Friday, January 30, 2015

Repost - Product Review: MyFitnessPal App (iPhone/iPad)

Ages ago, I posted about the MyFitnessPal ap.  Given my current goals to get back on track with my weight, I've found myself using it again. 

So, I thought I'd pull this old post out of the vault.


In my weight loss journey, there are a few tools I've come to rely on to help me along the way.  And by tools, I don't just mean gym equipment.  (If you've read this blog at all, you know I'll always tell you working out alone won't give you the body you want.)

So - time for me to hit you over the head with truth. 

Yes, you have to consider what you're eating to be healthy, too.

Now don't get all uppity with me:

I don't care.  Being healthy is not just about working out.  Your body is a high tech machine, right?  As such, you have to put things in your body that keep it fully functioning.  Even if you're not "counting calories", you should be generally aware of how well you're keeping your machine running.

And that's why today, I'm going to talk about the iPhone/iPad app called "MyFitnessPal".  (It may be available for other devices, too, but I will just speak to how I use it, which is on Apple products).

Before I get too far, the app icon looks like this:

Aw, so cute, right? 

Ok, ok.  Back to business.

What is MyFitnessPal?  Simply put, it is a powerful tool that can be used to help anyone track their daily food intake and what it is doing for their body.  Overweight folks can use it for weight loss, active folks can use it as a tool to ensure they are consuming enough calories to fuel the workouts, and health conscious people can use it as a way to see what nutritional benefits they get out of their daily diet.  There's also an entire social network thing as well as other features too.

I personally downloaded the program a few years back to use it as a weight loss tool.  However, as I have grown, the program has become much more than that for me. This review will walk through that evolution.

The Beginning - Calorie Counting & Weight Loss

When I first downloaded this app, I looked to MyFitnessPal to help me track my daily caloric intake and lose weight.  I saw that I could put in my current weight and my goal weight, and it would help me establish a caloric base line to achieve that goal in a healthy manner over time.  (Note: you should always work with your doctor to ensure the diet you follow is correct for you.  Also, all images below are from Google, and not from my actual app.)

In the early stages, I would enter my weight each morning, enter the food I would eat at each meal, and then review each week how I was doing towards my weight loss goal.  It was pretty fun to watch the chart drop as I lost weight.

Not long after I started using the program, I learned that I could eat MORE if I worked out MORE.  Hmmm... novel concept, right?  I also figured out that the program was pretty accurate in determining how many calories I burned doing a workout based on my current weight.  So, I started plugging those in whenever I could.

And this pretty much summarizes my first year or so of use on the MyFitnessPal app.  I ate, I worked out, and I lost weight.  Eventually, I learned how to "eyeball" my food intake, and didn't really need to rely on the app to track my calories each day.  At that point, I started to use the app for an entirely different reason.

The Second Year - Eating What I Burn

After pretty much nailing healthy eating habits and portion sizes, entering my daily dietary intake became tedious.  I didn't do it every day anymore, since I didn't really need to.  HOWEVER, this was also when I started bike commuting on a regular basis, as well as training for my first half marathon.

Since my personal health had evolved, the way I used MyFitnessPal evolved as well.  I began to learn that riding my bike or running for 2-2.5 hours in a day made me REALLY hungry.  I wouldn't realize how hungry I was on the day of the activity, and would spend the entire next day being so hungry I wanted to gnaw my arm off for sustenance.

This is when MyFitnessPal became my tool to make sure I was eating enough in a day.  So, any day where I knew I did a lot of activity (and maybe not enough eating), I would plug in all the details and see where I landed.  Let's just say, I had lots of reasons to eat dessert on those days.

The Third Year and Beyond - Dining Out & General Nutrition

As the years go on with MyFitnessPal, I find I still use it for a few things on a regular basis.  On my more active days, I utilize the above features (IE tracking calories burned in a workout and ensuring I eat what I need to keep my body happy). 

But, I also use it for an entirely different reason now - it's become my tool to guide me in making nutritional food choices.

One of the best features of the program is the fact that there are TONS of foods in the library.  This becomes hugely helpful when eating out.  For example, sometimes I find an item on a menu at a restaurant that sounds good, only to look it up and find out it's like 5 billion calories and 100 grams of fat.  Or, sometimes I am surprised to find out that a menu item is extremely healthy, and I can also have an appetizer along with it. 

