Monday, February 20, 2012

JL Beers (Grand Forks, ND)

JL postcard with The Abyss

On our last trip to visit my nephew, our plan for the night was to spend the evening at JL Beers to watch the Gophers/UND hockey game because the beer list is clearly the best in Grand Forks. Since it's a burger joint without vegetarian options, we had dinner at The Blue Moose instead so we could spend more beer time at JL.The beer stop started off well.  It's a small, narrow bar that's dimly lit, but we were seated quickly at a table opposite of the bar.  Actually, all tables are opposite of the bar because of the long, narrow design of the building.

I started off with Fargo Brewing's Woodchipper IPA that my nephew had recommended.  Nice beer and I like the support of the local breweries. Between the three of us, we also shared Deschutes The Abyss, Empyrean Winter Tilt FestivAle, and Widmer Brother's Nelson Imperial IPA.  Too my surprise, the Widmer draft was the best of the night, even over a draft of the legendary The Abyss that didn't live up to my memory of having it in a bottle.We even had fun filling out the free JL Beers postcards.  But, then the evening was soured by a simple request.  My wife asked for a glass of water and was told that they don't serve water, but they would sell us bottled water.  In an email response from co-owner Lance Thorson, he explained that there wasn't enough room for ice machines and water faucets in their small bar, and that bottled water is a better and more consistent product than local tap water for their multiple JL locations.  As a result, they can have room for more taps, cans and bottles of beer.

As for us, we finished our beers and brought our business to Happy Harry's Bottle Shop for some beer to watch the game in the hotel room.  While I don't doubt JL's reasons for not serving water, we saw it as inconvenient at best and irresponsible at worst to not have free water in a drinking establishment to help control for the effects of alcohol.  On a different bar stop a few weeks later, I noticed that I drink water pint for pint with the beer I sampled.  It's a part of the process to drinking responsibly, a process that should be taught and encouraged in all establishments, especially one in a college town.  To me the staff, while friendly, we're clearly frustrated by customers repeatedly asking the same incredulous questions about having to buy water.  While I understand the reasoning, I sharply disagree with it.  
JL Beers from front--as narrow inside
as it looks on the outside, but comfortable
and cozy when you get a table.  

As for the beer, the range of beers is worth the trip, and each beer we drank was well served in an appropriate glass for the style.  Nothing to complain about for the beer.  Since we're vegetarians, we didn't try a burger but my nephew reports that they are quite good and have a good reputation.  I also asked about serving a veggie burger option like Fitger's, Town Hall or Whistle Binkies; however, all of their burgers are never frozen and cooked with an "automatic top-side cooker that is setup and designed for our hamburger patties thickness."  A frozen veggie burger is a square peg that doesn't fit into their one size fits all approach. Before the water issue when getting our initial beers, I also got the vibe that sitting and drinking on a Saturday night was not appreciated unless we were going to eat, drink and get out of the way for the next customers.  While I will readily admit and applaud their dedication to craft brew, JL Beers is a one trick pony with limited appeal for me

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