Brewery Bound: Earth Rider Brewery
Typically, when I head up to the Twin Ports area, Duluth gets the lion’s share of my attention. However, last year, on the Sunday after All Pints North, some friends and I stopped in at the Cedar Lounge in Superior, WI, for a beer before heading back to the cities. Due to barley-induced activities of the day before, I really only wanted one beer. That one beer I had was enough to get me to start planning a return trip where I could explore the beer list with more dedication and time.
Fast forward to Mother’s Day weekend. I headed up Interstate 35 with Earth Rider Brewery in my crosshairs. I was so excited to immerse myself in what they have on tap. A beautiful and sunny Saturday afternoon had made the 9 inches of snow the area was gifted a distant memory. Driving across the bridge from Duluth, I felt like I was leaving the set of a tourism commercial and entering the music video for a Bruce Springsteen song. Superior, Wisconsin, has an edge and grit to it. It is working class and no-nonsense. When any of the 30,000 people in the area stop in for a beer, you damn well better believe they’ve earned it.
The brewery and the taproom are located a stone’s throw away from each other. The production facility has a ton of space and they will be brewing fantastic beer there for a long while. The Cedar Lounge is where the Earth Rider beer flows freely and people gather to create a fantastic beer community.
The Cedar Lounge
If you walk into the Cedar Lounge expecting hip aesthetics-exposed brick, metal tables and the accompanying chairs that put your ass to sleep-go back to Northeast Minneapolis. The Cedar Lounge epitomizes the Northern Wisconsin comfy and familiar neighborhood tavern, complete with the dim lighting, kitschy light fixtures, and central bar that can comfortably sit a grip of drinkers ready to solve all the world’s problems.
The building that houses this amazing place to drink beer was built in 1912 for the Northern Beer Company. It has transformed over the years from one thing to another, all the while keeping minimal outside light and maximum allure. For a brief stint in the 60s it was a gay bar and they actually covered up the windows so you couldn’t tell who was enjoying a beer inside.
Now, The Cedar Lounge is a gathering place for many. Natalie, one of the bartenders of The Cedar Lounge, says that brings many of the community together with its unassuming decor and quality beer. “It is hard to drink at other places.” I have to say that I concur with Natalie’s assessment. In fact, I am here early on a Saturday and there is a steady stream of people finding their way here to belly up to the bar.
One gentleman, who is traveling for work, decided to come in and get some work done. He was sipping on a delectable North Tower Stout and accidentally knocked it over onto his work laptop. The dude was angry, but it is unclear if his vitriol stemmed from the loss of beer, or the expensive piece of equipment he just ruined. He seemed to take it in stride, “I needed a new laptop anyway.” Definitely a pint half-full type of a guy.
Royal Bohemian Pilsner
My first beer of the day was the Royal Bohemian Pilsner. At 5.5% ABV and 36 IBUs, this pilsner is a balanced treat. This beer is an illustration of the importance of synergy between ingredients. It is also a marvel in simplicity. The satisfying cracker and bready notes from the malt provide a wonderful foundation for the spicy and herbal hop aromas to stand on. There is also a slight burst of lemon brightness that livens up each sip briefly. All these factors combine to make the Royal Bohemian Pilsner an irresistible offering. This beer has plenty of the Superior, WI, faithful quenching their thirst and augmenting their conversations at The Cedar Lounge.
My rule for drinking beer at a craft brewery is that if they can hit a pilsner out of the park, they can brew anything well. My enjoyment of the Royal Bohemian Pilsner is all the green light I need. I take the governor off the beer mobile and move with reckless abandon up and down their Decameron-esque tap list.
The Vienna Lager is up next for me. This style is seeing a bit of a resurgence as of late. Don’t think for a minute that it hasn’t been a malt-lover’s dream since it originated hundreds of years ago.
Speaking of malt, when are more breweries going to wake up are realize that by showcasing this humble, yet important ingredient, they will be combating palate fatigue brought on by crazy levels of hopped-up beers? I guess that might be a story for another time. . .
Earth Rider’s Vienna Lager is fantastic because of how its malt showcases wonderfully familiar flavors. The beer is crisp and drinkable. The flavors that are resonating with me are light caramel that you might enjoy on an ice cream sundae. I am also happy as a clam to be enjoying aromas and flavors of toasted bread. All of these flavors and aromas are coming in at a palatable 5.2% ABV and 24 IBUs. This beer is not intimidating, it is a liquid was of saying, “Try it, you’ll like it.”
