Beer is best when it's fresh -- and it doesn't get any fresher than at the place where it's made. Beer is also fantastic with food. A visit to a brewpub offers both: newly minted, made-on-site beers and tasty treats to accompany them. There are currently five metro-area brewpubs to tantalize your taste buds.
Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery is perhaps the best of the bunch. Its easy, casual atmosphere is reminiscent of a 19th-century tavern. Masala Mama IPA is the pub's most popular beer, showcasing citrusy hop flavors against a sturdy malt background. I prefer the lighter West Bank Pub Ale, a drinkable, English-style pale ale with earthy hop notes and balancing caramel malt. A newly revised menu offers a wide range of tasty pub fare.
The Herkimer in Uptown Minneapolis specializes in German-style lagers and ales. Their beers have not enjoyed the best reputation in the past few years, but the last brewer did much to straighten things out. Try the summer seasonal Gose (pronounced GO-zuh). This refreshingly tart wheat beer has an underlying saltiness -- yes, saltiness -- that makes it exceptional with food. The Herkimer menu offers an eclectic mix of pub favorites and home-cooking specialties, such as meatloaf and mac & cheese.
While the ambience and menu are the same at all Rock Bottom locations nationwide, the beers for the most part are not. Brewers at each store have almost complete control over the brews they make. Tim Piotrowski arrived at the Twin Cities location just a few months ago from Colorado. He's making his mark with hoppy beers, but he's not just about hops. I recently sampled a low-alcohol English mild ale that was chock full of chocolaty, toasty malt. It went down oh-so-easy.
In downtown St. Paul, check out Great Waters brewpub. It's the Twin Cities' best place for traditional cask-conditioned ales, with at least four available at all times -- more than any other brewery in the state. I like the New Centurion Mild Ale. Nutty and biscuity English malts are balanced by subtle roast and hop bitterness. Cask service makes it smooth and creamy. Great Waters serves up a mix of pub standards and upscale entrees in a dining room with a European bistro feel.
Just off Interstate 35W in New Brighton you'll find the cozy Barley John's Brew Pub -- cozy because the dining room seats only about 30. But there's plenty of room on the patio, where a blazing fire pit will keep you warm into the fall. The menu is also small, but it features an array of slightly upscale items like to-die-for smoked pork chops. Wild Brunette is my go-to beer at Barley John's. Wild rice gives this American brown ale a savory, nutty character that is truly Minnesotan.
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.