Chef Camp Presents: Knife, Cast Iron, and Yakitori Skills Classes at Lowry Hill Meats

Adam Hester / Chef Camp

This post is sponsored by Chef Camp.

Chef Camp is teaming up with Lowry Hill Meats and Fulton Beer for a limited-run series of skill classes here in Minneapolis. Learn camp-y skills and enjoy some tasty bites served up by camp instructors past and future!

Adam Hester / Chef Camp

Get Sharp with Knife Skills
Thursday, May 24, 2018
6:00 PM 9:00 PM

Chef Camp instructor Nick Zdon (below) will show you how to sharpen your knives with a stone and care for them at home. Then Chef/butcher Erik Sather from Lowry Hill Meats (above) will demonstrate some basic knife skills and handy tricks.

Becca Dilley / Chef Camp

Cast Iron Care and Cooking
Thursday, June 21, 2018
6:00 PM 9:00 PM

Chef Camp instructor Nick Zdon will teach you the best ways to care for a piece of cast iron. Then, we’ll teach you how to best cook with cast iron, and you’ll leave with a recipe or two perfect for the campfire.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Yakitori Breakdown
Thursday, July 26, 2018
6:00 PM 9:00 PM

Chef Camp instructor Nick Zdon will teach you all about Japanese-style knives. Then Chef Yia Vang of Union Kitchen (top) will give a hands-on demonstration of the best ways to break down a whole chicken and turn it into yakitori skewers.

Get details and tickets at: http://www.chefcampmn.com/events/

Heavy Table Hot Five: May 12-18

hotfive-flames

Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email editor@heavytable.com.

shepherd-song-banner-ad-horiz-3The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.

shepherd-song-green-keyline

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

1-new - one - hot fiveLoukoumades at The Naughty Greek
Desserts at The Naughty Greek are an unexpected powerhouse. The Call Me Fluffy (Loukoumades) are described as “fluffy mini donuts served warm with Greek thyme honey, cinnamon and powdered sugar,” but they’re closer to the offspring of a beignet married to a hunk of State Fair funnel cake. They’ve got a beignet’s shape and something of its tender interior, but the exterior is crunchier and rougher, and it lacks the beignet’s elasticity. The thyme honey and cinnamon dipping sauce is delightful, and the combination with the warm doughnuts is a happy one indeed.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an upcoming review by James Norton]

Amy Rea / Heavy Table
Amy Rea / Heavy Table

2-new - two - hot fiveBulgogi Burger at Gogi Bros.
The Bulgogi Burger at Gogi Bros. is not so much a burger as it is a Korean barbecued beef sandwich. An enormous amount of tender, slightly sweet beef slices are matched by a robust helping of pungent, fried kimchi and pepperjack cheese. The fried egg is optional, but why not? Even the fries are excellent, very crispy and hot.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

3-new - three hot fiveLemonade at Zait and Za’atar
Zait and Za’atar’s fresh-squeezed lemonade may be the best in town. The sugar-to-citrus level is perfect: It’s incredibly tart and compensatingly sweet, with an herbal supporting note that makes for a deep, balanced, thirst-quenching beverage of the highest order.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an upcoming review by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

4-new four hot fivePork, Noodles, and Fire-Roasted Vegetables at the Fulton + Chef Camp Whole Hog Feast
Chef Camp’s Whole Hog feast was a union of many wonderful local forces: the wild rice noodles of Dumpling and Strand, pork from Tangletown Gardens Farm cooked by Erik Sather of Lowry Hill Meats, vegetables roasted by Yia Vang of Union Kitchen, and beer from Fulton, among others. The dish itself was delicious — rich, sweet, tender pork swimming in perfectly cooked al dente noodles with slightly charred, soft, fire-roasted veggies, all served up in a classic Chinese-American takeout container, followed by s’mores by North Mallow.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

