Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Milwaukee Ale House Review


My last Wisconsin stop on my multi-state beer and baseball road trip was the Milwaukee Ale House. Located right along the water, it served as the perfect summertime spot to enjoy a few delectable brews. It also happened to solidify the fact that the Midwest is rife with unforgettable malty beers.

I loved that the menu came with the newsletter pictured above. I always find it enjoyable to learn about the local craft beer scene when I'm visiting a new city and something like this makes it all the more easy and accessible to do so. This particular publication featured information about the beers on tap, on deck, on flights, and an olio of general beer information that really contributed to the local feel and flavor of the place.

If the aforementioned flier wasn't enough, the beer menu itself was also finely crafted and fully detailed, as pictured at right. I appreciated the little tidbits about each beer and was amused by the HOPT O'METER, which I initially mistook for a spiciness indicator (my brain interpreted the little graphic as a flame and attributed it to heat-level as is often done at places with varying degrees of hot food such as Buffalo Wild Wings).  The reason that I found it funny though was the hoppiest beer came in at a paltry 41 IBUs--a number so low for me that I almost couldn't fathom a pale ale that bereft of lupulin goodness!  Hell, I've had stouts that have had more than double the IBUs of that pale ale!  (Founders' Imperial Stout weighs in at a hefty 90 IBUs for comparison).

Low hop tolerance aside, the beers all sounded great and I couldn't wait to try them all.  I had eleven different offerings in total and was essentially bowled over by their quality. I gave only one B-, one B, and two B+s to their Doppelbock, Downtown Lites, Flaming Damsel, and Pull Chain Pail Ale, respectively; everything else earned a solid A except for the Block Head Brown, which I gave an A++ (my highest rating).  It remains the single greatest English Brown Ale I've ever had and is still among the best brown ales I've enjoyed, period.  It's referenced as the Milwaukee Ale House's best kept secret and I couldn't agree more although I'm sure that the word will get out eventually!

Yet again, I was not let down by the variety of beers offered--something that East Coast brewpubs should take note of! The only duplicate style was the American Pale Ale, which wouldn't have even been an issue if the hop quality and character of the brews in question was in line with that of the other styles.  The Belgian Pale Ale would measure up with many of the best as would the Devil's Advocate--a Belgian Strong Ale that surprisingly came in at only 7.00%.  Louie's Demise is an interesting brew and a relatively uncommon style (a Scottish Ale) that I would recommend to anyone who is seeking to expand their palettes.  I loved the Sheepshead Oatmeal Stout, the Pressing 78 Porter, and even the Godzilla Belgian Wit, which, as a Witbier, represents one of my least preferred styles.

The food served as an excellent complement to the beer and was both reasonably priced and delicious.  Honestly, there was nothing negative that I could say about my experience here. Couple that with the fact that there is some kind of boat tour that literally docks outside of the brewpub...I mean, what more could you ask for?

GRADING

The Milwaukee Ale House isn't just one of the best places to grab a pint and some grub in Milwaukee--it ranks among the best brewpubs I've ever been to anywhere. I give it a grade of A+, my highest rating for a brewery or brewpub, and declare it an absolute must visit location.  The beer is exceptional and the food is right on par; simply put, you won't find a better combination in many places.  Top notch.

BEERS SAMPLED

Glenview Belgian Pale Ale    (Belgian Pale Ale)
Flaming Damsel    (Munich Helles Lager)
Downtown Lites    (American Pale Ale)
Devil's Advocate    (Belgian Strong Ale)
Pull Chain Pail Ale    (American Pale Ale)
Dopplebock    (Doppelbock)
Louie's Demise    (Scottish Ale)
Block Head Brown    (English Brown Ale)
Sheepshead Stout    (Oatmeal Stout)
Godzilla Belgian Wit    (Witbier)
Pressing 78 Porter    (American Porter)



For more information about the Milwaukee Ale House please visit their official webpage here.

Cheers!

