Our club Social Director Bryce contacted the folks at Excelsior and organized a tour for us this past Saturday. We arrived at the quiet parking lot outside the brewery at 11:30 am with a group of about 12 members. We were greeted by Ben Flattum, the brewery's main PR guy, and immediately handed samples of beer for us to try. I have to say that Ben did a fantastic job of handling our group! I know how hard it is to run herd on a bunch of drinking homebrewers but he seemed to know when to move on the the next sample or show off a new gadget to us. He was also very knowledgeable about the brewing process and equipment, able to answer most of our beer-geekery questions.
The brewery is in a fairly small building that used to house a mechanic shop. One can tell from the way things are stacked tightly in every corner that the brewery needs more active space. Ben showed us plans for an expansion to knock down the back wall and take over the other mechanic shop next door. Since they have done that particular demo before they already know what they are getting into. It sounds like they are limited in production now due to storage space. The tasting room itself is right in the center of the brewery with two separate stainless bars are placed in an L shape around the periphery. Unlike some tasting rooms, this one really lets you feel like you are in smack-dab in the middle of a working brewery.
We were shown the huge old monstrosity of a boiler that came with the building: looming in a small back room like some industrial behemoth from a long past Steam-Punk age of dirigibles, gears and lots of bowler hats. We saw the grain storage and milling equipment, and Gary took his obligatory pictures of the Rahr malt. We saw the new stainless steel brew kettle and mash tun. Apparently that boiler is so wickedly powerful that the brewer has to constantly toggle the switches to prevent boil overs! Another interesting tidbit is the growler filler that came with instructions only in Russian and took the brewery a while to get the hang of.
|Jim in front of his favorite Industrial Revolution Relic|
And of course there was beer. Compared to my first time here the beers have improved greatly, as has the serving of those beers. The beers are now served out of taps at the correct temperature and with the correct amount of head. They were serving 5 different beers on this visit and let us try them all. The Pale ale is probably my least favorite of their beers. The Big Island Blonde was still much stronger than a real blonde ale, but much more balanced and drinkable than my previous experience with it. I almost feel like that one should be their pale ale flagship beer. I guess Fulton's blonde ale is also much more bitter and strong than I expect, so maybe soon we'll have a special category for Minnesota-Style Blonde at the GABF... The wonderfully named Bitteschlappe Brown was a bit hazy but had a nice subtle nutty and roast character that was easy to enjoy. The Shattered Solstice ale was a spiced winter ale that I liked quite a bit. I think they got just the right amount of spice in this beer for my tastes. And the last beer was my favorite, the Oar Lock oat stout. That one was just a really smooth and tasty beer and I'd go back just for a pint of it.
The brewery really has its own style and great branding with a ton of options for shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, glassware, hats and bottle openers for sale. Yes Sj and I bought shirts, they actually have long sleeved options! I'm always annoyed by MN breweries who only sell short sleeved shirts...we live in a state where you can only wear those for 4 months out of the year!
Before we finished our tour Ben pulled a couple of unmarked shiny cans from some obscure hiding place and cracked them for us. This was a canned version of their first beer, the Bridge Jumper IPA, that ended up having a crazy high ABV due to a much better extract efficiency than they were expecting. I tasted that first batch in growler and was less than impressed, so it was interesting to try it again in the context of their new beers. The beer has mellowed and is drinkable now, but has a pretty strong buttery character that I think was hidden initially by the now-fading hop flavor and bitterness.
Overall, I think that I can safely recommend Excelsior Brewing Company to anyone who wants to check out a young brewery and try some interesting new Minnesota beers. I still think the brewery has a little growing up to do, but is more of a gawky adolescent now than the mewling newborn babe that I met earlier in the year. Once that expansion takes place, I think the brewery will get its driver's licence and get to play with the grown ups. I really appreciate Ben and the brewery owners hosting our tour and providing us with tastes of all the beers. We were made to feel at home and our group had a fantastic time tasting, talking and exploring at this new venue.
Addendum 1/28/12: My friends just shared a growler of the Excelsior baltic porter and I have to say I was very impressed with this beer. It is one I would search out--very rich and complex with a smooth lager character. Good job guys, make more!