Dan’s Top 30 MN Breweries of 2021
It feels so good to be writing a favorite brewery list, again. 2020 was the equivalent of an infected stout when it came to visiting breweries. The energy of the taproom, plastic glasses, and the inability to gather with a large group all watered down the experience. As things slowly opened up after the shutdown, getting back into breweries felt like manna from heaven. Visiting breweries lifts my spirits. I love gathering with friends for good conversation and laughs at a brewery. There are so many wonderful places to grab a craft beer all around our great state of Minnesota. This list is a celebration of places that I feel like I want to support because they truly pour their hearts and souls into their beer.
My Top Minnesota Breweries List Criteria
This is not a “Best-of List”, rather, it is a list of my favorite breweries. The breweries on this list reflect my drinking preferences. The breweries on this list are also places where I feel comfortable spending my money and time. If a popular brewery isn’t on this list, it means that I A) didn’t drink any of their beer in 2021 or B) I don’t particularly care for the beers they have on tap, stylistically. Neither of those things are an indictment of a brewery’s beer being bad, rather, it just means it isn’t for me.
This list also celebrates breweries that are doing great things, but still fly under the radar. Some of the breweries on this list are located in off-the-beaten-path towns. Hopefully, by shedding a light on some of these places, you might add them to your list to drink their beers for yourself.
This list also takes into account the people pouring the beer, the feel of the taproom, and how I observe other people being treated there.
What you won’t find on this list is new breweries that are putting out subpar beer. This is also not a collection of popular breweries that only have 3 styles on their menu. The majority of the breweries on this list are here because they have something for everyone. If I walk into a place and see 5 different hazy IPAs on the board and no classic styles, I am going to be probably ordering one and leaving. If I walk into a brewery, and the beer list reads like an abbreviated tour of the BJCP style guidelines, security will have to kick me out at the end of the night. Craft beer is about variety and showcasing good brewing practices.
Here is the list of my favorite 30 Minnesota breweries. I hope that this list inspires some debate and conversation. Over the years, I have read the vociferous and fervent conversations that center around this list. I think it is fun. I post this list on multiple online platforms as a means of sharing my thoughts about something I am incredibly passionate about-the Minnesota craft beer scene.
30-Uncommon Loon Brewing-Chisago City, MN
I finally visited Uncommon Loon Brewing in the summer of 2021. The people and the beers impressed me mightily. Talking to the owner, Brad Klatt, is a treat and I recommend bending his ear to talk beer. They have a wide variety of styles that all are well-made. Their taproom and two event spaces make it a popular place for both locals and people passing through to the lakes in the area.
29-Wabasha Brewing Company-St. Paul, MN
A stalwart of the Westside of St. Paul, Wabasha Brewing Company provides a neighborhood place to gather. The beers change often and Wabasha does a tremendous job of embracing their loyal local following. Whether it is a Westside Popper or a Dead King Stout, they have some delicious beers. The cozy feel of their taproom is inviting and unique.
28-Dual Citizen-St. Paul, MN
Whether you are looking for a hoppy beer, a malty beer, or are lucky enough to find their Essential Industry slow-pour pils on tap, Dual Citizen Brewing Company has a beer for you. I recommend going before a Minnesota United game as they are right on the light rail. Their taproom is a great place to meet a group or just hunker down and work on something. Their large screens make it a perfect place to catch a game on tv.
27-Ursa Minor Brewing-Duluth, MN
For me, this place started as an under-the-radar place. The beers that Ursa Minor Brewing are worth your time. Located in booming area of town, Ursa Minor is sandwiched between 2 cideries and not from the crown jewel of Duluth’s craft beer scene, Bent Paddle Brewing. A great place to grab some beers and pizza, their taproom a welcoming place to enjoy several beers. I can never choose just one between the Constellation Cream Ale, Ewok Snuggles, and Bearista Stout.
26-HeadFlyer Brewing Company-Minneapolis, MN
HeadFlyer Brewing Company is proof that breweries can showcase trendy IPAs as well as lagers. I would put their barrel-aged stout, BAMF’D among my favorites available in Minnesota. Their taproom staff are friendly, and if you are lucky enough to see Nate in the taproom, your mood will improve just by marveling at his majestic beard. HeadFlyer is a good place to watch the Vikings snatch defeat from the jaws of victory because their beers will ease your pain.
