Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

On the backroads between Faribault and New Prague October 10, 2018

 

A MONTH AGO, before the grey of this too rainy autumn settled upon the southern Minnesota landscape, Randy and I followed the backroads from Faribault to New Prague en route to a brewery. We enjoy craft beers and wanted to check out Giesenbrau Bier Company, billed as a German style bier hall and garten.

I am directionally-challenged when roads are not prairie grid perfect. Randy knows this about me. It’s also a source of frustration when I am unable to read a map. Yes, we still rely on paper maps and atlases. But “just drive” seems more Randy’s philosophy. He’s always confident of eventually reaching our destination.

In no particular hurry to get there on this Sunday afternoon, we took some paved, some gravel, roads, occasionally stopping to observe and, for me, to take photos. At the time I jotted down locations, but have since misplaced my notes. We were somewhere northwest of Faribault, well off the interstate. I prefer this type of travel which allows for a close-up look at life.

 

 

 

 

From a town hall to a grasshopper,

 

 

 

 

 

from a lake to the detail of bordering cattails,

 

 

 

 

from a cornfield to a weathered corn crib to the cobs inside, I notice the overall picture and then the details.

 

 

Along the way we often come across small delights. Scenes that remind us of our rural roots. Scenes that remind us that life does not always need to speed, that afternoons like this are meant to be savored.

 

 

At one point, Randy parked the van along a gravel road so we could watch a couple baling hay. Not with a massive tractor and baler, but with a small tractor and an old-fashioned baler spitting out rectangular bales. Just like we remember from the farm. When the tractor reached the end of the field, the lean farmer leapt off the trailer and headed toward us.

 

 

“You looking for work?” he joked. We told him we’d pass, that we were former farm kids who understood the hard work of baling hay.

 

 

 

 

We continued on toward New Prague then, winding our way to the bier hall, then to a nearby park for a short walk before taking backroads home,

 

 

 

 

past another farmer baling hay and an aged barn with a new metal roof and a sturdy rock foundation.

 

 

I noted then that we should drive these roads again when autumn hues colored the hilly landscape somewhere between New Prague and Faribault. That would be now.

TELL ME: Do you drive backroads? If yes, where and what have you seen?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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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

 

Cheers to beer poems at a Minnesota brewery October 1, 2017

The patio outside Imminent Brewing Company in Northfield, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2017.

 

I ADMIT, I HELD some apprehension walking toward Imminent Brewing in downtown Northfield late Saturday afternoon. I was on my way there not only for some great craft beer, but also to read poetry as part of a Beer Poetry Contest.

Would beer drinkers embrace poets when they stepped up to the mic? Or would they consider them an intrusion on an otherwise kicked-back afternoon at this former National Guard armory garage?

 

La Crosse, Wisconsin, celebrates Oktoberfest each autumn as noted in this Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo taken in 2015. There are bars aplenty in this college town.

 

Much to my delight, the crowd that filled the expansive space and overflowed onto the patio welcomed the writers of beer poems with enthusiasm. Folks listened and laughed as poets read of the beer culture in La Crosse, of Imminent Brewing staff and beer, of the days when a quarter would buy a glass of brew and more.

 

For my free beer, I chose Minnesota Hop Mess, Imminent Brewing’s newest beer, made with 100 percent locally grown fresh hops. This promo postcard was lying on tables in the brewery.

 

A request of “free beer for life” at the end of a rhyming poem caused an uproar of laughter. We poets did not get a life-time of free beer. But we each got a free pint. Cheers.

I didn’t win the poetry contest. The top three winners were determined by audience response and input from brewery staff and Northfield’s Poet Laureate, Rob Hardy. After hearing several of the poems and noting the support some poets had, I didn’t expect to place. But that’s OK. For me this event was more about the opportunity to share my poetry, to hear other poets and to expose people to poetry in an unexpected venue.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration purposes only and not taken at Imminent Brewing.

