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Photo: Omakakii

Somehow, this trip ended up being all about the beer.

A COUPLE WEEKS AGO, my wife and I took an impromptu road trip through the middle of the country to celebrate our anniversary. For pre-trip planning, I came up with a few “themes” we could use to guide our activities. Ideas were:

  1. disc golf
  2. hiking
  3. craft beer

Here’s how it panned out:

  • We went on 1 hike (in Copper Falls State Park, Wisconsin).
  • We played 0 rounds of disc golf.
  • We drank 20+ different microbrews.

I’ve listed the drinking stops below, along with our notes. The two categories are breweries/brewpubs (places that brew their own) and taverns (places that serve other people’s beer).

Breweries/Brewpubs

Photo: *USB*

1. Vintage Brewing, Madison, WI
Location: 674 S. Whitney Way. Don’t let the strip mall topography keep you away.
Atmo: Modern and clean, with a central four-sided bar and different seating areas flowing off of that. Plenty of TVs (a positive for us, as the NBA Finals turned out to be another trip theme).
Beer: Decent selection of house brews and rotating guest taps. We had their APA, oaked IPA, and double black IPA. A solid “B.”

2. South Shore Brewery, Ashland, WI
Location: 808 W. Main, Ashland’s “downtown strip.”
Atmo: There’s a bar and two restaurants all connected in one building, and no one working there seemed able to explain how everything fit together. We were lost.
Beer: It’s obvious you’ve made a wrong turn on your beer tour when the waitress insists on categorizing everything as either “light” or “dark” instead of telling you what’s on tap. Not sure what I ended up with (dark?), but it wasn’t good enough to find out.

3. Fitger’s, Duluth, MN
Location: 600 East Superior St., fronting the lake.
Atmo: The company owns an entire building, which includes a high-end inn and several retail spaces. The brewpub itself felt nice, but I’m always a little put off by these kinds of “complexes.”
Beer: Carey still talks daily about the Lake Ontario Belgian pale. She’s obsessed.

4. Flat Earth Brewing, St. Paul, MN
Location: 2035 Benson Ave., just blocks from where 35E crosses the Mississippi.
Atmo: This was the only proper “brewery” we visited, with a sparse office-style setup in front and the tanks and bottling out back. The owner was at the counter pouring samples for himself, his volunteer staff, and us, and he made the place. The story of the shirt he had on (stitched up on the spot and given as a gift by Kigali fabric workers, whom he was visiting on a charity mission in the late ’90s) was a highlight of the trip.
Beer: We couldn’t say no to free samples — tried the Angry Planet Pale, Belgian Pale, Northwest Passage IPA, Cygnus X-1 Porter, and Black Helicopter Coffee Stout. Probably the best stout and porter I’ve had (my “expertise” is confined to IPAs, but these were awesome). We walked out with a growler of NWP, which we cracked that night at a private campground on the Mississippi and killed two nights later in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

5. Firehouse Brewing, Rapid City, SD
Location: 610 Main St.
Atmo: An old rehabbed firehouse, or at least a damn good imitation. Pretty busy on a Thursday evening, though I guess not really considering there was a full-on street fair going on right outside.
Beer: Variety was lacking. Seriously, if you’re gonna have 5 taps, why fill them all with wheats and blondes?

6. Thunderhead Brewing, Kearney, NE
Location: 18 E 21st St., on the edge of the old downtown area.
Atmo: Sticky booths and stained carpet. The upstairs may have been better, but was roped off for a private function.
Beer: While we were looking at the menu, some dude at the bar yelled, “You don’t have the IPA on tap? Then what the hell am I supposed to drink?” I concurred. But then our chocolate-orange porter and dark wheat were pretty tasty.

7. Granite City Brewery, Wichita, KS
Location: 2244 North Webb Rd., out in the desolate east.
Atmo: This place is a chain and feels it. Furnishings are upscale, but you can tell it’s a corporate schematic. Kind of a bummer to end the tour here.
Beer: We both ordered the Duke of Wellington IPA and were both underwhelmed. Maybe it’s telling that their smallest glass was a 20oz-er.

Taverns

1. 8th Street Ale Haus, Sheboygan, WI
Location: 1132 N. 8th St.
Atmo: Typical sports bar feel with a dining area tacked on. Pretty middle of the road / unremarkable.
Beer: Lots of taps, though a large percentage was stocked with throwaways. We consulted Beeradvocate and went with two unknowns: Three Floyd’s Alpha King and Ale Asylum Bedlam. Thumbs up.

Photo: Author

2. Clyde Iron Works, Duluth, MN
Location: In a totally rehabbed old steel foundry at 2920 West Michigan St.
Atmo: A+. I zoned out on the massive period photo of the factory floor that took up an entire wall. Also cool that they kept the freight lift and all the windows.
Beer: Not too much selection, but I added another favorite to my IPA shortlist: Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, out of Michigan. They’ve also got a tap for Lake Superior Brewing, located just down the road (it was closed when we stopped by), and have advertised plans to set up a brewery onsite.

