The taps at Twin Cities restaurants have changed over from the Bud-Miller-Coors of years past. But while craft beer has reshaped our drinking habits and brand loyalty, it’s also a hyperlocal game.
Rochester, just 80 miles southeast of St. Paul on Hwy. 52 and one of Minnesota’s fastest growing cities, has its own stable of beermakers. Along with the elder Kinney Creek Brewery (open since 2012), three new shops opened last summer. While Rochester may be awash in local beer, none of the companies is distributing beyond its home city. The only way to get it is to go to the source.
Beyond the famed Mayo Clinic, Rochester is home to a dynamic restaurant scene and a busy downtown for shopping, drinking and dining. It’s also an active city. If the sun is out, visit Silver Lake Park (be mindful of the overly friendly geese), head to Quarry Hill Nature Center, and bike or cross-country ski on the extensive trail system. When you’re done, check out Rochester’s brewery boom.
The basics: Forager is the youngest of the bunch, both in audience, atmosphere and attitude. Between a full bar and restaurant with a wood-fired oven, a relaxing “library” room and a summertime patio, it’s a place to be seen as well as to try their bold and generally big takes on American craft, often with unique ingredients involved. Forager shares space with a coffee shop inside the bustling Kutzky Market.
The taproom: Compared with Rochester’s other breweries, Forager leans toward the post-collegiate age group. There’s trivia and games, kitschy yet focused decor, and a food menu with everything from pizza to pork ramen to Cornish game hen and burgers.
Drink this: Sherpa’s Survival Kit American double stout is seemingly made for winter: big, bold and rich with a dark chocolate bitterness that pushes a coffee profile, but with more body. Forest Nymph rye is sessionable and dry, with a light amber malt base and subtle spicy elements of raisin and cinnamon. Meanwhile, Hip Hops IPA showcases hops du jour Citra and Mosaic in a juicy combination of grapefruit, pineapple and a touch of mango sweetness.
Info: 1005 6th St. NW.; 1-507-258-7490; foragerbrewery.com.
Grand Rounds Brew Pub
The basics: A brewpub in the most traditional sense with a full bar, full kitchen and hours suited toward dining. Grand Rounds serves a variety of beers, leaning toward classic craft styles with house flourishes, such as the Freedom Strong Scotch ale or easygoing Hop Bollocks Session IPA.
The taproom: Grand Rounds feels like a restaurant, with comfortable tables and wait staff. A bar faces the brewhouse, where head brewer Steve Finnie has crammed a seven-barrel system into limited space for optimal options.
Drink this: Nelson IPA is a piney India pale ale, yet it’s soft with a bit of malt sweetness on the finish, smooth instead of resinous. Hawaii 507 Coconut Stout is smooth and velvety with a tail-end coconut that sweetens without turning it into a dessert beer. Flavorful but also accessible. Kraus Anderson Minnesota-Kolsch is clean and crisp with a lemongrass and local honey profile and a hint of pine cone to the aroma.
Info: 4 3rd St. SW.; 1-507-292-1629; grandroundsbrewpub.com.
Kinney Creek Brewery
The basics: As in the Twin Cities, Rochester’s more established brewery is more industrially focused, whereas the new ones lean toward their taprooms. Kinney Creek sells its limited-offering beers in-house only, producing a wide range across the American craft spectrum and frequently rotating options.
The taproom: Located close to Forager, Kinney Creek is minimal inside with indoor hammerschlagen, giant Jenga and other interactive games separated from the brewhouse by a small bar and a few tables. Stainless steel and tin define the atmosphere, which is something of a reclaimed pole-shed aesthetic.
Drink this: The barrel-aged Strong Ale presents a winter option with a big, astringent bourbon aroma that plays off the caramelized malts. Keeping the dark-beer theme going, Smoked Porter also features a nice depth of roasted malt body, spiced with a big smoke flavor and hints of poblano pepper. The nitro pour Chasm Oatmeal Stout comes with a creamy aroma atop a surprisingly mid-body profile that plays well in the middle ground between sweet and dry, with just a touch of lactose sugar included.
Info: 1016 7th St. NW.; 1-507-282-2739; kinneycreekbrewery.com.
LTS Brewing Co.
The basics: While Rochester’s other three breweries are closer to downtown commercial zones, the less-than-a-year-old LTS is tucked away in a quiet residential area, near a Costco. The lineup focuses on gateway-style European beers with an American twist, often highlighting specific hops.
The taproom: If Kinney Creek looks like a pole barn from the inside, LTS has that look on the outside. It’s modern and basic with bare white walls, TVs and community tables — something like a church basement with a bar. While it’s a little sterile, there is a cozy isolated lounge. The crowd is more neighborhood in feel.
Drink this: Introspection American IPA has a big citrus punch followed with the bold, piney bitterness of an IPA, though a little more carbonation would help the lemon pop. Ctl+Alt+Del is a fine rendition of a German alt bier with a caramelized malt profile and a hint of plum and banana.
Info: 2001 32nd Av. NW.; 1-507-226-8280; ltsbrewing.com.
Loren Green is a Minneapolis freelance writer and beer fan. His work has also appeared in Explore Minnesota, the Growler, City Pages, Paste Magazine and Scene Point Blank. Follow him on Twitter @lorenmgreen.