Trail Pairings: A Visit to Preston, MN
On what turned out to be one of the last warm and sunny fall weekends we visited the Root River Harmony-Preston Valley trail system to pair our ride with two breweries. Wintery weather is upon us now and the road bikes may be put away for the season, but it’s never too early to start planning your bike adventures for the next season.
Root River/Harmony-Preston Valley Trail
The 60-mile Root River and Harmony-Preston Valley State Trail system in the heart of southeastern Bluff Country is one of the major trail destinations in Minnesota. Its scenic views, historic buildings and points of interest along both trails attract visitors from all over Minnesota and neighboring states.
More about the trail
We parked the mobile office at the County Fair grounds campground in Preston, which is literally a stone’s throw away from the trail. It was a strategic move that put us within 12 miles of Karst Brewing in Fountain and just a couple of blocks from Trout City Brewing in Preston. The ride toward Fountain gave us time to shake the legs out after a long drive and it felt really good to spin the pedals. It was one of those perfect biking days where the warmth of the sun combined with the wind from our own biking kept us at the perfect temperature. No sweat, no chill. Fall colors were just a bit past peak, but it didn’t matter. The ride was wonderful and, for a little while, it made us forget that the other shoe was going to drop soon, weather-wise. It was also good to relive old memories. The last time Jen and I both visited these trails together was probably ten years ago when we took a week to explore the trail and the area while bike camping along the way.
Between Preston and Houston, the Root River is never far away from the trail. You’re either riding alongside of it or crossing it numerous times as you make your way from west to east and from the Harmony-Preston Valley Trail to the Root River Trail. To get to Fountain, we had to go west at Isinours Junction where the two trails join. On this leg the trail begins a steady climb out of the river valley, which comes with the occasional scenic view. Six and a half miles later it was time to reap the rewards of this short afternoon ride, a stop at Karst Brewing.
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Last time I visited Karst, they had just opened and occupied a tiny little building, which housed their brewing equipment and had room for maybe ten people. When we pulled up I noticed they have since expanded, the taproom is in a larger, adjacent building and the space between the two is now a wonderful patio. We parked the bikes, masked up and went inside to order.
Owners Eric Luoma and Sandra Seha opened Karst Brewing in 2017 in what used to be the White Corner Cafe, a one-room schoolhouse turned restaurant. “We purchased the property, which was in very rough shape, as a project. We weren’t one hundred per cent sure it would be a brewery but, after some research, decided it would be doable on a very micro scale,” Sandra said. The couple faced a bit of skepticism at first, but customers soon came around and embraced the new 3bbl micro-micro brewery. “Especially Fountain folks,” Sandra said. Eric, a longtime homebrewer, scaled up some of his original recipes to get started. Watching trends and visiting other breweries inspires him to try new brews and he hopes to barrel-age some beers soon.
The next expansion came in 2019 when Eric and Sandra bought the former Fountain Building Center north of the existing brewery and turned it into a much larger taproom with a roomy patio between the two. Carpenter friends Kevin Eickoff and Tom Tienter lent their creative talent to design the look of the new taproom. They used recycled grain bin panels inside and out and turned reclaimed granite pieces from Minneapolis’ Nicollet Mall into the patio and bar top. The couple is currently brainstorming what to do with another adjacent building, the old bus garage. Karst Brewing is likely to continue to grow one step at a time. “It’s not often two people can open a brewery without investors, all while maintaining careers. I guess it took gumption,” Sandra said.
Inside the taproom, we surveyed the selection. I zoomed in on two of the 14 offerings right away, because I knew it was going to be a battle between the Oktoberfest (6% ABV, 23 IBU) and the Edge of the Earth Stout (7% ABV, 25 IBU). After some back and forth, the Oktoberfest won. This doesn’t make the stout a loser-both beers were equally good. But the Oktoberfest fit the day and the mood: The fall scenery, crunching leaves under our bike tires, a sunny patio, a quiet town, and knowing that this weekend might be the last one like it in a while, all came together. We could have hung out on the patio for quite a while, but there was one more stop to make back in Preston.
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Trout City Brewing
Oncorhynchus mykiss and its cousins are a big deal in Preston, which prides itself on being the Trout Capital of the World. It’s just fitting that Trout City Brewing is two doors down from the National Trout Center and around the corner from Driftless Fly Fishing Company.
The 131-year old building sits on seriously slanted Saint Anthony Street South, and started life out as Fillmore County Bank. Anita and Andy Bisek initially bought the building to either rent or sell it. “As the remodel progressed it seemed that this would make a perfect building for a brewpub. We asked our son, Curt, if he’d be willing to brew for us and he said yes,” Anita said. Trout City Brewing opened its doors on August 15, 2019 with four beers Curt brews in 100-gallon batches and they have since added two more. Being a brewpub allows them to also sell other beers, wine, hard cider and food.
Inside the taproom reminders of the building’s past are alive: High ceilings, huge windows capped with stained glass inserts and the original bank vault lend the room an air of history and stateliness. Unlike at the 1889 bank, however, the person behind the counter dispenses craft beer instead of bank notes and the vault has been converted into a bathroom. The adjacent building and the covered breezeway between the two, as well as a cozy outdoor patio area offer additional seating, so there’s plenty of room to spread out.
I went straight for the Stout it Out Loud Oatmeal Stout, a nod to the band Kiss (or Oncorhynchus mykiss?), which turned out to be easy drinking and approachable at 5.1% ABV and 21 IBU. A good beer for those who are scared of “dark beers”. My number two pick was the Easy Rider Blonde (4.3% ABV and 15 IBU), which I think will be the ticket for after a crackin’ hot summer ride on the Root River and Harmony-Preston Valley Trail. The beer’s logo shows a glass of beer in a bicycle bottle holder, and that’s all the suggestion I need to come back next summer and put this theory to the test. If you’re on the fence about either one of these beers, ask for a Keune, Trout City’s version of a Black and Tan, which carefully layers one over the other in your glass.
We’ll definitely come back next summer to see how many more Trout City has added to the list and how their own story as the latest tenant in the historic building progresses. “Future plans are to keep on truckin’,”Anita said.
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Plan Your Trip
We spent Saturday and much of Sunday exploring the rest of the area all the way over to Peterson. With a trail system this large, you could easily put together your own itinerary to include kayaking, biking and fishing and a host of other things. Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out for us to be there for the opening of Lanesboro’s Sylvan Brewery, which happened to serve their first pints exactly a week after we visited.
For the record, a trip to combine a visit to all three breweries would be about 38 miles, starting and ending in Preston. If you left at 11 am on a Saturday, you’d make it to Fountain in time for Karst to open at noon, move on at 1 pm, get to Sylvan at 2:30, leave at 3:30, make it to Preston by 4:30 and have enough time for a beer and a chili cheese hotdog at Trout City, but, no, I haven’t been thinking about my return trip at all.
To plan your visit, have a look at Preston Tourism’s website or contact Preston’s Tourism Director Gabby Kinneberg
For more on what southern Minnesota has to offer visit Explore Minnesota