Another way I use it now is to spot check the quality of my diet.  The app has really cool summary charts and graphs that will show you how well you're doing towards eating all the vitamins you need, and where you get the bulk of your calories (carbs/fat/protein).  As I work towards transitioning to a plant based diet and continue to train heavily for running and strength, this tool ensures I am putting the right things into my body to keep it happy.

Fair warning here... the calories/fat/whatever aren't always 100% accurate and you may find some mistakes (especially in the dining out category).  However, if you treat the app as a guidance tool instead of the bible, you'll still have success in your dietary choices.

Your Q&A

I'm guessing by now, you're saying "sounds great, but how much does this cost"?  When I downloaded the app a few years back, it was free.  Hopefully when you decide to give it a try, it will still be free.  If not, it is definitely worth a few bucks.  Trust me on that one.

And at this point, I think I've covered the entire app... so floor's open.  If you have any other questions, ask away below.  I'll do my best to respond (although, not to tech support issues... that one is all up to the app designers).

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

YOU GUYS! I Made It!

OMG!  You guys!  I've finally made it!!

After about 2 years of blogging and over 250 posts, guess what?!  SQUEE!!!


I mean - obviously, this is a huge deal.  Not only does it mean that I've potentially written something annoying enough that someone out there thought it was worth their time to belittle me, it also means - MY BLOG IS BIG ENOUGH THAT SOME STRANGER CAN FIND ME TO BEGIN WITH.

Now, before I go too far, let's back up for just one minute.

Of course, having a troll isn't all fun and games.  And yeah ... their email was pretty mean.  So it's weird for me to get all excited, right?  After all, how can you be happy about an email titled, and I quote: "HEY you fat sack of sh!t"? (I censored that last word, in case you're wondering - they did not).

And man, did they have some other things to say to me, too!  Not only did they tell me I should I kill myself, they thought my children should die, and ... I think they must have used the word c_nt at least 56 times in one paragraph (again, I'm censoring - and to be honest, with such liberal usage of the C-word, I really had a hard time not laughing by the time I got to the end of the email because ... who even uses that word anymore?!).

In the end though, regardless of this massive milestone, I have to admit - I am a little disappointed.

Because for as creative as I am with my running costumes and what not, I would have hoped that my troll would show some creativity, too.  Or at least, put some real effort into reading my blog first, and then trying to slam me. 

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not trying to provide them material or anything but .. they REALLY missed a chance for a home run.  Like, they really could have hit below the belt by saying something about how I deserved to have a miscarriage last spring/summer, and tied it to me being a fat slob or something like that.

But dang.  I just said that.  Shoot.

Well, whatever.

Anyway, why am I writing this post?  I'm sure many of you are out there saying "Natalie, don't react.  That's just what they want, and you're letting them win." -or- "Natalie, you're only encouraging them to write you again."

Maybe so.

But I wanted to use this experience as an opportunity to say something that I don't think some people realize about me.

I've been the fat person all my life.  Even now that I'm relatively thin, I still struggle with my weight sometimes.  As a result, I've had hundreds of "fat" slams thrown my way - and the majority of them have been done to my face, in person, and often in a very aggressive and threatening way (read: way worse than via an anonymous email).

No, being on the receiving end of those slams was never fun.  But I lived through it.

And not only have I lived through it, but for every mean thing a person has done to me, I've had tons more positive things come through afterwards.  Case in point?  Literally hours after the "troll" pressed send on their nasty email, I had these two things flow across my Facebook feed:


*Side note, that is my "fat sack of sh!t" ass in the leggings photo above. 
For some reason, though, I seem to be unable to find the fat ... or the sack.  Huh.

PLUS, just a day prior, I had one of the most amazing evenings of my life.  And it wasn't just because my "regular" Tues/Thurs students wanted to hang out post class.  Or even because we had happy hour or that we all had a good time.  It was because one of my students said something that made me burst with pride:

"I found out the other day that my mom, who's in her early 80's and trying to stay in shape, has been using soup cans for workout weights.  I was like, mom you can't do that!  So I gave her my 3 pound dumbbell set.  I told her I'm not using them anymore anyway, and that she could just take them since I have a set of 5 and 8 pounders at home.  But seriously you guys - I used to use 3 pounders during class.  Can you believe that?"

