When I first set foot into Forager two things popped out: dirt and clutter.
Chairs meant for lounging and drinking were squished against seemingly countless pieces of equipment; giant swathes of floor were diced and scooped from the ground, leaving behind only dirt.
A mere months ago this was Forager–a husk of potential and dreams. All of the hard work has clearly paid off.
I visited Forager during its second day of opening. It’s magnificent. A sunshine-yellow espresso machine greets those who enter. Opposite the machine dangles an eclectic coterie of coffee and tea glasses that looked handpicked from a local thrift store, or perhaps your great grandmother’s cupboard.
Walk past the coffee–where my girlfriend bought a delicious almond Italian soda that tasted like ice cream–and a short hallway greets you. To the right hangs local artist Trevor Sim’s artwork, or more specifically, the beer labels he created for head brewer Austin Jevne.
Sherpa’s Survival Kit shows a man on an arduous journey in the mountains; Starry-Eyed Blonde shows exactly what’s named. The art jumps around to different subjects, maintaining the artist’s style and the brewery’s vow to celebrate everything local.
Turn away from the art and you’re greeted by a magical realm. A single, somewhat closed-off room drowns out the garrulous, and often rapturous chatter from the main seating area of the brewery. A wall of books surrounds a single TV, providing visitors with plenty to read and discover.
But what makes the room truly magical, enchanting even, is a chandelier that dangles imperiously in the middle of the room. It seems to have been stolen from another time, its orange, luminous light shining upon a wall that sparkles like stars on a Rochester winter evening. The Disney-esque, beguiling look of the room is fantastic, unlike anything you’d expect to find in a brewery. But then, Forager isn’t just a brewery–it’s part of an entire market, Kutzky Market.
After forcing yourself to leave the vice grip of enchantment the room creates, you turn to the left to enter Forager Brewing proper. It’s truly a site to behold.
The salient part of the taproom is the sunken seating area, opposite the bar on the farthest end of the room. Why? Well, Jevne and his cohorts realized that maybe looking out the windows at this location would make for boring viewing. Instead, the walls are lined with reclaimed crates and coffee tins, vivacious plants growing confidently within them.
It’s green, far more green than you’d expect, but no less than you’d want. Local art lines the walls–one painting proudly depicting X-Men team member Wolverine doing battle with a boxer. While we were there, some of the art was changed out by what we presumed to be an adorable mother and daughter team. The tiny, adorable girl didn’t so much help as hinder, clenching her mother’s shirt while she hustled around to hang her wares. One man who was there to meet another friend for drinks even helped hang one of her pieces, his height making it easy for him to do. It was nice to see someone put down his beer to help out when he didn’t need to.
A corner of this sunken area is where I seated myself and my girlfriend, away from the hustle and bustle. Our backs were to a wall of plants, but we could view the bar and the dozens of people quaffing Forager’s beer.
In front of us was a bar-like seating area, then more tables, then the bar. The tables, covered in pennies and topped with poured resin, have been aligned to spell out Forager, create the soon-to-be-iconic windmill logo, and a host of other objects and shapes. I’d like to sit at each table just to take in each design.
Nestled to the side of the bar and taps are the bathrooms; beyond that is where most of your food comes from: the wood-fire grill.
My girlfriend and I love us some pizza. So, after looking at a list of some fantastic sounding pies (chocolate balsamic, smoked gouda, and smoked salmon are just some of the amazing pizza toppings), she and I chose two 10-inch delights: The Forager and The Big Cheese.
The Forager combines portabella mushroom, pickled sweet corn (weird, right? But insanely tasty.), caramelized onion, and white gravy. This was our favorite. The veggies shot out loads of flavor, with the gravy acting as a nice change-up from typical tomato sauce. The Big Cheese also delivered on its promise of cheesy greatness. Smoked gouda, fresh mozzarella, parmesan, and a sweet, somewhat tangy tomato sauce, made it a simple pizza, but one for cheese lovers.
But on to the beer.
