I suppose it’s not really a fair review of the Third Annual Firkin Fest held in tents outside The Happy Gnome in St. Paul, because I didn’t actually attend. However, I did get pretty close. I had hoped to experience the festival this year after just missing it last year, but by some strange cosmic coincidence I was already planning to meet some friends at The Happy Gnome to simply enjoy some good beer on a Saturday afternoon.
The Happy Gnome has one of the most diverse selections of craft beer anywhere in the Twin Cities. If you are a fan of odd, seasonal microbrews or strong, fruity Belgian ales, this is the place for you. Most drafts are served in their own special glassware and are pulled fresh from one of 70 taps. The fun does not end there, however, since they also have a bewildering selection of 400 bottles to choose from. And if beer is not your thing, you might have trouble picking something from their whisk(e)y menu of some 300 options to keep you happy all night long. All of those choices inspire an incredible food menu that is constantly changing. This isn’t your typical bar fare either. It’s no secret that drinking here isn’t the only thing that makes gnomes happy.
The festival started early by my reckoning, as guests were entering the tent by 1 PM. The line stretched around the corner and down the block to Laurel Avenue. We were able to bypass the crowds and walked right into the restaurant. By 4:30, the bar was already getting busy, and patrons were starting to circle the booths like buzzards waiting for just the right moment to take a seat. Emily, our server, made fantastic recommendations as we watched the bar crowd grow. As good as any beer festival, the draft list can surprise and satisfy whatever you might be craving. Each brew is listed with it’s alcohol content (plan ahead, some of these are strong) and a lovely description of the flavors so you’ll know what to expect. By six o’clock, the room was completely filled with Firkin-goers who had left the tent to catch the last few minutes of a basketball game.
I ate the Lamb Two Ways which included two perfectly cooked chops and a couple of braised inside round chunks over a bed of delicious mint polenta. The side of swiss chard and sun-dried tomatoes worked nicely with the rest of the plate. Others enjoyed the jalapeño braised pork sandwich and the Game Burger. By 7:30 we relinquished our table and headed home. The tent was empty, and so were the kegs outside! The Firkin Fest, which was scheduled to go until 9 pm ended over an hour ahead of schedule. Heavy crowds made it the biggest turn out yet. I’ve watched beer festivals come and go over the years, and I suspect this event was a success, even though I watched it happen through the window.
As the spring weather approaches, I can’t wait to plan my next visit to the Gnome. Their wooded deck is the perfect place for late afternoon refreshments and a changing menu of beer and food guarantees a few surprises every time. So, even if you missed Firkin Fest again this year like I did, you don’t have wait for its return. There’s plenty of reason to venture out if you are a leprechaun, gnome, or one of the taller folk. Check out The Happy Gnome on Selby in St. Paul. You’ll definitely leave with a smile.