--Matt

Monday, June 16, 2014

Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery (Minneapolis) Review


The final Minnesotan brewery I visited during my time in and around Minneapolis was another iteration of an old favorite.  Having enjoyed myself thoroughly at the Indianapolis and Chicago locations previously, I had relatively high expectations for this spot.  Fortunately, the Minneapolis Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery continued the trend of its sister locations of providing solid beers, good grub, and a great drinking environment. 


Part of what I love about this chain of brewpubs is the fact that they are at once consistent and unique; each place features the familiar level of quality while standing as its own individual entity.  As would be expected, the beer list of the Minneapolis location had a uniquely northern tilt to it, featuring beers that suit the Minnesotan spring and summer to a T.

I found the beers to be hit or miss but on a higher level than most places.  Of the seven beers I tried, I gave two B-s and one B with the rest earning A-s and As; that's a pretty solid batting average by my standards.  The ones that missed didn't miss by much and were graded as such mostly because of their styles.  The two B-s were the White Ale (I'm not a huge witbier fan so it has to impress me considerably for me to give it anything over a B or B+) and one of the Rotator IPA series (with IPAs being my second favorite style of beer I have much higher expectations and am thusly harsher in my grading when something doesn't quite measure up or agree with my palette).

Of all the beers that I sampled, I enjoyed the North Star Premium Lager the most, which surprised me.  The way that it was marketed on site made me think that it was going to be a higher quality Bud or Coors-type lager but it wasn't.  It was far more complex and delicious, at least in my estimation.  I enjoyed the great hop balance of the Itasca Extra Pale Ale, the faint, inviting maltiness of the Big Horn Brown Ale, and the easy-drinking Extra Special Bitter.  I could see any one of those beers being a mainstay in local craft beer drinkers' repertoires and all of them collectively comprised a really delicious assortment.

The food was average to above average but to be fair that's never why I go to a Rock Bottom location.  If anything, the beer is enhanced by serving as a complement to the beer and I've never had anything I didn't enjoy thoroughly.  Still, this isn't a gastropub by any means and it shouldn't be viewed as such.  Basically, if you're hungry and you're looking to try some really good beer then you would be all but assured to have a great time at a Rock Bottom, the Minneapolis iteration in particular.

GRADING

For a chain brewpub, the Minneapolis Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery more than holds its own offering a slew of great brews alongside delicious food that's sure to appeal to a broad spectrum of patrons.  The beer is solid enough in its own right, as is the food, but neither necessarily ascends into the next level; if anything, their combination works to improve the enjoyability of each individually.  As such, I give the Minneapolis Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery a hybrid grade of B+/A- with the food falling somewhere in the middle and the beer leaning more towards the upper end.  If you're in Minneapolis for business, are going to a Twins or T'Wolves game, or are simply passing through, then make it a point to stop in at Rock Bottom.  You won't be disappointed.

BEERS SAMPLED

North Star Premium Lager    American Pale Lager
Itasca Extra Pale Ale    American Pale Ale
Erik The Red Lager    American Amber / Red Lager
Big Horn Brown Ale    English Brown Ale
Extra Special Bitter    Extra Special / Strong Bitter (ESB)
Rotator IPA    American India Pale Ale
White Ale    Witbier

For more information about the Minneapolis Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery please visit their official website here.

Cheers!

--Matt

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Herkimer Pub & Brewery Review

How I felt after leaving The Herkimer

As a general rule, I tend not to drink early in the day.  I like to look forward to cracking open a special bottle or two in the early evening and then make them last; I suppose it's about quality over quantity for me.  Occasionally though I will imbibe during the afternoon but usually on days that I'm either hosting or attending special event or party.  The only times I've ever drank anything before noon were extremely rare affairs comprising mostly of beer festivals that started around eleven; my trip to the Herkimer Pub & Brewery in Minneapolis is the only outlier.

I had read a number of phenomenal things about the Herkimer and so it was one of my must-visit spots during my baseball and breweries road trip.  Unfortunately, the only way we could fit it into our schedule was to go right before we attended our first Twins game at Target Field.  Ordinarily, drinking before a baseball game would be the norm...except, in this case, the start time made things a little difficult.  With a 1:13 first pitch local time that meant that we had to get to the Herkimer early enough to eat, drink, and then get to the game.  It also meant that we'd be drinking at eleven o'clock in the morning.

