Friday, March 13, 2015

What I Did Before Spring Break (AKA - Gettin' Drunk, Part Four)

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

Be forewarned.


To begin: this is a post about tap rooms within driving distance of the Twin Cities.  If you didn't read my first , second or third posts about the tap rooms I have visited, go there to get caught up ... since this is just a continuation of that story line, you'll want to start there. 

Taprooms included in those posts are:

Recap One
Enki - Victoria, MN
Waconia Brewing Company - Waconia, MN
Fulton - Minneapolis, MN
612 - Minneapolis, MN
Urban Growler - St. Paul, MN
Indeed - Minneapolis, MN
Boom Island - Minneapolis, MN
Surly - St. Paul, MN
Badger Hill - Shakopee, MN
Sisyphus - Minneapolis, MN
Tin Whiskers - St. Paul, MN

Recap Two
American Sky - Hudson, WI
Tin Whiskers (revisit) - St. Paul, MN
Burning Brothers - St. Paul, MN
Dangerous Man - Minneapolis, MN
Badger Hill (revisit) - Shakopee, MN
Sociable Cider Werks - Minneapolis, MN
LTD - Hopkins, MN

Recap Three - all in the Duluth area
Bent Paddle
Castle Danger
Lake Superior
Canal Park
Thirsty Pagan

This post includes my fourth round of taproom visits leading up to spring break, with some venturing near Brainerd, MN to explore what the great white north has to offer as well.

All caught up?  Ok, let's go!


Maple Island
Stillwater, MN
Visited: Random Friday during office hours in January, just for fun
On Tap: 9 beers
Flights: Yes
I also liked the quote on the back of the cup:
"What kind of flight is this without a pilot?!"
Food: There's a popcorn machine by the gear for sale.  We actually stopped for lunch at the British pub across the street, which had fantastic food ... although slow service.  I'd still recommend them if you're looking for a meal, though.
Ambiance: Maple Island is in a beautiful storefront in downtown Stillwater, with a view of the river out their back door.  Inside there is ample seating, including a loft area, and they have cool "chandeliers".  Brewery operations aren't glaringly visible from the tap room.
Thoughts: The beers here, to me, didn't particularly stand out.  Plus, the one I was most excited to try based on their website and Facebook feed, the ice cream stout, had been taken off tap the previous weekend to be saved for their "Valentine's Dinner" ... which the staff reminded us about at least 5 times.  (Hello - I'm not from the area, and I am not interested in your Valentine's Dinner, thanks.)  And yes, I was a little annoyed they took the most interesting beer off tap and didn't at least update their info online.  Anyway ... if I had driven all the way to Stillwater from the SW Metro just for this, I would have been a bit disappointed.  But, since I was in the area for a couple of errands and another tap room stop, it was fun to stop by and check it out. 

Lift Bridge
Stillwater, MN
Visited: Random Friday during office hours in January, just for fun
On Tap: 10 beers
Flights: Yes
I especially liked that one flight's board was shaped like a growler.  :-)
Food: Nothing while we were there.
Ambiance: The tap room at Lift Bridge reminded me somewhat of the olden days when I'd hit up the Leine's Lodge for free beer a tour on my way to/from college at UW-Madison.  The inside had a rustic, log cabin / picnic feel.  Brewery operations were visible through windows in the tap room, which is where we sat during our visit.  I also got a particular kick out of the bathroom décor, as you can see in the photos below.


Whoops!  Someone in the brewery area 
forgot to follow the door's written rules: keep door shut.
Thoughts: The beers at Lift Bridge made our trip to Stillwater worth it - they were good.  I also enjoyed the overall feel here: friendly staff, laid back atmosphere, good times.  If I lived closer, I could see myself stopping by again.  Too bad it's a good hour's drive from my house.

**Side note: I did stop at American Sky in Hudson, WI again while we were out in Stillwater.  It seemed to make sense, as we had an empty growler to return and it wasn't too far from Lift Bridge and Maple Island.  I have to say my experience there the second time was much different.  The staff working were kind of dicks, actually laughing in my face when I asked if I could get my deposit back on my growler.  How was I supposed to know that's not how their particular brewery works?!  Every place I go has different rules on the "deposit".  Anyway, mad with how they treated me, I left the empty growler on the counter and just walked out rather than hang around and continue to be a patron.  After my interactions there the second time, my thoughts on them have severely soured.  I wouldn't' ever go back.

Steel Toe
St. Louis Park, MN
Visited: Early February
On Tap: 10 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Nothing while we were there, despite a food truck being noted on their website - d'oh!  We ended up leaving earlier than planned so we could go find lunch somewhere else.
Ambiance: Steel Toe is probably one of the smaller tap rooms I've been to on my journeys.  It's a good thing we went there right when they opened on a Saturday morning because I would have been claustrophobic had the bar time crowd been there to fill the place.  The décor was industrial, fitting well with their "steel" name.  Brewing operations were visible through a service door towards the back of the tap room.
Thoughts: Having checked off the big boy tap rooms in the twin cities, I'm starting to get into the suburbs more.  It's fun to see some of these places, but ... I dunno.  Sometimes I feel like these random breweries are popping up simply to ride the wave of the new tap room trend.  Don't get me wrong, Steel Toe had good beers.  Just not a great space for a tap room.  But maybe I'm just spoiled by the open spaces of Badger Hill, Tin Whiskers, Dangerous Man, 612, and the like...?

