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The word listicle sounds like the souvenir from a night of debauchery that can only be cured with medication. Nothing gets a discussion ramping up faster than a “best of” list. Of course, the idea is flawed because everyone has a different taste palate. One person’s 5 on Untappd is another person’s “drain pour, brah!”
Dan’s Top 25 MN Breweries
This is my list. I understand that there will be breweries that I have on this list that you do not. I also know based on the current climate of hostile discourse, which has become the norm for all social media platforms, I am going to get verbally shit on more than the floor at the Ex-Lax Quality Assurance Plant. That is ok, I can take it. I want this list this to generate a conversation, but I don’t want it to degenerate into a rip-fest without constructive reasoning.
So, if you think this list sucks, tell me constructively WHY it sucks. Better yet, tell me some of your favorites and why I should give them a try or maybe give them a second look. Also, before reading below, know this, I have not been to every single brewery in MN. I have come close, but there are still a good 10-15 that I still need to hit.
Please also keep in mind that time and place can have an effect on whether or not I liked a place as much as you did. Poor customer service will make even the best beer lineup seem pedestrian. Mindset, the order of things consumed, and atmosphere all play a role in this list. Ok, here we go 😉
25-Spilled Grain Brewhouse (Annandale, MN)
In my opinion, Spilled Grain Brewhouse makes one of the best Oktoberfest beers in the state. Yes, you read that correctly, get out and try it next year and you will see why. They also have a mitt-full of other delicious options like the Steel Cut (oatmeal stout), Emancipator (Doppelbock), and the Barnwood Bitter (ESB). I love what Jacob Schnabel does with malt in his beers and I hope more people take the time to check out Spilled Grain. They are a little bit off the beaten path, but incredibly worth the trip.
24-Wabasha Brewing Company (St. Paul, MN)
Wabasha Brewing Company had their first barrel-aged beer release and the bottles of Cave Stout sold out in a few hours. They have their Darktoberfest, Westside Popper, and Cathedral Porter, all beers I really enjoy. The aforementioned barrel-aged Cave Stout was very good, albeit super-limited. I think that they continue to brew good beer and I just need to get my butt over there more to try things. Unfortunately, things do not last on tap very long because there are a lot of thirsty folk over there on the Westside.
Tin Whiskers Brewing Company is a great place to grab a beer in downtown St. Paul. Their proximity to the Saints games and other breweries on this list is really awesome. They haven’t been doing as many Brew-Offs this year and I miss those. It was a great way to foster some fun competition between breweries and the events were always a lot of fun. I also think that some of their one-offs just weren’t as much in my wheelhouse this year as last year (please bring back the Doppelbock!!). So, they dropped a little on my list this year.
22-Jack Pine Brewing (Brainerd, MN)
What a difference a space makes. Their expansion is magnificent. Their list of offerings in the new space is also staggering. I like that they are really a driving force up in the Brainerd Lakes area when it comes to flavors, styles, and consistency. There are a few other places up there that could learn a thing or two from Jack Pine Brewing Company when it comes to quality assurance. . .
21-Fulton Brewing Company (Minneapolis, MN)
I love their beers, but the taproom on a Friday night is way too “bro-heavy” for my liking. The last time I was there, some knuckle-dragging douche thought that he had invented a brand-new level of comedy by turning the lights on and off in the bathroom to amuse his broski who was peeing. I would like to see more of what they have on tap make it out onto shelves. Maybe I am not looking hard enough, but all I ever see is Lonely Blonde and Sweet Child of Vine. Those are both good, but I know that MPLS Mild would fly off the shelves. In my opinion, now is the best time to get down to the taproom because they have some absolute bangers on tap right now.
20-Castle Danger Brewing Company (Two Harbors, MN)
Castle Danger Brewing Company is always my first stop for All Pints North weekend. I love their Summer Crush, although, this year, there was something off with it to me. George Hunter Stout is a great beer, but I would like to see them branch out a little more and brew some styles that they haven’t done yet. If you are looking for a wonderful place to drink a pint, their taproom space is one of the best in the state when it comes to aesthetics.
19-Steel Toe Brewing (St. Louis Park, MN)
Size 7 is in a class by itself as a wonderful IPA. However, some of Steel Toe Brewing’s other beers don’t necessarily do it for me. Lunker is a real treat when you can find it and I love their Wee Heavy. They are always consistent, but sometimes, I have a hard time finding something malty on tap there that I like. Go ahead, skewer away. . .