Yep.  That's me making a difference right there.  On a personal and mass impact level.

So for that, I will take 100 emails calling me "fat" ... simply because I'm helping someone else not be.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Soda Ravages

Last week, I read this article about what happens to your body after you drink a soda.

In a nut shell:

(1) As soon as soda's swallowed:
The pancreas is notified and rapidly begins to create insulin in response to the sugar.

(2) Within just 20 minutes:
Blood sugar levels spike and the liver responds to the insulin by turning sugar into fat for storage.

(3) Within 45 minutes
Caffeine from the drink is fully absorbed, and as a result your pupils dilate and blood pressure rises. The body produces more dopamine, which stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain — just like a low-grade line of cocaine.

(4) When the hour chimes
The body begins to experience a blood sugar crash, which is around the same time a person reaches for their second soda, or for another sweet and sugar snack to suffice.

Hm.  Addictive much?  Makes you think.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Starting Over, Week #3

As  I mentioned in a post earlier this month, I've had some weight regression in the last 6-9 months.  I'm not thrilled about it, so I posted this plan to get myself back on track:

(1) Working Out

Monday - AM Group Strength (as a student), PM Cycle (as a student)
Tuesday - PM Total Body (teaching)
Wednesday - PM Swim (as a student)
Thursday - PM Total Body (teaching)
Friday - Still my rest day, this has always been my one celebration for Friday
Saturday - AM Cardio (teaching)
Sunday - PM Yoga (as a student)

(2) Eating

Now that the holidays are over, and the temptation is much less strong, I'm working to get my eating back in line.  No more mindless snacking (since the food isn't sitting around), no more junk food (again, not sitting around).  More vegetables and fruit.  Maybe even less cheese (yes, I just cried a little) ... cutting out eating out ... and of course, beer.  Ah - the good stuff.  I'm not going to go crazy and say I won't drink any, as I've really been enjoying my rotations through the new tap houses in the twin cities.  BUT, I will be more responsible.  Tasting is one thing.  Over indulging is another. 

So you may be wondering, now that I'm almost a month in, how am I doing?

Working Out

This has gone pretty well, I have to say! 
   - Week one I nailed all the workouts on my schedule. 
   - Week two I opted to skip the Monday strength (feeling a little over worked in that area), and swim was temporarily cancelled (due to instructor absence).
   - Week three I again opted to skip the Monday strength (personal reasons), but have made or will make the rest of the work outs.


This one has always been my sticking point.  I love my food, and lots of it.  I have done much better on the snacking, junk food, eating out, and have been getting in more produce.  BUT, I need a little more work here.  Cutting back on the Friday and Saturday night beers has been tough.  I'll get there eventually.  At least I'm making most of this category happen.

Results So Far?

The good news is, I'm already seeing the scale go down.  Of course I'd like to see it go faster than it is but ... at least it's going in the right direction!

Here's to the next three weeks.  I'll update again soon.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lazyman Ironman 2015

In addition to figuring out my race schedule for 2015, as I mentioned last week, I'm also trying to get on a more regular workout schedule again.  And what better way to do that than to make it fun ... or even competitive.

Queue - Lazyman Ironman.

For those of you unaware of this program, which I've mentioned in the past, the concept is this: complete the Ironman distance (swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run 26.2 miles) over the course of 28 days (AKA the month of February). 

Well, TECHNICALLY you complete the distance.  But also, you talk a little smack.  I mean, what fun is it if you can't razz your fellow Lazymen about who's got what done first.  (Or in the case of Run100 last spring, just simply razz each other to not be the LAST to finish, and then run a beer mile at the end).

Although this is a yearly activity hosted by my gym, we've actually had participants nation wide in years past.  People in remote locations simply report in via email, and receive their t-shirt in the mail when the goal is met.  So even if you live in Chicago, Denver, Houston ... or even closer, like Champlin Park (I think someone/s knows I'm looking at them), you can still participate.


Register here

Join the smack talk here

If you're in, let me know below.  I can't wait to beat you to the finish!

