Beaver IslandOn a whim, after spending some quality time with my Dad in the Brainerd Lakes area, I decide to stop at Beaver Island Brewing Co. in St. Cloud.  Not far off my regular route back to the cities, I wait out rush hour on a Friday and try some new beers.  It was not that long ago that the highlight of my drive home from Brainerd was passing Treasure City and wondering if exposing myself to the lead paint in all the trinkets inside would change my life expectancy.  Now, thanks to the beer explosion matriculating outside the metro, there are several quality breweries (Lupulin Brewing and Spilled Grain) on the way home to break up the monotony and craptastic highway surfaces of that stretch of HWY 10 and I-94.

Beaver Island Brewing Company

I am not familiar with St. Cloud at all, but Beaver Island is pretty easy to find.  A spacious, yet homey taproom space has ample seating for groups and smaller parties like myself.  I scope out the area and although they have a decent patio, I opt for the bar.

I order a flight of their six beers and get to tasting.  As I am scribbling down notes, Dan Stuttgen, Beaver Island’s taproom manager asks me what I am writing about.  I explain that I am a local beer blogger and we chat a bit about the beers.

Dan is a friendly dude, whom I would not categorize as short by any stretch, and is happy to answer any questions I have about the beers.  He disappears in the brewhouse and reappears with two samples of beers that are not currently on the taplines.  Hazy Daysy, is a nice take on a summer ale with a little cloudiness.  Really great flavor and would be a nice addition to their current lineup.  The second beer is a blueberry-infused version of their Ripple, a Kölsch-style beer.  Of the two, the Blueberry-infused Ripple was my favorite.

Now it is time to start working on my 6 beer tasting flight.  Initial impressions are that they have a nice spectrum of colors and styles.

Ripple 4.5% 24 IBU

Ripple is a Kölsch-style beer that drinks nice and clean.  You get some subtle bready flavor from the malt.  It drinks smooth with a nice crisp finish and a little hint of honey.  This beer showcases beer in a pure form because of the low malt and hop levels.  Visually, it has a nice clarity, which is a hallmark of the style.

Crosby Pilsen Mash 7.5% 58 IBU

The Crosby Pilsen Mash is both a shout-out to the famous band as well as the Crosby Hop Farm where Beaver Island sources some of their ingredients.  A bigger take on a pilsner, this beer has malt like James Brown has the feelin’.  The malt comes across as chewy, with a nice caramel flavor.  It marches right up to the battle line of syrupy, but then realizes that it left the musket back in the tent.  This beer is almost heavy which makes sense given the malt bill.  Don’t let the name fool you because at 7.5%, your dad’s pilsner it is not.

88.1 Alternative Ale 4.7% 35 IBU

This is a beer that Beaver Island brewed to celebrate the 88.1 college radio station turning 50.  The aroma is roasty with hints of graham cracker.  The malt flavor is a fabulous showcase of pilsner, munich, caramunich, and carafa.  Sometimes, carafa malt can result in unwanted tannic flavor in the beer, but there isn’t any of that here.

Fabulous Armadillo 4.7% 51 IBU

Fabulous Armadillo is a Session IPA, a style which I can normally do without.  Typically, Session IPAs always seem thin and out of balance to me.  This beer’s body is decent.  They dry-hop it with Mosaic and Citra hops to add in some aroma.  This beer is bright with a nice grapefruit character.  Fabulous Armadillo is a nice example of what this style can be when brewed right.

’39 Red IPA 6% 68 IBU

At first, I really liked this beer.  It has nice citrus notes with pleasing levels of bitterness thanks to the  Columbus, Cascade, and Bravo hops.  There is a bit of smokiness in the beer thanks to Scottish Golden Promise malt.  Unfortunately, as this beer warms, I get hints of Diacetyl in the form of a butterscotch aroma in the beer.

Sweet Mississippi 6.5% 27 IBU

Sweet Mississippi is a chocolate oatmeal stout.  Flaked oats give Sweet Mississippi a velvety smoothness.  The fair trade cacao nibs from Ecuador give it a dark chocolate bite I really dig.  The malt in this beer is sensational and it really is a dark delight.  The body of this beer is what I yearn for in a stout.

As I was working my way through the beers, a local came in to grab a growler and a pint.  I asked her if she comes in a lot and she indicated that she is a semi-regular.  While she likes what they have, she wishes that they would branch out and brew some other things.  She cites not much deviation from what is on tap on this June evening as the source of her criticism.  While fair, I understand that sometimes varying up the taplines is easier said than done.

It became clear after some conversation that she and her husband are definitely into beer.  We talked about our favorite places to go in the Twin Cities and even chatted about how her husband is an avid homebrewer.  She was affable and friendly, which was nice because I was there by myself.  The local is familiar with the blog which puts a smile on my face.  She was stopping in to grab a pint and do some grocery shopping as her break from the little ones at home.  I told her that I wouldn’t keep her and thanked her for chatting with me.

After the friendly local is off to the rest of her Friday night escape, Matt Studer, a co-owner of Beaver Island stops by to chat.  Matt is a friendly dude with a smile that you could not chisel off his face with the help of 10 Lou Ferrignos.  Matt is passionate about the beer and the customers having a positive experience with Beaver Island.

We talk beer and I explain that while most of the things I had are good, the ’39 Red IPA has some issues.  He explains to me that they take sensory training very seriously and that he is sorry I get an off-flavor in the beer.  What impressed me about this part of our conversation was the Matt owned it.  He didn’t get defensive about it, rather he explained to me the steps that they take to avoid such things.  This was certainly a stand-up move in my opinion.

My aim in writing this blog is not to be a beer critic, I will leave that up to other people.  What I focus on is articulating my experiences.  By doing this, hopefully others can come and see for themselves the beer places I am visiting.  Is the diacetyl in the ’39 Red IPA something everyone picks up?  Possibly, although I have no idea.  Does it ruin the beer?  No.  However, it is there and I feel obligated to say something to Matt.  He actually thanked me for saying something.

Matt explained that they are in the process of getting a canning line up and running.  They have also hired an additional brewer, Dashawn, from Cigar City who will be able to keep things consistent between their current taproom and the new packaging facility.  They are two and a half years old at Beaver Island and as they grow, they will add more capacity and  a barrel program.  Matt said that Adam Theis from Indeed Brewing has been extremely helpful with ideas for the barrel program.

Matt talked about some of their seasonal beers like Tip Up, a holiday beer with spruce tips that will be available in cans around the holidays.  We also talked about their Oktoberfest which won the Growler Magazine’s blind tasting last fall.  He said that it will be canned shortly to make it to market sometime in late-summer.  Then there was their Fall-elujah, a pumpkin beer which I really liked at the Autumn Brew Review.  He said it will be coming back this year and I assured him I would stop back to try it.

I liked the feel of the place.  I am excited to see the consumer response to the beers they are putting in cans.  Their Ripple and Sweet Mississippi are good beers that will have mass appeal to both craft aficionados and novices alike.  My hope is that the ’39 Red IPA can be consistent and more like the first couple sips I had versus what the beer was as it warmed.

Beaver Island is definitely worth a stop.  For the most part, their beers really appealed to me.  I liked chatting with Matt and appreciate that he was receptive to my constructive criticism on his beers.  Believe it or not, that is not always the norm for a beer writer.  Just see Michael Agnew’s recent post about a not-so-great response from a brewery owner about some flaws in the beer.   As I was packing up, Dan came back over and thanked me for coming in and I assured him that I would be back.

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