Lists are like assholes; everybody’s got one. Other than politics and religion, lists can get even the most passively aggressive Minnesotan to raise their voice. Whether it is favorite Randy Moss touchdown catches, most delicious types of artisan cheese, or easiest ways to make Yahtzee! more sensual; people love to rank and discuss lists. As 2016 goes out in a maelstrom of taking more music icons (RIP George Michael), I wanted to follow Eric Wentling’s lead and give my top ten MN beers for 2016.
Will this list match your favorites? More than likely not. In fact, it shouldn’t because craft beer is subjective. Also, where you have a beer can contribute a lot to how good you remember it being. For me, some of the beers on this list were enjoyed in the midst of a wonderful evening of laughter and merriment, surrounded by great friends. If I had the same beer I loved a week later alone in my basement watching C-SPAN, I doubt it would be as wonderful. The rules for this list are pretty straight forward: the beer has to be brewed in MN and it cannot just be a sample that you had at a beer festival.
Top 10 MN Beers of 2016
#1-Lift Bridge Barrel-Aged Silhouette
Most breweries have talented people who are adept and skilled at aging beer in barrels. However, Matt Hall, Lift Bridge’s Head Brewer is a 37th level Wizard when it comes elevating great beers in the cellar. This is, and will always be a beer that I look forward to because of its complex darkness that few other iterations can seem to achieve.
#2-Summit Keller Pils
This was my unofficial beer of summer. It had had a simplicity to it that made it as close to perfection as a beer can be in my eyes. Approachable, but yet each can taught a lesson in German beer history. This was part of their series of 4 beers to celebrate Summit’s 30th anniversary. It will be returning in 2017 as part of a spring sampler pack, so I already made a paper chain counting down the days until I can drink this beer again!
#3-Fair State Brewing Cooperative Raspberry Roselle
Using fruit in a sour beer can be a dangerous gambit. You need skill, knowledge, and a little bit of luck. Fair State’s Niko Tonks continues to show that he can get things done with just knowledge and skill. I picked this beer because it strikes the perfect balance between the sweet and tart elements of raspberry and the delicate nature of the Roselle, which is a hibiscus kettle sour. I do agree with Eric that there are a deluge of mediocre kettle sours both locally and regionally. However, the Raspberry Roselle is a stunning example of how kettle sour done right is absolutely amazing.
#4-Bent Paddle Double Shot Double Black
I love coffee and bourbon. I love Bent Paddle. If you combine all three, you have a DSDB. A nice and thick sipper with aromas of vanilla, chocolate, and coffee. Flavors are all elevated by the oak bourbon barrel. This beer is great out of the bottle in winter or on tap in July when you are up in Duluth for All Pints North. For me, this beer would be higher, but it comes across as maybe a little too sweet. Still, a great beer and if you are lucky enough to find it for 7.99 like my friend Chuck, grab as many as you can.
#5-Waconia Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. As an adult, I love to find opportunities to relive some of the joys of childhood. As I write this, I keep scrolling my Facebook feed and seeing different posts about the passing of Carrie Fisher. Last year at this time, I was transported back to my childhood when I saw Episode 7. Seeing Princess Leia grace the screen again gave me all sorts of geeky warm fuzzies.
The Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter from Waconia hits a different chord on the nostalgia scale. My favorite lunch as a kid was a peanut butter sandwich. Now, my Mom always put butter on there which grossed some of my lesser cultured classmates out. The thought of drinking a beer with flavors and aromas of peanut butter also probably grosses out those monochromatic plebeians. Well, Waconia made this beer exceptional with a good amount of balance between the sweetness of the chocolate and the roasted saltiness of the peanut butter. It is on tap randomly and I recommend that if you see it, you go and get it.
#6-Insight Scotch Barrel-Aged Gravity Well
Gravity Well is an imperial stout that gets a different treatment every year when it is released for Insight’s anniversary party. This year, they aged some of the Gravity Well in some Scotch barrels and blended it to get a perfect harmony of oak barrel, scotch, and Gravity Well. Tasting this directly from the barrels was an experience that will stay with me well beyond when the clock strikes midnight on 2016. This stout is underrated in my opinion. I know that Eric can attest to this beer’s stature among the other Imperial Stouts that are available in this market. They might still have some bottles for sale and I am sure that a keg or two will get tapped at one of their epic taproom bashes they have throughout the year.
#7-Lupulin Blissful Ignorance #4
Lupulin Brewing knows how to highlight hops better than most breweries of their size and age. This series of hop-forward beers really celebrates what different hop ratios and varietals can do to beer. The Blissful Ignorance #4 is an homage to the New England Style IPA. It captures the juicy freshness of the New England IPA perfectly and has a nice amount of booze in it. This beer was inspired by a trip out to the East Coast and I feel that they do a wonderful job of capturing the essence of this polarizing style of IPA. If you were lucky enough to try this, you probably agree that it is a masterful use of hops in a beer.
#8-Northgate Bourbon Barrel-Aged Stout
I love when a brewery known for something gives us something else, completely out of character and awesome. I adore the sessionable Maris Otter-starring ales at Northgate. So, I am always looking for excuses to sit in their taproom and enjoy a proper pint. When I first tried their Bourbon Barrel-Aged Stout, I was in beer geek heaven. Smoothness, booze, chocolate, molasses, and oak all put me in a stupor. I believe that Adam Sjogren had to slap me because I was starting to ramble on about my dark times in Europe. There are still a few bottles out there on the shelves, but the taproom sold out long ago. I am guessing that they probably have a few barrels of it squirreled away for the upcoming 4th anniversary so put that on your radar. Seriously, this beer is going to blow your mind.
#9-Tin Whiskers Orange Chocolate Imperial Stout
Do you remember those chocolate oranges that you might have gotten when you were little? Well, this beer is all those wonderful memories in a glass with a nice kick of alcohol. Tin Whiskers Head Brewer, Derek Brown highlights every possible flavor note of that wonderful chocolate holiday treat in this beer. There is a chance that someday this beer will be available in a bomber, but for now, you have to keep your eyes and ears open to find it on draft at the taproom.
#10-Wabasha Brewing Darktoberfest
This beer is not your typical Oktoberfest. Wabasha’s Darktoberfest is actually a cross between a Marzen-Style beer and a Munich Dunkel. The label art is incredible and echoes a dark mysterious Halloween note. It didn’t last long in the taproom, but they plan on brewing a lot more of it next year. It had a rich malt-backbone and a robust body which made it perfect for fall. Darktoberfest also really whets the appetite for the dark and hearty beers of winter when they aren’t quite on the shelves yet.
Lists like this are always not long enough. I left some great beers off the list due to constraints. So, I have to also say that Disgruntled Brewing up in Perham, MN had one of my favorites in their Imperial Brunch Stout. It pains me to leave Urban Growler’s 10,000 Plums Barleywine off of the list because it was right on the bubble. I am sure that I will be raked over the coals for leaving Surly’s Todd the Axe Man off the list. Junkyard Brewing’s Blackberry Gose would have made it except that I only tried it at Winterfest.
I am curious about your thoughts on this list. This list really is a written trip down memory lane of my 2016 in local craft beer. There is no way it could ever be perfect. At the very least, it will get a nice conversation going. What did I forget and what would you take away? Have at it folks!
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