In this Toast we sample the spirits at Copperwing Distillery, visit the brand-new Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative, and take a second look at Maple Grove’s OMNI Brewing.
Copperwing Distillery and cocktail room
Copperwing Distillery opened in March as St. Louis Park’s second liquor producer, behind Millers & Saints. The distillery is owned by three science-minded individuals: Kyle Kettering, Brian Idelkope, and Chris Palmisano.
Copperwing’s cocktail room is located in a small business park, and it’s dark and minimalist with a few industrial touches that border on warm. No outdoor seating is available. The stills are visible through the open floor plan and clear partitions, adding to the chic, machine-shop look of the place.
For tasting, a flight of four is a nice option ($6-$8, depending on the chosen sips). Pours are small but sufficient to give a feel for the personality of each spirit.
First is vodka, a staple for micro distilleries due to its rapid turnaround time and usefulness in mixed applications. Copperwing’s is made with 90 percent corn and 10 percent barley, and the aroma has strong grapefruit pith and black pepper. A distracting level of alcoholic heat, as well as heat in the form of spice, hits the palate immediately. After sipping a bit to acclimate, we noted a pleasant bitterness on the finish. This is a fair vodka that would pair well with citrus or floral flavors but could hardly be enjoyed neat. When water is added, some additional complexity blooms, including a mild under-ripe banana note.
The second glass in the flight is called Vodskey, a spirit that shares characteristics of vodka and whiskey, though it is not distilled to a high enough proof to be called vodka. It’s not a brand-new concept but is instead similar to the white — or unaged — whiskey found at other local distilleries such as Loon Liquors or 11 Wells. This one can stand on its own, with its mild tropical fruit notes, black pepper, and greater sweetness than the vodka. Distilling to a lower proof allows for more residual flavor from the mash, which also comes through as lingering warm spices in the finish.
For such a young distillery to be producing whiskey is questionable. But cocktail rooms in Minnesota are legally prevented from serving spirits that are not made in house. This leads to, with few exceptions, the purchase and rebranding of someone else’s whiskey, telling customers to be patient for the next 5 years, or the release of an immature product.
Copperwing gives us an example of the third option. The whiskey is lightly colored and smells of wet newspaper and soggy wood, and it’s harsh and hot until the very end of a sip, at which point the appropriate wood notes come through briefly. It tastes young, but overly tannic at the same time, especially when mixed or diluted, making the wood element feel a bit forced, rather than a result of years spent in barrels.
Copperwing’s newest product is gin made with the same grains plus undisclosed botanicals, both steeped and vapor-infused. The aroma screams London Dry, but the first sips are botanical with an emphasis on cardamom and juniper. Unfortunately, the flaw here is more sweetness than should be expected in any gin. It could work well to balance a potent tonic, but when used in the Martinez ($10), with house vermouth, Angostura, and Fee Brothers cherry bitters, it throws the drink off balance with sugar.
The more successful gin option is the Patina ($10), made with fresh basil and lemon juice. The refreshing acidity along with the savory herb restrain the gin and allow the botanicals to take the stage.
For a traditional martini, the Dirty Dirty ($10) falls short of perfection but fits the bill. We found its balance to vary from visit to visit, but the olive brine and vodka were reliably present. The vermouth and smoked salt were sometimes lost, which was to the detriment of the drink, which without them is entirely one-dimensional. It could benefit from acid, as well.
The cocktails were developed with the assistance of Lee Carter and Jason Westplate of Cocktailian.
Finally, for a twist on the traditional, we recommend tasting the Earl Grey vodka, which needs no explanation. The potent bergamot and black tea notes, while intense, taste natural and create a memorable sip. Look for additional infused offerings as Copperwing grows.
Copperwing Distillery, 6409 Cambridge St, St Louis Park, MN 55426; 612.293.6137. Mon-Tue closed, Wed 5-11 p.m., Thu 3-11 p.m., Fri 5 p.m.-midnight, Sat 2 p.m.-midnight.
OMNI Brewing Shows Great Improvement
After struggling with quality and recipe development on opening, Maple Grove’s OMNI Brewing has shown notable improvement this spring. The beer menu has grown not only in size, which is to be expected from a maturing taproom, but in execution.
Our first visit revealed flaws that may have arisen from rushing beer to opening week, but a recent trip showed just the opposite: properly attenuated and conditioned beers free of fermentation flaws.