25-Castle Danger Brewery-Two Harbors, MN
Castle Danger is the steady, consistent, and reliable brewery in the north that has a fantastic stable of go-tos. Located up in Two Harbors, they are definitely worth the extra time on a scenic drive to get some great beers. Among my favorites, their North Shore Lager, George Hunter Stout, and Castle Danger Cream Ale are fantastic. On an 80 degree day with a touch of breeze, their spacious patio is a wonderful way to pass a few hours surrounded by friends.
24-Jack Pine Brewery-Baxter, MN
I continue to be impressed with the breadth and quality of craft beer available at Jack Pine Brewery. There are so many things that appeal to different tastes. They straddle that line between traditional and trendy in a way the pleases everyone. You want an amber ale? They have one. You want a myriad of IPAs? They have a nice list. They are the leader in the clubhouse up in cabin country for me. Now, if they ever get decide to dedicate a few of their 24 taps to some great lagers, I might have to relocate. . .
23-Junkyard Brewing-Moorhead, MN
Junkyard Brewing Company is still a favorite among many of the Minnesota craft beer faithful. They leaned heavily into milkshake IPAs and have not looked back. They are a must-have for hazy IPA lovers. Their beers are well-made. However, for me, I miss the wide variety of options that they used to have in the taproom. In fairness to them, that is probably due to being closed for a large portion of the last year and a half. I am hoping that the next time I visit, I will see more options available that fall outside the New England IPA category.
22-Montgomery Brewing Company-Montgomery, MN
The only reason I even know about Montgomery, Minnesota, is because of Montgomery Brewing Company. The only black-owned brewery in the state of Minnesota as of 2021 is kicking out incredibly well-made beers thanks to the guidance and passion of Charles Dorsey. The taproom is tiny. However, what it lacks in square feet, it makes up for in big flavors, a myriad of styles, and a staff that understands the importance of making sure everyone feels comfortable in the taproom.
21-Giesenbraü Bier Co-New Prague, MN
What do you get when you start with passionate owners who have a firm understanding of their marketplace and the dedication to brewing process and quality? Giesenbraü Bier Co. has such a great feel to it. They have established a fervent following among the faithful of New Prague. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that about 26% of the town residents are in the same family tree, so if you don’t make an appearance in the taproom fortnightly, you don’t get a holiday card. I love making the trip down there to try whatever is new, but also to keep enjoying the old standbys. Hildy’s Helles is a sensational beer. Their Dozinky Pils is a crisp and refreshing thirst-quencher.
20-Venn Brewing-Minneapolis, MN
I am definitely late to the party on this one. I appreciate the breadth of styles and high quality of beers at Venn Brewing. Their taproom is spacious and they also have a nice outdoor patio. As someone who recently bought a bike, I look forward to when the snows melt from the paths so I can go for a ride and stop by for a beer or two.
19-Tin Whiskers-St. Paul, MN
The pandemic was pretty rough on a lot of places. However, Tin Whiskers made lemonade out of lemons when they took the opportunity to start churning out a lot of different types of beers in crowlers. Watching the evolution of their hoppy beers over the years has been quite incredible. They went from their Flipswitch IPA, a beer I never could wrap my head around, to a rotating myriad of different IPAs bursting with flavors and character. They continue to ride the wave of the Pearson’s candy-inspired beers. Their Lowertown Lager is a wonderfully consistent and well-made crusher. I would like to see more malty offerings that aren’t so reliant on sweet flavors and adjuncts, but that is more a personal preference than a critique.
18-Spilled Grain Brewhouse-Annandale, MN
Spilled Grain Brewhouse is consistently impressing me with a wide array of beer styles. Being a traditionalist, I gravitate the Oktoberfest, Czech Pilsner, Bock, Doppelbock, Cream Ale, and Bitter. Jacob Schnabel, their head brewer, is a perfectionist when it comes to brewing. He lives and breathes brewing and it shows in the liquid delights that flow from the taps. If you see Jacob in the taproom, bend his ear about the Twins or bourbon. You will come away enriched because he is as pleasant and genuine a fellow as you will find.
