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!

Dan’s Top 30 MN Breweries of 2018

Personally, 2018 was the worst year ever for me. At my day job, where I teach Language Arts at a middle school, 3 students passed away in the span of 3 weeks-2 because of suicide. Right after that, my mother passed away unexpectedly. For the next few months, I struggled mightily emotionally and fell into a bit of a depression. So, typically, when I look at a year in review, I can pinpoint moments and breweries that strung the year along as I live life passionately as a beer geek. 2018 was not one of those years.

Amidst the sadness and depression of losing irreplaceable people, I relied on friends and family. I also relied on craft beer. Ok, I know what you are thinking. How can it get darker than the first paragraph? Well, let me explain what I mean by relying on craft beer. I did not decide to one day clear out my cellar and go on a bender-I know better. However, I did embrace what craft beer has become for me. Over the years, craft beer has always been a way to decompress and enjoy time with friends or total strangers. My favorite taprooms became beacons of refuge-places to go and just be. I would doodle, read, and sip. When I was lucky enough to see a familiar face, they would join me and friendship would provide a respite from the pain of losing my mom.

So, it is bittersweet and somewhat difficult to look back at 2018. Yet, 2018, among its challenges, offered up some wonderful experiences with friends. Craft beer continues to provide me with joy and knowledge. Taprooms continue to be the backdrop for connecting with people and augmenting the thread count of my community fabric.

List Criteria

When I say best of 2018, there are several things that factor in to that. First, if I didn’t go to this brewery in 2018, it didn’t make the list. Second, breweries on this list had many quality beers that I thought really hit the mark. This list is not about who has the trendiest beer, although there are a few breweries on here who are leading the way when it comes to IPAs, sours, and pastry stouts. If a brewery makes my list, it means that their service is great, their message is easily articulated, and they are not just in it to make a quick buck. Luckily, places who adopt the latter as a business model don’t last long.

If a brewery makes my list, it is because they brew beer that I enjoyed and provided a space for me to enjoy the beer in. Last year, my list was so incredible that it appeared in a forum on BeerAdvocate. Many passionate beer geeks had taken issue with the fact that I did not put Surly on my list. Oh, they had a field day with that. There were a few people who actually read the article and understood my criteria. Others simply glanced at it and decided, as one person put it so succinctly, “Seriously though, there is fuckery going on at ‘Beerploma’.”

Love it or hate it, this is my list and a snapshot of my beer experiences throughout the year in Minnesota. My favorites are not going to be your favorites and that is ok. It is fine to disagree. I would even like to hear where you think I misstep in my rankings. I ask that you would do so with civility, but hey, this is also the Internet, so that is a big ask.

So, here we go, my top 30 breweries of 2018 in MN.

Top 30 MN Breweries of 2018

30-Montgomery Brewing Company (Montgomery, MN)

In a small Minnesota town, there is a small brewery that brews beer with big flavors. On a mini-tour of a southern swath of the state, I happened upon Montgomery Brewing in the fall. I really thought that they had some fantastic beers. The Peanut Buster Porter was roasty and delightful. They had an ESB that was incredibly well balanced. I loved the feel of the taproom made me want to come back.

29-Voyageur Brewing Company (Grand Marais, MN)

It took 39 and a half years on this planet to finally get up to Grand Marais this summer. Lo and behold, Voyageur Brewing Company has a fantastic rooftop patio that overlooks the bay. The sun was shining and I was enjoying every sip of their Swamper Pilsner and Double Amber Ale I had up there. The fact that a brewery can stand out amidst all the other hidden gems of this magnificent place is truly astounding.

28-Wabasha Brewing Company (St. Paul, MN)

I continue to enjoy what Wabasha Brewing Company puts out. They are small enough to be really creative. Westside Popper and Darktober are stellar. I enjoyed their pumpkin ale quite a bit and their taproom is a wonderfully cozy place to have a beer. The thing you should know about these guys is they turn their beers over quick, so if you see something you want to try, get your buns down there or you might miss it!

27-Surly Brewing Company (Minneapolis, MN)

I have a strange, love-hate relationship with Surly Brewing. Their big and beautiful taproom is a must-see, but I have never once been there and felt like I mattered as a patron. When it comes to Surly’s beer, it seems like they have lost their edge. Maybe this is a factor of other breweries catching up.

