By Liz Scholz
We love our bikes and we love local beer, but what’s the correlation between the two? Beers and bikes pair like peanut butter and jelly, the two parts coming together to create a higher form. We bike to bars, our bikes are covered in brewery stickers, and there’s nothing better than biking with a bag full of cold ones to the beach on a hot day. So what is it? With this in mind and our bikes in gear, we set out to discover what exactly draws Minnesota bikers to Minnesota beer and vice versa: what kind of bike do you ride and what does it say about your local beer preferences?
It’s a tough question, I know, so I’ll go first: My single–speed is by no means the coolest bike on the Midtown Greenway. Bright yellow, it’s stylized with squiggles—faint reminders of the 80s from which it was birthed. I attempted to make it cooler by replacing the seat with a neon green one that matches the water bottle holder and squiggles, but that doesn’t change what it is: a refurbed road bike with a heart of 100% steel. My favorite beer, and judge all you want, is Summit’s Oatmeal Stout, only available on tap. Summit, a tried and true Minnesota brewery, will remain the same at heart but will continue to try new things, like the newly released Saga, an upgrade of their previous, less popular IPA. What does it say about me as a biker? It says I know what I like even if it means I suffer on hills or when I have to drink an Oatmeal Stout at a bar because I can’t even get it at Zipp’s. I’m a little old school but try so hard to hang with the cool kids. Or am I so cool that I just do what I want and you love me for it?
Beer Pairing 101 tells you that everyone has different tastes, so you should not only respect their preferences and experience but also encourage a conversation about them to open your mind to even more flavor profiles and possibilities. There is no prescribed combination of anything that is the only and best way to do it; you just eat and drink what tastes good to you. This is not unlike bike preferences—you do what you want to do. But as we know from decades of consumer culture, our preferences say something about ourselves. Why else would we blow so much money on delicious craft beer and sick bikes? Is it because they’re just cool? Of course, but it’s also because they’re both things we like to do and causes we care about. As one bike and beer lover said, “biking and beer is maximizing the nice things of outside,” and that’s why we bike to Harriet Brewing’s taproom on a beautiful Saturday, to relish the things we love.
After talking to a cross-section of Minnesota beer-lovers and bikers, we developed several beer and bike pairings based on our own and public opinion. And just like food and beer pairing, these are experiences of taste, so let’s have a conversation and open our minds to the flavor possibilities.
Fixed gears were the easiest for people to pair with a beer: PBR, of course. But not everyone is on board. One interviewee, the owner of four bikes but no fixie, explained, “Fixie kids get a bad rep for liking PBR so that tends to be the most common [pairing].” But not everyone who rides a fixie actually likes PBR, obviously; they just like the low price and ease of carrying pint cans in their messenger bags. So for the true Minnesota-only drinker, fixed gear bikes pair nicely with Pig’s Eye beer. Simple to build and fun to ride, fixies are traditional like Pig’s Eye, a St. Paul favorite only available in cans, on which you can enjoy the simpler elements of riding a bike, like pedaling and doing track stands at stop lights. No coasting allowed, save your fancy beer for your fancy bike.
The most prevalent bike type in the Twin Cities, road bikes are highly desirable and extremely practical, making them the perfect biking companion for: Fulton. Vintage Schwinn riders prefer the lighter and lovelier Lonely Blonde, most likely without a helmet. But the serious road-biker drinks Sweet Child of Vine with hoppy delight. The beer/bike novice would pair Surly Furious with Surly road bikes, as the two are premium brands famed for high levels of quality and hops. According to one interviewee who rides a 3-speed road bike, she only likes “extremes in beer. I need something that’s on either end of an extreme, and I think that’s reflective of my personality. I’ve never had an IPA that’s as bitter [as the Furious] so when I try another one, it’s not enough. But Fulton’s Sweet Child of Vine is the closest I’ve come.” Once you’ve had a taste of that speed and those IBUs, nothing is quite the same.
By far the hardest to pair, people who ride BMX bikes may or may not even be that into local beer, especially since most of them are under the age of 14. However, one interviewee had a pairing suggestion: “Maybe a Monster energy drink … or Four Loko.” It’s not craft beer but it’ll keep BMX bikers doing tricks all day long. Like BMX, there’s a time and a place for Four Loko and it’s definitely not a bar and it probably isn’t all the time but you feel so cool when you’re doing it.
There are some beautiful cruisers around town and some beautiful women who ride them. How else do they stay beautiful, but with Crispin hard cider? Although a cider, Crispin is “local,” with fewer calories and a lighter feel to boot. The average cruiser-rider has an eye for design and ultimately chooses form over function, not unlike a hard cider, which is fundamentally easy to understand, but it takes more than just apple juice to make it special. On a cruiser, the rider is in it for the journey, not for getting to where she needs to be quickly or efficiently. But she looks good doing it, knowing that Crispin adds a little more sweetness to her day.
Pairing some subsets of mountain bikes might be easy, like fat tire bikes with New Belguim’s Fat Tire, but mountain bikes are diverse with a multitude of options: knobbies or slicks, hard tails or full-suspensions. When faced with these decisions and the desire to drink local, there is only one beer that can satisfy everyone and pair with every kind of mountain bike: Grain Belt Premium. Like one mountain biker said, “[Premium is] the classic and you can’t go wrong with it, especially when you’re indecisive.” Like mountain bikes, Grain Belt might be a little less popular than it used to be, in light of all the new breweries and bikes around town. However, mountain bikes are the only bikes that can make it through the Minnesotan winter and Grain Belt is the only beer that can get us through this recession.
We would be remiss to exclude Nice Ride rentable bikes in our bikes and beer pairing since they are so ubiquitous in the Twin Cities, like Summit’s EPA. According to one Nice Rider, “Summit around here just seems like the garden variety… it’s an egalitarian brew.” Many people who ride Nice Rides have their own bikes of all kinds at home but choose to use Nice Ride as an alternative way to get where they need to go without dealing with cumbersome U-locks or riding home post-beers. Summit EPA is easy to drink and a safe bet when it is on the menu.