A Graphic Designer’s Guide to Liquor

by Dio Cramer

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

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

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

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

Nostalgia vs Novelty

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

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

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

Bold graphics


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

Hand-drawn art and text


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

Geometric designs


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

New-wave psychedelic beer art


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

Tarot card theme


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Order online here: 750ml Crowler $9.49



Ida B. Wells

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

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

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

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

Black Women aren’t asking for handouts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lena O. Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Bill Nosan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going Back to Cali: The West Coast IPA

Beerlings in the wild caught on film, pointing to and planning their attack on a beer delivery truck containing a new limited-release hazy IPA. 

by Bennett Porter

The year is 2021, the Beer planet continues to circle a galactic vortex that top astronomers have named “Hazy IPA.” The planet, whose inhabitant “Beerlings” subsist primarily on fermented malt beverages, was first drawn into the vortex years prior when it was caught in a gravity beam of juicy hop flavor. Upon entering the galaxy’s rotational forces, an odd phenomenon began to spread. The Beerlings—who formerly enjoyed styles such as brown ale, hefeweizen, milk stout and Czech pilsner—have become enraptured by a cloudy “India Pale Ale” that is said to have been from an unknown location called “New England.” By way of its juicy, tropical aroma and flavor, silky body, and gentle bitterness, the Hazy IPA is gradually taking over the minds of the Beerlings, methodically squashing out the dwindling beer styles in its path. The future is bleak, and hazy at best.

After picking up a fuzzy distress beacon from the depths of galaxy “Hazy IPA”, a small faction of bitter, seasoned brewers travelling from “The West Coast” and beyond have united in order to rescue Beer planet from its impending engulfment by the entrancing tropical hop character, and to reclaim the flavor balance of past eras. The future of Beer depends on it.

This silly movie plot-like scenario is playing out in real time in craft beer coolers across the country; a single style becoming so popular that less popular styles are chewed up and spit out in its wake. I am certainly part of the problem, often choosing the newest hazy IPA over another style. But each time I try a quality west coast IPA, I am reminded of why I admired IPAs in the first place. It’s something in the hop character—the spicy, floral, grassy, piney, citrus that takes your nose on a camping trip. It’s the softly sweet malt character and slick, oily mouthfeel. It’s the tongue-punching bitterness that commands another sip. It’s the nostalgia, a subtle reminder that these experimental hoppy brews were part of the Zeitgeist for a craft beer revolution.

Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA | $8.99/4pk Can | Born in the heart of wine country, Racer 5 is arguably the benchmark for this style, winning gold in the IPA category for two consecutive years at the Great American Beer Festival. The original recipe was a mistake; hops from Bear Republic’s Red Rocket Ale were accidentally added to the “house IPA” at the time. A few tweaks later and Racer 5 was born, inspired by owner Rich’s love for car racing. Racer 5 exemplifies the classic “C hops”: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Columbus all bringing their classic citrus, floral and pine characteristics. A softly-sweet crystal malt character balances the sturdy 75 IBUs of bitterness.

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA | $12.99/6pk | Ballast Point has a story like many breweries; it all started with a group of college homebrewers who turned a hobby into a business. First came Home Brew Mart, a homebrew supply store that opened in 1992. Four years later, the brewery began operations from the back of the store. By 2005 the recipe for Sculpin would be released, quickly becoming one of the most highly regarded IPAs of the decade and earning BP “best small brewery” at the 2010 world beer cup. Sculpin drinks like a pale ale, despite its 7% abv and 70 IBU, thanks to its simple, clean malt base. Piney, spicy bittering hops accentuate the bright stone fruit and mango notes from the aroma hop additions.

Lagunitas Waldo’s Special Ale | $12.99/4pk | If you know anything about Lagunitas, you know of their fascination with a certain, um, plant. This fascination has inspired much of their beer culture, and is best embodied in their annual spring release of Waldo’s Special Ale. This triple IPA began as a collaboration between Lagunitas and the Waldo’s, a group of former San Rafael HS students who famously met around a statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20 to smoke before embarking on a treasure hunt of sorts in Point Reyes. The dankest and hoppiest of Lagunitas brews, Waldo’s features a botanical assault of hop character, sticky icky sweet fruitiness, warming alcohol and an oil slick mouthfeel. For all the treasure hunters out there. 

