It has been a long four months for Town Hall Brewery fans. The veteran Minneapolis brewpub has been closed since Jan. 1 for expansion and remodeling. Its two south Minneapolis satellite pubs offered solace, but as brewery operations were suspended for more than three months, their cache of house brews thinned.
Well, thirst no more, Masala Mama cravers. As of 6 p.m. Friday, the flow of beer resumes at the Seven Corners brewery, thanks in part to some long hours in the brewhouse. "I got done about 3 o'clock last night," brewmaster Mike Hoops said last week. "But that's what we've got to do."
Beer heads should appreciate the fruits of Hoops' labor. Town Hall added three 20-barrel fermenters (pushing capacity to the state's 3,500 barrel-per-year brewpub limit). Guests will no doubt notice the revamped brewpub's spiffier bathrooms, added tap lines (there are 34 in all now) and a stylish new timepiece using part of an old clock tower. But the best thing about the brewery's return might be Barrel Age Week.
The annual weeklong event starts Monday. Each day next week, Town Hall is releasing one of its oak-rested brews, including the drooled-over Czar Jack aged in Jack Daniels barrels. These beers are so popular that Town Hall is preselling growler tickets at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
Barrel-aged ales — commonly big, boozy imperial stouts or barleywines matured in old whiskey or wine barrels for months or years — are huge among beer geeks and brewers alike. And for Town Hall brass, yearly barrel-picking trips to Bourbon Country are an added bonus. "We learn a lot more by going there and trying the products," said Town Hall co-owner Pete Rifakes. "It's kind of a vacation for us. It ages you quicker, though."
Rifakes and Hoops brought back 22 barrels from their March trek to Kentucky for aging such beers as their cocktail-inspired Manhattan Reserve (Grand Cru aged in Woodford Reserve barrels with tart cherries) and Twisted Trace, which won a silver medal at last year's Great American Beer Festival.
"They're fresh. Literally," Hoops said of the barrels. "We go down there and normally the barrels we get are dumped that day and we get them back to the brewery and fill them up right away because the character we want will dry and evaporate."
At their respective breweries, Hoops and his brother Dave, master brewer at Fitger's Brewhouse in Duluth, helm two of the state's more accomplished barrel programs. The brothers look to impart flavors from both the wood and the distillate. Belgians are complemented by the fruitier, woodier flavors from wine barrels, they said, while bourbon barrels imbue more vanilla and toffee notes.
"After doing this for so long, I can typically tell what the barrel will give to the beer," Dave Hoops said. "So I can brew the beer so it will show itself in the best light."
Maintaining robust barrel programs can be challenging for young revenue-hungry breweries, said HammerHeart Brewing Company's Nathaniel Chapman. That hasn't deterred Chapman and his brother-in-law/head brewer, Austin Lunn. The Lino Lakes beer makers have released a variety of barrel-aged brews. A richer, more complex version of their Dublin Raid peated Irish red ale was aged for just two months in aquavit barrels from Minneapolis-based, Wisconsin-distilled Gamle Ode.
At Indeed Brewing, head brewer Josh Bischoff made an imperial stout bolstered by cane sugar and destined for hard-to-come-by rum barrels. Bischoff said the resulting sweet-but-stern Rum King likely will become an annual beer.
Judging by his double barrel-aged Jack Frost — which sleeps in both whiskey and red wine barrels — Mike Hoops has mastered the art of oak. But the seasoned brewer admits there's always more to learn.
"I know a lot more than I used to," he said. "But I don't know anywhere near everything there is to know. And that's part of the fun of it."
1430 Washington Av. S., Mpls. • 612-339-8696 • www.townhallbrewery.com
Nightlife news and notes
From Strip Club to Arepa
The Strip Club's Dan Oskey is leaving the St. Paul restaurant to helm the bar program at Hola Arepa's new brick-and-mortar location in south Minneapolis alongside co-owner Birk Stefan Grudem. The Latin-inspired food truck is taking over the former El Paraiso at 3501 Nicollet Av S.
Burning for gluten-free beer?
St. Paul's Burning Brothers Brewing opened its taproom last Friday in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood. Burning Brothers creates gluten-free brews, as co-owner and head brewer Dane Breimhorst was diagnosed with celiac disease while planning the brewery. Draft pints of the brewery's Pyro American Pale Ale are now in play from 4 to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday.
1750 W. Thomas Av., St. Paul • 651-444-8882 • www.burnbrosbrew.com
Michael Rietmulder writes about beer, bars and night life.