Malt in Beer: Back to the Roots

by Kayla

Malt is one of the most essential ingredients in beer. In my last blog, I wrote about bacteria in beer, and how it’s responsible for some of your favorite sours. This time we’re talking about malt, because it’s really the unsung hero of beer, and is usually overlooked when compared to hops. The average beer consumer is seeking out the latest hop variant, and we can all trust our own favorites from Yakima Valley in Washington and Willamette Valley in Oregon. So, let’s give malt a try. I promise it’s just as exciting!

Locally in the malt world, Rahr Malting Company has been running the show in Minnesota for over a century. Rahr was founded on Lake Michigan in 1847 by William Rahr, and is currently located in Shakopee, MN by the 5th and 6th generation of the Rahr family.  I had the privilege of touring the facility, and saw the process that barley goes through to become the grains that are used to make your favorite beer. I am beyond grateful for the experience and seeing how much care goes into the process of getting to the beer you love. 

In Germany, Weyermann® Malt is 4th-generation-run by Sabine Weyermann and has been in production for over 140 years in Bramberg, Germany. They are currently one of the largest European malt suppliers in the US. 

IREKS also in Germany was started by Johann Peter Ruckdeschela in Kulmbach, Germany over 160 years ago. Currently IREKS is run by a group of family companies. 

 Other maltsters are Country Malt Group, Briess, and Simpson to name a few. A maltster is a maker of malt for grains used in brewing and distilling. They work with the farmers that grow the barley, and the microbiologist at the brewery as well as the brewer. 

So why are maltsters and what they do so important to beer? Malting separates the starch from the barley and has to go through 3 stages so it can be used in brewing: Steeping, germination, and then kilning. 

Steeping takes 2 days and it’s a process that soaks the grain in water on and off for 8-hour intervals. It helps activate the enzymes that help the roots of the barley (called ‘chits’) to become more visible and ready for germination. 

Germination is the second step and this removes the barley from the water and keeps it moist for another 3-5 days. It sits in a giant bed that every so often gets sprayed to keep it from drying out, allowing the endosperm to convert to a soft, chalky form. After this process is done it’s time for it to be kilned. 

At the kilning stage the barley is “green.” It’s kept at 176℉ for about 2-4 hours, which helps to preserve the nutrients for fermentation, making the enzymes dormant and stopping the modification. Now, it’s up to the maltster to decide the flavor profile of the malt and pick how dark or light the malt is going to be. There are way too many possible malt varieties so since it’s Oktoberfest season, we’ll talk about German malts, which is a preferred malt for making your favorite Oktoberfests. 

My two favorite malts are Munich and Vienna German malts. Weyermann® and IREKS come to mind, and are also in some of my personal favorite Oktoberfest and Festbiers. The top three beers in no particular order that I think you should try with these malts are: 

Lupulin Oktoberfest Mӓrzen Style Lager | Big Lake, MN | $10.49/4pk | The malts they use are Ireks Vienna, Ireks Munich, Prairie™ German Pilsner (Cargill Salzgitter), and Weyermann® Caramunich 3 (a hybrid of Caramel and Munich malt). This beer comes in at 5.5% ABV. The richness of the malt really shines through and gives it some depth. I love mӓrzen style beers because the combination of the kilned malt and the specialty malts give this beer the toasty aroma with a rich taste. This beer reminds me of when the mid months of fall are here, and the leaves are just starting to fall. All of us Halloween geeks are preparing our costumes and looking forward to the spooky season. 

Receptional - Utepils Brewing

Utepils (Ooh-ta-pilz) Receptional German Festbier | Minneapolis MN | $8.99/4pk | The malts they use for this beer are Weyermann® Pilsner and Munich malt. Coming in at 5.9% ABV, this Festbier is pretty drinkable for being almost 6% ABV. The beer is light and refreshing, with a cracker ,pretzel, and biscuit malt flavor. It’s perfect for the beginning of fall when it’s still kind of warm outside and you want to have a fire, or sit outside and enjoy the changing of the seasons. I get excited when I see this beer, because it reminds me that fall is just around the corner!

Schell’s Oktoberfest Mӓrzen-style Festbier | New Ulm, MN | $9.99/6pk or $15.99/12pk | The malts they use are Pale, Munich, and Vienna. Coming in at 5.8% ABV, it’s pretty similar to the Lupulin. The malt character has some depth, rich, and smooth, except they use Pale malt instead of Pilsner. This beer would definitely be perfect for a great Labor Day weekend to celebrate that fall is on its way! 

 

New Changes to Online Shopping

By Melissa, Operations and Systems Queen (and Cider Specialist!)

Author Arnold Bennett was quoted as saying, “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accomplished by discomforts.” In the last 16 + months of trials with new sales systems and ordering platforms at France 44, we have all experienced exactly what he was saying 100 years ago.

Let me start by saying THANK YOU to all of you loyal customers who have stayed with us through all the changes that have occurred. Staffing, business hours, technology, and operations have all changed a lot. Some things have gone very well (curbside pickup, virtual classes) while others didn’t go well (new apps). Your feedback has been heard about all of it and we have been working hard to adjust and make things better across the board.

The biggest complaints came about ordering online. The new platform we have been using is great for somethings we do, but not for the online store. For the last several months, we have been redeveloping the online store for a better user experience. For those of you who use the online store, you will see a very different layout. We hope that you find it easier to find the products you are looking for.

As for a new app, we have not been able to find one that meets all our needs. We will continue to look but in the meantime, you can always ask someone at customer service to look up your past purchases and points.  If a time comes where the perfect app can be ours, we will let you know!

Once again, thank you for your patience as we navigated all the changes we experienced together. Know that the one thing we will never change is our commitment to providing the best customer service we have the ability to give. We continue to welcome feedback as we work to improve our systems and online shopping experiences. Cheers, and thank you!

Good Bacteria: The Real Heroes of Sour Beer

by Kayla

For those of you who don’t know me, I am a woman of many hats at France 44. I work with the Beer Team, and I’m 100% that woman who, on day two or three knew your name, your dog’s name, and the name of one of your family members. My strengths in the beer world come from being a member of Witch Hunt Minneapolis, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works for gender equity in craft beer brewing through education. My experiences with them gave me brewhouse experience from Barrel Theory, Arbeiter, and BlackStack. I have training with Better Beer Society and am also continuing my education with the Cicerone program.

