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Twin Cities become a hopping beer destination

Chicago Tribune
The Twin Cities' deep history in brewing is foaming over in the modern age

Just last month, craft-brewing heavyweight Surly opened a 90,000-square-foot facility in Minneapolis, complete with a 275-person beer hall, a kitchen and full menu and a 1.5-acre outdoor beer garden. Billed as a "destination brewery," the $30 million project acknowledges the trend of beer-focused travel and adds Surly's street cred to an already rapidly growing brewing industry within the Twin Cities proper. A rising tide lifts all boats. Just over 30 breweries call Minneapolis and St. Paul home, and 20 more lie within the greater metro area.

One notable clustering of breweries falls in a roughly 2-square-mile area of northeastern Minneapolis. Now considered an art district, the former blue-collar industrial corner of the city has a long history of brewing. Minneapolis Brewing Co., formed when four smaller breweries banded together back in 1891, was the original brewer of Grain Belt and constructed quite an impressive building here. By the time of its demise in 1975, it had become the Grain Belt Brewery and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Until 1964, Gluek Brewing made beer just up the street. James Page Brewing, the first of the city's "microbreweries," set up in this corner of the city as well in 1986 (but closed the brewery in 2002).

But never mind history; there's no time like the present. Walking distance from that old Grain Belt Brewery, Dangerous Man Brewing occupies an old brick bank building on a corner in a residential area. Their Chocolate Milk Stout is the house favorite and has been listed in the magazine The Growler as the best stout in the state. (For an unusual treat, have the bartender add a shot of cold-press coffee from a nitrogen tap.) If the place feels partly like a neighborhood gathering place, that's not surprising: The brewery does a lot of community volunteer work. The price of a brewery tour is a donation of a nonperishable food item.

Don't be alarmed by the name. It comes from well-bearded brewer/owner Rob Miller, who, while crashing on a friend's couch after a wedding, startled the little girl of the house, who returned to her parents reporting there was a "dangerous man" in the living room.

A mile due east of there is a cluster of three brewers within walking distance of each other: Bauhaus Brew Labs, named for the German fine-arts and craft school, occupies a large brick industrial building, cans stacked to the high ceiling waiting to be filled. While Bauhaus leans toward  Bavarian- and Bohemian-style brews — the Pilsner is popular in the taproom — it also moves a lot of its Sky-five!, a "Midwest Coast" IPA also available in cans. Just down the block is 612Brew, in The Broadway, a renovated warehouse. The bar top and tables are recovered bowling alley lanes, and the taproom tucks right up against the brew house. It frequently taps firkins, which are smaller beer casks, and as many as eight beers may be on draft. Unrated Rye IPA, one of three flagship beers, is the biggest seller.

Around the block and across the tracks, Sociable Cider Werks is the most unusual of the three. Jim Watkins specializes in French-style ciders, but the tax authorities determined that his use of hops and sorghum qualified his product as beer. To be fair, Sociable hired Mike Willaford to make straight-up beer as well. As Watkins put it, "Having great beer was important to draw, and then convert, people to quality cider." The combined offerings make this a perfect stop for those who prefer one or the other, and where else can you find a cider-stout hybrid?

Northwest of there is a cream-brick former tire factory. Nicely restored, it is now a space shared by art studios and Indeed Brewing. The foot rail at the bar is a nod to the train tracks across the parking lot; a collection of the wildlife art series of Schmidt beer cans is a hat tip to another former Minneapolis brew. As many as 10 beers are on tap, plus a couple of casks are on traditional hand pumps. Indeed has a barrel-aging program and produces some sours as well.

Minnesota is home to a lot of cooperatives, but Fair State Brewing Cooperative is a first in the beer category. Opened last September, the co-op has more than 250 members, and their photos grace a wall in the taproom. While the brewery focuses on German styles, lagers in particular, it also typically has a sour beer and a couple of hoppy brews on tap. Head brewer Niko Tonks is quite proud of his Pilsner, a refreshing break from the current trend of super-hoppy brews.

A brewery near Stonehenge inspired NorthGate Brewing's name, a hint at the styles offered. Maggie's Leap, its sweet stout brewed with lactose, pours creamy on a nitrogen tap and offers rich dark malty notes. At less than 5 percent alcohol by volume, this fits in nicely with NorthGate's lineup of primarily session beers. Golden SMaSH IPA is a good hoppier alternative.

Insight Brewing's Ilan Klages-Mundt once took a yearlong pils-grimage around the world, negotiating his own unpaid internships at breweries in England, Denmark and Japan. After returning to Minnesota, he taught a home-brewing class and thus met one of three like-minded souls who would become his business partners. They opened Insight on the north side of Hennepin Avenue in an abandoned industrial building with plenty of room for growth. The taproom exclusive Yuzu Pale Ale recalls the brewmaster's Japanese days, while Lamb & Flag, a premium bitter, is a reflection on his time in the U.K.

Winter beer festivals

One might wonder what Minnesotans do to survive the long, cold winters. Beer may be part of the answer. Two notable beer festivals take place in the heart of the snowy season: The Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival (beerdabbler.com), a ticketed outdoor event on Jan. 24 bringing together more than 120 brewers, food trucks and live music performances; and the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild's Winterfest (mncraftbrew.org), mercifully held indoors at Union Depot in St. Paul on Feb. 27-28.

If you go

Although none of these breweries other than Surly has a food menu, the taprooms are served by area food trucks, and all of them allow patrons to bring in their own grub. Be aware that some establishments have limited days and hours. Current Minnesota law forbids growler sales on Sundays, and most brewers do not fill outside growlers.

•612Brew, 945 Broadway St. NE, Minneapolis; 612-217-0437; 612brew.com

•Bauhaus Brew Labs, 1315 Tyler St. NE, Minneapolis, 612-276-6911;bauhausbrewlabs.com

•Dangerous Man Brewing, 1300 Second St. NE, Minneapolis; 612-236-4087; dangerousmanbrewing.com

•Fair State Brewing Cooperative, 2506A Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis; 612-444-3574; fairstate.coop

•NorthGate Brewing, 783 Harding St. NE, Minneapolis; 612-354-2858; northgatebrew.com

•Indeed Brewing, 711 15th Ave. NE, Minneapolis; 612-843-5090; indeedbrewing.com

•Insight Brewing, 2821 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612-722-7222; insightbrewing.com

•Sociable Cider Werks, 1500 Fillmore St. NE, Minneapolis; 612-758-0105; sociablecider.com

•Surly Brewing, 520 Malcolm Ave. SE, Minneapolis; 763-535-3330; surlybrewing.com

Kevin Revolinski is the author of the upcoming "Minnesota's Best Beer Guide."

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