Doubling Down on Oats

by Bennett

A fresh influx of (double!) oatmeal stouts into our walk-in beer cooler has been a pleasant beer-related surprise in recent months. Ever since the dramatic rise in popularity of New England-style IPAs, hard seltzers and the like, original American craft beer styles like oatmeal stouts have often been pushed aside, subjugated into dormancy, awaiting their hopeful return. Locally, at least, it seems as though this style is arising from its deep, silky slumber.

Oatmeal stouts are the nurturing matriarchal figure of the dark beer world — authoritative, reassuring, gentle. Their smooth, rich character enables them to both stand tall on their own, but also make a great base beer for more experimental stout styles. Oats, which make up 10-20% of the grist, are flush with gummy beta-glucans, soluble lipids and proteins that enhance viscosity and texture. When coupled with roasted malt, they also suggest tasty notes of cookies, nuts and that subtle oat-y sweetness.

Maybe it was just savvy marketing, but the century old, pre-war oatmeal stouts of England were deemed to have nutritious, healthful benefits. While that is up for debate, there is little doubt that these velvety, mellow stouts will satisfy your thirst on these cold, wintry nights.

The Locals

Modist Oatrich Oatmeal Double Stout - $13.99/4pk
Portage Deep Distortion Double Oatmeal Stout - $14.99/4pk
Insight Fathom Double Oat Stout - $13.49/4pk

The Classics

Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout - $10.49/4pk
Founders Breakfast Stout - $9.99/4pk

For the Sober-Curious

by Tashi

The world of non-alcoholic beverages has grown over the past few years, and we are happy to carry plenty of options for anyone trying to cut out or cut back their alcohol intake.  We carry NA options all year long, but there is a movement called Dry January that was started in the UK to encourage people to reassess their relationship with alcohol by abstaining from drinking for a month.  Even though we are a liquor store, we love this idea and have put together a sampler kit of some of our favorite products to get you started!  Our staff can also help you find other NA beer, liquor, or wine that fits your vibe, as our selection has grown considerably over the past year.  We assure that you can still be the life of the party without the hangover!

Our Non-Alcoholic Sampler Kit includes:

  • Lagunitas Hop Water – Crisp, zingy, and hoppily refreshing. This sparkling beverage is made using everything Lagunitas knows about hops. Chock-full of Citra, Equinox, and Centennial hops, for a big splash of flavor that’s surprisingly fruity.
  • TÖST ROSÉ – TÖST ROSÉ is an all-natural, delicious, dry, sparkling non-alcoholic beverage with white tea, Ginger and Elderberry. This is the store favorite when it comes to NA alternatives to sparkling wine.
  • Athletic Brewing Run Wild IPA – Run Wild is the ultimate sessionable IPA for craft beer lovers. Brewed with a blend of five Northwest hops, it has an approachable bitterness to balance the specialty malt body.
  • Ghia Spritz – Ghia is a non-alcoholic apéritif packed with only pure, natural extracts. Potent plants. Heady herbals. Blithe botanicals. The Spritz includes yuzu, rosemary extract, and elderflower to temper down the natural bitterness, but still taste complex.
  • Hella Bitters and Soda – Hella’s Bitters & Soda is a premium sparkling beverage that gets its smart refreshing flavor from the Gentian root in the South of France. Spritz Aromatic is bittersweet with notes of clove, allspice, bitter root and orange peel.

Each kit includes two bottles or cans of each product, so you can share with friends!  

MORE NON-ALCOHOLIC PICKS FROM OUR STAFF

KARINA Studio Null Sparkling Rosé – This is the non-alcoholic wine I’ve always hoped for. So many N/A wines fall far short of actually tasting like wine and end up being sugary, unbalanced, and tasting like Kool-Aid. Studio Null makes a traditional alcoholic wine, distills out the alcohol to less than 0.5% ABV, and manages to keep all the great flavors, aromas, and acidity that I love so much in dry sparkling rosé. Made from Silvaner and Portugieser (two super cool German grapes), this pink bubbly will have you checking the label several times to convince yourself it’s not alcoholic–it’s that well-made!

DYLAN Jinx Tea

I love Jinx tea, It’s my favorite. 

The Raspberry Lemonade is yummy. 

I always try to savor it. 

Only the best for my tummy.

They have other flavors.

