Well, it's nearing the end of October, and I've made it to 97 Minnesota breweries. 97!Whew! In a few days, I will attempt to get up to 100. Then, we have 2 months to get to the remaining dozen. I've only written up 50 of these visits, though, so it's catch-up time. Now, here's #94, Lake Superior Brewing Company in Duluth, visited last Wednesday. First, let me set it up for you....
On the last day of August, Dave A. and I set out on a North Shore adventure that would take us to as many "up north" breweries as we could take in. (Unfortunately, I have only gotten around to writing up one of those visits, (Bent Paddle) although I keep promising "soon, soon", and I always mean it.) On the first day we hit up Canal Park in Duluth, Boathouse Brewery in Ely, and Voyageur and GunFlint Tavern in Grand Marais. Thursday, September 1 found us at Castle Danger in Two Harbors, Bent Paddle and Fitger's in Duluth, with a sneak peek at the upcoming Blacklist location thrown in the middle. We made it Superior,Wisconsin and Thirsty Pagan for lunch the next morning, then headed homeward.
So, another trip was planned with Jason B. seven weeks later, to try to catch those missing three breweries, even if it meant bothering the brewers during non-taproom hours at Lake Superior. We left my home in Minneapolis just before 10 am, and arrived in Duluth around 1pm. Our motel check-in time wasn't until three, so we got the bikes off the back of his car, and went two blocks for a quick beer at Fitger's Brewhouse, then pedaled about 3 miles to 2711 West Superior Street, approximately 31 city blocks south of where we were staying. We stood in front of the building and read the taproom hours, wondering if we should just walk in, when an employee on a smoke break called out to us from the loading dock, "hey! you looking for the taproom?" We followed him over to the back, waiting for him to let us in, until he told us, no, just go in the front. And walk right in we did, into a brewery crew working away, with a small section set aside for stools, and couple enjoying some pints.
Lake Superior Brewing has appeared only twice in the Bitter Nib, with reviews of Special Ale, the English pale ale, and Old Man Winter Warmer, their English-style barley-wine, long a favorite of mine. During the past 6 years, then, those are the only LSBC bottles I've picked up. Over on BeerAdvocate, I've reviewed 8 of the 20 beers listed there. Only 20 different brews in 22 years in existence? Perhaps that may be why they're nowhere near the forefront of Minnesota breweries, why hardly anyone thinks of them anymore. There are other reasons, too. I'll get to those later. Back to our visit.
So, it was true. If you go into the brewery while it's open, one of the employees will stop what he's doing and pour you a pint, fill a growler, sell you some merch. A chalkboard on the wall behind a merchandise shelf informs you of the offerings. My first pint was the St. Louis Bay IPA, a brew I wasn't sure I'd had before. Clear, bright golden/ nearly amber colored, with a sharp hoppy twang, citrus and tropical fruit notes, and quite drinkable. Good IPA, nothing wrong with it. Had I heard of it before, had I had it? The walls of the hallway as we entered showed off a label for the beer, but it's not listed on the website. Checking BeerAdvocate, I found it listed under "retired/no longer brewed", with the latest review from 2007, and the earliest from 2003. I reviewed it in November of 2003, and I didn't not like the bottle I had at all. Gave it a 2.9 out of 5.
Clearly, what we had was a resurrection of this abandoned beer, but somehow corrected. I would happily have another of this one. Did they fix the recipe from 13 years past? I wonder. Meanwhile, Jason was having a Deep Water Black IPA, which I later chose to take home in a growler, and he followed that with the Oktoberfest, the only other LSBC beer available then that I'd never tried. For my second pint, I chose the Sir Duluth Oatmeal Stout, which I'd had many times, and had on tap several times at the Blue Nile (I recall tapping Kayak Kolsch, Special Ale, Mesabi Red, and Old Man Winter Warmer, as well). I wrote the following on BeerAdvocate.com when I first tapped it in January of 2003: "Never had an oatmeal stout, one of my favorite styles, on draft before, and now that I have, fellows and ladies, let me say it can't be beat! Totally black in color, with a fine, tan head. Aroma is soft and sweet, with notes of cocoa, vanilla, and cream. Some bitterness on the palate, but nothing harsh. Not quite as roasty as the benchmark for this style, Samuel Smith's, but what is? Goes down extremely well, with plenty of body, texture, and bite. Gritty, substantial, but quite quaffable. An outstanding stout!"
That's it verbatim, friends. I loved to effuse and issue out exclamation points back then, didn't I? It's a habit I've effectively corrected. On nitro for this visit, it was as satisfying as ever. Just right, nothing wrong with it, a good ol' drinkable pint of stout.
Did this end our visit? No. While our friendly attendant Noah rang us up, I inquired about coasters, for their were none to be seen. He went into the office to look and returned empty handed, though he would toss in a patch for free, and with the offer to chat with one of the owners. Of course, and into his office we went for a nice little conversation, though I can't remember his name. Was it John? Or Don? Not Vaughan....Oh, well, it will come to me. Like I said, a nice little chat about the history of the brewery, and then we had to take off, for we were late meeting my nephew Aaron at Bent Paddle.
Speaking of Bent Paddle, how does one brewery in Duluth start up three years ago and immediately excites the beer community all across the state, while "Duluth's original craft brewery" is largely forgotten after 22 years in business? For one, they have very little presence outside the Duluth/North Shore community, and their Twin Cities distributor doesn't really promote them much. Their beers are here, yes, but you hardly ever see them on tap, and no one talks about their beers. Also, the packaging and branding feels like it's still stuck in the 90's, with nothing really modern looking about them. The beer styles, too, while admirably traditional and to-style, don't reflect current tastes or new trends. They really don't put out much that's new or interesting, beyond the same stable of styles they've been doing for years. Also, LSBC is one of the few breweries who has never been a member of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, hasn't appeared at their events, and has at times lobbied against some of the Guilds' goals, which doesn't help their image among craft beer fans.
That said, their output is solid and enjoyable, and look, they brewed a black IPA, and I took home a growler and drank it, notes below. I can't really criticize their taproom, because they're doing the best they can with the space they've got. You can really compare it against breweries that opened after taprooms were a reality.
Lake Superior Deep Water Black IPA.
Dark brown coloring, slim brownish head.
Citrus and pine in the nose, smothered by dark malts. "You put chocolate on my pine cones!"
In the mouth: Bright hops start it off, and quickly matched with cocoa and coffee. Medium-bodied, long malty finish, with hops hanging on. This, like most of the LSBC output, is a well-balanced beer, nothing special, but tasty and drinkable, for sure. I finished off a growler with nary a care in the world.