Thursday, March 24, 2016
Wabasha Brewing: Get Out Of Your Cave And Try It!
On our recent weekend field trip to St. Paul for the two day Winterfest beer festival at the Union Depot, my wife and I stayed downtown and explored the surrounding environs. Coming from Waconia, we don't get to the St. Paul side of things very often, so this was a great excuse to check out a few of the newer taprooms in the area. On the Sunday after the second night of Winterfest--we were feeling good--we went for another great breakfast at The Buttered Tin, followed by a trip to Wabasha Brewing Company. We had tried two of their beers for the first time at the festival and been intrigued. Our hotel was on Wabasha Avenue, so getting there was pretty simple--even for a directionally challenged guy like myself.
Stepping into the very small taproom you walk down a small flight of stairs into a sunken area. For those with mobility issues, they have a small lift (also used for moving kegs in and out of the brewery). A few high tables and chairs fill the bright yellow painted room, as well as a tiny alcove with a couple of couches. A twelve foot bar separates the taproom tasting area from the actual brewing space, but you can see all the equipment easily. The brew system is 15 barrel (small but pretty big for this space) and the fermenters are 7 barrels each. This is the opposite of most breweries I know of, who brew twice on a smaller system to fill a larger fermenter. I'd hate to be the brewer for Wabasha since there is very little space between equipment and it looks like some mad contortionist skills might be needed for the job!
A very helpful and outgoing young lady named April was busy flushing taplines and getting everything ready for the day's festivities when we arrived. She's been with the company since nearly the start of the taproom about a year ago and really seems to like her work. I had her pour me a sampler of everything so I could get to work tasting and reviewing the beers.
A little background on me before we begin. I'm a BJCP National ranked judge, homebrewer for over 25 years, and a serious beer geek. I rate beers on a 1-5 scale with 3 being my default decent drinking beer, 4 being amazing, and 5 being my favorite beer of all time. Sarajo tastes along with me but doesn't like to grade things with anything other than a smile or a bitter-beer-face. April was happy to answer questions on the beers as we tasted through them.
1) Son of Eric Cream Ale--If I had a son, this would probably not be my spawn. I get a nice maltiness up front. Hint of corn. Hopping is on the high end for the style, but adds some bitterness and keeps it in balance. The description on this beer is "Nordic cream ale". When I asked Sarajo what she figured that might mean, she thought for a second and responded, "It's repressed and won't admit how it really feels?" Well done wife, well done! 3.75
2) West Side Popper--This takes the base beer of the previously mentioned cream ale and adds jalapenos that they smoke right outside the brewery. Don't they know that the Nordic folk think that black pepper is too spicy? Are they Mad?? I get a smoky, charred corn, green pepper aroma up front. The flavor is pretty much the same. Nice balance of malt, hops and spice dries this one out a bit. Spicy but not overly so. Solid beer. 4
3) Red Bonnet Amber--I'm not usually a fan of ambers, but this one is pretty good. Not a ton of aroma to it--just a mild generic hop. Flavor has light caramel notes, but not sweet. Crisp more like a Vienna lager than an American amber. Mild cherry notes. Hint of smoke? Asking about the cherry flavor April told me that they do add 13# of cherries to the batch--a small amount, but enough to explain it! 4
4) Snowblower Vanilla Porter--Aroma has roast, hint of smoke, dark chocolate, and vanilla. Flavor is quite malty. The vanilla accentuates the sweetness, but doesn't get to cloying territory. Complex. For a 4.1% ABV beer, the mouthfeel is pretty good! 4.25
5) Implosion IPA--I get Sweet-Tarts on aroma. Flavor pretty subtle with not much hop character. Plenty of bitterness with a very dry to almost astringent finish. 3
6) Red Desert Red IPA--Plenty of citrus and malt in the aroma. Flavor is malty but not sweet. Orange flavors are strong. Finish quite dry but pleasant. Good beer. 4
7) Oak Aged Cave Stout--This is the brewery's strong stout. It is aged in the cellar temperature of the brewery (not really in a cave, but at similar temps). The version we had on this visit was in a firkin and had oak added. Aroma sweet, mild roast, hint of oak tannin. Flavors of malt, including plenty of roasted grains, and tannins. Mouthfeel is a bit thin--probably accentuated by the oakiness. Interesting beer and made smoother by the firkin. 3.5
Overall, I was pretty impressed with beers. All were well above average to my palate and better than expected from a relatively small and new brewery. I like the interesting things they are doing. Other than the IPA, I think the balance and drinkability of these beers was stellar, and the use of adjuncts just added character rather than overwhelmed those beers. The brewer has a subtle hand and knows his fermentation process.
I enjoyed our visit to Wabasha and they are hereby on my Beer Radar! The taproom is pretty tiny and bare-bones, but does the job. It looks like they are planning to move the taproom to a place with seating for 100+ people, so that may change soon. For now, it's more about the beers. Solid and interesting beers overall. Both of our favorites were the Snowblower and the West Side Popper.