Precious Materials Helles Lager
Sticking with the lager theme, my next beer is the Precious Materials Helles Lager. Again, a moderate 5.5% ABV and 29 IBUs make this beer epically quaffable. As its namesake indicates, this is a blue collar beer. It is a no-nonsense, crisp, and clean beer that you don’t have to think about if you don’t want to. However, a beer geek like myself can also revel in the Precious Materials. It is has a roundness to it thanks to the little bit of honey from the malt.
High Bridge Helles
After enjoying the Precious Materials, I figure that the High Bridge Helles, a take on a traditional Maibock might also tickle my fancy. After one sip, I know I made the right choice. Clocking in at 6.8% ABV and 33 IBUs, this Maibock is balanced and delicious. My favorite thing about it is the bready aromas coming off the beer as I do my Randy Mosher drive-by sniffing. It is like I am standing in a bakery as the homey aroma of fresh bread whafts into my olfactories. The honey sweetness from the malt fives the High Bridge Helles a complexity and depth. The beer has a nice body to it thanks to the base of malt. I also enjoy the crisp punch of hoppy finish to round out the experience.
Superior Pale Ale
One of my fiercest critiques of the local MN beer scene is that there is a dearth of well-made pale ales. I guess I just had to come to Superior, WI, to find a pale ale that has bright fruity notes with just the right amount of hopping to be balanced but not astringent. The Superior Pale Ale is not muddled in the least. The hops give a pleasing cantaloupe aroma and flavor that is quickly followed by a hint of piney bitterness. The beer drinks clean and refreshing. At 5.5% ABV and 56 IBUs, it is approachable and easy-drinking.
Roller Derby IPA
I would categorize the Roller Derby IPA as a more traditional offering in the IPA continuum. This beer is 6.7% ABV and has 59 IBUs. It has citrus brightness which really wakes up the palate and prepare it for the influx of a little bitterness bite. It stays pretty juicy until the end of the sip when the hops really dry out the finish. This is all well and good because it only makes you want to keep sipping away. This beer was borne out of a Pink Boots Society Collaboration meant to support the Harbor City Roller Derby.
Spirit Mountain DIPA
At 8.3% and 94 IBUs, this might seem like an intimidating beer. However, through a deftness of hand, this beer is as smooth a DIPA as you will find. This beer is an apt illustration of the common threads that sews its way through the entire Earth Rider portfolio: balance. The malt base is sturdy so that the bigger hop flavors don’t trample your palate. A little bit of pine, orange peel pithe, and resin coat your tongue in a way that is enjoyable. I won’t go so far as to say this one is a sipper. However, you will need to be mindful of the deceptive strength of this beer if you want to keep your wits about you.
As I was sipping away on my Spirit Mountain DIPA, I saw Allyson Rolph, Earth Rider’s Head Brewer, come in with her wife. About a month and a half earlier at the Northern Lights Rare Beer Fest, I met Allyson for the first time and mentioned that I would be up this way in May. She graciously sat down next to me for a brief chat. I had nothing but effusive praise for the quality and consistency of her beers. They were on their way to a wedding later in the day and she didn’t have time to show me around. However, she graciously asks if I can stop by tomorrow to see the production facility and chat. I happily accepted and finished the rest of my Spirit Mountain DIPA with a huge smile.
Earth Rider’s Production Facility
The size of Earth Rider’s Production facility is immense. Standing atop the Sprinkman brew deck, I see a ton of shiny tanks and it makes me happy. The capacity can put out more than enough beer to keep the Twin Ports area happy and then some. All this space will continue to evolve. The lab space, barrel program, and room for expansion are all there and have taken hold. Earth Rider produced roughly 2,000 barrels of beer last year and are hoping for 3,500 this year.
I never get sick of seeing the production facility of a brewery. There is always something interesting to me about how they layout is designed and how big the tanks are. My inner beer geek is happy to be able to sit down with Allyson in their little mini-taproom. She hands me a glass and invites me to pour anything I want. I instantly go for the Royal Bohemian Pilsner.
Allyson Rolph has been a fixture in the Twin Ports brewing scene since 2012 when she started brewing at the Thirsty Pagan. She brewed there until 2017 when she then became the Lead Brewer at Earth Rider. Allyson has a wealth of brewing knowledge, but specializes in mixed culture beers. She brews with Frank Kazuba, formerly of Fitger’s Brewhouse. Between the two of them, they brew and oversee the incredibly diverse and consistent beers at Earth Rider Brewery.
