As the Minnesota craft beer fabric continues to up its thread count, I find myself traveling a lot more around this great state. Recently, I set a course for a day-trip down to Rochester, MN to visit Grand Rounds Brewpub and sit down for a chat with owner and brewmaster, Steve Finnie. After dialing up the Game of Thrones podcast, Oysters, Clams and Cockles, I am ready for my hour and change drive down to an up-and-coming craft beer destination. Grand Rounds is one of four Rochester craft breweries that has established themselves in the last couple of years. Grand Rounds is a brewpub offering upscale pub fare along with some incredibly delicious and well-crafted beers.
Last year at the MN Craft Brewer’s Guild’s All Pints North beer festival, I enjoyed my first taste of the Grand Rounds Brewpub beers. The weather was hotter than bollocks, and in addition to their beer offerings, they had a cooler of 100 year barrel-aged 125 IBU water. There is only one thing I like more than great beer, and that is a brewery with a sense of humor. The owner/brewmaster of Grand Rounds Brewpub in Rochester, MN was donning a kilt and seemed to be very much in his element conversing with people about his brews. I remember that he exclaimed that I was “dancing with the devil” when I asked for water out of the special cooler. Not only was it a subtle jab as some of the extremes that breweries go to in their cask beers, but also goading people into drinking water. Ever since then I’ve been intrigued with the beers there and have wanted to get into the brewpub.
I arrive a few minutes before 4pm to take some pictures of the place. Located in the corner of an old bank building, Grand Rounds Brewpub has a historic feel to it. Definitely not the industrial warehouse feel that most breweries have. There is a nice classic feel to the inside of the brewpub. A fantastic bar with plenty of seating is on your right with a combination of booths and tables throughout the rest of the space. The spacious brewpub has an inviting and cozy feel to it, which I feel is unique and hard to pull off in a space that large. The space reflects Steve’s personality which is inviting and illustrates someone who cares for his patrons. When I asked Steve about the name of the brewpub, he said that it originated from his days working at the Mayo Clinic. Grand Rounds is a term widely used in the medical community. Every medical institution has grand rounds, meetings where the whole medical team and sometimes the patient, come together to chat about how to figure out solutions to difficult problems. Steve believes the term fits the brewpub well,”When you get together over a few pints you can always solve a few problems.” The concept is not just applicable to the medical field. Steve believes that it covers any group of people getting together to be social.
Steve is currently taking an online course at the Siebel Institute to buttress his brewing skills. However, he is a homebrewer that has meticulously self-taught himself how to brew over the years. Steve moved from Scotland to go to school in Boston almost 20 years ago. Steve got a job at Mayo in 1998, all the while, homebrewing with his friends. At the point after Steve moved to all-grain brewing, his wife became concerned with the cost of the equipment and ingredients. “My wife turns to me and says, ‘we can’t keep doing this, it costs too much.’ Steve continued, “So I turned to about 20 of my guy friends, and said, ‘Look, if you all give me 100 bucks, each year, you can come to my house once a month and drink as much as you want; I’ll make all the beer.’ and that allowed me to experiment and get honest opinions on my beer.” This also allowed Steve to get better malt, hops, and yeast to work with and he did that for a few years and really perfected the recipes that we all enjoy from Grand Rounds today.
The brewhouse is a seven barrel system efficient enough to keep up with the growing demand for their offerings. Grand Rounds has 3 guest taps (Sociable Cider Werks, Fair State Brewing Cooperative, and Bauhaus Brew labs) in addition to their 11 offerings. A total of fourteen different options keeps thirsty craft beer patrons sated. They pour full pints, half-pints, and 5 oz. tasters available in flights or on their own. Steve Finnie also encourages people to ask for a sample of beer because he wants people visiting his brewpub to be able to find the right beer for them. Steve provides different sizes of his beers because he wants people to be able to enjoy their beer responsibly. He knows that sometimes, people want a pint of one thing, but there are also people who may want to try a few different beers, while at the same time being able to get home safely. You might find it curious that a brewery would have on guest taps from different breweries, but Steve wants to make sure that he has all the style bases covered. Since Grand Rounds doesn’t brew a cider, sour or a lager, he taps into what he says are great options in Sociable, Fair State and Bauhaus for those styles. There are also times when they have more of their own beer replacing the guest taps depending on how many Grand Rounds seasonals are currently on tap. The seven barrel system serves the needs of the brewpub, but there is also more room for expansion if needed.
