Western Wisconsin towns see plenty of Twin Citians in search of not-available-in-Minnesota beers.
Beer fans go to great lengths to fuel their obsession. They scramble for specialty brews and tail beer trucks like teenage girls chasing One Direction’s limo, all for their love of suds. But some are literally going the extra mile to satisfy their cravings.
Hudson, Wis., is only 20 minutes by car from the east metro, but in a sense it’s a new frontier for craft-faithful Minnesotans.
For one thing, its liquor stores are open on Sundays.
But just as important for craft-beer partisans is the fact that microbreweries have limited production capacities and web-like distribution systems. That means popular breweries don’t have their beers in every state or market. So across the St. Croix River, a different smorgasbord of stouts, porters and IPAs awaits.
Built in a pre-Prohibition brewery, Hudson’s Casanova Liquor has become something of a mecca for border-crossing beer fiends since Tyrrell Gaffer’s family bought the store in 2003. He said he has a lot of Minnesota customers, who are lured there to purchase brands unavailable in their home state. “It definitely helps business,” Gaffer said. “We sell a lot of beers you can’t get in Minnesota. That’s one of the big questions — ‘What can’t I get?’ That’s nationwide. Everybody wants the things they can’t get.”
Three-year employee Anthony Gilbert fields that question daily. The 22-year-old even printed a list of the 20-plus breweries with beers unavailable in Minnesota that the store stocks, and hung it in the craft-beer section.
Beyond the Spotted Cow
Minnesota ale hounds have been fawning over Wisconsin’s New Glarus Brewing Co. for years. Outside of Miller Lite, perhaps no brew is as synonymous with Badger country as its Spotted Cow. The ’Sconnie staple is available in gas stations and grocery stores from Bayfield to Racine, but by choice nowhere outside of the state. Still, its reputation defies borders. Gaffer said one regular customer drives up annually from Texas and buys as much as he can fit in his car.
One 40-year-old Maplewood man stopped at Casanova on a recent Sunday to peruse the growler selection — another beer-geek magnet. In Minnesota, only breweries and brewpubs can sell growlers, and only in their own marked, half-gallon jugs. But in Wisconsin, bars and restaurants have the green light, too, and growlers from different breweries or bars can be refilled interchangeably.
Through its adjoining Nova Wine Bar, Casanova sells growlers of the 16 beers it keeps on tap, half of which can’t be found in Minnesota. The man, who declined to give his name, said he makes the trip once every month or two, timing it with other errands. “What I like about it is that the growlers are cheaper than buying a six-pack,” he said while waiting for his empty Dangerous Man growler to be refilled with a Scotch ale from Three Floyds — a nationally renowned Indiana brewery that doesn’t distribute in Minnesota.
“We actually have a lot of people who come and do a beer run, a border run,” said Catherine Pflueger, general manager at downtown Hudson’s Stone Tap, which also sells growlers. Pflueger, who formerly managed the St. Paul craft-beer bastion the Happy Gnome, said she keeps varieties unavailable in Minnesota in heavy rotation at the new beer bar, which boasts 24 tap handles. Since taking her beer-curating talents to Hudson this summer, Pflueger said she now has such nationally renowned breweries as Three Floyds, Colorado’s Oskar Blues and hot newcomer Toppling Goliath (a top seller at Casanova) out of Iowa at her disposal.
However, there is a catch. Some of Pflueger’s old favorites, including big-shot breweries Deschutes and Odell, aren’t available in Wisconsin. “It’s 50/50,” she said, when asked which state has the better pool. “It’s just that some of the things we can get here, you can’t get there. But [Minnesota has] things that we can’t get.”
Wisconsin beat us in beer
Pflueger may call it a draw, but the Huffington Post gives Wisconsin the edge. In a recent ranking of the top 10 states with access to the best craft beer, Wisconsin checked in at No. 9, with breweries such as Three Floyds, San Diego’s AleSmith and Hoppin’ Frog of Ohio cited. Surly or no, Minnesota failed to make the cut. The list was based on the availability of RateBeer’s top 20 American craft breweries in each state. However, nationally known breweries Ballast Point and Green Flash just became available in Minnesota.
Aside from exotic national breweries and New Glarus, other Wisconsin breweries are attracting Minnesota aficionados. Dave’s BrewFarm in Wilson, run by St. Louis Park native Dave Anderson, has plenty of buzz. While the wind-powered brewery is a two-hour drive from Minneapolis and keeps limited taproom hours, Anderson does monthly “Dinner With Dave” events at Stone Tap.
Also in Hudson, upstart Pitchfork Brewing has seen its share of Minnesotans, said co-founder and brewer Mike Fredricksen. During a recent Packer game, its small taproom off Interstate 94 was boisterous with green-and-gold guzzlers, many from Minnesota, where taprooms are closed on Sundays. The brewery had been open less than two months, but Karen Nickel of northeast Minneapolis was already making her fourth trip with her husband and a group of co-workers. “Each brew is distinct,” the 26-year homebrewer said.
Lakeville’s Cory Mulhern was also making a repeat visit. He had made the drive the week before after Minneapolis brewpub/Packer bar the Herkimer was too crowded during the game. “We’ve done all the taprooms in the Twin Cities, and this guy knows his stuff,” Mulhern said.
Sounds like the makings of a beer-border rivalry.
Michael Rietmulder writes about bars, beer and nightlife.