Garphish Brewing Company

This past weekend I had some time free, so I decided to check out the newest brewery in the north metro area, Garphish Brewing Company. When I say “north metro” that’s a bit of a stretch. This brewery is in the small town of Bethel, MN which is a roughly 30 minute drive straight north of where I live. It’s a mostly easy drive though once you get through Highway 65 traffic in Blaine. Seriously, they need to do something about that road.

I love seeing small towns in out-state Minnesota getting on board with craft beer. These are places where cheap macro-beer is king at the local bar, and if you’re lucky they might have a single tap of Summit EPA or Blue Moon. Infusing some cool new beer culture into these areas is a great benefit to the area, as it helps educate people on good beer, and it draws in people like myself who like to do some beer tourism.

One of the first things I noticed about Garphish was the building it’s in. They’ve renovated an old church into something really fresh and unique. It’s a traditional old church that feels like a split level home. The main sanctuary is up a half flight of stairs, and the fellowship hall is in the basement. For this remodel, the top level became the taproom, and the brewery went into the basement.

The atmosphere in the taproom is homey and small-town. The seating in the space is mostly old dining room sets that look like they just retired from someone’s kitchen. There are also couches scattered around that give off a thrift-store vibe and provide for some casual seating around coffee tables. Despite being in a small town that’s more likely to have a biker bar, Garphish evokes a cool hipster atmosphere that will make people from NE Minneapolis feel at home.

I ordered up a flight of four beers. They had five beers on tap, with a 6th having just kicked. I was told by the beertender that I have to try the Kölsch, so I added that to my paddle, along with an apricot beer, a mild, and a oatmeal stout. I headed over to a couch and started my tasting. I took my first sip of the Kölsch and was immediately assaulted with a cloying sweetness that screamed under-attenuation. I was surprised that the beertender recommended this beer, and I started to worry that I was in for a really bad experience.

I moved on to the apricot, and was pleasantly surprised with a decently fruity and well brewed beer. I’m very sensitive to the chemical taste of fruit extracts used in many fruit beers, however, I could tell this one was mostly real fruit. It was nice and smooth and had just a slight bit of fruity tang to it. My hopes were rejuvenated that perhaps the first beer had been a fluke. I then tried the mild, and from the first sip I knew that this was a very traditional Scottish type of mild. Very earthy and peat-y with a light mouthfeel, yet some texture to the flavors. I was very impressed that a small town brewery had the guts to brew something so unique to American palettes. This quickly became my favorite beer of the trip.

Finally, I tried the stout, which I found to be overly roasted. It was brewed properly, but I had to let it warm up quite a bit to let the roasty-ness mellow. It was while I was drinking this beer that I was surprised by a paper airplane that flew over the couch and crashed in to my arm. I looked behind me to see a young boy standing on the stage looking sheepish. His dad exasperatedly told him that he can’t do that to the customers, and that’s how I met Brandon, the owner and brewer.

img_2811Brandon came over and apologized for his kid, to which I informed him that it was perfectly alright and pretty funny. I was actually impressed with the kid’s aim! Brandon and I started talking, and I told him that I was from down in the cities, and loved traveling around checking out new breweries. We started talking about the beers, and I brought up my disappointment with the Kölsch. He was shocked that I thought it was sweet because he brewed it with tons of jalapeño. He then went back to the bar and poured two more samples and had me try it again.

What I tasted that second time was a completely different beer. I got lots of nice heat and a smooth crisp beer. I asked him if he had two taps of the beer with different batches, and he confirmed that he did. He brewed the beer two different times, and the second time, he used a different yeast. It appears that it made a huge difference, and he agreed that he’s never going to use that particular yeast again. I was so impressed with the proper beer that I went back in and re-checked it in to Untappd with a better rating.

We spent some more time talking, and he agreed that the stout was too roasty, and he was going to dial that back next time. He then shared some of his growth plans and how he’s put together some of the equipment that he’s using. One of the things that impresses me about a brewer is when they can have an honest conversation about their creations, and not get defensive. Talking with Brandon showed me that he’s got a good brewing head on his shoulders and I’m excited to see what else he can do to bring great craft beer to small town Minnesota.

