Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Minnesota Breweries One by One #79: Summit Brewing, St. Paul

910 Montreal Circle, St. Paul, Minnesota
When planning the visits for this project, an idea occurs that perhaps they could coincide with a special occasion at the brewery. Sometimes that works out, other times the timing isn't right, for some reason or another. Also, you may have noticed that we do a lot of these trips on Sundays or in the middle of the week, rarely on a Friday or Saturday. Those weekend nights are when I need to be behind the bar and making money. The cash I take in on Friday and Saturday helps pay for the beers on Sunday. There are those breweries that aren't open on a Sunday, but they may be open on a Thursday, and we've done some trips on those days off, as well. Then there are those that are only open Friday and Saturday, and they force me to take one of those days off of work.

Summit Brewing Company is one of those. Now, there's another solution to this, as I've been offered tours on weekdays by brewery reps. I could count that as a visit, even though the taproom isn't open to the public. Is that a condition of my journey to breweries in Minnesota? Not really. And they are my rules, I can change them as I wish.

Left: Old BlaGGard Barley-wine in my
fingers, Right: Chip Walton, master of media
Bob Mould takes a nothing day and suddenly makes
it all seem worthwhile.
I had decided, at last, to take a Saturday off and make my visit to Summit on the occasion of their 30th Anniversary Backyard Bash, on the 10th of September. Actually, the taproom itself wasn't open, and all the beers were available outside. I did go inside the brewery for a bit, but before we get into that let's go back and talk about Summit, it's history, and my history with Summit.

When Summit opened in 1986, they were the only craft beer game in town. There wasn't even such a thing, really, for the word at the time was "microbrewery." We don't use that term anymore, it's been tossed to the dustbin of beer history. What was I drinking in 1986? Nothing, I was 18 years old, and I hadn't found beer that I liked yet. (I wasn't old enough to drink, of course, and at those parties where I and my under-aged friends went, there was nothing but crappy beer, which I refused to drink.)

The first beer I ever liked was Bass Ale, and I was inspired to try it because of my studies of art and the cubist still-lifes of Pablo Picasso, some of which featured bottles with "Bass" on the label. I wanted to try the beer Picasso drank, and I liked it because it had hops and flavor and wasn't bland swill like every other beer I encountered. This was in 1992, and all I ever knew was that stuff. Summit hadn't made it out to Anoka, yet, as far as I knew, and I didn't know anything about beer. I started drinking Bass and Guinness exclusively, until I made friends with a girl who would often drink Summit EPA by the pitcher with her crew at the C.C. Club on Lyndale Avenue. I got my first of it there, with them. The EPA reminded me of the hoppy British ale I'd become fond of, and I was an instant convert.
Left: Bagpiper Extraordinaire Dennis Skrade with
his cask Summit Oatmeal Stout with oranges, right: me
still sipping on that barley-wine. 

For the next several years, Summit lead me into other craft beer styles. Their India Pale Ale, now called True Brit, was a big favorite of mine. I was genuinely in love with it. Their Hefe Weizen, missing from their line-up for many years, was the first of that style I ever tried. Winter Ale was a staple of my fridge during the snowy season for many years, and I often stock-piled it when the supply started to dwindle. Great Northern Porter was another staple of my beer diet and was my undisputed favorite for many years.

Once I got into the bar business and had any control over choosing beers for a drinking establishment, way back in 1999, my first decision was picking a Summit seasonal for our rotating draft line (yes, this is back when most of our beers stayed stagnant, and only one faucet would host new brews), instead of whatever the distributor sales rep told my boss we should carry. From then on, I tried to bring each new Summit beer on tap, at least for a little while, keeping EPA as much as possible. I am trying to continue to support them while at Acadia, but with Oatmeal Stout as the stagnant line, rather than EPA (never did nitro at the Nile and have 4 lines of it at Acadia).
Master Brewer Damian "Damo" McConn. I'll never forget
the first time we met. In 2008, was tapping a special firkin of
Great Northern Porter with treacle at the Blue Nile,
and itwas my first time tapping
a firkin without an expert nearby.
Damo walks in as I'm about to hit it, and rushes up to me:
"No, lad, you're doing it wrong!" 

So, there's my long-winded way of saying, yeah, I'm a Summit fan. For a bit they seemed maybe a little stale, never releasing anything fresh and adventurous. That hasn't been true for some time, especially since the beginning of both the Unchained and Union series, as well as this year's special 30th Anniversary beers.

I'd been to the brewery exactly three times before, and the original brewery on University Avenue once, back in the 1990's. My first visit to Montreal Circle was in 2004, for a tour and a taste of the new oatmeal stout (only available on the site, before they sent out kegs), and then a short time after that, again, with some friends from Nebraska. I guess that made me good for the next 11 years, as I didn't return until last summer, when I finally took a bike trip to see the Beer Hall. The Beer Hall is exactly the same space as the area I saw in '04, where tour groups would convene and get a taste afterwards. They've added another tap tower and some faucets, but that's about it. Occasionally, there's a beer you can't find on tap everywhere, so they've got that going for them.
I continue to enjoy taking pics of people taking pics:
Damo, Summit founder Mark Stutrud, and a lovely
lass whose name I don't know.

As for the day of this visit, a few unexpected accidents led me to enjoy the 7-hour party for only one of them. My afternoon was consumed as I got some repairs on my bicycle and a much needed nap after an early morning adventure planting trees in Fridley with the Surly Gives A Damn volunteers. I was finally ready to leave at 6pm, and got to the brewery at 7, with Bob Mould well into his closing set. (Missed a bunch of bands, but I'd never heard of any of them, anyway.)I went into the cask beer area inside the brewery, where my first beer was Saga IPA with Citra hops, and I couldn't ask for more refreshing beer to ease my pain after the long trip up and down the hills of St. Paul. (Having an intersection at the bottom of a hill is a terrible idea, and the experience must have done damage to my brakes!) This was also the only place to get an Old Blaggard Barley-wine, and I took full advantage of this.

Summit Oktoberfest, always a favorite. 

Next up: wandering the grounds, bumping into friends, enjoying the post-Bob Mould DJ set by Brian Engel of HotPants, and just having a good time, soaking up summer before it went away. There were a few more beers squeezed in there, an Oktoberfest and a rare one called Hop Merger, a White IPA. No notes were taken, because, of course. Being that kind of beer geek at that kind of party would be kind of weird. I remember that it was good beer and I could drink it.

So much fun stuffed into an hour, and then time to go. Happy Anniversary, Summit, and here's to many more!
They turned this letter into a poster. They left off the part where it is suggested that
Mark join their organization and pay dues anyway. 
Bossman Mark Stutrud can't resist strutting his stuff.
DJ Brian Engel laying down the groove.

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