Today we’re talking about bacteria in beer–the good kind, the kind that started those old-school, natural-beauty versions of sour beers. I’m talking about Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and Acetobacter. Trust me, bacteria in beer at the appropriate amount is a very good thing.

Pediococcus. This is the slow poke bacteria of the beer world, and it takes a LONG time for it to get started. On the plus side, it allows time for the primary yeast to complete fermentation so there’s no need for dismissal quite yet. However, this bacteria is also kind of high-maintenance: too much and your beer will taste like diacetyl (commonly known as ‘movie theater popcorn butter’). Therefore, it does much better with a friend like Brettanomyces in order to help lower the final level in your beer. Once in control, it produces deliciously funky aromas and flavors.

Lactobacillus. This bacteria is responsible for converting sugars in the word (pronounced wert) to lactic acid. It’s responsible for the level of sour in the beer, but also for giving it a clean taste. You can call it the “second in command” under Saccharomyces. Lactobacillus can also be found in foods like kimchi and yogurt.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to look in France 44’s Imported Beer section and give some of these unique beers a try. Most of them are only offered in a single bottle, and you’ll definitely be surprised.

Acetobacter. Finally, Acetobacter is a not-so-common bacteria in the beer world. It’s know as the “silent but deadly” bacteria: it consumes ethanol to produce harsh-tasting acetic acid, which means that a little bit of this guy really goes a long way. This is also why once you use it, you have to pitch it and clean your equipment well in order to keep this bacteria from attaching itself onto any tank or tool used. Acetobacter is responsible for Flemish reds and Belgian Lambics.

 

PROFESSOR FRITZ BRIEM’S 1809 BERLINER WEISSE from Freising, Germany uses lactic acid, which is produced by Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. Berliner Weisse beers are also known as “The Champagne of the North.” Some people use sweet syrups in this style of beer but I like them as natural as they get, like this example. At 5% ABV, it is fermented in traditional open fermenters, giving it complex fruitiness and tartness.

 

DUCHESSE DE BOURGOGNE from Verhaeghe Brewing in Vichte, Belgium, is a Flemish red that uses Acetobacter. It has a dry, acetic finish that complements the passionfruit and chocolate notes in the beer. After the first and secondary fermentation, this beer goes into oak barrels for 18 months and comes out at 6.2% ABV.

 

CROOKED STAVE SOUR ROSÉ is a mixed culture beer, with raspberries and blueberries and fermented in oak foeders. It is naturally wild, but the effervescent character gives it a rosé-like personality. And at 4.5% ABV, you can definitely have more than one.

Rodenbach Returns

Rodenbach has returned to the Twin Cities market after a near two-year absence. A brewer of benchmark-quality sour red ales, they are a must-try for any beer aficionado.

There are limitless ways in which an aspiring craft beer connoisseur can find their curiosity for the hobby. Each person experiences their own, unique “Aha!” moment—it could be that bottle of Fat Tire from a neighbor’s BBQ back in the late 90s, perhaps a vase-shaped pour of Bavarian hefeweizen in a summery beer garden, or that first enlightening sip of Trappist ale from the shadowy corner of a Belgian beer bar. For many in the generation older than me, it was a pilgrimage to the Rockies for bottles of Coors Banquet and laying tracks in freshly fallen powder. For me, it was that first bottle of Surly Darkness shared amongst the company of my college roommates. Memories like these form an emotional bridge between a beer and an experience. Within the near-infinite expanse of beer, there lies a few unique, regional specialty beers that tend to evoke these sorts of experiences. One of these is Rodenbach.

The beers from Rodenbach are both strange and extraordinary; a flavor experience that is unexpected yet oddly satisfying. Their stable of brews is unquestionably the pride of West Flanders, a Dutch-speaking region of Belgium to the north of France. It is from this small region that their beer style gets its name—the Flanders, or Flemish, Red Ale—a specialty that has been brewed there since the Middle Ages. Rodenbach’s characteristic flavor comes from maturation in large oak vats called foeders, pronounced “foo-der.” Rodenbach has nearly three hundred of them, varying in size from 120 to 555 barrels. The staves of these foeders are home to an abundance of microorganisms that gently sour the maturing beer, adding a vinous-like quality.

Rodenbach’s base beer is brewed from a grist of pale and caramelized roasted malts, then hopped with aged hop pellets so as to minimize their flavor contribution. The wort is fermented with a mixed culture yeast and sent to lager in horizontal tanks for four weeks before being racked into the aforementioned foeders, where it will develop for up to two years. Using foeders to mature Rodenbach was perfected by Eugene Rodenbach, a grandson of brewery founder Pedro Rodenbach. His early studies of English brewing developed his skills in wood-aging, blending, and the acidification of beer—three core components of Rodenbach beer. Most all of the packaged brews are blends, with some exceptional foeders being bottled singularly. Though each beer differs in character, they all feature a mosaic of fruity complexity, sweet malt, oak structure, and pleasing tartness.

Rodenbach Classic — $11.99/4pk Can

The youthful beer in Rodenbach’s lineup; Classic is a 3:1 blend of young to matured beer. The larger portion of young, un-soured beer contributes a notable freshness to the palate. Slightly vinous on the nose with cracker-y, caramelized malt and a medley of dark fruit notes end with a soft, apple cider vinegar-like tartness.

Rodenbach Grand Cru — $15.99/4pk

Grand Cru, French for “great growth”, is a term used in the wine world to classify certain vineyards as having the greatest potential to produce grapes and terroir of highly regarded quality. As such, this designation is not used lightly. Rodenbach Grand Cru, though a beer, showcases the qualities of a great wine. The 2:1 ratio of matured to young beer shows greater complexity and power. Aromas of dried, dark fruit and cherry tart accompany hints at the forthcoming acidity. The rounded palate features spicier oak, complex fruitiness, and a punchier lactic and acetic finish.

Rodenbach Alexander — $15.99/4pk

An homage to Alexander Rodenbach—co-founder of the Rodenbach brewery, parliament member, mayor, writer, and as a man who suffered blindness as a child, a lifetime advocate for blind and deaf Belgian people. Alexander is essentially Grand Cru that has been macerated with sour cherries, and this aroma leaps from the glass. Fresh fruitiness is balanced by softly sweet, caramelized malt notes and finishes with a lingering complexity akin to a fine Burgundian pinot noir.

