Nightcap at the Turtle River Chophouse

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

If you happen to be in Turtle River (north of Bemidji) and wander off main Highway 71 onto Old Highway 71, you’ll find that the longtime red-barn dive bar known as the 71 Bar and Grill is gone. It’s been replaced with a cleaner, brighter eatery called the Turtle River Chophouse, which makes food from scratch and doesn’t depend entirely on a deep fryer to do so, unlike its predecessor.

It also has a considerably longer list of cocktails and nightcaps than the earlier incarnation, many of which have creative, quirky names: Parsley a Cocktail, Mostly Delicious is one example.

But when it comes to an after-dinner libation, there’s really no choice but to order the drink with a name that leaps off the nightcap menu and slaps you in the face: the Duck Fart ($7). Where to start with this? Do ducks even fart? And if they do — never mind, it’s better we don’t go down that road. But why is the duck the only being that gets a drink touting its means of expelling gas? Are there no other woodland creatures deserving of nightcaps named after their effluvia and eructations?

Alas, our server was not able to answer our questions and didn’t know how the drink ended up on the menu in the first place, or who named it and why. But, she assured us, it’s a good drink and very popular. Undoubtedly.

To be safe, we ordered one to share. When it arrived, it didn’t look like much more than a glass of iced milk. But the first sip clearly indicated this was no snooze of a drink. Comprised of Crown Royal, Kahlúa, and Bailey’s Irish Cream, this was akin to a White Russian, but with more punch to it. The sweetness of the Bailey’s is the first taste you get, followed by a bracing, powerful taste of whiskey.

Our table was divided. Two of us liked it — a lot — while one person only shrugged, and the last person hated it, felt it was too assertive. Yet those who liked it pointed to that assertiveness as a positive. If you like your nightcaps a bit tamer, this one may not do. But if you’re on Old Highway 71 and in the mood for a bit of a kick, go ahead — order the Duck Fart.

Turtle River Chophouse, 468 Bemidji Road NW Turtle River; 218.586.5827. Wed-Fri 3 p.m.-midnight; Sat-Sun noon-midnight

60 Below Rye IPA by Surly

James Norton / Heavy Table

It wasn’t even below zero yesterday, so we felt just fine as we drank a glass of Surly 60 Below while standing in the frozen hellscape that used to be the vegetable garden. 60 Below is a punchy (6.5 percent ABV) rye IPA, and there’s a pumpernickel loaf’s worth of spicy rye bite in each can, counterbalanced somewhat by a malty warmth that suggests stewed plums. Something about the soulful rye-ness of the beer fits with winter. It has a flinty, scrape-your-ribs brightness, not a put-your-sandal-clad-feet-up-by-the-grill lightness. This is a beer with enough presence to complement some big, classic, roasty winter dishes — bring on your beef stews, your pasties, your shepherd’s pies, your lamb tagines.

The beer’s name comes from the night of Feb. 2, 1996, when Tower, Minnesota recorded the state’s lowest-ever temperature, that eponymous subzero nightmare. (Fun fact: It was the lowest temperature ever recorded in the United States east of the Great Plains.) Accordingly, Surly is holding a launch party this Friday, Feb. 2, at the Vermilion Club in Tower. EDITOR’S NOTE, Jan. 30, 2018: The launch party has been cancelled, as per a message from Surly. After that, 60 Below will crop up exclusively in mixed Surly 12-packs (along with Hell Lager, Furious IPA, and Xtra-Citra Pale Ale) hitting the shelves the week of Feb. 19.

Chankaska Spirits Ranch Road Gin

Rick Didora / Heavy Table
Rick Didora / Heavy Table

Chankaska Spirits, a three-year-old venture of Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery, is now offering a variety of spirits in Minnesota liquor stores and at its facility in Kasota, Minn., just south of St. Peter. Though the decade-old ranch and vineyard is better known for cold-climate wine, the Chankaska grounds were formerly occupied by a successful rum-running operating during Prohibition. As a nod to that heritage, spirit production has now expanded to include several unaged as well as barreled selections.

