Northland Craft Beer

Duluth, Minnesota's Craft Beer Capital

Lee Witte - Saturday, June 14, 2014
































In February of 2013 in a letter to Growler Magazine, Mayor Don Ness declared Duluth, “Minnesota’s Craft Beer Capital”.  Though it may seem like hubris and a bit boastful, There are solid numbers to substantiate his claim.

Duluth has more craft breweries and brew pubs per capita than any other major city in the state. Currently we have a brewery for every 14,369 persons, compared with the city Minneapolis at one per 26,192 residents. The bonus is that many of Duluth’s taprooms and brewpubs are within walking distance of each other. For some additional perspective, the national average of breweries per capita is one for every 123,000 people.

Looking beyond just Duluth, The Twin Ports area has an exceptional concentration of craft breweries approximately one per 16,666 people. For additional perspective, the states know so well for their very impressive craft brew industry, Vermont and Oregon at number one and two, have a brewery for every 25,030 and 27,365 people respectively.

As the numbers reveal, Duluth and the Twin Ports are in some impressive company when it comes to craft beer options. In addition the outdoor related activities and the physical beauty of the area are the best in the Midwest. So we’re standing by the Mayor’s claim. Duluth is indeed Minnesota’s craft beer capital.


Make YOUR OWN proclamation that Duluth is Minnesota's Craft Beer Capital!

Northern Lights Rare Brew Fest

Marissa Saurer - Monday, March 31, 2014


It’s fair to say I’ve been to my share of beerfests and tasting events, so what makes the Northern Lights Rare Beer Fest stand out? In all my days, I’ve never been to an event with so many big beers. I would say that a large majority of the featured beers were 9% abv and higher. Now that’s some serious tasting. With all of these super strong beers, I’m proud to say that I only wiped out once throughout the entire evening.

All kidding aside, this was a great event with some superb, complex and interesting beers to enjoy. The Minnesota History Center was the perfect venue for this fest with three floors of participating breweries, each with two to four offerings, making this a massive event. Best of show came from Grand Teton Brewing from Victor Idaho with their Huckleberry Sour. Call us homers but we felt that Fitgers Brewhouse’s 1100 Wheat Wine should have taken the top honor. Rich, complex, with a great balance of flavors.

In addition to all the big beer, some delicious locally grown and produced food tastings were also featured to balance out the libations. Perhaps even more importantly, there was a silent auction to raise money for a great cause, Pints for Prostates.

This was an exceptional event, and we were glad to be there to soak it all in.

Craft Beer Roundtable

Marissa Saurer - Monday, March 24, 2014


The Duluth Experience has created a great new forum, “The Craft Beer Roundtable” where those involved in the Twin Ports craft beer scene discuss this exciting and growing industry. I was in attendance at the first of four such discussions, “The Drink of Opportunity”.

Represented on the panel and moderated by Paul Helstrom were:
Eddie Gleason – Carmody Irish Pub & Brewery
Tim Nelson – Fitger’s Brewhouse
Steve Knauss – Thirsty Pagan Brewing

Rockie Kavajecz – Canal Park Brewing Co.

Bryon Tonnis – Bent Paddle Brewing Co.


This cast of business leaders shared their craft beer history, thoughts and expectations in a loose, casual and light-hearted atmosphere where conversations flowed as freely and easily as the beer they sell. Topics included current and future beer laws, the reasons that this is a great area to brew beer, the tight-knit supportive nature of the craft beer community, and the surging growth potential of the market both here in the Twin Ports and nationally.

The part of the discussion that I found most compelling was the personal stories of the panel, and what motivated them to start their various craft beer businesses. The common thread that all of these entrepreneurs seem to share in that regard was their love of the area, and doing whatever they could to carve out a niche in order to “buy a job” and make a living in the Twin Ports. I found this part of the discussion very inspiring as this is a subject that I can personally relate to. To know that these hard working entrepreneurs did what they needed to do, to create their own opportunity should be encouraging to anyone looking to start a business of any kind in this area.

