Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Eric's Top 10 Minnesota Beers & Breweries of 2014

OK, so one last list for the end of year Wrap Up.  I noticed that a lot of the places and beers that ranked highest on my other lists were not Minnesota born.  There may be a component of "familiarity breeds contempt" going on there, or more likely for me that there just aren't enough good sours for my taste being made in this state!  So I decided to do a local only list for breweries and beers.  Those who read the JABlog regularly know that I tend not to be too judgmental and avoid a lot of negative comments. There are certainly beers and breweries that I'm not a fan of (and will say so when in my cups) but I tend not to post those things.  I'd rather focus on the BEST of the bunch and give my blessing to those who are doing the greatest job of fostering great craft beer in our chilly state.  You may not agree with my listing, or my ranking and that is totally fine!  We all have different tastes and experiences when we try beers and visit breweries.  I would love to see some comments on this blog from readers to see what beers you think should (or not) have made my lists!  Or better yet make your own Top 10 and share it here!

Photogenic SRM chart sampler at Urban Growler

Eric's Top 10 Minnesota Breweries (as of 2014)

1) Steel Toe Brewing: My solid first place.  I love nearly every beer that Jason brews (maybe not the Summer Vice but that is a style thing).  The taproom needs some better light and maybe an increase in size, but always nice to stop by for a pint.

2) Bent Paddle Brewing: These guys have been hitting it out of the park from the get-go.  With years of experience in brewing great beers before opening, I can't say I'm shocked.  This is the one reason I'd like to live in Duluth.

3) Surly Brewing: Well this one is a no-brainer!  Surly continues to innovate and push Minnesota along as one of the biggest growing craft beer states.  I got a chance to check out the new brewery and it is a thing of beauty!

4) Town Hall Brewery: The beers at Town Hall are excellent as always.  They have dropped a bit down on my list this year for a few reasons--mostly service and food related.  I feel that since re-opening after the very needed refurbishing that the food quality and staff attentiveness has fallen greatly.  Still awesome beer though.

5) Urban Growler: I just visited not long ago and was very happy with the vibe, service and beers here.  Check it out!

6) Hammerheart: I still haven't visited the taproom, but nearly every beer I've had from them this year has been outrageous and flavor-packed.  Top of my list to visit in the coming year!

7) Schell's:  No Minnesota list can be complete without the second oldest family owned brewery in the USA.  Schells has rebranded themselves a bit this past year--focused more on their classic lagers and trying new and interesting sour beers to push the envelope a bit.

8) Indeed: I still really like the beers from Indeed and most are very good.  The taproom is still one of my favorites, though often crowded these days.

9) Summit: Mark Stutrud and his cadre of brewers continue to put out tons of high quality beers and can always be counted upon to have a tap handle in even the shadiest of dives these days.  Thanks go to them for bringing Craft Brewing to Minnesota.

10) Waconia Brewing: A new favorite and probably my most controversial.  This place is brand new but I love the feel of the place.  The owners and brewer are wonderful people and the beers are quite good.  And it is a few blocks from my home!

Did I leave some good ones off?  Of course!  Notables that almost made the list were Dangerous Man (too difficult to get in the doors and find a seat these days); Enki (still great guys and a comfy taproom, but I'd like to see more new beers this coming year!)

Keep in mind that I haven't even been to Sisyphus, Bauhaus, LTD, Tin Whiskers, and more!  So if you think I'm missing out, tell me and I'll try to get out there and check them out!  Please post your lists or any thoughts!!

Eric's Top 10 Minnesota Beers of 2014

1) Bent Paddle Double Shot: My personal best of show beer at ABR.

2) Steel Toe Before The Dawn: Dark barleywine goodness.

3) Steel Toe Wee Heavy: Rare, but not so hard to find that I can't enjoy it from time to time.  

4) Surly Darkness: Always something to look forward to.  I have only had on draft so far this year.

5) Hammerheart Rune Stone Stout: Tasted this summer at the Acadia Cafe...I'll suffer through a dirty glass and a crappy pour for this beer!

6) Bent Paddle Cold Press Black: Happily now available in cans in the Twin Cities!  One of the best coffee beers around.

7) Town Hall Czar Jack: Every once in a while you stumble upon a gem, nestled among the other already good beers.

8) Indeed Rum King: This is a last minute addition.  I cracked a bottle of this recently and was blown away by the complexity and balance in this big Imperial stout.  I have managed to have another glass of this and a sampler pour in the past week...Good job Indeed!

9) Town Hall Three Hour Tour: A perennial favorite of both myself and my wife.  One of the few well done coconut beers to be found anywhere.  Why do they not make more of this????

10) Enki Cacao Porter: This one mainly makes the list because I've probably had more of it than any other local beer over the past year!  With Enki being so close I can't help but stop by for one of these.

So many good beers and not enough space for them.  You may notice a lack of sour beers on the list compared to my previously posted Best New Beers in 2014 list.  The only real sours I tried from Minnesota this year were Berliner Weisse style beers from Schells and the similar Gose from Bent Brewstillery.  I like these, but they lack the complexity and true sourness that I get out of lambics and Flanders Reds.  Many of my favorites are dark beers but many are hard to find.  I'm actually shocked that more MN breweries don't specialize in Stouts and Porters since we have 10 months of winter here...


Cody Holliday said...

Solid list. You really need to visit HammerHeart. I just went there for the first this past weekend and it was awesome. They are even fermenting some sour beer. Have you tried Surly's sour ale, Pentagram?

I totally understand the frustration of Dangerous Man being too busy, but hopefully that will change with the addition of their upcoming growler room.

Eric Wentling said...

Thanks Cody! I've got Hammerheart on my radar now!