Winterfest 2020 Preview

Winterfest

This Friday, January 17th at US Bank Stadium, the MN Craft Brewers Guild will take over the Polaris Club for a fantastic celebration of Minnesota craft beer. A grandiose selection of breweries each pouring 2 beers should be a recipe for a fun night.

If you have been to Winterfest before, you know that it is a fantastic evening of beer and food. Personally, I love seeing what beers the breweries bring to impress their fans. Unlike the Autumn Brew Review or All Pints North, Winterfest is a fancier event. As a result, folks tend to dress to the nines. I always say, dress for the 12% beer you want to drink. For me, that means ditching the cargo shorts and the mesh halter top in favor of a sport coat.

The Polaris Club at US Bank Stadium

For the first time ever, the Winterfest venue will be the Polaris Club at US Bank Stadium. I am hoping for a little better experience than when Winterfest was held at the Legends Club at Target Field. That entire evening felt like a party in a galley kitchen. I have never set foot in the Polaris Club, so I am hoping for an ease of mobility as I deftly move from station to station, drinking my way through the best in what Minnesota has to offer.

Vittles For Tipples

The last few years really blew the doors off my palate as Winterfest paired some premier restaurants with groups of breweries. This year, there isn’t anything like that, which is somewhat disappointing. I heard rave reviews last year from a lot of people who went that the food was incredible last year. My guess is that the venue dictated that their food service has to prepare the food. Will it be nachos and hot dogs or something more elevated? Who knows. I am hoping that whatever the US Bank Food Vendors whip up will be on par with the beers that will be swishing around in the tasting tulips.

12 Beers to Wet Your Winterfest Whistle

Winterfest

After perusing the list of beers on the Winterfest version of the Festbuddy app-available for both Android and IOS-I have selected some things to have your eye out for. Like the festival will be doing, I have broken it down into categories: crisp, hoppy, malty, and funky.

Crispy Beers

If you want to try to slide tackle beers that are north of 10% ABV all night long, be my guest. I know how that story ends, and nobody likes the level of sticker-shock at the dry cleaner that results from a night of “letting out the clutch, regardless of bodily consequences.” Luckily, there are plenty of low ABV, crisp, and clean beers that are smart to mix in along the way.

Giesenbräu Bier Co. Hildy’s Helles-5.3% ABV 16 IBU

Hildy’s Helles from Giesenbräu Bier Co. is a crisp and sensational beer. I enjoy this beer because it is bright and dazzles my palate with a fun mix of light bread malt flavors and a nice bite of crispness.

Three Twenty Brewing Bob’s Standard Lager-4.3% ABV 25 IBU

Bob’s Standard Lager is a sessionable delight from Three Twenty Brewing that delivers on flavor all the while being, as the bros say, “crushable.” It has a bready malt character thanks to the Pilsner and Vienna malt. You get a lightly toasted Wonder bread flavor from the malt that I find incredibly delightful. The finish is crisp, clean, and flawless.

Lupulin Brewing Company American Pils-4.5% ABV 10 IBU

This Czech-style Pilsner from Lupulin Brewing uses American hops as somewhat of a break from the norm. This beer is refreshing and effervescent. It finishes clean and is perfect for a day on the lake or when you need a break from 10% pastry stouts. I enjoy this in the taproom and I am cautiously optimistic that it will stand out amongst a lot of other big beers at Winterfest.

Hoppy Beers

If you think that there won’t be enough good hoppy beers at a beer festival in the winter, you are mistaken. The breweries know that hops are where it’s at and there definitely some hoppy offerings.

Back Channel Brewing Drinking Teams 2.0-10% ABV 90 IBU

Ok, we are used to Back Channel Brewing throwing down the gauntlet with their dark and malty beers, but this baby goes to 11. Citra, Mosaic, and Vic Secret with have the hop-heads twerking in the streets if they have too many pours of this potent beverage. I am excited to see if it tastes like 10% or if it came out balanced. You’ll know how many I had at the fest if you see me bumping and grinding my way home on the Green Line.

Steel Toe Brewing Size 4- 4.5% 44 IBU

This session IPA from Steel Toe Brewing is balanced and incredibly tasty beer. This is an award-winning beer that often gets lost in what Steel Toe brews. Make no mistake, this beer is absolutely worth a stop!

Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative Minute Man New England IPA-6.6% 45 IBU

You think that we could possibly have a beer festival without a delicious New England IPA? Minute Man from Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative should get way more love than it does. I think it belongs in the top 10 NEIPAs in the state. This is juicy, with a slightly bitter and pithy finish. It has a nice mouthfeel and in doing so, triumphs where many others in this style falter.

Funky Beers

The wide world of funk has changed so much since I attended my first Winterfest back in 2010. Not only did mixed fermentation beers used to be really hard to find, but quality offerings were like unicorns dressed as Waldos. Now, we are pretty lucky in Minnesota to have not only a nice selection of breweries who provide such funky wonders, a handful of them are of the utmost quality-not just in the state, but the country. Here are three funky beers that I am excited to try at Winterfest this year.

Barrel Theory Midwest Exotic-4% ABV 5 IBU

This GABF gold medal-winning Berliner Weisse from Barrel Theory should be on everyone’s list of things to try. It is a kettle sour gose with tangerine, blood orange, and peach. I am excited to get another crack at this one. Kettle sours have become a style that leave a lot to be desired because too many breweries take short cuts. Barrel Theory is on a short list of breweries that brew kettle sours right.

August Schell Brewing Co. Static Transmission-7% ABV 5 IBU

If there is a constant other than death and taxes, it is August Schell Brewing Co. makes some of the best Berliner Weisse beers in the country. This one is kicked up a notch at 7%, but I am willing to bet that will be just fine. I have had many of the Noble Star beers, and I am sure that this is going to be along the lines of the immaculate quality and taste that is the hallmark of that series.

LocAle Brewing Company River Bramble-5% ABV 5 IBU

I have only had 3 other beers from Locale Brewing, but they all wowed me. One of them was a funky and tart marvel. My hope is that this blackberry and raspberry amalgamation will check all the boxes of flavor and texture. The fact that we can all try some beers from LocAle Brewing is just one of the many reasons why I love Winterfest!

Malty Beers

Let’s cut to the chase, here. We all come to Winterfest for the big, bad, malt behemoths. I mean, it is the dead of winter for fuck’s sake! We need something to tickle our toes and keep us warm. These are just 3 beers of about 25 that I could have put in this section. Between food flavors, aging in barrels, or just pure mastery of malt, the malty beers on display at Winterfest are worth the price of admission.

Little Thistle Brewing Never Mind the Baltics-10% ABV 30 IBU

Baltic Porters, when brewed well, are complex and malty. I would bet you dollars to donuts that Little Thistle Brewing will deliver on this one. Steve Finnie’s track record when it comes to bigger malty beers is quite impressive. I really hope that the coffee, licorice, and chocolate will be able to each stand out in this beer. I cannot wait to try this one!

Waconia Brewing Company Fluffernutter Porter-6.1% ABV 22 IBU

“Fluffernutter, I barely know her!”-Benjamin Franklin

I am excited about this porter from Waconia Brewing Company because they do such a phenomenal job with this style. I am looking forward to reliving my childhood with each sip of this fairly medium-octane beer. My hope is that it is not overtly sweet, but rather a nice and balance beer.

Unmapped Brewing Woodlands Project #2: Bourbon Quad 2019-12% ABV 25 IBU

If Unmapped Brewing’s Woodlands Project #1 was any indicator of what they can do with beer in a barrel, batten down the hatches because we’re about to get nuts. Their Quad is a fantastic beer and should taste absolutely brilliant after spending some time in a bourbon barrel. If you see me going back for thirds, just let it happen because it means I am on the verge of attempting to do a cartwheel.

Final Thoughts on Winterfest

So, that will get you started, but I strongly suggest going through the festival app and creating a plan to follow. I am so excited to see how this event goes. Unless the app is incomplete, it means that Summit Brewing, Town Hall Brewery, Junkyard, and Forager are not going to be present at this festival. They are some of the best breweries in the state. It is disappointing that these breweries will not be there. I am not sure why they are going to be absent and I don’t want to speculate. However, I will say that they will be missed by myself and others.

If you want to really get the most out of this beer festival, pace yourself. Drink plenty of water. You do not have to drink everything. In fact, if you try, you probably won’t really enjoy your Saturday. In the comments below, tell me which beers you are excited to try! I know that this list is just tip of the iceberg when it comes to fun beers to try. 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 .