Modist Blog - Modist Brewing Co.

Modist Day of Another Dream IPA | $14.99/4pk Can | Taking their Dreamyard New England-style IPA into The Upside Down, in this alternate reality Day of Another Dream is a west coast IPA brewed with the same ingredients but different techniques. Wheat malt and malted oats lend their typical textural smoothness and while Citra and Sultana hops get more time to isomerize in the boil, bringing jabs of piney bitterness and pithy citrus.

Worthy Mentions:

Stone IPA

Drastic Measures Jimmy’s Dirty Dena West Coast IPA

Deschutes Squeezy Rider West Coast IPA

Eagle Park KFBR392 IPA

Sportsball Beers

Hey fellow sportsball fan! Excited about the big game coming up? I heard there’s a GOAT playing quarterback for the Panhandle Pirates. Who knew they lived to be 43 years old? And how will he fare against that young man that’s always accidentally throwing balls into his neighbor’s backyard barbeque? That dude’s got quite an arm. Wouldn’t want to get in a close game with him. 

It simply doesn’t get better than championship sportsball. The culmination of a season of yelling “pass interference!” at my television and throwing my crumb-covered remote in predetermined agony. All the 16oz curls and couch commentary have prepared me for this moment. I’m in peak shape for the hustle of 40 foot refrigerator dashes and blocking pass rushers from my crockpot full of meatballs. High-intensity exercise like this requires some quenching hydration. What can I get you? I’m grabbing some ultra-refreshing suds to wash down the conveyor belt of nachos that will be entering my mouth. Fix yourself a plate of dips and grab a brewski from the fridge. Don’t forget your koozie! Who’s looking forward to the Weekday’s halftime performance? “Ooooh I’m blinded by the lights…”

Hamm’s  $5.49/6pk 16oz or $16.49/30pk

Theodore Hamm was really on to something back in 1865. While the beer is no longer brewed in Minnesota’s land of sky blue waters, it is still just as delicious. Sourcing the purest Milwaukee water, the choicest barley, the most concentrated corn syrup and the greenest hops, it’s no wonder as to why Hamm’s is still the peak of refreshment.

Schell’s Bock — $8.99/6pk 

This lager style from Einbeck, Germany was often mispronounced by the southerly Bavarians as “ein bock” which loosely translated to “goat.” Bock beer has since been strongly associated with the imagery of goats. There is a goat playing in this game. Could there be a more perfect beer style to gulp while watching foosball history in the making? The answer is no. Also, this Schell’s brews an excellent bock.

BlackStack Side Of Ranch Lager — $8.99/4pk

It may not be from a hidden valley but dang, this stuff goes with everything! Pour it on your pizza, pour it on your cocktail weenies, pour it in your mouth. This intentionally uncomplicated lager was brewed with a sprinkle of rice for a light, crisp impression. And it’s perfectly slammable for times when your team just coughed up a fumblerooski. 

Castle Danger White Pine Project IPA — $18.99/12pk

A good beer for a good cause. If you’re a true outdoorsy Minnesotan, you understand the importance and beauty of the white pines in our northwoods. Proceeds from WPP go toward planting new white pines along the north shore to revitalize their population for future generations. Pops of bright citrus and piney bitterness balance a gentle malt character. At 5.6% abv, it’s mild enough for a long day of gluttonous consumption in front of the big screen.

New Beer Resolutions

2020 sure was a doozy.  I could list all the reasons why, but I’m guessing that you are quite familiar.  Having normal life pulled out from underneath us was not something that (hardly) anyone could have predicted if asked just one year ago.  It’s been a tough adjustment for everyone.  Because life during a pandemic has cut down on our typically expansive freedoms, it’s been easy to feel stuck in a rut.  Maybe you have been stuck in a beer rut too–falling back on the comfortable and familiar over something new and unknown.  That’s perfectly okay!  BUT–it is a new year–and I know that everything didn’t just magically get better, but it does feel like we have a cleaner slate than before.  So now is a great time to mix it up a bit and go outside your comfort zone, maybe try a new beer style that you are unfamiliar with. Here are some situational recommendations to consider if you are feeling spontaneous.