I had a great time at Garphish, and although it’s too far away to be a regular stop for me, I can certainly see myself stopping by from time to time. They’ve got a great atmosphere and they’re brewing some decent beer. They’re doing a great job with teaching people about craft beer, and I’m happy to see the popularity of good beer spread to more than just the metro.

The bad beer needs to stop

I don’t exactly recall if I’ve talked about this before on the blog so directly, but I feel like I need to say something about the rise of bad craft beer lately. It’s something that I’ve been seeing more and more of as small little breweries pop up all over the place, trying to get a piece of the pie. It’s more apparent in suburban breweries, or outstate ones, but sometimes there’s even an inner city one that doesn’t do great.

Those bad inner city breweries are rare though because they can’t survive in a market where there is competitors every few blocks. If you’re serving truly bad beer in NE Minneapolis, you’re going to be laughed out of the neighborhood before you’re open a month. Most breweries in the cities aim for mediocrity, which gets them by and doesn’t single them out as someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

However, when you get out of town a bit, and get into areas where there is only one brewery for miles around, it’s a different story. A few months ago I visited a brewery in Pine City called Three Twenty Brewing. They’re the only game in town, and the quality of their beer showed it. There was a paper-y, oxidized taste to much of their beer, and it didn’t make me ask for seconds.

This past weekend we headed down to a new place in Prior Lake called Boathouse Brothers Brewing. It was their opening weekend, and so they were packed with people. I got a flight and was immediately met with some truly badly brewed beer. There was almost no carbonation, and the flavors were all over the map. I didn’t even finish my flight.

I had also somewhat recently visited Blue Wolf Brewing in Brooklyn Park, and my initial impression was that it wasn’t too bad. Not outstanding, but passable. I was there during their opening week, and then a month later some friends visited and immediately texted me asking how I could have rated their beers so high. I stopped by this past weekend again and was floored by how much their beer had changed, and how completely terrible it had become.

In all of these cases, I think I know what the primary problem is. You have home brewers who can brew a decent beer, and then think that they can take on a full industrial system. However, things don’t scale up like you would think, and most non-trained brewers have no idea how to fix it. The paper-y taste in Pine City is probably due to bad processes that are letting air into the beer. The Boathouse Brother’s issues are a lack of understanding on how to carbonate beer at commercial scale. Blue Wolf is most likely an issue with poor fermentation practices and sanitization. These are all things that require training and experience to learn how to deal with. Simply brewing on a homebrew system is completely inadequate to learning how to run a production beverage facility.

It’s sad to see people drinking up these bad beers because they’re the only game in town. They don’t have other options, and so they’re stuck with either traveling to the cities, or suffering through someone learning their craft over months of practice, at the expense of their patrons. I get the desire to want to have a fun local taproom in your community. But people need to demand better than a job-training site for homebrewers. We need to insist that people hire trained and competent brewers to run these systems, or at least mentor homebrewers into how to use them successfully.

Let’s not settle for flawed beer. As craft beer fans, lets insist that people deliver on their promise to bring good craft beer to their communities. It takes time, knowledge, and training, but in the end it makes the craft beer community a better and stronger place.

Part 2 of an impromptu Decorah trip

After we visited Pulpit Rock we spent a leisurely night in the hotel, recovering from a long day of running and frivolity. Sunday morning meant one more run for both of us before a day off on Monday. Our hotel was right next to the Trout Run Trail, which is a paved bike path that goes along the Upper Iowa River. I only needed 5.25 miles so it was OK that I was still a bit stiff and sore from the day before. We came across some construction on the trail, but it looked open enough, and soon I was running along the flood plain on a crisp Iowa morning.

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After our run it was time for the return trip. Our plan was to stop for lunch in Rochester at a brewery that I had never been to, but had heard amazing things about, called Forager Brewing. As it turns out, they are a brewpub, and serve food. I saw pizza in their photos, so we assumed that was the type of place it was. When we arrived we realized that it was a lot more.

