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Dining with Dara: Duluth becoming state's premiere destination for beer tourism

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Dubh Linn Irish Brew Pub
Dubh Linn Irish Brew Pub on West Superior Street in Duluth, Minn. started brewing their own beer during the middle of 2011.
Derek Montgomery for MPR

It's been a big couple years for beer. Last spring, what's now known as the "Surly Bill" passed the state legislature, allowing breweries to sell beer on site? Minneapolis' city council granted a license last Friday for Harriet Brewing to open Minneapolis' first taproom.

MPR's food and dining critic Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl says that in ten years, when Minnesotans look back on how craft beer has changed the state, the big news may not be in the Twin Cities at all, but in Duluth.

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl:   Let me dazzle you with some beer news from the great city of the north. First, let's talk new breweries. Last July, Dubrue opened a 15-barrel brewery, as big as Surly was when they opened — they're in downtown Duluth, and this summer they'll have a tap-room. The Irish bar Dubh Linn added their own brewing facilities last summer, they are making Irish beer. Another brewery, called Borealis Fermentery, is in the works. A fourth new brewery, from Bryon Tonnis — formerly the Minneapolis Rock Bottom's head-brewer — is working on opening another production brewery in Duluth this year.

Tom Crann:  That's a lot of new breweries.

DMG:  Secondly, let's talk new brew-pubs: This week the footings are going into place for Canal Park Brewing, a huge new 180-seat brewpub and 15-barrel brewery right on the Lake Walk downtown. Jan. 1, a new sister brewpub to Fitgers' Brewhouse called Tycoons opened. On St. Patrick's Day it will have a little sister of its own, a basement brewpub called the Ratskeller.

And there are more coming. I talked to Dave Hoops, the brewer for The Brewhouse--that's the huge brewpub on the water that used to be connected to Fitgers. They're separate businesses now, and the Brewhouse is the 28th biggest brewpub in the whole entire country — and the only one in the top 100 which sells all its beer onsite. In any event, the Brewhouse also owns Burrito Union, as well as Tycoon's, and Hoops tells me they're getting ready to build another brewing facility so they can open more brewpubs — though he wouldn't tell me where.

Tom Crann:  Secret brewpubs. OK.

DMG:  And that's not all the Duluth beer news. Third, we can talk expansions: Lake Superior Brewing, the granddaddy of Duluth breweries, so to speak, is embarking on plans to double capacity, and add a taproom.

Fourth, add in the existing, thriving other beer makers — the Irish brewpub Carmody's, Superior's Thirsty Pagan, and Castle Danger's brewery, and you have a very rare thing.

Tom Crann:  A high demand for pretzels?

DMG:  That too. But you have a very high concentration of beer-tourist destinations, most of which are within walking distance of the big hotels downtown. All this beer news in Duluth is perfectly positioning the city to be the regional center for beer tourism — a place where couples spend two nights and tour breweries during the day, eat at brewpubs at night. Dave Hoops from the Brewhouse told me there's even a North Coast Style now. It's hoppier and more floral than West Coast, but with lower alcohol. There are other cities with beer identifies, and beer tourism cultures like this, cities like Portland, Ore., and Boulder, Colo. I think when we look back on the 2010s, we're going to see that new breweries improved Minneapolis, but they transformed Duluth.

Tom Crann:  We'll have to have you back in 20 years to see if you're right.

Duluth and Duluth-Area Brewpubs and Breweries mentioned in this story:

•  Fitgers' Brewhouse
•  Tycoon's
•  Burrito Union
•  Lake Superior Brewing
•  Carmody Irish Pub and Brewing
•  Dubh Linn Irish Brew Pub
•  Dubrue Brewing
•  Canal Park Brewing Co. (projected opening, summer of 2012) 
•  Castle Danger Brewery  (Castle Danger, Minn.) 
•  Thirsty Pagan Brewing,  (Superior, Wis.)