Dan’s Top 30 MN Breweries of 2019
Here are my top 30 MN breweries of 2019. Since Beerploma first started doing these lists back in 2016, the craft beer landscape in Minnesota has evolved in remarkable fashion. Along with that evolution, drinking habits have changed, and styles preferences have shifted.
While IPA is still king, lagers have become more readily available in taprooms. The result of this is that lagers are surging in popularity amongst craft beer drinkers. The connotation that a light lager is too much like the Evil Empire domestic beer has changed and brewers are pumping them out fast and furious.
My criteria for this list factors in the quality of the beer, variety of styles available, enjoyment of the atmosphere, the quality of service I experienced. This is not based on any beer rating system from Untappd or BeerAdvocate. I am also taking into account how a brewery has changed and evolved or vice versa. The tide for beer in Minnesota continues to rise. There are probably great breweries that are not on this list this year that I didn’t have on tap or in their taproom. Regrettably, I didn’t get to as many local breweries as I wanted to this year and that will show up in my list.
Full disclosure, I did not make it to every brewery in Minnesota this year. My summer mostly consisted of visiting 61 breweries in Colorado and Nebraska. There were breweries that have been on my list in year’s past that aren’t this year. That is not because they fell out of favor, but simply because I didn’t have any of their beer this year or stop in their taproom. Montgomery Brewing, Bad Habit Brewing, and Voyageur Brewing all were breweries that I promise to get back to in 2020. There were also a bumper crop of newer breweries that really started out in fantastic fashion and bumped several breweries down.
So, go easy on me and remember, this list is based on my particular experience. Yours will be different and that is ok. The thing to remember is that the Minnesota craft beer scene took a nice step forward in 2019 and the nation is taking note of that. We are very lucky to have so many wonderful beer options, both in the Twin Cities and outstate. Duluth, Rochester, Brainerd, and beyond are all showing that quality and inventive beers can be made anywhere. Keep drinking and enjoying what you like in 2020. If you think my list missteps, let me know in the comments and I will try to add your favorites to my 2020 itinerary.
Dan’s Top 30 Breweries of 2019
30) Hayes’ Public House-Buffalo
The beers at Hayes’ Public House are delicious. What brings this brewery experience up a notch is the amazing warmth and coziness of an Irish Pub. . . in Buffalo, MN. Not only will they have your UK-inspired staples, but they also brew beers that teach you a bit about the history of beer. Their big bottle format beers are a treat if you see them on the liquor store shelves. However, if you want the true experience, do yourself a favor and go to the taproom.
29) Giesenbräu Bier Co.-New Prague
A little bit of a jaunt south of the Twin Cities, Giesenbräu (prounounced geese-en-broy) Bier Co. brews classic European-style beers. Giesenbräu also brews other American styles that all are high quality beers. Their Octoberfest celebration is a great time. If you head down next fall, make sure you save room for brats and pretzels to go along with all that great fest beer! Also, if you get a chance to try it, their Novy Praha Med is a BA Russian Imperial Stout that is fantastic. This brewery flies under the radar, but is incredibly fantastic. I cannot wait until the next time I get to drink Doppel the Hutt, one of my favorite Minnesota Doppelbocks.
28) Jack Pine Brewery-Baxter
Thriving in the thick of cabin country, Jack Pine Brewery is the best of class is the Brainerd/Baxter area. Their tap list boasts a wide breadth of styles and flavors. The beers at Jack Pine are consistently good. I enjoy sitting on their patio in the summer when I can relax and enjoy a nice pint of Vengeance. I also look forward to seeing what else Patrick has on tap. Last summer, I lucked into an Experimental IPA #16 that I thought was extraordinary. Of course, when the leaves fall and the walleye bite subsides, their malty offerings are a great reason to hunker down in their taproom for a game of cribbage or two.
27) Wabasha Brewing Company-St. Paul
Wabasha Brewing Company represents a community staple for the Westside of St. Paul. Their Westside Popper is a favorite of many and pairs well with the local Latino cuisine. It is tough to find the same beer on all the time at Wabasha because their patrons are pretty damn thirsty. However, that provides their brewers with the fun challenge of keeping the taps busy while debuting new and creative beers. You never know which new beers you will find at Wabasha, and that is something that I love.
