12welve Eyes Brewing

I recently got to sample the latest brewery to open up in downtown Saint Paul: 12welve Eyes Brewing. This is a new brewery started by three gentlemen who all wear glasses, hence the name about 12 eyes. They are located in the historic Pioneer Endicott building, in the garden level. Because of this, they are the only skyway connected brewery in Saint Paul. With the boom in housing in downtown Saint Paul, this feature alone will help them generate a solid crowd of regulars.

I got there just as they were opening up in their first week of business. I took a seat at the bar and ordered up three small sample sizes of their 11 brews that they had on tap. I have to say that starting a new brewery with so many beers is a gutsy move. One of the biggest issues I’ve found with new breweries is that they get over ambitious and lose sight of quality by trying to do too much too soon.

Before I talk about the beer, I want to make one comment about the space. One of the key components in a great experience at a taproom is being able to order your beer as efficiently as possible. Many taprooms that I have been to have beertenders behind the bar taking orders wherever people can squeeze through and order. Or perhaps they pull aside a couple of stools to made a space, but it never feels like you know where to go to order. I incredibly happy to see 12welve Eyes has learned from others, and corrected this in their design. When you walk into the brewery, the entire end of the bar is dedicated to serving up beer without disrupting people sitting along the sides of the bar. It helps create a nice easy flow for people ordering.

However, I chose to sit at the bar, along the side, to enjoy my brews. The first brew I sampled was their lemon hefe, and wow was this one a winner in my book. They use lemon puree in it, and it created a beautiful, rich, lemon flavor. I don’t think I’ve ever had a beer quite like this one, and I could see enjoying this one again. I hope this one becomes one of their staple beers.

I then moved on to their Black IPA. This was well balanced, though not as hoppy as what most people consider a IPA (even a CDA version). It was still really pleasant and enjoyable and well brewed. I finished off with their brown ale, which was very delightful. It is brewed with oats which gave it a very unique character for a brown ale. It had a smooth finish, similar to much bigger beers, but with a lighter feel of a brown. Overall, I think it worked.

All the beer I sampled was well brewed and contained no flaws that I could detect. This was a pleasant surprise with a new brewery with so many taps flowing. 12welve Eyes is committed to being a nice local brewery for the area, and I think that they’re on a winning track. They have a nice taproom and a solid beer list. I’m looking forward to trying them again very, very soon.

 

 

Barrel Theory Beer Company

Thursday night I got a chance to sample the latest new brewery in downtown Saint Paul, Barrel Theory Beer Company. This is a new brewery that went in next to the restaurant Dark Horse, which opened last year. If you’re from around the Twin Cities and know where the Gopher Bar is, that’s where Barrel Theory is.

They took their time and put together a really nice space in a building that was most likely turn of the century. There’s lots of nice brickwork and their decorations fit with the setting really well. Items like hanging table lights made with metal pipe, and bulbs that are shaped like old bulbs, help to give the entire place a solid vibe. Yet, the space still feels modern.

I was meeting a friend there after work, and as I was waiting I ordered a bunch of 4oz samples of 4 out of 5 of their beers. Currently, they have two IPAs, one east coast and one west coast, on tap. I had a lot of fun doing the side by side of the two and seeing the difference. The west coast IPA was pretty true to style, but I felt like the east coast one lacked a bit of the hop character that defines an IPA. East coast IPAs aren’t supposed to be super hoppy, but this felt more like a blonde or golden ale.

The next one I sampled was their berry berliner weisse. This was an easy drinking 4% ale, with boysenberry, kettle soured. It was a tasty brew, but the fruit puree was way too strong, so it ended up feeling like I was simply drinking fruit juice, and not a beer. I like the flavor, but felt that it wasn’t quite balanced between the beer and fruit flavors.

The final one that I tried, and one that I got a second helping of, was their coffee stout. This was a really nice, smooth stout, with a slight hint of coffee flavor. I could have gone for a little bit more of the coffee aroma, but it was a tasty beer. The overall stout profile was nice, with a hint of roast, but smoothed over by a lot of oats. It was a slight bit stronger, ABV wise, than I usually prefer, but overall a solid beer.

I’m excited for all the new breweries that are coming to downtown Saint Paul. Barrel Theory has a great environment, with solid beer, and I could see making it a regular destination for some after work refreshment.

Hoops Brewing

This weekend we’re up north again, and I had the opportunity to check out the newest taproom in Duluth, MN; Hoops Brewing. The ownership of this brewery has a pedigree with Fitger’s in Duluth, and so I was excited to see what they had to offer.

We called ahead to Grizzly’s Woodfire Grill across the street and grabbed some takeout on the way. Once we arrived at Hoops we were handed a menu and we looked around for a table. At first I didn’t know if I was supposed to go up to the bar to order my beer, but I then saw servers running around to different tables and took a seat. Eventually, our server came over and asked us what we would like. They don’t serve flights, but in a round about sort of way I was informed that I can get 5 oz pours of any beer. Basically, this is make-your-own-flight.