Do you like Kettle Sours? (e.g. Fair State Roselle, Pryes Royal Raspberry)

Try: Funk Factory Meerts American Lambic — $11.99/750ml

A perfect introduction into the world of spontaneously fermented beers. Levi Funk of Funk Factory Geuzeria in Madison, Wisconsin has been leading a movement of traditionally-made lambic beer here in the Midwest. Producing beer in this fashion is extremely time consuming and filled with mystery. First, Funk Factory sources locally brewed turbid mash wort from a handful of breweries, then ferments it spontaneously in a coolship. The beer is then racked into french oak foeders, where it continues to ferment and develop. After many months or even years, the beer is blended (and sometimes re-fermented on fruit) before continuing to condition in the bottle. Meerts is considered the brewery’s session beer. Its name is actually a reference to the meerts/bière de mars style that is now nearly extinct in its home of Belgium and France. Meerts is made from the less sugar-concentrated, second runnings of wort. It ferments for a “short” three months in large oak foeders before conditioning in the bottle. Beautiful and delicate, it features prickly acidity, gentle carbonation and an enticing funk.

Do you like maltier American beers? (e.g. Bell’s Best Brown, Deschutes Black Butte Porter)

Try: Brasserie d’Achouffe McChouffe Belgian Brown Ale — $11.99/4pk

If you’re the type of beer drinker who enjoys amber ales, brown ales, or porters, try adding some yeast-driven flair with a Belgian brown or dubbel. McChouffe has a more robust body than LaChouffe but goes down just as easy with the help of candi sugar. Many Belgian brewers use candi sugar to add strength to their beers but increase their drinkability. Please note this doesn’t add sweetness! McChouffe has an aromatic character of clove, coriander, anise and dark fruit. On the palate it has a soothing combination of aniseed, licorice, toffee, and molasses. The finish has a balanced bitterness and tingle from the carbonation.

Are you a Pils-nerd?

Try: Früh Kӧlsch — $10.99/4pk Can

A regional specialty from Cologne, Germany. Kölsch was first produced as a reaction to the growing pilsner movement. Local ale breweries wanted to compete with pilsner and lager beer without completely losing their heritage. Kölsch is essentially an ale/lager hybrid, fermented with ale yeast at warmer temperatures then conditioned cold like a lager. Früh has a noble hop character similar to pilsner with floral and grassy notes, but is a tad more subdued. Its medium-light body shows hints of vanilla and a faint fruitiness from the ale yeast. Kölsch is a great style to mix it up with if you are stuck picking the same lagers.

Love hazy IPAs but need a little break?

Try: Indeed Hop Dab IPA — $10.49/4pk Can

Let’s just put it out there: hazy IPAs are awesome, but can sometimes get a little tiring. The style that has become a behemoth in today’s beer world is almost unrecognizable from the IPAs we grew up on. Sometimes I like to go back to my roots and pour myself an IPA that I can see through, something with a dank, piney citrus aroma and a whack of bitterness. This IPA does the trick. Freshly-lit herb aromas carry to the palate with hints of berry, citrus and pine. The base of pure, honest maltiness supports a firm bitterness that leaves you wanting more.

Hit stout season too hard and looking for a substitute?

Try: Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock — $12.99/4pk

Is your palate feeling a bit fatigued from dense, chocolate-y, roasty stouts but you are still craving a wintery beer? Give doppelbocks a try. Doppelbock, a “double bock”, is a strong dark lager from Germany that oozes maltiness but isn’t overly sweet. The style has been referred to as liquid bread because of its full character and ability to satiate fasting monks during lent. Ayinger has been brewing their doppelbock since 1878. Celebrator brings waves of toffee, caramel, coffee and dark fruit flavors. It is somewhat reminiscent of a tootsie roll. What a delight!

