Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What I Did Over Winter Break (AKA - Gettin' Drunk)

Today's post is going to veer very far off the course of healthy lifestyle info.

Be forewarned.


To begin: let's just call this post - what I did over winter break, the gettin' drunk edition.

Hey, at least I work out when I drink too.
That empty keg weighed 30 lbs!!

To get you up to speed, a little lesson in Minnesota Booze Law 101. 

In case you didn't know, Minnesota is stuck in 1891.  We don't allow liquor sales on Sundays.  And, up until the last two or three years, we also didn't allow liquor producers to distribute direct to consumer ... which meant popular local breweries like Summit, Surly and others were unable to have in house "tap rooms" where consumers could come, purchase a pint, and hang out for awhile as they enjoyed the craft and culture of their favorite local brewery.

But, good news!  In the last two years, there was a huge culture shift in regards to tap rooms in Minnesota. 


Well, local brewery Surly, who has developed an almost cult like following in the last 5+ years, has been booming.  So much so that they had developed huge plans a few years ago, and I mean HUGE plans, to open a new facility.  AND, they wanted to include a tap room. 

Minnesota lawmakers said no.  So Surly said - OK, fine.  We'll move our huge new facility and all the accompanying jobs across the border to Wisconsin where we can have one.

Minnesota politicians didn't like the sound of that too much.

Long story short, yadda-yadda-yadda, tap rooms in Minnesota are suddenly legal.  Boom!  Interesting how politics works, huh?

Anyway, given this major change, now there are TONS of tap rooms in Minnesota to go check out.  Which is pretty much what I've been doing on any weekend lately where I don't have plans and want something to do that will fill an afternoon.  So, to document my booze hounding over the holiday season, below is my summary of all the tap rooms I hit from Late November through Early January.  They are in order of visit, from first to last.


Oh, and just play nice when I bemoan my beer belly for the next month or two as I work it off...


Enki Brewing
Victoria, MN
Visited: Late November
On Tap: approximately 6 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Yes, edited menu available from Victoria House Restaurant next door
Ambiance: Located in a small brick building just off the Lake Minnetonka LRT bike trail in Victoria, Enki is very likely one of the smallest (physically) sized taprooms on this list.  Seating indoors is snug, and is really only about 3 times the size of the photo you see below.  Brewing operations are not easily visible from taproom.

Thoughts: The beers at Enki were fun to try, but I don't see myself rushing back there any time soon - the beers didn't stand out as something special (at least to my IPA favored pallet), and I didn't really get much of a friendly vibe from the guy who served us our beers / he didn't do much to educate us on what we were served (maybe the Vikings game on TV was distracting him too much). 

Waconia Brewing Company
Waconia, MN
Visited: Late November
On Tap: approximately 8 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Not when we visited, but it appears they may occasionally have a food truck now
Ambiance: This brewery is built in what appears to be an unassuming strip mall/office space, and I have to say, they've done a wonderful job inside to make it less "sterile" (as some buildings like this can be).  The rustic feel of the furnishings and the fireplace are great!  Also, brewing operations are visible through floor to ceiling glass walls from taproom.
Thoughts: Like Enki, the beers at Waconia were fun to try, but I don't see myself heading back there any time soon.  The service was good and friendly, if not a little reserved (I would have preferred a little more education about my beers, but no complaints), and the overall environment was spacious and welcoming.  However, I could definitely see myself stopping by if I was wrapping up a day on the lake and seeking some refreshment.

Minneapolis, MN
Visited: Late November
On Tap: approximately 10 beers
Flights: Not that I saw when I went :-(
Food: There's usually a food truck parked out front, rotating
Ambiance: Located in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, walking distance from the Twins stadium, this tap room ends up feeling more sports bar than small brewery - good thing, as they have plenty of space for all those passers by on the way to the game.  Overall this place is lots of fun and has a great casual atmosphere that hints at what a German beer hall might feel like.  Brewing operations are visible through small side windows in the taproom, or you can take the "tour" (more a lecture than a tour, but still interesting).

Thoughts: Fulton is actually one of my personal favorite beers, so although it's disappointing that they don't appear to offer flights like other tap rooms in the area ... well ... let's just say I don't have a hard time with "having" to sample a full sized beer there.  Also, I love the passion their staff has for their craft - ask them anything about the beers on the menu, and they'll be able to tell you about it.  And, although I haven't seen the owners there to talk up the beers (I'll comment more on this below), I did get a "tour" from one of the founder's dads, so that was kind of fun.

