Brewery Bound: Uncommon Loon Brewing

Over the years, there are many breweries that are on my ever-shrinking list of Minnesota breweries that I feel bad I haven’t visited. Uncommon Loon Brewing Company in Chisago City, MN, is now a brewery I can check off that list. Over the years, I have heard many craft beer enthusiasts effusively praise the quality and variety of Uncommon Loon Brewing’s beers. It wasn’t until I at Winterfest 2020 at US Bank Stadium that I became enamored with their barrel-aged Imperial Stout, Raven’s Cry. This beer stood out amongst many of the state’s finest dark beers and signaled to me that I had to get to the brewery.

A Friday Flight of Frothy Fancy

Onn a lazy Friday during my annual summer respite from teaching, I decide to venture north of the Twin Cities to Chisago City, MN, to see what Uncommon Loon Brewing is all about. I arrive at 1:30pm and am one of only a handful of cars in the parking lot. The garage doors to the brewery are open, revealing a meticulously clean brewhouse. As I snap pictures of the outside of the brewery, I wonder how long the parking lot will be empty. As I walk inside, my eyes adjust from the bright sun to the taproom decor that is that of a spacious cabin up north. I beeline for the end of the bar so I can kind of spread out a bit and get the entire purview of the taproom. I love sitting at the bar, and I will never take that small luxury for granted after Covid took that privilege away for a year and a half.

A friendly beertender by the name of Heather is busily filling crowlers when I arrive. Without missing a beat, she greets me and asks what I would like. I explain that it is my first time at Uncommon Loon and a few flights will fit the bill. I tell her what I want to start with and she gets to pouring. Before I know it, there are four 5-oz. tasters in a quarter log flight tray sitting at my spot. Each flight comes with a card of the beers to help keep track of what you drink. This may seem like a no-brainer, but not every brewery does this.

I mentioned that the parking lot was quite empty when I arrived. In fact, the taproom is also quite vacant. There is one other gentleman sitting to my left who has a trio of to-go crowlers in front of him. He is drinking bottles of Dad’s root beer and explains that he does not drink if he has to drive. I applaud his choice of beverage and devotion to safety.

This kind local seems engages everyone in conversation and really seems curious as to what I am doing. When I tell him that I am a craft beer blogger, his eyes go as wide as saucers and he almost falls off his barstool, exclaiming, “You get paid to drink beer!?!?!?” What a gig that would be! However, I dampen his enthusiasm about my vida loca when I tell him that it is my day job as a teacher that actually pays the bills. To which, he simply replies, “Oh.” Undeterred, he still fires away questions to me, Heather, and the tap handles about our favorite beers. Tyler Brown, one of the brewers at Uncommon Loon comes out to grab something and that is when the questions really start flying. The Dad’s drinking interrogator lobs this one at the brewer, “So, do you drink a lot of beer during your shift?” Tyler reponds with a wry smile on his face, “Well, I have to.”

Remember Amber Ales???

At this point, I am about halfway through my first flight and enjoying the beers quite a bit. Tyler stops by to ask my what I think right after my first sip of the Ambertextrous amber ale. Now, you are probably wondering why I haven’t tossed a 4-page word salad together about milkshake IPAs and a1c-wrecking pastry stouts. Well, that is because Uncommon Loon Brewing Company isn’t chasing trends. Instead they focus on brewing quality beers that run the gamut of styles and trends.

Amberdextrous Amber Ale-6.7% ABV 32 IBU

This brings me back to the Amberdexterous amber ale. As long as craft beer has been a thing, amber ales have been on the radar. In the 2000s, amber ales were staples on every brewery tap list. However, as the demand for pushing the envelope of flavors, textures, and ingredients has led us away from the old and towards the new, amber ales have seen a sharp decline. Is that because amber ales are bad beers? No.

However, amber ales aren’t dry-hopped with sexy hops, people aren’t drinking them out of bowls, and they would be a tough base for beer ice cream. What the Uncommon Loon Brewing Amberdextrous amber ale represents is a simple style done well. Their amber ale has depth and character. The caramel color beer has a pleasing aroma of slightly caramelized brown sugar and roasted malt. The flavor has a toasted bread flavor that is satisfying and an earthy hop note for balance. I compliment Tyler on this and he says that it is also one of his go-tos.

