Wikipedia, like I did) and it's neighbors to four breweries I've never been to, some I know very little about. First up is the sole Brainerd brewery, only open since April of this year, located in an old, defunct Northern Pacific railroad station, Roundhouse Brewery. 1551 Northern Pacific Boulevard. Keep on Chugging'...responsibly. (By the way, if you like to laugh, check out the blog on their website. It sure made me chuckle.)
It's a wide open space, full of railroad and train artifacts and memorabilia. The seating area greets us first when we enter, with the bar in the middle of the room, and the brewery behind it. We get our seats and look over the choices, while one of the owners comes over to serve us. Laminated cards with all the information on the beers are held together with a metal ring and are on the bar for perusal. Even better, when one orders the flights, as we did, the cards are also in place next to each glass. These guys have it figured out. There's no skimping on knowledge here. You're not going to guess about the style,
Ten beers were available, with six beers in the flight. Jason and I each got a flight, with two beers overlapping between them. First for me was the No. 10 Hefe Weizen (5.4%, 15 IBU), which was right on the mark, with the inherent banana and clove notes that the traditional weizen yeast delivers, smooth and refreshing. One flaw, however, was just a little bit of that plastic/chemical off-flavor that we often relate to band-aid. It was very minor, and didn't make the serving undrinkable. I passed it along to the owner, who appreciated the feedback. This flaw didn't appear in any of the other beers.
Next up: Straw Hat Saison (6.4% ABV, 24 IBU), malty and slightly sweet, clean, but with an intriguing addition of rye malt for spice and flavor, to match the citrus notes. A real anomaly and really refreshingly delicious.
I chose for the third the Golden Spike IPA, and took notes on it, but I also chose to take home a growler, and those notes will appear below. I must have liked it.
Next up in the flight was Angel Seat Amber and the Old Betsy Brown. My notes were very minimal on these as I found that they satisfied on every level. I couldn't find any flaws and decided that they well represented the styles. Just plain old good and right on the money.
Number five for me was Cinder Dick IPA, which was not a dirty reference in the least, but instead a nod to railroad detectives. Oddly enough, I didn't take notes on it, nor snap a photo, but I liked it.
From Jason's flight, I took sips of Boom Lake Lager, Crow Wing Cream Ale, Cowcatcher Ale (a California Common/Steam beer style), and the Coal Train Porter, neither a nod to saxophonist John, nor the famed lyricist, but instead to actual trains that carried coal, and the porters who moved it about. And the beer, too. I took small notes on these beers, too, and they seemed to say that these renditions of the styles fell right in line, and delivered exactly what you want in them.
I believe it was when we tasted the brown ale, not a style of which I am usually fond, that I was especially impressed. There simply wasn't a dud in the bunch. These guys found a brewer that knows what he's doing!
This is when this project is the most fun, when we enter a brewery taproom, sometimes far out and away from everywhere, and find that it's all working. It could easily be a bunch of profiteers financing a misbegotten business plan, hiring a brewer with no know-how and little understanding, offering lifeless brews, often infected, pawing them off on unsuspecting consumers, and just barely getting away with it, since no one knows any better. But quite the opposite is happening in Brainerd.
An interesting side note was that we were informed that the Cream Ale is quite popular among the light beer drinkers, but the Golden Spike IPA is the big hit at Roundhouse. There's just enough craft beer fans out here, as well as recently turned hop fanatics, that they've got to keep brewing the stuff. I did my part and got a growler to take home. Notes below:
Golden Spike IPA. 8.9% ABV.
Clear, copper-y/ amber hue, lush off-white head, leaving lace. A fine looking glass of beer.
Bold citrus and pine leads the hop attack in the nose, with earthy tones, and sweet malt notes for balance. Bitter, fruity, beautiful.
In the mouth: Sweet malt greets the palate, with hop bitterness coming in quick. Bittersweet, earthy notes, vibrant happiness, some citrus, some prickly pine, with an unending undercurrent of smooth malty deliciousness. I like this. It's well-constructed, clean, and like the golden spike, combines the best of east and west coast (IPAs). Tasty stuff that I can just keep drinking.
It was a pleasant way to while away part of an afternoon, our little stay at Roundhouse. If I were a Brainerd-ite, you know I'd haunt the place with regularity. It's a comfortable space with all they typical taproom trappings, and live music on the weekends, and great beer to go with it.
If these guys nail these styles as well as they did, I can only imagine what else they can brew if they set their minds to it.