Let’s be honest: When it comes to alcohol consumption, a lot has changed in the last 10 years.
In fact, the 2000s have been nothing short of a renaissance in a classier sort of recreational drinking. Ten years ago, you could have visited all the wineries and breweries in south central Minnesota in a day, because there was one brewery and one winery and they were both in the New Ulm area.
Today, that task would be impossible. There are breweries in Mankato, Montgomery and Northfield. Wineries in St. Clair, Waconia and Kasota. And so many more. Some of these places are now dabbling in spirits. There are speakeasies popping up around the region. So yes, it’s a good time to be the kind of person who enjoys the occasional cocktail.
Each place offers its own unique vibe, too. Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery offers an elegant setting. At Morgan Creek you can enjoy a glass among the vines. Mankato Brewery’s lively taproom puts you within spitting distance of the giant fermentation tanks. Imminent Brewing and Tanzenwald Brewing Co. provide two more great reasons to visit historic Northfield. Breweries in small towns such as Montgomery, Blue Earth and Belle Plaine are proving that, if you brew it, they will come.
Does the growing propinquity of booze mean we’re all just getting drunker, though?
Well … yes and no.
In 1873, there were 4,131 breweries in the U.S. As of last year, that figure has risen to 7,450. More people are consuming craft beers, which has taken a bite out of giant brewers such as Annheuser-Busch and Molson Coors. The overall market share of the big dogs has dipped just as craft beer consumption has risen. But many of those craft beers have a higher percentage of alcohol, so if it were a zero-sum swap, then yes, people would in theory be drunker.
Craft beer consumption continues to rise, although the rise appears to be slowing down a tad; last year’s growth was about 4 percent, the third straight year of declining growth. Also, last year saw a record number of microbrewery closures. While 1,049 breweries opened in 2018, 219 were shuttered. Not great (if you’re a fan of craft beer).
Locally, though, all breweries and wineries appear to be going strong, which is to say they’re still open. (No Minnesota breweries, though, made the Brewers Association list of the 50 fastest-growing breweries in the country.) When Mankato Magazine asked them all to describe the experience of their establishments, they responded as you’d expect.
“Half Pint Brewing Company is a small-scale farm brewery where you can sit inside and enjoy a craft beer while playing games or take your beer outside and wander the hopyard while enjoying the idyllic setting,” said the owners of Half Pint.
Next Chapter Winery in New Prague said, “Next Chapter Winery is a vineyard, winery, distillery, restaurant, wedding venue, community center, and home. Using sustainable practices, barrel-aging, and a family-centered approach to business, Next Chapter creates a place where carefully crafted wine, spirits, and food can be enjoyed.”
The takeaway here: We have a proud, strong, growing and — hopefully — stable collection of wineries and breweries to keep us busy. And August is a PERFECT time to check them out.
■ Aspelund Winery, Kenyon
A few words: Aspelund Winery provides customers unique wines. The tasting room is open for tastings, gifts, and friendly neighborhood talks. Take a glass of wine outside to walk through the gardens and vineyard. Spend time on our deck and patio overlooking Wanamingo and the Zumbro River Valley.
Don’t miss: High Country Spice, a tomato wine with a bit of a kick.
■ Doppeleichen Vineyards, New Ulm
A few words: Doppeleichen Vineyards closed to the public during detours caused by road construction and flooding in 2018 and the first part of 2019. We are planning to re-open when detours are lifted. We will offer a cozy environment to taste, drink and buy wine.
Don’t miss: We specialize in local wines made from cold hardy varieties.
■ Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery, Kasota
A few words: “A trip to Chankaska Winery & Distillery is a one of a kind experience. We offer a wide variety of wines, spirits and delicious brick oven pizzas. Walk the trails, sit by the fire or grab a spot on our beautiful deck and patio! We hope you enjoy!”