The uncomfortable feeling of having two flights of beer in front of me while other people around me ate breakfast aside, the experience of being at the Herkimer couldn't have been more conducive to drinking.  Outside, people were setting up for some sort of street fair while inside it was clear that beer was the single most important element of the place's identity.  As demonstrated in the photo below, the menu alone was enough to make me feel like I had transcended into a sort of beer nirvana.


So...many...styles...!
To that point in my trip, I had been spoiled by an array of exquisitely exotic beer styles and ingredients.  To my utter delight, I found that that panoply was not only upheld but expanded upon at the Herkimer.  The only disappointment came when the waitress informed me that the menu listed the totality of their offerings--not necessarily what they had available at that time.  Still, it gave me something to look forward to if I ever return to the Twin Cities.

Though I was bummed not to be able to try more of the eighteen varieties, I was content to explore the six that I ultimately enjoyed.  I'm not a terribly huge fan of German beer styles but it's more a result of a lack of exposure than any degree of displeasure with the brews themselves.  With that said, I was stoked to explore some styles that were either completely new to me or were ones that I had had only a cursory drinking experience with.  Among these were a Keller Bier / Zwickel Bier, a Vienna Lager, and a Dunkelweizen.  To date, out of the 2,273 beers I've tried only 2 were of the Keller Bier variety.  It was an interesting drinking experience as the beer seemed perfectly suited as a Spring seasonal.  Generally, this is not my favorite beer season but I enjoyed the Sky Pilot.

I cannot by any means call myself a lager lover but if there is one style I enjoy it's the Vienna.  The Herkimer's Vienna Country Lager was flat out delicious and easily my favorite of their beers.  Vienna Lagers are malt forward but nowhere near as sticky sweet as Amber / Red Ales and their ilk.  Instead, they are quietly balanced by subtle hop qualities that result in a remarkably even beer.  This, in turn, served to complement the darker, yeasty maltiness of the Dunkelweizen--a dark wheat beer that embodies many of the characteristics of its lighter brethren, the Hefeweizen.

The Herkimer's beer menu speaks for itself but what makes it a great place to drink is its ambiance and comfortable layout.  We sat in a cushy booth and felt like we were in our own private tasting room while we sipped our samples.  With plenty of space at the bar along with numerous tables, it's certainly a great place to go with friends for a few rounds or for a filling lunch or dinner.  I wish that I could say that I tried the food but I had just eaten breakfast and the thought of either eating another breakfast with beer or having lunch/dinner food at 11 in the morning just wasn't jiving.  Still, given the overall quality of the place and its beers I would imagine that the food is just as on point.

Located in an aesthetically pleasing part of Minneapolis, the Herkimer is in an ideal spot for locals and tourists alike.  Not far from Interstate 35W but far enough that it feels like it's a part of town (instead of a road stop type of deal), it's an easy place to get to and in an area that I'd want to stroll around in and explore.  A mere 2.7 miles from Target Field and downtown Minneapolis, it's feasible that one could walk there from the Herkimer (or vice versa) or enjoy a short, relatively traffic-free drive.  The bottom line is that you won't spend an undue amount of time seeking it out like other more out-of-the-way, off-the-beaten-path brewpubs.

GRADING

Despite the oddly early time of my visit, I was able to enjoy my beers and felt comfortable enough to dive right in.  The awesome artwork and layout of the brewpub coupled with the friendliness of the staff and the quality and diversity of the beers made the Herkimer a great stop on our trip.  I give it a grade of B+ given the sum total of the parts and would recommend it to anyone already in the area or folks who might be traveling to the Twin Cities.  Definitely worth making the effort to get over there!