Drink Local!

The holiday shopping season officially commenced last Friday. Small Business Saturday and Small Brewery Sunday were friendly reminders to shop local businesses over the weekend, but continued support will be most needed in the coming months.

We are entering winter amidst an untethered pandemic, and yet another (rightfully) consequential shutdown. As tough as that is, many of your favorite food, beverage, and service providers will continue to face an uphill battle through the core of winter. Indoor dining and drink service will return to a mitigated-state at best. From a brewery’s perspective, with bars and restaurants closed or offering curbside-only service, the kegs aren’t flowing, thus a large portion of sustaining production volume is simply being lost.

*cue the Sarah McLachlan music*

But in all seriousness–There are many faces behind the pint in your glass. Minnesota’s breweries support thousands of families and annually inject over $2 billion into the local economy. This amazing local beer scene was not built on greed but a joy of sharing a craft, a hobby, and yes, a pint. So please consider who you are supporting with your own hard-earned money through this holiday season and beyond. It’s as easy as buying a few growlers, gift cards, merch or what have you! And definitely stop by the beer cooler for some local goodness next time you’re in the neighborhood. I, for one, would like to make it to the other side of this with our local food and beverage (especially beer!) culture intact.

Check out some recent local favorites that are stocked in our cooler now. Cheers!

Falling Knife Cumulonimbus Fruited Sour Ale – $14.99/4pk Can

Take your taste buds on a tropical vacation this winter with this pink guava, pineapple and passionfruit-infused kettle sour. Light and fresh body with a nectar-y core and tart, bright finish.

Modist Campfire Jeans Smoked Helles Lager – $11.99/4pk Can

The latest iteration in Modist’s lineup of oak-aged lagers. This helles features the beautiful simplicity of pilsner malt with a dash of Beechwood-smoked malt for a campfire jean aroma and just enough smoke in balance with the biscuity malt character.

Barrel Theory Rain Drops NEIPA – $10.99/750ml Crowler

Barrel Theory has gained widespread respect and acclaim over the last few years for crazy delicious hazy IPAs and absolutely decadent stouts. A BT flagship, Rain Drops bursts with juicy aromas from Citra and Mosaic hops. Silky smooth, softly sweet malt and combines perfectly with a tropical hop character and seamless bitterness.

Bad Weather Ominous Double Brown Ale – $10.99/6pk Can

A personal wintery favorite. Ominous has a wholesome nutty, bready malt character. A bit of candi sugar brings a Belgian-like undertone with notes of dried fruit and plum.

Stout Season

written by Bennett

I’m calling it. Yes, it is unofficially the official start to stout season. This past weekend was one final hoorah of basking in the sun’s warmth, unburdened by layers of fleece and micro puff. But now, as we slip and slide into winter’s chilling grasp, like some sort of herd mentality it is the beer drinker’s natural instinct to reach for the dark beer in the fridge. Something comforting, warming, smooth. Something like an imperial stout. Have you tried one? These big, bold, unctuous concoctions that pour dark as a moonless night sky are the perfect evening beverage to cozy up with by the fireplace on a cold wintry evening.

Imperial stouts have become very popular seasonal offerings from American craft brewers since the style first really took off here in the early ‘90s. But they owe their heritage to the 18th century porter brewers in England, and a certain Russian empress. During this era the English were at the vanguard of dark beer brewing—brown ales, porters and “stout” porters were widely consumed in Britain’s pubs. Czarina Catherine the Great, the new leader of an expanding Russian empire, had reached a commercial treaty with the Brits in 1766. An unusual side effect of this agreement was Catherine’s development of taste for London stout.

Commerce between the countries was bolstered by regular shipments of “extra stout” porter from Henry Thrale’s brewery in Southwark to Catherine’s Russian imperial court. This sturdy, high-gravity brew likely reached around 12% abv and was well-hopped to balance the intense roasted malt character. Because of its relation to the imperial court, this style became known shortly thereafter as imperial stout.

