Take 16 Brewing

Blue Mounds State Park, where we were camping, is only a few miles away from the town of Luverne, MN. As the craft beer boom continues to explode around Minnesota, small towns are getting in on the action by creating local breweries that highlight really good beer for an audience that might not have experienced creative craft beer before. In Luverne this is being done by Take 16 Brewing.

On Saturday we headed into town for a nice dinner, and a visit to Take 16. It’s just down main street, and easy to find. Take 16 is still in the growler shop phase of their brewery, meaning that they do not have a proper taproom yet. It’s coming soon, and we saw the space where it was under construction, but for now you can just get samples, purchase a beer ticket for a glass, or buy growlers and half-growlers (grumblers as they call them).

We arrived before dinner and were greeted by a gentleman who was on the board of directors for the brewery. He started pouring sample cups for me so I could decide on which grumblers I wanted to take home, while telling me about how he got involved in the brewery, and plans for the new taproom. It’s was really great to talk to someone who was passionate about seeing a small town brewery take off and really give the area something to be proud of.

I got to sample all 6 of the beers that they had on tap, and there were a couple really nice standouts. First, the Sundown Nut Brown was my all time favorite of the bunch. It was a perfect example of a nut brown ale with a great malt body and low hop character. It was smooth, just like a non-American brown should be, and went down nice and easy.

My second favorite was the Hayloft hefeweizen. I love a good banana and clove hefe and this was one of them. The clove character came through wonderfully, and made this an incredibly tasty beer. It was the kind of beer that I would want to drink on a nice summer day, sitting on a patio; smooth and refreshing in all the right ways.

All of the other entries from Take 16 were solid as well. Since they were well represented in town, I decided to forgo the beer ticket, and get a pint with dinner at a local cafe. I also brought home a couple grumblers, and have already shared one with some friends, who also enjoyed it. All in all, a really great visit to a nice small town brewery. I love seeing small towns get in on the craft beer scene and spread the love of craft beer. There’s limited shelf space for breweries, so establishing destination taprooms is key. Having that neighborhood place where people meet up and hang out is a part of the craft beer culture, as much as the beer itself. Take 16 Brewing is doing just that for Luverne and the craft beer scene. IMG_1112.jpg

Roets Jordan Brewery

This past weekend the wife and I spent the weekend camping in southwestern Minnesota. I’ve got a bunch of stories to tell about the trip, but I’m going to start with one of my favorite topics… beer tourism. On the way out of town I looked up any breweries along the way, and discovered a new brewery in Jordan Minnesota. This is about 30 miles south of the metro area, and we managed to time our visit to be right around dinner on Friday night.

They had El Jefe Food Truck serving mexican food, so we were able to get some grub while I tried a couple of their beers. Unfortunately, they don’t do flights, but they do short pours. Since we still had a lot of driving to do, I just got a couple of shorts to sample and enjoy with my tacos. The first one I tried was their German black ale. I love black ales, and not enough places do them, or do them well. Too often, breweries decide that if they make a black ale it has to be a black IPA and they hop it up like crazy with Cascade hops.

I was pleased to see that Roets didn’t do this, and instead delivered a really solid, and drinkable, black ale, with European character to it. It had a good malt body, but it was smooth and quaffable. People always equate dark beers with heavy varieties like porters and stouts, but a good black ale can be very refreshing.

The second beer I tried was their apricot witbier. It was a bit cloudy (as it should be) and had a nice tangy quality to the yeast. The apricot was nice and sweet, without being cloying in any way. Overall, a great example of how to do a fruit beer well. Combining sweet fruit with the zesty quality of a wit helps balance the two characters really well, and this week really worked for me.

Alas, I didn’t have time (or fortitude) to attempt to try all their beers, but since they’re not too far out of town, it might show up on my itinerary again someday. If you’re in the neighborhood of Jordan (perhaps visiting the candy store), swing into Roets for some really solid craft beer.

Moose Lake Brewing

This weekend, on my way up to the Spring Superior Trail Races, I stopped into a new brewery that I had heard about from my friend Abe. Moose Lake Brewing is right in downtown Moose Lake, right off of Interstate 35. My wife and I often stop in Moose Lake to gas up the car and get some snacks before heading home at the new Kwik Trip. This time I went past the gas station, and into town to see what’s brewing.

