Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Rise & Fall of Lake Superior Brewing

Last week, it was revealed that Lake Superior Brewing had closed its doors. What makes this news so different is that it not only was it one Duluth's first microbrewery but it was also one of Minnesota's first breweries that was established after prohibition had ended. The closing of Lake Superior Brewing has certainly grabbed the attention of the craft brewing scene in Minnesota since it is the most high-profile closure to date. The reactions have, understandably, been that of shock and sadness.

However, it's an entirely different feeling for myself.

Sure, whenever a brewery closes its doors, I feel sorry to see it go and that's the case here with Lake Superior Brewing but I can't say that I'm surprised. In fact, I'd even go as far as to say that I'm shocked at the fact that it didn't happen sooner and....well I'm going explain why this is. Bear in mind too that a lot of what I’m going to say is speculation but keep in mind that I'm taking into account information, statistics and my own personal experience with the brewery.

To start out, it's worth noting that Lake Superior Brewing, which opened in 1994, has always been on the smaller side, with distribution being limited just to Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin. To put that in perspective, peak production for Lake Superior occurred in 2014 around 2000 barrels before dwindling to 736 barrels in 2018. Bent Paddle, which opened in 2013 in the same neighborhood, produces just under 20,000 barrels a year and they distribute all over Minnesota, North Dakota and Northern & Western Wisconsin.

Now I want to make it very clear that Lake Superior Brewing was not a bad brewery, far from it. They were one of the first breweries that I tried out when I first got into craft brewing and I can safely say that their offerings have been consistent throughout the years. When it came to quality, they were certainly no slouch in that department. In fact, I consider their Old Man Winter to be one of the best MN-Based barleywines that I've ever had and is standard for what English-style barleywines should be like.

However, my criticism lays in the fact that innovation was never really their strong suit. Prior to 2018, with the release of their Riptide IPA, they had not released a new beer since 2013, with their Deep Water Black IPA.



This strategy might’ve worked 15-20 years ago but we’re living in an age of craft brewing that it’s not only expected that there’s a new beer on a regular basis but it’s pretty much an unspoken requirement if you want to survive. Many breweries, both new and seasoned, have followed suit with this rule but Lake Superior seemed to be an exception to that rule and yet they pushed on.

The other factor lies in branding. It’s no secret that for the longest time, the branding of Lake Superior Brewing was, for lack of a better term, outdated. It was by no means aesthetically offensive, but it wasn’t what I’d call eye-catching. Rather it was just…..boring. It had been around for the long time and at no point did they change their label and branding up 2017 (More on that in a bit.)



Now in terms of quality, they had no issues in that department. As I mentioned before, they were always consistent with their products and there was nothing wrong with their offerings but with the exception of their Old Man Winter Warmer, there was never anything that I would necessarily go out of my way to try unless I was at a friend’s house or if it was offered to me. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that when it came to their lineup, there wasn’t necessarily anything exciting about it and the lack of new offerings really hurt them in the grand scheme of things.

Now I mentioned before that their branding was, for the longest time, on the dull side. In fact, prior to 2017, myself and many of my peers saw Lake Superior’s branding as somewhat outdated in terms of look and design and it we just accepted it as it was. Now you might have noticed that dropping the years 2017 & 2018 a bit here. I bring this up because this changed in 2017.

What happened? New ownership!

At the time of hearing this news, I was excited for Lake Superior because I read about the plans the new owners had in mind. This included revamped branding, growth and even new offerings from them. At the time, I was excited for them and happy to see what changes would come. The rebranding of Lake Superior hit the shelves and I, for one, was pleased with it. It was an updated design while also staying true to its roots.

Another change that was made was the overhaul of the website. For example, here’s the website as it is right now:



Looks great right? I think so to! Everything is sleek and thoroughly designed. Thing is, it wasn’t always that way. Here it is from 2016:




And here it is from 2014:



Now I’m going to reserve judgment since I’m aware that my own website design hasn’t changed since 2014, which I’m working on, but I will say that the current design definitely is the strongest of the three.

