Get a Taste of Minnesota's Craft Beer, Wine & Spirits
By Erica Wacker
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Minnesota is known for growing wild rice, sweet corn and blueberries, but our foodie reputation is growing to include craft beverages of all types. Wineries, breweries, distilleries and cideries are cropping up all over the state, and you're invited to come taste the delicious 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. The big three—Summit, Schell's and Surly—have been joined by dozens more in recent years, with more than 150 (and counting) open today. The largest concentrations can be 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, former 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.” And don't worry if you're not a craft beer expert: Minnesota breweries are welcoming, come-as-you-are kind of places, where it's not uncommon to see babies, dogs and nondrinkers having a good time.
Minnesota is in the midst of a beer revolution.
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. Their beers are also on tap at restaurants and resorts in this popular lakes area.
Bemidji Brewing Co. offers four or more beers as well as craft soda in its taproom, where visitors can order 5-ounce tasters, pints, or “sample paddles” to try them all. In Winona, Island City Brewing Co. welcomes visitors to its taproom six days a week and offers a full calendar of special events, from live bands to trivia nights to sunset brewery cruises on the Mississippi River.
Distilleries Open for Tours & Tastings
If cocktails are more your style, Minnesota now has more than two-dozen distilleries, many of which offer tours, samples, and on-site cocktail rooms. In addition to the distilleries themselves, you'll find plenty of local restaurants serve specialty cocktails made with Minnesota spirits.
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.
One of the state's newest distilleries, Flying Dutchman Spirits in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie sports an industrial-chic cocktail room conveniently situated next to a paved trail.
Cider Stakes Its Claim
Taking advantage of another Minnesota crop, cideries are the newest addition to Minnesota's craft beverage scene. 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 food truck.
A handful of other cideries around the state offer tours and tastings, including Sawtooth Mountain Cider House in Lutsen, Number 12 Cider House in Buffalo and Sweetland Orchard in Webster. Most are only open seasonally with limited hours, so be sure to call or check their websites before visiting.
Minnesota Wines Even Better With Age
Since Minnesota's first winery opened in 1978, the state's wines continue to win fans as connoisseurs 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 our northern climate.
The state boasts more than 50 wineries that are open for tours, tastings and special events including concerts and harvest festivals. Some of the most well-known include Alexis Bailly Vineyard in Hastings, Carlos Creek Winery in Alexandria and Morgan Creek Vineyards in New Ulm, but there are plenty of hidden gems worth discovering, too.
“More wineries are focused on drier and more table-friendly wines,” says Terri Savaryn of Sovereign Estate in Waconia. “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 Passport to Minnesota Wine. The $25 passport grants the holder tastings at any 10 of the 45 participating wineries.
Can't decide which beverage to try first? Some locations, like Bent Brewstillery in Roseville and Schram Vineyards in Waconia, make spirits and beer or beer and wine in the same facility. Or check out one of Minnesota's craft beverage trails, including the new Skal Crawl in Alexandria and Osakis, and Libation Destination West in the Waconia area just west of Minneapolis.
Erica Wacker is a Midwesterner through and through, growing up in Illinois, going to college in Wisconsin, and settling down in Minnesota. She loves to run, travel with her family, and go to concerts to relive her youth.
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