Friday, March 7, 2014

Day Block Brewing Review

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.

Artistic Licence!

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!

As hinted at earlier in my review, our service was a bit mixed during this visit.  When we entered the building, there were three guys at the bar and three other occupied tables.  We were not allowed to sit in one of the empty booths as they were reserved for parties of three or more.  I understand this policy, especially on a busy Saturday night, but perhaps they could have made exception for slow Sundays?  Our waitress did eventually push a second two-top table up to ours to give us more room for our apps, pizzas and beer flight though.  Our service was not fast, but we did find out later that our poor waitress had cut her hand and needed to take some time to get that dressed.  Ok, I'll give her some leeway there!  We did get our appetizers at the same time as our pizzas--a pet peeve of mine--but I should have learned by now not to order everything at once.

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!


Brady said...

Tried some of their beers at winter Beerdabbler and was unimpressed. Few were Ok and very drinkable, a few had some odd off flavors to them. Met the head brewer who I recognized from Harriet Brewing and Lucid brewing so that may have soured my interest in Day Blocks beers.

B K Edgar said...

Carol and I had sort of the same reaction. Potential, but not there yet, no wows. We thought the best were Frank's Red Ale and the Winter Wit. We rated both 6 out of 10. The Winter Wit starts out like a nice Belgian White Ale, but the flavor gets lost in the carbonation at the end. Of the beers we sampled, Franks Red Ale had more taste, with a nice maltiness, but again, the carbonation overwhelms the mouth feel.

We rated both the Former Mayer Ryebock and the Day Block Perter as 4 out of 10. Neither had a lot of taste, with the Ryebock tasting a bit muddy. We had the most hope for the Porter, which started out nice, but finished with what they described as "a spicy/earthy" note, but to us was more like cigarette ash. Coming in last of the taps at 3 out of 10 was the Black IPA. It seemed to have a hint of lavender, which we didn't much care for.

One theme which seemed to run through all their taps is carbonation. They were all so highly carbonated that is seemed like drinking soda pop.

The menu is still rather limited, with an emphasis on pizza. Having had pizza the night before, we tried their appetizers. We couldn't pass up the Bacon Flight, which is interesting, but it is basically bacon with dipping sauces. Our bacon was crisp, but not burnt. They were out of the Pub Pretzels so we tried the garlic knots which did not have a lot of flavor and seemed undercooked.

We had problems with slow service as well, even though they were not busy when we were there. Given the close spacing of the tables, the lack of custom was nice. We don't think we could has stood the closeness if the tables were all full. We decided to wait 6-9 months to give them a chance to settle in before we give them another try.

Eric Wentling said...

Thanks for the input guys!

Sarajo Wentling said...

Eric is being too kind, especially in the service department. I'll cut some slack for the injury, but it took almost 20 minutes to get menus before she hurt herself! She also pushed us to order our pizzas at the same time as our apps, I went along with it since sometimes pizza takes a while... never again. I was probably more peeved than Eric about the weird seating issue... dude, you're empty, let me sit where I want. Although in retropect, the booths really wouldn't have been any more comfortable than the chairs we had. Some cushion would be appreciated by me!

Cory Williamson said...

Hi Eric,

First of all, thanks for taking the time to review your visit to Day Block Brewing. We try to read every review and mention about us, because we know the importance of the feedback we get from our customers.

I’m sorry your service wasn’t up to par, it’s definitely not the expectation we’ve set internally and certainly not something we will take lightly. I don’t know the details surrounding the delays you had, but please know that we own up to our mistakes and regularly discuss ways to improve with our staff.

I hope you find the time to stop in again, as we’re constantly rotating our beer selection (2 new releases coming next week), and we’re beginning to diversify our food offerings starting with a new brunch menu tomorrow (March 9). Also, you hit the nail on the head with our pilot system. We piloted about 25 recipes before we opened, so you can be sure we’ll be more creative in the coming months!


Cory Williamson
Day Block Brewing Company

PS - Thanks for the mention of our locally sourced ingredients. We take pride in knowing our hop growers and so far, every hop we’ve used in our beers was grown in Minnesota or Wisconsin - a perk of being a smaller brewpub.

Eric Wentling said...

Thanks for responding Cory! I hope I didn't come off too negative in this review, but I tried to be honest about my experience. I will certainly be back to try it out again, and appreciate that you guys are paying attention!

BKE said...

31 Aug 14,l Carol and I just gave them a rare second chance, since they claimed to have a Hefe. We discovered it was an "American" Hefe, meaning only distantly related to a Hefe. So, based on our frivolous visit, we ordered a Frank's Red Ale, which we had rated 6 out of 10. The only one of their beers to make it above a 4. What we were brought was an IPA with a few drops of caramel coloring in it. Those who know us, know we would never have rated this above a 3. When we mentioned this, the waitress wanted to know which batch had we tried (batches are not listed in the pub, apparently only online)??:?!?!?!?! Note to the brewer: if you change the recipe so much that it is a completely different beer, then please change the name. Warning to customers, get a taste before you order a full glass, you don't know what you are getting.