The Toast: December 2013

Banner for the Toast: Drinking Well in the Upper Midwest

Readers: The Toast loves your tips! Which brewery has the best beers for winter? What’s your favorite spot to cozy up with a cocktail? What wines are on your holiday tables? Email or tweet @johnpgarland and let us know. Each month, the person with the best submission will receive a Heavy Table pint glass.

Cheers to staying warm! In this edition we get the lowdown on some upcoming spirits and ciders, then mull some wine to help settle in to our long winter’s nap.

John Garland / Heavy Table
John Garland / Heavy Table

Northeast Sociable

The Toast loves a good cider. We’re always happy to find bars with Maiden Rock on tap, we’re all about mixing snakebites in the summer, and we ferment cider in our closet when winter has us going stir-crazy. Nationwide, cider has been exploding in popularity and we knew it wouldn’t be long before the tap room craze in the Twin Cities picked up the trend.

Sociable Cider Werks is set to do just that, having opened very quietly last weekend off Fillmore Street in Northeast. The reason for the sly opening: not much cider to taste. Owners Jim Watkins and Wade Thompson are currently ramping up production and will have their full lineup available in the tap room by January. Until then, they’ll be pouring beers courtesy of Niko Tonks, head brewer at the upcoming Fair State Brewing Cooperative.

“We’re going for something between a totally dry traditional cider and those sweet commercial ciders,” Watkins tells us. “Something a little heavier, maltier, something that will appeal to beer drinkers.”

John Garland
John Garland

The style he’s referring is a “graff.” These are ciders that contain some brewer’s malt or other adjuncts, which add body and tannin for better balance in the final product. One of their flagships, called Freewheeler, has some sorghum in its makeup. Their Broken Spoke will be a stout graff. Last Saturday, we sipped on a fine saison graff, which featured a delicate apple sweetness finely layered over a hint of mellow grain.

If you stop by the brewery this month, they may have one or two for you to sample. The problem is that good graffs only get better as they sit (the empty space beyond the seating area is destined to become a barrel room). After tasting their amber graff that had been brewed three months ago, we can appreciate the lag time. However, we think the saison graff could become a tap room staple, since that brew came together beautifully in just a few weeks. Expect three beers and three graffs to be available once they’re up to full speed.

The apples are sourced from Pepin Heights Orchard in Lake City — Haralsons, Honeycrisps, and SweeTangos. And an added benefit for the gluten-watchers: All of their graffs will be celiac safe. They also plan to distribute to area bars and restaurants once their stocks allow.

John Garland / Heavy Table
John Garland / Heavy Table

Beer Notes

The first brews from Bent Brewstillery are finally being released this week. You can taste Bartley Blume’s Dark Fatha stout and Nordic Blonde ale this Friday the 6th at Grumpy’s Roseville from 4-8pm, and on Saturday the 7th at Stout’s Pub in Falcon Heights from 3-8pm.

And in case my Secret Santa is reading this, a “seasonal six-pack” of tickets is on sale now from the MN Craft Brewers Guild. It contains two passes to Winterfest on January 31 at the Union Depot in St. Paul, along with a pair for All Pints North and Autumn Brew Review.

Lost Falls

Now added to the ever-growing list of upstart Minnesota Distilleries, Lost Falls Distillery hopes to begin production sometime in February. But first, owners Nils Collins and Brian Nackerud have one week left on their Kickstarter, which is currently about $2,000 shy of their goal.

“We want to start really small,” says Collins. “We’ll be on a shoestring budget.” Their operation at 38th & Chicago will produce very small batches of unique spirits. They have plans for a molasses-based black cherry rum, a sorghum distillate, and a Danish-syle aquavit. They’ll be utilizing local grains, including rye from Nackerud’s family hobby farm in Wisconsin.

Becca Dilley / Minnesota Lunch
Becca Dilley / Minnesota Lunch

Mull It Over

Nothing tastes more like winter to us than mulled wine. That boozy, spicy, heady brew just makes our wool sock-covered toes curl up with joy. Our friends at the American Swedish Institute (above) agree, as they’ll be serving their version of glögg at numerous events this month. In addition to being on the daily menu at FIKA, there will be plenty of glögg to go around at Julbord, ASI’s traditional Swedish holiday feast on December 22.

And they’ve been kind enough to share the recipe for their red version: “FIKA puts our own twist on a Scandinavian holiday favorite,” says manager Emily Garber. “The spices and warmth add coziness and cheer to long winter nights.”

Red Glögg (Rodvinsglögg)

1 bottle Petite Sirah or a good oaked wine with some tannin
4 oz vodka
4 oz sugar
1 tsp coriander
2 cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks
2 dried orange peels
2 tsp whole cloves
0.5 tsp juniper
dash grated nutmeg
1 tsp peeled, chopped ginger

Simmer wine, sugar, and spices for 1-2 hours. Add vodka. Serve at 130 degrees Fahrenheit with golden raisins and toasted almonds.


  1. Jon

    So Sociable Ciderworks is serving beer in their taproom right now? I though taproom license only allowed you to sell products that you produce on site. That is why all MN breweries with tap rooms only serve their own product (no guest beers on tap, like you find in other states.

    Also, selling beer from a brewery that doesn’t exist yet sounds a little funny. Illegal, but funny.

  2. John Garland


    Sorry, I should have made this more clear. Niko is brewing at Sociable, on the same set-up that they’re using to make the graffs. The beers aren’t advertised as being “from” Fair State, or indicative of what that operation will produce. He’s just biding his time at Sociable until Fair State opens up next year.

    It’s all on the up-and-up. And, FWIW, I really dug the saison with a hint of dried lime I tasted there. Sociable will continue to brew beer there for the foreseeable future, as a complement to their graffs, even after Tonks eventually leaves.

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