Adding Voices to the Conversation: Small Efforts, Big Impact

by the France 44 staff

Last week, Bill wrote a piece about the sexism that exists within the beer industry, and what our response as a business should be to it. A lot of the questions he posed are not easy ones to answer. What should our criteria be when we’re deciding what products to promote in our store? What should our response be when we learn about makers and producers who harm or cause trauma to others? Are we doing enough in our own business to make sure our employees are safe, respected, and happy?

The pandemic has perhaps allowed us (or forced us) to take stock of a lot of things. We’ve looked at how we spend our time, what we consume, and how we consume it—be it food, alcohol, information, entertainment, etc. Maybe we’ve decided to prioritize things differently now that we’ve experienced “time” in a different way.

And perhaps, while experiencing a different lifestyle this past year, while hearing voices different from our own speak, and coming to see things in a new light, we’ve learned the power behind the word “no.” No more misogyny. No more uncomfortable situations. No more making excuses for others. No more saying, “that’s just the way this industry is.” No more turning a blind eye. No more silence.

We know sexism and misogyny exist in many industries—it’s not specific to the beer, liquor, wine, or hospitality sectors. You’re here on our wines and spirits blog, so you’ve gotten a peek into this particularly male-dominated world. There are a lot of things that need to change, and it can be pretty depressing to realize how deep we need to dig in order to uproot all the rottenness.

True and lasting change is brought about by building a firm foundation of many small, individual efforts of pushing back, saying no, standing alongside and fighting with others for better things, and creating a small corner of the world that functions differently—that is to say: in a respectful, equal, safe, and supportive way. It doesn’t sound like too much to ask for, but these standards can be surprisingly scarce in a world ruled by a bunch of white guys.

We have more gender diversity on our staff than ever before. We’re so lucky—and so proud—to have such a wide array of voices, backgrounds, and perspectives that we can learn from and champion for. Each of the folks below has highlighted a maker/producer within our industry that has helped to inspire, challenge, or create important memories for them. We hope you’ll be equally inspired to try them out, continue the dialogue, and support the larger vision for a better future.

 

Hailey: El Maestro Sierra Fino Sherry combines two things that excite me greatly; unique and delicious wine plus an inspiring story of women doing their damn thing in an industry dominated by machismo. The El Maestro Sierra bodega was established in 1830 by José Antonio Sierra, and is now run entirely by his female ancestors. Dr. Carmen Morrega Pla took over after the death of her mother Doña Pilar Pla Pechovierto in 2021. That might not sound so wild if you aren’t familiar with the context, but it is quite rare to find a winery in Spain (or globally, for that matter) where this is the case. That’s a rabbit hole I’ll spare you from for now. We’re talking about an industry that historically has been, and is still to this day, dominated by aristocratic dudes – so, you can imagine the determination, bad-assery and perseverance these women must have had. 

 

I could go on and on about why sherry is so intriguing and crazy (google “solera system” if you want to get nerdy and have your mind blown into a million pieces), but I’ll leave it with a quick note on this specific wine. Fino sherry is one of the lightest, most delicate styles of sherry made, so expect a bone-dry wine with super high acidity and notes of saline, thyme, cashew, lemon zest and a touch of ripe apple. If you like oysters/shellfish, cheese, risotto, or just food in general, this is for you! 

 

Kayla: Oberon is my favorite summer beer. It’s clean, refreshing and reminds me of cabin season. Going to the lake, and riding around on a pontoon boat with my family. Beach-towel-model Maddy couldn’t agree more.  

Tashi: You might remember reading about Erstwhile Mezcal in my first blog post for France 44 about drinking sustainably. I’m here to talk about it again because my experience writing that blog was incredible!  Our distributors were very supportive of my endeavor and linked me with distilleries that fit my criteria. I was able to get in contact with the co-founder of Erstwhile, Yuan Ji.  She took time out of her day to have a zoom meeting with me and give me a mezcal 101 lesson and tell me all about the amazing things her company is doing.  It was incredibly impactful for me to have so much support from perfect strangers while I was writing this piece to share with my France 44 family. The time and care Yuan took to connect with me is the kind of thing I love to see at work and in my everyday life. We live in a world built by and for men and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or overlooked or just plain tired.  Supporting each other in our endeavors, no matter how big or small they might seem, is so important. Yuan did that for me. Not to mention that Erstwhile works directly with small family owned mezcal producers that utilize the skill sets of all family members and give them a voice.  Yuan was able to get me some quotes from the daughter of one distiller and the niece of another who are heavily involved in getting their family’s mezcal out into the world. We currently have Erstwhile’s Espadin Mezcal, which is the perfect balance of sweet and smoky.  I had never tried mezcal before tasting Erstwhile and while celebrating my blog post with the rest of our liquor team, I found it to be delicious. Even for a beginner! I’ll forever be thankful (and a big fan) of what Yuan and her Erstwhile family are bringing to the liquor world

 

Melissa: Seven years ago, I started a journey into cider drinking. It became a hobby/passion for me and I wanted to learn as much about it as I could. Most of the books and articles I read were from well-known cider producers that were men. It was all great information from people I have huge amounts of respect for, but there seemed to be voices of women missing.

In a conversation with other cider enthusiasts, the name Eleanor Leger came up. Eleanor is the founder of Eden Cider in Vermont and took the cider world by storm with her ice cider. Since 2001, she has continuously produced beautiful ciders that pay respect to the apples she uses to make them. More than that, she has given her voice to the cider community and helped throw a spotlight on women in cider.

At CiderCon 2019 (an annual cider convention for makers and enthusiasts to get together), I had an opportunity to meet Eleanor. I was nervous about this because she is a cider superhero of sorts. Turns out, she is a “normal” woman. She is easy to talk to, ready to share experiences, techniques, and ideas with her colleagues, and always encouraging of those around her.

Eleanor is a pioneer in the US Craft Cider industry and a role model for women wanting to be cider producers.

 

Karina: I first met Leah Jorgensen (pirate princess, owner, and winemaker) when she visited France 44 several years ago. Leah makes Loire-Valley-style wines in the Rogue Valley, located in southern Oregon. Not many people know about the Rogue Valley (the Willamette Valley gets all the fame and glory), and not many people make wine the way Leah does. She draws from her Scandinavian/Italian heritage as well as from her deep-rooted loved for the wines of France’s Loire Valley to form her remarkable winemaking philosophy. As a shy and introverted wine-baby back in 2016, Leah’s charisma and spunk shocked me into believing I could forge my own path in the wine industry. She is an extraordinary, unapologetic, and brilliant force in the wine world.

