A neighborhood infused with brewing tradition but without a modern craft brewery now has beer to call its own. In February, Wabasha Brewing Company opened in St. Paul near the intersection of Wabasha and Cesar Chavez, along the bluff that contains the city’s infamous caves.
Yoerg’s Brewery operated in the caves from 1848 to 1952. Famous for their cave-aged product (see tomorrow’s edition of the Heavy Table for a review of Schell’s new cave-aged beer), Yoerg’s was Minnesota’s very first brewery and filled the man-made caves with barrels and foeders of traditional German beer.
With Wabasha’s grounds made up of uneven terrain, a temporary rear entrance, and a descending entry, the space does not feel far removed from the speakeasy culture that boomed in the neighboring caves and taverns of the past. Visiting the new brewhouse, with its whitewashed brick walls and high-top tables, evokes the gangster culture that once operated on the south side of St. Paul. At first glance, the taproom seems anything but new.
Though today’s beer doesn’t actually enter the caverns, the pride in a local product has not changed. Chris Kolve, Josh Tischleder, and Brett Erickson are the three home brewers who were encouraged by friends and family to open Wabasha in their own neighborhood. The bartenders address many patrons by name; Wabasha has already built up a loyal following, it seems.
A flight (predetermined by the bar) is a good option for sampling four house beers.
Of the four we tried, most successful were the potently spicy West Side Popper, a jalapeño cream ale, as well as its base beer, the Son of Eric Cream Ale. Adding peppers to a beer often results in a disappointing vegetal flavor devoid of heat, or a five-alarm situation not worth choking down. The Popper was an ideal middle ground, possessing significant heat that never built to an unpleasant level. Furthermore, the cereal and sweet notes of the malt bill were not lost, as the unadulterated cream ale is beautifully complex and nutty.
Missing the mark on style were the Red Bonnet Amber — no aroma, undefined malt and hop character, and the P.I.A. Double IPA — too sweet, both from lack of attenuation and not enough early-addition hops. These beers were caught in a bizarre no-man’s-land between lacking direction and playing it safe.
What’s missing here throws up no red flags. A new brewery that doesn’t nail some styles in the beginning months possesses far more potential than one with rampant fermentation issues, off-flavors, or “house” problems present from beer to beer. This promising young operation deserves some time to develop and has the potential to create very sturdy brews.
Wabasha Brewing Company, 429 Wabasha St S, St. Paul, MN 55107; 651.224.0596; Thu-Sat 2 p.m.-10 p.m.
Summit Hopvale Organic
“Organic” is no longer the buzzword it once was. Organic produce has become a routine part of most people’s lives on one level or another. Some people go all-or-nothing, while others avoid just the most pesticide-laden conventional crops.
Summit’s Hopvale Organic is a beer of moderation and adaptation in many ways. First, it registers 4.7 percent ABV and demonstrates a balanced profile of sweet and bitter, even though it swings toward the hoppy side.
This beer was born of a challenge that has expanded farm-to-table to farm-to-glass. Ultimately, the attitude of “can we do it?” gave way to a discovery of novel ingredients and flavors. All ingredients in this 16-ounce can are organic. Four different hop varieties are utilized, and the organic method of farming yields a more fragrant and fresh hop cone, according to brewmaster Damian McConn.
Whether the difference is detectable to the average drinker is not clear. But consider it this way, the years of dedication required to become certified in organic farming speak to the quality of the resulting crop.
The hop portfolio of the Hopvale is pleasant — heavy on aroma rather than bitterness — while lemon peel, added for the last ten minutes of the boil, brightens up the entire package and sings through, especially in the aroma. There is a restrained, toasted bread component derived from the malt.
The target market for this session ale overlaps significantly with that of Summit Saga and EPA, but also brings radler and hefeweizen drinkers into the fold.
Summit Brewing Co., 910 Montreal Circle, St. Paul, MN 55102; Fri-Sat 4 p.m.-9 p.m.
Coffee East and West
East: The Dancing Goat Coffee House
Is choosing a coffee shop a matter of location where convenience always rules? Can the average consumer be driven to choose better tasting coffee found farther from home? Research says that Americans, especially millennials, rate taste as the most important factor in choosing a coffee shop, meaning most are willing to go out of their way for a better cup.
If Dayton’s Bluff isn’t exactly your neighborhood, let the The Dancing Goat Coffee House beckon you. The name comes from ancient lore about the discovery of the coffee bean, in which a herder notes a change in his goats’ behavior after they consume a particular berry. The brick building that houses the new shop also has a history. It was used in the past to manufacture bowling shoes and cigars, and was used most recently as a St. Paul Police precinct station.
Dancing Goat offers typical coffee variations in addition to a small food menu of house-prepared items plus pastries from Grandma’s Bakery in White Bear Lake. A basement kitchen is under renovation now. Although not a food destination by any means, there are enough options to keep the munchies at bay while rolling out the home office in a quiet corner or supervising kids in the upstairs playroom.
All beans are roasted and selected by True Stone Coffee Roasters, also of St. Paul. One variety is a unique roast intended just for cold press. The grounds sit in ice water for about 24 hours, explains the barista, which is widely accepted as the best method for cold brew. But the cold press took on a bit of a refrigerator off-note, not obvious at first, but present on warming, and might be improved by a change of habitat.
The favorite of our team was the espresso, which was balanced and smooth. While the cold press was slightly too acidic, the espresso was nutty and earthy with notes of apple and stone fruit. For those who do not get along with lactose, soy and almond milk are available. A cappuccino made with almond milk impressively offered the same body and balance as one would hope for in a traditional beverage.
Dancing Goat Coffee House, 699 E 7th St St. Paul, MN 55106; 651.200.4370; Mon-Sun 6 a.m.-7 p.m.
West: Cafe Patteen
If you’re in Minneapolis and feeling envious of the coffee across town, allow me to divulge a secret skyway hideout, hidden from even the most experienced downtown trailblazers for decades. Despite dozens of big-box coffee shops within the elevated maze, and local favorite Peace Coffee nearby on the first floor of the Capella Tower, Cafe Patteen remains the only independent coffee shop in the entire 8-mile skyway system.
Well-executed coffee and a variety of from-scratch pastries have been keeping regulars at Cafe Patteen happy since 1992. The minuscule shop and its reliable staff turn heads when they gesture to a narrow double oven discreetly tucked into the corner where the dining area (three high-top tables) meets the service bar.
What sets them farther apart is the constantly changing menu of food, from craveable pastries, to delicate quiche, to hearty mac and cheese, and more rotating favorites. Add to that the remarkable value, and it will no longer be surprising that Patteen has been around since before the coffee shop trend spread from the coasts to fly-over-country.
The espresso demonstrates the roasting abilities of Brooklyn Center’s Roastery 7. With a medium body and generally mellow personality, it makes a perfect sip for coffee connoisseurs and novices, alike. We enjoyed flavors of oak and fruit, with a peat-like finish. Pair with a brownie to underscore the richness of the beverage, or a blueberry scone to enhance its berry notes.
Cafe Patteen, Oracle Centre, 920 2nd Ave S #295, Minneapolis, MN 55402; 612.371.0262; Mon-Fri 6 a.m.-5 p.m.