“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

Dan’s Top 30 Minnesota Beers of 2018

Minnesota is making great strides when it comes to independent and craft beer. Our market is in the top ten for brewery growth in the country according to the Brewers Association. It seems likely that soon, at least in regards to beer, we will no longer be considered flyover country by the rest of the nation.

I made it out to a lot of breweries and drank a lot of fantastic beers in 2018. Here is my list of the top 30 beers brewed by an eclectic mix of breweries big and small in our great state of Minnesota. The beers on this list stood out above the rest. They were brewed well and excited me about our local scene.

Dan’s Best of Beer Criteria

As in anything, when you are talking about ranking a beer, it is incredibly subjective. My fresh pour of Blissful Ignorance will taste different than the 4 month-old can you drank from the back of your beer fridge. Many of the beers on this list are special beers that may or may not have been widely available. Some of the beers mentioned on this list were enjoyed at festivals and were not even available in stores.

However, there is one thing that all these beers have in common and that is that they had tremendous depth, flavor, and quality. When I remember a beer, it means that beer made me think. I remember a beer when it tells a story. You will see plenty of dark beers on this list because I love a well-made stout. You will also see plenty of traditional and crisp European beers represented, too. My hope is that my list can trigger a lively discussion and celebrate the wonderful beers of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. This list is not canon, it is just my take on our wonderful local beer scene. Enjoy!

30-Bauhaus Brewlabs Homeguys Helles

One of many well-made classic beer styles from Europe that you will see on this list. Bauhaus really knocked this one out of the park. It is crisp and has a wonderful bready malt flavor that makes it a perfect beer to enjoy. Luckily, it is now a year-round beer for them and you don’t have to wait until summertime to consume copious amounts of this banger.

29- Jack Pine Brewery Vengeance

This jalapeño cream ale is a fantastic beer. The dryness from the pepper along with the refreshing nature of the base beer are quite a combo. It is good to enjoy either in the winter or the summer because there is not too much heat from the pepper to make it a very balanced sip. Jack Pine Brewery has a lot of really great beers, but Vengeance is always a must for me.

28-Shakopee Brewhall/Rock Bottom Brewery Naughty Scot

I am a sucker for a malty scotch ale/Wee Heavy done well. This beer was born out of the best techniques that brewers Larry Skellenger (Rock Bottom Brewery) and Ben Salyards (Shakopee Brewhall) could come up with. Their opus reflects a solid base of brewing knowledge as it dazzles the palate with rich caramel and roasty notes of toasted bread.

27-Wild Mind Artisan Ales Spontané: Framboise

My enjoyment of spontaneously fermented beers has waned in the last few years because quality ones are hard to find. Because of the time, space, and knowledge they take to conjure up, many breweries don’t have the resources to make one. Luckily, Matt Waddell is a brainiac when it comes to science and has a wealth of knowledge and the passion to match. The Wild Mind Spontané: Framboise was a reminder of why I should get off my butt and seek out more of his beers. Tart, bright, and flavorful, this beer was simply divine.

26-Montgomery Brewing Peanut Buster Porter

When a brewery pours a beer and you immediately feel like someone is holding a spoonful of peanut butter under your nose, you know you are in for a treat. This roasty rendition of a style of beer style that can be polarizing is delightful. Having it fresh from the source at Montgomery Brewing was excellent and I put it among the better versions of this style out there. Not overly sweet, it has a robust peanut aroma and is very addictive.

25-Beaver Island Czech Pils

Beaver Island has several really good beers to enjoy. However, for me, the Czech Pils really shows their brewing chops. No place for a flaw to hide, the Czech Pils is a bright, clean, and crisp beer that I enjoy immensely. This is a beer that I can see them using to convert macro-beer fans to craft beer in just a few sips.

