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Toast the Heartland at Craft Breweries and Wineries

In the past, visiting wineries meant traveling to California’s Napa Valley, and interest in beer was relegated to the freezer aisle at the grocery store. But recently, as more and more states incentivize wine production and craft brews are being stocked in refrigerators across the country, many Midwest wineries and breweries are opening their doors to curious, and thirsty, visitors.

From industry stalwarts such as Miller Brewing to craft success stories like Chicago’s Goose Island, beer enthusiasts can find everything from boutique to behemoth. For wine aficionados, a few industrious Midwestern vineyards are trying to separate themselves from their grape-growing brethren by expanding into other areas of beverage production, including the first distillery to open in Iowa since Prohibition.

Here are a number of Heartland destinations where signature libations flow freely.


Cedar Ridge Vineyards

Swisher, Iowa

With a proliferation in the Iowa wine industry in the past few years — there are now more than 100 wineries in the Hawkeye State — the owners of Cedar Ridge Vineyards were encouraged to find a way to differentiate their facility from other destinations. Although their award-winning wines, made from estate-grown grapes on more than 5,000 vines, and their on-site restaurant and events could stand on their own, owners Jeff and Laurie Quint looked to an Iowa agricultural staple: corn.

In the beverage world, corn is to liquor as grapes are to wine.

“And we’re sitting here in Iowa with an abundance of it,” said Cedar Ridge general manager Jamie Siefken.

In 2005, Cedar Ridge became the first distillery to open in Iowa since Prohibition, and it is the only winery and distillery in the state. Along with two varieties of wine, they produce a spectrum of spirits: fruit liqueurs, vodka, gin, rum, rye, brandy, whiskey and even a bourbon that can go toe to toe with what is coming out of Kentucky.

Complimentary tours are open to the public at 1 and 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and during the week by appointment. Visitors will see the production facilities, including a recent $1 million expansion to increase the whiskey production, which feature the still, barrels and wine tanks, and learn about the processes involved in making the beverages. Depending on the time of their visit, guests may even get a chance to pick some grapes. And each trip to the winery includes a tasting experience.


Goose Island Brew Pub


Before they were made at the large Fulton Street production facility in Chicago and long before the brews became giants of the bourgeoning craft beer scene, Goose Island beers were made at a small brewery on Clybourn Avenue in the Lincoln Park area.

Today, the beloved original location has been turned into a full-scale brewpub complete with brewery and restaurant.

Goose Island founder John Hall opened the site in 1988, and after production, bottling and distribution were moved to a larger facility, the Clybourn location was retained as a boutique brewery where brewers could showcase and explore the breadth of different styles and flavors. The brewery’s beers are made exclusively for the on-site brew hall, and on average, there are about 25 different Goose Island beers on tap that aren’t available anywhere else.

“Pretty much everything we brew here stays in house,” said brewmaster Nicholas Barron. “About 99 percent of what we make goes immediately across the bar.”

Tours of the Clybourn location start in the brewery, where visitors can hear about the Goose Island history, see all the original equipment and learn about the nuances of different styles in the brewing process. The tour ends with a sampling of a flight of six different beers, allowing visitors to get a better understanding of the tastes as they relate to what they saw in the brewery. Three public tours are offered Saturday and Sunday beginning at noon. Larger group tours throughout the week can be arranged by appointment.