Don’t miss: The MN Marquette that uses cold-climate grapes from our vineyard! (I attached a picture)
■ Indian Island Winery, Janesville
A few words: Indian Island Winery is a place where everyone can come to relax, enjoy fine wine, have a meal, and become a part of our winery family. Admire the beautiful scenery surrounding our patio and reminisce about the history that the land provides us!
Don’t miss: Marquette is a wine we are most known for. It has won numerous gold medals and is Semi-Dry Aged with American Oak chips offering Aromas of spice, black currant, and blackberry.
■ Javens Family Vineyard, St. Clair
A few words: We are a family owned and operated winery where we want you to feel right at home! Enjoy the wine, have great conversations and socialize with family and friends on the patio overlooking the vineyard. Our vineyard dogs are always ready to greet you!
Don't miss: New Traditions — Easy drinking semi-sweet blend pairs great with buttered popcorn.
■ Morgan Creek, New Ulm
A few words: Playful. Musical. Natural. Wine, craft beers, wood-fired cuisine and unforgettable experiences, all created with a passion for sustainable farming and regionally grown products. Wines created with celebration in mind. And in Southern Minnesota, there's much to celebrate. Savor the seasons with wines from the sustainable, family owned operation devoted to lasting experiences in heart, soul and taste.
Don’t miss: Puck's Pride — This is a Morgan Creek Vineyards award-winning dry red made from the Frontenac grape varietal developed by the University of Minnesota.
■ Next Chapter Winery, New Prague
A few words: Next Chapter Winery is a vineyard, winery, distillery, restaurant, wedding venue, community center, and home. Using sustainable practices, barrel-aging, and a family-centered approach to business, Next Chapter creates a place where carefully crafted wine, spirits, and food can be enjoyed. Cheers to your Next Chapter!
Don’t miss: Marquette — 3-year barrel-aged red, Minnesota grapes, rich, smooth, unforgettable.
■ Parley Lake Winery, Waconia
A few words: Parley Lake Winery, the perfect blend of rustic elegance and art reimagined. A picturesque boutique winery nestled in the heart of the Midwest.
Don’t miss: Marquette — Structured, fruit forward red wine with hints of vanilla and oak.
■ Sovereign Estate, Waconia
A few words: At Sovereign Estate, we strive to produce world-class wines using our estate-grown grapes, Minnesota grown grapes and grapes from around the nation. Our vineyard grows exquisite Marquette, La Crescent, and Frontenac Blanc, and our winemaking style is to highlight the unique quality of these Minnesota grapes.
Don’t miss: Marquette Reserve ‘15 — Aged in Hungarian oak barrels, which lend complex notes of coffee and cocoa along side the cherry and raspberry.
■ Vintage Escape Winery, Kilkenny
A few words: Vintage Escapes Winery offers a vintage-inspired tasting room with large windows looking out at a picturesque view of a lake and countryside. Sit out on the outdoor patio with a glass or bottle of beautifully crafted wine while taking in the views and fresh air. Wines are available by flight, glass or bottle. Bottles are available for both on- and off-sale so be sure to take a few bottles home with you. Vintage Escapes also offers shareable plates and desserts to pair with their wines. Live music events are scheduled almost every weekend.
Don’t miss: We have a delicious raspberry dessert wine completely crafted out of raspberries grown by Lorence’s Berry Farm in Northfield.
■ Giesenbrau Bier Co., New Prague
A few words: In our family friendly, small town brewery we aim to bring Bavaria stateside. Although many of our biers have a decidedly German twist, we brew a wide variety of modern styles. We believe there's nothing better than biers with friends in the biergarten. Prost!
Don’t miss: Traditional German and Czech lagers
■ Half Pint Brewing Co., Waseca
A few words: Half Pint Brewing Company is a small-scale farm brewery where you can sit inside and enjoy a craft beer while playing games or take your beer outside and wander the hopyard while enjoying the idyllic setting. The brewer specializes in beers made with his own farm grown ingredients.
