I’m at an age where you start to see your friends less and less often. Everyone has a family and they’ve settled into their own routines. There are a few people that I’m lucky to see more than once a year. I’ve been working in St. Paul for over a decade and one day it dawned on me that one of those friends lives relatively close to my office. It took just a few texts to line up a time after work to meet my friend Adam at Barley John’s Brewpub in New Brighton.
As I’m writing this post there are over 160 breweries in Minnesota. When Barley John’s hit the scene in the early 2000s they were one of the few. Like so many others, they were founded by a home brewer and since then they’ve kept their New Brighton location and added a production facility and taproom in New Richmond, Wisconsin. This was due to growth as well as to skirt some Minnesota brewpub laws that prevented them from owning a brewery and distributing their product. It also seems like they really like cities that begin with “New.”
The brewpub is sandwiched in an intersectional oddity. It’s a triangular spit of land that’s surrounded on all sides by a city street, a highway, and a county road! I pulled into the parking lot a little early, primarily so that I could take photos and notes without it being rude when my friend arrived. At 5pm on a weekday I was the only car in the parking lot. Since it was approaching Halloween (as signified by their “Hoppy Halloween” sign) it was too cold to sit outside but they’ve got a patio that looks like it would be a cozy spot. Their hop plants were looking a bit sad for late October but it seems like they would completely blanket the walls surrounding it.
I took a seat near the bar at wooden table with a live edge and a cribbage board drilled right into it! Before I did anything else I snapped a photo and sent it to my brother in-law. He always plays cribbage with his girlfriend when they visit breweries so I had to share! It went in the mental vault for if there ever comes a time where I design my own taproom. The brewpub itself is quite small. There is a dining room with ten to fifteen tables and a short wooden bar with five seats. It’s truly an old school brewpub, more of a bar and grill than a trendy taproom.
Once my friend arrived we put in an order for food. Despite the overwhelming aroma of pizza we both decided on steak and fries. While we caught up on our lives I drank a pint of Wild Brunette. This is the beer that started it all for Barley John’s and I instantly saw why. It’s brewed with wild rice which gives it a bit of nuttiness to go with the roasted malt and chocolate flavors. Very solid beer that I’d love to have again! When my steak arrived I hadn’t planned very well and was pairing it with Frankenberry, a raspberry and rhubarb wild ale. Flavor was overall very good but a bit too sweet for my tastes, not helped by my savory meal! I recovered and ordered a glass of their Little Barley Bitter. An English Bitter that instantly transported me to The Fox Inn. There is something about this style that really jives with me, and it’s a shame that they are few and far between.
As we paid our tabs I realized that the place was much busier than when I arrived. The bartender had been greeting people by name and almost everyone knew exactly what beer they wanted when they took a spot at the bar. This is clearly a place that regulars frequent and their well brewed beers must be the reason why. If you’re looking for a quiet spot to catch up with your friends then Barley John’s might be just the place.