The United States now boasts over 5,000 craft breweries as the thirst for quality beer continues. The Twin Ports are clearly part of the trend. Duluth and Superior are home to eight breweries, with two more planning to launch in 2017. Several others dot the north and south shores of Lake Superior. The great news for beer aficionados: there’s no shortage of local beer and opportunities to taste the latest batches. The next three major swillfests are highlighted here.
Gitchee Gumee Brewfest
Saturday, April 8 | Wessman Arena, Superior
Now in its 20th year, the Gitchee Gumee Brewfest has the distinction of being the longest running beer festival in the Twin Ports.
Co-organizer Amber Pederson anticipates about 1,400 people will attend, including brewers and volunteers. She says the longstanding festival, organized by the Superior Jaycees, has come a long way in its two decades. In the beginning, it was viewed as an all-you-can-drink-event because it attracted a lot of college students. She says now it has more of a reputation as a tasting session that draws in serious beer connoisseurs. A number of breweries produce special beer for the event.
The general admission price of $30 includes a 3-oz. glass for sampling more than 120 types of beer from 30 local, regional and national breweries. VIP tickets were $50 but sold out within 48 hours. This upgraded ticket gets attendees into the festival an hour early, which guarantees them first dibs at sampling specialty brews of the sour, cask and barrel-aged variety. The VIP room also has seating, food from Grizzly’s, a specialty keg not open to the public and a private bathroom.
Cider and mead will also be poured at the brew fest. Remedy Bloody Mary Mix will be offering non-alcoholic samples of its product. A number of breweries, such as Sprecher, will have non-alcoholic root beer, orange soda and ginger ale. Designated drivers over the age of 21 get in free and have access to complimentary pop and water.
The festival will also feature Hammerschlagen. Food from Farley’s Family Restaurant will be available and the Jaycees will be selling popcorn.
The Spirit Room will host a Bloody Mary and mac and cheese bar the Sunday afternoon following the festival from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Customers can get their snit upgraded to a pint if they bring proof of festival attendance, such as a ticket stub or tasting glass.
Tickets usually sell out ahead of time and are available at Keyport Liquor, 7 West Taphouse in Duluth or Superior and online.
The Superior Jaycees is a civic organization that aims to teach young people leadership skills. Proceeds from the beer fest stay within the community and help support different charities throughout the year. The festival is the organization’s biggest fundraiser. The Jaycees vote on how to spend funds raised throughout the year. Benefitting organizations have included the YMCA, CASDA, Mentor Superior, area food banks, the Superior Fire Department and more.
Meet Your Maker: Craft Beer + Big Wave Dave and the Ripples
Saturday, April 22 | Rex Bar, Duluth
Meet Your Maker is essentially a party for PBS. WDSE-TV, the local public television station, is putting on a guided craft-beer tasting with five area breweries, music by Big Wave Dave and the Ripples and appetizers by area eateries.
The event is a fundraiser and membership drive. Tickets are $60 and include PBS membership and access to streaming PBS programs. There will be $10 tickets at the door for those interested in music only, without food and beer.
The event is meant to be a celebration of local beer and music offerings. It was conceived after the station produced “Soul Brothers” and “Brew North,” two documentaries about Big Wave Dave and the Ripples and local beer history, respectively.
“Telling community stories that bring people together builds links in the community. That is what I think having a PBS station in town is about,” says Karen Sunderman, WDSE producer and event organizer.
Local brewers will be on hand to guide attendees through beer tastings. “The idea is to ‘meet your maker’—meet the people who make local beer, meet the people who make local music and meet the people who produce local TV programs,” Sunderman says.
In addition to the beer and music, there will be a silent auction with beer-focused prizes, such as tickets to the Duluth Experience’s brewery tours. Small bites will be catered by OMC Smokehouse, Northern Waters Restaurant, New Scenic Cafe and Zenith Bread Project.
Saturday, May 13 | Bent Paddle Brewing, Duluth
Bent Paddle Brewing‘s birthday bash will again take place outside the brewery in the adjacent parking lot on West Michigan Street. Laura Mullen, vice president of outreach and events, says she expects 3,000 people will attend the fourth-annual affair, if weather cooperates.
Bent Paddle fans are a hardy bunch. Even with chilly temps last year, 2,200 people attended.
Festiversary features a full lineup of music throughout the day with three stages. This year, the Big Wu is headlining the main stage. The popular Minnesota jam band will be on its 25th anniversary tour. Other performers include the Jillian Rae Band, Black River Revue, Big Wave Dave and the Ripples, Woodblind, Noble Sound System and the Boomchucks.
It’s a family-friendly event. A kids’ stage will feature a Dangerous Fun Show and a Damage Skateboard Demo. New this year inside the brewery: musician and poet Ben Weaver will curate “Hop Outside … Inside,” a multimedia experience that gives attendees a chance to learn about organizations like the Minnesota Land Trust, Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, Spokengear, Water Bar, and the Duluth Experience and opportunities to get outside and explore the Duluth environment. Ben Weaver, Molly Maher and Mike Munson will be performing music inspired by outdoor activities.
Food trucks and other vendors will be on site. Mullen says the brewery works with several partners in the emerging Lincoln Park Craft District. The All-American Club and the newly opened OMC Smokehouse will be serving food. Frost River Trading Co. will again host a games area with fun activities for the whole family.
Bent Paddle will be releasing Kanū, a new year-round session pale ale, at the festival. The brewery is also planning infusions and cask versions of each of its regular beers for the event. Tickets will be sold at the gate for $15 and include a Festiversary pint glass (while supplies last) and a beer.
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