Where I work, we’ve got a lot of craft beer lovers. There’s also a heavy emphasis on happy hour. That hour typically stretches into two or three and ends at a St. Paul brewery. When my coworker Carly announced that she would be leaving the company for a new opportunity, there was one place she’d been wanting to go for quite awhile. Never hesitant to try a new place, we quickly scheduled a trip to Barrel Theory Beer Company.
Ever since they’d opened I’ve heard from several people that Barrel Theory was the real deal. Dusk was firmly setting in as we descended into Lowertown, a firm reminder that it was still the depths of winter. I had to spin around the block before spotting some street parking kitty corner from the taproom. While we crossed the road on foot the last rays of sun danced against their light brick building. They are the new residents of a building where a former magic and costume shop called home. There is a new type of magic going on inside now, the kind of magic that results in IPAs, Stouts, and Sours.
I was one of the last to arrive and quickly spotted our large group at a handful of tables in front of their bar. Half of the group sat on a long bench that ran the length of the building, a cozy seat that keeps Barrel Theory’s colorful tap list permanently in sight. The bar is L-shaped and the short edge faces their 10 barrel brewhouse. If the name of the brewery was any indication, wood plays a prominent theme in the taproom decor. There is a beautiful wood bar, wood walls, a wood floor, and an exposed ceiling with wood beams and joists. The remainder of the interior offsets the softness of the wood with the usual mainstays: an original limestone wall behind the tap list, black bar seats, and their shiny brilliant fermenters. Those fermenters were capturing the last bit of sun on a brisk January evening. Nearly floor to ceiling windows dominate the front of the room which let a lot of natural light spill into the room and off a variety of surfaces. I’d love to visit in the daytime, which should give the place a completely different feel than a the cold blue light of a winter evening.
If you’re looking for an IPA then Barrel Theory has you covered. Of the twelve taps, seven were a variety of IPA. I tried to mix it up, and tasted three IPAs and three others; four ounces at a time. Their colorful tap list was paired with some creative names. The six I chose were Black Lotus, Java Oats, Rain Drops, MPG, The Magic Man, and Chazz Michael Michaels. One consistent theme among the names is their heavy pop culture references, and there has got to be some Will Ferrell fans among the staff! There was another consistency among them as well, they all tasted great! Two stood out from the pack. First was Black Lotus, a milk stout brewed with coconut, and it was like a liquid Samoa cookie. Plenty of bitter dark chocolate notes balanced against smooth sweet coconut. On the other side of the spectrum was the MPG. It was a Mango Passionfruit Guava Berlinerweisse. If the Black Lotus was a cookie, the MPG was a Starburst. Fantastic stone fruit flavor and aroma with mango taking the lead. Not too sweet and very refreshing at 4% ABV.
There is more to the name Barrel Theory than a reference to their barrel aged beers racked below the taproom. It’s derived from Liebig’s Law of the Minimum which states growth is dictated by the scarcest resource. In terms of a barrel, this means that the shortest stave determines how much liquid can be stored within. Their theory also contains a particular focus on quality and customer service. This is reflected in each of their beers. Co-founders Brett Splinter and Timmy Johnson learned about the benefits of quality control at Surly Brewing, under the watchful eye of former brewmaster Todd Haug. It’s a recipe for success, which is why I’ve heard so many rave about them in the short time they’ve been open. If he hasn’t visited already, I think Todd would be quite pleased.
If you’re looking for something to eat with your beer the Dark Horse Bar & Eatery is right next door. You’re also welcome to order food and have it delivered. This is the way things should be, with one visit you can support two local business. The only knock I’ve got is the tough parking situation. This can be remedied with a bit of research and planning. Their taproom is on the smaller end of the spectrum and it can be pretty full at peak time. I’d suggest aligning your visit to when they open mid-afternoon and set some reservations for one of the new restaurants that are popping up the neighborhood. No matter when you visit there is one thing that is certain: there will be fantastic beer waiting for you.