Thursday, May 25, 2017

Bay to Breakers 2017 (Rainbow Beads)

 
 
 
Bay to Breakers 12K (about 7.5 miles)
1:52:58
Average Pace 15:09/mile
*Hayes Hill Challenge: 10:07.67



I have been pining over racing Bay to Breakers for years.  Running?  Costumes?  Beaches?  Sunshine?  California?  Sign me up!

Yet, for some reason, every year since it came onto my radar, I've always been unavailable for Bay to Breakers weekend.  But ... in 2017 the stars aligned.  Well, technically, the stars started to align in 2016, as that's when my husband realized that point prices were REALLY low for airline and hotel reservations, and he had plenty of points (and then some) to cover us.

So late last fall, with my sister roped in to my shenanigans and our travel reservations booked, we started planning costumes for Bay to Breakers.  Because that's the most important part, duh!


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Thanks to Amazon, the starting point for our costume was this motor inflated set of wings:




And, immediately after receiving delivery of two pairs of wings via USPS, the starting point for my sister's smart ass comments (which paid homage to this race costume from years ago) was this:




Luckily, I did NOT need to run test these wings for flutter effect, since it was obvious they would work.  The elastic bands at the shoulders proved to be quite comfortable, and the wings were made of nylon, not vinyl like a typical inflatable is, so they seemed to feel fairly breathable (read - not sweaty to wear).  Plus, an added bonus was the motor fan that kept the wings inflated served as a nice personal AC unit.  Score!

Until race day, the rest of our outfit was a little bit of a toss up due to possible weather conditions.  Eventually we settled on a simple black wicking workout T and rainbow chameleon InkNBurn capris.




The net result ended up looking like this (don't mind my still saggy post pregnancy belly ... bah):




Yes, we got many questions RE: what we were supposed to be.  I don't know, don't ask me.  A butterfly of some sort, I suppose.  Although, in San Francisco we did get a lot of other interesting suggestions ... including rainbow vaginal beads.  Ok.  Huh.  Go figure.


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Traveling to San Francisco from Minneapolis went fairly smoothly, especially considering I had a 1 year old in tow on a 4 hour flight.  We had all taken Friday off work for travel, making for an especially relaxed day, which was nice.  Everything ended up about on time, and our mid day flight got us into SFO a little after 1 pm.

Although there had been some recent news stories in regards to crime on San Francisco public transit, I hadn't seen any headlines in the 2-3 weeks leading up to our visit.  Figuring the risk was relatively low, we hopped on the BART train from SFO to downtown.  The gamble proved successful, as we arrived to our hotel unscathed.

By the time we had checked in and settled into our hotel room, it was just after 3 pm.  The race expo was scheduled to be open until 7, and since we had a fair amount of time until it closed, it seemed worth a shot to head out that way.  I had read online that lines into the expo in years past lasted up to 3 hours, which sounded like no fun for a 1 year old, so I asked my husband to say back at the hotel with our son while my sister and I worked on getting our bibs.  That request proved unnecessary, as we were able to waltz right into the expo without any line at all.  I should have just had them come with.  Oh well, I won't complain!  No line is just fine with me!

Upon entry, we went to the wall to find our bib numbers:




And then off to check in to get our bibs and shirts:




After we got our bibs and shirts, we were dumped out into the sponsor area - Alaska Airlines was the person footing the bill for that this year, and their presentation was amazing! 




I was particularly fascinated with the giant streamer chandelier they hung from the ceiling, and the faux grass and carpeting they had for their entire section.


 
 

Oh - I should add here that it was the 50th anniversary of the "Summer of Love" in San Francisco, and to honor that anniversary, Bay to Breakers had chosen it as their theme:




Alaska Airlines, who ran with the theme 110%, had booths for tons of free stuff: photos in a hippy van, stations to make flower crowns and friendship bracelets (which included super cute enameled charms in shapes of peace signs, hippy vans, flowers, etc.), hippy themed temporary tattoos, and a station where you could get a live screened shirt of your choice (I chose a white, unisex shirt with a teal colored screen of the Bay to Breakers hippy bus logo on it). 


 
 


With so much free swag before I even got into the meat of the expo, my head was spinning ... or maybe that was just the contact high I got from the people smoking out on the street.  I dunno.  Heh.

The rest of the expo was your typical stuff - energy bars and drinks, store branded running gear, promos for other races and the like.  Since we had our fill of free things thanks to Alaska Airlines, we pretty much just glossed over the rest of the offerings and headed straight to the exit.

