Northland Craft Beer

Nothing Personal

Marissa Saurer - Tuesday, October 03, 2017



I guess you could consider us bi-city, splitting our time between Duluth and St. Paul. I believe that this gives us a unique perspective on the variances between these two craft beer markets. A glaring difference we’ve noticed is the reluctance from brew pubs and taprooms in The Twin Cities to fill legally compliant personal growlers. Now we’ve written on this subject in the past see “Pain in the Glass”, which outlines the benefits and ecology of reusing personal growlers. To be fair, this is not meant as a blanket statement, as The Twin Cities does have a handful of more progressive venues that do so. Tin Whiskers, Barley John’s, are tuned into this trend to eliminate waste, while four out of eleven craft beer outlets in St. Paul still do not. In contrast eight out of nine in the Twin Ports do honor this trend, with Bent Paddle changing their policy when new taproom comes online. Therefore, soon it will be all breweries.


On the other hand, in The Twin Ports, the vast majority of craft beer venues DO indeed fill our growlers. Could it be that those of us here in the North Country care more about the environment? We’d like to think that perhaps our persistent lobbying may have something to do with it. But through questioning staff from venues who refuse this more convenient and Eco-friendly policy, I believe it boils down to one thing... hubris. The go-to explanation is almost always “We need to control the quality of our product all while judgingly inhaling the air of my vessel .” As if putting their beer in our clean stainless steel double walled legally compliant Stanley growler is somehow going to denigrate the awesomeness of their cerveza. We feel this explanation is disingenuous, as most growlers on the market actually do a better job of protecting the quality of their contents than does glass. Personally, I feel the truth has more to do with the need to display “Their” logo on “Their” growler, and basking in the satisfaction that this is “Their” product. Now as a marketing professional, I get that. It’s about being seen and displaying their brand. However, the branding advantages fall far short in the argument of freshness, sustainability and convenience.


If you own a personal growler, chances are you’d like to utilize it. Fortunately, more and more breweries are adopting this more sensible policy. See below a list of breweries that see the value in this practice. If you come across a brewery that does not comply, we suggest you question their policy and explain to them the benefits of personal growler filling.


Hoops Brewing Opens!

Lee Witte - Tuesday, June 27, 2017


  • With the tide continuing to rise at the head of the greatest lake, Duluth’s title as Minnesota’s Craft Beer Capital. appears safe. Now with eight breweries, in Duluth and soon to be ten in the Twin Ports, you can easily walk to six of them via the scenic Lake Walk.

  • Hoops Brewing is sure to increase the already exceptional selection of craft in the Twin Ports, making for a plethora of thirst quenching brews.
  • Hoops with 25 years of experience, has an impressive resume equaled by few, even on the National stage, His experience includes his involvement with Bev-Craft, a craft beer think tank, after leaving Fitger’s Brewhouse after 16 years in the fall of 2015. He’s won six Great American Beer Festival medals (including three as the master brewer at Fitger’s), was a founding member of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, serves as a judge for the Brewers Association, and is a beer columnist. As well as 4 years as the Lead Brewer at Pyramid.
  • But he’s not the only one heading Hoops Brewing. Melissa Rainville, who worked with Hoops at Fitger’s, will be the head brewer.
  • Hoops told“She has a very similar philosophy to me, and I’m fortunate to have her” Renville began her career at Flat Earth Brewing Company in St. Paul is formally trained via the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and the Master Brewers Association of the Americas, the release reports.

