When you backpack for 22 days you find yourself with a lot of time to think. If you’ve got nothing to drink except artificially sweetened water your mind inevitably wanders to beer. After completing our trek we had one last stretch to retrieve our car. With pavement pounding against our weary feet we had one criteria for our final evening: no walking. So we booked a room at the Suites Hotel in Canal Park, inhaled some pizza at the Old Chicago below, and strolled down the hall to our final destination. Hoops Brewing Company beckoned.
Our journey to Hoops Brewing Company began months before when I mentioned to my wife that a new brewery had opened in downtown Duluth. We were in town but decided to skip a visit on our way back home. On the drive I decided to read an excerpt from a magazine about Hoops. After I completed the article my wife asked “why didn’t you tell me it was cool?” Apparently she had thought it was a sports themed brewery and not simply named after their owner and brewer Dave Hoops. I guess I can understand her confusion and lack of excitement around visiting!
Anyone with knowledge of the Duluth brewing scene should recognize the name Dave Hoops. He was the Fitger’s Brewhouse brewer for 17 years. If you’d visited Duluth’s Canal Park during that time you’d likely be familiar with the Timber Lodge Steakhouse on the ground floor of the Suites Hotel. It’s in this space that Hoops Brewing is located, and what a space it is. A single glance at the massive wooden columns and I was dreaming of the Douglas firs that must’ve birthed them so long ago.
While the host was seating us I was transfixed by the loving marriage between the old and new that this 9,000 square foot beer hall now claims. The decor is minimalistic and provides you the opportunity to focus on the details. In addition to the wooden columns, there are wooden floors, wooden benches, and wooden tables. This combines with dark metal accents that slightly offset the wooden decor and large circular chandeliers provide warm lighting throughout.
In the end, it all comes down to the beer and the experience there is quite a bit different than any other taproom I’ve visited. For starters you order from a waiter, which is a first for me in this state. The other thing you’ll quickly notice is that their beers are only numbered and not named. There are a handful of reasons for this little quirk. Practically, you’re not required to trademark numbers and you don’t need to get your labels approved. Emotionally, the brewer wants to let the beer speak for itself and thinks some beer names can be a little ridiculous.
While I appreciate the sentiment I tend to have the opposite viewpoint on naming beer. It gives one more outlet for creativity and I personally enjoy drinking a cleverly named beer over a beer named purely after the brewery and the style. Numbering the beers is a nice middle ground and at the end of the day there really is no name that can overcome taste.
The first thing I look for at a new brewery is whether they have flights. Hoops does not have flights, however you can order as many tasters as you’d like to build your own. Each comes in a miniature tulip glass. After studying their massive tap list I settled on six different beers. The #4 Common Ale, #13 English Pale Ale on Nitro, #19 Wheat Pale Ale, #28 Porter, #48 IPA, and #300 Best Brown Ale.
The #13 was one of my favorites. It had a thick creamy head that topped a deep, rusty, ruby red ale. Memories of a warm evening inside The Fox Inn near our hostel in the Cotswolds popped into my head. It had a great maltiness that complemented the nitro creaminess. On principle alone I thought about disqualifying the #300 as having a name outside of their “no names” philosophy, but it was my absolute favorite beer of the night. Just a great brown ale, nothing flashy, well brewed, and quite tasty. It also happened to be my final beer which probably helped it out a fair amount!
All the beers our group had were great and there were so many on the menu I can’t wait to visit again and see what else they’ve got to offer. They have capacity for up to 30 taps so there’s going to be something for everyone here. If you’ve got guests in your group that aren’t beer drinkers then park yourself at one of the few tables that flank The Slip. This is a separate standalone bar serving cocktails, wine, and beer. It’s a interesting little workaround to the current laws around breweries only able to serve their own malt liquor, and my Dad couldn’t get enough of that little quirk.
Duluth is becoming quite the destination for craft beer and Hoops Brewing Company is another jewel in that crown. The building alone is reason enough to make a stop!