This article is brought to you by:
“Northern Ale Guide – helping craft beer lovers explore MN beer. We provide great beer discounts and unique information about more than 60 local taprooms- all while supporting solutions to fight hunger around the world through our Craft Your Community initiative. Learn more at northernaleguide.com”
Note: I actually used the Northern Ale Guide this year and made it to just under half of the breweries who were included. That’s a lot of free beer over the year and well worth it if you are like me and like the excuse to go explore a bit! –Eric
For the last 10 years or so I’ve been publishing my top Minnesota brewery list. As a super beer geek, beer blogger, podcaster, and homebrewer, I like this excuse to really think back to the past year’s beery adventures. And I like to share. Looking at the current MN brewery list it looks like I’ve been to just over 80 of them, but that leaves about 60 I haven’t been to yet! I rate a brewery on a combination of beer quality (for style and for my personal taste), as well as the taproom experience if I’ve been there. If I have lots of good experience with particular beers or breweries they are likely to get higher on my list than say… a sample I tried at a beer festival. Your results may vary from mine, but hopefully this will either spark some lively debate or even prompt some of you to check these out. Last year I got a lot of grief for not including a certain bearded Nordeast brewery from list, but hey at least I knew folks were reading the article and actually cared! I also throw a few of my personal favorites from each brewery so you can see if your tastes align with mine. Here goes, let loose the dogs of BEER!
1) Bent Paddle Brewing (Duluth):
The folks at Bent Paddle take home my top honors for the second year running. Clean, reproducible beers with great balance. Another medal this year for thier 14 Degree ESB this year at GABF. And Double Shot Double Black is still amazeballs.
2) Indeed Brewing (MPLS):
Indeed has crept up to number 2 this year! They’re putting out some of the best sours (anything Wooden Soul), like Mango Heliotropic, in in the state. Rum King continues to impress from a dark and roasty perspective.
3) Insight Brewing (MPLS):
Insight also continues to creep up the list, nipping closely at Indeed’s heels. I was concerned when they lost their head brewer earlier this year, but they continue to push boundaries with Crazy Aunt (seriously like a beery G&T) and Terror Bear NE IPA. And Gravity Well is one of the best RIS beers in the state for sure.
4) Lift Bridge Brewing (Stillwater):
Lift Bridge moves beneath the scenes like a slumbering giant, becoming one of the biggest producers in the state. Their beers are all good, but they shine in barrel aged gems like Barrel Aged Silhoutte and Irish Coffee Stout.
5) Town Hall Brewery (MPLS):
Yup still squarely in my top 5. We just got to Town Hall’s 20th Anniversary Beer Dinner this fall and had our minds blown by the great beers and food on display. Some of the earliest and most steady barrel aged options in the state for sure. Manhattan Reserve, Foolish Angel, Twisted Trace, Three Hour Tour, Petunia’s Pumpkin, Hope & King, Mango Mama.
Sj showing off her Town Hall pride
6) Lupulin Brewing (Big Lake):
Q: Where is this?
A: About an hour from everywhere, but worth the drive!
These guys have been putting out a great variety of beer styles, but have really hit it big with their Northeast style IPA offerings like Hooey and Blissful Ignorance. Don’t miss Barrel God RIS or the refreshing Apricot Blonde. Disclaimer here–Dan and I brewed a Belgian Dubbel with Lupulin this year as a Beerploma colaboration. You tell me if I’ve sold out or not!
Big Beer Week at Lupulin
7) Steel Toe Brewing (St. Louis Park):
While other breweries scramble to rapidly expand and take over shelf and tap space far as the eye can see, Steel Toe just keeps trucking along almost heedless to the increasingly vicious race around them. Just keep putting out great beer and I’ll be happy. Wee Heavy, Lunker, Size 4.
8) Junkyard Brewing (Moorhead):
Junkyard has been in my top list for the past two years. These guys put out great and innovative beers on a small scale. With recent can drops in the Twin Cities, you too might be able to check them out! Peanut Butter Bandit, Shake-o-matic Milkshake IPA.
9) Summit Brewery (St. Paul):
Summit continues to impress and be a cornerstone of the MN beer market. They continue to release classics like the Great Northern Porter, but with fun seasonals and Brewer Unchained beers like this year’s Vienna Lager, they also try new things.
10) Fair State (MPLS):
Fair State has expanded to a new production and canning facility, but rather than “go commercial” and focus on only flagships, they continue to push boundaries and try new things. Their Mixed Culture event this summer was an eye opening experience and I hope to see more complex sour offerings like Stupid Sexy Flanders and Curation. Their new NE IPA Spirit Foul is legit.
11) Barrel Theory (St. Paul):
This is a new brewery that has taken the area by storm. At the risk of sounding fan-boy, I’ve been very impressed with the quality right out of the shute for them. Stand-outs are multiple versions of hazy IPA (Rain Drops is my favorite), amazing fruited kettle sours (Key Sublime, MPG), and Black Lotus coconut milk stout. And they haven’t even released anything aged in a barrel yet!
