Bent Paddle Brewing Co.
Go here if you love: Environmental activism with your hops.
What it’s like: In 2018, Bent Paddle traded in its cozy 1,200-square-foot taproom for an impressive 5,200-square-foot space a block away. It includes a kids’ corner with foosball and air hockey; a bar; comfy chairs by the fireplace; intimate seating for first dates, and an outdoor patio that spans the front of the building. Community is key for this brewery: Local art decorates the walls, a staff portrait hangs above the mantel and some of the tables were made by the city’s assistant fire chief. But Bent Paddle is defined by its commitment to clean water. “Water is our raw material. We want to protect it,” said Laura Mullen, an owner and founder.
Unexpected treat: Cows —- yes, cows — made a guest appearance at the taproom on our recent visit, for a yoking demonstration.
What to drink: The four core beers of Bent Paddle: Venture Pils, Bent Hop, 14° ESB and Black Ale.
What to eat: Order in from a variety of local restaurants, including the nearby OMC Smokehouse, Lee’s Pizza and Corktown Deli.
Canal Park Brewing Co.
Go here if you love: A Lake Superior view.
What it’s like: “When you’re in Duluth, it’s about the lake,” said owner Rockie Kavajecz. If you share that opinion, one brewery offers Lake Superior views that can’t be beat. Canal Park’s lovely back patio has a direct sightline of the harbor, sits just off the Lakewalk for people-watching and stays open year-round (there’s a firepit for chilly nights). Inside, you’ll find a spacious dining room that’s light-filled and family-friendly. Even indoors you’ll feel like you’re right on the shore. “Ships look like they’re going to come steaming right through the window,” said Kavajecz.
Unexpected treat: Solar panels line the roof, making this a uniquely sustainable operation.
What to drink: Try one of their award-winning brews, such as the Nut Hatchet Brown Ale or Hank & Dab’s Pale Ale. Check in every other Friday to see what flavor infusions they’re trying for their limited-batch Friday Firkin series.
What to eat: One of the city’s few licensed brewpubs, Canal Park offers a true restaurant experience, with a full menu of beachside American classics, from crabcakes and mussels to burgers and fish tacos.
Blacklist Artisan Ales
120 E. Superior St, Duluth, Minn. 55802 , 1-218-606-1610
Go here if you love: Throwing axes.
What it’s like: Like a good mullet — business in the front, party in the back — things get livelier as you make your way to the rear of Blacklist’s taproom, where you’ll find the piece de resistance: an ax-throwing range with three lanes. Sign up in advance to hurl weaponry or take your chances on a walk-in. Just make sure you wear closed-toe shoes or you’ll be borrowing socks and Crocs from the brewery’s communal bin. Ax-throwing has become so popular that rumor has it the brewery is starting a league at the end of the month.
Unexpected treat: One of the few places to have their own hard seltzer on tap. Syrups in flavors such as guava and mojito can be added in, sort of like a boozy Italian soda. You can also drink the hard seltzer straight; it’s mildly sweet and refreshing.
What to drink: A classic witbier, one of the signature brews of this European-inspired brewery. Or try the Finally We Got Our IPA.
What to eat: Order in if you’re looking for something other than bar snacks. Blacklist’s location in the heart — and HART (historic arts and theater district) — of downtown Duluth means you’ll find plenty of delivery options, including sushi next door and Pizza Lucé down the street.
Castle Danger Brewery
Go here if you love: Getting out of the city.
What it’s like: Of all the North Shore breweries, Castle Danger feels the most like a cabin retreat. Its location in the small lakeside city of Two Harbors lends a secluded vibe. The rustic wood paneling and spartan decor doubles down. But there’s nothing provincial about what’s on tap: Some of the best beer in the state — according to the Star Tribune Beer Bracket championship — is made here.
Unexpected treat: Your favorite big city trivia night (hosted by Trivia Mafia) has made it up the shore. Join in on Tuesdays from 6 to 8 p.m.
What to drink: If you’ve never had a Castle Cream Ale, that’s the first order of business. “It’s a gateway beer,” said Castle Danger’s Maddy Stewart. Other year-round offerings include Ode IPA, North Shore Lager, 17-7 Pale Ale and George Hunter Stout. If you’re in the area at the end of May, try the limited-edition Honey Raspberry Wheat beer, made with fresh raspberries and local honey. “It sells like hot cakes,” said Stewart.
What to eat: Bring your own picnic, try a food truck or order in from one of the area restaurants, including Do North Pizza, Lou’s Fish House and North Shore Pizza Café.
