Doug Hoverson

CP: Are there any recent local beer developments that have you excited?

DH: Surly brewing is one that has to be mentioned. They’re products are always creative. I think it’s interesting that they decided to start canning instead of bottling. That way, it also finds a different customer group—people that play ultimate Frisbee or take it to the beach— the outdoorsy set The scene around the Twin Cities is quite active with Surly, Flat Earth, and the old standbys. There’s a lot of good beer being made—raising the standards so hopefully we can get away from people having to have 12 Miller Lites to have a good time, how about 3 or 4 nice beers. We’re not quite Milwaukee or Denver, bu we do have a lot of good people. It seems like all of the brewers really get along. There’s competitiveness at tasting events and festivals, but they’re all friendly and complimenting each other.

CP: I’ve noticed a certain stigma amongst beer snobs with canned beer…

DH: Which is another misconception. Let’s face it—the inside of a keg is an aluminum can. Most of the negative association comes from that when people drink straiggt from the can, they can taste whatever was on the top of the can. Plus, the beer hasn’t had a chance to get rid of the excess carbon dioxide from being poured into a glass.

CP: Amber Waters lays out a timeline of beer brewing and consumption in Minnesota that actually predates Minnesota as a state. What were some of the methods you used to reconstruct this history?

DH: There were a fair number of limitations because a number of the documents from the time are long gone. Sometimes I knew a brewery was in a town before the town had a newspaper, sometimes I would discover just by luck that someone else had recorded it and that info made it into a history book. Sometimes I would find references in family histories to someone starting a brewery. A lot of the earliest material was really tough to find. Once we're into the 1850s, almost every town had a newspaper, and at that point I could track info on a much more reliable basis. By 1862, the excise taxes were collected by the federal government, so I had incredible details on who brewed how much and when because the government needed their money.

CP: What are some of the more interesting examples of breweriana you came across in your research?

DH: I hadn’t realized that some of the first beer had been packaged in stoneware bottles. There were a number of early brewerina (items produced with beer logos on it)— and really early, it’s few and far between, but by the 1880s, breweries were buying taverns and stocking them with extremely fancy signs, and furniture with the logo on it.

CP: Do you keep a hefty collection yourself? I noticed that a lot of the pictures in the book are credited to your collection.

DH: Not particularly. Most of my stuff is fairly cheap. I collected mostly because I knew I would need them for the book.

CP: Do you anticipate another bust in small, local breweries in the future? Do you view the new era of microbreweries and smaller brewers as a progressive success, or is the industry cyclical?

DH: In this particular case, if there's a bust it will be a long ways away. There was a little bit of a shake-out in the craft breweries in the mid-1990s, but there weren't too many Minnesota breweries affected by it since there weren't too many at the time. Minnesota breweries have been creative and smart about making sure that they aren't duplicating each other's product. Schell is famous for their pilsners, wheat beer, and Octoberfest. Summit is more famous for their pale ale and porter. Surly makes beers that defy style guidelines.

CP: What do you think have been the strengths and weaknesses of MN beers, both past and present?

DH: Well, I think the brewers that function in Minnesota are as good as any in the country. We have some really top-notch people doing really creative work. One of the limitations of Minnesota brewing is that some of the laws are more restrictive than in other states. So, some people interested in starting a brewery somewhere might not pick Minnesota because of the tangled laws that they have top cut through, and there are a few that were interested in Minnesota, and they just discovered that Wisconsin was easier to deal with.

CP: Any tips for people interested in getting into homebrew?

DH: The best tip would be to check in with people at homebrew stores, and join a club. We have an upcoming event—on Saturday November 3, a bunch of homebrew clubs will be meeting outside at Barley John’s Brewpub in New Brighton. We’ll be encouraging anyone interested to watch ask questions and watch a series of batches being brewed.

Come see Hoverson discuss all things beer in Minnesota at several lectures around the cities, including one at the Summit Brewing Company (be sure to get there early).

Thu., Dec. 6, 7 p.m., 2007
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