BEERS SAMPLED

Sky Pilot Kellerbeer (Keller Bier / Zwickel Bier)
Kolsch (K├Âlsch)
Handy's Lager (American Adjunct Lager)
Tooler's Weiss (Hefeweizen)
Vienna Country Lager (Vienna Lager)
Dunkelweiss (Dunkelweizen)

For more information about The Herkimer Pub & Brewery please visit their official website here.

Cheers!

--Matt

Friday, May 16, 2014

Barley John's Brew Pub Review

I've never been as comfortable in bars as one might expect.  As a teenager, I was more of a homebody, eschewing parties in the backweeds and sneaking into local bars for late night basketball games and relatively quiet nights at my buddies' houses.  When I finally did begin going to bars and drinking, it was in places like Applebee's, Chilis, and the like where I did my boozing at a table with friends.  In fact, one of the first nights that I really spent at actual bars was that of my bachelor party when I wound up going to twenty in total (we were engaging in a heated competition of Pub Golf...but that's a story for another day).

I've since accrued plenty of time sitting at bars engaging with bartenders and other patrons (aside from whatever company I met or would be meeting there).  Still, there's s always been something intimidating to me about bar culture in general.  It's a little different in the city (Manhattan in particular) where most of the spots I went to served more as way-stations for the traveling drinker rather than local watering holes particularly those of small towns.  The latter are the ones that I still feel somewhat uncomfortable in--the ones where you walk in and it's instantly obvious that you're an outsider and every pair of eyes in the place turns towards and remains upon you as you make your way to the bar.  Growing up in a city of more than 8 million, you would think that I would be impervious to such leering but...not so much.

All of this was on my mind as I pushed through the doors at Barley John's Brew Pub in New Brighton, Minnesota and stepped inside.  My immediate reaction was that I had just walked into a coveted local spot--one that was absolutely packed with patrons seeking suds and sustenance at the bar and in the restaurant section; fortunately, appearances can be deceiving.  I was able to get a seat at the bar and was greeted by a very busy but extremely engaging bartender. 

I always try to gauge the feel of a place by observing what others are drinking, particularly when it's hectic.  If I see others consuming samplers then I will have no reservations about asking for one myself and then kicking back while I enjoy it; if it appears to be more of a pint crowd and the server looks particularly harried, I might snag one sampler and then play it by ear.  In the case of Barley John's I saw a few people enjoying flights and, more importantly, overheard more than a few conversations about beer; it was clear immediately that I had entered a craft beer haven.

The selection of beers available was both somewhat limited but extremely interesting.  As I've noted in previous posts, brewpub beer lists tend to be of a cookie cutter variety...but not at Barley John's.  Instead of being served a Hefeweizen, American Red / Amber Ale, some type of hoppy brew, and the requisite dark one, I found myself faced with a tantalizingly eclectic assortment.  Of the four beers I got in my flight, only one fell into the typical categories (it was an IPA); the other three were an English Bitter, an American Brown Ale, and a Baltic Porter.  I love American Brown Ales because of their complexity as well as their maltiness.  To me, they have the best of a number of worlds including the sweet stickiness of Amber and Scotch Ales, the body of some lighter stouts, and a more balanced roast reminiscent of American porters.  The Wild Brunette, as it was called, was an exceptional brew.

Baltic Porters are an unusual style to find at a brewpub and, though I've not historically been a terribly huge fan, I was excited nonetheless to be able to try one at Barley John's.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the Baltic Porter differs from its American and English (in style name) counterparts by being bolder and stronger both in terms of alcohol content and in flavor.  Generally darker than typical porters, Baltics also offer a more robust, almost smoky palette that takes the prototypical roastiness to a much more intense level.  It's by no means an easy style to enjoy right out of the gate but, again, Barley John's version (the Old Eight Porter) left me duly impressed.

As I was finishing my sampler, I was asked by the bartender for my reactions to the beers.  After praising them all and explaining the nature of my visit, I was afforded the opportunity to try a taster of their seasonal offering--an eponymous Maibock.  Aside from appreciating the generosity of the many bartenders and servers that I've encountered throughout my travels, I love the shared excitement and enthusiasm that so many of them have shown for my beer journeys.  Growing up around people who drink beer that has to "taste like beer" (see: Bud/Coors/Miller), it's refreshing to encounter so many people who champion trying different beers and drinking them for beer's sake--especially when it's in a place far from my own local beer scene.  And as for the Maibock?  I gave it an A+.  You've gotta love those unexpected moments of beer discovery and hospitality!

