The grandest of all MN Craft Brewer’s Guild events, Winterfest, descended on the Delta SKY360° Legends Club at Target Field on Friday, Feb. 24th. This stellar festival showcases of the finest craft beers brewed in MN. Over 100 MN breweries had their best on display and the night did not disappoint. Similar to my reaction to the 1987 and 1991 Twins World Series victories, at the end of the night you could not wipe the smile off my face after such a spectacular evening of drinking great beer with fantastic people.
Just like Twins Manager Tom Kelly had a reliable pitching coach, Dick Such, next to him on the bench every game, my fellow Beerploma Blogger, Eric Wentling, was by my side to help tackle the seemingly insurmountable task of tasting as much great MN craft beer as we could. Of course, you can’t ignore the draw of great conversation with friends and brewing industry folks. We definitely had some favorite beers from the night which we will discuss here, but first, let’s chat about the setting.
The Venue: Target Field
For me, this was the first time attending this event at a location other than the Union Depot in St. Paul. Eric is much more of a seasoned Winterfest attendee. His experiences go way back to when it was at the History Center in St. Paul. Target Field offered a lengthier span of space and weaved the breweries through a fantastically curated collection of MN Twins lore. Sipping a craft beer next to Kirby Puckett’s glove and cleats is pretty cool.
While the span of the Delta SKY360° Legends Club was vast, there are a few areas where some bottlenecks develop. At Winterfest, every brewery offers at least one beer that is close to 10% ABV. Because of this, there has to be ample access to water and rinsing stations. This is where I have to give Target Field an E (error) in the box score because water and dump buckets were as scarce as a pitcher wearing a Twins uniform with an ERA below 4.
The traffic moved fairly well except when I got to the Carew Atrium. Given that this area is named for a Twins great who moved around the bases with ease, I felt more like Kent Hrbek trying to stretch a single into a triple as I navigated through this area. With Steel Toe, Modist, Urban Growler, Bad Weather, Castle Danger and Insight all in one area there was a real logjam here.
Target Field’s catering department is in a class by themselves. They have elevated the concept of ballpark food to amazing height. Just like a Harmon Killebrew home run, the food offerings at Winterfest were sensational. They had a vast array of offerings for different tastes. Veggies, tatertots with a nice spicy cheese sauce, Kramarzcuk’s sausage, pulled pork, and braised beef poutine kept drinkers sated throughout the evening. These vittles were a definitive step up from the last couple years at the Union Depot.
Eric and I have similar tastes when it comes to beer. Our palates are well-calibrated and we usually agree when a beer is great. Because of this, we were able to divide and conquer as far as finding things that the other would like. By the end of the night, we had some of favorite beers as well as a few breweries that we had not had before and thought really deserved some praise. Of course, these were the favorites of the beers we tried. We could not get to every beer we wanted to, but we gave it our best shot.
Spilled Grain Brewhouse (Annandale, MN)
Spilled Grain jumped out to the both of us because they do a great job with some styles that aren’t usually our favorites. Their Bent Prop is a Baltic Porter that had a nice and thick mouthfeel. The amount of black licorice flavor is not heavy-handed which makes it a more complex flavor profile. The Emancipator 2015 is their Doppelbock which hits the rich caramel malt note that Doppelbock lovers crave. Their Train Wreck is an American DIPA that had an aggressive hop presence. It is balanced nicely with the right about of malt and really made a great impression on both of us. The Bearded Man is an Old Ale and it has a wonderful amount of raisin, toffee, and caramel flavors to go with a decent punch of alcohol.
Foxhole has an English Mild that will justify a trip to Willmar if you live in the cities. If you live in Willmar, you are lucky enough to know that they are brewing some great stuff at Foxhole. Their take on the East Coast IPA is the Clouded Vision. However, there is nothing cloudy about the assessment that this beer really hit the mark of that style. They also have a Peanut Butter Porter which holds up with some of the other fantastic examples of that style that were on display at Winterfest.
5- Modist Brewing Deviation #4
This beer has a spice profile that dazzles the palate with a combination of chocolate and vanilla sweetness. It is backed up by red chili spice to provide a balanced and delicious flavor. The beer has a velvety smoothness to it and it is something that really stood out to me.
4- Waconia Brewing Deep Water DIPA
Because of how they use Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe, there were great juicy flavors bursting out of this beer. The simcoe gives it the piney notes to compliment and balance out the citrus and blueberry notes that result from the Citra and Mosaic hops. I hope to find this beer as I am out and about because it is one of the more balanced DIPAs that I have had recently.
3- Dangerous Man Tawny Port Barrel-Aged Imperial Peanut Butter Porter
This beer magically infuses the flavors of a PB & J sandwich into a beer that has a wonderful depth and complexity. Roasty, fruity, and smooth are words I describe this incredible beer. If you were lucky enough to get a bottle of it back when it released in December, you are in for a treat.
2- Birches on the Lake Salted Caramel Quad
If there is a flavor that I cannot get enough of in life it is salted caramel. The fact that it appears in my favorite Belgian style of beer is outstanding. This beer had sweetness from caramel and belgian candi sugar to balance out the incredible flavor of sea salt. I am not sure how often this is available at the brewery, but if you see it there, order one!
1- Lupulin Brewing Blissful Ignorance
One craft beer trend that I cannot stop doing cartwheels about is the East Coast IPA. Lupulin has taken all the juicy and fruity flavors of that style and put them into a DIPA that is deceptively strong. If you cannot get out to Vermont to try Heady Topper, this is an adept homage to that beer and style. Luckily, it is available in cans and the taproom. So seek it out and take a trip to the East Coast without having to get patted down by airport security.
5- Freehouse Infinity Russian Imperial Stout
Thanks to Pio from Freehouse for bringing 2015’s Infinity RIS. Starting to show a little oxidation, but adds some sherry character.
4- Jack Pine’s Chokecherry Black Bear Stout
A memorable beer for sure. Chokecherry adds tannin without sourness, but makes the beer more light bodied. Kudos for giving me something truly unique. Thanks Patrick!
3- Lupulin Brewing Barrel God
A 13% ABV Russian Imperial stout. The rye whiskey comes through beautifully with a powerful booziness, balanced by plenty of chocolate and roast malt. Incredible complexity and not overly sweet.
2- Bent Paddle Cherry Vanilla Double Shot Double Black
Big name, bigger flavors! Bordering on too sweet, but balanced a bit by the cherry, this is a cool new take on my favorite beer from 2016.
1- Lupulin Brewing Blissful Ignorance
Kegged that morning, this was as fresh as could be. The beer hit me in all my happy places…for beer! This 9% ABV DIPA tastes like a fruity, slightly bitter, 6% beer. Dangerous and amazing at the same time. I’ll take the risk and do the razor dance with you Blissful Ignorance!
Those were our favorites of the night, but the fans of the event voted for Fair State Brewing Cooperative for both Best Brewery and Best Beer of the fest for their U-Pick. I believe that brings their streak to 4 for winning Best of the Fest awards at a MN Craft Brewer’s Guild festival.
The night is never long enough and Winterfest is truly a wonderful craft beer event. You get the best beers from the breweries that represent our state. To see the growth in both quality and quantity of local breweries is something that should make us all proud to be in the great state of MN. It seems unfair that a night that many of us look forward to with such anticipation goes by in a blink. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait as long as those pining for a Twins playoff berth to enjoy another Winterfest; see you next year!
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