How terrible is it that we were hoping that the new Schell’s Tropical Stout would be redolent of pineapple and coconut to the point of essentially being a piña colada? Yes, that’s the cold weather talking, and no, the Tropical Stout isn’t tropical in that obvious of a way.
Instead, the 10th edition in the Stag Series collection is mildly bitter, malty and chocolaty, and it evokes dark rum’s molasses-like depths. The inclusion of no fewer than eight malts (pale, Victory, Extra Dark Crystal, Light Chocolate, Midnight Wheat, Extra Special, brown rice syrup, roasted barley) no doubt contributes to the layers of flavor.
Like so many beers, the application of room temperature warmth brings out whole new dimensions. We started drinking Tropical Stout quite cold, coming as it did from our uninsulated back porch. At fridge temp, Tropical Stout is mostly notable for its supple texture and relatively mild flavor. But the warmer it gets, the more it reveals chocolate and coffee notes and starts to hint at pineapple around the edges — or maybe that’s just wishful thinking provoked by the dark rummy taste and the brutal Minnesota winter working together on our snow-addled brains.
This is a beer for sipping, not chugging. It’s got depth and a slightly bitter aftertaste, reminiscent of tobacco smoke, that makes it a joy to contemplate in both the present and past tenses. And at 8.5 percent ABV (as per Ratebeer), sipping is a good strategy.
This post is sponsored by Afton Alps.
This Saturday, come to Afton Alps and cheer on your favorite brewery’s ski team! The winning team gets a tap line at Afton Alps for a year, and attendees aged 21 and up can enjoy complimentary pours from all 10 participating breweries.
WHEN: Saturday, January 7, 12:30 p.m.
WHERE: Afton Alps
WHAT: Inaugural Brewers Battle Ski Race / Love Your Melon Day
PRIZE: Winners receive a tap line for a year
DETAILS: Race starts at 12:30. It’s a head-to-head giant slalom.
No rules. Find the best skiers. Breweries stacked their teams.
Breweries will be sampling complimentary pours from 12:30-2:30 p.m.
Also: Stay for the day and ski! The first 500 guests to purchase a lift ticket will receive a Love Your Melon limited edition Love Your Melon / Afton Alps hat. Love Your Melon began with the simple idea of putting a hat on every child battling cancer in America, and it now donates to support pediatric cancer research and provide immediate support to children and their families.
This week in the Tap: local restaurant openings and closings in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area and beyond.
The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor James Norton at email@example.com.
- Pajarito, 605 W 7th St, St. Paul | Via Dara: Opened by Tim McKee acolytes “Tyge Nelson and Stephan Hesse, most recently of Chino Latino and Libertine, respectively.” Receiving early accolades.
- Revival, 525 Selby Ave, St. Paul (former Cheeky Monkey space) | A second location for the popular fried chicken spinoff of Corner Table. The original location will also be expanding and offering takeout.
- Jellybean and Julia’s, 530 W Main St, Anoka | Barbecue and breakfast!
- Khun Nai Thai, 2523 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis | A new spot in the old Krungthep Thai space, opened by former Krungthep employees.
- Esker Grove, Walker Art Center | A Doug Flicker / Culinaire project is the latest crack at a dining solution for the finicky Walker space.
- Red Rabbit, 201 Washington Ave N, Minneapolis | Red Cow owner Luke Shimp’s new spot offers “a variety of dishes including handcrafted pizzas, oysters, pasta, fresh salads and more.”
- Young Joni, 165 13th Ave NE, Minneapolis | A new wood-fired pizza and Korean spot by Pizzeria Lola / Hello Pizza boss Ann Kim. Here’s our (four-star) review.
- Dumpling, 4004 Minnehaha Ave S, Minneapolis | Not to be confused with Mrs. Dumpling at Lyn-Lake. Some love for their food in the Hot Five.
- Tullibee, 300 Washington Ave N, Minneapolis | Nordic fare from nationally known chef Grae Nonas at the Hewing hotel. We took a look at the food and beverages here.
- Punch Bowl Social, The Shops at West End, St. Louis Park
- Tropicana, 2585 W 7th St, St. Paul | Potentially intriguing: “Specially for Ethiopians and Eritreans you will feel like back home,” as per the Facebook page.