Unfortunately, due to the time constraint I was under at the time, I was unable to sample any of the food or explore the restaurant section to any great degree.  With that said, I had the sense that it was an extremely unpretentious place that offered a solid variety of food at reasonable prices; apparently the Google reviews concur!  Needless to say, if the food is anywhere near as good as the beer then you'll be hard-pressed to find a better place to eat and drink in the area.

GRADING

I had an excellent drinking experience at Barley John's and was glad to have met the folks there and shared some beers and conversation with them.  With a good assortment of pub-style food available, roughly a half-dozen brews on tap as well as a special rotating cask beer, and an awesome drinking environment, I gladly give Barley John's Brew Pub an A.  If you're in the Twin Cities then make it a point to swing by New Brighton to give Barley John's a visit; you won't be disappointed.

BEERS SAMPLED

Little Barley Bitter (A-)
Stockyard IPA (B+)
Wild Brunette (A)
Old Eight Porter (A)
Maibock (A+)

For more information about Barley John's Brew Pub please visit their official website here.

Cheers!

--Matt

Thursday, May 1, 2014

My Great Waters Brewing Experience

Tim McGraw is one of our nation's most beloved musical talents and yet, for months after visiting the Great Waters Brewery in St. Paul, Minnesota, I absolutely despised him.  Detested him!  One might think that it was prompted by jealousy of his fame, his public adoration, or his gorgeous wife but one would be mistaken.  The single, solitary, sole reason that I couldn't even look at an image of him was that he single-handedly ruined my one and only drinking experience in Minnesota's state capital.

Sort of.

Okay, maybe Tim wasn't to blame as much as the folks at the brewpub itself.  What happened was my wife and I parked the car down the block from the brewpub and boogied through the cold, misty Minnesotan afternoon towards Great Waters Brewing.  It stood out like a beacon in the night--a place of refuge from the dark and dreary weather where we would be warmed without and within by the cozy environs therein and a slew of delectable brews.  We stepped inside and had to wedge our way through the patrons herded into the small foyer--those who were escaping the rain and awaiting a table.

See, as it turned out, there was a wait at the brewpub.  Not typically a big deal...but it was a long wait.  If memory serves me, we were quoted twenty minutes, which turned quickly into thirty, forty-five, and then sixty.  It was one of those conundrums where we had already wasted so much time waiting and we were so certain that we would be called soon that we didn't want to bail.  Since there was no other brewpub we could get to easily, we decided just to stay put until it was time.  And so we waited.  And waited.  And waited.

For those of you who don't know me, I am one of the least patient people in the world when it comes to unnecessary waiting and lines.  I can lie prone on the ground for an hour to snap the perfect photograph and will gladly wait on a line for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try some amazingly rare beer...but if I'm sitting in traffic for absolutely no reason (you know those situations--the ones where you're sure there's been some horrific accident or a convoluted construction project occurring only to find that traffic finally opens up at the point where...nothing happened.  These are the moments that I abhor.)

Getting back on track here, I was starting to lose my cool not because there were a million people ahead of us but rather because there were few if any.  See, the problem with the wait wasn't an issue of quantity in terms of people--it was the fact that people weren't leaving their tables.  I understand the desire just to chill when you've got some prime real estate in a busy spot but usually that desire is stoked by a steady stream of food and drink making its way to and from said table.  No, no--not at Great Waters.  I watched at least three different people receive their checks, pay their checks, and then remain at the table as if glued to their seats!

