Trailblazers 2016


What’s the value of a brewery’s stance on mining? Why be concerned with obscure English apples? What’s so important about a chicken sandwich at a stadium? Why does it matter if a basketball team weighs in on current events?

The answer to all those questions is the same: it makes a difference. There are people that look at the current state of affairs and imagine something better. These people are Trailblazers, and we believe their efforts deserve a closer look.

Now, you may be wondering, why do we have both Kind-of-a-Big-Deal and Trailblazers in this issue? What’s the difference? We believe that, despite a small amount of overlap in the honorees, that the two honors speak to different kinds of achievement.

Our Kind-of-a-Big-Deal awards are 100% reader-nominated and reader-voted. These awards take the pulse of our community. They represent the best and brightest of our local culture as you, the readers, see it. And with every passing year, we look at your winners and are proud that our readers love and support the people and organizations we feel are making Minnesota a great place to call home.

But there are other kinds of achievement that are more difficult to award with a multiple choice survey. There’s no Kind-of-a-Big-Deal award for best agricultural advancement, most creative philanthropy, or most influential young musician. It’s hard to vote on the impact of artistic representations of race and culture, but Leslie Barlow and Louise Erdrich are doing remarkable things in that regard. Rediscovering a regional cuisine is long, detailed, unheralded work; but Sean Sherman is doing it. There’s no award for “Best Shoulder to Cry On,” but 89.3 The Current consoled us when the Purple One left this mortal coil for a funkier one.

Our mission at The Growler is to tell stories that inspire progress in local food, drink, and culture. And in that spirit, we feel the need to point out 25 people, ideas, businesses, and organizations who have done necessary, important, and groundbreaking work this year.

Here, in no particular order, are the Trailblazers for 2016…

Dan Oskey and Jon Kreidler, Tattersall Distilling


Tattersall Distilling’s Dan Oskey (left) and Jon Kreidler // Photos by Aaron Davidson

Imagine, if you will, a world without a Negroni, an aviation, or a Corpse Reviver #2. We’re talking no Palomas, no sidecars, and—gasp!—not a margarita in sight. Thankfully, I don’t have to imagine such a world because the secondary spirits that make all of those possible—liqueurs—exist in this great world of ours. Read more…

Sean Sherman, The Sioux Chef


Sean Sherman // Photo by Heidi Ehalt

Our Trailblazers in the culinary world are thinking about food differently. They’re challenging diners. They’re defining what kind of food makes sense in The North and what makes sense for conscious dining in the 21st century. And perhaps no one is doing that like Sean Sherman, better known as The Sioux Chef. Read more…

Minnesota Lynx

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 4: during the WNBA game on September 4, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Minnesota Lynx // Photo by David Sherman, Getty Images

The Minnesota Lynx embarked on the “Roar for 4” during the 2015–16 WNBA season and fell just short in heartbreaking fashion. Despite how the last 15 seconds of Game 5 of the WNBA Finals against the Los Angeles Sparks unfolded, the Lynx made waves in the Twin Cities and beyond in 2016. Read more…

Jacquie Berglund, FINNEGANS

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Jacquie Berglund // Photo courtesy of FINNEGANS

In 2000, long before the current craft beer boom, Jacquie Berglund quit a stable job to start a brewery with a mission that’s as admirable as it is succinct: feed the hungry. In the 16 years since, FINNEGANS has done just that. In 2016, Berglund’s company surpassed $1 million in total donations to community organizations that support the fight against hunger. Read more…

Alex Roberts, Alma: Cafe, Hotel and Restaurant


Alex Roberts // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

It’s one thing to own a restaurant. It’s one thing to own a restaurant that aspires to the highest levels of plating, flavor, design, and customer service. It’s one thing to own said restaurant while trying to discover new ideas and techniques from the rich food traditions of the region and continent. It’s one thing to own said restaurant, win a James Beard Award for it, and continue to innovate in the world of fine dining, all while diners in town are throwing off the shackles of white tableclothed niceties in favor of casual neighborhood joints serving fried chicken, ramen, and tacos, and remain as relevant as ever. Read more…

Danielle Cusack

Danielle Cusack -- Photo by Andrea Swensson, MPRFEAT

Danielle Cusack // Photo by Andrea Swensson

Rock ‘n’ roll has always been about youthful energy, but right now the Twin Cities music scene is having an especially youthful moment, with artists like Lexii Alijai blowing up on SoundCloud and an all-ages scene burgeoning at venues like the Garage. At the nexus of what’s next is 20-year-old Danielle Cusack: drummer, bassist, singer-songwriter, teacher, and all-around millennial badass. Read more…

