On the Beer Trail: Incredible Beer from...North Dakota?

On the Beer Trail

Exploring the country, beer by beer.

Editor's Note: Ethan Fixell tours the country as a comedian—and as a beer drinker. Can he sip a local beer in every state? Watch him try. Got a local brewery you want him to check out? Let Ethan know in the comments section.


[Illustration: Robyn Lee]



We love it. And you've voted. See which is the best American beer city.

There are only three active breweries in all of North Dakota, a state known for its strict distribution laws. Of those three, one is part of a chain that originated in Minnesota, another only contract brews, and the third is over 4 hours away from the city I would perform in. These details did not bode well for my trip to North Dakota.

But work is work, and I got up at 4 a.m. for a 6 a.m. flight. After arriving in Grand Forks, I spent the entire day waiting for my evening show in a creepy hotel room that may or may not have been the site of multiple homicides. To make matters worse, it turned out that the hosting university "forgot" to publicize their first ever Monday night show, so there were twelve people in attendance.


[Photo: Ethan Fixell]

When a show goes well, comedians celebrate with a beer. But when a show goes badly, a good beer is indispensable. Once, after bombing so terribly at a Jewish Federation in New Jersey that an old man actually stood to boo us in between bites of Gefilte fish, Dave and I polished off two 40s apiece. But all Grand Forks could offer us to soothe our blues at 10 p.m. was Bud Lite, Coors, and a whole lotta Fleischkuekle (meat pie...not my thing).

Our earliest escape options were 6:40 or 9 a.m. flights, on each of which only one seat remained. A coin flip determined that I would wake at 3:30 a.m. to attempt to get on the former, but by then it had sold out. Dave fared better than I, scoring the last ticket on the 9 a.m. flight. I would have to stay in North Dakota an extra day, biding my time on the set of multiple episodes of The First 48.

Thankfully, I caught a break at 8:15 a.m.: a seat on Dave's flight had opened up, and it was mine if I could get to the airport in twenty minutes. I hauled ass, and got home in time to watch The Bachelor with my girlfriend.

With my visit to North Dakota behind me, my greatest regret was that I didn't get to sample any local beer. Refusing to admit defeat, I placed a phone call to Todd Sattler, co-owner of native favorite Laughing Sun Brewing Co. Though the popular Bismarck brewery doesn't distribute, Todd generously agreed to hand-bottle and ship three of the current beers on tap at their pub for me to sample. I love this man.

When the soggy FedEx box arrived at my door, I wasted no time tearing it open like a kid at Christmas. "Yes," I shouted as I removed each unmarked bottle, "repent, North Dakota! Repent for the pain you have inflicted by permitting me to drink the sweet waters of your fertile plains!" A handwritten yellow slip served as my only guide for what each color coded bottlecap preserved.

First was the Black Shox Porter, a rich, chocolatey beer that smells like dessert, and tastes like roasted coffee. The hand bottled sample lacked much carbonation, but the flavors were so delicious, I wanted to pour it over ice cream. And my body.

Next was the Sinister Pear, a Belgian Golden Strong Ale. My girlfriend, not typically a beer drinker, stole the glass out of my hands while I was still pouring, attracted to its gorgeous golden hue and uniquely yeasty aroma. She gave the thumbs up sign. "It's strong," she said. At 8.5% ABV, Sinister Pear is dangerously seductive.

Finally, I got to work on Feast Like A Sultan, a beautiful, deeply amber colored IPA. The fresh, fruity scent was nearly intoxicating; the flavor was hoppy but balanced. I could drink this stuff all night. And I did.

I was impressed by how clean and straightforward all of Laughing Sun's beer was. I completely understood what the brewery was going for with each style, and they succeeded in every instance. If the brew tasted this good after traveling 1500 miles, I could only imagine how delicious it'd be coming from a fresh tap. I never thought I'd say this, but I can't wait to get back to North Dakota.

About the Author: Ethan Fixell is a writer and comedian from New York City best known as one half of comic "dating coach" duo Dave and Ethan. He is also the creator and editor of ActualConversation.com. For more on Ethan, visit EthanFixell.com.