All of the pieces were there to help raise Lake Superior’s status once again but I can’t help but feel that these changes came too little & too late. I mentioned before that their first new release in five years occurred in 2018 with their Riptide IPA…..but nothing else further materialized from that and I took notice. Steps in the right direction were most certainly taken but I keep thinking that these long overdue changes were too little & too late. I am by no means disregarding any of the changes made by the new ownership but I feel these changes would’ve been much more impactful had they occurred four or five years earlier.

However, the story might not be over just yet. The current owners of LSB (Lake Superior Brewing) are looking to sell the brewery and is, at the time of writing, up for sale. In any case, all of this is just my personal view on how things are and anything that happens at this point. Who knows? Maybe something else will start up in its place?

As always, thanks for reading!



Sources used:


https://www.bizjournals.com/twincities/news/2020/01/09/duluth-brewery-closes-may-be-for-sale.html

https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/business/4852039-Lake-Superior-Brewing-closed-%E2%80%94-for-now

https://growlermag.com/original-brewery-of-duluths-lincoln-park-craft-district-closes/

https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/business/4342140-new-owners-lake-superior-brewing


Minnesota Department of Revenue

Saturday, January 4, 2020

A Visit to Cannon River Winery



Cannon River Winery holds a special place in my heart…or at least…..my past. Back when I was a Senior in college, I interned for a wine education company and during my tenure there, I got a visit a few Minnesota-based wineries and one of those wineries was Cannon River Winery, located in Cannon Falls, MN. I still remember that nice spring day seven years ago when I arrived there with the trees in bloom and the usually warm temperatures we had that day.. When me and my boss went inside to check the place out, I was amazed and how busy and vibrant it was there. I knew that the fanfare about local wine was sizable but it didn’t strike me as to just how big it was until I stepped foot in there. Remember, I did this internship a few months after I dove head-first into the craft brewing scene.


During my time there, I served as a “guinea pig” of sorts for the wine tasting since my boss was pregnant and wanted to avoid any sort of complications. It was a task that I was all too happy to fulfill. My favorite wine during our visit there was their Apple Wine, but only because it wasn’t a tannin-overload and my palate wasn’t fully refined by that point. Fast forward to today where I’m starting to dabble heavily into wine and the idea struck me that maybe it’s time to revisit this winery that piqued my curiosity years ago. So I decided to make the journey back to Cannon Falls.



Cannon Falls is one of those towns that looks like it belongs in Christmas Card Artwork, with its old brick storefront and buildings along with Christmas lights stretching across an intersection in the heart of downtown & it reminds me almost of my parents’ hometown. And of course, the Cannon River runs through it, which the winery takes its name from.



Fun Fact: Cannon Falls is home to Pachyderm Studios. This is where Nirvana’s In Utero album was recorded, which is one of my all-time favorite albums. Other bands to record there include: Live, Mudvayne, Soul Asylum, Motion City Soundtrack & Trampled by Turtles: Just to name a few. It isn’t the first place you’d expect a recording studio to be, yet here we are.



Anywho, the interior of the winery has changed in terms of layout but not necessarily in atmosphere. The wooden interior mixed with barrels and fermentation tanks and rustic lighting gives the winery a very unique feel. Plus the winery itself is housed in what I assume to be an older brick building. You have the option to either sit by the windows or in the back more but no matter where you sit, you’ll get to soak in the atmosphere either way.



Now let’s talk about the wine. I was able to sample a good variety of wine styles and get a better idea as to the offerings of Cannon River Winery. Without further ado, let’s take a look!

Name: Gunflint Gris
Style: Gris
ABV: 12.1%
Grapes used: Frontenac Gris

Taking its name from the Gunflint Trail in Northeast Minnesota. This wine has a bright pear & white grape flavor to it that has an almost citra-like quality to it with a fairly dry aftertaste with just a touch of tannins. It’s a simple yet solid wine that you won’t see me getting sick of anytime soon.