Monday, January 19, 2015

2015 Racing, It Begins

Despite the sub zero temps here, and all the snow, several people are already coming to me asking ...

"So, what's your 2015 race schedule?"

And for now, my short answer is - I don't know.

I'm still debating what my feet think about me doing high impact moves, so I'm afraid to commit to anything major in racing right now.  And also, I'm not really in the mood to start dropping big bucks on registrations.

But as I say this, I'm already committed for sure to two races so far this year.  And I want to try for a half again in 2015 if I can.  How dumb is that?


Tri U Mah

Per the website: The Tri-U-Mah! Indoor Triathlon will take place on Saturday, February 28, 2015. It consists of 30 minute swimming, biking, and running sections. Participants will have 30 minutes to complete each individual section.

My comments: I've decided that 2015 is the year of the tri for me.  This will be my first tri race, and I think it will be a good way to get my feet wet (like the joke?  HA!).  Although I have done a multi sport race before (run/bike/run), this will be my first ever true tri with swimming included.  I'm nervous and excited all at the same time!!


Pi Day Pi K

Per the website:


My comments:  This one I may not technically be running "in".  Depending on a few factors, I may just end up helping run "it", in the volunteer sense.  Either way, how can you say no to a race that includes a water stop with pie shots, and a finish line with pie at the end?!


Hot Chocolate (5K)

Per the website: On April 18th, the Hot Chocolate is finishing off the season in Minneapolis once again.  Enjoy an unforgettable run through the city and reward yourself with piles of rich, melty chocolate - you've deserved it.

My comments:  As you already know, I'm not a huge fan of "chain races" (IE the races that are known nationally, have 5 billion registrants, and have very little local/personal flair).  But, screw that.  This race is ON MY BIRTHDAY AND HAS CHOCOLATE FONDUE AT THE FINISH.  I'm totally doing it.


And, that's it!  What are your race plans for 2015?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday Funny #5

I'm guessing you wouldn't be surprised if I told you - a lot of stupid, funny stuff happens to me on a regular basis.  And usually, it's because I unknowingly set myself up for it.

In honor of my follies, I decided to start an occasional post tradition on my blog:  the Friday Funny.  Whenever something worthy of my unique brand of stupidity happens, I post a snippet about it here.

And so, with that introduction, I bring you the latest installment of the Friday Funny:

This is a photo I took at a 5K last spring.  Can't tell what's so funny?

Here's a better close up.

And here's an actual product you can purchase online:

Can you believe someone completed a 5K with one of these?  LOL!  I can't.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Starting Over

If you've been reading this blog for the last year or so, it should come as no surprise that I've had some regression as of late.

Somehow, in the last 6 months, I've forgotten than working out 2-3 times per week isn't exactly what I need to keep myself healthy.  Not to mention all the poor food choices I've been making.

I refuse to make any excuses, though.  In the end, I needed the break from a mental AND physical health perspective, so it was good I took it.

And also, all the choices I made that put me where I am today - those were my choices, too.  I chose to work out less.  I chose to eat more, and more unhealthy things as well.  I refuse to put that blame on anyone except myself.  As I said to my husband the other night "I know it's my own fault I've gotten to this point, I opened my mouth and put the food in there - didn't I?"

So now, I've got a challenge to get back on track.  And I'm not sure yet how bad "getting back on track" is, as I've been afraid to step on a scale since mid-December.  All I know is that my pants are tight, and I have at least 10 pounds (maybe more like 15+ now) to lose.

I honestly feel like I'm starting over.  And I'm a little frustrated.

Not to mention, I've been saying I need to get back on track for several months now.  Which is utterly ridiculous - I hate saying things like that and not taking action.

So now, I take action.

What's my plan?

(1) Working Out

The new schedule I'm working to stick to will put me back in line with the volume I used to do ... at least, prior to starting marathon training last fall.  That means a schedule roughly like this:

Monday - AM Group Strength (as a student), PM Cycle (as a student)
Tuesday - PM Total Body (teaching)
Wednesday - PM Swim (as a student)
Thursday - PM Total Body (teaching)
Friday - Still my rest day, this has always been my one celebration for Friday
Saturday - AM Cardio (teaching)
Sunday - PM Yoga (as a student)

I'm already on week two of this and feeling drastically better physically.  So now it's going to be tough to stop knowing the improvement.  That's a plus.