Amy Rea / Heavy Table
Amy Rea / Heavy Table

5-new -five Emerson, Lake & Palmer at Rustica
Since I’m someone who’s not wild about sweet beverages, summer coolers can be hard to come by. Rustica Bakery fills the need with its Emerson, Lake & Palmer, a mixture of mouth-puckering grapefruit juice and iced black tea. If that’s too potent, you could add sugar. But if you’re like me, that zing is just the refreshing chill you need on a warm day.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]

Tare Sauce for Wild Rice Pork Ramen

Yia Vang
Yia Vang

This post is sponsored by Chef Camp, a culinary wilderness retreat north of Minneapolis-St. Paul on Sept. 1-3 and Sept. 8-10.

This Friday evening, gear up for the Fulton Beer Gran Fondo race and block party with the crew from Chef Camp at the Whole Hog Pig Roast.

Join top chefs (including Chef Camp’s chef-instructors Erik Sather from Lowry Hill Meats and Yia Vang from Union Kitchen) for a Tangletown Gardens pig roast featuring fire-roasted vegetables and a North Mallow s’mores bar. Tickets are $20 and include a Fulton beer.

Courtesy of Chef Camp
Courtesy of Chef Camp

At the Whole Hog Pig Roast, we’ll be serving a dish that includes pork roasted with flavorful tare sauce, fire-roasted vegetables, and Dumpling and Strand wild rice ramen noodles (made with rice harvested by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians). If you’re a home ramen maker and / or pork roaster, this is one sauce you’ll want to add to your arsenal.

Tare Sauce
Yia Vang

1 cup water
1 cup soy sauce
½ cup mirin
¼ cup sugar
8 ounces smoked pork (or smoked bacon), chopped
8-10 ounces roasted chicken bones
Fresh ginger (about 2 Tbsp, chopped)
2 cloves of garlic, minced

3 Thai chilies, minced
½ cup honey or palm sugar

  1. Put all the ingredients save for chilies and honey in a pot and bring them to a simmer (do not let it boil). Remove pot from heat and let the sauce steep for 30 minutes.
  2. Strain the solids from the liquid and add the honey and chilies.

USE: Put half the tare into a baking pan and add 1/2 Cup of water. Put the pork belly in the pan and and cover with tin foil and put it in a 300 degree oven for 1.5 hrs. After you pull it out of the oven, save the sauce, baste the pork belly with the remaining sauce, and crank the oven to 450 degrees and put the pork back in for 15 minutes (or until it’s dark golden brown). Cut up and serve.

WholeHog_instagram graphic

Culture Project Two by Fulton Beer

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Upper Midwest isn’t wine country, but that hasn’t stopped locals from producing spirituous beverages of real depth and complexity that pair wonderfully with all manner of food. The medium is beer rather than wine, but that’s no limitation. As it turns out, beer can be sculpted into flavors every bit as challenging and enjoyable as those possessed by their grape-based cousins.

Fulton‘s Culture Project is a series of beers created by mixed culture fermentation (which is to say aging with multiple types of microorganisms over a period of time). Culture Project Two is a golden ale with a primary fermentation in stainless steel tanks utilizing Saccharomyces followed by a nearly two-year stay in oak barrels with Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Brettanomyces. These long, complicated, Latinate words for microfauna add up to one simple English term of note: complexity.
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We bought a bottle of Culture Project Two at Elevated for $20, so it’s not really a one-for-one with traditional beer as much as it is a competitor with good wine. Given this price, purchasers would be right to demand a multilayered flavor profile, and they will feel rewarded by what they receive in the glass. Culture Project Two is spicy, funky, and complex with real acidity held in balance by woody and earthy notes and even some resinous and tannic flavors that put it on par with many better white wines. In terms of pairing, a salad with earthy notes (goat cheese, or nuts) would be an immediate match, and this beer would likely do wonderful things for fish that swam within its complicated waters. There’s a sour aspect to this beer, but it’s subdued and in balance. We’ve encountered a number of sour beers that are oppressively aggressive, and Culture Project Two is, by contrast, mellow and well-rounded.

