Minnesota is a haven for more than just hyper-local beer. The state has also caught the eye of emerging regional brands including Bell’s Brewery of Michigan and Great Lakes Brewing Company of Ohio. Even national craft breweries like Colorado’s Odell Brewing Company and Brooklyn Brewery opted to be a part of the Minnesota scene early on. Clown Shoes Beer of Massachusetts brewed a Minnesota-exclusive bottle, Itasca Loonidragon, as a gift for fans, as Minnesota was one of its biggest markets.
At the same time, there are neighboring states with coveted beers that simply don’t cross state lines. New Glarus Brewing Company of Wisconsin is famous for getting smuggled into Minnesota bars on occasion, and Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. of Decorah, Iowa, became available to Twin Cities drinkers only recently.
In December, Madison’s Ale Asylum, Wisconsin’s third-largest craft brewery, began to distribute five of its top beers to a few liquor stores here. The brewery is known for its hop-forward offerings, and these can now be found in many liquor stores and a handful of bars throughout Minnesota. Heavy Table spoke about the recent expansion with Otto Dilba, Ale Asylum’s co-founder and vice president.
HEAVY TABLE: With so many markets to choose from, why Minnesota?
OTTO DILBA: Minnesota is a natural extension of our hardworking, Midwestern ethos. While we all may sit on opposite sides of the aisle when football Sunday rolls around, we have deep similarities regarding the importance of family, hard work, and dedication to the people and things we love.
HEAVY TABLE: How is the Minnesota market is different from your local one?
DILBA: The market shares much of the same enthusiasm for craft beer — with an emphasis on the craft part. Like Wisconsin [beer enthusiasts], our friends in Minnesota have a keen eye for quality-focused, consistent beer driven by the pursuit of the perfect pint instead of a marketing budget. In this sense, similarities far outweigh the differences between the two markets. And we like to celebrate those similarities rather than prey upon the differences.
HEAVY TABLE: With ever-expanding choices on liquor store shelves, how will Ale Asylum stand out?
DILBA: Ale Asylum is quite unique in that we only use the four ingredients traditional to the brewing process: water, malt, hops, and yeast. Adherence to this philosophy stems from the German Purity Law of 1516 called “Reinheitsgebot,” and we believe that with these four ingredients wonderful, limitless flavor and aroma are possible across the spectrum of craft beer styles. Because of this all-natural approach, all of our beers are vegan. [Editor’s note: Products derived from fish are often used to clarify beer.] If there are more than a handful of breweries in the U.S. that strictly adhere to this philosophy, it’s news to us.
Additionally, Ale Asylum creates unique brand images for every beer it distributes rather than a “template.”… This branding (along with all things Ale Asylum) is created in house. Our branding must pass the “tattoo test.” Every logo is built to be something that would look good as a tattoo. Go ahead, check out our logos and see for yourself! We think this lends a little more fun and a whole lotta love to each and every brand we produce.
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From our communication, it was clear that Dilba is also proud of his brewmaster, Dean Coffey, who has a 25-year history of making beer. He helped build Ale Asylum into the brand that it is today.
The Hopalicious American pale ale is one example of Coffey’s attention to ingredients and intensity of flavor. Eleven separate hop additions are made to capitalize on the aroma, flavor, and bitterness offered by the Cascade hop. The aroma is bright tangerine and resin, and the moderate bitterness doesn’t overwhelm the faint toasted-bread notes of the malt bill. Hopalicious is an ideal all-season beer, perfect for showcasing Ale Asylum to new fans.
Somewhat less successful was the Velveteen Habit IPA. Though the hop intensity was appropriate in terms of a bitter finish, the flavor came off with a generic, earthy bitterness that lacked other supporting notes on the palate. The aroma was mildewlike and faint overall. For an IPA described as juicy, it tasted almost old, but it wasn’t sweet or otherwise indicative of a brewing process problem. We found this surprising given the brewery’s track record as a consistent, reliable brand.
Look for Ale Asylum in six-pack cans ($10) and on draft.