  • Per Dave; during our sneak peak tour; Hoops Brewing will be brewer-driven with the maxim “Don’t brew scared.” Dave was proud to share that they will be brewing with equipment manufactured by nearby, Wisconsin-made, Sprinkman brewing equipment, adding jobs in additional supporting related industries in the region.
  • Dave has been quoted as saying his three favorite beer styles are Pilsner, pale ale and wheat beer. All are traditional, ancient styles, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love dozens of other styles. We’ll attest to that, as during our many trips to the Brewhouse during Dave’s reign as Master Brewer we could count on there being something new to try every visit. As I recall, they were turning out well over 100 beers per year.
  • Pepper beer, a favorite style of ours, we understand is also a favorite of Hoops. We’re betting it will be on the beer menu at along side the other 15 to 30 styles planned for their 30 tap tower. With so many tap lines, we expect a wide array of different styles at a time, with none of them considered a “flagship” beer. This will allow them to make something for everyone, from easy drinkers to beers with intense character. The beer hall will not include a restaurant but there will be take-in food options from neighboring eateries. Beer will be sold to-go in crowlers (the first Twin Ports brewery to do so) and there will be limited distribution to select Duluth and Minneapolis retailers. The beer hall is expected to serve as a popular pre and post-activity stop for those enjoying nearby attractions and events.

  • Melissa Rainville has been appointed as the Head Brewer, continuing a collaboration between the two that began at Fitger’s Brewhouse. She holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. In 2015 she received the Minneapolis-St. Paul District Master Brewers Association of the Americas scholarship and completed the MBAA Brewing and Malting Science Course in Madison, Wis. She also recently completed the MBAA Brewery Engineering and Utilities Course in St. Paul.
  • Hoops Brewing will be the ninth brewing operation to open its doors in the Twin Ports, but it’s the first beer hall style taproom in the area, and will be the second-largest in Minnesota, only surpassed by Surly Brewing Company’s destination brewery in Minneapolis. Dave shared that he believes there are plenty of breweries in the area and state already, and that the reason he chose to open another was because of this fantastic space was offered, and the vision he had for it.
  • Aside from both being exceptional brewers, Melissa and Dave are great high character people. Both pragmatic, personable, while passionate about the products they craft. Despite all his past success Dave remains humble and gracious, and always seems to take the time to chat with his interested customers and beer geeks. Melissa is quick to smile when talking about process, product and of course the future, which is sure to be bright with a team of this caliber.



A Pain in The Glass

Marissa Saurer - Sunday, April 10, 2016


With Earth Day approaching, as is the case with many folks, we are thinking about our global footprint and how we could do something that ties to our passion for supporting local. Specifically supporting the craft beer industry and what can be done to bring that passion into alignment with one of our other passions, living greener. The options are many, but we’ve decided to focus on one in particular, as we realized while doing some spring cleaning, we have been collecting a lot of GROWLERS. We asked ourselves; why is it that we have so many? Thus a story was born.



While glass growlers are certainly reusable and recyclable vessels, we question the earth-friendliness of breweries that fill only their branded glass. Like many craft beer lovers, we like to frequent a wide and varied array of craft breweries. This has lead to a situation where we have accumulated 70 growlers in our basement and at least a half dozen rattling around in our truck, at times even breaking. Not a very green situation, not to mention incredibly inconvenient. In honor of Earth Day we have taken a stand. We now employ two reusable, personal growlers. We are finding this immediately eliminated the need to keep multiple glass growlers in our vehicles as we no longer need a specific vessel for each brewery. When you think about it, it’s really ridiculous to keep a designated growler for each place you patronize.

There are several reasons for this:


The Law
Most states require legal verbiage and warnings on the growler itself in the interest of public safety. Breweries like to have this information screen printed on every glass growler to ensure compliance. However, there are personal growlers on the market that do have this language, therefore making it a legal and legitimate vessel. Breweries could easily slap a sticker on any growler that included all of the required government warnings and legalities. We own a beautiful ceramic growler from the Portland Growler Company, and one of our favorite brewers did just that, making it a legal container.


The other legal aspect of growler filling is that some states like Minnesota, have laws on the books that take away a breweries ability to sell growlers all together, should they grow to the point that they are producing X-amount of beer.


So what if you don’t care to invest in your own personal growler? The recent change in Minnesota growler laws make it permissible to fill any legal growler. The branded glass growlers are still being filled by a number of breweries and brewpubs around the state. Not to mention the thousands of consumers living near state lines or traveling to neighboring states where growler laws have been more lax for years. In Wisconsin most will fill any growler. In Iowa the laws are pretty loose as well, although breweries can’t fill and sell direct to consumers, they have many options to get a fill at pubs and sometimes even convenience stores.