While shipments to Russia and the Baltic region eventually diminished with world war, the style was kept alive by a handful of brewers in England and northern Europe. Its re-emergence to the mainstream came alongside the dawn of craft beer in America. Inspired by beers such as Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout from Britain, early craft brewers like Sierra Nevada, North Coast and Bell’s (to name a few) began brewing their own Americanized version of the style. Generally higher in alcohol and hopped to a higher degree, these American imperial stouts were the foothold for what is now a widely popular craft beer style.

Today you can find almost any imaginable variation of the imperial stout style, ranging from purist brews that tip the cap to history to an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. One thing for sure is that imperial stouts still offer some of the most complex, intriguing flavor profiles available in craft beer.

Surly Darkness ’20 Russian Imperial Stout – $19.99/750ml

Very arguably the most popular imperial stout brewed in Minnesota. Drinking a snifter of Surly Darkness is like a rite of passage for any self-respecting Minnesota craft beer drinker. For many years the only way to obtain bottles was to attend Darkness Day or patiently wait for your liquor store’s small annual allocation. These days it is easier to find, but no less delicious. Bold,

roasted coffee and chocolate notes with an undercurrent of dark cherry and raisin and a decisively bitter finish.

Fair State / Barrel Theory Soft Pants Wood-Aged Imperial Pastry Stout – $6.49/16oz Can

Two local stalwarts got their mash paddles wet with this French toast-inspired imperial stout. This decadent brew features notes of vanilla, chocolate, French toast and warm baking spices. It’s sweet, boozy and delicious!

Alesmith Speedway Stout – $13.99/4pk 16oz Cans

A stout who’s numerous variants absolutely dominated Ratebeer and Beeradvocate top beer lists for years is still one of the best. Rich aromatic coffee notes from local roasters and intense waves of chocolate flavors are tempered by a smooth, creamy mouthfeel.

Wild Mind Winter’s Edge ’20 Imperial Stout – $13.99/750ml Crowler

Inspired by Mexican hot chocolate. Madagascar vanilla beans, cinnamon and ancho chiles contribute to a wonderful interplay of sweetness and warming spice. Brownie-like malt flavors are accented by a smoky spice and subtle raisin-y undertone.

Evil Twin Even More Jesus Imperial Stout – $12.99/4pk 16oz Cans

Like an iron fist in a velvet glove. Even More Jesus packs a prodigious punch of dark chocolate, coffee, dark fruit and muscovado sugar. The 12% abv is all too well-hidden, so be careful with the Jesus!

Is this list not long enough for you? Come ask a beer staff and we can show you tons of other great options for this style!


You have seen the commercials: a vendor shouting “ice cold beer, here” while navigating through the football stadium; two arctic explorers abseiling into a crevasse to chip an ice cold can of beer from the glacier, only to return it to the man waiting by the portable cooler at a tailgate; a frozen train of beer careening through snow-capped mountains to deliver refreshment. The voice actor bellows in with some nonsensical phrase like “cold-brewed the hard way” or “brewed with the purest water from melted icebergs.” Even if statements like these hold little barley-water, the marketers have done their job. Because what many beer consumers want is crisp, quenching, and ice cold.

While there are certainly occasions for beers of the variety mentioned above, I’ve got some good news to share. Not all lager beer needs to be consumed at near-freezing temperatures to taste acceptable. In fact, most classic styles of lagers should be enjoyed cold, but not ice cold. The colder a beverage is served, the harder it is for your gustatory system to perceive its true flavor. And most craft lagers have much flavor to offer!

So what makes a lager? The advertisements give you part of the picture. Lager beer is fermented at a cooler temperature than ales, then cold-conditioned or “lagered” for an extended period of time. The metabolic activity of lager yeast is much slower, but results in a more complete fermentation. Higher attenuation, or a greater percentage of sugars consumed by the yeast, leads to a drier, “crisper” beer. Because lager yeast imparts minimal characteristics into a beer, it is the quality and balance of malt and hops that is stage-center. There is nothing to hide behind in lager brewing, which further elevates my reverence when I find a quality example.