612 Brew
NE Minneapolis, MN
Visited: Early December
On Tap: approximately 6 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Whoops, I forget!  I think not at this one...?
Ambiance: Of all the places I went on this list, I think this was my favorite place décor wise.  I mean, how could you not love that mural inside, bright red smoke stack outside ... and a women's bathroom with hot pink and silver camo wall paper?!  The atmosphere is very warm and welcoming, not to mention there is room for a small army of people as well.  Brewing operations are tucked into the back corner of the joint.

Thoughts: This place has a great vibe and pretty good beers.  If I had company and was looking to entertain them and burn an afternoon, I would definitely have this place on my list.  My only worry is that the crowd here might turn into what it is at Indeed (more on this below), and that's definitely not my vibe.  Also, I don't know that any of the staff was fully invested in the passion of beer, so I missed that a little.

Urban Growler
St. Paul, MN
Visited: December
On Tap: approximately 8 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Yes!  And unlike most on this list, it is made in house
Ambiance: While the location is interesting and spacious, the overall feeling I got here was "CAUTION: work in progress".  Lots of temporary folding chairs/tables, and even caution tape serving as a stanchions separating patrons from brewing areas made for a messy and haphazard look.  Plus, it felt like the tables next to you were on top of you.  I wasn't a fan.
Thoughts: I guess the claim to fame here is that this is a woman owned business.  I hate to say it, though ... I won't be back.  Sorry girls.  I felt like a sardine in a can, and I really hate that feeling.  Plus, many of the beers seemed "trendy" instead of good (IE pumpkin, cranberry), and also tasted a little chemical-ish to me (although my husband didn't seem to taste it, so maybe it was just me).  Even coming here was actually a mistake on my part - I was hoping to hit up Bang Brewing out front, but they didn't open for two hours so we killed an hour here instead.  However, if you're out this way for Bang and want to try a few more beers, don't hesitate to at least stop in.

Minneapolis, MN
Visited: Late December
On Tap: approximately 8 beers
Flights: No :-(
Food: Food truck adjacent to taproom
Ambiance: Another old warehouse turn taproom!  This taproom is kind of neat and feels like an old school pub with lots of wood and old furniture... assuming you can get inside to see it.  Unfortunately, this place is often so packed that you can't get IN to the taproom very easily.  Fortunately, the gift store also sells pints, so at least you can kill the time that way.  Brewing operations are not easily visible from taproom.

Thoughts: I'm not a fan of being herded from place to place as I wait to "get in" somewhere that (1) doesn't accept reservations and (2) isn't a restaurant.  And then, despite the hullabaloo to get in - no flights?!  Yes, I could order 10 ouncers of some of the beers, but who knows if I really want to drink 10 ounces of some random infusion beer or sour batch?  Not to mention no one seemed to know or care about what they were serving me - that or they're just too busy to explain it to me since there are 50 others behind me waiting for a refill.  Despite it's flaws, though, this place had lots of interesting AND good beers - sweet potato beer, anyone?  (And yes, it was good).  In the end, it was fun to try this place, but now that I know what to expect, I'll settle for buying the beer and drinking at home.

Boom Island
Minneapolis, MN
Visited: Late December (same day as Indeed, above)
On Tap: approximately 8 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Nothing connected with the tap room
Ambiance: Expect to circle past this place once or twice, as the store front is very small.  Once you realize you've found it, and enter in the back entrance, you'll find an open and industrial space that emphasizes the brewery equipment over all other décor.  This tap room was very different from anything else I'd been to ... and that's saying something now that I've stopped at 11 different places. 

Thoughts: Something happened here that I had yet to experience in any of the previous places ... the owner was serving us our flights (guy in photo above).  It was a lot of fun to talk to him about his beers and feel his passion for what he makes ... even if some of what he said became a little blurry as I faded into the buzz that was two beer stops and no dinner in my belly.  (I may or may not have yelled "Do you smell what the Rock is cookin'?" when we started to pack up to leave for dinner.  Yeah.  Not my proudest night of conduct.)  If I was bringing some friends on a beer tour of Minneapolis, this would definitely be on my list.  The beer was good and the service great.  With the proud owner right there talking us through our flight, I couldn't ask for more.

