Urban Growler is open

Deb and Jill of Urban Growler took the scenic route in their brewery opening. After years of fundraising, planning, and building, their dream has finally materialized in their little slice of industrial Midway heaven.

UG cheersWhy did it take so long? It wasn’t lack of organization or hard work, by the way. If you missed my first interview with them, I’ll remind you that the two wanted to build walls, brew beer, and serve food from a place of financial stability and organic growth. Similar to other crowdfunding in the beer industry, they asked friends and neighbors to donate at different levels, for different rewards.

Despite a hotly anticipated Grand Opening to happen on August 27th, fans of Urban Growler are aware that the beer has been flowing for a few weeks already!

St Anthony Park and the surrounding neighborhoods are being reinvigorated by places like Urban Growler, “located just five blocks off of the Raymond Avenue Station of the new Green Line along the eclectic University Avenue corridor. With Bang Brewing right next door (literally!), Burning Brothers Gluten Free Brewery within a mile, and Tin Whiskers at the end of the line in downtown St. Paul, the new Green Line is a great way for enthusiasts to get a taste of the evolving St. Paul craft beer scene.” – Jill Pavlak

I have had high hopes for Urban Growler from day one. I visited last weekend and left with a big smile on my face, muttering something like “yessss! I knew it.”

Urban Growler City DayBrewer Deb Loch came out of the gates with a modest but smart line-up of widely appealing beer: a cream ale, a rhubarb wit, a session IPA and a Kentucky common. With a selection like this, appropriate for the season and the food menu, most drinkers will find more than one option to be excited about. And with all choices hovering around 5.2-5.5%, that is okay.

I started with the City Day Ale, a hazy-orange Kentucky common based on the recipe for Bourbon, but made to beer strength. Similar to the version at Sisyphus, this one isn’t sour, but it is delicately tart and refreshing.

Aside from top-notch beer, the service absolutely sets Urban Growler apart from the dozens of new Minnesota breweries. In my time at the bar, I heard multiple servers using appropriate language to describe food pairings, styles and history, and to discuss Sunday Sales. It was very impressive. In a space that is full of character, with the right amount of openness and coziness, it feels like a comfortable barn party.

The Cuban sandwich was very good, served with plain crudites, which, given their house-made ranch, didn’t disappoint me at all. The thick-cut ham and ciabatta creation was just the right size for the price.

urban growler cubanThe first beer in their Plow-to-Pint series, which features ingredients from local farms, is the Rhubarb Wit. The beer is the color and cloudiness of raw honey and delivers very full yeast notes on the aroma. Rhubarb is a mild ingredient that reads as crispness, and potentiates the wheat character. Paradoxically, It becomes slightly more bright and tart on warming.

Jill explains that the favorite beer is up for debate, but overall the crowd has been pleased. Those who previously shied away from wheat beers have expressed their enjoyment in the rhubarb, and expanding people’s palates has been very fulfilling.

summer beers – don’t miss out!

Stiegl RadlerThe warmer months hit Minnesota and the entire rhythm of my life changes. I spend every possible moment outside, household chores be damned. Instead of catching up on movies or laundry I am kayaking the chain of lakes, biking to the farmers market, and exploring the parks – earbuds in, book in hand.

And while I am a dark beer lover, this season’s summer beer selection has been, in my opinion, better than usual. I was part of a panel of tasters in this Heavy Table Summer Beer article; I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and it reminded me of the positives to lighter, more seasonable beer. Here are a few of my personal favorites that you simply can’t miss before it’s too late!

First, Bitter Brewer from Surly is a tasty number that I admittedly hadn’t tasted until this year. Well, no more summers will pass without a few of these in the fridge.

Bitter BrewerBitter Brewer is relatively low in alcohol, but big on flavor. It has a distinctly English malt character and potent floral hop aroma. The balance of restrained bitterness and bold tangerine notes are perfect for summer and would make a great pairing for grilled chicken or shortbread.

English beers are some of my absolute favorites, and this local rendition represents a classic ESB with perhaps a bit more fruit aroma. About 4% ABV is, for me, an excellent range for safe beach or kayak drinking. Bonus? The estimated calories in this one are super low, about 123. I don’t typically discuss that particular stat for fear of feeding into calorie terrorism as well as cliches about female drinkers, but bikini-minded people want to know.

Note that this beer benefits greatly from being poured into a glass- perhaps even more than other beer. However… the park board frowns on beer, let alone glass- I didn’t want to put an even bigger target on my back.

Bitter Brewer is approaching the end of its season (to be replaced by Surlyfest) so head out and grab this one very soon. Then find yourself some flippy-floppies.