If you care about the economy of the Twin Ports, small business and craft beer, I would highly encourage you to attend the three remaining Craft Beer Roundtable forums

April 13th:

“Crafting the North Shore Beer Scene” – The Brewers Roundtable

Dave Hoops – Fitger’s Brewhouse

Dale Kleinschmidt – Lake Superior Brewing Co.
Jason Baumgarth – Carmody Irish Pub & Brewery
Jeremy King – Canal Park Brewing Co.
Brian Schanzenbach – Blacklist Brewing

May 18th:

“Riding the Wave of Beer” – Craft Beer Related Business

Marissa Saurer –

Paul Riordan – Brule River Hill Top Hops
Brad Nelson – Star Creative
Carolyn Jones – CMT Farm
Paul Helstrom – The Duluth Experience

June 22nd:

“Women of the North Shore Craft Beer Scene” – A Candid Discussion on the State of Women in Brewing

Allyson Rolph – Thirsty Pagan Brewing

Jamie MacFarlane – Castle Danger Brewing
Liz Gleason – Carmody Irish Pub & Brewery
Laura Mullen – Bent Paddle Brewing Co.
Melissa Rainville – Fitger’s Brewhouse

Sociable Cider Werks

Marissa Saurer - Thursday, January 30, 2014



In an old factory in Northeast Minneapolis something “other” is being concocted. A fusion of apples and barley malt. This rare creature is called a graff, and offers craft beverage connoisseurs an alternative in the ballooning Minneapolis craft beer scene. Originally inspired by his father-in-law’s sparkling champagne style hard cider production, Jim Watkins began home brewing with his friend Wade Thompson until their paths diverged for a few years. When their paths finally brought them back together in Northeast Minneapolis, they felt it was time to start brewing once again, but now on a commercial level.


Creating a beer-cider hybrid has its own unique challenges such as the seasonal availability of apples, storage of the apples and of course Minnesota laws, which is partly the reason for the hybrid brew. Law requires a winery license for making true 100% hard cider. What may also prove to be a challenge is getting beer lovers to expand their horizons. Fortunately, craft beer folks love experimenting with exciting new options. For those who require or seek gluten-free libations, Sociable Cider Werks fits the bill.

We sampled their graffs, and they were all very dry and delicious. The dark Broken Spoke Stout, Free Wheeler, which is perfectly clear, and Chopper which is actually dry-hopped with Cascade and Chinook hops, these drinks are truly unique. Not so beer-like, not really cider-like, but rather something of a Frankenstein, which I say in the best way possible. As their tagline says, “Decidedly Different, Delightfully Social. All kidding aside, this apple/barley malt hybrid truly “werks” and is very refreshing, nothing like the corporate brewery “alcoho-pops” that tastes like someone added fruit juice to the mix. Using all locally grown apples in that old factory in Nordeast, Jim, Wade and brewer Niko Tonks may be on the verge of a monstrous success.

An Astronomical Way to Celebrate!

Marissa Saurer - Saturday, December 21, 2013


Winter solstice is the pagan holiday celebrating the reversal of the suns ebbing and the start of the days getting longer once again. So where better to partake in such heathen festivities? The Thirsty Pagan... duh!

No, not just because of the name, The Pagan currently has some great brews on tap. We stopped in last night after an evening on the slopes to enjoy their Old English Barley wine with oak. This is the best barleywine we’ve had all year. Rich, malty with caramel and toasty notes. Part of the wort is aged in an oak cask, then reintroduced back into a keg and blended with the rest of the original batch. So impressed were we, that a growler to take home was a must. Allyson and Neil truly had their stars aligned with this one. We can only imagine what The Pagan has up it’s sleeve once all of their new brewing equipment is up and on-line.

So if you’re feeling in touch with your inner neolithic sun worshiper, or just looking for a great craft beer, The Thirsty Pagan just may be the perfect place to spend the years’ longest night.

Awaking the Giant

Marissa Saurer - Saturday, November 09, 2013


There’s an invisible line running between our “Northland” and the land they call Upper Ontario. There, in the city of Thunder Bay resides a single brewery known as Sleeping Giant Brewing. As frequent visitors to Ontario, we’ve come to appreciate some great Canuck brews, including those offered by Sleeping Giant. Unfortunately there are far too many regulatory obstacles that make it virtually impossible to get our lips on these quality beers without crossing the border. In large part Canadian big beer giants Labatt, Molson and Sleeman who control Ontario’s “The Beer Store”, block out would be competition from the small craft breweries. A few LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) government controlled liquor stores will carry small business craft beers if the beer buyer deems them worthy. The Canadian system of distribution hamstrings small breweries north of the border to such a degree that Sleeping Giant struggles to get their great brews to the outlets where customers can easily get it. The problem goes both ways making it difficult for Canadians to get our craft beers as well. While we share an enormous body of water perfect for brewing, sharing the offerings of the breweries surrounding Lake Superior remain elusive. We here in the States can look back to our past to see that we have overcome some overly aggressive regulations, and that has helped bolster the craft beer boom. This should give Ontario some hope for a brighter future.

