The picturesque area of east central Minnesota just got even more interesting after its local craft beverage producers decided to team up. Several breweries, wineries, a distillery and a cidery make up the East Central Beverage Trail, bringing visitors and locals their favorite craft beverages with the backdrop of Isanti, Pine, and Kanabec counties. The trail consists of eight locations with their own specialty creations. Just take your pick, and you’re on your way.
“You can start and finish anywhere. Each place has a passport with a map, so when someone comes and visits, we stamp it,” says Debbie Morrison, co-owner of Sapsucker Farms Yellow Belly Cidery.
Although she says it tends to be more of a summer excursion, it can all be done on your own time, any time of year. “If it takes them five years to finish, that’s fine!”
However, beverage aficionados that are quick to finish can have their completed passports entered into a drawing for a gift basket that takes place every November.
As the only cidery on the beverage trail, Sapsucker Farms Yellow Belly Cidery is a 172-acre, certified organic farm located in Mora that gets its name from its first farm-fresh product: maple syrup. After falling in love with the east central Minnesota area, Morrison quit the corporate world and moved to Mora with her husband from the Twin Cities in 2000, where they then learned all about the maple syrup business. From there, an apple orchard and vegetable operations were added to the property, which was used to make their homemade cider that home brewers began purchasing and State Fair judges were handing out awards for. “Our property is unique among them all because we emphasize the farm itself. I even grow ginger for our cider. Everything people taste is grown right here,” adds Morrison.
Today, Sapsucker Farms offers an entire experience. Visitors can experience a tasting that features four different flavors of ciders, hiking trails, and tours of the orchard and growing operation.
For the wine connoisseurs out there, two of the four wineries on the trail include North Folk Winery in Stark and Northern Hollow Winery in Grasston. With the motto of "The Best of Everything Local." North Folk Winery offers visitors the best of the area, including their food and wine pairings, as well as their live entertainment every Friday night. The relaxing atmosphere of the tasting room and beautiful surrounding flower and fruit gardens, and vineyard make for a picture-perfect destination. The winery is also available for small weddings, holiday parties, meetings and special occasions. Northern Hollow Winery is located just seven miles west of exit 169. Northern Hollow is a family owned winery that encourages a walk through the vineyard with your beverage, or even a stroll around the pheasant & peacock pens. A resident potter is also on-site to show off their skills.
Anyone that loves beer should stop by BeerClub Brewing in Mora. In 2014, five home brewers decided to brew together for fun and called it "BeerClub." Today, BeerClub Brewing is a microbrewery and taproom, specializing in brewing small-batch classic European lagers and ales. Other tasty options include Czech pils, Imperial IPA, Oktoberfest, Belgian tripel, along with other American, seasonal and experimental varieties.
Anyone on an up north excursion looking for a fun outing, or just looking to get out of the Twin Cities, Morrison says the trail is a diverse experience that has something for everyone. “You get to not only experience craft beverages, but also different locations and maybe see a part of the state that you’ve never seen before.”