A few weeks ago my wife and I were in Saint Paul and decided to hit a couple of newer taprooms. The first one we tried out was Tin Whiskers Brewing Company. I had tried a couple of their beers at last year's All Pints North in Duluth and wasn't incredibly impressed--however, they were recently opened at that time. I gave them almost a year to get the hang of things before getting to the taproom to review.
Tin Whiskers was started by a trio of electrical engineers, and much of the naming, decor, and style of the brewery nods to that background. On their website their self-proclaimed mission is to "make technically excellent beers." The taproom is located in the Rossmor building along with Sawatdee (meh) and Black Sheep Pizza (yum!) so food options are close. On the day we arrived they actually had an Asian fusion food truck selling food inside to go with the beers. The food smelled and looked wonderful, but we were meeting later for dinner at Tongue In Cheek, so didn't partake.
|Robots need beer too!|
Following the little robot sign outside we entered the taproom to find it fairly crowded and well lit by afternoon sun. A large mural of their robot mascot hoisting a pint adorns the wall to the left of the entrance, drawing the eye and making one smile. I'm a big nerd and really do like the way these guys have embraced that culture in their brewery. There are a few large community tables across from the entrance with a mid-sized bar off to the left. Behind the bar is the brewery itself, bristling with stainless tanks and equipment in easy view of the entire taproom. This is something I value in a taproom--I want to know I'm not in some random bar, but in a working brewery!
Several groups of people, including entire families were situated around the tables, many playing board games together. Being a big board game fan, I'm always happy to see others taking part, and also to see taprooms embracing the culture. I've seen a similar trend at my local Waconia Brewing and at Insight recently. Seeing folks playing games and having a pint is great and puts these taprooms into a different category than bars and pubs filled with sports on big screen TVs.
My wife and I sidled up to the bar and ordered a sampler flight to share, wanting to make sure we were able to try everything. Our sampler came out on an awesome and unique circuit board and plexi-glass tray that continued their nerd theme. But what about the beers you ask? I'll give a quick run-down of my impressions. Keep in mind that your results may vary according to personal tastes and batch.
The first two we tried were the Wheatstone Bridge and the special jalapeno version of the same beer. The original was not bad, but a bit sweet for me. It looks like it has honey and chamomile in it which added some interesting flavors to the normally bland American style wheat. The jalapeno version really popped with a nice heat that evened out the sweetness for me. Sj liked that one too.
The Flip Switch IPA was a bit different from many I've had recently. I enjoyed the hop aroma and bitterness in the beer, but there was a dry, almost roasty finish that was unusual for the style. Still, it was clean and easy to drink. I actually ordered a pint of this after we were done with the flight, so it was my favorite of the visit. I have a free growler fill from these guys and wish I had remembered to bring it...I would have taken this one home gladly.
My least favorite of the bunch was the Short Circuit Stout. This one was flawed. Stouts are normally among my favorite style of beer to drink and often and hide flaws more easily than many styles due to their bold flavors. This stout, however, was bursting with apple Jolly Rancher flavors, consistent with acetaldehyde, a common beer flaw usually arising from poor yeast health or from fermentation being rushed. After the apple faded a bit, there was a sweet middle to the beer and a decent roast finish. Between the two of us we didn't get more than halfway though the sample glass. This is one of their flagship beers, so tasting this makes me question their process and why they would release this batch to the public. I'd be curious hear other people's experiences with the Tin Whiskers beers, and with this beer in particular.
So, my overall impression of the place? I like the vibe of taproom. Service was good. The beers ranged from good, to OK, to fail. If I lived close by I'd gladly stop in for some games and a pint, but I probably won't make a trip out there from Waconia very soon. I love the beer names, geeky culture and logo--I even bought a tin tacker sign for my home brewing area. I'd love to see this brewery succeed but I want to see some more quality control in their products since that's their own stated goal in brewing!
I recently met with Jeff Moriarty and brewer Derek Brown at the brewery for a tasting of some of the beers. We tasted through their line-up and I was very pleased that they have fixed the fermentation flaws I had noted in my previous visit. They've also instituted a more regimented tasting and quality control program to make sure their beers are as consistent as possible. Derek really seems to know what he's doing in the brewery and has a great palate. It was also interesting to hear about some of the difficulties that newer small brewery face such as shortages of ingredients requiring on-the-fly recipe changes to batches of beer. I loved their Schottky Pumpkin beer (but I'm one of those people that actually like pumpkin beers). I also enjoyed trying a couple versions of a special spiced beer they made for an Iron Brewer style show-down with LynLake brewing. In all, Tin Whiskers is continuing to evolve their own style, and to make changes based on feedback from their customers, both important factors in succeeding in the increasingly crowded local beer scene.