Dunn Bros' Micro Cocktails Are a Beer Back for Your Beer

Dunn Bros uses the restrictions of its liquor license to make imaginative beer complements.

Dunn Bros uses the restrictions of its liquor license to make imaginative beer complements.

The idea of completeness is a bragging right for beers. Brewers don't want to admit their concoctions need any more oomph.

And yet, local brew houses have been tripping over themselves to have Jason Westplate and the crew over at Dunn Bros Lowry Hill whip up a little glass of something to serve alongside their suds.

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The coffee shop/bar hybrid -- one of four Dunn Bros in the Twin Cities metro and nine franchises nationwide able to serve alcohol -- prides itself on working around its 24% license (no drinks over 24% alcohol) by crafting some of the best beer and wine cocktails in the Uptown neighborhood. Though their fruity mimosas and beer floats (yes, beer floats) are a worthy distraction from typical bar fare, it's their two-ounce micro cocktails that make Dunn Bros Lowry Hill a drinking destination.

Micro cocktails, which ring in at $2.50 a pop, are served in a double shot glass and are made with reduced full-proof alcohol (typically tequila, whiskey, or vodka), liqueurs, sweeteners, and bitters mixed into a syrup. Each pours at about 6%-22% alcohol and is designed to integrate with a craft beer on tap.

They're basically a beer back for your beer.

Westplate pours one of Dunn Bros' signature two-ounce cocktails

Westplate pours one of Dunn Bros' signature two-ounce cocktails

Like a beer back -- the thimble of light beer that accompanies the average Midwestern bloody Mary -- micro cocktails are meant to accomplish something the main drink cannot. But, unlike beer backs, micro cocktails aren't supposed to be foils. They're meant to embellish the flavors of you beer.

While you can certainly order your micro cocktails solo, they're specifically designed with certain taps in mind. "We wanted to be a completely integrated component," says Westplate, the spirit consultant who designed the micro cocktails in conjunction with franchisees Sanjeev and Loveleen Azad. "Something in the beer is looking for something else, and we wanted to elevate it."

Dunn Bros keeps four micro cocktails on the menu at all times, though those options rotate seasonally. Currently, they boast a micro-Manhattan, a bitter cherry concoction called a pocket blossom, and a chocolate-flavored floral jaunt called a shrinking violet. In each case, the liquor syrup enhances the flavor of the beer symbiotically. With the micro-Manhattan, a soothing sweet, almost licorice wash flushes cleanly with the malt character of Rush River the Unforgiven. The pocket blossom's floral notes sync perfectly with Harriet West Side, cutting through the beer's dryness. The pucker of the shrinking violet lightens up Surly Bender to the point where you'd grin to drink the brown ale in the sunshine.

But the jewel of the micro cocktail program is the ancho sour, made to pair with Indeed Daytripper. Daytripper boasts such a powerful, forward hoppiness that it nearly maims the palate. The grassy flavors crowd the taste buds to the point where other flavors are rendered obsolete. That is, until the ancho sour comes in. The chipotle liqueur burns through the cloud with elderflower and lime.

The miniature cocktails aren't made to be shot or chugged, though they're significantly smaller than the pints they accompany. Rather, there's supposed to be a constant interchange between the two. Westplate doesn't recommend finishing one before the other, because ultimately it's the rapport that's important.

It's purely experiential drinking, which means that folks looking to boost their bang-to-buck ratio might not be interested in the $2.50 upsell for a low-weight cocktail. But the Azads aren't catering to people drinking for the buzz. They embrace the gray area -- what some call pink sunlight or the golden hours -- between the coffee connoisseur and the erudite drinker.

"It's all about sitting down and enjoying the experience," Sanjeev says, "We call it 'civilized leisure.'"

Sanjeev, who met his fellow alchemist at a mixology class Westplate was teaching, knows his clientele. Between the retirees shacking up on the shores of Lake of the Isles and the twentysomethings flanking Hennepin, he could tell he was well positioned for a beer/wine cocktail renaissance. "In Lowry Hill, people aren't stupid about beer and wine," he says.

Westplate estimates that, after ice, mixers, bitters, and garnish, regular cocktails are only about 15% higher in ABV than a micro cocktail anyway. Plus, most bars won't serve their drinks two ounces at at time, so Dunn Bros customers are given the opportunity to try a variety of flavors (they also sell flights for $20) without worrying about getting too blotto.

Does your beer need the one-up? That depends on your perspective. If you're cool with your brew as is, by all means, take down your lagers sans sidekick. But if you want to explore the way your beer plays with expertly crafted complements, then there's only one place in the Twin Cities to go.

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