In terms of price and pretense, Culture Project Two punches in a heavyweight class for local brew. Fortunately for all involved, it follows through on its promise.

Fulton and Chef Camp Go Whole Hog

WholeHog_instagram graphic
Join Fulton Beer and Chef Camp for a feast on Friday, May 5, from 4-9 p.m. featuring Chef Camp Chefs Erik Sather of Lowry Hill Meats and Yia Vang of Union Kitchen. Sather will be cooking up a whole hog (from Tangletown Gardens) porchetta-style and Vang will be slow roasting veggies over the fire.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Meet us under the stars for an epic meal, a North Mallow s’mores bar, lawn games, and other camp activities. This event kicks off the annual Fulton Gran Fondo bike ride and is open to riders and the public. Tickets are just $20 and include a plate full o’ food and a glass of Fulton’s newest Session IPA called “HOPSTAR.”

buy-tickets-bug

ABOUT THE CHEFS:

Courtesy of Chef Camp
Courtesy of Chef Camp

YIA VANG, Union Kitchen pop-up founder. While working in some of the foremost kitchens of Minneapolis (including Nighthawks, Borough, and Spoon and Stable) he began to find his own voice in showcasing Hmong food.

ERIK SATHER, owner of Lowry Hill Meats, a butcher shop in Minneapolis. Through years of cooking in some of Minneapolis’ best restaurants, Sather has demonstrated a passion for connecting to the source of his ingredients.

Adam Hester
Adam Hester

ABOUT THE SPONSORS:

Chef Camp is a wilderness culinary retreat at YMCA Camp Miller, 90 minutes north of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Campers stay in cozy cabins, take chef-led campfire cooking classes, forage, sip artisan coffee and cocktails, participate in classic camp activities (think archery, canoeing, and crafts!) and feast under the stars in an open-air mess hall.

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table
Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Tangletown Gardens is a South Minneapolis mainstay. Owners Scott and Dean, both lifelong farm boys, are passionate about plants, animals, and growing things while preserving the land for future generations. They have decades of experience in teaching, research, plant production, ecological farming, design, and garden-center management. Not to mention that they’ve been yearslong partners with Fulton, which provides downtown Minneapolis’ only CSA pickup location.

Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table
Chelsea Korth / Heavy Table

North Mallow creates all-natural gourmet marshmallows. Each batch is locally crafted in Minneapolis with high-quality ingredients such as whole vanilla beans, homemade caramel, brewed espresso, and agave nectar. Their inspiration comes from the memories their mallows create around the campfire and at home.

Join Eat.Drink.Dish MPLS and Friends for an Exclusive Foodie Dinner at Red Stag

RedStagThis story is sponsored by Shepherd Song Farm.

Eat.Drink.Dish MPLS and Red Stag Supperclub are partnering up to bring you an Exclusive Foodie Dinner experience on Sunday, March 26, with the help of Peterson Farms, The Fish Guys, Shepherd Song Farm, Fulton Beer, BET Vodka, and Baker’s Field Flour & Bread.

Looking for the perfect dinner date or an excuse to get together with the gal pals, or wanting to check out the foodie scene? Join us for an evening of Instagram-worthy, chef-inspired dishes at Red Stag Supperclub!

Tickets are available on Eventbrite.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Enjoy a 5-course dinner by Chef Sarah Master curated especially for this event, along with a complimentary welcome cocktail from BET Vodka and Fulton beer pairings with each course.

Fulton growlers
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Brief Timeline:
Check-in — 5:00 p.m.
1st course served — 5:30 p.m.

Activities during dinner:
Instagram photo contest — three winners will be announced toward the end of the event for best photos, and each will take home a grand prize!

Parking:
Click here
for the map.

Seating:
Seats are limited and will be arranged in tables of 8; get your tickets today!

