Brewery Bound: Bobbing Bobber Brewing Company
Bobbing Bobber Brewing Company recently celebrated 2 years of pouring beer in the town of Hutchinson, Minnesota. Yet, their tap list and beer quality tell a narrative far different from a fledgling brewery. My visit to Bobbing Bobber Brewing Company affirms why it is important to get out on the road less traveled-even in your home state.
Covid-19 has squelched any attempt at pulling off the massive MN staycation I had my heart set on. My grandiose plan to get to all the remaining breweries in Minnesota I have not visited yet has shifted. Despite abandoning my original plan, I am finding my way to some true Minnesota craft beer gems. The frequency and volume of my #SummerofDan beercation brewery visits is way down compared to previous years (62 breweries in 3 weeks last summer in Colorado). As I pivot my plan, I am choosing to focus on quality over quantity as I take a more measured approach to the taprooms I am intent on trying out this summer.
One Time at Spilled Grain Bockfest…
I met Bobbing Bobber Brewing Company Head Brewer, Lane Wanous on March 30 of 2018 when I was at the Spilled Grain Brewhouse Bockfest. Lane and Jacob Schnabel, the Head Brewer and Co-Founder of Spilled Grain Brewhouse, have been friends for years. They went all the way back to the homebrewing days when they, along with Jeff Zierdt and Matt Schiller from Lupulin Brewing, were all in the same home brew club, BYOB (Brew Your Own Beer).
I find it incredibly fascinating that a small Minnesota homebrew club has spawned 3 noteworthy breweries. I would have loved to have been a part of their meetings! Jacob introduced Lane and myself, just like Jeff Zierdt of Lupulin introduced Jacob and I several years earlier. I love that the ties that bind via the homebrew days are still strong amongst these gentlemen. They are always singing the praises of each other.
At the Spilled Grain Bockfest, we were all standing outside on an unseasonably warm Minnesota afternoon in late March. The aromas of smoke, fire, and maillard goodness from the poked bock beers provided a wonderful backdrop for a fun beer chat. Lane is a soft-spoken and genuine guy. He is passionate about beer and loves to drink classic styles. During our conversation at Spilled Grain, I surmised that Lane, akin to Jacob, had a very technical way of viewing beer. The topics we kicked around as we sipped our malty treats revolved around styles of beer we like to drink, which beers we wish were more available in taprooms, and how the outside the metro breweries were really coming into their own. After we had our fill of fire-poked bocks, we agreed that I needed to get to Bobbing Bobber to check out their taproom.
The days, weeks, and months passed. Last summer got away from me and then I went back to school. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I was watching the Great American Beer Festival Awards stream and Bobbing Bobber won a gold medal for their Tackle Bock! The kicked me in the pants to try to coordinate a time to meet Jacob out at Bobbing Bobber with renewed vigor! Jacob and I were planning to meet out at Bobbing Bobber in late winter when a pandemic sprang up making everything brewery-related that much more complicated.
Time To Wet A Tapline
So, here we are, the summer of 2020 as the days of July are waning into August. I am finally pulling into the Bobbing Bobber Brewing Company parking lot. Just like every time I visit a brewery for the first time, I have a craft beer geek giddiness. Lane is taking a break out back and greets me with a warmth of an old friend. Lane is good people-gracious, kind, and excited to show me his place. We walk in and I see his business partner and co-owner, Dan Hart.
There is a classic car event today in the parking lot and they are expecting a full house. Luckily, the weather got the memo to be on its best behavior because it is sunny, with nary a cloud in the sky. I am no meteorologist, but I know beer drinking weather when I see it. I start snapping a few pictures and Lane asks if I want a beer. For some odd reason, that question never gets old. I told him I better see what all the fuss is about with his award-winning Tackle Bock.
Usually, I prefer a full pour, but their beer list reads like an unabridged version of Lord of the Rings, so I decide on a half-pour. If I start off with a full pint of 7.3% ABV beer, by the end of the night, I will be attempting to hot-wire a jalopy in the parking lot and nobody wants to see that. I also am intent on trying as many of their offerings (14 on tap!) as possible, so discretion is the better part of valor.
If a brewery does things right, the taproom becomes the metaphorical property of its community. Lane and Dan have fostered quite a community at Bobbing Bobber Brewing Company. A lot of the folks coming in are recognized by name by the staff. Patrons seem to recognize fellow drinkers. There is an energy here that belies the stereotype of a sleepy Minnesota hamlet. I mean, Hutchinson is far from a small town, but also quite distant from a bustling metropolis at around 14,000 people. You might be interested to know that this is not he first brewery to ever pour a pint in Hutchinson, MN.