18-Indeed Brewing Company (Minneapolis, MN)
I know I am in the minority here, but I just am not that excited about Indeed Brewing Company’s flagships as other people are. I love Rum King, but have found inconsistencies with it lately that make me sad. Their Wooden Soul Series is absolutely stellar and would love to see them bring the same level of ingenuity of the Wooden Soul to maybe revamp some of their mainstays. I hope that they are pouring Whiskey Queen at Winterfest because that beer is extraordinary.
17-Bad Weather Brewing Company (St. Paul, MN)
Barrel-Aged beers, clean and drinkable lagers, and arcade games. These are just three of the many reasons I love Bad Weather Brewing Company. Their arcade festival was a wonderful event and the barleywine only enhanced my pinball skills. Bad Weather always has great options for both the novice drinker and the wily craft beer geek. There is also plenty of space for fun at the taproom. I love their Calamity, Cauld Weather, and Ominous, but their warmer weather beers like Munich Helles and Monk’s Ale were real winners, too.
16-Wild Mind Artisan Ales (Minneapolis, MN)
South Minneapolis has many awesome places to eat, but not a whole lot of variety when it comes to breweries. Well, thanks to Wild Mind Artisan Ales is providing beer geeks near and far with some incredibly savvy beers. First, they have a cool ship. What is a cool ship, you ask? It is a partially open-air fermentation vessel to allow the wild yeasts in the air to do their magic to the beer. This amount of craft and care put into the beers is a major reason why a lot of people cannot stop talking about their beers. I thought that Pash Bash was one of the best things I drank at ABR and I cannot wait to see what they pull out for Winterfest.
15-Waconia Brewing Company (Waconia, MN)
I am jealous of Eric and Sarajo because Waconia Brewing Company is their neighborhood brewery. The folks at Waconia brew tremendous beer. Their Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter is in cans now and widely available. I also think that their Mo-Winta Milk Stout is a shining example of what a milk stout should be in regards to texture and sweetness. It doesn’t hurt that the the owners are as nice as can be and really care about the atmosphere of the taproom.
Urban Growler Brewing Company is all about the experience of bringing people together. Their beers are quality. They have something for everyone. My favorites include but are not limited to their Kölsch, Oktoberfest, Maibock, and Oatmeal Stout. My craft beer scale-of-awesomeness tips when they have a special version of the DeLovely Porter (Now available in cans) on tap. I always gravitate to a place to have a pint that is cozy and welcoming. Deb, Jill, and the entire staff assure that you will feel welcome and comfortable, no matter who you are.
A warm space, tremendous food, and craft beer that is made with total attention to detail. Forager Brewery is a wonderful place to grab a meal and a beer. I know that the beer is great year-round, but summer is the best time to take advantage of their patio. It says something about a place when they are asked to pour their amazing barrel-aged stout at Denver Rare Beer for GABF. Pudding Goggles, Sherpa’s Survival Kit, Kushy Hops, Regal Hops, their entire Twisted Zwieg series are all beers that hit the mark for me for being incredibly great. Now, if we can just ditch the archaic laws so that Austin and his team can sell their beer on liquor store shelves, that would be swell.
12-Barrel Theory Beer Company (St. Paul, MN)
If Barrel Theory Beer Company continues on the trajectory that they are on, they will be in my top 4 next year. Wow. All I can say is wow. From juicy, fruity, hop-delights to sours that redefine what it means to put food flavors into beers, these folks are immensely talented. Their professional pedigree shows in the consistency and quality of their beers. I am still looking forward to trying some of their darker beers. They have really helped elevate the Saint Paul beer vibe and I love what they have going on. Plus, their beer names kick ass.
11-Insight Brewing Company (Minneapolis, MN)
Losing a Head Brewer (Ryan Mihm) who elevated the barrel-aging program at Insight Brewing Company is really the only reason why they fell out of my top ten. Their Gravity Well continues to be a sleeping giant in a state where there are several bona fide beers like this. I think that they continue to push the envelope when it comes to creativity. While I liked their East VS. West concept, the beers left a little to be desired. Fortunately, Splendid Moose and Terror Bear more than made up for those. I still say that on a sunny day, I think Crazy Aunt is a good beer, but I understand why it didn’t have a wider appeal. Selfishly, I wish that they would not have ditched Lambton Dragon. This style is the perfect happy hour beer and it has a ton of flavor and complexity. Please, re-brand it and call it an amber ale if you have to and I think it will sell like hotcakes.
