Beer scene in Minot, North Dakota - 2016

Originally posted in the Brandon Sun, July 29 2016

I just got back from the North Dakota State Fair in Minot and I just find it interesting to see a beer scene boom in a city with a similar population and demographics as Brandon. While I was talking with the locals, the biggest thing mentioned was that the oil price crash has affected the local economy to the point where restaurants and pubs were closing down due to lack of business. Two years ago I wrote about Souris River Brewing, a booming brewpub that had nearly all tables full whenever I visited.. but in my most recent visits this year, there were usually three or four other patrons at any given time… So has the craft beer bubble bursted in the Magic City?

Actually no, while Minot’s economy is more focused on the oil industry than Brandon’s economy, the craft beer scene has actually seen a boom since I first wrote about about Souris River Brewing back in 2014. For Souris River themselves, their original brewmaster/part owner of Souris River recently visited the guys over at the always amazing Rebellion Brewing in Regina to create a Canada/USA collaboration beer. Unfortunately since then, the brewmaster left the brewpub and Souris River Brewing is now under new ownership, and with that - they have a new brewmaster. According to the staff over at Souris River Brewing, the new brewmaster has a microbiology background, which could mean that Souris River is planning on creating their own strains of yeast, creating more sour beers (they had two on tap when I was there) and changing their beer lineup. The beer lineup while I was there were the beers from the old brewmaster - Sour Vice - an incredibly sour ale that makes your mouth puck up, Funk Farm - a sour saison that appears to have notes of Brett yeast which gives the beer a flavour that I can only describe as “barn yard flavour” - which was actually being worked on when I visited the brewmaster back in April, so I was glad to be able to try the beer before it was gone for good! Now, Souris River’s first “new brewmaster beer”, a German-style hefeweizen wheat ale is being released today, just in time for near the end of the North Dakota State Fair. Unfortunately I’m not able to try it out but next time I’m in Minot, I’ll be back at Souris River to see how the beers have changed with the new brewmaster.

If you’ve ever gone down to Grand Forks or Fargo, you’ve likely heard of JL Beers, a regional chain pub is all about serving the best craft beer available and keeping the menu very simple - only fresh made burgers, fries and fresh cut potato chips. I’ve now been down to Minot’s new JL Beers location three times since it opened up and I have a blast every time I go down. This past weekend JL Beers had a tap takeover by Founders Brewing out of Michigan. This is more of a tap takeover than Liquor Mart’s Barn Hammer tap takeover at 10th & Vic (2/4 beers is not a takeover, MLCC). While the beer tap takeover wasn’t a full tap takeover, Founders Brewing had seven beers on tap! If you’ve never had Founders’ beer before, they are regarded as one of the best breweries in the world. Founders’ delicious Breakfast Stout actually got banned in a few states for the label depicting a toddler eating breakfast. Founders’ Kentucky Bourbon Stout is rated on as the 12th best beer in the world, and it is freaking amazing.. but the staff flat out laughed at me when I didn’t think I wanted more than a sample of it.. but I obliged and at $8.75 USD for a 12oz tulip glass, it may seem like I was getting ripped off.. the beer is 12.4% ABV. Before going for a full 12oz glass of the beer, I had a flight of five other Founders’ beers ranging from a Raspberry Wheat Ale to a strong Double IPA that tops out at 12%. I discovered that with the beer tap takeover, they were giving away swag to anyone who ordered the beer, so I ended up with a Founders bottle opener, pint glass and a tshirt! How sweet is that?! I hope we see a pub like JL Beers in Brandon one day, but for now we do have Barley Brothers in Winnipeg - their Pembina Avenue location boasts the largest beer tap list in the entire country at 150 beers, though much of their stock is beyond its best before date.

One common discussion I overheard customers discussing at both Souris River and JL Beers was “Have you gone to the ‘Pour House’ yet this week?” The Pour House is Minot’s newest craft beer pub, a small pub two blocks over from Souris River Brewing that gives you the right to pour your beer, just like as if you were filling up a soda at a fast food restaurant. The ability to pour your own beer is too liberal for Manitobans, but it’s something that I seem would be much more common in places like the West Coast in the United States and especially in Europe. So at the Pour House, you show up, show some identification and a credit card (for legal reasons), you get an NFC-like enabled tap card that you use to turn on the tap for the beer you want to drink. The cool part about this is that you’re not paying for a pint or a glass or a small pour, you pay per ounce and the general going rate was approximately 40 cents per ounce. I went with a 10 ounce pour of a very foamy Belgian-style witbier from the ever great Oskar Blues Brewery out of Colorado followed by an amazing Double IPA by Fulton Beer out of Minneapolis. In fact, when I was deciding between two Double IPAs, one of the customers told me not to bother with the other Double IPA as she felt that Fulton’s Double IPA was pure heaven, sure enough - she was right! The Fulton Double IPA was tropical, very bitter, yet easy to drink. I had a very brief chat with the bartender/owner and he told me that the Pour House has been open for only two months now and while Minot’s economy is tanking, he’s consistently getting a great turnout night after night, in fact - I saw him changing kegs no less than twice in the 45 minutes I was there. 

For off-sales, most of you know that the Marketplace Liquor right off of Broadway is one of the best places to get beer, whether it’s tall cans, craft beer or two fours of Bud Light. Minneapolis’ Surly Brewing is now available in Minot so their beer is well worth picking up when you’re in town. Marketplace Liquor actually has some real competition now with Cashwise Liquor on 16th Street SW (near Gordman’s), not only does Cashwise have every single one of their beers available in their wall-to-wall coolers, they also have a selection of beers that you can’t find at Marketplace, and not only that - their staff is incredibly passionate about their beer. I purchased a six pack of Surly Furious IPA at Cashwise and had a 5 minute chat about the brewery, and this isn’t the first time it’s happened there - last time it was a five minute chat about Belgian-style ales I should be checking out. The big upside to Cashwise was that they had a larger wheat ale selection in stock, which was a huge plus for me as I was getting sick of IPAs during my entire trip, but Marketplace on the other hand was promoting the heck out of IPAs.. which isn’t a bad thing, especially when their staff told me that the six pack I was picking up of Oskar Blues’ Dale’s Pale Ale was available fresh and cold in the cooler.

If I had the money and time, I’d spend more than two or three days just checking out the beer scene in Minot. One place I miss out every time I’m in Minot is the Tap Room - a pub/restaurant that’s more catered to the Cody's in the world - heavy influence on Belgian imports (not Stella) and beer that pairs well with a fine meal. Maybe next time!

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