Bobtown Brewhouse and Grill had been Stop Number Three on the annual Mother-in-Law’s Beer Tour this year, but we’re starting the story here because this is where one of us collected chicken wing bones and brought them home for a Halloween costume.
If you’re here for the first time, you have questions.
- What are you even talking about? Every year on the last weekend of August, I bring my mother-in-law and a small group of her friends on a tour of Twin Cities-area craft breweries. Some of her friends come from as far away as Vermont. This was year five, and by “this” I mean “last year” because these write-ups take me 10-11 months to write for some reason.
- What kind of weirdo collects chicken wings bones from a restaurant? Hey, watch it! that’s my mom you’re talking about.
Indeed, the big surprise of Year Five was the inclusion of my own mother to the group. You might assume just knowing me would be sufficient preparation for an encounter with her – but, just as knowing her would not prepare you for an encounter with me, knowing me would not prepare you for her. We’re almost exactly alike.
The core tour group – who now sport nicknames like Mr. and Mrs. Theatre Mischief, The Gentleman and The Redhead – had known my mother for barely an hour, and now they were passing her chicken wing bones and watching her stuff them into a Ziploc bag.
I don’t remember what the costume was because she never made it. If we’re using my habits to guess here, we’ll assume it’ll be done sometime in this coming September.
Back to Bobtown. A look down the business district of Roberts, Wisc., lends the impression that Bobtown Brewhouse and Grill is the first new business on West Main St. in some time. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It just does, that’s all, but a good glass of beer will make you feel right at home and Bobtown will give you that.
A Kentucky Common, Rally Ale, was lauded by The Redhead as a perfect post-lawnmower beer. “It’s got a nice, rich flavor,” she said, “and clean aftertaste.” A summer shandy made with Wisconsin Dells lemonade was … a faster beer. The Gentleman suggested drinking this one during the cut, not after.
I first heard about Bobtown in an article about their wings. They were voted best in the St. Croix Valley in 2018, and again in 2019. The contest-winning recipe isn’t served on the everyday menu, but the lemon pepper wings might have you in bafflement over what they’re bringing to the contest if not these wings. These wings are damn good. The elements are unleashed perfectly, with a crackly skin and meat that comes off the bone cleanly. Even flavors like parmesan garlic and buffalo, treated as perfunctory at most wing joints, are delivered with unexpected depth at Bobtown.
I didn’t find the Screamin’ wings hot in the slightest, but I’ve been known to leisurely slurp spoonfuls of Double Take’s 10X hot sauces. I might not be the right person to ask.
To this point, a pair of really nice dark beers had set the day’s tone. At Somerset’s Oliphant Brewing, a coffee black ale called Gobias had been fought over by everyone at the table. Gobias, presumably named after an Arrested Development skit, is indicated on crowlers by what appears to be two secret agents summoning a coffee blob monster out of its mug-shaped cavernous lair.
My mother had an especially glowing review of Gobias, saying, “I could drink that.” If my mother is Brick Top, this beer might have been her Tommy that day. I was high on Gobias, but don’t sleep on Honees Honees, a golden honey made with peanut butter, honey and lactose. If you’ve ever had Justin’s Honey Peanut Butter, this beer will probably remind you of that. Nobody wanted to share Gobias, so three of us bought crowlers of it to take home.
Gobias was followed by Dark Knight, the barrel-aged even-more-walloping version of Barley John’s Old 8 porter. Dark Knight is what happens when the porter is double-fermented and aged for six months in bourbon barrels. The porter is regularly 8 percent alcohol by volume; the process of making Dark Knight cranks that up to 13.
That beer is devilishly smooth, with barrel character that didn’t overwhelm and absolutely nothing that underwhelmed. The dill pickle beer, Barley John’s contribution to the Minnesota State Fair food weird-off, was passed around and met with approving nods from the group. As is custom, we had two charcuterie trays brought to the table and demolished them in relatively short order (and by “relatively short order,” I mean “practically instantly”).
From Bobtown, we skipped on to River Falls and made quick stops at both of their breweries. Our first stop was Swinging Bridge Brewing Company. I forget exactly what kind of bloopers were being broadcast on the televisions at Swinging Bridge Brewing Company, but I remember 1) they involved motor vehicles, generally; and 2) having torn myself open earlier that afternoon while posing in front of a sign, I wasn’t too impressed by them.
