Five Questions For... Kris and Mag of Beer Musings

Beer Musings from Minneapolis-St. Paul is the kind of blog that you wished your friends maintained: regularly updated, witty, to the point, and chockablock with beer-related events, tastings and ideas. Whether creators Kris and Magnus McDowell are killing braincells at Surly Darkness Day, seeking out elusive Canadian craft beers in Toronto or chilling at Buster's on 28th the prose is likely to be as crisp and refreshing as the brew.

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When not blogging about beer, the Eagan-based couple work as an event and meeting planner (Kris) and a portfolio manager for a national bank (Mag).

What's the genesis of the blog — when and why did you decide to start writing about beer?

First of all, we should clarify that the blog isn't strictly about beer, per se. It's really more about whatever thoughts are rattling around in our heads because of beer. Kris tends to share informal reviews of beers, beer locales, beer events, etc. and Mag generally blathers on about whatever a few beers have inspired.

We started the blog sometime in mid-2007. Neither of us had ever had a blog before, so it really just began out of curiosity of the medium. We certainly didn't expect it to last, nor did we expect anyone to ever read it. The fact that we spend a lot of free time at various craft beer events, visiting bars and restaurants in search of good beer, and enjoying a lot of beer with friends naturally led to us using the blog as a creative outlet for random thoughts and for memorializing some of our good times. At one point, we thought it could be a useful tool for us and our friends to organize all-things-beer (event dates, directions, links), but we've found there are much better sites for this.

As it sits right now, it's still an informal, creative outlet for us to share some thoughts. It's been a nice way to share good times with friends and others. And we'd like to think that anyone who checks in from time to time would get a chuckle, a bit of useful information, validation of an opinion, or what-have-you... kind of like we get from reading the blogs of others.

Since you guys have started writing, what kind of changes have you seen occur in the local craft brewing scene?

We've seen the birth of a couple of new breweries in Minnesota, like Flat Earth (St. Paul) and Lift Bridge (Stillwater), as well as others outside of MN that are expanding their presence in MN (e.g. Furthermore). We've also watched breweries like Surly grow quickly and gather an enthusiastic following. They all make some fantastic brews and are doing a good job getting the word out about them. We generally have our beer fridge stocked with their brews.

We've also seen some changes and growth in the retail side of things with new and unique stores like The Four Firkins and bars/restaurants like the Blue Door Pub and Buster's that specialize in beer. And we've seen some law changes in support of MN craft beer, such as the advent of growlers sales and those in support of The Pedal Pub.

In general, it seems as though Minnesota's craft beer scene continues to thrive and grow. It's a healthy environment right now. We're a bit nervous about how rising prices and availability concerns with respect to grain and hops will impact the local market and what fall-out the dismal economic conditions will cause, but so far, so good.

What are your three favorite places to drink beer around here?

Town Hall Brewery: Great beer, great patio and solid food. Town Hall is sort of our version of "Cheers." More importantly, we have made a lot of great friends at Town Hall and gotten to know the wonderful staff.

Blue Nile: The bar manager, Al, makes sure there are always great beers on tap, both import and American craft, and he works hard at promoting various events for the Twin Cities craft beer wonks.

Muddy Pig: It's hard to beat the Muddy Pig's beer selection, both American craft and Belgian import. We also find the place comfortable (well, maybe not so much in the winter). It isn't a dive-bar, by any means, but it is a bit older, more casual, etc. so that just feels about right. We enjoy cramming into their small, diner-like booths with some friends and paging through their beer list like kids with a toy catalog.

Based on your travels to other cities, how does the Twin Cities scene stack up...?

We'd say the Twin Cities stacks up pretty well, all things considered. It's a long-way off from craft beer Meccas like Portland, Denver and Seattle, but we would take it over most other cities. Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Michigan and Wisconsin, in general, have thriving craft beer scenes that are hard to beat as well. We don't have much experience with the northeast US, so we can't really provide a comparison. Of course, most of our opinion is based on access to American craft beer and not so much on imported beer.

Also, the Twin Cities craft beer community is pretty active in terms of events. You can find something going on somewhere about every week, from small, casual beer releases at a beer bar to major beer events like the Autumn Brew Review.

Finally, the brewers in town, beer bars, etc. take very good care of their customers, we think. Many take the craft beer scene beyond just a business-to-consumer transaction and make it more personal. When we throw around the word "community," when discussing the craft beer scene here, we aren't just using a convenient word. We think it has real meaning to the Twin Cities craft beer scene. Kris and I have had a chance to get to know many of the brewers, owners, managers, etc. in the Twin Cities and have found them to be great people whose passion for good beer and good friends equals our own.

Do you guys homebrew at all...?

We have homebrewed in the past but not recently. We tend to be pretty busy so it's hard to carve out time for brewing, plus with so many great local choices, both on tap and what can be found at the good liquor stores, it's hard to justify making our own. Besides, while the beers we've made have generally been pretty good, we wouldn't call any of great. When we did brew, we had the most success with alts and ambers, possibly because they are more forgiving styles. We haven't been able to come close to brewing great beers in some of our favorite styles (IPAs and stouts).

We used to hold small, for-fun homebrew competitions among some of our friends. Those were a lot of fun and were a great opportunity to enjoy many interesting and tasty beers... and some horrible ones as well. But those competitions have fallen by the way-side as folks have gotten away from homebrewing due to kids, work, etc. Some of the beers we tasted at these events could stack up pretty well against some of the beers put out by breweries and brewpubs, but the lack of filtration and kit or partial mash approaches to brewing used by all of us certainly affected the quality. None of us, at the time, had quite yet graduated beyond relatively simple brewing processes.

Visit Kris and Mag at Beer Musings from Minneapolis-St. Paul


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