Being a teacher on summer break definitely has its advantages. A summer off allows for a myriad of methods to relax and recharge. If you are also a beer blogger, it allows for day trips to places that you have wanted to visit. I joke with friends that every summer break I enjoy is another “Summer of Dan,” a nod to the popular phrase coined by George Costanza on Seinfeld. While he spent his days in sweatpants eating blocks of cheese, I am out checking off visits to breweries in MN and beyond. On a lazy Thursday, I enlisted the help of my friend and neighbor, Tim. Tim is a fellow teacher and beer geek who was more than happy to accompany me to a voyage into the Rochester, MN, craft beer scene.
Forager Brewing Co.
Unlike last summer’s visit to interview Steve Finnie, then brewer and co-owner at Grand Rounds Brewery, this time I am headed to Forager Brewery. Forager has become a bit of a darling among local beer geeks over the years. Forager specializes in uber-locally sourced ingredients that are showcased in styles of beer that they want to drink. The beer styles that Forager brews are outside the box, to say the least. From balanced kettle sours to exceptionally juicy hop marvels, Forager is opening eyes and blowing minds of MN beer fans and Rochester locals alike.
Forager’s taproom space is cozy, yet spacious. There are large tables with comfortable seating in the main area of the taproom. The bar is large and can accommodate a crowd. If you walk past the bar and step outside, you are immediately transported into a photo shoot for Better Homes and Gardens. A plethora of outdoor seating awaits you in a lush, green atmosphere. There is also a stage where many nights of the week you can enjoy outdoor live music.
Since it was a steamer of a day, Tim and I opted to sit at the bar inside. The high-top seats at the bar are as comfortable as any that I have sat in in MN. This made it really easy to set up camp and get into a few beers. Tim and I walked into Forager around 11:15am and by the time we were seated at the bar and had our first six ounce pour in our hands, the main area was packed with people getting a jump on the lunch hour.
There were quite a few options available. They had hoppy, malty, and fruity options which suited Tim and I just fine. We started with light and refreshing and worked our way towards dessert in a glass. Guiding us along the way was our friendly bartender, Ja
ke. A former smokejumper, Jake was affable and more than willing to chat and answer questions. This day, he is on Bloody Mary duty and getting a workout with the shaker glass.
Preserved Gose 4.4% ABV 4 IBU
This kettle sour is made with blackened lime. What the hell is blackened lime you ask? Well, I wondered the same thing. I thought it could either be a malady that plagues the undercarriage of a coal miner or an Urban Dictionary term for some type of bedroom shenanigan involving a margarita. I was wrong on both accounts, it is actually a term for a dried lime. The flavor of this beer is refreshing with moderate acidity and tartness. Given the temperature outside, this beer is a perfect way to combat the heat.
Orange Cream Dream 4.1% ABV 4 IBU
Orange Cream Dream transports me back to my childhood with a flavor profile reminiscent of an orange push pop. This beer is as complex as it is delicious. The citrus aroma in this beer is enough to knock out even the toughest case of scurvy. The flavors go from tart to sweet, and then back to tart. Vanilla and lactose give it just a pop of sweetness in the middle before a tart finish.
Twisted Branch: Strawberry 4.5% ABV 4 IBU
Strawberry is not my favorite and a lot of times, I think it winds up getting lost in a beer. Luckily, that is not the case with Twisted Branch: Strawberry berliner weisse. The aroma of fruit is mesmerizing and epitomizes summer in a glass. In a great marriage between subtle tartness and sweet, this beer is supremely well-balanced. I like the way their fruited kettle sours are not attacking my stomach lining with acidity. There are all focused on the fruit flavors; a feat that is easier said than done.
Kushy Hops DIPA 8.5% ABV 55 IBU
This cloudy, orange, aromatic beauty looks like artwork in a glass. This DIPA has Azacca, Galaxy, and Citra hops put together in a beautiful way to create a dangerously smooth beer. No heat from alcohol despite its heft at 8.5%. A great citrus and grapefruit flavor. There is a slight onion aroma as well, which only adds to the cornucopia of aromas. Kushy Hops tastes juicy with nice hint of grapefruit rind to give it a bite at the end. Tim and I both thought this beer was masterfully crafted.
