“Northern Ale Guide – helping craft beer lovers explore MN beer. We provide great beer discounts and unique information about more than 60 local taprooms- all while supporting solutions to fight hunger around the world through our Craft Your Community initiative. Learn more at northernaleguide.com“
Northern Ale Guide – helping craft beer lovers explore MN beer. We provide great beer discounts and unique information about more than 70 local taprooms. Learn more at northernaleguide.com

It has long been my tradition to go through the Minnesota breweries each new year and rank my top picks. The process has changed a lot over the past several years. Early on I did a top 10 list…which included most of the breweries in the state! Nowdays with over 200 breweries in the state, I have to be more selective. I’ve bumped this up to a top 30 list in order to include more of my favorites, but I still struggle when writing this due to having to leave some very good breweries off the list.

I try to visit as many breweries as I can throughout the year, and this year took a couple of long weekend trips to get to some of the breweries out in the hinterlands. I also try to keep up with can, crowler, tap beers, and what I try at beer festivals for those breweries I can’t visit in person. I’ve been to 129 of Minnesota’s breweries (a couple of these are no longer with us, but I’m counting them!) I rate mainly on beer quality (accuracy to style, consistency, lack of flavor flaws), but also when possible include brewery/taproom vibe and service in my calculations. These are my personal rankings and will likely not be the same as yours. There are innevitable outcries about my not including certain breweries, as well as outrage that I would put X brewery over Y. Hey, your mileage may vary! But hopefully, you can take this list and either check some of these breweries out, or think about your own top breweries and why. In this day and age of new consolidation of breweries under the Big Guys, we still have so many small and local choices. Enjoy the plethora of local beers we have available! I’m also including a few of my favorite beers from each brewery if you need a good starting point!)

30) Spilled Grain Brewhouse (Annandale): This one just barely made the list this year! I haven’t been to the taproom in a while, but these guys keep on putting out great beers and in obscene quantities. (Dopplebock)

29) Surly Brewing (Minneapolis): Surly fell off my list for a few years after the departure of Todd Haug, the loss of the Brewer’s Table restaurant, and some questionable beer releases (brettannomyces beers and tainted anniversary beers I’m talking to you…) However, I feel that the consistency of product and new interesting beers being released is on the upswing. I also can’t ignore the impact that Surly has had on the local scene and that this informs so much of the MN brewery culture. (Hell, Todd the Axeman, Barrel Aged Darkness)

28) Wild Mind Artisan Ales (Minneapolis): Wild mind has really been pushing the limits of sour beers over the past few years. Quality and uniqueness of beers has blossomed and you never quite know what you are going to find here. They make plenty of non-sour beers but really shine on the sour side. They also do some spontaneous fermentation, and barrel aged sours raising them far over the ubiquitous and somewhat one-dimensional kettle sours to be found at most breweries these days.

27) Venn Brewing (Minneapolis): I had not been to Venn prior to last year’s list, but have been there about 5 times this year to date. Located not far from Sea Salt (one of my favorite summer seafood establishments) Venn is a cute brewery with a wide array of beers. Beers range from excellent hazy IPAs, to fruit-bomb kettle sours, to several dark and malty options. I’ve known Brewer/owner Kyle Cisco from homebrewing days and he is quite the talented perfectionist at his craft. (Northodox IPA, Cosmosis, Kolsch)

26) Jack Pine (Baxter): I finally got back to Jack Pine this summer and was impressed as always at the quality of the beers and the amount of options. Fantastic taproom as well–this place is worth a stop on your way “up north”. (Vengeance, Big Buck)

25) Castle Danger (Two Harbors): Castle Danger continues to put out consistent and drinkable beers. Whoever is in charge of their distribution and tap accounts is killing it, since I find these beers in can and on tap all over the Twin Cities. (Ode, Mosaic IPA)

24) Tin Whiskers (St. Paul Lowertown): Tin Whiskers has been continuing to improve over the past few years. With the addition of several new IPAs, as well as their interesting collaborations with the Pearson’s candy company, these guys are making some waves in the local industry. (Dynamo, Schottky Pumpkin, Nut Goodie Porter)

23) Drastic Measures (Wadena): This was a new brewery for me this year. Brewer Brett Doebbeling (formerly of Disgruntled Brewing fame) has opened his own brewery in another small town–and continues to put out some great beers. One of the best and earliest adoptors of the New England hazy IPA craze, Brett really knows this style. The names are a little jeuvenile at times, but I’ll drink them anyway… (Stupid Good, Pat McCrotch, Ill Intent)