10-Schell’s Brewery (New Ulm, MN)
What puts Schell’s Brewery into my list is their ability to brew consistently and be inventive. Their Berliner Weisse beers are fantastic, Firebrick is a malty delight, and the Hefeweizen is in a class by itself. If I want to wow someone from out of state, I break into my cellar and pull out a 750 of their Noble Star Series. When I want a great Oktoberfest, I just keep my eyes open for the Schell’s 12-pack. Their Frost Hop box was something that I hope we see again because I went through 2 and they weren’t enough.
I am so happy that Junkyard Brewing Company is becoming available in the Twin Cities. Amin and Mattias work their rears off to help keep the thirsty Junkyard fans satiated and for that, we thank them! While we are giving shout-outs, Dan and Aaron deserve a whole lotta love for what they have done for the community of Moorhead, MN. Junkyard is pushing the envelope of styles and flavor profiles. Beer geeks froth at the mouth when King Size is put into crowlers. They have expanded their brewhouse to keep up with feverish demand. They are a true gem of a place and the passion that they put into their beers is remarkable.
8-Bent Paddle Brewing Company (Duluth, MN)
A consistent brewery with a great reputation. In my mind, Bent Paddle Brewing Company has supplanted Fitgers as the best brewery in Duluth. Their Double Shot Double Black is fantastic and 14º Amber Ale continues to win awards. Their cozy taproom is expanding to meet the ever-growing demand of their thirsty and passionate fans. I would like to see them branch out and offer more things in their taproom. Their selection of things on tap at their All Pints North party was lacking. I know I am nitpicking here, but I think that their portfolio would be amazing if they expanded their malty offerings.
Dilly, Dilly! Well played Modist Brewing Company. Great beer in cans and in the taproom. What more do you need? It doesn’t hurt that they brought back Deviation Series #4 to a winter release called Ritual Night. They have the flexibility to push the flavor envelope and do so with gusto. Keigan Knee is a brewing genius/mad scientist and I love how he educates every palate that takes a sip of Modist beer. Their Lord Humungus Rye Stout is an amazing dark and smooth beer. Their lagers are fantastic, and Dreamyard is a work of art. I love what they are doing and hope that they continue to do beer their way.
6-Lift Bridge Brewery (Stillwater, MN)
Lift Bridge Brewery continues to expand their offerings all the while maintaining a high level of quality. Between flagships like Farm Girl and Hopdish to a special release like Barrel-Aged Silhouette, they are a stalwart of the MN craft beer scene. I remember doing a tour there back in 2010 and seeing a few tanks. Now, their brewhouse is like a NASA test on spatial awareness when it comes to how they have fit so much equipment into a footprint. They will be expanding and that will mean more good things for Lift Bridge and their fans. I wish I lived closer but I will be there for their Barrel-Aged Silhouette Release Party, for sure.
5-Lupulin Brewing Company (Big Lake, MN)
Lupulin Brewing Company has enjoyed expansion and accolades that are nothing short of meteoric in the last year. Some might say that this success is driven by the popularity of Blissful Ignorance. Sure, the demand for this exceptional beer helps, but passion and fun are the straws stirring the drink up in Big Lake, MN. Jeff, Aaron, and Matt are some of the most down-to-earth, humble, and friendly people you will ever meet in the beer world. They love what they do and it shows. None of the success that Lupulin has and will continue to enjoy happens unless these three set the tone for the staff and the brand. They added a GABF gold medal for their first ever lager, a Dortmunder, they celebrated a Big Beer Week-showcasing 8 fantastic beers with a lot of ABV and complexity, and continue to be an example that people everywhere will flock to a craft brewery if the beer is made with quality and care. Cheers to you, Lupulin!
Is it just me, or do they have too many plants in this place? You don’t think so? Good, neither do I. I appreciate the extra CO2 because I usually start breathing like a preggo woman dealing with contractions that are 30 seconds apart when I go to Dangerous Man Brewing Company. I love their beers, their taproom, and their staff. When they have special bottle releases, Rob Miller and his wife come out and personally shake hands with the droves of beer geeks that stand in line and brave the elements. This incredibly hospitable touch shows that they care as much about the people buying their beer as they do about how they make it. Their Tawny Port Barrel-Aged Peanut Butter Porter was a pure masterpiece. It was a beer that shattered the boundaries of what I thought a beer could be. Their milkshake IPA series is also an education to one’s palate as well as proof that Jedis can also be brewers. The force is definitely strong with these wonderful people. I cannot wait to stand in line on my birthday and buy a few bottles of their Imperial Chocolate Milk Stout aged in Bourbon Barrels on Jan. 20th.
