Not long ago, one really had to plan ahead if they wanted to enjoy a variety of good craft beer outside the Twin Cities. Sure, there were the exceptions like New Ulm and Duluth, but for the most part, if you didn’t bring something from the cities, you were limited to a lot of domestic macro choices. That was then, this is now. Two cities up in the Red River valley now boast a total of four craft breweries, all offering diverse and tasty selections to quench your thirst so your only options are not what you brought in the cooler from home. Who knew that Moorhead, MN and Fargo, ND would be places where you could be pleasantly blown away by craft beer?
On a day that epitomized the dog days of August, I ventured north to visit the in-laws. Moorhead provides a great venue to see a baseball game when the FM Redhawks are at home. After the game, the next step is usually to traverse over to the Dairy Queen and marvel at its huge umbrellas while enjoying some of their sweet delights. However, this time was different. We were headed to Junkyard Brewing Company to sit down with Dan Juhnke to chat about the special brews that he and his older brother Aaron and brewing. They brew on a very small system( 3 Barrel system) and their focus is on quality and innovative beers. As a result of this, their beer list is constantly changing. In the two times that I have been there, they have been out of at least 2 beers. Some may view this as a negative, but I think that it is great that the Moorhead community is supporting them and challenging their palates with creative craft beer.
It was really hot and we got to the taproom and the air-conditioned taproom felt like an oasis. Lucas, who was pouring beers set us up with a couple pours of things while we cooled off. This taproom has an incredible vibe. It reminded me of the Sanitas Brewing Company’s taproom in Boulder, CO because of its industrial/minimalist feel. The wooden timbers, gray walls adorned with murals of artistic renderings of their beers make the atmosphere feel very hip. I am going to be completely honest, but Moorhead, MN is not a place that I would imagine a taproom this cool could ever exist. Yet, they have a gem of a place to get a properly made craft beer.
Speaking of the beer, it is legit. They have a wide range of beer styles available. Some of my favorites include their Coal Miner’s Daughter Stout, Free Candy Belgian Quad, Top Gorilla Belgian Tripel, Sin Boldly Belgian Dubbel and Captain Peanut Stout. I think that their beers are brewed to style, with a really special attention to flavor and feel. I think that the residents of Moorhead are lucky to have a place with such amazing ambiance and quality quaffable brews available to them via Junkyard. They frequently have music playing in the taproom and they have a lot of comfortable seating.
Dan is very knowledgeable when it comes to beer. When you sit down with him, it is clear that he is very dedicated to every detail that goes into the brewing process. He started brewing back in college after his older brother got into it. Like most younger brothers do, he wanted to be just like Aaron. I can only imagine that he had no trouble finding friends to taste-test his concoctions. What an amazing treat it would be if you were used to Bud Light Lime and your roommate had brewed a really roasty Porter! At Junkyard, it is all hands on deck. Dan has a background in construction, so he is able to brew and construct things that help them brew efficiently. They definitely get the most out of their brewhouse and that is key for a place that has such a great following. They are seldom able to fill growlers because there is such a demand for their beer. Some of their brands are available in cans, but to get the true taste of what they offer, the taproom is where you want to go. This is a must-stop if you are up in the Fargo/Moorhead area. They are crafting inventive beers that are spot-on flavorwise.
It was time to take the drive across the Red River into Fargo to make our first stop to Drekker Brewing Company. Drekker is located very close to the heart of downtown Fargo. A few years ago, Fargo would not really be a place to go for craft beer, but Fargo Brewing Company (see Beerploma article about Fargo Brewing Co.) got the ball rolling and since then, others have opened. At the time of my visit, there were a total of 3 craft breweries in Fargo, one of which(Kilstone Brewing) had just opened. Drekker adds to an up and coming downtown area that has several great places to get food and craft beer.
The Drekker logo is a Viking wearing a helmet complete with a hop cone for a beer. This image is prominently displayed throughout the taproom and in some of the artwork on the walls. The name is a combination of several other words relating to Norse mythology/history. The spirit and vibe of the place is very much focused on providing patrons with a comfortable place to enjoy a craft beer.
Drekker’s taproom is spacious and has a very modern feel. There are some incredible artistic accents around the space that give it a very unique feel. Darin, the Head Brewer, was tending bar and literally threw down the gauntlet in the form of the entire flight of what they had on tap. The styles were varied and vast ranging from a Pale Ale and IPA to the more adventurous Rye Saison and Cascadian Dark Ale. Each offering that Darin put down had something good going on. Even the ones that were not my favorites were stylistically hitting the mark. Of the 11 craft beers that I tried, eight were above average in my opinion, with the RYEsistance, Azacca Attacka, Igor’s Horn and Broken Rudder being awesome and my favorites. I love the fact that they have so many options available. There is something for the beginning craft beer drinker, of which there are many in this region. They also have things for the adventurous palates of craft beer geeks like myself. Darin admitted to me that he did not like the way the Azacca Atacka turned out and wanted to dump it and redo it. I am glad that he didn’t, it was packed with great hop flavor. I cannot wait to see how it could possibly be better. The RYEsistance was somewhat of a stylistic outlier and Darin used a deft hand when it came to the Rye. Most of the craft beers at Drekker are brewed to highlight the ingredients used in a masterful way. The Broken Rudder brewed with coffee was such a terrific blend of coffee and roasted malt. Each flavor was highlighted, but nothing overpowered another flavor. This was a theme of their beers and I can think of a lot of other breweries whom have been around for a lot longer are still struggling with this type of flavor synchronicity.
There are a lot of events happening at Drekker and Darin said that there is definitely a strong following that keeps growing. When we first showed up in the afternoon, there were a hand
ful of people, but when we left it was getting crowded. They have bags leagues and encourage drinkers to bring takeout in from the surrounding restaurants. They even have a few restaurants that will deliver! This would be a great place to chill and converse with friends or to catch the game on their huge TV. As they continue to grow and brew things that will challenge and educate the palates of their drinkers, this will be a place that more and more people will find out about.
What started out as a curious jaunt up to some places that I had only heard about ended up as a really enjoyable drinking experience. There is, in fact, good craft beer up in a place where people might not think to look for it. Junkyard Brewing Company and Drekker Brewing Company epitomize what is happening in the Midwest with the craft beer boom. Passionate homebrewers are opening up breweries and starting to educate and satisfy the palates of people whom five years ago would maybe not even approached a craft beer. This means good things for everyone living in these communities. This means great things for those of us who are living in the Twin Cities and venture up that way every so often. The flavorful and creative craft beers that are now available in the Red River Valley are a welcome addition to the evolving landscape of craft beer. Prost!