Overall the expo was very well organized.  I was amazingly happy about that.

With packet pickup out of the way Friday, Saturday we simply spent the day being tourists ... and pre race fueling, animal style of course.


 


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On race day, we were recommended via the official Bay to Breakers email to arrive into our corrals 45 minutes or more prior to race start (which was 8 am).  Having done other large races in the past, and knowing what a cluster corral entry can be, I was on board with that suggestion ... no questions asked.

Though our walk from the hotel to the race start for the most part was uneventful, my sister and I did have a brief moment of panic when a very ... not lucid ... homeless man started screaming things at us like "Imma slap the shit outta you bitches".  Luckily, we were able to quickly walk away from that scenario, and security at the starting area was very good, so no further problems ensued.

Though I did have a slight issue once inside, as I almost got a concussion from a corn tortilla.  Heh.

If you're new to Bay to Breakers, apparently this is a "thing" there.  Instead of bouncing around balloons or beach balls, racers bring packs of corn tortillas and throw them around like Frisbees.  It was extremely entertaining, and really broke down barriers among strangers in the crowd.  I mean, how can you not laugh if your neighbor (me) gets hit in the head with a stray tortilla and goes "ah!" as you are standing there waiting for gun time? 

Since I had read that most people vastly over estimate their race pace, my sister and I registered for the 4th group to be released on course - corral B (8-9 minute miles).  I knew this might be slightly aggressive when I signed up last fall, as my usual pace is closer to 10 when I'm in shape.  But from what I read in other reviews, if you didn't get into corral A ... or at least B ... you might as well walk the entire course.  Knowing I wanted to run as much as my body would let me, I definitely wanted to be in B.

Sorry not sorry.  I know I can't do 8-9 min miles over a 7+ mile course, but nuts to walking with a bunch of drunk back of packers (this race is known to get a little wild in the slower groups).

After the two elite groups were released, along with corral A, I realized I was just fine in corral B anyway.  With 20 minutes (roughly) on the clock, we were released, and many immediately began to walk out of the starting gate and onto course.

Even about 1 mile in, where my husband was scouting for pictures, people were still barely washing out to a 12-14 min pace.  It was a little frustrating, but I pretty much expected this given the size of the race.

 

 
 
 
To help pass the time, I began counting naked runners.  Yes, this is another "thing" at Bay to Breakers in addition to throwing corn tortillas at the start.
 

 


Another "thing" for Bay to Breakers is the "caterpillar" race category.  It's essentially a group of 6 people tied together who have to run the entire course at the same pace - which sounds pretty challenging when you think about the fact that everyone in the group must keep up with each other for over 7 miles.  I was pretty impressed by how many elite runners alone chose this option.




After counting about 12-15 naked runners, but seeing very few caterpillars, we came upon Hayes Hill.  For those of you unfamiliar with how horrendous running in San Francisco can be, let me present to you some photos:



 
 
Now, I couldn't find a good picture on the Google machine that showed Hayes Hill without people on it, but here is a similar San Francisco hill so you can get a feel for what I'm talking about, and an actually Hayes Hill elevation map for reference.
 


 

 
 
Yeah.  You let me know how you feel about running up that hill.  Especially knowing it is almost a mile long.
 
Seeing the above pictures, it should come as no surprise to you to hear that Hayes Hill is (1) the most difficult part of the course and (2) is known for being the biggest party spot of the entire race.  People with houses on course host huge parties on their front steps, and booze is offered all around for spectators and participants alike. 
 
Here's an example of one of the houses we passed in 2017 - you can see how it's basically like a giant frat party:
 




After experiencing some of the ... finer points ... of San Francisco on the days leading up to the race (ahem, bums pooping on sidewalks, people smoking strange things in public, ahem), I had my doubts about accepting anything from strangers on course.  My sister and I simply trudged up the hill and enjoyed the *sometimes naked* people watching as we went.

Hayes Hill is a little tricky, because while you're on it you think you've finally hit the last plateau a couple of times ... only to realize you still have another climb coming.  When it was finally obvious we had finished the climb (we passed the second set of chip readers indicating the special time read for Hayes Hill was over), my sister and I celebrated by partaking in our first water stop of the run ... and getting eye frisked by course security to ensure we had legit bibs and no booze in hand, both of which are large issues given the party environment on Hayes.