Heavy Table Hot Five: June 24-30

hotfive-flames

Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email editor@heavytable.com.

shepherd-song-banner-ad-horiz-3The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.

shepherd-song-green-keyline

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

1-new - oneHeliotropic Wooden Soul Saison Brett by Indeed Brewing
This week we taped this season’s last edition of our podcast, The Weekend Starts Now, at Indeed Brewing’s barrel room. We feasted on Annie B’s caramels; we were serenaded by Ashley Gold of Holidae (above); and we tasted our way through four of the beers in the sour, funky, wild, and barrel-aged series called Wooden Soul. My favorite: Wooden Soul #1, AKA Heliotropic, coming to bottles soon. A blend of three yeast strains, this dry, bubbly, grapy, slightly funky beer could easily pass for a sparkling wine. Some things do, in fact, get better with age.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]

Ruthie Young / Heavy Table
Ruthie Young / Heavy Table

2-new - twoBone-in Kingston Style Jerk Chicken at Pimento
This tropically spicy menu staple at Pimento does not disappoint — from the fall-off-the-bone, marinated meat to the mounds of coconut rice, Jamaican slaw, and fried sweet plantains it’s served on. For just $9, this hearty meal is a home-cooked steal, and the fast-casual environment had us enjoying the Jamaican fare in no time. Choose one of five homemade sauces. We chose the medium-heat “Minnesota nice,” but next time we’ll ask for a side of the habanero-lime “Kill Dem Wid It,” just for some extra fun.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Ruthie Young]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

3-new - threeRotisserie Chicken from The Dirty Bird
Upton 43’s sidecar grab-and-go restaurant is about as simple as they come: a small counter slinging whole and half rotisserie chickens along with a few sides and sauces. We thought our chicken was divine — profoundly moist and tender flesh with a delicate-yet-crispy skin that was practically glowing with hot, spice-rubbed flavor. This is the only chicken we’ve met that can stand up to the wood-fired rotisserie of Holy Land, and that’s saying a lot.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

4-new fourSweet Child of Vine by Fulton Beer at Chef Camp
This week we got up to Camp Miller to re-explore and start working on a dry run for this September’s Chef Camp retreat. (Five tickets remain; act quickly if you’re intrigued.) Our beer sponsor, Fulton, came with us, and we feasted on lamb and pesto sandwiches on Spoon and Stable bread, fire-roasted asparagus, and — of course — Fulton Beer. Sweet Child of Vine is one of the beers that made the company’s name, and it’s a gorgeous thing to drink in the woods on a summer day. It’s a multidimensional IPA with a lot to say, its flavor built upon a dramatic and ultimately satisfying tension between malt and hops.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveBerry Crumble Ice Cream from Sweet Science
Lakewinds Food Co-op dispatched a “flavors of summer” box to our door, and it contained — hallelujah — a pint of Sweet Science ice cream. The timing of this particular flavor wasn’t accidental. Berry Crumble is summer in a cardboard cylinder: whole berries plus crumbly topping plus full-flavored ice cream in a single, convenient package.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

Chef Camp 2016: The Chefs and the Classes

chef-camp-promo-image

Chef Camp, the Sept. 2-4 wilderness cooking retreat at YMCA Camp Miller on Sturgeon Lake, is pleased to announce the lineup of chefs and classes for its debut session.

Camp attendees will take four different classes over the weekend. In addition they’ll enjoy coffee-, tea-, and spirits-based beverages (plus terrific beer from camp underwriter Fulton Beer); jump into informal breakout sessions; do camp activities such as archery and canoeing; and — of course — feast on epic meals cooked over open flames.

There are just a dozen spots remaining at Chef Camp; if this weekend of camp cooking has captured your imagination, move quickly and join us in the woods! (We’ll update this post when tickets sell out.)