This year’s Abrasive Ale was really good. I liked this year’s Darkness, although it is definitely not the crown jewel of stouts that it once was. I liked the Heat Slayer and Xtra-Citra is a perfect summer crusher. Their New Haven-style pizza upstairs is delicious, unique, and satisfying. Not having an anniversary beer was a real head-scratcher. How a brewery with as many resources as they have cannot prevent a beer from becoming infected is beyond me. So, Surly continues to be a mixed bag for me.

26-Castle Danger Brewing (Two Harbors, MN)

I had a really hard time placing Castle Danger in my rankings this year. Their cream ale is fantastic. I like the George Hunter stout. However, I am really waiting to see them break out and show me some other styles. Their Ode IPA is good, but I think it kind of gets lost in the shuffle a bit amongst other hoppy options. If we were going solely based on taproom aesthetics in summer, they would be in my top 5.

25- Bad Habit Brewing Company (St. Joseph, MN)

I apologize for being so late to the party on this one. I think that every single beer I had at Bad Habit impressed me. Their Dark Addiction really checks all the boxes for what I look for in a stout. I think that their Flippity Flop triple IPA came across as complex and intriguing. As they expand into a bigger space, I hope they can maintain the cozy, small town feel that the taproom has. Aaron Rieland made me feel so welcome and graciously took time to chat beer with me on a day when the brewery was absolutely slammed with people.

Bad Habit

24-Wild Minds Artisan Ales (Minneapolis, MN)

Other than Fair State Brewing Cooperative, you won’t find a better mixed culture beer in MN. Wild Minds Artisan Ales is fueled by Matt Waddell’s boundless creativity and love of spontaneous fermentation. I wish I was closer to this place because I don’t get there as often as I would like. If you want to introduce someone to something that is a step above a kettle sour, this is the place.

23-Spilled Grain Brewhouse (Annandale, MN)

Spilled Grain Brewhouse is probably one of the best breweries that you haven’t been to in MN. They have quietly been kicking butt and taking names with beers at the World Beer Cup and more recently, GABF. I think that they have the best Oktoberfest in the state-apologies to Schell’s and Summit. Their tap list reads like a book and definitely has something for everyone. Jacob and Anastasia Schnabel are the perfect combination of passion and kindness and the vibe of their brewery shows this.

Spilled Grain Brewhouse

22-Jack Pine Brewery (Baxter, MN)

If you go up the Brainerd/Nisswa area, there are now several breweries available. However, I think that Jack Pine stands tall above the rest when it comes to quality and offerings. Their Vengeance Jalapeño Cream Ale is incredible. However, their taproom has an extensive list of beers that changes quite often. It is always a must-stop for me and I am sure other will agree that they have definitely elevated the beer scene up in Central Minnesota.

21-BlackStack Brewing (St. Paul, MN)

BlackStack Brewing has joined a select few in setting the bar for hazy, NEIPAs. Their Local 755 IPA is a fantastic beer. This is a beer I could drink all the time. I also like that they have delved into some more sessionable styles in addition to their bigger IPAs. Their Keller Bier is solid and I think that their Ratify! is a solid homage to the Allagash White that it is modeled after. If all those things aren’t enough, they have Murphy. Murphy Johnson is affable, hilarious, and has my vote for best handshake in the MN beer scene. The entire family behind the brewery exudes hospitality and will gladly chat beer with you if you ask.

BlackStack Brewing

20-Unmapped Brewing Company (Minnetonka, MN)

Finally, I have an after work happy hour location that doesn’t suck! Unmapped Brewing Company is a wonderful place to grab a beer. No matter the style, the beer that you choose will be deftly brewed by someone who knows his stuff. I speak, of course, of Derek Allmendinger. Derek is incredibly nice to chat with about beer and life. At a festival or at the taproom, when I see him, my day always gets better. Their Belgian Quadruplication is masterful and is a great example of why Belgian beers can be great if brewed with skill. If you are lucky enough to be there when Mind the Map is on, get it-you will thank me.