(2) Eating

Now that the holidays are over, and the temptation is much less strong, I'm working to get my eating back in line.  No more mindless snacking (since the food isn't sitting around), no more junk food (again, not sitting around).  More vegetables and fruit.  Maybe even less cheese (yes, I just cried a little).

My goal is to get back to where I was last June/July - half of my calories for the day from plant sources (minimum), as many proteins as possible from non-animal sources, that kind of stuff.

The big change here will be cutting out eating out.  That's one thing I've REALLY slipped on over the holidays.  It's so fun to meet up with people, have a meal out, talk about how their year went, etc.  So now, my goal is to limit myself to one "bad" meal out per week - this could even include pizza delivered to my house or whatever.  And if I have to eat out any other time during the week (sometimes my work requires it), I'll get back into the habit of ordering lighter options or salads.

And of course, beer.  Ah - the good stuff.  I'm not going to go crazy and say I won't drink any, as I've really been enjoying my rotations through the new tap houses in the twin cities.  BUT, I will be more responsible.  Tasting is one thing.  Over indulging is another.  Getting to the point where I'm talking about The Rock and asking what's cookin' ... that is obviously too far.


So now, patience.  I took 6 months to put this weight on.  I need to give myself time to take it back off again as well.  Although, not gonna lie ... it would be nice to get some of it off before the Pitbull concert I'm going to on Feb 21st.  I do kinda want to look hot while I shake it.  Da-le!! 

Monday, January 12, 2015


Whoops!  I just realized I forgot to line up some posts for this week.  After running this blog for over two years, that's a first. 

Don't worry, I'm on it.  I'll be back with more on Wednesday.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Recipe: Delicous Breakfast/Snack - Peanut Butter Applesauce Muffins

You may recall back in July I posted this recipe for Banana Chia muffins.  You may also recall me talking about canning.

What I may not have mentioned on this blog is that this past fall, I went to a local orchard and picked apples with family, and then came home and immediately preserved them via water bath canning into chunky, unsweetened applesauce.

Yum!  But also - whoops!  Here I am well into winter and swimming in the stuff!!  What to do?

Using inspiration from that recipe as well as this one, I decided to come up with the hybrid recipe below.  Since it was a success, I thought I would share.

FYI, cinnamon is optional.  And to be honest, if I made this again, I might omit it, since it covered up the applesauce taste some.



Peanut Butter Applesauce Muffins

Banana Chia Seed Muffins 


  • 1 cup wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 4 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups applesauce

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Grease or spray the muffin tins with non-stick oil.

    In a blender, grind down the rolled oats, chia seeds, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon until a fine, flour like powder is formed.

    In a second bowl, cream peanut butter and brown sugar just until mixture is light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in applesauce and vanilla extract until combined. Then add the wheat flour and blended oats mixture, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened.

    NOTE: Bake all quick breads as soon as the ingredients are assembled.

    Fill prepared muffin cups 2/3 full. A cookie or ice cream scoop works well to quickly and evenly portion each cup. Bake approximately 15 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

    When done, remove from oven. As soon as they have cooled enough to handle, remove the muffins from pan and place on a wire rack to finish cooling.

    Makes 24 muffins.

    Wednesday, January 7, 2015

    What I Did Over Winter Break (AKA - Gettin' Drunk)

    Today's post is going to veer very far off the course of healthy lifestyle info.

    Be forewarned.


    To begin: let's just call this post - what I did over winter break, the gettin' drunk edition.

    Hey, at least I work out when I drink too.
    That empty keg weighed 30 lbs!!

    To get you up to speed, a little lesson in Minnesota Booze Law 101. 

    In case you didn't know, Minnesota is stuck in 1891.  We don't allow liquor sales on Sundays.  And, up until the last two or three years, we also didn't allow liquor producers to distribute direct to consumer ... which meant popular local breweries like Summit, Surly and others were unable to have in house "tap rooms" where consumers could come, purchase a pint, and hang out for awhile as they enjoyed the craft and culture of their favorite local brewery.

    But, good news!  In the last two years, there was a huge culture shift in regards to tap rooms in Minnesota. 