Without further ado, a preliminary look at the chefs and their classes:

Becca Dilley Photography
Becca Dilley Photography

J.D. Fratzke | Strip Club Meat & Fish + Saint Dinette

NORTH COUNTRY FISH GONE GLOBAL (four sessions) — Fresh local fish get marched into fish boils or shore lunches without a second thought, but they have the potential to do so much more. In this class, Fratzke will transform crayfish and lake trout into tacos with salsa roja and teach how to turn the meal into a Korean-style ssam platter. He’ll reinvent walleye (by simmering in the South Asian flavors of coconut milk fragrant with curry spices, lime and fresh tomato); and elevate humble sunfish by applying a tempura frying technique and finishing them with ponzu and shichimi.

Sarah Master / Heavy Table
Sarah Master / Heavy Table

Sarah Master | Mr. Roberts Resort

OYSTERS IN THE ROUGH (two sessions) — Learn about oyster selection, handling, shucking, grilling, and saucing from Master, who has extensive experience with these enchanting bivalves via both Minneapolis and New Orleans. In this class, you’ll get beyond the halfshell and witness the full potential of the oyster.

THE ART OF THE SEAFOOD BOIL (two sessions) — Seafood boils are less a dish than a philosophy, and during warm weather, they’re a way to gather and celebrate. Master will demonstrate a shrimp and andouille sausage boil that is full flavored but beautifully balanced.

Ryan Stechschulte
Ryan Stechschulte

Ryan Stechschulte | Spoon and Stable

BAKING BREADS ANYWHERE (two sessions) — This class will teach you how to harvest yeast from the air that surrounds you and how to use that “natural starter” in a number of applications. We will create a naturally leavened sourdough as well as a campfire cornbread and an Iraqi laffa that will use the natural starter as both a leavening agent and a flavor component. Never eat bad bread again. We will also have discussions about the stages of bread creation as well as a brief about gluten and its importance to the process of bread baking.

Jamie Carlson | You Have to Cook it Right

WILD RISOTTO (two sessions) Carlson will demonstrate how to make a stunning risotto over a camp fire and discuss feastworthy foods that can be prepared while camping. If nature provides, foraged ingredients, such as wild mushrooms and / or lake fish, may be included in the risotto.

FALL FORAGE (two sessions) — Walk the trails of Camp Miller with Jamie Carlson and find wild foragables including mushrooms, sumac, berries, wild grapes, and more. Carlson will bring a portable camp stove to demonstrate on-site recipes, and will have a knapsack of pre-foraged food in case the wilderness yields a less-than-spectacular bounty.

Nate Uri
Nate Uri

Nate Uri | Prohibition Kombucha

TEMAKI BAR (two sessions) — Sometimes you don’t want to start a fire or cook over one, so why not just have sushi out in the wild? Calling on some homestyle Japanese techniques, we’ll prep fish, vegetables, herbs, and pickles for a wicked-fast temaki (hand roll) bar.

Join Chef Camp and Mike Phillips for a Special Dinner at Draft Horse

Courtesy of Draft Horse
Courtesy of Draft Horse

The Heavy Table, Food Building, and Chef Camp Minnesota are proud to present a special multi-course meal on Monday, Feb. 29, from 5:30-8 p.m. at The Draft Horse in Northeast Minneapolis.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Mike Phillips (above) will join chefs Luke Kyle and Geoff King of Draft Horse to present a wonderful meat-and-cheese-focused selection of dishes including ricotta agnolotti, speck-wrapped chicken, and cheesecake with rosemary honey. The products of Red Table Meat Company and The Lone Grazer Creamery will be highlighted.

Courtesy of Draft Horse
Courtesy of Draft Horse

buy-tickets-bug

Tickets are $50 and include:

– A private tour of the Food Building (5:30-6 p.m.)

chef-camp-promo-image– A brief Q&A with the founders of Chef Camp, the three day Northwoods cooking instruction retreat that runs from Sept. 2-4, 2016

– A delicious 2 Gingers welcome cocktail

– A four-course meal at Draft Horse including meat from Red Table Meat Company and cheese from the Lone Grazer

– Beer pairings from Fulton Beer

Tickets are quite limited in number — please reserve now to avoid disappointment later. Guests must be 21 years of age or older.

