Our bellies were full as we walked down Superior street with the early afternoon sun beating down on our heads. We’d just departed our favorite restaurant in Duluth, Va Bene Caffe, and now we were working up a thirst. After deftly avoiding some sidewalk construction our destination was before us. We peered into the open garage door across the exposed rail and got our first glimpse of Blacklist Artisan Ales.
We’d entered into a long narrow taproom. The brick wall we were facing was covered entirely with art, and several large pieces caught my eye. One of the things that had really attracted me to Blacklist Artisan Ales was their can design. Each can was now displayed before me in their full abstract geometric glory. It was like they knew I was coming and put these up just to set that first impression. After an initial gaze, we turned our backs on the art and proceeded to the beer.
If you’ve any doubt as to the Belgian focus of Blacklist Artisan Ales, the tap list gives you the answer once and for all. Out of the handful available I only counted two that weren’t strictly Belgian. While it’s not my favorite style I was still keen to jump in and ordered myself a flight. With beers in hand we surveyed the room. Since we had arrived shortly after noon any wish could become our reality. After a short deliberation we decided to belly up to the rail facing the sidewalk.
My wife and I both went to college in Duluth and we’ve visited regularly ever since. Something that continues to surprise me is the vibrance and revitalization of the downtown area. Gone are the days of vacant buildings and boarded up windows. Helped in part by the breweries that now call Duluth home, both the Canal Park area and Superior Street have exploded with new businesses and foot traffic. Of course it helped that it was a beautiful August day, yet the transformation from the town I remember was never more apparent then sitting and watching the tourists stroll by.
A light breeze and some wonderful shade paired well with my flight. I was able to choose two had two chosen for me. The four on the board: Rhubarb Wit (Belgian Wheat Ale), Or de Belgique (Strong Belgian Golden), Verte (Dry-Hopped Strong Belgian Golden), and Last Pale on Earth (Pale Ale). Like I said, the Belgian theme is strong. Of the four I enjoyed the Last Pale on Earth the most. The dry, hoppy, bitterness was a welcome reprieve from the sweetness of the previous beers. Quite refreshing on a warm summer day!
The Last Pale on Earth has a bit of history behind it if you’re in the know. The building we were sitting in was formerly known as the Last Place on Earth. It was a head shop whose owner, Jim Carlson, was sentenced to over 17 years in prison in 2014 for selling synthetic drugs. After a $1M renovation the building is now known as 120E and is also home to an escape room and some residential space. I’m not sure what the brewers are trying to say with the name of this beer but for me it’s a great nod to Duluth’s recent past.
After the flight we ordered a couple of extra drinks. One was their DBIPA (Double Belgian IPA) and another was one of their house made Cucumber Sodas. These two drinks couldn’t be further from each other. The DBIPA had a “knock my socks” off hop blast and strong Belgian undertones. The soda was as expected. Made with Lake Superior water it was extremely refreshing and described by Samantha as “a garden in a glass.” It was a nice drink to end our visit.
With the sun encroaching on our seats we checked the time and started to pack our things. Blacklist Artisan Ales joins two brewpubs, a distillery, a handful of tap houses, and five breweries (six if you count Thirsty Pagan Brewing) that call the area home. Duluth is beginning to become a real craft beer destination and one that will continue to grow. While it’s no Asheville, NC or Portland, ME, it’s right up there in the top ten for density of breweries per capita. Blacklist Artisan Ales should be on everyone’s list if they’re making the visit, but they’ve got some stiff competition! If you’re a Belgian fan, you’ll be right at home.