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Cheers to… Progress! In this issue of The Toast, we’re looking forward. We’re excited for a brewery rehabilitation. We’re happy to see the quality of local wine improving and to find some Pinot Noir we actually like. And we chat with a group of beer-loving, locked-out orchestra musicians and toast to getting them back to work. Be sure to let us know what you’re toasting! Tweet or email us anytime. Kippis!
Three Sheets to the Woodwinds
Kevin Welch (above, right) and his wife, Qiuxia, were bottling some Boom Island Brewing Hoodoo a while back and began talking about how they hadn’t lately seen a gathering of their musician friends. You may recall they’re both French horn players who freelance with the Minnesota Orchestra. You may also be aware that the musicians have been locked out by the Minnesota Orchestra Association over a contract dispute since October of last year. Their friends hadn’t been meeting much because they’ve been playing in other cities, taking on more students — in essence, making ends meet until they can play together again.
Welch then decided to dedicate his second-ever seasonal brew to solidarity with friends during the negotiations. LoMoMo Palooza (the acronym stands for Locked Out Musicians Of the Minnesota Orchestra) is a copper-hued, 6% alcohol Belgian, made with 50/50 pale and Pilsner malts and just a handful of Special B malt for some light caramel sweetness. There’s just a touch of citrus from some Cascade finish hops and a Witbier yeast strain offers a little more tartness and spice. $1 from each bottle sold goes to a fund for the musicians.
We had Welch gather a handful of the orchestra at his brewery and we immediately noticed the camaraderie they had been missing out on. We sipped and talked shop, learned which halls and conductors they prefer, and heard sad predictions about which world-class musicians they’d end up losing to other ensembles.
“I wanted to have a lot of different flavors in the beer playing together like an orchestra,” says Welch. “I wanted to label it bière d’orchestre, but that doesn’t make any sense.” The musicians held a naming contest, suggesting everything from historical instruments to puns on composers like one of our favorites, Sip-beer-lius. LoMoMo premiered on February 1 for a special performance honoring their Grammy-nominated Sibelius recording. Many of the musicians gathered afterwards at Zelo and celebrated together over Welch’s beer. “We’re all so hither and fro that it was so nice just to be together,” recalled flautist Roma Duncan, “so of course we’re going out for a drink after the concert and [LoMoMo] was a great part of it.”
It’s already proved one of Boom Island’s most successful releases. They began bottling two weeks ago and the first batch sold out in hours. Welch admits it may become a year-round offering, but here’s to hoping they can drop the “Lo” from the name and the full orchestra will toast with some MoMo Palooza in the near future.
Up next for Boom Island: Expect more word on a traditional Witbier coming out for spring. We also spied a Bordeaux barrel full of Lambic aging in the brewery and can only speculate on that release.
February’s Reader Submission comes from Josh Haroldson, who shared with us this shot of his grandfather (below, right) working at the old Hamm’s brewery sometime during the ’70s or ’80s.
I think the guy on the left should be our new Toast mascot. It’s nice to see shots of the building’s productive years, considering the state it’s in these days:
In case you missed it, be sure you check out the rest of Crystal Liepa’s incredible photography from when we explored the Hamm’s complex with Bob McManus of Mill City Distilling.
A couple other links for your consideration: Simple, Good and Tasty brings you some good templates for infusing spirits. Also check out the details on the Steel Toe and 612Brew taprooms, which opened in March, on our Taproom Directory.
Come Taste With Us!
We’ve been giving a lot of coverage to local spirits lately. Our region has seen a compelling group of small-batch distillers make waves in the last few years and Minnesota is finally starting to get in the game. So, we figured it would be a good idea to get together and taste what all the buzz is about. Join us Saturday, April 6, from 4-6pm, at Elevated Beer Wine & Spirits for an informal tasting of spirits from Panther Distillery, Templeton Rye, Death’s Door, 45th Parallel, and perhaps a few others. We’ll be hammering out exact details between now and then, but expect some distillers to be on hand to answer questions. We’ll give you the final details in next month’s Toast.
Wine Strolling With the Minnesota Grape Growers Association
We like to use the annual MGGA Cold Climate Conference as a way to gauge the state of regional winemaking. Held late February in St. Paul, the event hosted 23 Minnesota wineries pouring for their industry peers. A few things we noticed:
Four Daughters is still on a roll. We visited the Rochester-area winery right after they opened in February of last year and came away wondering how such a new operation succeeded so admirably with their first vintage. Now we know it wasn’t a fluke.
Since our visit, their LaCrescent (which at the time we called “in league with the better LaCrescents in the state”) won the Governor’s Cup for best Minnesota wine of the year at the International Cold Climate Wine Competition last August. Tasting through their new vintage, we’re even more excited for their future. Especially surprising was their Brianna. It’s a grape we don’t much care for, but their second effort at it was fresh and delightful.
Investment is coming to the region. It’s not cheap to start a winery (they say the best way to make a million in wine is to start with two million). Apparently, there are some folks out there with deep pockets who see this industry as ripe with potential. Two wineries, Chankaska Creek Ranch & Winery in Kasota and Villa Bellezza in Pepin, WI, have sunk what looks to be substantial funds into their operations. It’s perhaps too early to know what quality of wine they’ll be producing, but we’ve noticed what excess capital can do for a Midwestern winery.
Marquette is on the move. Making red grape wine in the Midwest is a particular challenge. We’ve been waiting for Marquette (a genetic granddaughter of Pinot Noir) to take the reins as the region’s premier grape, and this was the first tasting where we felt Marquette across the board had markedly improved.
Specifically, the Marquettes from Crofut Winery in Jordan, Indian Island Winery in Janesville, Morgan Creek Vineyards in New Ulm (they call theirs “Collure”), and Parley Lake Winery in Waconia were exceptional. What they all have in common: judicious use of oak. Much of the bad Marquette we tasted had too much barrel influence, obliterating any chance at nuance or balance.
Oregon Pinot Camp in Minnesota
Pinot Noir is a grape your wine-loving editor had all but given up on. I haven’t yet fallen in love with those rose water-thin Burgundies with their eau de barnyard noses. Nor can I get excited about those monster, overripe, Welch’s-flavored California Pinots that smell like Syrah-scented rubbing alcohol. So we were happy when our friends over at The Wine Company recently brought in representatives from three well-respected Oregon wineries to let us know how their state is developing a mastery of this fickle grape. Pinots from the Willamette Valley are as varied as the patchwork soils deposited there by melting glaciers years ago. But they all enjoy a hot, dry summer and a large diurnal temperature flux (a must for good Pinot).
“We’re trying to achieve something personal,” says Mark Vlossak (above, right) of St. Innocent Winery. “It’s not good or bad; people are trying to make wines that do different things. When you look at the spectrum of what you can do with Pinot Noir, it’s inherently much broader than almost any other variety, except maybe Riesling or Nebbiolo. And it isn’t a dogmatic example of ‘This is what good Pinot Noir tastes like.'”
The spate of Oregon Pinots we tasted really did find that middle ground between Burgundy and California. These were supple and, in some cases, voluptuous wines that still had some nerve and finesse to them. Check out the Bethel Heights Vineyards “Casteel Reserve” Pinot from Mimi Casteel (above, left) or the Domaine Drouhin Oregon “Laurene” Pinot — a wine so soothing and sublime, it made us want to curl up in front of a fireplace.