    Well, local brewery Surly, who has developed an almost cult like following in the last 5+ years, has been booming.  So much so that they had developed huge plans a few years ago, and I mean HUGE plans, to open a new facility.  AND, they wanted to include a tap room. 

    Minnesota lawmakers said no.  So Surly said - OK, fine.  We'll move our huge new facility and all the accompanying jobs across the border to Wisconsin where we can have one.

    Minnesota politicians didn't like the sound of that too much.

    Long story short, yadda-yadda-yadda, tap rooms in Minnesota are suddenly legal.  Boom!  Interesting how politics works, huh?

    Anyway, given this major change, now there are TONS of tap rooms in Minnesota to go check out.  Which is pretty much what I've been doing on any weekend lately where I don't have plans and want something to do that will fill an afternoon.  So, to document my booze hounding over the holiday season, below is my summary of all the tap rooms I hit from Late November through Early January.  They are in order of visit, from first to last.


    Oh, and just play nice when I bemoan my beer belly for the next month or two as I work it off...


    Enki Brewing
    Victoria, MN
    Visited: Late November
    On Tap: approximately 6 beers
    Flights: Yes
    Food: Yes, edited menu available from Victoria House Restaurant next door
    Ambiance: Located in a small brick building just off the Lake Minnetonka LRT bike trail in Victoria, Enki is very likely one of the smallest (physically) sized taprooms on this list.  Seating indoors is snug, and is really only about 3 times the size of the photo you see below.  Brewing operations are not easily visible from taproom.

    Thoughts: The beers at Enki were fun to try, but I don't see myself rushing back there any time soon - the beers didn't stand out as something special (at least to my IPA favored pallet), and I didn't really get much of a friendly vibe from the guy who served us our beers / he didn't do much to educate us on what we were served (maybe the Vikings game on TV was distracting him too much). 

    Waconia Brewing Company
    Waconia, MN
    Visited: Late November
    On Tap: approximately 8 beers
    Flights: Yes
    Food: Not when we visited, but it appears they may occasionally have a food truck now
    Ambiance: This brewery is built in what appears to be an unassuming strip mall/office space, and I have to say, they've done a wonderful job inside to make it less "sterile" (as some buildings like this can be).  The rustic feel of the furnishings and the fireplace are great!  Also, brewing operations are visible through floor to ceiling glass walls from taproom.
    Thoughts: Like Enki, the beers at Waconia were fun to try, but I don't see myself heading back there any time soon.  The service was good and friendly, if not a little reserved (I would have preferred a little more education about my beers, but no complaints), and the overall environment was spacious and welcoming.  However, I could definitely see myself stopping by if I was wrapping up a day on the lake and seeking some refreshment.

    Minneapolis, MN
    Visited: Late November
    On Tap: approximately 10 beers
    Flights: Not that I saw when I went :-(
    Food: There's usually a food truck parked out front, rotating
    Ambiance: Located in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, walking distance from the Twins stadium, this tap room ends up feeling more sports bar than small brewery - good thing, as they have plenty of space for all those passers by on the way to the game.  Overall this place is lots of fun and has a great casual atmosphere that hints at what a German beer hall might feel like.  Brewing operations are visible through small side windows in the taproom, or you can take the "tour" (more a lecture than a tour, but still interesting).

    Thoughts: Fulton is actually one of my personal favorite beers, so although it's disappointing that they don't appear to offer flights like other tap rooms in the area ... well ... let's just say I don't have a hard time with "having" to sample a full sized beer there.  Also, I love the passion their staff has for their craft - ask them anything about the beers on the menu, and they'll be able to tell you about it.  And, although I haven't seen the owners there to talk up the beers (I'll comment more on this below), I did get a "tour" from one of the founder's dads, so that was kind of fun.

    612 Brew
    NE Minneapolis, MN
    Visited: Early December
    On Tap: approximately 6 beers
    Flights: Yes
    Food: Whoops, I forget!  I think not at this one...?
    Ambiance: Of all the places I went on this list, I think this was my favorite place décor wise.  I mean, how could you not love that mural inside, bright red smoke stack outside ... and a women's bathroom with hot pink and silver camo wall paper?!  The atmosphere is very warm and welcoming, not to mention there is room for a small army of people as well.  Brewing operations are tucked into the back corner of the joint.

