Monday, January 4, 2016

JABlog 2015 Top 20 Minnesota Breweries!

This one should spark some conversations!  Everyone has their own opinions on what makes a great brewery: taproom experience, beer quality, beer availability, cost, location, brewer, etc.  Each year I do a top 10 Minnesota brewery list based on my own experiences that year.  My results may differ from yours.  Maybe I had a bad experience at your favorite brewery and gave it a poor grade.  Maybe you came to one of my favorites and had a bad experience with service and can't figure out why I rated it so high.  Maybe I've had a non-intentional funky beer from an otherwise good brewery but it soured my thoughts about them.  I've been to a ton of breweries this year--in fact I've been to most in the state (as of this moment) and think I can give a pretty good list.  I've increased the list to 20 since we've had such a jump in number of breweries recently. I'd love to see other folk's listings to see how close we are.

1) Surly Brewing (Minneapolis) As I've said before--Surly puts out high quality beers in a plethora of styles (not just hoppy ones!)  I don't love every beer they do (Devil's Work) but find some enjoyment in most of them.  The new brewhouse with its wonderful beerhall and even more impressive upstairs Brewer's Table restaurant is a wonder to experience.

2) Junkyard (Moorhead)  A cute and comfy retro-styled taproom just across the river from Fargo.  The beers were all excellent, well balanced, and unique.  Key Lime Gose, people!  This was the break-out hit for me this year and I hope they keep it up.
3) Steel Toe (St. Louis Park)  A revamped taproom with more space has only improved the Steel Toe experience.  These are some of the most solid and reliable beers in the state (other than the Sommer Vice I love all of the beers in the line up.)  My only gripe would be a lack of new recipes to try.
4) Bent Paddle (Duluth) These folks simply don't put out a bad beer.  They may not be your personal favorite style, but all their beers are balanced and clean, very reproducible.  I would venture that their Pils is the best Minnesota lager by far.
5) Town Hall (Minneapolis) An old favorite that continues to put out some of the most under-rated and amazing beers in the state.
6) Indeed (Minneapolis) These guys are putting out one of the best barrel aged beers in Minnesota (Rum King) as well as tons of other fine beers.  The taproom is fun and hipster friendly, but often crowded.
7) Waconia Brewing (Waconia) This is my local taproom.  I know most of the staff and end up here more than any other brewery so I may be biased.  But frankly, despite just being close, these guys are putting out some very well balanced beers.  Their Pair-A-Dice DIPA is one of my favorite beers of the year. 
8) Summit (St. Paul) Always a favorite, Summit is still the go-to craft beer option at most bars and restaurants.  Almost under the radar, they have been putting out unusual smaller batch things like barleywines and ESB with earl grey tea for us beer geeks.  I want their taproom to be open more hours.

9) Castle Danger (Two Harbors) Open and well-lit, with northwoods theme, the new taproom is fun and the beers are exponentially better than a year ago.  The Fresh Hop Mosaic DIPA was incredible.
10) Grand Rounds (Rochester) Located across from Mayo, this medically named place is serving a huge selection of good beers at their large brewpub.
11) Schell's (New Ulm) The venerable MN brewery is starting to return to its German lager roots, but is also making headlines with its sour Berliner weisse series of beers.  Moving with the times!
12) Urban Growler (St. Paul) The beers are solid here.  The small food menu puts this one higher on my list and I find that my wife and I frequent this one the most of the St. Paul side breweries.
13) Fair State (Minneapolis) Coming into their own with new takes on sour beers.  I like the Co-Op scheme, and would love to take part if I lived closer.
14) Sociable Cider Werks (Minneapolis) Doing some cool stuff with ciders and beers.  I wasn't a huge fan when they started, but the quality has improved greatly and this place is well worth a visit.
15) Hammerheart (Lino Lakes) This place is cool and very different from most of the other taprooms.  The beers are challenging and unusual, featuring smoke, spice, and barrels prominently.
16) Fulton (Minneapolis) With increased production in the past year, we can get more of Fulton's beer around town.  They are still trying out some cool things, and make me want to keep following them.
17) Forager (Rochester) This upscale eatery and brewery is worth a trip for sure.  Good beers and fantastic food in a very eclectic and unusual building.
18) Insight (Minneapolis) Not sure about the re-branding, but the taproom is really nice and the beers have been solid from the beginning. 
19) Dangerous Man (Minneapolis)  Still putting out very good beers, but also still difficult to get in the door.  I've had to wait in lines to get in, and then up to 20 minutes in line to get a beer.  Several times. 
20) Lupine (Delano)  This one is a last minute addition based on my visit there just yesterday.  An excellent taproom, solid beers in a variety of styles, and great service.  (Sorry Bad Weather, you got bumped!)

This was a tough list to come up with.  I struggled with leaving some off the list that I still enjoy...and tossed around the idea of expanding to 25.  Honorable mentions go to Bad Weather, Tin Whiskers,
Sisyphus, and Enki. 

Coming up soon: reviews of Bad Weather, Forager, South Fork, Lupine, and Brau Brothers!

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