Imbibe Lake Pepin: Maiden Rock and Stockholm
This is part two of our Imbibe Lake Pepin Series, a journey along the Great River Road. Read part one first.
Following a relaxing brunch or drinks at Chef Shack Bay City, follow the Great River Road as it winds southeast towards Maiden Rock. You’ll know you’re close when you pass over trickling Rush River and little houses start appearing on the narrow strip between the road and the river. In this installment, we have idyllic drives, world-class cider, and pie.
If you need a moment on your feet and away from food, Maiden Rock has several charming shops to stretch your legs. Where the river “ends” and Lake Pepin begins is up for debate. By Maiden Rock, the river has widened significantly to Pepin status.
One of the more unexpected shops along this entire drive is the sophisticated Cultural Cloth, a textile shop. Cultural Cloth supplies cloth work from all over the world, including a place that is close to my heart, Guatemala. Take a moment to browse the fair trade wares including bedspreads, clothing, curtains, and more. The staff are accommodating and knowledgeable, and it’s both beautiful and low-pressure.
If you are in the market for a snack or for food to take home, don’t miss The Smiling Pelican Bakeshop. A favorite among travelers and locals, this place starts running out of bread exponentially from the moment they open their doors — get there early if a loaf of bread to-go is a priority. Honestly, I’ve been there when they have about two things left and I’ve been blown away. The spice muffin, for example, looks dense but is actually moist and airy at the same time.
It’s a pleasure to wander this tiny town. Two other shops facing the Pelican have garden supplies and more, and Central-American-influenced gifts and art. There are two hole-in-the-wall pubs and some decent antiques to be discovered, too.
Maiden Rock also has accommodations, if this seems like an ideal place to end day one. The Inn below has four B&B style rooms and is a converted schoolhouse. During peak fall colors season and long weekends, it’s hard to find a room. Camping space is available in Stockholm if that’s more your style.
Before entering Stockholm, don’t miss one of the Midwest’s premier cider producers, Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery, which is a short, inland jaunt off the trail. I first learned of Maiden Rock while working at The Four Firkins, where this Wisconsin cider was lauded as perfection. Thinking this was an overstatement, I tried a bottle of the Scrumpy, which is a traditional blend of bittersharp apples originating in England. After only being exposed to Crispin and Strongbow, it was the best cider I had ever had. The Honeycrisp, too, was sweeter but just as enjoyable. It’s made with the popular Minnesota-developed apple.
Maiden Rock owners Herdie Baisden and Carol Wiersma have been experimenting on how to share their love of apples for many years. Herdie has been making cider for over 15 years, while Carol’s interests lie in agricultural tourism. The two began creating cider under the Maiden Rock name ten years ago, an extension of their larger farm brand, Maiden Rock Apples. Their focus is on quality apples and premium cider made the traditional way.
Pay a visit to the tasting room for a chance to sample many of their products, as well as other wines and meads from the Western Wisconsin area. Many Maiden Rock ciders are available in bottles, such as Scrumpy and Honeycrisp, while others are sold by the growler. If you’re lucky you may find limited runs in bottles, including one of our favorites – Kingston Black.
Kingston Black, like several of Herdie’s products, is a still cider made from a single variety of apple. Believe it or not, cider was traditionally not a sparkling beverage. It wasn’t very sweet, either, since the sugar would convert to alcohol in an unchecked fashion. Traditional cider lovers will appreciate Maiden Rock’s fearlessness when it comes to bitter and funky beverages.
Stroll through the orchard with your cider and enjoy the rolling hills, neighboring cows, and manicured rows of trees. Navigate back to the Great River Road when you’re ready. Stockholm is next, and that means pie.
Stockholm is only a few minutes from the cidery and its a jam-packed intersection of shopping, sipping, and snacking. The speck of a town is very picturesque, almost to an unbelievable degree. (Do people actually visit the charming mechanic or old-timey insurance broker, below?) It’s a busy place in summer and fall, but we found the restaurants and shops have remained pleasantly un-touristy.
First, there’s the pie, which is a local legend. Check out Stockholm Pie and General Store for all varieties, usually dozens of kinds at one moment in time. All the pies are made by hand, and the selection changes seasonally. We suggest the caramel apple crunch. They also stock a very small but selective variety of craft beer, cider, and other local beverages including a favorite of mine, Sprecher Black Bavarian, which no longer makes it to Minnesota. This is a great place to sit, whether at a table or on a wooden bench on the porch, and observe (Peak Tourism Level obtained).
I suggest taking a wander through the numerous galleries as well as the campground that borders Lake Pepin, if you want to get a closer look. Indigo Swan stocks beautiful Native American wares, and Out of the Blue gallery even has some outdoor sculpture in a lush, green setting. True to their Scandinavian ties, Stockholm houses one location of the popular Ingebretsen’s Nordic Marketplace. Find it on your way south out of town, in an 1878 limestone building.
Given our early winter, continue following along the Great River Road this spring. We will pick up in Pepin, then cross back into the land of 10,000 more things to eat and drink! Until then, fuzzy socks and stouts for everyone.