Tasting My Way Through Duluth

(and Superior, too)

Jim Lundstrom

When I learned that the All Pints Beer Fest was taking place in my hometown of Duluth the very weekend I was arriving for a family visit, I thought it must be kismet.

As it turned out, I didn’t make the festival. I was supposed to be seeing family, not beer festing it. The 90-degree temps and 110 percent humidity helped ease the pain of missing the outdoor festival.

Instead, we played tourist with hundreds of others in Duluth’s popular Canal Park tourism district. This part of town used to be desolate, surrounded by industrial blight and bummy dive bars. Now it’s shops and restaurants and bars and hotels and filled parking lots and cops on horses. I didn’t recognize the place.

After our fill of the sights and the heat, we repaired to the Canal Park Brewery for a bite and a beer. The place was hopping inside, but only a few of the patio tables were being used because of the awful heat. We were tired of sweating and decided to wait at least 20 minutes for a table for four. The wait was made tolerable when we were told while waiting we could order beers from the gift shop while waiting.

My niece Noelle lives in Duluth and knows the brewery. She ordered her standby, the nut brown ale. I was parched and wanted something bright and refreshing, so I ordered a cream ale. My daughter Emma followed suit. The cream ale really fit the bill by quenching the big thirst I had worked up in the sweaty outdoors. I wasn’t even halfway into the pint when our table was ready.

For lunch I ordered a fish taco, and with that I thought for a moment I would try the nut brown, but then I saw a guy standing outside with a Weiss glass. Ah, ha…that big clovey Weiss was good with the tacos.

Later that night I stepped out for a bit and one of the stops was Sir Benedict’s, where I had Voyageur Brewing Company’s Trailbreaker Belgian Wheat. Lots of depth in this Belgian-style Wit from the Grand Marais, Minn. brewery, with just the right inflection of subtle spices.

The next day was a family gathering, to which my nephew Matt brought a stout that was aged in red wine barrels from the Castle Danger Brewery of Two Harbors, Minn. I really liked this deep stout with a grapey finish.

“Tastes like Worcestershire,” said one in the group of tasters, but I should add, that taster is not a craft beer drinker.

I find it incredible that you can start out with the black taste of stout and finish with the palate-puckering grapey essence of red wine all in one sip of beer. There is even a subtle red hue to this delicious and intriguing beer.

Asked by Matt to give it a rating out of 10, I immediately said 8. I would have rated it even higher if it could hold its head like a good stout should. After my first pour turned out to be relatively headless, I gave the glass a good wash with fresh water and poured again, and again whatever head developed on the pour quickly dissipated. But other than that, this is an original and fascinating stout.

Castle Danger also has a bourbon barrel-aged stout that I have to try next time.

Everyone told me I’d have to make a stop at Bent Paddle Brewery in West Duluth. My first beer there was a tasty barrel-aged Belgian, but, honestly, I can’t recall details because I followed that with their Cold Press Black Ale, which is the brewery’s flagship Black Ale infused with Duluth Coffee Company’s “Crazy Juice” cold-press coffee. Deep, rich coffee tones come on strong in this husky black ale.

I met an old Duluth friend who now lives in South Range, Wis., for a beer at the Thirsty Pagan Brewing in Superior. I arrived first and decided to begin with their Reinhold Berliner Weisse. They were offering either raspberry or rhubarb flavoring, but I took mine straight. This was a tart little 3.9 percent Weisse, perfect for another hot and muggy day.

My pal Dana arrived and ordered his standby, Burntwood Black, which is a very nice beer, but I’d had it before. I was amazed at the array of beers listed on the chalkboard. For my next I decided to go with the Old World Pils, mentioning to Dana that brewing a great pilsner is a true test of brewing skill. I’ve had quite a few “old world” pilsners, some of them actually in the old world, and I’ve never had a hazy old world pils. I have had a number of American craft pilsners that were hazy, and this is one of them. The taste was good, not great.

I wasn’t sure what to finish with. Dana had the Smoked Porter. I tried a sample and enjoyed the wood-smoked flavor infused in this light brown porter, but since this was the last beer for the evening, I wanted dessert and found it in Pinta Colada, the brewery’s coconut milk stout. The brewery suggests this beer “might remind you of a candy bar.” Definitely lots of chocolate and coconut going on, with a big coconut nose and giant coconut taste.

I should have had a Thirsty Pagan pizza, too. I heard they’re great, but I had it in my head to hit a Superior bar & grill I used to frequent back in the last century. I might go with a few friends or newspaper colleagues and we might be the sole customers for beers with great burgers and fries for reasonable prices. The place has been “discovered” since those days and, because of that, that will probably be my last stop there…or maybe they were just having a bad day. I’ll have to drink about it.