I know this is the New Yorker in me rearing its ugly impatient head...but come on!  For crying out loud, you have a HUGE line of people waiting for those seats, why not muster up the cajones and politely ask those who have already finished their meals to skedaddle?  I'm not blaming the patrons because the onus really should be on the manager a) to be aware of the situation and b) to handle it accordingly.  Again, I'm sure this is my "Rush, rush, rush city mentality" clashing against the casual, laid-back, Midwestern way...but for over an hour I watched plate after plate of awesome-looking food and pint after pint of even better looking beer make its way past me.  What a tease!

Hungry, thirsty, and aggravated to the extreme, I finally had my name called and we sat down.  I pored over the beer list like an archaeologist examining some recently discovered relic from an ancient civilization.  Each beer sounded awesome and so when the waitress finally arrived (after another interminable wait), I asked for two samplers.

Here's where it got ugly.

"I'm sorry sir--the bartender is overwhelmed and said that he can't do samplers."

My jaw dropped.

"You're kidding me.  I have no problem waiting [ironic, I know] so I don't care how long it takes.  Would you mind telling him that."

She leaves and comes back.

"He says he's really sorry but this is all just too much."

I look around the room and see that it's packed.  And by packed, I mean Wednesday or Thursday night packed at a bar on 3rd Avenue or down on Stone Street.  Busy, certainly, but to the point only that you have to nudge yourself past the other patrons rather than claw your way through a claustrophobia-inducing crowd, fighting not just for every precious square inch of empty space but for the very breath to sustain your inebriated ass through one more shot.

I ask the waitress what's going on and she chuckles nervously.

"Gosh.  It's the Tim McGraw concert!  All these people decided to come here before heading up to the arena.  It's never been this crazy before!"

Again, I look around and shake my head.

Grumbling to myself that I could just as easily pour the damn four ounce samples myself, I order a pint of their oatmeal stout and sit petulantly, hoping silently that the beer would be god-awful and I could feel justified in hating this place (and Tim McGraw) for giving me such a shitty drinking and dining experience.  It arrives, I smell it, I taste it, and then I want to rage.  The beer was awesome.  I tried some of my wife's Maibock / Helles Bock and it too is phenomenal.

All I could think about as I choked down my delicious burger was what could have been.  How many more unforgettable beers could I have tried if not for that prick McGraw and the Great Waters' staff of nervous steed, overwhelmed by the sudden throng of people like a foal facing a violent thunderstorm?  It was like a beer drinker's version of blue balls and to this day I still can't help but think that I missed out on enjoying a great establishment to a much greater degree simply because country done come to town that day.


GRADING

Based upon the quality of the beer and the food, I have to give the Great Waters brewpub in St. Paul, Minnesota an A-.  Everything was stellar and it would have been a great spot to eat and drink at if not for the pandemonium that overtook the place.  So I definitely recommend checking it out...just not when there's a concert going on up the street!

BEERS SAMPLED

Black Watch (Oatmeal Stout)
Myna Bock (Maibock / Helles Bock)

For more information about the Great Waters Brewing Co. please visit their official website here...

...and to make sure you don't have the same experience I did, double-check Tim McGraw's tour schedule here!

Cheers!

--Matt

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery Review

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.

GRADING


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!

BEERS SAMPLED
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.

Cheers!

--Matt

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sprecher Brewing Company

Sprecher Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
I remember my visit to the Sprecher Brewery for three reasons: they offered an insane array of beers and products in their gift shop, it was the first place that I ever saw the bottle for the Mamma Mia Pizza Beer, and it was hands down the single worst tour experience I have ever had.  Unfortunately, of the three aforementioned things, the one that stands out most clearly in my mind is the lattermost.  To date, we have never had a more awful tour guide than the one we had here.

Before I get to the terrible aspects of our time at Sprecher, I'd like to hit up the finer, more positive points.  The facility itself is expansive and interesting and the sampling location has the feel of an old German beer hall to it.  The gift shop offers possibly the broadest range of souvenirs, beers, and soda that I've ever seen at a microbrewery.  In fact, the best part of the entire Sprecher experience was being able to take home a mixed case of craft brewed beer and gourmet soda, which allowed me to enjoy nearly a dozen additional Sprecher brews at my leisure.  The tour itself would have been enjoyable as well if not for the guide that we had.