3. Blue Moose Bar & Grill, East Grand Forks, MN
Location: In the little complex with the Applebee’s just east of the Red River, which is also the state line.
Atmo: A big lodgy-feeling place with high ceilings and lots of outdoor deck seating. Not the worst.
Beer: Decent variety — I think I went back to the Two-Hearted here.

4. Buglin’ Bull VS 5. Dark Horse, Custer, SD
Location: Both on the main strip, at 511 Mt. Rushmore and 140 Mt. Rushmore, respectively.
Atmo: Buglin’ Bull wins hands down, with its exposed brick and wood floors. Dark Horse comes off more divey or hunterly or something. It’s got these diner-esque blue and red vinyl booths. We sat at the bar.
Beer: The Bull scored points for double taps of local Crow Peak (Spearfish, SD), but the selection at Dark Horse won out. I had a glass of Odell’s super-skunky IPA and loved it. Bonus: We got to chat with a J-1 bartender from Indonesia.

About The Author

Hal Amen

Hal Amen is a managing editor at Matador. His personal travel blog is WayWorded.

  • Anna

    Sounds like a great trip!

  • Jed

    I’ll be driving through some of the same places next week. Looking forward to hitting a couple of these up. Thanks for write up!

    • http://wayworded.blogspot.com/ Hal Amen

      Nice. Let me know if you need recs on non-beer-related attractions.

  • http://www.thetravelchica.com The Travel Chica

    You have no idea how jealous I am.  I actually planned a cross-country tour of micro-breweries and planned to hit over 50.  I’m going to have to dust off that plan and figure out how to make it happen!

    • http://wayworded.blogspot.com/ Hal Amen

      Better hurry…new brews are popping up every day. Soon it’ll be too hard to choose which ones to hit!

  • http://miller-david.com david miller

    “Dark Horse comes off more divey or hunterly or something. It’s got these
    diner-esque blue and red vinyl booths. We sat at the bar.”

    sweet.

  • Catherinegaa

    My friend’s small Wisconsin town bought out the old brewery and starting making mircos again – for your next trip. It’s just a ways from Dubuque in Potosi, WI.

    • http://wayworded.blogspot.com/ Hal Amen

      Sounds excellent, do they have a website?

  • Sweet Oblivion27

    You’ve just described my ideal 3 activities for a trip like that. If you want some good disc golf, you MUST visit Queenstown, New Zealand if you haven’t already :)

  • Keith

    Nice, liked this. As an aficionado of Wisconsin craft brews, I can’t recommend Ale Asylum enough. Easily the best beer coming out of Madison. Give the Hopalicious (Pale Ale) and Sticky McDoogle (Scotch Ale) a try. Further north, hit Central Waters brewing in Amherst, WI. Delicious beer, especially the Happy Heron PA.

    • http://wayworded.blogspot.com/ Hal Amen

      Hopalicious is Ale Asylum? Love that one, had no idea. We get it down here in TX sometimes.

      Thanks for the recs, Keith.

  • Sschoville

    Hal, as a born and raised Wisconsinite, I loved reading this article on beer.  I should add a time-sensitive comment that with all of the hull-a-balloo happening in Wisconsin, one of the frightening topics for discussion is a shutting-down of all microbrews, leaving only large corporations like Miller Lite in Wisconsin.  I know.  Even the Republicans can agree on this one, that losing microbrews in the state of Wisconsin would be a travesty. 

    Other beers of note: New Glarus brewing company (like ‘water’ in Madison–esp. Spotted Cow), Keweenaw Brewing Company in Houghton, MI (the UP)(www.http://www.keweenawbrewing.com/) and the first brewery in Wisconsin, Potosi Brewing Company: http://www.potosibrewery.com/.  

    Please, do not be discouraged by an ill-informed waitress in Ashland :)

    • http://wayworded.blogspot.com/ Hal Amen

      Ha, that doesn’t sound like it’d help Walker out with his 250,000 jobs, does it?

  • http://www.annberickson.wordpress.com Ann B. Erickson

    I absolutely love this! As a die hard Minnesota, I was so pleased to see Fitger’s and Flat Earth on the list. There is nothing, and I repeat nothing, better than stopping by Fitger’s after a hike on Duluth’s North Shore. 

    Oh, and if you’re in the Twin Cities area, I would also add Surly Brewing Co. in Brooklyn Center to the list.

    Rad article! Proud to be from the Midwest!

  • Brittany Faust

    You should definitely come back to Madison, WI and try out more of the breweries/brewpubs in the area! There’s the Great Dane Brewpub downtown near the Capitol (though they have other locations), then you can hop over to The Old Fashioned for their 50+ beer list of exclusively Wisco beers, and also check out the Capital Tap Haus for great Capital Brewery beers. Then get over to the Ale Asylum Brewery for more of their amazing beer. And then for a little journey west, head out to the New Glarus Brewery in New Glarus, WI for all of their tasty beers… and then back East to Milwaukee for Lakefront Brewery (they have super fun brewery tours). There are, I’m sure, many more that I’ll probably think of later, but Vintage Brewery is just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to great Wisconsin brews!

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