Every year I do a top Minnesota brewery list just to give my impressions of the current state of the state in regards to best breweries. Last year I had to jump from 10 to 20 on the list due to the crazy increase in sheer number of local breweries and this year I’ve gone up to 25. For my personal criteria for this list I’m mostly focused on the overall catalog of beers. I’m basing this on my personal tastes (love me a good IPA and RIS) but also on overall quality (style guidelines, balance, consistency) based on my training as a BJCP beer judge. Your results may vary, but I’m curious about what others may think about this list. I’m including a couple of my favorite beers from each brewery.
Eric’s Top 25 Minnesota Breweries of 2016
1) Bent Paddle Brewing (Duluth): These guys have been putting out amazingly balanced beers since they opened and have slowly but surely expanded into a powerhouse on the MN beer scene. I have never had a beer from them was not well crafted. Double Shot Double Black is one of the best beers in the state in my estimation.
2) Surly Brewing (Minneapolis): OK, call me a fanboy all you want, Surly is still putting out some of the best, most consistent beer in the state. Darkness. Smoke. Todd The Axeman. Fiery Hell. DAF. Surly has dropped from 1 down to 2 this year…mostly due to concerns about the future with the exodus of Todd Haug to Three Floyds.
3) Indeed Brewing (Minneapolis): This was really nearly a tie with Insight. Indeed has been going strong for a while and haven’t lost their steam. They’ve been doing some of the best sours in the state, as well as putting out some of the best barrel aged beers around. Rum King. Any Wooden Soul beer.
4) Insight (Minneapolis): I’ve liked Insight since I first visited the taproom 2 years ago. Quality has improved greatly, expansion is underway, and the beers are unique without being gimicky. The rebranding threw me for a loop but I think it was a good move. Sunken City. Barrel Aged Gravity Well.
5) Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery (Minneapolis): An oldy but a goody. Hoops continues to put out amazing beer on his small system. If not for the limitations of the strange Minnesota brewpub distribution laws Town Hall would be one of the top sellers in the market. Twisted Trace. Three Hour Tour. Czar Jack. Mango Mama (depending on the batch).
6) Steel Toe Brewing (St. Louis Park): Almost under the radar at this point, Jason is still making some of the best beer in the state. Size 4. Lunker. Wee Heavy.
7) Summit Brewing (St. Paul): Summit has been Minnesota’s leader in craft beer since the 80’s and continues to put out classic and new beers that still stand out. While some may be used to the ubiquitous Summit Pale Ale on tap, there was a time when this was the ONLY craft beer option in the state. Dark Infusion. Great Northern Porter.
8) Fulton Brewing (Minneapolis): Fulton has been improving over the past year and making good use of it’s recent expansion to show up on tap everywhere. Solid beers overall, but I still don’t like Lonely Blonde. 300 is the bomb.
9) Lift Bridge (Stillwater): This place is great and I finally got a chance to get out there for a tour this year. Very good beers with a lot of range–but I want more barrel aged stuff! Barrel Aged Silhouette. Irish Coffee Stout.
10) Sociable Cider Works (Minneapolis): The beers are decent, but the ciders are where this place shines. I’m counting them so there! Rusty Chain. Freewheeler. Habenero Cucumber infusion.
11) Waconia Brewing (Waconia): Being upfront–this is my local taproom and I spend a lot of time here playing board games and sipping beers. However, I really do feel that head brewer Tom has crafted some of my favorite beers of the year here. DIPA. Amy’s Blend Coffee Ale. Mo’ Winta Milk Stout. Mo’ Whisky.
12) Fair State (Minneapolis): Fair State has been making a name for itself recently. Some pretty cool beers here, especially the sours. Roselle.
13) Birch’s On The Lake (Long Lake): A brewpub only so this one’s harder to get hold of. Some of the best beers (and food) you will find in the state. Coffee Chocolate Golden Ale. Double IPA.
14) Forager Brewing (Rochester): Excellent small batch beers and a great locally sourced food menu. The sours are getting really good here. Gathering In The Woods. Princess Persica.
15) Bank Brewing (Hendricks): Almost touching the Dakota’s, this brewery has been blowing my mind with amazing IPA’s and sours. Sour Bomb. Hop Lab (any, but Pink is my favorite).
16) Castle Danger (Two Harbors): Incredible upgrade since they moved out of the little shed. The Mosaic IPA is stellar.
17) Urban Growler (St. Paul): I’ve been very happy with the beers here over the past few years and find myself here more than expected considering I live out West. Wake Up Beer (Delovely Porter with cold press coffee!)
18) Junkyard (Moorhead): I wish they were closer to us! Since I’ve only been able to taste two of their beers in the past year I’ve let them drop on my rating… Peanut Butter Bandit.
19) Schell’s Brewing (New Ulm): A classic! Still putting out a variety of great lagers, but now doing great things with sours. I wish I didn’t get migraines from wheat beers or I’d be stocking my whole cellar with the Noble Star Series. Orbital Drift. Snowstorm.
20) Freehouse (Minneapolis): Some may not agree with me on this one (I’ve met some haters) but I really like the well balanced beers Pio is making. Also the food is good! Infinity. Barleywine.
21) Modist (Minneapolis): These guys have jumped up into my to 25–one of the only newly openened breweries to do so this year. Interesting beers overall and very clean. First Call. Smoove.
22) Bad Weather (St. Paul): Very interesting mix of beers and great artwork! I need to get out there more.
23) Lupine (Delano): I haven’t been here in a bit, but really like a lot the beers. Three Bandits. Murder of Cranberries.
24) Bemidji Brewing (Bemidji): I have yet to get out to the brewery, but really want to based on the beers I’ve tasted from them. Some great sours.
25) Brau Brothers (Marshall): Nearly forgotten for a while, Brau Brothers has been making a bit of comeback recently. Rubeus Black. Moo Joos.
Honorable Mentions: This was a tough list to make and I felt bad leaving off some breweries that I do like. Jack Pine, Tin Whiskers, Lupulin (mostly because I’ve only had a couple samples at fests), Bent Brewstillery, Wicked Wort, and Wabasha all just barely fell off the bottom of my list this year. Wild Mind almost made it, but I want to give them time to get some real sours going–next year maybe?
I know everyone’s ranking is going to be different. That’s why lists are fun! I feel like this process made me step back and really think about my favorite local beers from the past year and where I think things belong in the ranking. The top 10 were the easiest to do. The bottom of the list I agonized over a bit–most of the ones falling off the bottom had beers I really like, but there are only so many places on the list! If you haven’t tried all these places out–make it a New Year’s Resolution to do so!
I could also do my bottom 5 breweries but I’m too nice for that! Buy me a beer and maybe I’ll tell you in person…