In this Toast we visit Lake Monster Brewing in St. Paul and 10K Brewing in Anoka and taste brunch booze at St. Dinette and barreled, bottled imperial stout from Dangerous Man.
Lake Monster Brewing Now Open
Lake Monster isn’t exactly a new brewery. They have been bringing bottles of Empty Rowboat IPA and Calhoun Claw Pilsener to market for years in a contract brewing relationship with Sand Creek Brewery in Wisconsin, the same brewery that once brewed for Fulton. But the previews have finally given way to the feature film; the taproom opened recently on the west side of St. Paul, and it offers the well-known duo plus a handful of new batches.
For those who tasted those first bottles in the summer of 2013, be prepared for Lake Monster 2.0, with fewer fermentation flaws and far more intrigue. As for the taproom’s ambiance, it hits some of the familiar brick and steel brewery notes and has the blue lighting of Insight Brewing and the train depot shape of Bauhaus.
Drinkers will be pleasantly surprised by the Calhoun Claw, a pilsner-style beer presented with full Saaz hop authenticity and enough dryness to please dedicated import lovers. The beer finishes very crisp and slightly bitter, but maintains adequate biscuity malt throughout. The Empty Rowboat has been elevated by immense depth of hop flavor, showcasing the capabilities of the plant. Tangerine, pineapple, and tree sap dominate a fine bready sweetness. Each sip reveals different harmonies. Very well done.
In the successful but confusing camp is the Last Fathom. Touted as a Munich dark lager, this beer sails straight past the German classic, which is forbidden from having burnt or bitter roasted flavors, into the Schwarzbier category. It’s black as night, intense, roasted just to the point of acrid, and it displays little restraint. It pushes the dimensions of dark lager beyond Fair State’s Schwarzbier or Bauhaus’ Stargrazer. But hey, what’s in a name?
Somewhat less appealing is the overly-sweet Murmur Milk Stout. The pleasant coffee and caramel aroma is not what will be remembered about this one, unfortunately, as the syrupy stuff never seems to leave the tongue. Sugar derived from lactose overpowers any depth of flavor that arises from the malt.
The Untethered Sour Brown was definitely the hiccup in our visit. Sour beers take a great deal of time and care to produce, begging the question of why so many new breweries try to tackle them. This version wasn’t reminiscent of citric acid, as was the attempt at Birch’s on the Lake. It instead hit the sour receptors in the manner of the juice from a lemon-shaped plastic squeeze bottle. Altogether underdeveloped and flat, this is the one to skip.
Lake Monster Brewing, 550 Vandalia St #160, St. Paul, MN 55114; 612.964.6288
Anoka’s 10K Brewing
Downtown Anoka has recently welcomed 10K, a brewery that started with the help of a Kickstarter campaign. Getting established was no easy feat, as is the case in most brewery-free cities. When the brewery was founded by Jesse and Ashley Hauf, a brother and sister duo, zoning laws had to be changed in order to accommodate the business.
With that battle behind them, and a successful grand opening on November 7, the brewery is moving beyond its honeymoon phase, modifying its tap lineup and settling in.
The street it occupies feels historic, but still relevant, with brick everywhere and lit-up storefronts for blocks. The area is not unlike Fargo or Faribault. The brewery contains two rooms, both of which are open and stark. Brewing equipment is minuscule and tucked behind one end of the angled bar.
Three beers were available during our visit, a pale ale, and IPA, and a porter.
The most successful of the bunch was the Chocolate Moose Nuts ($6 for 12 ounces), a fair take on a chocolate hazelnut porter. Unfortunately, the hazelnuts were imperceptible in both aroma and taste. The nose was essentially lunchroom chocolate milk complete with carton, and the taste developed into chocolate and moderate roast. It was somewhat elementary, lacking complexity or anything resembling a robust nature, and was also surprisingly thin at 7 percent ABV.
The hoppy beers were similar enough to bleed into each other, but indeed there were two. The Mighty Nice Pale Ale ($5 a pint) displayed a mild, nondescript aroma. Overall, the taste left little to describe, with back-of-the-throat bitterness and cracker-like malt. It’s terribly boring. In fact, any apprehensive uncle who scoffs at craft beer, stating “it just tastes like beer,” would be correct in this case.
The IP-eh? India Pale Ale ($5 for 12 ounces) fails to distinguish itself much from the pale. It contains a mere 0.1 percent more ABV, and the hop profiles are similar. Pencil-shaving and an odd caramel aroma hit the palate initially, and the monotone bitterness is sustained, remaining in the back of the throat endlessly.
Below average beer coupled with indifferent service mean that 10K fails to justify a trip to Anoka. One can hope that Kickstarter backers and the improving palate of collective beer drinkers will force this new brewery to step up to meet higher expectations.
10K Brewing, 2005 2nd Ave, Anoka, MN 55303; 763.392.4753
Brunch Cocktails at Saint Dinette
Brunching is a verb now, and has been for some time. We hear about brunching endlessly. What is nice to know is that brunching, from a beverage perspective, doesn’t have to be limited to a bloody mary or coffee with Baileys.
Stop in to Saint Dinette, in St. Paul’s Lowertown, for elevated takes on the classics the next time your usual crew wants to put the celery, olive, meat-stick standard on repeat. The restaurant offers a small, precise brunch menu on weekend mornings, along with its entire dinner menu. This includes a full bar. But take their word for it — two brunch-specific drinks are on point.
The mimosa fiend should opt for the Orange Julio, a mimosa-like yet distinct morning libation with a taste of the champagne classic but more sweetness. It is not blended with ice like an Orange Julius but is otherwise similar in taste, with a nice creaminess from egg white. A balanced combination of Kilo Kai spiced rum, Tuaca, orange juice and bitters is responsible for the vanilla and fruit flavors.
On the caffeinated side is the Canadian Cold Press, a blend of bourbon, Luxardo Amaro Abano, maple, and cold press coffee. The amaro is strong enough to keep the sugar in check, and bourbon and maple play predictably well together. The mug and saucer are chilled, while the latte-like foam disguises the booze beneath.
Saint Dinette, 261 E 5th St, St. Paul, MN 55101; 651.800.1415
Dangerous Man Bottle Release
One of Northeast’s hottest breweries is known for its taproom-only sales. Dangerous Man has been selling pints and growlers to eager customers, scooping up awards right and left, all while skipping keg distribution altogether. A handful of bottle releases — a tradition the brewery debuted on its second anniversary — have drawn crowds, though.
Dangerous Man opened an adjoining “growler shop” in November, selling growlers of all sizes plus apparel, glassware, and 750-milliliter bottles. The plan is to release limited batches of bottles about once a month. This Friday marks perhaps the most anticipated release to date. The Bourbon Barrel Russian Imperial Stout raises eyebrows on account of its style alone, but couple that with the taproom’s ability to make killer dark beer, and … well, get in line.
The stout is aged in Buffalo Trace barrels, the result being a very boozy aroma and taste. In fact, this beer would probably do well to age for a year or so. Sweet vanilla and molasses also meet the nose and continue to develop during sipping. The incredible depth of roasted malt and the wood character take a few sips to appreciate, and the bourbon doesn’t hide, by any means.
By all accounts, this is a bourbon-lover’s beer. It creates a slick coating on the tongue while continuing to deliver toffee and chocolate. It makes all other imperial stouts seem like weak coffee, while this one is espresso — a beer meant to be sipped and savored.