When I interviewed head brewer Jevne for a Growler Magazine article about Rochester’s craft beer boom, I didn’t know what to expect. What I couldn’t have guessed is that he’d pull out a Flanders Red he made that was absolutely delectable. Earthy, funky–it hit all of the right notes. Every brewery needs at least one beer to make it worth visiting at least once. Jevne produced this within minutes of our first meeting.
But it doesn’t stop there. I sampled each of the eight beers on the menu; all of them are great.
First I tried the Preserved Gose, labeled with a three word description: “lemon, salt, coriander.” It tastes like a refreshingly tart lemonade. Not too tart, with a strong lemonade flavor that isn’t overbearing. Every piece of the Gose puzzle fits together. And like, say, Bent Brewstillery’s Berried Gose full of every berry imaginable, the fruit does well here, giving you more than just the salt and tartness of the style. A shame this beer hit at the end of the summer, as it perfectly provides a refreshing flavor for the hot weather, but honestly, this is something to try any time of the year.
On to our second sample: Urban Hops. Crisp, with a touch of bitterness that doesn’t last. Another solid choice that echoes Summit’s EPA in that it isn’t overly hoppy, but so crisp and clean that you can drink this with any hearty item on the menu, or outside on the patio in the remaining warm weather.
Minnesota Uncommon goes down easily. Strong Shoulder gave me hints of wheat. Johnny C’s has hints of spice atop its malty backbone, whereas Forest Nymph is fruity and a bit funky in its earthiness.
My favorite two beers on the list are Sherpa’s Survival Kit and Driftless. A coffee stout and IPA, respectively, both are superb offerings. Sherpa’s piquant coffee flavor burst forth out of its roasted, chocolate flavor. If you love coffee, this is for you.
Driftless, on the other hand, provides an evergreen hop flavor at first, then a citrus sting, before finishing cleanly.
After sampling every beer I bought a pint of Sherpa’s. I paid my bill and took my beer and belly full of pizza to the patio to walk around with my girlfriend.
You know how the room with the chandelier was sparkly and like something out of a Disney movie? Well, this was its younger, savvy brother. An old parking lot, the patio is a gateway into greenery. Corn stalks, tomato plants, and hop plants–the very same hops Forager will use in beers–wall people in from all sides. Forager’s logo comes to life by way of a windmill standing guard over a music stage, its slowly spinning blades taking advantage of the day’s cooling wind.
I’d only felt such wonder and shock when I’ve been to two other patios, or beer gardens as they are labelled: New Glarus and Surly Brewing Co.’s. Surly’s is neat in that it has fire pits (though they’re turned off much too early) and a small mound to take a nap on, or simply rest upon when chatting with friends. New Glarus is modeled after European ruins (Belgian brewery ruins, I believe, though I would have to fact check), overlooking a state park–easily the better of the two large breweries in that it transfers you to another world as you drink world-class beer.
And then there’s Forager: a small plot of land that manages to create something modern like Surly, but mystical like New Glarus. Maybe it’s the greenery that had my girlfriend captured that does it; maybe it’s the giant mural painted on a reclaimed barn wall by local artist Bobby Marines; perhaps it’s just that damn cool windmill behind the music stage. Either way, it’s unlike anything else in Rochester, but what you’d expect from a highly-touted Twin Cities brewery or eatery.
A scan of social media and the #rochmn hashtag on Twitter proves that Forager and Kutzky Market are all the rage in Rochester right now. And the spot deserves that palpable excitement.
Based on the good drinks, amazing pizza, and enchanting spaces, I don’t see the buzz dying down anytime soon.
Plus, Jevne plans on rolling out small batches of sours quite frequently–and he’s already proven to be adept at sour styles.
Forager just might have put Rochester’s beer and food scene on the map, providing a great reason to head south for vacation instead of north to Duluth.
When I first entered the main section of tables by the brewery’s bar, I ran into Jevne and couldn’t quite put into words how amazing everything turned out. I bumbled out praise and plaudits, and then caught him on the way out to congratulate him once more on what Forager has become.
You’ll want to do the same after your first visit.