With apologies to the excellent Roger Corman horror movie classic Pirahna 2… Recently, Jim Stroner, myself, and my wife Sarajo (Sj) took a long weekend to travel to some out-of-the-way breweries in Northern Minnesota. In this issue we will cover our trip up to the Canadian Border! The first post is HERE.
Now, your results may vary on some of these places, but this is our experience on this particular trip. When I talk about beers, I’ll usually give them a score of 0-5. My personal scale is a 0 is equivalent to sipping leakage from an overfilled State Fair port-a-potty, while a 5 is equal to Bourbon County Stout. Since I’ve got a lot of ground to cover, these will be shorter reviews. My Brewcred: I’m a BJCP National Ranked beer judge, have been homebrewing for 29 years, and have visited 123 breweries in Minnesota as of this writing.
On the third day of our short beercation, we headed from International Falls to Warroad, Minnesota to visit Lake of the Woods Brewing Company. We didn’t know the story of the brewery until we got to the place. It looks like the name of the brewery comes from an 1898 Ontario, Canada brewery that went out of business in 1954. In 2013 the new Lake of the Woods Brewery was opened in Kenora. The brewery in Warroad is an expansion of the brand into the USA, but brewing does happen on site (we saw the large fermentors and brew system). The brewery is located right on the Warroad river and one can watch the river flow by when the large garage doors are opened on the side of the brewery. The place is brand new and still has that “New Brewery Smell”.
The place is sharp, angular, made with corrugated metal and woods in contrasting light and dark tones. The wind was up when we were there and we had to find a sheltered table in the corner to avoid getting blown away! The beers were all very well crafted with nice balance to them. The group favorite was the Lakeside Kolsch, with a refreshing clean and slightly fruity finish (4). The Sultana Gold–a blonde ale–was almost as good with a slight hop character to it that made me like it more than Sj and Jim (3.75). Overall, the 5 beers they had on tap were well above average and this is worth a stop if you are in the area.
Our final destination for this day was the distant small town of Hallock to stay the night and visit Revelation Ale Works. I liked that stop so much I wrote a whole review of the place that you can read HERE if you like! This was our favorite of the breweries from this Minnesota beer trip and has rocketed into my top 10-15 breweries in the state.
In between two visits to the brewery, we took a little trip out into the countryside (about 6 miles into cornfields and down a dirt road) to Far North Spirits–a distillery using barley grown on site at the family farm. We had been clued into this place by the Evensons, (the owners of Revelation) and they followed us over here to have a cocktail as well! The place was in a large barn building fronted with small grain silos, literally in the middle of a field. Stepping in through the doors, it was an interesting contrast to the outside: upscale cocktail furniture, leather seats and a couch, a moveable “curtain” made of long and thin birch logs, and a small bar. Small, a bit loud, but very comfortable.
At Ryan’s suggestion I had the Sazerac, made with their Roknar Rye, and it was fantastic. We sat in the couch and relaxed, Sj drinking a barrel aged gin concoction, and Jim also having a Sazerac. I ended up taking a bottle of the Roknar home and have already made myself a few of these cocktails at home!
Here’s my recipe for a Sazerac:
2 oz Rye (Roknar or J. Carver Runestone my favorites)
1/4 oz Demerra Simple syrup
4-5 splashes Peychaud’s Bitters.
Shake with ice in a cocktail shaker. Take a martini glass and rinse with absinthe such as J. Carver’s (I actually spray some over the top with an atomizer). Pour drink into glass and garnish with a twist of lemon. Drink. Repeat.
The final day of our trip we packed up early from our hotel in Hallock and drove to Detroit Lakes for our next brewery stop. This day was rainy and kind of cold, but better for the last day of the trip than the first! Our lunch destination was a brewery I had not heard of, Tavern Brewery (or Lakeside Tavern depending on what side of the building or area on the website you look). This is a large restaurant and bar with northwoods theme, right across the road from the lake itself. In look and vibe it has a strong resemblance to many other lakeside tourist places like Zorbaz (across the street).
The interior was wood all day: wood floors, wood walls, wood ceiling, wood furniture. No less than 3 taxidermied moose heads adorned the walls in the main bar area. Signs for macro and mostly non-Minnesota beers lined the walls (Budweiser, Shiner, Sam Adams, etc). We were not overly impressed with the generic “Northwoods Bar” decor.
Our server, a young man named Indiana, was very attentive and helpful. The food was decent, focused on burgers and footlong hotdogs, amongst other options. Most of the beers on tap were macro lagers with some regional craft beer options like Deschutes and Sam Adams. The place does brew beer, but it is not very prominent. We got a sampler of 4 beers to try prior to ordering our meals. The sample glasses were filthy but we sucked it up and tried all the beers.
The Octoberfest wasn’t very clean, with some fruity ale-like esters that likely comes from higher fermentation temp (2.75). The Gary’s IPA (above) had some buttery diacetyl that shouldn’t be present in this style of beer (2.5). The Chet’s Dill (a pickle flavored Kolsch) was probably the best of them (3). And the Harry Man chocolate cherry and vanilla was fair but a little muddled (2.75). We just ordered sodas for lunch.
Tavern just seemed to be a lakeside tourist bar with a tacked-on brewery to set it apart from the other, similar establishments. The beer just wasn’t very good, and I would not recommend this place as it stands now. I think if you want to have a good and successful micro brewery–that has to be your focus, not the restaurant and tourist bar. Also, maybe putting some local Minnesota craft beer signs up or beers on tap to really make this look like a Minnesota business.
I’m going to turn this trip into a trilogy, just too much to talk about! Next up: Disgruntled, Drastic Measures, and Cuyuna!