BILL Lovejoy’s Thai Basil Bloody Mary Mix – I really enjoy Lovejoy’s Thai Basil Bloody Mary Mix over Ice with a wedge of lemon and lime. It’s such a great twist on the classic Bloody Mary mix and it’s super easy just to skip the vodka and enjoy it without any alcohol. Plus it’s locally owned and made.

TASHI Untitled Art Juicy IPA – My favorite NA beverage is Untitled Art’s Juicy IPA.  The flavor is super on point, you can’t even tell it doesn’t contain alcohol it’s so well done.  I regularly grab a six pack because it really just hits the spot, even my partner loves it and requests I bring it home for us.  If you like hazy IPAs, you will love this!

BENNETT France 44 Spring Water – Deserving of grand cru classification, this water is sourced from the purest natural springs in the Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin appellation. These bountiful springs are naturally filtered by a roughly half-billion-year-old glacial formation, lending notes of vibrant purity and the distinct absence of terroir. Studies have shown that consuming fresh spring water is beneficial to your health!

(I also think Untitled Art is making some excellent N/A beer, especially the Italian Pils and Juicy IPA).

JOSH Zera Sparkling Chardonnay – This is such a fun and easy-going sparkling NA wine. It is fruit forward with a touch of sweetness. It tastes like those candy peach rings I had as a kid. And to top it all off, its organic! 

JAY Athletic Free Wave Hazy IPA – Athletic Brewing has been a pioneer in the non-alcoholic beer scene and is one of our most popular NA brands. The Free Wave Hazy IPA doesn’t disappoint. It’s juicy, citrusy and delicious. 

KAYLA Untitled Art Italian Pils – My favorite NA Beer is the Untitled Art Italian Pilsner.  it’s loaded with Hallertau Mittekfruh and Strata hops, making it a bit more hoppier than your standard Pilsner, but being less than 1% ABV, you still feel like you’re drinking an actual beer. 

MELISSA Töst Sparkling Cocktail – My favorite dry drink is Töst. As an avid iced tea drinker, I was driven to try this when it came into the store and fell in love with it! With a great balance of tea and flavors that give it a dry, yet layered mouthfeel. It also looks awesome in a fancy glass! With it being tea based, I shared it with my teenage daughters and they enjoy it as well, so it can be fun for the whole family.

The Official 2021 Holiday Gift Guide

We know you’ve been waiting all year for this. We’ve got a gift box for everyone on your list, from the beer buff to the cocktail curious–even a non-alcoholic sampler pack! Check out our glassware gift pack add-ons, our mystery bottle stocking stuffers, France 44-exclusive wine maps and drink coasters, and France 44 class gift certificates. There’s also a tried-and-true list of delicious and exciting wines that are sure to impress any host (and keep your party invites coming for years to come). And if you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for, come talk to our staff for more ideas or fill out this nifty custom gift form. Cheers, and happy shopping!

Gift Boxes

Glassware Gifts

Found the perfect bottle, but need something else to gift-ify it? Choose to add on some glassware to complete the package. Plus, we’ll put it all in a ready-to-give gift box, complete with crinkle and a ribbon! Click each add-on to see our recommended spirits to include with the glassware. 

Up your gift giving game by adding six traditional ceramic Copitas (tiny cups) to your mezcal, tequila, or agave spirit purchase. 

Recommended Spirits (sold separately):

  • BANHEZ ENSEMBLE MEZCAL I $29.99 I Comprised of 90% Espadín and 10% Barril agaves, this mezcal is delightfully mild, floral and fruity (pineapple, banana). Banhez Ensemble is perfect for first-time mezcal tasters and wonderful for cocktail innovation.

 

Make your fancy rum gift even fancier with two Rum Taster glasses to enhance all the complex aromas and flavors in a high-class bottle.

Recommended Spirits (sold separately):

  • PLANTATION XAYMACA  RUM I $24.99 I With Xaymaca Special Dry, Plantation revives the quintessential Jamaican-style, 100% pot still rums of the 19th century with an expression of intense flavors that reveal the traditional, legendary Rum Funk: aromas and flavors of black banana and flambéed pineapple. 

 

  • EL DORADO 12 YEAR RUM I $36.99 I Lush tropical fruit and spice nose with hints of honey and dark sugar. Round, mellow, full bodied palate with rich flavours of fruit and spice. The finish is delightful, elegant and dry.
 

