Northland breweries seeking bolder ingredients, more elaborate recipes in craft beer

By KBJR News 1

May 16, 2014 Updated May 16, 2014 at 6:32 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - In 1996, Fitger's Brewhouse and Taphouse in Duluth began brewing again, ahead of the craft brew boom that has since followed.

"I mean, everybody should know we are in the peak of brewing history right now," said Fitger's Minister of culture and propaganda Brad Nelson. "We have more breweries in the United States right now than we have ever had in the history of brewing."

Now, in 2014, Nelson says it's clear the crowd favorite in the Northland is the hop–drenched ale styles, like the American IPA.

"That said, you do not need to be an IPA lover in order to be a craft beer lover," laughed Nelson.

It's a demand that Canal Park Brewing Company Brewmaster Badger Colish says will keep an IPA on their tap indefinitely.

"At the same time, people are trying to expand their palettes, too, and they do venture into other places," said Colish, standing by massive stainless steel kettels, "sour beers are a booming trend; barrel–aged beers are a growing trend."

"There are sweet beers, there are malty, thick beers," listed Nelson, "there are light beers—like a Pilsner—that's just perfect for a hot summer day."

The demand by consumers for the latest perfected taste, and the push by craft brewers to expand their horizons has led Mike Maxim, of Dubh Linn Irish Pub, and his nano–brewery team overseas to Belgium, where they delved into the Belgian style before returning to Duluth with new ideas.

"Belgian beer really is some of the best beer in the world," said Maxim. "It is amazing; they've really perfected the craft."

Maxim says they'll soon release a new Belgian style on tap, but in the meantime have been pushing other artisan brews, like the burbon–barrel stout Harmon's Killer Brew, with a hint of vanilla bean.

While Maxim hopes it opens up the door to new flavors for his customers, he says costlier ingredients and more brewing time can be an issue.

"Most... larger breweries can't afford having their vessels taken up for anywhere from 3 to 6 months at a time," said Maxim, "just sitting, waiting for beer to finish up."

"...sometimes for up to three years in order to age them where our brewing team is satisfied with the product," added Nelson, back at Fitger's.

Nelson says there's a practical reason why craft brewers also love a good ale.

"One reason why ales are so popular in the craft brewing scene is because ales are very fast to push out," said Nelson.

But for Fitger's at least, it won't stop them from making the sacrifices necessary to put their all into the next batch of barrel–aged or Belgian styles that are only growing in popularity.

And for the record, the Belgium beer that Dubh–Linn Pub says will be out later this spring is a Belgian dubbel.

Billy Wagness
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