You heard it here first: South Dakota has a craft beer scene. Though, if you’re not one of the 853,000 people who call the Mount Rushmore State home, you’d be forgiven for not knowing this fact.
If you consider yourself a craft beer aficionado and a lover of all things beer, but haven’t heard of the malty and hoppy goodness being produced between the Black Hills of the state’s west and the grassy prairies of the state’s east, don’t question your craft beer fandom, it’s not your fault. After all, there’s only one South Dakota brewery that distributes their beer outside of state lines, and a total of two that can their beer for consumption outside of the pub (and the second started canning just last week).
But don’t be fooled, the craft beer scene in South Dakota is growing. And unlike in craft beer pilgrimage-worthy states like Colorado, California, Oregon, Vermont, Montana and Michigan where it’s near impossible to imagine craft beer getting any more popular, South Dakota’s craft beer scene is, comparatively, just catching fire and finding its footing.
So what can you expect from South Dakota beer? For the most part, you’ll find thoughtful and delicious variations of classic crowd pleasers, like brown ales, cream ales, saisons and IPAs with less emphasis on the flamboyant flavors found in more jaded craft beer markets.
Now that you’re 1) aware South Dakota beer exists, and 2) thirsty to try some, here are a few breweries not to miss while traveling in the state.
Crow Peak Brewing
As the largest brewery in the state, and until just a few days ago, the only brewery to can their beer for distribution, Crow Peak Brewing is usually top of mind for South Dakota beer drinkers. And while you can find their rich, dark and flavorful Pile O’ Dirt Porter and their hoppy yet balanced 11th Hour IPA at most bars across the state, and in cans in select locations in North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wyoming, the best move is to stop by their tap room in Spearfish (just 10 miles from the South Dakota/Wyoming border) to drink it straight from the source.
Miner Brewing Company
Hill City, SD
Opened in fall of 2013 by brewmaster Sandi Vojta and her husband Matt Keck, a stop at Miner Brewing Company is a must on the drive from Rapid City to Custer State Park, or pre- or post-trip to Mount Rushmore (it’s just 20 minutes away). Pull up a seat at the bar in their bright and rustic taproom, or in their open air beer garden, and order a beer flight. On tap, you’ll find a rotating list of 10-12 beers crafted in the style of traditional European brews, but often with the addition of a distinctly South Dakota twist — like South Dakota-grown currants, chokecherries, pumpkins, crab apples and blue spruce tips from the Black Hills.
If you’re more of a wine drinker, or just don’t discriminate when it comes to alcoholic beverages, walk directly next door to the tasting room of Prairie Berry winery, which was founded by the very same people.
Firehouse Brewing Co.
Rapid City, SD
The OG of South Dakota brewing, Firehouse Brewing Co. (a.k.a. The Firehouse) is the oldest operating microbrewery in the state. Founded in 1991 and housed in Rapid City’s old firehouse, which was built in 1915 and is listed on the National Historic Register, The Firehouse is conveniently located within the city’s picturesque and walkable downtown. After deciding whether to sit, drink and eat on the patio or inside amongst the authentic firehouse memorabilia, the next difficult decision will be which beer to order. If you can’t choose one from the list of consistently rotating beers on tap, go for beer flight which comes with six to nine (NINE!) sizable samples of The Firehouse’s own creations.
Hay Camp Brewing Company
Rapid City, SD
Sticking in Rapid City, your next stop should be Hay Camp Brewing Company, a small but growing operation with a taproom, that just this week, expanded their hours to 4-10pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Founded by two friends (fun fact: one has a masters degree in geological engineering and the other, a Ph.D. in chemical engineering), Hay Camp is a passion project turned-business turned-local’s favorite hangout that produces handcrafted small batch ales. On tap, you’ll find five beers, which include a rotating list of specialty and seasonal creations, as well as their dry and smokey Victory Stout, a perennial best seller.
Pro Tip: Looking for more great beer in Rapid City? Don’t pass up a trip to Independent Ale House, where 40 constantly rotating taps await you.
Bitter Esters Brewhouse
Located in Custer, a tiny town of just over 2,000 people and a popular pit stop for travelers on their way to see the Crazy House Memorial, Mount Rushmore, and Custer State Park, you’ll find Bitter Esters Brewhouse. This small microbrewery and restaurant on Custer’s main drag is a favorite place for South Dakotans and visitors alike to stop and refuel. With a rotating selection of guest beers on tap, but most known for their own American ales and Belgian-style farmhouse ales (aka saisons), you can’t go wrong with grabbing a beer flight or a pint, then chowing down on a locally raised bison or beef burger.
Fernson Brewing Company
Sioux Falls, SD
Located along the state’s far eastern boarder, Fernson Brewing Company was founded at the beginning of 2015 and is growing fast. As the second brewery in the state to can their beer (their first batch of cans went out just last week), Fernson’s beer is making its way around South Dakota, with distribution in neighboring Iowa coming in the not too distant future. Year round, you can enjoy their Farmhouse Ale, a light, crisp and semi-tart saison, and their smooth and aromatic IPA. Also on tap at the brewery’s soon-to-open public taproom, will be new seasonal beers every few months and specialty beers at random. At the pace they’re going, Fernson beer may one day rival South Dakota’s chief exports of soybeans, pigs, wheat and hay!
Pro Tip: Looking for more great beer in Sioux Falls? Check out craft beer bar, Monks, and the attached Gandy Dancer Brew Works, a collaborative microbrewery featuring the creations of local and regional home brewers and professional brewers.
But Wait There’s More!
You didn’t think those were the only breweries in the state, did you? Don’t forget to swing by these breweries too:
WoodGrain – Sioux Falls, SD
Wooden Legs Brewing Company – Brookings, SD
Sick N’ Twisted Brewing Co. – Hill City, SD
Dakota Shivers Brewing – Leed, SD
The Knuckle Brewing Co. – Sturges, SD
GEAR GUIDE: Don’t Forget Your Growler
Since most breweries in South Dakota don’t package their beer, the only way you can take some tasty South Dakota beer with you, say for a victory drink when you reach the top of Harney Peak (South Dakota’s tallest peak located in Custer State Park) or when you park your RV at Cedar Pass Lodge in Badlands National Park , is with a growler.
While you can buy a glass growler at almost every brewery, to keep you beer safe, and most importantly, cold, you’ll want to invest in an insulated growler, like the Klean Kanteen 64 oz. Vacuum Insulated Growler ($69.95) or the Hydro Flash 64 oz. Wide Mouth Insulated Growler ($54.99).