With the growth and maturation of Minnesota’s beer portfolio, it is no surprise that the beers themselves are also becoming more refined. Newer breweries like Indeed and Dangerous Man are placing more emphasis on barrel-aged beers, such as Russian imperial stouts and sours. Bottles of Surly Darkness were aged in barrels this fall for the first time since the beer’s 2007 debut.
One brewery that is no novice when it comes to aging beer in wood is Town Hall. Brewmaster Mike Hoops has been experimenting with the technique since 2001, and patrons have come to look forward to Town Hall’s traditional winter Barrel Week, which began in 2009.
Barrel aging isn’t new. In fact, it’s ancient. Only since Prohibition has beer routinely been stored in stainless steel. Before that era, wooden containers were the most practical and feasible way to store beer and wine, and the libations were usually served right from the vessel.
Modern day brewers use wood for a multitude of reasons, the primary one being to add complexity and depth of flavor. Hoops says that he thinks of the wood as an additional ingredient in the recipe. “Sometimes it is subtle,” he says. “Sometimes … not.”
The barrelled beers at Town Hall range from subtle to not: echoing, harmonizing, or sometimes starkly contrasting with either the wood-derived flavors or notes from the vessel’s previous contents. “Consumers expect certain beers,” notes Hoops. He refers not only to classic fan favorites like Czar Jack imperial stout, first made in 2001, but also to certain styles. Bold and high-alcohol styles work best in barrels, as can be seen in the nine selections available starting today at Town Hall Lanes and Town Hall Tap.
To experience robust barrel character, try Twisted Trace, a 10.4 percent alcohol by volume barleywine aged in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. Despite the reputation of barleywines and bourbon-barrel-aged beers for being hot and bright with alcohol, the aging process in this case increases the harmony and balance in the glass. The time spent in the barrels is like time in a slow-cooker — all the flavors are well incorporated, with notes of caramel singing through perfectly.
For a far more subtle sip, go with the Manhattan Reserve, a Belgian-style grand cru that incorporates tart cherries and is aged in Woodford Reserve barrels, hence the classic cocktail name. The tart cherry meets the whiskey without either element being overpowered.
Another approachable and widely-appealing choice is the Duke of Wallonia. A treat for drinkers who prefer wine or cocktails, this crossover beer is aged in red-wine barrels. The traces of wine stand up to the tremendous coriander and orange notes of the imperial-Belgian-style wit, while darkening and anchoring the entire profile.
The wood itself breathes as climate, humidity, and components in the liquid act on it. Tannins from the wood enter the beer and dramatically change its character. Barrel-aged beer at Town Hall is kept at cellar temperature in a moist environment, ideal for art and science to reveal themselves.
Enjoy these unique creations until the supply runs out; each one is impossible to reproduce.
Each Friday afternoon, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email email@example.com.
Oxtail with Red Flannel Hash and Basted Eggs from Blackbird
This is my new favorite breakfast dish. The eggs were perfect, beet and potato hash hearty but not heavy, and oxtail rich and flavorful. Runny egg yolks and dabs of the hollandaise (which we ordered on the side) completed the dish.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Contributed by Joshua Page]
Pho from Lotus
When it’s -9˚F, what you need is a bowl of Minnesota’s unofficial state soup. And it helps if it’s served by the sweetest, warmest family in the Twin Cities. They’ve been around for 25 years, and the brothers who were raised in the restaurant are now running it and raising their kids there, while Grandma makes the spring rolls and hand rolls the tapioca for bubble tea (in the summer) in the back.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #1 | Contributed by Tricia Cornell]
$10 Lunch Special from New Bohemia in Golden Valley
Smoked jalapeno and cheese sausage, briny kraut, beer butter onions, and those delectable Belgian fries, along with choice of beverage (including some beer). Fiery and fatty and perfect for a cold day.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Contributed by Amy Rea]
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie from the Pine Brook Inn
A return trip from an alpaca farm yielded a chance encounter with a delightful strawberry-rhubarb pie at the Pine Brook Inn in Cambridge, Minn. I was so excited to find it that I ate half before I thought to take a photo. A taste of summer in the middle of the cold.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Contributed by Becca Dilley]
Medium-rare hamburger and a Chocolate Shake at Ike’s Food and Cocktail
When we found ourselves at the airport this week, the steakhouse comfort of Ike’s called to us most strongly, even amid the bevy of new places to eat near the tarmac. The burger was simple as they come, but correctly cooked, tender, and rich, with a high-quality bakery bun. And an accompanying chocolate milkshake made with Sebastian Joe’s ice cream was arguably too good. “I’ll just have a few sips …” turned into, “Oh, Lord, please let me stop!” in a matter of seconds.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #3 | Contributed by James Norton]
Cans aren’t just for the big brewers anymore. And they’re not just for start-up breweries trying to do something different. An increasing number of breweries in the Twin Cities are opting for cans as part of their repertoire — or adding larger-than-standard-sized cans to their lineup.