Lagers can come in a variety of styles and strengths: from the ultra-light, crisp, adjunct-laden macro lagers, to hop-accentuated pilsners, to smoke-infused rauchbiers, to the big, malty doppelbocks dubbed “liquid bread”. After sampling a variety of styles you will find the category has more to offer than at first glance. Many are even perfect for cold weather consumption, considering we just were blessed by Minnesota’s first major snowfall. So if you’re looking for something “cold-brewed”, consider a few of our favorite examples listed below:

Modist Soft Minute Single Malt Foeder-Aged Pilsner – $11.99/4pk Cans

Modist has been on a roll with its foeder-aged lager program, producing some of my favorite “crispy bois” in recent memory. Soft Minute is brewed with 100% malted wheat, a feat only accomplished by the brewery’s mash filter, leading to a pillow-y soft mouthfeel. It’s hopped with Triple Pearl and Citra hops for a delicate floral, peppery citrus note. The beer is finished in an egg-shaped oak foeder for a bit of structure on the palate.

Fair State Pils – $9.49/4pk Cans

This is head brewer Niko Tonks’ “desert island beer”, and I might have to agree. This brisk German-style pilsner has a grassy nose from Hallertau Mittelfruh hops, a dry quenching palate, and a surprisingly bitter finish that begs another sip. Yes, it’s available all year-round, but it’s a beer that the staff always keep coming back to.

Ayinger Jahrhundert Bier – $3.49/500ml Bottle

Brewed in celebration of Ayinger’s 100th anniversary, Jahrhundert Bier is a sparkling export-style lager worthy of the acclaim. Floral, honeyed aromas with an earthy, malt-driven palate and a spicy hop note on the finish. Extremely balanced and quaffable.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen – $4.99/500ml

A beer that I think everyone must try in their lifetime, please take a chance on it! The original smoked beer from Bamberg, Germany is unlike anything else in the beer world. Its smokiness is imparted from smoking the malt over beechwood logs, offering aromas of campfire and smoked bacon. Do not be deterred upon first sip, as with each progressive glug the smoke becomes intertwined with layered bready malt notes. Drinking this beer brings you back in time.

Augustiner Brau Maximator Doppelbock – $15.99/6pk

This ruby-hued doppelbock is an excellent choice for cold, wintry days by the fire. Big and malty with aromas of toffee, plums and raisins. Malty expressions of brown bread and a bit of chocolate lead to a vinous, warming finish with extended notes of dark fruits.

Beer Cooler Picks

For the beer staff these days, the only constant has been change. On any given week we are likely to receive north of 50 new items into our cooler space. While the logistical challenges have become more daunting, the benefit is that we are now able to carry even more of the world’s finest beers. With an overwhelming list of new brews to consider each time you shop, it is important to acknowledge that you’ll never be able to try them all, and that’s ok. It is important to us, however, that we can assist you in discovering beers that you’ll truly enjoy each time you leave our doors. You already know that we have a top-notch selection of the freshest hazy IPAs, but here are some other gems worth your attention right now:

Indeed Pistachio Cream Ale — $9.99/4pk Cans 

Yes, it works. Softly sweet, nutty malt notes with a creamy body.

Utepils Receptional Festbier — $8.99/4pk Cans 

This golden festbier has a wonderful biscuit-y malt character and smooth, dry finish.

Bad Weather Tippin’ It Down Earl Grey Tea ESB — $9.99/6pk Cans 

Spicy, floral tea notes envelop a chewy malt character and an herbal hop finish.

Drastic Measures Humble Mumble — $15.99/4pk Cans 

A milk stout brewed with lactose sugar and crushed Oreos. So delicious. Need we say more?

Oliphant Spooky Squishy Sour Ale — $9.99/2pk Cans 

It’s fall in a can. Tart apple with a sprinkle of vanilla and spice.

Ology Resolved Enigma West Coast-Style IPA — $16.99/4pk Cans 

Dry, light body from pils malt and a beautiful hop bouquet from Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe hops.

Black Stack Side of Ranch Lager — $8.99/4pk Cans 

It’s a beer made for pizza, what’s not to like? Totally gulp-able and delicious.