St. Cloud, Minnesota

Destinations by | Apr 2011 | Issue #51

Illustration by Sam Brewster

The Central Minnesota city of St. Cloud has a storied, boozy history.

The university town’s love of beer began more than 150 years ago, in the late 1860s, when seven breweries served a population of about 5,000 in Stearns County. But, like in many beer hubs, Prohibition forced the brewing industry to nearly disappear.

The government’s attempts during the ’20s to stifle the thirst of German immigrants and Catholic monks—who ran the area’s largest distillery in the St. John’s University chemistry lab—failed miserably, and the moonshine revolution saw Al Capone buy vast amounts of contraband from hundreds of local producers and ship them from coast to coast.

The Cold Spring Brewery was one of the survivors. Founded in 1874, the facility’s location on a fresh spring helped it endure Prohibition by selling mineral waters and famous Red Star Tonic. Eventually, Cold Spring began to brew on a contract basis, which remains the majority of their business today.

An area that once boasted a brewery for every 700 people, St. Cloud has been slow to join the latest malt-and-hop revival… but bright spots have appeared on the prairie. Mark Opdahl is co-proprietor of Chop Liver LLC, the group behind the highly successful St. Paul Summer Beer Fest. This January, he organized the first St. Cloud Craft Beer Expo, which brought more than 40 breweries to the downtown convention center—organizers even had to turn away 500 patrons at the door.

If you do find yourself in the area—just an hour’s drive from the Twin Cities—be sure and stop at these places for a pint, tour or off-sale bottle.

The White Horse
With a global menu (think palak paneer alongside a lengthy list of burgers and sandwiches), a welcoming staff and an owner with a wicked mustache, this bar features a solid bottle selection and the only Surly taps in town. Free peanuts and popcorn, classy décor and your best opportunity to find salty live tunes all make this bar one of St. Cloud’s most accommodating spots.

Cold Spring Brewery
This former brewer of Gluek and Billy Beer recently ended production of its latest attempt at craft beers. The site’s history, however, along with its friendly staff and sophisticated production process (Cold Spring continues to contract brew for 21st Amendment), makes this stop well worth your time. Call ahead for a tour of their mammoth production line in action.

House of Pizza
The hosts of this house offer the best pies in town and kindly pair them with craft brews. Eleven taps range from Leinenkugel and Stella, to Fat Tire, Deschutes and Odell’s. They know beer, and they’ve nearly perfected American-style pizza.

The Tavern on Germain [closed]
A few Bell’s brews are standard in the Tav’s best-in-town draft selection, which recently included Odell’s Avant Peche. Imperial tap offerings for dollars below big-city prices are common, and the barkeeps are happy to talk beer. Avoid weekend nights, as the Tav becomes a loud and rowdy spot, partially due to its neighbor nightclub, The Rox.

The Veranda Lounge
22 5th Avenue S, ppfive.com
Catch live music at The Veranda Lounge, which adjoins the larger venue Pioneer Place. The beer list spans upwards of 35 bottles—don’t miss Minnesota-brewed Finnegans Irish Amber. For a true touch of class, find a famous urinal named “The King” on the second floor.

Anton’s Restaurant
2001 Frontage Road N, Waite Park, antonsrestaurant.com
Located along the Sauk River in a building that used to be a speakeasy, Anton’s features skillfully prepared seafood, a professional staff and one of the best Scotch lists in the state. Deschutes and Summit beers are just a few of the tap offerings.

Granite City Food & Brewery
This flagship brewpub—named after the town’s history as a source for the stone—opened in the summer of 1999, but has since opened locations throughout the Midwest. Don’t miss their Double Vision Pale Ale or Batch 1000, an Imperial IPA.

McCann’s Food and Brew Pub [closed]
A St. Cloud staple for 15 years, McCann’s offers a half-dozen beers all year and a few seasonals brewed on-site. Deep Seven IPA is a year-round favorite. This year’s Red Sky Rye Ale takes the top prize, while a winter version of their Oatmeal Stout does a better job of warming bellies, at 8-percent ABV.

Old Chicago
It’s a lot like the Old Chicago franchise in every Southern/Midwestern town: a strong variety of crafts and imports, including the recent offering of Odell’s Myrcenary, and sports games you can watch, but can’t hear. Macros dominate their 35 taps, but look for local go-to’s like Schell’s and Grain Belt (a Schell’s contract brew), as well as rotating beers from Bell’s.

Cork & Cask
Located inside The Grande Depot, a restored railroad stop on Highway 23 just outside St. Cloud, Cork & Cask offers a fine selection of singles and imports at stellar prices. If you’re looking for an easy stop for craft beer west of the Twin Cities, this is your place.

Westside Liquor
Westside provides a beer lover’s manna in the prairie of Central Minnesota. Management has been instrumental in organizing local events. Thousands of craft choices and an informed staff combine to create a pit of beer-browsing quicksand—be prepared for a long stop.