I love celebrating birthdays, especially birthdays of my beer-loving friends. Last week, my craft beer-loving, homebrewing friend Jen decided to celebrate the anniversary of her birth by arranging a wee “pub crawl” in Nordeast (that’s NE Minneapolis for you out-of-towners). The use of the quotation marks suggests that we were not actually going to pubs, per se, but partaking in that hot new weekend activity in Northeast: brewery/tap-room crawling.
Our first stop was Boom Island Brewing, the most established of the breweries we hit that night at a ripe old age of just over one year. Boom Island distinguishes itself from the other microbreweries that have been proliferating in the Twin Cities area* recently by being the only one dedicated solely to Belgian-style and Belgian-inspired beers. In addition, unlike the weeks-old newcomers we were to visit, it does not feature a tap room where you can hang out, buy a pint, grab some food truck grub, and listen to some (often live) music. But that, in no way, means you should overlook it. Oh, no, my friends. Fridays from 5:00 to 7:30pm and Saturdays from 1:00-3:00, you can go there and sample all they’ve got for FREE. You can also buy bottles there (all in 750ml bottles) and merchandise and–the best part–you can meet the brewer and his wife. Trust me, you’ll want to do this. Kevin and Qiuxia Welch are probably two of the friendliest and most interesting people you could hope to meet. Both are French horn players (Kevin would often sub for the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul
Chamber Orchestra) and both are passionate about beer and Belgium and music. Mr. NN, in fact, discovered that Kevin had participated in a workshop with the late John Mack, principal oboist for the Cleveland Orchestra until 2001. Connection? In his former life (pre-programmer days), Mr. NN was an oboist and auditioned for John Mack. If you’re not in the music world, you might not care about that, but the anecdote reveals an important point: The Welches are interested in their visitors. They will engage you in conversation while pouring you a taste of their lovely beers. (Their Brimstone Tripel is my favorite with its subtle spiciness and yeasty fruit notes and bubbly dryness. That is followed by LoMoMoPalooza–from which $1 of every sale goes toward supporting the locked out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, especially for the educational concerts that the musicians are self-producing until they get their jobs back. Read about the musician lockout and how you can help here.) Qiuxia informed me that they would be coming out with a new release, a Belgian-style witbier called Witness, on March 20th. They will be having the release event at Pinstripes in Edina starting at 6:00pm. First pint is free, subsequent pints for $3. Can’t beat that. (Alas, I will not be able to go, as I have already made other plans for my husband’s birthday. Drop me a line if you go.)
*(according to Minnesota Monthly, ten breweries opened in Minnesota just last year, bringing the state total to 43. And in Minneapolis alone, four breweries have opened or are scheduled to open this month. I’ve read that St. Paul will be getting a new one later this year.)
On a tip from Kevin, we made a slight detour from our crawl plans to check out Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den. Jen, my birthday friend, is a huge fan of zombies, see. (I got her a pair of zombie socks for her birthday, along with a bottle of Collage beer.) She prefers her zombies to be campy à la Shaun of the Dead rather than serious like in The Walking Dead, so a zombie-themed bar was right up her alley. And up the street just one block, as it turned out. We walked in, saw the severed zombie head on the wall and the encased, bloody chainsaw, and decided to have ourselves a funky cocktail. Donny Dirk’s, as far as I can tell, does not serve food. Would you really want to eat food that came out of a place called the Zombie Den, anyway? One thing I was happy to see was a
respectable local beer list, Boom Island included. (In fact, Kevin would deliver the beer by rolling the keg down the street.) On Saturdays from 3:45 to 5:00pm, you can get happy hour craft beers for $3. Yes, the placard on the table actually stated “craft beer.” I approve.
