Searching for the line between "hobby" and "obsession"

Brew Pubs and Beer Bars

Tilia in Minneapolis

Recently my wife and I hit up Tilia in the Linden Hills neighborhood of South Minneapolis. It was very busy for a Wednesday night. We found out why. Fancy and reasonably affordable gourmet fare paired with a selective tap list. Very impressed. I even finally found a Saison Dupont that wasn’t skunked! Awesome.

I appreciated the bar tender’s honesty as he guided us away from poor choices. Here’s a convo excerpt:

Me: “I’d like New Belgium’s Lips of Faith please.’
Him: “No you wouldn’t.”
Me: “But I like sours!”
Him: “They neglected to sour it!”

He then let me try a sample of it. He was right! They pasteurized it too early and it didn’t really sour. I would have been disappointed. We got to talking about homebrewing and  he bought a round for my wife and I. Free beer and a discerning guide? I like this place. The food was good too. We had a duck pate, scallops and a pasta dish. All were top notch. I’d go back, though maybe try to show up earlier than 7pm on more popular nights unless you want to wait.

Fitger's brew pub

During the week between Christmas and New Years, my wife and I were up at Lutsen with some friends. On the way back, we stopped for lunch at… where else but Fitger’s Brew Pub in Duluth. I’ve been to Fitger’s a few times before, but that was years ago before my beer obsession firmly took hold. (more…)

The Lowbrow, Minneapolis

Have you been to the Lowbrow in Minneapolis yet? Check it out. This place deserves to be more crowded than it is. Good beer list, good service, no wait at 7pm on a recent Saturday night and decent pub fare (stay away from the bland veggie burger though). The wife and I checked this place out with friends on a recent weekend after nearby Pat’s Tap – which didn’t seem super crowded – told us it would be a 60 to 90 min. wait. No thanks. Just seven blocks south on Nicollet, we had a table at the Lowbrow right away, no reservations. That’s more my style. (more…)

Great job on your tap list Sun Street Breads!

My wife and I checked out the new Sun Street Breads for breakfast on a recent Sunday morning. The sourdough pancakes I had were quite tasty. The place was bustling with activity, quite popular as well-rated new Minneapolis breakfast joints are wont to be. Turns out they do lunch and dinner as well and boast a small but selectively tasty bottle and tap beer list. Check it out: (more…)

Avery Mephistopheles' Stout at Town Hall Tap

Counting down the days until the baby arrives, my wife and I hit up Town Hall Tap last weekend for one of our final nights out pre-baby. I finally branched out from ordering the Heidelburger (I’ve had it probably five or six times, quite good!) and tried a wild rice and mushroom burger which also blew me away. Great food at this place.

The first beer I ordered was a weizenbock, a Town Hall seasonal. Never had this style before but it was great for winter. The combo of over-the-top maltiness and creamy wheat gave the beer an excellent body, an appetizer onto itself. The next beer I tried was Avery’s Mephistopheles’ imperial stout. At 15% ABV, I didn’t require another beer after this one. Black as hell, super smooth and very easy to drink for a beer of that strength. Dangerous! Avery must have to go to great lengths to exercise proper fermentation control and properly oxidize the wort to come up with such a smooth, non-astringent beer of this caliber. It would have probably paired much better with chocolate cake than it did with my wild rice burger, but I enjoyed it thoroughly all the same.


Pizzeria Lola still going strong a year after opening

Glad to see Pizzeria Lola is still going strong a year after opening! Here’s a review of Lola I wrote last January just after it opened. It was very busy in there last Friday. We got there around 5:30pm and still had to wait 10-15 min. for a seat. Their owner was present on the pizza assembly line that night, keeping an eye on the shop.

