The craft brew revolution has ushered in a delicious explosion of artisan beer production in Minnesota.
For people exploring the state, there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about brewing and beer culture by way of brewery tours and other experiences. From Cold Spring to Duluth to New Ulm, opportunities abound for the brew-curious traveler, with new spots popping up all the time.
Schell's Brewery, New Ulm
Schell's has been brewing beer since 1860, making it the country's second-oldest family-owned brewery (after D. G. Yuengling & Son). And while it's best known for its broadly popular Grain Belt and Deer brand beers, the German-rooted brewhaus has been putting out a variety of challenging and intriguing styles in recent years that have been well-received by craft brew fans.
Schell's Brewery is less a simple production facility than it is a beer-focused estate, featuring gardens (with peacocks, no less!), a Museum of Brewing, and a well-stocked Gift Haus. There are afternoon brewery tours (daily in summer, Friday-Sunday the rest of the year), with tickets sold for $3 on a first-come, first-served basis the day of the tour. Private group tours can be booked well in advance.
And if you're up for an event, the brewery offers several: the mid-winter Bock Fest (featuring red-hot pokers plunged into mugs of beer to give them a warm, caramel-kissed flavor), two weekends worth of Oktoberfest shenanigans, and Sundays in the Park all summer long.
If you are interested in the Berliner Weisse style of sour beers, visit Schell's newest taproom, Starkeller. The taproom is rich with history as it uses Cypress wood lagering tanks from 1936 that were restored to age sour beers and the bar top made from an old copper kettle. The Starkeller is open Friday-Saturday.
Fitger's Brewhouse, Duluth
Boasting more than 100 beer recipes and a connection to a North Shore brewing tradition that dates back to the 19th century, Fitger's is a Duluth legend. The brewery's dozens of active tanks are scattered throughout the Fitger's complex (and can be seen on a scheduled tour, or just by wandering the building), and visitors can enjoy a pint in the brewpub restaurant or the Rex Bar across the hallway.
Check the brewhouse calendar if you're a fan of live music—Fitger's is one of the Duluth area's premier venues.
Lift Bridge Brewing Co., Stillwater
When the state of Minnesota gave its blessing to on-site brewery taprooms via 2011 legislation, Lift Bridge in Stillwater was the first to seize the opportunity to share its product on-site. The result is a comfortable taproom that is part brewery showcase, part neighborhood hangout, part opportunity to try some of the most interesting (and newest) offerings that the booming Lift Bridge team has to offer.
If beer isn't your thing, Lift Bridge Brewing also has its own line of flavored alcoholic seltzers. The beverages are low in sugar, gluten-free and come in flavors like cran-apple, berry, citrus and tropical blend.
The brewery offers free tours on Saturdays and Sundays, and samples are available (with valid ID, of course).
Boathouse Brewpub & Restaurant, Ely
Boathouse is one of the smaller breweries on this list, but this Ely brewpub offers a variety of beers tailor-made for the bucolic town's gateway-to-the-wilderness atmosphere. Typically light on the palate (and in alcohol), Boathouse brews are perfect for post-wilderness quaffing (or pre-wilderness quaffing, for that matter). Tours of the facility are available by request.
Summit Brewing Company, St. Paul
In many ways the grand-daddy of the modern Minnesota craft beer movement, Summit Brewing Company revolutionized local drinking with the release of its ever-popular Extra Pale Ale in 1986. Since its launch (and subsequent spread to just about every restaurant tap in the state), the brewery has expanded both its production facility in St. Paul and its brewing horizons, releasing new year-round and limited-run beers that are among the most thought-provoking (and reliably excellent) in the Upper Midwest.
Summit offers 90-minute tours on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There's also a gift shop and weekend taproom at the brewery for a lower-intensity way to interact with the brand and the beer.
Third Street Brewhouse, Cold Spring
Third Street Brewhouse is the latest chapter in the Cold Spring Brewing Company story, which started way back in 1874. Formerly known for the long-running and now extinct Gluek brand, the new brewhouse makes four year-round and four seasonal craft brews, available in pint and flight form in the taproom. Free, hourlong tours with samples are offered on Thursdays and Saturdays.
James Norton is the author of Lake Superior Flavors (University of Minnesota Press), a guide to eating and drinking on the Lake Superior Circle Tour. He is currently the editor and publisher of Heavy Table.
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