The Brewers
All legal aspects aside, some brewers/breweries just do not like filling competing breweries growlers. We’ve heard various reasons for this, one of which is the “reputation argument”. They wouldn’t want someone else’s bad beer to be mistaken for theirs. Many breweries fail to realize that the law requires the seal covering the mouth of the growler contains all the business of origin information. By relying on that logo on the glass and not also having the information on the seal, they are technically not in compliance with the laws. After all, besides great tasting fresh beer, the biggest advantage of a growler is the re-usability factor. In Minnesota, where we supposedly have this exciting beer scene where all the breweries see themselves as a ‘community’ instead of competitors, it only makes sense to us, to fill any legal growler.


To be green, and for your own convenience, encourage your local breweries to fill any legal growler.


Big business bullies local craft brewery with a call to boycott.

Marissa Saurer - Saturday, January 23, 2016



Fresh water is essential for a healthy life, and of course brewing great beer. Currently, there is a boycott by a group of Iron Range businesses targeting the local craft brewery, Bent Paddle Brewing, and the rest of the Downwstream Business Coalition, a concerned group of small local businesses.


What’s this all about? A few at the helm of a big international corporation are counting on most of us to be confused or unaware that their plan to make millions is at the expense of the vast majority of us. This corporate entity is using the typical weapons of choice; lobbyists, lawyers, and playing on the desperation of the Iron Rangers who are hungry for jobs. It’s them against anyone who gets in their way, which includes everyone that understands the importance of our clean water resources. In this case they’ve focused on Bend Paddle Brewing. This boycott, and tactic of pitting small businesses against small businesses alienates customers on both sides.


The above mentioned corporation, Polymet, wants to open a sulfide mine on the Minnesota Iron Range, on and near some very pristine public lands and popular outdoor recreational areas. Concerned citizens who live and play in the area as well as a number of local businesses who rely on the clean water resources in the area, including abundant fish and wildlife, are asking some hard questions and expressing concerns over how a mining process that is known to pose a serious risk of contaminating waterways is going to impact them and their quality of life. The Boycott is meant to apply pressure to the targeted companies in hopes they will change their position.


While it is true the Polymet project would create a few hundred short-term jobs on the Range, leading some to say it will have a positive impact on the local economy, it is also true that a major spill from the mine could lead to a vastly greater negative impact on the local and regional economies. Leaking toxins from the PolyMet project could end up in underground aquifers and the St. Louis River — and eventually Lake Superior which is world famous for it’s water quality for brewing. A failure like the Mount Polley mine disaster in 2014 would have a catastrophic impact on the region. It would devastate the fish population in the waterways around the mine, including the Embarrass River that feeds into the St. Louis River that feeds into Lake Superior. How much the fish population will be impacted will depend on how much contaminated water escapes the site. This is not a question of if the mine will releases toxic chemicals into the watershed, but a question of how much pollution will enter the water ways. All agree, including Polymet and the MNDNR, that contaminated water will flow from the site.


Bent Paddle Brewing has built their brand around the outdoor lifestyle, and how that way of life is better with great beer, and how the water of Lake Superior and it’s tributaries are instrumental in the brewing process. In contrast, the short-sightedness of a few, are playing Russian Roulette with this precious resource shared by all.


Some of the risks:

Contaminated drinking/brewing water

Destruction of fish and wildlife habitat from polluted lakes and rivers.

Pollution that remains for decades after the jobs are gone, even centuries after a mine closure.

Taxpayers left holding the bill for hundreds of millions of dollars in clean-up costs

You can see more at: Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.