As I continue to familiarize myself with the beers, a steady trickle of people continue to file into their weekend by way of Uncommon Loon. The prime spots are filling up on the patio as the rare non-humid Friday sets the stage for some optimal day-drinking. I step away from my seat at the bar and the questions from the Dad’s root beer guy-yes, he is still peppering me with questions about beer and life-to snap some more pictures of the place. There are local pieces of art up on the walls, tons of patio tables under colorful umbrellas, and several rooms that can be rented out for gatherings.

One thing that catches my attention is a table of ladies who are celebrating a birthday in the center of the taproom. Seven ladies ranging in ages from mid-thirties all the way into the sixties were gathering to have some laughs and start limbering up for some birthday spankings. I was keen to see what they ordered to drink, given the fact that we are kind of in the heart of “Macro Country”. I was pleased to see that their orders ranged from cream ale all the way to The Things We Don’t Say IPA. They were chatting and passing snacks around the table, all the while, thoroughly enjoying craft beer after craft beer. Only one person ordered the hard seltzer, which might come as a surprise to those of you arcane-thinking knuckle draggers who wrongly believe that all women only want to drink light and fruity beers.

It is time for my second flight and I am ready to travers past the cream ale, blond ale, amber ale, and wheat ale of the first flight. Earlier I said that Uncommon Loon Brewing doesn’t chase trends. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have styles that get craft beer geeks titillated. In fact, Uncommon Loon Brewing has 5 different IPAs on tap. So, I ask Tyler which two I should start with and he gives a moment of deep contemplation. He recommends the Hooksetter IPA and the Shapeshifter IPA. The Hooksetter is a more traditional IPA that uses Citra and Mosaic hops and the Shapeshifter IPA is billed as a Hazy IPA. This beer took 3rd place in the 2019 Beer Dabbler Hazy IPA Blind Tasting Event. I also rounded the flight out with their Olde Town Nut Brown and Northwoods Coffee Porter.

Owning A Brewery. . . As A Retirement Gig???

As I delve into flight #2, I realize that I am getting pretty lucky with all the different things I am tasting. Not a miss among the 8 beers that I am trying. As I am jotting down notes, a familiar face comes up to me to make an introduction. Brad Klatt, the Head Brewer and Co-Owner of Uncommon Loon Brewing Company extends his hand to offer a hearty hello and a handshake. I am excited to put a name with a face. I tell Brad that I have wanted to make it up to Uncommon Loon for a while now, but Covid put a wrench into a lot of my local brewery visit plans. Brad is wearing an Uncommon Loon Brewing hat, glasses, and has longer salt and pepper hair. We get to talking and he explains that the brewery was his retirement plan. This gives me a good chuckle. Most people retire and relax; Brad starts a craft brewery. He says that he didn’t want to be lazy or idle in retirement and wanted a challenge to keep him busy. He asks me if I would like a tour of the place and I happily oblige him.

Brad explains that they will be celebrating their 3-year anniversary in December. The building used to be the old fire department. In fact, the bar, which is a work of art in itself, was moved by a crew of ten firefighters. The beautiful and pristine bar was originally from the St. Paul Hotel. When the St. Paul Hotel was renovated, it found its way to the Dinner Bel in Lindström. Now it resides at Uncommon Loon providing a comfortable anchor for thirsty patrons to rest their elbows in between 16-ounce curls. The taproom has a wonderful sense of homeyness to it. It has the feel of a cabin getaway. Loons are prominently displayed all over the place.

Brewery Tour Time!

Brad asks if I would like a tour of the place and I happily grab my camera. Our first stop is the brewhouse. I got a little glimpse earlier when I arrived and saw the garage doors ajar. However, now I am in the thick of things. They have quite a few tanks and their ten barrel brewhouse kicked out just around 600 barrels of beer in the last year. Obviously, Covid and the shutdown affected them, as it did most breweries, but Uncommon Loon Brewing was buoyed by the support of their locals. They were selling a ton of crowlers and beer to go to keep things moving. Ultimately, they came out on the other side no worse for the wear and are back to full capacity.