3-Town Hall Brewery (Minneapolis, MN)
With all sorts of new things flooding the beer market, it is easy to get distracted from a consistently good mainstay of a brewery. Town Hall is always there with great options for the entire year. Town Hall’s Barrel-Aged Week and Anniversary Week celebrations showcase the absolute pinnacle of quality, creativity, and inspiration. Their passion for brewing the best is evident in every sip of beer you taste from Town Hall. 6-Hour Tour was one of my favorite beers of the year. Petunia’s Pumpkin is the best pumpkin beer in MN. Their Dortmunder is a solid year-round beer that quietly showcases a mastery of difficult simplicity. With an ever-expanding footprint that now encroaches into the western burbs, I hope that their next movie is towards St. Paul.
Fair State Brewing Cooperative is taking their members and fans for quite a ride. With the opening of a bigger production facility in the capital city, they have seemingly exploded. Dropping bottles of unique and quality mixed-culture beers, continuing to make one of the best pilsners available in the market, and the phenomenon that was Spirit Foul-they are impressing more than just their diehard fans. Of course, one of my favorite beers from 2016, Raspberry Roselle was more plentiful in 2017 and that made me very happy. The team remains steadfast and resolute about making the best beer they possibly can. They also do fantastic things for their ever-growing membership group. A big nod also goes to Peter Heidorn for making their marketing and social media some of the best in the region, maybe even the country. It is clear that they are having fun. I hope that they can continue to forge the path to greatness moving forward. I also pray that somehow, the state will allow a brewing entity to open more than one location because then I am just a 5-minute drive from their St. Paul location.
Consistency is the hallmark of a vibrant beer city. Summit Brewing Company’s 31st year in the biz brought us more fantastic one-offs and an exciting revamp of their 2018 release calendar. Bringing back Keller Pils as a year-round beer is genius. Their Vienna Lager quietly impressed beer novices and beer geeks alike- cheers to you, Tom Mondor. The Westie 7th was a malty delight and is a great beer to get the people who don’t like Belgian beers to reconsider their stance. Closing out the year with the Union Series #6, Imperial Russian Stout was akin to the Yankees bringing in Mariano Rivera against the early 2000’s Twins teams. Cheers to you, Summit. You aren’t flashy all the time, but you don’t have to be. Your beer speaks for itself. From Mr. Stutrud on down, the entire staff embodies what it means to work hard and treat people right. We are all lucky to have you!
Like all of you, I have my reasons for liking what I like. You will notice that Surly is not on here at all. Does that mean that they don’t make good beer? No. Does it mean that in my mind, they had a rough 2017? Yes. Hoops Brewing is another place that I am sure will eventually be a mainstay on my list. For me, Bent Brewstillery, Lupine Brewing, Utepils, and Birches on the Lake are all in the conversation when it comes to great breweries in MN, but didn’t make the list this year. At the end of the day, these are my favorites and I am sure they don’t match up with yours.
Like many people, I am saddened by the fact that NorthGate Brewing, as we come to love it, is ending. Their low ABV beers that were focused on malt made my palate and soul incredibly happy and grateful. There were great people pouring pints; I am going to miss chatting with Tom and Erica as I sip on a Red Headed Piper. When I was lucky enough to catch Adam Sjogren in the brewery for a chat about baseball, it was a treat for me. So, cheers to you, NorthGate, I will miss you and not forget how much I loved sitting down for a pint in your brewery.
Finally, 2017 brought growth to some places and closures to others. Amidst all that, let me say that Minnesota is far from becoming a saturated craft beer market. However, the days of a homebrewer opening up a brewery as a money-grab are over. If you are going to open a brewery in Minnesota, you need to have some professional experience, you need to have your own money, and you need to be consistent. Minnesota drinkers are too smart to spend 7 dollars on a pint of beer that is under-attenuated crap. There will be more breweries that close in 2018, but that is more of a growing pain of an industry rather than a sign that craft beer is slowing down. Prost!
FYI, HERE is a link to Eric’s top 25 list as well so you can see how much we agree on things. I made sure not to read his post until I had made up my own…