Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sidhe Brewing (St. Paul, MN)

Every year at school, there are always a few students who desperately work for an A, but can't see the path to earning the grade: heartbreaking for me and frustrating for the hard working students. Unfortunately, Sidhe Brewing  is working hard but just not making the grade.  

I've known about Sidhe (formerly Four Elements) Brewing for a long time because the owners attend many One Voice concerts, one of which where I was introduced to the brewer Kathleen and we chatted a bit about their beer adventure. There was even an earlier, smaller, location in St. Paul before finding its present home. To keep from repeating history reported elsewhere, take a look at A Perfect Pint's first look

The small door on Jenks Ave belies the comfortable space at the bottom of stairs. On a Saturday afternoon, the place had several scattered customers enjoying the hot summer day with AC and a beer. I hunkered down at the bar to do all eight samples offered today. 

Senor Sol Victorious, a clone of Victoria Mexican lager, was as advertised, clean and very drinkable. Requested by the building owner for the locals, I'm guessing it pairs well with food from the Mexican restaurant in the same building. Next, I liked the Barking Cat, a strong golden Belgian ale. Having the most flavor and complexity, this 9.9% ale was a bit hot and not quite balanced. Finally, the Dark Moon Rising was serviceable dry stout that I considered getting a full pint. None of the beers warmed up well. This test is of limited use at Sidhe because the lighter styles are meant to be colder, especially Senor Sol and the Bast Kissed cream ale. My rather sluggish style of drinking doesn't fit well with some of the styles. 

In reading the menu, Sidhe's mission is to brew approachable session beers for all beer drinkers, not catering to the old school geeks like me. So don't expect a Surly Furious or Stone Ruination at Sidhe. I think this is an admirable mission, especially in the diverse, up-and-coming neighborhood. Sidhe has a real chance of making themselves a community pub, for locals to congregate and commune over lighter, flavorful session beers. However, this raises the bar for Sidhe. It's easier to homebrew a stout than a pilsner because the dark flavors allows for wiggle room to hide flaws. Big, and especially dark beers, are more forgiving, thus why I generally brew big. To focus on session beers, the brewing techniques must be perfect and, to get more flavor out of a small grain bill, the creativity must be inspired. 

While I think many of the ingredients for a great local pub are present, at the moment, in spite of my hopes and desires for these women brewers and owners, Sidhe is coming up short of top marks. However, my evaluation is just that: mine. Beer media is biased towards more radical brewing, so the buzz (including mine) will likely be slanted against them. Quite a few patrons in the bar where happily drinking, chatting and playing games throughout the time I was there. Often by the end of the school year, some students who persevere and continuously strive for improvement will learn how to make the grade. The philosophy and location of Sidhe seems to be well matched, so hopefully the locals will make Sidhe a success in spite of a low beer geek grade, which will give the brewery time to mature and find their path to better beer.  

Update 8/1/15

Based on the photos of my first visit, a group of friends put together a afternoon at Sidhe.  We walked in late and joined Cards Against Humanity with a draft of Barking Cat. To be safe, on my last visit, I only was able to do samples. The draft of Barking Cat was much better than I had remembered from the sample. Slightly hot from the 9.2% ABV, it has a spiciness from the yeast and a warm, round Belgian flavor. Barking Cat is a short, potent pour, so I switched to a pint of Tri-City, which was also significantly better as well.

Glad I went back for a draft, which was much better than my first impression.  Moving from samples to a draft seemed to make a difference. Normally, I prefer to end with a draft for a full review, but it's not always possible.  Friends and full glasses seemed to make quite a bit of difference for Sidhe, and I encourage people to keep giving it a try.

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