This last weekend the wife and I had the opportunity to take a nice, leisurely boat ride around Lake Minnetonka while drinking the current offerings from Excelsior Brewing. Excelsior Brewing Co. is about two months old, so I thought I could share my thoughts on the brewery with you.
Excelsior Brewing Co. is located in Excelsior, MN, about 20 minutes west of Minneapolis. Beth and I had signed up for a "beer cruise" of Lake Minnetonka that had shown up on Living Social. Ben, from Excelsior Brewing, was pouring the beer for the boat ride, and we had a number of appetizers to enjoy for the trip including artichoke dip, buffalo wings, chips with salsa and guacamole and a cheese platter. We were given four beers from Excelsior Brewing with some pairing notes for the various hors d'oeuvres.
The beers were as follows:
Big Island Blond - A decent blond ale weighing in around 5.1% ABV. Definitely a beer that could be enjoyed by most beer drinkers, it has a lighter body with a fairly subdued hop flavor. It seemed to be a favorite with most of the people on the boat.
XLCR Pale Ale - Ben described it as sort of a cross between Summit Extra Pale Ale and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. While it was a decent pale ale, I wouldn't really compare it to either Summit's or Sierra Nevada's offerings. It was a bit on the sweeter side, but had enough hops to balance it out fairly well. When I mentioned to Ben that I wouldn't really peg it for being similar to Summit or Sierra Nevada's pale ales, he did mention that the specific batch we were drinking had Glacier hops (he might have said Galena, I don't quite remember for sure) added to it, which the pale ale doesn't normally have. The beer comes in around 5.8% ABV, and while it's a good pale ale, it's a bit on the sweeter side for my personal tastes, and really isn't a beer that would distinguish itself in any meaningful way to me.
Bridge Jumper IPA - Excelsior's website shows this beer as being 8% ABV, but according to Ben, the batch we were drinking was more like 9% ABV. This may have been my favorite beer of the evening, although, the IPA label might be a bit off. The beer has a bit too much fruity character for an IPA, but it's still a very nice beer. A bit on the sweet side again, and I wouldn't want to drink it all night long, but it would make a nice beer to finish a session off with. I thought it went really well with the artichoke dip, and may have gone well with some of the cheeses, but most of the cheese was gone by the time I got to this beer.
Bitteschlappe Brown Ale - OK, I'm not sure if that's the actual spelling they used, and I can't find it on their website. I basically started thinking of it as "Bitch Slap Brown Ale" after Ben mentioned the name was sort of an altered phrase for what they were calling it internally. According to Ben, we were drinking the first keg of this beer to actually leave the brewery. It was potentially a little light on the SRM scale to really call a brown ale (although, by the time I got a glass the sun had gone down, and we were sitting on the outside deck without a lot of light, so I could be off on that) but it did have a really nice flavor to it. This was Beth's favorite beer of the evening. She describes it as fairly smooth, a little roasty with just a touch of sweet. Very little hop character, but this will make for a good fall beer.
All in all, I would say that their beer is good, but not a whole lot (in the beer offerings) to make it stand out from the other breweries opening in the area.
That being said, after we got off the boat we took a little walk over to their tap room to check it out. Here is where Excelsior Brewing does stand out a bit. Their tap room was absolutely jumping. They had good music, the staff was extremely friendly, and they had several different sizes of Jenga games strewn throughout. It was especially fun to watch people try to play the one made from 2"x4" boards after they'd had a couple of beers.
I had won a t-shirt on the boat by answering a trivia question correctly, but Ben gave me the wrong size. I had asked for an XL, he accidentally gave me what appeared to be a medium baby doll tee, which I gave to my wife (medium would be a bit big for her, but she's hoping to shrink it.) I mentioned it in passing to Ben as we were leaving the boat, and he promised me an XL shirt if I went to the tap room, which he did make good on, so we got two free shirts.
While I probably won't search out bars that carry their beer, I will buy it if I see it on tap, and will probably make the occasional trip to their tap room, which is where I think they really shine right now. Their website says their tap room is open until 10pm Thursday through Saturday, but Ben said it's open "until at least 11" multiple times. It would be nice if they could get a food truck to setup shop near the tap room, I wasn't hungry, but I could see wanting some food if you were hanging out there for a few hours. If you're in the area, I definitely suggest you try making a trip to their tap room.