Friday, June 15, 2007

Herkimer Pub & Brewery (Minneapolis, MN)

The last time I was here in 2001, Herkimer was having some problems. Two beers were on tap, the food was mediocre at best, and seemed very overpriced. The prices haven't come down much, but the beer has clearly improved and I've heard the food has as well. They are making progress.

Inside is well maintained, clean, somewhat open and sterile when empty, but has lots of room for weekend uptown crowds. The patio is in the alley behind concrete barricades, but the people I saw in it seemed to be having a good time. The two beers I had, Toolies Weiss and the Alt Bier were both good but not great. The weiss seemed a bit out of balance, but refreshing and fairly well done. The alt had a slightly astringent taste in it, but was adequate as well.

If someone invited me to Herkimer, I'd go without hesitation. Perfectly fine and the menu looks like it has a couple interesting vegetarian options that weren't there before, so that would be worth a try with a couple of new beers. But, I doubt I'll go too far out of my way to get to Herkimer myself.

Granite City Food & Brewery (St. Louis Park, MN)


Pretty much the same as most Granite City barsclean lines, upscale look, though the St. Louis Park version seems to be above average. The waitress Cassie was very helpful and a budding beer geek. The Hefe on tap right now for the summer season was more than respectable and an enjoyable pint. Didn't have time for food this round, but the place was doing good business well past the lunch hour in the early afternoon during midweek. As with all GCs, the selection is limited to their mainstays and a seasonal. Town Hall Brewery tomorrow is putting out more seasonals in one day than GC does all year--not bad if you find yourself at here but it will not be a mind blowing beer stop.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Bugsy's Sports Bar & Brown Street Brewery (Rhinelander, WI)

10/1/06 and 6/9/07

Bugsy's is your basic sports barjust happens to have four beers on tap from mild to milder, all written on a Bud Select imprinted board. TVs all around (one big screen) and half dozen or more pool tables in the next room over from the bar. Ads with Miller girls in skin tight referee shirts were more prominent than the beer list, but they were trying hard. The service was excellentsolicitous even, the bartender filled our classes for us from our pitchers at the bar. She wanted to sell more pitchers of course, but a magic glass that automatically fills is fun too. I ordered a pizza that was thin, hot, and tasty. Not mind blowing good, but it was good local pizza. If I found myself in Rhinelander for some reason, I'd stop in for a couple pints and probably eat there again. However, I wouldn't go too far out of my way. It's better than a regular small town sports bar and looked like it might be a fun place to hang with the locals. (October 2006).

On my second trip (June 2007), there's seems to be trouble in paradise. Only one beer on tap and it wasn't very good and downhill from others I had last time. At the beer festival in Eagle River, I was told several times from different sources that some of the employees of Bugsy's have left for a place down the street and that was to blame. Not sure. Seems like a nice place, the pizza was more than adequate. Just sad to have a bad stop for beer when I passed over another place on the way.

Das Bierhaus (Menomonie, WI)


Jaimie, the very nice bartender, who's effusive personality just oozed the excitement of a new endeaver told me the pub opened in January to the public, but just released their first home grown German ales last week. The official grand opening is June 30th.

Walking up to the pub, it seems like it had had an earlier lifewhich it did. In the bar, there's a collage of transition pictures that shows the transformation of the once meat locker turned machine shop reborn German beer garden. Outside, the outline of the former name can be seen out front, if you look. Inside, German beer garden decoration with table clothes and various German lagers, of which three are on tap: Spaten Munich, Bitburger, and Munich Lager from Hofbrauhaus. Lunch just started to be served and dinner is specific hours after 4:00, but they seem to be getting up to full speed.

The beers were hit and miss, but show real promise, so I decided to not review them separately and let someone else do it later as they become more stable. The Pilsner was quite good, and this from someone who doesn't like the style that much. Clean, crisp beer that is a smooth lager with apple notes, and significant but appropriate hop spice and nose. Well balanced and smoothnot a throw away light beer that the pilsner or golden ale often is to give the Bud and Miller Light crowd something to drink. This is a well done, drinkable beer. The Marzen on the other hand was murky and not ready for prime time and the Hefeweizen Dunkel was better but not up to speed yet either.

And, while there are some problems, the owners are clearly giving a tremendous effort, literally building the bar from scratch from the concrete up. Based on the strength of the Pilsner, I would say the pub has tremendous potential and should be given a chance to get through their growing pains. At least, I will return at some point to give them another opportunity to impress me more.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Sweeney's Saloon (St. Paul, MN)


First time at Sweeney's after hearing about the Dale Street legend. Very cool inside and the high walled patio with large, mature trees overarching can't be beatespecially when the giant fireplace was lit.

Tap list was goodI had Summit ESB, Bell's Oberon, and Surly CynicAle during the course of the night and drank the best of the menu. All were fresh and tasted like they were well handled; however, the beer was in plastic on the patio, but what ya gonna do besides not show again. Chatting with an old friend who just flew into town, so didn't even check out the bottle list. Cajun french fries were good, but nothing spectacular.

I think I need to try another night other than Saturdaylots of "look I'm 21" types dressed up for a night on the town, sloooooow service but it was busy (but not that busy). If someone else is choosing, it's a great little joint with more than adequate beer; if I'm choosing, I'll drink down the street at Muddy Pig or The Happy Gnome with less atmosphere and much better beer.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Brickskeller (Washginton, DC)

Closed on BeerAdvocate.  A new bar has moved into the location with a similar beer menu: Bier Baron Tavern.  Anyone familiar with the old Brickskeller will recognize many of its features in the new bar, as well as the attached hotel.  Still like losing an old friend.   

