Beer lovers in Minnesota will have much to look forward to this summer. No, the new Surly destination brewery will not be open yet (that’s on the docket for early 2015), but several smaller breweries will be opening their doors, if they haven’t already. Sometime this summer, Urban Growler will finally be open to the public, making that little industrial corner of St. Paul a bit of a destination, thanks to the presence of Bang Brewing nearby and gluten-free Burning Brothers a short jaunt away.
New: One place newly opened is Tin Whiskers Brewing in downtown St. Paul. As a St. Paulite, I am thrilled to note that my city is starting to get in on the
microbrewery action. Tin Whiskers, a venture started by three electrical engineers, featured six beers on tap when I went there last week with Mr. NN. There was the expected IPA (Flip-Switch: a bit too heavy on the bittering end of the hop-adding process, IMO, though Mr. NN quite enjoyed it), an amber (Ampere: hoppier than many ambers, which is not a bad thing), and then some more daring or experimental brews: a sweet stout on nitro (Short Circuit: very nice), a robust stout (a bit like burnt coffee), and a wheat with chamomile (Wheatstone Bridge: excellent and refreshing). The electrical theme is continued on the boards used for flights; they are repurposed circuit boards. Tin Whiskers experiments with different styles on a regular basis, so I would expect at least one or two new brews if I visited the taproom every two or three weeks.
A review of a new brewery is not complete these days without a review of the taproom experience it offers. Overall, it is a clean, well-lighted place. Lots of windows. Though it is in downtown, parking –even on the Friday I was there—is fairly easy to get on the street and St. Paul stops metering at 6pm.
Around the corner, you’ll find Black Sheep Coal-Fired Pizza, Sawatdee, and Key’s Café. Like most taprooms, you can bring food in, and in the case of Black Sheep and Sawatdee, they will deliver right to the taproom. Upon entering, one is greeted by a large mural of a robot, the mascot of Tin Whiskers. The rest of the taproom is pretty pared down: several wooden tables and a long bar with open view of the brewing area. A pile of card and board games sat by ready to be played. One adjustment I’d like to see would be sound dampeners; with all hard surfaces, noise bounces around the room and makes it louder than it really is.
One other change that would be helpful is the menu. There is one up-to-date board on a side wall that lists the beers on tap. Seated at the far end of the bar, I could barely read it. The flip-boards near me were not up-to-date (or they had some sort of error) and they were confusing. Tin Whiskers has a system of listing beers as “alpha” (trying it out for the first time, open to feedback), “beta” (more established but still might need tweaking), “singleton” (a new, one-off rarity or limited quantity), and … um… one other that indicates it’s a locked-in recipe. The flip-boards listed did not name things as clearly as the menu board, so when we ordered our flights, there was much correction from the bartender on whether the beta listed on the flip-board was the same as the amber or stout or IPA we’d already put on our flight list. (Oh, another issue: The flights are not really a good deal. It costs $8 for four 4-oz. pours, which is okay if you want variety, but if you order a pint, you’ll pay about $6.50 and I believe one can also order smaller sizes.)
Overall: Tin Whiskers is definitely worth a visit, especially with unique beers like Wheatstone Bridge. I like it when brewers make something that isn’t found elsewhere.
and yes, she was named for this town. As the tri-sherpa, cheering spectator, and travel companion, my first order of business was to find any and all breweries or brewpubs in Winona. Just two blocks from the packet pick-up area, we found Bub’s Brewing (unfortunately pronounced “boobs”). I wasn’t expecting much from this historic brewing operation (there’s been a brewery at that location or in that family since 1856, if I read the menu correctly). However, their Black Forest Ale, a stout, was smooth and full-bodied. The blonde ale was even passable and refreshing, though readers of this blog will note that in general it is not a style I enjoy. The best part of Bub’s, however, was the Cellar Mushrooms: big mushroom caps stuffed with cheese, breaded and fried. A good way to carb-load before the tri, Mr. NN tried to tell himself.
Winona is not a large town, so Bub’s was the extent of our search. However, our brunch at the well-situated Boat House gave me an opportunity to sample a beer from a brewery I had never even heard of: Pearl Street Brewery, out of nearby LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The Boat House had their Smokin’ Hemp Porter on tap, which was a well-balanced porter – not too heavy on the smoke. I don’t know what hemp seed tastes like, but I thought I detected something a little different about the flavor profile. (Power of suggestion?) The beer actually paired rather nicely with the fantastic raspberry-walnut French toast I had.
So this summer, I plan to get out and visit the old and new. Summer can be a difficult time to impress me with beer (I’m more of a malt-fan), but I have no doubt that Minnesota brewers will surprise me with their craft. Cheers!