Belgian Christmas Ales

by Bennett Porter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspiration for your Thanksgiving Table

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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









Flora Prosecco | $15.99

Hamm’s Beer | $17.99/30pk



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

Paul Nicolle Chablis | $29.99

Gail ‘Doris’ Red Blend | $24.99

Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel | $23.99

Arnot-Roberts Trousseau | $34.99

Leffe Blonde | $8.99/6pk



St. Agrestis Amaro | $39.99

Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon | $32.99

Ezra Brooks Cream Liqueur | $14.99



Hops: The Backbone of Beer

by Kayla Tyler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Melissa 

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

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

courtesy of Milk & Honey Ciders

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

Melissa at Milk & Honey Ciders

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

courtesy of Milk & Honey Ciders

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

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

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

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


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.