Mike and Gretchen Perbix, Sweetland Orchard


Mike and Gretchen Perbix // Photo by Kara Larson, Make It Minnesota

Minnesota’s cider scene is flourishing. In 2015, cidermakers made 100,000 gallons of cider from 33,333 bushels of Minnesota-grown apples. By 2019, they are projected to make upwards of 400,000 gallons of cider, which would require an additional 100,000 bushels of apples. Though the demand for cider apple varieties is rising, Minnesota apple growers are reluctant to plant cider varieties that are untested in the state’s growing areas. Read more…

Jorge Guzman, Surly Brewing


Jorge Guzman // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Brewery taprooms have become one of most significant cultural developments in the Twin Cities in recent years, but most lack in one clear area: food. Food trucks get the job done, but they rarely take dining to the next level. That’s where Jorge Guzman separates Surly from the pack. Read more…

Louise Erdrich

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Louise Erdrich // Photo by Paul Emmel

“Louise Erdrich has portrayed her fellow Native Americans as no contemporary American novelist ever has, exploring—in intimate and fearless ways—the myriad cultural challenges that indigenous and mixed-race Americans face.” These words, spoken by the previous Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, addressed the literary and virtuosic impact that Erdrich exudes, as she was awarded the 2015 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. Read more…

Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz, Bittercube

Nick and Ira, Bittercube Bitters -- Photo courtesy of BittercubeFEAT

Bittercube’s Nick Kosevich (left) and Ira Koplowitz // Photo courtesy of Bittercube

Even if you don’t know the names Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz, you’ve probably tasted their work. The fingerprints of the duo behind the bitters-making and consulting service company, Bittercube, can be spotted all across Minnesota’s spirits scene. Read more…

Tracy Singleton, Birchwood Cafe


Tracy Singleton // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

The Birchwood Cafe isn’t a restaurant. I mean, sure, in the sense that it serves some of the most delicious waffles known to mankind, it’s a neighborhood cafe all right, and certainly one of the finest we have in these parts. But in the course of the last year, it has become obvious that the waffles are just window dressing—this business has remarkable aspirations. And that’s why Birchwood owner Tracy Singleton is a Trailblazer. Read more…

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman


Chris Coleman // Photo courtesy of City of St. Paul

Ever since taking office as the mayor of St. Paul back in 2006, Chris Coleman has been tasked with being the voice of a diverse community, presiding over the capital of Minnesota, and making a case for himself as the cooler of the two mayors in the Twin Cities. And no better case can be made in his favor than what he’s accomplished in 2016. Read more…

Dave Hoops, Hoops Brewing

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Dave Hoops // Photo courtesy of Bev-Craft

There are many reasons we consider master brewer Dave Hoops a Trailblazer in the world of beer here in Minnesota. His resume runs deep: educated at Siebel Institute of Technology; 16-plus years leading the brew crew at the iconic Fitger’s Brewhouse; founding member the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild; and regular beer judge at the annual Great American Beer Festival competition. Read more…

Tim Niver, Mucci’s Italian

Editorial, food, lifestyle, St. Paul, Muccis, restaurant, The Growler, The Growler Magazine.

Editorial, food, lifestyle, St. Paul, Muccis, restaurant, The Growler, The Growler Magazine.

Mucci’s Italian is among the unquestionable new bright spots in local dining this year. And to know why is to know Tim Niver. Reflecting on the last 12 months in Niver’s restaurant tenure, a lone, unmistakable question emerges: when was the last time anyone ordered lasagna in a restaurant? Read more…

Leslie Barlow

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Leslie Barlow // Photo courtesy MCAD

One might consider U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis a piece of art in and of itself. But when the doors opened for the start of the football season this year, Vikings fans were greeted with a true array of museum-quality artworks and installations, including six portrait paintings of iconic Vikes from Leslie Barlow. Read more…

Sour Beer

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Fair State Roselle // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

I will never forget my first sip of Duchesse De Bourgogne. That fateful moment opened my eyes to a whole new world of what beer could be. More than a decade and countless sour sips later, I’m excited to watch as the wild/sour/mixed-fermentation category becomes one of the fastest growing segments of American craft beer. Read more…

Thomas Boemer and Nick Rancone, Revival and Corner Table

Co-Owners Chef Thomas Boemer and Nick Rancone

Chef Thomas Boemer and Nick Rancone // Photo by Will Blunt,

When Nick Rancone and Thomas Boemer transformed Corner Table in 2013, they connected with a zeitgeist. High-end diners and food adventurers still craved sustainability, but with a little less bang-you-on-the-head zealotry. Instead, they angled for seasonally-focused, casual elegance with a side of soul—think coq au vin next to maple-roasted jowl. Read more…

First Avenue

Lizzo flew home Thursday so she could perform during the block party to celebrate the life and music of Prince outside First Ave. nightclub in Minneapolis on April 21, 2016.