Cans are better for camping and other outdoorsy events that go better with beer. They keep the cargo as fresh as, if not fresher than, the traditional brown bottles that typically denote a craft beer. Unlike glass, the aluminum walls block all the sunlight, and the seal is tighter than that provided by a pry-off bottle cap. The result is a properly carbonated beverage that will stay that way longer. And unlike a thin-necked bottle, the can (and especially the tallboy) allows for complete utilization of the surface to express the brand’s identity and describe the story of the suds inside.
As the advantages of canning have become more widely known, canned beer is less frequently seen as something cheap and ready to be drunk out of a brown paper bag, a brewing-world parallel to the rise of the screw-cap wine bottle. When brands create a can option they also open the door to marketing opportunities: For some, it means selling at outdoor concerts (a la the Schell’s Zommerfest 89.3 The Current tallboy), and for others it means appearing at sporting venues that in the past were monopolized by big brands.
Other positives: Smaller liquor stores keep cans, not bottles, in their coolers, which means new and better choices for people looking for a convenient cold one. And larger liquor stores, with limited chilled space, tend also to have a section that specializes in cans of craft beers so they are easier to find. Surdyk’s goes beyond, and has a specialized “local” can mini-cooler (which includes some beers from Wisconsin and Illinois) near the checkout.
Sociable Cider Werks has just begun canning and will release its first batch soon; Summit is releasing its next Unchained Series beer in a can; Surly has been canning since the beginning; and many fledgling breweries have canning plans in the works. So while cans tend to be reserved for summer beers drunk outdoors, crushed on heads, and stashed in backpacks, we found a few that are available year-round in the commendable can. But when you’re drinking them at home, just as with bottles, we recommend canned beers be poured into glasses for the full olfactory experience.
Mexican Honey Imperial Lager by Indeed Brewing, 8 percent ABV, 17 IBU
The Mexican Honey Imperial Lager won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival last fall, and to celebrate, the Indeed team decided to can it in 16-oz. tallboys. Last year’s off-shoot, the Mexican Cousin, a beer aged in Anejo tequila barrels, was available only on tap or in 750 ml bottles. The rest of the Indeed lineup comes in 12-oz. cans, while the seasonals and special releases are available in 750 ml bottles, making the Mexican Honey a bold move.
The North Coast Nosh has always been about having a lively conversation with local food purveyors and tasting and discovering new (and old) flavors within the context of our newly branded North-ness. The most recent Nosh, however, reached a new level of interaction with food, culture and history, both across time and within our present moment. Curated by Sean Sherman (aka The Sioux Chef), and held at the Minnesota History Center, the sold-out event shined a light on indigenous food — the precolonial food of Native Americans, which is finally, slowly making its way back into our discussions and experiences of what local food truly means. Within the soaring halls of the museum, surrounded by Native American history and art, this Nosh offered up something special.
Arranged throughout the various levels and rotundas were local vendors with which many of us might be familiar — Common Roots, Birchwood Cafe, The Third Bird — and also many Native-American-owned businesses that were new discoveries to many, such as Tanka Bar, Wozupi Tribal Gardens, Dream of Wild Health’s farm, Little Earth Gardens, and more. It was fascinating to wander, taste, talk, and experience just how naturally the values of the local / organic food movement overlap with the rise of native food.