My wife and I managed to get the best seats in the house Friday night: at the bar right next to the taps. Those seats are a beautiful marriage of being able to see right into the huge copper wood-fired pizza oven and attentive drink service. Another plus during the cold winter months is that these seats are the warmest in the house. It was fun watching this dude manage all the pizzas cooking inside, constantly adjusting their positions for even heat distribution:


Sweet Child of Vine at Wise Acre

Recently I made a repeat visit to Wise Acre, a great new organic restaurant in my hood. Very good, flavorful food (skip the pumpkin custard… way too frozen, if that makes sense). Pretty decent small beer list, too. Both times there, I’ve had a Founder’s Red RyePA. Love that beer. The spiciness of the rye does some cool stuff in an IPA. Additionally, I decided to give Fulton’s Sweet Child of Vine another try. This beer has never quite hit me right, though upon hearing from another member of my homebrew club that he’d had good and bad Fulton pints, I decided to test my luck again. (more…)

The Herkimer

The wife and I hit up Lake of the Isles dog park with friends Laura and Cristof last weekend and then headed to the Herkimer for lunch. Turns out the Herk was having their Oktoberfest bier release party. Perfect timing! Both Cristof and I had some of this year’s fest bier (very carmely, malty, Oktoberfest perfection) and I also tried their version of Gose beer (tasted a lot like a saison, not as sour as I would have expected). The only crappy part was the HORRIBLE service by our hipster waiter. Wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt but he kept being fucking up and not caring about it. I won’t promise that I’ll never go back to the Herk (I’ve usually had unmemorable waiters there, which is a good thing), but I’m not exactly itching to return. (more…)

Brasserie Federal – Zurich, Switzerland

I’ve been procrastinating writing the last post in the hopper from our Europe trip, but here it goes:

After taking a beautiful 3 hour train ride from Lugano back up to Zurich, the wife and I were looking around for a relatively reasonably priced restaurant (for Switzerland) at which to have our final meal in Europe. Not wanting to stray too far from the train station, we happened upon Brasserie Federal (which was actually IN the main train station). I didn’t expect anything extraordinary, but unbeknownst to me at the time, this place was on Beer Traveler’s list of 150 great places to have a beer. I got to check this place off the list without even trying!

The food was pretty good, albeit expensive as was to be expected in Switzerland. They had a really nice bottle selection with an emphasis on Belgian beers as well as a small but unique (to me) draft selection. I tried a schwarzbier by Falken, a brand brewed in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. It was very clean with hints of roast, paired with a similarly subtle hop bill. I could get into lagers like this. The second beer I tried (almost out of compulsion, as they had so many signs about the place that I thought it was the restaurant’s name at first) was a hell beer  by Haldengut. This brewery in Churn, Switzerland was purchased by Heineken just a few years ago. Their hell beer was pretty much as I expected: very clean but with that familiar lager taste I can’t get myself to fully enjoy. Very similar to Surly’s Hell beer I tried last summer. Just can’t get into hell lagers. (more…)

4th of July Weekend in Chicago – Part 2: Goose Island's Clybourn Brew Pub

On Saturday afternoon of our trip to Chicago over the 4th of July weekend this past month, my wife and I took the train with her brother and his wife from their place over to Lincoln Park and Goose Island’s original brew pub on Clybourn Ave. This is one of the places I knew I really wanted to check out during our Chicago trip. My recent affinity for Goose Island developed after being subject to their PR-tinged Beer School session back in early May at the Happy Gnome in St. Paul. The session focused on their recently expanded series of Belgian-inspired brews. I’ve been digging Belgian beers a lot in the past year, so their efforts in this segment prove to be a good fit.

Of the five beers from their “vintage ale” collection, I was able to sample four when Goose Island hosed Beer School. The one beer that wasn’t quite ready to serve yet at that time was their Fleur. I made sure to buy a pint of Fleur with lunch before we toured the brewery. It came across very clean with definitive yet subdued Belgian character. I didn’t really get much aroma or flavor off of the hibiscus and kombucha tea that is apparently added during the production process of Fleur. Definitely one of the least interesting beers of the “vintage ale” collection (I think Pepe Nero is still my fav). (more…)

4th of July Weekend in Chicago – Part 1: The Hopleaf Bar

My wife and I made the 7+ hr. drive from Minneapolis through Wisconsin and down to Chicago over 4th of July weekend this year. Her brother and his wife recently relocated there from Newport Beach, California in order for the two of them to attend graduate school at Northwestern. They hadn’t had much opportunity to explore the area yet, and I hadn’t been to Chi-town for a decade, so we were all pretty much in the same boat. Fortunately, I’d brought my trusty issue of Beer Traveler magazine (an offshoot of a regular column in All About Beer magazine that is only produced as a full issue on an annual basis, I believe). There were multiple Chicago-area locations recommended in the issue. I knew I wanted to go to Goose Island’s first brew pub, but besides that, I really had no preference.