On Sexism, the Beer Industry, and Hard Truths: Notes from Bill’s Desk

by Bill

A little over 2 weeks ago, a woman named Brienne Allen, who works at a brewery in Salem, MA, started sharing stories on her Instagram page from other women about emotional, physical and sexual abuse they’ve experienced while working in the beer industry. What started with just a few, very quickly turned into several hundred, if not over a thousand individuals sharing their own stories through Brienne’s Instagram page.

I forced myself to read every story, and even went back to reread some of them a second time. Having it laid out in front of me, story after story after story, I realized the magnitude of it all. Deep down, I know this behavior happens; it happens everywhere. But having the drumbeat go on and on, it started to stick in my head. And once that drumbeat gets stuck, all you can do is think about it all the time. If it was just one woman sharing her story of abuse at a brewery how easy it would be to read it and then keep scrolling until a 12 second video of pandas falling out of trees caught my attention instead. Poof, that story of abuse is gone. And there it is–that’s what made me so heartbroken. This issue is so ingrained in our daily lives that we’ve become numb to it. It had to take 1000 women screaming “STOP IT!” to get my attention instead of just one woman doing it.

I want to say that I’m not a big believer in “cancel culture”. And I’m unsure whether I’m “woke” or not. I’m also pretty sure I don’t believe that the beer buyer at your friendly, neighborhood liquor store should be your moral compass on social injustices, but I do believe in doing better. I believe in kindness. I believe in taking accountability for poor decisions. I believe in telling the truth, even if it hurts. I had to grow up to learn that one. The truth is that our 4th best-selling brewery in the store was named on Brienne’s page. A few other breweries we sell were also mentioned. Over the last few weeks, I’ve sat down with most of the women in the liquor store and we’ve had a few lengthy meetings about all this. The team and I even had a chance to sit down with one of the owners of a local brewery and have an open discussion with him. I tried to shut up, listen, and take it all in.

We all live in our own little bubbles. My main two bubbles are my wife and work. My bubbles are safe for me. I’m a white, middle-aged male, so that might not come as a surprise to anyone. Imagine not having safe bubbles. Imagine your home not being safe for you. Imagine your work not being a safe place for you. Think of those poor souls that experience both. Imagine always getting beaten down, emotionally and/or physically.

One of my coworkers came to France 44 to escape the abuse that they were experiencing at their previous job. I knew some of their story but stayed out of it because I thought it wasn’t any of my business. Months went by and I simply forgot about it. For the last couple of years, without even thinking about it, I’ve brought in a beer that had a direct tie to their previous job. For those 3-4 weeks it took us to sell that limited release beer each year, my coworker had a constant reminder of the pain of that prior job every day they came into work and saw that beer in the store. I failed my coworker. And even though they didn’t work in the beer department, I now know that they knew about that beer in our cooler. I apologized to them and said “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” They responded matter-of-factly, “Why would you have thought about it?” That cut to the core because I instantly thought to myself, “why wouldn’t I have thought about it?” How could I have simply forgotten this? That one beer isn’t important to the store. We get over 2500 new beers each year! Maybe that’s why I didn’t think of it. Maybe it was just another beer in the never-ending flow of new beers, but that one beer made their day harder. That one label caused them pain. By listening to them and taking action, it said that I care. I don’t have my blinders on, and I hear you. I want their bubble to be like mine. I want their bubble to feel safe. The older that I get, the more I realize my coworkers are an extension of my chosen family. I spend more time with them than my friends and with the exception of my wife, I spend more time with them than anybody else. Defend your coworkers like they are your Sisters, your Brothers, or your Mom or Dad. They are your second home. You should be their second home. If you witness something, say something. Don’t be silent. Even if it’s hard. And by the way, strangers need your help too. We shouldn’t stop standing up for people just because we don’t know them.

It’s the little things that you can do that make a difference. It starts at my desk at work. It starts in my neighborhood. It starts with kindness and taking off your blinders. Try stepping out of your bubble and seeing the world from a different perspective. That’s hard because it involves getting uncomfortable. It’s hard because it might involve confrontation, maybe even with someone you love. It’s hard because it might expose things within ourselves that we don’t like. It’s hard because deep down we know there’s a problem out there and we have to ask ourselves, what are we going to do about it?

If you’re familiar with our beer selection, you’ll know we curate our cooler quite a bit. We work hard in the beer cooler. We care about our products. We don’t have frat boy, misogynistic labels with stupid innuendos in our cooler. That’s one super simple thing we do, but that makes a difference. As a team, we reject far more products than we say yes to. Quality-wise, we try to bring in what we think are the best examples of what’s available to us. So why should I stop at quality and not take into account social issues as deciding factors? Because unfortunately, that becomes a slippery slope and soon I might not have much to sell you after a while. How far do you want me to peel back the curtain? How much digging do I do? What if one employee at a brewery did something bad 5 years ago? 10 years ago? Last year? How do I process that information and how should it affect how I buy for the store?

I removed a local brewery off of our shelf for a period of time last year because of blatant racism. I later found out that I’d held out longer than pretty much every other store in town. This was a good little brewery for us. We sold a decent amount of their beer and our customers liked it. Since then, numbers-wise, they haven’t gotten back to where they were before I removed them. They might not ever. Was removing them for that long the right thing to do? Why should I treat sexism any differently than racism? This brewery worked amazingly fast and removed the majority owner completely from their business. I can’t imagine how hard it was to do that. They had to quickly come up with money for the buyout, try to keep the staff intact, try to keep their customers, all while trying to control the social media PR nightmare of his actions. Oh, and on top of all that, it was right in the middle of COVID. I’m sure it was an absolute nightmare and their work bubble was bursting. So why did I punish them so long after they removed the guilty owner? I’m now convinced that I made a mistake. I thought it was the right thing to do at the time, and I guess it made me feel like I was at least doing “something”. I don’t think it’s my job to be Judge, Jury and Executioner to these breweries. You trust me to put together a great selection for you. I trust you to buy what you want. I might get up on my soapbox every once in a while and let you know what’s going on but ultimately, YOU the Customer will decide these products’ fate. While writing this I thought “why didn’t I write a blog on racism in the beer industry?” To be honest, I think a year ago when this happened I’m not sure I had the insight to write something about racism, or even sexism. Last June, working retail in a pandemic, I was just trying to survive. It’s not lost on me that that’s exactly what People of Color have been saying all along.

