A Trek to the Twin Cities and Other Winter Brewery Nuggets

A Trek to the Twin Cities and Other Winter Brewery Nuggets

As another relentless Chicago winter soldiers obstinately through the middle of March, it recently struck me that I haven’t posted a single brewery recap since January.

No, my taste for suds hasn’t suddenly evaporated; it’s just that all our brewery visits during the past months have been of the “brief stop-in” variety. A proper evaluation is tough without investing the necessary time and energy into tasting the product and thoroughly drinking in the atmosphere.

Here’s a quick breakdown of some of our more notable brewery-related activities this winter:

Mikerphone Brewing: Remarkable Taste, Unusual Taproom

Mad Flavor elicits a smile from Katie.

Mad Flavor elicits a smile from Katie.

Mikerphone is conveniently located just off the highway within a little industrial park in Elk Grove Village, which made it perfect for a spontaneous drop-in as we drove back into the city from an outing in the burbs.

When you step into this music-themed brewery, you’re slapped in the face with the color blue — a fluorescently bright hue of it. Electric guitars hang from the walls, and a pretty sweet-looking assortments of speakers make up the area behind the bar. The space is quite intimate, with only a few long communal tables for seating.

All in all, the look and feel qualifies as interesting if unconventional, running against the grain of the more laid-back, rustic style of décor we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in so many taprooms.

The beers (all cleverly named after famous songs, artists, albums, etc.) we tasted were delicious. Mad Flavor is a semi-juicy IPA, bursting with an abundance of hops, a mild citrusy taste and a well-contained haziness. Jagged Little Pils, a refreshing Czech Pilsner, served as the ideal palate-cleanser.

Did we purchase a very pricey four-pack of Mad Flavor to share with friends on our way out? Yes. Yes we did.

D&G Brewing Quenches a Town’s Thirst

The man from whom I inherited my taste for beer: Peter Kraft.

The man from whom I inherited my taste for beer: Peter Kraft.

Our visit to the brand-new D&G taproom barely qualifies as a “stop-in,” — we were literally in and out, splitting one four-sample flight among three veteran beer drinkers.

A quick flight.

A quick flight.

I’ll say this: St. Charles was craving a brewery, and D&G seems to have filled the void admirably. Rugged and homey, it has a natural, free-spirited vibe that makes the whole atmosphere feel very authentic, like a homebrewer who continued to add various elements to a garage bar until it eventually morphed into a functioning taproom.

I won’t attempt to reach a conclusion on the beers based on a sip or two from a sample glass, but the three IPAs and Kolsch we tasted hit the spot on a Saturday afternoon. We hope to make a return trip sooner than later.

In Freezing St. Paul, a Beer Blanket Feels Good

If you scoff at us for journeying 400 miles north in the heart of winter…well, I have no argument. But that’s part of the beauty of good craft beer: if it provides cool refreshment in the summer, it offers warmth in equal measure on an otherwise frigid, soul-crushing day.

A block from my buddy’s apartment in downtown St. Paul, Birch’s Lowertown had only been open for a few short months when we popped in for a couple pints on a Friday night. It clearly wasted no time in attracting a fan base — it was slammed with a crowd of local young professionals kicking off the weekend.

Despite the glistening fermentation tanks and beer-focused menu, to us it felt more like a trendy cocktail lounge than an urban brewery. In any case, it’s definitely a nice addition to the neighborhood. We certainly enjoyed a couple tasty IPAs and an excellent German Pilsner over a couple of card games we stumbled across.

How awesome would Surly be in the summer?

How awesome would Surly be in the summer?

If you’re into Midwestern craft beer, you’re at least peripherally familiar with Surly Brewing, which I’ve dubbed the “Revolution Brewing of Minneapolis.” Furious, Surly’s Flagship IPA, can be found on tap at plenty of Chicago establishments throughout the year.

While the Revolution analogy works in that both breweries are homegrown-gone-national success stories, I’d compare the physical space more to Lagunitas’ Chicago location. The main serving room is absolutely massive, and on this Saturday it was bursting at the seams with parka-clad drinkers.

After slithering into and out of the bedlam surrounding the bar, I came away with a pint of Surly Sleek — a basic, not-too-bad dry-hopped IPA. In terms of hoppy beers, we preferred the Naked and Afraid pale ale, but once it was all said in done, the Cacao Bender brown ale ranked highest on my list. It’s a thick, coffee-ish dark brew aged on both cacao nibs and vanilla beans, quite unlike anything I’ve tasted recently.

Final Word

Though the brewery visits have been sporadic during the past month or two, we’ve nonetheless been able to check a few off the old taproom bucket list. All of the aforementioned establishments are worth a visit, and the Minnesota options serve as a nice excuse to plan a little Twin Cities road trip once the weather warms up.

A relatively quiet winter should give birth to a more eventful spring, so it’s safe to expect an uptick in the frequency of posts moving forward.

Fun Links

  • March Madness is upon us, and in keeping with the spirit, Surly Brewing has rolled out a Surliest Winter Ever bracket, complete with amusing contenders like “getting plowed in after shoveling,” “losing one glove/mitten,” and “nowhere for dog to poop.” Our winters aren’t quite on par with our neighbors to the distant north, but it’s worth a look.
  • Mikerphone landed a spot on Forbes Magazine’s 10 Under-The-Radar Breweries to Watch This Spring, joining some other unique establishments from all over the country.

Photos courtesy of yours truly, as well as facebook.com/birchslowertown, facebook.com/surlybrewing, and facebook.com/MikerphoneBrewing.

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