St. Paul beer lovers have a new downtown option. Although Tin Whiskers Brewing Co. has been welcoming guests to its taproom on the first floor of the Rossmor Building for a little over a week, the official grand opening celebration, complete with an Irish pipe band and a visit from Mayor Chris Coleman, is happening at 4 p.m. Thursday.
Tin Whiskers has been years in the making. The guys behind the brewery — Jake Johnson, Jeff Moriarty and George Kellerman — met while pursuing degrees in electrical engineering at the University of Minnesota. The three began home-brewing together in 2006, working in the kitchen of Jake’s mother until a few sticky boil-overs got them exiled to the garage.
The home-brewing friends put their engineering skills to work in the quest for better beer. Seeking greater control of the brewing process, they tricked out their garage brewery with various switches, sensors and other gadgets until they had assembled a $10,000 system — a huge sum for a home brewery.
The thought of going pro crosses every homebrewer’s mind at some point. For these guys, the inspiration to actually take the leap came in 2010 while touring the Surly and Flat Earth breweries. After hearing founders Omar Ansari and Jeff Williamson relate their start-up stories, the three men decided to go into business. Four years and two months later, they have made their dream a reality.
Electrical engineering infuses the brewery’s identity. The name Tin Whiskers refers to tiny hairs that grow from metal surfaces in electrical devices, causing short circuits. The beers have names like Short Circuit Stout and Ampere Amber. Logo lettering suggests electrical schematic diagrams. Their mascot is a robot.
Even the way they develop new beer recipes reflects the trio’s engineering background. New brews go through several phases of testing. Those identified as “Alpha” on the menu are early versions that are still subject to major changes based in part on customer feedback. A “Beta” designation is given to beers in the last stages of the development process, with only minor adjustments still to be made. “Production” beers are those that are complete.
Two production beers have been poured during the soft-opening period, alongside an alpha and a beta brew. Flip Switch IPA is one of the brewery’s two flagship beers. This slightly sweet, Midwestern-style IPA features bright, citrus hop flavors from extensive dry-hopping. Bitterness is moderate, allowing toffee and biscuit malt character to come through. A slight fermentation-derived buttery note detracts a bit from the overall profile, but they should be able to clean that up as they dial in their brewing process on the new system.
The other flagship, Wheatstone Bridge Honey Chamomile Wheat, takes its name from a circuit used to test electrical resistance. Floral chamomile is the dominant note here. Supporting sweetness and honey flavors bring to mind a soothing cup of chamomile tea.
The Beta Batch Sweet Stout is my favorite of the inaugural offerings. Guests have the opportunity to try two different iterations of this brew. A nitro version is rich and creamy, featuring smooth chocolate mocha flavors and a pinch of sweet caramel. A CO2 version has a more bitter edge, with stronger coffee tones and a touch of grassy hops.
Plans are to release two additional beers at the grand opening: Ampere Amber, a California Common style amber lager, and Short Circuit Sweet Stout.
The taproom at 125 E. 9th Street is open and airy. Full walls of windows admit loads of natural light. Long beer-hall style tables and an assortment of board games encourage social interaction. So guests don’t forget where the beer comes from, the brewery is visible behind the bar, underlining the overall industrial feel of the place.
Tin Whiskers doesn’t serve food, but menus from nearby restaurants including Sawatdee and Black Sheep Pizza are available, and food can be ordered and brought in. There are plans to integrate ordering into the brewery system. It may be possible in the future to order food directly at the bar for delivery.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.