Inching to Success

Nick Ortloff - Friday, February 27, 2015

It is my pleasure to announce that Angry Inch Brewing will soon be joining the ranks of Minnesota's Craft Brewing Industry. On February 23, 2015, Angry Inch Brewing signed the lease for their building located at: 20841 Holyoke Ave in downtown Lakeville, Minnesota.
Angry Inch Brewing has a tentative opening date of Spring or Summer 2015, with more details to follow at a later date. They will have nine draft lines in their taproom. They will consist of six year round offerings, one 6 month rotating seasonal, one 2 month rotating seasonal, and one tapline for an experimental brew.
If you'd like to get up to date information about Angry Inch Brewing, you can follow them both on:


Highway 61 Revisited

Lee Witte - Thursday, February 12, 2015


As life long travellers of the Scenic North Shore of Lake Superior, we’ve known about the Green Door, a rustic looking municipal liquor store in Beaver Bay for a long time. Nestled on the edge of the small community of about 200 people, 50 miles up the shore from Duluth. We’ve frequented this place couple dozens times over the years, but admittedly only when we’ve failed to plan appropriately and pack enough good beer for the trip. As recently as the Summer of 2013, you might have considered yourself lucky to find a 6-pack of Summit Pale Ale or luckier yet to score a Seasonal from Lake Superior Brewing. That was the extent of the craft beer selection in Beaver Bay, back then. These days the Green Door not only has two cooler doors dedicated to Minnesota craft beer, they have two more with regional options. They’re typical in that they are on and off sale, but not so, in that all their tap beers are craft beers. That’s right, NO BIG BEER ON TAP!


It was just about three years ago now, at the inception of our personal craft beer map, that eventually evolved into, that we couldn’t have imagined the landscape would have changed this much. Back then all we had in Duluth for local craft options was Lake Superior and Fitgers and outside of Duluth you couldn’t find a craft beer to save your life. Now we enjoy Castle Danger, Bent Paddle, Borealis, Blacklist and coming on line soon is Voyager in Grand Marais. As recently as two years ago, if a place had six taps, three of which were craft and two of those were local, we’d feel compelled to give the place a pin, as it likely had the best craft selection for miles. It was just about a year ago when we sat down at the at Gunflint Tavern in Grand Marais, with an associate who tried to order a Budweiser. To my delight he was informed they didn’t carry any big beer. I don’t know about you, but we couldn’t have imagined the day that pubs would banish the big three and go all craft. What a great change!

The Green Door is not an isolated occurrence. The same week we discovered Doc’s in Sturgeon Lake. Doc’s appears to be the typical small Northern MN country sports bar, but once again, it’s not typical of what we have come to expect. Doc’s has about 20 crafts on tap with a couple of the big commercial brews tucked off to the side just to keep the old timers happy.

This is not just happening in Duluth or up the North Shore. As most of you know, there is the craft explosion currently happening in the Twin Cities, but also in the rest of the country, although we’re not sure about Mississippi, but even Utah gets it. Craft beer is gaining traction in Canada, Japan and the UK is having a craft boom that rivals ours. Change is good. 

New Kid on the Block

Marissa Saurer - Sunday, December 07, 2014

So something a little different has hit the Duluth market.

A Minnesota made and grown artisan hard cider graff from Sociable Cider Werks. Unlike many of the industrial hard ciders out there, " Freewheeler" is crisp, dry, clean, and almost champagne like. For those of us who are gluten intolerant, or just looking for a refreshing change, you can find Freewheeler at:

Carmody Irish Pub


Lake Avenue Cafe

Grizzly's Canal Park

Grizzly's Miller Hill

Endion Station Cider House

Burrito Union


The Rise of the Cider.

Marissa Saurer - Friday, October 17, 2014


Here we are in the midst of cider season. It’s a wonderful magical time of year. Few libations are more “American” than hard cider. This was the drink of choice in the taverns of the American colonies. Our forefathers lamented British tyranny over a tankard of locally pressed hard cider.