26) Castle Danger Brewing-Two Harbors
I didn’t physically make it up to Castle Danger’s taproom this year for the first time in six years. That meant I had to double-down on my consumption of packaged options. The Castle Danger Cream Ale and George Hunter Stout are mainstays in my beer fridge. They are consistently good, and I love that they are on tap all over town. My only knock on this brewery is that they haven’t put their Vienna Lager into packaging, yet.
25) Surly Brewing Company-Minneapolis
Love them or hate them, Surly Brewing Company paved the way for a lot of breweries who enjoy a thriving taproom. They used to be the rebellious and cool brewery that both locals and regional beer geeks regarded as avant-garde. Now, they have grown and the aura surrounding this once plucky brewery is different. Their taproom is going to be one of the first places that a beer-minded visitor plugs into their GPS. Surly’s beer hall is a wonderful place to try new things that may or may not someday find their way into packaging. Their beer hall food is good, and the pizza on the second level is incredible. I still wish that my presence as a patron felt more valued there, but a guy can’t have everything.
24) ONE Fermentary-Minneapolis
When I first heard about ONE Fermentary, and who was behind it, I was excited from the get-go. I suspected that the beers would be fantastic given that between Joe Alton and Ramsey Louder, there is more than a lifetime of beer experience and knowledge. However, it is the focus of inclusivity at ONE Fermentary that makes me so happy to go there. Their staff reflects every gender, ethnicity, racial background, and sexual orientation. For some people, ONE Fermentary will be a place to enjoy a beer. However, people of diverse backgrounds, visiting ONE Fermentary will be the first time where we feel like we belong in craft beer. This fact is both a triumph for ONE Fermentary and a challenge for other breweries to get with the times.
23) Falling Knife Brewing Company-Minneapolis
Falling Knife Brewing opened in mid-October and came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. To me, they are a sign of the bar for quality being raised in the state of Minnesota when it comes to what it takes to open a successful brewery. With a combination of brewery and restaurant experience, the owners of Falling Knife have a wealth of experience in hospitality that they are putting to excellent use. Their beers are sophisticated and nuanced. Look for their pilsner to find its way onto my Best Beers of 2019 list. They are pouring 16 taps now and the options span a continuum of styles that is calculated and smart. I look forward to what they continue to impress us with in 2020.
22) Little Thistle Brewing Company-Rochester
To run a successful brewery, ownership must possess a fervent passion for the craft. Steve and Dawn Finnie, the owners of Little Thistle Brewing Company, put their hearts and souls into every aspect of their brewery. The Finnies are no strangers to the Rochester craft beer scene. That knowledge shows in the beers and events at Little Thistle. Along with Austin Jevne of Forager Brewery, Little Thistle hosted on of the best craft beer festivals have ever attended last May. Their Gathering in the Wood event showcased the best of the best in MN and beyond in a very intimate setting at their brewery. The weather was perfect and most of the beers were superb. The Little Thistle Brewing beers are incredibly well-constructed. Steve and his brewing team deftly understand how to create complex flavors and textures in beer. No matter what kind of a mood you are in, Little Thistle has excellent beers you will love.
21) Modist Brewing-Minneapolis
A go-to before and after Twins games, Modist Brewing always has something that can teach your palate a lesson. Their unique brewhouse allows them to showcase beer in ways most breweries can’t. I love hanging out in their taproom and discovering new things to drink. I also appreciate that they have a friendly and knowledgable taproom staff that will take time to talk beer with you.
20) Spilled Grain Brewhouse-Annandale
In winning the 2019 Beerploma Brew Madness, Spilled Grain Brewhouse showed that they have a rabidly supportive following. This is a result of the good beer they brew and a fabulous family-friendly taproom space. Spilled Grain also won a silver medal at GABF for their False Hope Wheatwine. This is the second year in a row they have been awarded that medal for that beer. Their brewery has beers on tap for every taste that range from hoppy to malty and light to dark. No matter what style of beer you drink from Spilled Grain, you can trust that it will be brewed to style. Spilled Grain Brewhouse is run by some of the nicest people you will meet. I suggest you put their Oktoberfest party on your calendar because they know how to throw a party at the taproom. Their Oktoberfest belongs in the conversation with Summit’s and Schell’s as one of the best in the state.