Do I want these breweries to close? Of course not. I want these breweries to be accountable. I want these breweries to be proactive instead of reactive when they get caught doing something. I want these breweries to clean up their shit and be better. And if that means that hard changes have to be made, or if it means that they have to be the social media punching bag for a while, so be it. Just be better.

Personal growth is uncomfortable because change is uncomfortable. Admitting flaws is uncomfortable, but when we start doing these little things (sometimes not so little), hopefully they can grow into big things. Just concentrate on your corner of the world and let it spread from there. Stand beside your team. Stand beside your Family.

I can’t solve sexism. I can’t solve racism. But I can try and that’s a small start.

Look at that, I did that all with only swearing once.

We’re all constantly learning, evolving, and trying to do the best we can with the information available to us. The absolute best thing we can do is to keep these hard-truth conversations going. After you read this blog, go talk to your friends about it. Bring it up to your family. See what your coworkers have to say about it. You’re guaranteed to learn a lot, and you’re also guaranteed to make talking about it easier and less cringey and uncomfortable. The more we talk about it, the more language we have. The more language we have, the more power and confidence we have to take a stand in the moment when something needs to be said.

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Want to read more about all this?

Ratmagnet Instagram

Emboldenactadvance Instragram

Want to help?  Check out some of these organizations:

https://www.witchhuntmpls.org/

https://brewingchangecollaborative.org/

https://www.pinkbootssociety.org/

We’re doing our part to keep the conversation going, and we welcome anyone who wants to enter that conversation with us. Feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] with your thoughts and questions.

On Beer and Biases: Notes from Bill’s Desk

by Bill

Let’s talk about our beer biases…

The other week, I had a conversation about local breweries with someone in the industry, and he said something along the lines of: “Minnesota breweries really aren’t good enough to compete on the national stage.” To be fair, I think he meant MN Hype Beers (DDH DIPA Hazy IPA & Over Fruited Sours, etc), but I really can’t remember how the conversation went from there because I instantly was filled with blood boiling rage and I blacked out for a moment or two. After I came to and calmed down a bit,  I decided to step back and take a rational look at the statement and why I think it’s wrong.

I guess the first thing for me to do is establish my own biases. First, I’m a local, and I try to support local business, in and outside of my job.  That alone is a hard thing to ignore when we’re discussing this.

But it gets harder: roughly 80 of our top 100 selling beers in the store are Minnesota made (or right on the state border). The top 100 is where most of our beer sales are, especially in the top 50. There’s a dramatic drop-off in overall sales once we get out of the top 100.  Those beers outside the top 100 are super important to us, and they help make the store way more interesting. But it’s those top 100 that are directly responsible for France 44 being able to fully staff the beer department, provide them with living wages, a matching 401K, and good health insurance. So, if 80 out of our top 100 are MN made, I’m clearly heavily invested in how well those MN breweries do.

 

But wait, there’s even more! On top of all of that, we know lots of these breweries personally. We’ve watched them grow. We’ve shared beers with them. We’ve developed lasting relationships. I call some of them friends. So, can I objectively, without bias, look at this subject fairly? Probably not…

Now let’s quickly look at what I assume the other guy’s biases are. First, he doesn’t sell a Minnesota made beer, so he directly competes against MN breweries for market share. The better local beer does in our store, the more his beer gets pushed out. Buying local hurts his sales. The second thing is that he’s not a local. He maybe doesn’t have the emotional connection to the Twin Cities community like I do. Third, and this is a big assumption (but I think I’m right), he hasn’t tried nearly as many local beers as we have. He hasn’t watched/tasted the progress these breweries have made over the years.

Okay—here’s my argument: I say if we try to remove our personal opinions and biases (we hear a ton of them in the beer cooler), several Minnesota Breweries have caught up to some of the “best” breweries in the country. If we actually just critique the beer for what style it is and how well it’s made, I think you’ll start to agree with me. When I was studying for WSET (The Wine & Spirits Education Trust), I learned how they wanted you to judge a wine. If you have a Sonoma County Chardonnay in your glass, you don’t judge it against other Sonoma Chardonnays–you judge at against all other wine. That was hard for me to wrap my head around. Before that, I’d judged Chard vs Chard, Hazy IPA vs Hazy IPA, etc.  What WSET forces you to do is simply concentrate on the wine directly in front of you, try to remove your personal opinions and judge the wine as just one wine among many. It’s hard to do because the instant you see the label of the bottle , your brain already starts making assumptions.

So here’s where I’m going to upset some of you. There won’t be another Tree House (MA), Trillium (MA) or Alchemist-Heady Topper (VT) in terms of Hype/Popularity because the rest of the Nation has caught up with them. These 3 breweries are no doubt at the top of their game, and I’ve had great beers from them. But I’ll argue that their lasting legacy in the Beer World will be more for creating the popularity/hype of the style(s), and not for the beer itself. I say this because you can walk into the store right now and grab a local beer that’s super close in style/quality. You just can’t grab one that has a Trillium label on it. I know some of you will be shaking your heads right now in disagreement—and I know what a bunch of you are thinking; “these breweries just make better beer”. But I’ll say that just because the brewery you’re thinking of doesn’t distribute their IPA to Minnesota (probably because they hardly make any, or, more likely, they don’t even know where Minnesota is… sorry!) that doesn’t make that brewery or their beers better–it just makes it a lot harder to get your hands on. And, I’ll argue that the high price you end up paying to get your hands on it corrupts your brain and your palate and forces you to justify why you just spent $50 getting a 4pk of beer that your 3rd cousin shipped 2nd Air to you from Boston.

 

Rarity creates a false belief that anything rare must taste better. I’ve been suckered into this thinking many, many times and I’m here to tell you it’s simply not true. Rarity just makes it rare–and typically expensive. Again, we are trying to put aside opinions, beliefs and biases and simply look at the beer for what it is, with no emotional baggage attached. Is that can of beer from Tree House really better than one of our best from MN?

