I had been bracing myself for weeks for what was planned for last night: a trip into downtown Minneapolis' Shout House, one of my least favorite destinations in the cities. In fact, it's been quite a while since I've ventured downtown on a Saturday night; more recently than my college days, but not by much. It's just not a scene I particularly enjoy. So many obstacles. Who's driving? Where are you parking? Cab home? Bus? Designated Driver? How much is the cover? How packed will it be? And certainly not least of all, will there be any decent beer available? And no, Heineken doesn't count.
The Shout House specifically annoys me. I understand why it's a popular destination: Dueling pianos, rowdy atmosphere, central location. I just don't like paying eight bucks for the right to get sweaty waiting in line for a $6 Rolling Rock and be blown away by airplane-decibel, amusement park talent. Thus, to avoid tricky circumstances and careless spending, I volunteered to be the night's driver. I was ready for the challenge.
The call came at about 7:30 that the night's organizer had to bow out due to immanent illness. Since Kristie and I were already geared up for a night on the town, we didn't want it to go to waste. But without the ring leader, the Shout House was quickly eliminated from the itinerary.
After kicking around several potential destinations, we settled on the Lyndale/Lake St. part of town, where there are several decent options available. I was especially intrigued by the new sake brewery, Moto-i. Indeed, the first sake brewery anywhere in the world outside Japan. Reviews have seemed generally favorable and I knew their draught list was decent, so I imagined it might be an enjoyable and culturing experience.
We arrived about 9:30 to a fully-bellied bar and restaurant, and were told by the host we might be able to find a stray seat. We weren't, and were stuck in an awkward point of buoyancy; not committed enough to wedge our way between barstoolers, but not intending to order food and therefore denied a table upstairs. There was, however, a back room that was 75% empty. The tables were marked as reserved, but we asked the waitress if we could sit there anyway. She had no problem with it, but pointed us back to the host, who informed us that it was reserved for a private party. I said we would happily leave when the party arrived, but there were at least six available tables at the moment, and people were leaving the room already. Still he denied, with a half-assed smile and half-hearted apology. I guess I wouldn't turn away a customer these days, but that's me. I imagine if we had just sat down without asking, we would have been fine, but this is Minnesota, and people are generally accommodating if you ask.
We left, annoyed by insincere efforts and an overall haughty attitude by the hosts (there were at least three of them at the door). I hope this place succeeds, but it will not be because of my patronage. Shame.
We pressed on to the much more inviting, laid back vibe of the Herkimer. I often forget about the Herkimer as a local brewpub option, despite the fact that it's by far the closest to my house. Their beers are generally straight-forward and can be punchless, but they are interesting and a little more atypical than most. Plus, the food is outstanding (save the mini egg sandos). We had no problem ordering drinks, didn't feel uncomfortable standing around, and soon found ourselves a table, where we would be met by two friends.
I first tried the Alt, a style of beer that I'm utterly clueless about and formed no preconceived notions about appearance, smell or taste. I guess I'm still a bit unsure. Lighting is always an issue in a busy weekend bar scene, but the color appeared a bit coppery; not amber, but not pale either. They likened the beer on the menu to a German pale ale, and some of the classic German hoppiness was there, I guess. Overall, it was pretty bland. I wrote on a piece of scratch paper (I really need to be more prepared for these tastings), "very spiked dullness." Make of that what you will. It was like they wanted to blow dullness out of the park. Didn't leave much taste anywhere on the palate. I will say, however, as far as drinkability goes, it was a champion. Easily could have guzzled a few pints of these without thinking about it.
I moved next to the Sky Pilot Kellerbier, an unfiltered beer that I liked more than the Alt. Much more golden in color, with a much more present punch to all senses. Reminded me of their pilsner, but with a slightly more enjoyable hop for my taste. Good roundness in the mouth and carbonated well. Had a nice dry finish. Again, props to Herkimer for producing off-kilter beers and seemingly doing true versions of them. They are hard to place in my mental beer spectrum, and maybe I'm punishing them because I have no similar beers to compare them to. I really tried to figure out how to write the previous sentence with a preposition, but each version sounded laborious and unnatural. Does anyone follow that rule anyway?
Finally, we found ourselves at Bryant Lake Bowl, a Minneapolis legend and great spot to wind down for the night. They have a decent tap list, though I wish they had more seasonals. Kristie loves it because they have Ace Pear on tap (for $5.75, though!). I tried the Rogue seasonal, which the waitress called an anniversary beer. This is maybe my biggest beef with beer bars--not all, of course, and not every employee--but if you work at a place that could potentially attract beer geeks, you need to know the beers. I need to know the beers. When I had trouble pinpointing a Rogue Anniversary this morning, I called back to enquire further and was told it was the Rogue Anniversary Mogul.
This beer does not exist on Rogue's website. RateBeer has a Rogue Mogul Ale with 131 ratings, but the BeerAdvocate Mogul 2007 has just four. Still, Mogul is not listed on the brewery's website. Nevermind. Mogul Ale it is.
An American Strong Ale, apparently, and I'm not sure I like the style. It's sort of a wide category, though, but this one was malt heavy, and the sweetness that was prominent in my nostrils did not show up in my mouth. I was disappointed by that. For the malty power it had up front, it finished quite bitterly. It was a bit confusing to me. I like the dry, bitter aftertaste, but I don't know if I love it after such a hearty malt opening. I think most beer junkies would consider it the best beer I had all night, but I'd probably rather have the Herkimer Kellerbier.
Morals: Don't go to Moto-i expecting red carpet treatment. Don't go to the Herkimer expecting taste bud warfare. Don't go to Bryant Lake Bowl expecting precice beer identification. Go there, have a few decent, uncommon beers, relax, relax, and tip your waitress.