MANKATO — Brewery and winery tours, long a staple in the Twin Cities area and along the Mississippi River, are growing in popularity in southern Minnesota.

“They’re just starting to get down here more often. Now that we’re getting more wineries there’s more interest,” said Ray Winter, owner of Indian Island Winery five miles east of St. Clair.

The tours give the businesses a boost while the visitors are there but are also important as a marketing tool.

Tim Tupy, of Mankato Brewery, said they and other breweries and wineries offer tour groups some kind of discount, like reduced-cost tastings or other specials.

“You hope that while they’re here they’ll buy some T-shirts or glasses or some beer to go. And you hope they look for us next time they’re in the liquor store.”

Ted Marti, of Schell’s Brewing in New Ulm, said it’s still difficult to draw a lot of tour groups from the Twin Cities except for larger events.

“We do a lot of private tours all the time in the brewery and Starkeller. Our everyday tours are up and our events have been up, particularly Oktoberfest, in spite of all the other breweries that are doing Oktoberfests,” Marti said.

He said this year’s Oktoberfest in New Ulm probably got an extra boost by being featured in Midwest Living magazine.

Most of the bigger brew and wine tour bus businesses are located in the Twin Cities but more are venturing into south central Minnesota.

On Dec. 8, events business GetKnit is hosting the Southern Minnesota Brewery Tour, leaving the Union Depot in St. Paul at 8:30 in the morning and returning at 10 p.m. for a full-day of brewery hopping around south central Minnesota. The day packs in six breweries, 25 tastings, brewery tours and more for about $120.

The tour arrives first at August Schell Brewing Company and then onto The Starkeller, Schell’s sour beer brewery, both in New Ulm, with a buffet lunch at the Starkeller.

After hitting the Mankato Brewery the tour will head to F-Town Brewing in Faribault, Little Thistle Brewing and Grand Rounds Brewpub in Rochester and finally Mac’s Smokehouse in Fairfax for a Barbeque cookout.

For more information go to https://getknitevents.com/public-events/southern-brew-tour/

Winter said most of the groups that come to Indian Island are organized bus tours but also private groups such as bridal showers.

Most of the area wineries and breweries also take part in “passport” promotions where people can buy a passport that gives them specials at the businesses listed on the card.

Winter expects that with a growing number of wineries in the area more tours will come.

“You have Javens, Chankaska, Morgan Creek and us and one or two more are coming on the east side of Mankato. That makes a nice group of wineries that people would come down for.”

Tupy said the proliferation of small breweries are also creating a critical mass for tours.

“Seven years go when we started there weren’t tours because there weren’t enough breweries or wineries. Now, anywhere you go down I90 or down (Highway) 169 you’re finding breweries,” Tupy said.

“It’s agritourism and it lets people come and enjoy themselves and have a safe ride down and back.”

Tupy said that beyond organized bus tour companies, he’s been seeing more liquor stores renting a bus and doing a brewery visit.

“A liquor store out of Luverne sold tickets and they’re coming to our brewery for an afternoon and catering in a meal. The Owatonna Cash Wise liquor store does it, visiting wineries and breweries.”

Explore Minnesota also features more brew trip travel ideas, including a “Weekend on the southern Minnesota beer trail.”

“Cities across southern Minnesota are fueling the revival of the state’s brewing traditions,” the Explore Minnesota website says.

The site suggests a trip starting in Rochester, heading to Mankato and New Ulm and then concluding at the Brau Bros. Brewing Co. in Marshall for the night.

“Its unique taproom houses an old-fashioned fire truck retrofitted with multiple tap lines. From this ‘beer engine’ flow numerous styles of small batch beer, brewed with hops and barley from Brau Bros. farm fields.”

They also recommend the nearby Bank Brewing Company’s taproom in Hendricks.

Follow Tim Krohn on Twitter @TimKrohn

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