Voyageur Brewing Company Hits the Twin Cities

Voyageur Brewing Company is bringing its flagship beers to the Twin Cities. Voyageur opened the doors of its Grand Marais brewery in March of 2015, sale joining nearly 30 other new breweries in what was surely the biggest ever, patient single-year expansion of the Minnesota beer scene. What is particularly exciting about this growth is the number of new breweries located outside the Twin Cities in greater Minnesota. Voyageur is situated a couple blocks north of Grand Marais’ other brewery the Gunflint Tavern, making it I believe the second-most northerly brewery in the state after Boathouse Brewpub in Ely.

In these days of extreme expansion, I have come to approach new breweries with some trepidation. I want them to be good. I really do. All too often though, they aren’t. With so many eager entrepreneurs fueling the beer boom, there has been an influx of brewers who lack the experience and knowledge to really make great beer. Much of what’s coming out is just so-so. Some of it is truly bad.

By bad, I mean flawed. I mean beers with quantifiable recipe and process related issues. These are beers left sticky sweet from under attenuation. Beers with ill-defined, flabby flavor profiles. Beers with detectible or even downright offensive levels of process-derived off-flavors. Such things have become all too common.

And so it was with mixed emotions that I greeted news of Voyageur’s entry into the Twin Cities market. I have not been able to visit them. I’m not a Minnesota native and water doesn’t thrill me. I don’t quite get the whole “up north” thing. It was exciting to have their beers come to me. I wanted them to be good. I really, really did.

Here’s my notes:

VoyageurTrailbreaker Wit
Voyageur Brewing Company, Grand Marais, Minnesota
Style: Belgian Witbier
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
5% ABV
15 IBU

Aroma: Meaty, ham. Low wheaty grain. Low banana. Medium clove. Medium floral from Coriander. Low lemon citrus. Puffy isoamyl acetate. Main perception is ham. Low medicinal phenol.

Appearance: Medium, meringue-like, white head. Medium retention. Medium gold and cloudy.

Flavor: Meaty. Almost salty. Medicinal. High clove spice. Same ham as aroma. Low, bready/cracker wheat malt. Medium-low sweetness. Low bitterness. No hop flavor. Finish is dry with lingering clove and ham. Background of orange citrus.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium-high carbonation. Thick.

Overall Impression: According to the 2008 BJCP Guidelines, coriander of certain origins can give witbier a celery or ham character. Apparently heavy use of the wrong kind of coriander leaves this beer with an unpleasant, ham aroma and flavor that is enhanced by the high level of clove phenol from fermentation. A bit thick and heavy for the style. Lacking the light, refreshing character one expects from a witbier. Not pleasant. Clunky and literally ham fisted.

VoyageurDevil’s Kettle India Pale Ale
Voyageur Brewing Company, Grand Marais, Minnesota
Style: American IPA
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
6.8% ABV
70 IBU

Aroma: Lime citrus hops. Some floral hop notes. Medium malt with light toast. Medium perception of sweetness. High esters – banana and juicy fruit. Clove phenols – salty ham.

Appearance: Full, creamy, off-white foam with excellent retention. Medium copper/amber. Hazy.

Flavor: Hop bitterness is emphasized – very long lingering. It just won’t let go. Hop flavor is medium-high – citrus, floral and pine. It carries into mid-palate before being overshadowed by bitterness. Malt is sweet, almost syrupy, with low notes of caramel and toast. Juicy Fruit esters. Finish is off-dry with bitterness that envelopes the tongue.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full body. Medium carbonation. Low alcohol warming. Some hop astringency.

Overall Impression: Flabby and ill-defined. Bitterness overwhelms, but the beer manages a sticky sweetness at the same time.

VoyageurPalisade Porter
Voyageur Brewing Company, Grand Marais, Minnesota
Style: Brown Porter
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
5.3% ABV
30 IBU

Aroma: Smoky – like burnt plastic or electrical fire. Low, dark-chocolate, roasted malt. Low earthy hops.

Appearance: Very dark brown – appears black. Ruby highlights. Clear. Medium, creamy, beige foam with good retention.

Flavor: Malt forward. Dry, roasted malt – dark chocolate. Low caramel. Medium-low sweetness. Same burnt plastic/electrical fire character carries over from aroma. Bitterness is medium. Finish is very dry with lingering roast barley and smoke.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light body. Medium-high carbonation. Low creaminess.

Overall Impression: A mediocre homebrew. Aroma and flavor both lacking in depth – rather one-note. And that one note isn’t altogether good. The smoky, burnt plastic character is most unwelcome and signals bigger issues at the brewery.

VoyageurBoundary Waters Brunette
Voyageur Brewing Company, Grand Marais, Minnesota
Style: North English Brown Ale
Serving Style: 12 oz. bottle
4.3% ABV
25 IBU

Aroma: Malt forward. High toast. Low touch of dry, roasted grain. No hops. One dimensional.

Appearance: Low, mixed-bubble, tan foam. Poor retention. Mahogany and brilliant.

Flavor: Malt dominated. Cola. Medium sweetness and low caramel malt. Low toast and a tough of dry, roasted grain – chocolate. Medium-low bitterness. Low earthy hops. Finish is off-dry with lingering chocolate.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Medium creaminess. Medium carbonation.

Overall Impression: A mediocre English brown ale. A bit thin. Flavor and aroma are both lacking complexity, but aren’t unpleasant. Nothing wrong with it, it’s just not particularly interesting. The lack of serious flaws makes it the best beer of the bunch.