19) Unmapped Brewing-Minnetonka
Unmapped Brewing Company is a bastion of consistency in an area of the West Metro that doesn’t have a lot of great places to find craft beer. Their flagships provide both a jumping-off point for those just getting into craft beer as well as a demonstration in quality for beer geeks. Their seasonal and special release beers are always on the upper echelon of quality in comparison with many other breweries in the state. The team of brewers, Derek and Tuck, are incredibly passionate about what they do and it shows in their beers. Thankfully, they are located 5 minutes away from my day job and so it is easy for me to pop in and enjoy their fantastic taproom.
18) Tin Whiskers Brewing-St. Paul
The way Tin Whiskers Brewing has been churning out the unique iterations of their hoppy “Bot” series, they might be able to stake a claim on the moniker “Can Can Wonderland.” As Tin Whiskers continues to evolve, the pivot away from flagships in favor of a faster-rotating beer selection has proved to be a good move. Their collaboration series with Pearson’s Candy Company continued to be a fan favorite as they released a total of four beers in the series. They continued their foray into the realm of lagers with positive results. They also dipped their toes into the hard seltzer pool. As a St. Paulite, I love stopping in and finding new offerings as well as my returning favorites.
17) Lift Bridge Brewery-Stillwater
Lift Bridge Brewery has done an admirable job of changing with the times. A lot of their offerings looks different than a couple of years ago. Watching Lift Bridge evolve has been enjoyable because, all the while, their consistency remains high. They got into the hard seltzers and if you can’t do gluten, theirs are pretty tasty. Of course, their Commander Barleywine and barrel-aged Silhouette are still cornerstones of specialty malty releases I seek out with a voracious thirst.
16) Urban Growler Brewing Company-St. Paul
Urban Growler is a go-to for me because I like their beer and love their staff. They rotate through a variety of well-made seasonals and constantly have some excellent flagship beers on tap. Their Cowbell Cream Ale is the perfect happy hour beer because it has a lot of flavor without ton of ABV. Their barrel-aged imperial porter is a special beer I look forward to every year. The owners understand what it means to foster a place where all people can come and enjoy themselves. Their food is always impressive, although I never can quite get myself to stray far from their Southern fried chicken sandwich. When it comes to the staff at Urban Growler, they are all passionate and wonderful people. At Urban Growler, I know that I can always count on quality beer served up by wonderful people; I am not sure you really need more than that in life.
15) BlackStack Brewing-St. Paul
BlackStack Brewing added a coffee shop and now open in the morning for you diehards who really want to drink all day long. Their Dear Mama collaboration with Witch Hunt Minneapolis was sensational. They continue to lead the way in the Twin Cities when it comes to showcasing the latest and greatest hops in ways that keeps the beer geeks ravenous. Adding Mat Waddell and 5 foeders puts BlackStack in a different class of brewery. Their taproom is the perfect place to gather with a group or fly solo for a beer or two. They have sneaky-good lagers that I don’t see getting the attention they deserve.
14) Back Channel Brewing-Spring Park
After only ever enjoying their beer at festivals, I finally made it to the Back Channel Brewing taproom to record an episode of A One Pint Stand, our podcast. The inviting space and huge bar made it an instant winner. Back Channel has quite a diverse portfolio of drinking options. Although they garnered national notoriety with the IPAs in bowls, they are far from being a one-trick pony. Back Channel’s lagers are as insatiable as their IPAs and stouts. They also have one of the most engaging and fun social media feeds in the state. If you haven’t been out there yet, do yourself a favor and put Back Channel Brewing on your 2020 craft beer itinerary.
13) Bad Weather Brewing Company-St. Paul
With every biscuity sip of Codswallop I savored in 2019, my love for Bad Weather Brewing increased. They are in select company when it comes to Minnesota breweries whom have mastered the art of the lager. They also have plenty of ales to keep you coming back for more. Instead of resting on their laurels, they consistently are exploring new styles to brew. If you want a session beer that features malt in all its glory, you need to have their Ordinary Bitter, Codswallop, on Nitro. This beer not only drinks deliciously, it will give you the authentic British Pub drinking experience.