In Thunder Bay, Sleeping Giant is on tap in only a handful of pubs, so thirsty Thunder Bayer's line up in the Sleeping Giant tasting room which is strategically situated between the Fort Arthur side of town, and the Fort Williams side of town waiting to have their growlers filled. Besides their closest outside market (Minnesota) is on the wrong side of the border, their nearest domestic market is a daunting seven hours away in Winnipeg Manitoba.

While all of these restrictions can make things difficult, there is some good news. Thunder Bay is the main port city for all of the grain coming off of the Canadian prairie. This means all of the barley for brewing passes through making Thunder Bay the perfect place for The Canadian Malting Company. A perfect nexus of the malt mother-load and perfect brewing water.

General Manager Matt Pearson shared with us that Sleeping Giant produces about 780 barrels per year, but will soon be adding four 30-barrel systems in the near future. Head Brewer Dr. Kyle Mulligan takes a very scientific approach to his craft and seems to enjoy the chemistry of brewing as much as he does the tradition and artistry. If you get the chance to get to Thunder Bay, stop in at Sleeping Giant to buy a few growlers or visit local watering holes The Foundry or The Sovereign Room both located in the resurgent waterfront area. These pubs are only steps from each other and offer several S.G. styles We ate at the Sovereign Room and their burgers were as delicious as the were huge. Great beer, great food, that’s what it’s all aboot Eh?

Autumn & Ales

Marissa Saurer - Thursday, October 10, 2013


This upcoming weekend will be peak fall colors in the Twin Ports and on Lake Superior’s Northshore. After three straight weeks of less than desirable weather, this appears to be the last hurrah of Indian Summer here in the Northland. For instance, Spirit Mountain will be shutting down their mountain biking chair lifts for the season on Sunday, and it will also be the final Fall color tour for the Scenic St. Louis River Railroad.

However, change is a good thing. The weather is forecast to be gorgeous and there are some great happenings going on this weekend.

Friday is the start of the Fall Gallery Hop. Saturday The Northshore Scenic Railroad will be offering fall color excursions up the shore where you can bring your bike, and back to Duluth if you so choose. The Duluth Experience will be offering their Duluth & Beyond brewery tour.  Also, Fitgers Harvest Fun & Run is happening featuring their 8th Anniversary Cherry Batch Apostle Apple Ale. Finally, it’s also the kick-off of Duluth’s Haunted Ship.


So if you’re on the fence on what to do this weekend, you might consider the great selection of events going on here in the Twin Ports. Gorgeous fall colors, beautiful weather, and of course all that great locally crafted beer.

From Pick to Pint

Marissa Saurer - Saturday, September 28, 2013

Part one of a three part series that follows the process of making the first all fresh hopped brew in the Twin Ports in over 150 years.


The Pick

On August 22nd at 10:15 a.m., Paul Riordan of Hill Top Hops in Brule Wisconsin brandished his gleaming 10 inch blade, and hacked through the first hop vine. We positioned ourselves under the massive plant to catch it as it tumbled toward down to our waiting arms. This huge pile of vegetation was loaded with the beautiful aromatic hop cones that would one day become the first commercial beer crafted from all local fresh hops in over 150 years in the Twin Ports area.

Starting a hop farming operation is not an easy endeavor. Paul left his job at the Department of Natural Resources to start Hill Top Hops along with his wife Jen. They have been “scrapping by” getting the farm off the ground, and Jen, a teacher helps the family economy with her vocation. Paul’s plans for the future of HTH include designing a mechanized picking device to help with the laborious process of harvesting, as well as a system to pelletize the crop for broad-based commercial sales.

