On a Saturday morning in early December, Samantha and I were sitting at a small table in New London’s Middle Fork Cafe. We were enjoying a small brunch in preparation for our the next taproom on our list and trading stories about our travels from the night before. The food was good but once I finished my sandwich the mind switched gears to beer. We paid and then took to the cold streets to arrive at our next stop, Goat Ridge Brewing Company, just as they opened at noon.
When we entered, the music was on full blast and the lone worker was cleaning out some things in the backroom. I’m sure she didn’t expect anyone to arrive shortly after she unlocked the door so we had a little time to take in the surroundings. They’re called a nanobrewery and it’s a fitting description. With room for less than 50 people it’s got a clubhouse feel like few taprooms do. There is a small bar with swivel chairs for a handful of people and some miscellaneous other seating scattered throughout their vintage interior. That included a small rail in the middle of the taproom which would be my spot of choice if I was a regular.
A short time later our bartender finally realized we were there, apologized, turned down the music, and asked us what we would like. I ordered a flight of four and Samantha asked for a pint. While she was pouring our beers we grabbed a table in the corner near some windows and dropped off our things. The flight board was simple but had a unique design that I hadn’t seen before. There was a small piece of wood on the bottom that made the flight board appear to float on the table. Simple, but effective! Once we sat down we realized our spot was in the perfect place: sundrenched and warm with a great view of the middle fork of the Crow River.
It was at this point I could really start to see some of the details. The bar is custom made from almost 100 year old barnwood. Their slogan “Beer From Here” is peppered throughout the room. Rustic fixtures and furnishings are scattered around, many of which are artifacts rescued from the Goat Ridge Farm. This farm, I would learn, is the namesake of the brewery and where their story really began (read more about it at The Growler). Their tap menu handout is also wonderful. They’ve got a suggested drinking order, paragraph descriptions, an event list, and a “now fermenting” section so you can tell what’s coming soon. It’s not as shiny and bright as some taprooms in the Twin Cities but the attention to detail is still there in spades.
I was able to try five of their beers. They were the Knights American Blonde, New London Amber Ale, Brother Buzz Double Honey IPA, Blood Moon Imperial Red Ale, and Panic Imperial Stout. I was surprised to see two imperials on the menu and since it was the first taproom of the day I figured it was safe to give them a taste. The Knights was my favorite of the bunch. It was an easy drinking straw yellow ale with a light, crisp, and wheaty flavor. The Panic also hit the spot on a cold winter afternoon with dusky brown bubbles, a roasted chocolate and caramel flavor, and a smooth creamy mouthfeel.
I say I’m going to visit taprooms again a lot, and I mean it sincerely when I do, but Goat Ridge Brewing Company is a definite must. It’s little wonder they won my Best Surprise of 2016, and if I can make it up there again I think they’d be in the running for a different award this year. I’m planning for the summer because with the backyard patio on the river, continually rotating taps, and their ongoing concert series it seems like a recipe for a major good time. One thing is for certain, the people of New London are very lucky to have them.