Recently, my wife Sarajo, Tyrone and Annette Babione (both BJCP judges), and I all took a road trip up to Fargo for the Prairie Homebrewing Compainions' Hoppy Halloween competition. This was a fantastic trip and we stopped in at a ton of breweries, beer bars, distilleries, and even a meadery! So I'm going to chip away at reviewing these places for my readers. Keep in mind that enjoyment of craft beer can be subjective, and also that these visits were a snapshot in time and may not reflect the day-to-day quality of a place. I'm always curious what others think, so feel free to comment if you have had a similar (or different) experience.
Hayes' Public House
We live in Waconia, so the quickest way up to Fargo was initially via windy country roads though our beautiful farm country. Within a short time we drove through the town of Buffalo (not Bison) and Annette pointed out a brewery right there in front of us--Hayes' Public House. Shrugging, Sarajo good-naturedly turned into the parking lot and we all piled out in search of beer. Ok, so we only made it about 25 minutes from home, but hey...
The brewery itself was opened in November of 2013 and uses a small 3 barrel system that the brewer has to use twice in quick succession to fill the 7 barrel fermenters they use for batches. As a home brewer I know that's a lot of work for one batch! The tag-line of Hayes' is "Inspired Old Ales" and they specialize in English/Irish/Scottish Styles of beer. The outside of the building is painted green and has a bold maroon and gold sign above the entrance. Inside, the place is made to feel like an authentic Irish pub, with dark woods, and a mid-sized bar across from the entrance. The walls and ceilings are lined with Irish flags, Waterboys and Pogues posters, and other UK bric-a-brac without being overly crowded. The walls are light green, preventing the place from seeming too dark or close. The tasting room was apparently crafted entirely by friends, family, and local artisans from Buffalo. Having been to Ireland a couple of times, the place feels familiar, but a bit more open and spare than many of the truly old Irish pubs we visited. The bar itself is very pretty and hand-made, with taps coming through the wall in the bar-back. There is some PA equipment in the corner, and one of my friends tells tales of great live Irish music there from time to time.
We arrived right around 5 PM and the brewery was pretty quiet with just one local guy getting an after-work pint, and our friendly barkeep. We didn't have a lot of time to spare since light was wasting and we had a long ride ahead of us. I got the sampler to try several beers (of course!) and we got to testing them out at one of the comfortable wooden tables. Here are some thumbnail reviews based on my notes in Untappd. My personal scale is this: 3 I'll drink, 4 I'll search out, and 5 I'll hoard. I'll be up front here, I did have a growler of beer from Hayes' about a year ago and was not impressed at all, so my expectations going into this were somewhat low.
1) Hayes Irish Stout--A classic dry Irish stout in the vein of Guinness. Yes I've had Guinness over there and it is better than here. This was the beer I had last time and hated, but this time I was pretty pleased. Dry, roasty, hint of sweetness. Infinitely drinkable session ale. 4
2) O'Ruaidhri Irish Red Ale--A classic Irish red. At this point there aren't many good Irish reds even in Ireland. The closest you might find is Smithwicks, but that one is pretty mild these days. Hayes' version, despite the impossible name is malty, flavorful with a hint of roast to balance it out. 4
3) Dullahan Coffee Porter--The base porter was pretty well made. Coffee was dark and roasted which did add a bit of astringency to the beer, but still fairly well balanced. I think Sj liked this one the most. 3.75
4) Hartfiel's Smoked Export--A export stout is usually a bit higher in alcohol without being a booze-bomb like RIS. I haven't come across many American versions of this style so was excited to try this. The base beer was well done, but the use of peat smoked malt really added a STRONG phenolic smoke to the beer. Don't get me wrong, I actually liked it quite a bit, but it won't be for everyone. Think Hammerheart Brewing. 3.75
5) O'Hanlon's Imperial IPA--I wasn't so sure about this style at an Irish pub, but these guys managed to pull it off. A very well done DIPA with a harmony of malt sweetness and hop bitterness. Not overly alcoholic. Hop aroma is stellar. 4
Overall, let's just say that I was fairly impressed, especially coming into it expecting problems. This is why I'll always give places a second or even third try over time. I've been to too many new breweries that struggle at first get their own style and system down to judge too fast. Apparently the guys at Hayes are figuring it out! I'm also a fan of classic English styles and I like that they have a mix of these but are putting their own twist on them as well. Before we left the place, the brewer came out of the small brewery in back talked with us for a few minutes. He seemed very passionate and was excited about some barrel aging projects to come (we spotted a J. Carver Distillery barrel in the group!) We had a great stop at this unexpected little gem of a brewery/pub and I hope to get back in the future. It's actually closer to my home than anything in NE Minneapolis!