IMG_2467.jpgForager is known for it’s sour beers. I got a bunch of little samples and sure enough, I was pleased by a solid resume of pucker beers. One of them, called Todd Plump, was one of the most amazing sours I’ve ever had. It was opaque and purple (plum), and had this rich head on it that made you think about adding ice cream to it. It was sweet, slightly tart, and incredibly smooth. It’s a limited edition beer, so I doubt I’ll ever get to have it again, but I’m happy I got to have it at least once.

IMG_2468.jpgHowever Forager also has amazing food. It turns out that pizza is just one little part of their menu. They also have incredible, made-from-scratch, food that comes sourced from local farms. I ordered up a breakfast skillet and it was filled with perfectly cooked potatoes, a little hint of bacon, and topped with two of the most perfectly poached eggs I’ve ever seen. Needless to say, we were both blown away by the food. I’ve decided that we’re kidnapping a couple of our friends and making them come here with us sometime.

IMG_2469.jpgWith our bellies filled with amazing food we proceeded to our final stop of the trip, LTS Brewing. I’ve been to LTS before and really enjoyed it. I brought my half-growler with me and just had to decide what to get. I tried a couple tasters, and everything was really high quality. One of them was a bit unique, their Go Big Rouge which is a Flander’s Red Ale style beer. This style of beer is slightly sour, yet more malty than a Gose. The yeast strain is very unique, and they are often blended with younger versions as they are aged. It was a very interesting beer, but I decided to just go with their Karma Kolsh for my growler. I figured that with such a cold Spring that we’ve been having, I better get a Summer-ish beer called Karma to try and tip the scales back to warm weather.

Soon enough we were back home. We accomplished our task of getting through the entire 5 hour podcast, and we loved listening to it. We also got to have a quick, spur of the moment get-away that created memories. We got to try new food, run in a new place, and sample lots of great craft beer. A very successful weekend if you ask me.

An impromptu weekend in Decorah, IA, part 1

This past week a running podcast that I enjoy called Ten Junk Miles, released a long interview with two ladies that I know who completed a double Arrowhead 135. They started at the finish line, 4 days before the start, and did the race backwards on their own. Then they started the race with everyone else and headed back 135 miles to be the first women ever to complete a double on foot. It’s an amazing story, and the interview clocked in at 5 hours.

I pinged my wife and the conversation went like this:

Me: TJM posted the Kate and Kari interview. It’s 5 hours long lol. Do you want to listen to the podcast together over the weekend or just on our own?

Wife: We can listen together. We should pick a road trip 😁 LOL
Where has good food?

And so, our weekend plans were born. I have been wanting to visit Decorah, IA for a while, since they have a couple great breweries that I’ve heard good things about. On top of that there were breweries along the route that I had never been to either. Decorah is 2.5 hours away, which means it’s perfect for a 5 hour podcast.

I was scheduled for a ~22 mile run on Saturday morning, and my wife needed to get some car work done, but we decided that by lunchtime we’d hit the road. I had a great run, and was feeling excited to hear a long podcast about other runners doing amazing things. We headed out around lunchtime and enjoyed a lovely drive through southern Minnesota.

IMG_2458.jpgOur first stop of the trip actually came before we hit Iowa. We stopped in Fountain, MN at the tiny brewery (612 sq ft!), Karst Brewing. This is a delightful little place with a handful of beers on tap. I got a few samples and then a half-pour of their cream ale. Their beers were all decently done, and I enjoyed getting some well made beer in small-town Minnesota. With our short stop out of the way my wife took the wheel and we continued our trip.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, and after dropping off our bags at the hotel, we headed to the famous Toppling Goliath brewery. They’ve made a name for themselves with their Morning Delight beer. You have to enter a lottery to buy it, and then you only get four bottles for $100. However, it’s an AMAZING beer. Unfortunately, our experience at their brand new taproom wasn’t nearly as amazing.

