Northern Ale Guide

The Northern Ale Guide is the exclusive sponsor of Beerploma’s Best MN Breweries of 2018. Many of the breweries highlighted in these articles are featured prominently in the 2019 Northern Ale Guide which can be purchased here. So, have fun exploring the vibrant and exciting Minnesota craft beer scene. Prost!
OK, it’s time to post my yearly top Minnesota Brewery list!  Click Bait Extravaganza!  Trolls take note, you will have all sorts of options on how to proceed!  With so many breweries to choose from now, we expanded from 25 to 30 this year and I still struggled with the ones that didn’t quite make the list.  Dan will be posting his list as well soon. We don’t look at each others lists until they are published, so part of the fun is seeing how we agree and disagree on these rankings.  We’ll be talking about these lists in our upcoming A One Pint Stand podcast as well, so if you want more details, please tune in!
 
So who am I to make such a list for general consumption, you may ask?  I’m just a long time fan of craft beer. I’ve been a homebrewer for 25 years, a BJCP judge, and now I’ve brewed beers with several professional breweries.  Over the year I’ve kept a careful list of all the Minnesota breweries, bumping them up and down as I taste beers or visit taprooms.  With so many breweries in the state, this is an epic undertaking indeed!  With help from Dan, Jim, and Sarajo we’ve even made field trips to visit breweries in the farther reaches of the state.  But even with this, I’ve only been able to visit just over half of them!  To make sure I get to try more breweries’ beer than I can visit, I also make sure to try them out at various festivals, beer dinners, and other events.  This is serious work people!
 
I judge a brewery based on several things.  The first is beer quality: if you are serving me beer with flaws, you’re not making the top of my list! Taste is subjective and I certainly have my own foibles here, but I try to judge based on style guidelines first, personal taste second.  I don’t drink wheat beers much, but I can tell if one is an amazing example of the style!  Second would be consistency: can you continue to put out good beer or is this a “even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes” kind of place.  Third would be taproom/brewery experience: how interesting/cozy/comfortable/friendly is the brewery and would I want to come back to visit.  Last would be the people: if I know or have spent time with the owners and brewers, I feel like I can get more background and understanding of what the brewery is trying to do–but I try not to let this overcome my first three criteria!
 
With all that behind us, your list will not be the same as mine, and that is just fine!  Embrace the differences in our taste and experiences!  Dan won’t let me do a Worst Brewery list so you will have to just suffer through the Best.  Also please give us your opinions, we love to have feedback (just be nice!) about what our readers like.  So here goes with Number 30!
 
 
 
30) Lost Sanity (Madelia): This was a bit of a surprise to us on a recent trip to visit some of the farther-out taprooms.  New in 2018, this family run brewhouse is putting out really good beer!  We got to meet with brewmaster Caleb Fenske on this visit and he knows what he is doing.  (Full Pulp NEIPA, Manic Black Lager)
 
 
29) Shakopee Brewhall (Shakopee):  I’ve managed to get here three times in the last 3 months and have been impressed with the variety and quality of beers available. Brewer Ben Salyards is stretching his wings and has outdone the breweries he cut his teeth on earlier in his career. (Fine, Whatever, Voices in My Head)
 
28) Surly (Minneapolis): Surly is still responsible for a lot of positive changes in the Minnesota beer landscape. However, I do feel that the brewery has been at a bit of a stand-still since the loss of Todd Haug.  I have been less than impressed with the new beers coming out in the past 2 years, feeling they have lacked the creativity of the old brand.  And what ever happened to Twelve???  I still like a lot of the old stand-bys and have not noted a drop in quality, which is why the brewery is still on this list.  However, since first writing this (at the #16 spot) I have just discovered that Surly will be ceasing production of Cynic and Bender for packaging.  What????  I’m sorry Surly, you are dropping lower on my list.  Also, with being available all across the Metro, I still probably drink more Surly at events and restaurants than most other beers.  (Hell, Smoke, Bender, Coffee Bender, Todd the Axe Man, Cynic)
 
 
27) Roets (Jordan): Tim Roets and family have put together a great little small-town taproom in an old bank building right downtown.  Beers range from subtle to over the top with glorious abandon.  You will always feel like one of the family here.  (Superfruit, Bearded Lad)
 
26) Spilled Grain Brewhouse (Annandale): A bit off the beaten path, but a great brewery and taproom waiting to be discovered by the Twin Cities beer crowd.  Winners of a GABF Silver medal for False Hope wheat wine in 2018.  Jacob Schnabel is doing great things with a plethora of styles.  (Oktoberfest, doppelbock)
 