Go here if you love: Your family… but you also need a beer.
What it’s like: The historic Fitger’s complex on Lake Superior is a one-stop shop that includes a hotel, three restaurants, a brewery, two nightclubs, a salon and a small indoor mall. But if you just want a beer and a place to park the kids, wend your way to Fitger’s brewpub. Here in the pre-Prohibition brewing facility, an approachable restaurant with American classics is situated against a historic backdrop.
Unexpected treat: You can call up to an hour ahead to get on the waitlist.
What to drink: Try crowd-pleasers like the Apricot Wheat ale or award-winners like Witchtree E.S.B. and Big Boat Oatmeal Stout.
What to eat: A real-deal brewpub like Fitger’s has a full menu, which includes their famous wild rice burgers and beer-battered onion rings. Cap it off with a housemade Driftwood Draft root beer float.
Go here if you love: An unpretentious beer hall.
What it’s like: Hoops combines the convivial spirit and long tables of a classic beer hall with the energy and the neon lights of a sports bar. It exudes the authenticity of a family-run operation because it is one: Owner Dave Hoops, one of the forefathers of Duluth craft brewing, runs the taproom with the help of his wife, Laura, and their children. “You can’t come to Duluth and not talk to Dave Hoops,” Laura Mullen of Bent Paddle said. Hoops is usually milling about, ready to bend your ear about all things beer. Families welcome.
Unexpected treat: The barkeep has a byline: Hoops writes a regular beer column for the Duluth News Tribune.
What to drink: At the helm is a master brewer and a Great American Beer Festival Award winner several times over, so if ever there were a place to grab a flight of multiple styles of beers, it’s here at Hoops. All the servers are Cicerone certified (akin to beer sommeliers) so you’ll have plenty of guidance.
What to eat: Bring your own food or order in from nearby Northern Waters Smokehaus and Vitta Pizza.
Lake Superior Brewing Co. Photo: Bo Allen
Go here if you love: Old-school craft beer.
What it’s like: Opened in 1994, Lake Superior Brewing Co. is the oldest production microbrewery in Duluth, though the name goes back to the 1870s, when brewing first began in the port city. Today, Lake Superior Brewing holds a special place in the hearts of area beer drinkers. For many, it was their first taste of craft beer. The no-frills taproom is tucked into a nondescript office complex in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Unexpected treat: Grab a growler of craft root beer made with local honey and Lake Superior water.
What to drink: The Kayak Kölsch, an iconic, easy-drinking North Shore beer.
What to eat: The nearby Duluth Grill delivers to the taproom.
Go here if you love: A stiff drink.
What it’s like: This romantic cocktail room is unlike any of the other stops on this list, and not just because it serves spirits instead of ales. A tiny sliver of a bar on the ground floor was formerly the entire cocktail room; now it’s an atrium that leads upstairs to a striking backlit bar. Here you’ll find a sweet chandelier-lit seating area. But don’t let the mood lighting fool you, this isn’t so fancy you can’t keep your outing casual. The distillery’s stills are in plain view from the bar, and you can order the “epic snack plate” with Northern Waters Smokehaus salmon delivered to your table. (What better way to say “we found love in Duluth” than over a plate of smoked fish?) It’s classy but comfortable, with a dash of speakeasy.
Unexpected treat: They wash and reuse bottles. Bring yours in and get $1 off a cocktail. Vikre also recently launched a canned cocktail, the Frenchie, which means you can take a taste of the bar home with you.
What to drink: Try a tasting flight of four spirits with house tonic and lime. Or order from the extensive cocktail menu, which rotates seasonally.
What to eat: Bring in sandwiches from the nearby Northern Waters Smokehaus, or order a snack plate, pretzel sticks, pizza rolls or sandwich cookie delivered right to your table.
Earth Rider Brewery
Go here if you love: A dive bar in spirit, craft brewery in the glass.
What it’s like: The Earth Rider taproom has a divey feel and a name to match: the Cedar Lounge. Built in 1912 as a tied-house tavern (basically an old-timey taproom) for the Northern Brewing Co., the Cedar Lounge’s roots run deep in Superior. Earth Rider keeps the neighborhood bar magic alive — from the dark interior to the Heggies pizzas to the 8 p.m. curfew for kids — while bringing its fresh craft beer to the taps.
Unexpected treat: They’ll fill up any growler you bring in.
What to drink: If you like fruity beers, try one of the rotating flavors in their “Crush Series” of sour beers. Otherwise opt for one of the four standards: Superior Pale Ale, Precious Material Helles Lager, Caribou Lake IPA and North Tower Stout.
