Milwaukee Breweries: Enlightened and Eagle Park

On my trip to Milwaukee this weekend I made sure to spend some time visiting the local breweries. On Friday my son and I headed over to a couple breweries that were in the same building, Enlightened and Eagle Park.

We arrived at Eagle Park, which has a nice entrance off the main drag, with a big garage door that I would assume makes for a really nice summer hang-out spot. I ordered up a flight of 4 beers and opened up Untappd to start logging my thoughts. First though, I should mention that the interior space at Enlightened is really cool. It’s an old loading dock, and so their brewing equipment is elevated above ground level, which makes it look like it’s on display. The overall vibe was really industrial and cool.

However, I found the beer to be mediocre. A problem that I’m discovering in many small breweries lately is the lack of balance. Hop and malt character needs to work together, not against each other. In the case of Enlightened, I found many of their beers were dank when it came to bitterness. Earthy and dank for a hop character isn’t a bad thing, but you need to match it with a malt bill that balances it out. Personally, I like a little bit more caramel and sweetness in my malt backbone if you’re going to do earthy hops.

I didn’t find any of their beers undrinkable, but I just wasn’t that impressed. Probably the best in the batch for me was the Rye, which had a nice tartness to it. However, I really wish new breweries would spend more time on recipe development before launching and thinking that they can just shove anything to market. If you’re the only game in town that’s one thing, but this is Milwaukee, and all we had to do was head upstairs for a totally different experience.

IMG_2266.jpgEagle Park Brewing is on the second floor of the same warehouse building as Enlightened, and you even have to get buzzed in by a call box to enter. Once you find your way up, you’re greeted with a quaint little taproom that is decorated simply with a lot of music posters. It’s obvious that they enjoy music quite a lot at Eagle Park.

For as mediocre as Enlightened was, Eagle Park was a breath of fresh air. Everything I had there was really, really good. In particular I LOVED their Peach Milkshake beer. It was fruity and creamy, without being too chemically tasting. Perhaps it was my joy at finding decent beer, but I gave that one 5 stars. I was also very impressed by their Set List IPA. It was a truly balanced IPA, which seems to be a rarity these days. The hop character matched the malt body, and made for a really nice and drinkable beer.

I enjoyed their beers so much that I picked up one of their ‘make-your-own-4-packs’ to bring home. I’m saving some of them to share with friends, but the Peach Milkshake might not make it that long. I’m very excited with what I tried at Eagle Park, and I’m excited to see them grow. I was told that they’re actually moving to a bigger space soon, and it’s a well deserved upgrade. If you’re in the area, I would highly recommend checking them out.

Next up, another couple of places that help restore my faith in brewing.

Loony’s Brews

As always, when I’m traveling I like to engage in some beer tourism. Last week when I was in International Falls for the start of the Arrowhead 135 I took advantage of the fact that I wasn’t running the next morning, and hit the local brewery. Technically, Loony’s Brews is in Ranier, which is a small town just a couple miles to the east of IFalls. We headed out after we checked in to our hotel, to see what the local beer flavor was like.

Loony’s is located in an old building right on the lake front. Even in the dark, we were able to make out the outline of the Canadian shore across the channel. In fact, they get a lot of boat-up business in the summer time with Canadian’s coming across from Fort Frances to sample some American brews. When we arrived, the channel was mostly frozen, and there were only a few of us from the race hanging out in the place.

I ordered up a couple of flights and dug in. Overall, the beer was passable, with a couple standout items. In particular, the Black Swan Stout was quite tasty, and I could see drinking a couple of these on a harsh cold evening. Much of the other beer was OK, but it felt like they could use a bit more practice with recipe development and process control. I felt like the biggest issue was that the balance between malts and hops could use some tweaking. Sometimes the hop profile would be good, but would need more backbone on the malt side to carry it, or vice versa.

IMG_2177.jpgThat isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the beer at Loony’s. I simply feel that it has room to grow and improve. They’ve only been open and brewing for less than a year, so it’s understandable that they’re still getting their legs under them. Considering the other options available at the bars around town, and I’ll take an adequate craft beer any day.

One of the difficulties with small town breweries is that they are often the only brewery around for many, many miles. When you don’t have others to compete against, and collaborate with, it takes longer to develop, and build up flavors. I have no doubt that Loony’s will continue to grow, and if I’m back there next year I look forward to seeing what’s new that they have to offer.