 
25) Back Channel  (Spring Park): Open September 2017, Marc and Olie are putting a remarkable number of good beers out of their small brewery.  Now with actual channel access, the brewery can be reached by boat!  The guys hosted Sj and I for a tasting and tour, and I never quite got around to my write-up…but they made it onto my list!  (The Lakemaker, Bus Driver IPA, Padre Imperial Stout)
 
24) Fulton (Minneapolis): Fulton is one of the bigger players on my list.  I’ll admit that I don’t like a few of the core beers (Lonely Blonde and Sweet Child I’m looking at you), but some of the others are well done.  Fulton is dropping a bit on my list this year due to that and because I feel that my previous favorites Worthy Adversary/War & Peace have seemed a bit more hot and green this past year.  (300, Insurrection)
 
 
 
23) Wild Mind (Minneapolis): This one jumped up on my list after last year’s list came out and several people suggested I give them a try.  Yup, they are putting out some pretty unique beers, including some really complex sours.  Good call Beerploma readers and keeps the suggestions coming! (Camille, Vitesse)
 
22) Jack Pine (Baxter): Jack Pine is always good, but always missed due to it being outside the TC Metro area.  I’ve heard they are starting to send us some beers though!  I haven’t been to the new taproom since last year, but the beers still impress when I can get them.  (Vengeance, Deadfall RIS)
 
21) Castle Danger (Two Harbors): I’ve been a fan of these guys for a while now.  They continue to put out good beer and are in liquor stores all over the Twin Cities now.  I haven’t had much new from them in the past year and hope to see some new offerings in 2019.  (Fresh Hop Mosaic, Castle Cream Ale)
 
20) Pryes (Minneapolis): A new taproom, but Jeremy has been putting out his flagship Pryes Miraculum for some time now.  I’m happy to see a lot of new beers and unusual styles and the taproom is beautiful. (Barleywine, Irish Dry Stout)
 
 
 
19) Tin Whiskers (St. Paul): Tin Whiskers has been a popular stop for me over the past few years in the rare instances of making it to St. Paul.  In the past year I have been impressed with some of the new beers (finally some new IPA options) and with the expansion to 16 taplines there are a lot more options at the taproom.  Just a quick disclaimer: I brewed a beer with Tin Whiskers investor and Beervangelist Jim Stroner this year on thier pilot system, and the scaled up version of this coconut, chocolate, vanilla double stout should be on tap within the month.  (Nut Goodie Porter, Funkenfest, Brut IPA)
 
18) Hoops (Duluth): At last year’s grand opening I felt that Hoops had tried to do too much too quickly and the results were overall good but not what I had hoped.  I felt a bit like a hater, but with the brewing talent involved I think I was justified in having high expectations.  This past year at All Pints North, I got to visit the taproom exactly a year later and feel it is on track!  The beers were all solid and I could find no fault with them at all.  (No. 21 IPA, No. 81 Hell)
 
17) Dangerous Man (Minneapolis): Always unique.  These guys put out some great beers, but I’ve had a few mixed results which keep it a bit lower on my list than a lot of folks.  I recently visited early on a Sunday and was able to get a seat at the bar and a very tasty beer.  When I mentioned that one of the bottles I’d had from the previous year was flat, the server ended up making it right and really improved my estimation of the brewery right then and there. (Chocolate Milk Stout, Rum Barrel Imperial Pumpkin)
 
16) Unmapped (Minnetonka…kind of): Going on second year open now and still brewing solid beers.  Head brewer Derek Allmendinger is a fantastic guys and really passionate about his beers.  Dog friendly taproom: seriously, seems I feel like I should go adopt a dog just to be like everyone else…(Mind The Map, Freq Drive DIPA)
 

Games at Waconia Brewing!

15) Waconia (Waconia): This is my local watering hole. I think Tom and the crew here continue to put out great beer in a small brewery.  This is the brewery I visit most frequently and keep track of quality control (ie. drinking beer).  (Mo’ Winta Milk Stout, Barrel Aged Driftwood RIS, Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter,  Deepwater DIPA)
 
14) Modist (Minneapolis): A good brewery with a lot of flair.  I’ve been happy with the Pale and IPA styles from these guys. We did a beer dinner with these guys at Iron Tap in Waconia last month that was wonderful. (Dreamyard, False Pattern)
 
13) Forager (Rochester): I really like this brewery. Small but strong, they have a great restaurant and a cool mix of beers.  I have never had a bad experience at the tap room. I just wish I could get the beer out where I live! (Magnus, Pudding Goggles, Sherpa’s Survival Kit)
 
