Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Beer, conversations & creativity on a winter day in Minnesota March 5, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

AS I SIPPED my double IPA at Chapel Brewing in Dundas on Sunday afternoon, I snuggled under a fleece throw inside the revamped long ago chapel. I couldn’t shake the brutal cold of the winter day, even inside this cozy, albeit not particularly warm, building. I removed my mittens, keeping my coat zipped over a flannel shirt and hooded sweatshirt.

I perched on a stool next to the wall, next to a window overlooking a snow-covered deck, snow layering locked down tables and chairs. I wondered how many months before the snow melts, before craft beer lovers will sit outdoors on the riverside deck. It’ll be awhile.

For now, they settled for glimpses of spring on a corner TV screen broadcasting a pre-season Twins game. I was in the minority with no interest in baseball. Only a lush flower commercial for Gertens drew my attention and a personal public service announcement of “Hey, look, spring.”

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

They laughed. The mostly men dressed in mostly flannel shirts. Some, like me, kept their stocking caps clamped on their heads. I felt a sense of closeness in this gathering of strangers unknown to Randy and me. There’s something about the craziness of coming out on a bitterly cold March afternoon during a forever winter of too much cold and snow that builds community. We’re all in this together. We’re surviving. We’re trying to make the best of what this winter has handed us.

 

Inside Chapel Brewing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

And then in walked the two guys from Cannon Falls, one dressed in striped bib overalls. I flashed to my farmer dad, who would have celebrated his birthday on Monday. He’s been gone now for nearly 16 years. Dad always wore striped bibs. The stranger’s attire offered me no choice but to comment on his clothing. He’s a farmer, too. Prior to arriving at the brewery, he stopped near Medford to look at a digger dug from the snow by the seller. Now that’s gumption, braving bone-chilling cold to shop for a piece of farm equipment.

 

Kolsch beer served at Chapel Brewing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

The things you learn when you decide to strike up a conversation over a beer. I also learned the bibbed farmer appeared in a campaign commercial for a Minnesota politician. He showed me the clip on his phone.

When another beer drinker overhead me say I grew up in Redwood County near Vesta, he chimed in. He’s familiar with the area, having attended Southwest Minnesota State University in neighboring Marshall back in the 1970s. He knew Vesta then as “the cult town,” a term I’d never heard but which likely traces to a religious sect in my hometown. A Twin Cities area native, he didn’t fit into the ag-oriented college all those decades ago. I also learned he lost his wife a year ago and offered my sympathies.

It amazes me sometimes what I learn by observing, by starting conversations, by reaching out to people. I am, by nature, an introvert. I’d rather listen than talk about myself. But I am, by nature and by educational and professional backgrounds, curious. I notice details. I observe. And by observing and caring about others’ stories, I discover connections that spark my creativity. Even in the depth of a long Minnesota winter.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The weekend we’ve awaited in winter weary Minnesota April 23, 2018

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GOODBYE, WINTER, and welcome spring.

 

Buds are bursting in these trees along the Cannon River in Dundas.

 

This weekend brought spring to Minnesota, just a week after an historic blizzard. And the mood shifted dramatically to exuberance as Minnesotans soaked up the sunshine and warmth, me among them. I even sport a sunburned forehead.

 

“Thin ice” signs remained in place at Lake Kohlmier in Owatonna on Saturday. Edges of the lake were open, the middle still iced.

 

We haven’t had temps this warm—in the 60s—since October. That’s too many months.

 

In Nerstrand, a contrast of seasons in a melting snowman and yard art.

 

On Sunday afternoon Randy found enough snow for a snowball.

 

Randy and I took a drive in the Rice County countryside this weekend. Snow still remains in shadowed spots.

 

While winter still lingers in melting snowmen, patches of snow and ice on lakes, I see spring everywhere.

 

 

 

 

In budding trees and pussy willows and blooming crocuses. Even in mud baking dry in the afternoon sun.

 

Biking Sunday afternoon along a back gravel road in Rice County south of Northfield.

 

It was shirt sleeve warm weather in Minnesota on Sunday, this scene photographed in Faribault at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 21 and Seventh Street.

 

People were out and about everywhere—biking, riding motorcycles, pushing strollers, pulling wagons, walking, running, drinking craft beers on brewery decks and patios…

 

A fitting sign outside Chapel Brewing in Dundas on Sunday.

 

There was this feeling of we’ve finally made it. If you’ve ever lived in a cold weather state, you understand that delight, that giddiness, that joy which marks the first really warm and sunny day of spring.

 

Randy pulled on his shades as we each enjoyed a glass of beer on the riverside deck of Chapel Brewing Sunday afternoon.

 

Smiles abound, jackets are shed, sunglasses pulled on, winter released. Even if snow still remains in shadowed patches, we understand that spring has arrived in Minnesota. Finally.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota craft breweries, beyond the beer March 16, 2018

A logo on the F-Town taproom wall, which opens to a street-side patio of this Faribault brewery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

I NEVER THOUGHT I would enjoy beer like I do. But since the growth of Minnesota craft breweries, I’ve acquired a taste and appreciation for beers brewed locally.

 

The IPA I tried at Turtle Stack Brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

Call me a beer snob if you will. I even term myself as such. I prefer the hoppy flavor of an India pale ale. It took me awhile to get there. But these days if you offer me a mass-produced beer from some mega company, I’ll likely decline. I’d rather drink a glass of water, thank you.

