Beer is the new wine, and you didn’t hear it here first. It’s making headlines across the nation.
The dining public is finally taking note of the beer list, and its origins, with a bent for being in the know about the up-and-comers in the brewing industry.
This public interest hasn’t been lost on local restaurateurs. While they might not be hiring on beer sommeliers yet, they have happily broken out of the Bud-Light-and-Buffalo-wings mold that is typically associated with beer drinking.
Bulldog NE, 401 E. Hennepin Ave., is known for its heavy focus on Belgian beers. The original Bulldog, located at 2549 Lyndale Aave. S., was so successful that about a year ago, the same owners encroached on Northeast territory with a second location.
Co-owner Chris Rowland takes pride in being ahead of the curve. "Even the most savvy beer guys are surprised with some of the stuff we get. We’re really on the cusp of the import beer thing through [the offerings from] our purveyors."
With 25 total taps, the Bulldog NE regularly shuffles six or seven of them with limited-edition, small-yield brews. Kasteel Rouge, one of its current Belgian taps, is a bubbly, rich-red darling with a pink head, made with cherry stones. It isn’t classified as a fruit beer but rather is infused with cherry flavor.
The Bulldog NE has also sparked a Wednesday night tradition with the tapping of a Firkin keg. "Firkin" refers to the vessel that the beer is fermented in, which means that none of the freshness is lost in the process of transferring it to a keg. "This is the way all beers used to be poured," says Rowland. A tap gets hammered into the vessel at the start of the night and the beer is served until it runs out.
At Sapor Café and Bar, 428 N. Washington Ave., the menu is globally accented, and so is the selection of beers hand-picked by owners Julie Steenerson and Tanya Siebenhaler. This chef-driven restaurant has brought beer drinking into an upscale arena with a breadth of offerings from light to fuller bodied to something that goes with dessert.
With two tap lines, Sapor may not compete with the size of Bulldog NE’s beer list, but the interesting choices mean that sophisticated beer drinkers don’t get left in the dark when they want to have an elegant dinner.
Steenerson makes changes seasonally to reflect the beers that she would enjoy drinking during that season. She is a fan of the Bell’s products and always offers the Bell’s Porter in the bottle. The Bell’s Sparkling Ale, which has a champagne-like quality that pairs exceptionally well with food, will be brought on in November. Sapor also does special dinners with beer and wine pairings, like a recent pork dinner that included beer pairings for two of its courses.
Sapor is certainly one of the first restaurants of its caliber to get serious about its beer offerings. "You’ll never see Bud or Michelob here. It’s just not interesting to us," says Steenerson, who admits she can hold her own when talking about beer. "As two women owning a restaurant, that’s rare."
You might think of Acadia Café, 1931 Nicollet Ave., as more of a coffeeshop, and that is how it started out, but once owner Jeff Werthmann-Radnich and his business partner sold off their other coffee shop in South Minneapolis, they invested in 24 tap rails and altered the business formula to a live-music venue with a far-reaching beer list.
Half of the beers at Acadia are local, including the products of Brooklyn Center-based Surly, Flat Earth based in St. Paul, Rush River from Wisconsin and Brau Brothers in Lucan, Minn. "Because we’re small and local ourselves, we try to support local breweries," says Werthmann-Radnich. The local breweries that have recently popped up are so good that he says he hasn’t had to compromise on quality.
Werthmann-Radnich owns up to having a few personal favorites, and the Surly Furious runs top of the list. He also enjoys the Flat Earth Bermuda Triangle Belgian Triple, a sipping beer which is a mouthful not only in name but in flavor, with a meaty body and higher alcohol content. He also likes the cream stout and Scotch ale from Brau Brothers.
The food selection at Acadia is limited to sandwiches and simple appetizers, since Acadia doesn’t have a fully ventilated kitchen, but the assorted cheese platter, a smoked-trout platter and its best-selling black bean vegetarian burger are far cries from slouchy bar food.
Contributing writer Tammy Sproule Kaplan writes about dining trends.