19-Indeed Brewing (Minneapolis, MN)

I know that Indeed Brewing has a following and a tapline presence that makes other breweries blush. To me, some of their mainstays other than the B-Side Pils seem pretty pedestrian. Indeed’s Wooden Soul series and Rum King are quite good. I wish that they would can or bottle Whiskey Queen. I know that they are opening a brewpub in Milwaukee, WI, and so they show no signs of slowing down.

18-Urban Growler (St. Paul, MN)

Over the years, Urban Growler has always been on my list of places to go for fun. I love the vibe here. Jill and Deb have created a wonderful community and it shows in their staff and space. I also love that they continue to bring new innovative beers to the table. Recently, they added a mild and a Mexican Lager to the fold and they are both tremendous. This year’s barrel-aged porter was phenomenal. Their food is tasty and if you haven’t tried the fried chicken sandwich, drop everything and go there now to do so!

GetKnit Events

17-Bad Weather Brewing Company (St. Paul, MN)

Bad Weather first caught my eye back in the day with their Cauld Weather, a Wee Heavy that had everything I wanted in a malty beer. Lately, I have been craving their lagers. Andy Ruhland is a master in my eyes because everything he releases is brewed well, no matter the style. His Munich Helles is incredible and it really showcases how malty beers can be sessionable and fantastic. Of course, you really can’t go wrong with any of their selections and they have an awesome taproom with videogames and epic artwork on the walls. This is a frequent stop for me and I love what they do.

16-Modist Brewing (Minneapolis, MN)

It would have been tough to top last year’s amazing Dilly Dilly! moment. However, a GABF medal for First Call, Modist Brewing’s epic coffee lager was a definitely a way to do it. I recall a conversation I had with one of the co-founders a few years ago when they said that it will be tough for them to win a GABF medal because they don’t necessarily brew to specific style guidelines. Well, Modist proved that if a beer is awesome and drinkable, it will garner accolades. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention their Lord Humungus Rye Stout that was sensational. They have a handle on things at Modist and I continue to be wowed by them.

15-Tin Whiskers Brewing Company (St. Paul, MN)

Tin Whiskers had a really great year in 2018. They doubled their taplines from 8 to 16. They really let out the creativity clutch and brought us the Waveform West Coast IPA, a Kölsch, a coconut milk stout, a cream ale-soon to be released in cans-and had perhaps one of the biggest beer splashes locally with their Nut Goodie Porter, a collaborative effort with the Pearson’s Candy Company in St. Paul. I thought that their lineup had gotten a little stagnant, but they really impressed me with a lot of new offerings this year.

14-Waconia Brewing Company (Waconia, MN)

Waconia Brewing Company is a fantastic reason to venture west, young man. Their iconic Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter is a treat and was well-received when I passed it around at the beer bloggers conference bottle share this summer. However, they are far from a one-trick pony. They have a wonderful Kölsch, a dreamy milk stout, and one of the better Oktoberfests. Their taproom is a great place to spend an afternoon playing games with friends and enjoying life. The family behind the brewery is one of the nicest you will meet and they brew some damn good beer.

13-Insight Brewing Company (Minneapolis, MN)

Insight Brewing continues to be a go-to when I am in Northeast Minneapolis. They have one of my favorite seasonals in Gravity Well. This year’s variants of Gravity Well were some of the best yet, in my opinion. Their Berliner Weisse was extraordinary and sits in a class by itself. Their brewery events are always a great time and their taproom is great for a big gathering with coworkers or just a quiet chat with a friend.

Insight Brewing

12-Utepils Brewing Company (Minneapolis, MN)

As my drinking preferences have changed and I have learned more about what makes a quality beer, I have really loved everything that Utepils has done. They have fantastic beers that, in their simplicity, display an exquisite technique and acumen of the brewer. The space is ideal to get together and be with friends. If you are longing for summer, just go in and order a Kölsch and close your eyes-there she will be. They also have one of my favorite beer slangers in the world, Tom Holzinger to make your day better with his witty banter and Ragnar Lothbrok eyes. He knows beer and loves to chat about it; make sure you do that with him.