IMG_2460.jpgThey recently relocated to brand new digs about 5 miles outside of town. We found a parking space in a busy lot and proceeded to see what they had to offer. When we got inside there was a sign that said to “Seat Yourself”. The bar was full, and I didn’t see an obvious beer line, so we grabbed a table. I went to the bar and asked if people were service tables or if we order from the bar. I was told that we could just take a table and someone would be around. Then we waited… and waited… and waited.

IMG_2459.jpgFinally, I went to an area of the bar that looked like it was for growler sales and stood in line. It appeared that it was also for pints, and after a much longer wait than I should have had I finally had a flight of beers in front of me. It’s obvious that they have no idea what they’re doing in their brand new space yet, and hopefully their taproom manager will get things straightened out. From what I could see they need at least twice the number of servers that they had, as well as some clear signage about how to actually acquire beer.

On the bright side, my beers were all great, and especially a sour called Dragon Fandango. It was like a tart kool-aid and was amazing. Absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, they didn’t have it in ready-to-go bombers, and I didn’t feel like wading through the line again for a growler.

From there we headed in to downtown Decorah for some yummy Mexican food at Don Jose. Every college town has a great Mexican place like this, and soon my gut was filled with enchiladas and tamales. We still had one more stop for the evening, Pulpit Rock Brewing company.

IMG_2462.jpgPulpit Rock is built in what appears to be an old car dealership, or garage of some type. It’s a quaint little building, and there are multiple rooms you can hang out in with your beer. I got a nice flight of english style brew and started in. Although the Heavy Lifter Lager left me a little disappointed, the Clarion ESB was great. All in all, a wonderful way to finish off the brewery tour for the night.

More in part two…

Milwaukee Breweries: MobCraft and Urban Harvest

The second stop on my Milwaukee brewery tour took us to MobCraft and Urban Harvest. I had just spent hours in the tattoo chair, so I was ready for something better than mediocre.

We arrived at MobCraft first, and found the place hopping. There were tons of people there, and it was a bit loud, but the space was welcoming and open. There were a foosball table off to one side, which had an excited set of people going crazy, as well as one of those sword fighting setups that beep when you strike the other person. Because it was so crowded we took a seat at the bar and I looked over the huge menu.

MobCraft has a lot of beers that are suggested by members of their community, and so they change things up quite a lot. They have a whole system of voting for which beers to make, and then that beer is available for a limited time. I ordered up a flight of things that sounded interesting, and then started sampling.

For the second time in two days I was blown away by the amazing quality that a small brewery can put out. Every beer I tried was beautifully balanced and flavorful. Three of my four beers were darker beers, and the complexity of roasts were on full display. I was doling out 4 starts for almost every beer. I also tried one of their sour beers and found it to be really good; not too tart, but not too sweet.

I enjoyed their beer so much I ordered up a four pack of cans to bring home. I was confident enough in what I had tasted that 3 our of 4 of the cans I brought home were not beers I had tried. I’ve gotten through a couple of them since I’ve returned and I’m just amazed at how good their beer is. This is another one to put on your list of places to hit for really good beer in the MKE area.

IMG_2284.jpgOur second stop was a quick visit to Urban Harvest. They’re located in a very old building in an old downtown area in the Walker’s Point area. The vibe in the building reminded me of old Stillwater, MN. I selected a couple of beers to sample and took a seat. Many of their beers were very strong, and so I actually only took a couple of small sips. However, everything was nicely done, though not quite to the level of blowing me away. It was solid, competent beer, in a great environment.

It appears that they also have a small theater attached that does music and comedy shows. At one point the taproom got very crowded as the show let out, and everyone streamed back in. Overall, another good find for a place to check out if you’re in the area.

I’m pleased to report that Milwaukee has some good beer going on, and I was happy to get to experience it. There’s still a lot more places I’d like to hit if I’m in town there again. As with Minnesota, the craft beer scene is growing, and there’s a lot of opportunity for really great flavors wherever you go.