- Scratch Burgers and Beer, 408 3rd Ave N, Minneapolis
Minnesota’s cider boom shows no signs of slowing down. As more cider producers open their doors, existing local cideries are expanding their profiles to appeal to a wider audience. For an alternative to champagne this weekend, consider a sparkling cider.
Number 12 Cider House, from Buffalo, Minn., recently released its Chestnut Semi-Dry cider, made from Chestnut Crabapples. The classic and clean flavor, with its balance of tart and tannic notes, will appeal to most drinkers. The aroma is mildly sulfuric, with pear and honey elements, and the taste is crisp and refreshing with little residual sweetness, not unlike a sweeter cava. A spectacularly clean finish that leaves the palate quickly is one of the most notable features of this cider.
The small operation has been producing successful dry ciders since 2011. Their focus on dry, English-style ciders and bittersharp apples — rather than on the alcoholic apple juices bemoaned by those in search of the real thing — has been paying off. They’ve earned accolades including a silver medal in the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition.
For a bottle with more depth and funk, Keepsake Cidery, from Dundas, Minn., has a remarkable annual release with barnyard flavors and bitterness. Their Wood & Spirits series showcases ciders that derive additional complexity from the use of barrel aging and mixed fermentation techniques.
In a practice similar to that used to make Belgian lambic beers, fresh cider is added to last year’s aged batch kickstarting another fermentation due to the sugar in the new cider. This creates natural carbonation as well as depth of flavor.
But the year-old cider holds additional complexity contributed by a prolonged rest on wooden staves. For Batch 2, released this month, the staves came from Loon Liquors’ whiskey barrels. The blended cider was then aged again, this time in whiskey barrels from Isanti Spirits.
Dominant flavors of horse blanket and hay are sustained throughout, likely due to fermentation from unrestrained Brettanomyces. Both the barrels and the fruit itself offer avenues for inoculation with wild yeast strains. Moderate bitterness increases with warming, but the whiskey character is never fully revealed. Only glimpses of boozy notes are present, enhanced by the power of suggestion.
Keepsake Cidery, which debuted in 2014, has its own orchard, planted in that year. Until the orchard becomes fully productive, the cidery is relying on a blend of heirloom apples from other orchards that use little or no spraying. Keepsake offers a CSA called Cider Club that features 13- or 26-bottle shares.
There is a kind of low-level anxiety that accompanies brunch: maybe the line to get in will be too long, and we are too hungry or hungover or grumpy to wait, and the complimentary cup of coffee will only exacerbate our low blood sugars. Of course, those of us who love breakfast go anyway, and it nearly always works out. Still, it was nothing short of wonderful (and worrisome) to walk into the Pig & Fiddle, at 50th and France, at 10 a.m. on a Sunday and find it pretty much empty.
Maybe the gastropub’s brunch has yet to be discovered — it launched under six months ago — or maybe all the regulars were at home eating toast in bed. It was, after all, a cheek-chapping -18 degrees Fahrenheit outside.
Whatever the cause, it’s not the Pig & Fiddle’s atmosphere. The dining room is paneled in warm oak, scrolling corbels, and painted murals of Brussels as it might appear in the early evening light. The morning we were there, the pub’s giant stone hearth was lit, and Postmodern Jukebox’s jazzy “All About that Bass” crooned overhead. It was a pleasant place to land in the polar vortex — and, more importantly, a tasty one.
The brunch menu is on the savory and short side (if you discount the lunchy items). Notably missing are a basic breakfast plate and an omelet, but the ten or so items offered provide something for nearly everybody.
The tres leches soaked Fiddle’s French Toast ($10) is the only sweet offering. The waiter brought us three massive slabs of the stuff and noted that the average diner finishes only half. It had a wonderfully toasty crust and a light, custardy middle — and we managed to polish off the plate.
The Corn Beef & Hash ($12) was also a hit: perfectly cooked sunny-side-up eggs on a bed of potatoes and mild corned beef. (By mild, we mean it had not been brined into a chewy salt lick.) A smattering of bright microgreens, scallions, and harissa ketchup scattered across the whole provided a nice break from the soft, comforting profile.
The Huevos Rancheros ($10) combined shredded chicken in a lightly spicy red sauce with super-crispy fried corn tortilla pieces, avocado, scallions, and crema. The meat was tender, the texture was marvelous, but the sauce needed a tad more kick. The kitchen brought us some Cholula hot sauce, and it was spot on. The harissa ketchup’s smoky tang would have been good here, too.