Stillwater Day Tripping – Where to Find Craft Beer in Stillwater
One of the things that amazed me the most about Minneapolis, and Minnesota in general, is the amount of things to do there. Who knew you could easily spend a week’s vacation in a state that’s frozen a good portion of the year? When that snow melts though, the scenery is lush and the temperatures are pleasantly mild.
While I spent most of my time in Minneapolis at a travel bloggers conference and exploring the Twin Cities’ craft scene, I did manage to sneak in a few day trips to some of the surrounding cities like Stillwater. Named one of America’s most picturesque towns by USA Today, one of America’s prettiest towns by Forbes, and one of the best fall cities for trees and leaves by Travel & Leisure, Stillwater is definitely a city worth a day trip. More importantly, the city’s history is steeped in beer with a young but growing craft beer scene. Yes, once again there is craft beer in Stillwater!
Located 30 minutes from Minneapolis on the banks of the St Croix River, Stillwater is considered the birthplace of Minnesota. After the Civil War, Stillwater went through several decades of boom as lumber from the thick forests was used to help rebuild the country. With that growth in logging, came a growth in railroads, steamships, gas lights, grand homes, and, yes, lumberjacks.
And where there’s hardworking, thirsty lumberjacks, there’s booze. Thankfully, plenty of German immigrants with a knowledge of brewing lived in Stillwater to help quench that thirst. At one point, Stillwater was home to 13,000 lumberjacks, 40 saloons, 6 breweries, and 6 brothels. Remnants of two of those breweries can still be found today.
A Rich Beer Legacy
Gerhard Knipps opened the original St Croix Brewing in the winter of 1858 near the Tamarack House, the first capitol building of Minnesota. The original St Croix Brewing closed in the late 1800s and the buildings were razed in the 1935. However, the brand was reborn in 1995 by a company in St Paul. The brewery’s current owner, Tod Fyten, purchased St Croix Brewing in 2003 with plans to move the brewery back to Stillwater in the summer of 2017 with a brewery and tap house.
Joseph Wolf Brewing went through a similar period of closure as St Croix Brewing. Joseph Wolf Brewing opened in 1868 and survived until that dark period in history called Prohibition, closing in 1925. The brewery used Stillwater’s hilly landscape to its advantage and stored barrels of beer in both natural and manmade caved borrowed into the sandstone bluff.
Up until a year ago, the original caves were open for tours. However, the site is currently going through a major redevelopment as it transforms to a historic boutique hotel and restaurant. Tours of the caves hope to resume in 2018.
As for the beer itself, two of Joseph’s great grand-daughters resurrected the family business in 2013. While they don’t have a taproom, you can find their beer in many restaurants and bars around Stillwater.
Today, Stillwater stands proud as a popular tourist destination for day trippers and weekenders. The walkable historic town built along the river, the lift bridge, and the many outdoor activities along the river draw tourists to Stillwater. Most of the restaurants and shops are locally owned, offering an authentic Stillwater touch.
Day Tripping in Stillwater
Take some time to get to know Stillwater before hitting up the two existing breweries. I recommend either booking a trolley tour of Stillwater or exploring the city on your own by foot (the tourist board offers a self-guided tour booklet at the visitor’s center). If you chose to huff it on foot, remember that outside of the historic downtown, Stillwater is very hilly. Factor in less time exploring the local breweries…
Another great way to explore Stillwater is via the river. Options range from riverboard cruises to standup paddle boards to the now pedestrian only historic lift bridge. If you have a bike, Stillwater has plenty of trails like the Browns Creek Bike Trail, which begins near Maple Island Brewery and connects to the Gateway Trail. Yes, you can bike from St Paul to Stillwater!
Once you’re done sightseeing and shopping, head on over to Water Street Inn for lunch and your first taste of Stillwater’s craft beer scene. Admittedly, the beer menu falls heavy on the big beer side, but there are a few local options to whet your whistle. You’re visiting Water Street Inn more for the spacious patio, views of the lift bridge (maybe you’ll catch it in action), and their Rueben (with house made corn beef).
Where to find beer in Stillwater
The first of Stillwater’s two breweries on your itinerary – Maple Island Brewing – is located downtown and walkable from Water Street Inn. While the brewery enjoys a nice outdoor space and brews some noteworthy beers, it’s a little too creative for me – brewing a hundred different beers in their first year and a half. When I was there, more than half the beers sampled added some form of adjunct. But hey, if that’s your jam, to each his own brew!
A fan favorite is the namesake Maple Island Bock. If you love maple, you’ll love this lager made with Sanderson Family maple syrup. My favorite was the Cup of Joe Freakshow – an oatmeal stout brewed with cold-pressed coffee and vanilla. It was sweet and smooth and easy drinking on a chilly Saturday afternoon with only 4.7% ABV.
The second and last brewery stop (for now) in Stillwater is Lift Bridge Brewing Company. Located outside of town, you will need to drive to Lift Bridge. Lift Bridge’s beers fall more to the traditional side. My flight included their Hop Dish IPA, 93X Brotherhood Lager, The Warden Milk Stout, Nitro Scottish Ale, and the Cowlaboration #4 Tropical IPA. Each was enjoyable with the 93X Brotherhood Lager standing out the most for a pleasant drinkability and a clean hoppy finish.
While Stillwater’s craft beer scene may be on the small side, the addition of St Croix Brewing will definitely add to its allure. The town is still worth visiting though for its quaint Minnesota feel.
Make it a weekend getaway!
For additional assistance planning your Minnesota vacation, check out the Minnesota Day Trips by Theme guide book.
What would you add to this list on where to find craft beer in Stillwater?
A special thanks to Explore Minnesota for hosting the tour of Stillwater. As always, all opinions remain my own.