Swinging Bridge has been open since 2017 and comes equipped with three key features. The first is a really, really good pretzel. It doesn’t qualify as giant, in the same way Gluek’s pretzel is giant, but a Swinging Bridge pretzel won’t leave you light. It won’t leave three people light, for that matter. The second feature is a bridge-inspired flight carrier design. It’s nice to carry a flight holder and not have to walk like you’re on a tightrope. The third is Hipster Glasses, a dry-hopped IPA made with four kinds of hops. It was the favorite on River Falls’ Main Street, but the pretzel might have been the most sought-after item. That’s not knocking the beers; it was a really good pretzel.
We moseyed into Rush River Brewing Company during their second-annual Cask Fest, where we got to try Uber Alt infused with pomegranate green tea; Bubblejack IPA infused with lavender; and a mojito shandy. A mojito beer has won with us before, but their Lost Arrow porter was the highest-scored beer at Rush River. Fun fact: I stopped back to Rush River to purchase a six-pack of this beer, and I got one for $6!
We went from River Falls back to where it all began six years ago: Pitchfork Brewing in Hudson. Four of our five tours have come through here, and their Barn Door Brown was the very first winner – but the show-stealer this year at Pitchfork was actually their house-made root beer. It was nicely balanced, lacked the gut-rotting carbonation from the usual fountain root beers, and didn’t even feel that much out of place in a flight. It was, in technical name and in character, a craft beer.
The record will tell you a porter was named best beer by the crew this year, but here’s a secret: we graded the root beer, too, and the root beer would’ve crushed everything.
The Barn Door Brown is approachable by any level of beer drinker and, while not wowing, is a nice every-down beer you can enjoy when you don’t want your beer to be a big deal. Many of Pitchfork’s beers are the very same way. Mike Fredricksen and his team brew with a steady hand, and now they’re finally moving out of that Rodeo Dr. strip mall. Hit them up on Facebook to see the progress of their new site, which the team is building from scratch in the middle of a farm field. That, again, is very Pitchfork.
What they’re not doing is setting up shop on Hudson’s Main Street, 2nd Street, where the daytime antiquers walk and pedestrians just imagine a crosswalk onto any piece of street regardless of how close a moving vehicle might be. Hudson’s Main Street is a pleasant compromise between small-town charm for the old yacht owners and modern amenities for their spalpeens. It’s a half-decent walkabout, though, if you can wrap up before 11 p.m. or if you can snag at late-night seat at the Agave Kitchen.
If you’ve ever been in the Smilin’ Moose after midnight, please don’t ever tell me about it.
And there’s Hop and Barrel (not to be confused with Bat and Barrel, Brick and Bourbon, Burgers and Bottles, or Hook and Barley). A craft brewery on 2nd Street was inevitable, but 2nd Street needed one. The gang at Hop and Barrel could just coast in their cushy catbird seat, make stuff, and it would be consumed regardless of quality. Thankfully, Hop and Barrel isn’t content with that. They make some pretty good beers.
The very last thing we did here was pass around Officer Flamingo, a collaboration between Hop and Barrel and Bobtown. We’d also had it at Bobtown, and wanted to see how the scores varied between one site and the other. Officer Flamingo scored a little bit higher at Bobtown, but I would attribute that to drinking fatigue more than anything else. We had, to this point, been drinking for the better part of nine hours and tried over 60 beers.
Compared to last year (80), we toned it down quite a bit.
SO, WHO WON?
This is the part where I once again remind everyone that this was only for fun, none of us are experts (not even me, though I’m occasionally still accused of being one), and I’m not revealing the scores because this was only for fun and none of us are experts. This year, we’re also recognizing the highest-scoring brewery.
- 2014: Pitchfork Brewing, Barn Door Brown
- 2015: Oliphant Brewing, Mary Porter
- 2016: Summit Brewing Company, Havana Pub Mojit-ale
- 2017: Bauhaus Brew Labs, Slawhammer
- Brewery: Rush River
- Beer: Barley John’s Brewpub, Dark Knight
Barley John’s Dark Knight scored one point higher than Oliphant Brewing’s Gobias and kept the Somerset brewery n shit from being the first two-time tour winner. Rush River’s Lost Arrow tied for fourth, but all of their beers scored well and Rush River’s total was the highest by a considerable margin.