Brewery Review: Island City Brewing Co.

If you were to visit the website of Island City Brewing Company, you’d find this message broadcast boldly on the homepage:

AT ISLAND CITY BREWING COMPANY, WE STRIVE TO PRODUCE BEERS OF DISTINCT QUALITY FOR BEER LOVERS AND BEGINNERS ALIKE. DROP BY OUR TAPROOM AND HAVE A PINT, MEET FRIENDS, LISTEN TO LIVE MUSIC, AND TALK WITH OUR KNOWLEDGEABLE STAFF ABOUT THE BEER.

We can attest to the truth of those words.

On a Sunday afternoon in late November, we found ourselves returning to Central Minnesota from Thanksgiving festivities in Illinois. Our travel options were the busy and bustling I-94 or splitting off at Tomah, WI and heading across I-90 for a slightly longer albeit more scenic route. After first checking to see which breweries lay on either routes – a crucial factor when traveling – we discovered the relatively new Island City Brewing in Winona, MN and elected I-90 towards Southern Minnesota and up the Mississippi.

Even with the help of the iPhone Maps, Island City Brewing was a little difficult to find, though the additional drive-time allowed us to enjoy the quaint riverfront downtown of Winona. Once found, though, we immediately got the sense that we’d discovered something special. From the outside, the building looks like an old industrial warehouse or something from the good old days of Mississippi River business and trading, a feel of restoration and new life we’ve come to appreciate in modern businesses and breweries. Sure enough, we soon discovered that the building had indeed been an old train depot once upon a time.

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Credit: Adam Rozanas

We walked in to find live music and a decent crowd. We hadn’t waited at the counter more than a minute or two when the owner – Colton – approached us, introduced himself and invited us to join him and his family at a table. We gladly accepted.

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Credit: Adam Rozanas
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Credit: Adam Rozanas
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Credit: Adam Rozanas

Colton and his wife both were more than gracious, giving us their time and attention as their young son also scrambled around nearby. They themselves had met while working at a summer camp together. After deciding that summer camp wasn’t a feasible career path, especially while raising a family, they decided to join together with some fellow summer camp friends to begin a brewery in Colton’s hometown of Winona. Another craft brewery north of town happened to be on its way out as Island City Brewing was on its way in, making Island City Brewing the only craft brewery currently in Winona.

We asked how Island City Brewing got its name. As it turns out, Winona is commonly known as the Island City, so the name was something of a no-brainer. Additionally, Colton had taken some cues from Lucid Brewing – who has since become Inbound BrewCo in the North Loop of Minneapolis, and with whom he’d spent some time – and opted for a name that he was certain no other brewery in the country was using. Turns out, legal battles over names can get both nasty and confusing. After settling on a location and a name (and probably a number of other logistics as well), Island City Brewing Company was born.

On the day of our visit, seven different beers were on tap, and Colton gave us a brief explanation each (only four are shown below).

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Credit: Adam Rozanas

After an initial sample, we were impressed by the quantity and quality of beer – more-so when Colton told us they’d only been open since March 2017. Based on initial impressions, we would have guessed Island City had been in operation much longer, and we made sure to compliment him as such.

The Skipping Stone Saison, Moonlight Weisse and Frost Crack Vanilla Dunkel were all especially delicious and worth highlighting. The saison carried the flavorful lightness, brightness and haziness we’d expect from a good saison; the Moonlight Weisse was delightfully tart, living up to its reputation as a great entry into sours; and the Frost Crack was a delectable dark lager with the perfect amount of vanilla. We even ended up taking a growler of the Frost home with us to enjoy the next day, a perfect winter drink to enjoy together after cutting down our Christmas tree!

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Credit: Adam Rozanas

Hereโ€™s our full review (categories are rated out of fiveย ๐Ÿบ):

  1. Beer Selectionย (number and styles available):ย ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ
  2. Beer Tasteย (expected of style):ย ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ
  3. Locationย (find-ability/ accessibility):ย ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ
  4. Atmosphere/Venue:ย ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ
  5. Serviceย (of staff):ย ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ๐Ÿบ
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Credit: Adam Rozanas

Other noteworthy factors: Great revived industrial vibe; impressive beer taste-to-option ratio; warm and family-like staff; location on the Mississippi offers scenic drive and views

We may not be able to wait for our next visit out of state to make our next trip to Island City Brewing. See you there?

– Adam

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