This week in the Toast: A pair of cocktails at Bar Brigade, the newly opened Back Channel Brewing, and the whisky bar at Kado no Mise.
Bar Brigade, the new project from J.D. Fratzke and Matty O’Reilly, is now nestled into the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood of St. Paul, and the place seems like it has been there for years. There is nothing either dated or brand new; instead, the petite bar and dining room feel lived in and modern. A noticeable number of plants adorn walls and hang from the ceiling creatively, giving an inviting warmth.
The cocktail list is nearly as long as the dinner menu and was created with the help of Tattersall’s Dan Oskey. There are French and Italian influences and some thoughtful combinations, though it’s fairly safe overall. The majority of the drinks still echo summertime flavors.
If you’re not quite ready for cooler temperatures, reminisce with the Salvador ($10), which bears a striking flavor resemblance to iced tea. The lavender simple syrup, lemon, and salt meld with Domaine de Canton, a French ginger liqueur to create a classic herbal combination. It’s bright and sour with a nice intensity of flavor, but is somewhat heavy on the sugar, muting the Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac.
By recommendation, we tried the Wilde ($11), which is dominated by Pernod. The St. Germaine, lemon, and cucumber all take a back seat. Pastis fans will love this cocktail, but it lacks some balance. Its potent anise aroma and flavor are balanced by acid only in the finish.
Expect good service in a space that’s comfortable for lingering during quieter hours. Bar Brigade clearly draws a semi-regular crowd of adults of all ages — we saw repeat-customer neighbors arriving on foot.
Bar Brigade is expanding its hours – beginning Oct. 14, the restaurant begins brunch service (10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat-Sun); the following week it begins lunch service (11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tue-Fri). Lunch will include a smaller selection of the nighttime menu with lunch-sized portions plus baguette sandwiches and salads; brunch features omelettes, crepes, French toast and a Croque Brigade with pork belly, béchamel, gruyere and tomato on brioche, plus rose on tap and champagne.
Bar Brigade, 470 Cleveland Ave S, St Paul, MN 55105. Tue-Thu 4-10 p.m., Fri-Sat 4-11 p.m., Sun 4-10 p.m.
Back Channel Brewing
The proliferation of breweries in the far-west Metro shows no signs of slowing down, as the last three months saw multiple openings including Unmapped Brewing in Glen Lake and Back Channel Brewing in Spring Park. The latter opened quietly in September with about a half-dozen beers on tap and a lakeside taproom. The picturesque backdrop of the Dakota bike trail to the north and Lake Minnetonka to the southwest makes up for the looming strip mall, and the dark gray and barn-wood interior nearly disguise the history of the space (a former Country Kitchen).
The lighter offerings were very successful. The Click Thrice cream ale ($5 per pint) has a Kix cereal aroma with pleasant carbonation and robust body for the style. It’s an ideal everyday beer — pairable and quaffable — though the finish is heavy-handed in terms of bitterness. The Lake Maker ($5 per pint) is lighter-bodied with the delicate hop profile of a Pilsner and a honey character that makes this lager nicely balanced. The extremely pale beer belies the intensity of flavor.
Wheat ale fans may be less impressed. The Cold Feat ($5 per pint) was a disappointment. It was generally lacking in flavor, and much of the wheat body seemed to be lost to filtration or otherwise. There was a hint of chlorophenol — clove or Band-Aid-like flavor — that snuck into the finish, as well.
Finally, the Eight Way porter ($5 per pint) was a pleasant dark beer with a bitter cacao and coffee aroma. After a few sips and a bit of warmth, the chocolate transformed into an interesting molasses character. Though the body was on the thin side, it felt intentional and married well with the flavors overall.
Back Channel offers half pours of nearly everything, plus flights, which consist of four small pours for $8.
As expected, there is some overlap in terms of branding and graphics with other lake-themed breweries, including Excelsior Brewing Company and Unmapped. The taproom was dramatically overstaffed on an average Sunday, which felt a bit intimidating — like walking into someone else’s family gathering accidentally. That being said, the lake views, fall foliage, and approachable beers make for a nice place to unwind.
Back Channel Brewing, 4787 Shoreline Dr, Spring Park, MN 55384. Thu 4-10 p.m., Fri-Sat noon-11 p.m., Sun 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Whisky Bar at Kado no Mise
Calling the Whisky Bar above the hottest new Japanese restaurant in the Twin Cities a secret wouldn’t be accurate. (Also read our review of Kado no Mise). In contrast to the reception at speakeasy-style hits like the nearby Marvel Bar, when guests enter the building that houses Kado no Mise as well as Kaiseki Furukawa, they are graciously escorted upstairs to a dim mini-lounge with exposed brick and dark walls. Compared to the greeting at truly hidden places, such as Volstead’s in LynLake, the Whisky Bar positively rolls out the welcome mat.
Space is slim, with about 20 seats in a mix of high-top chairs and low, banquette-style couches. There are a few streams of light from corner windows that illuminate the finer touches — heavy upholstery and leather, dark wood, and simple fixtures. The chic interior has a clear focal point: the bottles of Japanese whisky that cover the wall behind the bar and are bathed in warm light.
The paper menu lists individual spirits only. One side lists over a dozen Japanese whiskies, and the other lists Scotch whiskies and American whiskies and bourbons, most of which are standard-edition stuff. No mixed applications are listed on the menu, but there are some bottles of other spirits and liqueurs displayed. The bartender indicated to several parties seated at the bar that staff are able to make mixed drinks for those not seeking whisky.
The most recognizable pours on the menu are the Nikka Coffey Grain and Nikka Coffey Malt, imported whiskies gaining steam locally. Bourbon drinkers will appreciate the familiarity of flavor, which primarily comes from the traditional still as well as the cooperage (barrels). Another affordable option is the Iwai Tradition ($13 for 2 ounces), which is peat-forward and full in the mouth, with mild, warm spice notes and a clean finish.
The service is not friendly, but it is exacting. Whiskies are served neat, on the rocks, or with a splash of water.
The weakness in the offerings seems to be the gap between mixed drinks by request, which feature any alcohol, and pure, unadulterated pours of whisky. Sure, the finest spirits benefit from being enjoyed solo, but the addition of a handful of mixed applications for the Japanese whiskies would add another dimension of enjoyment.
Whisky Bar at Kado no Mise, 33 1st Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55401. Fri-Sat 5 p.m.-midnight.