Bearded Beer I: Fitger’s

As I am sure I needn’t elaborate, bearding and beer just go together. In fact, beer actually operates as a driving force of manliness in general, and may enhance one’s ability to grow a successful beard or moustache (this statement not supported by any relevant research whatsoever).

That being said, I felt it entirely necessary to begin a series of highlights on various brewers that I know and love. If you’ve read my Bearding Way page, you understand that I believe myself to be an enthusiast of all things. I also consider myself to be a connoisseur of beer. A rather discerning one at that. Colloquially I label myself a beer snob. This, however, does not make me an expert in the ways of the brewing world. I just have a great love for the concoction. Considering, at this point, how many different beers I have sampled over the years, I decided the best first option for my Bearded Beer series would be Fitger’s Brewery in Duluth, MN, one of the towns I have called home over the years.

Fitger’s began brewing beer in Duluth in 1857. The first brewery began on the edge of the soon to be called Brewery Creek, close to today’s current location of the Fitger’s complex. As the brewery grew, it was bought by Michael Fink in 1881, who eventually built the site in which the brewery operates today. At this time it was known as the Lake Superior Brewery, named for the great lake the city sits upon. Fink’s company hired as brewmaster a young German immigrant named August Fitger, a graduate of a brewing school in his home country. In 1884, Percy Anneke bought the company and renamed it A. Fitger & Co.

As can be expected, the company fell upon hard times when prohibition was enacted in 1920. However, Fitger’s was not lost as many other breweries were during this period. Being innovative in many ways, the company chose to redirect their attentions to the production of sodas and candies to keep themselves above water while they waited out the inevitable repeal of the eighteenth amendment.

Fitger’s production continued after prohibition ended, and business boomed during the 1930s. Their endeavors branched outward from beer and eventually included Silver Spray Champagne. After many years in business, the brewery finally closed its doors in 1972. In 1984, however, the complex reopened with a hotel, two restaurants, and a retail outlet. In 1995 it was purchased by the current owners, and in time the Fitger’s Brewhouse opened as a brewpub, brewing great beer and excellent and eclectic food, including, in my opinion, one of the greatest wild rice burgers you are likely to find.

All that being said, on to the beer. Fitger’s was potentially one of the first craft beer outlets I was ever introduced to, back in the old days of 2003. I have since remained enamored with the regular palette of beers which remain on tap as well as the seasonal cycling of new and interesting brews that appear as they are completed. I’ll list a few of my favorites here:

El Niño IPA

El Niño is a powerful IPA. By far this remains my favorite brew at Fitger’s. It is very hoppy, but balanced well with its malt character. It has its citrus notes like any good IPA, and has a pleasant but not overwhelming bitterness on the aftermath. At 7% ABV with a nice level of carbonation, it is an excellent sipping beer that you won’t want to speed through. Instead, take your time sipping the awesome bitterness and take time to bask in the feeling of your chest hair growing.

Big Boat Oatmeal Stout

This is the one and only stout that remains on the Brewhouse’s tap list year long. It is deep, black as the night, and almost chewy in its thick, oatmeal character. It has a slight bitterness, but it is pleasantly roasty and inviting. This is the type of beer that you want to enjoy in front of a roaring fire, luxuriating in your flannel finery on a log or the back of a buffalo. And if you thought this beer couldn’t get any better, it does. The brewers, in all their bearded glory, occasionally age this concoction in bourbon barrels, enhancing the flavor of this pleasantly roasted stout with the smokiness of whiskey. If that doesn’t warm you up in the dead of the Duluth winter, I don’t know what will.

Witchtree ESB

This is a salt-of-the-earth sort of beer. This is extra special bitter at its basest, yet finest, elements. Named for the famed Witchtree on the shores of Lake Superior near the town of Grand Marais, this beer is mild and nutty and caramelly. It is a generally great all around beer that can be easily enjoyed in with burgers and fries or while spearing the great sturgeon beast in the depths of a winter gale. Either way, you’ll be happy with your choice.

Ol’ Redbeard Barleywine

At 10% ABV, this is a slow sipper. And you’re in luck because this is a short pour. You’ll receive your Redbeard in a 10 ounce glass and notice immediately the deep red color. Upon the first sip, you’ll be transported to a land where all your companions come with bright red beards. In fact, you’ll notice that you have consequently grown a red beard. However, if you are like me and already the companion of a red beard, you will notice that your red beard has grown a red beard in the manliest of ways. The flavor is deep, strong, somewhat sweet and sour all at once, malty and pleasant. This is not a beer for those who don’t appreciate flavor. This is a beer for the adventurous types.

There is a ridiculous number of beer styles that Fitger’s has tried over the years, and I have sampled many of them. These are just a few of my favorites. If you are interested in any of the others, let me know. If you are considering a trip to Duluth to sample the beer, you are in luck, because Fitger’s is not the only brewery in the area. And in due time, I will discuss some of the others. Minnesota is like a mecca for great beer. Throw a stone and you’re likely to find a great brewery.