Take a (short) drive: Northfield British pub offers solid beer lineup, atmosphere

Most Twin Cities-based residents don’t often look beyond the 494 loop for much. They’ve got all they can handle in entertainment, food and drink. But there are, of course, many gems in the first- and second-ring suburbs and beyond.

One such example is the exurb of Northfield, a quaint town of 20,000 (including the populations of its two liberal arts colleges, Carleton and St. Olaf). Best of all? It’s a short 30-minute drive from Burnsville (you know, that sprawling city that’s just 10 minutes away from Minneapolis).

Northfield is a destination for many reasons: Safest place to live, best small town in America, best place to retire, and the history around that whole failed bank robbery by the James-Younger Gang (just do a quick search online for Northfield’s accolades). And it’s growing its reputation for a place for those with a thirst for better brews (and spirits: See Loon Liquors). With Imminent Brewing’s progress and Meetinghouse Brewery slated to open early next year in adjacent Dundas, people will have a good reason to visit Northfield.

But many of the city’s establishments already pay attention to quality beer, including British pub The Contented Cow (www.contentedcow.com), long known to carry beer for the serious beer drinker. Its current lineup includes offerings from Boom Island, Fulton, Indeed, Grand Teton and Mankato Brewery. It’s carried perennial favorites like Summit, Badger Hill and Insight, and regularly shuffles its lineup.

The Cow’s proprietor, Norman Butler (no relation to this writer), recently took time to respond to some questions for mnbeeractivists.com.

Why has bringing quality beer to your pub been a focus?

All pubs and bars sell quality beers and most buy and sell “domestics.” This was certainly the case when The Cow opened in 1999. We wanted to offer something different (including a nonsmoking environment) and, since at that time the U.S. craft beer industry was in its infancy, most of our keg beers were imported. However, the last few years have seen a long-awaited and much-appreciated renaissance of the microbrew and craft beer industry, so nowadays there is no need to go overseas for quality beers.

How many beers do you usually have on tap?

We opened in 1999 with eight and now have 13 and are at capacity regarding the size of our walk-in cooler. Even so, most styles of craft beers are offered — if not this week, then next.

How often do they rotate?

Initially, customers bemoaned the fact that their favorite was on last week but not this. However, quite soon they recognized and appreciated the variety and we will continue to offer a constantly changing lineup of breweries and styles.

What does having better beer options do for the atmosphere of your pub?

Within the context of a warm, inviting, olde worlde style environment, continuous improvement (i.e., change) is important and our approach to beer reflects that. Customers are curious to try new brews and rarely regret it.

You have a lot of Minnesota representation on your tap line. Why is that?

Minnesota beers are brilliant and can stand up to the rest of the country, even the world. In addition and in step with a refocusing of consumer preferences, The Cow tries to source local product and support local businesses — and not just brews.

What’s your favorite craft beer?

I’m spoiled for choice.

What’s your favorite Minnesota beer?

Likewise. And not just beer — also local ciders and soda.

Why is a visit to the Cow and Northfield worth the drive for out-of-towners?

The Cow, Colleges & Contentment. A great place for a day out — arts town, Riverside Market Fair, period architecture, solid, safe, sane (for the most part). The list goes on as do the reasons for making Northfield a destination drive — and hopefully one day a destination train ride!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Northfield and The Cow welcomes the curious and inquiring mind and spirit!




About the author

Hi, I'm Corey. I like craft beer; specifically, like a lot of people here, I like Minnesota beer. I'm co-host of On Tap with Corey and Ira, a biweekly radio show and podcast out of Northfield that explores southern Minnesota breweries and beer. Find us on Facebook and Twitter @OnTapNorthfield. I'm a recovering journalist -- now communications guy -- and wannabe great fisherman. Follow me on Twitter @CoreyButlerMN.