It was just our luck that the weekend we had planned in Duluth would turn out to be cold and rainy. The weather had been warm all week at home and a rain drenched run from our car to the hotel wasn’t quite what we had in mind. Luckily there is one hobby that we share that cares little about the weather. A short drive later we were dodging raindrops on our way into Lake Superior Brewing.
Duluth holds a special place in my heart, as does the North Shore. I went to college there, fell in love with my future wife there, and ended a 260-mile hike there! Things are different now, and for the better. When I was in school I didn’t drink that much and I couldn’t even stomach beer. I knew that Fitger’s brewed their own and there were a couple of brewpubs in town, but nobody really discussed Lake Superior Brewing Company.
They claim to be the oldest microbrewery in the state and for the longest time you could only get their beer in bottles. Now they are playing catch up with the rest of the Minnesota craft beer. They opened a taproom four years ago, were bought by new owners last year, and just recently made the switch from bottles to cans. With craft beer exploding across the state, and Duluth in particular, I wanted to see how they stacked up. Truth be told I’d never even had a Lake Superior Brewing beer so their taproom would be a fitting place to begin.
They are located in a small business park near West Duluth. Upon entry we spotted some signs that led the way. Up a small ramp and past a pair of cornhole boards and we were in. This is a far cry from the polished taprooms of Bent Paddle, Blacklist, and Hoops. It’s craft beer the way it used to be! You’re immediately in the thick of things. Take one wrong step and you’ll be in their production space and there is little to prevent you from doing so.
A large sign featuring their logo is displayed on the corner of their beer cooler and pulls you towards their small bar. The tap list is displayed on a piece of slate that’s roughly in the shape of Lake Superior itself. My flight came on a stamped metal tray and I took it over to a spot in the corner next to their green forklift. It allowed me a look at the other corner of the room where a more traditional taproom emerges. There is a long thin peninsula which seats patrons on both sides and a handful of miscellaneous tables. The coolest feature by far is an archway with a rail that seats four comfortably. It was snatched up before we could sit there ourselves!
For those that don’t want to break the bank, get a flight of Lake Superior beers. Each taster was only a dollar and you could order as many as you’d like. Their full beers are similarly priced. During my visit I tasted their Kayak Kölsch, Mesabi Red, Common A Pale Ale, Sir Duluth Oatmeal Stout, Deep Water Black IPA, and Special Pale Ale. If you’re looking for crazy, innovative styles, this is not the place to be! Though, I don’t always need that and in a lot of cases I prefer well brewed traditional styles. Sir Duluth is their Gold Medal Winner and it tasted the part. It was dark garnet in color, nitro smooth, and had a very even creamy and toasty flavor. Their Special Pale reminded me of a Summit EPA which is never a bad beer to be compared to! They also had root beer that was brewed on premise which my pregnant wife was very pleased to try.
We were close to the bar so I couldn’t help but eavesdrop. Almost everyone that visited said that they’d never been to the taproom before. About half of the people said that they’d had their beer and didn’t know that there was a taproom until recently. The lady behind the bar was extremely helpful in describing the different beers and gave a short history about the brewery. Most of the people that tasted their drinks seemed to enjoy them. It’s clear that Lake Superior Brewing is sticking to their roots. My only fear is that the burgeoning craft beer scene in Duluth won’t wait for them. I hope they can make a successful shift and catch up to the pack.