Monday, May 9, 2016

Minnesota Breweries One by One #30: Sidhe Brewing, St. Paul

Walking into Sidhe.
It's Sunday, April 17, another day off, and time for another trip to new breweries. Today, my companion is different, and we're treading on some of his old home turf. Dave Anderson grew up in St. Paul, and I hardly ever venture out there. When I do, it's usually downtown, or other areas I'm familiar with. We chose three St. Paul breweries to visit, which would increase the number of breweries from that city included in this project so far to 4, leaving at least seven more to see. As for Minneapolis, there are 12 more to include out of of 25. (I am counting breweries I've been to for this project, but haven't yet published or written yet.) When it comes to outside the Twin Towns, there are about 48 more Minnesota breweries on the agenda. I've got my work cut out for me.

Was I expecting too much of third graders?
After a little brunch at Tongue in Cheek on Payne Avenue, we went down the street to Sidhe Brewing, at 652 Jenks Avenue, in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood. When I first read about this place, I heard that is a bit of trouble to search it out, for if you go by the Payne Avenue entrance, you first have to go through the Plaza del Sol Mexican market, pass through the shops and restaurants and lo and behold, there is a big banner over the entrance with their colorful logo, proclaiming it to be "brewed by women, loved by all!" It puts me in mind of Llewellyn Sinclair, Springfield's community theater director, and the pride he took in the universal acclaim enjoyed by his third grade play.

You can reach it more easily from the entrance on Jenks, though, which leads downstairs to Sidhe Brewing and it's taproom. To find a restroom, though, you need to exit the spaceand go out and mingle with the Mexicans.

From the start of Sidhe Brewing, which opened almost a year ago, there was great emphasis on the feminine nature of the brewing team, led by owner Kathleen Culhane, a transgendered female in a same-sex marriage. There was also talk of her Wiccan-ness, and how this works in their brewing processes. We don't hear much about that anymore. Perhaps that's where it goes too far into coo-coo land for an average consumer. Ladies, trans, queer, yeah, we're cool. Hocus-pocus and such? Eh, not so much.

Foreground: my sample, behind it: Dave.
The name for the brewery requires a little explanation. It's pronounced "she", not "Sid-he", because it comes from the Gaelic for "fairy folk" which, owner Culhane told Dave on a previous visit, makes for a nice double-entendre. She  followed that with, "and of course, because we're Wiccans", as if he knew what that meant. Further research finds that, well, that Wiccans like their fairy folk, which is common knowledge for all, I guess.

But, we're just here for the beer, so we wend our way down, find a seat, scan the menu and consider our options. Dave decided on a flight, and I picked a full pint of a stout called Dark Moon Rising, described as a dry Irish Stout, 4.9% ABV, 39 IBU. Sometimes, I like to post links to web pages if there is further information on the beer and that I'd like you to read at your own leisure, rather than have me post it all here. I would like to do that in this case, but the Sidhe website only lists the current beers, and only shows their logos, without any more verbiage regarding the brew. I found a long description on the Untappd page for this one, much longer than the printed menu at the bar. Excised from that edition are these sentences: "Black as an overcast moonless night, deep in the northern woods, this beer is nonetheless quite approachable. A common misconception among those new to craft beer appreciation is that darkness somehow equates to having one's taste buds mugged in a dark alley." So they like to write, nothing wrong with that. So do I. Now, what did I write?

Dark Moon Rising Stout
I found this one slightly sweet at first, until turning dry and roast-y, with a lightly chocolatey nose. Smooth and medium-bodied at first, with a forgettable finish. A lot of promise up front, but quits the palate far too soon. There was nothing wrong with it, it was beer, and I could drink it, but I wouldn't really recommend it to anyone.

I took sips from Dave's flight: Bast Kissed Cream Ale, light, honey-ish, creamy and malty, nice, probably a popular choice; Atypical Wyrm Wood, a Vienna Lager described as "a trip to Mexico", a clean, if grainy, easy-drinking lager; Wild Hare IPA, which my notes only refer to as "not great"; and Barking Cat, a Belgian-style Strong Pale Ale. On hearing my curiosity about this one, the bartender got me my own sample, which wasn't pleasant in the least. 9.9% ABV, 26 IBUs and tasting of band-aid and other chemical products. Lacking in the things that make the style memorable, suffering from some kind of infection.
In the tradition of old Bobby Zimmerman.

We were there in a mellow moment, on a Sunday afternoon, with a handful of folks coming and going, getting growlers, passing their time over pints and periodicals, while a folk guitar duo played to an audience of three. The bartender (also manager, I think) told tales of busier nights, when it's packed to the rafters. At this point, I was thinking of the opinions I'd absorbed previously about this brewery, and was unpacking my current thoughts on the beers, ready to try out another.

Hopped Up McGonigal. A bit of
a misnomer.
As an IPA fan, I was ready to give Hopped Up McGonigal a go. 8.3 % ABV, 85 IBUs. Almost into double IPA territory. Fragrant aromatics, with cereal & vegetal notes in the flavor first. Odd mouthfeel, a bit of a fruity note, followed by a not-unpleasant astringency, then quickly going wrong.
After a few sips, I find this one to be sufferable, but barely, and altogether too sweet, increasingly and overwhelmingly, over-achingly sweet, requiring much more bitterness to be a decent IPA. Can that 85 IBUs be right? Is that not enough withstand the malt involved?

Here's the description I cribbed off of Untappd (which is much like the printed menu, leaving off the stuff about their friend, the name, & Harry Potter): "A very light IPA, and we mean it (note the IBU's). Technically it is an India Pale Ale, but the hop bitterness is so well balanced by the malt sweetness you won't be beaten up by the hops. It has a pronounced citrus aroma, good amber color, and a finish that doesn't leave your palate hop-bruised."

all the words.
Why note the IBUs? Does 85 mean a "light IPA"? It's actually on the higher end, unless we're talking about double IPAs. And this one ....well, it certainly didn't "beat me up" with hops, but some of that flavor would be appreciated. If you don't like IPAs, why make a bad one and pawn it off on the people? I'm reading the Untappd reviews and a sinking feeling is coming over me, when I find comments like:  "this an IPA that gets it! more malty than hoppy!" " best IPA ever!!" "Very good for an IPA! not hoppy." These comments are often countered with opposite opinions that are closer to mine, but I worry about the casual beer drinker who seems to think that IPAs would be a whole lot better if they weren't so hoppy. All in all, it made me wonder if the brewers know what it actually meant by the word "balance".

And then are comments like this: "Not great. Too high ABV. But feminist, trans-friendly, brewed-by-women beer is really cool." Sigh. Are we supposed to suffer the former part in order to support the latter? "It's great that you're chicks or used to be dudes, so I'll drink your bad beer anyway!"

I didn't spit out the awful IPA, I drank it down without comment. Meanwhile, Dave blew my cover and the bartender asked about the blog and noted the name. I can't sugar-coat. I'm not in this to tell tall tales, spin poetry about what could be and what almost might be, and gloss over the mistakes. There's a need for a place like this, to serve this community, and all it's friends. But it shouldn't include mediocre, misguided, or outright misbegotten beers. That's one thing I can't throw my support behind.

I would hope the brewers can recognize their errors, or ferret out the flaws in some of the batches. It does seem like there are hits among the misses, and maybe I just got the bad ones this time. Maybe. I keep thinking back to visits to places like Maple Island or Kinney Creek, and the thought of crowds of imbibers swallowing swill and thinking that's "craft beer" at it's best going past their lips. I hope that isn't happening here.

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