Surly (New $30M Facility)
St. Paul, MN
Visited: Late December
On Tap: I don't know, I was overwhelmed by the 120 tap handles throughout the place
Flights: No :-(
Food: Full scale restaurant inside with hostess seating ... make reservations if you can! 
Ambiance: Surly is a big boy in the craft brewing industry and it shows.  This new place is MASSIVE.  On the main floor is the gift store, primary beer hall with food service (and yes, you must see hostess for seating), restrooms and floor to ceiling/2nd floor ceiling windows showcasing both the brewery and the outdoor patio.  On the second floor are two different rental hall type areas with doors that close off to allow for different events to occur simultaneously, another walk up bar, more restrooms, a huge balcony patio, and even more glassed in views of the brewery.  It is almost enough to make your head spin ... or at least make you want to pause and refresh yourself by warming your mitts at the fire "bowl" at the front door.

Thoughts: If you're looking for the full package - IE a meal out and a few good beers to go with it, this is your place.  Prices here were more expensive than any other tap room on the list, though ... but I guess they have to pay for the $30M investment somehow.  Oh, and don't expect any kind of staff narrative on your beer, which by the way is extremely full of hops (which I LOVE, but you may not).  This place is much too packed to have that kind of one on one interaction.

Badger Hill
Shakopee, MN
Visited: Late December (same day as Surly, above)
On Tap: approximately 7 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Nothing connected with the tap room
Ambiance: From the outside, this industrial wasteland location looks like it won't be much ... and maybe even noisy, due to the Valley Fair roller coasters just across the street.  From the inside, wow!  White subway tiles, floor to ceiling windows into the brewery, ample space and even blackboard walls in the restrooms (chalk provided to write your own note) ... the décor here is great!  Plus, if the guy below with the beer is around, his dog is likely to be there too.  So, free entertainment!!

Thoughts: The two folks pictured above really sealed the deal for me here.  Not only was the tap room itself modern, clean and well furnished - both of these folks loved their beer, and you KNEW it.  Plus, the guy had just opened a fresh keg of a new beer and was pouring free samples.  Free beer?  Heart won!  (Well, and the beers were all excellent, so that helped too.)

Minneapolis, MN
Visited: January
On Tap: approximately 4 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Nothing connected with the tap room
Ambiance: This tap room is within walking distance of Loring Park and the Walker Art Museum, so the trendy hipster vibe is strong.  But the laid back feel is stronger.  Maybe their location in the arts district is why their secondary logo is so cool?!  Brewing operations are not easily visible from taproom.  But, the in house dog with "fort" to sleep in under tap counter makes up for it.

Thoughts: Beers here were malty and sweet, despite some having rather high IBUs.  However, my IPA pallet didn't mind the sweetness, as they were all pretty good.  I also liked that the owners basically ran the place.  And, they truly care about beer feedback - I noticed in googling later that he engaged in some rather harsh forums with extreme kindness and really appreciated the honest feedback to help him shape his beer in the future.

Tin Whiskers
St. Paul, MN
Visited: January
On Tap: approximately 8 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Nothing connected with the tap room
Ambiance: Hidden in what appears to be an office complex, I wasn't expecting much from this place.  Man did I get a surprise.  In keeping with the robotics / engineering theme of their company name and logo, there were robots, microchips and sleek lines everywhere.

Thoughts: Maybe it's the robot logo.  Maybe it's because this is the most recent brewery in my memory.  Maybe it was the honey chamomile beer.  I don't know what it was, but there was something about this place that I liked ... or even loved.  I dare say it may have been my favorite stop on the list.  Every beer I tried here I liked, even the light wheat one that I figured I'd just say meh about (Wheatstone Bridge).  And although the staff didn't talk your ear off with details, they were friendly and fast.  Even though I've been here already, I definitely think I'll be going back.


In summary?

Top three spots overall
   Tin Whiskers, Badger Hill, Boom Island

Best places for sampling many varieties (via flights) in one day
   612, Boom Island, Tin Whiskers

Places where I could definitely burn an afternoon playing Connect 4
   Sisyphus, 612, Tin Whiskers

Best beers to buy for at home (and avoid the crowds)
   Fulton, Indeed, Surly


Now my problem is ... do I break the cycle and stop visiting tap rooms, or make it a goal to see the rest in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas?!


  1. Woo hoo! I literally laughed out loud when I read about how Sunday libations suddenly worked out when there was threat of jobs being moved to Wisconsin instead. HEAVEN FORBID!!!!

    I vote that you make it a goal to see the rest of the tap rooms in the TC and surrounding areas. =)

    1. LOL! I wish! Sunday is still being discussed. Only tap rooms were allowed so far. But it seems like Sunday is still hotly being debated, so maybe soon... fingers crossed. (Yes, it is SUPER dumb).

      Wahoo! A vote to keep me a lush. Let's do it!