On a recent weekend road trip my wife and I managed to make an extra brewery stop at Spilled Grain Brewhouse in Annandale. Located right on Highway 55, amid the “heart of the lakes” area, this place is right along the way for lake travel and summer northwoods adventures. The brewery opened in July of 2015 in an old cabinet factory building that was previously owned by one of the four founders of Powertoolbuzz. This explains why the wood is so well maintained. Taking a cue from that woodworking background, the exterior of the brewery is sided with weathered red barnwood, and the interior is rife with other rustic woods.
Pulling in on a Sunday afternoon, the place was not especially busy–but a few locals and a few other off-season tourists made it not feel empty. The brewery is wide open with high ceilings and plenty of sturdy wooden furniture. A long bar and a scattering of antique details complete the rustic and homey picture of a rural taproom. I was struck by the relaxed vibe and comfort of the space. This was no Swayze-era Roadhouse, nor was it a trendy Nordeast taproom, but somewhere pleasantly in-between.
Our server, Angel (her name, not an actual angel), was incredibly friendly and helpful, though she wouldn’t let me get her on film. You’ll just have to believe me that she was really there. After perusing the 14 beers on tap (!!!!) we started out with a sampler served on a handled wooden tray reminiscent of a pizza peel.
Head Brewer Jacob Schnabel was kind enough to meet us on his day off to talk about the brewery and beers with us. As we settled into wooden table with our samples, he joined us with a beer of his own and we spent some time discussing varied beer-related subjects. Jacob started out (as most brewers do) as a homebrewer with some additional helpful engineering background. He’s now taking professional brewing courses through Siebel to further enhance his knowledge. When asked about the choice of location, Jacob waxed eloquent about his love for the trend toward more small town breweries in the pre-prohibition style. He also mentions the good mix of die-hard locals and other people passing through as a way to keep things interesting. Being on the outskirts of civilization (my wording here!) they find that that they are often at the forefront of beer education for many people in the area. Jacob notes that the most common questions they get from newbies at the taproom are “What’s your lightest beer?” And “Do you have an IPA?” He also mentions that he’s seen the progression of a lot of these same people over time to taste different beers and move into more challenging styles.
Jacob was in charge of picking out the 3.5 barrel brewhouse during the build-out of the brewery, so he has the equipment he wanted, along with 7 barrel fermenters that require a double brew day to fill up. This is a small system, but allows for experimentation and tweaking of recipes. From my time talking with Jacob, I got a good sense that he’s always looking to improve his recipes and process to make the best possible beer. This isn’t always the case with breweries once they settle on a recipe and call it done. Being an engineering geek (I say it with love) he’s Sciencing (I’m making it a verb OK?) the heck out this brewhouse: doing sensory testing with the staff on new batches; diacetyl testing; using reverse osmosis water and building up salt profiles; and hopes to add a full lab soon. In terms of beer styles Jacob seems to be equal opportunity, but is especially proud of his new Train Wreck Black IPA. When asked about the beers he brews, he says, “I really like to perfect the traditional styles first, before doing different takes on them.” As part of that nod to tradition, his dopplebock was actually brewed a year ago and cellared until now!
I actually tasted my first Spilled Grain beers at the 2017 Winterfest event, when Jacob proudly poured me that aforementioned black IPA. Now, my personal belief is that all black IPA’s are a train wreck, so I though the name was pretty appropriate–however, this was one of the better balanced examples I’ve ever had! Well done sir. Well done. This visit, while we all hung out and talked, Sj and I sipped on a plethora of excellent beer samples. I was impressed by the technical skill that went into each of these beers as well as the basic understanding of each beer style involved. These were not gimmicky beers, they were well balanced examples of what the styles should taste like.
Winner for best beer name was Breastfeeding in Public–a roasty but off-sweet milk stout that will likely never get TTB approval for packaging! The antediluvian Dopplebock was quite well balanced and crisply drinkable but perhaps hid its alcohol too well. The 007 Spy-PA (hey I’m a huge Bond nerd) was fruity, earthy with great floor malted English grain character. This one used Idaho 7 experimental hops (recently named 007: The Golden Hop) and White Labs 007 Dry English Ale yeast. Last was an interesting SMASH beer with mosaic hops had some interesting dank blueberry flavors and ended crisp, bitter and super clean. Jacob tells me that the next in the SMASH series is coming along soon.
Overall, we had a great stop at Spilled Grain Brewhouse. The place had a cool, lived-in and comfortable country vibe, with excellent service and even better beer. I was hoping for a lot based on my preliminary tastes at Winterfest, and was not disappointed once I tried more. Thanks go out to Jacob for spending an hour on a rare day off to meet with us! I foresee good things in the future from Spilled Grain and suggest that you take a little field trip out to visit.