Add two classic Glencairn glasses to your bourbon, whiskey, or scotch purchase. A must-have for any whisk(e)y lover, from novice to connoisseur!

Recommended Spirits (sold separately):

  • FRANCE 44 STELLUM SINGLE BARREL BOURBON I $54.99 I This is a 5 year MGP cask strength bourbon picked out by your favorite staffers just for you! Bright cherry and caramel milk chocolate hit you up front before coming through with oak and spice.

 

  • BOWMAN BROTHERS SMALL BATCH BOURBON I $32.99 I The Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon is distilled three times using the finest corn, rye, and malted barley, producing distinct hints of vanilla, spice, and oak.

Stocking Stuffers

Pick up a box of mulling spices, a three-bottle sampler pack of your favorite spirit, or a pre-wrapped Mystery Mini gift.

Our Mystery Mini boxes are great for stocking stuffers, a white elephant gift exchange, or for those “I feel I should get them something but I don’t know them very well” scenarios. Four 50ml bottles of booze are included, but it’s a surprise as to what you get!

We also have our very own French wine region coasters! Grab one or all six. Only here at France 44!

Wines for Host Gifts

J. LAURENS ‘LA ROSE NO. 7’ | $18.99 | This festive pink bubbly is one of our all-time favorites, no matter what time of year. Best to get two bottles though, or your host gift will be gone before you even walk out the door to the party.

WARIS LARMANDIER ‘RACINES DE TROIS’ BRUT CHAMPAGNE | $64.99 | Cuvée Racines de Trois represents the “three roots” of Waris-Larmandier: the contribution of the three siblings to the project, and their use of three grape varieties, and coming from three regions of Champagne. The Waris-Larmandier style is terroir-focused, understated, structured, and ultra-elegant. 

DOMAINE CARRETTE MACON-MILLY LAMARTINE | $19.99 | This unoaked Chardonnay is the perfect host gift, whether it gets opened at the table or not. Just enough fruit and creaminess to provide texture and a delicious flavor, this high-class white wine is a guaranteed success at any function.

FOSSIL POINT PINOT NOIR | $17.99 | Showcasing notes of ripe plum, black cherry, clove, and pomegranate, this Pinot offers a quality well above its price point. Fossil Point Pinot has concentrated flavors that will pair well with slow-cooked pork belly, roasted duck or miso-glazed Salmon.

O’SHAUGHNESSY NAPA VALLEY CABERNET SAUVIGNON | $84.99 |  This polished and rich Cabernet checks all of the boxes. It is plush, complex, and perfect for your holiday roast. O’Shaughnessy is a fabulous wine to drink now and over the next decade.

ST. AGRESTIS AMARO | $39.99 |  Although it is not a wine, the St. Agrestis Amaro is the perfect after dinner drink to cap off your holiday party! It is one of our staff favorites and is great for new Amaro drinkers and enthusiasts alike. Organic herbs, roots and citrus are macerated into a neutral spirit to produce this Brooklyn-made Amaro.

Belgian Christmas Ales

by Bennett Porter

The approaching holidays of the winter season will be celebrated across the globe, as they always have, with differing traditions, ceremonies and gatherings of loved ones. Though our countries, their cultures and communities diverge in the beliefs surrounding these celebrations, one shared commonality is the enjoyment of celebratory seasonal beverages—Nordic glögg, German gluhwein, Puerto Rican coquito, English wassail, Turkish salep, Chinese tusu wine, and Slavic kompot to name a few. The familiar intertwinement of chilling temperatures and seasonal festivities makes us crave something warming and fruity with a kick of spice.

These cravings are no different in Belgium, where the more recent century-or-so old tradition of Christmas Ale continues on. Christmas Ale, or Bière de Noël, is a loosely defined style of fuzzy origins, yet it remains a popular annual release for many Belgian brewers. It is believed that the first Belgian Christmas Ales drew inspiration from imported Scotch and English ales, which were popular in Belgium around the turn of the 20th century. Like their British Isle counterparts, these brews typically feature a full, dark, pleasing maltiness and warming alcohol. But unlike a Scotch wee heavy or English barleywine, Belgian brewers embraced the infusion of seasonal spices into their holiday beers, such as allspice, aniseed, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and the like—allowing each brewer a blank slate to create their own spice blend. Baking spices make a naturally harmonious pairing for the easily-recognizable ester-y, fruity quality of Belgian yeast. Combine soothing malt, a medley of fruit and spice notes, and a warming finish and what do you get? Celebration in a bottle.

