|Samplers at the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery|
Every so often in my beer travels I encounter something truly unforgettable. Sometimes it's an experience or a conversation--a moment or a location that will I reflect on long after it happens. I will conjure up a vivid recollection so real that it feels like I'm reliving the event. As infrequent as these collisions with destiny are, perhaps the most rarefied of them all is the Dream Beer. This is the brew that, from the moment the aroma reaches your nostrils and the first decadent splash caresses your tongue, you know that you're in for something not merely special but perhaps once-in-a-lifetime. Out of the twenty-two hundred plus beers that I've tried, fewer than five have earned this status--brews that, despite the passage of time, can be conjured at will to my mental palette. Their evanescent reminiscence is at once both comforting and wistful: though I am able briefly to relive their deliciousness I am reminded instantly that the likelihood of my ever coming across them again is slim at best.
I raise the aforementioned points because I was fortunate enough to enjoy one of those Dream Beers at the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery. Before I get to that though I'd like to talk a little bit about the brewery itself. Located conveniently close to I-35, it is within walking distance of both the Mississippi River and the University of Minnesota. Though we did not get the chance to explore the area, it struck both my wife and I as a great place to stroll around, particularly in the summer. Unlike with most breweries located near major universities (Iron Hill in Newark, Delaware for example), parking wasn't an issue as we were able to leave our car in a reasonably priced nearby indoor parking lot. Not having to interrupt our meal and drinks to feed the meter was an immensely appreciated convenience and is a huge plus for this particular location.
With a plethora of seating options and dining locations both within and beyond its walls, the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery is an appealing place to eat and drink for a broad range of patrons. Though one might fear that its proximity to a major university would render it a college or frat hangout, it came across as anything but to us. The division of eating and drinking spaces affords a number of different groups the opportunity to dine in relative seclusion from one another without feeling closed off. As a parent with young children, I've felt awkward at a few spots when it was clear that the families were being cordoned off to a small area away from the rest of the patrons. Rather than feeling quarantined at the Town Hall brewery, I felt completely comfortable and was not distracted by anyone else nor did I feel like my family and I posed one to the others in our vicinity.
Of course, as important as the brewpub environment is, it is the menu that is ultimately of the highest import. Food-wise, the menu is comprised of a nice assortment of pub-grub that ranges from the typical less-than-healthy-but-delicious options like burgers, wings, sausages, and other fried goodies to higher end steaks and gourmet entrees. The price range is typical of brewpubs with most entree options falling between eight and twelve dollars but I feel like most of the items are a steal. It seems like many establishments feel the need to charge Times Square-like prices for purportedly gastrophilic delicacies (e.g. fifteen dollars for a burger comprised of farm-raised, grass-fed Angus beef nestled atop a bed of locally harvested baby arugula, with a garlic, blue-cheese aioli adorning a freshly baked artisan roll), which lends them an air of artificial arrogance that I find off-putting and highbrow. The Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, on the other hand, embraces the classic menu and wallet-friendly pricing that seems to be disappearing at an alarming rate, all while producing delicious, high quality food.
As great as the food is though the beer is what truly shined through on that fateful day. I had no idea what I was in for as I perused the beer menu, opting ultimately for two samplers for my wife and I to split. In total, we tried ten different beers that day. I gave one a B+ and two others an A-; everything else was an A or BETTER! As I sipped and looked around the room, I understood immediately why there were so many banners and other awards from prominent beer competitions hanging from the ceiling and covering the walls; these guys know their beer, period. Any one of these beers could serve as exemplar of its particular style and, much to my delight, those styles were quite varied! Only one style was repeated (the American India Pale Ale) but that wound up working to my advantage since it was my favorite beer provided three different ways! The others represented a panoply of uncommon beer styles including the Dortmunder / Export Lager, English Bitter, Oatmeal Stout, Maibock / Helles Bock, Hefeweizen, Kristalweizen, and ESB or Extra Special / Strong Bitter. The Dortmunder was easily my favorite of that type as was the Double Hefe Hefeweizen. Usually hefeweizens are the overlooked, taken-for-granted players in the brewpub lineup. Often unimaginative and uninspired, these are the lower-alcohol workhorses of the beer menu...except here at the Town Hall brewery. Coming in at a whopping 7.30%, the Double Hefe packed a wallop in terms of alcohol (for its style) and flavor. The typical banana and clove combo was bolstered by some unexpected fruity esters and delicious malt notes. Really a standout brew.
...and then there was the Mango Mama. I can almost taste her sweet mango goodness flooding my mouth, titillating my taste buds as I type this, thinking back to the moment I found my number three overall beer and number one lighter colored beer of 2011 (and still in my top ten overall to this day!). The Mango Mama is actually the Masala Mama India Pale Ale aged on mangos, presumably in some sort of oak cask. The base IPA is an amalgam of some of my favorite hop varieties including Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Crystal, Mt. Hood, and Warrior. The collaboration of these hops produced an intensely sweet, floral, enticing bouquet in the nose that was surpassed only by the burst of hop flavors in the taste. My first sip was a flavor explosion that was elevated to unthinkable heights by the sweetness of the ripe mangoes. Amazingly, the already malty sweetness of the Masala Mama was enhanced by the mango rather than being rendered cloying and over-the-top. I literally dreamt about it that night and still lick my lips from time to time recalling the most amazing tropical IPA I've ever had.
When it comes to brewpubs, there are exactly three things that I look for: good, reasonably priced food and high-quality beer served in a welcoming, conducive environment for eating and drinking. What the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery offers is great, more-than-affordably priced food with exceptional brews in a fun, inviting place to enjoy both. Simply put, it is one of the best places I've ever visited and is a location I hope I get the opportunity to check out at least one more time in my life. I give it my highest grade--an A+ and implore that you go and visit them if you are even remotely in the area of the Twin Cities. Still thinking about that Mango Mama!
Dortmunder Local Export Lager (Dortmunder / Export Lager)
West Bank Pub Ale (English Bitter)
Masala Mama India Pale Ale (American India Pale Ale)
Masala Mama India Pale Ale Cask (American India Pale Ale)
Black H20 Oatmeal Stout (Oatmeal Stout)
Maibock (Maibock / Helles Bock)
Double Hefe (Hefeweizen)
Wheat Pale (Kristalweizen)
Mango Mama (American India Pale Ale)
The Don (Extra Special / Strong Bitter)
For more information about the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery including both food and beer menus, please visit their official website here.