the great minnesota beer together
I volunteered to pour beer at the Minnesota State Fair on one of the hottest days of the year. It was part of the Guild’s Land of 10,000 Beers exhibit, a wing of the horticulture building that is normally packed so full you can barley see the floor.
This year however, due to the extreme heat, record low numbers at the Minnesota State Fair meant that those of us pouring beer could actually breathe.
The Land of 10,000 Beers exhibit has been at the fair for only two years, but it really debuted with a bang. Last year, there were about 20 breweries represented in one wing of the hall. 2013 featured over 40 breweries, beer art and history, six flights of beer plus root beer, and beer talks from folks like Doug Hoverson and the Hoops brothers.
Despite low numbers, I got to interact with a wide variety of people as I poured Belgians and another mixed flight over the course of a few hours. I enjoyed fielding many questions and steering people towards their tastes. Several folks knew exactly what they wanted and were excited to try one brew in the flight – and many found they loved them all. Other couples approached and said something like, “She likes stouts, I like hops”.
Beer at the fair is a bit tricky.
It’s not hard to find a beer, but it can be tough to uncover much beyond the usuals, and the Craft Brewer’s Guild area is a perfect place to do so. The flights are organized by style – Belgian, Hoppy, Light, Dark, plus two mixed-bag flights, perfect when one party likes the soft side of the bed and the other not so much.
At the fair I always like to check out a few other spots that feature great beer – Summit at the Bazaar, Leinenkugel’s at the Leinie Lodge, and Schell’s at Heritage Square.
I tried two new beers by Leinenkugel’s for the first time at the fair: The Hoppin’ Helles and the Orange Shandy.
I was looking forward to a Helles lager on such a hot day and I was also drawn to the bright green tap handle. For the style I thought it was pretty well done but may have lacked a bit of depth to the grain and the hops alike; the brew came off somewhat bland but was surely refreshing and true to style.
After hearing about the orange shandy for the first time, I really wasn’t interested. I was imagining the taste of their sweet lemon rendition with an orange flavor. As it turns out, that isn’t this brew at all. The orange flavor is actually more of a bitter, pithy orange. The citrus brightens, plays on the mild hops, and also adds some tart. For me it isn’t quite an everyday beer, but it has a real place in my summer beer choices.
Heritage Square is also a regular Fair place for me – I love the blacksmith demos, hand-thrown pottery, and woodturning booth. The area is made even better by the fact that Schell’s is the beer of the land at Heritage Square. I scooped up my first Oktoberfest of the season and my friends got Grain Belt and Schell’s Shocked.
I do want to mention that although I happily felt like a kid in a candy shop and like a student taking a pop quiz simultaneously, I don’t know that I would volunteer at the Land of 10,000 Beers again. I’m saying this because many of you reading this love to get involved volunteering with beer events, groups, and tastings. Here is what I think the problem was.
Fun, enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers from MN Beer Activists, Barley’s Angels, and other groups were participating the day I volunteered. The guys I worked with were efficient and helpful beer-lovers, and I couldn’t help feeling that we were being micromanaged by hourly fair employees who may or may not appreciate beer.
For instance, I got a dirty look when I opened the tap for 2 seconds before putting the cup under because my tap was creating a lot of foam. Many people were scolded for sampling beer, even ones we had to describe and had never tasted.
The State Fair never comes and goes without a visit from me, and the Land of 10,000 Beers has proven an instant classic. You’ll catch me there annually, but likely not behind the counter.
At the end of our shift, we each got a flight. They contained many beers that were top-notch including the Indeed Czech Pils and Surly Coffee Bender.
If the Fair has come and gone and you didn’t drink a beer during the 12 days of sweaty fun, don’t miss it next year. I’m too busy petting goats to drink bad beer, and there is plenty of great choices to go around if you know where to look!