Sipping Into a Summer Frame of Mind

"Hop" on board with us as LearningLife goes on a tour of some of the Twin Cities most distinctive microbreweries.

"Great Beer, Brewed here"Some days, it seems as if new Minnesota craft breweries are popping up faster than spring flowers (of course, given the winter we just went through, that may actually be true--metaphorically AND literally speaking!).

Since 2006, the number of breweries has increased more than threefold, and the current lineup of libation producers runs the gamut from large regional breweries like Summit and Schell's, to small production breweries like Castle Danger, located just outside of Two Harbors.

Coming up next month, LearningLife participants will have a chance to explore the craft beer scene with an expert: beginning July 10, Certified Cicerone® and local beer and brewing blogger Michael Agnew will lead The View From Here: Exploring Minnesota's Craft Beer Scene.

His tasty tour will "hop" around the Cities and take in three breweries, each filling a different niche in the industry. Along the way and in between samples of some of the "beers that made Minnesota famous," attendees will also learn about the history and economics of Minnesota beer, trends in the craft-beer market, and the brewing process.

Says Agnew, "Each of the breweries we will visit represents a distinct niche in the world of craft beer; first-wave pioneers, mid-size innovators, new-school small brewers."

This month, Living A Learning Life blog readers get a special sneak preview of Agnew's course, as he talks about the establishments highlighted on the tours: Surly, Summit, and Dangerous Man.

"Support your Local Brewery"Michael Agnew's Guide to The View From Here: Exploring Minnesota's Craft Beer Scene

Summit Brewing Company
Why we're going: Founded in 1986, Summit is a craft-beer pioneer. It represents the first wave of the movement that began in the 1980s. Summit's slow growth over 25 years traces the trajectory of many of those early brewers from tiny operations to large, regional concerns producing over 100,000 barrels of beer annually. The brewery built its reputation on a solid lineup of classic styles, but new focus on more boundary-pushing brews reflects a current industry trend in which even long-established brewers must constantly innovate to stay relevant in the marketplace.

My Summit favorite: India Pale Ale (IPA) - At 6.5 percent ABV and 60 bittering units, it is a beautiful example of the English-style IPA. It pours amber with a tall, off-white head. The crisp bitterness and earthy, lightly citrus Golding hop character is lusciously backed by ample caramel malt.

Surly Brewing Company            
Why we're going: The mid-2000s marks the beginning of the current boom in craft brewing. Growing acceptance of craft beer allowed the emergence of a new breed of brewer, marked by brash attitudes, bold flavors, and business savvy. Rapid growth in the market pushed these new brewers to expand quickly. Growth that took decades for earlier brewers happened in a matter of years. At circa 25,000 barrels annually and growing, Surly Brewing Company is the perfect representation of this upstart generation. The same period also saw the emergence of a new breed of beer fan with an almost fanatical devotion to beer, as exemplified by the so-called "Surly Nation."

My Surly favorite: Bender - Surly Bender is a stylistic conundrum. If you ask owner Omar Ansari, it's an American Brown Ale. Brewer Todd Haug has called it an Oatmeal Brown Porter. I just call it good. Layers of English malt character reveal caramel, cocoa, coffee, and comforting roastiness. The malt is balanced and enhanced by crisp but subtle hops. Bender is a soothing session beer that works equally well on a cold winter's night or a sunny summer afternoon.

Dangerous Man Brewing Company
Why we're going: Right now the American beer industry is growing at a rate that is almost too fast to track. In the two years from December 2010 to December 2012 the number of breweries in the upper-Midwest increased by 41 percent. This phenomenal expansion is being driven by tiny breweries that are subverting old, accepted business models. Nano-breweries crafting beer on three-barrel systems are putting beer on shelves at a fraction of the startup costs of traditional operations. While larger than a nano, Dangerous Man is producing beer only for sale at its taproom. You won't find Dangerous Man beer in stores or bars.

My Dangerous Man favorite: "Wow" is all I could say when I first tasted this beer. It's a silky-smooth, chocolate bon-bon of a beer with a moderate dose of roast. Nutty notes of grainy, toasted malt sent it over the top.