Troubadour in Uptown, Bad Weather Taproom, J. Carver’s cold weather spirits

Banner for the Toast: Drinking Well in the Upper MidwestIn this Toast we explore Bad Weather Brewing’s new digs in Downtown St Paul, the minuscule Troubadour Wine Bar, and an expanded selection of spirits at J. Carver.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Troubadour Wine Bar

From The North Face to Giordano’s, Uptown sure isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the days of cigarette-infused couches at Pandora’s Cup and ordering “the usual” from friendly staff at Aura (it’s now a Francesca’s clothing boutique). Consumers can buy iPads where they once shouted over the bass to order a pint at The Uptown Bar. With each tenant change along Lake and Hennepin, a bit of the once gritty and eclectic personality dies.

Enter Troubadour Wine Bar, a small, unassuming storefront once occupied by Solomon’s Bakery. Its black hole of a location has consumed a number of small businesses, but the Troubadour may be on to something. Amid the tide of craft breweries and cocktail rooms, the classic idea of sitting down for a glass of wine seems, well, novel.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

When a wine bar is executed properly, the beverage moves beyond accompaniment into the spotlight. It becomes the meal, to be selected carefully and enjoyed meticulously, in its proper glass at the perfect temperature.

And this is what sets Troubadour apart from Scusi, Terzo, or Kings, where wine is a steppingstone on the way to dinner. Servers become tour guides and librarians, making suggestions based on preferences and steering guests away from wines that don’t fit their palates.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Despite the professionalism and attention to detail, Troubadour isn’t stuffy. And with its sloppily painted windowpanes and uneven, dim lighting, the space reeks of Old-World-Uptown charm. The menu presents more than 40 wines, all of which are served in generous single portions. Tapas, from olives to boquerones, feel diminutive due only to the reverence shown the wine. And if coming to a decision on what to drink proves difficult, do not hesitate to request a taste or two.

Most glasses fall between $9 and $18. Small bites are $5, and there is also a small selection of draft beer. Live music is offered nightly. Surprisingly, this brand new neighborhood business fits with the nostalgic elements of Uptown that many people over age 28 might be longing for.

Troubador Wine Bar, 2827 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, 612.871.4073

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Bad Weather Brewing opens on West 7th Street

Bad Weather Brewing is finally all grown up and out of mom’s basement. After several years of sharing space beside Badger Hill in the building belonging to Lucid, the brewery has made its debut on the west side of downtown St. Paul.

The entire downtown area was previously home to only two breweries, Tin Whiskers and Great Waters — far fewer choices than in Northeast Minneapolis. Thus, a heightened anticipation surrounded the opening of Bad Weather. Owners Joe Giambruno and Zac Carpenter wanted to enter the St. Paul area as it is less saturated. Bad Weather is the only brewery between Summit Avenue and the heart of downtown, and it will certainly draw traffic from events at the nearby Xcel Energy Center.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Giambruno and Carpenter made an impressive business expansion, going from shared space to 12,000 square feet of their own that houses a massive taproom and bar. They now have the real estate to more than double their tap selection while adding capacity for nitro beers and sodas.

The brewery was formerly known for only one year-round beer, Windvane, plus three seasonals. The current taproom list is over ten beers deep and ranges widely.

Those who prefer something on the brighter end of the spectrum can opt for the Blond Belle, a Belgian blonde ale. A step up from American blondes in terms of flavor intensity, this version demonstrates far more yeast contribution in the form of fruit and spice esters. It is medium bodied while maintaining the lightness appropriate for putting back a few.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Hop fans will be pleased with the Hopcromancer, an IPA with an intense aroma but restrained bitterness. The potent aroma nears that of a double IPA but avoids being monotone, delivering notes of resin and fruit, plus an herbal bouquet on the finish. It is refreshingly dry with no distracting notes, reminding drinkers that this isn’t a new brewery — many of which struggle with scaling up hoppy beers to larger equipment. Brewer Andy Ruhland has been brewing for Bad Weather since their launch in 2013.

As the temperatures fall this week, try the darker offerings in the taproom. Our favorite is the Galactic Tide, a beautiful rye porter that showcases the grain’s unique ability to bring coffee flavors to roasted malt. Unlike lighter beers, to which rye adds a spicy element, the depth of roasted, nutty flavor in this glass is jaw-dropping.

The taproom doesn’t offer food, but takeout is common here, as in many other breweries. Enjoy a few free arcade games and the generous patio before the snow falls.

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

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

J. Carver adds Apple Brandy and Rye Whiskey

As if to read our minds, J. Carver is now offering an alternative to the selection of dusty, half-empty bottles in liquor cabinets everywhere this Thanksgiving. Say “no thank you” to your uncle’s mystery cocktail, and bring your own bottle of Apple Brandy, which is not only unique, but pairs well with turkey.

Distinct from applejack or apple liqueur, Minnesota’s first Calvados-style apple brandy brings rounded, dry apple notes to cocktails and cooking. Apples are sourced from the nearby Sponsel’s orchard and include Haralson, Honeycrisp, and Chestnut Gold varieties, which are fermented into hard cider. The cider is distilled and placed into Minnesota-made toasted barrels, adding a mild smokiness to the bottle.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

The spirit delivers a clear apple aroma, but the taste is far more complex and balanced, due to the interaction between tannins, acid, and sugar. It avoids being too sweet or too hot and would suit a number of holiday uses, such as deglazing the turkey pan or providing a substitute for traditional brandy in a favorite nightcap. A cocktail recipe is offered on the bottle, too, for those less familiar with apple brandy.

Also new for the season is the Rye Whiskey, made with 70 percent rye and 30 percent corn. Although some drinkers may avoid rye spirits, which are considered to be pungent and intensely spicy, this is a more approachable angle to try. The corn creates a softness, while the rye, sourced from Clear Lake, is still allowed to shine.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

This is, unofficially, the first rye whiskey to use all Minnesota-grown grain, and J. Carver plans to experiment with different proportions over time. “The higher the percentage of rye, the longer it should age,” explains co-owner Bill Miller. Eventually the distillery will release an all-rye version, created from local ingredients, that has been allowed to age for an extended period of time in the barrel room, resting in Minnesota-coopered barrels.

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