With the worst of the course behind us, my sister and I finished our celebration and water ... and then proceeded to be "parted" by various runners for the next 3 miles.  Apparently, our wings were an attractive gateway to be entered, and numerous silly runners opted to duck/run/dive in between us with their hands together in prayer position (much like you would to dive into a pool). 



Imagine this, but with more butterfly wings and less booty shaking
 

The majority of the runners who did this did so in good jest, cheering and laughing as they passed.  Knowing that we took up a fair amount of real estate on course due to our wingspan, and knowing it was part of the experience of Bay to Breakers, my sister and I took it in stride and just laughed.  To clarify though, it was never really like we were clogging the course, as things were tremendously spaced out at this point anyway and we were on a 4+ lane street.

With around 3 or so miles left of the race, we entered Golden Gate Park.  If you've never heard of this before (which I hadn't), it is almost like Central Park in NY.  In this aerial view, you can see how this massive stretch of green is almost out of place amongst the city:


 
 
I had no idea how beautiful this part of the run would be, and I loved every minute of it.  It was slightly hazy from the ocean fog, and fairly shaded due to the overhanging trees.  There were even old fashioned windmills and (fenced in) wild buffalo on course ... none of which would I have expected to see in the middle of such an urban city. 
 
While I didn't take many photos myself, here are a few I borrowed off Google for reference.
 

 



 


I really enjoyed this portion of the race, and for the Golden Gate Park piece of the race alone, I wouldn't mind repeating the run again in the future - that's how beautiful it was.  It was such a unique experience, and something I've never seen on any race before (which says something, being that I'm over 70 races complete at this point).

The only down side to all the trees and winding roads of Golden Gate Park was that it was pretty hard to tell where the finish line was.  Even with about a quarter of a mile left, I wasn't sure visually where we would end.  But - have no fear!  After passing a professionally hired group of Asian performance drummers, there it was.  The finish line arches were there, with the rolling ocean behind it.

 




Despite the large volume of runners, the exiting process was fairly smooth.  My sister and I both managed to quickly snag a bottle of water, our finishers medals, and a energy bar as a snack.  After milling around looking at what else there might be to eat or see, we decided that there wasn't much that interested us so we took off for the muni - which true to Natalie form, included going to the wrong side of the park (we wanted the N, but we were on the side for the 5, which required almost a 1 mile detour back through the park), boarding a train going the wrong direction, boarding another train that was packed like sardines, and having to stand for almost 45 minutes in order to get home.

Good thing we had pre-race fueled with a double cheese animal style at In-N-Out the day before.  After all that race day activity, and some more tourist roaming later in the day, we had earned it.








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And that's the story of how race bib #78 joined my collection.  Fortunately, I only had to see 37 naked men, and take a couple of corn tortillas to the noggin in the process.

Here's to another race soon!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bay to Breakers - Preview

So it's true.  I just put this up on Facebook this morning:




And yes, that's a little picture of In-n-Out you see there.  #winningatracefuel




More to come in a few days...

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Defining Dedication

Today I had zero interest in going out for a run.

ZERO.

In fact, I should have actually been going out for my second run of the week today, but instead it was still just my first.  And yet, despite that, I was still procrastinating.

Perhaps my reason for not wanting to run today was due to PTSD.  You see, last week, on the last tenth of a mile split ... a bird pooped on my head.  And it was huge.  HUGE! A HUGE POOP RIGHT ON MY HEAD!  I'm talking, I touched the top of my head to see what just glanced it, and the entire bottom half of my palm came back crusty.

So gross.

Well, technically, I pretty much suppressed my memory of poop-ageddon until I went to suit up for today's run.  I had actually totally forgotten about the poop, to be honest.  So really, that can't be what made me not want to go. 

Instead, I was already dreading today's run when I was reminded of last week's incident.  Because that's when I saw it: apparently when I pulled my sports bra over my head last week, post poop-pocalypse, the poop from my head smeared all along the bottom edge of my bra.  Right in the front where it would lie on my rib cage.

Lovely.

Since I was already mostly undressed and didn't want any other reason to NOT run, I winged it.  I hand washed the nasty off my bra, grimaced as the wet spot on my bra brushed my face while I pulled it on, and took off for my run.