The classics are well-executed. One favorite was the hefeweizen ($5/pint), which is appropriately bright with a generous body. There is a heavy clove phenol that falls at the high end for the style, but it tastes intentional and brilliantly clean. With its effervescent and dry finish, it will appeal to lovers of German wheat beers. Also try the Pils ($5/pint), which demonstrates a flawless use of Cheerios-like malt and has a truncated, crisp finish. Sterling hops give just enough bite without overpowering the Pilsner malt.
An impressive pale ale is hard to find. Most fall into the bell curve of good beer. Lake Day Citra ale ($5/pint) was a standout of the day. The unmistakable aroma of Citra hops — tangerine and under-ripe pineapple — also carries through in the taste: The bitterness is secondary to the flavor in a similar fashion to Surly Xtra-Citra. A fresh-apricot element appears in the aftertaste, but the overall impression of this beer on the palate is fleeting. It will appeal to session beer drinkers, or those who lean toward lower-alcohol beers, as it’s incredibly refreshing.
Finally, it was time to verify whether OMNI had not only stepped up its traditional beer game but also added successful wood aging to its repertoire. The first taste of Omnipotent scotch ale ($5/12 ounces), aged in red-wine barrels, was shocking. Wine can easily overtake a beer’s flavors due to the fruity and tannic nature of grapes. This was a boundary-pusher with significant wine character and a finish that is actually tart; what was once caramel-forward becomes something entirely different due to the barrels. It maintains a caramel and woodlike aroma, but the taste contains cranberry and fig, not unlike a sour dark ale, and no longer a scotch at all.
As far as the bartender would reveal, there have been no major staffing or structural changes at OMNI, and the head brewer has been there since day one. Whether the improvement is a result of time, experience, or something else, the suburban taproom is worth another look.
OMNI Brewing, 9462 Deerwood Ln N, Maple Grove, MN 55369; Mon closed, Tue-Thu 3-10 p.m., Fri-Sat noon-11 p.m., Sun noon-10 p.m.
Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative Now Open
The revolving starter brewery space that once nurtured the growth of Northgate Brewing and 56 Brewing now houses Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative, which opened to the public last weekend for limited hours. It’s the newest operation to be located within the diminutive building that is surrounded by imposing industrial towers.
Broken Clock currently holds a temporary taproom license, which means they are permitted to be open for pint service only several times per year. Instead, they sell growlers during their open hours and focus on production, distribution, and recipe development.
The cooperative model means that the 220 members have the right to vote on recipe development and naming, plus determining year-round and seasonal offerings. Founder and board member Jeremy Mathison feels that this democratic approach is key to successful beer. “All recipes are heavily critiqued,” he explains. Membership consists of both experts and laypeople, which is intentional.
Three year-round beers are currently available. The light and hazy Community Kölsch has an aroma of Wheaties and mild Meyer lemon. It’s lacking in any dominant flavors, such as corn or fruity esters, that give a fingerprint to the beer, but it remains refreshing and enjoyable if a bit generic.
The Stand Up stout is a dark ale that bridges sweet and dry styles. There are chocolate and coffee elements within both the aroma and the taste, but this is a thinner-bodied stout that ultimately finishes dry. Despite its color, this choice is appealing even in warmer months due to a levity on the palate.
Lavender Uprising, an IPA made with organic dried lavender flowers, is headed for flagship status. The aroma is not overly floral; in fact it’s quite subtle and seems to exist within the other hop aromatics. Mathison explains that the lavender flowers are added very late in the process and are never heated. A strong citrus anchors this fantastic beer and prevents it from losing its balance.
The spring seasonal was a major success in a growing arena — coffee beers. The 2:Brew coffee Kölsch has the exact aroma of a Sebastian Joe’s on roasting day, and in fact, the coffee flavor is reminiscent of coffee ice cream, but with more bitterness. The finish borders on tart, in sharp contrast to the creamy coffee up front. This is a unique beer, even within its category of coffee beers that are not dark. It’s less creamy and lighter-bodied than Insight Brewing’s Banshee Cutter, but displays a similar aroma.
Head brewers Mike Johnson and Will Hubbard have extensive home brewing experience as well as expertise in chemistry and engineering. In tasting the beers, it would not be evident that the brewers have no other professional brewing background.
Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative, 3134 California St NE, Suite 122, Minneapolis, MN 55418.