Discover the Ale Trail: Your Guide to Lake Superior Craft Breweries
I’m a firm believer that the best stories come from a night spent on a bar stool. Maybe it’s all the Kerouac I read in university, but my favourite part of visiting a new place has always been looking for new spots to grab a drink after a long day of travelling. There’s nothing like sitting up at a bar with the people that frequent them to get a feel for what the locals are all about (Bonus: the regulars will be thankful for a new face to share their stories with, and they’ll give you the rundown — the good, the bad, the ugly), and these days there’s no shortage of options. With the rising popularity of craft beer, breweries have been popping up along the shores of Lake Superior, all with their own unique spin on the flavours of the region.
I was first introduced to craft beer when I worked at LCBO after high school. I hadn’t developed much of a palate beyond Smirnoff Ice and Palm Bays, so when customers came in looking for craft beer, I would look up at the wall of choices in utter confusion and hope they couldn’t tell I didn’t know what an IPA was. One of the perks of the job, however, was that representatives from Ontario breweries would come by and have us sample their lines. That’s when I learned that beer can be just as fun and nuanced as wine.
My own backyard of Thunder Bay, Ontario is home to Sleeping Giant Brewing Company. Nestled in the heart of town, Sleeping Giant’s lively taproom is loved by locals, and I would highly recommend popping in if you’re here for a visit. They have a great range of beers whether you’re looking for something classic (try Northern Logger) or feeling adventurous (try Skull Rock Oatmeal Stout), there’s something for everyone. They have an assortment of local snacks, but what I really love is that you can bring your own food, too. So, you can grab some take-out from any one of our amazing local restaurants and come and sip on a taste of my hometown.
It doesn’t have to stop there. If you’re thirsty for a little more adventure than you can find in your fridge, look no further than the Lake Superior Ale Trail. The craft beer enthusiasts at Lake Superior Circle Tour have mapped out the breweries all along the perimeter of the lake for die-hards and sight-seers to enjoy along the way. Here are a few of the breweries on my wish list:
Boasting views of its namesake from the patio, Slate Island Brewing Company is located in Terrace Bay, ON and makes the town and land surrounding it an integral part of the brewing process. Slate Island Brewing Company also uses Lake Superior water as a base to experiment with unique flavour profiles. A friend of mine who paid a visit told me that the owner is happy to come to your table to tell you about the beer or even give you a tour of the brewery. That’s how she found out the hint of rhubarb in her beer came straight from a local’s backyard garden.
As I poured over their menu, Slate Island’s selection of beer cocktails immediately called my name. Their menu features familiar favourites like Mixed Fruit Beer Sangria or Baesar (Beer Caesar). My heart was set on the Stout Float, which they liken to an ice cappuccino and list as a must-try. I’m thankful Terrace Bay is just a short road trip from home because the Stout Float is definitely on my summer bucket list.
You’ll find a taste of Canadian brewing history at Northern Superior Brewing Co. in Sault Ste. Marie. The brewery was founded in 1907 by J.J. Doran and had facilities in Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, and Fort William (now Thunder Bay), and was the first employee-owned brewing cooperative in North America. Today, Northern Superior is located amongst the heritage buildings of the city’s downtown core. You can’t leave without trying their best-selling Northern Superior Lager, clean and crisp with a dry finish, or the Northern Red Maple, which, you guessed it, delights everyone with its characteristic Canadian maple flavour.
Red Jacket Brewing Company lives in the historic Michigan House Cafe. The Michigan House was built in 1905, and the current owners are dedicated to gathering stories and maintaining the area’s history. The building is full of original woodwork, hand-painted tiles, and even a ceiling mural painted by the Milwaukee Artist’s Association shortly after the building’s construction in 1906.
You could spend an afternoon hiking the Keweenaw Peninsula or go for a stroll downtown and pretend you’re in Stars Hollow — seriously, this place looks like a Gilmore Girls set — and reward yourself with one of Red Jacket’s many options on tap. Their staple “Our Brown Ale” is an English malt beer brewed to honour the customary flavours of historic downtown Calumet. They also have seasonal brews on tap so be sure to ask your server. Red Jacket even has a full food menu and lodging accommodations if you’re looking to extend your stay.
Next stop: South Shore Brewery where the owners are passionate about building a fun beer culture and avoiding “bummer beers.” The tap house is nestled between two restaurants, The Deep Water Grille and The Alley, on the beautiful waterfront of Chequamegon Bay. South Shore’s key to fun beer is a balance of tradition and innovation, which you’ll find in every sip of their creative specialty brews. Guests are guaranteed a real taste of Wisconsin with varieties inspired by the land surrounding them like the Ice Caves IPA or fall-time favourite Children of the Gourd, which is brewed with a whopping 50 pounds of local pumpkin in the boil.
Welcome to Duluth, home of a booming craft brewery scene. Bent Paddle Brewing Co. is a 30-barrel production brewery with a focus on sustainability that resides in Duluth’s craft district. Its founders have years of experience in the brewing industry and proudly use Lake Superior water in all of their inventive craft brews. They have a massive tap list ranging from year-round staples, specialty brews, small-batch pilot beers, and even non-alcoholic options. The pilot brewery, where they design new recipes and experiment with production techniques, is actually attached to the tap room, and they encourage guests to give award-winning pilot brewer Neil Caron a wave as he creates Bent Paddle’s next limited-edition beer.
Whether you’re looking for a hazy IPA, low-cal lager, or sour ale, Bent Paddle Brewing Co. has got you covered, and you can even bring them home. Be sure to grab some of their glass growlers and stock up on your favourites to impress your friends back home.
Plan your Lake Superior craft beer crawl now!
If you’re thinking about gearing up for your own circle tour of Lake Superior, be sure to include the Ale Trail on your itinerary. Each brewery is passionate about their trade, making craft beer fun and approachable, and the communities they serve. It’s a fun way to center yourself with the land, and, just maybe, you’ll have a few great bar stories for the books.