Monday, September 2, 2013

The Bitter Nib has a Bitter Nibble at the State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair. The Great Minnesota Get-Together. Perhaps I hadn't attended in over 15 years because I'm not that much of joiner, that i don't really want to get together? Actually, I can break it down to 5 basic reasons why I've never been much of a Fair person (because some of us really are and some of us really aren't). 1. I did the rides when I was a kid, and now that I am an adult, I no longer want to become anxious and nauseous if I can help it. 2. I believe that the games of the Midway, whether considered to be of chance or of skill,  are excellent opportunities to part one from hard earned dollars if only to add more useless junk to your lives. 3. The staple foods, the mini-doughnuts and corn-dogs,etc? I appreciate in small, occasional doses. Not to dine on. 4. most important of all, I detest crowds. People, if it can be helped, en masse are to be avoided. 5. You've seen one prize pig, you've seen them all. (That's a lie, I love the livestock, especially chickens and ducks. Anything that doesn't poop everywhere.)
But, you know, I felt that it was time to end my streak of non-attendance, especially since beer had become a better part of it than ever before, and my friends Jay and Julie came to the rescue this past Saturday, August 31. I didn't ride the Tilt-a-Whirl, or go down the giant slide, or get my face painted, or beg my parents for an inflatable Dora the Explorer, or eat cotton candy, or eat walleye on a stick, (I did eat bacon-wrapped shrimp on a stick, or eat cheese curds (wait, I did do that), or listen to horrible sales pitches ( another big pet peeve of mine...I guess I don't hate carnival barkers so much, but ComCast barkers, accosting me on the street? Nyet!) I did eat other things, and look at livestock, and scope out the beers, and here's where I tell you about it (in wacky reverse order, because I still haven't figured out how to arrange photos yet!):

We're back at the Ball Park Cafe', Jay, Julie and I, to try out the Indeed Day Tripper Onion Rings, along with some Surly and Steel Toe beers. They were gooood!

Here's another example of when beer meets seed / crop art, with this depiction of the Surly logo. There was also one of the Indeed logo, using barley malt and other beer-y grains, but my iPod battery started to die.

There were 6 flights of Minnesota beer available, some thematically, or stylistically arranged, others not. On Saturday, there was a Lighter flight, a Darker, a Belgian (which oddly included Indeed's Shenanigans, nothing Belgian about it), a hoppy one, and two with no connecting idea. The problem was that every flight included 3 was familiar with, and 1 I wasn't that into. I chose one of the themeless flights which included Pour Decisions The Bishop and the Actress, Lucid Dyno, Lift Bridge Crosscut Pale Ale, and Boom Island Silvius. This should have, in retrospect, been called the Pale Ale flight. Eh, it was okay, but it was beer, and I could drink it, at the Fair. While I shared this flight with J. and J., D and M. went to the Summit booth to get some of their special State Fair IPA, made with Wild Rice and corn.....not that re
....and Michael Berglund, Chuck U and others over there...
On the walls of one of the MN Craft Brewers Guild rooms, a dedication to the art of Minnesota Craft Beer, with Adam Turman, and whoever did that Excelsior poster over here...
Inside the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild area in the Ag-hort building. Dave Hoops of Fitgers Brewhouse in Duluth is surrounded by two other guys, and I assume they are talking about beer. A video overheard tell us about beer, signs and posters and displays tell us all about beer, and how it happens in Minnesota. This is the second year they have done this at the fair, with talks, discussions, roundtables, seminars, teaching moments, all that good stuff, on a daily basis, every single day of the Great Minnesota Get-Together, and I finally got to see it.
Here's Dave at the MPR booth with the Lift Bridge mini-donut beers  we brought for he and Mikayla. They had to find out somewhere to stash them until their shift was over. The ber? Good. Tasted like a mini-donut, just like they wanted it to, and I don't particularly care about min-donuts. Cinnamon, sugar, dough, blah, blah. Well, this had that. Criticisms were that it was strictly a novelty, was thin, had a short shelf life of flavor, There's a sweetness that greets you at the start, and returns throughout the drink, just enough to keep that doughnut in your mind. If it were richer or bigger, it wouldn't be what it was meant to be, and most people wouldn't want to finish it. I had a glass and a half (close to a pint)  and was happy to try it, but wouldn't go back for more. Done and done, ticking over. 
The Ball Park Cafe, founded in 1999, was one of the early adopters of craft beer at the Fair, and still boasts the most and the best. Initially, once the law, or whatever, was changed to let beer of more than 3.2% ABV into the Fair, in 2007, this sports bar and restaurant went with a line-up of beers mostly from the Original Gravity Distributors line-up (Stone, Odell, Goose Island, Alaskan, etc.), along with Surly and others. These days, they have mostly locals (Surly, Steel Toe, Bent Paddle, Mankato, Excelsior, Lucid, Indeed, Lift Bridge, Third Street, Badger Hill) with only a few for Stone and Alaskan. (I know they had Harriet last year, but I think they opted out this time.)This year the buzz was all about Lift Bridge's novelty concept, the Mini-Donut beer. Only at the Ball Park Cafe, and only once a day, from noon until when it runs out. There is a lot of information and a lot of opinions about this out there, so I'd just recommend you Google the thing and know that this concept was quite a sensation. so much so that it drew long lines and sold out consistently every day. My friends Dave and Mikayla were unable to to get a taste, since they were volunteering at the Minnesota Public Radio booth at the Fair until 1 pm., and it was always sold out by then. Jay, Julie and myself had to try it, too, and waiting in a ridiculously long line for about half of an hour to get some, and pick up a couple for D and M, as well. So many stopped and asked what the line was for. "Mini-donut beer." "Oh, well, isn't that different."
One thing wholly unique to the Minnesota State Fair, much like butter sculptures,  is Crop Art, the practice of utilizing seeds, grains or legumes, or other natural produce to create an artful image. Does anyone else do this? Does it matter? It's our thing. Here's one example of beer and crop art coming together, an image of the Grain Belt logo, just to the right of Cary Grant, from a scene from "North by Northwest." Wait, I just got it...crop-duster! Crop art! Ah, ha!

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