May is the perfect month to leave daily life behind, hit the road, and enjoy some new drinks with new friends in new places. You don’t have to go far to escape; there are several destinations with exciting craft beer and cocktail communities within a day’s drive of the Twin Cities. So buckle up: it’s adventure time.
The path to the Fargo-Moorhead area is a straight shot from the Cities, and an abundance of worthy breweries, distilleries, and bars await at the end of it. The brewery scene there alone has erupted to the point where it would take an entire weekend to try everything.
Kick things off with some small-batch, experimental IPAs at Junkyard Brewing Company, which recently opened a 1,500-square-foot expansion to their taproom. Drekker Brewing Company has great beers across the board but is especially a destination for hop heads; over half of their tap list is dedicated to IPAs. Drumconrath Brewing is the home of North Dakota beer with an Irish spirit. Fargo Brewing Company’s downtown taproom is a great place to try their award-winning German lager, the “Fargo Original,” or you can have it alongside a meal at the brewery’s Ale House in South Fargo. Flatland Brewery prides itself on experimentation, using beets, potatoes, maple, chipotle-lime, and other out-there ingredients to flavor their beer. Prairie Brothers Brewing is a South Fargo institution thanks in part to their very popular Dreamer Cream Ale.
If you’re in the mood for a beer or a cider, try Wild Terra Cider & Brewing. North Dakota’s first urban cidery and cider bar is housed inside a renovated century-old horse barn and serves their own ciders alongside guest ciders, mead, and local craft beer.
Proof Artisan Distillers makes the most of North Dakota’s grain-centered agriculture and distilled the state’s first single malt whiskey since Prohibition. While whiskey is the flagship, they also distill gin and vodka and offer a wide range of cocktail options.
Wine enthusiasts, head to Prairie Rose Meadery in South Fargo. Owned and operated by National Homebrew Competition gold-medal-winning mead makers Susan and Bob Ruud, the tasting room offers a range of traditional mead (honey only), melomel (fruit mead), and metheglin (spiced mead).
A trip to Fargo/Moorhead isn’t complete without a visit to the recently opened Harold’s on Main, a bar co-owned by Minneapolis musician Har Mar Superstar (Sean Tillman) along with Eric Oddness, Rob Pope, and Frank Bevan—the same trio (plus Bobby Drake) behind the Minneapolis-themed Lake Street Bar in Brooklyn, New York.
La Crosse, Wisconsin
La Crosse is home to a bustling downtown, a beautiful riverwalk, an array of bars and breweries, and the longest-running Oktoberfest in the Midwest, known locally as “Das Beste!”
The city’s beer genes date back to 1858, when Gottlieb Heileman and John Gund founded G. Heileman Brewing Company, which operated until 1996. City Brewery took over the site in 1999 and keeps the brewing tradition alive. Another staple of this beer town is Pearl Street Brewery, western Wisconsin’s original craft brewery started in 1999. Joining them is up-and-comer 608 Brewing, who opened in August 2018 and specializes in New England IPAs.
Turtle Stack Brewery is named after the river turtles that can often be spotted stacked up on logs, bathing in the sun, and serves a wide variety of beers at their cozy downtown taproom. If you’re having trouble deciding, go for the Belgian Blonde. Bodega Brew Pub, another charming watering hole, doesn’t brew its own beer but has 400 beers to choose from, 20 of which are on tap. A few miles up the road in Onalaska lies Skeleton Crew Brew, a pirate-themed nanobrewery located in the same building as Lost Island Wine and Tiki Hut Home Brew Supplies.
The history of La Crosse is written in beer, but spirits are writing their own chapter in the city’s present with the addition in 2018 of La Crosse Distilling Co., the city’s first distillery. Their Fieldnotes Gin is best served with their drier, spice-forward house tonic to form a G&T filled with “complexity, mystery, and curiosity.” Their Fieldnotes Vodka is a gluten-free, potato-based spirit versatile enough to be enjoined in a smooth vodka-based cocktail or sipped on the rocks. The High Rye Light Whiskey is aged with American oak for one day in a toasty barrel to produce a light whiskey with classic rye spice and flavors. All ingredients are locally sourced from the beautiful Driftless Region.
