Going “up north” is something that seems innate in most Minnesotans, and I’ve definitely got it bad. I have a love affair with getting up to Duluth and beyond. Not only is the scenery stunning at any point of the year, but it offers an opportunity to enter another world, one that is inspired by the wilderness that is right out the backdoor.
I enjoyed a long weekend up north in earlier this month and on my recent trip, it was my aim to not only get away from it all but to also visit a few specific places up north. Here’s a recap of where I went and what I tried…
My first venture out was to Castle Danger Brewing where they are responsible for crafting one of my favorite beers, which is their Castle Cream Ale. On this excursion to their taproom, I opted to get their Big Dumb Stout on nitro, which had been brewed with maple syrup from Sawtooth Mountain Maple Syrup Co. just up the shore out of Lutsen. The experience of drinking this beer was one of the smoothest that comes to recent memory. With a thick body but velvet texture, this beer slid down easy which was welcome after my non-stop drive straight up from Minneapolis to Duluth. One of the bartenders offered me an exclusive staff-only version, being a miniature stout float, and the Big Dumb was handed to me in a tasting glass with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on top and a spoon on the side. The results were perfect as I enjoyed perusing my Superior Hiking Trail book and plotted out a hike for the next day.
The following day, I took off on a 3.5 mile hike on the Superior Hiking Trail near Crow Creek. After cutting trail for myself (sometimes through knee-deep snow) and going up and down 2 ridges, I was ready for a beer and headed into Duluth to visit Bent Paddle. Being a Friday afternoon, it was filled with locals out supporting their local taproom. I started with a Venture Pilsner which was the perfect, refreshing brew after my hike. As luck would have it, I found myself seated at the bar next to a rep from Bauhaus, and the two of us drank away the time while discussing a variety of beer-related topics. We were then treated to a quick peek into the production facilities along with a fast taste of their soon-to-be-released barrel-aged Double Shot Double Black Ale. I had to remind myself that my sample was being shared with me from one of the staff, and that I couldn’t down the entire thing, which I came very close to doing. My next beer was a special cask featuring mosaic and simcoe hops, a stark but tasty contrast to the Double Shot.
I highly enjoyed my visit to Bent Paddle. Not only do these guys brew good beer, but they’re taking a stand for the environment which is an issue that is close to my heart. I love our northern Minnesota scenery, and I’m proud to see (and support) a brewery that also believes in preserving that for generations to come. Well done!
The next day was my visit to Vikre Distillery which is located in a prime location in Duluth: right by the lift bridge on Lake Avenue. In an old brick building and with the tanks fully visible, you feel a bit like you’re stepping back in time. I sat at the small bar and decided to try a flight of 4 spirits: 2 gins and 2 aquavits. Each one was distinctly different and offered a unique tasting experience:
- Boreal Spruce Gin – for me, lavendar was the prominent aroma and flavor that I encountered in this spirit, highly enjoyable
- Boreal Cedar Gin – my 2nd favorite among the 4 that I tried. Aged on cedar wood and with hints of sumac and currant, this was a spectacular and unique gin
- Ørevann Aquavit – this was the winner and came home with me that day, and I am already in need of another bottle… spiced with caraway, the hints are lovely of cardamom and citrus
- Voyageur Aquavit – a specialty acquavit that had been aged in cognac casks
I rounded out my visit with the very fitting Girl From the North Country cocktail, and the staff was extremely pleasant to talk with during my visit. As soon as I’m back up in the area, I’ll be returning here immediately.