Craft Beer in the Twin Cities: Three Great Pubs

Page 1 of the beer list at The Happy Gnome.

It took a Facebook comment to remind me of what’s extra-awesome about craft beer. I’d just posted a photo of one page of the beer list at The Happy Gnome in St. Paul, Minnesota. An old buddy nicknamed Poot replied:

“I’ve only heard of like two of these. Breweries, that is.”

And it hit me – craft beer is one of the few things in the world that isn’t whitewashed homogeneous boredom. You can travel all over the United States and find craft beer you didn’t know about the previous day. You might seek something specific, like a Surly stout. But brews like Scotty Karate and John Henry Three Licker Spiker wait for you to run into them beak first.

Here are three places I had a brew in the Twin Cities, and what I enjoyed about them. I posted all of them to my Untapped account for all posterity and accuracy.

The Happy Gnome

Locals from the Twin Cities allege that St. Paul is the nerdy basement dweller to Minneapolis’ prom king. Yet The Happy Gnome is a fine craft beer destination that I was glad to visit. Even before you get to the beer, you can get some duck bruschetta or some quality crab cakes. And creme brulee for dessert” I’m game.

Having some laughs with Dan from Athena Custom Cycles at The Bulldog Lower Town.

The beer is a treat, too: Dragon’s Milk by New Holland Brewing Company was a study in how temperature can affect a beer. It came out cold, and with a medicinal artificial cherry note – but that dissipated as the beer warmed, leaving lots of malt and whiskey flavors. I also liked Pahoehoe Coconut Blonde by Two Brothers Brewing Company – I don’t usually drink blondes, but I had to try this since Two Brothers brewed it with coconut water; the effect on the Pahoehoe is subtle, but I could detect an unusual – but pleasant – texture and a hint of sweetness. The star of the show, though, was Scotty Karate by Dark Horse Brewing Co. Read the description in the photo, and you’ll have all the info you need.

Warning: Weekends at The Happy Gnome will be crowded and loud indoors. And you can’t get a seat in the dining room unless you plan to order entrees, which rubbed us the wrong way at first. The patio is nice, though, and The Happy Gnome staff and menu won us over.

The Grand Hotel

Hotel bars usually suck. They serve watery swill like Bud and Stella, with maybe a nod to craft beer like New Belgium Fat Tire. The taps and bottles at The Grand Hotel in downtown Minneapolis turned my prejudice on its ear.

We started with a Northwest Passage IPA (Flat Earth Brewing). It was floral and slightly piney it its hoppiness. It could hang with many a better-known and more-vaunted IPA from Colorado or California (but perhaps not Oskar Blues Gubna, which approaches Superbeer status). As the bartender chatted with us, we mentioned our love of barrel-aged brews. And he plunked a bottle of John Henry Three Lick Spiker Ale in front of us. Despite never before appearing on our radar, Three Lick Spiker earned our “Best of Trip” award. Dense, malty, black hole-dark — it will leave your tastebuds in euphoria. Well, if you happen to like strong ales aged with oak chips from a bourbon barrel. Which I do!

Extra props: The bartender here told us not to miss The Happy Gnome during our visit to the Twin Cities. We salute you, sir!

The Bulldog Lowertown

Dan from Pallas Athena Custom Cycles suggested The Bulldog Lowertown, and it was definitely a winner. The noise level was moderate, the tater tot level was high and the beer list level was even higher. This time, I chose the Furious, an IPA from the somewhat polarizing craft beer kingpins Surly Brewing Co. They have a bit of a reputation among locals as a bit — aloof (this surprised me since they were so friendly via email). Well, the Furious proved that Surly lives up to its hype. I love a crisp IPA redolent with piney goodness. And that’s what I got.

And for the record, I sampled nothing on this trip that I could get in Arizona. To the best of my knowledge, Three Lick Spiker might be the only one I might be able to find in my home city. Down with the same-old, and up with unusual regional craft beer finds!

Hey, you can follow me on Untapped to tag along through my craft beer adventures!

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By Wandering Justin

Writer. Traveler. Gastronomic daredevil. Fitness fan. Homebrewer. Metal dude \m/. Cat and dog lover.

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