In terms of raw ingredients, Chankaska sticks to the use of traditional barley, corn, and rye for the majority of its portfolio. Using a 500-liter pot still, they distill each wash twice, first through a stripping run and then through a spirits run. To add to the continuity between the wine and spirit operations, two of the spirits feature the use of grapes (rather than grain), some of which are grown on site.

The Ranch Road gin is one of the offerings distilled from grapes, meaning that it is entirely grain-free. It was developed using 15 different botanicals, including juniper, and it strikes a balance between the juniper-forward and botanically balanced gin styles.

The aroma is fruity and floral, with slight banana and lilac notes, while juniper takes a backseat. On first sip, there is a biting quality that is delivered more by the alcoholic heat than the botanical additions. Rather than an aromatic bouquet, we found a monotone character that hits the palate consistently and doesn’t develop much over time. The website claims that this gin is “begging to be made into cocktails,” and we couldn’t agree more.

Far from being flavorless, the restrained and, well, basic profile of Ranch Road makes it a powerful mixing spirit. It’s an ideal canvas for more robust bitters and craft sodas like spicy Spruce Soda Co. Ginger Beer or Joia Orange Jasmine and Nutmeg. We especially liked the bitterness and depth of flavor when Ranch Road is combined with Blue Henn tonic. On the other hand, sipping it straight only led to disappointment.

One could argue that the merit of any spirit should be based on its ability to be enjoyed straight up. However, there are distilleries such as Skaalvenn and Du Nord that aim to deliver craft liquors perfect for mixing. With a $29 price tag, though, Chankaska is straddling the line between everyday and premium branding, and it falls short of sipping quality.

Lac Coeur Coffee Liqueur by Loon Liquor

James Norton / Heavy Table

Kahlua has given coffee liqueur a bad name. You can’t really blame the brand for its massive and lucrative success. It’s a staple of college bars everywhere, and it does in fact make a fine White Russian — but it’s syrupy and lacks the depth and complexity that makes coffee a miraculous gift from heaven.

There’s no reason a coffee liqueur can’t capture some of coffee’s bewitching depth while still offering enough sweetness to play a crucial supporting role in dessertlike cocktails. And that balance between complexity and a honeylike sweetness makes Lac Coeur by Loon Liquor ($20 for 375 milliliters) pleasant enough to sip by itself as a digestif.

The fact that Lac Coeur is made with Peace Coffee’s Yeti Cold Press goes a long way toward explaining its quality. The depth of the coffee is fully expressed rather than being squashed by sugar.

If you’re planning to build a White Russian around Lac Coeur, prepare to experiment — you may miss Kahlua’s sugar in this context. That said, this is a marvelously tasteful product with a local provenance, and a lot of potential for mixing … or for drinking straight out of a glass after dinner.

Spirit Foul IPA by Fair State Brewing Cooperative

James Norton / Heavy Table

Fair State Brewing Cooperative‘s Spirit Foul has an aroma that’s as difficult to quit as this sought-after beer is to find. More than a decade of tasting and describing food has me instinctively sniffing and then deeply inhaling anything that I plan to taste. It’s a holdover from a conversation I had with a cheesemaker while researching The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin.

“First I feel the cheese,” he said, demonstrating how he would roll a small piece of cheese between his fingers before gently mashing it into a pliable ball. “Then I smell it. By the time I finally put it into my mouth, nine times out of ten, I already know how it’s going to taste.” It was a good line of patter, but he was right. Along with sight, smell, and feel, taste is but one of the ways we have of assessing food.

Back to Spirit Foul. It has a juicy, resinous, piney aroma — not herbal or acrid or air-freshener-y, but rather dank and full and wild.

James Norton / Heavy Table

Spirit Foul is a big 6.3 percent ABV “hazy IPA” brewed in concert with Modern Times Beer of San Diego. And as its addictive odor suggests, it’s mouthwateringly juicy, with a funky pineapple-powered richness that is a refreshing antidote to our current and ongoing bout of cold weather. This is a big IPA that is more than just crushingly astringent hops; it’s a fuller, richer package.