22) Insight Brewing (NE MPLS): Insight has been on my list for years. I’ve had them drop a bit this year on the list though, not so much from dropping quality, as new breweries bumping up on the list! One of my favorite Nordeast taprooms to visit due to more open hours and decent parking. (Sunken City, Devil’s Companion)

21) Hoops Brewing (Duluth): Dave Hoops has been doing good things up in Duluth. We got up to the taproom again this summer during All Pints North and the beers were really good. Tons of styles, well done. (They give them all numbers and I didn’t write them down. Hey I was drinking! #15 pale ale…)

20) Dangerous Man (NE MPLS): Another NE brewery, very popular among those wearing beards and skinny jeans. I’ve managed to sneak in at quieter times–like opening on a Sunday–so have had a few improved experiences in the usually packed taproom this year. Good beers overall. (Chocolate Milk Stout, Barrel Aged Imperial Pumpkin)

19) Modist (North Loop MPLS): This is a brewery that usually makes my list. An interesting vibe and cool mix of beer styles. Parking can be iffy, but really close to Fulton so might as well visit both! (Dreamyard, Supra Delux)

18) Lift Bridge (Stillwater): Lift Bridge has been in my top 5 for the past 3 years. This year they spent a lot of effort on sodas and hard seltzers, but these aren’t really my thing. I feel they dropped on my list year mainly because last year’s edition of Barrel Aged Silhouette was not as good as previous years. This has been my favorite desert island beer for many years and I was disapppointed to say the least. The new edition is coming out this month, so I have my fingers crossed for a return to greatness. Still a very good brewery though! (Silhouette, Irish Coffee Stout)

17) Waconia Brewing (Waconia): Waconia Brewing is my local watering hole–the place I go more than pretty much any other taproom. Warm, inviting, welcoming of gamers, this place is a great visit. These guys put out a steady stream of well crafted beers, of which the seasonals are usually my favorite. (Deep Water IPA, Peanut Butter Porter, Mo Winta’ Milk Stout)

16) Pryes Brewing (Minneapolis): I know Jeremy Pryes from back in homebrewing days and been blown away by the way he has worked himself up from marketing only Miraculum to opening the new taproom and going crazy with new beer styles. One of my top beers of the year is from this brewery. Well worth a visit. (Barrel Aged Lost Moon, Mass Haze-teria, Dublin Dry Stout)

15) Falling Knife (NE MPLS): Located in the old Northgate space, this is a surprise rocket-to-the-top brewery. Only open a few months, they started out very strong with a wide array of popular styles. I know a couple of the people involved and couldn’t be happier that they are putting out such well made beers right out of the gate. (Ghost Step, Evil Pockets, DDH Cloud Surfing, Verbal Tip)

14) Unmapped (Minnetonka): These folks are fantastic people with a desire to put out beers they want to drink. I really respect the beer quality here and the taproom is one of the best to be found in the suburbs. They also brew a couple of the best Belgian style beers in the Twin Cities. (Quadruplication, Freq Drive DIPA, No Trace IPA)

13) Forager (Rochester): Proof there are great breweries outside of the Twin Cities corridor. Forager has great food as well as a cool ambiance and a crazy mix of beers. I haven’t made it to the taproom this year, but got to try a few great beers at festivals this year. Yes it is on the list for 2020! (Pudding Goggles, Magnus)

12) August Schell Brewing (New Ulm): I’m including the new Starkeller in this one, which is bumping it a bit higher. Classic beers including one of the best Vienna lagers to be found, as well as one of the best local helles beers. The sours from Starkeller are something special as well. (Fort Road Helles, Firebrick, Keller Pils, any Starkeller)

11) Back Channel (Spring Park): The guys at Back Channel are killing it. I’ve been more and more impressed with the beers these guys are putting out. They do some really clean and refreshing lagers for the summer lake crowd, as well as tons of different IPAs. They have also done some great dark beers like the best export stout I’ve had in MN, and several pastry stouts. And hey, you can drink your IPA in a bowl if you so desire! If you have not seen some of the social media videos they are putting out, you should check them out as well. (Turning Tricks, Soviet Slayer, too many IPAs to remember them all)

