A Little Minnesota in Door County

Jim Lundstrom

I found a place in Sister Bay that sells 12-packs of bottled Grain Belt. Perhaps that means nothing to you, but I’m from originally from Minnesota. Duluth, in fact.
Growing up in Duluth, you were defined by the beer you drank. This was long before the microbrew revolution.
I had outdoorsmen friends who were fans of Schmidt because it featured big fish and other things they desired to kill on the cans. One penny-pinching friend was partial to bright yellow and red six-packs of quart bottles of Walter’s beer from Eau Claire, Wis. I had a couple of edgy friends who were partial to the malt liquors of the day, Stite and Colt 45 and a couple of others I’ve forgotten (sadly, those edgy friends are no longer with us). I had a friend who was a PBR fan. Another drank nothing but relatively expensive imports. Another was a Special Export man, the high-end beer from Heileman of LaCrosse, Wis. I knew a whole family of school teachers who drank nothing but Hamm’s when they were together. I knew a hipster who liked to have Coors stocked in his fridge, and this was before Coors went national and you could only get it west of the Rockies. But we had Olympia (“It’s the Tumwater”) in its place, and it had many fans.
Me, I was partial to Grain Belt. I liked the clear bottles. I liked the red, white and gold design on the cans and bottles. But, more importantly, I thought it was a better beer than the swill my friends drank. I thought it had depth and character. I don’t know what statement that made. I guess that was the point.
But I moved from Duluth to Minneapolis/St. Paul briefly, then to England for a long time, then to Maui for a long time, and, finally to Wisconsin. Grain Belt fell off my radar.
Until a few years ago when I started vacationing regularly on Madeline Island in northern Wisconsin. It’s a weird place in that somehow people from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area discovered it decades ago and pretty much dominate it to this day. During the tourist season you might see more purple & white than green & gold, and you’ll find a lot of Minnesota-flavored beers such as Summit. Mad Isle is where I became reacquainted with Grain Belt of the 21st century.
The iconic brewery on the Mississippi River in northeast Minneapolis shut down in 1975. The next year, America’s Bicentennial, Grain Belt flowed again, brewed by the aforementioned G. Heileman of LaCrosse, but it wasn’t the same beer and Gra1n Belt fans knew it. Brewing of Grain Belt returned to Minnesota in 1991 when a group of investors bought the name from an ailing G. Heileman and started brewing Grain Belt again in the old Schmidt Brewery in St. Paul. They called themselves the Minnesota Brewing Co., which was the original name of the first Grain Belt brewery.
They brought back the old recipes and look, even won a Great American Beer Festival gold medal in the American lager category in 1994, (101 years after Grain Belt was founded), but they could not sustain the momentum and went bankrupt.
It seemed like the end of Grain Belt.
But, no. Regional brewer August Schell in the great polka town of New Ulm, Minn. (home of the late, great Whoopee John Wilfahrt), came to the rescue in 2002 by buying the name and creating a really good American lager under the old Grain Belt name.
I believe it is one of the respectable American lagers (there aren’t many anymore), far better than all of the Big Three products.
And, so, I was happy to reconnect with it in the store across from the laundromat. Now, if the Pig in Sister Bay would also stock Grain Belt’s Nordeast twelvers as well…

I came across some disturbing beer news the other day. According to the Beer Institute (beerinstitute.org), Wisconsin ranks 5th in the nation for beer consumption, with a per capita consumption of 36.2 gallons consumed by Wisconsin adults in 2012, compared to the national average of 28.2 gallons.
The disturbing part is that people in South Dakota (38.9 gallons), Montana (41 gallons), New Hampshire (43.9 gallons) and North Dakota (45.8 gallons) are ahead of Wisconsin in beer consumption.
Come on you slackers! We can’t allow these places that are not known for beer to nudge us out of our rightful place as No. 1 in beer consumption.
On Wisconsin!
Oh, Minnesota, you’re typically right in the middle of the pack at No. 23, with an annual per capita beer consumption that almost mirrors the national average, 28.5. I think you are saddled with too many puritans. That’s why I got out!