For me, enjoying a Christmas Ale while hanging ornaments has become a little holiday tradition. It makes the impending cold winter ahead just a little easier to embrace. All the right flavors melded in perfect balance, a velvety smooth mouthfeel, deceivingly easy drinkability, and the soft, tingly carbonation that only a bottle-conditioned beer can offer. 

ST. BERNARDUS CHRISTMAS ALE | $15.99/4pk Can or $12.99/750ml | A perennial holiday favorite. St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is a riff on the highly-regarded Abt 12 Quadrupel. St. Bernardus has been using the same house yeast since 1946. This lovely dark brew showcases zesty, spicy aromas and complex flavor. Notes of chocolate, dark dried fruit, aniseed, chestnut and seasonal spice.

STRAFFE HENDRIK XMAS BLEND 2021 | $26.99/4pk | Newly available in Minnesota, the 2021 Xmas Blend from the De Halve Maan (“Half Moon”) brewery is an exciting, unique take on the Christmas ale. Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel is aged in Bordeaux, Calvados and rum barrels, then blended with young Quadrupel before undergoing refermentation in the bottle.

 DELIRIUM NOEL | $25.99/4pk or $12.99/750ml | Entrancing in appearance with a reddish glow, Delirium Noel boasts notes of richly caramelized malt, pear, banana, clove and raisin. A waft of holiday spice and lightly bitter finish balance the sweet midpalate. Deceptively drinkable.

GOUDEN CAROLUS CHRISTMAS ALE | $19.99/4pk or $12.99/750ml | Like Straffe Hendrik, Gouden Carolus disappeared from Minnesota for a few years, but we are excited for its triumphant return. The Christmas Ale has a luxurious flavor of fruitcake, rum, cola, burnt toffee, dark fruit and ginger-y spice.

Inspiration for your Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving 2021 is shaping up to be one for the record books. There’s nary a turkey to be found this side of the Mississippi. Sweet potatoes are flying out grocery store doors faster than they can be stocked. And if you haven’t reserved your France 44 Cheese Shop Pumpkin Pie by now, you might be relegated to eating pumpkin puree by the spoonful right out of the can instead.

But one thing that won’t be hard is choosing which libations to pair with your holiday feast. Whether you’re planning for two or 20, the France 44 staff will help you choose the perfect Thanksgiving beverage lineup. From appetizer aperitifs to pumpkin pie potables and everything in between, we’re sharing what we’re bringing to our own tables in hopes of bringing some inspiration to yours. (If you want the fast and dirty shopping list, just scroll to the bottom.) Happy Thanksgiving!

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Flora Prosecco | $15.99 | “My favorite way to start Thanksgiving is with mimosas! Flora Prosecco has become my favorite go-to. Try it with pomegranate or cranberry juice for a festive twist. It also tastes great without juice. That gives it the dual function of mimosas and bubbles to have with dessert!” – Melissa

Leffe Blonde | $8.99/6pk | “The flagship of Leffe, it’s smooth and fruity with a spicy aftertaste! At 6.6% it’s an excellent beer for any dish and relaxing moments with family and friends.” – Kayla

Gail ‘Doris’ Red Blend | $24.99 | “Loving this wine right now and probably will forever. This vintage has a high percentage of Zinfandel accompanied by about 15% of a variety of other grapes. Classic field blend. The Zin isn’t uber jamtastic, and that may be why I’d drink this with any holiday fare. Ripe raspberry, strawberry preserve, and a skosh of pepper round out the palate. Simply stunning.” – Dustin

Paul Nicolle Vieilles Vignes Chablis | $29.99 | “Good Chablis is what I’m bringing to Thanksgiving this year. There are few better pairing wines than a crisp, minerally Chablis, and the small Paul Nicolle domaine is at the top of the game. It is full-bodied enough to stand up to the bigger flavors on your Thanksgiving table, but that laser-sharp acidity also cuts through the salty and savory flavors in your stuffing, turkey, gravy, potatoes… (excuse me, I accidentally drooled on the keyboard).”  – Karina