Brad and Tyler are apologetic for the mess and I look around thinking, “If they think this is bad, they should see my sock drawer.” Their brewery is spotless thanks to the attentive eyes of the brew team. They said that this building was a great option for a brewery because a lot of the drainage and structure was perfect for a brewery setup. They didn’t have to do much with the plumbing or floor and that saved them a lot of money.

Need An Event Space? Uncommon Loon Has You Covered!

Another great feature of Uncommon Loon Brewing is that they have several spaces for private events. Their barrel room would be the perfect place to have a meeting, birthday party, or initiate someone into a quilting group. They also have a larger event space that was physically moved from another location and added onto the property. This room is perfect for a wedding reception, graduation party, or initiating a lot of people into a quilting group. This room is really classic looking from the wooden ceilings to the light fixtures. In this day in age, a brewery needs an event space because people love having special events at a brewery. Uncommon Loon is fortunate to have 2 spaces for this type of revenue stream and opportunity for celebrations. In the barrel room, I saw a stack of J Carver Distillery barrels that piqued my interest. Brad said that those barrels are holding Raven’s Cry, the aforementioned barrel-aged stout from Winterfest that bewitched my palate.

Large Event Space

The Barrel Room

After taking all the pictures, I head back to my spot at the end of the bar. Brad asks me if there was anything else I want to try. I tell him that I got two flights that should give me a good sense of what Uncommon Loon Brewing is all about. Brad ponders that for a second, then in the friendliest arm-twist of all-time, says, “I really think you need to try everything.” I am not going to argue with a man living out his retirement dream. So, a third flight of beer is procured as Brad steps away to help setup for a party in the brewhouse.

As I am taking notes, Tyler comes to sit down and chat. He is such an engaging young man who is passionate about talking beer. I realize that in that moment of chatting, and the excitement of seeing a new brewery, that I have missed this type of craft beer experience so much. Drinking good beer is a pleasure in itself. However, exploring a new brewery, meeting the owners and brewers, and thoroughly immersing myself in that brewery’s culture for an afternoon is something I will never ever take for granted again.

After sipping through more beers that I really enjoy, Tyler has to get back to work. I focus in on my last flight and continued to observe the sounds and sights of the taproom’s Friday fervor. A pair of ladies grab two stools to my right. Their names are Teresa and Sandy. They live in town and are celebrating a birthday party the next day. I see Teresa grab enough crowlers and growlers to keep a large number of folks happy well into the following work week. Then they sit down for a couple pints.

Teresa and her husband are members of the Uncommon Loon Brewing frequent drinker club and they have punch cards for free beers every month. They are both quite giggly and friendly. We get to talking about all sorts of things. Teresa enthusiastically speaks about her unbridled love for Uncommon Loon Brewing. She talks about how wonderful an addition they have been to the community and how much she loves the people here. I have to say that I agree with her point for point. Her cousin, Sandy, is really enjoying the beers as well. They both say how much they missed sitting at the bar during Covid and how nice it is to be getting back to normal.

As the time passes and the liquid in each taster dwindles down to the bottom of the glass, my departure looms closer. I bid farewell to Teresa and Sandy and thank them for their lovely conversation and company. I poke my head into the brewhouse where Brad and Tyler continue to prep for the party later that night. In an unexpected gesture of hospitality, Brad tells Tyler to go and grab something for me. I assume that maybe they will send me home with some brewery stickers or something. Well, I am blown away when Tyler hands me a maroon colored, wax-dipped bottle of Raven’s Cry. I can’t thank them enough. I tell them I will be back sooner than later and exit out to a parking lot that was now completely full.

The Beer Highlights at Uncommon Loon Brewing

I already talked about the Amberdextrous Amber Ale as being a standout among the 14 different beers I tasted. However, there are a myriad of beers I would happily go back and order in the form of full pints.

Speckled Loon Cream Ale-5.2 % ABV 16 IBU

Many breweries have this style, few of them stand out as noteworthy. I will put the Speckled Loon in the category of cream ales done well. This beer has a clean and crisp mouthfeel. There is a dash of corn sweetness to balance out the crispness of the beer. I like the Crispix cereal notes in the beer. This was a great start to my first flight.

Things We Don’t Say IPA-6.6 % ABV 27 IBU

The Things We Don’t Say IPA series has been brewed by over 100 different breweries in collaboration with Hope For The Day to help change the narrative and stigma around those who struggle with mental health. This is the first example of this one that I have tried and it is brilliant. The enchanting aroma of tropical fruits and coconut in the aroma immediately made me think of a beach vacation. The flavors of pineapple and ripe mango make this an easy drinking IPA. There is just enough bitterness to balance out the beer.

Shapeshifter Hazy IPA-6.5 % ABV 35 IBU

This beer took 3rd place at the Beer Dabbler Unlabeled Hazy IPA festival in 2019. I think that this beer is one of Uncommon Loon Brewing’s better hoppy offerings. I get ripe tangerine and mango in the flavor. The aroma has a definite citrus note. The mouthfeel on this beer is soft and pillowy. I do think that called a style a Hazy IPA is probably a misnomer, because not every one is hazy. On the continuum of hazies that I have tried, and there have been a ton, I think that Shapeshifter is somewhere in the middle of the haze scale. However, overall, considering what I believe to be the hallmarks of this style category, Shapeshifter checks all the boxes.

Northwoods Coffee Porter-6.4% ABV 26 IBU

I am an unabashed coffee in beer-lover. The Northwoods Coffee Porter is wonderfully balanced with nary a bit of acidity. The acidity in the coffee is what drives most people away from this style of beer. What I like about this beer was the hint of roasted green pepper that adds a complexity to the sip. The base beer is really enticing thanks to all the dark malt. The coffee brings an added level of pizazz that I really like.

Hang Tang Tropical Sour-5.3% 15 IBU

When it comes to kettle sours, I have become jaded, cynical, and downright afraid. There are so many breweries making so many acid-reflux inducing, liquid disasters that I have all but given up on the style. However, in the spirit of being a beer adventurer, I will try anything once. I am pleasantly surprised and relieved when I taste the Hang Tang. It is bright, effervescent, and fruity. The acidity in this beer is subtle and not at all offensive. I really like how the pineapple, berry, and lime flavors intermingle to really create a harmonious balance of flavor.

Areas For Improvement

I could go on and on about the beers that Uncommon Loon Brewing Company, but I think you get the picture-Uncommon Loon Brewing is doing fantastic things. That being said, there are a few areas for improvement for Uncommon Loon Brewing. First, I want more bitterness out of the Hooksetter IPA and the Dreamwalker DIPA. These IPAs are good, however, but more prominent notes of resin or pine in the hop character would take them to the next level. Also, the Peanut Gallery Porter has a wonderful roasted peanut aroma, but doesn’t deliver with roasted peanut flavor. Again, Peanut Gallery is a decent beer, but if the roasted peanut flavor were more evident in the flavor, I would happily put this porter in the class with Montgomery Brewing, Dangerous Man Brewing, and Waconia Brewing as the Best in Show of Peanut Butter Porters in MN. Does it sound like I am nit-picking? Yes, yes it does. The thing that I hope for every brewery that I visit is that they can continue to get better. The things I mention in this section are minor things that I notice rather than indictments of brewing process or attention to quality.

All in all, Uncommon Loon Brewing is a treat of a place to go and spend an afternoon. The staff, beers, and setting are all tremendous. The locals up in Chisago City should be incredibly proud to call Uncommon Loon Brewing Company their own. Brad Klatt is as nice a gentleman as you will find in the beer industry. He cares deeply for quality and the experience of each and every patron who walks in their doors. I felt welcomed and valued during my visit, and I wish I could say that is always the case when I go to a brewery. Uncommon Loon Brewing Company is doing things right and it needs to be on your list if you haven’t been there, yet. 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 dan.beaubien@beerploma.com .