On a recent Tuesday afternoon, my wife Sj and friend Jim S. took a little field trip to visit Headflyer Brewing. Located in Minneapolis (in the Miller Textile Building), the brewery has been open since April of 2017. This fits perfectly within my self-imposed 6-12 month window for reviewing new breweries! I honestly don’t know a lot about this brewery and had not had any of their beers prior to this visit, so I went in pretty much blank-page when it comes to pre-concieved notions.
The revamped industrial building itself hosts a few other businesses like a framing shop, a coffee house, and an escape room and has some parking available as well. Coming in the main door you pass some old burlap bags on the walls and a giant sewing machine that point out the history of the location. I like the sense of history and identity that this evokes.
The brewery itself is deep into the building and is quite spacious as taprooms go. One area near the entrance hosts a couch and a long gas or electric fireplace (I didn’t look that close since a group was using it). This particular trip was in the pre-Christmas season so the taproom was decorated up in tasteful sparkles and garlands. The wide open space is a bit stark, with white paint, bricks, ceramic white bar-front, and spare but large wooden shared tables. Designs in black on the white walls range from geometric to petroglyph and add some interesting character. Sj said it best when she described the feel of Headflyer’s taproom as “Scandinavian Industrial”. I can’t do better! Large windows let in the fading afternoon light and I’ll bet this place is very well lit in the daytime. A large patio (empty due to frosty weather) seats a lot more people just outside the taproom.
We ended up tasting through the entire 13 beer line up by getting three sampler trays. I like that the samples are 5 oz and served in a bigger glass so you can get a better feel for the aroma and flavor of the beer than in some of the smaller 2-4 oz tasters I’ve had. Our service at the bar was very helpful and friendly, making this a pleasant experience for all. We toted our samplers (with help from one of our servers) back to one of the high tables and proceeded to dig into a whole mess of beers! Jim and Sj aren’t beer judges but are seasoned tasters and each had important input into our shared tasting notes. I’m a BJCP judge so try to judge based on style, but personal taste always plays its part.
The 13 beers we had ranged from honey wheat, to IPA, to a vanilla porter, taking us all over the range of beer styles. I’m pretty sure that all of us felt the nitro tap Vanilla Bean Porter was our favorite of the whole lot, coming off as a classic robust porter with just the right amount of graininess mellowed with subtle sweet vanilla. We also enjoyed the Scotchy Scotch Scotch Ale with its peaty smoke and smooth, creamy body. The Sweet Music saison and the Belgian IPA were both intensely hopped and the latter was redolent of grass clippings and musty bitterness that we didn’t love.
They had a lot of hoppy beers on tap. Of the two pale ale offerings we enjoyed the Wicked Jump Shot the most with its juicy mosaic hop character but it really comes off as a New England IPA. It Was All A Dream Juicy IPA was pleasant but very dank, citrusy, and bitter on the finish that fits more with a classic West Coast IPA than the described style. The Emoji IPA was quite puzzling to all of us coming in darker amber color than the Freckled Amber or the red rye ale they had on tap. That one had tons of butterscotch character and really didn’t seem like an IPA at all.
Overall the lowest score I gave to a beer here (0-5 scale) was a 2.5, with the highest a 4.25. Most of the beers fell right in the middle in the 3-3.5 zone. For me that means average to slightly above average and I’d drink another one. Jim and I were pretty well calibrated on our scoring, but Sj doesn’t like hoppy beers so her scores were lower on those beers for sure. Seven out of the 13 beers on tap were hop focused, but I felt like most of them were slightly out of the styles they were aiming at, making them score lower for me than they could have. All of them (the hoppy Holla Honey Wheat included as a bonus) were bitter and somewhat astringent on the finish. Even the Heavy D (self described Juicy DIPA) and the It Was All a Dream were far more bitter than a NE IPA should be. From what I know of water chemistry I’m thinking that the rock hard water in the area is the likely culprit for this, as hard water will accentuate hop bitterness.
The malty side of things is really where Headflyer’s beers shine. That Vanilla Bean Stout was really tasty and I’d order another in a heartbeat. The Freckled Amber and the Rye-U-Mah Red Rye Ale were both caramely, well balanced malt forward beers, with the Amber tasting very much like a German Alt. The smoky Scotch ale was complex and pleasing (even though the style shouldn’t have smoke in it). Malty beers tend to do better with harder water: this is why London used to be known for its dark porters.
Based on our experience here, I would recommend the taproom as worth a visit. The space was cool and the staff very helpful. Having thirteen beers on tap was a nice suprise. I think the beers could use a little work to get them to stand out a bit more in this crowded beer market. I didn’t have any beers with outright fermentation flaws, more just recipe and water chemistry misses that can be tweaked a bit to take Headflyer to new heights. I’m interested to see how things go for them over the coming year.