Dinner at Va Bene Caffe has become a tradition that we perform every time we visit Duluth, which is usually a couple of times a year. Towards the end of each meal the conversation leads to a discussion on where we will go for drinks afterwards. Only a pair of brewpubs remain that I’ve yet to visit but I’d heard about a spot across the Minnesota Wisconsin border that I had to try: Earth Rider Brewery.
Earth Rider opened in late 2017 and since that time I’ve heard a lot of great things about the beer they are producing. It was started by Tim Nelson, co-founder of Fitger’s Brewhouse, and is staffed by former brewers of both Bent Paddle and Thirsty Pagan. That is good pedigree for the area, so I knew it wouldn’t be a waste of a drive over the John A. Blatnik Bridge. Google took us to a jet black mural with bold white lettering indicating that we were, in fact, at Earth Rider but not at their taproom. I hopped into the cold and rain to take a photo of the mural and then took a quick spin around to look at my surroundings. It’s a heavily industrial area with towering grain elevators and train tracks weaving in and out of the side roads. After a bit of gazing I finally spotted another mural across the road on an old brick building that featured the Earth Rider logo on a viking ship in a storm. Not long later we stepped over the threshold of the Cedar Lounge.
I’m not shy about sharing my disdain for bars. That may sound odd coming from a guy that writes about breweries, but there is just something about a bar that I can’t stand. The Cedar Lounge has me rethinking everything I thought I knew. Earth Rider owner Tim Nelson took a bar that was constructed by the Northern Brewing Company in the early 1900s, renovated it, and turned it into Earth Rider’s official taproom. The result took a traditional dive bar and elevated it above my wildest dreams. It’s hard to pinpoint what I love so much about it, but I’ll take a shot. It starts with hardwood floors and a stamped tin ceiling, then includes old shipping photos and beer memorabilia, adds some brilliant neon lighting, and tops it off with one magnificent centerpiece that is their oval bar. I never knew I wanted to sit at a bar with a leather armrest until my arms brushed them at the Cedar Lounge. Simply sublime.
I ordered a flight of four beers and it arrived on a piece of card stock. Even this subverted my preconceived notions of what a flight board should be. I’ve had paper flight boards before. They seem cheap and the beer ends up soaking in and over saturating it. This was different. The beer from my flight stained the card stock, instead of soaking it, and by the end of the flight it looked like a little work of art. It sounds silly, but I guess I was drunk on the leather armrest!
Three of the four beers of the flight earned a star in my tasting notes. The first was Precious Material, a Helles Lager that was crystal gold, crisp and clean, and evoked some wonderful memories of our times in Munich. Allouez Amber Ale was a lovely beer with smooth maltiness and a nice roast character. My intention with Valhalla was to see if it would be a beer that my father would enjoy as Scotch Ales are one of his favorite styles. It ended up being my favorite beer of the visit. It’s got the roast and caramel notes you typically look for but plays it against wonderful prune, cherry, and raisin flavors. I finished the visit with a pint of North Tower Coffee Stout. It’s a mashup of their award winning stout with some Duluth Coffee Company cold press mixed in. Pretty complex flavors with your standard cold press notes playing off a little vanilla and berry.
Superior has always played second fiddle to Duluth, and in beer it has been no different. They’ve had Thirsty Pagan for awhile but the addition of Earth Rider has pulled them into the limelight. Our trips to Duluth will be incorporating Earth Rider as much as we can. That’s high praise for a city in which we already have a fairly consistent routine. If you love craft breweries for the setting then Earth Rider has you covered, and if you’re looking for excellent beers then I don’t see how you could be let down. For those reasons, and many more, they were one of my absolute favorite breweries of 2018.