I've encountered relatively few disappointments in terms of breweries, tours, and tour guides over the past few years.  Occasionally, I will encounter someone who is not as knowledgeable about the brewery or the beers as I would like or expect and even more rarely I will meet someone who is not enthusiastic enough about their job.  The tour guide that we had at Sprecher was hands-down the absolute worst brewery employee I had ever met.  He was rude to folks on the tour, answered more questions with a disinterested shrug of his shoulders than he did valuable verbal responses, seemed as detached as humanly possible from any degree of enjoyment for his job, and had flat-out the most inexcusably unprofessional attitude of anyone I've ever met in the world of beer.  The absolute nadir though was the way he openly berated customers in a few of his anecdotes with one gentleman who had placed a multi-hundred dollar order over the phone for one of Sprecher's products.  The tour guide referred to him as an idiot, called him crazy for spending that much money on popcorn, and had the gall to laugh at him and mock him with disdainful derision.  Straight up, this guy was a punk who was an abject, utter embarrassment to the Sprecher brand.

Looking past the guide, the tour itself was informative and fairly comprehensive.  We covered a good amount of ground throughout the brewing facility and were treated to a more-than-reasonable amount of beer samples at the end.  I enjoyed the diversity of beers available but found myself having a hard time really getting into the brews themselves, likely because of the aggravating experience I had just endured en route to receiving my pours.  It was interesting that Sprecher was contract brewing beers for Chameleon Brewing, which offered the chance to try an even greater assortment of styles.

Though I was satisfied with the quality of the beers that I tried both at the brewery and at home (I gave 14 out of the 17 Sprecher beers a B or better with 8 of those earning an A-, A, or A+) what really excited me was the quantity and variety that was available.  Amazingly, including the four Chameleon Brewing beers, I enjoyed twenty-one different styles!  A feat that, to my knowledge, has never been repeated with any other brewery.  Literally every beer of the nearly two-dozen I tried represented a different style!  My hands-down favorite was the Shakparo, which was touted as being a "Fire-Brewed African Style-Ale."  It was also one of if not the first gluten-free beers that I've tried and it is easily the best of those.

GRADING

I'm pretty confident that, at this point, the employee who conducted our tour is no longer with the company (how could he be if he puts down customers and fails to promote the brand in any way?) and as such I will proffer a grade based on everything else about my Sprecher experience.  The tour itself would likely be good if not great with another guide, the drinking area and quantity of samples are excellent, the gift shop offers an insane panoply of products for purchase, and, of course, the nearly unrivaled assortment of beers available to take home puts Sprecher a step above the competition.  Therefore, based primarily on the the latter factors, I give the Sprecher Brewing Company an A- and would recommend giving it a shot in the hopes that a better prepared, more mature tour guide will lead you around and introduce you to the Sprecher brand. 

BEERS SAMPLED (includes beer I took home)


Chameleon Brewing    
Witty    (Witbier)
Fire Light    (American Pale Lager)
Hop On Top    (American Pale Ale)
Ryediculous IPA    (American India Pale Ale)

Sprecher Brewing Company   
Russian Imperial Stout    (Russian Imperial Stout)
Irish Style Stout    (Irish Dry Stout)
Black Bavarian    (Schwarzbier)
Hefe-Weiss    (Hefeweizen)
Pub Brown Ale    (English Brown Ale)
25th Anniversary Kriek Lambic    (Lambic - Fruit)
El Rey Mexican Style Ale    (American Adjunct Lager)
IPA²    (American Double / Imperial India Pale Ale)
Summer Czech Style Pils    (Czech Pilsener)
Generation Porter    (American Porter)
Mai Bock    (Maibock / Helles Bock)
Shakparo (Fire-Brewed African Style-Ale)    (American Amber / Red Ale)
Special Amber    (Vienna Lager)
Winter Brew    (Bock)
Abbey Triple    (Tripel)
Belgian Style Dubbel   (Dubbel)



For more information about the Sprecher Brewing Company please visit their official website here.

Cheers!

--Matt