Of course, that wasn't the end of my woes.  First, my audio started beeping at the 2.5 mile mark, since my Bluetooth headset was running out of juice.  Funny enough, my iPhone had just finished playing "End of the World as We Know It" by REM, and the battery died right as Amy Winehouse was singing "They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said no, no, no".

So there I was. With at least 2 miles left in my run, I was stuck wearing a poopy bra and a dead headset.  And that means, of course, that I should start to chafe. 

Awesome.

But my goal was to make it a minimum of 4.5 miles.  So I pushed.  And as my watch dinged "goal met" ... I realized ... F it!  Let's make it an even 5.

So I ran. 

And I finished 5 miles.

And today, the birds didn't poop on my head.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Recipe: Delicious Dinner - Herb Crusted Cauliflower Steaks with Beans & Tomatoes

On Tuesday, a Facebook friend of mine posted the below photo of their dinner and my mouth watered.  I haven't had a chance to cook this recipe yet, but I wanted to share it here so I could find it again in the future.

Enjoy!


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Herb Crusted Cauliflower Steaks
with Beans & Tomatoes
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Ingredients
  • 1 large head of cauliflower (about 2 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 8 ounces green beans, trimmed
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley, plus more for serving
  • 1/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 (15-ounce) can white beans, rinsed, drained
  • 1 cup golden or red cherry tomatoes (about 6 ounces), halved
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
 
Directions

Arrange racks in middle and upper third of oven; preheat to 425°F. Remove leaves and trim stem end of cauliflower, leaving core intact. Place cauliflower core side down on a work surface. Using a large knife, slice in the center from top to bottom to yield 2 (1") "steaks"; reserve remaining cauliflower for another use.

Place cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush both sides with 1 Tbsp. oil; season with 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Roast on middle rack, turning halfway through, until cauliflower is tender and browned, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss green beans with 1 Tbsp. oil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper on another rimmed baking sheet. Arrange in a single layer, then roast in upper third of oven until green beans begin to blister, about 15 minutes.

 Whisk garlic, lemon zest, 1/3 cup parsley, and remaining 6 Tbsp. oil, 1 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper in a medium bowl until smooth. Transfer half of mixture to another medium bowl. Add panko and Parmesan to first bowl and mix with your hands. Add white beans and tomatoes to second bowl and toss to coat. Whisk mayonnaise and mustard in a small bowl.

Remove sheets from oven. Spread mayonnaise mixture over cauliflower. Sprinkle 1/4 cup panko mixture evenly over cauliflower. Add white bean mixture to sheet with green beans and toss to combine. Return sheets to oven and continue to roast until white beans begin to crisp and panko topping starts to brown, 5–7 minutes more.

Divide cauliflower, green beans, white beans, and tomatoes among plates. Top with parsley.

Note: In order to cut large, 1" "steaks" from a head of cauliflower, the center root must remain intact. To serve 4, use 2 large heads of cauliflower. Roast remaining cauliflower alongside "steaks" or incorporate in soup, salad, or another use. For a vegan version, swap in vegan mayonnaise for regular mayonnaise.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Lately

Well, I guess the theme of this blog these day is "so I know I haven't posted in a while, but ..."

Instead of continually repeating that line, I'm going to mention a few recent personal highlights instead:

(1) I'm on week four of a regular running schedule, and have a consistent mix of strength and swimming in there too. 

(2) I have improved my overall pace running from 11:30 a mile to 11:00.  Not fast by any means, but I'll take it.

(3) I have weighed in on the scale below 200 lbs on a semi regular basis in the last two weeks.  I hope to finally see that be a standard weigh in instead of an "off day".

(4) My son is officially one - hooray!  Where does time go?!  (And in other news, I am currently in the process of going cold turkey from nursing ... which is a slow and sometimes painful process, but I'm getting there).

And lest I leave out some sarcasm in this post ... a short story:

For the last 4+ weeks, I've been trying to be healthy.  You know, eating right, getting more exercise, all that jazz.  The scale has been heading in the right direction, and I feel better about myself, so that's a sign that I'm on the right track.  Which is great!  So today, though.  I go get changed over lunch.  Head out for a run.  I'm almost all the way back when I feel something tickle the top of my head.  I reach up and ...

 
 

 

Yeah.  A bird shit right on my head.  Way to support my journey back to fitness, ya jerk.

Happy Tuesday!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Slicing Wrong My Entire Life

You guys!  I just found out my entire life I've been slicing avocado wrong

ZOMG!  #LIFEFAIL

Check this out.  It may be a little dorky, but it DOES kind of look cool.





