St. Paul Summer Beer Fest

Last weekend, I enjoyed a hot and steamy day of beer sampling at the MN State Fair Grounds at the 9th Annual St. Paul Summer Beer Fest.  This fest is a great way to kickoff summer and drink beer outdoors.  The International Bazaar is the perfect venue for this event because of its spacious layout and ample shade.  Given the temperature, I needed to stay hydrated and avoid romper swass.  I successfully did both and here are some thoughts about the fest.

The Good

Copious amounts of refreshing beer flowed all day long.  To me, this is not the beer festival for those who really want to find the most rare, barrel aged beer out there.  The St. Paul Summer Beer Fest is a party to kick off summer.  In fact, those were Mark Opdahl’s, one of the organizers, exact words when he was talking about the fest on the Minnesotabeercast about a week ago.  Were there some tantalizing beers that I had not previously tried before?  Sure.  Was Surly Darkness there?  Yes.  Were there a lot of really well-made mixed fermentation beers, lagers, and NE IPAs?  Good lord, yes!  

I love the fact that the beers at this festival reflect the season.  It was really hot on Saturday and I am not sure that dark, velvety, ABV-bombs would have made anyone’s day better.  I did talk to a lot of folks who enjoyed some really nice beers that were on the lighter side of the ABV scale.  Both Boulevard and Left Hand had clean, crisp Kölsch-style beers that helped combat the heat.  Kudos to you, Dangerous Man, for helping me get over my hatred of blueberry and watermelon in beer.  Your Blueberry Milkshake IPA and Watermelon Sour are stellar beers and definitely stood out.  I also have to give props to Wabasha for their Blueberry Implosion IPA.

There were some bigger beers that came across as refreshing and deceptively low ABV.  Empyrean’s Barrel Aged Strawberry Lager was a fine example of this.  My favorite darker beers of the day were Oliphant’s Imperial Milk Stout with Cinnamon and Forager’s Pudding Goggles.

My overall favorite breweries of the day were Forager and Wild Minds.  The offerings available at each brewery for the fest hit every mark for what summer beers should be.

Forager Brewing Company

If there are two things I love about drinking beer in the summer, it is a good Gose, and a nice juicy IPA.  The Preserved Lemon Gose had a blast of Meyer Lemon that accentuated the tart and acidic nature that I love in that beer style.  Their Regal Hops is billed as a Northeast IPA and it did not disappoint.  The Regal Hops is a hazy, juicy, Citra delight.  After that, the Twisted Zwieg, which is a special series of beers that showcase fruits, was great.  This time it was blue fruits: MN organic aronia berries, black currants, and elderberries.  Last but not least, the aforementioned Pudding Goggles because who doesn’t like a nice double porter aged on toasted coconut, vanilla bean, cocoa nibs, and cinnamon?

Wild Minds Ales

Wild Minds’ funky take on beers has the local MN beer community blasting George Glinton on the stereo and craving mixed fermentation beers.  If you like complexity in your beer, you need to check out what Wild Minds is doing.  They had a nice collection of beers at the fest and perhaps my overall favorite in their Amaryllis.  This beer combines crispness with tartness and that really stood out and pleased my palate.  Their Brett Pale Ale also refreshed my palate and broadened my horizon of what this style of beer can be.

The Bad

In a perfect world, all my favorite breweries would be at this fest.  However, I understand that there are only so many booths.  Some of my favorite MN breweries were noticeably absent from the fest.  Brau Brothers, Grand Rounds, Hammerheart, Junkyard, and Lupulin were nowhere to be found.  Some of these places (Lupulin and Junkyard) are brewing some of the most innovative beer in the state.  Of the regional breweries that I look forward to seeing Bear Republic, Dogfish Head, Prairie Artisan Ales, Perennial and The Bruery were also absent.  These are some of the bigger brands to enter our state in the last year or so and to not see them on the list was disappointing.

The Ugly

In the education tent, there were some fantastic panels on many facets of beer.  From a Brewer’s Panel to a historical look at beer from Doug Hoverson, there was something for everyone.  The Women In Beer panel featured a fantastic representation of personalities who are transforming the industry.  One of the ugly things about what they talked about was the fact that sexism still runs rampant.  Not just in the beer industry, but in society.  I think that this is just sad.  If you aren’t willing to recognize someone as an equal because of their gender, you need to pull your head out of your behind and get with the times.  If I were starting a brewery, I would want each of the panelists to be in charge because they are insanely talented people.

Summer is in full swing now.  Make sure to look for some of the brands and beers I mentioned in the article to stock in your beer fridge.  I love the Chopped Liver fests, and I cannot thank them enough for letting me get in early and do a bit of research to get the word out about the St. Paul Summer Beer Fest.  Prost!

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