We decided to hit up the hop leaf for our first night in the city. This gastro pub was #9 on the magazine’s list of 150 of the best places in the world to enjoy a pint. I’ve been to a handful of places on that list, but this is the closet to the top I’ve come. Their food was delicious, very much akin to Buster’s on 28th, a favorite local hangout of mine. Amazing bottle and tap selection with an apparent focus on Belgian beers. Tried a few, myself. (more…)

Hofbräuhaus – Munich, Germany

Yes we made it to the one, the only, the big HB. One of Munich’s most historic and popular tourist attractions, the Hofbräuhaus has expanded to multiple locations here in the states in the last few years. Though this unfortunately makes it less special in my mind, I was still glad to enjoy some beers and lunch at the original location.

The HB in Munich is a HUGE place. I’d been told to stop by for a beer and skip ordering food because the service is normally poor. Our waiter, however, was as attentive as one would reasonably expect. I will admit this was probably because we were there for a late lunch during the middle of the week. I didn’t happen to take any tasting notes here (whoops) so I actually remember more about how the traditional weisswurst veal sausage tasted more than the beer. Annnnd in case you were wondering: yes it was weird to eat a white sausage (that’s what she said?) but it tasted great. I’d definitely order that again. As far as the beer goes, I think based on my pictures I had their dunkel and my wife had their Munich weisse, and I think both were pretty good. Informative, right?

Just based on what others have said, I’d recommend doing like we did and going at an off-peak time so you can actually get your waiter’s attention.


Kloster Andechs – Andechs, Germany

Hey reader – thanks for your patience. Blogging has been a bit tough to fit into the schedule lately. The band has been very active and I just started a new job last week. I’ll try to keep posting as much as possible. Here we go:

Though we were over in Europe for about 18 days, I can honestly say our day drip out to this monastery/brewery was overall my favorite day of the trip. We took a train about 45 min. southwest of Munich down to Herrsching, a small town on the coast of a decent sized lake called the Ammersee. I’d been referred to Kloster Andechs (in the nearby town of Andechs) by Max, a reader of my blog, in the comment s section of a previous post. Glad I took the recommendation!

After getting off the train at Herrsching, we followed the signs for Kloster Andechs through the town, neighborhoods and eventually through the woods for a longer walk than I’d anticipated. I had to keep telling my wife how sure I was that the brewery was “just over the next ridge.” It wasn’t a lie because I honestly believed it, but I was wrong a few times before I was right. (more…)

Ayinger – Munich, Germany

Ahhhhhh Ayinger: probably my favorite of the three big brewery restaurants we visited in Munich as evidenced by the fact that we actually went here twice in the span of just three days. We had dinner here our first night in the city and got a great seat right out front on the patio. I ordered the same thing I did at the Zeughauskeller (wienerschnitzel) and didn’t have to pay a million dollars for it this time. Go Munich! Tasted just as good, if not better. (more…)

Paulaner – Munich, Germany

Ok, here we go. We finally made it to Munich. After hitting the Marienplatz and checking out the beer garden in the Viktualienmarkt, we stumbled upon Paulaner’s pub and had our first beers in Germany.

First, I went for their dunkel they had on tap. It came across as very “clean” and definitely like a very flavorful, malty lager. So malty, it almost seemed to tread the line between a lager and an ale. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of lagers, but I can dig this.

Next, I had to try their famous Salvator beer, the origin of the doppelbock style (even though they only had it in bottles). Monks from Paula, Italy who had moved to Munich came up with this beer hundreds of years ago to sustain them during Lent when they were unable to consume solid foods. These monks sent some of this strong beer to the Pope for approval, as some were worried they were having too good of a time “fasting” in this manner. Apparently the beer spoiled en route and upon tasting, the Pope was quite impressed the monks had chosen to subject themselves to consuming such a beverage during Lent and gave Salvator papal blessing. The monks pretty much said “umm… well ok then” and kept making and drinking Salvator each year.


Zeughauskeller – Zurich, Switzerland

We decided to hit up the Zeughauskeller for beers and dinner for our first night in Zurich. Yes, it’s a tourist attraction, but we were tourists. So there.