What to eat: We mentioned they serve Heggies, right? There’s also fresh Ashland Baking Co. pretzels served with a spicy Wisconsin-made Koops’ mustard.
Go here if you love: Live music and local apples.
What it’s like: The first of its kind in Duluth, this cidery prides itself on its sense of place. It’s located in the former postal service stables, with the original truss ceilings and brick walls that owners Jake and Valerie Scott scraped by hand. Borrowing from the terroir-obsessed winemakers of Europe, Scott said he wants to make all of his ciders from “100% Great Lakes region apples.” The front seating area easily converts into a stage and the sound system was designed with live performances in mind. Business has been so good, Scott said, they’re already working on a taproom expansion.
Unexpected treat: Three words: Bingo. Taco. Tuesdays.
What to drink: The flagship ciders include Gitch and Greenstone, but keep your eyes peeled for surprises like the Duluth Coffee Co. collaboration Las Lajas or the chai cider popular in the colder months. Wine lovers will appreciate the Fleur de Blanc, aged in chardonnay oak barrels.
What to eat: There are some locally sourced snacks, but if you want a meal, bring your own or order in. Local food trucks like Oasis Del Norte taco truck and the Rambler also make regular appearances.
Ursa Minor Brewing
Go here if you love: Wood-fired pizza with your beer.
What it’s like: Inspired by cabin life, this rustic taproom is cozy, especially when they’ve fired up the pizza oven. A spacious, greenery-lined patio fills up in the warmer months, but when it’s cold, sidle up to the gorgeous timber frame bar accented with a burnished copper inlay. Ursa Minor sits right between Duluth Cider and Wild State Cider on a developing stretch of W. Superior Street in the Lincoln Park craft district. Think of it as a tidy three-stop taproom crawl with plenty of food options to keep you from tipping over.
Unexpected treat: They have a mug club for loyal fans. Pay a one-tme $100 fee and get your 22- or 32-ounce mug filled for the same price as a 16-ounce pour. (Your mug will hang above the bar for you to claim anytime you visit.)
What to drink: Try the Hazy ’Bout You IPA, a collaboration with Earth Rider Brewery, or the Bear-ista Coffee Milk Stout, a collaboration with Almanac Coffee.
What to eat: The simple margherita pizza or the Wise Yker, with local Yker Acres hot sausage, pork loin, red sauce, pickled red onion, Gorgonzola and Parmesan. Finish with a Nutella pizza because, Nutella.
Wild State Cider
Go here if you love: Yoga with your cider and a quiet nook for a date.
What it’s like: In a bright and airy two-story taproom, Wild State Cider offers a uniquely modern drinking haven, with warm wood tones, loads of natural light, a wall of plants and some charming if twee merch. Sneak upstairs to the lofted seating area, great for a date or just a quiet place to do some work. In warmer months, garage doors on the side of the building are open and the taproom spills out onto the patio. A yoga class is hosted in the taproom on Saturday mornings.
Unexpected treat: A refurbished ski lift chair for photo opps.
What to drink: Think all cider is basically apple juice? Think again. Try the Alpiner, aged in Vikre whiskey barrels, or the delightfully tropical pineapple cider. Grab some cans or a growler to take home. It’s all 100% fresh-pressed with no added sugar and no chemical preservatives.
What to eat: In addition to a rotating cast of food trucks, Wild State runs the Up North outpost of the Potter’s Pasties truck, a popular Twin Cities purveyor of British meat pies. If the food trucks aren’t around, try a cheese plate or snacks prepared in-house.
Thirsty Pagan Brewing Photo: Brian McCarthy
Go here if you love: Classic pizza and beer in a laid back, historic setting.
What it’s like: The taproom and restaurant got an upgrade when it moved from its former location into the historic Soo Line Depot in early summer. The 110-year-old former train depot is an iconic piece of Superior history, and the vibrant 14-year-old brewery is keeping the space alive. It’s a boon for music fans as well; the new space has better acoustics for the taproom’s stacked calendar of live music shows. Plus, the parking is better.
Unexpected treat: Live music every night of the week.
What to drink: The consistent and popular Uffda! Pale Ale.
What to eat: Housemade pizzas (including a gluten-free crust option), calzones, sandwiches and bar food. If you happen to make it for happy hour, Monday through Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m., grab a TPB bread: a 10-inch round of baked pizza dough with toppings and dipping sauces for ripping and sharing.