Daypack Pale AleBrand new from Bent Paddle is Daypack Pale Ale, part of their Trail Series, replacing their ho-hum blonde ale. And wow! Day Pack is seriously craveable. I dream about this beer.

Daypack is another low-ABV gem with explosive herbal and citrus fragrance. With substantial bitterness and effervescence perfect for a hot day, you’ll want a few of these.

Stand-out flavors include grapefruit, resin, and biscuit, hinting at elements of both classic British IPAs and West Coast American versions. It bridges the gap very well. The dry finish underscores this beer’s ability to fill that session role for your summer afternoon.

My suggestion? Drink it with sandy toes.

Finally, a good hike or paddle deserves something very refreshing, slightly sweet, and easy to drink. That niche can be occupied very easily by the Stiegl Radler. This beer was discussed last fall during my bench-building adventure. I first discovered Radlers while reading a Star Tribune article by Michael Agnew at summer’s peak last year, and I find them to be the perfect beer for non-beer drinkers and connoisseurs alike.Stiegl Radler 2


Radlers are extremely traditional in Germany, where the beer is mixed with soda at the time of serving. The grapefruit notes taste so fresh and complement the cracker-like malt so well that the pairing of soda and beer seems only natural.

Don’t depart on an adventure without a favorite summer beer, and don’t let fall roll in without a sip of these three!

[craft & craft] wine crate windowbox

Browsing farmer’s markets and garden shops makes me want to buy plants. As in, lots of them. I get nutty ideas about ways to keep plants happy and beautiful indoors, and become enchanted by the leafy green promises of growing things I can not only enjoy looking at but also eat.

For the most part, these ideas never pan out in my east-facing condo, and I end up with withered herbs at various stages along the way.

I’m actually on the landscaping committee at my building. Don’t tell them I kill plants.

N glarus crateAnyway, I occasionally have a more modest, practical idea, which leads to at least a few months of a living thing or two. This idea, the wine crate windowbox, comes from me wanting to essentially have indoor windowboxes with little upkeep and no huge mess.

Follow along. But first, grab a beer.

I suggest a New Glarus Berliner Weisse (more on that later) or a similar refreshing number with tart and dry elements.

Also grab a wine crate, any size, but deeper is better for root growth (or so I’m told). A staple gun will make this project terribly easy, too, and some heavy duty lawn bags to line the crate are a must.

seedlingsOptional – coat the crate with polyurethane or stain if desired. Sealing it will make it a bit more durable and protect against any misplaced drips of water on the exterior.

Oh, also, you need plants and potting soil – more soil than you may think. I chose four for a relatively small crate – rosemary, basil, habanero pepper, bell pepper. They by no means need to be edibles, that’s just my preference.

Take the crate and cut two pieces of the garbage bag to line the crate. I left the bag folded, so that there would be two layers within each piece. The first cut should be the width of one side and long enough to line down the side, across the bottom and up the other side (i.e., press it down into the crate to line it.) The second cut should be the same but in the other direction – the width of the other side.

When you’re done cutting, line them up accordingly and staple them along the top of the sides and at the corners of the box. Trim any excess. The entire interior of the box should be covered. I actually used packing tape in the bottom corners to keep the pieces from sliding on one another, just for insurance.

From there, it is quite simple. Some rocks in the bottom are a good idea for drainage. Fill with soil, add plants, and water generously!wine crate wndowboxThe New Glarus Berliner Weisse is an ideal beer for this project, especially if you are working outside. It is so refreshing and tart that it brightens up the act of digging in soggy soil. It would be an ideal Berliner for mixing with a fruit syrup, like raspberry or maybe even peach.

This Wisconsin take on a traditional German sour gets its punch from “Barrel fermentation, Riesling grapes and Wisconsin White Wheat” along with a bottle conditioning using five proprietary yeast strains.

plantsNew Glarus is not available in Minnesota, so feel free to reach for a Wolf Berlin Style Weisse from here in Minnesota, or try a traditional version from Germany. Thanks to my friend Josh for my New Glarus birthday beer.

This project was ideal for my space because I have these long window ledges that go from wall to wall in my condo, but I have no patio or deck. Try using your wine crate windowbox near a kitchen window or as a creative centerpiece on a porch table.

As for finding a crate to use, they are getting harder to get as more wineries move towards cardboard. Ask your local liquor or wine store. My most reliable source has been Haskell’s in Downtown Minneapolis or U.S. Liquor in Hopkins.

Love wine crates? Look forward to my next [craft & craft] edition – an entire wall bookshelf made of them. Can’t wait!