Monday, August 1, 2016

Minnesota Breweries One by One #61: Union Pizza & Brewing, Fergus Falls

Let me tell you guys something: once I released myself from the burden of publishing these adventures chronologically, a great deal of pressure was removed. I'm free! Free to just jump in and tell you about the last place I went to, and not worry about the as-yet unpublished and/or unwritten #s 31-49, 52, and 54-60. We'll get to them. For now, here's #61, Union Pizza and Brewing in Fergus Falls, MN.

In the window, below the canteens, an antique bag of Patriot
brand flour, with Washington's picture on it, and a
George W. Bush-in-the-box.
It's Thursday, July 28, and the second day of a 2-day weekday beer-cation, the journey back from Fargo-Moorhead. It's our third brewery of the day, located at 114 S. Union Ave. in Fergus Falls, MN. It was an aggravating chore to find the place, due to local construction, but let's not dwell on that unpleasantness. We were at last in Fergus Falls, county seat of Otter Tail county, home to 13,000 or so people, merely 95.5% of them pale-skinned. A community lively with the arts and theater, home to many scrapbookers, quilters and Sunday painters. I'm being needlessly condescending. According to Wikipedia, FF has a reputation of being a cultural hub in West Central Minnesota. And it seems like a very lovely town to live in. That's what the brochures on the bar and at the tables, provided by the Chamber of Commerce, wanted to tell us.

Presidents, presidents, everywhere!
This pizza place on Union Avenue is located very near the intersection with Lincoln Street, which informs the theme of the establishment. Ulysses S. Grant is in the logo, and the decor is abundant with Civil War-era style and Presidential memorabilia. Scanning the walls can give the average person a new education in American history. I learned some new things myself. Looking at the names of the house beers listed, I asked our bartender (who later informed us that she didn't work there to pay the bills, only to feed her beer and pizza habit) why they had a beer named for Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and she was quick to correct me. "False!" she called out. "All of our beers are named after the horses of the Union generals, and General Grant's horse was named Jeff Davis." (I think there might be an exception with the beer called "Lincoln Lager", though.)

Majo Chatham Wheat Ale, in a mason jar.
All the beers come in mason jars, because
that's how they did it in Civil War days.
So there we were in this adorably quaint pizza place, soaking up the atmosphere from the bar, scanning the offerings. Twelve beers on tap, from Fargo Brewing, Surly, Indeed, Third Coast, Bent Paddle and two of their own. A third option, in between the two offered, was erased, so it appears that they try to do 3 of theirs at once, as supply allows. All of the options were on the chalkboard, and we
picked up our lunch selections there as well.

For the beers, I started with a Major Chatham Wheat Ale, which was light and yellow-y as you'd expect, smooth and untroubling. It bore many of the hallmarks of an American Wheat Ale, and apparently has a historical precedent. This was cobbled from the Untappd page for the beer: "A simple farmhouse wheat ale based on the recipe of Major Jebediah Chatham, a private in the Confederate army." Hey, that doesn't sound like a horse at all! And wait--is he a major or a private? Give me the truth, Union Pizza and Brewing!

I liked it enough, and drank it down, but there was something a little off, a little off-flavor I couldn't quite identify. (Yeah, this is where I have to remind people that I have never called myself an "expert".) Either the process or the recipe could use some work, but it wasn't a major flaw. Forgivable, but ought to be corrected.
Jeff Davis Porter. 
The pizza arrived and we were both surprised at the size, I with my Spinach, Artichoke, & Chicken, and Jason with some spicy mess. Both were fantastic. Yum, and I mean, yum. At the same time, I ordered the second beer they had on, Jeff Davis Porter (6.2%, 35 IBU), and here's what they had to say about it (somewhere, again, I took this from Untappd): "Styled after 19th century porters, this offers up a deep malt backbone with a light hops bitterness. A beer worthy of any pizza."

I was much happier with this one. Full-bodied, toasty-toasty, notes of coffee and cocoa. Solid porter.

Lincolns, Lincolns, all over the place,
and why does my head look so freaky
in the reflection?
We tried the two beers available, and found them adequate. There are a few other beers they've made in the year or so they've been brewing, IPA, pale ale, hefe weizen, lager. Not too ambitious, but does everyone need to be? Make good beer, make it consistent, make it well. And drink it with your pizza, then you'll do fine.

