Winterfest 2019 really came off without a hitch this year. The beers were superb, the food pairings made a lot more sense, and the crowd looked better than ever. The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild implemented after last year’s Winterfest and I think that they all made the festival a lot better.

Winterfest 2019

Best Beers of Winterfest 2019

The plethora of fantastic beers on display was awe-inspiring. Each brewery got a chance to shine. I liked that this meant something different to each brewery. Some put their best foot forward in the form of an aged stout while others chose to showcase a hop in a sublime way. No matter which path a brewery chose, they ended up at a destination that wowed us.

Little Thistle Molé Olé Olé Olé

I love the flavor profile of a Molé stout. It’s a wonderful sip when you get the smokiness of the chili, the bitterness from the chocolate, and then a little burn at the end. I am excited to see Steve Finnie get creative with flavors as Little Thistle showcases what they can do with a stout. This beer has a comforting, yet exotic flavor profile and the body is substantial.

Unmapped Brewing Ruby Stout

For a Russian Imperial Stout to stand out at Winterfest, it has to be brewed masterfully. Luckily, that is exactly how Unmapped Brewing handled Ruby Stout. The Ruby Stout came across as flavorful, chewy, and warming. It had the perfect balance of roasty malt bitterness that imparted a nice dark chocolate and coffee note in the beer. The Ruby Stout finishes a little sweet to round out the sip. Sip, ha, let’s be honest, I did 2 pours of it because that’s how I roll.

Barrel Theory Barrel Aged Ice Cream Social

This peerless stout was aged in a Willett Bourbon barrel. It’s unfair to the rest of the universe how well Barrel Theory’s stouts turn out. For Barrel Aged Ice Cream Social, you get every element of Neapolitan ice cream! Vanilla comes out for sweetness, strawberry comes out for a hint of tart fruity balance, and then the chocolate gives the depth. I cannot get over how delicious this beer is and will be trampling children and octogenarians alike to get some when they release it in the taproom. I should also note that this beer won for best beer of the fest. Todd Tibesar confided in me earlier in the evening, “This might be the best stout we’ve ever brewed.”

Revelation Ale Works Double Brown Ale

A sensational showcase of toasted bread and caramel flavors, the Revelation Ale Works Double Brown Ale was superb. Between this and the beers of theirs I had last year at All Pints, I am going to have to finally visit the brewery. Such depth of flavor in a brown ale is something that Minnesota lacks, overall. Michigan has it, Oregon has it, why can’t we have it? I shouldn’t have to drive all the way up to Revelation Ale Works to get a good brown ale.

Three Twenty Brewing Pine Camp Pale Ale

Some of the best beers are the simplest beers. Finding a balanced pale ale in Minnesota that has the right harmony between bready malt and fresh hops is harder that Jean Claude Van Damme’s glutes back in the day. Most of the pale ales in Minnesota are murky and astringent. It took a trip out to Oregon for me to realize that I don’t hate pale ales, I just hate the way 98% of them are brewed here. This is why I was so enamored with the Three Twenty Brewing Company’s Pine Camp Pale Ale. It is bright, hoppy, and refreshing. When you are dealing with one hop, you have to know what you are doing and Nick Olson did a bangup job with this one. I will have to get into the taproom sooner than later to try more of their beers.

Best Paired Bites and Beers of Winterfest 2019

The focus of Winterfest 2019 was beer pairings. After last year, I am happy to see that the marriage between the bite at each table and the beers being poured was easy to figure out. So, here are the five beer pairings that I thought really hit the mark.

Tin Whiskers Cherry Berliner Weisse & Red Stag Supper Club Cured Goat Cheese Salad

There is something really wonderful about pairing beer with cheese. I was excited about this pairing when I first looked at the program and the tasting did not disappoint. The Tin Whiskers cherry berliner weisse is tart and light-a scrubbing bubbles effervescence in the beer clears the palate to make way for flavor. The goat cheese in the quinoa salad from Red Stag was good because quinoa had a nuttiness that paired well with goat cheese. The tartness from the beer canceled out the tartness from the cheese to emphasize the funkiness of the cheese a little more. A beer pairing success is putting it mildly and I hope you got a chance to try this if you were there.

Jack Pine Munich Dunkel & Lowry Hill Meats Pork Sausage w/ Braised Cabbage, Horseradish and Rye Crumb

A match made in Deutschland! The Munich Dunkel that Jack Pine was pouring had a nice caramel and dark bready malt flavor with a nice body to it. This allowed for it to stand up well to the Lowry Hill Meats pork sausage that was rich and juicy. The braised cabbage tartness cut the richness of the beer and allowed for the rye crumb to highlight the beer’s rye bread malt character. On its own, the Munich Dunkel is a good beer, but with this delicious bite, it was elevated.

