be heavily hopped to keep it from spoiling. I look at the glass the porter just poured for me and notice NO HEAD. Nonetheless I take a big swallow and taste a thick swill with some serious malt that is quickly washed away by heavy hops. A definite after bite makes me start to wonder if the hops taste will ever go away.

Lots of things going on in this beer. But, a great IPA needs to deliver both strong hops and flavor. Two Brothers is certainly on the way but there’s nothing remarkable here. In some ways it reminds me of many of the hop-silly brews of recent summers. Looking forward to trying something else from this brewery. For now I’ve got to give this bottle a 4/10.

Served at 34 degrees in my Will Steger pint glass. Bellhaven tomorrow. Been to Scotland, we’ll see how it goes.

Bumped into a beer distributor we knew in a parking lot recently and after some discussion he was wondering why we had not yet made it over to the just-opened JL Beers in Burnsville. We had no good answer and a week later we took care of the void in our map.

JL Beers is a growing collection of pubs out of Fargo. The nearest is in the near Nord’east across from Surdyk’s. Two of our members had been to that location and had prior ideas as to what a B’ville location would bring and thought to test those notions. Refreshing to have a spot in the ‘burbs that isn’t super-sized and overly bright.

The beer selection is indeed impressive. The menu of many pages warns of constant changes in the wide range of malty to silly hoppy, and from session beers to alcohol levels that seem just plain dangerous. Two of us went with flights to sample the wares. The Don’t Worry be Hoppy and Ales from the Dark Side were wonderful. Pint prices were in line with local averages.

Flights of Fancy
Flights of Fancy

Eventually, you need to get some food. The group felt that we had been hitting too many upscale places that were a bit pricey recently and that our recent run to the HalfTime Rec was a welcome return to a good, sensible burger joint. Fortunately, although new, JL’s burgers were both wonderful and reasonable.

IMG_2302All of our burger choices were big, juicy and filling although they looked a bit naked on the large serving platters. Given the small tables, JL may want to scale the plates a bit. We did order some sides as well- maybe they were taking up the extra space…

The JL Burger, Classic, and County 42 were perfect examples of what they claimed. The loaded fries had quite a kick and plenty of cheese. We could have used forks but ate the pile before we could ask for them. We also ordered a chicken sandwich but had the kitchen add some sauce and an egg on top, great addition.

As for service, the help was everywhere but could not always hit right on the timing of when to grab orders or refill glasses. Seems like they cover for each other when they see a table in need – nice touch. Beer, food, water all came as wanted by a nicely mixed group of wait staff. The bunch behind the bar seemed lively and the crowd that gathered to eat was mostly in their 20’s/30’s with many couples sitting across from one another. Although the setting is somewhat industrial the place was warm on a cold night and the buzz was good.

Happy JL guy at the taps

We are recommending the place. It’s just south from Costco and a block or so from the Burnsville Center. We should also let you woodworkers know that there is a Rockler nearby. Even without a Juicy Lucy option for the hometown feel (they are from ND) and no “ring-of-onion” there’s plenty there to fill the stomach.

Food: 4/5 Lots of options, and ability to add to make it what you want.
Drink: 4.5/5 Beers for everyone willing to try, but no happy hour.
Atmosphere: 3/5 Cramped and crowded, but the ambiance was there.
Overall: 4/5 Great for a new south metro bar to fill the void as of late.

Maple TavernStopped by the Maple Tavern after a day with the in-laws. Parked a large group of 14 for some burgers and beer. Parking lot was packed but plenty of room inside. I was a bit curious about the place – both because a long-lost high school friend who lives in Osseo and that this might be a place I would find him because of some irregularities involving a few kegs from New Glarus making it across the border.

The menu had a good selection of burgers and entrees with a fairly pedestrian appetizer list. Be advised that the onion rings are serious rings of onion, very tasty and very filling. The signature burger is pictured here. A basic burger, well made and tasty at just under $10. Our table ordered everything from a juicy to a pot pie and nobody had a complaint. The only criticism across the long table was that the ‘homemade’ chips and the fries were actually pretty common. Still, with that being the only one, its overall worth the food stop.

The beer list was reasonable but happy hour only covered the watery brews. Nonetheless a pint of Summit or Surly was reasonable and the selections of additional good brews was plenty long. The long service bar and entertainment area sports a variety of games and it looks like quite a crowd plays volleyball here in warmer weather.

Overall, not a bad place to stop. Perhaps we’ll get the Macuisine crowd up that way for a formal eval in the future. Until then, Dan, if you’re still hanging out in Osseo send me a note. I’ll meet you at the Maple!

If you’ve been to one of the Johnson kids’ eleven graduations, four confirmations, Gold award or three Eagle ceremonies you have had the opportunity to taste our wonderful graduation salsa. Here’s the recipe we enjoy that seems to bring out the celebration love. We use a large bread-making ceramic bowl- well stirred, not shaken but still chilled. This goes fast – we recommend one batch per ~15 people depending on whatever else you may have in your spread.