One of the things I love about rural taprooms is that they really focus on bringing fresh craft beer to a population that doesn’t have a lot of access to as much of it as we do in the city. These taprooms are akin to the local bar, and you can see regulars inside relaxing as if this was their second home. Moose Lake Brewing was comfortable like this, and felt like the local watering hole where I would want to spend a lot of time if I lived nearby.

The taproom is really well done, with a log cabin type of feel. The most impressive feature is some large windows that overlook Moosehead Lake, with a patio for warmer weather. I can imagine that in the summer time, this patio will be an amazing place to sit and enjoy some beer.

I was just passing through so I didn’t have time to enjoy a lot of beer. They sell crowlers, and will fill your growler you bring in, so I asked for some samples to help me decide which crowlers to get. They currently have four beers on tap, and so I sampled all four. The blonde ale was up first, and wasn’t too bad, but it tasted slightly young and possibly under attenuated just a tiny bit. It still tasted OK, but I wonder if a bit more yeast, and a bit more time settling would help this one do better.

Next up was their EPA. I love a good EPA and I was very pleasantly surprised by this one. It had a good malt body, and balance of a little bit of hop. Then I moved on to their Imperial IPA. I’m not a huge IPA guy, nor an Imperial fan, so suffice it to say the bar was set very low on this beer. Having said this though, I was really surprised at how good this beer was. For a 10% beer I found it completely drinkable and pleasant. It was full of flavor and was nicely balanced. I could actually see myself drinking a small glass of this from time to time.

Finally I ended with their stout, which was a nice solid entry into the stout category. Smooth with a bit of roast, with low hop character. In the end I decided to get a crowler of all of the beers except for the blonde. I have friends back in the metro who will love to help me drink these, and I think will really appreciate the Imperial IPA even more than I did.

If you’re heading up north, and want to stop off at a nice destination brewery I highly recommend giving Moose Lake a try. It’s a comfortable taproom with a great view, and nice, drinkable beers.

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Urban Lodge Brewery and Restaurant

This past week my wife and I attended a funeral in the St. Cloud area. It was an emotional time for us, but we were surrounded by friends and family. One of the great joys of getting together with certain members of this family is our shared love of breweries and taprooms. Once the funeral was over, and we all rested a bit at the hotel, we decided to head out to a new brewery that we hadn’t been to yet: Urban Lodge Brewery and Restaurant in Sauk Rapids.

Originally, this establishment was called Urban Moose, but Moosehead Beer out of Canada decided to file a complaint in relation to their trademark. Moosehead claims that they own all rights to the word ‘moose’ when used in conjunction with beer. The owners of Urban Lodge decided that they didn’t want to deal with a long protracted legal battle, and so they opted to change the name. At the same time they also added the word restaurant to their legal name, to better inform customers that they are a brewpub, not just a taproom.

We found a hightop table and ordered up a couple flights of beer. We also decided to sample some of their small plates, including their steak tips, and a wild rice risotto. The food was really well done, although a little bit pricey. It wasn’t anywhere near the price of metro area places, so I still considered it a decent value. As we were munching on our small plates, we were sampling a wide assortment of beers.

We had two flights of 5 beers, and we took turns sampling around them. Some of the standouts for me were the red lager (I brought home a growler of it), and the stout. It was a VERY astringent stout, but it hit all the right buttons for me. I enjoyed their coconut porter, but the waitress warned me that is was VERY coconut heavy. I was actually excited about this, but ended up being disappointed, as the coconut flavor was incredibly mild, especially compared to places like Dangerous Man.

They had some very solid Belgian beers on tap, including one that would be a good craft beer introduction for someone who likes Blue Moon. I also enjoyed their raspberry wheat, and it compared quite favorably to others I’ve had in the past. Finally, one of the most unique ones incorporated wine and beer in a really delightful mix. Entitled Babes & Dreams it consisted of a Belgian Gold infused with Petite Syrah and aged in Chardonnay Barrels. It was really unique and tasty and was something I don’t think I had ever seen tried before. Overall, a delightful experience.

The space at Urban Lodge is beautiful, with lots of wood and an upstairs patio with fire. Unfortunately, it was raining so we opt’d to stay inside. Our server was awesome, and really helped walk us through the menu, despite only having been there for a short time. After an emotional day, a wonderful visit to a taproom was just what we needed. It gave us a chance to unwind and relax in a calm environment, with great beer and awesome food. If you’re in the Sauk Rapids area ever, I’d encourage you to give it a shot.