    Thoughts: This place has a great vibe and pretty good beers.  If I had company and was looking to entertain them and burn an afternoon, I would definitely have this place on my list.  My only worry is that the crowd here might turn into what it is at Indeed (more on this below), and that's definitely not my vibe.  Also, I don't know that any of the staff was fully invested in the passion of beer, so I missed that a little.

    Urban Growler
    St. Paul, MN
    Visited: December
    On Tap: approximately 8 beers
    Flights: Yes
    Food: Yes!  And unlike most on this list, it is made in house
    Ambiance: While the location is interesting and spacious, the overall feeling I got here was "CAUTION: work in progress".  Lots of temporary folding chairs/tables, and even caution tape serving as a stanchions separating patrons from brewing areas made for a messy and haphazard look.  Plus, it felt like the tables next to you were on top of you.  I wasn't a fan.
    Thoughts: I guess the claim to fame here is that this is a woman owned business.  I hate to say it, though ... I won't be back.  Sorry girls.  I felt like a sardine in a can, and I really hate that feeling.  Plus, many of the beers seemed "trendy" instead of good (IE pumpkin, cranberry), and also tasted a little chemical-ish to me (although my husband didn't seem to taste it, so maybe it was just me).  Even coming here was actually a mistake on my part - I was hoping to hit up Bang Brewing out front, but they didn't open for two hours so we killed an hour here instead.  However, if you're out this way for Bang and want to try a few more beers, don't hesitate to at least stop in.

    Minneapolis, MN
    Visited: Late December
    On Tap: approximately 8 beers
    Flights: No :-(
    Food: Food truck adjacent to taproom
    Ambiance: Another old warehouse turn taproom!  This taproom is kind of neat and feels like an old school pub with lots of wood and old furniture... assuming you can get inside to see it.  Unfortunately, this place is often so packed that you can't get IN to the taproom very easily.  Fortunately, the gift store also sells pints, so at least you can kill the time that way.  Brewing operations are not easily visible from taproom.

    Thoughts: I'm not a fan of being herded from place to place as I wait to "get in" somewhere that (1) doesn't accept reservations and (2) isn't a restaurant.  And then, despite the hullabaloo to get in - no flights?!  Yes, I could order 10 ouncers of some of the beers, but who knows if I really want to drink 10 ounces of some random infusion beer or sour batch?  Not to mention no one seemed to know or care about what they were serving me - that or they're just too busy to explain it to me since there are 50 others behind me waiting for a refill.  Despite it's flaws, though, this place had lots of interesting AND good beers - sweet potato beer, anyone?  (And yes, it was good).  In the end, it was fun to try this place, but now that I know what to expect, I'll settle for buying the beer and drinking at home.

    Boom Island
    Minneapolis, MN
    Visited: Late December (same day as Indeed, above)
    On Tap: approximately 8 beers
    Flights: Yes
    Food: Nothing connected with the tap room
    Ambiance: Expect to circle past this place once or twice, as the store front is very small.  Once you realize you've found it, and enter in the back entrance, you'll find an open and industrial space that emphasizes the brewery equipment over all other décor.  This tap room was very different from anything else I'd been to ... and that's saying something now that I've stopped at 11 different places. 

    Thoughts: Something happened here that I had yet to experience in any of the previous places ... the owner was serving us our flights (guy in photo above).  It was a lot of fun to talk to him about his beers and feel his passion for what he makes ... even if some of what he said became a little blurry as I faded into the buzz that was two beer stops and no dinner in my belly.  (I may or may not have yelled "Do you smell what the Rock is cookin'?" when we started to pack up to leave for dinner.  Yeah.  Not my proudest night of conduct.)  If I was bringing some friends on a beer tour of Minneapolis, this would definitely be on my list.  The beer was good and the service great.  With the proud owner right there talking us through our flight, I couldn't ask for more.

