BOP Till You Drop

Vine Park Brewing Company
1254 W. Seventh St., St. Paul;(651) 228-1355
www.vinepark.com
Hours: 11:00 a.m.-1:00 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 10:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. Sunday; kitchen serves till 10:00 p.m. nightly; late-night appetizers available until 11:30 Tuesday through Saturday
 

Want to start a meal with five glasses of beer? Sure you do. Just claim a table in the glitteringly spic-and-span newish brewpub of the Vine Park Brewing Company and order the "Vine Park Sampler." You'll receive five 5-ounce glasses--for $5!--filled with five of the beers that Vine Park is serving that day. So, five beers, 25 ounces, all arranged on an annotated placemat, which is roughly like one of those toddler puzzles, when you fit the cow in the cow-shaped cutout, except tipsier. Unless you exhibit some extreme interest in the beer, like I did one lunch, and then you get the whole run of seven beers that fit in all seven placemat circles; 35 ounces of beer--at lunch! Minnesota wild, indeed.

Dangerously, these beers are subtle, complicated creations drawing from the whole universe of brewing tradition, and they require repeated sipping to discern their art. For example, the Lazy Days Pale Ale is an English-style brew with a clear amber aspect and an aggressively hoppy nose. Justus Ramsey Red is made with beech-wood-smoked German malt, and the first impression on the palate is that someone put flaming sticks in the brew. Soon enough, though, it becomes apparent that the body of the beverage supports its strong taste, it's one of those rare acquired tastes you can acquire in only a few tastes.

Location Info

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Vine Park Brewing Company

1254 W. 7th St.
St. Paul, MN 55102

Category: Breweries and Wineries

Region: St. Paul (Downtown)

This is no lowest-common-denominator beer; it's crafted by hands with a sense of the breadth that beer can claim. When the hands that made it all--attached to the body of head brewer Brian Schiebe--dropped by my table to talk about the stuff, I was charmed. So charmed that I soon decided that the Eelpout Stout was melodious. The Eelpout is a nearly black Irish stout roughly along the lines of Guinness, which is nitrogenated (charged with nitrogen) just like Guinness is to give it that characteristic super-creamy, velvety mouth-feel, but it's sweeter, lighter, and more floral. Melodious. Shudder. What was I looking for, thinking such things so close to the new Xcel Energy Center--a hockey puck to the head?

But Vine Park is no Johnny-come-lately hockey bar: Vine Park Brewing Company has actually been doing business right where it is, as a "BOP," for five years, and the new restaurant and pub part has been in the works since long before the Minnesota Wild ever had a name. BOP means "brew on premises"--a place where you brew your own beer. There are fewer than half a dozen BOPs in the whole nation, and husband-and-wife owners David Thompson and Allyson Williams had to get special permission from the state Legislature to open theirs.

To make your own brew at Vine Park, make an appointment and choose a beer recipe from the 45 that Vine Park offers. Show up, pair off with a brew coach and a fancy state-of-the-art brewing kettle. Start brewing, using all the Vine Park fancy-pants malt your heart desires. Let your wort (the fermenting infusion of malt) steep. (Time for--depending on the recipe--an hour or two steeping break!) Return, add the rest of the ingredients, like fancy-pants hops. Pump the liquid into a shiny fermentation vessel. Go home. Two weeks later, return, bottle, and load up your car, six cases of beer heavier, but $105 to $135 dollars lighter--depending on the materials you have chosen. The beer is bottled in large, 22-ounce bottles, 12 to a case, but even the most expensive averages out to less than $2 a bottle.

BOP-ing offers many advantages to the aspiring home brewer: It's cleaner, faster, and usually cheaper than doing it yourself, and the professional equipment means the end product is usually better than anything you could pull off at home. In fact, says Williams, this process has proved so appealing that Vine Park has helped 15,000 brewers. The inspiration for the brewpub, which opened in July, came from those one-to-two-hour breaks necessary in the brewing process. "The goal was to create a place for our brewers to eat and drink," she says. "Instead of going over to McGoverns."

Never has the prospect of not going to Patrick McGoverns Pub and Restaurant been so rosy. Anyone who gives two hops about beer and local brewpubs simply has to give Vine Park a whirl. If you get there fast you can get some of their seasonal Dunkelweizen, a milk-chocolate-colored wheat beer that tastes almost like a smoked cheese. And while you're there, have a burger ($9), which is a great, handmade effort cooked to temperature, topped with good chewy bacon, salty white cheddar, and fit into an excellent soft bun. Or try the grilled, marinated portobello mushroom ($9), served on an herbed focaccia roll, topped with thin-sliced grilled eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash, covered with melted Gruyère, the whole thing dressed with a red-pepper mayonnaise. It's resilient, nicely textured, and tasty--a first-class concoction, fit even for meat eaters. Or, if you're feeling bold, get the good caesar salad ($4.50 for a small one, $8 for a vast large one), cut romaine covered with a garlicky dressing and decorated with tender, hand-shaved curls of cheese. At lunch, you can even get the grilled ham and cheese ($7), made on crisp sourdough, as long as you get them to leave off the odd cubes of pulpy marinated tomato they'll try to put in there. Because aside from the most basic things, Vine Park is a great brewery that proves the old adage: Lucky in beer, unlucky in double-thick blue-cheese-stuffed pork chops ($16.50).

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