11-Schell’s Brewery (New Ulm, MN)

Last year, around this time, my neighbor had a bottle share featuring each of the Noble Star Series beers that Schell’s has ever released. It was a marvelous night of drinking. Whenever I see that they have a new lager or an old familiar beer releasing, it usually finds its way into my beer fridge. They have been doing great things for a long time. As craft drinkers are finally realizing that lagers are flavorful, crisp, and refreshing beers that can be enjoyed for hours, Schell’s is gaining new fanboys and fangirls by the minute.

10-Lift Bridge Brewery (Stillwater, MN)

Lift Bridge Brewery has had much success over the years. So much, in fact, that they need a bigger facility. They announced where that facility would be going and it is not far from their original location. Their barrel-aged Silhouette is a work of art. However, they have many other fantastic beers in their repertoire that keep them in the top ten for me. I love their taproom vibe and when they throw a release party, they always have great music and food. I am already giving my liver a pep-talk for the Silhouette release party on January 19th. . .

9-Forager Brewery (Rochester, MN)

Forager Brewery in Rochester, MN, has the market cornered on pastry stouts (stouts made with flavors that you would find in pastries) and amazing fruity mixed culture beers. Their brewpub is a wonderful place to eat, drink, and be merry. Zach and Austin are doing incredible things in an extremely small space. Their lines at beer festivals are always long and people rave about their beer. I can also say that Zach and Austin are some of the nicest, most down-to-earth people you will find in the industry. You will go for the beer, but you need to stay for the food. The menu is changing constantly and the culinary wonderment that you can enjoy is mouth-watering and spectacular.

Forager Brewery

8-Junkyard Brewing (Moorhead, MN)

There was a time when if you wanted some of the liquid gold that Junkyard Brewing put in crowlers, you had to venture up I-94 to the windswept prairie of the Red River Valley. Well, thankfully, those days are over. In probably one of the most impressive and grass roots distribution efforts-thanks to Minkus and Aminn, Junkyard crowlers are not only delivered, they make it to places all over the Metro! Junkyard also has expanded their brewhouse and taproom space up in Moorhead. The new taproom kept to cozy, small town feel of the original space while at the same time providing plenty of room to sprawl out. Junkyard is also one of the few places that I think really does the milkshake IPA justice among their other stellar styles.

Junkyard Brewing

7-Dangerous Man Brewing Company (Minneapolis, MN)

When Dangerous Man does a bottle release, it is a big deal. There will be a line snaking around the corner, no matter what the weather is. Between these special beers and then the regular creative offerings that they tap in the oxygen-rich and plant-plentiful taproom, they are doing so many things well. There is a stereotype that only hipsters hang out there. Well, that is simply not true. They welcome everyone-except party buses with drunken frat boys (They should just go to Brothers anyway)-and are always willing to educate people about craft beer. They also have one of the happiest Canadians on staff and if you are lucky enough to meet Rick, get him talking about Seinfeld-you won’t be sorry.

6-Barrel Theory Beer Company (St. Paul, MN)

Barrel Theory is a blueprint for how to successfully open, run, and market a craft brewery. They started off with a wealth of industry experience from all different areas. Barrel Theory brews some of the most wonderful beers I have had in the state of Minnesota. Lastly, they understand the importance of utilizing social media to promote their events and beer releases. When I brought crowlers of their beer to a craft beer bloggers conference, Shooter McGavin impressed beer writers from all over the country. I always become a little more than titillated when someone suggests going to Barrel Theory. I try to play it cool, but it always comes off as way too eager.

Barrel Theory

5-Town Hall Brewery (Minneapolis, MN)

Old reliable somehow continues to wow me. Between their anniversary week, Barrel-Aged Week, and just their everyday lineup, they are always a go-to for me. In a craft beer world that changes, Town Hall Brewery refuses to chase trends. They are firm believers in quality and their offering illustrate that. How many other breweries could get people to line up in the butt-cold of winter to buy tickets for mini-growlers and get away with it? Barrel-Aged Week is, to date, the best 7 day stretch of drinking in Minnesota. If you haven’t been, do it. You will likely run into many brewers and beer geeks alike enjoying masterfully blended and barrel-aged wonders.