Arnot-Roberts Trousseau | $34.99 |My current favorite ‘close my eyes wine’ – a wine so good you have to close your eyes and give it your full attention. The whisper-quiet honeyed red fruit flavors provide a refreshing counterpoint to the commotion of the holidays. Drink this one on its own (preferably on your own) when you need a break from the loud flavors (and personalities) of the Thanksgiving dinner table.” – Ryan

Peter Lauer Riesling ‘No. 25’ Trocken | $29.99 | “It’ll come as no surprise to anyone who reads our blog that I’ll be drinking German Riesling at my Thanksgiving celebration this year. My pick is focused, zingy and bone dry. The winemaker, Florian Lauer, has made is his life’s work to preserve the historic vineyard names of the Kupp area within the Mosel region of Germany. You’ll find it to be the perfect aperitif wine for your cheese board and shrimp cocktail.” – Amy

Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel | $23.99 | “Thanksgiving is one of the most gluttonous meals of the year, and I have no idea why people pair this wonderful feast with delicate, lightweight wines. Try a Sonoma County Zinfandel at the dinner table this year, especially if you’re smoking the turkey. Silky, rich berry fruit–low tannins–spicy kick–absolutely delicious. It’s a perfect match. ‘Merica!” – Bill

Shacksbury Cider Variety Pack I $21.99 I “I am in love this this variety pack from one of my current favorite cider producers. The pack has 4 cans of each of the following: Shacksbury Dry Cider, The Vermonter (a delicious gin-like dry cider), and the Shacksbury Rosé (aged with red wine grapes). There really is just something about fall weather and fall food that screams for a delicious ice-cold cider. The variety pack is the perfect way to make sure there is a style everyone will like at your Thanksgiving.” – Josh

St. Agrestis Amaro | $39.99 | “I really enjoy this on its own! The bitter/herbal start really meshes well with the cinnamon and sarsaparilla on the finish. Makes me think of the holidays – and at 30% ABV, it’ll keep ya warm too!” – Stephen

Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon | $32.99 | “I’m currently in love with the small batch Bowman Brothers bourbon. Its bright notes of cinnamon and gingerbread pair perfectly with my favorite vermouth to make a lovely Manhattan. It’s definitely something I look forward to making for my family during the holidays.” – Aaron 

Ezra Brooks Cream Liqueur | $14.99 | “After the Thanksgiving rush, I feel quite beat. We sell gobs of cream liqueur this time of year and I’m going to treat myself to some Ezra Brooks Cream Liqueur in some coffee after my morning run… that I’m not going to take. It’s every bit as good as the best cream liqueur at half the price. I may even make myself an evening bourbon cream milkshake for dessert because I’m worth it!” – Tom

Schneider Weisse Aventinus Weizen Doppelbock I $5.99/500ml I “When it comes to pairing beers with Thanksgiving dinner, I prefer something with yeast-driven flavors, some alcohol warmth and fine carbonation. While most beers that fit this mold come from Belgium, some good options can also be found from Germany. Schneider Aventinus is one of my favorite food- (and cheese!) pairing beers. Sophisticated yet perfectly balanced with notes of plum, fig, clove, banana bread, cola and caramelized malt. The finish is warming with a prickly tingle of carbonation. Try it with L’Amuse Brabander goat gouda for a heavenly pairing.” – Bennett

Hamm’s Beer | $17.99/30pk | “What’s the best pairing with Turkey? Ham(m’s). The magical elixir from the land of the sky blue waters, Hamm’s. It tastes like beer and I like it.” – Rob

 

 

 

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TL;DR VERSION

 

PRE-DINNER/ALL-DAY DRINKS

Flora Prosecco | $15.99

Hamm’s Beer | $17.99/30pk

 

DURING DINNER DRINKS

Peter Lauer Riesling ‘No. 25’ Trocken | $29.99

Paul Nicolle Chablis | $29.99

Gail ‘Doris’ Red Blend | $24.99

Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel | $23.99

Arnot-Roberts Trousseau | $34.99

Leffe Blonde | $8.99/6pk

 

AFTER DINNER DRINKS

St. Agrestis Amaro | $39.99

Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon | $32.99

Ezra Brooks Cream Liqueur | $14.99

 

 

Hops: The Backbone of Beer

by Kayla Tyler

If you haven’t already noticed, the theme of this beer blog series is brewing ingredients, so today this one is about hops! Hops (Humulus Lupulus) are the flower or cone of a low slinking plant, and are native to the Northern hemisphere and originated in China. They’re pretty resilient plants and can grow even at temperatures as low as -20 ℉. Since they’re grown in different parts of the world, we’ll focus on a few that are grown right here in the United States. The two main hop farm locations are, Yakima Valley Washington (most popular) and Willamette Valley, Oregon. 

