Northland Craft Beer

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.

 

 

 

Minneapolis

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.

 

 

 

Sisyphus

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.

Duluth/Northshore
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.

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 – Northlandbeer.com

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.

 

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