Friday, June 26, 2015

Brewery Review: Sidhe Brewing

Earlier this year I was living the geek life at the 50th anniversary of Minicon, Minnesota's oldest science-fiction and fantasy fan convention.  If you're interested, you can read my take on the event, as well as some internal geek monologue HERE.  At the amazing complimentary CON bar I had tasty Surly Furious and Summit Porter, but more intriguing to me was what I thought was some homebrew.  As I ordered my free taste of the mythological Greenman's Harvest brown ale, I discovered that my server was actually Kathleen Culhane, the brewer for the then nearly open Sidhe Brewing Company.  As a beer geek and beer blogger I was excited to hear about a new brewery that I was not already aware of.  Even more, I was also happy to discover this at an unexpected place and time!  Getting to be the first test market of a budding new brewery while hanging out with a ton of science fiction and fantasy lovers?  Sign me up for that!  I talked briefly with the busy Kathleen, and got a little background on the place.

Later, while again hanging out at the CON bar, we met Erica and Robin, two of the other owners of Sidhe.  I got to try Erica's very nicely balanced orange blossom mead, and shared a couple of my own meads with them.  Hey, this was a fantasy convention--you have to bring mead!  At different times over the weekend Sidhe had several beers and ciders to test out on us.  I found the brown ale to be a bit roasty for my palate, but still tasty.  The Dark Moon Rising dry Irish stout was one of the better versions I've had recently, and served on nitro it would be even better!  I was also very happy with Kathleen's Dry Cider:  very dry and tart, reminding me of the slightly funky and complex French cider style.  I will say that my wife (the cider drinker in our family) would have liked it a bit sweeter.

Which brings me to up to the actual brewery.  The brewery itself has been open for about two months now, and my wife and I finally got a chance to get over to East St. Paul to check it out.  Normally I try to give about 4-6 months before reviewing a brewery to let them get the kinks out, but I thought I'd break with tradition and write this up anyway.  The name Sidhe (pronounced "she") comes from Irish mythology and usually describes the fairy folk, especially female fairies like the beautiful and dangerous Leanan Sidhe and the deadly Banshee.  The group of women who started the brewery are self described "fringey folk" including members of the LGBT community, and have brought a unique point of view and style to their project.  As such, the group is very open and inviting to those of alternative religious and sexual orientations.  Despite focus on their woman-owned and operated tag-line, their admirable goal is to make the brewery a comfortable place for all people.

At the time of this writing we found the brewery to have a small sidewalk placard and a vinyl banner outside to draw us in.  I really like their colorful logo, bringing in the classical elements of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth in a pleasing and beer-centric way.  After entering the doorway, you make your way down stairs into a fairly small sunken taproom.  I'm not going to lie, the place is not the most attractive taproom I've been in.  Mismatched stools at the utilitarian bar, small tables, and a stage in the corner round out the space.  A few paintings on the walls add a bit of character, but the room needs a bit more work to get that comfortable pub vibe that I think they're looking for.  Hey they opened this tiny 2 barrel brewery on a shoe-string budget and I think they have done what they need to do to get the place open and running!  Hopefully, once they start getting some publicity (that's why I'm writing this!) they can start bringing in money to spruce the place up a bit.

There were several people at the bar when we arrived, without the place being crowded.  There were a couple of servers behind the bar, including Jacqueline Stoner, a recently made homebrewing friend.  These folks all knew their stuff--being able to describe all the beers in detail!  We also got to say hi briefly to Kathleen, who was actively working back in the brewery.

We didn't have much time to linger, so we ordered the sampler of 7 beers to get a taste of everything.  Soon we had our sampler glasses before us.  Both my wife and I agreed that our favorites were the Bast Kissed (a fantastic example of a cream ale) and the Greenman's Harvest brown ale (more balanced and tasty than the preview tasting I had previously had.)  My next favorite was the well-done dry Irish stout Dark Moon Rising--very spot-on for style.  I still want to try this on nitro!  The Barking Cat strong Belgian golden was very tasty as well, and funny to us since our cat Freya will often bark at the birds nesting outside the house.  I think my least favorite of the group was the Hopped Up McGonigal--a higher ABV (8.6%) IPA--while beer was not bad, it really lacked hop aroma and flavor.  I'm hoping to see some cider or mead in the future...

We were sitting at the bar when a fellow on my left (also tasting through everything) commented on how clean and good all the beers were.  I had to agree!  Even my least favorite beer was well fermented, just not to my personal taste for the style.  No sign of infection or poor yeast handling here!  For a place just recently open, I think the beer quality was better than many places I've been to that have been open over a year.  This is more impressive when you take into account their home-made 2 barrel brew system and the potential for quality control issues inherent in small batch brewing.  Good job so far Kathleen!

Overall, I was quite pleasantly surprised with the beer quality at Sidhe.  I think they could spruce up the taproom a bit, but it works and gives folks a place to hang out and try that beer!  I like the inclusive nature of the brewery's mission and, as a geek, find their mythology/Wiccan/fantasy vibe to be fun and very different from most breweries.  I'm looking forward to seeing how they do over the coming year and encourage people to give them a chance.  If any fellow geeks are reading this, Sidhe will be providing beer at the Royal Manticoran Navy room party at CONvergence over July 4th weekend in Bloomington--I'll certainly be swinging by.  And if you need any other incentive to get to East St. Paul, the wonderful fine dining restaurant Tongue In Cheek is right across the street.

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