You could do worse than Arborfest to help a good cause. At its $45-a-head fundraiser Friday night at Macalester College, the Family Tree Clinic, a St. Paul-based sexual health care and education provider, lined up 18 local beer producers, three wineries, food, and more for its 10th annual bash. Just walk in, grab your wee tasting glass, and go — each brewery or winery had a table with several samples, so there was a head-spinningly vast array of artisanal drinking.
My tour started with the 15-year-old Lake Superior Brewing Company. Co-owner and brewmaster Dale Kleinschmidt poured a barley-wine style Old Man Winter Warmer (10.3% ABV) and explained why he’s made the trip from Duluth the past five years for Arborfest.
“I’m locked away in the brewery every other day of the week, so we don’t get to see other brewers very much,” he said. “So it’s a nice chance to socialize, get people exposed to our brands, and help out a good cause. Three pretty good reasons.”
John Langer, District Manager for Kansas City, MO-based Boulevard Brewing Co., was pouring Boss Tom’s Golden Bock, their super-drinkable spring seasonal, and Double-Wide IPA, among others. He said that for smaller beer producers, events like Arborfest are a sort of family reunion.
“I think this event is good for all breweries and all craft breweries just because it’s such a wide variety of people,” he said. “There’s over 600 people I believe every year, it’s for a great cause, and we’ve always been involved because of the great craft beer showing of all the breweries around, so it’s a great event to be in. We’re all friends here. Everybody is trying everybody’s beers to see what’s new, see what’s out there.”
The event also included vinyl-spinning DJs and beer-absorbing food like brats and soft pretzels, but these were clearly not the focus. And for having hundreds of people there, there was surprisingly little line-standing. Most tables had two or three brewery employees at the ready, filling your glass before you knew it. It took substantial willpower to not get amazingly polluted. The 18-brewery lineup included: Barley John’s, Bell’s, Boulevard, Cold Spring, Finnegans, Fitger’s (pictured, bottom), Flat Earth, Great Waters, The Herkimer, Lake Superior, Lift Bridge, Mantorville, Rock Bottom, Rush River, Schell’s, Summit, Surly, and Town Hall. Crispin was there, too, as was Vine Park Brewing Company, the St. Paul outfit that lets you homebrew on their premises. Wineries included Carlos Creek, Morgan Creek, and WineStreet Spirits.
Steve Rinker, VP of sales for Lift Bridge Beer Company, said the seamless setup kept his brewery coming back.
“It costs a little more to get in here, so these are real beer lovers. From that aspect, it’s kind of a low-key event,” he said. “They’re not all the same. This is a little more sophisticated, a little more high-brow. Most of them start off that way and turn into beerfest, drunkfest. So yeah, we like this one, I’m relaxing, the lines aren’t a mile long, we’re not pouring through 20 kegs of beer, so it’s a really good event.”
“Everyone has their own style,” he added. “Brewing is like painting; no one paints the same picture. We all start with a blank canvas, and our take on beer is different from Surly’s, it’s different from Flat Earth’s, it’s different from the brewpubs, so you can come here and you’re not going to taste two beers that taste the same. You may taste 100 beers, but there’s probably only 20 different styles in the whole building. You have 20 different styles and 100 different craft tastes — that says something about the people who are brewing it.”