Gunflint Gris – 8.5/10


Name: Feisty Bitch Rose
Style: Rose
ABV: N/A
Grapes used: N/A

An interesting choice in terms of naming, but who am I to argue with the creative process? This wine has a nice raspberry & blackberry flavor with just enough tannin bitterness on the front end of the palate to help balance it out. The aftertaste is a short-lived but sweet raspberry-like fruitiness. All and all, another great wine that I could see myself sipping on a lazy afternoon.

Feisty Bitch Rose – 8.5/10


Name: Minnesota Marquette
Style: Marquette/Red Wine
ABV: N/A
Grapes used: Marquette

A wine made with grapes that were developed by the University of Minnesota for the purpose of growing grapes in the harsh cold Minnesota climates. This wine has a nice blackberry uprfront with a dark currant & oak flavor in the middle and back. There’s also an encompassing earthiness and light tannin flavor throughout the palate. The aftertaste is rather dry, save for a light oak flavor. It’s an eloquently put together wine that has enough overall layers in the flavor to keep things interesting.

Minnesota Marquette – 9/10



Name: Sparkling Edelweiss
Style: Sparkling/White Wine
ABV: N/A
Grapes used: Edelweiss

For my last wine, I decided that I was in the mood for something with a bit of a bubbly kick, and this was perfect. Light pear & vibrant apple flavors are on the front of the palate while the back end opens up to some white grape and tannin notes. The aftertaste is also quite dry, almost like a good Champagne or Brut. All and all, a great wine to close out my visit and amongst my favorites that I had there.

Sparkling Edelweiss – 9/10


There’s the old saying that the more things change, that the more they stay the same & that certainly applies to Cannon River Winery. As I said before ,there has been changes made to the overall layout of the tasting room, along with changes in ownership that occurred during these past seven years. However, what hasn’t changed is the overall feel and atmosphere of the place. After making the drive from my home located about 40 minutes away, walking into Cannon River Winery made me forget just how monotonous and cold it was outside that day and it made my trip all the worthwhile.


Interested in checking them out? They can be found in beautiful downtown Cannon Falls, which is located about 35 miles south of St. Paul, MN. Their address is:

421 Mill St W
Cannon Falls, MN 55009

I hope this article inspires you to check out any local wineries in your area. Or if you’re in the Twin Cities vicinity, check this place out. I think you’ll be surprised!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Northern Hollow Apple Spice Review



Name: Northern Hollow Apple Spice
Place of Origin: Grasston, Minnesota, USA
Style: Fruit Wine
Grapes Used: N/A
ABV: 10%

Originally when I was sampling this wine, I was at a crossroads of sorts. For you see, the idea was to focus mainly on “traditionally made” wines. However a thought occurred to me in which I’ve reviewed several beers in the past that have been anything but “traditionally made.” After all, I did review a beer a few years back that was made with a yeast strain which was found in someone’s beard; Much to my shock, it was quite refreshing and drinkable! So the point I’m trying to convey is that I will not be picky when it comes to reviewing wines that are made with “unconventional” ingredients.

Which brings us to today’s wine from Northern Hollow Vineyards, based out of Grasston, MN, simply called: Apple Spice. As the name suggests, it’s a wine made with apples and spices. I usually like to put in the finer details about wines, in particular, what kind of grapes were used…..except I couldn’t find anything about it through my research. In fact, most of the information I know about this wine comes from the wine label itself & a quick search on Google on the winery itself.

Appearance -  A clear white-golden color that reminds one of cider.

Aroma – I’m picking up on some sweet honeycrisp apples and they’re front and center. I’m also picking up on some mild white grape & tannins in here as well but they’re secondary to the sheer…..appleness (if that’s not a word, it is now) of the overall nose.

Taste – White grapes upfront with some potent honeycrisp apple and all-spice flavors. I’m picking up on some mild pear sweetness, while the back end of the palate finishes with some light tannin notes. The aftertaste does have a brief flash of apple sweetness but fades quickly. There’s also a nice warming sensation after taking a sip, courtesy of the spices.

This is one of those wines that is definitely meant for the colder months of the year since one sip of this warmed me up significantly &  the grapes used here mash really well with everything else. That said, it’s best to enjoy this wine on a crisp autumn day as opposed to say a scorching hot summer day because this warms you up & fast! I’ll be sure to keep my eyes open for more of their offerings in the future, information or not!

