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Dan’s Top 25 Beers of 2017
What a year in beer for MN! 2017 saw great maturation in the MN beer landscape. Many breweries wowed fans and critics alike with beers crafted with care and creativity. Below are my top ten MN beers of 2017. The operative word being, “my.” I know that readers are all different in what they like and how their palates function. There is a segment of the drinking public that would flip a cork if they saw something other than a double-barrel aged stout in a bourbon barrel show up on this list. For me, these beers are all an illustration of something a brewer or cellarman/cellarwoman does skillfully. These are not strictly based on hype or availability; they are just beers that I drank this year and make a significant impression on me.
Criteria: All of the beers on this list were enjoyed by me in 2017. I know of several that came out earlier, but I tasted them all in 2017. They also are all from MN breweries and brewpubs. If you are curious, feel free to compare my list to Eric Wentling’s and see how our palates/preferences differ.
In its simplicity, there is a level of majesty. The Copacetic Kölsch from Utepils Brewing Company is a great example of K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid). This beer is clean and crisp and the perfect accompaniment to a conversation with some friends. I first tried this beer in February and it felt like I was drinking everything I like about a summertime beer.
24-Munich Helles-Bad Weather Brewing Company
The cleanliness of a well-made Helles is something that few brewers can achieve. Andy at Bad Weather Brewing Company takes a lot of pride in his attention to detail when it comes to Bad Weather beers. Bad Weather’s Munich Helles is a wonderful beer that will keep you coming back for more with each sip of balanced perfection.
23-Schottky Pumpkin Ale-Tin Whiskers Brewing Company
For pumpkin beer lovers, this is perhaps the perfect fall beer. You get some of the vegetal nature of the pumpkin for balance and just enough hint of spices to evoke the flavors of pumpkin pie. It drinks smooth and has just a little bit of kick. This is not too sweet or vanilla-heavy to frighten you away, which is probably the biggest reason I love it so much. Thank you, Tin Whiskers Brewing Company for putting out such a wonderful pumpkin beer!
22-Mind The Map(English Ale)-Unmapped Brewing Company
An homage to his English heritage, Derek Allmendinger has a bloody fine beer in his Mind The Map. It has a fantastic balance between rich, bready malt and wonderfully earthy hop aroma. This is an underrepresented style of beer for sure and the locals in the Glen Lake neighborhood are lucky when this is on tap at Unmapped Brewing Company.
21-Oktoberfest-Spilled Grain Brewhouse
This incredible take on an Oktoberfest is both a testament to Head Brewer, Jacob Schnabel’s ability to brew a great beer and his knowledge of German tradition. This beer had the clean perfection that I look for in a great lager. Add in the malt character which was distinct and loaded with a mix of caramel and biscuity goodness. I know that Summit, Schell’s and Beaver Island have some great ones, but I think that the Spilled Grain’s Oktoberfest belongs in that class, too.
I was impressed last year by the barrel aged RIS variants that Urban Growler had on tap around Thanksgiving. This year marked their first ever bottle release of a special beer. Deb has a knack for knowing exactly how much time a beer should spend in a barrel. This imperial porter was a treat and I am kicking myself for not buying more. I drank one the other day and it is still absolutely delicious. Great body and malt roast in this beer with just the right amount of bourbon from the barrel. I hope you were able to try it because finding it now will be a challenge.
19-Barrel-Aged Darkness 2016(Russian Imperial Stout)-Surly Brewing Company
Surly Darkness is a good beer. To me, I love trying it in a vertical with others to compare how the beer changes. I made sure to drink the barrel-aged 2016 Darkness (released in 2017) fresh to really get the measure of it. I can honestly say that as much as I enjoy Darkness, the barrel-aged version has so much character. The mix of cherry, molasses, and coffee make this beer tasty, but the whiskey barrel really pushes it into a class by itself.
