My Name Is Kevin and I'm a Hop-head

Far from the ladies' nights and the three-for-ones lurks a truly strange brew

Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery
1430 Washington Avenue S.
612.339.8696
www.townhallbrewery.com

I remember the day I became a hop-head. Just November last, my job as a professional heckler had brought me to San Diego. I was with my old colleague Mike, and, at the moment we were done with a particularly tough day in the studio, he pounded his fist on the table and pleaded, "Why isn't beer coursing down our throats at this very moment?"

We drove to a strip-mall smack in the heart of a keenly Asian community, where sits a square pub called O'Brien's. Decorated like a foreclosure, with chunky swivel chairs stolen from a mid-seventies Radisson lobby, O'Brien's Dri Mark bill of fare offered at least two dozen drafts I'd never heard of. Beers with taunting names like Ruination, Double Bastard, Decadence. At the advice of Mike's young charge Conor I ordered a Pliny the Elder—an Imperial Ale, I was told. An icy honey-colored pint was delivered picture-perfect, and I took a lusty swig.

However delicious Town Hall's brew may be, City Pages does not recommend ordering nine glasses at once.
Jana Freiband
However delicious Town Hall's brew may be, City Pages does not recommend ordering nine glasses at once.

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Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery

1430 Washington Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55454

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

"You might want to sip it," Conor said, but too late, my head was attacked from the inside by a combination of aromas and flavors I'd never known to emanate from beer. Grapefruit, skin and all, my tongue shouted at me, while my nose hollered Who hit me with the sack of pinecones? Who's burning the incense and stuffing artichokes in my nostrils? My soft palate actually puckered and yeast filled the brain pan the way it does with champagne of a certain quality I can never afford. As I drank, sipping now, the room became brighter, as if it had a sunroof, and I felt an ease, a joviality normally reserved for Hobbits, massaging my soul.

"It's the hops," my friends explained, and I was undone, smitten with the kind of fibrillating trill I once felt back-rubbing the women in my theater classes. I was, and am, a hop-head.

I returned to Minnesota and told my few ale-crazy friends where I'd been and what I'd done, and they smacked their foreheads in incredulity. "You went where? You tasted what?!" Without knowing it I'd fairly stumbled on one of the nation's nexuses of world-class American brewing; people who know such things melt at its mention. Never one to think that any state has anything over Minnesota, particularly not California, I determined to find that flavor, that perfectly distinctive buzz, among the growing brace of very proud local brewers. A quest for hops began.

Cursory research revealed that the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery has for years turned out an array of beers with luxurious amounts of hops. This was my starting point, and may well be my finishing point.

I stopped going to bars when the big-screen TV's arrived and EZ-Print banners took the place of back-lit falling-water reliefs. The scant few bars that don't pander to the Spectating Life are packed with tense gel-haired business peons and a rail martini costs nine bucks, so what's the point? The point is that a bar is context for its fare, and one that serves a beer meant to be savored like wine or whisky needs no two-for-ones or 24-ounce troughs. The proper brewpub serves its brews without frilly adornment and encourages conviviality to match. It should also serve food that doesn't suck.

Town Hall sits at the crux of the Seven Corners neighborhood, coyly occupying the corner adjacent to the Southern Theater, where it is besieged by the sports bars that fully and shamelessly cater to the maroon-and-gold-clad booster. Only a faded mural depicting a welcoming pub and an entrance difficult to find if you're half in the bag indicate Town Hall's 10-year presence. It's a tall, woody, high-ceilinged place, less like a cozy Irish pub and more like one of the endless ancient inebriating holes that used to line Silver Street in Hurley, Wisconsin. It's charmingly butch, which is to say that there's not a single big-label beer-sponsored banner announcing Ladies' Nights.

The barroom is lively on any weeknight, the adjacent dining room is subdued and chatty. In between, a comfy-looking lounge with a toasty hearth beckons, until you squint at the two recently installed, massive flat-screens glaring down disapprovingly at those with no interest in any sports, namely me.

Happily, the barroom has only two normal-sized TV's hoisted high overhead and out of casual sightlines—you have to seek out the football here. A lonely pool table, lovingly underused, is illuminated by the brew-house itself, a factory behind glass, which always smells of something lovely cooking. Where many a bar bears the stank of its product spilled on the sticky floor, Town Hall remains redolent with fresh grain and sharp herb.

Thanks to the new anti-smoking ordinances, patrons now have the opportunity to actually taste and smell their food, which means a bar's board has to be minimally good or the place will find itself catering to characters from Garrison Keillor and Charles Bukowski stories, with whom conviviality often leads to violence. Here it's fair bar food at a fair price, and not much more. And that's okay, tacitly reminding me that unlike wine it's often better to match the food to the beer rather than the beer to the food.

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