Fast-forward to today where craft beer has become the drink of choice for many of us. Like beer, hard cider can be a mass-produced industrial product, or, an artfully crafted pure quality adult beverage. The spectrum between these very different fermentations are just as wide as those in the beer industry. In-Bev’s Johnny Appleseed, and Miller-Coors’ Smith & Forge are the Budweiser and Miller Lite of the cider world. Some would argue that in that realm, the gap between mega-production and craft is even larger than in beer, because industrial cider uses water to reconstitute concentrate instead of using pure fresh pressed apple juice.

In recent years, both industrial and craft cider have been picking up steam and growing fast as an alternative to beer. There are many reasons for this. First off, cider rides the wave of the craft beer boom. A large part of craft beer culture is in trying new things. Whether it’s the latest hopped-up American Pale Ale, or a new dark Barley wine. Exploration is part of the fun. And now, many craft beer drinkers are trying cider, and loving it. Hard cider’s fresh, crisp, and dry characteristics are a nice change up to malty beers. Because hard cider has roughly the same alcohol content as craft beer, those who are adverse to hop or roasted grain bitterness have found a new friend in hard cider. Also, cider is gluten free which important consideration to many of us. As few as five years ago, seeing a hard cider on tap was somewhat of a novelty. Now, it’s not uncommon to see several cider options on tap.

So if you’re a person who appreciates an artfully crafted alternative to beer, you’re not alone. If you’re a pub, bar or restaurant owner, it may behoove you to get a quality local craft cider on tap soon.




Bubble Scmubble

Marissa Saurer - Friday, August 08, 2014



We’ve attended many craft beer forums, discussions and round-tables over the last six months, and one subject in particular keeps popping up. “Are we in store for a craft beer bubble?” In other words is the craft beer industry growing too fast, and are we due for an industry crash because of all of the crazy growth and expansion?

The consensus most emphatically is “NO”. Listed below are our reasons why.

1) The Market
The taste for craft beer continues to grow. More and more converts to a well crafted product ensure that the market is growing. This is evident in the number of brewfests that keep popping up each year, and the growing number of attendees that are also on the rise.

2) Diversity
Craft beer is not a one-trick pony. The spectrum and variety of beer styles provides beer lovers with so many options that there is truly something for
everyone. Yes, there are still folks out there that remain brand loyal and drink the same thing all the time. These people tend to devotees to the big beer companies. They pick up their case of Bud Light and they’re good for the weekend. Craft beer drinkers love to experiment and explore which broadens the playing field opening opportunities to brew more craft beer.

3) Competition

An increasing number of small craft and specialty breweries are being bought up by the large companies like Miller-Coors and InBev. Business savvy corporate minds see the writing on the wall and effort to buy up market share. In addition, these desperate mega-beer companies increasingly continue to offer brands that disguise themselves as craft beer. Many well-intentioned beer drinkers are unaware that brands like Blue Moon, Leinenkugal and Wild Blue deceptively present themselves as craft beer in order to capture more of this growing market.

4) Local Focus
There is a growing movement spreading throughout the country of supporting small local businesses in their communities. This of course includes beer. People are becoming increasingly aware that buying and consuming beer from their own hometown or region only serves to help strengthen and grow the local economy and create jobs in their geographic area. In fact, some craft beer drinkers will choose specific locally brewed beers for this reason alone.

5) Quality
 Despite all the rapid expansion, only the good, well-crafted beers and breweries will survive. As craft beer drinkers grow in their knowledge, and expand their  tastes for a high-quality product, the sub-standard beer will fall by the wayside. The most clever marketing and branding efforts can perhaps get you to try a beer once. Not all new breweries opening up these days will make it. The product must be of the highest quality.

6) Innovation
Some have posed questions like “What if there’s a hop shortage?” What if high grain prices make craft beer unaffordable?” To this we say; “brewers are artists who love to innovate.” It’s true that hops, malt, water and yeast are the four basic ingredients in beer, but recently there has been as trend toward using ancient and alternative grains, hop substitutes like heather and spruce to create beer-like
alternatives like graffs, guits, cider and meads.

