It’s a hot July day in Grand Marais, Minnesota, made even hotter by an uncharacteristic stillness in the air. The usually dependable breeze off Lake Superior is absent, causing the blue water in the harbor to lay as flat as the signature skizzles from World’s Best Donuts.
Wisconsin Street, on the other hand, is buzzing with activity. It’s lined with two rows of temporary tents housing photographers, woodcarvers, painters, jewelry makers—pick a medium, there’s a tent for it—all of whom are here for the 25th Annual Grand Marais Art Fair.
The slow-moving crowd inches from tent to tent, mostly looking, sometimes buying. As if the high noon sun weren’t enough, the blacktop generously provides a second dose of rays, reflecting them back from below.
Thankfully, the Gun Flint Tavern is also on Wisconsin Street, and the promise of cold beer makes it shine like an oasis. I belly up to the bar and the Big Swamp Bitter calls my name. Beer in hand, I retreat from the crowded dining room to the Raven’s Nest, Gun Flint’s rooftop patio, which is easily 10 degrees cooler than the street below.
When the sun hits my cup (no glass is allowed on the roof) it glows a bright, translucent orange. My first sip is full of the biscuity malt flavors and relatively mild, earthy hop bitterness one looks for in this traditional English best bitter-style ale. Once the pint is drained, I’m recharged and ready to brave the crowds once again.
Fast-forward to today and the Big Swamp Bitter, like the hot summer sun, has come and gone for the year. Head brewer Paul Gecas tells me it may return next summer, but his overall approach to designing Gun Flint’s lineup is to constantly rotate beers and maintain tap lines for broad style categories. He always has something hoppy, something dark, and something light on tap, he says. As for the specific beers in those categories—that’s intentionally subject to change.
“That’s been my philosophy since I started,” Gecas says. “As a brewpub we don’t need to worry as much about our specific ‘brands’ because they’re not going into other bars and liquor stores. It’s more of an experimental model by nature.”
Over the Labor Day weekend, Gecas put his Manoomin Scottish 80 Schilling, a beer that uses Minnesota wild rice, on the brewpub’s “medium dark” line. (Manoomin is the Anishinaabe word for wild rice.) Gecas starts the rice in its own cereal mash to allow it to soften and open up, then adds it to the main mash. A late addition of East Kent Golding hops provides the mild bitterness this lighter-bodied, malt-forward beer needs.
Though the crowds from the art fair—and the beer that provided me with a much-needed reprieve from them—is long gone, Gun Flint’s Manoomin sounds like as good an excuse as any to venture back to the Raven’s Nest and drink Straight From The Source.
Manoomin Scottish 80 Schilling
4.9% ABV, 32 IBU
Grain bill: 71% Maris Otter, 10% wild rice, 8% crystal 40°, 5% honey malt, 3% Munich, 3% roasted barley
Hops: East Kent Goldings
Yeast: British ale yeast