Luck of the Irish
If Twin Cities food writer Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is right, Duluth is on its way to becoming the microbrew capital of Minnesota. And it’s hard to argue that she makes a good case. The Brewhouse empire has expanded to the old City Hall building with Tycoons Alehouse, and will soon set down roots in Minneapolis. This summer, Canal Park Brewery opened up, bringing freshly-brewed beer straight to the heart of the tourist district. And that’s not to forget about DuBrue, the Thirsty Pagan, the Lake Superior Brewing Company, or Carmody’s.
But what if freshly brewed beer isn’t enough? What if you’re also looking for, say, one of the largest Scotch and whiskey selections in Minnesota? Or top-notch stand-up comedy? Or both? If you paid careful attention to the headline above, you already know where to find it: the Dubh Linn Irish Brew Pub.
“Our business model is based on the trinity of comedy, food, and beer,” co-owner Mike Maxim Jr. says. “We added the beer because it helped us represent the brewpub concept.”
Dubh Linn started six years ago as a regular bar. But even from the beginning, the Maxim family wanted it to stand out. They decided the “Irish pub” concept was an underserved niche, so they tapped into their family’s heritage for a unique hook. An interesting find by Mike Maxim Sr. helped things develop even further.
“My dad actually owned hundreds of shelves from the old library,” Maxim Jr. says. “We decided that would be the backdrop for the back bar. Then we started thinking ‘what are we going to do with all these shelves?’”
The Maxims ultimately decided on using them to display their increasingly extensive Scotch and whiskey collection. One thing led to another, and after they had 100 varieties, they got a call from a Scotch bar in the Twin Cities. The owners there wanted to know if Dubh Linn’s was close to breaking their record.
“They had limited space,” Maxim says. “They were kind of at their max because they had no place to put the rest of it. We far surpassed it.”
The list of scotches and whiskeys now is eight pages long, with over 140 varieties. Tasting notes on the website explain the difference between, say, Michael Collins (“Delicate, marzipan, raspberry jam. Raisins”) and Powers (“Linseed oil, currants, big spice, sherry.”). But while Jim Beam and Tullamore Dew are distilled on a large enough scale to stay consistent, the selection of smaller-batch whiskeys is varied. At Dubh Linn, you never know exactly what you’ll find.
“It takes us a long time to run through some of it,” Maxim says. “Sometimes we’ll buy stuff and it will take a few months to wait till we get it on the list.”
Of course, whiskey alone does not a restaurant make. A year after opening as an Irish pub, Dubh Linn added stand-up comedy, and soon guests were clamoring for food as well. The Maxim family obliged. In addition to burgers, fries, and hot wings, they offer Irish classics like bangers and mash (garlic sausage and mashed potatoes), shepherd’s pie, and corned beef and cabbage. There are hearty stews, salads, and even a handful of desserts.
“The food’s been a really big growth area for us,” Maxim says. “We have food that doesn’t taste like everyone else’s food.”
But Dubh Linn isn’t resting on its laurels. The pub-turned-comedy-club-turned-restaurant has become a microbrewery as well, with offerings that recently included a hoppy IPA and a delightfully creamy potato stout. Maxim says it’s all about making sure the customer is happy.
“We kind of go about it a little differently,” Maxim says. “Those homemade flavors really go a long ways.”