This double chocolate coffee stout is everything I hoped it would be. I love coffee in beer as much as a Mississippi hound loves a sturdy leg lamp. This beer is rich, complex, and most of all, made me feel better about the fact that Pudding Goggles wasn’t on tap. There is lots of coffee roast in this beer and the chocolate balances it out perfectly. Between the coffee and the dark malts, the beer finishes with a nice bitterness that makes you crave another sip. Tim had to slap me at one point because the richness of the beer almost put me into a catatonic state of bliss and I was drooling.
Brewer, Austin Jevne is a busy man. Austin leads the small team of people who keeps the tap lines occupied at Forager. Austin was in the midst of a brew day during our visit. I figured that Austin probably did not have much time to chat. However, he graciously showed Tim and I around. Austin was proud to show off his 4 barrel brewhouse. Forager brews constantly to keep up with the demands of a popular beer geek destination.
Interestingly enough, most people view Forager as a restaurant instead of a brewery which I find perplexing. Austin got his start at Rush River where he worked in packaging, and later helped start up their barrel program. Austin does not apologize for the fact that Forager brews what the employees like to drink. Thankfully, that means NEIPA, mixed-culture beers, and big delicious stouts. He knows that the beers Forager pours are not always going to make the BJCP style purists happy and he is fine with that.
What Austin is not fine with is the archaic law that hinders him from putting his beer on the shelves in the liquor store. It has been legal to buy beer on Sundays for 3 weeks, but if you want to have Forager in your fridge, you have to go to the brewery and buy a crowler. I think that this law is ridiculous. I hope that the politicians will see that by limiting brewpubs in this manner, it does nothing to help grow this segment of craft beer.
Austin says that while Forager busts their butts to keep up with the portfolio of beers they have currently, they will be unveiling a new saison series coming up in the fall. Those beers are currently resting in barrels in a different part of the building. After snapping some pictures, it was time to let Austin get back to work and get a pizza.
Tim and I perused the menu and landed on the Bavarian Brewer. This wood-fired pizza comes with bratwurst, an IPA mustard, beer-braised caramelized onions, gouda, mozzarella, and tomato sauce. To top it all off, there are pretzel pieces sprinkled atop the glorious pie, giving it a great texture. While the toppings were dazzling and the flavors were divine, the crust impressed me the most. They make all their own dough and it had the magic combo of elasticity and crunch. Add in a little bit of char for good measure, and I would put this crush up against any pie in the state.
As Tim and I enjoyed our lunch, a familiar face showed up and grabbed the seat next to us. Steve Finnie, formerly of Grand Rounds and fresh off an amazing trip to South Africa and Spain, popped in to say hi. I love having a beer with Steve because he is a like-minded craft beer nut. I think that it is bittersweet that we couldn’t visit him at his brewery this time around. He has nothing but glowing things to say about the beer at Forager.
After a bit, Steve had to get going because he was hosting a group of friends who originally invested in his home brewing operation. We made sure to seek each other out at All Pints North in a week and hoist a pint or two. Tim and I finished our food and then got another half-pour of Sherpa’s Survival Kit. Time flies when you are tasting great beer and it was time to head back to Como Park.
On the ride home, we both agreed that Forager is a gem of a place to grab food and beer. We also thought that Austin is somewhat of a beer savant the way he is able to coax such flavors out of his ingredients while keeping everything balanced. We will surely be back. I suggest that you make time to go down to Forager and spend some time eating and drinking at their fine establishment. If you are annoyed that you have to go down to the taproom to get their beer, write your legislator a note about allowing brewpubs like Forager and Town Hall to distribute their beer.
Forager Brewery 1005 6th St. NW Rochester, MN
Hours: Mon-Sat 11am-11pm & Sun 10am-11pm (Brunch served from 10am-2pm)
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