Northern Vineyards is a shared winery owned by the Minnesota Winegrowers Cooperative, a group of winemakers who own 1- to 15-acre vineyards across Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Members grow Frontenac, Prairie Star, and other grape varieties that perform well in the region; since the region has a cold climate and short growing season, grapes grown here must tolerate lower temperatures, ripen early, and be able to knit their own woolen mittens. In the fall, growers lug their mature grapes to the main winery in Stillwater, where award-winning winemaker Robin Partch transforms them into 30 kinds of wine.
The winery’s barrel room hosts wine tastings seven days a week at a glossy, wooden tasting bar. There’s also an outdoor deck that overlooks a historic lift bridge along the St. Croix River. In nice weather, visitors can bring a picnic lunch to enjoy with a glass of wine on the deck.
When the Gaffer family describes The Nova as "an eclectic little wine bar," they're not speaking figuratively. This cozy spot was refurbished from half of the historic liquor store it's attached to, a liquor store with a cave that burrows 150 feet into the nearby hillside. The Nova is the Gaffers' love letter to wines, where chef Nate crafts seasonal menus inspired by the more than 200 bottles of wine onsite. And while pan-fried walleye with a cornmeal crust would pair nicely with a bottle of white, dishes such as the Nova dirty burger with mushroom-cream sauce would probably fare better with a craft beer from the restaurant's 12 rotating taps. As a proponent of wine, beer, craft cocktails, growlers, and all things spirits, the Nova and its sister liquor store often host events and tasting parties in the aforementioned cave.
American Sky Beer by Hudson Brewing Company was established by Greg and Molly Harris in 2012. The line reflects a military reverence, whose flagship beers pay homage to US aviation during World War II and appeal to microbrew and mainstream fans alike. Their flagship beers – a mainstay at establishments in western Wisconsin – include the blonde ale Tailgunner Gold, smooth and malty Amber Salute, and robust citra-hopped USA-IPA.
The military and aviation theme can also be seen through the black-framed photographs of past and current veterans which decorate one corner of The Hangar—their taproom. Complementing this decor is a U-shaped bar, made of riveted aluminum and looking as though it's been stripped right off a plane. This sense of architectural spectacle is more than mere theatrics; for every picture the microbrewery receives, it donates $2 to Fisher House Foundation, which provides low-cost and free housing to the families of veterans receiving medical treatment.
Along with American Sky Beer's mainstays, beer-tenders serve pints of weekly-rotating specialties, such as Black IPA, Coffee Stout, and Cream Ale. Keeping revelers in full revel, events such as beer and bacon Sundays, happy hour Thursdays with complimentary meat and cheese samplings, and Firkin Fridays complement live local music featured on Saturdays. The Hangar is open Thursdays and Fridays from 4-8 p.m., Saturdays from 2-8 p.m. with live music beginning at 5 p.m., and Sundays from 12-4 p.m.
In the open autumn air at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, Twin Cities Oktoberfest celebrates all that is German during its two days of festivities. Throughout the weekend, live bands such as the Bavarian Musikmeisters, a 30-piece wind-instrument outfit, and The Squires Band, a four-piece band with 30 years of experience, entertain guests with traditional German harmonies and live renditions of the ER theme song. Between shows, audience members peruse vendors' booths, noshing on brats and German snacks. Beer from Summit and wine from Pedroncelli flow into glasses, keeping guests lingering into the evening hours as they discuss the latest in lederhosen fashion.
Paul Werni had a lot of time on his hands. After relinquishing the successful landscaping business he helmed for 10 years, his mind wandered to thoughts of what he might do next. A love of well-crafted spirits eventually turned his attentions to books on distillation, which in turn brought him to workshops across the country and tours of distilleries in Austria and Germany. With a few in-depth lessons with experts from a Christian Carl distillery, Werni finally learned enough to create refined, flawless libations, and his own distillery was born. Lauded by critics and connoisseurs alike, 45th Parallel Distillery distills quality vodka pours from local ingredients and zero additives, overseeing the entire process from grain to glass within its facility. In addition to 45th Parallel Vodka—a name derived from the line of latitude on which France's Bordeaux region, Italy’s Piedmont region, and Vermont's Appletini region lie—the distillery also fills bottles with whiskey, limoncello, and Midwest vodka and gin, a budget-friendly alternative to top-shelf spirits that pairs well with mixers or stands alone for delicious home imbibing.
Taste of Stillwater's annual festival, established in 2011, directs the spotlight toward the palate-popular offerings of local wineries, breweries, restaurants, and food trucks. Throughout the daylong celebration, empty tummies shuffle from station to station filling up on samples of refreshing beverages and foods, fueling bodies to explore the festival grounds' shopping opportunities and to tour Saint Croix Vineyards. Families stake their claim on the lawn area with blankets, foldable chairs, and giant bronze statues of their great-grandfathers before they feast their ears on live music. Taste of Stillwater dedicates a portion of its proceeds to charities including Valley Outreach, a community-based nonprofit organization that supports low-income people with donations of food, clothing, and other necessities.