Birch’s on the Lake

On Saturday, I spent the morning running and volunteering at a local half-marathon with good friend Mike B. The race was held at Gear West in Long Lake which is right near a brewpub that I had never been to, Birch’s on the Lake. Despite not running a half marathon, we were both ready for a big meal. We ran almost 7 miles at the crack of dawn, and then volunteered for over three hours on our feet. It was time to replenish.

Birch’s had 8 beers on tap and was serving their weekend brunch menu. We ordered up a flight of all 8 beers and shared them so we could each taste them all. I was happy to see a few sours on the menu and had high hopes for them. The standout one for me was the Blood Orange berliner, which was super tart, but easy drinking. I was a bit disappointed by the Boysenberry Gose, as it was incredibly sweet, and almost syrup like.

The red rye and blonde ale were both very nice and easy drinking. They were the kind of beer I could see enjoying on a patio out on a lake. I had high expectations for their Chipotle Stout, and unfortunately it didn’t match up to what I had at Big Axe in Nisswa. The one beer that really stood out for us was their coffee ale. This was a straw colored beer infused with coffee and it had amazing flavor. The coffee flavor was rich and fresh, and the malt body of the underlying beer was very smooth. I recently had another pale coffee ale, and this beer knocked that one’s socks off. A truly amazing brew.

Our food arrived, and we enjoyed a nice time relaxing and talking about running and hiking. Birch’s was a great way to finish off a great morning, and I can see going back there if I’m ever in that neck of the woods again.

Blacklist Artisan Ales

This past weekend, while in Duluth for a race, I took a brief break in the action to stop by the newest taproom on the North Shore, Blacklist Artisan Ales. I only had about 45 minutes between activities, and so we walked down Superior Street for a quick taste of what they had to offer.

I took a seat at the bar and ordered up a flight. They had a pre-set flight, which was fine with me, as I had just finished running 16 miles and wasn’t in the mood to think too hard. The beertender explained that they specialized in Belgian style ales, and on the flight I had a Belgian Wit, Belgian IPA, Belgian Golden Strong, and a stout on nitro.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Belgian beers, as I find the yeast flavor a bit too “strong” for my liking. I can’t explain it fully, but there’s a sweet character to Belgian yeast that I find distracting from enjoying the malt and hop character of a beer. I started my sampling with the Belgian Wit. It was pretty much as I expected, a very boldly Belgian beer, but on par it was pleasant to drink. The lighter malt body of the wit was refreshing, and since it was just a flight sample, I found the beer acceptable.

Before I went to the next beer on the flight the beertender offered me a sample of their Keller Vienna which they had brewed up just for their Oktoberfest celebration that was going on. There was polka music on the speakers, and a small stage set up for people to dance. The entire space is a beautiful old building, with windows facing the street as well as Lake Superior. It’s light and fun, and is the type of place I could see myself sitting at for long periods of time.

The second beer on the flight was their Belgian Golden Strong. Immediately I noticed that it had a much, much more subdued Belgian quality than the Wit. It actually surprised me a lot, as I was expecting an even stronger sweetness. Instead, I found a very pleasant and drinkable beer, that still hinted at a Belgian ancestry, but it didn’t knock you in the face with sweetness. I’ve only occasionally enjoyed Golden Strong’s, but this beer was something I could see drinking more of. That’s a high compliment in my book.

Next up was the Belgian IPA. Again, this beer had a much more subtle Belgian character to it. It was distinctly Belgian, but not so strongly that it overpowered the hop character. It was a well rounded beer that would appeal to IPA fans as well as Belgian drinkers. Finally, I finished up with their Stout on nitro. Holy cow was this a perfect stout! It had a beautiful hint of chocolate that balanced wonderfully with the roasty character of the malt. Serving it on nitro just made everything better, as the smooth finish left the chocolate notes dangling on your palate well after you had taken your sip. They distribute this beer in cans, but on CO2. If I want the nitro version, I’ll have to come back.

Finally, I was treated to a quick taste of their Spruce DIPA. This was a nice refreshing beer, but at 9.5% is has to be a sipper. I usually have a hard time tolerating such high ABV, so I was pleased I got to get a simple taste before ending my visit.

I can say without a doubt that Blacklist is worth stopping by. The space is warm and inviting, and our beertender was friendly and helpful. As for the beer, it is all brewed exceptionally well, and for a non-Belgian drinker like myself, it provided a lot to enjoy, while still being a Belgian-heavy brewery. I loved the balance that they were able to achieve in their brews, and I will most certainly be making a stop back here from time to time as I’m through the area. I’d suggest you put in on your list as well.

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.