Thursday, December 6, 2007

Great Waters Brewing Company

Business travel can be a funny thing. Travel alone and you have so much free time you don't know what to do with it all. Travel with other people and you barely have a spare moment. Such was the case with my trip to St. Paul last week. I was there for three nights and I was only able to hit one of the spots I had lined up in advance, Great Waters Brewing Co., a brewpub right in downtown St. Paul. Luckily, that wasn't the only drinking I did as I got to sample a couple of different offerings from Summit Brewery, also from St. Paul...a new brewery for me. I had quite a few of the Winters, a wonderfully smooth Winter Warmer perfect for the cold weather and the Extra Pale Ale, which was a decent, if a bit uninspiring, American Pale Ale.

I learned a few things about St. Paul during my three day stay: it's awfully cold in November (think dead of winter in New Hampshire cold), they have a big mall with an amusement park, and they have a system of skywalks that allow you to traverse much of the city without ever feeling the cold bite of the wind. This is an important detail to remember after a night of drinking.

After spending a few hours at a faux-Irish pub during a sponsored happy hour, I ducked out around 10PM to grab a bite to eat and a few beers from the local brewpub. Great Waters is located in a very convenient location in downtown St. Paul on 426 Saint Peter St. It's a rather small space as far as brewpubs go with an open floor plan. There are two separate seating areas that from the lengths of an L. They aren't separated by anything except space and a large post that forms the pivot of the L. The physical bar is integrated into the dining area, forming the L the dining area revolves around. It's a comfortable-feeling place, the walls lining the streets are almost all glass and it's well-lit but not overly-bright. As I walked in, the host immediately asked if I was alone and then proceeded to walk me to the bar and show me to an empty seat at the bar. Usually when you tell a host you want to sit at the bar you're lucky if they point you in the right direction. The waiter was pleasant and never let my glass sit empty for long before asking if I wanted a refill. There were a few small TVs, but they were tucked into corners so they wouldn't distract people who were there to socialize.

The thing that intrigued me about Great Waters was the fact that they always have four cask conditioned ales available. Served at cellar temp, in perfect condition, crystal clear and bright. I'm not sure I've ever been to a bar that's had more than 1-2 and this place always has four. If I lived in the area it would become a regular stop. While I was there I had the House Ale (a bitter), Tesla's Coil IPA, and the Bent Niblick Scottish Ale (Scottish, not Scotch). All were very good, but to be honest they all had a similar taste profile. The IPA was more bitter than the other two, the Scottish Ale was a bit maltier than the House, but their essential essences were very similar. My guess is they use a standard base and make minor tweaks to the hop profile and specialty grains and ferment with the same yeast. I don't mean to complain though, because all the beers were tasty and served in perfect condition. I easily could have sat there and had a few more if an early morning wake-up call didn't beckon.

The fourth cask ale was an Old Ale called Old Bastard. I had looked this up on beeradvocate prior to going and it didn't score very well so I opted out. In addition to the four casks, they had five "pushed" beers served colder in the more prevalent style via CO2. These were: Novemberfest (a Belgian style "honey braun"), Blackwatch Oat Stout (Oatmeal Stout), Saint Peter Pale Ale, Brown Trout Brown Ale, and Golden Prairie Blond Ale. I had hoped to slip away again at some point before flying back to tropical Hartford to try the Blackwatch Oat Stout, but that never actually sounds like a beer that would be wonderful on their casks. And now that I did some research and actually read about the Novemberfest I wish I had given that a try also.

The food has some interesting takes on traditional brewpub fare. I had the steak sandwich with chips, both of which were very tasty. I had intended to only eat half the sandwich but my plate was clean when I left the restaurant. Funny how that works.

This was a great place and I was very pleased I had made the decision to stop in. Very different from the CT brewpubs, yet I think it would still fit very nicely into the CT scene. Four permanent casks would be a very welcome addition.

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