Courtesy of Draft Horse
Courtesy of Draft Horse

Eleven Things We Learned at North Coast Nosh XI

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

The North Coast Nosh, which has now hit double digits and is steaming along toward legal drinking age, is more than just a chance to eat and drink and observe the evolving facial hair styles of Twin Cities 20- and 30-somethings. It’s a chance to talk with some of our area’s most passionate food and drink advocates, to learn about what makes them so good at their craft, and, sometimes, what makes them tick as individuals.

Here’s what we learned while we wandered around at Nosh XI at the Soap Factory with our adorable souvenir jam jar / glass on Saturday afternoon:

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

We should never drink bellinis again.
The bellini, the one-note diva of brunch drinks, has had her time in the sun. It’s time for something a little livelier. The team from Peace Coffee was shaking up their signature Café Milano cocktails: Yeti Cold Press concentrate, Campari, and Grand Marnier. The Campari adds back the bitterness and depth that ultra-smooth cold press lacks, and Grand Marnier has all the sweetness this drink needs. If not for the existence of bloody Marys in this world, this might be our new favorite brunch drink. (Need a recipe? Add 2 oz cold press concentrate, 1 / 2 oz Campari, and 1 / 2 oz Grand Marnier to a shaker. Shake with ice, strain, and serve.) 

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Judge a brewery by its pilsner.
The way Ben Flattum, of Fulton Beer, explains it, big hoppy and malty flavors can hide a multitude of sins in other styles of beer (not that Fulton brewers would ever need to do that). But a true pilsner needs to be in perfect balance, so it’s the best way to gauge a brewer’s chops. At the Nosh, Flattum poured Fulton’s light, bright, and hard-to-find Ringer American pale ale and debuted their upcoming farmhouse ale, the super-herby Maitrise. Both beers will be easier to find after Fulton opens its new brewery and bottling facility in Northeast Minneapolis in July. (Don’t worry: the downtown taproom isn’t going anywhere.) Remember, all this started in a Minneapolis garage.
Bonus lesson: Pelletized hops looks like rabbit food.

The Toast: March 2014

Banner for the Toast: Drinking Well in the Upper Midwest

Readers: What’s your go-to spring brew? Agree / disagree with our findings? Email john@heavytable.com or tweet @johnpgarland and let us know what you’re toasting this month.  The best tip this month receives a Heavy Table pint glass.

In This Toast…winter’s icy death grip is starting to weaken. Unearthing our light jackets from the back of the closet, we can almost envision (Sweet Lord! Can it be near?) patio drinking season. So we get in the mood with an epic spring beer taste-off, get the lowdown on the new Schell’s pilsner series, and drink a dry aperitif to toast the melting snow. Cheers!

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Spring Beer Taste Test

Like the swallows flying back to San Juan Capistrano, the spring season ushers in a flock of wheat beers, saisons, lighter pales, and blonde ales. Our friends at the MN Craft Brewers Guild gathered up two dozen current releases for us to sample. So we called in some expert reinforcements: Liz Scholz, writer at The Beer Spectacles, Jeremy Zoss, proprietor of Zoss Media, Andrew Schmitt, lead rabble-rouser at Minnesota Beer Activists, and Tom Boland from Elevated Beer Wine & Spirits, who also brought a few extra beers to the party.

Clockwise from upper left: Boland, Zoss, Schmitt and Schols (Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table)
Clockwise from upper left: Boland, Zoss, Schmitt and Scholz (Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table)

We served them all blind, arranged in flights of more or less similar styles. Opinion on the pale ales (Indeed Let it Ride, Lucid Dyno, Dangerous Man Vienna IPA, ENKI Tail Feather) just simmered to the middle of the pack — lots of light citrus and zesty hops — and all were deemed just fine. The lager, pilsner, and kolsch categories were mild on impact, though Schell’s Maifest was considered a standout (they know something about lagers, see below).