"Rather than halve the avocado lengthwise, halve it crosswise, around the pit. If the avocado is ripe, at this point you can simply give the avocado a gentle squeeze and the pit will drop right out. No dangerous knife-wielding necessary! But the real magic comes once the pit is outta there.

You scoop out the avocado from the peel (or use your hands to actually peel the two halves if you're a perfectionist), then slice the avocado into rings. At this point you can top your salad or sandwich with the rings or you can halve them, which is my preference so that you get nice thick gorgeous slices like these."

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Couldn't Repeat It If I Tried ...

So I've been trying to get back into running shape, which is no small task having not really followed any kind of training plan in the last two years.  (Not to mention having basically done no running at all since fall of last year). 

Despite my lack of time on my feet, I found it interesting how much my body "remembers" on pacing for distance. 

Check out my finish time for a 3 mile run on Tuesday of last week (March 28th), and again on Tuesday of this week (April 4th):






The strangest part is, last week I ran a much less even pace per mile, whereas this week I held a fairly consistent pace.  And yet, they still netted out to the exact same finish time. 

I don't think I could do this again if I tried!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What I Did Winter 2016-2017 (AKA - Gettin' Drunk, Part Six)

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

Be forewarned.

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To begin: this is a post about tap rooms (mostly) within driving distance of the Twin Cities.  Almost two years ago I did a series of posts on this topic.  If you didn't that series, here are links to my first , second, third, fourth and fifth posts about the tap rooms I visited back then.

Taprooms included in those posts are:

Recap One  (Stops in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Shakopee, Victoria and Waconia - all MN based brewers)
Enki, Waconia Brewing Company, Fulton, 612, Urban Growler, Indeed, Boom Island, Surly, Badger Hill, Sisyphus, and Tin Whiskers

Recap Two  (Stops in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Shakopee, Hopkins, and Hudson - mostly MN based brewers and one WI)
American Sky, Tin Whiskers (revisit), Burning Brothers, Dangerous Man, Badger Hill (revisit), Sociable Cider Werks, and LTD

Recap Three (Stops all in the Duluth area of MN)
Bent Paddle, Castle Danger, Lake Superior, Fitger's, Canal Park, and Thirsty Pagan

Recap Four (Stops in Stillwater, St. Louis Park, Roseville, Minneapolis, Nisswa and Baxter - all MN based brewers)
Maple Island, Lift Bridge, Steel Toe, Bent, North Gate, Gull Dam, and Jack Pine

Recap Five  (Stops in Minneapolis, Minnetonka and Buffalo - all MN based brewers)
Insight, Town Hall, Bauhaus Brew Labs, Lucid, and Hayes' Public House

I also did a couple of international stops to Heineken and Brewery I'J (Brouwerij't Ij) in Amsterdam and the Hofbrau House in Munich if you're curious about those (although they're not written in a true brewery recap format like this blog, since they're included in my Euro trip recaps).

Anyway!  This post is essentially me getting back into the taproom groove.  I mean, we just got through winter in Minnesota, after all.  What the heck else are we going to do to keep busy during a season of sub zero temps and snow banks up to our nipples?

Ok, let's go!


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Montgomery Brewing
Montgomery, MN
 
 
Visited: Late July 2016 - just a month or so before I found out I was pregnant!  Obviously a little late on this recap.
On Tap: 7 beers
Flights: Yes 
 
 
Food: Nothing while we were there
Ambiance: This one is a little bit of a haul outside of the twin cities, and as such, you definitely get the small town vibe.  Interestingly enough, they seem to have taken over what used to be the old Montgomery brewery ages ago.  Kind of fun to see the place go back to it's roots.
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
Thoughts: I have to admit, my memory on this one is a little blurry since it's been over a year from my visit.  Dang pregnancy running my taproom recaps (just kidding)!  I do recall the staff was extremely friendly, and there was a lot of local pride - they even had a beer themed on their town festival, Kolache Days.  LOL!  While it's a bit of a drive, I do recall thinking I wouldn't mind going back, so I must have liked it ok enough.
 