24-Bad Weather Dark Mild

If Bad Weather were a hitter in Major League Baseball, they would bat 2nd and be a nightmare for opposing pitchers because there are no holes in their swing. They can brew classic styles, they can go outside the box and whatever they brew comes across as delicious and well-made. Their Dark Mild is a fantastic beer because it shows that malt can be a highlight in a low alcohol beer. This beer has flavor, texture, and can be enjoyed more than once in a sitting. It blew my mind how delicious this beer was and I would love to see it on tap all the time.

23-Bad Habit Dark Addiction

Bad Habit

Bad Habit has a lot of beers that will make you glad you stopped in to their taproom. However, Dark Addiction makes my list because it is the reason I can’t wait to make a return visit to their brewery. It has a great roasted malt chocolate flavor that mixes with the sweetness that goes along with a milk stout. What a wonderful sipper!

22-Wabasha Darktober

When two classic styles of German dark beers spend some time together and get a little tipsy, a blend of two styles is born. Darktober is the love child of a Markzen and a Dunkel. I am not sure what German smooth jazz sounds like, but I imagine it played a role in the birth of Wabasha Brewing’s Darktober. Smooth toasted bread and caramel flavors are what makes this beer great. The body of this beer is chewy and definitely goes well with Fall.

21-Junkyard Azacca Experimental IPA

Azacca is a hop that always comes across to me as dynamic and energizing to a beer. It imparts citrusy and tropical fruit notes into a beer. I am surprised more breweries don’t utilize this hop. I guess that maybe it is harder to come across than citra or mosaic, but I don’t know for sure. Junkyard Brewing made a beer with it and I think that for an experimental IPA, it should probably graduate into a mainstay. It was delicious with refreshing notes of orange flesh and mango bursting out of it. A nice modicum of bitterness in this beer made it extremely memorable.

20-Prye’s Dublin Dry Stout

Is it possible for a beer to be dark as night and not heavy? Prye’s Brewing answers that question in the form of a 16 oz pint of stout. Their Dublin Dry Stout is a rich and creamy delight. It has a roasty malt base that comes across like coffee and dark chocolate. The finish is creamy because the body of the beer is medium to the point of being there, but not coming across as heavy. I do a mental summersault when I see this on tap around town. It has been available at the taproom every time I have been there, so if you are having trouble tracking it down, head to the source!

19-Urban Growler Barrel-Aged Porter

Urban Growler

This year’s version of this delectable treat was aged in a Buffalo Trace bourbon barrel for quite a while. When you think Urban Growler, barrel-aged beers probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, this beer is exceptional. I think because they do a relatively small amount of it, the quality is easy to keep an eye on and their bottles flew out of the taproom like a New York City rat pursues a slice of pizza that hits the sidewalk on Broadway. They charge $15 a bottle, which is the best value of any barrel aged beer in MN. Do not miss this next year if you haven’t tried it yet.

18-Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative Minute Man

Another great hazy IPA cracked my list when I tried Minute Man from Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative. Juicy hop aromas explode out of the glass in this beauty. Minute Man also has a wonderful mouthfeel and finishes with a slight hop bit that is a tad bitter. This is among a handful of really great hazy IPAs available in the state and you should definitely get over to the taproom if you haven’t already.

17-Dangerous Man Double Coconut Imperial Milk Stout

There are only two things that will get me to don a coconut bra and grass skirt: a handwritten letter letter from Selma Hayek and Dangerous Man’s Double Coconut Imperial Milk Stout. This beer had a wonderful mix of chocolate from the malt, richness from the coconut, and sweetness from the lactose. These flavors were delivered to the palate on a velvet mouthfeel that made it a decadent treat.

16-Unmapped Brewing Quadruplication

Belgian beers are hard to brew. That is why most people don’t think that they like Belgian beers. However, Derek at Unmapped Brewing has a solid base of knowledge when it comes to brewing a Belgian beer. His Quadruplication is a ruby colored marvel in a tulip. It has an amazing amalgamation of toffee, plums, raisins, and dates. The warming alcohol is a liquid equivalent of a hug. If more places could brew Belgians like this, more people would clamor to drink them.