Northern Hollow Apple Spice - 8/10

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Alexis Bailly Country Red Review



Name: Alexis Bailly Country Red
Origin: Hastings, Minnesota, United States
Style: Red Blend
Grapes Used: Marechal Foch, de Chaunac, Baco Noir, Frontenac
ABV: 12%

I’ve decided to dedicate a bit of time to focus on the wineries here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, since there’s quite a few of them around. For today’s offering, we have something from Alexis Bailly Vineyards with their Country Red. The winery is located southeast of St. Paul in Hastings, along the border to Wisconsin. It is worth noting that area surrounding Hastings consists of vast, rolling hills ideal for growing grapes.

Come to think of it, the areas in and around by the St. Croix River Valley (where Hastings is located) is home to numerous wineries on both the Minnesota & Wisconsin Sides. With that said, let’s delve into this, shall we?

Appearance - Dark red which is quite clear when held to a light, which gives off a nice crimson color.

Aroma - Mild tannins mixed in with some light raspberry and cherry esters with a hint of dark currant.

Taste -Raspberry and black cherry upfront with some tannins in the middle and back. In the aftertaste, I'm picking up on a light dark currant flavor but that quickly drops off to a dry nothingness.

I have to say that I enjoyed this quite a bit. It strikes a nice balance between being fruity and bitter with any sort of aftertaste. Definitely recommend picking this one up should you get the opportunity.

Alexis Bailly Country Red - 8.5/10

Monday, November 4, 2019

Delaforce Red Blend 2015 Review


Name: Delaforce Red Blend 2015
Grapes Used: Tempranillo. Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Barroca
Style: Red Blend
Area & Country of Origin: Porto, Douro, Portugal
ABV: 13.5%

For my first wine review, I wasn’t really 100% sure where to start. After all, my experience with reviewing wine is somewhat limited, with my only experience being an article I did on my old website on Next Chapter Winery and their offerings.

So here how it’s going to work, I’ll post whatever technical information up top, just like I normally do with my beer review posts since I’m kind of a geek for numbers & details. However if there’s something that’s missing, I’ll make sure to add them as my posts continue. After all, that’s what I did with my beer posts, especially if you look at my very early posts all the way back to 2013. In any case, let’s move onto our first ever wine review.

Today I’ve got the Delaforce Red Blend. From what I gathered, the winery itself is situated in the Douro River Valley in Northern Portugal and a couple of their claims to fame are their limestone-infused soil, which is supposed to give their wines a distinct flavor and their Port Wine, which is supposed to pretty well known but haven’t had a chance to try it out yet. In any case, let’s dive right in, shall we?

Appearance – Dark mahogany color that has an almost plum-like color to it.

Aroma – Upfront I’m getting blackberry notes with some mildly potent tannins. I’m also getting some subtle dark chocolate sweetness in here as well.

Taste – Much like the nose, I’m getting a moderate blackberry flavors with some equally strong tannins & light roasty chocolate notes on the back of the palate. There’s also an encompassing earthiness that is present throughout most of the flavor that gives it a distinct spin. In the aftertaste, I’m picking up on a tannin & dark chocolate mixture that lingers for a few seconds afterwards.

Overall, it’s a good wine and I really appreciated the earthy aspect of the flavor as it gave the flavor some needed balance from becoming too “dark,” if that makes any sense. As it is, this is a solid wine and I could see myself further exploring this region in terms of wine offerings. Check this out should you get the chance!

Delaforce Red Blend – 8/10

Friday, November 1, 2019

A Visit to Next Chapter Winery

Disclosure: What you are about to read is an article from my old website: The Sheltered Gallivant. The article, which was posted earlier this year, covered my visit to Next Chapter Winery, which is a small winery based out of New Prague, Minnesota. Given the direction that I wish to take with this website moving forward, I feel that it is now appropriate to share this article with everyone and I hope you all can see why.  With that said, I hope you enjoy this article as much as I enjoyed putting it together earlier this year.

