Heads up: Rochester has become a craft beer hotspot

March 8, 2019

Hundreds of millions of dollars later, what would many people say is the greatest quality-of-life improvement in Rochester since Destination Medical Center came along in 2013?

Taprooms, brewpubs and good local beer.

There’s no direct link between the $5.6 billion DMC economic development initiative and the fact that Rochester now has a bona fide craft brew community, but the bump can’t hurt, and it’s a leading indicator that the city once described as among Minnesota’s least lively — or most boring —  is coming of age.

“In terms of the craft beer scene, Rochester has been far behind the rest of the country, but now it’s starting to pick up,” said Dawn Finnie, who with her husband, Steve, owns Little Thistle Brewery, which opened along the Douglas Trail in northwest Rochester last year. “Beer tourism has become a big thing and people are already coming here, which creates overnight stays and is good for restaurants and bars. It’s becoming a vibrant local beer scene and Rochester is benefiting.”

Since Donovan Seitz opened Kinney Creek Brewery and taproom in December 2012, two more have opened — Little Thistle and LTS — as well as two brewpubs that have some of the most creative food and beer in town. One of the pubs, Forager Brewery, is just across the Canadian Pacific tracks from Kinney Creek and has won national attention for its wild and woolly beers, which range from fruited “Gummie” sours to Belgian blondes.

The other brewpub, Grand Rounds Brewery, is downtown and at the heart of the Historic Third Street district, where just about the only old buildings left in downtown Rochester are now home to bars, restaurants, a coffee house, art galleries and street life at all hours.

The motto at Grand Rounds is, “Brew local, drink local. It’s better,” and discriminating drinkers agree. Even if you’re not sold on a particular pilsner or you draw the line at “Gummie” beers, it’s local — freshly made by people you know, often with local ingredients — and by drinking it, you help to build a local food, drink and craft culture that simply didn’t exist before.

Adam Fredericksen, a 33-year-old Mantorville native, and his wife, Allyson Palmer, are next up to help build that culture. They’re working on a brewery and taproom on Second Street Southwest, next to Tyrol sports shop and the Med City Escape Room. “As a city, Rochester is already making some fantastic beer and it’s only going to get better,” Fredericksen said last month, as remodeling of the plain, cement-block building was just beginning. “I don’t mean this in a bad way, but from a craft beer standpoint, Rochester’s about five or more years behind the curve of other larger cities in Minnesota. It’s just starting to hit a really fun point — people are coming around to the idea of local craft beer.”

Fredericksen and his wife, an internal medicine resident at Mayo Clinic, hope to be a part of all that. Adam has been a home brewer since college days in Mankato, and after a few years of chasing dreams in the movie business in Los Angeles, he returned to the Rochester area, worked in IT and focused on another of his passions, making good beer. Eventually he took the professional plunge at Grand Rounds, learning the ropes from Steve Finnie, also formerly at Grand Rounds, and at LTS.

Allyson also gets a kick out of home brewing. “It became one of the things that brought us together,” she said, and it combines art and science in a way that an internal medicine resident can relate to.

Their story is typical of those who go whole-hog into craft beer in Rochester: if you’re passionate about it, willing to work long hours and play well with others, there’s a core group of dedicated beer people ready to embrace you.

Now he and Allyson are ready to show what they can do. A shiny new five-barrel system from Portland Kettle Works will arrive this month and they’re hoping to have the brewery, called the Thesis Beer Project, open in April or May. “My big love is Belgian beers,” Adam said, so look for those and some high-alcohol barrel-aged stouts along with a “wide variety of easy-drinking, approachable, everyday beers.

“I have a lot of ideas for what I want to brew, but I think customers will dictate that. The goal will be variety — fresh, high-quality, fast-moving beer.”

The 3,200-square-foot brewery will have big glassy doors at either end, with a patio out front along one of Rochester’s busiest streets, just west of Saint Marys Hospital.

“I don’t see any reason why Rochester can’t be talked about as one of the high-quality craft beer hubs in this part of the country,” he said. “At Forager, they’re making some of the best beer in the country. People are coming to Rochester from all over for that beer. At Little Thistle, they’re rejuvenating the local beer scene and doing amazing things. We’re excited to come on board and do our part.”