Four beers rose to the top by a convincing margin, and our panel thought each of them to be individually expressive and on point for their style. Four more beers deserved an honorable mention. Here’s what our panel thought of a few fine local beers for spring:

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Gold: Surly Brewing Co. BLAKKR

Surly’s raucous imperial black ale was appreciated for its complex dark malts, notable fruit character, and well-integrated alcohol (9.99% ABV). The nose suggests an IPA, while the body delivers a similar, juicy backbone before finding a middle ground between sweet and boozy. There’s a lot going on in BLAKKR, and we found it comes together with confidence.

Silver: Indeed Brewing Co. Burr Grinder

Indeed’s Burr Grinder had brilliant brandy / coffee notes on the nose and a light, silky body that drew comparison to cold press. It was well flavored without being heavy — a compelling, focused coffee flavor with a touch of smokiness. If our parking meters hadn’t expired, we’d have drunk it all night long.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Bronze: Brau Brothers Brewing Bancreagie Sour Peated Ale

The sour version of the Brau’s Bancreagie scotch ale has stellar tart cherry flavor surrounding a faint nuttiness. “Definitely cherry, but complex enough to avoid being cough syrup.” A lingering vinegar note strikes an intriguing balance where the acids amplify the sugars. The peat profile is greatly muted, taken over by a surprising, nuanced sour. “There’s room to explore this beer for a long time.”

Just off the podium: Summit Brewing Co. Frost Line Rye

We’ve previously enjoyed Summit’s new spring rye, and this blind tasting just confirms our opinion. Beginning with a mesmerizing citrus / pine nose, the spice on the body strikes us as outdoorsy, with juniper, spruce, and herbal character coming through. We could drink a lot of this.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Honorable Mention:

Bent Brewstillery Nordic Blonde Ale

A beer that makes me want to seek out this brand.” The Nordic Blonde bends the blonde style to allow some amber in its makeup. It has a beautiful color, an assertive malt presence with a tart finish, and it’s packed with grapefruit citrus that sets off a sweet-sour tug of war.

Finnegans Blonde

This blonde was a most welcome surprise. Our panel admitted to some brand bias when it comes to Finnegans, but a blind taste of the blonde made them reconsider. It had strong green fruit on the nose and a distinct yeast character (some smelled the esters, others found it gave a Belgian slant to the sip). This was light and crisp, a well done spring beer.

Fulton Beer Expat

Sour apples, apricots, and mellow sweetness among some Belgian notes endeared us to the Expat. It had well-rounded spice character in a smooth and straightforward sip.

Lift Bridge Brewing Co. Irish Coffee Stout

The sweetness of the body mixed with the roast and smoke of the coffee. It’s a rich, familiar coffee stout. “Luxurious and silky.” As opposed to the daytime coffee feel of Burr Grinder, this is your dessert coffee.

Norseman Distilling in Minneapolis - equipment
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Distillery Parity

Last week, members of the Minnesota Distillers Guild testified to the House Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy Committee in support of HF 2200/SF 2014. The proposed legislation would allow our growing crop of micro distilleries to sell bottles and run cocktail rooms at their distilleries.

As for upcoming local booze: Far North Spirits’ rum is on the horizon and Loon Liquors is currently firing test batches, looking to zero in on their Loonshine blend at the end of this month.