 
East Lake Brewing
Minneapolis, MN
 
 
Visited: December 2016
On Tap: Multiple beers - many the same brew done in different ways (barrel aged, etc.)
Flights: I think so, but we went during happy hour so small taps were cheaper
*as you can see, even my son has become quite the connoisseur (kidding, kidding - no beer for kids)
 
Food: Connected to the Global Market, AKA food paradise.  I was thrilled to be able to have Moroccan tagine chicken while I sipped on my beers, but literally a world of choices await you there so pick whatever is your liking.
Ambiance: Obviously space is an issue for this taproom - I'm sure being in the Global Market, rent wise, isn't cheap.  Also, as you can see in the pic above, there's some sort of bowling alley theme going on that I didn't quite get ... since most of the beers seemed to be named after baseball stuff???  Not to mention the deer head, the disco ball, the "no lifeguard on duty" sign by the water cooler ... I don't know, and to be honest I didn't try that hard to try and figure it all out.  Overall the taproom was what I'd say was "just fine", though a bit on the hipster side ... which I don't think you can avoid give the location in Minneapolis.  Heh.  Brewing operations appeared to be visible near the tap/bar area.
 
  

 
 
 
 
Thoughts: If you're looking to burn a day snacking on delicious foods and tasting beers, this is the place to do it.  I'd surely be happy to bring some non-local friends here to show off a more unique local offering in terms of the global market feel.  The staff was friendly enough, and HUGE BONUS POINTS for having not only height chairs, but height chairs that are tall enough to be at bar stool height.  (Ah, the things you appreciate when you have a kid, no?!)  The beers, though, were somewhat unremarkable to me.  I don't forsee myself hurrying back for another taste any time soon.



 
 
 
Brau Brothers Brewing
Marshall, MN
 
 
Visited: January 2017
On Tap: Endless beers!  We shared three flights and still didn't get them all!  Boo-hoo-hoo!
Flights: Yes
 
*Yes that's S'mores beer right there.  And dammit - I'm hooked.  Why do they have to be so far away?!
 
Food: Um ... yes, and it was so delicious I didn't remember to take a picture until I was halfway through eating!  (Full service restaurant in house)
 
Ambiance: While the outside leaves something to be desired (being in a small town strip mall doesn't exactly scream "curb appeal"), once you step foot inside this tap room you won't be disappointed.  Nicely decorated and with plenty of room to spare, this place is amazing!  I particularly liked how they ran the tap through an old school fire engine, and the floor to celling windows that provided views into both the bottling line and the brewing areas.  Oh ... and I couldn't help but love how the self proclaimed "Brau Bros Dad" was proudly sipping a brew at the bar, bragging to another local who was checking the place out that his "sons ran this place" - so proud, so cute.
 
 




Thoughts: This small town brewery is a bit of a haul from the cities - I think it took us about 2 hours to get there (one way).  And I have to admit, after driving through multiple corn fields and cattle grazing areas to get there, I thought ... this place won't amount to much.  HOWEVER, once I got there I was blown away; their beers are excellent and definitely make it worth a trip!  If you have a random day to burn and want something fun to do, I recommend this place.  As an added advantage, they have a fully functional restaurant and make some of their own smoked/cured meats in house, so the food is quite good. 



 
 
 
Roets Brewing
Jordan, MN
 
 
Visited: Fe"brew"ary 2017
On Tap: Quite a list for a newly opened location - I think about a dozen when we arrived
Flights: No, so we shared small pours of about 4-5 beers 
 
Food: There appeared to be a couple of sandwich options, but we didn't purchase
Ambiance: This small town brewer has done a great job on their taproom, especially when you consider the location was a "plan B" choice (their first choice location was to be in the old Jordan Brewery, which suffered massive damages during spring flooding about a year prior to their opening).  They even have an outdoor patio, which surprisingly was full in February during an unseasonably warm spell.  My only wish was that they had height chairs ... as you can tell, my little boy was not a fan of the bar stools.  *snicker*
 
   

 

 

Thoughts: Since my son was a little fussy the day we visited this taproom, our experience was rushed and we didn't get much time to enjoy the beers.  From what little we tasted, the beer was surprisingly good - especially considering the remote location of this taproom and it being newly opened.  The staff was incredibly friendly as well.  I look forward to getting back there again soon.


 
 
 
Roundhouse Brewery
Brainerd, MN
 
 
Visited: March 2017
On Tap: A very lucky 13 options to choose from, plus lemonade, root beer and kombucha as well
Flights: Yes, but "this isn't an airport, so we call them tracks" **LOL**
 
Food: Nothing while we were there
Ambiance: What came first - the brewery name or the brewery location?  Since the location of this taproom is in the old train depot in Brainerd, MN, I wonder if they chose their name based on their location or what?!  LOL!  Being in the depot creates a unique atmosphere with an old timey feel, which you can see they take advantage of in regards to how they choose to decorate as well. 
 