Steve said that the city of Rochester has been extremely helpful in getting the brewery built on a pretty aggressive timeline. The space was built with the help of architect Adam Ferrari. The job was challenging due to the age of the building (150 years). The idea of maintaining the character of the old bank building while at the same time having it feel like a brewpub was paramount in bringing Grand Rounds to fruition. Steve designed the brewhouse keeping his background in physical therapy in mind. Everything is designed to allow the brewing process to happen in a way that is not as taxing on the body and can be done by one person. The location of the grain being at stomach height so they don’t have to lug stuff up on their shoulders is one thing that will make it easier for one person to do. Brewing is hard enough and to be able to lessen the toll on the body makes a lot of sense.
Grand Rounds is the only brewpub in Rochester. Their menu is very focused on making sure that anything you order can be paired with their beer on tap. They even use their beer in some of their dishes. Steve likes that being able to use the beer in the food all but guarantees that there is no waste. There is also a close connection between the food and the beer. The servers are trained to be able to suggest and guide patrons as towards beers that pair well with certain dishe s. The menu is trimmed down from what they had at first to focus on quality as opposed to quantity. They cater to a wide variety of customers and they try to have something for everyone while at the same time maintaining a high level of quality. They use most of their beers in one way or another in their dishes. I am a sucker for Scotch Eggs, and I can honestly sa y that Grand Rounds makes the best ones around. They come 2 to an order on a fluffy and savory blanket of gravy which is incredibly delectable. I also enjoyed the pretzels which come with a housemade beer cheese dipping sauce that is a wonderful compliment to the pretzels.
Steve graciously poured me samples of everything that they currently had on tap. Their tasting boards hold six sampling glasses and rotates like a Lazy Susan. Each craft beer sample is matched up with a number on a six-sided die so you can tell what you’re drinking. Centered in the middle of the board is the Grand Rounds logo which is half a hop cone and half a brain. Their tap list consists of some nice and refreshing summer offerings like the Kraus-Anderson Minnesota Kölsch and the Hop Bollocks Session IPA. The Kölsch is made with locally sourced honey from the Bee Shed and has a great balanced flavor profile. Another week or two of conditioning would bring out the crispness in this beer even more, but it is decent served on tap now. The Hop Bollocks is a really great Session-IPA because it has a decent amount of hop aroma and flavor, but not the heaviness from the ABV. If you want a hoppy beer that packs a little more punch, their Double IPA has a great hop profile that showcases the Nelson Sauvin hop, which is very en vogue right now. The DIPA at Grand Rounds has some great fruity notes to it as well as a nice amount of resin. The beer that they are best know for is their Freedom Scotch Ale, a harmonious blend of malt and smoke. Steve has done his homeland proud with the Freedom Scotch Ale and it is a wonderful illustration that smoke can be used in a beer and doesn’t have to dominate the entire thing. The Alien Candy Peanut Butter Milk Stout has the roastiness of peanuts and the smooth and silky sweetness of a Milk Stout. The result is a delicious stout that will appeal to many palates. Along the lines of malty and robust offerings, the Hawaii 507 Coconut Stout is a beer that will make you want to bust out the shades and the coconut bra. Other than the ultimate balance of coconut and dark malts, I don’t really know what needs to be said about this beer.
Seeing Grand Rounds get up and running has been a gratifying experience for Steve Finnie and his staff. Steve appreciates when people who come from some of the other craft beer meccas like what Grand Rounds is doing. He loves being in the brewhouse working and hearing the loudness of a crowded brewpub. He recalls a time when he was working and he saw two 70 year-olds at the bar and he said that was a perfect illustration of his vision. He wants Grand Rounds to be a place for everyone, no matter age or gender, to be able to enjoy some good food and some well-crafted beers. They are not just doing things right down in Rochester, but plenty people from the Twin Cities know that Grand Rounds Brewpub is brewing some great craft beer.
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