A pack of probably jealous Philistines in the comment section of The Minneapolis Egotist don’t like the packaging, deriding its “hideous” and “nauseating” design. In reality, the package is absolutely stellar. It’s a bold tribute to the palettes and design sensibility of the 1950s, with faded circles of color overlapping and becoming saturated, creating a disorienting, hypnotic, and incredibly distinctive appearance.

If you’re hoping to pick up your own four-pack, Fair State has helpfully built a “Where can you find Spirit Foul?” beer finder for you.

Mike McCarron of Gamle Ode on Holiday Aquavit on Rye

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

This story is a product of Heavy Table’s first Listening Session, underwritten and hosted by the Lakewinds Food Co-op. On May 23, we interviewed 15 local food artisans over the course of eight hours, with a goal of taking a snapshot of the vibrant Minnesota food scene.

Say “aquavit” and you get a variety of responses. Blank looks; nods from people whose Scandinavian parents or grandparents have been drinking the dill- and/or caraway-infused stuff since the beginning of time; and enthusiastic raised eyebrows from a new breed of bartenders and drinkers who are discovering fresh expressions of the spirit during a new, anything-goes era of artisan distilleries and craft cocktails.

Minnesota’s Gamle Ode is an aquavit company that straddles the old and new schools of the beverage. Its classic distillation of aquavit goes heavy on the dill, but it’s fresh dill fronds — rather than dill seed — which imparts a gentler, almost fragrant herbal flavor instead of the more aggressive attack found in some of the more typical Scandinavian varieties.

The company also has some innovative spins. Its Holiday variety changes things up from the conventional aquavit. Gamle Ode founder Mike McCarron says, “Holiday is six ingredients — the original dill, caraway, and juniper, and then mint, allspice, and orange peels. I think [the mint] pairs well with the dill, as far as the freshness.”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

And McCarron has taken things a step further by aging both Holiday aquavit and his more traditional Celebration variety on rye whiskey barrels to create an Old-World-meets-New beverage with enough depth and complexity to stand on its own in a glass with ice.

Tiny Footprint Coffee’s Ethiopia Sidamo Suke Quto Dark Roast

Courtesy of Tiny Footprint Coffee

This story is a product of Heavy Table’s first Listening Session, underwritten and hosted by the Lakewinds Food Co-op. On May 23, we interviewed 15 local food artisans over the course of eight hours, with a goal of taking a snapshot of the vibrant Minnesota food scene.

One of the most interesting cups of coffee in the state comes from Africa by way of a small roaster located in Brooklyn Center. Tiny Footprint Coffee’s Sidamo Suke Quto is a rarity: a dark-roasted Ethiopian coffee that’s abundant in flavors many tasters would consider “brighter” while retaining a full body.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

“Dark-roast Ethiopian coffee is one of the most unique things we do as a roaster,” says Thomas Hertzog of Tiny Footprint. “It’s a weird cup of coffee for people who drink it, and they’re often surprised by how much they enjoy it. Almost across the board, people light-roast Ethiopians because there’s a lot of fruit, and a lot of floral notes. But when you dark roast, and you do it well, you can have those dark red cherry, strawberry, raspberry flavors linger, but you can also get a full-bodied cup, which is the base of our clientele. It’s a fun way to introduce people used to a full-bodied cup of coffee to some of those brighter flavors.”

Tiny Footprint coffee was founded by brothers Alan and Brian Krohnke in 2010 with an eye to offsetting the carbon produced by the company’s importation and roasting processes. “Brian runs a foundation in Ecuador, the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, which is headquartered in Mindo,” says Hertzog. “He had a Belgian university come in and certify his reforestation program and figure out how much carbon dioxide his trees were going to sequester over the life of those trees, and then [he] took those numbers and matched them with the numbers Alan had come up with for the roasting facility, down to the pound of coffee, and offset it down to the pound marker.” Four pounds of carbon dioxide is produced for each pound of Tiny Footprint coffee, but the sale of that coffee allows the foundation to plant trees that will sequester more than 50 pounds of the gas.

Double Dog Kombucha

 

James Norton / Heavy Table

Double Dog Kombucha brewer Lee Vang struggled for years with alcohol — beer was his particular poison. It took years of struggle (and the friendship of a couple inspirational rat terriers) to start to break the spell.

But it was the discovery of a high-quality kombucha that put him firmly on a new life path. “It was fizzy, flavorful, and so very refreshing,” Vang wrote to us in an email. “Soon after, I started brewing my own and then experimenting with different adjuncts. I wasn’t aware of any potential side effects of drinking kombucha but there was one — my craving for beer became less and less. This addiction that I had been struggling with for most of my life was quietly disintegrating, and I was not even aware it was happening.”

“Last year, I was laid off from my job and sitting in that conference room while the headhunter was signing my papers. I could not stop smiling. I knew I would be a kombucha brewer.”

With that kind of a backstory, we tried a few varieties of Vang’s kombucha hoping that the product lived up to the story, and it most assuredly did. Like all of our favorite kombuchas (Prohibition comes to mind), Double Dog’s base product is exceedingly light on its feet and quite effervescently refreshing. Unlike Prohibition (and most of the other kombuchas we’ve tried), Double Dog is downright aggressive on the flavor side. Not unbalanced or artificial, but bold.

James Norton / Heavy Table

Take Pelé, for example. It’s fitting that this kombucha is named after a volcano goddess. It’s a mix of pineapple, ginger, jalapeño, and cilantro flavors, and it packs a noteworthy but not excessive heat at the back of each sip. The fruit of the pineapple and the bright vegetal notes of the peppers dominate the body of this complex beverage that would pair wonderfully with sweet pork dishes or many Latin entrees.

Joy Bubbles is a seasonal offering, and it unites mint, strawberry, and a bold note of natural vanilla. Strawberry loses out in the clash, mostly disappearing, but the overall concept of mint and vanilla works, and the drink overall would make a fine non-alcoholic after-dinner cordial.

Citra Mango brings together the earthy fruitiness of mango with the bright, juicy flavors of Citra hops, resulting in a kombucha that is eerily (and pleasantly) beerlike. This would make a brilliant n/a beer substitute, or function 1:1 as a refreshing shandy-type beverage.

Double Dog Kombucha can be found at the Midtown and Linden Hills farmers markets.

Green Bee Juicery

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

If you’ve got a food-based business, and you decide it’s time to sell, you might want to look at the sales strategy of the former owner of Minneapolis’ Green Bee Juicery: Find your most ardent customers, the ones who fervently promote your company of their own free will, and ask if they’d like to buy it.

That’s how Michaela Smith and Mallory Madden came to be the owners of the three-year-old cold-pressed raw juice company. “We first encountered Green Bee at the Linden Hills Farmers Market and immediately noticed the way the juice stood out compared to other cold-pressed juices we had tried before,” says Madden. “We preached the word of Green Bee everywhere we went. So when the current owner decided she wanted to move on from the business, she approached the two of us about taking it over. She wanted the company to be in the hands of people who supported the product, and we definitely did that.” In June 2016, they entered into a purchase agreement, and by January 2017, Green Bee was theirs.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Neither Smith nor Madden had a food-industry background, but they are science and health professionals; Smith is a licensed psychologist who focuses on integrative health, and Madden has a master’s degree in public health. Acknowledging that they have to be careful not to make health claims, they believe firmly in the value of raw juice, and they research each potential product and ingredient. “Our products have between three and five pounds of fresh produce in each jar,” says Smith. “There’s no added water. It’s all fruit and veggies.” They source their produce locally as much as possible.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Currently, Green Bee products are available at the Northeast Farmers Market on Saturdays through the season and at the City Food Studio in Minneapolis on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Or juice fans in some areas can sign up for a membership with Green Bee that provides discounts and offers delivery. Coming this fall: Smith and Madden have just signed a lease on a storefront and will be opening a retail location. That will give them a wider public face, since raw juices can’t be sold wholesale — one reason is their short shelf life; most juices have only three to five days for safe consumption.

Still, if no one likes the taste, the juices wouldn’t go far. Green Bee’s proprietors understand that. We sampled most of their product line, some of which was developed by the original owner, with new additions from Madden and Smith. We found that Green Bee manages to avoid the “drink it; it’s good for you; ignore the taste” pitfall that some plant beverages can have. Especially notable on that front is the Smooth Beets, which has a strong sweetness offset by the addition of ginger, lemon, and cucumber, all of which keep the taste from becoming saccharine. But even better, there’s no hint of the earthy taste beets sometimes impart. Even the non-beet-lover who tried it was pleasantly surprised.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Another unexpected offering was the Power Greens. Raw kale and collard could be expected to overpower the flavor here, but instead, apple shines, with a faint taste of cucumber, making this a milder drink than expected. The Turmeric Glow is a bright, cheerful shade of orange and has a strong orange-juice flavor with a nice kick of ginger. For those who prefer less kick from their juice, the seasonal Watermelon Cooler is summery sweet and light, with just a hint of cucumber, and chia seeds stand in for watermelon seeds for a particularly attractive presentation.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

The real rock ’em, sock ’em drink is the Power Shot. Made from fresh-pressed ginger root, lemon, raw honey, and cayenne, this is a powerhouse of a drink that is not for the faint of heart — but if you like intense flavor (and we do), this one’s for you. It’s strongly ginger-forward, which transitions to lemon and finally to a light cayenne afterburn. No caffeine, but a definite wake-up call on its own.

Green Bee also has a line of nut milks, which are free of dairy and added sugar. The Vanilla Cashew Milk is a sophisticated yet mild concoction, gentle and refreshing, with a pleasantly nutty aftertaste. For those craving a sweeter flavor, the Strawberry Cashew Milk contains the same ingredients with the addition of the fruit. It also has a slightly gritty texture that’s not off-putting.

Juices and milks are available in various sizes from pints ($10) to 16-packs (4 juices per week for four weeks, $155) to three-day cleansing packages ($175-$190) to half-growlers ($36) and growlers ($72). Power Shots are $3 and $20 for 2 ounces and 16 ounces respectively.

Green Bee Juicery, City Food Studio, 3722 Chicago Ave S, Minneapolis, 55407. Email for more information: orders@greenbeejuicery.com

Bad Weather Due Date 2

Rick Didora / Heavy Table

St. Paul’s Bad Weather Brewing often flies under the radar. Even after a move and major expansion into its own space on West 7th Street in St. Paul, it continues to release high-quality beer with little publicity. With few brewing neighbors — only Tin Whiskers Brewing Company and the recently opened Barrel Theory Beer Company — the expansive taproom just west of downtown draws a crowd of regulars as well as those in town for events.

Bad Weather celebrated its fourth anniversary this spring, marking the occasion by brewing its first-ever lager, a helles-style beer, in addition to Due Date 2, a sequel to its first-anniversary beer.

Rick Didora / Heavy Table

Due Date 2 is similar in style to its predecessor but is ultimately in a league of its own. The English-style barleywine has dates added and was aged in brandy and port barrels. Having been cellared for the months since its April release, the bottle doesn’t have the alcoholic punch that barrels could add, but there is a heat to the aroma and the first few sips.

Caramel and fresh bread crust meet the nose, while cherry and fig esters come through as the glass warms to cellar temperature. The taste is golden-brown-marshmallow meets raisin-bread-pudding. The dates are found after swallowing, though the entire glass sings of rich, preserved stone fruit. The port barrel character is mild, while the brandy seems to underscore the rich fruit, and a light woody element is felt on exhale.

Pair Due Date 2 with caramelized-onion pizza or grilled plums. It’s perfect for breezy nights when the air conditioning can be turned off.

Bad Weather Brewing Company, 414 7th St W, St. Paul; 651.207.6627

Pils Continental Pilsner by Fulton

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

This story is a product of Heavy Table’s first Listening Session, underwritten and hosted by the Lakewinds Food Co-op. On May 23, we interviewed 15 local food artisans over the course of eight hours, with a goal of taking a snapshot of the vibrant Minnesota food scene.

These are the salad days of beer writing. Barely a week goes by without the release of something new and beguiling: High-end coffee beers! Barrel-aged sours! Cross-brewery collaborations! Beers infused with (insert local/seasonal/rare ingredient here)!

Local craft beers increasingly come out with a ready-made hook or handle to grip into: It’s super spicy! It’s hoppy beyond belief! It’s loaded with real blueberry flavor! It’s a re-creation of a (domestically) obscure German style! Some of these angles are gimmicks, some of them are delicious and brilliant, and some are unquestionably both. And many of them are routes for the brewer to boost the price (to, say, $12-$18 a 750 milliliter bottle) and compete head-to-head with wine in terms of depth of flavor and prestige.

Therefore it’s interesting and noteworthy when local craft brewers head in the other direction with their product — putting it out in cans, simplifying the flavor profiles, aiming for sessionability and accessibility without losing the “craft” balance and quality that they’ve become known for. Many local brewers with sophisticated barrel-aging programs have begun a simultaneous surge into the everyday thirst-quencher market, and Fulton has been right in the mix with the launch last year of its Standard Lager brand.

Now Fulton is doubling down, with the addition of a no-frills Pilsner to its roster of perennial beers.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

“Everything we do at Fulton is to make sure we’re covering the basics and releasing a really quality, solid product before we branch out and do some of the crazier stuff,” says Fulton brewer Jeff Seidenstricker. “The Pilsner style is an extremely classic recipe. The vast majority of the malt is Pilsner malt, and the same thing with the hops. We stuck with the noble hops, the Saaz hops specifically, characteristic of the Pilsner style. And that’s it — just letting those ingredients shine.”

Pils is among the most balanced beers we’ve tried, with subtle, earthy noble hops and a malt backbone that offers depth of flavor, plus a bold, fruity, “hey, am I back in Milwaukee in the 1980s?” yeast bite that brings the package together. If there’s a platonic ideal of “beer,” this might be it. There’s no lavender nose, no palate-scorching astringent finish, no barnyard funk — just straight-up, balanced, refreshing brew. The impression of moderate sensibility that Pils imparts is supported by its numbers: 5.3 percent ABV, and 30 IBU, comfortably hanging out at the median for a contemporary craft-beer release.

“It’s very true to the style, as far as fermentation process and the yeast that we’re using,” says Seidenstricker.

If you’re looking for a break from overhopped booze-bombs, or if “classic and balanced” happens to be your thing, Pils represents.

Editor’s note, June 15, 2017: This story was edited to remove an inaccurate reference to esters.

Peaks & Prairies Pale Ale by Lift Bridge and Odell Brewing Cos.

James Norton / Heavy Table

The best milkshake we ever tried was had about eight years ago in Spokane, Wash., in a diner shaped like a giant milk bottle. It was a huckleberry shake, and the relatively gentle, mild character of the berries made their flavor a subtle accent to the shake’s vanilla ice cream. The berry flavor was a passenger, not a co-pilot, but its essence made the whole package a great deal more interesting and enjoyable.

That same underspoken subtlety comes through in the new Lift Bridge Brewing / Odell Brewing Peaks & Prairies pale ale, a beer that incorporates wheat, Minnesota blue corn, and Colorado huckleberries. The brew (shown above making an appearance at a local D&D night) pours a disconcerting berry red, but the flavor of huckleberries is mellow enough that it’s a cheerful, soft-spoken member of the beer’s flavor team rather than being its order-barking captain. There isn’t too much of a hop presence, which means that the mellow flavor of the huckleberries can be enjoyed without too much astringent interference, but the brew has enough of a body that it’s not a throwaway hot-weather nothing. It’s a moderate 5.75 percent ABV, so it will neither floor you after a glass nor leave you wanting for boozy substance.

We hadn’t planned on having much of the beer — just enough to sample and report on — but damned if it wasn’t so well-rounded, mellow, and agreeable that it compelled multiple return visits. This would be a lovely beer any time of the year, but its balanced berry character makes it an ideal choice for the advent of summer.

Peaks and Prairies pale ale is available at the Lift Bridge taproom and at restaurants participating in the Growler’s Taps and Tables event to benefit Wishes & More.