17-Fulton Brewing-Minneapolis, MN
One of the OGs of Minneapolis craft beer. Fulton has been a mainstay on liquor store shelves for years. I like to get into their taproom and enjoy their vast array of offerings. I also find new things that remind me why Fulton is so noteworthy for their creativity and quality. My favorite beers they make are Worthy Adversary, the Oatmeal Stout, and their pilsner. They are also located close to several other places where you can get quality beers and so they are the perfect epicenter for a day of drinking in the North Loop.
16-Back Channel Brewing-Spring Park, MN
When I think about why I would gladly trade my second kidney for the gift of teleportation, it is because I live in St. Paul. Back Channel Brewing is the crown jewel of the western burbs. They brew a variety of beers, but my favorites are their hefty and malty offerings. Of course, their New England IPAs are quality, but if I am seeking them out, I want their stouts. Of course, they had an English-Style Barleywine once that knocked my socks off. So, until I can teleport there and back with regularity, they remain a special treat for me.
15-Modist Brewing Company-Minneapolis, MN
I really have always been a fan of Modist Brewing. From a beer geek standpoint, their unique brewhouse allows them so much creative leeway to brew beers that have so many amazing flavors and textures. More recently, I have appreciated how they are among a handful of breweries to truly put their money where their mouth is as it relates to the importance of DEI training and awareness. I am captivated by their willingness to embrace equality and provide a place where people of color feel welcomed. Their beers speak for themselves, but the people behind the beer are truly exceptional.
14-Falling Knife-Minneapolis, MN
Falling Knife’s Old Painless English Barleywine is a revelation. Their Tomm’s is the beer that keeps me coming back. Everything in between is also good. Falling Knife’s Freishutz German Pilsner is, by far, my favorite beer of theirs. Their NEIPA selection is in the upper echelon of beers of that style in the state. I like coming here because their ownership is quite friendly and always open to talking beer. They also have some of the coolest tap handles around.
13-Forager Brewery-Rochester, MN
I hate to say it, but I have a love/hate relationship with Forager Brewery. Forager’s beer, food, and taproom are spectacular. However, I hate the fact that their beers tend to be so high octane, and I can only usually have 2 full pours if I want to get home safely. I guess that would be a very first-world problem. Forager is one of the few places where anything on the menu is a good idea. Sitting under a moose drinking beers that burst with flavors and textures is a wonderful way to take in Rochester, MN.
12-Little Thistle Brewing-Rochester, MN
Little Thistle Brewing in Rochester, MN, is fast becoming one of my favorites in the state. Their beer list is full of styles I adore. Their family-owned dedication to welcoming people into their space is peerless. Steve and Dawn Finnie are incredibly lovable people and they have created something truly special. This is a must-stop for anyone who is in Rochester, likes craft beer, and wants to see what community looks like.
11-Bad Weather-St. Paul, MN
Andy Ruhland and the team at Bad Weather have won my heart with their ridiculously wonderful list of lagers. Bad Weather Brewing leans into the idea of balance. They are not deterred by trends and brew what they want to drink. The result of this confidence in identity is a masterful collection of beers brewed with high quality. If you like hoppy, malty, and everything in between, Bad Weather deserves your time.
10-Unmapped Brewing-Minnetonka, MN
When I set foot in the Unmapped Brewing Company taproom, I usually find a familiar face. Whether it is someone working there, or a parent of one of my students, I always run into someone here. Located a quick 5 minutes from work, I love when someone suggests Unmapped as a HH spot. Not only does it give me a chance to practice my poker face as I attempt to subdue the ear-to-ear smile and schoolboy giddiness at the thought of a fresh Purgatory Pils, but it also gives me an excuse to see whatever other wonders the brewing team at Unmapped have in store for me. There are so many standbys and seasonals that I love at Unmapped. However, it is the lucky instances when I am able to talk beer with some of the people behind the beers that I really feel at home. When you are here, do yourself a favor and get pizza from Gina Maria’s or some empanadas from Del Sur, both located in the same strip mall!