When it comes to alcoholic beverages, Minnesota is best known for its craft beer, followed closely by craft spirits. However, if there’s one aspect of Minnesota made alcohol that I consider to be vastly underrated, it would have to be wine. In fact, when I tell people that Minnesota is home to a lot of wineries, their reactions range from disbelief to amusement.

I don’t blame them either since I was in that position at one point. That is, until I was a senior in college and did an internship with a wine education company and discovered just how vast the Minnesota wine scene was. Picking up from where I left off from those seven years ago, this is one of those things that I want to keep on looking further into. With that said, let’s delve into our first wine article!



Our first winery is Next Chapter Winery, located in-between New Prague & Montgomery, which is about 50 miles south of Minneapolis. They planted their first grapevines in 2007 before becoming established in 2011 and finally opening their doors to the public & for private events in 2014. They’re located on a farmstead that I accidently drove past when I arrived and had to do a U-turn on account of the GPS on my phone not working. When I finally made my way down the drive way, you know very quickly that you’re at a winery on account of the numerous wine-themed signs hanging from the trees.


Eventually, you come across a big red barn next to a gravel parking lot, which is houses the tasting room. The barn itself is quite old, as in “Built-in-1910” old, and has a certain atmosphere of rustic to it. Behind it, you see the rows of grape vines that stretch outwards. Outside, you get the feeling of rusticness and this is reinforced when you set foot inside.



If there’s one word I’d use to describe the tasting room other than rustic, it would be cozy. The walls are nicely filled with decor and the low hanging ceiling gives you a real sense of intimacy without necessarily being claustrophobic. You can either sit at the bar or at one of the tables spread throughout the tasting room.



Since this is a winery, I had the chance to sample a good variety of wines during my time there. However, wine tasting would be complete without some pairings. For this I decided for a meat platter with offerings from New Prague-based Orenthal Meats. This, of course, comes with a delicious wild rice baguette to act as a palate cleanser of sort.



Now let’s talk about the wine. I decided to try a few offerings; From driest to sweetest, I wanted to be sure to get a good sample of everything. So without further ado, here’s what I thought of the wine.

Muscat – Their driest offering. This wine has a mildy sweet white grape flavor with a slight oak undetone. The aftertaste is very dry, save for some mild bitterness. It’s a nice dry wine that gets the job done and there’s nothing wrong with that

Wedded Bliss – A 50/50 Mix of the Cabernet & Marquette grapes. This one’s got a full bodied feel with some dark grape and some light bitter tannins upfront with a slight hint oak on the back of the palate: Which itself is otherwise reasonably dry. All and all, a nice blend and it keeps in spirit with the winery’s reputation as a wedding venue (More on that in a bit!)

Blackberry Delight – A wine that is made with, you guessed it, blackberries! This one has a sweet blackberry and dark currant flavor that lingers throughout the palate and has a nice sweetness in the aftertaste. Full disclosure, I ended up getting a bottle of this to take home with me; It was literally that good!

MN Ice Wine – A wine whch came with an education lesson courtesy of Chuck. In order to be considered an Ice Wine, the requirements are that the grapes harvested must be on the vine in consistent 17 Degree Fairenheit temperatures for 3 consecutive days and must not rise above that temperature threshold. In any case, this wine was definitely different than the other ones I tried. It’s got a bright white grape flavor to it but there’s also a distinct boozy and honey-like sweetness in here too; The latter of which lingers on the back of the palate. It’s also worth noting too that this wine clocks in at 18% ABV, all the more reason why the sample I got wasn’t a huge heaping portion, which is a good thing because I spent my time nursing this.



As I enjoyed my Blackberry Delight, I was informed by Dawn if anyone had told me about their specialty Wine Ice Cream Float. Perplexed, I inquired as to what exactly that was. It was explained to me that it was their Blackberry Delight with a scoop of vanilla ice cream with some Sprite poured in to give it a kick. Since wine & ice cream are two things that I never imagined in the same glass, I decided to go ahead and give it a go.