 

Randy and I recently checked out Mankato Brewery in North Mankato. It’s a busy, and noisy, place.

 

I don’t pretend to be a beer expert. Nor do I drink a lot of beer. I’ll have one with my homemade pizza, a grilled dinner or occasionally with a meal out. And when I’m at a brewery, I’ll drink a single glass or share a flight with my husband. That’s about it.

 

This aged tower stands outside Lake Monster Brewing in St. Paul.

 

An artsy detail on the building next to Lake Monster.

 

If you prefer larger breweries and don’t have issues with hearing, you’ll enjoy breweries like Lake Monster (pictured here).

 

For me, craft breweries are about the experience, the setting, the atmosphere, as much as the beer. I appreciate comfortable seating, uniqueness, friendliness, good service and the ability to hear conversation. In addition to good beer.

 

Lake Monster Brewing is located in an old St. Paul warehouse area. The brewery offers a play space for kids.

 

Mankato Brewing is located in what look like machine sheds to this farm-raised girl.

 

Reads Landing Brewing Company in Reads Landing, Minnesota, is housed in an historic former dry goods store. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’ve been in breweries housed in former garages, historic buildings, machine shed style new buildings, an old chapel, a re-purposed warehouse… Most recently, I visited one that provides a play area for children in an effort to draw young parents. I have mixed feelings about that.

 

I like the intimate setting of Chapel Brewing in Dundas. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

In the dozen or so breweries I’ve patronized in Minnesota and Wisconsin, I’ve found the smaller ones more appealing. If a brewery is physically too large, I feel like I’m in a bar. I prefer a more intimate space with a sense of connectedness to the brewers. I want to come face-to-face with those who craft their beers, who hold a passion for sharing their brews.

 

A flight from F-Town. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I appreciate, too, when breweries connect with their local communities. F-Town Brewing in Faribault, for example, partners with River Bend Nature Center to create a maple beer using sap from the center’s trees. (River Bend is hosting a Free Maple Syrup Open House from 1 – 3 p.m. Saturday, March 17.) The brewery showcases the arts through local original artwork hung on taproom walls and by collaborating with the Paradise Center for the Arts to promote theatre productions.

 

Image from the Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

And on Saturday evening, March 24, F-Town and next-door 10,000 Drops Craft Distillers will host the 2018 Faribault Flannel Formal. The Formal features beer, live music, a Lumberjack Hot Dish Contest and prizes for the best-dressed Lumberjack and Lumberjane. The event benefits the Faribault Main Street Program.

 

The patio outside Imminent Brewing Company in Northfield, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Imminent Brewing over in Northfield also does more than simply serve beer. Last October the brewery hosted a beer poetry contest as part of the 2017 Northfield Poetry Festival. I participated by reading my original poem about beer. What a unique experience pairing beer and poetry.

Even if you don’t drink beer, you can still enjoy a brewery. Many offer non-alcoholic drinks, often focusing on local soft drinks, along with foods (often from food trucks), a stash of board games, music and just a kicked back place to relax and catch up with friends.

 

A flight at Turtle Stack Brewing in La Crosse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

One more thing: If you choose to drink beer at a brewery, do so responsibly.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Where the faithful once gathered… February 26, 2018

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I’M GOING TO THE CHAPEL and I’m gonna…

 

 

have a beer

because Jesus isn’t there turning water into wine.

 

 

Rather Andrew Burns and crew are brewing and serving beer at Chapel Brewing in Dundas. Located along the banks of the scenic Cannon River in this small southeastern Minnesota town, the latest brewery in the area offers an intimate setting in a former chapel.

The name fits this historic building constructed in 1880 as a village hall and jail and two years later converted into a chapel. For 50 years, the faithful met here for Sunday School and related religious purposes. Eventually, the building use reverted back to that of a town hall and then to a photography studio for 30 years before transitioning into a taproom. Patrons sometimes reminisce about senior portraits taken here.

When I consider the history of beer making, I think how appropriate that craft beer lovers now drink beer in a former chapel. The church in general has a long history of beer making with monks brewing beer and even Martin Luther’s wife, Katie, opening a brewery.

 

 

I found Chapel Brewing to be an inviting place. It’s different from many other southeastern Minnesota breweries I’ve visited. For one, the space is small, really small. And loud with sound bouncing off the hard wood surfaces. That’s not an uncommon problem, though, in many breweries. I was thankful when some of the patrons left. But I like the warmth of wood and the overall homey, and less industrial, essence of the taproom. You really can feel the history in this sun-drenched building and imagine it as a chapel.

 

 

Chapel beer is also worthy of praise. I favor hoppier beers and chose the Chapel IPA. I liked it, and I don’t always say that about craft beers I try. Likewise, my husband, Randy, enjoyed his Kolsch, a German ale. I’d like to see Chapel Brewing have a little creative fun with its beer names, though.

 

 

Given my positive experience, I’ll return, but next time to drink a brew outside. Had the riverside deck been cleared of snow on the warm (by Minnesota standards), sunny Saturday afternoon I visited, I would have imbibed there. Just to say I drank beer outside the chapel in February.

 

FYI: Here are two tips should you visit Chapel Brewing: Parking is limited to just a few on-site spaces and to a several spots out front. You are encouraged to park in the municipal lot a short walk away across the river rather than along residential streets. If you park on the bridge, you could be ticketed. Also, bring your photo ID. You will be asked for that, no matter your age. And, yes, you will have to retrieve your ID from your vehicle if you don’t have it on you.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling