Cocktails at Fika, Nutmeg Brewhouse Opens, Lawless Gin

Banner for the Toast: Drinking Well in the Upper MidwestIn this toast, we discover a Swedish cocktail program, visit Burnsville’s Nutmeg Brewhouse, and sip Lawless Gin.

IMG_0743Cocktails at Fika

A sunny Scandinavian cafe attached to a historic mansion-gone-museum may not scream “cocktails,” but let surprise be the secret ingredient at Fika, located in the modern addition to the American Swedish Institute.

Known for its lunch and brunch items, Fika — along with its small selection of well-executed classic and modern Nordic fare — often appears on local “best-of” lists. Open face sandwiches, pastries, and cured salmon make up the more predictable hits. But our most recent visit unexpectedly uncovered drinks that deserve recognition as well.

Echoing the flavors on the plate, the drink list includes mostly classic combinations with elements of fruit, brine, and acid. The descriptions are quite simple, but the execution and balance is striking.

Becca Dilley / Minnesota Lunch

Becca Dilley / Minnesota Lunch

The clean and refreshing Swedish 75 is made with Gamle Ode Dill Aquavit and presents a wonderful combination of savory and citrus elements. The alcohol is not subtle by any means, making this bright drink perfect for a cold winter day, even though the ingredients sound more like spring. Additionally, the drink pairs excellently with fish, cutting through the oils but remaining complementary in its herbal notes. The carbonation, too, lightens up heavier meatballs and vinaigrette.

The newest addition to the cocktail list is quickly becoming the most popular. In the Solveig & Tonic, fresh ginger is muddled into Far North Solveig gin, bringing out an incredible depth of ginger flavor. Orange bitters and lemon simple syrup round out the infusion, making the whole thing far more complex than the sum of its parts.

For brunch-goers: Look out for the beautiful Bloody Swede, a take on the Bloody Mary, but with the earthy notes and striking color that only beets can bring. North Shore Aquavit, made just north of Chicago using caraway, cumin, and coriander, grounds the glass with a substantial punch. The unexpected, savory arrival of cardamom is a clear reminder of the Scandinavian surroundings, and the understated garnish of pickled onions and olives is a minimalistic pleasure rather than the prima donna of so many American versions.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Nutmeg Brewhouse

The first brewery to open in Minnesota in 2016 is also the only brewery for miles. Far in distance and vibe from the historic and repurposed Northeast Minneapolis, the south metro can now experience four of its own craft beers — paired with food of the British Commonwealth — at Burnsville’s Nutmeg Brewhouse.

If the name, the location, and the food don’t fit naturally into the craft brewery mold for many, we would agree. The mission, according to the owners, is to bring food from around the world together by way of British beer. And given the fact that Nutmeg was founded by two men of Indian descent and culinary experience, MP Singh and Balbir Singh (not related), some of the disparate elements start to come together.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Throw in head brewer Dave Jones, however, and the picture becomes less clear. Jones has no ties to Minnesota, British cuisine, or the brewpub model. The three came together online, Jones explained to our team: He had been drafting his own plans to start a brewery, while Singh and Singh were searching for a head brewer. With no professional experience, Jones found himself in Minnesota crafting beer for the enterprising duo.

The debut beer lineup is predictable, and curiously does not represent British beer to the degree expected based on the concept. The IPA, wheat, British dark, and porter are the first batches to be released, alongside food with Asian, European, Canadian, and New Zealand influences.

The average-quality beers within the group are the IPA and the porter. The Shipmate’s IPA is dull, and seemingly bitter for the sake of being bitter. Little hop character is present in the aroma or the taste beyond back-of-the-mouth bitterness. Aroma hops and a wider variety of ingredients would be of great benefit. The Mild Porter, on the other hand, has a fair amount of roast character and some fruity evidence of English yeast, but falls short in terms of body. It is a lifeless example of the beloved British classic.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

More promise is held in the British Dark Ale, clumsily described as a “hop flavored beer with a light malt dry character.” It exhibits the appropriate phenols and other fermentation characteristics of British yeast strains. It is enjoyable, if not to style, as both the roast and hop elements are pushed beyond what would be found in a pub in England. It pairs well with both spicy and mild food, making it the best choice on the menu.

Avoid the Wheat Weiss, which has almost no wheat character and tastes like PVC piping, indicative of an infection. It also looks totally unappealing, like murky lemonade. Hopefully, improvement will be seen in subsequent batches.

There is little else to redeem Nutmeg from its flawed beer. A menu riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, beer descriptions that sound like inaccurate Mad Libs, plus an impersonal and detached feel — these issues raise the question of drive. Has brewing as a business moved from passion-driven to solely enterprise? Or maybe this was simply a rushed opening for a brewpub with some promise.

Nutmeg Brewhouse, 1905 County Road 42 W, Burnsville, MN 55306; 952.892.1438; open daily 3 p.m.-10 p.m.

Paige Latham / Heavy Table

Paige Latham / Heavy Table

Lawless Distilling Greenway Gin

Lawless Distilling opened its production facility this summer in the Seward neighborhood. Owners Nate and Kirsten Karnitz and Chris Kulzer debuted their Tippling House Vodka first, with Greenway Gin close behind.

The trio began with the distribution of bottles and has plans to open a cocktail room, although the timeline has not been announced.

Greenway Gin gets its name from the much-loved biking and walking trail that connects much of Minneapolis. The land was once home to the Milwaukee Road passenger train line, and the company claims that the name “pays homage to this evolving tract of land by blending the past and present.”

The combination of old and new is indeed apparent in this style of gin. While it hits some of the juniper notes of a London Dry, the liquor is also quite botanical and well rounded in flavor. It is made with 100 percent Minnesota wheat, following the trend of distillers such as Du Nord and J. Carver in the use of local crops.

The gin is better in simple mixed applications than for serving straight, as the array of botanicals is not as wide as in Far North Solveig, but the combination of citrus and spice is profound. We enjoyed it mixed with Blue Henn Artisan Tonic Syrup. Made in Minneapolis with lemongrass and lavender, the tonic accentuates both the citrus and the bitter botanicals perfectly.

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2 Comments

  1. I haven’t tried the food at Nutmeg yet, but your beer descriptions are spot on. I was excited to have brewpub open so close to me, however this place just falls short. I hope they can figure it out and turn it around before it closes.

  2. Ross Winberg 06/15/2016 Reply

    Yeast-derived esters are a characteristic of British styles, not phenols. Peppery phenols are a hallmark of Belgian beers such as Belgian Dubbel.

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