Hops are grown on long 18-20ft trellis systems like telephone poles, ad their harvest dates are August through September. Once harvested the hop farmer can do one of two things with the fresh hops: first, they can dry the hops so there’s only 8-10% of moisture left and then immediately dry them so they can be used at a later time. The second option you can do is called “wet hopping.” These hops retain about 80% of their moisture and weight from the water. The downside to this method is that the hops are highly prone to molding and oxidation, along with the fact that you have to use a significant amount of them in your brew to get the desired flavor profile. 

The hops we’ll talk about today are: Citra™, Mosaic®, Cascade, and Triumph.  

Citra™ was developed by the Hop Breeding Company in Yakima Valley, Washington. This hop is considered the superstar of the hop world and revolutionized the IPA world. This hop has notes of lime, grapefruit, black currant, berry and other tropical fruits.

Another notable hop also developed by the same hop company and released in 2012 is Mosaic®. Mosaic® is the daughter hop of Simcoe® and Nugget male. Its flavor profiles are berry, black currant, and sweet fruits with woody aromatics. 

Next is the Cascade hop, which virtually defined the flavor of US hops. Developed by the USDA hop breeding program in Corvallis Oregon and released in 1971, this hop is still one of the most popular today. The flavor profile is floral, citrus, and hints of grapefruit and pine needles.

Finally, we have Triumph. Like Cascade, it was also developed in the same breeding program and was released in 2018. The parents of this hop are Nugget, Brewers Gold, East Kent Golding’s, and Hallertau Mittelfrüh. The flavor profile is intense fruit, followed by prominent bubble gum, peach, lime, and orange. 

These four hops are all used in some of your favorite IPAs and continue to leave an impact on the end result! 

 
So, for the beers you need to try with these hops in it, I’m taking a moment to put together a few beers I think you should try! 
 

First up is a West Coast IPA from Lagunitas in Petaluma, California. It’s 6.2% ABV, and is packed with Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook, bringing the beer pine-iness and a hint of citrus, which brings out the brightness of the beer. This all makes for one of the best classic examples of a west coast IPA. Currently you can find it in our store in 6pk bottles for $8.99 or for $16.99 a 12pk in either cans or bottles.

Drekker Ectogasm IPA (Shipping Incl.) – CraftShack - Buy craft beer online.

Second, we have an East Coast IPA from Drekker Brewing called Ectogasm. It’s 7% ABV and the hops that they use in this beer are Citra and Mosaic. It makes this beer very juicy, with a hint of tartness. This beer is $14.99/4pk.

Finally, we have Deschutes Chasin’ Freshies, a limited release Fresh Hop IPA! They use freshly harvested wet hops in collaboration with Bitburger. It’s 6% ABV with notes of honeydew melon and tropical passion fruit. It’s one of the best examples of a fresh hop IPA at $9.99 a 6pk.

My Craft Cider Journey (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Price and Embrace New Things)

by Melissa 

Six years ago this week, I had an experience that changed my life. I know that is a bold statement, but it is very true. Six years ago, I went to the orchard/home where Milk & Honey Ciders was founded and got to be there for a day of apple pressing. 

Let’s take a few steps back before we go forward with this story. In the spring of 2015, I found out I have Celiac disease. As an avid beer drinker and deep fried cheese curd consumer, this news hurt. My husband and I would go to breweries, beer festivals, and bars for special beer releases on a regular basis. I had no idea what was to become of our “hobby” that we shared. One evening at our regular watering hole, our regular server suggested I try the cider on tap after I pointed out that we all knew it was a bad idea for me to switch to vodka, gin, or anything with a high ABV. That was my first Angry Orchard and my first step into cider. Over the next year, I tried several mass-produced ciders as those were all that was available when we went out. I also bought these mass-produced ciders at retail stores because the prices on other ciders were scary and I didn’t want to pay for something I wasn’t sure of.

courtesy of Milk & Honey Ciders

Then comes Spring 2016. Some friends and I were out for brunch, and I asked if they had cider. The server brought me something called “Heirloom” by Milk & Honey. This was the most incredible thing I had ever tasted! I had no idea that cider could taste like that – not sweet, but full of apple flavor and pure perfection. It was so good that I emailed them and told them I loved it and would be happy to do anything I could to spread the word about their cider. This led to doing tastings at liquor stores for them and eventually to the day on-site for apple pressing.

