Photos by Aaron Davidson
With all the well-deserved excitement about Minnesota’s new breweries, it is easy to get caught up in the latest opening or the newest exotic style. However, it’s always worth revisiting the veterans of the local scene. It seems any brewery that has been around for more than three years is a veteran these days, so a brewpub fast approaching its twenty-year anniversary is truly a relic. But Great Waters Brewing remains relevant, especially in its dedication to cask beers.
Great Waters is a special place for me. It’s the place I was having a pint when I finally decided to commit to writing Land of Amber Waters. Alone among area brewpubs, it has its own well in the basement of the historic Hamm Building (not to be confused with the Hamm Brewery). While the pre-Prohibition structure provides a link to one of the state’s great brewing dynasties, it’s unlikely Theodore Hamm would recognize any of the beers served there today. Brewer Tony Digatono loves a good pilsner, and brews seasonal lagers in the fall and spring. But with the cramped fermentation cellar, it’s a tough decision to tie up precious tank space for too long.
Tony has tweaked a few recipes and introduced new beers in the last two years, but he didn’t want to move too far away from a formula that has been successful since 1997. Besides, his favorite styles are those “that go really well in a pint glass.” The best-selling beer is still the Golden Prairie Blonde Ale, which continues to satisfy the diverse crowds coming from the Ordway, the Xcel Energy Center, or the Park Square Theater. But one of his recent offerings was Ka-Pow, an IPA brewed with New Zealand rakau hops,which add the tropical fruit characteristics typical of many Southern Hemisphere hops, and clocked in at 65 IBU.
What has long set Great Waters apart is its commitment to classic British cask ale. Cask ales are not just flavorful, but a throwback to an era when the cellarmaster was more important than the bartender and nearly as important as the brewmaster. These carefully cellared beers will continue to change character over time, and the experienced bar staff can produce the dense yet fluffy head that defines a well-pulled pint.
Cask beer accounts for about 20–30% of sales but the style still causes some confusion. Tony says they get an occasional angry comment card complaining that the beers are too warm, even though the menus (and servers) are careful to note the 52°F serving temperature. One of Tony’s new cask ales is St. Andrew’s Cross, a worthy interpretation of a strong Scotch ale. The complexity of the grain bill shines in a cask pour, a style that tends to help showcase maltier beers. But cask ales don’t travel well in the back of delivery trucks, so the only way to get them is Straight From the Source.
St. Andrew’s Cross Strong Scotch Ale
ABV 8.1%; IBU 18; OG 16.9° Plato
85% Rahr pale malt
5% Crisp Crystal 77L
5% flaked oats
With Crisp Caramalt, light Munich, Special B and Chocolate malts for the remainder
Yeast: House Ale Yeast