18-Electric Empress(Berliner Weisse)-Schell’s Brewery
If Berliner Weisse is your jam, you will dig this beer. An effervescent revelation to me that really took this style to another level. I loved that the tartness of this was really dialed in perfectly for my palate. The plum notes in the beer make it nice and fruity, but the dry finish keeps it from being a sweetness that lingers too long. Electric Empress is one of my favorite Noble Star Series beers from Schell’s.
17-Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter-Waconia Brewing Company
This might be the best Peanut Butter Porter that is readily available anywhere great beer is sold. Waconia Brewing Company has many fantastic beers, but this one is special to me. I am so happy that it is available in 4-packs year-round now. Do yourself a favor and grab some today if you haven’t already.
16-Giantsbane(Double Stout)-Fair State Brewing Cooperative
Wow. It is almost unfair that Fair State Brewing Cooperative seems to have all my favorite styles represented. Now, they have an incredible double stout, too. When this beer came out last year, I will be honest and admit I didn’t love it. I am glad that it was tweaked because this year’s Giantsbane is delicious. I may or may not be hoarding some because for the price point, it is a damn steal!
15-Tennessee Dessert(Barrel Aged Double Stout)-Town Hall Brewery
Throw this one into the category of decadence and sophistication in a tulip. The dark chocolate flavor in this beer is so exquisite. The body is perfect for me and I love all the roasted malt flavor. Just enough of the barrel for my liking to make this a fantastic sipper.
14-14º ESB-Bent Paddle Brewing Company
Another malty go-to beer. Bent Paddle Brewing Company has won several awards for this ESB and I hope that they never get rid of it. Such a fantastic beer that you can enjoy several of without making an ass of yourself. Biscuit, cracker, and toasty malt goodness are at the crux of this beer. If you are ever at my house and you don’t see it in the fridge, you will know that I have been body-snatched and you are playing Yahtzee with a cyborg.
13-Stupid Good(IPA)-Disgruntled Brewing Company
Do you want to know what is stupid? Parting ways with the person who came up with Stupid Good. There is no hiding my disdain for the fact that Brett Doebbling is no longer at Disgruntled. I have no idea what they were thinking. Brett is an insanely talented brewer. His persona is one of the nicest and most genuine I have come across in the beer scene, both locally and beyond. You do not get rid of a person like that and continue to succeed. Bad form, Disgruntled. The beer was excellent because it was a very juicy NE IPA, but I have no idea if we will ever be able to see it in its glorious form again.
I am jealous of people who get to try this beer for the first time because when I did, it was almost an out-of-body experience. A wonderful beer that will go a long way in converting those who swear they could never like a hazy, East Coast IPA. If you see it on tap, order it and let the good times roll.
11-Double-Barreled Gravity Well(Barrel Aged Double Stout)-Insight Brewing Company
Insight Brewing Company has the barrel aged stout process down. I love it when they announce the variants of Gravity Well each year because I know they will blow my mind. The beer on its own is fantastic. This year, they did several and the double-barreled one put me right smack-dab in my happy place. Great body, wonderful barrel notes, and an immaculate amount of roast. If you see it on tap, you are in for a treat.
This wonderfully crushable beer is back and it is going to be a year-round offering from my favorite MN brewery! Such a perfect beer for any occasion. Crisp, clean, and consistent; this is all you need and probably my desert island beer because I would be able to drink a lot of it and not do anything horrible to my volleyball.
10A-Double Shot Double Black(Barrel Aged Black Ale)-Bent Paddle Brewing Company
Smooth, dark, and velvety. Vanilla is there, but they stopped right before it got too sweet. The variants of this beer at beer festivals will completely blow you away. While the price is steep, the flavor, body, and aroma make it a worthwhile purchase.
9-King Size(Imperial Peanut Stout)-Junkyard Brewing Company
I love me some Peanut Butter Bandit, but the beer from Junkyard Brewing Company that really steals my heart is the King Size. It has a heft to it that I like, all the while, still maintaining the essence of peanut butter in the beer. Whenever I am lucky enough to find this on tap, I go for it and proceed to ignore those who stare awkwardly as I weep openly.