    Surly (New $30M Facility)
    St. Paul, MN
    Visited: Late December
    On Tap: I don't know, I was overwhelmed by the 120 tap handles throughout the place
    Flights: No :-(
    Food: Full scale restaurant inside with hostess seating ... make reservations if you can! 
    Ambiance: Surly is a big boy in the craft brewing industry and it shows.  This new place is MASSIVE.  On the main floor is the gift store, primary beer hall with food service (and yes, you must see hostess for seating), restrooms and floor to ceiling/2nd floor ceiling windows showcasing both the brewery and the outdoor patio.  On the second floor are two different rental hall type areas with doors that close off to allow for different events to occur simultaneously, another walk up bar, more restrooms, a huge balcony patio, and even more glassed in views of the brewery.  It is almost enough to make your head spin ... or at least make you want to pause and refresh yourself by warming your mitts at the fire "bowl" at the front door.

    Thoughts: If you're looking for the full package - IE a meal out and a few good beers to go with it, this is your place.  Prices here were more expensive than any other tap room on the list, though ... but I guess they have to pay for the $30M investment somehow.  Oh, and don't expect any kind of staff narrative on your beer, which by the way is extremely full of hops (which I LOVE, but you may not).  This place is much too packed to have that kind of one on one interaction.

    Badger Hill
    Shakopee, MN
    Visited: Late December (same day as Surly, above)
    On Tap: approximately 7 beers
    Flights: Yes
    Food: Nothing connected with the tap room
    Ambiance: From the outside, this industrial wasteland location looks like it won't be much ... and maybe even noisy, due to the Valley Fair roller coasters just across the street.  From the inside, wow!  White subway tiles, floor to ceiling windows into the brewery, ample space and even blackboard walls in the restrooms (chalk provided to write your own note) ... the décor here is great!  Plus, if the guy below with the beer is around, his dog is likely to be there too.  So, free entertainment!!

    Thoughts: The two folks pictured above really sealed the deal for me here.  Not only was the tap room itself modern, clean and well furnished - both of these folks loved their beer, and you KNEW it.  Plus, the guy had just opened a fresh keg of a new beer and was pouring free samples.  Free beer?  Heart won!  (Well, and the beers were all excellent, so that helped too.)

    Minneapolis, MN
    Visited: January
    On Tap: approximately 4 beers
    Flights: Yes
    Food: Nothing connected with the tap room
    Ambiance: This tap room is within walking distance of Loring Park and the Walker Art Museum, so the trendy hipster vibe is strong.  But the laid back feel is stronger.  Maybe their location in the arts district is why their secondary logo is so cool?!  Brewing operations are not easily visible from taproom.  But, the in house dog with "fort" to sleep in under tap counter makes up for it.

    Thoughts: Beers here were malty and sweet, despite some having rather high IBUs.  However, my IPA pallet didn't mind the sweetness, as they were all pretty good.  I also liked that the owners basically ran the place.  And, they truly care about beer feedback - I noticed in googling later that he engaged in some rather harsh forums with extreme kindness and really appreciated the honest feedback to help him shape his beer in the future.

    Tin Whiskers
    St. Paul, MN
    Visited: January
    On Tap: approximately 8 beers
    Flights: Yes
    Food: Nothing connected with the tap room
    Ambiance: Hidden in what appears to be an office complex, I wasn't expecting much from this place.  Man did I get a surprise.  In keeping with the robotics / engineering theme of their company name and logo, there were robots, microchips and sleek lines everywhere.

    Thoughts: Maybe it's the robot logo.  Maybe it's because this is the most recent brewery in my memory.  Maybe it was the honey chamomile beer.  I don't know what it was, but there was something about this place that I liked ... or even loved.  I dare say it may have been my favorite stop on the list.  Every beer I tried here I liked, even the light wheat one that I figured I'd just say meh about (Wheatstone Bridge).  And although the staff didn't talk your ear off with details, they were friendly and fast.  Even though I've been here already, I definitely think I'll be going back.


    In summary?

    Top three spots overall
       Tin Whiskers, Badger Hill, Boom Island

    Best places for sampling many varieties (via flights) in one day
       612, Boom Island, Tin Whiskers

    Places where I could definitely burn an afternoon playing Connect 4
       Sisyphus, 612, Tin Whiskers

    Best beers to buy for at home (and avoid the crowds)
       Fulton, Indeed, Surly


    Now my problem is ... do I break the cycle and stop visiting tap rooms, or make it a goal to see the rest in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas?!