The Brickskeller has to be an almost Mecca-like stop for any true beer lover. This is my third visit over several years and have had several very good nights at The Brick. While the prices can be a bit high and on the weekends the clientele is clearly on the younger side than me, it's a fun place. 
Downstairs is always open, bottles only with no taps. I tend to sit at the bar to get faster service, though it's not that bad at the tables--in fact, I think it's improved a bit this last trip. Peirogies are good, but we don't really eat there much anymorewe eat pizza around the corner at Pizzeria Paradiso.

On the weekends (I have never have really understood when/why the top is open), the tap bar has about a dozen taps with a cask ale weekly but it was out by Friday night when I was there. I order taps up here, having an opportunity at several that are hard to find. If you want bottles, either go downstairs or don't order a bottle conditioned beer. The bottles come up through a dumb waiter w/ rope pulley, so the bottles are a bit shaken up. Staff seems stablebartender Kim was the same person who served me three years earlier in the downstairs, and she remembered me. This recognition led to litany of candid recommendations and a high point in my beer history.  

One of the best things about Brickskeller is the relatively cheap (for downtown and Dupont circle) attached hotel. The first two floors are just over $100 and have bathrooms, and I hear are nice. I stay on the third floor for under a $100 with a shared bathroom. There are three bathrooms, two just renovated three years ago when we were there. I've had four nights at Brickskeller drinking 6 to 8 beers (thus why Kim remembers me) and all I have to do is crawl upstairs. No air conditioning, so don't do this during the summer and bring the cash card. 

Great place to go, but I tend more towards RFD and Birreria Paradiso if I'm not staying at Brickskeller that particular trip. A must go if you've never been, potentially fantastic drinking sets, hotel on sight, and a donut shop called the Fractured Prune around the corner that is awesome for breakfast after closing the tap room at 3:00 a.m. 

Just a couple blocks from the Dupont Circle station on the Red Line. Cheers.

RFD, Regional Food & Drink (Washington, DC)


Sister bar to the Brickskeller, this has a very different feel and attitude. Across the street from the MCI center, it is much more of a sports barI watched the world series on big screens there a few years ago. With that, the atmosphere changes a lot. I've had several great nights, drinking a range of beers with friends and family. A couple of other times, it's been so loud that it's uncomfortable to sit for long. I sit at the bar when possible, though it's often full. When there in a group, we tend to get a table a couple rows back from the bar to have good views of the big screens.

Excellent tap list and there's always something interesting. Special beers on the list also have some very fun scores in my past. My best beer ever was at RFD several years agoa 17 year old bottle of Liefman's Goundenband, aged at the brewery and the bottle only cost $17.95. Sublime.

While I've occasionally skipped the Brickskeller, I've never missed hitting RFD for a stop just to see what's on the specials list and new on tap. One exception was the time that I was leading a group of students to watch the Presidential inauguration and our first meal in down was a Mexican restaurant a half a block away; I could literally read the specials on the sidewalk board and ended up with nothing stronger than hot salsa.  Always several new beers not on my list of just over 3000 beers. Food is good, but we often eat at Fado's down the street or go to Chinatown through the entrance gate and have some good food thereplace called China Garden with a green sign is 1/2 a block and excellent.

Birreria Paradiso @ Pizzeria Paradiso (Georgetown, Washington, DC)


I'll let you decidein a full evening I sampled on tap:

Clipper City Heavy Seas Below Decks Barleywine on cask
Stone Ruination India Pale Ale
Brasserie La Binchoise Special Noel
St. Bernardus Wit
Petrus Speciale
Weihenstephan Korbinian
J.W. Lees 2006 Harvest Ale

And, one of my very favorite Quattro Formaggio pizzas anywhere. In short, my new favorite place in DCor, at least the place I'm going to put at the top of the list for the next trip, which is the same thing.

If you haven't visited Pizzeria Paradiso, you're missing out. At this point, my beer obsession (wife's term) makes it hard for me to eat anywhere that doesn't have great beer as a prerequisite. Pizzeria Paradiso on Dupont Circle was an exception, and at least Brickskeller was around the corner. Then I heard about Birreria Paradiso. Just take the orange or blue line metro to the Rosslyn station. From there take the 38B bus (get a free transfer on the way out of the metro) and get off at M Street and Potomacthe bus stop is literally outside the front door of Pizzeria Paradiso. Go past the nice restaurant staff to the downstairs to the Birreria Paradiso.

Then have a seat and don't move. We took the end of the bar directly inside the door, and that was the night. It looked nice upstairs and many of the people with us seemed to be waiting to return upstairs. Many of these folks asked for and received good advice as to what to drink and no one seemed disappointed. There also seemed to be some rather smart folks working on math that I haven't seen since I was a physics major in college. Plus locals hanging out as well with a smattering of beer geeks. Again, this is just me, but since I can drink the beers on tap downstairs and order food, not sure why I'd leave. So, we didn't. My wife very nicely tolerates my beer hunting; in this case she not only loved the place as well, but wants to return with me. We were told that a second keg of J.W. Lees was being aged for two yearsmight just fly out for it.

The thing that really sets the Birreria apart from RFD and Brickskeller was the attention to serving the beer well. While the other two bars have very knowledgable staff, our bartender Thor, a self proclaimed beer dork, is one of the best beer stewards I've ever had the pleasure of being served by. It fact, the night felt more like evenings I've had at 't Arendsnest in Amsterdam or The Exton Drafting Room in Pennsylvania places each famous for their beer service. Go, now, talk to Thor, have a great time with well tended beer that is served properly. What else can a beer geek ask for. Granted, I was there one (short) night and only talked to one server, so mitigate my response as you wish; I'll judge for myself if I'm being overly effusive after my next tripand there will be a next trip.

Note: In the summer of 2008, I visited Brasserie Beck where Thor had become beer manager and continued to do a great job.