John Garland / Heavy Table
John Garland / Heavy Table

Cocktail Endorsement: Campari Spritz

As the thaw sets in and puddles begin to grow on our sidewalks, I can’t help but think of Venice, Italy (above), the city built in a puddle. My last visit involved a thorough education in the Campari Spritz, and this weather is perfect for that bittersweet aperitif. You could just add Campari to club soda, drop in an orange wedge, and call it a day. But try this version: It’s light, refreshing, and low in alcohol. It’s ideally paired with a game of bocce:

1 oz Campari
1/2 oz dry vermouth (Dolin Blanc would be nice)
splash Prosecco (or other dry sparkling wine)
splash grapefruit juice

Add the campari and dry vermouth to a large red wine glass with a couple large ice cubes. Splash grapefruit juice and Prosecco on top. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge. Some citrus flavored bitters would be a good addition.

John Garland / Heavy Table
John Garland / Heavy Table

Schell’s 30th Anniversary Pilsner Series

We’ve always known the August Schell Company to have a way with certain styles. Their Oktoberfest makes us actually want to drink Oktoberfests. And when we’re draining 2-for-1s at Liquor Lyle’s, it’s usually Schell’s pilsner — we’ve long considered it the finest pilsner in the state. In this craft brewing climate where the oakiest, hoppiest, and booziest draw so much attention, it’s a perfectly balanced respite.

So we were excited to learn that Schell’s is curating a special pilsner series. They’ve brought back the 30-year-old recipe (1984), and then experimented with rye additions (Roggen) and citrusy hops (Mandarina) to round out a sampler 12-pack with the current version (2014). It’s in stores now. Below are our quick tasting notes:

1984: lazy carbonation, distinct sulphur note to the yeast, cereal grains, round, robust, old-school.

2014: clean, more acidic, bracing malt backbone, supremely balanced, crisp, lemony, lingering.

Roggen: bright nose, touch of spice, more resinous, peppery, bounce on the finish. Compared to 2014: same frequency, more amplitude.

Mandarina: citrus early and often, distinct dry hop note, oranges, clean finish. Wouldn’t peg it as a pilsner, but enjoy the mountain of hops all the same.

Fulton Beer Tasting Dinner at Sun Street Breads

Maria Manion / Heavy Table

Solveig Tofte, baker and co-owner of Sun Street Breads, has been pondering the question of American food — what defines it? She thinks the answer may lay along our vast highway systems, which like the great spice roads, connect not only different parts of the country, but also different culinary traditions.

Tofte grew up along the North Shore — the town of Tofte, of course — in close proximity to Brian Hoffman of Fulton Beer, who came up in Grand Marais. Thus on Monday evening, bakery and brewery teamed up to host “A Road Trip Down Highway 61,” which applied Tofte’s theory to a pairing of Fulton beers with four courses inspired by Lake Superior and points south.

Maria Manion / Heavy Table

About 55 people showed up for the event, tucking in beside each other at long, communal tables in the dining room and kitchen. The bread basket, made special for the evening, included some rather irresistible Lonely Blonde Ale pretzels and a Libertine Red Rye Ale bread that was very nutty (and, when slathered in butter and dipped in the sauce of our third course, very hearty). The crew gave introductions to each pairing, a rare opportunity to peek into the process and enthusiasms of the bakers, brewers, and chefs. But the highlight of the evening was the pairings themselves, which were thoughtful and satisfying. We could not help but note that, while everyone was well behaved, a convivial din grew with each new beer — the pours were generous, refills were granted, and a good time was had by all.

Word has it that beer tastings could become a regular feature at the bakery café, so watch the website.

Maria Manion / Heavy Table

Here are some highlights:

At the first stop was a solid composed salad inspired by Lake Superior, featuring smoked white fish, onion sour cream, bleu cheese, a tiny pile of pickled Haralson apple slices, and baguette. All of these things make natural and tasty pairs, but the apples stole the plate. Lightly pickled, they were still sweet and crisp, but with a delicate cumin flavor reminiscent of chutney. On the whole, the salad was very nice with Fulton’s undemanding Lonely Blonde Ale. Hoffman called it easy — a gateway beer for newbies, he said — and it really does go down like water.