15-Utepils Copacetic Kölsch

This is a perfect beer that you don’t have to think about. Utepils has made their name by giving us quality beers that aren’t flashy. Yet, in that simplicity lives and grandeur of brewing prowess. The Kölsch is bright and low in alcohol so it is perfect for happy hour. The hint of honey sweetness and bready notes from the malt are balanced and finished off with a deft blend of earthy hops. In the dead of winter, this beer reminds me that Summer is coming.

14-Lupulin Night Witch

Lupulin knows how to make a big beer. Hell, they have a whole week devoted to them in March. Yet, this one really went above and beyond the call of beergasm. First of all, at 14% it is definitely one to savor. Second of all, it was aged in a Knob Creek Bourbon Barrel for a really long time. I tasted it out of the bright tank a while back and thought, “Jiminy Christmas, I think I just peed a little! That is damn good!” Having it after it mellowed and aged confirmed my suspicions of beer both being able to be delicious and a diuretic. It picked up some barrel, bourbon, and has a richness to it due to the body. This beer is exquisite.

13-BlackStack Local 755

This hazy IPA developed over months of research and taste-testing of other stellar iterations of this style from the East Coast. The silver lining to the cloud of St. Paul’s slow-as-molasses-in-January approach to permits is that BlackStack Brewing had all the time in the world to make this IPA amazing. It is juicy, has a great mouthfeel, and finishes with a little bitter bite that is like the rind of on orange to complete the holy trinity of the hazy IPA experience.

12-Lift Bridge BA Silhouette

Typically higher up in my list, the Lift Bridge 2018 BA Silhouette had some consistency issues. At the release party, it tasted every bit as epic as it always does. A big-bodied, decadent, roasty stout that gets better with each sip. Yet, one of the bottles I opened a few months later definitely had a tang to it that was similar to soy sauce or a mild balsamic vinegar. So, it is difficult to say how many bottles had this issue, but it was a little disappointing and that is why it is not in my top 10.

11-Town Hall Brewery BA Six-Hour Tour

The Town Hall Brewery barrel-aged Six Hour Tour is an all-inclusive vacation for your palate to the promised land of beer. Holy moly, this baby is as smooth as a 4800 thread count sheet from Egypt. You get barrel, coconut, and warming alcohol all aboard a mouth feel that is pure delight. So amazing and if you see it on their BA line, get a pour of it, you won’t be sorry.

10-Barrel Theory’s Shooter McGavin

This is a beer showcases juicy hop aromas and flavors better than most. Barrel Theory’s Shooter McGavin is a great DIPA because it has juicy flavors with a nice alcoholic heft in the body. This beer was shared with bloggers from all over the country and people were losing their shit over how good it was. It is my favorite of their hoppy beers because I think it is pretty damn perfect.

9-Fair State Brewing Cooperative Keller Kazbek

Along the lines of less is more, the Keller Kazbek from Fair State Brewing Cooperative is a clinic in classic brewing. A hazy, crisp, and bright beer that is a fantastic accompaniment to a great conversation with a friend. Amidst a myriad of choices of what to drink, the working man’s Keller Kazbek is proof that when the brewer knows their shit, you don’t need a ton of ingredients to make a world class beer. Fair State has a wonderful collection of sessionable lagers, but this one is by far my favorite.

8-Spilled Grain Brewhouse Oktoberfest

Lagered for months, Spilled Grain Brewhouse’s Oktoberfest is a perfect argument for why malt is the most important ingredient in a beer. The way Head Brewer Jacob Schnabel brews this beer, the malt is elevated to legendary status as it brings forth rich caramel and toasted bready notes in the beer. It is crisp and clean which makes it supremely sippable. If you haven’t been to the Oktoberfest up at Spilled Grain to clink steins with Jacob and Stacy for this one, you need to put that on your MN beer bucket list.