Lizzo performing in front of First Avenue the night Prince died // Photo by Nate Ryan

When Prince died this past April, fans from around the world flocked to First Avenue to pay their respects. His star, which someone quietly painted gold, became a memorial as flowers piled up on the sidewalk beneath it. For some visitors, this was their first time seeing the club that Prince made world-famous in his cult classic film “Purple Rain.” The venue hosted a street party on the night Prince died, opened its doors for all-night dance parties, and it brought The Revolution together for three cathartic reunion shows in September. Read more…

Ben Boo and Eric Sannerud, Mighty Axe Hops

Mighty Axe Hops by Rebecca Jean Lawrence Photography

Mighty Axe Hops’ Ben Boo (left) and Eric Sannerud // Photo by Rebecca Jean Lawrence Photography

Before Mighty Axe Hops announced a massive expansion plan this summer, Minnesota’s hop-growing industry wasn’t much of an industry at all. The state’s overall production was driven primarily by a patchwork of small-scale growers operating on one-acre plots or smaller. While these farms were able to harvest enough hops to sell to their local brewery for a batch or two of fresh hop beer, few were producing on a truly commercial scale. Enter Mighty Axe. Read more…

Maria Bamford


Maria Bamford // Photo by Piper Ferguson

Mental hospitals, medications, people-pleasing tendencies, addiction, and recovery. Are you laughing yet? This may not seem like the standard formula for comedy, but Maria Bamford isn’t a standard comedian. Read more…

Colin Mullen, Laura Mullen, Bryon Tonnis, and Karen Tonnis, Bent Paddle Brewing

Colin, Laura, Bryon, and Karen of Bent Paddle -- Photo by JaneCane PhotographyFEAT

The owners and co-founders of Bent Paddle Brewing Company are (left to right) Colin Mullen, Laura Mullen, Bryon Tonnis, and Karen Tonnis // Photo by JaneCane Photography

When we talk about blazing trails in the drinks scene, few people are doing so quite as literally as the four founders of Duluth’s Bent Paddle Brewing Co. Read more…

89.3 The Current

The Current Staff -- Photo by Nate Ryan, MPR

The staff of 89.3 The Current // Photo by Nate Ryan

Minnesota Public Radio will celebrate 50 years on the airwaves in 2017. A lot has changed since the organization humbly began broadcasting a single classical music frequency out of Collegeville, Minnesota, in 1967. But one thing has remained constant: MPR’s forward-thinking focus on remaining an indispensable resource for Minnesotans of generations present and future. The launch of 89.3 The Current is one example of that innovative spirit. Read more…

Landon Schoenefeld, Birdie

Landon Schoenefeld -- Photo by Eliesa JohnsonFEAT

Landon Schoenefeld // Photo by Eliesa Johnson

In the meat-centric Twin Cities, where you can’t walk 10 feet without tripping over a charcuterie board, where vegetarians cobble together meals from side dishes, the Trailblazers in the culinary world are growing fixated on the potential of produce. Read more…

Michael Swanson and Cheri Reese, Far North Spirits

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Far North Spirits’ Mike and Cheri Reese // Photo by Megan Sugden

Kentucky has bourbon. Scotland has Scotch. But if Michael Swanson and Cheri Reese, founders of Far North Spirits, have anything to say about it, Minnesota will have rye whiskey. Read more…

DJ Shannon Blowtorch


DJ Shannon Blowtorch // Photo by Nate Ryan

If you ask a music fan what makes a good DJ, you’re likely to get a few solid answers off the bat. Great taste. The dexterity to weave sets through various genres. The ability to read a crowd. When it comes to filling a dance floor, all three go a long way. But an underrated part of a DJ’s skill set is the ability to put a crowd at ease. In fact, while DJ Shannon Blowtorch—a veteran sound engineer, event director, and LGBT advocate—has all three of the first qualifications down, this last trait makes her one of the most beloved DJs around. Read more…


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