Friday, January 8, 2016

Trouble Finding Beer in Rochester, MN? Forage For It!

Recently 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 many hundreds of breweries over the years.

While recently down in Rochester to visit a good friend during his treatment at Mayo Clinic, we took the opportunity to visit some of the new taprooms that have popped up over the past summer.  I already posted a review of the medically named Grand Rounds Brewpub HERE.  Our second visit was to the strangely named Forager Brewery.  They take this name due to the ideals of foraging wild ingredients and supporting local farms for things that can't be foraged.  The brewery also gets small spirits barrels that already lived a second life aging honey from Turkey Hill Apiary, given a third use by aging sour beers!  

The brewery is located in the Kutzky Neighborhood, a revitalizing area rich in artists, and other bohemian types.  The building itself is a large one, fitting in well with the quasi-industrial surroundings.  Upon entering the front door, I was struck by how different this seemed from any brewery I'd ever been in before.  And that is saying something!  The building houses a sweet little coffee shop focused on locally sourced items, a combination art gallery and antique shop, and the brewery itself.  All of these places meld into one another a bit and gives the impression of a large and comfortable home.  The coffee shop near the entrance feels like grandma's foyer--bright, cheerful, aromas of fresh coffee and teas wafting about.  The gallery is across from the main entrance and houses cool antiques, local paintings, and various bric-a-brac that gave us several minutes of pleasure while perusing after our meal and beers.  There's also a library filled with old and new books, antiques, and overflow seating options between the coffee shop and the brewery.

The brewery is a thing of beauty.  Reclaimed woods, old threadbare animal busts, funky light fixtures (dragons yo!), mosaics, and more all vie for attention.  Long tables with copper pennies embedded in epoxy provide some dinner seating in the center of the space, with another alcove to the side hosting a fireplace and more individual seating.  A wooden bar sits to the right as you enter, with several taps and signage displaying the current beer line-up.  You can see the very small brewery through what looks like an exterior window behind the bar.  A wood-fired pizza oven takes up a distal corner as well.  Looking outside on this rainy and overcast day you can see a large outdoor patio area complete with edible gardens.  I fell in love with the ambiance immediately.

Our server was attentive and walked us through our drink and food options with ease.  There were not a ton of beers on tap, but enough to keep us busy!  My wife, Sarajo, and I started with the Forager Box--this was thick wooden platter filled with three beer samples, each paired with a small bite appetizer.  The bites were amazing and upscale, pairing well with the beers we were served.   I also ordered an order of Jamon Iberico (thin shavings from the leg of rare black footed pigs of Spain fed on only acorns) that was nutty and wonderful.  For my main course (big and late lunch!) I had the very pleasing Cuban sandwich.  The food here is honestly great and I would recommend the place even if it wasn't a brewery.

Oh, you want to know about the beer?  Here are my brief musings on the batches we tried along with a rating from 0-5.  Forager makes small batches and are likely to have other options on when you visit.  Looking at the website and the walls of the hallway in the brewery, I love some of the artwork for these beers, but think they might have trouble getting a few through official TTB labeling channels.  

1) Broken Compass--Hefeweizen. A bit sweet for my tastes, but plenty of classic German style banana aroma and flavors.  3.5

2) Johnny C's--Belgian dubbel.  I didn't get much in the aroma on this one.  Flavors ripe with Belgian yeast funky phenols.  Sweet but finishing off-dry and not cloying.  Not too shabby for a difficult style. 4

3) Forager IPA--Red IPA.  Lots of malt to this one.  Very piney with hints of bitter orange peel.  A well balanced and flavorful version of the style. I'd call it a West Coast Amber in the old BJCP style guidelines.  3.75

4) Sherpa's Survival Kit--American double stout.  Strong coffee in aroma and flavor.  Dry cocoa. Could use a bit more body since the finish is pretty dry and bitter.  Still pretty good overall.  3.75

5) Gathering In The Woods--Sour.  This is a Flanders Red style Belgian sour ale.  Aged in barrels, this is the first batch of sour Forager has done.  A blend of different barrels, this one is full of red fruit (red grape, tart cherry, hint of raspberry.)  Tart, but not overly sour. Complexity and body could be a bit more kicked up, but still a wonderful example of a tough style.  This is one of the best Minnesota sours I've had.  4.5

So I liked all the beers!  I'm always happy (and often shocked) when that happens at a new place.  I'm excited to see them continue to work on the sours--the complexity of their very young Gathering In The Woods hints at even more complex and wonderful sour offerings in the future.  Just wait until they have multiple vintages to blend together!  I'm not a kettle sour (gose, Berliner weisse) hater overall, but find those now trendy local offerings often lack complexity and character.  The fact that fresh out of the gate, these guys are trying for the harder styles is a good omen!  Our server saw me running around the place with my camera and gave us a quick impromptu tour of the small brewery and answered some questions for us as well.  Good hospitality!  

With Forager being open under 6 months I was going to hold off on my review, but we had such a great experience here that I had to shout it out over the now snow-covered rooftops of the Twin Cities.   The venue is unique, the food excellent, the concept a pleasing one, and the beers well above average.

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