Melissa at Milk & Honey Ciders

Tasting a wonderful cider is an experience in itself. Seeing how much work goes into its creation is an even bigger experience. Watching the apples go down the belt, bad ones getting picked out by hand, as they go to the grinder. Listening to the mill grind those apples into small chunks that get transferred by a machine into the press. Seeing a layer of apple pomace put on the wooden press, wrapped in cloth, and that being repeated over and over until there is an impressive tower of layers. The machine that presses those layers down, sending the juice into the collection container under the press is an amazing display. As the juice gets put into the fermenters with yeast to begin their transformation into cider, the leftover pomace gets transferred into containers that, at least at Milk & Honey, get taken to a local farm for their pigs. All of this was done by a crew of ten people. Only ten!

courtesy of Milk & Honey Ciders

This is the day that I truly understood what craft cider is and why it costs more. Craft cider is all about people using various pieces of equipment to make cider–not machines making cider. I suddenly knew I wanted to get to know more about craft cider and the makers.

Minnesota is home to several craft cider makers that anyone can visit to get to know ciders. Keepsake, Sweetland, Minneapolis Cider Company, Urban Forage, Number 12, Thor’s, Sociable Cider Werks, Duluth Cider, and Wild State all showcase the varieties of apples and ciders that can come with making small batches. The cider makers are great to talk to and have amazing stories behind their ciders. I was so inspired by them that I got involved in the MN Cider Guild and decided to explore cideries outside of MN. Joining the American Cider Association and some Facebook groups taught me about ciders from all over the US. Attending CiderCon for several years exposed me to international ciders. This journey actually led to my husband and I taking a trip to Washington for a beer and cider vacation. Now we add local cideries to any trip we can.

I have had some absolutely terrible ciders. I have had some ciders that were so wonderful that I didn’t want the bottle to ever empty. I have joined cider clubs and cider trades. I have spent $2 on a cider. I have spent $45 on a cider. No two craft ciders are the same. In fact, no two years are the same for a cider. This makes cider drinking a never-ending adventure. It also supports small, independent businesses that are producing sustainable products.

If you have ever been cider-curious and want to start to dabble, please feel free to reach out to me and I would be glad to help you take those first steps.

MY TOP 5 CRAFT CIDER PICKS

Heirloom by Milk and Honey | $13.99/4pk

Orchard Blend by Minneapolis Cider Company | $9.99/4pk

Central Sands Cranberry by Restoration | $15.99/4pk

Brut Nature by Eden | $10.99/375ml

Brightcider by 2 Towns | $10.99/6pk

The Original Rauchbier of Bamberg

by Bennett

One of my favorite quips to describe the world of beer is that our only constant is change. In some ways this is true – a proliferation of advancement and excess has defined the last decade of craft beer – today we use terminology like triple dry-hopped, pastry and smoothie to define beer styles, something that would be considered ludicrous not long ago. In other ways it is false – the beer world is as the world itself, cycling through a sequence of predetermined seasons – winter-y stouts, spring maibocks, summer-y saisons, fall Oktoberfests. (In this analogy IPA and hard seltzer would be the sun and moon).

Each September that comes around, when it gets to beer blog time I think, “Oh boy, here we go… What am I going to say about Oktoberfest that I haven’t already said?” It feels like an obligation to acknowledge. Oktoberfest (or Wiesn) is, after all, the world’s largest folk festival – two full weeks of continuous celebration that annually draws millions of beer lovers from around the world. And it would have begun this Saturday.

But alas, in light of Munich again cancelling Oktoberfest celebrations for this year, it seems fitting that an Oktoberfest blog should be cancelled as well. So let’s break from the obvious cycle and shift focus to a compelling yet underappreciated beer style whose origin lies further north in Bavaria: the rauchbiers of Bamberg, Germany.