So if you’re expecting the current trend of growth in craft beer to come crashing down, or if you believe that this is just another passing fad, we suggest you consider all of these aforementioned factors. A popping bubble is not the appropriate visual to represent this growing industry. A big foamy head expanding too fast to stay contained and spilling over the rim of a pub glass, paints a much more accurate picture of the state of craft beer. 

Growing at the Speed of Hops

Marissa Saurer - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock, you’re aware of the popularity and growth of craft beer. This growth appears to happening in spurts, and we just so happen to be in the midst of one right now. Within just the last few months, a whole new wave of new breweries and brewery expansions have taken place. Here is a look at some of the recent growth as we break it down by region.





Bauhaus Brew Labs
Located in Northeast Minneapolis, This new brewery is named for the German modernist art movement of the early 20th century. This brewery crafts artful brews in a truly unique and graphically compelling environment. The eclectic combination of an old foundry juxtaposed with bright colors, iconic graphics and    of course great beer makes this a place I intend to return to often.





Near Loring Park, Sisyphus opened their taproom just last week. A nano brewery doing two barrel batches at a time, they offer an array of interesting brews. They do not distribute, you can only get their beer in their taproom on site. The Black Ale is infused with Alakef Coffee, from Duluth. Sisyphus makes a point to source    locally whenever possible. The taproom was furnished and decorated with items from local craft persons, from the decorative tiles on the wall, to the tables. They also serve locally produced craft sodas from Spring Grove Soda.

Day Block
This newly opened brew pub on Washington Avenue not far from the new Viking stadium is being built. This is sure to be a great place to hang on game days, or anytime for that matter. I thoroughly enjoyed their Belgian White as I sampled their bacon flight, that’s right, I said bacon flight! Four cups of various bacon samples paired with flavorful complimentary sauces.

The Freehouse
Appropriately named, what makes this new brew pub of Washington Avenue stand out from all the others is the fact that not only do they serve their own brews, but they proudly serve other local and not so local craft beer on their guest taps. They are also know for their oysters which are flown in fresh daily from both coasts. Their fried pickle sandwich is also a huge hit.

St. Paul
Urban Growler
Opening any day now, the Urban Growler, the first all women-owned and operated microbrewery in Minnesota straddles the Minneapolis-St. Paul border. U.G. trumpets it’s Plow to Pint series partnering with local farmers to bring an all local brew to the Twin Cities. We’re really looking forward to tasting that.

Tin Whiskers
In a strategic location near the soon to be opened green line, Tin Whiskers opened last June with their electrified branding approach to craft beer. Flip Switch IPA, Ampere Amber, and a fully charged circuit of solid brews. We got our first chance to sample their creations at The Summer Beer Dabbler Brewfest a few weeks back, and was quite impressed. It was in advance of their opening when we met part of their ownership group at The Northern Lights Beerfest, in early spring, but we could just feel the electricity.

Endion Station
Located in Canal Park along the lake walk Endion Station is an old historical train station that was relocated to this spot back in the mid-eighties. Opening this coming weekend, E.S. will be the third tide-house of Fitgers Brewhouse following Burrito Union and Tycoon’s. The Brewhouse makes award-winning beer with great variety. We are thrilled to have yet another place to get it. Come say “hi” to us at Friday’s Grand Opening as we will certainly be there.




Castle Danger
We wrote about this expansion way back in the Spring, and it appears that they are now finally open after some glycol chiller issues, this according to co-owner Jamie MacFarlane. We are looking forward to sitting out on their taproom deck over looking the harbor and enjoying a 17-7 Pale Ale.

Bent Paddle
Continuing to make great and portable beer with Great Lake Superior water, Bent Paddle in now ramping up with their second expansion. Just one more example of how we are in the midst of another craft beer growth spurt.




Coming Soon

Sidhe Brewing
The second all women-owned and operated microbrewery in Minnesota.

When we met up with Brixton Hughes while he was working on “Crafted to Last”, back in 2012, we were also in the middle of a growth spurt, but here we are now in 2014 in the middle of yet another one. Stay tuned.


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