Hey, Beer Woman!

The Herkimer Pub & Brewery
2922 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.; (612) 821-0101
Hours: 11:00 a.m.-1:00 a.m. daily; kitchen closes at 11:00 p.m.; happy hour daily 3:00-6:00 p.m.

 

My beer-lovingest buddies and I descended on Herkimer on a dead-quiet, early-January Tuesday night. A server greeted the first two of us--she was a gorgeous thing with skin like marble, a sparkling updo the color of molasses on copper and, most memorable, a plunging, backless black top of uncommon brevity.

Gorgeous bent forward to tell us about the beers at Herkimer, saying something along the lines of: "We have four options tonight, a Kölsch, a light German-style beer; Handy's Pilsner, a lager; a Märzen or red ale; and our darkest beer, a porter." She left us alone to decide, upon which my date turned to me with an expression not unlike that borne by those unlucky enough to have been cracked across the head with a two-by-eight, and said: "What? Did she say something? Who? All...all I could see was the butterfly tattoo."

Soon the rest of our party--nearly all men--joined us, and the pattern of the evening became clear. Gorgeous would bend to us, gentle as grass in the wind, so that we might hear her over the jukebox-fed music, and attempt to carry on the business of Herkimer. Once she departed, spirited debates would erupt as to who had the best angle of view and whether the aforementioned design was in fact a butterfly, a flower, a geometric pattern, or merely a mark of the divine, like those miraculous stigmata that appear on saints. And then the beer would be tasted, and the spell broken.

Brew-pub beer tends to be thick and profoundly flavored: If it has hops, it reeks of hops. If it's stout, it's thick as motor oil. But at Herkimer the pilsner is as uncomplicated as a glass of Michelob warming on the TV; the porter as friendly as a Girl Scout with a station wagon full of Trefoils. These see-through (oh, the humanity!) brews left my table of beer snobs shell-shocked, and gossipy murmurs ran round the table: Do you taste corn? In the lager? I mean, corn? Doesn't it taste like corn? For beer snobs, corn is a transgression beyond imagination. You'll see the Gucci family reunion sponsored by Target before you see beer snobs allow corn in their glass.

And you'll see Target greeters in Gucci before you see Herkimer owner and brewmaster Blake Richardson make beer for snobs: "We are a German-style brewery," he explains. "We make a crisper, purer style of beer. There are ale breweries all over the country that make heavily hopped, very sweet and syrupy stuff. That beer is overdone. This is a nice alternative: None of our beers will ever be super-bitter or hoppy, none will ever be hyper-malty. The concept behind a brew pub is to sell beer, so why not sell a beer that will please a lot of people?

"When you're in the business of brewing beer, you're in a business. You can't brew beer for yourself, you can't brew beer for brewers, you can't brew beer for critics. You brew beer for customers: It's the people that pay for it that count."

And pay for it they do: On my last visit to Herkimer's, the pub had run out of all its beer except the Handy's lager, and Richardson had just placed orders for at least six more 250-gallon brewing tanks to keep up with demand for his easy-drinking $3.25 pints. A brew shortage at a brewery? "This is the sort of problem you dream of having," admits Richardson, who goes on to point out that he would rather his light, airy, modern, and jukebox-jumping Herkimer not be compared to beer lovers' utopias like Sherlock's Home or Great Waters, but to neighborhood hangouts like the C.C. Club and Lyle's. "It's supposed to be a great place to hang out," he says, "the common denominator. A joint."

On those terms Herkimer's is clearly a success: The place is packed on weekend nights, and paint-spattered locals are starting to discover the cheap, two-for-one happy hour. The all-day kitchen makes the spot a great meeting place for the artists, entrepreneurs, and self-employed Volvo poets who gravitate to Lyn-Lake. Richardson is even building a following for tabletop shuffleboard: "Some people think it's called shufflepuck," he explains. "But the official name is shuffleboard. We think we're the only place in Minneapolis with shuffleboard--it's a good, noncompetitive game that strangers can play together." (So what's played on the Love Boat? That's also shuffleboard, says Richardson.)

On other terms--fine-dining terms, let's say--Herkimer has a road to travel. After sampling widely from the menu, I'd say the kitchen is only batting about .250--finding tasty food requires some combination of luck and perseverance. A pair of hot pretzels ($3.95) was ordered three times:

Once the duo came dripping-wet with some sort of buttery oil, another time they came merely damp with buttery oil, and once they were hot, chewy, and improved by the spicy-cheesy dipping sauce that accompanied them. (I thought the other sauce, a mustard version, was far too sweet.)

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