7-Tin Whiskers Nut Goodie Porter

Tin Whiskers Brewing

When a brewery finds lightning in a bottle, you get something like the Nut Goodie Porter. This beer tastes like a Nut Goodie, and not just the sweet part. You get a robust roasted nutty flavor, a sweet and comforting hit of maple syrup, and a rich chocolate hit. All these things combine to make it a wonderful treat. This beer was gangbusters and I hope that the relationship between Pearson’s Candy Company and Tin Whiskers continues in 2019.

6-Forager Brewery Pudding Goggles

You can make the argument that Forager Brewery has beers that shine brighter than Pudding Goggles when it comes to pastry stouts. However, this beer continues to impress me every time I drink it. What I love about a dark beer that incorporates a lot of different flavors is when each flavor can stand on its own legs-Pudding Goggles allows for this. Are there other more extraordinary Forager dark beers? Yes. However, Pudding Goggles consistently wows me and that is why it is so high.

5-Bent Paddle Double Shot Double Black

Traditionally, this is one that I feel changes a bit from year to year. There have been times when this drank a bit too sweet for me. However, this year’s vintage came off balanced and extremely delicious. I love the mix of dark chocolate, vanilla, and dark fruit flavors that this beer showcases. With all the other great stouts in MN, DSDB from Bent Paddle definitely stands out from the crowd.

4-Barrel Theory Maple Barrel-Aged Threat Level Midnight

There are a lot of ways to screw up a beer with maple syrup. It can wind up being too sweet, or overtake the other flavors in a beer. What Barrel Theory Beer Company did with this beer is a lesson in patience and skill. Unveiled at Winterfest 2018, this beer wowed and titillated beer geeks to the point where they were stumbling around muttering safe words. The beer has texture, flavors, and aromas that almost make you question what you know about what a beer can be. The maple accents the beer beautifully to give it a bit of cozy maple flavor. The roastiness in the beer adds a balance that all sit upon a decadent and velvety body that propel it into the stratosphere of legend.

3-Lupulin Brewing Company Blissful Ignorance

Lupulin Brewing Company

As more breweries perfect their New England-style IPAs, Blissful Ignorance remains the top of my list for DIPA in that style. Bright, juicy, and smooth, Blissful Ignorance is in a class by itself. It is deceptively strong and unlike other poorly made DIPAs, it is smooth and showcases the juiciness of the hops as well as some bitter bite to make it balanced. This amazing beer is the driving force of Lupulin’s ever-expanding beer portfolio. Still highly sought after, this beer is worth chasing a truck around town.

2-Town Hall Brewery Twisted Trace Star Barrel

Town Hall Brewery sets the bar when it comes to barrel aging beers in MN. Their Barrel-Aged Week is a celebration of this esteemed alchemy. When stars align and a beer has aged in a barrel shows itself to be perfect, it need not be blended and can star just as it is. That was the case with Twisted Trace Star Barrel. The beer gods smiled on this wooden vessel and blessed it with immaculate taste, texture, and essence. All elements-bourbon, toffee, caramel, and raisin-all mix with the nice warming alcohol to make it a fantastic sipper.

1-Summit Keller Pils

Summit Brewing

This is my desert island beer. I gravitate towards Summit’s Keller Pils year-round. In it simplicity, there is majesty. Bright and crisp flavors burst out of this thanks to the hops and malts used in the beer. Its texture satiates those who want something with a little less body than a big beer. Its flavor wows craft beer nerds who are looking for big flavor in a sessionable beer. It won a GABF gold medal in 2018 and I think it is liquid perfection.

This list leaves off quite a few wonderful beers. 30 slots seems like a lot, but there are some favorites that I had to leave off. Leave me a note in the comments if you think I should try something you don’t see on the list. I hope to continue to broaden my local beer horizons in the next year and explore and write about all the liquid innovations that are happening all over our great state of Minnesota. 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.  He 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 .