The Northern Lights Rare Beer Fest

On Saturday, March 23rd at the Minnesota History Center, I attended my first Northern Lights Rare Beer Fest. This festival features 30 carefully selected breweries to showcase rare beers. One of the best things about this festival is that it is a fundraiser for Pints For Prostates, an organization focused on raising awareness for regular health screenings for prostate cancer. So, not only is it a fun opportunity, but a great cause to support. The festival organizers, Chop Liver Beer Festivals, put on a well-run festival and that alone is reason to have this on your radar for next year!

The Venue

This was my first time setting foot inside the Minnesota History Center. It is the perfect mix of fancy and practical for a beer festival. Spanning three levels, the breweries were peppered throughout the sprawling building. This made sure that you had to keep moving if you wanted to attempt to try everything.

A Worthy Cause

The aforementioned Northern Lights Rare Beer Fest is a fundraiser for Pints For Prostates. Pints For Prostates does a ton of work with awareness and promotion of men’s health screenings for prostate cancer and other health issues – Check out At the festival, one could get a prostate screening for free. This is noteworthy because this screening would cost around $700 dollars.

The Pints For Prostates campaign was started by Rick Lyke back in 2008. Lyke, a beer writer himself and prostate cancer survivor, has championed this cause. Lyke has adeptly paired beer with the message of men’s health awareness. It is incredible to see so many craft breweries lining up to feature some wonderful beers for such a great cause.

The Beers

I think I short-circuited my Fitbit climbing all those stairs, but it was well worth it. The variety of beers on display was nothing short of awe-inspiring. There were some of the local darlings like Forager Brewery, Dangerous Man, and Barrel Theory on display. There were also some regional breweries who paved the way for our fairly young Minnesota craft beer scene like Brooklyn Brewery, Dogfish Head, and Bell’s Brewery.

It is important to have the big craft breweries present at beer festivals. They opened up doors long ago and introduced many of us to craft beer. Today, they are the hallmark of consistency while at the same time, continuing to innovate. I was definitely impressed by what the big boys brought to the Northern Lights Rare Beer Fest.

Rare Beer Fest Favorites

It would be impossible to get around and try all the beers that were pouring at the festival without getting really out of hand. So, I was selective in what I tried at the Northern Lights Rare Beer Fest. I also wanted to remember what I drank for the purposes of being able to pen this article.

Big stouts would be readily on display. I also knew that any sour beers being poured here would be incredibly delicious. So, like Greg Maddux during his Cy Young run, I changed speeds often going from big stouts, to lighter ABV, effervescent mixed fermentation beers. At the end of the festival, five beers stuck out to me as being fantastic.

Earth Rider Brewery Vikre Sugarbush Whisky Barrel Aged Valhalla

The base beer is a scotch ale with copious amounts of rich caramel flavor. The Sugar Bush Whisky barrel imparts some balance to the caramel sweetness with hints of wood and spirit. The mouthfeel is chewy and smooth all at the same time and I think that is really what grabbed me about this beer. It sure is nice that Earth Rider has such a great relationship with Duluth’s Vikre Distillery because I am sure there are many more of these fantastic barrel aged beers to come!

Fair State Brewing Cooperative Upick 2018

When I first got into beer, I really enjoyed mixed fermentation beers. However, now they are everywhere and not everyone brews them correctly. Luckily, I know I can count on Fair State Brewing Cooperative to produce a quality mixed fermentation beer because they have the knowledge and the patience to do them right.

The Upick 2018 reminded me why I love this style of beer. A bevy of tartness, sweetness, dryness, and effervescence-pretty much a Kama Sutra clinic for your palate. I have had several of these beers in the past and I love that each one is different because each year’s harvest of fruit is different. To be suprised by a beer is becoming a real treat in my old age. Thank you, Fair State, for dazzling my senses once again.

Brooklyn Brewery Better Angels

This angelic blend of barrel aged vintages is a mixed fermentation lover’s fantasy. Basically, this comes of as a remarkably restrained Imperial Oud Bruin. I love how the various flavors of red wine and bourbon come together to create some subtle flavors or plum, raisin, tart red grapes, and red wine vinegar. This drinks smooth, but at 9.5%, it could very well sneak up on you. I love that Brooklyn Brewery had this in their arsenal because it definitely fits the theme of the festival.

Forager Brewery Black Currant Lambic

Oh, sure, when the bagpipes started playing most of the people got in the Forager Brewery line for Nillerzzzzz. However, I have tried that one before and saw that they had their first ever Lambic. Knowing what I do about how well Forager can do a fruited mixed fermentation beer, I knew what my choice would be.

This is a fantastic beer. Full of black currant flavors that range from sweet, tart, and tannic, this beer is complex and remarkable. Knowing that it is a blended beer, I knew that it would be tremendous. I think that I could do an entire crowler of this beer on my own because it is so balanced.

Barrel Theory Stormbreaker

A lot of breweries will make a stout with food flavors that comes off tasting artificial and off-putting. However, Barrel Theory understands how to evoke flavors of foods in their beers that are mind-blowing and natural. The same can be said for Stormbreaker, a Russian Imperial Stout made with marcona almonds, roasted pistachios, vanilla, and cacao. The nuttiness in this beer is roasty and enchanting. Marcona almonds have an amazingly decadent flavor and that comes across in the beer. I also appreciated how the cacao and pistachio balanced things out. Another hit in a long line of amazing stouts in the Barrel Theory books.

All in all, the Northern Lights Rare Beer Fest was an amazing night of schmoozing and sampling. I love the cause and am glad to support Pints For Prostates. The Minnesota History Center is the perfect venue for such a classy affair. I look forward to going again next year and recommend that you do the same! Prost!

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