In no order, here are our top 5 selling Hazy IPAs:

These are just the flagship, everyday IPAs these breweries make, and they are great beers. I’m not listing all the limited, weekly releases these breweries are pumping out constantly. These limited releases are really where the roots of my argument are. These limited beers (remember, the Beer Department averages about 50 new beers each week) are the ones that really step up our MN hype game and it’s these beers that truly make us equals.

These breweries are not doing well in Minnesota because they’re MN breweries. They do well because they brew a world-class beer.

A Graphic Designer’s Guide to Liquor

by Dio Cramer

A full two years into legal-liquor buying, I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert. Just kidding! The truth is that I am still at the stage of life where price is the most important variable in choosing my alcohol. After that, I turn to the design of the label, which is a much more interesting way to choose liquor.

A little intro for y’all since I am new to the blog — Hello! My name is Dio and I have been doing graphic design for France 44 and the Cheese Shop for about a year now after getting my start in the wonderful St. Paul Cheese Shop. I’m a designer and illustrator, a Capricorn, and also someone skeptical of the “don’t judge a book by its cover” mentality. You can certainly judge it after you have actually read the book, but up until that point, I believe the cover can give you a valid sense of what lies ahead and whether or not it’s going to be worth it. Same goes for liquor. Even before I knew what kinds of liquors I liked the taste of, I loved looking at the labels.

Labels, bottle shapes, and general marketing is incredibly important in the world of liquor. These elements form a personality that draws targeted demographics towards (or away from) a specific bottle and often guide them in choosing one bottle over another. This is especially influential when you can’t taste the very thing that you’re buying. Designers use visual aids to tell a story that we internalize, either consciously or subconsciously, and help us form opinions about the bottle before popping the cork.

With liquor labels, I’ve found that the great designs seem to fit into two main categories: nostalgia and novelty. Some brands stick with the same design that they have been using for years, and other newer brands try to emulate that same classic or nostalgic vibe. This feels right for liquor that is aged or brands aiming for a sophisticated look. On the flip side, many brands use novel designs to try and get customers to pay attention to their bottle and buy their product. This latter category of novel designs is what I focus on in this piece, but perhaps there is another blog post in the future that dives more into the history of liquor labels and explores the nostalgic and classic designs.

Nostalgia vs Novelty

A liquor store is a fantastic place to explore the contours of your design tastes and expand your design terminology. To begin, I spent some time comparing the Gin section to the Whiskey section. The difference is stark. Obviously, whiskey is a much darker liquid than the clear gin, so right away the two aisles feel emotionally different. Many of the whiskey labels had dark caps and labels with contrasting white text. The serif and script fonts combined with dainty flourishes create a vintage and old-timey feeling. Age is an important factor in whiskey so many of these bottles have large numbers incorporated into the design, advertising how many years the whiskey aged. Most of the classic whiskey brands are aiming for that classic, dated look.

The gin aisle, on the other hand, has a much lighter and more modern feeling. It seems that the goal here is timelessness. Many labels have thin text with light decorative elements, and blues and greens seem to be the primary colors of choice. One of my favorite label designs is Future Gin, followed by the “Blue” from Forthave Spirits. These two designs are eye catching, but for different reasons. Forthave Spirits is emulating old homemade concoctions with their handwritten script label. A bottle like this would fit into the apothecary vibe, which I’ll admit I am a sucker for. The Future Gin is immediately eye catching with colorful (yet pastel) abstract art. It looks modern but in a kind of timeless way.

Moving on to the rest of the store, I chose bottles that stood out to me, and then tried to sort them into distinguishable sub-categories. I came up with: bold graphic, hand-drawn, geometric, tarot card, and new-wave psychedelic. 

Bold graphics

BOLD GRAPHIC 

The tactic here is obvious – designing a beautiful bottle that sticks out among the rest. Some of these have only illustrations and minimal text, some use the text as the graphic to draw your eye, but all of them will capture your attention as you scan the aisles.

Hand-drawn art and text

HAND-DRAWN

I am particularly drawn towards hand-drawn art, partly because that is what I do and partly because it adds a human element to design. These bottles have character–they feel more alive than their neighbors. These can feel modern like the pen and highlighter design of Secsy Mbole, or elegant and nostalgic like the Branco de Sta. Cruz. If I were to design a liquor label, it would probably fit amongst these hand-drawn labels.

Geometric designs

GEOMETRIC

Geometric style of graphic design has far deeper roots than I can explore in a single blog post, but these bottles sure are eye-catching. In particular, these stand out from the nostalgic-style of many liquor labels. These designs are decidedly modern, which gives them a classy feeling. I might choose one of these as a gift. Elegant and lively, a good visual addition to any house (Of course, I’d hope the contents were appreciated too.)

New-wave psychedelic beer art

NEW-WAVE PSYCHEDELIC

This sub-category is specifically for beer labels. If any wine or spirit bottles in our shop fit into this category, I certainly missed them. Craft beers are all the rage these days. They are popping up left and right, and the makers have turned to wild, out-there marketing in an attempt to distinguish their products from the rest. Many of these labels are designed to appeal to counter culture stoner types, much like the psychedelic phase of the 60’s. To that point, I am currently drinking Prairie’s Vape Tricks, which is not only delicious, but visually a piece of pure stoner art with green and yellow mouths blowing trippy shapes out of smoke. Craft beer is certainly the most graphically out-there of the liquor world, and these labels do not disappoint.

Tarot card theme

TAROT CARD INSPIRED

Last, and perhaps most interestingly, is the theme of the Tarot cards. The other subcategories I found are general design categories, but this is thematic and much more specific. These bottles are characterized by mythological figures, magical themes, and hand-drawn illustrations that emulate the design and feeling of tarot cards. Some feature biblical-like scenes of destruction and devils like Rabble and Chamucos, and some are more mystical and whimsical like AlterKind Stranger, and Il Mostro. Perhaps it’s the long history of witchcraft and alcohol-like concoctions that make these bottles so appealing — or perhaps it’s the figures that give them so much character — but these are the bottles I am most intrigued by. Each of these designs contain a story, and the intrigue into that story is what makes me curious about the liquor inside.

What are the labels you are drawn to? Are they nostalgic or novel? Crisp geometric shapes or hand-drawn mystical? Does the personality of the label match the contents?