12) Fulton Brewing Company-Minneapolis
Fulton Brewing is one of the old-school breweries in Minneapolis. I believe they were the first to open a taproom in Minneapolis and their beers have stood the test of time. Fulton has seen all kinds of trends and breweries start and stop, yet, they keep plugging away with consistent and thoughtful offerings. Their taproom has a Decamaron-like list of beers on tap at all time. Practically in the shadows of Target Field, it is the best place to go pregame before you walk over to see the hometown nine play.
11) Junkyard Brewing Company-Moorhead
I am thankful that Junkyard Brewing has found a way to keep the Twin Cities and beyond satiated with their beers. The Junkyard delivery van is a welcome sight when half the year is spent fighting the cold and ineptitude of 80% of our sports teams. For a few years, if I wanted the liquid goodness from Junkyard, it meant a three and a half hour trek up 94 to the flat and windy prairie of the Red River Valley. Junkyard checks all the boxes for pastry stouts, IPAs, and Milkshake IPAs. I would love to see them branch out a little bit in what they put into crowlers. However, I understand that the market demand drives production. Some of my favorite beers they make are only available in the taproom. So, that is just another reason to head up to the under-the-radar craft beer hot spot that is Fargo-Moorhead.
10) Schell’s Brewery-New Ulm
There are few breweries who know who they are as much as Schell’s Brewery. Traditional and flawless are two descriptors I use to explain their beers to others. Their Snowstorm this year was a delicious red ale, a style I would love to see become popular. I swooned over the Fort Road Porter and Helles. They even put a Keller Pils into packaging that I thought fit the bill perfectly for summer crusher season. The coup de gras of their beer portfolio continues to be their ever-growing list of perfect Noble Star offerings. Thankfully, they aren’t touching a milkshake IPA with a ten-foot pretzel rod.
9) Utepils Brewing-Minneapolis
I credit Utepils Brewing for locally kicking off the lager boom a few years ago when they opened. For those of you who crave flavor, but are sick of beer trends that have jumped the shark, this brewery is there for you. The owner, Dan Justesen told me when they opened that the beer they are brewing is meant to be the backdrop of good conversation. Don’t misconstrue that to mean they are not mindful of how their beer comes across, trust me, they are extremely talented back in that brewhouse. It means that dissecting the beer shouldn’t be the focus when you are there if it means not being present in socializing. I love that philosophy just as much as I love their German Festbier, Receptional. Their patio is a perfect place to solve all the world’s problems, one Ewald the Golden at a time.
8) Forager Brewery-Rochester
When you go to Forager Brewery, you should be prepared to stay for a while. They always have a vast array of impressive beers on tap. However, what sometimes gets overlooked is their incredible culinary creations that pair well with the beer. Sourced locally, the ingredients used in Forager’s dishes are superb. In the summer, their outdoor seating provides the perfect backdrop for a great conversation with a friend or some live music. It is a shame that the stupidity of not allowing brewpubs to distribute their beer exists in Minnesota. Clearly, Forager wants to grow and they will be doing so in Wisconsin under the label of Humble Forager. The fact that Minnesota has to miss out on this is sad and unnecessary.
7) Fair State Brewing Cooperative-Minneapolis
Fair State Brewing Cooperative started 2019 with the debut of their Journeys + Sidequests program-a members only bottle program that allows people access to rare and inventive beers. They continued to impress people with hazy IPAs and even got into the hard seltzer game. Some successful collaborations, and the continuation of a solid stable of beers keep them high on my list this year.
6) Bent Paddle Brewing Company-Duluth
Bent Paddle Brewing Company is a non-negotiable must-stop when I am in Duluth. Their spacious and welcoming taproom has a coziness to it that encompasses the North Shore’s allure. On tap there, you will find countless reasons to stay for another pint. They have all their flagships flowing freely as well as some special treasures that don’t find their way into liquor stores. When it comes to what have on liquor store shelves and tap handles in your favorite establishments, they constantly put out delightful options to keep every beer geek happy. Their flagships and seasonal offerings cover all the bases when it comes to styles and flavors. When it comes to their representation at festivals and accounts, in Dave and Ben, they have two of the friendliest and most passionate representatives of the brewery you will find. If I owned a brewery, I would want these two gentlemen to be articulating my brand to everyone; there are few who can do it better.