This must have been an especially great summer for growing hops as HTH has had an exceptional lush crop of Cascade hops grown from their fertile soil this year. After loading the felled vines into the bed of the pick-up truck, Paul hauled the vines over to the processing area where we clipped off the “arms” that sported hop cones. From there friends, family and volunteers from Canal Park Brewing picked off the flowers and tossed them into waiting cardboard flats. 200 lbs and 18 picking hours later, Brewer, Badge Colish of CPB packed up the fresh flowers and directly drove them the 40 miles to the brewery in Canal Park in Duluth to start begin the brewing process to become a truly historical beer.

You say you want a Revolution!

Marissa Saurer - Wednesday, September 11, 2013

We've been visiting Beaner's Central for about a decade. We love our coffee, and Beaner's was, and still is, a great coffee house, which is certainly reflected in their name. Over the years Beaner's has evolved. Initially owner Jason Wussow offered a couple of bottled and canned beers, and featured the "Head Lock" a can of Guinness with two shots of espresso. A great pick me up. Eventually, about five years ago, Beaner's introduced three taps of craft beer including Lake Superior Mesabi Red, Special Ale and South Shore's Nut Brown Ale. Jason also experimented with some more commercial offering like Molson, but soon discovered that his customers preferred craft beer.


From that point on, Beaner's exclusively offered craft beer, and as the local craft beer scene began to boom, Jason was the first to introduce Borealis, a high quality, local (Knife River) nano brewery specializing in a line of Belgian style brews back in April of 2012. As recently as last August, Beaner's doubled to three more taps for a total of six all local beer offerings. In celebration of this recent expansion, Beaner's kicked off with a hugely successful private party, this is a great place to host a private event, with a stage for live music, a solid wine, food and of course craft beer options to offer. The customer appreciation event for Bent Paddle distributors which we were honored to be invited to, was a blast, and huge success. Big Wave Dave & The Ripples, rocked the place with their big, Chicago Blues sound. The horns were blowin' and the craft beer, conversation, and the taps where a flowin'.


We find it striking how the changes we've witnessed at the neighborhood coffee bar mirror in so many ways what we see taking place in our home town of Duluth, in the state, region and much of the US.  This trend is indicative of the craft beer movement nationally and the consumer trend of local is moving from fad to mainstream. Beer drinkers also want to support local companies that employ their neighbors; they want to support their local growers  through the food they eat, and, where possible, the agricultural products in their beer. As long as the local movement continues to grow it is a pretty safe assumption that craft beer sales will also continue to grow.

A Force of Nature

Marissa Saurer - Thursday, August 29, 2013


Thanks in part to Fitger’s Farmhouse Saison which was on tap at The Brewhouse a few months ago, I have really grown a new appreciation for this style. Farmhouse is a very well balanced and flavorful ale, so I was disappointed once it was gone. You can imagine﷯ my excitement when I ran into Fitger’s Master Brewer Dave Hoops a few weeks back, and he informed me that they had a new Imperial Saison in their pipeline. Saison, which is french for “season” was historically what the French speaking Belgian farm workers would drink during their mid-day breaks in the summer. Fitger’s Summer Lightning Imperial Saison, is NOT something you’ll want to enjoy if there’s any chance you have to return to work. Especially if you’re operating heavy machinery. Summer Lightning packs a jolt with a 10.2 a.b.v., so please handle with care.

The aroma of this beer reminds me of a fresh sweet apple chopped in half, with some melon undertones. At first taste I get a pronounced pear flavor with a slight sourness. Also, you will certainly notice the alcohol which is to be expected with an ale of this heightened octane. The Sorachi Ace hops contribute to a subtle back-end bitterness checking in at 47 ibu. Being a big fan of belgian styles, I am quite certain that some of fruitiness comes from a belgian yeast strain. There is also a delightful lingering spiciness brought on by rye malt. The taste finishes up crisp and brilliant with fresh lemon zest. It is rich amber in color. This is a wonderful ale to be enjoyed in moderation.

If you’re interested in trying something a little different, give Fitger’s Summer Lightning Imperial Saison a go. Sip and enjoy this high-powered beer before it’s gone, because like its namesake, this saison strikes hard and will be gone in a flash.


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Created by M•Saurer Creative aims to promote and support local craft beer and microbrew related businesses in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Upper Michigan,

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