If Rochester is entering or nearing a Golden Age of Beer, this weekend may well be the pivot.
For lovers of beer, there will be a trifecta of beer-drinking events in Rochester that will make this one of the frothiest on record. It will include the fifth annual Rochester Craft Beer Expo on Saturday that will feature nearly 50 breweries and their craft beer brands. And the anniversaries of two downtown neighbors and brew purveyors, the Tap House and Grand Rounds, will be celebrated on consecutive days, Friday and Saturday, over the clinking of beer mugs.
If beer were a weather report, it would say there is a 100 percent chance of beer.
Just think: What was once a beer-producing island (Kinney Creek was the first brewery to open its doors in 2012) has become an archipelago. LTS Brewing Co., Grand Rounds Brewpub and Forager Brewing Company have all opened their doors within the last year and a half. Planning for a brewery in Eyota, a city of 2,000, is also underway.
“It’s just actually blew up,” said Mark Opdahl, president of Chop Liver Beer Craft Festivals, which sponsors the Rochester expo, referring to the statewide proliferation of beer brands, brew pubs and breweries across the state.
Craft-beer brands have never been so plentiful, but with choice comes the competitive rigors of the marketplace. Opdahl said Rochester’s market still has room for growth, but he predicts the survival-of-the-fittest competition for customers already playing out will sort out and reshape the market. Winners will emerge because of their superior product. And the less successful will fall by the wayside.
“Now is when things are going to get real,” Opdahl said. “You still have to provide a consistently quality product.”
Today, even anniversaries can be occasion for disagreement. The Tap House and Grand Rounds, downtown neighbors on Historic Third Street, originally wanted to celebrate with street parties on the same Saturday. But eventually the Tap House agreed to move its event to Friday.
The Rochester expo is a case in point in how much choice has increased for beer drinkers. When the expo started five years ago, organizers cast a wide net to to draw the 35 breweries that appeared. “We tried to incorporate anybody that would work with us,” Opdahl said. “There weren’t a lot of breweries available in the Rochester market.”
Fast forward five years. Today, nearly 50 breweries will be hawking their products on Saturday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Mayo Civic Center. So plentiful has the market become that “we kind or regionalize the local Minnesota breweries a little bit and each year try to rotate in some of these new national brands,” Opdahl said.
Here are the events:
• The Tap House will hold its fourth-annual Beer Street Social from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday at the beer business’s historic Third Street location in downtown Rochester. The bands Incognito and Hair of the Dog will perform. Barbecue will also be available.
• Grand Rounds Brewing Company will mark its first-year anniversary the next day, on Saturday, with a street party that will start at 5 p.m. The event will feature a pig roast, live local music and tent in front of Grand Rounds Brewpub, where beer and food will be available for purchase.
Local bands and artists to perform at the Grand Rounds party will be Jeremy Jewell, a harmonica-accompanied vocalist; Elizabeth Alness, a singer-songwriter and former Grand Rounds employee; Chris Lawrence, an American Idol contestant from St. Paul; and Goodbye Lucy Grey, a St. Cloud alternative/indie-style band.
A fun fact: Grand Rounds has created 21 beers since it opened a year ago and used 15 tons of grain for brewing.
• The Rochester Craft Beer Expo will run 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Mayo Civic Center, 30 Civic Center Drive SE. VIP ticket-holders can get in an hour earlier, at 2 p.m. Live music, education seminars and food vendors will also be featured.
Advance general admission tickets costs $35, and advance VIP tickets go for $45. Tickets prices increase $10 the day of the show.
6 must-try beers
Cocktail hour columnists Louis Garcia, Loren Green and Ari Kolas each recommended three beers to try at the Rochester Craft Beer Expo this weekend.
Forager Brewing Co. — Twisted Zweig
Forager sits in the upper echelon of Minnesota breweries, and its collaborative beer with Berlin’s Vagabund Brauerei, Twisted Zweig, is a perfect example of its skill. The fruited imperial berliner weisse is a cloudy purple thanks to all of the tart, sweet blackberries — 85 pounds to be exact — that will tickle your tongue with just the right balance of fruit and tart flavor.
Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. — PseudoSue
My go-to pale ale, this world-class beer is chock-full of Citra hops. The popular hop gives off a cat-litter box aroma, usually described as smelling catty or similar to black currant. That may prove divisive, but inhale it all in before taking a gulp. In an instant you’re greeted with a refreshing, zesty grapefruit and lemon combo that has just a hint of bitter pine and bread. The flavor doesn’t linger, meaning you’ll be raising your glass back to your mouth quickly and often.
Ballast Point Brewing & Spirtis Co. — Habanero Sculpin
This brewery out of San Diego knows how to make spicy beers. Habanero Sculpin is a variant of the popular Sculpin IPA (along with the highly lauded Grapefruit Sculpin and new Pineapple Sculpin). While the heat level may vary, those who try this will get a consistent burn that grows stronger throughout your sipping session, but will never overwhelm thanks to the base beer’s punchy apricot and mango backbone.
Ballast Point Watermelon Dorado
Watermelon beer doesn’t sound very good, but it’s definitely intriguing in the right mix, if the sweetness can be downplayed. There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the recent new fruit-infusions from Ballast Point and there’s no better time to sip and sample than a festival.
Grand Rounds Blood Orange French Saison
Much like the above, there’s the what-if factor when new flavors are added. Saisons play well with adjuncts, and the subtlety (and color) of a blood orange shows potential.
Mankato Ceres Summer Ale
Pretend its summer again with this light and breezy beer. It’s crisp but flavorful, light but distinct.
Mankato Brewing Co. Organ Grinder Amber
One of my favorite styles is a good Amber beer. Organ Grinder is a good representation of amber. The maltiness shines through with notes of caramel and a slight sweetness, but it has just enough hop character to give it the bracing little bite I enjoy in the aftertaste. It pours an ochre hue that is very inviting and has as a good thick head without being annoying.
Rush River Double Bubble IPA
When I am in the mood for a little stronger and hoppy beer, I like the Rush River Double Bubble IPA. It is an imperial IPA — that basically means it is stronger and has more hops than typical India pale ales. But the part I love and that is so unique is the addition of Wisconsin honey in the finish. It smooths out the edges of the beer, but is still not too sweet. It is a golden color that is super smooth and surprising. You would never guess that it is a whopping 9 percent alcohol.
Olvalde Brewing Brynhilder’s Gift
Local brewery Olvalde Brewing always makes great and unique beers. Brynhilder’s Gift is a fun beer that is a true, good-tasting beer. Brynhilder’s GIft is a farmhouse style; it has juniper and spicy fruit flavors. It is a beer you can even age! Pretty rare, but the aged Brynhilder’s really change in a good way for a cool flavor experience.