 

 

 
Thoughts: I'm loving the growth of taprooms all over MN, and I think this is a great addition to the existing offerings in the Brainerd area.  While their beers aren't as good as Jack Pine, this taproom has a distinct advantage when it comes to atmosphere and space - meaning that they have plenty of room to encourage hanging out and enjoying beer, and they encourage you to stay with various board games, corn hole, and giant jenga.   (Though, side note: I did hear Jack Pine is getting a major taproom location upgrade soon).  The staff is also tremendously friendly.  



 
 
Big Axe
Nisswa, MN
 
 
Visited: March 2017
On Tap: Maybe 9-10?  More on this below ...
Flights: Yes, if you want are willing to wait for them to get around to serving you
 
Food: Nothing while we were there ... despite the website clearly noting they were serving burgers and other food options.  This was a huge problem as we ended our day here anticipating we'd have dinner with our beer, and had three hungry kids in tow.  To the owners: if you are advertising a kitchen as offering food online (yep - just checked - still advertising as open), but you are actually so understaffed with employees that the kitchen is continually closed, plus that entire area of the taproom isn't even being assisted by staff at all ... then update your web page.  It isn't that hard, folks.  FYI - This is how unattentive the staff was: I actually walked into the kitchen prep area and took a plastic pint glass because I couldn't get staff to help me in the main taproom area, and I needed the cup in order to deal with a screaming 10 month old ... who I was originally anticipating I'd be able to accommodate via their supposedly open kitchen.  Makes you question who else has messed around in there, and how sanitary the kitchen is after all those hands have touched things ...
Ambiance: This taproom is crammed into a space that isn't even fit for an ice cream shop.  When we arrived, a party of maybe 8-10 adults were in the main taproom area, which was so overcrowded that I never even got to really see what it looked like.  Since we sat in the restaurant side of the taproom, which had no staff and wasn't even being monitored by anyone, I wasn't impressed.  At all.  (You know the ambiance is bad when a bachelor/ette party comes in, and the girls ditch out before the party could even sit down ... and the guys leave after drinking one pint as fast as they can ... all the while complaining that the taproom didn't at all live up to the expectations they had based on their website).  The below photos of inside the taproom were lifted from Google, and I'm telling you ... they make the taproom look much bigger than it is.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Thoughts: While I'm loving the growth of taprooms all over MN ... the sad fact is that some people are starting taprooms for the wrong reasons.  Big Axe is one of those "wrong reasons" kinds of places.  You can tell the owners aren't really interested in celebrating beers, and are just running the place for a quick buck.  Their beers are sub par, they clearly aren't interested in telling you about them (staff isn't educated / no description cards or menus are available), and you can hardly even find a staff person to pour you anything to begin with - it probably doesn't help that they're half focused on their own children, who are running all over the taproom/outside with giant sticks in their hands, screaming and yelling.  To be fair, I'm willing to bear with a taproom that has these kinds of challenges when they are new.  But, this place has been open for over a year (close to two in fact, if I recall correctly), and yet they don't have any kind of quality of service down ... if you can consider simply pouring a beer service at all.  In fact, if anything, they've gotten worse since they've opened, as my sister said they at least had food available when she went there at the grand opening oh so long ago.  In the end, I'm amazed they're still open ... though their ongoing "we're hiring" posts online/Facebook may be indicative of their situation.
 

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Now that I've been to most of the tap rooms in the Twin Cities, what do I think? 

Well, my top picks still haven't changed much ... though I think I'd swap Roets into the "sampling many varieties" since it's not a terrible drive from the metro area.  And FYI - I still find myself going to Dangerous Man on a regular rotation, so that's likely my favorite overall (*ahem* chocolate peanut butter porter *ahem*) .

(Note: I am leaving out any non-Twin Cities metro breweries in this summary due to convenience of commute.)

Top three spots overall
   Tin Whiskers, Bauhaus Brew Labs, Dangerous Man

Best places for sampling many varieties (via flights) in one day
   Boom Island, Roets, Lift Bridge

Places where I could definitely burn an afternoon playing Connect 4 (or Cards Against Humanity)
   Sisyphus, North Gate, Badger Hill

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