It is served in, what else, a wine glass. It certainly looked good, but did it taste good? The answer is a resounding “yes!” The vanilla ice cream helps subdue the sheer sweetness of the blackberry delight while giving the Sprite a chance to help bring everything together into a fruity yet not-overtly sweet concoction. I was told that the owner of the winery actually came up with this idea one night. I’m sure what the thought process was behind this and I don’t care because it is tasty!


At one point during my time at Next Chapter, I was shown the barrel room/reception hall, as well as their small bottling and distilling by Chuck. During our time there, he asked if I wanted the light to be on as I snapped photos but I informed him that it wouldn’t be necessary as I thought that ambient lighting from outside was doing the job all on its own. Apparently Next Chapter is considered by some to be a premier place to hold a wedding ceremony and reception. Even though it’s the dead of winter at the time of writing this, I could see just how picture-esqe the winery would look during the spring & summer months. Judging from the photos that I came across of Next Chapter during warmer months, it’s very easy to see why this place could be host to a wedding party.



Overall, Next Chapter Winery has a good variety of tasty wines to choose from, all from the comfort of their cozy, atmospheric tasting room. Plus there’s tons of stories to be had here with how this place came to be. Don’t take my word for it, go visit and see for yourself!

They are located at:
16945 320th Street
New Prague, MN 56071

Their Winter Hours (November-March) are:
Friday 4pm-8pm
Saturday 12pm-8pm
Sunday 12pm-5pm

Summer Hours (April-October) are:
Friday & Saturday 12pm-10pm
Sunday 11am-5pm

For more information about the winery, you can visit their website at www.nextchapterwinery.com.

A special thanks to Chuck & Dawn for making my time at Next Chapter an excellent one, I’ll be sure to stop in once the weather starts to warm up again and the surroundings become more greener!

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Upcoming Content Changes

Hello fellow readers,

I apologize for my lack of posting. After all a new job & home will do that to you along with all of the hassle that comes with it but they’re good changes nonetheless. So once again, my lack of activity has been hampered by life events, but at least I saw these changes coming.

However, not everything is kittens, rainbows & unicorns. You see, when it comes to family history of various medical conditions, I didn’t exactly draw a great hand. We’re talking high blood pressure, diabetes, depression & perhaps the biggest one of them all: obesity. Case in point,  my recent visit to the doctor. It went something like this:

Doctor: Well all of your blood work came back well, you don’t have diabetes and are, in fact, very far from even being pre-diabetic. Your blood pressure is down from your last visit & On top of that, you’ve been managing your depression quite well!

Me: Gee wilikers, Doc! That’s great news!

Doctor: Wooooah, not so fast there, I’m not done yet. We still have to talk about your weight!

Me: What about my weight?

Doctor: Well, looking at your body fat numbers, you’re higher compared to last year. In fact, I’d even go as far to say that I’m concerned that if this pattern continues, you run a good possibility of running into the same health complications that have been present in your family.

Me: So in other words: I’m fat.

Doctor: What?

Me: ….What?

Alright it didn't exactly happen like that but that pretty much sums my visit. In part, my high carb intake is partially to blame for my weight gain. And it shouldn’t come as a shock that a good portion of my carb intake comes from my consumption of beer.

This creates its own set of problems when it comes to my writing, mainly because I write about craft beer. It certainly puts me in an interesting, if not. compromising position. So what do I do?

Well, remember when I first started this blog back up, I expressed a desire to focus more of my energy on things like wine & spirits? As luck would have it, I found out that not only are both of these drink categories vast and expansive but also they have way less carbs than beer. In fact, spirits have no carbs what-so-ever and wine typically has very little to low carbs, depending on the style of wine that is. Plus all across the country

It won’t be an easy transition but it’s one that I feel will benefit me in the long run. Plus, now I have an excuse to check out wineries & distilleries.

Rest assured that beer will still play an integral part of this website going forward but it will no longer be the exclusive drink that will be reviewed on here.

Oh and I'm also bringing back my old scoring system too!

Again, thank you all for your continued support & I look forward to what the future holds!

Cheers!

- Nick