The day of our canoe trip Dan Meer of Clear Waters Outfitting was a busy man, but between loading and unloading canoes and gear from his trailer he had time for these words:
"Paddling is one of the best ways to decompress you will find. It's just you and the river and it helps to put life into perspective".
He had shuttled a van full of us from Beaver Island Brewing Company to the Beaver Island Park Boat launch. The idea was to take a slow paddle downriver to River Bluffs Regional Park, a three-mile trip.
This trip was a collaboration between the brewery and Clear Waters Outfitting. Beaver Island owner Nick Barth and CW Outfitting's Dan Meer are outdoor enthusiasts and when they met, it didn't take long to find some common ground. "We've been offering this trip for about four years as part of our regular rental program and now we've teamed up with Beaver Island", Meer said.
He pushed each of our red, yellow and blue We-no-nah canoes into the water, we took off toward the Beaver Islands and Dan left for the next wave of canoeists; five waves of thirteen that day.
The Beaver Islands comprises a cluster of islands just downstream from Saint Cloud State University in a lazy bulge of the Wild and Scenic section of the Mississippi River. Depending on water levels the islands vary in number, but it's usually around 12 to 15.
We didn't get very far from the boat launch when we decided to pull over at the first island to skip rocks, watch our fellow canoeists go by and relax on the rocky beach, decompressing, just like Dan said.
Eventually we meandered downstream to catch the last shuttle back to the brewery. There was little development along the shore and lots of dense tree cover, especially on the islands. How wild the area looked being so close to Saint Cloud amazed us. The only reminders of civilization were the occasional power lines along the shore. The whole trip had the feel of a lazy summer afternoon from a long time ago.
Dan Meer of CW Outfitting launches a canoe into the Mississippi River
Taking a break on one of the Beaver Islands
The natural setting of the Beaver Islands
Father and son on a canoe outing
The Wild and Scenic section of the Mississippi River near Saint Cloud, MN
A relaxing summer scene
All smiles on a beautiful day on the water
Our group on the Mississippi
The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door of Beaver Island Brewing Company was that the beers were coming out of an old school-looking white enamel contraption with retro gauges and chrome accents that looked like they came from a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado. The lighted sign on top read 'Lubrication'. This was obviously my kind of place.
The building had once been occupied by a car dealership, hence the retrofitted lubrication station. A red, metal I-beam spanned the length of the room and some old, yellow brick and rafters were exposed. The space behind the bar was clad in reclaimed wood.
It was early in the afternoon and the crowds hadn't rolled in, yet.
Michael Bailey from Milaca stopped in to refill his growlers of Ripple and Revolution IPA. " I come here twice a month and like to take home some beer", he said. "It's very good and I like the local breweries".
Beaver Island Brewing opened in February of 2015, but owners Nick Barth and Matt Studer are already expanding the brewery's reach with a new production brewing and canning facility.
"The new facility will be home to our core brands like Ripple, '39, and Sweet Mississippi. It will also produce our high-performing seasonal brews like Oktoberfest, Union Suit, Fabulous Armadillo and house our new canning line", Nick said. "Our existing space in downtown Saint Cloud will become more of a playground for the brewers to create one-off and small batch beers and expand our cellar program", he said.
The taproom began to fill up as the afternoon went on and it looked like soon all the tables inside and outside on the patio might be filled with people streaming in from downtown Saint Cloud for a pint or two. In less than two years Beaver Island Brewing Company had become part of the local fabric.
Nick said "Matt and I watched the tidal wave that is craft beer approaching St. Cloud and knew it was just a matter of time before the area was home to Minnesota's next brewery. We thought if someone was going to do it, it might as well be locals who understand the community and strive to add to it".
Bartender Lora Golembeski pours a pint of Ripple
Hard choices at Beaver Island Brewing Co.
Ripple-German Ale (24 IBU, 4.5 ABV) It went down very well, as close to a German beer as I've had in the US.
Sweet Mississippi-Stout (27.5 IBU and 6.5 ABV) After spending a few hours on the river, I just had to have one of those. My craving for a dark, sweet, heavy beer was satisfied.