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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
Every year I go through my spotty memory and try to pick out my favorite beers of the year. This year I’m specifically focused on Minnesota beers since most of our readership is from the Midwest area. However, with a trip to GABF in Denver this year I had a lot of amazing beers from all over the US. Even keeping to Minnesota this is a tough list to compile. In judging these I went for personal taste as well as stylistic accuracy and balance. My credentials for making such a list? I’ve been a homebrewer for 25+ years, a National ranked BJCP beer judge, a beer blogger, a beer podcaster, and I just really like beers! Your results may vary!
25) Indeed Wooden Soul Cherry Dust: Another great sour from Indeed. More of this please
24) Wild Mind Mirabelle: After so many of our readers were shocked that Wild Mind didn’t make my top 25 MN Brewery List, I made an effort to get over there and see what all the fuss was about. This blackberry sour aged in gin barrels was a fantastic beer that made me pay attention!
23) Blackstack Local 755: Shocker–a NE IPA again. I just really like this style of beer and Blackstack’s version is a good one for sure.
22) Unmapped Mind The Map: A very well done ESB style beer that fills the shoes of the missing Insight Lambton Dragon and Northgate Parapet in our market. This was a one-off initially but has happily been released again as of this writing!
21) Sisyphus Mashtodon: A last minute addition that I tried at the pleasant taproom with some friends recently. A very good barleywine that hit me somewhere between and English and American version of the style.
20) Summit Vienna Lager: This is a great one-off in the Unchained series of beers and really makes me wish we had more commercial examples of this style. Maltier and a bit darker than most (Firebrick, Negro Modelo) this one really stood out and paired great with food.
19) Utepils Pils: Utepils really shines in their traditional (mostly) German styles. This Czech pilsner is spot on and well balanced.
18) Schell’s Fort Road Helles: A light malty lager made with locally grown grain. This is one of the best new lagers I tried this year when out at New Ulm and became an instant dweller in my beer fridge.
17) Fair State Giantsbane: A double stout that really hits all the high marks for chocolate, maltiness, and balance. This was a last minute addition to my list after having it at McCoy’s beer dinner for Fair State.
16) Fair State Curation: This was a complex sour beer with plums and really jumped up my respect level for Fair State’s sour program. I must have had two of these at the Mixed Culture event this summer. Hard to remember…
15) Barrel Theory Key Sublime: The only kettle sour that has ever made one of my lists. The key lime in this is quite simply…sublime. These guys know how to make a rounded and tasty kettle sour.
14) Hammerheart The Baron’s Forge: This was a surprise since it is aged in Laphroig Scotch barrels. Just sniffing this beer and I knew exactly what was going on here! Not for the haters of peaty Scotch!
13) Insight Rum Barrel Aged Gravity Well: A rum barrel aged version of their yearly RIS. This is the most smooth and balanced of the offerings this year. Happy I got a few bottles of it this time!
12) Waconia Brewing’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter: I drink a lot of this beer. Peanut butter beer is not for everyone, but this is one of the best to be found in the state and now in cans.
11) Town Hall Foolish Angel: This is a bourbon barrel aged Belgian Strong ale that hits all the high marks.
10) Town Hall Twisted Trace: Yep, another Town Hall beer. This is the Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrel aged version of the already great Twisted Reality Barleywine. The booze is strong, but you can really pick out the particular barrel on this one.
9) Pryes’ Export Stout: A spot-on and wonderful version of a fairly uncommon beer style. This is the first beer from Jeremy that I’ve had other than the ubiquitous Miraculum and I was much impressed. I need to get to the brewery. More like this please!
8) Town Hall Brewery 3 Hour Tour: An amazing coconut milk stout that is a perennial favorite of my wife and I. We managed to snag a few growlers this year and have had some on tap a few times at the brewery. Yum! This year they did an imperial version called 6 Hour Tour that was also fantastic but a little too sweet to make it to my list.
7) Fair State Spirit Foul: What, another NE IPA? Yes indeed! I do like this style when done well and am happy to have some local options for fresh drinking. This beer is very nice.
6) Barrel Theory’s Rain Drops IPA: Yep, another NE IPA, and also done incredibly well. I’ve now had several different takes on this style from the brewery with different hop additions but I find the basic beer to be perfectly balanced. A fantastic new addition to the St. Paul side of things.
5) Lupulin Brewing’s Hooey IPA: This beer is a perfect example of the NE IPA style and I wouldn’t change a single thing. Who needs Heady Topper or Sip Of Sunshine? OK, I’d still like some of that too…
4) Bent Paddle Double Shot Double Black: And amazing BA RIS with vanilla and coffee. The beer festival variations of this are even more crazy but the base beer is nigh perfect on its own.
3) Lift Bridge Barrel Aged Silhouette: Yup still in my top 5 for three years. Simply the most balanced and perfect barrel aged Russian Imperial I’ve found in MN. And consistent!
2) Indeed Mango Heliotropic: This one is fruity but has enough funk and sour to make it more complex than most Minnesota sours. I could drink this every day if I could find it. Keep doing beers like this Indeed.
1) Lupulin Brewing’s Blissful Ignorance: An incredible hazy double IPA that set my palate for all upcoming NE IPAs. This remains one of the few beers that I will buy on sight without a thought for all the other beers already languishing in my fridge. I would be happy to drink this on a desert island every day…and I’d probably be talking and toasting to a volleyball within a couple of days.
I’m not shocked to see some serious NE IPA action my list–since I discovered this style last year, it has blossomed in the local beer scene as well. Call it a fad if you will, but I really like them when done right. I also love me some bourbon barrel aged beers, especially Russian Imperial stouts. I’m starting to see some really good lagers show up this past year as well and am pleased to see a couple of them sneak into my list. I’m also enjoying some legitimate sours from Minnesota breweries that are moving in the right direction. Dan should be putting his list up soon so I’m interested to see if we have any overlap again this year.
Hopefully, you readers will take this time to think about what beers really impressed you this past year and come up with your own list (at least in your head!) Are there any amazing local beers that Dan and I should make sure to check out in the coming year?