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In the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center off Interstate 94, I took an obligatory picture of the infamous woodchipper from the movie "Fargo," signed by the Coen brothers, and glanced into the case that housed the official crew hat and screenplay. I grabbed a visitors' map, which listed a few cultural and historic attractions. The only other spots prominently bolded on the map were breweries.

Ten years ago a brewery tour of North Dakota would have been quick. Before 2013, the state only had a handful of brewpubs because an archaic law prohibited breweries from serving beer in their taprooms and self-distributing.

One of the first breweries to respond to the changed law was Fargo Brewing Co., which had contract-brewed its beers in Wisconsin before 2013. Focusing on classic beer styles, FBC makes a conscious effort to be Fargo-proud, having named its first beer Woodchipper. While they also serve a session IPA called Dad's that speaks to the midlife-crisis age, the brewery still rocks pretty hard. FBC has hosted big-name acts in its concert hall and parking lot, including 311, Hanson, Atmosphere and Cheap Trick. A few other businesses operate out of the brewery, too, including Wild Terra, a great local cidery with a taproom nearby, and Nice Barber Co. for haircuts.

Fargo's most impressive brewery, in both size and beer offerings, is Drekker Brewing Co. Originally located in a downtown space where Drumconrath Brewing now operates, Drekker moved a few blocks west into a huge brick building that once housed a locomotive repair company. After pouring concrete over the tracks, Drekker installed brew tanks, pinball machines and 24 taps to serve their inventive beers. While a third of those offerings rotate out each fortnight, Drekker is always pouring thick smoothie sours and delicious double IPAs.

Grab a pint and stroll the huge beer hall to admire the murals, which look like the thought projections of a metalhead hallucinating after watching Jon Snow battle the Army of the Dead. Fargo-based artist Punchgut, who does all the fascinating illustrations for each Drekker beer label, is also responsible for the murals.

By year's end, Drekker plans to open Brewhalla, an attached 100,000-square-foot food hall, event center and 40-room hotel. The hotel rooms will pay homage to various Drekker beers, and food stalls will feature some Fargo favorites, including three new concepts from chef Ryan Nitschke, a 2022 James Beard semifinalist for his work at Luna restaurant.

After polishing off a few in Fargo — and a good night's sleep at the new, boutique Jasper Hotel — I drove west on I-94 to Bismarck. Everything was flat and green, besides the once-in-a-while white wind turbine and whorls of tan hay bales.

A bison calf is part of the scenery at Black Leg Brewery, part of Black Leg Ranch in central North Dakota.
A bison calf is part of the scenery at Black Leg Brewery, part of Black Leg Ranch in central North Dakota.

Noah Lederman

As I neared the capital city, Black Leg Brewery was open on the ranch of the same name. The Doan family had originally come to America in 1629. As loyalists to the crown, they handed George Washington a defeat in battle, escaped to Canada and waited a century to return to the States. George Doan homesteaded 160 acres of Dakota Territory land, which today's descendants have turned into an empire. On almost 20,000 acres, they run a bison herd, a hunting outfit and a brewery that produces exceptional beers. After sipping on some Bison Spit, a delicious passionfruit IPA, I traveled across an acre of Black Leg Ranch to where a baby bison sucked the brewer's finger.

Later in downtown Bismarck, I tippled at tiny Gideon's Brewing, where funky flavors are always in rotation. The menu included a butterscotch-flavored Imperial Butter Beer (inspired by Harry Potter), an insane mango sour infused with five different hot peppers, and a Key Lime Pie kettle sour served on nitro — which, like a Guinness, produces smaller bubbles and a creamier top, apropos of a pie.

Mike Frohlich, owner of the Laughing Sun Brewing Co. and a key player in changing the state beer laws, runs his Bismarck brewery like a community center. There's live music, ax-throwing and, as the name tries to encourage, lots of happy energy. "If it's just a place to buy a beer, then we've lost," said Frohlich. "Beer is a community thing." There are great Berliner Weisse sours and a range of IPAs on tap to complement their barbecue menu.

After spending the night in Bismarck, I drove 90 minutes west to Dickinson. There, I found a "community thing" happening at Phat Fish Brewing. Fathers and sons played cornhole on the front lawn, and dozens of people gathered inside for lunch. It was apparently too early for ax-throwing, also offered at Phat Fish.

Phat Fish was worth the stop, partly to break up the drive through endless wheat fields, but also for its great selection of wheat beers. While I sipped a nice tropical-flavored Aloha Sour at the bar, mine was one of the few draft beers poured that day. This far west in the state, craft beer is still an acquired taste that many Dickinsonians haven't acquired; Bud, Miller and Coors Light were the main things keeping Phat Fish afloat. But when three older women ordered a tasting flight to split three ways, it felt like an event.

Noah Lederman's (@SomewhereOrBust) writing has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Outside and Bon Appetit.