It is human nature to want what we can’t have. I have been extremely fortunate over the last couple of years to travel to places that have a lot of really good craft beer. However, this year for spring break, in an effort to save money for a kitchen remodel, I am staying put for spring break. Watching my social media feeds fill up with pictures of people and places far, far away, I began to feel intense envy for those who were able to play the role of Carmen Sandiego for a week. Then a friend and fellow blogger tweeted about the Barley Wine at Urban Growler.
@UrbanGrowlerMN has one of the best barleywine variations I have. Ever. Had. Not to mention a wonderful use of plums for once. Get there.
— Alcohol by Volume (@AlcoholbyVoluMN) March 23, 2016
This tweet snaps me right out of the travel envy doldrum I was in and provides the inspiration to make a positive out of a negative. Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz said it best, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.” This nugget of wisdom from the darling from Kansas rings true for me this week. Here I am lamenting the fact that I am not in San Diego or Portland immersing myself in craft beer kingdom come, when I should be taking the opportunity to visit the local craft breweries that are providing the foundation for a craft beer destination.
So, I pack up my camera and backpack, and drive the ten minutes from my house to Urban Growler. This isn’t the first time I have been here, so I am familiar with their main lineup of craft beers. However, Urban Growler does a fantastic job of creating unique and inventive takes on their offerings. They have their main beers, the Plow to Pint series, and the Hayloft Series. The Plow to Pint series emphasizes locally sourced ingredients as well as seasonality for the craft beers. The Hayloft Series is more of a specialty brew series. The namesake comes from the fact that the room at the brewery where they host special events used to be the hayloft for the Saint Paul Police Department horse stables back in the 1800s. That isn’t the only part of the building that feels historic. The exterior is all brick and it definitely feels like a barn inside. Although, instead of hay and manure, you get the lovely smell of malted grains.
I grab the last seat at the end of the bar and began perusing the menu. Knowing that I want to give the Plow to Pint 10,000 Plums Barley wine a try, I do that one first. A splendid take on an English-Style Barleywine, this beer is brewed with 10,000 organic Minnesota grown plums (Superior, Todd, and Northern Blue varieties) from Blue Fruit Farms in Winona, MN. After fermentation, it is barrel aged with a combination of Bordeaux and Chardonnay wine barrels before it was blended. I notice the presence of barrel right away in the nose. The tartness from the fruit and the essence of the wine barrels really showcase the brewer’s talent and creativity. Unlike other English-style Barleywines I have had in the past, this one has a drier finish. The tart dryness also helps masks the fact that this beer is 10.8% ABV.
Next, it is on to the Maibock. A few days earlier, I was lamenting with the owner of Heritage Liquors in Maplewood the apparent dearth of Maibock offerings available in this market. Since I wanted to delve into this style in an upcoming episode of my beer podcast, A One Pint Stand, I was glad to see that Urban Growler has a Maibock. This beer drinks extraordinarily clean and crisp. The malty, breadiness of the beer along with the noble hops give it a very classic taste. This beer, in my opinion, is the perfect way to transition from the heavy Stouts and Porters of winter to the lighter patio beers of springtime. Although, at 6.8% ABV, this beer still has some heft to it. I understand that lagers are harder to brew because they take up so much space in the fermenters for a longer amount of time, but if every brewery knew how a Maibock brewed well would go over with its patrons, I think that they would find a way to brew one. Urban Growler’s Maibock will be on for about 3 or 4 more weeks. You should make an attempt to get out and try before it is gone.
After the Maibock, I shift to Hayloft Series Sweet Chai Porter. What I like about this beer is the it provides a rich and creamy mouthfeel to combat the schizophrenic weather of the last two weeks. I figure that with a slight chill in the air, this might be the last time for me to truly enjoy something that was dark and roasty. This beer has a pleasing mouthfeel and flavor complexity. I appreciate the fact that the sweetness dials in perfectly for my liking. I have had Chai Porters in the past and they have always left me a bit disappointed due to cloying sweetness. The sweetness from the lactose in this beer is balanced with the deft roastiness of the base beer, the De-Lovely Porter. The hint of chai gives this beer a character that is worthy of the Hayloft Series.
Having already breached the hull of the USS Dark and Roasty, I thought that I would continue the onslaught with an Oatmeal Stout. In any other crowd of beers, this offering would have a much easier time standing out, but amidst the Plow to Pint and Hayloft Series beers, this beer almost gets lost in the shuffle. However, like a scrappy prize fighter, the Oatmeal Stout uses its bag of tricks to the fullest. Roasted malt flavor and aroma are to me as Funyons are to Shaggy after an unsupervised 45 minutes in the Mystery Machine. I love those elements of a craft beer and am powerless in their presence. This beer uses roast the way a classy woman uses perfume; sparingly. The roasted malt is there, but it is not the only thing you smell and taste. In addition to roast, I get chocolate and coffee in this beer, and the fact that it is served on Nitro gives it such a magical and velvety mouthfeel.
To round things out, I went with the Plow to Pint Series Maple California Common. Again, with the focus on locally sourced ingredients, Urban Growler tapped (maple syrup and beer pun +5) Wild Country in Lutsen, MN for their Pure Maple Syrup. I have to be completely honest and say that California Commons are not usually my favorite craft beer style to imbibe. However, I think that the use of the maple syrup really gives this beer another level of nuance. I liked that this beer also drinks incredibly clean and the sweetness from the maple syrup gives it an appealing sweetness. The finish is hoppy and dry which makes this beer a very balanced offering.
When I arrived at Urban Growler, there were not too many people at the brewery, but as I wrap up my tour of tap tasting, the place is filling up fast. All the while, Amanda, who is working the bar, takes great care of me and made me feel right at home. In what seem like futile attempts to keep track of all the new breweries that are opening, I am ashamed to admit that I sometimes forget about the places that are established and brew consistent craft beer while at the same time offering tremendous customer service. Urban Growler is absolutely a place where I would direct craft beer seeking visitors to discover as it truly is a great place to grab a well-crafted and consistent pint.
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