10) Revelation Ale Works (Hallock): This was the biggest shock of the year in terms of bumping to the top of my list. We spent several weekends visiting out of the way breweries and the crowning jewel on these trips was the discovery (or revelation) of this brewery. Where is Hallock? You can just about throw a rock from there and hit Canada, and another to hit North Dakota. These are some of the best beers I’ve had this year, no joke. They have been delivering a few hand-delivered shipments of cans to the Twin Cities recently so try them out if you see them. (Edison’s Medicine NEIPA, Peanut Butter Stout, 100 Watt IPA, Megawatt DIPA)

9) Steel Toe (St. Louis Park): Since they opened, Steel Toe has been putting out some of the most flavorful and balanced beers to be found in the state. Under the radar, even to this day, I just continue to be impressed. This year included some increase in new experimental hop beers, use of the Norwegian superyeast, and some sour beers. (Lunker, Wee Heavy, Rainmaker, Sticker Fight, Solveig Pale Ale, Before the Dawn)

8) Barrel Theory (Lowertown St. Paul): These guys burst onto the scene and have not trailed off a bit. A plethora of hazy NE IPAs, but plenty of fruited sours and pastry stouts to even things out. I really haven’t had a bad beer here in the many times I’ve visited. How do I keep ending up in St. Paul when I live in Waconia??? (Black Lotus, DDH Raindrops, Feast Mode, It’s Morphin’ Time)

7) Indeed (NE MPLS): Another persistent favorite in my list. A good mix of hoppy ales, but some of the few legitimate barrel aged sours to be found in Minnesota round out the offerings. The taproom has a great vibe and is very close to to some others in the area. (Mexican Honey, Rum King, any Wooden Soul sour, Pils)

6) Junkyard (Moorhead): Now that Junkyard can be found in crowler in the Twin Cities, people have started to figure out just how good they really are. One of my very favorite breweries in the state to be sure. I swear they brew a different beer every week because I can barely keep up. (King Size, Peanut Butter Bandit, any NE IPA)

5) Fair State (NE MPLS): Starting as a tiny brewey co-op, Fair State has blossomed into one of the larger and more popular breweries on the scene in Minnesota. I was a little slow to come around on them, but they continue to improve and widen their net. Amazing IPAs, fantastic lagers. (Mirror Universe, Pils, Spirit Foul, FSB, Vienna Lager, Keller Kazbeck)

4) Summit Brewing (St. Paul): One of the old guard now, Summit often gets missed in the rush to try the newest NE IPA or kettle sour. They laid the groundwork for good craft beer in Minnesota before it was cool. Yet they still put out honest to goodness great beers. The Great Northern Porter is still one of the very best to be found anywhere and the Oatmeal stout can be found only on draft. (Keller Pils, Great Northern Porter, Oatmeal stout, Maibock, Oktoberfest, Dakota Soul, Dark Infusion)

3) Lupulin (Big Lake): One of the first breweries in the state to do legitimate NE IPAs, these guys were ahead of the curve. They continue to please with those early beers and keep adding on new amazing brews. If I didn’t live an hour away I’d be at the taproom all the time. A stellar group of people to get to know for sure! (Hooey, Blissful Ignorance, Straight Hash Homie, Sophistry series, Make IPA Piney Again, Eastern Sea)

2) Bent Paddle (Duluth): Bent Paddle has been brewing fantastic beers since they opened. I have never had beer I did not like from them (some not as much my style as others, but never bad!) If you haven’t been to the new taproom just a block from the old one–check it out! These guys brew one of the only good ESBs in the state, as well as perfectly balanced drinkable lagers and IPAs. (14 Degree ESB, Bent Hop, Venture Pils, Double Shot Double Black)

1)Town Hall (Minneapolis): And the winner is: Town Hall. Mike Hoops and his crew are magicians when it comes to brewing. Most of the standard beers that I never order (but are great) are better than 90% of the other breweries in the state. Then the specialty beers come into the picture: Town Hall was one of the first breweries in the state to try their hand at barrel aging beers and just can’t be beat for quality and balance. Every year I wait outside (and sometimes my wife Sj does it) in the frigid cold to get my yearly allotment of barrel aged beer growlers. And now, with several accessory locations like Town Hall Lanes, Tap, and Station you can find this great beer even easier. I still love the mothership in Seven Corners though. (Manhattan Reserve, Foolish Angel, Twisted Trace, 3 Hour Tour, 6 Hour Tour, Hope & King, anything really)