All Hopped Up at Firkin Fest

Aaron Masterson / Heavy Table
Aaron Masterson / Heavy Table

Spring wasn’t the only thing in the air Saturday afternoon at the Happy Gnome‘s second annual Firkin Fest.

Aaron Masterson / Heavy Table
Aaron Masterson / Heavy Table

Between Tea-Bagged Surly Furious, Bell’s Hop Slam and Dark Horse Double Crooked Tree, the floral aromas of super-hopped India Pale Ales were the theme of the day. Their scents floated through throngs of craft beer lovers enjoying cask-conditioned ales served up from hand-pulled firkins, a small vessel roughly equivalent in volume to half of a keg. And no wonder, according to Jason Alvey, proprietor of The Four Firkins craft beer store in St. Louis Park, as the Twin Cities is one of the fastest growing markets for IPAs in the nation.

“Forget Chicago or most other major Midwest cities when it comes to craft beer,” Alvey said. “Beer drinkers in Minneapolis and St. Paul know their stuff, and are more akin to craft beer strongholds in Oregon or Washington where people have traditionally sought bold, flavorful offerings, many of which are locally produced.”

Dustin Brau, CEO and head brewmaster at Brau Brothers in rural Lucan, Minnesota readily concurred.

“We’re looking at producing nearly a dozen hop varieties on our very own hop yard to keep pace with the tastes of craft beer drinkers in the Upper Midwest,” Brau said. “More control over our ingredients means more innovation in our recipes and better beers for our customers.”

For those looking for their hop fix amongst the more than 30 microbreweries represented at this year’s event, most didn’t need to look much further than Surly 16 Grit Double IPA. One of the Brooklyn Center-based brewery’s latest limited release offerings from the artisan mind of brewmaster Todd Haug, 16 Grit delivered a penetrating 115 international bittering units (geek speak for hop potency) that left even the most ardent hop head begging for palate-mercy. Summit Brewing in St. Paul also provided two nice twists to its standard year-round IPA offering with its copiously dry-hopped Amarillo IPA, a citrusy rendition balanced with nice caramel sweetness, as well as its earthier and more rounded dry-hopped Kent Golding IPA.

But hopped-up ales weren’t the only storyline at FirkinFest. A vocal minority of fantastically complex and malty imperial stouts and porters elbowed their way through the crowd, including several unique barrel-aged offerings such as Harviestoun Ola Dubh (Gaelic for “black oil”), a densely smooth and peaty imperial porter from Scotland aged in 12-year-old scotch whiskey casks from Highland Park Distillery. More locally, Wisconsin-based Tyranena Brewing’s Dirty Old Man Imperial Rye Porter, aged in part in rye whiskey barrels, offered a rich nose of chocolate, roasted barley and oaky notes complemented by a smooth and creamy finish that made you forget just for a moment that the masterfully balanced malted beverage you were enjoying wasn’t in fact a potent 8 percent ABV.

Aaron Masterson / Heavy Table
Aaron Masterson / Heavy Table

Innovative Belgian-style ales were relatively underrepresented at the event, save for Stillwater-based Lift Bridge and its Kimono Girl Saison, an interesting spin on the brewery’s flagship Farm Girl offering that infuses lemongrass and longan fruit to provide a yeast-forward, spicy aroma followed up by a relatively delicate maltiness and nicely puckering mouthfeel.

At the end of it all, most taste buds were pleasantly numbed, and craft beer appetites sated. But only long enough until the next craft beer event comes around, according to Alvey.

“We have so many fantastic, innovative brewers in our own backyard putting out great stuff, and more and more people are taking notice,” Alvey said. “Celebrations like Firkin Fest are helping to build in the Twin Cities what is arguably one of the best craft beer cultures in the nation.”

Aaron Masterson is the author of local craft beer and homebrew blog, The Captain’s Chair.


  1. Kris

    It was a great event and a beautiful day for it! Tops on my list for the day were Lift Bridge Kimono, Flat Earth IPA, Lagunitas Olde Bnarley Wine and the wonderful hay/manure combination of Peak Organic’s IPA.