Personally, I plan on taking home Il MostroKind Stranger, and Future Gin, where I can promise you these bottles will live on in my home as vases and other vessels once the alcohol is long gone, as I am unable to get rid of beautiful bottles or jars of any kind. Maybe then I can report back on the full sensory experiences of these liquors, contents included.

Broken Clock Brewing Coop. and Brewing Change Collaborative ‘The Messenger Vol. 2’

France44 is honored to have the exclusive release of a special beer made by Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative and Brewing Change Collaborative.

Brewing Change Collaborative (BCC) is a 501c3 MN Nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for People of Color in the brewing and beverage industry through advocacy, outreach, and education.  We’d love you to learn more about what these two Minneapolis organizations are doing locally to be agents of change.

The Messenger Volume II is a DDH Sour Ale brewed with tamarind, guava, pineapple, coriander, sea salt, and sorghum.  This crowler is a full on sour ale.  The tart guava and tamarind really shine through.  Clocking in at 6.4% ABV with a medium weight body, this beer is straight up lip smacking and tasty.  But more importantly is message on the label; The Messenger V2 shares the stories about two women who fought their whole life against racism and inequality.  We’d love you to learn more about these amazing woman and how they participated in the movement.  Click the link to read the stories of Ida B. Wells & Lena O. Smith

Order online here: 750ml Crowler $9.49

 

VOLUME 2: THE WOMEN OF THE MOVEMENT

Ida B. Wells

In the late 19th century, publications such as the New York Times, prided themselves for being a paper of record, that was objective and dispassionate. However, they failed to recognize and expose the truth behind lynching. Instead of aligning themselves with the type of work that reflects their “values”, they decided to attack Ida B. Wells, the person. For her courage, and her willingness to question lies and myths perpetrated about Black Men, in an editorial in 1894, the New York Times called her: “a nasty-minded mulatress.”

In the podcast Backstory, Episode 185: Advocacy Journalism in America, historian and host Joanne Freeman asks her co-host and historian, Nathan Connelly: “… How much did Wells’ work actually change the myths that were circulating about lynching?” In his response, Nathan points out that it took the big newspapers of that period decades to recognize Ida B. Wells’ work, “Black Americans”, he continues, “… recognized immediately that what Wells’ was doing was digging up the truth.”

There are striking similarities between the late 19th century and our modern times, in terms of our propensity to let popular stereotypes guide our behaviors, our beliefs, and our decision-making, without questioning or attempting to understand their origins or facts presented. Below are two recent examples of a couple of commonly held stereotypes against Black Women :

The Pre-Pandemic (March 2020) Bureau of Labor Statistics & Labor report shows that Women of Color have a higher unemployment rate than the national average (9.7% for Black Women vs 5.5% in national average). One prevailing, and false stereotype argues that’s because, Black Women in particular, and Women of Color in general are lazy; a sentiment expressed by Oklahoma State Legislator Sally Kern, who is white, echoed this stereotype in 2011: “I taught school for 20 years and I saw a lot of people of color who didn’t want to work as hard — they wanted it given to them […] women usually don’t want to work as hard as a man” because “women tend to think a little more about their family.”

Black Women aren’t asking for handouts.

A Black Women decides to push back, to lead, to voice her opinion and advocate for herself and/or for others. She is called angry, threatening, and loud. This stereotype stems from 19th century minstrel shows.

In 2018, Serena Williams, one of the greatest athletes of our time was fined for breaking her racket and calling the umpire a “thief”. The behavior was no different than most elite athletes who play at her level. The difference is this: in other white and/or male athletes’ cases, they are called “passionate, competitive”, whereas, in Serena Williams’ case, she is called an “angry Black Woman”.

The fact that we are willing to trust news reports, publications, or the Internet, blindly at times, without going beyond the headlines, highlights the importance of Ida B. Wells’ pioneering work in investigative journalism. This has become even more important now that we tend to settle into our preferred corners and bubbles, defined by the news sources we frequent or our political leanings, which often only serve to confirm or reaffirm our biases.

Ida B. Wells’ willingness to question popular opinion, invest time and resources to collect actual facts, and persevere despite being a minority and a lone voice, is an inspiration. Ida B. Wells believed that if she could present reliable facts, the truth would prevail. She was right.

Ida B. Wells was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in May 2020, for her outstanding and courageous reporting.

Let’s honor Ida B. Wells, a forgotten Black Woman, by cultivating habits that she pioneered throughout her life:

(1) – Digging deeper than the surface, (2) – Allow our decisions to be guided by reliable fact, and (3) – Advocate for those who are unable to advocate for themselves.

Lena O. Smith

Have you ever walked into a professional networking group wondering if someone would look like you in the room? Or encounter individuals at work who do not think you even belong in the room with them? These questions are just some of the questions that faced Lena O. Smith during her career as a lawyer.

She moved to Minneapolis in 1906 with her mother and sisters from Lawrence, Kansas after losing their father. Lena was an entrepreneur who owned a beauty salon with a white woman. Following the salon she became a real estate agent, a profession that was widely known for its racial prejudice. Through her experiences as a businesswoman, especially as a realtor, she became motivated to change policies & behaviors from within the system.

Lena O. Smith became the 1st African American woman licensed to practice law in the state of Minnesota in 1921 and remained the only one do so until 1945. This was in our state’s history when only a dozen white women were also licensed to practice law in Minnesota. She did not cower if she was the only one who looked like her in the room. It motivated her to change public habits so that every room would be diverse with individuals and opinions.

Lena took on civil rights cases with a militant drive to provide equal access to public accommodations for all people. She argued cases against White Castle & Nicollet in this endeavor. She helped bring change to the Pantages Hotel Theater when she and couple African American men were denied seating on the main level.

But perhaps she is more known for her work on behalf of Arthur A. Lee and his family when they purchased a home in a previously all-white neighborhood in South Minneapolis. While the Lee family was advised by a white attorney to sell their home to the neighborhood committee Lena fought for them. She ultimately fought for and protected their right to stay in their home.

Lena O. Smith continued her work in Minnesota as she helped form The Urban League in Minneapolis in 1925. In 1930 she became the 1st woman president of Minneapolis’ NAACP.

We learn many lessons from Lena’s work in the 1st half of the 20th Century. She teaches us to learn our history so that we can step back from our own settings and become aware of our own preconceptions. If we only see from one perspective we can never learn another’s experience. It is in our diversity that we become stronger as a society.