 

Winona Breweries, pt 2 & National Eagle Center

IMG_0649We started our second day of the trip with a wonderful visit to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN. We got to see some beautiful eagles up close, as well as some eagles out over the river. One of the coolest parts for me was when we spotted a tree out on an island in the river with four bald eagles perched in it, just chilling out. We have tons of eagles up in the metro area, but getting to see so many of them in one place was a lot of fun.

IMG_0652We also got to see a special presentation by the Cincinnati Zoo where they showed off a bunch of different birds from around the world, including macaws and owls. It was fun to have a bunch of colorful birds buzz the audience as they talked about their habitats. They made sure to highlight a simple way to help birds in South America, recycling aluminum cans. Apparently, some of the biggest deposits of bauxite are in areas where many of these birds live, and by recycling we can limit the amount of new bauxite that we need to take out of the ground. My only regret of the morning was forgetting my good camera at home.

Once the bird show was done we grabbed some lunch at a nice Mexican restaurant in town and headed back to Winona to try a couple new breweries. The first on our list is the brand new Island City Brewing Company. This brewery opened a week ago, which always causes me to expect the worst. Many breweries have a hard time moving into production, and as a prime example, the brewery I visited on Wednesday had been open 4 months and was pretty terrible. However, Island City showed that it’s very possible to nail an opening.

IMG_0655They don’t do flights, but they offer short pours that looked around 6oz. I got two of their regular beers, a red and a berliner weisse, as well as their special red with an infusion of juniper, orange, and mint. The red intrigued me because it was a 3.5% ABV beer, and I’m always on the lookout for nice session beers. However, trying to impart good malt body into a beer so light is difficult. I’m pleased to report that Island City nailed it with this one. It had a great malt body, yet was refreshing and flavorful, like a red should be. The infusion version was a completely different taste than I have ever had, and reminded me of a nice herbal tea. It was something different and I was happy I tried it.

IMG_0656The final beer of my sampling was their berliner weisse, and it was a wonderful example of how a sour beer should taste. It was a great ‘sour patch’ tart beer, which isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed the balance. Overall, Island City is doing things right. They have a fun warehouse space in a very, very old building right on the river, and their opening lineup is very solid. If I had one complaint it is that they don’t do a proper flight (they only have four beers on tap not counting the infusion), and that they don’t do small growlers. I have a hard time going through 64oz of beer on my own at home before it gets so flat that it’s just not tasty anymore. Apart from these minor quibbles I was really pleased with what Island City offered. It was well worth the trip.

Our second stop of the day was Wenonah Brewing, which was just north of Winona in Goodview, MN. For as quaint and professional as Island City was, Wenonah was on the opposite side of the spectrum. The building looked like a former gas station, and the inside remodel job looked pretty rough. It was mostly comfortable though, and the staff was very, very friendly. Wenonah does flight sized samples, so I ordered up a set of 5, one of each of their beers.

 

IMG_0658As I worked through their beers my overall impression was mediocre. The nut brown ale was way too dark, and the IPA was a complete failure. I’m really tired of places that try to use earthy hops to make an IPA, as it usually just doesn’t work. The beer ends up being overly dank, to the point of tasting like dirt. The only real winner out of the flight was the Honey Cream Ale which was well balanced and drinkable. As I was talking with the staff they pointed out their brewing setup, which was basically just a very large homebrew setup with a bit of extra pumps and plumbing. Everything they do is small batch, and so I assume they change out their flavors quite often.

The contrast from Island City was very apparent. Until a week ago Wenonah was the only game in town. If someone wanted to experience a brewery taproom, they were it. Now that they’ve got some competition I feel like they need to step up their game a bit more. I foresee them becoming the more ‘counter-cultural’ place to hang out vs. the established Island City. Thankfully, the beer culture, even in outstate Minnesota, is expanding to allow for different perspectives in beer. I think if Wenonah can up their quality game just a little bit, and focus on being that place with unique, ever changing flavors, they can establish their niche. Much like how places like Dangerous Man work in the metro area.

Once we finished up, we headed back to the hotel for a nice relaxing afternoon and evening before dinner. So far it’s been a really nice relaxing trip. Tomorrow is some early morning running and then a stop at Red Wing Brewery for lunch on the way home. Another great weekend away with the wife, sharing in an adventure.