Monday, December 14, 2015

"Hey, Nice Beaver!"-- A Beaver Island Brewing Review

A short one for today, this was our last stop on the epic Fargo road trip.  We stopped in St. Cloud on the way home for a late lunch and discovered that they had a new brewery right near where Tyrone used to live while going to school.  We just had to check it out!

Beaver Island Brewing: Dam Fine Beer

Beaver Island started up in 2015, so the paint is figuratively still wet on the place. The building has been many things over the years including an old Chrysler dealership.  The place (not surprisingly) has a northwoods theme with pine trim and even a canoe hanging down from the ceiling.  The long bar is made of reclaimed bowling alley wood and shines with a well-used luster. Behind the bar is an amazing serving station created using some old automobile parts and chrome, built around the original lubrication station from the auto dealership.  This is a fine centerpoint to the bar and seems to work great!

We arrived on Sunday, when they have limited hours mainly for growler fills from the locals before watching weekend sports.  Fabulously bearded Co-Founder Nick Barth (with a history 10 years of hospitality service and Sommelier training) was tending bar when we arrived.  A few other people were just leaving and we were happy to be able to talk with Nick about the brewery a bit.  The other Co-Founder is Matt Studer, a homebrewer for over 8 years.  Being smart about it, they decided to hire a head brewer with legitimate professional experience and found Chris Laumb for the spot. Chris was at O'Hara Brothers, McCann's, and most recently Cold Spring.  They have a 15 barrel system with 30 barrel fermenters requiring strenuous double batches to fill them.  Instead of stainless steel from China, they tapped local St. Cloud company DCI to make their custom brew system and fermenters.  It sounds like they all had a little learning curve on this, but the partnerships seems to be a good one!  They also don't stock any base malt and are doing everything with 55# sacks of grain--allowing them to do more specialty malts.  That can be more expensive, but allows them more freedom to experiment and get more character into the beers--a lot like homebrewers can do!

So while we were talking, Nick was serving us up some of the beers from the beautiful chrome plated serving station.  What did I think?  Here you go based on my Untappd notes from that time.  My personal grading scale is a 3 I'll drink, a 4 I'll seek out, and a 5 I'll hoard.

1) Ripple--a German inspired ale with German grains and Spalter hops, 4.8%:  Crisp and malty at the same time.  3.75

2) 39 Red IPA:  A good balance of continental malts and American hops.  3.75

3) Union Suit: Very strong roast and dry finish.  Very drinkable, and I can't believe it has 8.9% ABV hidden in there! 4

4) Tip-Up--brewed with Minnesota grown hops and then spruce tips late in the kettle: By far the best spruce beer I've ever had (and I've tried a few!) Well done!  Beachwood smoke up front, followed by a mellow complex malt bill, ending with a strong but balanced pine/spruce flavor that is pleasant. The overall impression is one of drinking a liquid (and alcoholic) pine campfire.  This would go really well with strongly flavored game like duck or venison. I bought a growler of it.  4.75

Frankly my expectations going into Beaver Island were a bit on the low side.  But after talking with Nick and really enjoying all of the beers they had to offer I was rather happy with our impromptu stop!  It looks like Tip-Up was their 11th beer, so these guys are really just starting out.  I like that they appear to be working smart, and seem to be doing things the right way from the start.  I also appreciate how they've re-used small and larger touches from the previous incarnations of the building to maintain some continuity.  Well worth a stop in St. Cloud!

Oh, and Nick steered us to The Pickled Loon for lunch.  The place looks like an old borderline-shady bar, but they had plenty of craft beers on tap including Tip-Up and Stone Coffee Milk Stout.  They had some fantastic food including pork belly tacos that I'd put against some of the finer restaurants in Minneapolis.  The bathrooms were a bit freaky though and might warrant an update on your vaccinations.  A fun place to stop for some tacos and beer!

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