We arrived safely in Minneapolis today. The world outside is covered in snow, and on the northwest side of the Twin Cities is a non-distinct brown wood building on Old Highway 8 (just off 35.) Perhaps in better weather it makes more of an impression, but I noticed it because of the sign announcing Barley John’s Brew Pub – 8th Anniversary! A large patio area, with the ruminants of dried hop bines neatly arranged all around it, wraps two sides of the building. Metal tables and chairs, covered in several inches of snow, are out there, including chairs the circle optimistically around a snow-filled fire pit.
We walked inside to find a small bar to seat five and two tree trunk-cut tables with cribbage holes drilled right into them. The brewing room was also at the entrance, housing what is probably a 2 or 3 barrel system (we didn’t check it out that closely, nor did we ask.) In the dining area there are about 15 small tables – some of them pulled together to accommodate groups. Inside there is a feeling of late summer where the walls meet the ceiling. Hop bines have been painted there, as if to bring the patio feel inside all year long (the painting is simple, yet beautiful, featuring a variety of identifiable insects including ladybugs, moths and butterflies. There are big windows to the outside, and some small stained glass interior windows featuring shafts of grain. Outside, the world is completely white and a cold wet snow is falling hard – the only color comes from the cars traveling by.
Brenda seemed to be the only one working the place, and she did a wonderful job taking care of every table as the place filled up at lunchtime. There are no televisions and the faint sound of music coming from the bar area. People are entertaining each other with their company – families, buddies, couples who appear to be locals, and us – the out of towners. The food we ordered was wonderful! D had a beef, mushroom and wild rice soup that came in a clear broth with a hint of nutmeg, and he paired that with a burger topped to order. I had the Vegetable Supreme Sandwich, which tastes almost like a tapenade – kalamata olives, roasted red pepper, portabella mushrooms, onions, something green (may be basil leaves?) It is on a light roll that is probably homemade (or locally made) and topped with goat cheese and garlic mayonnaise. Our table neighbors had a lovely pizza – if we come back, it would be worth sharing one.
But, of course, we are here for the beers! D was revved up about their Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Knight, which, at 13.5% was served in a 6 oz glass. It is extremely dark with very little carbonation. I personally thought it had a nose of those permanent markers they warned us not to sniff back in elementary school and a flavor so rich with bourbon that I couldn’t enjoy it. He really savored it throughout the meal.
I started with the Stockyard IPA in a half-pint glass. It weighs in at 6.8% ABV, and is an extremely cloudy golden amber color. It was served with a shaving cream foam head, with continued lacing as I drank. We disagreed on the nose – I thought it was pretty dull, while D kept calling it “good to very good” – maybe my sniffer is shot after inhaling marker fumes…I mean, Dark Knight. The IPA had a wonderful flavor of English hops. It was a great way to start the day.
Our next round – half pints each – were ordered one way, and quickly switched. I ordered the Old 8 Porter. At 8.5% ABV, the alcohol is very apparent in this roasty, chocolaty porter. The head was thin and tan like a chocolate foam. I DID enjoy it, but I much preferred the Wild Brunette (7.2% ABV), which is a brown ale made with wild rice. It is a dark brown in color with a deep, rich caramel sweetness to it. Again, I picked up little in the nose, but the flavor is pleasantly complex. The alcohol is not so apparent, and I could easily drink several of these in a sitting. The head is thin and white, reminding me of root beer that is losing its carbonation, but the carbonation in this ale is biting on the tongue.
Desserts sounded wonderful, but I opted to savor my Wild Brunette, and D ended in poor beer order with the Little Barley Bitter just to see what Barley John’s can do with 3.5% ABV. It was a light golden color, high in carbonation but very little head. True to style, but I let him finish it and continued to savor my brown.
Also on the menu, but not tasted, are three seasonals (Anniversary Ale (an Irish red), Winter Ale and Belgian Tripel) and one more barrel aged (Rosie’s Old Ale at 14%.) Seven guest taps included two local beers (Flat Earth Belgian Pale Ale and Surly Furious), Old Stock Ale from North Coast, Hacker-Pschorr Altbier from Germany, from Belgium both Stella Artois and Tripel Karmaliet, and the Ace Pear Cider.
Barley John’s is a pleasant little spot with great specials, a nice menu of salads, sandwiches and pizzas, 9 beers made on site (at least today!), and 7 guest taps. Oh yes…if I lived here, I would come here often!