12) August Schell/Starkeller (New Ulm): I’m excited to see the evolution of this old dog learning new tricks over the years.  While I like the new sours, they continue to put out some classic and well crafted lagers. (Firebrick, Octoberfest)
 
11) Lift Bridge (Stillwater): I still love Lift Bridge but am more of a fan of their specialty beers than their core brands.  Barrel Aged Silhouette is still one of the best beers to be found anywhere.  (Silhouette)
 
10) Steel Toe (St. Louis Park):  From day 1 Steel Toe has put out superior quality beer in a controlled and unassuming fashion. If they had wanted to, they could be where Indeed, Insight, or Fulton are right now in terms of production.  I have been happy to see some new beers enter circulation in the past year.  (Wee Heavy, Dawn Juan, Before the Dawn, Lunker, Size 4)
 
9) Insight (Minneapolis):  Insight still does some cool stuff, also with varied styles and ideas.  I actually haven’t had as many Insight beers this year, but quality is still solid and they do one of my favorite Imperial Stouts in Minnesota.  (Sunken City, Devil’s Companion, Gravity Well in all it’s incarnations)
 
8) Barrel Theory (St. Paul):  These guys are doing very cool things and have maintained the quality and variety since last year.  Still focused on hazy IPAs, but with several outstanding kettle sours and one of the best coconut beers to be found to round things out.  I want some barrel aged stuff!  (Black Lotus, Cryptocurrency, I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying)
 
7) Indeed (Minneapolis): Indeed is another of those early boom companies that continues to innovate while increasing distribution and sales.  I love their branding and art.  I also love that they are doing cool things with sours.  (Peach Bum, Rum King, B-Side Pils, any Wooden Soul, Mexican Honey, Mexican Cousin)
 
6) Junkyard (Moorhead): I’ve loved these guys for years and they consistently make my top 10.  I’ve now been to the brewery twice and we can find little crowler drops around the Twin Cities nowdays.  Everything from these guys is good.  Even their milkshake IPA’s which I mostly consider a stunt.  (Free Candy, Key Lime Gose, King Size, Peanut Butter Bandit)
 
 
5) Fair State (Minneapolis):  Fair State started small and has continued to up their game, both in production and quality.  I’ve been very impressed with the beers coming out of this brewery and look forward to more.  They also have a large range of styles to choose from.  (Brut Squad, Pils, Vienna Lager, Spirit Foul, Roselle, Mirror Universe)
 
 
 
4) Lupulin (Big Lake):  I have yet to taste a beer from these guys that I don’t like.  Disclaimer, I have brewed two beers with them so I can’t rule out some personal bias.  That being said, I’d put their beers up against anyone in the state and outside of Minnesota.  Lupulin also hosted the first Minnesota IPA invitational this year and other than rain, it was a blast!  Look toward next year’s which I bet will be even bigger.  (Blissful Ignorance, Hooey, Straight Hash Homie, Night Witch)
 
3) Summit (St. Paul):  The old venerable Minnesota craft brewery who keeps trucking away and proving their place in the beer culture of our state. These guys have been climbing my list each year (and topped Dan’s last year) due to continued quality as well as new and intriguing beers from the Unchained and Union series.  Called the Coldplay of breweries by some, but hey, I like Coldplay!  I also enjoy watching Summit goodnaturedly troll people on Untappd.  Thanks for bringing back Dark Infusion–now bring back the Export Stout!  (Dark Infusion, Keller Pils, Great Northern Porter)
 
2) Bent Paddle (Duluth):  Bent Paddle continues to kill it with great consistent beers from the far north.  With the new taproom, it is even more fun to visit and easier to find a table!  (Double Shot Double Black, Venture Pils, 14 Degree ESB)

And the Winner this year is…

 

Town Hall Anniversary Beer Dinner!

 
1) Town Hall (Minneapolis):  These guys have always been in my top 5, but this year they take the gold for me.  Continued amazing varied line up of beers and good hearty food.  I went to the Anniversary Dinner there this year and had a fantastic time.  Barrel aged options are some of the best in the state…country even!  (6 Hour Tour, Manhattan Reserve, Dortmunder, Petunia’s Pumpkin, 3 Hour Tour, Thunderstorm, Czar Jack, Twisted Trace)
 
Eric Wentling has been a homebrewer for 25 years, and takes great pride in the ever expanding Minnesota beer scene. His writing focuses on beer related travel and local beer events.  He is also the straight man for Dan Beaubien’s A Pint Stand Podcast.  Personal beer tastes range widely but Imperial stouts, barrel aged sours, and most British styles are in heavy rotation. If you have any questions or comments about his article, feel free to email Eric at eric.wentling@beerploma.com .