What you need:

  • 6 medium tomatoes- firm not runny- roma tomatoes if you have them. If not use another four mediums.
  • 1.5 cups sliced green onions
  • 1 cup finely chopped green pepper
  • 1/3 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro (no substitutes please). Fresh cilantro is critical. It’s what makes this a spring-summer dish. Something to look forward to during the long winter.
  • 2-4 tablespoons very finely chopped jalapeño chilies
  • 6-9 large cloves garlic chopped finely
  • 1-3 teaspoons salt (we often add only a small amount)

Put them together:

  1. Chop the tomatoes up into pieces that will easily fit on the chips you are providing. Some will seed the tomatoes as well, but I leave them in. If you are adding the Romas chop them smaller than the others. I will typically toss the pieces into a strainer to drip into a separate bowl as I am chopping. Keeps the liquid down (you’ll have plenty anyway).
  2. Chop up the green onions and pepper into tiny pieces, 1/2 inch or less. I like to add these to the tomatoes in the large serving bowl first.
  3. Do remember to lick your fingers often.
  4. Add the lime juice to the bowl. Stir well and let the acids mix. Best about an hour after.
  5. Coarsely chop the cilantro. Make sure there are no long strands of stems.
  6. Chop the jalapeños into smaller pieces than you picked for the green peppers. Do remove the seeds before chopping. For some reason I always wipe my eyes after chopping the chilis. Do not do this.  Toss ’em in and wash hands.
  7. Mince garlic and add to bowl. Garlic fingers are meant to be licked. If the kids are out you may wish to have the significant other do this. Toss ’em in and stir really well with the salt.
  8. Put the whole ceramic bowl in a tub of ice and cover with plastic. Good to chill well ahead of time. Stir often. Sample frequently to ensure quality and a positive attitude when guests arrive.
  9. As people eat, continue to stir in order to mix the love. A liquid will collect on the bottom- mixing keeps the solids wet with this wonderful liquor (in the AA sense of the word).
    After the crowd leaves, drain the liquid, chill well and drink. You will be SO rewarded. Add no vodka, the rush is powerfull without.

Smokathon VSo, you’ve finally make the big decision to attend the annual rib event but you are a bit cloudy about what actually occurs. No worries, here’s a handy look at the day.

The cooks start on the day before performing their magic on slabs of rib cages picked up from some local butchery. In the past we have tried to have everyone use the same meat, not so much for statistical reasons as to take advantage of a sale at Cub or Rainbow Foods (R.I.P). This year we have returned to the “buy what you will” process. You can expect your ribs to have been picked up at everything from meat markets to Costco. Many ribs will be brined, some will be sans-membrane, most will be rubbed or marinated overnight, none will be pretentious.

celebSometime around noon on the day before the event we will start the process of inviting celebrities. This year we had hopes of Katy Perry showing up to entertain the kids but alas she was in town at Skateville just a couple days earlier. We have had high hopes of celebrity attendance every year but have found that they are often committed to other things by the time we can get ahold of them. Even our one nearly-celebrity judge will be performing at the Belagio on Sunday. I think his rhythm section is made up of the line of slot machines next to him.

TalkBigsmokerYour part comes in somewhere between three-ish and five in the afternoon. That’s when the group gathers for chat before the feed. Bring along a dish to pass and some beverage to toss on ice and relax in the backyard. The smokers will be smoking’ away and the cooks will have their serious faces on as they worry that their ribs will finish early or not finish by the 5:00 serving time. Chances are good that a keg of Summit will be in attendance for awhile.

line-o-ribs tray-o-ribsAt 5:00 the feeding begins. If you are one of the seven judges (7 cooks x 1 judge each) you approach the anonymous trays. Using some scientific process you carefully appraise each rib and complete a scoresheet- rating the ribs on a variety of characteristics. We initiated the selected-judges process as the numbers of participants rose over the years. Note that our Chili-Fest event in winter has all attendees judge using the full sheet.

pile-o-ribsIf you are not one of “those” judges you attack the big piles of ribs and sides and complete a popular vote sheet after you have had a chance to napkin up a bit. We’ll mark the ribs that we consider having quite a bit of heat for those making up plates for young children. Otherwise it’s a bit of a free-for-all. You’ll know which cooks the eating public knows as they point at the piles trying to figure out which one was made by their friend. Have fun, hopefully you’ll have a couple types of ribs that give you a new taste experience. Although there are prizes the real benefit of the day is time well-spent with friends. We’ll be sure to give you a hearty thank you during the awards, if not often during the afternoon.


At the end of it all the votes are totaled and the yearly trophy is handed out. This year’s trophy is an amazing WWF-style belt. Admire it during the afternoon and cheer the winner!