Fun shoot last week for my friend and colleague Craig Johnson, graphic designer with Agency F and Spunk Design Machine. Craig is an active member of the Twin Cities design community, particularly in the areas of sustainability and green design. Dude’s up for multiple design awards, speaking at design events, and generally blowing up all over the place. Naturally, he needed some portraits.
We had a great time doing laps down Minneapolis’s historic Main Street, Craig on his swank ride, me flat on my belly in the back of my mini van, strobe clamped to the open hatch back, Craig’s friend Hunter doing an admirable driving job not crashing in to Craig or anything else. Best of luck to Craig on his award nominations!
It’s been a few years now since a friend and I took up home brewing, and I’d recommend it as a hobby if you fit in to one of these categories:
You like to cook.
Chemistry holds some appeal.
You’re pretty sure drinking beer is fun.
Find a friend with overlapping interests, and you’re in business.
Conor Lawrence and the gang at 514 Studios/Callahan & Co. have been brewing for longer than I have, and for years they’ve been brewing up a house recipe – Dirty Larry Brown – giving bottles away to clients and friends. When Conor told me the story of Dirty Larry Brown over coffee recently, I thought it would make for a fun photo shoot, documenting the making of a signature calling card of their business, while at the same time giving a sense of 514 Studios as a place. And a project was born.
If you’re unfamiliar with the beer brewing process, it’s a pretty simple deal. The alcohol is created by taking the sugars from roasted and dried barley and other grains, boiling them in water for an hour or so with hops for bitterness and floral taste and smell characteristics, then cooling it down to room temperature and storing it for a while with some special yeast. The yeast eats the sugar and releases alcohol. Voila!
Of course there are countless variations of grains, hop varieties, and yeast strains to choose from – not to mention enough gear to keep any guy with his face in a Northern Brewer catalog for hours at a time. And for the OCD crowd, there’s the lingering danger that one small bacteria could get by your fastidious cleaning routine and skunk the whole 5 gallon batch. Ask any home brewer about any one of these nuances and you’re liable to be roped in to an hour and a half conversation. With any luck you’ll get a beer or two out of the deal, but just be warned.
In the brew pot the day I swung by was a recipe by the name of Ferocious, modeled after a certain aggressive local IPA favorite. The beer called for what some might consider a ridiculous number of hops, which Conor models in a few photos in the gallery. But the fun – and my favorite photos from the shoot, from a brewer’s perspective – came when it was time to transfer the wort (the raw liquid that will be beer after it ferments for a while) from the boil kettle to the carboy. Since there are always hops and other things in the wort, the boil kettle has a screen over the spigot to keep the non-liquids out of the carboy. But our boy Ferocious had so many hops that it clogged the screen and wouldn’t let any liquid through. Problems. So then Conor and his friend Dave tried bypassing the spigot and pouring through a strainer and in to a funnel. Then that clogged! Finally, other options defeated, the rest of the whole hoppy stew was poured straight in to the carboy.
And you know what? It’ll be delicious.
Thanks to Conor and Dave for sharing space, time, and brews. Looking forward to bottling.
This month is on track to be the wettest October in Minnesota history. From most perspectives it’s been miserable: cold and damp, constantly overcast. A tough time for people like me who think of fall as the best, most beautiful time of the year, as all the rain has kept me indoors and caused the premature dropping of all those beautiful leaves. Not to mention how hard the weather has made things like fall harvest and yardwork.
But a couple days ago we had a one-day respite from the clouds, so I sped down to the vineyard before the clouds swallowed the sun again to check in on Nan and V in the fields.
These days the task is pruning back the vines of the one variety of grape that gets buried for the winter. Most of the varieties grown by Alexis Bailly stay on the trellises year-round and get pruned in the Spring. But one gets snipped in the fall, then buried as protection against the cold. As Nan explained to me, pruning is one of the main tools she has to impact the character of the grapes: the shape of the canopy, and the direction that the vine takes along the trellis directly shape a grape’s flavor profile. Pruning is an art built on years of trial and error, and it takes constant evaluation.
It’s interesting to watch an expert make her way down the a line of plants and quickly and efficiently sculpt vines in to shape. Pruning takes many quick decisions and movements; grape vines are such prolific growers that each one takes tens of snips. And there’s the medical exam part of the process, looking for small injuries in the vine that are all that soil-borne plant viruses need to take the entire vine down. And at the end of a growing season that started with a harsh winter, the medical exams can end up coming back. . . not as good as you’d hope.
But as Nan told me, many times she’s predicted the vineyard’s demise, and it keeps hanging in. All you can do is keep nurturing.
A few weeks ago my wife Johanna and I took a trip down to the tasting room at Alexis Bailly Vineyard, just south of Hastings, Minnesota – about an hour’s drive from Minneapolis. It was a beautiful late-summer Saturday, and unbeknownst to us, the last day of the grape harvest at the vineyard.
The vineyard grounds are beautiful: the driveway takes you through rows of vines stretching out to the left and right, and behind the main building (made of knotty pine and Minnesota limestone) is a restored prairie and broad picnic grounds with big outdoor sculptures scattered around. Off to the side are two beautiful bocce courts with an outdoor dining area under vine-covered trellis.
As Johanna and I ate our picnic lunch and sampled from A. Bailly’s wines, I had a growing awareness of the harvesters having a great time at the end of a day of picking. Somehow we learned that the entire harvest workforce is made up of volunteers, and that there are actually more people that want to help every year than they can even use (and feed lunch and wine. . .).
Producing wine has got to be one of the pinnacles in the world of local food – not only are you dealing with the economics and all the physical realities of agriculture; you’re growing a crop that is extremely temperamental, with an attachment to a microclimate that takes years to completely work out. A couple of the big varieties that A. Bailly grows were actually developed at the University of Minnesota to harmonize with our climate; others have been brought in and tweaked over the 35 years the vineyard has been in existence. Add all this together, and what I see is a pretty amazing little community brought together by local food artistry of the best (ahem. . . alcohohic) kind.
Before we left I had decided that I wanted to know more about A. Bailly – I wanted to know more about the process, not just the harvest but throughout the year; about the community; about the balance that Nan Bailly has to achieve between being a farmer, a vintner, and a small business owner. Lucky for me, Nan is super open to people interested in what’s going on at her place. So after a few emails I went down last week for my first wander around. My plan is to keep going back as I’m able for the next year to get a sense of one cycle of grapes, starting with a little bit of the fermenting and bottling of this year’s crop, all the way through next year’s harvest. Hopefully by the end of it I’ll have a big pile of images that tell a story.
And with that introduction, here’s my first installment: some visual first impressions and wanderings around a working day at the vineyard. More personalities, perspectives, and stories to come over the next year.
Thanks to Nan, V, Kevin, and Joan for humoring me and letting me distract you from your work. And thanks for reading!