Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

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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.

 

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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

 

Faribault welcomes F-town Brewing Company July 30, 2015

A logo on the taproom wall, which opens to a street-side patio. To the left in the photo, up the hill, is Central Avenue. That

The taproom, right, opens to a street-side fenced patio. To the left, up the hill, lies Central Avenue, the main street through Faribault’s historic business district. F-Town encourages patrons to order carry-out at local restaurants and bring the food to the brewery to enjoy with beer.

ONE OF MINNESOTA’S newest craft breweries, F-Town Brewing Company, has opened in the heart of historic downtown Faribault, in a community with a rich beer history. The Fleckenstein family brewed Fleck’s beer and other beverages here for 108 years, until 1964.

An overview of the Peterson building which houses architectural salvage and antiques, left, with the brewery on the left.

An overview of the Peterson Art Furniture building which houses architectural salvage and antiques, right, with the brewery on the left.

Now locals Noah Strouth, Chris Voegele and Travis Temke have brought beer back to Faribault, housing their operation in a section of the aged Peterson Art Furniture Co. complex with the taproom in an adjoining converted garage space.

We wanted to sample all of the beers on tap, so we ordered a flight.

A snippet photo of the F-Town flight staged on the brewery’s signature orange picnic table.

F-Town has proven a popular gathering spot for craft beer lovers since opening about a month ago. Saturday evening my husband and I stopped by for the first time, purposely allowing the initial hoopla to settle. We ordered a $12 flight—a sampling of six beers ranging from the FlexLess light lager to the robust Nutso which tasted of coffee to me.

The beers included in our flight.

The beers included in our flight.

I was hard-pressed to choose a favorite. But Randy picked FlexLess without a second thought. He found it the most similar to mass-produced beers, which can be a good thing or not, depending on the type of beer you like. He prefers a less hoppy taste. I wondered about that name, FlexLess, and the similarity to the historic Fleck’s name. The founders of F-Town early on hoped to bottle Fleck’s branded beer at a brewery they initially named Patriot’s Brewing. That all changed following legal and trademark issues.

A block from F-Town, you'll find a mural honoring Fleck's beer.

A block from F-Town, you’ll find a mural honoring Fleck’s beer, once brewed in Faribault.

Eventually, the brewery became F-Town with beers bearing monikers like #1 American (there’s that patriotism), Ipalicious (an IPA) and We’ve Gone Plaid (a Scottish ale). The beers (only Ipalicious and Nutso at this point) are sold in cans, not bottles, a disappointment since I think craft beer should be bottled. But my son-in-law noted that cans are becoming a more common choice for craft breweries, including at the wildly popular Surly Brewing Co. I have yet to purchase F-Town beer off-sale as the one time I tried, the liquor store was sold out. The beer is being distributed only locally, for now, by College City Beverage.

In this photo, you see the door into the taproom and the patio.

In this photo, you see the door into the taproom and then the patio.

About that brewery name. I’ve heard mixed reviews. Some dislike that the “f-word” pops into your head upon hearing F-Town. But, on the positive side, the name is short and memorable and connects to the town name, Faribault with an “F,”  and purposely or not to the long-ago Fleckenstein breweries, also with an “F,” at least in my mind.

The taps.

The taps.

F-Town's IPA beer, Ipalicious.

F-Town’s IPA beer, Ipalicious.

I’ll admit, though, I’m not impressed by the wild-faced creature graphics for the Ipalicious and Nutso beers, the two F-Town beers currently canned and retailed. I was expecting art and beer names reflective of our historic community, local heritage, geographic setting and/or even the historic former furniture building in which the brewery is housed. I’m sure much thought was put in to both. But I am not making the strong connection to Faribault with the choices. I hope that changes.

Here's where the beer is made, just down the steps from the taproom.

Here’s where the beer is made, just down the steps from the taproom.

Words matter. A guy drinking beer next to my husband and me at F-Town pegged us as “beer hippies,” folks who apparently wander about checking out craft breweries. We’re not hippie anything other than coming of age in the early 1970s. He assessed us as such after I asked if he’d been to Montgomery Brewing in neighboring Montgomery. He hasn’t. We haven’t. We’ve only ever visited August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm. And now F-Town, new on the Minnesota craft brewery scene and right here in the heart of historic Faribault.

Except for the sidewalk flag, there's no identifying  exterior street-side signage on F-Town Brewing. It's needed and perhaps it's coming. The garage doors are opened, if the weather is nice, when the taproom is open.

Except for the sidewalk flag, there’s no identifying exterior street-side signage on F-Town Brewing. It’s needed. Perhaps it’s coming.

FYI: The F-Town Brewing Company taproom is open from 3 p.m. – 9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; from 3 p.m. – 10 p.m. Fridays; from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday; and from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday. It’s closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Tours are available at 3 p.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. Saturday.

The brewery is located at 22 Fourth Street Northeast/Minnesota State Highway 60, just half a block off Central Avenue.

BONUS PHOTOS:

The scene at eye level of the historic Peterson Art Furniture. Plan time to explore this multi-level complex stuffed with antiques and collectibles and architectural salvage.

This is an eye level scene of the Peterson Art Furniture Company building from the F-Town patio. Therein you will find 25,000 square feet of antiques and collectibles, architectural salvage, lighting, furniture and more. Plan time to explore this multi-level complex. Faribault has a rich history of furniture makers.

Another perspective of our flight.

Another perspective of our flight.

When you're sipping on the patio, don't miss this mural of iceskaters on the Straight River.

When you’re sipping on the patio, don’t miss this mural of iceskaters on the Straight River.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: Faribault brewers February 6, 2015

Portrait #6:  Brewers Chris Voegele and Noah Strouth

 

Chris and Noah, Patriot's Brewing 2013

 

Two years ago, they were just two friends who planned to open a brewery. That’s when I photographed Chris Voegele, left, and Noah Strouth in a section of the historic Peterson Art Furniture Company complex in Faribault’s historic downtown. They were hard at work then cleaning and fixing the aged space.

Today Chris and Noah are still two guys who want to open a brewery.

But now they’ve been joined by Travis Temke in F-Town Brewing Company, a microbrewery that will produce craft beer with local ingredients.

Same town. Same building. Different name. F-Town instead of Patriot’s.

That name change seems more reflective of the hometown pride exhibited by Chris and Noah, 1990 graduates of Faribault High School.

With funding in place, the brewery appears closer to reality. I, for one, am excited about a microbrewery opening in Faribault. I think it will be a great fit for our historic, mostly blue collar, community.

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This portrait is part of the “Minnesota Faces” series featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling