Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Minnesota Breweries One by One #21: Big Wood Brewery, White Bear Lake

One of the unfortunate traps of this project that we've embarked upon is that we end up passing by our favorites, the breweries and the beers we know we can count on and love to give our support to. We could be comfortable and satisfied, instead of forcing down bizarre experiments by clueless brewers. Well, it's an adventure, and adventures are risky. We know what we're in for, but there is always that twinge of regret. I could have been drinking a Masala Mama IPA instead of sucking back a band-aid soup!

So, we were missing Dave's BrewFarm, as well as Oliphant, and Jason wanted to go this past Sunday.  (Last Sunday, actually, 3/13.)It had been almost a month to the day. But, how could we squeeze a Minnesota brewery visit into the day's journey and keep up the pace? That's why we ended up pulling into White Bear Lake and popping into Big Wood Brewery.

White Bear Lake, population 23,769, is a North-Eastern suburb of the Twin Cities which is named for the lake that's also named for an Indian legend of a Sioux in love with a Chippewa and the ivory ursine that tore them asunder. (I think that's how it goes, apparently Mark Twain told the tale differently in Life on the Mississippi.) It's also 90% full of white people. It's been home to Big Wood Brewery since around 2011/12-ish. I know they won an award at the Autumn Brew Review in 2011 for their coffee stout, Morning Wood, but weren't producing anything on a commercial level for some time. I have four reviews of their canned beers here in the Nib, and they're all from 2013, 2 of them unlabeled samples from the distributor. The next two years found me unmotivated to go out of my way to try any of their other beers. And now, two years after they opened their taproom, we're going just a little out of our way to 2222 4th St., downtown White Bear Lake.

This place is all about the wood, and we must always strive to admire the material and not to lay down in the mire with the inevitable innuendo. It's hard not to, since their first big hit was Morning Wood, which is a big, ol' dick joke. Do all of their beer names need to be suggestive? Does there have to be a "bro" mentality? Really? It's important to set that stuff aside, but it's fairly inescapable. If you look at the review of Morning Wood, you will see that I presented an image from the packaging of a crowing rooster. You could see it simply as indicative of mornings, or as, to put it bluntly, a cock.

Thank heavens, then, that these insinuations don't occur with every beer name, or anywhere else in the place. And a pleasant place it is. A well-wooded room, clean and comfortable, with the unique decorative touch of the bar lights covered by growlers from other breweries. There's a small stage for DJs or musical performance or trivia masters, whatever they've got going on. I'm sure there could be quite a raucous scene here in the heart of White Bear Lake, but we're in early on a Sunday, and it's quiet as can be.

We were able to cover the gamut of offerings at the brewery this time, with Jason taking one flight and I another. I picked flight #2, which featured the least number of beers I tried before: Amigo
Grande Mexican Lager (had it on tap at Acadia last summer), Thrice Shy Belgian Strong Golden Ale,  Black Anvil Imperial Stout, Bad Axe Imperial IPA (reviewed here), and Nitro Udder Stout. I had a range of opinions here. Amigo Grande is decent, but not for me. Thrice Shy was smooth, sweet, and strong, like you'd expect from the style, but with a bit too much bubblegum, in my humble opinion. Black Anvil was rich and malty, with flavors of anise and molasses, but too thin for an Imperial Stout. Bad Axe I like, it really delivered. My notes from the can of years back show me liking it, while getting turned off by marketing and packaging. Devoid of that, with just a beer in front of me, I enjoyed it tremendously. Nitro Udder was perfectly fine, though I hate the name to pieces.

Flight #1, the one Jason ordered, starts off with three that have been in this blog before, Jackpine Savage Pale Ale, Bark Bite IPA, and Morning Wood Coffee Stout, then finishes with two new to me, Li'l Red Riding Wood Amber / Red Ale and Fine! IPA. Li'l Red was a sweet, malty thing, perfectly acceptable, and Fine! was a nice surprise. Nice and crisp, delightfully bitter nose, and highly drinkable. We both preferred it to the Bark Bite.

In fact, that would have been the one I would have taken home in a growler, if I'd thought to bring one with me. Also, I knew I'd be buying more at Oliphant and Dave's, and sure enough, that was nine days ago, and I still have 2 of those yet to consume. I found some consolation in learning that this IPA will be released in bottles soon, and eventually kegs to the market, as part of a Taproom Series.

We were content with the output at Big Wood, in all. There is nothing seriously wrong with any of them, though some may not be up to the demands of our critical palates. (He says facetiously.) Straight-forward interpretations of well-known styles, well-done. Can't argue with that. (Though we wish we weren't always reminded of erections, of course.)

This was one of the visits where we stuck to fights and didn't order a single full pint, though I considered it. The only reason I did not choose to spend more time with a pint of ale in my hands was that the road beckoned us, and there were more new beers awaiting us further on down the line.

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