The Toast: Grand Rounds Brewpub, 331 Beer, Tamarack Taproom

Banner for the Toast: Drinking Well in the Upper Midwest

In this edition of The Toast: We travel to Rochester to imbibe at Grand Rounds; in Minneapolis we try the new Fair State 331 beer; and we venture out to the suburban oasis that is the Tamarack Taproom.

Screenshot from
Screenshot from

Tamarack Taproom

Quality, sustainable restaurant food and sprawling suburban retail development are generally mutually exclusive. Dragging the family on a shoe-finding mission usually means putting up with a TGI Fridays or simply leaving the shopping area. For the most part, the standard at retail complexes is still “better than fast food,” but for one development in the east metro, there is a glimmer of hope.

Woodbury’s Tamarack Village isn’t a food wasteland anymore, now that the Tamarack Taproom has opened its doors to hangry shoppers. The space used to house a Champps, and its familiar, multi-level, set-at-an-angle layout hasn’t changed. But what is behind the bar and coming out of the kitchen may surprise skeptical foodies.

The quantity of local products feels like an oasis — Prohibition Kombucha, Verdant Tea, and Peace Coffee, to name a few — and multiple from-scratch sodas prove that Tamarack isn’t just operating with hits out of the US Foods catalog.

“Beer, Burgers, and Bourbon” is the proclaimed focus of the place, and to back that up, they serve about 25 bourbons, ranging in price and quality. The tap list, too, is impressive, although the risk of old beer is not out of the question at a bar with 70 draft lines.

Servers were generally knowledgeable about the beer, but the zone-defense style of service was annoying and impersonal: I was helped by about five bartenders, each a maximum of twice. Despite the service, Tyranena Three Beaches Honey Blonde, a seasonal favorite of mine, was served at a perfect temperature in appropriate glassware, which is an important detail for a restaurant calling itself a taproom.

Some food, including the signature Loaded Tater Tots ($8), was underseasoned. The menu itself lacks focus. It’s not the Cheesecake Factory’s anthology, but it certainly casts a wide net that seems to say, “we’ve got to be good at at least some of these things.” Burgers are prominent, but everything from a lobster roll and mussels to tacos and pork belly is available.

The cocktail menu is fair, if perhaps a bit too safe. The mix of classic and crowd-pleasing is a product of the surroundings, and is a far cry from other dining chains, or even the previous occupant.

Bright spots were the enormous Iceberg Wedge salad ($9), which was less overwhelming than some. The organization of the beer menu was superb. Brief but appropriate tasting notes were offered, and choices were grouped by style.

All things considered, Tamarack Taproom has the potential to be a huge success. Many of the ingredients are there — knowledgeable servers, a variety of beer and bourbon — plus a neighborhood ripe with empty stomachs. With honed focus and improved execution, in both cooking and service, this could become an area gem.

Tamarack Taproom, 8418 Tamarack Village, Woodbury, MN 55125; 651.330.2889, Mon-Thu 11 a.m.-1 a.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Sun 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Paige Latham / Heavy Table
Paige Latham / Heavy Table

Fair State 331 Beer

This year’s Art-A-Whirl, in Northeast Minneapolis, boasted far more participation from local breweries and restaurants than in years past. While some felt that this expansion took the spotlight away from the artists, one thing is for sure: the involvement of local breweries meant more music, bigger crowds, and in the case of the 331 Club, a special beer release created just for the venue.

“House beers” remain fairly unusual, especially when compared to the prevalence of house wine. Still, some restaurants are garnering specially-crafted beers; among them is Spoon and Stable, whose proprietary dubbel, The Mercantile, is made by Flat Earth in St. Paul.

Fair State Brewing Cooperative brewer Niko Tonks created the 331 beer, released in cans during the art-filled weekend, to be served only at its namesake club. Fueled by the neighborhood’s passion for craft beer, the hoppy blonde ale was created using a different brewing schedule from the brewery’s other ales.

“I wanted it to be hoppy without being punishing,” says Tonks of what he calls a “very simple beer.” It is created from 100 percent Vienna malt with Cascade and Simcoe hops. And the hop additions were at the very end of the boil, so they contribute far more to the aroma than to the bitterness profile. Although, he admitted, the beer does taste much more like a pale ale than a blonde, “It’s probably a bit drier and crisper than your average pale ale, and definitely a good bit more hoppy than your average blonde / golden ale.” It clocks 5.1 percent alcohol by volume and 30 IBUs.

Fair State Brewing Cooperative, located on Central Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis, has a constantly changing draft menu. The co-op model has allowed for increased capital and brewing flexibility, resulting in a huge variety of beer. Wheat beers have been the most impressive, along with the unusual ales in their sour Lactobac series. Bottles hit shelves about a month ago, and cans of IPA and Hefeweizen can be found at metro retailers.

Paige Latham / Heavy Table
Paige Latham / Heavy Table

Grand Rounds Brewing Company

We’ve all spent time in college towns, big or small — places like Northfield, or even Madison, where visiting makes you feel scholarly, or loyal to a mascot previously unheard of. But rather than being a college town, Rochester is a hospital town, and visiting creates a feeling (or hope) of health and wellness. The Mayo is more than just a major employer — it seems to sponsor the entire town.

Rochester’s new brewpub fits right in. In fact, the name comes from the practice of grand rounds — medical professionals putting their heads together to discuss patients or specific diseases. Founders Steve Finnie, a physical therapist, and Tessa Leung, a sommelier, seek to promote the same exchange of ideas over a pint at the brewery.

With full lunch and dinner menus plus about 8 taps, Grand Rounds utilizes the brewpub model. Food choices are standard-issue bar snacks plus eyebrow raisers like tikka masala and bison tartare. There are two cask beers, several local spirits, and three guest taps, but there are no unexpected beer styles, aside from the coconut stout (which was out when we visited).

Paige Latham / Heavy Table
Paige Latham / Heavy Table

The Petit Rounds is their six-beer flight ($12), which showcases each of their brews, from Kölsch to stout. Overall, the brew pub’s ability to span the style spectrum with uniform success was a strength, though little remained on our minds or palates after leaving.

One of the better brews was Freedom Scotch Ale, with its pleasant peat aroma and appropriate carbonation. While it was not too sweet, its malt balance was perfect. A bit more malt complexity would elevate this beer to excellent. Another beer of interest was the Hop Bollocks Session IPA, which was quite enjoyable and pairable with food. Its grassy and herbal notes were a hit among the tasters.

Paige Latham / Heavy Table
Paige Latham / Heavy Table

Some menu and recipe refinement is needed, as discerning crowds are bound to flock to this craft-beer newcomer. The bitter beers were a bit misguided in terms of alcohol content. The Nelson IPA, was described as imperial at only 6.5 percent alcohol by volume, while the session IPA was not so sessionable at 5.4 percent. A few off-flavors presented themselves: acetaldehyde in the stout and creamed corn in the Kölsch.

In terms of food, the chicken wings were phenomenal and worked with both hoppy and sweet beers. The full wings were meaty, tender, and seasoned wonderfully with a Tabasco gastrique.

Grand Rounds Brewpub, 4 3rd Street SW, Rochester, MN 55902; 507.292.1628, Mon-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

One Comment

  1. want2likeit

    i want to like tamarack tap room so bad but not sure if i want to go back after giving it four tries. your assessment about their service is spot on: multiple servers taking or trying to take your order, transferred from one server to another (happened twice), and once food arrived server was nowhere to be found. enjoyed the food and beer tho!

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