Dawn Finnie, at Little Thistle, said brewers are “a bit like mad scientists. There’s engineering, mechanics, recipe development, the business component…the creative process is very fulfilling, and in Rochester craft beer is so collaborative. Steve was just over at Forager today, helping with a collaboration. There’s a whole network of brewers who are helping each other.”

That fits the definition of a culture, and Rochester is just getting started.

WHAT’S ON TAP IN ROCHESTER

Kinney Creek Brewery
1016 Seventh St. NW
507-282-2739
Hours: Noon to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and Sunday, noon to midnight Friday and Saturday.

The granddaddy of Rochester breweries (if you don’t count Schuster and the city’s other ancient labels), Kinney Creek hasn’t changed much since it opened in 2012. The taproom is nothing fancy, just a lightly decorated warehouse space with giant Jenga, hammerschlagen, and a wide range of ambitious beers, including a Black Ice IPA and a Grappler fruit beer. They recently added Heggies pizza, but otherwise you can order in from area restaurants or take advantage of food trucks.

Favorite brews: The Yellow Jacket Imperial IPA, with 8.7 percent ABV, and Honk’s Red IPA, made Germanic with a more malty formula. For non-drinkers, there’s the Rah Rah Root Beer and Sturdy Girl kombucha.

LTS Brewing Co.
2001 32nd Ave. NW
507-226-8280
Hours: 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

The acronym is for “Life’s Too Short,” which is a good philosophy overall and certainly when it comes to local beer. LTS is a bright, clean-room like building in a business park near the Rochester Athletic Club, so after you’ve worked the Stairmaster at the club for a few hours, you’ve earned at least one pint at LTS. If Kinney Creek is for beer nerds, LTS is for students of brew — there’s a core of well-made beers and no shortage of staff and customers willing to share their knowledge.

Favorite brews: The Oatmeal stout, a toothy stout whose only downside is that you can’t take it away in growlers or crowlers, and Inspiration, an American-style IPA that will appeal to those who aren’t crazy about the genre.

Forager Brewery
1005 Sixth St. NW
507-258-7490
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

Like Grand Rounds, food is just as much a reason to be a regular at Forager as the adventurous brews, which get more exotic all the time and appeal to connoisseurs as well as casual drinkers. Opened three years ago in the former food co-op building just east of Barlow Plaza, Forager has some of the best wood-fired pizzas around, great starters (including an uptown poutine) and gourmet mac and cheese. The pub’s layout is perfect for lingering with friends, hiding out in the library, sipping espresso, listening to live music or enjoying a lovely summer night in the beer garden. All that has made it a centerpiece of the Kutzky Park neighborhood and a place that builds community.

Favorite brews: Unoriginal Neighbor, a hazy double IPA with a haze-inducing 8 percent ABV but low IBU, and Hot Blonde, a Belgian style triple that’s fermented in chardonnay barrels.

Grand Rounds Brewing Co.
4 Third St. SW, Rochester
507-292-1628
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

You can’t beat the location, a more than century-old building on South Broadway at Third Street that was formerly home to one of the best restaurants in town, Sontes. Owner Tessa Leung took that format down in 2014 and replaced it with a gastronomic brew pub, and while some of us miss the shrimp won tons and chorizo-stuffed dates, Grand Rounds is an even better fit for the Third Street nightlife, with a creative casual menu and beer casks in full view.

Favorite brews: Easy A, the blonde ale that launched a controversial billboard campaign, and Hop Bollocks, Rochester’s best go-to IPA ever since it was introduced.

Little Thistle Brewing
2031 14th St. NW
507-226-8014
Hours: 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday.

The newest entry in the Rochester beer world, Little Thistle isn’t little at all. Owners Steve and Dawn Finnie have turned a barebones, 5,200-square-foot trucking warehouse into a lively, family-friendly place to drink beer, talk about beer and watch it being made. Last month, they hosted a curling bonspiel, which comes naturally to Steve as a native-born Scot. No food, but food trucks and live music are part of the program.

Favorite brews: The Wetlands IPA, with Citra, Mosaic and Denali hops and a sharp 50 IBU, and Belgian Wit, a light sessionable ale with a hint of bitter orange.

 

Photos and text by Jay Furst

Jay Furst is a Rochester freelance writer and media consultant who enjoys a craft beer now and then. To contact him, send email to jpfurst@gmail.com.

 

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