As we ate our dinner and I waited for my beer to arrive, we noticed a gentleman next to us changing the TV channel. I recognized him as the owner and complimented him on the beautiful space that Hoops has. They are built into a gorgeous old brick building with lots of exposed wood and brick. It’s a really great environment, and I could see enjoying a lot of time in this space.

Eventually my beer arrived and I got to sampling. Since we still had some driving to do, and it was very warm out, I didn’t get anything too heavy. I stuck mainly to the pale ales and wheat beers, and ended up ordering a second one of their wheat beers when there was a mis-communication with the server about which wheat I had ordered.

Overall, everything was well made, and there were no flaws in any of the beers. Everything tasted as it should, and I enjoyed each of the beers. My personal favorite was the summer wheat beer, as it was light and refreshing with a little lemon zing to it. The perfect type of beer to have out on the patio on a hot summer night. I enjoyed it enough that I bought a crowler of it on our way out.

Since Hoops has only been open a week or so, I wasn’t expecting a ton of weird or unique beers, and what they have on tap is solid. Combined with a beautiful space, it’s a great place to hang out and drink beer. I only had one little complaint. I hate the paradigm of a server bringing me my beer.

I’ve been to dozen, and perhaps hundreds, of taprooms, and the only time I want to see a waiter/waitress is if they’re also serving food. I have no problem with standing in line and ordering my beer, like every other taproom. When I have a waiter to deal with I have to order beer on their schedule, as they’re trying to serve other tables. Then at the end of it all I once again have to think about tips and waiting for my check before I can leave.

I realize that during busy times, a brewery might worry that the line could get too long. However, other breweries have solved this problem with a large, dedicated space to order beer, and staffing it with 2-3 beertenders who are not tending the bar. I saw many, many servers last night that simply didn’t need to be there, when we could have all just ordered our beer at the bar. Perhaps others really like the idea of having a waiter bring you your beer, but it just irks me, and next time I visit, I plan to try and find a seat up at the bar so I don’t need to deal with waitstaff.

Despite my quibble about how you’re served, Hoops is a solid brewery, and is putting out good beer. It’s got a beautiful location, and is in the heart of Canal Park, so you know it’s going to be popular. I’m certain I’ll be hitting it again in the future as I pass through, and I hope to see even more unique experiments on the menu next time.

Alluvial Brewing

One our way across Iowa last weekend, we stopped in at a place just north west of Ames called Alluvial Brewing. This is a beautiful little taproom that sits among vineyards and organic farms. You feel like you’re truly out in the country as you drive up to the front door.

IMG_1133.jpgWe went in and I ordered up a flight of beers to try. We then decided to sit outside and soak in nature while I enjoyed my brews. The biggest standout for me was the coconut porter. It was smooth, with a wonderful coconut flavor, and rivaled some of the best ones I’ve ever had. I could see drinking many of these on a cold winter night. Another brew that caught my attention was the gooseberry sour. I had never had gooseberry in a sour beer before (that I am aware of) and it was a unique taste. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but as I drank it I came to enjoy it more and more.

I enjoyed all the beers in the flight that I had, and found no brewing flaws in any of them. What really made Alluvial for me though was the setting. It was an amazing place to sit and enjoy some beer, and it’s the kind of place my wife (who doesn’t drink) has even commented that she’d love to own. Giving people a beautiful setting in which to enjoy good beer is a great mission in life. I’m glad to have gotten a chance to try Alluvial and enjoy both in one spot.

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Farnham House Brewing Company

Since we were traveling this weekend, I had to hit some new breweries. After we spent some time at the Omaha zoo on Saturday, we decided to hit Farnham House Brewing Company in downtown Omaha. This is a brewpub with a full menu, and specializing in European beer styles. We arrived and I ordered up a flight, and some food.

Before I get into the beer, I have to say that the food at Farnham House was amazing. We both ordered a grilled cheese with bacon, and I got mine with a side of beer cheese soup. The sandwiches were amazing, the beer cheese soup was out of this world. Needless to say we were really happy with the food choice we made.

As for beer I sampled a flight that due to some miscommunication, ended up being 7 beers. A couple of the big standouts for me were in the sour category. They did a berliner weisse that was amazingly tart. They offer syrups to mix in if you want, but since I was doing small flights I opt’d to just drink it straight. I also really enjoyed the apricot sour that they have right now. However, the big winner for me was their papio kriek. This amazing sour beer with cherries was so perfectly balanced that I made sure to pick up a half-growler to bring home before we left.

Almost all of their other beers were good, and without flaws, although I didn’t care much for their maibock. The zomer wit in particular was very easy drinking and I could easily see drinking it on a beautiful hot summer evening. Overall, Farnham House was a great stop on our trip. I could see stopping back here if we ever end up in this area, and for anyone else who’s near Omaha I highly recommend a visit. It’s a great example of craft beer and good food in the heart of America.