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.
Craft Breweries Continue to Grow
If you’re drinking a beer that was made in a Minnesota, you can be sure it’s of the craft variety. Thanks to a loosening in legislation a few years back, the state has seen a surge in brewery openings, with close to 70 in operation today. The largest concentrations are found in Minneapolis and Duluth, but 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.”
Jack Pine Brewery in Baxter has a taproom open Wednesday-Saturday, and also offers tours on select Saturdays (call ahead to reserve). Four beers are on tap year-round, with at least one seasonal offering and other special recipes. Also find their beers at restaurants and resorts in the area.
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. In the summer months, the windows open onto an outdoor patio complete with bocce ball and a rotating schedule of food trucks.
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. Many offer tours that include samples, and some have added on-site cocktail rooms.
Just east of Alexandria, Panther Distillery in Osakis gives tours six days a week. Learn about the local ingredients that go into the gin, bourbon and whiskeys, then sample the products in the tasting room.
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. Visitors can taste the spiced rum, rye whiskey, vodka and gins, crafted from grain grown on the property in a process they dub “field to glass.”
Vikre Distillery in Duluth makes three varieties of boreal gin and an aquavit, a traditional Scandinavian spirit infused with caraway and cardamom. Taste them straight up or as part of a handcrafted mixed drink in the cocktail room.
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
Since Minnesota's first winery opened in 1978, the state's wines continue to win 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 Passport to Minnesota Wine. The $25 passport grants the holder tastings at any 10 of the 35 participating wineries. Plan your trip along one of Minnesota’s wine trails, and find out about upcoming winery events and festivals at mngrapegrowers.com and mnwine.org.
Find more vineyards, distilleries and taprooms throughout Minnesota on our Winery & Brewery Tours page.