In this Toast, we visit Blue Wolf Brewing Company in Brooklyn Park, sample two seasonal bottles of local beer, and taste Crooked Water Spirits, a new woman-owned distillery in Minneapolis.
Crooked Water Spirits
A few years ago, a welcome twist on botanical gin hit the local market: barrel-aging, which creates a backdrop of tannins and warm depth of flavor that balances the bright profile of gin. The first example in the Twin Cities was J. Carver Distillery, and others soon followed, blurring the lines between white and brown spirits. Similarly, a new distillery in Minneapolis, Crooked Water Spirits, is delivering barrel-aged vodka to bars and liquor stores.
Crooked Water focuses on high-proof spirits for sipping and mixing. Owned by Heather Manley, the growing brand doesn’t have a facility of its own but contracts with the distiller Lars Forde of Yahara Bay Distillers in Madison, Wis. for its production. After launching in late 2014, Crooked Water expanded its product line to include gin, vodka, bourbon, and apple brandy.
Its L’Eau Grand vodka is made with 100 percent winter wheat and is finished on French oak. The aging brings a caramel aroma, while dried stone fruit and molasses hit the palate promptly on tasting. There is an initial heat plus a plastic element on the nose that dissipates quickly. The flavor evolves nicely over time and at different temperatures. After warming slightly, the vanilla and tannic flavors increase. Though the vodka doesn’t possess the depth of a bourbon or scotch, it makes for a nice sipper.
Simple mixes, such as natural fruit juice or orange bitters, were more successful than complex applications with greater dilution. Substituting L’Eau Grand for bourbon or rye in an Old Fashioned — one suggestion from the Crooked Spirits website — led to an anemic version of the classic, and the character of the vodka was lost.
Two Beers for the Extended Winter: Boom Island and Schell’s
It’s a bit awkward to reach for a bright glass of maibock right now, regardless of how hearty a Minnesotan you proclaim yourself to be. And with more snow in the forecast, it’s a confusing time when it comes to seasonal food and drink. Fear not — reach for one of these recent releases that masterfully bridge the gap between late winter and early mud season.
First is the imperial stout collaboration Kollusion, crafted by Boom Island Brewing Company out of North Minneapolis and Brouwerij Maenhout of Pittem, Belgium. The typical imperial stout, with its heavy, slick character and overwhelming heft may not be ideal for this transitional time of year. However, this example bucks the trend with a moderate body and little residual sweetness. Strong bitter coffee and cocoa notes coat the palate with a striking degree of bitterness.
Kevin Welch, owner and head brewer at Boom Island, has had a relationship with Thijs Maenhout of Brouwerij Maenhout for years but avoided releasing a collaboration for fear that it would appear gimmicky. After the Belgian brewery proposed the idea, the two decided to reach beyond their typical repertoire to a style found in other parts of Europe: imperial stout. Kollusion includes a small amount of Belgian chocolate and Dunn Brothers Coffee to represent the geography of the partnership.
Craft beer drinkers who are dedicated to robust stouts like Central Waters Bourbon Barrel stout or Surly Darkness may not be satisfied with this restrained twist, but we found it a welcome departure from the slow sippers of midwinter. Try serving it on the cooler side to produce an ideal balance of malt and bitterness, and pair with a mild blue cheese or aged cheddar to appreciate the molasses and dark chocolate notes of this unique bottle.
Even more outside the box is the newest release from the Schell’s Brewery Noble Star Series. Made with chocolate malt, Lunar Interference features the tart Berliner weisse formula in yet another light — with robust dark malts added. True to its traditional approach, Schell’s has conditioned the dark base beer in 80-year-old cypress tanks and allowed it to become pleasantly tart, but the rich malt formulation creates a depth of flavor unlike the lighter versions.
The aroma strikes the same chord as a Belgian Flanders red or oud bruin, with tart cherry notes plus a hint of roast. Each sip carries the same duo of flavors, with a round, developed tartness up front and a rich roasted element on swallowing. After a few sips, a coffeelike character builds, but it never overwhelms, as the fruit continues to cut through it.
Blue Wolf Brewing Company Opens in Brooklyn Park
The northern suburbs now have a local brewery to call their own. In an area with little in the way of craft beer, Blue Wolf Brewing Company opened several weeks ago along a popular commuter route in Brooklyn Park. Owners Mike and Jennifer Campbell started out like the people behind Venn Brewing, Wicked Wort Brewing Company, and a handful of other commercial breweries — as home brewers inspired to go pro by the example of early Minnesota craft brewers.
Mike Campbell spent several years at Midwest Supplies, assisting fellow home brewers in procuring ingredients and equipment for brewing batches at home. His wife Jennifer is now the majority owner in their joint venture, Blue Wolf, while Mark Krings rounds out the team as assistant brewer.
The current lineup at Blue Wolf is fairly traditional, and none of the options stand out as a flagship style. Five-ounce pours of each beer are available for $2, so visitors can create their own flight if they wish. Unfortunately most of the five beers on tap during our visit were poorly executed.
Maltier choices included the O’Wolfe Irish red ale, which smelled passable at first, with mild acetylaldehyde and under-ripe strawberries. Upon sipping, though, the flaws took over the palate. An odd chemical smoke met with overwhelmingly sweet fruit esters, keeping any malt notes from presenting themselves. In the back of the mouth, a wet ashtray flavor was impossible to overcome.
On the other hand, the Wolf Cry rye ale displayed a beautiful Belgian aroma full of clove and pepper phenols. The moment the beer hits the tongue, though, it’s clear something is wrong. The body is heavy and wet like juice, and an unpleasant burnt flavor coats the tongue. The same burnt element carries through a few of the beers, including the No Coast Pale Ale. A mild aroma of mildew and apricots is made worse by acrid flavors and butyric acid, often indicative of poor sanitation.
The IPA, Wolf Apparition, has hallmark flavors of oxidization, or beer that has been spoiled by oxygen during the brewing or packaging process. Wet cardboard and a newspaper aroma dominate, while an astringent, drying character unpleasantly strips the mouth of moisture.
Overall, the abundant issues point to multiple process difficulties at Blue Wolf. Though the area is in need of a local brewery, this taproom is a disappointment.
Blue Wolf, 8515 Edinburgh Centre Drive, Brooklyn Park, MN; 763.390.6700. Thu-Fri 3 p.m.-11 p.m., Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun 11 a.m.-9 p.m.