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.


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!

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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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 hello@france44.com 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.