Finding the brewery was somewhat difficult! We trusted the GPS on my car, rolling silently along rutted streets of industrial Duluth in hybrid glory. With both of us watching our surroundings, neither of us spotted the brewery where it was supposed to be. We circled around a circuitous route, GPS angrily berating us to "Turn around wherever possible!" Eventually we returned to the initial area indicated and pulled into a parking lot to reconnoiter and decide if we should let this one go. And lo-and-behold, there it was! At the very end of a little nondescript office building sat a tiny and also nondescript sign for the brewery. Entering into a late 1970's or early 1980's looking building, we followed the small signs for the brewery, eventually coming to a dimly lit vestibule leading to a warehouse area. Just to the left of the entry was a small bar and seating area made of light colored wood, busy with locals and other folks in for the beer festival.
|Talk about hidden away!|
The space itself certainly looked like a production brewery that had been in this space since the 1990's. Lighting in here was a bit darker than expected, giving the place a slightly shadowy effect and greenish glow. A small stand across from the entrance hosted two friendly folks who greeted us and served us a sampler of beer from the taps in the wall behind them.
Our sampler of 8 beers was served up in a vintage PBR tray which we carried to a high-top table near the bar area. We started with the Kayak Kolsch--a light and slightly fruity beer that certainly fit the style. This was one of my favorites of the bunch. The North Shore Wheat was a fair hefeweizen, but I am not a huge fan of this style so my judgement is perhaps suspect. The Special Ale was my least favorite of the samples--a pale ale that was a bit too sweet and had some buttery diacetyl flavors hiding in there among the hops. Deep Water Black IPA was a newer one for them and was not a bad example. But the biggest stand out was Sir Duluth Oatmeal Stout. We had versions of this on CO2 and Nitro and both were excellent! Overall I felt that the quality of the beers was decent, but many of them were a bit too "safe" for this day and age. Even though I don't really like black IPA as a style, I do appreciate the brewery trying out something a bit more cutting edge.
|Seriously...make labels more like this!|
About half way through our sampler, the friendly jokester who had served us came over to see what we thought of the beers. It turns out that this was none other than the Head Brewer and co-owner Dale Kleinschmidt! Very talkative, Dale gave us an impromptu history of the brewery and small tour, making this experience much more informative and eye-opening than I had expected. Bob Dromeshauser opened the brewery and a homebrew shop in the basement of Fitgers way back in 1994, making this one of the oldest craft breweries in Minnesota. Dale came on in the late 1990's and was there for the move to the current warehouse space in 1999. The current owners of Lake Superior Brewing Company helped to found the homebrew club The Northern Ale Stars and the brewery has had a constant link with the homebrew hobby since its humble beginnings. Dale also told us about the many brewers who either worked or interned at Lake Superior before heading off to other breweries, making this place an stepping-stone for many budding brewers over the years.
At first glance, the brewery is not much to see, but with the addition of the history and stories I have to say that my experience was elevated. I'm glad that the brewery continues to be successful, but do worry a bit about their ability to compete with the huge number of new craft breweries out there. The beers were mostly good, but only the oatmeal stout blew me away, and that is not a very popular beer style these days. Should a brewery change who they are and what they stand for to compete with others? Hard to say, but I think they could afford to update a few things (like their somewhat bland bottle labels) and perhaps try more seasonals to widen interest in their beers. From the perspective of a beer drinker who likes to try new things I think that would appeal to me more. The tap room has limited hours, but I think this place is worth a stop, just to get a different perspective on some of the history of craft brewing in Minnesota.