Town Hall Brewery

4-Lupulin Brewing Company (Big Lake, MN)

2018 saw Lupulin Brewing Company begin a major brewery expansion. Already a hop haven for people seeking well-made IPAs and pale ales, they continue to broaden their overall portfolio. Their collaborations with Unmapped Brewing, Barrel Theory, and Drastic Measures were all well received. They also continue to make incredible dark and boozy beers like Night Witch and Brunch Stout to remind all of us that they do more than hoppy beers. While Blissful Ignorance continues to be a driving force for their sales team, it allows Head Brewer Aaron and Lead Beer Drinker Matt to flex their creative brewing muscles. Not bad for a strip mall brewery, huh?

Lupulin Brewing Company

3-Bent Paddle (Duluth, MN)

2018 was a great year for Bent Paddle Brewing Company. They continued to expand an already stellar beer portfolio. Bent Paddle also opened a spacious and beautiful taproom across a parking lot from their production facility. They continue to go full-throttle on awesomeness with their Valve Jockey. Their Doppelbock is amazing. I also liked the Wilderness Tuxedo and the Citrus Kanu Party. Finally, they were recently recognized in an article from Hop Culture as one of 15 breweries to watch in 2019. I will await what that looks like with bated empty beer glass.

Bent Paddle

2-Fair State Brewing Cooperative (Minneapolis, MN)

It says something about the quality of a brewery when at Lupulin IPA Festival, featuring an all-star lineup of local and regional breweries, the first keg to blow was a lager from Fair State Brewing Cooperative. At Fair State, there is something for everyone. Are you looking for something tart and effervescent, the Roselle is your beer. If you are looking for a simple, yet complex working person’s beer, the Keller Kazbek is for you. Do you want a dark, decadent, and sublime double stout, Giantsbane has your name on it. Finally, if you want to get hazed and confused, Mirror Universe and Spirit Foul will scratch that itch. Niko Tonks is a walking encyclopedia of brewing knowledge. Hearing him speak at one of the Better Beer Society classes at The Republic in Minneapolis last year was akin to taking a college seminar on brewing. His mastery of his craft shows itself in every sip. I can only hope that 2019 is the year that they will legally be able to make headway on serving their beer out of their St. Paul facility.

Fair State Brewing Cooperative

1-Summit Brewing (St. Paul, MN)

Summit Brewing

Another year and another GABF gold medal for Summit Brewing. This year, my desert island beer, Keller Pils was the award winner. Summit’s consistency speaks for itself. Summit, despite some challenges, has adapted to a changing craft beer world. They opened their new Ratskeller in the summer which replaced the beer hall-which always seemed to me like a bit of an afterthought. The Ratskeller has better seating, a sexy bar that is the centerpiece of the room, and a myriad of Summit beers to drink. Over the years, they have seen their brewers depart for Head Brewer positions at new breweries. Despite all that, their product remains as good as it ever was. I cannot wait to see what 2019 brings for Summit Brewing Company.

So, there you have it. My list of my favorite Minnesota breweries of 2018. Now, one thing I have to say is that there are some good breweries in Minnesota that I did not get to in 2018 and that is why they are not on this list. Namely, Steel Toe Brewing. Their absence from this list is in no way a reflection on how I regard their beer. Some other close ones that were in my thoughts for this were Mankato Brewing, Prye’s Brewing, Bauhaus Brewlabs, and Bent Brewstillery.

I think that Minnesota had a good year for craft beer, overall. Of course, there were a few breweries who no longer can grace our beer trail. A few closings and one “retirement” represent the growing pains of a growing beer market. Despite these growing pains, the Minnesota craft beer market is a healthy one. The breweries on this list are forging the path for what quality beer looks and tastes like.

I fully understand that this list is not the quintessential MN brewery list, it is my list. These are my opinions. They are not right or wrong-just mine. I hope that if you read this list, there is something that resonates with you. I have a lot of fun making this list and I hope that you enjoy reading it for what it is.

Dan Beaubien has been involved with Beerploma since 2014 although his passion for craft beer dates back to 2006 when he started traveling for beer.  Dan mostly covers craft beer events, festivals, brewery openings/releases, and beer reviews. Dan has a soft spot in his heart for authentic British Style ales, IPAs, and all things barrel-aged.  If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email Dan at dan.beaubien@beerploma.com .