Summit Brewing Company 120 Schilling & Finer Meats and Eats Duck Sausage Roll

This was a combo I kept circling back for. I love the Summit 120 Schilling on its own. It is a rich and roasty beer that has a great chewiness to it. When paired with the Finer Meats & Eats amazing duck sausage roll, the fat from the duck sausage cut a bit of the edge from the roasted malt away to unearth a nice rich caramel and toffee flavor on the beer. If that wasn’t enough to get my beer pairing undies in a bunch, they also had duck fat caramels. Holy shitballs, were they amazing. It was so much lovely umami flavor and if there is one thing foodwise I will remember forever, it is the caramels. All in all, this combo illustrates why when pairing beer and foods, a strong beer holds up nicely to a bold and fatty bite of meat.

Spiral Brewery & Nosh Foie Gras and Chocolate Mousse

If you believe that hell will have better beer in the afterlife then obviously this pairing earned you some gluttony points. The Hard Left stout from Spiral Brewery in Hastings was a wonderful combo of sweet, roasty, and smooth. There is a lot of chocolate notes along with some sweetness that is almost like a small touch of vanilla. The body of this beer stood out the most to me-a sturdy base supporting all those rich flavors. The foie gras mousse from Nosh had two sauces that you could try-a salted caramel and a chipotle-in the interest of science and being gluttonous, I tried them both. Boy howdy, was that the right choice. Such a decadent mix of sweet and savory flavors all coming together in the smoothest texture you can imagine. Not only did this bite pair well with the Hard Left, but I tried it with a few other stouts as well. I think that this rich and divine marvel from Nosh epitomizes what Winterfest is all about.

Urban Growler’s Vanilla Latte Blonde Ale & Chocolate Bouchon

I love a chocolate dessert with a nice cup of coffee. This pairing made me so happy. I had no idea what a Bouchon was, so I had to do some digging in one of my baking cookbooks. Apparently, it is a cork-shaped chocolate cake. Bouchon, the French word for cork, gives the dessert its namesake. This rich cake, dusted lightly with powdered sugar, was the perfect bite. The rich and perfectly baked cake went perfectly with the beer. The Vanilla Latte Blonde Ale has a nice sweetness to it that is deceptively crisp, thanks to the blonde Ale base. The crispness of the beer along with its coffee notes from the malt really heightened the rich and luxurious nature of the Bouchon. I would love to have these for dessert again and I hope that Urban Growler will bake some of these again.

Why Winterfest 2019 Rocked

I have mentioned the libations and culinary concoctions that made the night memorable. However, there were a lot of other things that the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild did well to make Winterfest 2019 a success.

Having a clear idea between the beers and the food was smart. At first, a quick glance of this year’s program made me think that maybe the foods were not going to be as good. Absent were my favorites from last year-Spoon & Stable and Travail-and I was worried that the food was going to suffer. I literally ate my words. I thought that the food was fantastic. Last year, there were stations running out of food by 8:00 and that did not happen this year. It was also nice to hear that a lot of the breweries brought beers to go with the food-another thing that wasn’t consistent from last year.

The water stations were easier to find and I never felt like I had to search for a dump bucket. I hate to be rude and dump a beer poured by a brewery I respect, but when you are trying to taste your way through a lot of beers, it is a necessity. So I was glad that there were dump buckets located in the middle of the venue.

Good call on the smaller tasting glasses! Instead of a 10 oz. tulip glass, a nice 5 oz. goblet was the tasting vessel this year. I believe this also helped people moderate what they were drinking. I love the big tulip, but it is also easier to get into one’s cups faster that way. The fact that I was at the coffee shop by 8:30 the next morning is evidence that the 5 ounce taster agrees with me.

Lastly, I think that the Union Depot is such a perfect venue for this event. It never felt crowded. There is an elegant feel to the place and I like that when I am dressed up and drinking fancy beers. Target Field was a definite misstep and I am glad to see that they have been back at the Depot for the last couple years.

I have to tip my cap the the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, they definitely improved after last year’s mixed reviews. I want to give a shout out to Jess Talley, for not only providing me with a pass to the event, but also the lovely conversation at the festival. Tess had way more important things to do than talk to me and the fact that she did speaks to the type of person she is. I am already making my paper chain to count the days until next year. Between the beers, the bites, and the people, Winterfest 2019 was a fantastic showcase of Minnesota beer and food. Prost!

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 .