Oktoberfest is one of those words we hear and recognize, but most of us don’t know much more about its origin than a throwback to Germany, beer and October—thank goodness for cognates. In fact, if we had the space to get really nerdy and I could put my English major to use, I’d tell you that the English language developed from West Germanic, as did the current German language, and therefore many of our sounds and words are similar. And since this is a food column, I’d tell you why our food words for many meats differ from the animal names they are derived from…but that’s a nerdy story for another day.
Oktoberfest dates back to 1810 when Bavarian Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen on October 12. Prince Ludwig later became King Louis I, and their marriage festival lasted five days, concluding with an open arena horse race in the Theresienwiese or “Therese’s green.” In modern times, Oktoberfest is a two-week festival in Munich which ends on the first Sunday in October. The mayor of Munich kicks it off by tapping the first keg, and over the course of those two weeks, over 2 million gallons of beer are consumed. Munich breweries each erect their own plywood beer hall, and there are parades, beer wagons, amusement rides, music and dancing.
Many U.S. cities with strong German roots also celebrate Oktoberfest and hold festivals of their own. Microbreweries and brew pubs are popping up along the North Shore and all have something unique to offer, so this seemed like the perfect time to highlight some tried and true breweries, as well as some new ones.
Lake Superior Brewing Co., Duluth
Lake Superior Brewing Co. isn’t a new brewery, but it has certainly been rebooted. The brewery was purchased in 2020, and the new owners went to work, moving the brewery’s location to Duluth’s previously dry Lakeside neighborhood. It has been quite a journey getting to this point with a full remodel of the former fitness center, and since their soft opening in July, Lake Superior Brewing has been putting out good food and great customer service. Currently offering a “guest tap” supplied by Bent Paddle, Lake Superior Brewing anticipates their own brewery to be finished this fall and to offer their own beers at that time. They plan to resurrect some of the beers from days gone by, such as their Sir Duluth Stout. Keep an eye out for fan favorites, as well as some new brews.
In addition to beer, Lake Superior Brewing offers several craft cocktails, as well as freshly baked bread from their wood fired oven. The menu consists of wood fired pizza, burgers, appetizers and more. Daily specials rotate and include locally harvested fare.
Lake Superior Brewing has pet-friendly outdoor seating for the warmer days, and a comfortable and fully renovated indoor seating space for indoor dining. Located right on the Lakewalk, it has convenient access to both the residents of the neighborhood and travelers passing through.
Voyageur Brewing Company, Grand Marais
You can’t miss Voyageur Brewing Company, located on Highway 61 with a lovely rooftop patio view of the Grand Marais Harbor. Inside, Voyageur Brewing has a warm, rustic dining room with plenty of room for large and small parties alike. Voyageur brews its beers on site with Lake Superior water. They offer a staple list of brews, as well as seasonal recipes that change throughout the year.
You won’t find a heavy meal at Voyageur Brewing, but you will find a tasty one. The food at Voyageur is on the lighter side, with offerings such as pub pretzels, salad, chips and salsa, smoked herring, and tacos, to name a few. They also have some sweet treats like a root beer float, or a porter float for the over 21 crowd.
In addition to stellar beers, Voyageur Brewing offers rooftop yoga on Saturday mornings in the warmer months, weather permitting of course. And when it’s not permitting, you can cozy up by the fireplace inside.
Boathouse Brew Pub, Ely
The Boathouse Brew Pub is the only brewpub in Ely that makes their own beer onsite. They offer a variety of beers from cream ale to IPAs to stout. Because Boathouse is a small brewery and brew in small batches, their beer list changes frequently—there’s something for everyone to try.
Boathouse food includes what one would expect at a brewery: burgers, sandwiches and salads. Burgers are “fresh, never frozen steak patties,” with the option of gluten free buns. Sub for chicken breast if you’re looking for a leaner meal, and their menu is clearly noted with vegetarian and gluten sensitive options. The menu is rounded out with some staple appetizers, as well as some unique ones, like duck wings, and a reasonable kids’ menu, making the Boathouse a family-friendly option.
One unique feature of the Boathouse Brew Pub is that they offer growlers of beer in Boundary Waters approved plastic containers, so they’re a great last stop before you hit the water.
Lakehead Beer Company, Thunder Bay
Lakehead Beer takes a unique approach to serving their beers, and taps them straight out of the beer tanks. Lakehead Beer believes this allows them to maintain the specific levels of maturity and carbonation specific to each beer, offering fresher, more optimal beer.
When it comes to ambiance and activities, Lakehead Beer Co. offers free pool to patrons, but something unique to Lakehead is their gaming corner, outfitted with four controllers for a super competitive (or friendly, if you game that way) game of Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. For a different kind of beer game night, this is the place to go.
Lakehead Beer doesn’t offer food themselves, but is partnered with Tomlin Subdivision. Tomlin Subdivision is located next door and offers Detroit-style thick crust pizza, sub sandwiches and fried chicken. They also have a hearty list of appetizers or “snacks” that are sure to please any crowd.
German heritage or not, breweries and brewpubs are here to stay and each has something unique to offer.