Yesterday, I talked about the first two of four breweries that my wife and I hit over our weekend up north. Both Jack Pine and Big Axe were great places, and I loved visiting them. As we continued our trip we next stopped at one of the best known breweries in this area, Gull Dam Brewing.
Gull Dam Brewing
Many beer lovers in the metro have heard of Gull Dam Brewing from billboards and social media. They’ve got a great name, and were one of the earliest and biggest breweries up in that neck of the woods. Their site lists them as a brewery and event center, so right up front you know you’re heading to something different than just a hole in the wall. My wife and I pulled into the parking lot and were greeted with a wonderful outdoor space with a stage and firepit. We headed inside to a spacious warehouse area with big long tables and high-tops.
When we walked in the door we noticed that a food vendor had set up inside, and we took the opportunity to order up some yummy nachos. While my wife dealt with that, I got myself a flight, which was served in a cute muffin tin. It’s important to note, that Gull Dam is aiming to please a different audience than the other breweries. It’s obvious from their beer styles and event atmosphere, that they’re looking to cater to the lake-vacationer crowd. All of the beer was targeted towards more casual beer drinkers, and leaned more towards summer. They even had a Helles that they listed as a light lager to appeal to a non-craft crowd.
Having said that, I can’t complain about any of the beers that I drank. The Helles was nice and refreshing and the Scotch Ale was what I was expecting. The IPA was a slight bit strong for my tastes, but none of the beers had any brewing flaws in them. They were all really well done, and good examples of the styles that they represented. It may sound like I’m disappointed, but in reality I’m very pleased that someone up north is trying to do what they can to ease people into the craft beer scene. Maybe someone comes in thinking that they just want a light beer, but you get them to try something a bit more daring, like a hemp lager. Maybe that’s enough to get them to try something else new, and so on, and so on. You’ve just exposed them to some really good beer, without overwhelming them with crazy spices and odd styles.
For what they are trying to be, Gull Dam does a great job. In fact, their environment is great, and I could see spending entire evenings out on their patio space in the summer time. Throw in some live entertainment and a beautiful summer night, and they’ve got most small taprooms beat for environment. They’re worth a visit, and worth supporting, and I’m glad I was able to make them a stop on our trip.
The final stop on our trip was on Saturday night, over on the east side of Brainerd. Roundhouse Brewery is built in some old buildings that comprised a railroad roundhouse complex. As soon as you walk up to the building you see that you’re about to step into something historical. We had the added benefit of a beautiful snowfall making the entire night feel magical.
We entered the space and were met with the sound of two guys playing and singing off in the corner. The group Dos Guys were entertaining the crowd for the evening, and it was delightful to listen to some great cover tracks by a couple guys with great voices. I ordered up a flight again, and started digging in. As I was working through the flight, some other folks were working on a giant jenga game that eventually became a source of entertainment the closer they got to the taproom record height (they didn’t break the record though).
One of the big standout beers for me (and one that I brought home) was their Pump Cart Pumpkin Ale. It might seem a bit out of season, but it was still a really great beer. The spice mixture was spot on, making the entire beer smell and taste like a gingersnap cookie. It’s felt like Fall around here lately, despite being February, and so a nice Fall beer was rather delightful.
Another real standout beer was their Old Betsy Brown Ale. This was a northern English style brown ale, which isn’t nearly as common as the American counterpart. I was elated to taste a REALLY good example of a northern brown, and thoroughly enjoyed that beer. It was malty and earthy in just the right way to scream English ale.
Overall, the beers were very well done with no flaws or issues. The space was also perfect for a taproom. It was open and inviting with lots of exposed brick and timber. There was lots of seating, and the space seemed to carry the noise well. The entire environment screamed “relax” and it made the entire evening happy and enjoyable. We were able to enjoy some good beer, in an inviting space, on a beautiful night. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend hitting Roundhouse if you’re in the area, as it’s a great place, with good beer.
I can’t emphasize how happy I was with the quality of beer that I had this weekend. Everyplace that I went had good quality product, with no flaws. This is a testament to how far the brewing industry in Minnesota has come in the past 5 years. A small vacation town in northern Minnesota is able to support 4, year-round, breweries with high quality standards. This is no small feat, and I would encourage anyone who wants some good craft beer to check out what Brainerd has to offer. You won’t be sorry!
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