Located in Saint Paul’s Eastside, Sidhe Brewing is tucked in the back of Plaza del Sol. (The brewery’s name is pronounced “shee,” like the fairies of Irish folklore). It is clear the women who run Sidhe, including the brewer, Kathleen Culhane, care about beer and almost more importantly, care about their patrons caring about beer, even if not all the beers are on point yet. Culhane, an experienced home brewer and slightly-more-than-half owner of the brewery, custom built the 2-barrel brewing system, making it the smallest production facility in the Twin Cities.
The brewery’s entrance, marked by a simple sandwich board, is off Jenks Avenue. The yellow building, across from Tongue in Cheek, glowed in the pre-Fall midday light, beckoning us in. We arrived by bicycle, and although there were no bike racks nearby, one of the owners — and our bartender for the afternoon — Erica Rogers, opened the side door to Plaza del Sol so we could wheel our bikes into an empty antechamber. Later, she told us a bike rack is in the works.
The entrance opens onto a staircase, allowing you a bird’s eye view of the hodgepodge selection of chairs, tables, and benches scattered across the taproom. The brewery itself is tucked behind the bar and cold room and operates quietly in the background, evident only in the voices of workers discussing keg-cleaning problems.
The taproom was quiet an hour after opening, with only a couple at the bar. After a few hours, more people arrived, but the daytime lull made us wonder if the brewery comes alive at night during the many events it hosts. The hush of the taproom, however, was a welcome respite from the good-weather chaos that can ensue on many of the area’s taproom patios.
Personal touches make the space feel intimate and modest. The Pay it Forward wall behind the till has handwritten tiles that allow visitors to give a beer to someone or to pick up a beer that was purchased for them. Tiles can be designated for specific people, so you can buy a beer for a friend to pick up later. Some tiles have more general descriptions such as “a pint for a pilot” or “a pint for a Masshole,” encouraging a spirit of camaraderie in the taproom’s patrons.
In one corner there is a “courtesy bar” with coffee, tea, and popcorn. Next to it is a large selection of board games. In another corner, there is a large wooden stage that hosts musicians, dancers, poets, comedians, and a variety of other performers Thursday through Sunday evenings.
Like most other taprooms, there is no food available, but the Plaza del Sol, at the front of the building, has a few options, including a Mexican restaurant and a Salvadoran one with some of the area’s best pupusas (empanada-like dough stuffed with fillings including cheese, beans and chicharron). Be forewarned that communication is predominantly in Spanish, with some gesturing, but the food is worth the effort and they will bring it right to your bar perch.
Sidhe’s beers, despite being described on the menu as “sessionable,” are not necessarily easy-drinking; in fact, except for two, the beers were around 5 percent ABV or higher. But the beers encourage “stretching of palates,” whether the palates belong to craft beer enthusiasts or newbies. Each beer had a tweaked, unique element that felt intentionally different or slightly outside of its style.
The Dark Moon Rising, a stout, was nutty and light without a thick mouthfeel or the headiness that is somewhat expected with this style, but it was satisfying like a big hunk of rye bread. Hopped Up McGonigal, an American IPA, touted its lack of hop kick despite its 84 IBUs. McGonigal boasted a strong citrus nose and balanced by a higher ABV (8.4 percent). The resultant round hop flavor is present in the body of the beer rather then the finish, making it reminiscent of a wet hop beer without the fresh grassy taste.
One of the two truly session beers available, the Sour Puss, a Berliner Weissbier at 3.4 percent ABV, was so fresh and fruity it smacked of lemonade. A special offering for the day, the Sour Puss with raspberry syrup was a definite highlight, with the syrup adding a sweet note to balance the tart citrus and making the drink even more special.
The other highlight was the Greenman’s Harvest Nut Brown. Unlike some of the other brown ales available locally, the “intricate hop and malt bill” made for a complex, creamy experience — any darker and it could have been a stout. As it warmed, chocolate notes became more pronounced, and the beer became a dessert.
Rogers told us that she prefers to make meads, but Minnesota law does not allow breweries to make juice-based (versus malt-based) products like ciders. Instead, she said, Sidhe is planning to make a cider-like concoction brewed using apples from her mother’s farm and a lot of ginger. It will be available later this year.
The overall feeling that permeates the taproom is one of comfort and simplicity; it feels like you’re in a friend’s garage or basement, drinking her homebrew and lauding her skill as she talks of her plans to build a brewery. While a few of her beers may be excellent, there are some that aren’t spectacular, but you drink them nonetheless and celebrate her effort, hoping she succeeds in making a go of what is clearly her life’s ambition.
Sidhe Brewing Company
652 Jenks Ave
St Paul, MN 55106
OWNERS / BREWER: Kathleen Culhane, Rosemary Kosmatka, Robin Kinney, Erica Rogers / Kathleen Culhane
Thu – Fri: 4-11 p.m.
Saturday: noon-11 p.m.
Sunday: noon-7 p.m.
PARKING: Lot behind Plaza del Sol and street