Joining the brewery ranks of the west metro is the long-awaited Birch’s on the Lake Brewhouse and Supperclub, which opened its doors on Sept. 28. The mild autumn days have proven a welcome surprise for the brewpub, bringing patio seekers even in November.
Putting a spin on the multi-level model, Birch’s consists of a supper club upstairs and a brewery space on the ground floor. Both overlook Long Lake and offer food and house-made beer. The lower level is where we spent our time. It’s cozy despite a windowed wall of stainless steel tanks. A fireplace warms one corner while a 180-degree view of the lake provides the backdrop. Although the bar could do without multiple televisions, it’s a highly attractive environment.
With breweries, wineries, and even a distillery scattered throughout the Lake Minnetonka area, the temptation to head west simply for beverages is becoming more attractive. But what will make Birch’s distinct from the Waconia or Excelsior brewing companies?
Birch’s will have no year-round beers, only seasonal ones. Brennan Greene, the brewer, explains that hoppy, sour, and coffee selections will always be available, as will a cider (a guest cider — producing commercial cider requires a wine license). Additionally, there are no packaging aspirations — not even secret ones — at Birch’s. All beer will be sold across the bar, so to speak. “We want to be known for good beer. To that end we will never distribute our beer as we can no longer guarantee its freshness once it leaves the premises. The only place to find our beer is in our restaurant,” says Greene.
Greene comes to Birch’s with extensive brewing experience, which leaves us to set the bar higher for him that we would from a homebrewer gone pro. He trained at Chicago’s Siebel Institute and Munich’s Doemens before becoming Head Brewer at Schlafly in St. Louis. The high bar was met and exceeded. In fact, nothing about this brewery divulges its newness.
True to Green’s word, the menu containes a broad array of styles. House beers are mixed with two guest taps, however, an arrangement that was a bit disorienting.
On the lighter side are the Pilsen Blonde Ale and Witbier. Though not advertised as a pilsner, this ale drinks like one and will appeal to a broad audience, including those seeking the traditional German style. Birch’s take has a mild aroma, a beautiful, Cheerios-like finish, and enough dryness to bridge many palates and preferences.
The Witbier is enjoyable — if slightly less successful — with a clear contribution from Belgian yeast. A banana, lemongrass, and coriander aroma greets the drinker. There is an inappropriately light body and lack of wheat character, though, which could be ameliorated with less filtration or more wheat in proportion to overall grain.
Hoppier choices hit the nail on the head, too. The India Brown Ale drinks like an Indeed Midnight Ryder with half of the malt character. It is intensely hoppy for a beer of its color, and the roasted malt character is very mild. It wouldn’t scream “brown” if consumed with eyes closed, but it finishes with a pleasant tobacco element. Additionally, the Columbus IPA will please those seeking moderate-plus hops. It bucks the trend of extreme hops, identifying more with a British balance.
The standout beer, though, was the Coffee Chocolate Golden Ale. Where most coffee beers present a deep brown or black color from copious roasted malt, this golden ale gets all of its coffee — and even its chocolate — character from the beans themselves. In a process similar to beers like Surly Coffee Bender, the flavor is transferred into water using the cold press technique, and the slurry is added to the wort. Organic French-roast beans are sourced locally from Morning Star Coffee of Minneapolis.
It isn’t just the trompe l’oeil that makes this beer attractive. The depth of coffee flavor genuinely sings when not hidden by a deeper malt character. Coffee morphs into chocolate until the finish, which is dry and nutty.
The sour beer, a Berliner weiss, is a flop through and through. It is devoid of authentic tartness. Rather than a well-developed sour from the addition of lactobacillus, or kettle-souring from a natural microbial contribution, this beer tastes like Sour Patch Kids. The sourness is artificial and underdeveloped with few other redeeming qualities.
Except for the the Berliner weiss, Birch’s is flawless. No off-flavors or stylistic downfalls were detected in any of the choices, a commendable feat for any new brewery.
The upcoming IPA leaves something for visitors to seriously look forward to. It will feature the Japanese Sorachi Ace hop — not often utilized in Midwestern craft beer — which imparts a dill-like umami.
Birch’s on the Lake
Supperclub and brewhouse in Long Lake
1310 W Wayzata Blvd
Long Lake, MN 55356
Brewhouse (Lower Level)
Wed-Fri: 11 a.m.-close
Sat-Sun 10 a.m.-close
Supperclub (Upper Level)
Mon-Sun: 3 p.m.-close