9-Arbeiter Brewing-Minneapolis, MN
When a brewery starts with lots of industry experience, it stands a good chance of being successful. The ownership behind Arbeiter Brewing Company also understands that to have a brewery where everyone feels welcome, you need to have a staff that understands, through and through, how to be inclusive. Arbeiter’s beers, brewed with the utmost quality and attention to detail, allow everyone to find something they will enjoy. One thing that you find at Arbeiter that is lacking at many breweries and brewpubs in Minnesota is the presence of people of color. I routinely see bipoc folks represented in both the patronage as well as every level of staffing at Arbeiter. As much as I love the beer at Arbeiter Brewing, the understanding of true community and living out the mantra of “all are welcome” is what keeps me coming back time and time again. Thank you, Arbeiter, for understanding WHY this is important.
8-Utepils Brewing-Minneapolis, MN
Utepils Brewing in Minneapolis has two things that are necessary for repeat business: great beer and a bartender with the best set of aquamarine eyes in the business. You know who I mean! The one, the only, Ragnar Blue-Eyes! Aside from Tom being there to make sure you don’t go thirsty, Utepils brews tremendously sessionable beers that span the spectrum of flavors. What you won’t find here are beers with essences of plastic trick-or-treat buckets filled with candy. Utepils has the space for a crowd and beers to satisfy even the pickiest of drinkers. I gravitate towards their Helles, Oktoberfest, Doppelbock, Irish Stout, and dark Czech Lager. However, you can’t really go wrong with anything they pour.
7-Schell’s Brewery-New Ulm, MN
Tradition and quality are the calling cards of this second oldest family-owned brewery in the country. Brewing the beers of their ancestors, Schell’s Brewery isn’t flashy, but they are amazing. Their Oktoberfest is legendary, but I think that the Snowstorm series, Hefeweizen, and Fort Road Helles also are up there when it comes to quality.
6-Bent Paddle Brewing-Duluth, MN
This production brewery has shown, over the years, that a brewery can put out variety packaged product and still have amazing reasons to come into the taproom to try something new. Bent Paddle Brewing Company is always a must-visit when I am in Duluth. What their brewery has done to help cultivate a food and drinking culture in Lincoln Park is noteworthy. They illustrate the old saying, “If you build it, they will come.”
5-Dangerous Man Brewing-Minneapolis, MN
The beer at Dangerous Man Brewing is great. However, I feel like the people that are hired to work there are such amazing people and that really puts this brewery onto a higher quality plane than many of their contemporaries. From a beer standpoint, I love that they are constantly blazing new trails when it comes to styles. They have the standbys that we fell in love with when they opened. They brew big beers, lager beers, hoppy beers, and even soft serve! Whether you are a traditionalist when it comes to styles, or a brazen lover of all things trendy, they have a beer for you. They put the safety of their staff first during the pandemic and I commend them for that. I also love the abundance of greenery in their taproom. I am still waiting on a Bachman’s collab featuring a ficus in a beer.
4-Fair State Brewing Cooperative-Minneapolis, MN
The Fair State Brewing Cooperative is alway one of the first brewery names out of my mouth when someone visits and asks where they should go for a beer. So many good beers there and the community feel of the taproom is special. I like that they have been taking precautions during the pandemic to keep their patrons and staff safe. Their beer is list always has something new and exciting to try. They also have a wonderful stable of seasonal favorites that show up and remind me why I first fell in love with this place. Crankin’ Foamers is now a mainstay in my fridge and always finds plenty of room in my cooler when I am on the go. Being in close proximity to so many wonderful food spots is a bonus to stopping by the taproom.
3-Summit Brewing Company-St. Paul, MN
Summit Brewing Company finally reopened their Ratskeller after shuttering during the pandemic. The consistency of their beers never changes and remains of high quality. Keller Pils remains my desert island beer. They released their oatmeal stout in packaged form for the first time ever. I am looking forward to making the Ratskeller a regular stop in my rotation, again. I also hope that they consider bringing back their Unchained Series because I miss the variety and small little journeys into whimsy that those styles provided.
2-Town Hall Brewery-Minneapolis, MN
In the chaotic world of pandemics and racial unrest, Town Hall Brewery acted as my oasis in a metaphorical and literal sense. Their patio allowed for me to safely meet up with friends I missed dearly. Their beers, acting as little time warps back to “before times”, allowed me to find stability when life, job, and routines were thrown out of whack. The biggest thing that Town Hall Brewery did that absolutely made 2021 bearable was a Barrel-Aged Month. This yearly showcase of majesty, patience, process, and bliss represented so much happiness for me. I went every single week and tried every single beer. I met up with great friends and forged new friendships. When you think about a town hall, it is a gathering place for everyone. There is no pretentiousness here. At Town Hall Brewery, you come for the beer, but you stay because the people behind the brand care about delivering a quality product, in a hospitable setting. The beers I love are too many to name. If you haven’t been there for a meal and a pint, you need to do so. It is a special place.
