I'll admit it, the frigid cold, ice-packed roads, and repeated snowmageddons here in Minnesota have kept me acting as more of a homebody than I'd like. Several new breweries have opened since last Fall and I've been falling down on my self-avowed mission to review them for my readers. This weekend we braved the arctic blast, heading downtown to check out Day Block Brewing. Located on Washington Avenue, near the 7 Corners area, the brewery opened officially on January 27 2014. As of this writing, they have been open just under two months. I like to give brewpubs and breweries a little time to iron out the kinks and get a couple batches of beer under their belts before doing official reviews, and that time has now come! Come along on a trip with me…
This particular trip was on a Sunday, around 12:45 in the afternoon. Driving in from Waconia, I like to visit places on "off" days like Tuesdays and Sundays to avoid traffic and crowds. This also usually allows more time for pictures and for asking staff questions about the food and drink. On the other hand you do sometimes run into issues with restaurants having the "B Team" on those days and perhaps less staff than usual for a higher volume time. In my opinion if a restaurant or bar has poor service on a day when there should be plenty of time, it does not bode well for busy crunch times!
The brewery is named after its location: the old Day Block Building, dating back to 1883. There is a small parking lot behind the building, which is always convenient downtown, but if crowded you will need to find metered street parking. The building itself is made of light colored brick, with thick walls made to last centuries and multiple fires. I'm always happy to see historic and classic architecture reused rather razed for new high-rises, so this place had already piqued my interest. I took along my new camera to test it out and hopefully get some good pictures of the place. You can be the judge on how I did with that goal! There is a small sign for the brewery on the street-side corner of the building, and a banner higher up on the front. Walking from the parking lot, we passed two doors, each with an arrow pointing toward the main entrance around front. Passing an unlabeled door, I reached yet another door, this one with an arrow pointing back the way I came from! I would like to recommend that they add a Day Block Brewing sign directly over the main entrance at some point in the future, as I saw several other folks trying the wrong doors during my visit.
Inside, the main restaurant, bar and small kitchen are located off to the right of the entrance. There is a second bar area on the left, that was not open at this time, but gives them room to spread out during peak hours. The 10 barrel brewery itself is located in a glassed in room behind that accessory bar, and is all fresh and glistening new stainless steel. Both bars are of fine-grained lighter colored wood with a fairly large silvery tin-tiled back splash. Growlers and glasses line the back of the bar and 6 hand-turned wooden tap handles are used to pull foaming pints of craft beer for thirsty patrons. Brown painted tin tile lines the tall ceilings, criss-crossed by track lighting and industrial piping. Exposed thick brick walls and a huge expanse of spotless glass windows line the room. The overall impression is of extreme age with a fresh coating of paint, populated with new wooden booths and tables. The look inside the building is pleasant and well-lit, but has a slightly generic feel to it. The one thing I didn't see, that would be welcome, was some sort of Day Block sign over the bar. Maybe they are not wanting to spoil the ambiance, but I think they could do with some branding here! The place was very cold, with solid brick walls and huge expanses of glass radiating an icy chill through the pub. We were forced to wear our winter coats through out our stay. Summer will be nicer.
Tell you more about the beer you ask? They usually have six beers on tap at any one time, but had just run out of one during my visit. With a small sized brewery, they are able to do many smaller batches and try more things, which is one reason I tend to like brewpubs. They have listed the batch numbers on the beer menu, and at least one beer was up to batch seven. This indicates that they have had time to dial in their system and hopefully make tweaks to recipes for fine tuning. I ordered the six beer sampler for their 5 beers and got an extra pour of the rye bock. Served in a long wooden paddle the flight certainly looked impressive when brought to the table. I'll give my impressions of the beers as a BJCP beer judge, but keep in mind my tastes may be different from yours! If you like a beer that I don't, that doesn't make you wrong. The Winter Wit was a Belgian Wit style beer with a pretty strong orange character--I actually liked this one pretty well, but get migraines from wheat beers so let Sj drink most of my sample. The humorously named Former Mayor Ryebock (R.T.Rybak for those non-Minnesotans out there) was a pleasant and malty maibock with rye and probably my favorite of the day. The Black IPA was fairly good for what it was but I'm just not a fan of the style, so can't get too excited about it. The Porter was decent, but didn't blow my socks off, seeming a bit thin in body. My least favorite was the Frank's Red Ale. I got diacetyl (buttered popcorn) and too much toffee sweetness from it that made it difficult to drink.
