Fair State Brewing has been on a roll lately. Their new Berliner Weiss style brew, a mild sour beer called Cromulence, was voted first place at Duluth's All Pints North Beer Fest for best beer. The Northeast brewery also took first place for Horatio, a sour wheat beer with rhubarb made in collaboration with Fulton Brewery for In Cahoots, Red Stag’s annual block party where local brewers are paired and challenged to create something unique. Want to taste these? You can—in Fair State's new secret beer garden.
Back behind Fair State’s taproom and brewery, there is vacant land. Slowly over the last few weeks that land has been filling up with picnic tables, umbrellas, planting boxes, and dirt has been moving this way and that. A few hops plants have gone in the ground, with instructions to grow and cover a nearby fence. By this Friday (Aug. 7) the rest of the plants will arrive, a rain garden will be planted, badda-bing, badda-bang: A new beer garden in Northeast!
And it looks like it will be both wonderful and a must-visit for anyone wanting to try the top level in Minnesota sour beers. Brewer Niko Tonks is very gifted in making clean, delicate, and expressive sours.
A brief explainer: Sour beers are those made with yeast strains and bacteria that create sour flavors; as regular bread is to sourdough, regular beer is to sour beer—one uses yeast that make no sour flavors, and one uses yeast and bacteria that make sour flavors. Those yeast and bacteria that make sour flavors can be a little unruly, creating unpredictable or undesirable flavors. Sometimes some of them grow wildly, or even grow in places you don’t want them to (like the other regular beer in your brewery) so many brewers don’t tangle with them, and those who do often come to grief. Not Tonks. He’s just really good at getting those little sour guys to grow and dance in the right ways—and he knows it. Fair State just hired a microbiologist and has stored one of the house-sour-critter strains offsite so that the current sour magic they’re winning with won’t ever be lost.
It’s some good beer magic. I stopped in last week to try Fair State’s Butterfly Beer, a remarkable beer made to support the Minnesota Zoo’s efforts to save endangered Minnesota butterflies, which I wrote about last year.
To make this beer, the zoo provided Tonks with fresh prairie grasses foraged during a recent trip to count and save some butterflies. The grasses included prairie icons like big bluestem and little bluestem, grasses which, as far as I know, no one has ever added to beer before. Tonks added them to a Berliner Weiss, and the result was delightful. The beer developed fragrances of, well, a prairie: grassy, dry-hay, moist-wildflower, slightly sweet, slightly like outside, where it’s hot and flowerful. A few kegs of Butterfly beer remain, but will probably disappear by the end of the weekend, especially once word about the new beer garden spreads.
If you’re wondering why they're planting a beer garden now in the height of summer, it's because they want it to be all established and pretty in time for Fair State’s big anniversary celebration on October 10. On that date, which any and all beer nuts in the crowd should add to a calendar, they'll release a number of tiny-batch beers they’re excited about. Beers like an “Old Richmond Rye,” a British style double brown ale that Tonks says is coming along beautifully as it ages in barrels that once held 45th Parallel’s New Richmond Rye. And beers like the two sours currently called Barrel 5 and Barrel 10, one a black sour made from a stout base and the other a full-bore traditional sour. These will be released in batches of perhaps 250 bombers—is this the new limited release that will be more exclusive than the Darkness released at Surly’s annual Darkness Day? Could be . . . in any event Tonks is currently gathering watermelons for a trial run of a salted watermelon sour, and a blackberry sour and hibiscus sour will be coming out over the next few weeks.
Sounds like quite the thing to sample, in a secret beer garden.
Fair State Brewing, 2506A Central Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-444-3574, fairstate.coop