In our interview with Sherman, he explained that a culture without food is a lost culture. Lately, it seems as though he’s been doing all he can to bring Native American culture into the spotlight through its food — and people are catching on, judging by Sherman’s many local and national news appearances, and by the Nosh’s sold-out crowd. Sherman appears to be using his newfound fame not only to endorse his personal brand and mission, but to lift up indigenous food-focused purveyors everywhere. It was amazing to see so many of these purveyors concentrated in one event — we sampled bison jerky from Tanka Bar, wild rice pasta from Red Thunderbird Endeavors, a bison mini burger with local goat cheese on a wild rice bun from Fabulous Catering, and a lot more.
Between bites, attendees took in illuminating talks by local-food pioneer Lenny Russo (bottom right), Sean Sherman (top left), and author Heid Erdrich (bottom left), introduced by Heavy Table editor, James Norton (top right). All of the tasting and talking was woven in and around the museum’s exhibits, including a show of the powerful art of Native American modernist George Morrison. The event took on a celebratory, focused feel — the energy was electric, and the food, of course, delicious.
One standout taste was a clean and deceptively simple dish made by Sherman himself — beans, wild rice, braised turkey and a garnish of amaranth leaves came together in a bowl of rustic soup worthy of the subzero temperatures. This soup begged to be eaten in mass quantities in front of a crackling fire — earthy, slightly sweet, velvety and rich, it was pure comfort in a bowl, even if a disposable one. Another highlight was a fabulous smoked whitefish spread from Red Lake Nation Fishery — this stuff might the finest topping a Ritz cracker could aspire to.
By the end of the night, it was clear that indigenous food is having its coming-out party — even though its always been here. This latest incarnation of the North Coast Nosh gave us a tantalizing look at the future of truly local food, through the lens of the past.
The Heavy Table thanks Mississippi Market and the Hungry Turtle Institute for their underwriting support of this event, and the Minnesota History Center and Sean Sherman for their organizational partnership.
Mike McCarron of Gamle Ode writes:
Today is the day we announce the results of our First (hopefully Annual) Heavy Table Gamle Ode, DuNord and Bittercube Winter Cocktail Contest.
First, many thanks to my hardworking and gracious co-sponsors: Heavy Table, DuNord, and Bittercube. I sincerely hope we can do this again — bigger and better — next year. When you take on anything new like this, you need co-sponsors who are bold and yet flexible, and ours have been the best.
I feel the same appreciation for all of you who submitted recipes. I admire your skill and the boldness that was reflected in your amazing submissions. When the contest was launched, we had no idea we would receive this many high quality recipes. Heavy Table sent us the submissions document shortly after midnight on Friday, and when I read it on Saturday, I realized that the high quality and large volume would make judging over the weekend for today’s announcement very difficult.
As we dug in, above all we felt an intense duty to provide a thorough and fair evaluation out of respect for the efforts made by the people submitting cocktail recipes as well as for the co-sponsors who kindly provided awards.
As a result, we are now appealing to your sense of flexibility, since we have chosen to change the judging rules. Over the weekend we pared the entries down to seven finalists, and:
— The awards are to be reallocated to ensure that all seven win at least $50, but that all seven are up for the four main awards.
— The main awards will now be determined at a final judging and awards program hosted Monday evening, March 2, from 7-9pm at Eat Street Social. Finalists are encouraged to attend, and the North Star Bartenders’ Guild and / or celebrity judges will decide the four main award winners.
We feel this will give the fairest results, and allow each of the cocktails to receive a measure of respect from the bartenders guild and local cocktail fans, who can come out to sample the beverages and share an evening together, instead of merely reading about the results.
Details are still being determined, but a casual program with food and beverages will be prepared, and we hope everyone interested will swing down to enjoy the evening and put the pressure on the judges as they try to pick the winners.
That said, here are the seven winners and finalists for the four main awards:
This Side of Paradise
The Forest Floor
Many thanks to all participants, and I hope to see you at the final judging and awards program on Monday evening, March 2, 7-9pm at Eat Street Social where you can weigh in on these winners.