The Duluth-Superior area is in the midst of a microbrew boom big enough to be heard around the nation.
A beer geek’s love knows no bounds. Ale addicts have been known to stake out liquor stores and sleep outside breweries just to quench their thirst for certain brews. It’s a restraining-order-level obsession.
This yearning for yeast, malt and hops even permeates their vacation plans. Booming beer markets have become travel destinations, and breweries are their tourist traps. Forget about the Smithsonian. Where’s the nearest brewpub?
“When we travel we look for the brewpubs – who’s got the micros?” said a sweaty-browed Badger Colish, head brewer at Duluth’s Canal Park Brewing Co., breaking from swabbing the brewery floor. “That’s just what we do.”
Nationally, Oregon, Colorado and San Diego long have been beery wellsprings. But Colish’s Twin Ports turf is becoming an attraction in its own right. Four new breweries and brewpubs have opened in the area in the past year, bringing the total to 10, and Duluth Mayor Don Ness has dubbed his town Minnesota’s beer capital.
Between Grandma’s Marathon and the throngs of North Shore-bound Twin Citians, Duluth draws 3.5 million tourists annually. Canal Park co-owner Rockie Kavajecz believes the city’s growing brewing scene will lure beer-based vacationers. Kavajecz, who also jointly owns the neighboring Canal Park Lodge, said his hotel sees a surge in bookings whenever pioneering brewpub Fitger’s Brewhouse releases new beers.
Potential tourism dollars encouraged the veteran businessman to invest in his $6 million red-brick brewpub, with its large glass windows overlooking Lake Superior so guests can watch the ships sail in. Having opened late last year, Kavajecz said they are ready for tourist season and hope to add a patio before the marathon. “We’re expecting big things this summer,” Kavajecz said. “I’d bet the farm on it.”
Dave Grandmaison is betting on it, too. In July, the Duluth native will launch the Duluth Experience, a tour company that will lead pilsner pilgrimages through area breweries, in addition to historical and outdoor adventure tours. Another event group, Minneapolis-based Get Knit, started running brewery-tour daytrips from the Twin Cities this spring.
Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior, Wis., will be part of Grandmaison’s tours, but head brewer Allyson Rolph said the quaint brewpub already attracts its share of out-of-towners. “We’re starting to see a lot more beer tourism, people coming up here from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Milwaukee, Chicago,” she said, perched at the bustling bar in Bent Paddle Brewing Company’s loft-like taproom — the latest to open in Duluth.
From boutique Belgian-leaners Blacklist Brewing and Borealis Fermentery in Knife River Minn., to Irish bars/brewpubs Carmody and Dubh Linn, North Coast beer is diversifying. Even aesthetically, Kavajecz’s shiny new lakeside project offers a contrasting feel to Thirsty Pagan’s small-town charm.
Just north of Two Harbors, Clint and Jamie MacFarlane of Castle Danger Brewery have perhaps the state’s most serene brewery. The couple’s tool shed of a brewhouse sits on a scenic 40-acre lakefront plot where they also run a 12-cabin resort. The resort has been in Jamie’s family since the 1930s and next year they plan to add a larger brewery/taproom in downtown Two Harbors.
But beer communities aren’t built in a day. Lake Superior Brewing Co., whose beers are readily found in the Twin Cities, and Fitger’s have been pushing craft beer in Duluth since the mid-’90s. “I basically cut my teeth on craft beer on those two breweries’ beers,” said Bent Paddle’s Bryon Tonnis, from the small office tucked into his high-ceilinged, state-of-the art brewery.
“We owe them a big debt of gratitude,” said co-founder Colin Mullen, of Barley John’s Brewpub pedigree.
Ski trips out West during the early ’90s craft craze hipped Fitger’s co-owner Tim Nelson to better-beer culture and prompted him to open his beer-bar-turned-brewpub in 1995. “We noticed these little scenes that were happening in these towns,” the scraggly bearded beer magnate said. “People that were culturally the same as us were hanging out enjoying craft beer. We thought, ‘Wow, this is what Duluth needs.’ ”
Nelson’s vision of Beer Town Duluth is coming to fruition. Fitger’s brew guru Dave Hoops said he’s proud of their elder-statesman status and that multiple Fitger’s-groomed brewers have opened their own operations, including Blacklist and Dubrue, fortifying the Duluth scene.
Last summer the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild launched All Pints North, a full-blown beer festival in Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park that drew 1,300 attendees. Organizers say they’ve already sold as many tickets for this year’s July 13 sampling soirée.
Whether you’re passing through this summer en route to Grand Marais or seeking a suds-centric stay-cation, Duluth would welcome your palate. There’s more than enough local beer to keep you busy.
Triple Double trouble
After a five-year run, the popular Triple Double dance night at the Triple Rock Social Club has come to an end. Last week core DJ Mike 2600 announced that the club had 86’d the beloved weekly known for its two-for-one drink specials due to escalating violence, capped by “one giant brawl” the week prior. Triple Double had featured a revolving door of some of the Twin Cities’ top DJs, spinning everything from hip-hop to disco.
Knob Creek sales champ
Butcher & the Boar has been named the world’s No. 1 seller of Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve. To celebrate its bourbon-slinging success, master distiller Fred Noe of the Jim Beam Bourbon company (which owns Knob Creek) will conduct a tasting of the different Knob Creek marques Tuesday in the beer garden. A buffet of B&B grub and bourbon cocktails will also be available. ($50, 6 p.m., Tue., 1121 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-238-8888, www.butcherandtheboar.com)
Michael Rietmulder writes about bars and nightlife.