1-Lupulin Brewing Company-Big Lake, MN
If you follow me on social media, I am sure this surprises no one. I visit Lupulin Brewing Company frequently because there I find a sense of community and family. Lupulin’s beers are top-notch, however, it is the staff that make this a remarkable place. Lupulin has built up such a following among locals. They also understand the importance of giving back to the local community. They have really embraced making the taproom a gathering spot with their game nights, weekly bike rides, and run club. All of these activities provide a means of building community, creating and nurturing friendships, and showing that beer brings people together.
Jeff, Matt and Aaron have created something truly beautiful and special. Aaron and the team of brewers have a passion for brewing beers that not only taste good, but educate everyone on how a style should taste, smell, look, and feel. At festivals, you will see Tracy and Michelle working harder than anyone to bring people into the fold and educate so many people about their beers. I have such a soft spot in my heart for Lupulin because as they grow, they stick to their ideals and sense of what is important, no matter what the fallout may be. Lupulin Brewing Company is not only making Minnesota craft beer better, but they are bettering the world around them with integrity and purpose.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some breweries in our state doing wonderful things. When you only have 30 list spots, it is hard to leave breweries out. La Doña Cervercería, Pantown Brewing, Forgotten Star Brewing, Hoops Brewing, Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative, and BlackStack fell just out of my list, but are places I enjoy visiting. Barrel Theory and Lift Bridge are breweries I enjoy, but due to a rip in the universe, I didn’t have any of their beers in 2021.
In my Top 30 list of 2019, I mentioned that the Minnesota craft beer scene was approaching a critical point in its growth and development.
“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.”Dan’s Top 30 Breweries of 2019
While I don’t feel that the above quote is anything close to prophetic, it does highlight the importance of beer quality. I remember, years ago, thinking that there were so many good places to get beer in Minnesota. Well, my blissful ignorance certainly was blinding. There are a lot of people using the word “great” when they describe beer that is pedestrian. I used to be one of these people. However, I decided years ago that if my beer writing was to be taken seriously, I needed to be credible. I study beer, I drink beer, and I am honest about what I think about beer. All of these elements fuse together to bring you this list.
Minnesota is, thankfully, reaching the point where people are no longer willing to pay to be a brewery’s test audience. This is mainly due to people educating their palates, raising the bar for what they view as good versus great beer, and a consumer base that is tiring of trends that validate sloppy brewing processes. Unfortunately, one will still find breweries opening that don’t have a trained professional in the brewhouse. In fact, I visited one of these places recently. Yet, the number of these places is fewer than a few years ago. So, that is growth and progress. If Covid-19 has shown us anything, it is that things can change in a flash. However, if you brew good beer that people will seek out, you have a fighting chance to weather whatever storm this crazy universe will throw at you.
The word saturation gets tossed around like a bucket of Sabro hops in hazy beer among populations who have never really experienced craft beer hotspots like Portland, San Diego, or Denver. When a brewery closes in Minnesota, people start talking doom and gloom. They point to what they think is the craft beer bubble bursting, “We have reached the point where there are too many breweries!” they exclaim. Well, they are partially correct. Sure, bad financials or a schism in ownership can also lead to a brewery turning off their taps forever. If you are willing to closely examine the root cause of why a brewery closes its doors, aside from a few outliers, inconsistent or bad beer quality is always at the core of that closure. Minnesota lost a handful of breweries over the last few years. Just like in the circle of life, sometimes you have to cull the herd.
There are also many reasons to be excited about the Minnesota craft beer scene. In spring of 2022, the Brewers Association’s Craft Brewers Conference & World Beer Cup will be in Minneapolis. This is a major boon for our state, and a huge opportunity for breweries to showcase our local craft beer scene. For years, Minnesota’s craft beer scene has been growing meteorically; now the country will get to see what we have to offer. This may sound like I am preaching to the choir, but this is a wonderful time to be a craft beer geek in 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. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org .