Many people take advantage of the lovely summer weather by going on vacation, either to “the cabin” or to more exotic locales. Mr. NN and I are less likely to do so, alas. Summer, to us, signals a time for triathlon training and gardening. (We really do need to get out more.) This summer, however, we have been taking advantage of our precious free time to visit some of the fine taprooms in the area.
Saint Paul, my fair city, is getting in on the taproom scene, in a big way. Burning Brothers, an entirely gluten-free operation, is just off the Green Line. Having previously been impressed with their flagship beer Pyro, an American pale ale, I was curious to see if they could pull off a gluten-free stout. Also on offer in their taproom were a couple Pyro infusions: Lime Shandy,
Orange Blossom Honey, and Blackberry. Normally, I would have gone for the blackberry, but the bartender cautioned that the berries showed more as an aroma than a flavor, so I opted for the Lime Shandy while Mr. NN got the pilot batch version of the imperial stout. The citrus of the Lime Shandy paired well with the hops to make a refreshing but not cloyingly sweet beverage.
But we’re all here for the stout, aren’t we? Is it possible to make the malt-bomb that is an imperial stout gluten-free? The answer: Mostly. Burning Brothers’ stout had the requisite roastiness, combined with hints of chocolate. Though it had an ABV of 10.5%, it did not taste like a strong beer, let alone an imperial. Maybe that has something to do with the mouthfeel. Do not let that discourage you, though – this stout is not watery or thin-flavored; it just may surprise you to fin you’re drinking an imperial.
Food trucks have a regular schedule with Burning Brothers, and they will only sell gluten-free items, as you are kindly asked not to bring any gluten-containing items into the brewery. They also sell GF chips and cupcakes. Though there are games and books to get you to linger there, the atmosphere is warehouse-y, lit from the high ceiling with fluorescents. They get points, however, for the Darth Vader clock.
Not far from Burning Brothers and across the lot from Urban Growler (which is now open! Grand opening later this month) is Bang Brewing. This is perhaps the most unusual brewery in terms of building choices: it’s in a converted silo. The few tables had been pulled outside, but there were a couple seats inside at the bar. Rough-hewn reclaimed wood and corrugated steel constitute much of the interior décor, which again does not really entice one to linger but at least it’s architecturally interesting. The beers were decent, though Mr. NN liked them better than I did. Minn, Neat, Nice, and Good were the names, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what is what. (Their website is no help, either.) Something’s a pale ale, something else has wild rice in it. Dunno. All of the ingredients Bang uses, however, are 100% organic.
On another weekend, Mr. NN and I attended an open house for 11 Wells, a micro-distillery on the East Side (St. Paul). Since the passing of the Surly Law, which most people know for its impact on microbreweries (shorthand: able to sell a glass of beer at the brewery), micro-distilleries have been popping up all around Minnesota, too, thanks to a vast reduction in the cost of a distilling license. And just this summer, the governor signed an omnibus bill that allows micro-distilleries to open taprooms where they may sell cocktails. (I’m so excited! It’ll be like the Old Sugar Factory in Madison, Wisconsin.) Many of these distilleries benefit from good access to the local grains and botanicals that go into the mix. 11 Wells is taking over part of the old Hamm’s brewery – they still have a lot of work to do—and their plans are exciting, to say the least. At the open house, they gave out samples of a “Minnesota Mule,” their version of a Moscow Mule (vodka, ginger beer & lime), but this one made with their Minnesota 13 white whiskey instead of vodka. Tasty. The name “Minnesota 13” comes from a variety of corn produced by the University of Minnesota in the 1880s, which was popularly used to make moonshine during Prohibition.
(Side note: Try Solveig gin from Far North Spirits and do a side-by-side taste test with Bombay Sapphire. You won’t need to mark the glasses – you’ll be able to tell the difference between the two by smell alone. They taste like two very different liquors. I’d still use Bombay Sapphire for G & Ts, but I actually prefer the Solveig. Mix it with amaretto and cream for a fine beverage.)
Across the courtyard from 11 Wells is the new location of Flat Earth Brewing, also taking over part of the Hamm’s facility. This new venue is far bigger than where they originated. For example, if you take a tour of the brewery, you actually have to walk now – into multiple rooms! The taproom was not fully set up yet, so they were handing out free samples. Once their taproom is up and running and 11 Wells is too, this will be a hot destination. Food trucks can park in the
courtyard and get customers from both businesses (they even had one for the open house), and there is talk of live music there, too. If you follow them on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll be in the know about their schedule and may even be able to hit another open house for free samples.
Our next new taproom destination brought us out of the Twin Cities metro area… all the way to White Bear Lake. (For non-Minnesotans, that’s basically a suburb.) Mr. NN and I went to WBL to do an evening 5K race along the lake. Beautiful lake lined with many lovely houses and gardens. The best part, other than Mr. NN winning a pair of socks for coming in second in his age group,
was that our bib number was good for one free beer at the Big Wood Brewery in downtown WBL. “Quaint” is the word to describe that section of White Bear Lake.
It’s like something out of a Hallmark movie. Nestled in there in the semi-basement of an event center is Big Wood Brewery, with at least ten beers on tap. Mr. NN got the Dubbel Entendre, a double brown, and I opted for Northern Belle, a Saison. (Saisons and Berliner weisses are my go-to summer beverages.) Both beers were solid, commendable, though not necessarily stand-outs. The milk stout (Udder something) was a disappointment, but the Wicked Ex, a West Coast-style IPA, was excellent, one of the best IPAs I’ve had in a while.
The taproom experience at Big Wood makes it a destination for us. Its low ceiling makes it cozy, along with the rough wood accents, nautical-looking wall sconces, and Tolkien-esque interior doors. The pendant lights that line the bar are made from growlers of various Minnesota breweries. There’s plenty of seating, too. Menus are available for at least three different restaurants that will deliver there. The runners got to share an olive pizza from a place called Olive’s (appropriately), which was excellent. There’s a stage for live music, and Wednesdays are Bring Your Own Vinyl night – tell them which side of the LP you want and they’ll play it. We will be back!
If you aren’t already following your favorite craft breweries (or micro-distilleries) on Facebook or Twitter, I recommend you get on it soon!
Businesses are more likely to put current information out that way than update their website with every little change. (Some savvy ones connect their Twitter feed to their website, I guess, so that’s one way to stay current if you’re not on Twitter or FB.) The excellent flight of Berliner Weisses I got to try at Day Block Brewing come about solely because I saw their notice on Facebook.
With that, I think it’s time to update my status. Cheers!