Get a Taste of the Craft Beverage Boom

By Erica Wacker

While Minnesota is known for producing foods like wild rice, sweet corn and blueberries, it’s the state’s drinkable crops that are making headlines. Wineries, breweries and distilleries – the latest local craze – continue to up the ante with new facilities, recipes and events, and they’re inviting visitors to come taste the results.

Sociable Cider Werks

Craft Breweries Continue to Grow

More than 15 new breweries opened in 2013, and this year looks to be just as busy. Though the largest concentrations are still in Minneapolis and Duluth, the craft beer scene is expanding into every corner of the state.

“Minnesota is in the midst of a beer revolution,” says Clint Roberts, executive director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. “More people are realizing what our state has to offer as far as local goods, and beer is absolutely a part of that group.”

Just outside Winona in Goodview, Wenonah Brewing Co. opened in November in a former grocery store. The taproom serves a pale ale, a nut brown ale and a rotating seasonal brew, all of which can be enjoyed on-site or purchased in growlers.

Bemidji Brewing Company offers four or more beers as well as craft soda in its taproom, where visitors can order five-ounce tasters, pints, or “sample paddles” to try them all. In downtown Buffalo, Hayes Public House is the town’s first brewery. The pub takes on an Irish theme, serving an Irish stout and Irish red, with live Irish music on select nights.

Taking advantage of another Minnesota crop, Sociable Cider Werks in Minneapolis sources its main ingredient – fresh-pressed apples – from Pepin Heights orchard in Lake City. The taproom serves its ciders and beers by the pint, swifty (10-ounce glass) and flight. Come summer, the windows will open onto an outdoor patio complete with bocce ball and a rotating schedule of food trucks.

Panther Distillery

Distilleries Open for Tours & Tastings

The same law that prompted Minnesota’s surge in craft breweries also opened the door for distillers to set up shop. For now, distilleries aren’t allowed to sell their wares on-site, but they can offer tours and samples.

Just east of Alexandria, Panther Distillery in Osakis gives tours six days a week. Learn about the local ingredients that go into the gin and whiskeys, then sample the products in the tasting room. Panther recently released its first aged whiskey, and the rum will be ready sometime this summer.

As the name suggests, Far North Spirits in Hallock earns the title of the northernmost distillery in the lower 48. Tours are offered on Saturday afternoons, and reservations are required. Bring a nonperishable food item to exchange for samples of Solveig Gin and Alander Rum.

Vikre Distillery in Duluth is open for tours and tastings of its three varieties of Boreal Gin and, soon, its aquavit, a traditional Scandinavian spirit infused with caraway and cardamom.

An old Hamm’s brewery in St. Paul is now home to 11 Wells, which uses Minnesota-grown corn in its flagship product, Minnesota 13. The spirit is a nod to one that was produced here during Prohibition, which had a reputation for tasting much better than its fellow moonshines. Stop by for a tour, or look for the product – along with other Minnesota-made spirits – on menus and liquor store shelves across the state.

Minnesota Wines Even Better with Age

Still a relatively new industry, Minnesota wine keeps gaining fans as consumers become more knowledgeable about the state’s unique varietals, many of which use cold-hardy grapes developed by the University of Minnesota to thrive in this climate. As the vineyards continue to mature, the grapes develop more complex flavor profiles, and in turn, so does the wine.

“More wineries are focused on drier and more table-friendly wines,” says Terri Savaryn of the Minnesota Grape Growers Association. “When people understand what a great Minnesota wine is supposed to taste like, they develop a palate for it.”

Developing that palate may be a little easier with the association’s new Passport to Minnesota Wine. Introduced last year, the $25 passport grants the holder tastings at any 10 of the approximately 30 participating wineries. Plan your trip along one of Minnesota’s wine trails, and find out about upcoming winery events and festivals at mngrapegrowers.com.

Find more vineyards and taprooms throughout Minnesota on our Winery & Brewery Tours page.