5) Barrel Theory Beer Company-St. Paul
Barrel Theory Beer Company knows how to put food flavors in beer better than anyone. Barrel Theory also knows how to brew incredible delicious IPAs. They won a gold medal at GABF for Midwestern Exotic and have a cabinet full of awards for the amazing beers they bring to beer festivals. Since their inception a couple of years ago, they have played a major role in Saint Paul being cool again. I hope that they will consider brewing more lagers because their Rage Quit pilsner is something that I would drink by the 5 gallon bucket.
4) Dangerous Man Brewing Company-Minneapolis
Is Dangerous Man Brewing Company always packed? Yes. Is it worth braving the crowds and mustache wax to enjoy a tap list that consistently will wow your palate and help you reimagine what craft beer can be? You bet your ass, it is. I argue that they have the best taproom staff in the state when it comes to knowledgable folks who will find the perfect beer for you. To do that effectively, it takes smarts, passion, and patience. I know for a fact that the ability to produce consistent and quality beers starts with owners who understand the meaning of craft. Not the bastardized version of it that people use to measure brewery size, but truly the pathos of what being craft encompasses. Oh, they also have a metric butt-ton of plants so you will definitely get your bonus fill of CO2.
3) Town Hall Brewery-Minneapolis
When it comes to quality and consistency, Town Hall Brewery ranks near the top for me. They have consistent flagships beers that check all the boxes for flavor and style. Their barrel-aged marvels unveiled and celebrated during Barrel-Aged Week are mind-blowing and delicious. Town Hall’s seasonals are in a class by themselves. For me, a trip to Town Hall is always a wonderful experience and keeps them on a short list of my favorite Minneapolis haunts.
2) Summit Brewing Company-St. Paul
Summit Brewing Company has enjoyed the top spot in my list of favorite Minnesota breweries several times over the years. Their consistency remains unmatched in the Midwest. Sure, they might not have a quadruple-hopped milkshake IPA with additions of seminal fluid from a unicorn, but they have Keller Pils; so it is kind of a wash.
To be the best of the best, you need to utilize your strengths and innovate as best you can despite the temptation to brew solely trendy beers. The releases of Old Blaggard, a Union Series favorite of mine, and Dark Infusiòn were bonuses among their strong stable of flagships and seasonals. The seamless transition between Oktoberfest, Winter Ale, and Maibock help me cope with our dismal Minnesota winters.
One thing that has been uncharacteristic with Summit in the past year is their lack of social media presence. I know that over the years, Summit has had one of the best marketing in the state. Lately, there has definitely been a drop-off, and I hope that changes. For me, this made it very hard to know what was happening in the Ratskeller, and what was coming out in packaging next. I hope that 2020 sees a return to vibrantly engaging with their fans. Whether they like it or not, they are one of the major stewards of the Minnesota craft beer landscape and with great power comes great responsibility.
1) Lupulin Brewing Company-Big Lake
Lupulin Brewing Company’s 2019 was a banner year. They launched a new mixed fermentation product line called Scribbled Lines. Lupulin expanded across the border into Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and will open that second brewery at the end of January.
They continued to wow fans with releases of fantastic beers like Make IPA Piney Again, Coffee Shop Assault Vehicle, and William the Conqueror. They continued their Sophistry, Sexy Hops, and Fruitsmacked lines of beers and they keep getting better. Their 2019 Big Beer Week really blew the doors off my mind with their widest breadth of selections ever. They have expanded their brewhouse and capacity with forethought and care, eager to ensure that quality remains consistent as they volume of production grows.
Lupulin is constantly collaborating with breweries, they host an IPA Invitational that continues to get better and better, and they also have a fantastic lineup of beers on tap in their taproom. Their staff treats you like family when you come in, whether it is your first time there, or you are a regular. They do all this while remaining humble and committed to getting better. The Zierdts are fantastic people who truly have their imprint of hospitality and community on the brewery. I cannot think of a place where I have enjoyed being more in the last year than Lupulin Brewing Company.
A Labor of Love
The waters of the Minnesota craft beer scene remain sky blue, but they definitely have a chop to them. The playbook for brewery success has changed almost as much as peoples’ drinking habits. However, the fact remains that in order to enjoy longterm success, a brewery must brew quality beers and provide an enjoyable experience for the craft beer patron. I am excited to enjoy more beer in 2020. In a place where the women are strong, the men are all good-looking, and all the children are above average, it is comforting to know that there is a maturing craft beer scene to match. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org .