Saturday, November 26, 2016

Minnesota Breweries One by One #99: Rock Bottom Brewery, Minneapolis

My view of the Rock Bottom signage from the bike rack.
There were some people who questioned my decision to include the Rock Bottom location on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis on my list of breweries to visit for this quest. It is part of a national chain, so it can't be considered a Minnesota brewery, they argued. And I answered that it is a brewery and it is in Minnesota. It wasn't the first brewpub in the state, or the Twin Cities, but it does pre-date both Great Waters and Town Hall. It was an incubator for brewing talent over the years, and still has a role to play.

My first time at Rock Bottom was in 2000, before a show at the State Theater. Or, maybe it was the Orpheum. I'm going to say State. And it was "Mr. Show Live", and I was there with Katie and Garrett, I'm pretty sure. The other thing I remember was the saison, though I don't recall it's name. Looking on BeerAdvocate, I can't see any that resembles that name so vaguely recalled through the fog of time. I remember liking it quite a bit, and being impressed that a saison, not then a well-known style, was being brewed at a chain brewpub with dozens of locations throughout the states.

It was a few years before I met the man behind the beer, Todd Haug. I stopped in more and more to try his wares, often taking them home in growler form to review. During that quick peek at BeerAdvocate, I was surprised to see that I'd reviewed 54 Rock Bottom beers on that website from 2004 to 2009, only 15 of them listed among the 450 "current" beers, the other 39 hanging out with the 707 "archived" beers. But, back then in the early 2000's, there wasn't that much going on. We had Town Hall, BarleyJohn's, Great Waters in St. Paul, which I occasionally biked or bussed to, and everything else was out in the 'burbs and beyond. It was 10 years before taprooms and this incredible proliferation of brewing that we enjoy now.

Check out fresh-faced young Todd Haug
in this 19-year old newspaper piece, long
before his look went all Heavy Metal
In 2005, Todd was stolen away to get Surly up and going, but I didn't stop going to RB, for it had been put in the very capable hands of Bryon Tonnis. Bryon kept the beers brewing there until he and Colin Mullen and their wives hatched their plan to start Bent Paddle in Duluth. After a while, there seemed to be less and less reason to pop into Rock Bottom, especially with the new breweries opening and all the taproom action.

But on Sunday, October 30, I decided it was time to check them off the list, and I biked downtown and parked my steed at the rack in front of the brewery, on Hennepin Avenue between 8th and 9th street.  (800 Lasalle Plaza, to be exact.)Walked in, looked around the packed place and re-thought my agenda. There was some kind of big game going on, which required all the staff to wear football jerseys, and most inside were affixing their attention to the dozens of televisions. Numerous groups of middle aged women were waiting to be seated, which was explained by the Rick Springfield/Bryan Adams concert next door at the State Theater. There wasn't a single seat to be found at the bar.

So I did the natural thing and got back on the bike, heading to Modist Brewing, not too many blocks away, and enjoyed a few of their original offerings. A few hours later, I returned to Rock Bottom and found that the place had pretty much cleared out, and I could easily find a stool. The bartender, clad in Packers attire, was friendly and attentive, the food was just as edible as it's ever been, and the beer's alright. Larry Skellenger is the brewer these days, and I saw the man and his mighty mustache attending to the tanks while I sat and drank his beers. I didn't take notes on this visit, but
if memory serves me well, the first was Fuzzy Butt Imperial Peach IPA, described thusly on the website: "American-style Imperial IPA is golden with fruit and peach notes.  Refreshing IPA is enhance with honey, that’s crisp and explodes with spiciness, peach and hop flavor. ABV 9% IBU 105."

It had the peach, it had the hops, it was a good beer, and I could drink it. Next up I went with the Grand Slam Sour, and this is was the website tells us: "Grand Slam Sour Ale, Crisp and tart – hints of grapefruit, berries and other fruits. ABV 6.0% IBU 50." I found it satisfactory, if not particularly inspiring. I avoided the mainstream beers there, the flagships, since I've had them before or many beers like them. I know they're making perfectly competent beers here, and now and then some interesting stuff, as well. I also know that no one is going to flip out over the sour ale they had at Rock Bottom, and that Indeed and Fair State and others will get noticed for their output in that category.

The beer geeks will continue to neglect this spot and it won't matter at all. As long as there are football games to play on all those TVs and performances next door and across the street, as long as there are people working in offices nearby and skyways to take them here, someone's going to be
drinking these beers. Someone will, probably not me so much. Too many other great breweries to keep up with these days, run by independent minds, without a corporate yoke around them.


DeKay5555555 said...

But a worthy sour nonetheless

AL MCCARTY said...

There weren't nothin' wrong with it.

Town Hall Masala Mama IPA

I'm still scratching my head over what took me so long to visit the Town Hall Brewery. It had been in business five full years before I...