Minnesota, until now best-known as the home of Prince, the Mall of America and many, many lakes, is in the midst of a revolution – a liquid revolution. With more than 100 craft breweries and nearly two dozen distilleries, not to mention 50-plus wineries, its “Land of 10,000 Lakes” slogan may soon be “Land of 10,000 Drinks.”
This shift is due largely to Minnesota’s deep agricultural roots, which made residents among the earliest adopters of the seasonal and sustainable food movements. Now, Minnesota’s abundance of local crops like grapes, apples, grains, hops and wheat, combined with its long tradition of “Minnesota nice” – locals use this phrase to refer to their reputation as one of the kindest states in the nation – is turning what was once an unlikely tourist destination into the belle of the beer and spirits ball.
“There’s something inherent in breweries that fosters community,” says Andrea Dolloff, Assistant Manager at Wayzata BrewWorks. “Coupled with the no nonsense quality of many Midwesterners, it’s a perfect match.”
Testament to Minnesota’s “come one, come all” ethos is Stillwater-based Lift Bridge Brewery, which hosts a “Pickin’ & Grinnin” event each fall where visitors assist in picking the fresh hops for that season’s brew. Harvestor, its fresh hop ale, is made from hops grown in a local patch.
Minneapolis’ Urban Forage Winery & Cider House uses crowdsourced local flowers, fruit and honey to produce its hard cider, honey mead and fruit wines, and Sociable Cider Werks, also in Minneapolis, sources its main ingredient – fresh-pressed apples – from Pepin Heights orchard in nearby Lake City.
In Hallock, the bartenders at Far North Spirits, the northernmost distillery in the lower 48, serve spiced rum, rye whiskey, vodka and gins crafted from non-GMO grain grown on the property.
“Something about the brewing and distillation process itself,” suggests Dolloff, “creates a welcoming, down to earth meeting place for literally everyone.”
She notes, too, that the approachability of Minnesota’s local beer, wine and spirits scene has yielded a broad and diverse audience. “Increasingly, there’s a satisfying option for everyone,” she says.
Thanks to the state’s cold-hardy grapes developed by the University of Minnesota, including the Frontenac, Frontenac gris, La Crescent, Marquette, and new Itasca, Minnesota is poised to be the next darling of the wine world. While this may surprise some, it’s no shock to the Minnesota vintners who have discreetly but diligently honed their craft for decades.
Minnesota’s four wine trails boast some of the most active, if not yet prolific, winemakers in the industry, and many of them host regular tours and events ranging from live music and prix-fixe dinners to harvest festivals and grape stomps.
Among the best are Alexis Bailly Vineyard in Hastings, Carlos Creek Winery in Alexandria and Morgan Creek Vineyards in Ulm, all of which are a roughly two hour drive from Minneapolis.