To begin: this is a post about tap rooms (mostly) within driving distance of the Twin Cities. Almost two years ago I did a series of posts on this topic. If you didn't that series, here are links to my first , second, third, fourth and fifth posts about the tap rooms I visited back then.
Taprooms included in those posts are:
Recap One (Stops in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Shakopee, Victoria and Waconia - all MN based brewers)
Enki, Waconia Brewing Company, Fulton, 612, Urban Growler, Indeed, Boom Island, Surly, Badger Hill, Sisyphus, and Tin Whiskers
Recap Two (Stops in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Shakopee, Hopkins, and Hudson - mostly MN based brewers and one WI)
American Sky, Tin Whiskers (revisit), Burning Brothers, Dangerous Man, Badger Hill (revisit), Sociable Cider Werks, and LTD
Recap Three (Stops all in the Duluth area of MN)
Bent Paddle, Castle Danger, Lake Superior, Fitger's, Canal Park, and Thirsty Pagan
Recap Four (Stops in Stillwater, St. Louis Park, Roseville, Minneapolis, Nisswa and Baxter - all MN based brewers)
Maple Island, Lift Bridge, Steel Toe, Bent, North Gate, Gull Dam, and Jack Pine
Recap Five (Stops in Minneapolis, Minnetonka and Buffalo - all MN based brewers)
Insight, Town Hall, Bauhaus Brew Labs, Lucid, and Hayes' Public House
I also did a couple of international stops to Heineken and Brewery I'J (Brouwerij't Ij) in Amsterdam and the Hofbrau House in Munich if you're curious about those (although they're not written in a true brewery recap format like this blog, since they're included in my Euro trip recaps).
Anyway! This post is essentially me getting back into the taproom groove. I mean, we just got through winter in Minnesota, after all. What the heck else are we going to do to keep busy during a season of sub zero temps and snow banks up to our nipples?
Ok, let's go!
Visited: Late July 2016 - just a month or so before I found out I was pregnant! Obviously a little late on this recap.
On Tap: 7 beers
Food: Nothing while we were there
Ambiance: This one is a little bit of a haul outside of the twin cities, and as such, you definitely get the small town vibe. Interestingly enough, they seem to have taken over what used to be the old Montgomery brewery ages ago. Kind of fun to see the place go back to it's roots.
Thoughts: I have to admit, my memory on this one is a little blurry since it's been over a year from my visit. Dang pregnancy running my taproom recaps (just kidding)! I do recall the staff was extremely friendly, and there was a lot of local pride - they even had a beer themed on their town festival, Kolache Days. LOL! While it's a bit of a drive, I do recall thinking I wouldn't mind going back, so I must have liked it ok enough.
East Lake Brewing
Visited: December 2016
On Tap: Multiple beers - many the same brew done in different ways (barrel aged, etc.)
Flights: I think so, but we went during happy hour so small taps were cheaper
*as you can see, even my son has become quite the connoisseur (kidding, kidding - no beer for kids)
Food: Connected to the Global Market, AKA food paradise. I was thrilled to be able to have Moroccan tagine chicken while I sipped on my beers, but literally a world of choices await you there so pick whatever is your liking.
Ambiance: Obviously space is an issue for this taproom - I'm sure being in the Global Market, rent wise, isn't cheap. Also, as you can see in the pic above, there's some sort of bowling alley theme going on that I didn't quite get ... since most of the beers seemed to be named after baseball stuff??? Not to mention the deer head, the disco ball, the "no lifeguard on duty" sign by the water cooler ... I don't know, and to be honest I didn't try that hard to try and figure it all out. Overall the taproom was what I'd say was "just fine", though a bit on the hipster side ... which I don't think you can avoid give the location in Minneapolis. Heh. Brewing operations appeared to be visible near the tap/bar area.
Thoughts: If you're looking to burn a day snacking on delicious foods and tasting beers, this is the place to do it. I'd surely be happy to bring some non-local friends here to show off a more unique local offering in terms of the global market feel. The staff was friendly enough, and HUGE BONUS POINTS for having not only height chairs, but height chairs that are tall enough to be at bar stool height. (Ah, the things you appreciate when you have a kid, no?!) The beers, though, were somewhat unremarkable to me. I don't forsee myself hurrying back for another taste any time soon.
Brau Brothers Brewing
Visited: January 2017
On Tap: Endless beers! We shared three flights and still didn't get them all! Boo-hoo-hoo!
*Yes that's S'mores beer right there. And dammit - I'm hooked. Why do they have to be so far away?!
Food: Um ... yes, and it was so delicious I didn't remember to take a picture until I was halfway through eating! (Full service restaurant in house)
Ambiance: While the outside leaves something to be desired (being in a small town strip mall doesn't exactly scream "curb appeal"), once you step foot inside this tap room you won't be disappointed. Nicely decorated and with plenty of room to spare, this place is amazing! I particularly liked how they ran the tap through an old school fire engine, and the floor to celling windows that provided views into both the bottling line and the brewing areas. Oh ... and I couldn't help but love how the self proclaimed "Brau Bros Dad" was proudly sipping a brew at the bar, bragging to another local who was checking the place out that his "sons ran this place" - so proud, so cute.