  2. Dirtyspeed

    Excellent article! I did not get a chance to make it but I made up for it by having Double Crooked Tree, 16 Grit and Cuvee 2 at Stub and Herbs that night.

  3. RS

    I’m sorry. Nice write up?

    How about the hack-work purple prose like “scents floated through throngs of craft beer lovers” and “A vocal minority of fantastically complex and malty imperial stouts and porters elbowed their way through the crowd”

    You could smell the hops if you stuck you nose in the glass, yeah. And I don’t recall seeing any beers with elbows walking around.

    How about educating people about cask beer and real ale instead of talking to the usual suspects who come up again and again and again on those boring blogs. Yadda, yadda, yadda Alvey blah blah blah Surly.

  4. RS

    What-evah, Lulz.

    Here’s another priceless germ the “nice write up:”

    “At the end of it all, most taste buds were pleasantly numbed, and craft beer appetites sated. But only long enough until the next craft beer event comes around, according to Alvey.”

    How does he know that most taste buds were pleasantly numbed and sated? Did he talk to a majority of the attendees?

    Also when is the last time you had a beer that numbed your taste buds? That would suck!

    This is just sloppy bull crap writing.

    Again, how about something about what real ale is…oh I know…the writer doesn’t have a clue, same old HOPS HOPS HOPS and Gee, ain’t Minnesota great boosterism.


  5. Kris

    In fact numbing of the taste buds with hoppy beers is amazing! Now, I wouldn’t recommend doing this often as there are consequences like not being able to taste subsequent, less hoppy brews. But it’s worth it. Kind of like that first bite into a hot off the grill jucy lucy, where you know there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to burn your mouth, lips, face. Or chowing down on a bowl of Peanut Butter Capt’n Crunch that will undoubtedly chew up the roof of your mouth. Some sacrifices are just worth it.

  6. Chase

    Sounds like someone just isn’t a big fan of the hoppy beer IPA movement that is going on right now.

    The Double Crooked Tree IPA kicks ass.

  7. Mag

    RS, I don’t disagree with all of your criticism and I like a dissenting voice. But I especially like the effort you put into wantonly insulting folks instead of providing constructive criticism that people might actually listen to instead of dismissing you as a troll. I think I’ve read your work before…many times. And it’s just as boring. Nice effort though.

  8. Alvey

    Actually RS, I did speak to, well, it felt like pretty much everyone, and guess what? They were all very happy! Sated even….and a lot of them actually did have numbed taste buds or fried palates whatever you want to call it. They all seemed very happy about it.
    As for writing about the intricacies of cask conditioned ale I suspect the writer didn’t think this was the time or the place. Heavy Table is not a beer geek website, I’m sure most of the readers would be bored with such details. I happen to know Aaron knows very well what the differences are between cask conditioned and regular beer.

    Leave the elitist attitude to the wine snobs, beer is supposed to be fun!

  9. RS

    Mag & Scott-

    So I dis sloppy writing and I’m a troll? Prior work? Not sure what that means. The “And a good time was had by all!” style and content of the “nice write up” was less than insightful.


    What elitism? No, beer is NOT the new wine and let’s not treat it as such, but the perspective here was amateurish at best.

    Would it be too much to ask for a short blurb on cask ale to educate non beer geeks a teensy weensy bit? Otherwise what’s the purpose of this sight?

  10. Nate Solas

    Just gotta chime in and say two things:

    1. That’s me in the brown shirt on the right in that picture, so I’m, like, famous.

    2. Being famous should lend my words more weight, so believe me when I say: nice writeup. Thanks for giving beer its place on the Heavy Table.

  11. Chad Hoyne

    Damn, RS, what kind of standard are you trying to hold Heavy Table to, and why? I don’t get it. I also don’t get why you feel Aaron did a huge disservice to the local CAMRA movement by not explaining real ale.

    Get over it.

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