While it’s hard to choose from downtown La Crosse’s numerous fantastic dive bars, a visit to Del’s Bar is non-negotiable. Go for the ambiance, which includes a massive wicker motorcycle hanging over the bar, and stay for one of the best bloody marys in the Midwest.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Besides being a burgeoning dining destination (check out our Whirlwind Restaurant Tour at growlermag.com), Sioux Falls is quickly becoming a drinking destination, too. A mile south of Falls Park sits WoodGrain Brewing Co. and, just across the river, Remedy Brewing Company is currently in the middle of building a new production facility to keep up with the demand for their five most popular beers: Nonsense IPA, Queen Bee Imperial Honey Cream Ale, Espina Mexican Lager, Split-Shift Dakota Common Lager, and Cow Tippah Chocolate Milk Stout.
Phillips Avenue, Sioux Falls’ main drag, was made for bar crawls. Fernson Brewing’s downtown taproom is a five-minute walk from WoodGrain, and smack dab in the middle of the two is Carpenter Bar, a cozy spot for a craft cocktail. Dive-bar lovers, you’re covered, too; head to Lucky’s for a game of pool or to relax on one of their ridiculously comfy sofas. On the other side of town is Hydra Beer Company, an energetic taproom with a compelling heavy metal aesthetic.
Omaha is the longest road trip we’re covering here, but the six-hour car ride is well worth it.
Old Market neighborhood is a great first stop. This pocket of downtown is filled with restaurants, shops, and two stellar drink destinations: Upstream Brewing Company, “Omaha’s Original Brewpub,” established in 1996, and Brickway Brewing and Distillery, the city’s first combination brewery/distillery since before Prohibition.
Lincoln, Nebraska-based Zipline Brewery is known for their artisan ales and lagers. Their Omaha taproom is right across the street from TD Ameritrade Park—the perfect pregame spot if you’re heading to this year’s College World Series (June 15–26).
Get out of downtown and visit the historic Benson neighborhood, a vibrant area filled with great food and live music venues like The Waiting Room, a nationally recognized indie-rock hot spot. Beercade is a haven of—you guessed it—craft beer and classic arcade games. Other neighborhood favorites include Barley Street Tavern, The Sydney, and Burke’s Pub, where patrons can hang with Sam, a friendly Great Dane who’s always down to chill. Benson Brewery makes its home in a renovated movie theater and serves pub food to pair with craft ales and beer cocktails. Especially tasty is the Ann-Margret, served on the rocks with Havana Club rum, Yellow Chartreuse, fresh strawberries and lime, simple syrup, and the Benson Blonde Ale. Keep the fun going at Infusion Brewing Company, where you can sample through more than 10 beers.
Hop back on I-80 and get off at Exit 442, also known as “Beer City.” Founded as a way to help promote local craft-beverage companies, the area is home to Lucky Bucket Brewing, Cut Spike Distillery, Nebraska Brewing Company, Infusion, Kros Strain Brewing, and Pint Nine Brewing, all within a two-and-a-half-mile radius.
Quad Cities, Iowa/Illinois
Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa; Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline, Illinois. These are the Quad Cities of the Iowa/Illinois border, along the convergence of the Rock and Mississippi rivers. And just as the rivers’ waters flow through these cities, a rich selection of craft beer flows through their taprooms.
In Davenport, Great River Brewery and Front Street Brewery sit on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi. A couple blocks away is the Riverfront Trail, nice and convenient for walking off an afternoon of one too many IPAs.
In Bettendorf, Five Cities Brewing’s taproom is filled with gorgeous wooden furniture and floors, exposed brick, and plenty of TVs to catch whatever the big game happens to be that day. Two big garage doors open to a patio with outdoor couches and more TVs—the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon.
In nearby Le Claire, Iowa, Mississippi River Distilling Company features eight different flavors of their Cody Road Whiskey. All of their spirits, including gin, vodka, and seasonal selections, are harvested with grain from within 25 miles of the distillery and served in the distillery’s Cody Road Cocktail House overlooking the Mississippi River.
In Moline, Rebellion Brew Haus brews all their beer on a one-barrel system while cranking out food in their on-site kitchen. (Fun fact: Moline allows bars and breweries to stay open until 3am. Just sayin’.)
Four breweries are tucked into a two-mile radius in Rock Island. Rock Island Brewing Company, or RIBCO, has been locals’ go-to place for beer and live music for almost 30 years. Conversely, Wake Brewing was opened less than two years ago by brothers who were ready to put down some roots after spending two decades on the road playing in rock bands. Bent River Brewing Company has a brewery, bar, and a special events space here in addition to their brewpub in Moline. And then there’s Radicle Effect Brewerks, the Quad Cities’ original nanobrewery and the only taproom in the College Hill West District. Try the cream ale; it’s killer.
This story was updated on May 2, 2019 at 9:15am.