 

A bonus came in meeting Joy Ganyo, an elderly poet who intended to read, but inadvertently left the piece of paper with her poem printed thereon at home. Instead, she parked her walker at a front row table, ordered a beer and listened. I introduced myself to Joy after the readings and, in our brief chat, learned that she planned to read a poem about wildflowers during the open mic time. I asked a bit about her past and she spoke with fondness of growing up in Warroad. We also shared a commonality of a journalism background. Later I would learn that Joy once owned and operated Seven Gables Books & Antiques in Northfield. To hear her read would have been, I expect, a treat.

 

 

I also enjoyed meeting Rob Hardy, Northfield’s Poet Laureate and coordinator of the Beer Poetry Contest and the Northfield Poetry Festival. Networking with other poets encourages me to continue in this craft of shaping words into works of art. Yes, even with a topic like beer.

Here’s the poem I wrote and then read at the Beer Poetry Contest. Enjoy!

 

Two Men, Two Beers

 

George settled onto the cracked vinyl bar stool,
cocked his seed corn cap and ordered a cold one,
harvest done,
corn brimming bins,
a big fat check widening his worn wallet.

 

Across the street, Stephen slid onto a shiny stool,
ran a hand through his hair and ordered an IPA,
conference done,
files brimming computer,
credit card pressed into his slim back pocket.

 

Back at the bar, George asked for a burger
and a side order of onion rings,
brushed the bee’s wings from his bibs
and waited while the TV blared
and the bartender slid a rag down the bar.

 

At the brewpub, Stephen signaled the server,
ordered a pulled pork sandwich and sweet potato fries,
brushed dog hair from his jeans
and waited while the guitarist strummed
and the bartender poured flights.

 

George eased the neck of the brown bottle to his lips,
drank deep, content as a cow chewing cud
with his brand-name beer.
He glanced out the window, saw his son sipping beer,
tipped his bottle to the beer snob.

 

#

FYI: Click here to read the Northfield Poet Laureate’s Facebook page, which includes a photo of me reading “Two Men, Two Beers.”

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Special thanks to blogger friend Valerie and her husband, Gary, for joining Randy and me at Imminent Brewing. I appreciate your support.

 

In Northfield: Have a beer, hear a poem September 28, 2017

The patio outside Imminent Brewing Company in Northfield, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2017.

 

I’VE READ MY POETRY ALOUD in an historic theatre, a church, an art gallery, a lake cabin, a library, a civic center meeting room, a golf club and outdoors next to a history center and in a town square. But I’ve never read at a brewery. That will change on Saturday when I participate in the Beer Poetry Contest at Imminent Brewing as part of Northfield Poetry Festival 2017.

 

A flight at Turtle Stack Brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’m excited to read at this new venue on a subject—beer—I’ve not covered in past poems. I wondered if I was up to the writing challenge given my limited beer knowledge. Sure, I like craft beer and enjoy checking out craft breweries. But could I craft a poem about beer?

 

Taps at F-Town Brewing in Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Once I sat down at the computer, words flowed like beer from a tap into a poem that is my signature down-to-earth style. And, no, I can’t pour my beer poem onto these pages. My poem releases Saturday at Imminent Brewing in downtown Northfield. And, yes, there are prizes on the line, including a growler of beer, for the winning poets selected by brewery patrons.

 

 

I love how Northfield embraces poetry from poems imprinted in sidewalks to the naming of Rob Hardy as the city’s Poet Laureate to this Poetry Festival. Prior to the brewery poetry readings (which include an open mic), area poets will read and sign books at 10:30 a.m. at Content Bookstore. And then at 1 p.m., the Northfield Public Library hosts a Youth Poetry Reading and Performance.

Youth between the ages of 18 – 20 can also participate in the 2017 Sidewalk Poetry Scavenger Hunt with a 1 p.m. Saturday, September 30, contest deadline. Click here for details.