Rauchbier translates literally to “smoked beer.” Smoked malt – more commonly associated with Scotch whisky – is what separates this style from most. Whereas Scotch uses malt smoked over peat (decomposed vegetative matter), lending notes of ash, iodine and earthy dankness, rauchmalz (smoked malt) for beer is kilned over a fire of aged hardwood, lending meaty, campfire and molasses-like characteristics. 

Schlenkerla Seal

Enjoying a rauchbier gives the drinker a lens into the past. Until modern indirect kilning methods were developed over the 17th to 19th centuries, all malt was dried either by air or fire. Fire kilned malt, which existed for at least 5,000 years prior, inevitably contributed smoky aromas and flavors from combustion gases passing through the grain bed. One could presume that any beer brewed with kilned malt during those few thousand years would have a smoky note to it. So why doesn’t more smoked beer exist today? Simply put, it is more costly to produce. Advancements in indirect malt kilning were easier to scale to an industrial size and involved less variables. Just a handful of brewers worldwide have preserved the history of smoked malt.

classic Märzen Rauchbier

Today, there are only two remaining traditional rauchbier producers in Bamberg. The Aecht Schlenkerla beers of Brauerei Heller-Trum are the most highly-regarded. Staunch in appearance with wide, cylindrical bottles like an upside down fermentation vessel, their parchment-inspired labels adorned with calligraphic font and red seal are both mysterious and foreboding. For many beer drinkers, popping the cap will be a dive into the unknown.

What’s in the name? In Frankish vernacular, aecht means “true” or “original” and schlenkerla – “the little dangler” – an endearing nickname for someone who does not walk quite straight. It is told that Andreas Graser, former brewery owner, sort of stumbled or shuffled as he walked – perhaps from an accident, or more likely a result of his frequent imbibing. Schlenkerla was firstly a name used by locals for the brewery’s timbered Medieval beer tavern, but it has grown to embody the entire operation.

The brewery now known as Aecht Schlenkerla has been producing beer in Bamberg since at least 1405. Today it is a 6th generation family run. They produce a small array of beers, mostly lagers, that feature varying degrees of smoky quality. What distinguishes Schlenkerla is that they malt all their barley in-house. 

Producing rauchmalz of the highest quality takes great care. The barley kernels are steeped and germinated like other malts then gently kiln dried over an open fire to impart smokiness. Kilning can take up to two days, as the malt temperature must increase slowly, not exceed a temperature where important enzymes for fermentability begin to break down.

Schlenkerla Smoke Kiln
Schlenkerla Smoke Kiln – drying of the malt

Only beech and oak hardwoods are used, as their lower resin content delivers a clean, balanced smoke profile. “Seasoning” or aging of the logs is important so the moisture content is ideal for smoking. As the smoke seeps through the grain bed, it slowly imparts itself through the husk into the endosperm. Important to note, the color of a smoked beer is not determined by its proportion of smoked malt. In fact, rauchmalz is rather pale in color. It is most often used as the base malt—the foundation of a beer—its main source of starches, proteins and enzymes. Color and added depth come from the addition of caramelized and roasted malts.

Interestingly enough, the yeast also plays a significant role in contributing smokiness to Schlenkerla beer. Yeast that has fermented a wort containing smoked malt will actually harbor these attributes and impart them into a new batch when re-pitched. Although the Schlenkerla Helles Lager uses no rauchmalz, its yeast sends a glance of smoke across the nostrils, quickly perceived on the palate before dissipating into a pure, smooth maltiness that German brewers behave perfected.

For me, fall is the perfect time to enjoy a rauchbier. Like the fire they were born from – upon first spark the smoke is deliberate, but as the flames crackle a malty balance is achieved. The trailing sips, like glimmering coals, the softest of crescendos.

Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen – $4.99/500ml | The original specialty of Bamberg brewed in the Märzen-style of lager. 

Aecht Schlenkerla Urbock – $5.49/500ml | A fuller bodied lager of bock strength with deeper malt tones.

Aecht Schlenkerla Oak Smoke Doppelbock – $5.99/500ml | A strong bock beer for celebration that showcases the unique quality of oak smoke.

Aecht Schlenkerla Helles (currently out of stock, check back later this fall!) | A quaffing lager that features the most subtle smokiness of Schlenkerla offerings.

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!