Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What I Did on Valentines Weekend (AKA - Gettin' Drunk, Part Three)

Today's post is going to veer very far off the course of healthy lifestyle info.

Be forewarned.


To begin: this is a post about tap rooms.  If you didn't read my first or second post about the tap rooms I have visited, go there to get caught up ... since this is just a continuation of that story line, you'll want to start there. 

Taprooms included in those posts are:

Recap One
Enki - Victoria, MN
Waconia Brewing Company - Waconia, MN
Fulton - Minneapolis, MN
612 - Minneapolis, MN
Urban Growler - St. Paul, MN
Indeed - Minneapolis, MN
Boom Island - Minneapolis, MN
Surly - St. Paul, MN
Badger Hill - Shakopee, MN
Sisyphus - Minneapolis, MN
Tin Whiskers - St. Paul, MN

Recap Two
American Sky - Hudson, WI
Tin Whiskers (revisit) - St. Paul, MN
Burning Brothers - St. Paul, MN
Dangerous Man - Minneapolis, MN
Badger Hill (revisit) - Shakopee, MN
Sociable Cider Werks - Minneapolis, MN
LTD - Hopkins, MN

This post includes my third round of taproom visits, all within driving distance of Duluth, which we chose to visit over Valentine's Day weekend.  Amazingly, we were able to fit 6 breweries into less than 48 hours. 

Doing so took some careful planning, as follows:

(1) We arrived Friday night early enough to stop at Bent Paddle and share a flight.  We chose to stop at Bent Paddle as opposed to others because this is one of the breweries we would need to drive to from Downtown Duluth, and we wanted to be responsible with any drinking we were doing that preceded driving.  It was also conducive to our schedule, as it was open into the late evening.

(2) We booked a hotel in the downtown area of Duluth so that we could walk to Fitger's and Canal Park.  For reference only, since the hotel wasn't anything good or bad to comment about, we chose to stay at the Holiday Inn & Suites.  We chose that location simply because it was still available the weekend prior to Valentine's Day when many others were not.  Yes, we waited that long and luckily still found a room - don't judge.

(3) On Saturday morning we got up bright and early - 9am, hahahaha - and drove up to see the Split Rock Lighthouse in subzero temps.  (Notice that I said "see" and not "visit".  Essentially we took the below photo, enjoyed the view from the car, and then split.  Too cold!!)  The drive took about 1 hour, one way.  Side note: be careful on that drive!!  We saw someone hit a deer in the oncoming traffic lane, and it was mere yards from taking us out as well.  Sad.  At least the view helped me feel better.

(4)  On the way back from Split Rock, we stopped at the tourist attraction that is Betty's Pies.  It was just ok.  I don't know that I would recommend it.  But, at least they had this:

(5)  When we finished lunch, the timing was perfect to hit Castle Danger Brewing in Two Harbors right as they opened at noon.  Again, to help with the drinking/driving issue, my husband and I SHARED a flight only there, and then headed back to Duluth to hit up Lake Superior Brewing for another SHARED flight only there. 

(6) To avoid any questionable driving situations, later in the afternoon we hit up Fitger's for an afternoon snack, and closed the evening at Canal Park - Valentine's Day dinner included.

(7)  On Sunday we enjoyed a lazy morning at the hotel and headed towards Superior, WI to visit the Thirsty Pagan for an early lunch.  They opened at 11am.  There, we shared one last flight, enjoyed lunch, and then hit the road for home.

SO!  That summarizes how we hit all the breweries.  Now it's time for the recap - let's go!


Bent Paddle Brewing
Duluth, MN
On Tap: 9 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Not while we were there, but I heard they may host food trucks on occasion
Ambiance: Bent Paddle, like many of the breweries in the twin cities metro area, is nestled in an industrial park on the outskirts of downtown Duluth.  The inside is very well furnished and feels somewhat like what I'd imagine someone who's into Eddie Bauer or REI would like.  Brewery operations are visable through glass garage doors, just to the left of the bar area.  Oh, and FYI - I was slightly jealous that I did not go there on a yoga night.

Thoughts: This place was pretty busy, probably due to the fact that we were there at essentially "bar time".  Unfortunately that meant very little education about the beer, and a bunch of lingering staff (from the brewery) who were loitering in front of the brewery area and shelves where they sold product - which I legitimately wanted to see and could not.  While it was worth the stop since we won't likely hit Duluth again for some time, I wasn't impressed enough to want to rush back and see it again.

Castle Danger Brewery
Two Harbors, MN
On Tap: 7 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: They were selling chips and salsa, the salsa appeared to be locally made
Ambiance: This tap room is smack dab in the middle of one of the most beautiful areas of Minnesota, and they really use that to their advantage.  All the windows of the tap room emphasize the beauty of the area by looking out towards the lake, and they even utilize their scenic views in their logo.  The feel of the taproom is very similar to Bent Paddle (color pallet, metal wainscot, etc), but that could simply be due to the fact that anyone near Lake Superior would want to capitalize on an outdoorsy theme.  I don't recall being able to see the brewing operation anywhere in the taproom, my guess is that it was concealed behind closed doors.
Thoughts: Despite getting there right when the brewery opened at noon, this place was hoppin'!  In the time that we sampled our flight, at least 20 people had amassed in the tap room area for samples and growler fills.  I loved the bohemian woman who served us and her collection of stone necklaces and silver bracelets.  I hated that they only had 2 printed tap lists to service a tap room that could easily fit 100+, and couldn't understand why they didn't print more on their computer in the hour that I was there ... ?  Anyway, if you've got time for a scenic drive in Duluth, this brewery is fun to stop in and see.  But if you're limited to staying in the city, don't feel too bad that you missed it.  Either way, it definitely is worth the trip - even if it's just for the views. 