Allyson started as a homebrewer. When asked what got her into craft beer, she said that the challenging aspects of brewing really appealed to her. She cites the appeal of exploring historical styles and different scientific variables to play with and explore as the main reasons she loves brewing. Allyson describes herself as creative, scientific, and nerdy-all the qualities needed to be passionate about beer. As we chat, I see first-hand, her incredible passion for beer craft beer.
She says that Earth Rider has a unique opportunity to be the standout craft beer brand in Northern Wisconsin because they have such a unique way of delivering beer to patrons than it has been done before. This is not without its challenges, however. Earth Rider is not a member of the MN Craft Brewers Guild. The Wisconsin Guild is happening 5 hours away in Milwaukee. There also really hasn’t been much of a craft beer history in Northern Wisconsin like there has been in Duluth.
Earth Rider wants people to view this area not as Minnesota and Wisconsin, but rather the Twin Ports craft beer community. Allyson says that there are advantages of being located in Wisconsin. The cheese state is better at allowing beer to happen. Among many things that Wisconsin does well, it is not as restrictive on container size as Minnesota. Earth Rider can sell their crowlers in 32 ounces as opposed to the rinky-dink 25-ounce sizes in MN.
Earth Rider is purposeful about is allowing the Cedar Lounge to be a showcase for their beer. They are not a direct competitor to any of the other bars that choose to put Earth Rider on tap. The Cedar Lounge does not sell the beer for less than any of the other establishments in town.
Allyson has enjoyed a myriad of brewing experiences that have brought her to where she is today. She strives to constantly become a more technical brewer. Rolph admits that IPA is a weakness for her. Although, you would never guess if you drank any of the Earth Rider IPAs. She says that she continues to learn and understand the nuances of hops.
Allyson has a few beer trends that she is not ecstatic about. Because Allyson cannot process lactose, she doesn’t love the Milkshake IPA craze that seemingly is captivating the nation. She also has a few reservations about hazy IPAs. She enjoys their fresh, juicy qualities, but is concerned about the stability of those beers. Going back to her desire to be a technical brewer, the hazy IPA trend seems to be a bit of a departure from that.
Earth Rider offers a good variety of well-made beer thanks to Allyson’s watchful eyes. Rolph says, “It [Earth Rider] won’t be trendy, but you’ll find something you’ll like.” Allyson proudly stands behind the quality of her beer. She also loves that the staff at the Cedar Lounge are all passionate when it comes to learning about beer. I can attest to that fact personally because the day before, Becca and Natalie were able to answer any question I had about the beer. That goes a long way in making me want to come back.
I wanted to get Allyson’s take on being a female in a mostly white male dominated industry. This is changing for the better to be more equitable, however, the craft beer industry still has a long way to go. I asked Allyson what advice she would give a female wanting to get into craft brewing. “Learn, homebrew, and bring in your expertise. Bring your passion-all of yourself-do it wholly.” Rolph continues, “You are probably going to be under a microscope and you will have to be better than your male counterparts.”
At no point in listening to Allyson expound on this topic did I get any sense of discouragement. Her passion for brewing and fierce demeanor leads me to believe that anyone working alongside her, can learn a ton about what it takes to brew-male or female. As a matter of fact, Rolph goes to great lengths to make sure the brewhouse staff stays up on their beer knowledge. She gives all her staff reading assignments. Earth Rider also has an intern, Bailey, who just graduated with a degree in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. According to Rolph, Bailey devours information about beer and is voracious when it comes to learning the different facets of working in a brewery. It seems as though Allyson’s passion for learning about beer is contagious.
As our time is drawing to a close, I thank Allyson Rolph for her time and for sharing her thoughts on so many topics with me. I know that she came in on her day off and I am grateful for our chat. I head out the door and pop over to the Cedar Lounge to load up with some crowlers for the road.
As I pull out of the parking lot, I am already looking forward to later in the summer when I can visit the Cedar Lounge again with friends. Earth Rider Brewery is a must-visit when you are in the Twin Ports area. In my humble opinion, they stack up with the best places in Duluth when it comes to quality, consistency, and variety.
If you have been to the Cedar Lounge before, leave your favorite Earth Rider beer in the comments section below. Prost!
Dan Beaubien has been involved with Beerploma since 2014 although his passion for craft beer dates back to 2006 when he started traveling for beer. Dan mostly covers craft beer events, festivals, brewery openings/releases, and beer reviews. Dan has a soft spot in his heart for authentic British Style ales, IPAs, and all things barrel-aged. If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org .