After we finished our shared cocktails, we attempted to get into Dangerous Man Brewing, which opened in January. However, there was a line out the door to get in and no food truck in sight (some of us were quite hungry by this point), so we jumped ahead to 612 Brew, which just opened around Valentine’s Day. (For out-of-staters: 612 is the Minneapolis area code.) We were fortunate enough to get some seats at the bar (not for our entire party, though) and gourmet brats were being sold from a cart. Goat cheese on bratwurst? Oh, yes. It is a divine thing. Of course, anything with goat cheese on it is divine, in my opinion. The taproom is large and has some fun art, including a large mural that appears to have been done by
the artist who does much of the artwork for Surly. Four beers were on tap: Main Stage (amber), Six (pale ale), Rated R (rye IPA), and Zero Hour (American black ale). I ordered the Rated R, Jen ordered the Main Stage. Her first comment was, “Wow, this is one hoppy amber.” I had just had my tongue pickled by the aggressive hoppiness of Rated R, so I couldn’t really taste the hops in hers, but later, after downing my brat and slurping down a big glass of water, I tasted the amber again and agreed with her. (This is just another example, kiddos, of why you should always try the hoppy beers last in a beer tasting. Do not think that color can be your guide, like you might do for a wine-tasting–though even with wine, you might be led astray. Hoppy, bitter beers will spoil your palate for more subtle flavors.) Six, the pale ale, was the favorite of our group, though several of us felt we probably will not go back there until we see they release something that is not just a hop-fest in a glass. One of our party lived in San Diego for more than a decade and classified 612 as “West Coast-style” — aggressively hoppy, that is. Think Stone or Sierra Nevada. They certainly like their hops there, and at 612 Brew. FYI: It appears that the next beer to come out there will be “Mary Ann,” a German-style lager brewed with “generous amounts of freshly grated ginger.” Though I’m not generally a lager fan, I do like ginger and Jen is a ginger freak, so we will have to try it.
By that time, Dangerous Man had some vacant chairs. We were greatly anticipating this one–a chocolate milk stout was there to be had! Additionally, they had a Baltic porter on tap, and Mr. NN and I love us some Baltic porter of late. (Style note: Baltic porters are generally higher in alcohol than regular porters and have a mild acidity to them that balances out the roasty and bitter aspects.) One thing shocked us: the prices–$3 for a 10-oz. pour and $5 for 16-oz. (sizes based on eyeball estimates of the glassware). That’s about as inexpensive as you can get without being free. And it’s good! Very flavorful, well-balanced beers. The tap room also has a cabinet with board games and books in it (mostly beer-related), so you can hang out and have some fun. Got kids? No problem: Dangerous Man also makes their own sodas. (See below for more on the house-made soda trend in the Twin Cities.) Want food? Okay,
you have to plan for that because they do not make or sell any there. They do, however, allow you to bring food in and eat it there, which could make for a cheap date night if you pick up something from a deli or nearby Anchor Fish & Chips or bring leftovers from home. (Don’t bring leftovers if you’re trying to impress a date, however.) We will definitely be back to Dangerous Man, though while it’s so hopping popular, I think we’ll try to hit it at odd hours.
One note of criticism for the tap rooms: The music was too damn loud. We had to shout at one another or miss out on conversations, which is not a good way to socialize. Just turn down the volume a notch, so people don’t hurt their vocal chords. And you kids get off my lawn!
Ahh, it’s a good time to celebrate a beer-lover’s birthday in Minnesota.
Post-script for those with a sweet tooth, kids, or who just prefer their beer to be of the root variety: House-made sodas and old-timey soda fountains are becoming a thing. St. Paul Corner Drug (corner of Snelling and St. Clair) has been doing that forever. Dangerous Man offers their own sodas, as does Lynden’s Soda Fountain (Hamline Ave. in St. Paul) and Eat Street Social in Minneapolis (26th & Nicollet). Though I am not much of a soda drinker (only a few times a year), I like the idea of locally made products and the fact that these sodas, along with Minneapolis-made Joia Soda, often offer more unusual flavors (Ginger, Apricot & Allspice, anyone? Yum.) and are usually not as teeth-achingly sweet and chemically as mass-produced sodas. (By the way, Joia is sold in bottles at various stores, restaurants, and coffee shops in the Twin Cities area.) I stopped into Lynden’s to try a chocolate phosphate, which was delish–chocolaty but not too sweet, a bit acidic without pickling my tongue. Lynden’s is a cute little soda fountain that also sells sandwiches and ice cream (a company from Madison, Wisconsin, makes it) and a rainbow of candy that I recall from my childhood. I’m all for people who want to take control of the ingredients that go into their bodies and their customers’ bodies. These soda fountains are the micro-breweries of the teetotalling world. Check them out.