In fact, according to the Mcloud Country Historical Museum website, a man by the name of Joseph Hajicek traded his farm for a brewery back in the early 1900s. The appropriately named Joseph Hajicek Brewing Co. brewed Bohemian style beers that he sold in kegs to local farmers. However, because of Hajicek’s death in 1914 and a grain restriction as a result of World War 1, the brewery was shuttered in 1920.
It has been a long time since Hutchinson has had a brewery to call its own. The taproom is spacious with a variety of seating available. The taproom is family-friendly and lots of natural light illuminate the space. There are a myriad of homages to fishing in the taproom. I even heard a story of how they usually catch fish as big as what Jimmy John Shark caught back in the day. The foremost symbol of Bobbing Bobber is a red and white bobber that is everywhere in the taproom. Many of them are homemade, given to the taproom by loyal patrons. Given the size of the taproom, there is a coziness that I am guessing is an extension of the community.
Of course, a taproom culture doesn’t just happen, like a healthy yeast, it needs the proper conditions. That is where the Bobbing Bobber Brewing Company ownership deserve some props-#BoatPun-for the culture of the taproom.
Dan and Lane each play to their strengths. Just like their beers, their roles as Head Brewer (Lane) and front of the house presence (Dan) are balanced. They both play their roles well and that shows in how attentive and smart their staff is. The beertenders strike up conversations and pour beers, not like it is a job, but more like a calling. I think that the patrons feel that sense of midwestern hospitality at Bobbing Bobber, I sure know I do.
The Beers at Bobbing Bobber
It is rare, nowadays, to find a tap list with a breadth of classic styles along with some trendy options. Breweries have to make money and showcasing popular styles that appeal to the masses is paramount to do that. However, old school craft beer geeks like myself love all beer styles. So, finding the balance between those two schools of thought is a delicate process. As a brewery in Hutchinson, there is the additional charge of making craft beer accessible to drinkers whose comfort zone can often be macro light lagers.
The worst thing a brewery can do is to make assumptions about what their patronage will and won’t drink. Sure, we all prefer what we know and are comfortable with. I liked McDonald’s cheeseburgers when I was little. However, I will pass on them now in favor of something better. The same is true for beer drinkers.
If a smaller operation like Bobbing Bobber Brewing is to thrive, they have to bring new craft beer drinkers into the fold. That means educating people about what craft beer is and making people feel comfortable within that space. Dan Hart says that he always starts by asking people what they like to drink. That jumping off point validates what the patron is comfortable with instead of making them feel like what they prefer is bad. It also allows them to be in the driver’s seat of choice-a powerful element of consumerism. Ultimately, people find at least one or two things they will enjoy at Bobber Bobber. After that, it is pretty much drop anchor and cast away to your limit of fun.
Tackle Bock-A GABF Gold Medal Winning Maibock
As I was watching the livestream of last year’s Great American Beer Festival, the largest beer competition in the world, I remember being over the moon about hearing that Bobbing Bobber won a gold medal for their Tackle Bock. Of course, once a beer wins, people want to try it right away. This was problematic for me since Bobbing Bobber has a more local distribution footprint, and I live in St. Paul.
I am happy to finally try this beer. Trying to temper expectations and understand that what I was expecting was damn-near perfection, given its prowess as a gold medal-winning beer. In other words, with Lane standing right next to me, I ready my “opening-up-a-present-that-I-never-in-a-million-years-would-have-asked-for face.
Luckily, my expectations and pre-concieved notions are validated with one sip. A rich, caramel and bready malt base starts the sip off with a tad bit of sweetness. However, just as quickly as your palate is soothed by the maltiness, an earthy and somewhat dry balance kicks in. This beer does not drink like a 7.3% ABV beer. It has a rather crisp finish that beckons you to continue sipping. Akin to a fisherman who keeps casting their line back in the water because of the potential of a wonderful reward, each sip of the Tackle Bock brings my palate happiness and satisfaction.
This summer slammer reels in at 5.2% ABV and 15 IBUs. It is crisp and refreshing. The malt showcases aromas of light cracker and a smidge of honey sweetness. The finish is crisp and this is a Bobbing Bobber Brewing Company offering that works as both an entry-level beer for those new to craft and a fine example of a tricky style craft beer geeks will appreciate and pine after.