I’d heard Switzerland was expensive before we went there, and you know what? TRUE. Fortunately, a Swiss Franc is only worth something like $1.15 right now (whereas Euros are worth $1.40), but still… Switzerland is a beautiful place and those assholes let you know they know it. The single most expensive meal we had on this three week vacation was here at the Zeughauskeller. Three beers between us, bread (turns out you have to pay for the bread on the table if you eat it…), two salads and two entrees came to around 110 Swiss Francs. With the conversion to the dollar, that’s nearly $130.oo Ridiculous! I had freaking wienerschnitzel and my wife had some forgettable chicken cordon bleu. Get off your high horse Switzerland.

I did some checking after we got back and it looks like I’m not the only one to dislike this place, though I guess our service could have been worse based on the reviews. It was probably OK because we got hungry and went to dinner early that day.

Anyway, I will say their beer was delicious. I had a couple pints of bock (on the right). It was probably unfiltered or unfined, as it was the most opaque of all the bocks I ended up trying on the trip. Very smooth, likely because it was served close to cellar temperature (I’ll give them points there). I can’t recall what my wife ordered. Wasn’t taking notes just yet. Looks like probably their standard lager. (more…)

Town Hall Tap

The wife and I hit up Town Hall Tap with a couple friends during Minneapolis’s “Snowmageddon II” storm a few weeks back (13″ in 12 hrs., I believe). I actually called my buddy, Josh (who I don’t see often as he’s the drummer from the Jacob Martin Band, currently based out of Nashville) to cancel our plans to hit up the tap on account of the weather, but he assured me his truck would make it through the blizzard. This was pretty awesome because the new, second location for Town Hall opened this past November to much local acclaim and is normally very busy over dinner most nights of the week. Not this night. Once we plowed through the storm to get there, we got a table right away.

It’s interesting to learn that Town Hall decided to build out this second location because they were unable to sell to their 3,500 bbl. / yr. capacity at their single downtown location. They expanded in large part to help move their beer. I’m glad I get to benefit from this and welcome them to my neighborhood.

I had been to the Tap once before this past December and had really enjoyed the experience. Though I ordered completely different beers this time, I had to order the same burger: the Heidelberger. It’s this ½ lb. Angus beef burger stuffed with onions, crusted in chopped bacon and topped with Tillamook smoked cheddar cheese. I had no reason to branch out. One of the best burger’s I’ve ever had. The experience was even better the second time around, as the fries were even crispier than last time. Bonus points.

On to the beers! (more…)

The Muddy Pig

After doing a tour of Flat Earth Brewing Co. last weekend, my buddies and I headed to one of the better St. Paul beer bars, The Muddy Pig, to enjoy some eats and drinks. I’d been here before and knew this place had a great tap and bottle selection (that apparently their website lists roughly half of), but wow, I must have forgotten the extent of the strange brews available to try. Very impressed.

Since we’d already had a few earlier at the brewery and since I was driving, I didn’t go too crazy. Here’s what I had: (more…)

Valentine's Day with a couple of Russians

Since my wife is finishing up her MBA this semester and has class Monday nights, we decided to celebrate V-Day a little early this year, which of course included seeking out some new beers to sample.

I follow local brewery Fulton on Facebook and they had posted an update Friday afternoon on how Grumpy’s downtown was tapping a cask of their Worthy Adversary, a 9.2% ABV Russian Imperial Stout. I’ve had good experiences with the two cask-conditioned beers I’ve had over the last few months, so I was pumped to try a big stout on cask. Since we had already had late-evening dinner reservations at The Inn, a new restaurant downtown Minneapolis, Grumpy’s sounded like a good option for a pre-dinner drink or two.


Harriet Brewing's West Side release party

Some friends and I hit up Harriet Brewing’s official release party for their first beer, West Side, this past Wednesday night at the Blue Nile up on Franklin Ave. I could definitely tell a difference between West Side and  the growler of “batch one” I’d purchased at my visit to the brewery back on January 29th.

The official first offering from the first brewery to open within Minneapolis city limits in decades hits the tongue as a bit thinner in body and hoppier than the preliminary batch one I’d tried previously. Flavors imparted by the Belgian yeast strain were still quite evident and more challenged for dominance by the hop profile than they were previously in batch one. I could see how the recipe has evolved as Sowards continues to dial in his new brew house. I found one thing odd though: Wednesday’s version of West Side had what appeared to be some chill haze issues. (more…)

Buster's on 28th

God damn, I love this place.