Don’t miss: Hannah’s Honey Cream Ale, brewed with locally sourced honey
■ Imminent Brewing, Northfield
A few words: We are a brewery and taproom using local ingredients to craft quality ales and lagers and bring the flavors of the Cannon Valley into our beers. Food is available from nearby restaurants, grocery stores and a variety of rotating food trucks and vendors. We have a large outdoor patio and live music inside in the evenings.
Don’t miss: Gateway Cream Ale — Our take on the traditional American cream ale, bushels of flaked corn give this approachable beer an elevated sweetness, while still finishing nice and dry. We’ve also crafted this to remove gluten!
■ LocALE, Mankato
A few words: At LocAle Brewing Company, we created an open and bright taproom where family and friends can gather to talk, play games and enjoy our twelve distinct craft beers. Many of our beers are brewed with local Minnesota ingredients and reflect the culture and landscape of the Mankato area.
Don’t miss: Bachelor Farmer is brewed with a unique Norwegian yeast and has tangerine and orange notes from both hops and yeast.
■ Lost Sanity, Madelia
A few words: Our brewery is a small father and son business. Dad(Doug) makes for good conversation and Son,(Caleb) makes really awesome beer. Come in to a family friendly environment and enjoy our locally crafted beer. We are happy to help you decide which of our specialty crafted beers you might like.
Don’t miss: Our best selling beer is our Catatonic Cream Ale. Golden Light Ale brewed with English malts, flaked corn, flaked Barley, and fermented with German Kölsch yeast making this a fresh, fruity, crisp beer suited for any occasion.
■ Mankato Brewery, Mankato
A few words: It has been great to bring back a production brewery to the greater Mankato area. We have had a lot of support from the community as a whole. We enjoy being part of the increased growth of agra-tourism.
Don’t miss: Mad Butcher IPA. This is a fresh tasting IPA with juicy and citrusy character. Perfect for all beer lovers!
■ Montgomery Brewing Co., Montgomery
A few words: In small batches, we hand craft full-flavored beer for hard working people. We are there for your everyday celebration, the little things that make life rewarding. Whether it’s another dollar earned, a bit of dirt under your fingernails, or purely the pride of accomplishment. We invite you to sit back, pour a glass and do whatever it is you do, enjoy the craft.
■ Oswald Brewing Co., Blue Earth
A few words: At Oswald Brewing Company, we feature seven craft beers. Our line-up includes: Yggdrasil Brown Ale, Fjord Farm Ale, Valkyrie Wheat, Berserker NPA (Norwegian Pale Ale), Thor's Thirst, Loki IPA and Erik the Red. Our craft brewing methods and dedicated team set us apart from others in the industry.
Don’t miss: Yggdrasil Brown Ale — Chocolate malt, lactose, and a blend of spices.
■ Schell’s Brewery, New Ulm
A few words: Nestled on the wooded hillside banks of the Cottonwood River, Schell's Brewery gives visitors a one-of-kind, old-world experience. From turn-of-the-century brick buildings, Victorian gardens, tame peacocks and deer, to an authentic beirgarten, Schell's Brewery is a destination trip for any beer lover.
Don’t miss: Traditional and modern German-style lagers and ales.
■ Tanzenwald Brewing Co., Northfield
A few words: Tanzenwald serves an eclectic list of beer styles in their taproom including growlers for off-site consumption, and distributes kegs locally. The Head Brewer, Steve Pittman, has spent many years developing his own recipes, which feature bold, hop-forward IPAs; clean, easy-drinking pale ales and pilsners; and unique barrel-aged and sour beers.
Don’t miss: Guns-A-Blazin' Double IPA — A big beer created with a nod to the original West Coast style. Hops and bitterness balanced with lots of malt up front.
A few words: Our brewery is unique, as it is in the country and lies within the MN River Valley. We have 24 different beers on tap along with our own Patrick's Honey Pot Rootbeer, so there is always a variety. During our business hours, there is always a food truck available.
Don’t miss: Joker of Hearts Kriek Lambic, a Cherry Belgian Style Sour