**Side note: The day of Steel Toe, we also headed back again to Badger Hill to take the brewery tour.  It was a kick!!  Brent, from Badger Hill (not my husband Brent), lead the tour and was super funny and friendly.  If you're a brewery geek, the unique water filtration system there would spark your interest.  Tours are free, so if you're visiting Badger Hill for a beer anyway, I'd highly recommend you try to get signed up for one.

Bent Brewstillery
Roseville, MN
Visited: Late February
On Tap: 6 beers, one of which was served like a wine and tasted like orange blossom
Flights: Yes
Food: Nothing while we were there, but they did have free bags of chips and pretzels!!
Ambiance: Bent Brewstillery ... wow, what can I say?  Is this a brewery, a distillery, a Norsk themed tap room, a metal junk pile ... ?  I think this place suffers from ADD.  First off, the name hints at a brewery and distillery, but there was nothing via the distillery to sample on tap.  Second, the tap room was some sort of odd mish-mash of British pub and industrial warehouse feeling décor, with random throw-ins like wrought iron prison bars, and old timey piano and ... wait for it ... a large TV reception antenna (like the kind you would put on top of your house back in the day), which was hung on the wall.  I didn't get any of it, and found myself dazed and confused.
Thoughts: Of all the tap rooms we've been to, we were here the longest.  Not because it was particularly nice, but simply because we were hard at work planning an upcoming vacation which ended up taking over 4 hours to do.  And it's a good thing we were in no hurry to get refills or leave, as the staff was exceedingly slow (I literally stood in line for 20 minutes, behind two other people, to get two pints after we finished our flight).  The beers were fine, but the environment and staff were not something that would justify me in recommending this place.

North Gate
Minneapolis, MN
Visited: March 1st
On Tap: 6 beers
Flights: Yes
And another cute saying on the back, too!
Food: Nothing while we were there, but they do have rotating food trucks on occasion
Ambiance: When I pulled up to this place, I was thinking "wah-wah" (plus sad clown whistle).  The outside of the building looks like an old school office space wasteland.  But once inside ... now this is what a tap room should be like!!  To me, it felt like a British pub from the 70's.  Dark wood, tall back booths, a "water closet" and a foosball table (that was being heartily abused by a group of guys, one with a very impressive black & blue mohawk I couldn't stop admiring).  Darth Vader appeared to be their tap room mascot, and on that day was holding a dating get to know me card that read "Likes: (1) Dark side (2) Cats".  Brewing operations aren't readily visible, but I believe you could see them if you peeked through the doorways over by the bar. 
Thoughts: This place has the kind of laid back vibe I love.  Plus, the people running the tap WANT you to try their beer, unlike some places that serve your flight with a snarl.  (Look, I know they're a pain in the ass to fill, but I want to try all your beers if I'm there for the first time!!)  While the offerings were neither flashy or fancy, IE no fruits or odd infusions, what we got was good and drinkable.  I definitely see myself heading back that way some day.

Gull Dam
Nisswa, MN
(near Brainerd)
Visited: Early March
On Tap: 7 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: A BBQ joint was offering a handful of options while we were there, and there's a rotating schedule of other food people on the schedule posted in the tap room
Ambiance: This place definitely capitalizes on it's "MN Up Nord'th" roots, and the old timey mill cabin look outside is super cute.  Inside, you'll find a spacious, industrial looking space which features it's brewing operations front and center and a small bar and gift area off to one side.
Thoughts: I liked this place, the staff was friendly and the tap room area was comfortable to hang out in (as opposed to the cramped feeling you can get in some of the smaller tap rooms).  Plus, I appreciated that they had a sense of humor about their name - "I just need a Gull Dam beer" was printed on many of their shirts.  I think this is a great addition to the Nisswa area.

Jack Pine
Baxter, MN
 (near Brainerd)
Visited: Early March
On Tap: 10 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Nothing while we were there
Ambiance: Located in a mixed use development, in a more industrial area of Baxter, this brewery made me feel like I was back in the twin cities again ... since the vast majority I've been to have been in similar settings.  I swear the brewing industry in MN is conspiring to take over every odd warehouse space available state wide, ha!  Anyway, as you can see in the photos below, this tap room was a bit more limited space wise, but they did a great job with what they had; even their bathroom was well decorated (the photo with the yellow background below).  Brewery operations were visible just off the seating area of the tap room.
Thoughts: If you're in the Brainerd area and looking for a tap room, despite this being the smaller location, I would actually recommend this place over Gull Dam.  The brewers here definitely know what they're doing, and they even had a Jalapeno beer that was absolutely fantastic!  Although, if you have time, I would recommend hitting both and ending here so you can enjoy their beer longer.  Speaking of enjoying longer ... I may have enjoyed here a little too long, as I started talking a big too loudly just before we decided to go.  Well, that and ... then there was this:
I dunno.  Don't ask.


Now that I've been to more locations, how would I amend my previous summary? 

(Note: I am leaving out any non-Twin Cities metro breweries in this summary due to convenience of commute.)

Top three spots overall
   Tin Whiskers, Badger Hill, Dangerous Man

Best places for sampling many varieties (via flights) in one day
   Boom Island, LTD, Lift Bridge

Places where I could definitely burn an afternoon playing Connect 4 (or Cards Against Humanity)
   Sisyphus, North Gate, Badger Hill

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

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