I don’t know if there is a better bar in Minnesota for craft beer lovers than Buster’s on 28th. My wife suggested we go here after a long brew day this past Saturday and it was a good reminder of her awesomeness. As their website attests, they have so many great tap and bottle options it’s completely overwhelming to order anything, which effectively makes me giddy. On top of that, their food is all top-notch, especially considering the size of their tiny kitchen.

The wife and I ordered a few rounds between the two of us. Here’s what we tried: (more…)

Being in a band has its (craft) beer perks

More adventures were to be had last weekend. On Friday night, my cover band played at Babe’s in Lakeville. In addition to a handful of cash, we usually get good deals on food and drink so I decided to throw back a few Summit Winter Ales before we got on stage. Summit is doing a really good job at getting their seasonals out in the bars. I swear I’ve had a Summit Winter (or had the option of getting one) at most places we’ve eaten at in the last few months. Each time I have a Winter, I thing about how much better it could be if served out of a cask. I feel like this malty ale has enough backbone to demand that kind of attention.

My cover band, FlashMob! at Babe's in Lakeville this past weekend


The New 'Pizzeria Lola' Has a Limited but Awesome Tap List

It seems like every local publication is raving about the new Pizzeria Lola lately and it happens to be just a few miles from our house, so the wife and I decided to  check it out last night. The reviews we had read were’t too far off (here’s Heavy Table’s), though they largely neglected to reflect how honed and toned Lola’s tap beer list was. I’m hard to impress in this regard but I’d give Lola an A.

The top notch neapolitan-style pizzas we tried (Hawaii Pie-O and Sweet Italian) were made with flavorful ingredients and a crust that was crispy on the edges and hearty enough to not be watery in the middle, which is a HUGE plus for me as I really dislike neapolitan pizza that turns into soup in the middle. The app we got was some sort of Asian-influenced beef shortribs. Very tasty and spicy but I was a bit confused when they came with chopsticks. How am I supposed to eat slices of beef with a small bone embedded with chopsticks? Not every piece had a bone but for the ones that did… do I spit the bone back out after I’m done? Is that cool to do in public? I mean, I’m ok with it but can see how that looks weird.

Since we’d driven through the Fulton neighborhood to get to Lola, I had to try local brewery Fulton’s Lonely Blonde. I’d only had Fulton’s Sweet Child O Vine up until now, so it was cool to explore some new “beeritory.” I’ll have to say, I don’t regret my decision but – and I’ve said this before on this blog – I’m just not a huge fan of lager beers. Most I’ve tried remind me a bit too much of Bud/Miller/Coors and unfortunately Lonely Blonde was no exception. I’m convinced it’s not the brewer here, it’s just the style that I don’t prefer.

The second beer I tried was the Black Butte Porter by Deschutes. Loved this one! It was thick and notably smokier than most porters I’ve tried. Almost tasted more like a stout. The hops took a back seat to let the smoked malts come through. This is the second style from Deschutes I’ve had in the past month and I’ve been very impressed with each. (more…)

A Great End To The Year With Many Great Beers

In looking back on the holiday season, I had the opportunity to indulge in many great beers. Here’s the rundown:
  • 12/23: O’Dell’s Best Brown ale on tap at Loring Pasta Bar (started me thinking I should do a sweet brown ale)Surly Smoke and Darkness and Bell’s Two Hearted ale on tap at the Varsity Theater
  • 12/25: Shared a bottle of 2010 Surly Darkness (procured back on Darkness Day) with my Grandma and Dad on Christmas, which is also my birthday
  • 12/26: Had some Odell’s Isolation Ale and Surly Abrasive on tap at Buster’s on 28th after a little reunion jam session with buddies from my high school rock band Delayed Reaxtion. We had some Barking Dog D3, Cujo Spice and Sammy’s Golden Porter during practice.
  • 12/28: Summit Winter on tap at Alary’s, downtown St. Paul for a happy hour. CREAMY, delicious malty-ness.
  • 12/29: The new Town Hall Tap opened near my hood. Checked it out with Michelle’s parents for a belated b-day celebration. Got to try their house Belgian Brown on tap and Odell’s Best Brown on cask. The Odell’s was the first cask beer I’ve ever tried. Very thick, loved it! I’m now definitely on a kick to brew a brown ale on the sweet side. (more…)