Friday, November 4, 2016

Minnesota Breweries One by One #78: Fitger's Brewhouse, Duluth, with Franklin's Tower Double IPA

Minnesota Breweries One by One #78: Fitger's

Brewhouse, Duluth.

As I was plotting to visit the breweries of Minnesota, I was having a hard time getting a trip to Duluth together. At first, my trusty companion Jason B. did not want to do it. He goes there with his family, he told me. Other friends and acquaintances would offer to go with me to a brewery for this project, and when I would suggest the city of Duluth, I heard more excuses. "I go there with my wife." "I go there with my buddies." Were the wives and buddies of these friends going to be jealous of this trip, if it happened, because it's such a magical, mystical fantastical place that they can't bear their hubby/pal being there without them? Nobody would allow them to make this one exception, and take me along for the 3 hour trip up there (as well as the overnight stay)? I'm a pleasant companion, I'm a fun guy. Someone take me to Duluth with them!, I cried out.

And so, Dave Anderson did, and we not only went there but further to the far corner of the state. That was on August 30, September 1 and the morning of September 2. I've only written about the visit to Bent Paddle, so far. Six more to go, and this is one of them. But, alas, we couldn't see all of the breweries in Duluth, and so Jason decided to do the trip with me and leave his family behind, take our bikes and tour the town. We got to check off those 3 hanging chads and also see Fitger's Brewhouse once again. This is a tale of those two visits, and a little more.

view from the barstool. 
Giant antique Fitger's beer can in the
morning sun, with Jason for scale.

For you see, that far-off wonderful city on the shore of Lake Superior was just a glimmering legend in my mind until a few years ago. My first visit was in May of 2012 and I said something about this here. Go ahead and read it. (I so hate repeating myself.) Done? Cool. Visiting Fitger's Brewhouse in Duluth was long overdue, especially since I'd reviewed 25 of their beers from growlers brought back to Minneapolis for me by friends between 2004 and 2011. What wonderful friends they were, to deliver that rare goodness from the north.

When I finally made it up there for a 2-day weekday vacation with pal Ed Jackson, those reviews from BeerAdvocate made their way here on the ol' Bitter Nib.  (Note, you'll see this post first when you click that link. Go down a little, and check those posts out.)

On the evening of September 1, Dave and I entered the Fitger's Brewhouse Brewery & Grille and bellied up to the bar for beers and dinner. None of the beers that I had were new to me, this time. Superior Trail IPA was my first pint, consumed with a waffle and chicken sandwich, this time from the cask. Smooth and creamy and satisfying. I'm not a cask beer nut by any means, but I will never stray from sampling one.
Superior Trail IPA, cask.

Old Fitger's signs from the history of the brand pop
up periodically throughout the building.

I had two glasses at once set next to me after the IPA, and one was to fulfill a mission set to me by my friend Melissa Rainville earlier that day. Melissa had been lead brewer at the Brewhouse for several years, and left when the business had been purchased by new owners and brewmaster Dave Hoops stepped down. She was currently working at the Castle Danger taproom in Two Harbors, and when we visited her there that afternoon, she wanted me to know how Big Boat Oatmeal Stout was doing. Was it okay? Is it holding up, are they treating it well? (It was the beer, she told me, that made her want to be a brewer.) Well, I'm no expert on Fitger's, having only been there twice before, and having had a few dozen growlers, sampled at festivals, but it was a spot on oatmeal stout, and just as good as I remembered it. Head brewer Frank Kaszuba, with fifteen years on the job, is
currently in command of a crew of neophytes, Melissa told me, and it seems like he's been training them well. (I've never met Frank personally, but I passed him in the halls of the Fitger's complex on our late night visit that day, and saw him doing some quality control samples on my next visit with Jason. He appears in all respects to be a fully committed consummate professional brewer. Makes sense, as he's been winning awards all these years. As long as Frank's still on board, there should be no troubles with the beers, here.)

Beer #3 was Ol' Red Beard Barleywine, an aged version from 2014. I'd previously had it in 2012, according to Untappd, but I took no notes on it then, or this time. Just a damn fine barley-wine, very close to style, big and malty and boozy. 11% ABV. Good ol' stick to your ribs, puttin' hair on your chest and fire in your belly barley-wine. The kind I like.

One thing I noticed from this visit, versus my others was the missing stage and the lack of live music. One of the changes brought on by the new owners? I wonder if Dave Hoops will fill in that void when he opens Hoops Brewing taproom in Canal Park next spring, with Melissa in charge of the brewhouse? (That was the big news of last week. This week, Todd & Linda Haug going to Chicago, and Harriet planning to close. What will next week bring?)

Jason with his Big Boat Oatmeal Stout, I with my
Franklin's Tower Double IPA. 
So, that was our evening stay at Fitger's (forgot what Dave had. think it was a beer, or two.) and we shuffled back to our motel, all beer-filled from our very beer-y day. Passed by one of the missing breweries (Carmody, only blocks away), but we couldn't stuff another beer in us to save our lives.

Let's jump ahead about seven weeks. Jason has booked us a room at the luxurious Voyageur Lakewalk Inn, only two blocks from Fitger's. I insisted that we get our first beers of the day in ASAP before setting off on our 3 mile bike ride to Lake Superior Brewing Company, way down on the other end of Superior Street. And for my first beer of the day, I picked a double IPA called Franklin's Tower. I won't give you notes here, for I bought a growler to take home, and will share the notes below. One tasty beer down, and off on our bikes we went. That was the morning of October 19.

Coffee Big Boat.
The next day, October 20, found us returning to Fitger's Brewhouse Brewery and Grille for breakfast. I had a coffee infused Big Boat and a tequila barrel-aged 1100 Wheatwine. What a way to start the day.

I loved the Coffee Big Boat Oatmeal Stout, and found it rich and toasty, full of earthy, coffee notes in the aroma, medium bodied, bold and bountiful. Loved it. (Did I say that already? Well, it's true.)

 The second beer was a bit more of a challenge, but worth it. The tequila barrel-aged version of the 1100 Wheat-wine was vast, full, rich and sharp, with the sweet twang of tequila, big with booze
(10.5% ABV), and ever-so tasty. Hey, I didn't need to be anywhere else all day, what did I have to worry about? Good beer to have with breakfast on a mid-week vacation.

Franklin's Tower IPA.

Clear, bright golden hued, vast and lasting ivory head. Perfect. Beautiful.

Aromatics: Big, bold, lively, bursting with citrus notes, some pine, a touch of the tropical. Lemon and lime, grapefruit just a bit, and a little bit of the ol' pine. Pineapple? Yeah, some of that.

In the mouth: There it is, once more, there's the fierce citrus attack, the gentle pluck of the tropical hop notes, and that wonderful bitterness. Lovely balance between it all. High hop bitterness, plush malt lushness, altogether wonderful. It jumps between the harshness of the high bitterness, and the sweet of the malt, and I love it. As far as double IPAs go, it's right on the money. I find this delicious.

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