And the food? I'm pleased at the new trend to go back to the brewpub model in Minnesota. With Northbound Smokehouse, Free House and now Day Block taking this tack, there are more options recently for Minneapolis. If I drive in from the suburbs I usually want some food with my beer, something that brewery tap-rooms can't do unless they happen to have a food truck stop by. Brewpubs are also open on Sundays, unlike tap-rooms, but still can't sell growlers due to archaic post-prohibition laws about Sunday liquor sales in our state. (Check the link here for more info on that particular problem via The Four Firkins.) The kitchen at Day Block is tiny, but has an interesting mix of appetizers and pizzas. We ordered the pickle sampler, which included pickled radish, kimchi, and regular pickles with hops in the mix. All were good and refreshing. We also ordered the much-discussed bacon flight: a mixture of three specialty bacons served end-up in tiny porcelain bowls filled with dipping sauces. I love this idea and the sauces were really tasty (spicy chocolate, curry and another I can't remember) but at least half of our bacon was burned to solid black twigs of meat briquette. If bacon is on your menu as a signature plate you really, really need to cook it correctly. Sj ordered a Taco Truck Pizza topped with flank steak, cotija cheese, pickled jalapeno and radish. This was good, but didn't "wow" either of us. I ordered the Bahn Mizza: a pizza-fied take on the classic meat filled Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. This one was a winner! Slightly spicy with Asian flavors, pork and shaved carrots, atop a perfectly crispy crust. Now this is a signature dish!
|The burnt bacon was not as photogenic!|
My overall impression of Day Block Brewing was favorable, but with some caveats. I think the food was good, but they need to step up their game on that bacon. Nine bucks for mostly burned bacon is nine bucks too much. The beers were mostly good quality (minus the red) but none of them really excited me. Perhaps my palate is jaded after years of chasing the next new hop or funky beer. I'm hoping that these guys make full use of their small brew system and create lots of seasonal and one-off projects rather than sticking to a bunch of safe standbys. I didn't mention it previously, but Day Block makes a note of trying to use as many fresh and local ingredients as possible--a policy I thoroughly agree with. The beer they ran out of used a rare hop from Wisconsin, and I know they use malts from Rahr in Shakopee, so they are trying to do this in their brewing as well as the restaurant. I would certainly stop by here for a beer again, and perhaps a Bahn Mizza, but probably won't make the 45 minute trek from home just for that. I hate to say it but Day Block is just too close to my old favorite Town Hall, and if I drive all the way to 7 Corners area I'm going to want to stop in there first.
I'd love to hear what other people think of the place, so feel free to comment on this blog if you have anything to say! Am I wrong? Am I right? Is there a new beer that I must get back there to try?
Update 5/13/14 Day Block Revisited!
After writing my initial review I was actually contacted by one of the owners, who seemed to really be interested in feedback. He suggested I give them another try, so as of this update, that is just what I did. This visit was also on a Tuesday at noon, but this time I took along my beer-loving mom for a late Mother's Day lunch. The layout and vibe of the place is the same as my initial impression, though slightly less chilly this time.
We each got a 6 beer sampler and I have to say that I was very impressed with the results. Out of all 6 beers the only one I didn't love was the Kolsch--and that was mainly because it was a Kolsch! They had a Spring Lager that was hoppy, fresh and amazing. The Block 21 Pale Ale was citrus-filled and entirely refreshing. I'm always impressed when a small brewery can pull off lagers well and there were 3 excellent examples in this flight.
I ordered the bacon flight again, just to see what would happen. This time the bacon was not burned and was heavenly! One had a sweet maple dipping sauce, another was spicy jerk seasoned with a zippy pineapple sauce, and the last was chocolate dipped. Yum!
For main dishes my mom got the Chimmi pizza, with beef chunks, pickled onions and spicy chimmichurrie sauce. I got the Bahn Mizza again because it is worth making the trip for. I won again, though both pizzas were good.
Overall, a few months after my first review I have to say that things have shaped up nicely. Service was quicker, bacon was better, and the beers were even better. I can now whole-heartedly recommend the place!