From neighborhood watering holes to full-on tourist destinations, taprooms have grown more spectacular and continually bigger in the Twin Cities. Lake Monster, which has been selling contract brew here for a couple years, has joined the ranks. They've finally opened their own brewery in St. Paul.
The vintage building is a former railroad warehouse exchange just off Vandalia Avenue, between University Avenue and Interstate 94. It’s made of old brick, features a huge parking lot (convenient for food trucks), and even an iconic water tower that makes it easy to spot from the highway. They took a big empty warehouse and made it their own, with plenty — and we mean plenty — of room for guests to move around.
There are lots of tables of varied sizes, space to stand, and even when packed to the gills, as they were during their Dec. 4 opening, there’s room to maneuver without knocking some poor sap’s beer over in the process. For how big it is, seating is perfectly spread out, making it expansive but not cavernous.
The patio is likely to be killer this spring, with a side area between the neighboring offices and a bigger section out front that faces the designated food truck and parking lots — both of which are removed from the noisy traffic of nearby roads. For now, the patios offer heaters and a smoking section.
But the taproom wouldn’t be much without the beer. Empty Rowboat IPA and Calhoun Claw Pilsener have been on market for some time. The hopped-up IPA and the clean drinking pilsener are on tap, as are a bunch of new beers, six so far in total with new beers Murmur Milk Stout, Lost Fathom Dark Lager, Buddy Check Session IPA, and Untethered Sour Brown filling out the lineup.
Murmur Milk Stout comes on nitro and is less sweet than expected, instead building a heavy chocolate malt flavor that balances neatly between a dry Irish stout and a typical Minnesota milk stout. Lost Fathom is a German-style dunkel with a high carbonation level that pops some herbal and spice notes on top of the lager profile. Buddy Check is in tune with the session IPA trend: it’s a juicy IPA that’s super clean and easy drinking, with a touch more body than other session IPAs. The sour brown jumps out from the flight, almost literally. Its first sip is puckering but it mellows after first impression. It’s surprising and quenching, more sour than brown and feels like it will pair nicely with that ample patio once the sun comes out again.
Lake Monster’s new beers are typically true to style with an experimental slant that makes them a bit bigger, whether that means IBU in the Empty Rowboat, thick creaminess in Murmur, or that fizzy herbal note in Lost Fathom. They’re beers that tie to the familiar, but are just a hair off what’s expected, often with a big first impression on the tongue.
There are basically two brewery tones in the Twin Cities right now, barn wood and brick, and Lake Monster is historic brick all the way. They use the history of their building to their advantage, but they’ve stripped it to its core, mixing old and new — akin to their brewing style. This isn’t a railroad exchange museum, it’s Lake Monster Brewing all the way from the bar up front to the fermentation tanks in back. It utilizes the historic integrity of a space (a la nearby Urban Growler) but combines it with the flair of 612.
Pints are $5, flights $8, and growlers are on order, to be sold soon.
550 Vandalia St., St. Paul
Monday through Thursday, 4-10 p.m.
Friday through Saturday, noon to midnight
Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.