In the past 4 weeks I've made it to nearly 20 breweries and distilleries! I'm going to chip away at them in the order we visited. Keep in mind that I'm reviewing based purely on my (and my wife's) experience on a certain day and that your results may vary. I tend to wait until a brewery has been open for 6-12 months before reviewing, unless my visit is above par and deserves a write up. I try not to be a jerk but pride myself in being honest. I've been a homebrewer for nearly 26 years, a BJCP National ranked judge, and have been to hundreds of breweries over the years. Here is the third in the series...
Northgate Brewing has been around a while now, being in the second wave of new Minnesota breweries. These breweries are starting to mature, find their niches, and hopefully get a handle on their process. Northgate was started by two homebrewers Adam Sjogren and Todd Slininger back in 2012, and served their first official pint in January of 2013. They have since brought in Tuck Carruthers as their head brewer and in 2014 moved to their current large space.
Up front, I've had some mixed thoughts about the brewery in the past. At a restaurant last year, having dinner with a Ciccerone trained friend, we both sent back glasses of infected Wall's End. I've also had the Parapet ESB and liked it one time but hated it the next. Now that the guys have been in their new space for long enough to iron out the kinks I really wanted to get over there and give them another shot.
Located in a 1970's-looking office park in Minneapolis, the building itself is a product of it's age: large, cinderblock and brick, very utilitarian. I do like the large sign out on the corner of the building which has a classic feel and brings some character to the exterior. Just below that sign is a fenced in outdoor seating area that probably won't be too busy for a while now.
The taproom itself is comfortable with plenty of seating, high exposed metal ceilings, and a long wooden bar. Everything was made up nicely for Halloween on our visit with spider webs, and various other creepy decorations. This was a Sunday afternoon and the place wasn't crowded, but a few regulars and some other fellow beer tourists were bellied up to the bar. I imagine this place gets fairly busy on Friday and Saturday nights, but it looks like they've got lots of room. The overall impression borders on English pub blended with an typical American taproom vibe. The very large brewing and packaging area is behind the bar and takes up a significant portion of the building. The bar staff were very friendly and engaging, giving us a good impression of the place immediately.
On to the beers! The brewery's tag line is "Session beers for the long haul." I like well-done session beers and what they stand for--a lighter (but flavorful) beer that you can have a few of over some time and not be silly drunk. This is the old bar culture in Ireland and the UK, and one I quite enjoy. As a result, many of Northgate's beers are a bit lower in alcohol and some are classic English styles. We got the sampler to try most of the beers they had on tap and here are my thoughts based on that day, rated on a 5 point scale. I'll happily drink a 3, search out a 4, and hoard a 5.
1) Wall's End--An English brown ale, but was very light in color and somewhat bitter for the style. 3
2) Publican Ale--This was a light (perhaps too light) and easy drinking session ale. Served on nitro it a very smooth body. 3.25
3) Parapet ESB--English style bitter. The malt was there, and definitely English, but the hopping seemed aggressive and almost citrusy. 3
4) Pumpion--Northgate's pumpkin ale. Pumpkin beers are very polarizing and many hate them on principle. I'm not one of those, but am picky on which ones I like! This one was mostly mellow and the spicing was not over the top, but did have a bit of astringency to the finish. Not bad. 3
5) Redheaded Piper--A decent Irish red ale, which is a style I brew a lot myself. Better than Smithwicks in my opinion. 3.5
6) Here's Your Fraking IPA--Obviously born out of annoyance of requests for an IPA, this one isn't bad. 3.5
7) Doppelnator--Of course my favorite is the strongest of the lot! I really did enjoy this malty but crisp version of a German Doppelbock. I'd drink this happily all winter long. 4
So overall the beers were in the average to above average range for me. A theme I picked up on was a lack of body/mouthfeel to several of them that cut the malty flavors I was looking for. With lower gravity beers it can be hard to keep the beers from being overly dry and thin. Still these were all clean and decently crafted. Their Wee Heavy is around now and I'd like to try that one!
We ended up hanging out longer than expected since we got to talking with our neighbors at the bar and the staff. I enjoyed the beers well enough, but the entire experience was a very good one. I think the brewery should continue to focus on their session beers and fill that niche in the crowded Minnesota craft beer market. Based on this visit I'll certainly give Northgate beers more attention than I had previously, and would like to visit the taproom again some time.