By Doug Hoverson
When taprooms began to spring up all over the state, some wondered if the brewpub model was obsolete. Why bother with all the expense of setting up a kitchen and running a restaurant when you can just serve beer? With Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub, the reason is as clear as the glass expanse that defines the dining room—great food with a local signature. True to its name, the menu is dominated by meat smoked in house, accented with cheese smoked in house.
So, what beer would go well with smoked food? Almost anything, really, which is why head brewer Jamie Robinson and his team are able to offer a creative range of beers which accent the meal or taste great on their own. The four year-round beers are Light Rail Pale Ale, Big Jim IPA, Smokehouse Porter, and Honey Wheat Ale. The latter is not an ordinary “entry-level craft beer.” The honey and wheat character both come through nicely, and while it is definitely the most accessible beer for a guest not used to bold flavors, beer geeks should also find it enjoyable. The “flagship” is Big Jim—it outsells any other beer by a two to one ratio, and is one of a growing family of what Jamie calls a Minnesota IPA (including Furious and Masala Mama). But the beer Jamie considers his “baby” is the Smokehouse Porter. The result of more than thirty test batches, each batch includes thirty pounds of pale malt cold-smoked over cherry wood for five hours.
Depending on how quickly they sell out, there are usually four seasonals on tap. On recent visits, offerings ranged from the Snownami (Double Chocolate Raspberry Stout) to their Wild Rice Amber Ale, to the first lager brewed at Northbound, a doppelbock. The tap list also includes about a half dozen well-chosen guest beers from local craft brewers. Northbound has also been involved in collaborations with other brewers, most notably Indeed Brewing for their Hot Box Imperial Smoked Pepper Porter brewed with malt and peppers both smoked by Northbound. About 19% of Northbound’s beer is sold in growlers.
The brewpub is in a restored building nestled in a South Minneapolis neighborhood where it has become a popular spot for the residents. Northbound has made a concerted effort to provide Cicerone training to their staff, so beer lovers can expect intelligent conversations about the beer. The decorations on the wall celebrate the historic transportation network of the city—a link to the Hiawatha light rail line that stops two short blocks to the east.
The menu includes a few vegetarian items, but the smoked meats are definitely the main attraction, and draw lots of customers who are there just for a meal, and not even taking advantage of a great pint of beer served Straight From the Source.
6.2% ABV; 30 IBUs; 28 SRM
Medium-bodied Robust Porter. Dark chocolate and caramel flavors with a light smoky character.
78% Rahr Pale Ale Malt
9.5% Simpson’s Chocolate Malt
5% House Smoked Rahr Pale Ale Malt
3.5% Flaked Barley
3% Crystal 120
1% Special B
Aroma: East Kent Goldings