Second Lena reminds us the importance of living in and working with community. Public interest is best attained when people live in the community they are advocating. Lena’s home was just a couple of blocks from Arthur A. Lee and family. She understood the daily the harassment the Lee family faced and the beauty of the neighborhood. Lena’s suit pant cuffs were dirty from the same dirt.

Lena fought legal cases not to change the law but to change the public’s mindset. She understood the long-term work that was required to acquire justice. It is a lifetime commitment that continues today with each one of us. We continue Lena’s work and honor her legacy to push the government to be more responsive to those without power or money. We live in community with one another getting our own pant cuffs dirty striving to make our community stronger.

We raise a glass to Lena O. Smith thanking her and honoring her by doing the right thing.

The beer you know as “The Messenger” is an amalgamation of two collectives; Brewing Change Collaborative (BCC) and Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative (BCBC)

Our organic union came about through the sheer desire to not only speak on the dissonance of America’s penchant for white privilege/preservation and it’s dearth of Black existence, but to ascend and become agents of change.

As the hours fall off the clock and time inevitably marches on we, BCC and BCBC will seek to voraciously create waves of change. From a point of beer into a barrel to a tsunami from the ocean washing across this entire industry, BCC and BCBC will create the iridescent reality we wish to live in.

Heat, Protein, Time, and Beer: Grilling Tips from Bill

by Bill Nosan

When the Twins start playing baseball, it’s officially grilling season in Minnesota. So if you haven’t already, it’s time to clean off the winter residue from your grill and heat that thing up.  At its roots, grilling is pretty simple. It really only requires  four basic things:  Heat, Protein, Time & Beer. I’ve heard a distant, crazy rumor that beer isn’t actually necessary for grilling, but as member of the beer department, I can say without certain, that rumor is completely false.

So grab a beer and join me. Maybe you’re like me and feel that making a meal for your friends & family is one of the things you enjoy most. It’s something that I truly love–it brings me joy.  Preparing the meal outside on the grill is even better, maybe because being outside grilling doesn’t feel like a task. It feels more like fun–fresh air, talking to your neighbor, watching your dog dig a hole in your newly seeded lawn… It’s probably just buried deep down in our DNA that we just enjoy being outside cooking over a fire. But I think the real reason is that grilling just makes your food tastes better (and you get to be outside drinking a beer).

Either using propane, charcoal or wood as a heat source, we basically grill the same way.  Indirect heat (slow & low), direct heat (fast) or a combo of both. It doesn’t take much time to learn what proteins & veggies do best using what method.  There are about 1001 ways you can learn all the different grilling techniques for all the different types of food, so I won’t dive deep into that for this simple blog post (see below for how you can learn more).

One of my go-to, quick grilling favorites, is preparing flat cuts of beef (Flank, Skirt, Bavette, etc). These cuts are great with direct heat and they cook up fast. Depending on the grill, give the beef roughly 5-6 minutes on each side on high heat for medium rare, then let it rest for 10 minutes. We want to use high heat to brown & sear that piece of meat. Remember, searing does not lock in juices. We sear to create browning (the Maillard reaction). Those sear (grill) marks are what help your food taste great. The more surface area you can brown, the better the outcome. Careful to just sear, not char (burn) your food. I love these flat cuts because you can have beef & veggies off the grill and on the dinner table in half an hour or so.

Another quick tip is for fish. I use direct heat while using a griddle or a carbon steel/cast iron pan. The fish will hold its shape & release better off the solid, flat surface as opposed to the individual grill grates.  Learn how to control your grill temperature and the rest is pretty easy.

So besides a grill and a heat source, what do you actually need?  The Neanderthals basically had a few rocks & a sharp stick to grill, so you really don’t need much for grilling your dinner.  But if you want to up your game just a bit, you’ll need a few helpful tools:

  • A good thermometer is key—The Cheese Shop sells the Thermoworks brand and I use their ProNeedle. It’s small and incredible useful.
  • A good pair of tongs (make sure you check if they work every few minutes). Get one long enough so you can keep the heat away from your hands.

Amazon.com: Barbecue Funny Grill Sergeant BBQ Apron with Pockets and Beer Holder 12 x 1 x 12 inches 6.6 Ounces: Home & Kitchen

  • I use a good apron because I’m sick of food stains on my clothes. Plus, an apron has pockets to hold all your tools as well as a backup can of beer or two.
  • Speaking of beer: I prefer clean & crisp while grilling. We have amazing, locally made options. I prefer to have a beer while I’m grilling and a glass of wine already poured waiting at the table for the actual meal.
  • But here’s the best “tool” you need: good, quality ingredients. Much like making a world class cocktail at home, preparing restaurant quality food at home starts with quality ingredients.

Do you want to learn more? Lots more? Join Thomas from the Meat Shop & Adam from the Wine Shop next week for our virtual Grilling & Wine class, filmed on the outdoor terrace of the Lorient building (kitty-corner from the store). They will showcase some of France 44’s incredible house-made sausages, charcuterie products, and fresh meat cuts. You’ll also learn which wines pair best with them when you get to the dinner table. They’ll cover prep and cooking tips to elevate your grilling game this spring and summer, and give you the inside scoop on classic wines and some new, unique favorites. Attendees will get charcuterie and cured meat on their cheese plate, and receive a special event discount for France 44 meat products purchase post-event. It’s going be fun so I hope you join them.

Finally, here are some of my go-to drinking options for grilling:

Utepils Helles 4pk Cans | $8.99 | Helles, the bright golden beer style, made Bavaria’s Beer Gardens world renowned for hundreds of years. This Helles is brewed with MN artesian spring waters and authentic Bavarian malt and hops.

Fair State Pils 4pk Cans | $9.49 |  A German-style pilsner, dry and crisp with a grassy aroma from a large kettle addition of Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops. One hop, one malt, lager yeast. Simple and delicious.

Oberto Barbera D’Alba | $19.99 | This quality Barbera hails from three small vineyards, all located in the village of La Morra, where the world’s finest Barbera comes from. It is a deep purplish red color, and shows subtle oak notes and fruity overtones on the nose; very elegant, with acidity, tannin and fruit blending perfectly on the palate.

Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel | $23.99 | A blend from sites in Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley. Flavors of dark ripe cherries and sweet raspberries emerge on the palate, followed by a rich velvety finish.