Thoughts: This small town brewery is a bit of a haul from the cities - I think it took us about 2 hours to get there (one way). And I have to admit, after driving through multiple corn fields and cattle grazing areas to get there, I thought ... this place won't amount to much. HOWEVER, once I got there I was blown away; their beers are excellent and definitely make it worth a trip! If you have a random day to burn and want something fun to do, I recommend this place. As an added advantage, they have a fully functional restaurant and make some of their own smoked/cured meats in house, so the food is quite good.
Visited: Fe"brew"ary 2017
On Tap: Quite a list for a newly opened location - I think about a dozen when we arrived
Flights: No, so we shared small pours of about 4-5 beers
Food: There appeared to be a couple of sandwich options, but we didn't purchase
Ambiance: This small town brewer has done a great job on their taproom, especially when you consider the location was a "plan B" choice (their first choice location was to be in the old Jordan Brewery, which suffered massive damages during spring flooding about a year prior to their opening). They even have an outdoor patio, which surprisingly was full in February during an unseasonably warm spell. My only wish was that they had height chairs ... as you can tell, my little boy was not a fan of the bar stools. *snicker*
Thoughts: Since my son was a little fussy the day we visited this taproom, our experience was rushed and we didn't get much time to enjoy the beers. From what little we tasted, the beer was surprisingly good - especially considering the remote location of this taproom and it being newly opened. The staff was incredibly friendly as well. I look forward to getting back there again soon.
Visited: March 2017
On Tap: A very lucky 13 options to choose from, plus lemonade, root beer and kombucha as well
Flights: Yes, but "this isn't an airport, so we call them tracks" **LOL**
Food: Nothing while we were there
Ambiance: What came first - the brewery name or the brewery location? Since the location of this taproom is in the old train depot in Brainerd, MN, I wonder if they chose their name based on their location or what?! LOL! Being in the depot creates a unique atmosphere with an old timey feel, which you can see they take advantage of in regards to how they choose to decorate as well.
Thoughts: I'm loving the growth of taprooms all over MN, and I think this is a great addition to the existing offerings in the Brainerd area. While their beers aren't as good as Jack Pine, this taproom has a distinct advantage when it comes to atmosphere and space - meaning that they have plenty of room to encourage hanging out and enjoying beer, and they encourage you to stay with various board games, corn hole, and giant jenga. (Though, side note: I did hear Jack Pine is getting a major taproom location upgrade soon). The staff is also tremendously friendly.
Visited: March 2017
On Tap: Maybe 9-10? More on this below ...
Flights: Yes, if you want are willing to wait for them to get around to serving you
Food: Nothing while we were there ... despite the website clearly noting they were serving burgers and other food options. This was a huge problem as we ended our day here anticipating we'd have dinner with our beer, and had three hungry kids in tow. To the owners: if you are advertising a kitchen as offering food online (yep - just checked - still advertising as open), but you are actually so understaffed with employees that the kitchen is continually closed, plus that entire area of the taproom isn't even being assisted by staff at all ... then update your web page. It isn't that hard, folks. FYI - This is how unattentive the staff was: I actually walked into the kitchen prep area and took a plastic pint glass because I couldn't get staff to help me in the main taproom area, and I needed the cup in order to deal with a screaming 10 month old ... who I was originally anticipating I'd be able to accommodate via their supposedly open kitchen. Makes you question who else has messed around in there, and how sanitary the kitchen is after all those hands have touched things ...
Ambiance: This taproom is crammed into a space that isn't even fit for an ice cream shop. When we arrived, a party of maybe 8-10 adults were in the main taproom area, which was so overcrowded that I never even got to really see what it looked like. Since we sat in the restaurant side of the taproom, which had no staff and wasn't even being monitored by anyone, I wasn't impressed. At all. (You know the ambiance is bad when a bachelor/ette party comes in, and the girls ditch out before the party could even sit down ... and the guys leave after drinking one pint as fast as they can ... all the while complaining that the taproom didn't at all live up to the expectations they had based on their website). The below photos of inside the taproom were lifted from Google, and I'm telling you ... they make the taproom look much bigger than it is.
Thoughts: While I'm loving the growth of taprooms all over MN ... the sad fact is that some people are starting taprooms for the wrong reasons. Big Axe is one of those "wrong reasons" kinds of places. You can tell the owners aren't really interested in celebrating beers, and are just running the place for a quick buck. Their beers are sub par, they clearly aren't interested in telling you about them (staff isn't educated / no description cards or menus are available), and you can hardly even find a staff person to pour you anything to begin with - it probably doesn't help that they're half focused on their own children, who are running all over the taproom/outside with giant sticks in their hands, screaming and yelling. To be fair, I'm willing to bear with a taproom that has these kinds of challenges when they are new. But, this place has been open for over a year (close to two in fact, if I recall correctly), and yet they don't have any kind of quality of service down ... if you can consider simply pouring a beer service at all. In fact, if anything, they've gotten worse since they've opened, as my sister said they at least had food available when she went there at the grand opening oh so long ago. In the end, I'm amazed they're still open ... though their ongoing "we're hiring" posts online/Facebook may be indicative of their situation.
Now that I've been to most of the tap rooms in the Twin Cities, what do I think?
Well, my top picks still haven't changed much ... though I think I'd swap Roets into the "sampling many varieties" since it's not a terrible drive from the metro area. And FYI - I still find myself going to Dangerous Man on a regular rotation, so that's likely my favorite overall (*ahem* chocolate peanut butter porter *ahem*) .
(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, Bauhaus Brew Labs, Dangerous Man
Best places for sampling many varieties (via flights) in one day
Boom Island, Roets, 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