One of the many gifts provided to Minnesotans by the liberalization of alcohol laws is that smaller cities and town can increasingly lay claim to top-flight places to drink locally brewed beer and spirits. Northfield isn’t exactly hurting for culture, but the recent opening of Tanzenwald Brewing Company is a real coup nonetheless, combining an ambitious beer program with a smartly written, nosh-focused menu.
We were headed to Tanzenwald for food first and foremost (having just finished a tour at nearby Graise Farm), but we couldn’t skip the beer, and we’re glad that we didn’t. Our $4 flight of three short pours was illuminating — all three beers had different strengths and weaknesses, and they spoke to a beer program that is ambitious without being unrealistic, and interested in covering multiple bases. In order of preference, from least liked to most, the Funky Dunk raspberry sour (above, middle) was more woody and muddy than tart and fruity, and while the “funky” part of the name served as a warning, it isn’t the way we’ve generally tasted (or generally prefer) to drink this kind of beer. Based on name alone, we were worried that the Guns-a-Blazin’ double IPA (8.2 percent ABV / 72 IBU, left) would be a massive, astringent, palate-crushing hops bomb, but it’s actually lovely and drinkable with a good malt backbone and a juicy crush of hops flavor that rewards rather than punishes continued sipping. And the Frühstück (right), a coffee schwarzbier, is one of the most adeptly balanced and tasty coffee beers we’ve tasted in a state that is becoming wealthy with good examples of the style. The beer had a clean, espressolike clarity with a big hit of legit coffee flavor and not too much bitterness or bite (or sweetness, for that matter).
Like the striking lacquered tables that give the taproom a luxe but lived-in feel, Tanzenwald’s food menu couldn’t be any more elegant or more suited to its mission. It’s a collection of moderately priced, made-with-care dishes tailored perfectly to pair with beer, and it’s unintimidating without being dull or predictable.
At the top of our list, with a bullet, was the Bratwurst ($10, or $13 with a subbed-in side of spaetzle, as we ate it). Topped with crispy kraut and beer-braised onions, this is one of the best bratwursts we’ve had in years, Wisconsin inclusive. It was snappy but not tough, smoothly textured without being pasty or squishy, and imbued with a coriander-driven spice bite that was clean, natural, and assertive without being overpowering. The bun was ample and had character without overpowering its contents, and the whole dish was a rare, ideal version of what a bratwurst can be. The accompanying spaetzle with brown-butter sage sauce were tender and tasty but could have used a heavier hit of sage and seasoning. (Note: There’s also a veganwurst from the Herbivorous Butcher on the menu for $12, for those who want the treat without the meat).
Our Banh Mi ($11) wasn’t a classic example of the format (it was based on grilled chicken, for example, not multiple kinds of pork). That said, a lot of classic, balanced elements (crispy bread, bright pickled veg, spicy heat — in this case from a sriracha mayo) were present, and it absolutely worked as a light and savory lunch option that brought a ton of flavor to the table.
Our Soft Pretzel ($6 on the menu, discounted to $4 on our bill for some reason) was a bit small for the price, but it was enjoyable — enough salt to complement the chewy-but-not-tough bready flavor of the pretzel, and a good exterior-to-interior ratio making every bite a pleasant experience. An accompanying beer-cheese sauce was an ideal dipping condiment, although we would have voted for a hotter, grainier mustard sauce as opposed to the sweeter, creamier version that arrived.
The Killer Brownies ($6) were the only real miss in an afternoon of hits. A good brownie has a chewy solidity (honestly, if it veers toward fudge that’s A-OK with us) and leads with a cocoa wallop. Tanzenwald’s brownies had a rock-candy-like, almost crystalline, sugary shell that was wrapped around a softer brownie interior that was also sweet, sweet, sweet without much chocolate kick. These weren’t bad brownies by any stretch of the imagination, but they fell a bit short of the spot’s potential.
Brownies notwithstanding, there aren’t too many rough edges to sand off of Tanzenwald – as regards food and beer alike, the team doesn’t appear to be cutting any corners, and the result is gem of a taproom.
Tanzenwald Brewing Company
Taproom and restaurant in Northfield, Minn.
103 Water St N
Northfield, MN 55057
Tue-Thu 3-10 p.m.
Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sun 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $10-$13
NOISE LEVEL: Amenable din
PARKING: Small lot, limited street parking