I'll recommend this if you're in Fergus Falls, but it's not a destination, by any means. But, you know, why not go to Fergus Falls? Couldn't hurt.

As for us, our 2-day adventure had come to a close ( I can't wait to tell you about the rest of it!), but we still had 180 miles left to go until we were back home in Minneapolis. The lengths I'm going to in order to try all the breweries in Minnesota!


Eric Wentling said...

Pretty much my impressions of the place. The beers were worse (about 7 months ago) so it sounds like they may be improving a bit.

Ryan said...

A visit to Fergus Falls with no mention of beer luminaries that used to call the place home? No Lanny? No Dave Berg? No me? :)

The pizza is excellent. I haven't had a chance to try the beers for some time, though last summer it seemed as if the porter needed some work. Glad to see some improvement.

That pizza... damn...

AL MCCARTY said...

Ryan. You weren't there. I am so sorry, but...sigh...

AL MCCARTY said...

There were no monuments erected to the memory of Lanny Hoff, so, sorry.

Jason B said...

I was happy to actually visit the city of Fergus Falls, as the last time I found myself within the city limits, it was at the midpoint of a Central Lakes Bike Trail ride from Osakis to FF and back, and at the time, the trail ended in a sea of mini-storages with nary a sign to point one so unfamiliar with the area to, at the very least, the commerce district. This time, at least I can put a face on Fergus Falls.

"Some spicy mess" was their Chicken Thai pizza**. Fantastic pie, spicier than "Minnesota Hot" but not so spicy it would be the subject of one of those craptastic food challenges (EAT THIS PIZZA, WIN A T-SHERT!!).

And as for "mess", don't get me started on the ancient sociopolitical hornet's nest of a pizza Al ordered - Greek toppings on an ostensibly Italian culinary delivery vehicle? Sure, these cultures had many of the same deities, but when it came to names they were at odds where the gods were concerned; REAL pizza is Jupiter and Mercury, your pizza was, while delicious, beholden to Zeus and Hermes. You may as well tell the good people at All Things Scottish that their wares are indiscernible from those of the Irish! (Note - it is at this point I hoped you all forgot the source my pizza's inspiration isn't even on the same continent.)

I also ordered the porter, and after having a thinner version of the style elsewhere earlier in the day, this one was alright with me. I did not have but a few tastes of the wheat, so I did not quite get the Al-forementioned "off effect" - which is not to say it was not there, rather that it was probably more distinct through the cumulative effect of drinking an entire pint.

I would have liked to have had more of the local options available, but better to have a few OK-to-decent options than offer a 13-beer array of liquid abortion (opposite corner of the state, brew-heims, opposite corner). Hopefully, they will continue to dial in the beers, so that the pizzas will have a commensurate dancing partner. Right now, the dynamic is Fred Astaire (pizza) dancing at a wedding with a 6-year-old (beer); charming and adorable, but let's get him his Ginger.

As for the omission the the fine Fergus Falls brew-minaries, that will have to be taken up with the FF C of C; for whatever reason, they've chosen to shun knowledge of their Beer People native sons.

** - I was happy to see the Thai Chicken pizza available, as, while researching this location, I discovered a June 24 posting on their Facebook page, the subject of which was food-bourne illness, the source of which was this very pizza. I bring this up not to denigrate or shame them or raise concerns, but rather to commend the Union Pizza people for tackling this problem head-on, identifying the problem ingredient, providing information for affected patrons, and offering to make amends. Judging from the responses from patrons that were wildly appreciative, Union Pizza appears to be committed to their customers and willing to roll up their sleeves and do the heavy lifting when things don't go, as Gene Hackman's sub captain said in Crimson Tide, "honky-dory". That, plus the attestations of the greatness of the Thai Chicken pizza from customers even AFTER this issue, even those affected (and obviously going forward, refraining from going to "twice-shy" mode), ensured that I (a) must try this pizza and (b) do so without a scintilla of worry. This was seriously great pizza, and no surprise from the Serious People of Union Pizza.

AL MCCARTY said...

Thank you for sharing the backstory of the Thai Chicken Pizza. I thought it was actually called Death by Jalaopenoes and Sriracha.

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