Lake Superior Brewing
Duluth, MN
On Tap: 6 beers
Flights: Yes
Food: Nothing offered
Ambiance: Don't drive too fast by the Subway out this way, or you'll miss the brewery entirely.  With no sign out on the main street, we almost bailed ... but found it at the last second, on the third time around the block.  Maximizing on their lake name, the tap room has an old timey sea captain feel (despite having no lake views anywhere nearby).  Turn your back on the wall where the paintings are hung and you're basically right in the center of the action in the brewery, which you walk through to get your beer.
Thoughts: The more tap rooms I go to, the more I realize that it's important to not just ... well ... plop some tables into a corner of your brewing warehouse and call it good.  I guess I'm starting to get picky after 20+ stops, heh.  Lake Superior, to be fair, has been around since the 90's and is likely just trying to make room for a tap offering as opposed to having built their brewery around a tap room like others have done.  They did OK with what they have, and the d├ęcor is quite cute for what they put in ... I just wished it didn't feel like you were spilling out into their warehouse, and that it was actually heated (I was frozen the whole time I was there).  At least they had information about their beers to hand us with our flight ... though I questioned if the staff serving could speak to it.

Fitger's Brewhouse
Duluth, MN
On Tap: 8 beers
Flights: No
Food: Brew pub fare - full menu in restaurant, limited offering in tap room
Ambiance: Finding the Fitger's complex is not a problem, since it's an icon in Downtown Duluth.  Finding the Fitger's tap room once you get in to the complex, however, is another story.  Don't be shy to ask for directions.  You'll likely walk past the multiple brewing areas as you wander to find your end game.  Fair warning: don't expect to enjoy the lake view from the tap room, it's in a dark cave as you can see below.  I did enjoy their cask shaped DJ booth, though.

Thoughts: Feeling a bit dubious about this place for selling themselves as a brewery and then seeing they were a brew pub, I was shocked to find out their beers were legit.  After some lack luster showings at the previous stops of the day, I really enjoyed Fitger's Apricot Wheat (which wasn't too sweet), and when I stole a few sips of my husband's ESB, I found it was very good too.  Since we didn't want to rack up too huge a bill at the bar buying full pints, we opted to stop at the gift shop and bring a growler of their IPA back to the hotel.  Guess what?!  It was very good as well.  If you're in Duluth and limited on time, I would actually recommend this as one of the must stop tap rooms on your list.

Canal Park Brewing
Duluth, MN
On Tap: 10 beers
Flights: Yes, and if you sample them all via the "around the world" flight, it is HUGE!
Food: Brew pub fare - full menu in restaurant, and don't forget to buy pints in the gift shop while you wait for a table
Ambiance: Canal Park Brewing is very likely the easiest brewery to find and get to on this list, assuming you hotel in downtown Duluth or in the Canal Park area.  It is located right on a main street, is very visible as you approach, and is well signed.  For us, it was a 10 minute walk or less from the hotel.  Inside it has a modern warehouse vibe, and is what you'd expect for a brewery / restaurant on the lake.  If you're lucky to be seated by the windows, you can also enjoy a view of their bon fire outside, and the lake horizon as well.

Thoughts: Call this a brew pub all you want... if anyone has their name on a keg, and their beers taste this good, I consider them legit.  Not to mention, the food and service was good too.  I wasn't sorry we picked this as our Valentine's Day dinner.  And really - how can you go wrong with a meal that includes cheese curds, anyway?

Thirsty Pagan Brewing
Superior, WI
On Tap: 8 house beers, more from other brewers in the area
Flights: Yes, with the 9th being a featured cider from a sister brewery
Food: this place is known for its pan pizza, and it is good!!
Ambiance: The Thirsty Pagan is in Superior, WI in the middle of town.  The location is neither industrial or residential really... but they're right across from a Toyota dealer if you're trying to get a feel for things...?  Anyway, the inside reminds me of a college town bar - but in a good way; the entire place is brightly colored, funky and fun.  The walls are covered in an eclectic mix of artwork from Jeredt Runions, vintage brewer memorabilia, news paper clippings and random old timey mementos from when the brewery used to be a creamery. 

Thoughts: If you know my style at all, you clearly understand why I loved this place.  Too bad it's not closer to home ... or maybe good thing it isn't ... because I'd be here all the time.  Need I say more?


Since these locations are too far away to be a part of my standard "favorites of the cities" recap, I'll add a few last foot notes relevant to Duluth only here.

If you're in the city with limited transportation/time and you're debating where to go...
     I'd recommend you for sure hit Bent Paddle (for a true tap room experience),
     and then pick either Fitger's or Canal Park.

If you want to spend some time enjoying a scenic drive along the North Shore...
     Castle Danger is worth the stop.

If you love pizza and have a sober cab (or limit your own consumption)...
     I highly recommend a stop at the Thirsty Pagan, a 10+ min drive from downtown Duluth.

If you have time to spare when you're by Bent Paddle...
     Lake Superior isn't too far away, but I would have been OK skipping it.


  1. Sounds like an AMAZING day!!! Love all the pictures and that pizza from the Thirsty Pagan looks scrumptious! How did you find all of these places to visit? Did you set up the entire day's itinerary on your own!??! It must have taken a lot of planning!

    1. Actually, it was kind of dumb luck. I had researched the breweries (to at least find out how many were in the area), and I knew I wanted to stop up at the Split Rock light house, and the rest just fell together. We were fortunate enough to have decent traffic on the drive up, so that let us squeeze in a brewery on Friday night. The rest just kind of ... happened.