12) August Schell (New Ulm):
The elder statesman of the Minnesota beer scene continues to put out a wide variety of beers. Core beers are close to home with German styles predominant–including Fort Road helles which is my new favorite lawnmower beer. We also got out to the Starkeller this year and tasted through the line-up of intriguing sours.
13) Birch’s On The Lake (Long Lake):
Often overlooked, this brewpub/supperclub has stellar food and a great line-up of beers. Well worth the trip. Golden Coffee Chocolate Ale, pretty much any version of their IPA.
14) Fulton Brewing (MPLS):
Fulton continues to expand production and has blossomed with a new batch of beers this past year. More barrel aging can’t be a bad thing right? I feel like a hater, but I still don’t like flagship Lonely Blonde. But I do like 300 IPA, Barrel Aged Maitrise.
15) Castle Danger (Two Harbors):
I haven’t had any new beers from these guys this year, but the flagships are still solid. Mosaic IPA.
16) Forager (Rochester):
I’ve been consistently impressed with Forager since they opened and have been there about 2 times a year since. Favorites incluge good sours like the Flanders style Gathering in the Woods, as well as Magnus Imperial Stout that blew my mind at Rare Beer Fest this past year. And the food is great as well!
17) Waconia Brewing (Waconia):
Unapologetic for this one, since it is local watering hole and I’ve been here more than any other brewery over the year. The owners and staff are great and Tom the brewer is very open to feedback and critique on the beers. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter is darn solid and drink a fair amount of it. Otherwise I stick mainly to seasonals like the Bourbon Barrel Aged Driftwood RIS, Waconianator Dopplebock, DIPA, and Single Hop series.
18) Hammerheart (Lino Lakes):
I really dig the atavistic Viking vibe at the taproom and the truly unique beers they put out. If you don’t like complex, smoke, barrel, or strong in your beer then this place is not for you! After going to the Happy Gnome beer dinner and having Austin tell more of the history I appreciate the beers all the more. Lift up a horn full of something powerful to Odin with me! Olaf the Stout, The Baron’s Forge, Gorm The Old.
19) Dangerous Man (MPLS):
Look, it made it on the list this year! Letting go of my mediocre taproom experiences, I have now had enough cool bottles of thier more unusual offerings to make up for it. Thanks go to Kevin Kramer and Rick Didora. Imperial Chocolate Milk Stout.
20) Jack Pine (Baxter):
I finally got to visit the brand new taproom in Baxter this summer and loved the look and feel of the place. The beers continue to be well above average and I look forward to a time when I can find them on the shelf closer into the cities. Great job! Vengeance! Jacktober, Bourbon Barrel Big Buck Barleywine.
21) Modist (MPLS):
My wife may not agree with this one making the list, but she’s less impressed with hoppy options. A cool brewery with some interesting beers. It seems like every time I visit here its raining and I get wet walking to the taproom. Curse you beer gods! Also kudos for thumbing the nose at AB/InBev with Dilly Dilly. Smoove, Dreamyard, False Pattern.
22) Utepils (MPLS):
With all the hype of this brewery prior to their opening (and the name I hate to say) I had somewhat low expectations for this place. However, after a visit to the beautiful (inside anyway) brewery with excellent service and solid German style beers I was quickly disabused of that notion! Well worth a visit. Pils, Keller Pils, Kolsch.
23) Urban Growler (St. Paul):
Urban growler continues to be one of the more comfortable taprooms in the area. With recent expansion and now packaging, we’ll hopefully be seeing more of this outside of St. Paul. De-Lovely Porter, Pumpkin Saison.
24) Roets Brewing (Jordan):
I’ve been waiting impatiently for years for Tim Roets to open his Jordan brewery and am finally sated. Located in a cute old town in a cute old bank, this place is instantly relaxed and contagiously comforting. With Tim or Dylan serving up some unusual and worthy beer options from the bar you can’t go wrong. The Bearded Lad, Superfruit.
25) The Freehouse Brewery (MPLS):
The Freehouse often gets overlooked as just another chain in the Blue Plate Group’s ever evolving empire, but benefits from great food, beer cocktails, and housemade beers. Their previous brewer Pio is (alas) gone to start his own thing in Madison, but the beers have remained solid. Winning the most medals (two) at GABF this year of any Minnesota brewery, Freehouse can’t be discounted! Number 20 Barleywine.
HM) Surly Brewing (MPLS):
Kind of like the third prize in a beauty contest, but hey I wanted to people to know what happened to my previous number 2 brewery. I still like a lot of Surly beers and still enjoy the taproom, but have some concerns that have dropped it a bit on my list. Obviously the biggest–No Todd. I feel that the new beers since Todd’s departure have been decent, but nothing that I’ll sell my first-born for. The loss of Brewer’s Table, and the revamping of the Beer Hall menu has me a little perplexed as well. I’ll be interested to see if the ship rights itself over the coming year or if it continues to list to starboard…
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed my little list and thought of how you would rank your own list. Feel free to comment or post your own list for us all to compare! Please try to stay civil and respect your beery peers (I’m talking to you Beer People)! Also are there any places that I totally missed that you think I should get out to in the coming year? Also HERE
is a link to Dan’s top 25 list so you can see where we agree and differ on things!