There are a couple of breweries that have been on my “must visit” list for a couple of years now. The issue is that they are usually a bit out of the way or may have beers that may not be that approachable. When my friend Mitch expressed that he had a night free and wanted to visit a brewery I realized that the stars had aligned. It’d be just us, two craft beer lovers always looking for something new. I was quick to suggest HammerHeart Brewing Company, and he was quick to accept.
One of the reasons for the delay was HammerHeart’s location. Situated in Lino Lakes, it’s just far enough that it’s hard to justify a weekday drive and it’s close enough that it doesn’t warrant a trip all its own. It did however give us a chance to catch up and get ourselves primed for the visit, and truth be told the 40 minute drive from Bloomington wasn’t that bad. We rolled into the parking lot with the sun just dipping below the horizon. I’d looked at pictures online so I was sort of expecting the taproom to be tucked into a hidden copse in the heart of the city. The truth is that it’s right off a main road and the rustic lodge stands out starkly from the surrounding area.
Once we stepped across the threshold the suburbs melted away. They’ve nailed the ambience they were targeting perfectly. The only real sign that we were in a brewery was the glass wall behind the bar showing a barrel rack and hinting at the production area beyond. Because I’d read about them previously, I was expecting loud music drowning out any conversation. While they were playing heavy metal music it was at a low level that only added to the experience, even if it’s music I don’t particularly enjoy. While gazing at the thick wooden beams, we walked across the hardwood floor and bellied up to the bar. After our initial glance at the tap list together someone was quick to ask what we’d like to drink. I decided to stick to strictly 8oz pours so I could try as much of their beer as possible.
All told I tasted 7 of their beers, some of which were split between the two of us. All of them were colorfully and thematically named. By the end of the night I could say that I drank some Knut the Great, Sól, Herbstklagen, Sif’s Locks, Hokan’s Fatherhood Edition, Laurentian, and Gorm the Old. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more like a viking in my life. For a brewery that specializes in Rauchbier (smoked beer) we weren’t sure what to expect. What we found was a lot of unique and delightful brews. My tasting notes read like I enjoyed each and every beer, but three of them really jumped out of the page. Sól was a smoked chocolate stout with cherries and it really delivered on that description. It had a wood smokiness that gave way to a cherry finish and had the perfect balance between smoky and sweet. The next was Sif’s Locks. While more on the tame side than the rest of the beers, I really enjoyed it. It was described as a Polish style Grätzer that was made with oak smoked wheat. I’d traveled to Poland over a year ago and had a lot of beers similar to this one so I’m sure that helped my affection. It’s biscuity, crisp, and dry and was described by our friendly bartender as a “beer to drink when you’re deciding what beer to drink.” Aren’t they all?
My favorite beer of the visit was the Hokan’s Fatherhood Edition, and it was listed as a brown ale with cold press coffee. For a guy that doesn’t generally drink coffee I’m a sucker for beers that add a bump of cold press. As I’m writing this I’m kicking myself for not bringing some of it home with me. The aroma blows you away with heavy notes of roast coffee and the flavor is malty, soft, and surprisingly clean. I wish I would’ve tried the original Hokan’s during my visit but you’ve always got to save something for the next visit. My first experience with smoked beer was more akin to smoked meat in a glass and while HammerHeart has a couple of those varieties I was happy to find that these were the exception and not the rule. Each beer was a new experience and it was heaven for someone that likes variety.
In addition to some great beer related conversation with my friend Mitch we chatted a bit with the bartender in between beers. One thing we were wondering is whether they smoke the malt themselves. We were informed that they buy all their smoked malt from Bamberg the birthplace of Rauchbier. I’d targeted the city on my last trip to Germany but didn’t end up going, which I’m now kicking myself for. He also asked me where he would be reading about our visit. I try to be inconspicuous but it’s fairly obvious what I’m doing when I’m writing notes in my book and running around the room taking pictures. Quite a friendly fellow that was knowledgeable about the beers and improved our overall experience.
HammerHeart exceeded all expectations. My only regret is how long it took me to visit. Their taproom is like none other and a welcome change of pace to the usual concrete floors and industrial spaces you find in the metro. Each beer was its own adventure. If you’re looking for a place to visit this winter you’d be hard pressed to find a spot that complements our cold weather more than their rustic interior and smoky beers. I mentioned above that I didn’t think HammerHeart warranted its own trip. I can say emphatically that I was wrong.