Downtown St. Paul is a quaint little area, a mix of the historic and new. Modern business towers mingle with 1930’s gangster-era theaters. Cobblestone streets lead to corporate coffee shops dotting several street corners. And the tattered remnants of Lowertown warehouses from yesteryear overlook sparkling condominiums on the Mississippi riverfront.

If you’re not careful, you might actually fool yourself into thinking you’re in a thriving city filled with adventure and things to do. But when 5:01 p.m. hits on any given weekday, that thought quickly evaporates as the place becomes a virtual ghost town. Throngs of white starched shirts and pressed business suits filter out of corporate monoliths to make their way to the burbs. Homeless people roll through Rice Park like tumbleweed. And bartenders at watering holes quietly work their way through the day’s Pioneer Press crossword puzzle, waiting for someone…anyone…to give them something to do.    

The scene at Great Waters Brewery on St. Peter Street was thankfully a little more lively than that when I showed up Wednesday evening, but not by much. It’s been a while since I’ve been there, and was glad to see a slew of interesting beers on draught. I sampled a few, all of which were mighty tasty:

Cask Rye Pale Ale Dry Hopped with Chinook
Of the eight or 10 beers on tap, about half were cask-conditioned, which I think is great not only for the beer geeks interested in supporting real ale, but also a fun way for your everyday beer drinker to learn more about the difference in unfiltered and unpasteurized ale pushed naturally from the cask. Their Rye Pale Ale dry hopped with Chinook was a great example, poured surprisingly clear with a nice medium amber hue and beautiful combo of the bready rye and pungent aromatic hops in the nose. Taste was not as malty as I expected, but rather a bit dry leading to a spicy finish thanks to the rye. A very enjoyable beer.

Rating: A-

KaizerWeizen Hefeweizen
Poured golden cloudy with yeast like a good hefe should. Really no head to speak of, but that’s likely more a function that it was served in one of their half-pint glasses. Faint banana and bubble gum aroma, leading to a fairly non-descript flavor of light grain. Fairly spritzy mouthfeel. While this was a very clean, obviously well-constructed beer, it only reinforced my general disdain for hefeweizens as a relatively mundane style (unless you’re talking about Weihenstephaner, in which case pour me another!).

Rating: B

Cask Oak-Aged Black Watch Oatmeal Stout
Another cask-conditioned ale in the form of an oatmeal stout. Very deep brown pour, with a really subtle oakiness in the aroma. And in fact, too subtle in my opinion. The bartender told me they age it in oak casks for about a month, which to me doesn’t sound like enough to really impart that unique barrel characteristic. Some nice chocolate and roasted notes in the nose as well. Taste was smooth, almost velvety from the oatmeal. But compared to other stouts, I’d say a bit light in the mouthfeel department. A solid beer overall.

Rating: B