Crappie Flop IPA
Just like every fishing boat needs a net, every brewery must have an IPA. This throwback to what I call “old school IPAs” definitely checks the boxes of piney and earthy hop character. What makes Crappie Flop IPA a nice beer is that it has the malt base to support the aforementioned hoppy aromas and flavors without being muddled. I have long despised what many call the “Midwest IPA” because almost all of them are muddled and messy. Balance is so important in an IPA, no matter what region it claims to represent. The Crappie Flop IPA is a fantastic beer and folks in Hutchinson are lucky to have this staple on tap!
Snow Angel Belgian White IPA
This Snow Angel Belgian White IPA is 8.9% ABV and has 66 IBUs. It has nice stone fruit esters of peach and apricot that compliment the slightly bitter finish. Definitely not for the meek, at 8.9% one must tread lightly with this because it goes down pretty smooth.
Jigstick Imperial Stout
In a sea of imperial stouts, Bobbing Bobber Brewing Company’s Jigstick Imperial Stout stands out like a solitary tip-up on a deserted frozen Minnesota lake. This beer has complexity, balance, and just the right amount of booziness. This beer is 9.1% ABV and 56 IBU. Familiar aromas of pipe tobacco and molasses emanate from the glass.
It reminds me of the times when I licked the spoon in Mom’s kitchen as I helped her make her unforgettable ginger snaps. As the beer warms up, flavors of dates and raisins move to the forefront. This beer is balanced and not overly sweet.
All the wonderful beers that Lane brews come out of a 7 barrel direct-fire system. The brewing equipment is housed in the next room. This cavernous space has been retro-fitted into extra taproom space for the event today. The size of this system means that Lane stays busy keeping all his tap lines full of Bobbing Bobber beer.
Lane says that there is definitely room for expansion. At some point, he foresees making the leap to some bigger fermenters. However, right now, everything seems to be dialed in to keep the patrons coming into the taproom in schools to drink what Dan and Lane put on tap.
The toughest thing for me about this pandemic has been the lack of hanging out in taprooms and conversing with strangers. As Lane, Jacob, and I are standing at the bar chatting, a gentleman named Tim comes up to say hello to Lane and Jacob. Tim Berg runs Timmy’s Pub Club, a line cleaning service out of Howard Lake, MN. Tim had his wife, kids, and father all along for a nice afternoon of hanging out. Both Spilled Grain Brewhouse and Bobbing Bobber Brewing work with Timmy’s Pub Club to get their lines cleaned.
Tim’s entire family felt welcome in the taproom and that is something that is always great to see. Just when I thought I had caught my limit of fun for the day, Tim’s dad, Bob, came over to say hello. Bob is a spry, and quick-witted man who fully supports the current craft beer renaissance. If they gave GABF gold medals for craft beer patron one-liners, Bob would have a cabinet full of them. He was explaining where he lived and the good times just started rolling. He was telling us all that he spent a lot of time north of Howard Lake hunting deer. “Yes, I got about 100 white tail deer out of there. I got rid of that bad habit though, I’m drinking beer now.” As Bob says the line and waits for the laugh break, he sips his beer with a cheshire cat grin.
As Bob waxes nostalgic about his younger days he casts this line out there, “I wish they would have had these places when I was younger. Instead, we had to go to parties out in the woods by a pump. Lotta warm beer and ugly women. . . ” After the barrage of laughter, I was able to gather myself and jot down the gems that were pouring out of him like a beer faucet.
As much as I enjoyed the beers, which were outstanding, the of my visit is definitely the camaraderie that I feel spending almost four hours at Bobbing Bobber. Chatting with beer friends and getting to chat with locals gives me a genuine sense of what Bobbing Bobber Brewing Company is all about. Dan and Lane provide a wonderful place to socialize and come together. Beer has a way of allowing us to all discover that we are all way more alike than we are different.
The way home winds me through a quiet and peaceful Minnesota landscape. The rolling corn fields, the sun setting in the distance, and the Twins on the radio make me grateful for life and friendships-both old and new. I can say with absolute certainty that Bobbing Bobber Brewing Company is definitely worth a visit. Just like a great afternoon of fishing, hanging out at the Bobbing Bobbber Brewing Company taproom is quality time well-spent. Prost!
Dan Beaubien has been involved with Beerploma since 2014 although his passion for craft beer dates back to 2006 when he started traveling for beer. Dan mostly covers craft beer events, festivals, brewery openings/releases, and beer reviews. Dan has a soft spot in his heart for authentic British Style ales, IPAs, and all things barrel-aged. If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org .