Giving something a “most improved” award is a backhanded compliment. It is a widely acceptable way to acknowledge greatness while not overlooking previous shortcomings in middle schoolers and NBA players alike. It can sometimes feel bittersweet, but more than other accolades, the recognition must be truly earned.
Most improved is an appropriate description for Robbinsdale’s Wicked Wort Brewing Company. Since its opening at the beginning of this year, the brewery has demonstrated gradual improvements in a wide array of classic styles. The owner, Steve Carlyle, comes from an unusual background as a mechanic who formerly built breweries, while the head brewer, Kyle Sisco, is a decorated homebrewer, as are assistant brewers Josh Denny and Tom Berg.
The beer list has a huge proportion of classic styles, and that sets Wicked Wort apart. While many other breweries are focused on hoppy variations and barrel-aged selections, the Robbinsdale business is built on several classic lagers that are far less trendy.
Even more unusual, though, is that these styles are very well executed.
Blonde-colored lagers can seem simple to drinkers, but to brewers, they leave every detail exposed to the palate. While roasted malt in a stout or Scottish ale offers other flavors to hide behind, brewing flaws in a Pilsner overwhelm the palate. What’s more, several undesirable notes, known as “off-flavors,” are more common in these styles due to the way in which they are made.
The Big Deal Kolsch, for instance, has a beautiful cereal aroma and a crisp, clean character. The flavors develop in the mouth, and even the nuances of the style, such as the mild tart-apple aroma, are captured. It falls short of perfection due to a fresh corn element in the aftertaste that increases on warming. But at the same time, the warmth brings out pleasant buckwheat honey notes that make the minor flaw forgivable.
Even better is the Affengeil Pille German Pilsner which seriously delivers on mouthfeel as well as flavor. Some breweries make muted, junior Pilsners, meant to capture light American lager drinkers who are apprehensive about craft beer. Affengeil is the most impressive lager from any local brewery that has opened in the past year. It displays classic Hallertau hop flavor and dry finish, yet does not become too bitter after several sips. It is crisp with an exquisite biscuity malt. Not to say that it won’t appeal to Coors fans, but this is the beer-lover’s Pilsner.
For a darker beer choice, the Nessie Sottish Export is well done. A malt-forward style, the Scottish ale is often misunderstood. The dark color is not reflected in a heavily roasted flavor, in fact, strong caramelization without unchecked sweetness is the goal. At only 5.4 percent ABV, and with a light-to-medium body, it’s a darker beer that is still compatible with warm weather.
The beer menu is broad, and perhaps the desire to have 10 beers on at all times trumps quality control. On occasion, one beer falls dramatically short, a sort of landmine of a flight or a visit. The Ape Hangers Pale Ale, for example, smells like an orange candy but tastes like acetaldehyde, a standard off-flavor that tastes like green apple, or in this case, uncooked squash.
Two new fruit beers were available during our visit — the Rainforest Mango Wheat Ale and Tag-Team Tangerine White IPA. The citrus beer was well done, however, the heavy-handed hops overshadowed the tangerine. Those seeking a bitter, West-Coast-style ale won’t be disappointed, but the fruit was nearly lost. The Mango Wheat was less enjoyable, presenting a perplexing, underripe mango flavor and an overall astringency.
The interior of the taproom is in stark contrast to the vastly successful beers: The design of the place is a confused flop. The main bar anchors one end of the open space with classic dark wood plus some steampunk elements. Hanging from the ceiling, though, are two semimodern chandeliers, while the stainless steel brewing vessels are lit from underneath with blue light, visible one floor below. Further, the second, smaller bar has stained glass and mercury glass, while the adjacent food service area is modeled like a PTA concession stand at a hockey game, complete with microwaves. Finally, the merchandise is dated, and even the small sidewalk patio combines cast-iron wagon wheels with 50s diner stools.
With a keener critical eye, Wicked Wort will continue to gain traction in the moving target that is beer in the Twin Cities. A peculiar restriction on kids (banning all ages at all times) prevents this from being a family-friendly place, a practice that is unheard of at most Minnesota breweries and brewpubs.
Wicked Wort Brewing Company, 4165 W Broadway Ave Robbinsdale, MN 55422; 763.302.9849; Wed-Thu 3 p.m.-11 p.m., Fri 2:30 p.m.-midnight, Sat noon-midnight, Sun 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Mon-Tues CLOSED