8-Deviation No.4/Ritual Night(Stout)-Modist Brewing Company
I will be damned if this beer coming back is not evidence that there is a higher power. When it was Deviation #04, I loved it. It was all I could think about after the Winter Beer Dabbler last year and having it again at Winterfest just reaffirmed who amazing this beer was. When I interviewed the Modist crew for the podcast, they hinted that the beer might come back and I am so glad I can have it again. This stout with chilis and chocolate is so delicious. It has elements of a really good molé sauce in a wonderful stout.
7-Pudding Goggles(Imperial Porter)-Forager Brewery
I think that Forager Brewery is doing so many things right. Pudding Goggles is atop that list. The fantastic mix of cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon, and coconut provide a delectable dichotomy of flavors and aromas. The body of the beer allows each ingredient to shine in a fantastic beer.
Is there anything that Summit Brewing Company can’t do? As far as big stouts go, there is so much artistry here. The malts are showcased superbly in this 10.5% beauty with waves of roasty perfection. Elements of dark fruit and currants in the beer along with molasses make the flavor magnificent. Hopefully, you got some because this was a special beer that probably will go down as one of Summit’s better Union Series iterations. Check out Dan’s interview with Summit Head Brewer, Damian McConn on a recent episode of A One Pint Stand.
The entire team at Barrel Theory should probably be put on a billboard in St. Paul in homage to the wonderful addition that they have been to Lowertown. Their beers are tremendous, and their location can’t be beat. Their Key Sublime is one of the best beers of the year because it is flawless to me. They somehow, probably using some archaic dark magic that involved bloodletting a forest nymph, got every flavor element from key lime pie into a beer. Buttery, graham cracker crust is balanced out with a sharp and refreshing key lime.
4-Tawny Port Barrel-Aged Peanut Butter Porter-Dangerous Man Brewing Company
Now, we are getting into some rarified air. This barrel-aged wonder has also managed to make a liquid peanut butter and jelly flavor. Instead of wonder bread as the vehicle, Dangerous Man Brewing Company used an imperial peanut butter porter as the vehicle for flavors that impeccably hit the mark. Whether or not they ever make this again is irrelevant. This beer was fantastic and really wowed me at Winterfest.
3-6 Hour Tour(Imperial Milk Stout)-Town Hall Brewery
Is there a better way to celebrate 20 years in the biz? No. I didn’t think so. Town Hall Brewery treated their fans to an epic take on the already legendary 3 Hour Tour with a bigger, badder, and boozier version. Holy hell, not much that I wouldn’t do to have this again. The body is perfect. The flavors are bold. The ABV is warming. I sipped on two tulips of this and just ruminated on how thankful I am to have Town Hall Brewery as one of my go-to’s.
This beer from Lift Bridge is the measuring stick for all things stout and barrel-aged in my book. This is perfection in a bottle. Barrel, chocolate, and just the right amount of heat for me. The mouthfeel of this beer is on an ethereal plane where thin does not exist. This is a beer that you can get in MN without too much hassle. It trades well, but I would prefer to attempt to keep it MN’s little secret. . .
I first tried Blissful Ignorance after returning from a trip out East when it was bottled and called #4. I knew that Lupulin Brewing Company had something special on their hands and there wasn’t anything else that currently matched it in MN. Fast forward to 2017, Blissful Ignorance returned, was canned and became something that beer geeks and hop-heads alike lusted after.
What this beer has done for Lupulin is nothing short of monumental. Locals and Lupulin diehards know that they brew amazing Belgian-style beers, big beers, and hoppy beers. However, Blissful Ignorance brought Lupulin’s brand exposure to a whole other level.
Blissful Ignorance is tremendously juicy. Hops are what this beer is all about and they come across in a tremendously approachable way. This beer succeeds where so many others have failed to me because it has the tell-tale mouthfeel of an East Coast IPA mouthfeel. I still can’t get enough of this beer because to me, it is damn-near perfect.