Our first visit on this overcast and dreary Sunday was Urban Growler Brewing Company in St. Paul, MN. Our good friend Hassan (whom we have traveled with to Belgium) is a card carrying member of their version of the Founder's Club, and has been singing their praises to me for a while now. On this visit we were happily able to meet up with Hassan and his wonderful wife Chris for a bite to eat and some good beers. My wife, Sj, and I found the place without difficulty by following our (sometimes) trusty GPS unit from Waconia to St. Paul. When we arrived, our fantastically bearded server Shane informed us that their credit card machine had just gone down, but that they would figure something out for us if needed. Luckily they got it working before they put me to work washing glasses or hauling grain bags...
The space is small, but seems bigger due to high ceilings, and is very comfortable. Large windows would have captured a fair amount of light if the skies hadn't been filmed with looming gun-metal clouds. A small half-circle bar sits ahead and to the right of the entrance. The brewery proper is sectioned off along the right side of the building, but is easily visible to visitors (something I always want to actually see in a brewery). I really liked the effect of the fermenters right behind the bar that were bound with shiny copper rings. Small chalkboard signs hung in different areas containing famous and not-so-famous quotes about beer and drinking for a little ambiance. A row of lower tables is situated along the left side of the building, with the now vacant outside patio visible from there. Between the tables and the bar are several high-tops, one of which we took over. The building itself is very old with thick yellow brick walls. With all that solid brick and glass I'll bet this place will be cold in the wintertime.
Shane brought us a photogenic sampler of all the house beers to try, and Sj and I worked our way through them very deliberately. Urban Growler is one of the few local breweries that has food options, not having to rely on sporadic food trucks to satisfy hungry drinkers. I was quite pleased with my Cubano Panini sandwich and buffalo chips, and Sj liked her carnitas tacos.
The beers were an interesting mix, with most being fair examples of their styles. Their flagship is the Cowbell Cream Ale--a well done version, but not my favorite style of beer. Think Spotted Cow from New Glarus and you will be on the right page. They had a good seasonal Pumpkin Saison that had a very restrained hand on the spice and pumpkin leaving most of the heavy lifting to the fruity and funky Belgian yeast. The De-Lovely Porter was a perfect example of a robust porter that I could find no fault with. The Graffiti IPA was an really well balanced and somewhat spicy rye IPA. All of the beers were well done, but my favorites were the porter and the pumpkin ale.
Talking to Hassan, I was pleased to find that the brewery was opened by two women: Deb Loch and Jill Pavlak. Let's be honest, brewing has been a very male dominated field until fairly recently. I mean women can't even grow a glorious brewer's beard! All kidding aside, I think this is fantastic for them, and they are certainly bringing some much needed female perspective to the marketplace. Looking at their website, it looks like Deb and I competed in many of the same homebrew competitions before she went pro, though she has outdone me by winning a medal at the National Homebrew Competition! It sounds like she still does small test homebrew batches before scaling up to full brewery batches so hasn't had to give up the experimental nature of homebrewing.