When longtime Fitger’s alum Tim Nelson (below right) left the iconic Duluth brewpub, he quickly announced the launch of two new projects. The first was BevCraft, a brewery-design consulting firm in the Twin Ports area. The second was a production brewery in Superior, Wis. Both visions have come together in Earth Rider Brewery and its satellite taproom, The Cedar Lounge.
With enormous shipping slips and industrial silos in the background, Earth Rider fits into its surroundings in some ways, but feels fresh inside. The Cedar Lounge, in existence since 1912, has all the typical features of a Midwestern bar geared toward a blue collar crowd, except for the beer selection. Over half of the taps are Earth Rider beers, made in the building next door. A properly curated selection of guest taps includes beers from Lakefront Brewery, Hinterland Brewing, and other Wisconsin brewers.
Some of the taps, such as the Precious Material helles (second from left below), will feel comfortable to Cedar regulars, even those unacquainted with craft beer. Precious Material’s aroma may feel familiar, as the recipe is not far from that of a German Pilsner. Unlike Pilsner, though, helles is a malt-forward traditional lager that’s rich for its color, with complex cereal notes. This version has toasted oat flavor with a subtle bitter, grassy finish.
On the other hand, some beers are out of sync with the retro environment. An unanticipated twist on a light coffee beer, Earth Rider’s Duluth Coffee pale ale falls into the same family as Modist Brewing’s First Call or Insight Brewing’s Banshee Cutter. It’s made with a special Central American coffee
blend from Duluth Coffee Company*, and it offers a substantial coffee aroma, but a restrained roast flavor. The beans get their slightly funky flavor from the whole berries’ enjoying a prolonged time drying in the sun in a fermentationlike state. Lead brewer Allyson Rolph treats this unique profile as part of the beer’s ingredients, even though the coffee is added in cold press form after fermentation. *EDITOR’S NOTE: Via Eric Faust at Duluth Coffee Company: “The coffee isn’t a blend. It’s a Costa Rican coffee from a farm I have been to called Las Lajas in the Central Valley. They naturally process the coffee allowing for the coffee cherry to dry on the coffee before it is processed.
“A lot of times, people make beers and then put coffee in them. We left holes in the beer and then let the coffee fill those,” Rolph says, regarding the coffee’s bright nature melding with the hop profile. The beans add bitterness and acidity, too, rather than the roasted character that normally fits into the grain bill.
Nelson uses the state-of-the-art 20-barrel Sprinkman brewing system to showcase brewing technologies to BevCraft’s potential clients, while Rolph and the other lead brewer, Tim Wilson, appreciate how automated and reliable it is. Wilson’s background was in a similarly modern brewhouse, Bent Paddle, where he was a cellarman managing the barrel supply. The Sprinkman equipment is also Wisconsin-made and the same brand found at Duluth’s Hoops Brewing.
The two seasoned brewers along with Frank Kaszuba, head of brewing operations and also from the Fitger’s clan, display their brewing prowess in classic styles like the Caribou Lake IPA. It was affectionately referred to as old-school by our server. Indeed, the beer doesn’t lean into the current trends of lactose, haze, or even heavily aromatic American West Coast hops. Instead it’s significantly bitter with little residual sweetness and strong resin notes. The finish is herbaceous but never fruity.
The North Tower stout (above) is also a by-the-book classic. It’s light on the palate, almost venturing into black lager territory, yet it lingers and builds in roasted character. A creamy head with fine carbonation prevents thinness, and a smoke aroma adds complexity. While lovers of robust stouts may not favor this one, its dry finish is refreshing.
Downtown Superior hasn’t seen production brewing in decades. As it happens, the nondescript building that houses the brewhouse and soon-to-grow barrel program once housed a beer distributor. Re-purposing the existing coolers, the largest of which was designed to store bulky shipments of Coors, was only natural and helped reduce costs.
There are still a few hiccups that Rolph acknowledges as works in progress. The tap lines and other draft equipment at the Cedar are being updated in phases, and she worries about differences in beer quality between the production brewery and the de facto taproom. By and large, however, the collective experience of those behind Earth Rider has led to promising results. Local distribution has begun with expansion beyond Superior and Duluth expected in the future.
The Cedar Lounge, 1715 N 3rd St Superior, Wis., 715.394.7391