 

Shipwreckt Books Publishing published Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy’s collection this year.

 

Even if you think you hate poetry—and I realize plenty of people still consider poetry stuffy stuff written by intellectuals who can’t relate to the common man/woman—I’d encourage you to approach poetry with an open mind. Poetry has, in many ways, changed. Not the basics of good tight writing that emerge from a poet’s soul. But the accessibility of it. You can find a poet you like, words with which you can connect. Words that move you, make you laugh, make you think, make you cry. Even in your beer.

 

FYI: Join me, other poets, craft beer lovers and my husband for an open mic poetry reading from 4 – 6 p.m. Saturday, September 30, at Imminent Brewing, 519 Division Street, South Unit 2, Northfield. Cheers. Please drink responsibly.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Loving the settings & beer at these greater Minnesota breweries July 14, 2017

A flight of craft beer from F-Town Brewing in my community of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

FIVE YEARS AGO if anyone had suggested I would drink (and like) craft beer, I would have laughed. I was only the occasional have-a-beer-with-your-pizza or on a hot summer evening type of beer drinker. And at that, I drank whatever mass produced beer the husband had stocked in the fridge.

How my tastes have changed. I can no longer drink beer that flows by the gallons into bottles or cans inside a sprawling factory. Those beers taste like water to me. Rather, I’ve become a beer snob, preferring hoppy IPAs crafted at small breweries.

I’ll be the first to tell you my preference for craft beer developed over time as an acquired taste. But once acquired, I was hooked, enough so that I, along with my husband, seek out craft breweries. These specialty businesses are an experience, not just a place to try new beers.

 

Reads Landing Brewing Company in Reads Landing, Minnesota.

 

Two recent road trips took us to Reads Landing Brewing Company (between Lake City and Wabasha) and to Imminent Brewing Company. They are distinctly different breweries, but both with excellent beer. And I don’t say that about every craft beer.

We almost missed the Reads Landing establishment in the same named unincorporated community along U.S. Highway 61 in southeastern Minnesota. The brewery sits at the base of a hillside, a train track away from the Mississippi River. Housed inside an historic 1870 former dry goods store, the setting hearkens to bygone days. As an appreciator of old buildings, I delighted in the location and the wide window view of the Mississippi.

 

Randy and I shared a sampler flight of Reads Landing beer.

 

With the exception of slow service on a weekday afternoon when the place wasn’t overly busy, I rate Reads Landing Brewing highly. Randy and I settled onto high chairs at the front window for a perfect view of the river and a slow moving train. Then we waited and waited until the bartender/waiter finally got off the phone, noticed us and then made excuses for his lack of attention. Thankfully, the house-made beers in the sampler flight and accompanying Bavarian Style Soft Pretzel Sticks with homemade beer cheese and mustard dipping sauces compensated for the inattention and left us with a mostly good impression of this brewpub.

Of special note is the Cap’n Amber beer, a beer into which Cap’n Crunch cereal is incorporated in the mash. All of the beers were to our liking; we’d recommend this beer and brewery.

 

The patio outside Imminent Brewing Company in Northfield, Minnesota.

 

Farther inland to the north and east in the riverside college town of Northfield, we checked out the recently-opened Imminent Brewing. I love this place, declaring to Randy that this was my absolute favorite brewery. Located in a former National Guard Armory garage, the brewery has an industrial look and a welcoming vibe. There’s just something about this place that seems particularly comfortable for anyone from a blue collar worker to a college professor.

The brewery also features an expansive patio. And, bonus, food trucks. On this particular weekday evening, Randy and I enjoyed arepas from Noris Cuisine. We didn’t stick around for the live music.

We shared a flight sampler of simply superb craft beers. We’ll be back, given the location some 15 miles from our home.

And we’ll be checking out Tanzenwald, the other new brewery in Northfield, sometime soon.

TELL ME: Do you drink craft beer and/or visit craft breweries? Share your favorites.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling