In Minnesota winter seems to be the longest season. It shortens our autumn and delays spring. Though snow has fallen, we still can enjoy autumn food and drink. Minnesotans should be ecstatic with the beer selection that their state has to offer.
We asked Certified Cicerones, qualified beer connoisseurs that have a deep understanding about beer styles, from across the state what their favorite Minnesotan brews were this season. The results are in. The recommendations have been ranked by which beers received the most hype from our experts.
1. The brewery that got the most praise from our experts was Steel Toe Brewing for their Douglas Cascadian Dark Ale
"Released several times in the past, although sporadically, this beer seems to have found its home in the fall," Michael Wagner, one of the Certified Cicerones at the Four Firkins, says. "Taking inspiration from the hoppy dark ales of the Pacific Northwest, this beer bursts with hop aroma and dark chocolate. Piney resiny and citrus hops are balanced by the dark fruity, roasty malts. In a style category that isn't at the top of my list of favorites, this beer transcends my inability to get excited about hoppy black ales."
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Rob Shellman, founder of Better Beer Society says, "It's also a style that can be a mess if not done well. Often times leaning heavily on the roast or on the hops, they can sometimes be astringent and chalky. This beer however, is a beautiful example, and finds just the right balance between the two. I look forward to it every year."
"It could be the power of suggestion, but the forest floor and pine hop aromas make me just want to pour a pint and settle in for the cooler, darker days to come," Meghan Larsen, event specialist at Chowgirls Killer Catering, says. "I have paired this with black bean and beef spicy chili, but would also enjoy this beer on its own as well. It is on the bitter side of balanced, pours beautifully black with a creamy tan head and light edges."
2. Schell's Brewery for their Nobel Stars series
Located in New Ulm Schell's Brewery has deep roots in German brewing practices. This year Schell's released the Nobel Star series this year has made an impression among our beer experts, which hasn't always been the case. Though Schell's is one of the oldest breweries in the state, it hasn't always ranked highly among beer connoisseurs in the past.
Ryan Ferebee, Craft Beer Specialist at Wirtz Beverage of MN, says, "Originating in Berlin, Germany, this rare style and difficult to find wheat beer is light, tart, effervescent, and dry. Lactic sourness and light earthy barnyard flavors make this a truly unique style. The Noble Star Series are all Berliner Weiss based beers. The lineup has been diverse, introducing fruit such as raspberry & black cherry, and also exploring ancient recipes with a Marzen style."
Larsen also recommends the entire series and gave a few food pairings to enjoy with these beers, "Taking the time to allow these beers to mature helps bring out really interesting tart flavors that pair perfectly with fall food like beef stew or cherry pie."
Some specific beers in the series that our experts highlighted were Black Forest Cherry and North Country Brunette.
Wagner recommends Schell's Black Forest Cherry. "This beer, the [fourth] in their Noble Star Collection, highlights the effects of bacteria, wild yeast, prohibition era cypress tanks, fruit... and time. It's fruity (aged with sour Oregon cherries) yet, dry and tart with hints of leather. It's spritzy on the palate with bright carbonation," says Wagner.
"The third in Schell's new Noble Star sour beer program is a standout," says Patrick Doran, Heritage Liquor Buyer and Manager. "[Schell's North Country Brunette] has all the funk and tart complexity you come to expect from traditional Belgian Lambic brewers who have been at their craft for hundreds of years."
Many of the other beers our experts recommended were from the same breweries. We ranked these breweries by the number of recommendations it received.
In it's home of Northeastern Minneapolis Indeed Brewing Company has developed a few beers that have wowed our experts.
"I love their playful spirit at this brewery; they use unique & exciting ingredients in their beers," Shellman says. He adds that this makes them "equally as exciting to drink and cook with."
"Whether it's their Stir Crazy Winter Warmer (brown sugar, raisins, vanilla), Old Friend (ginger & honey), or their wonderfully smoky "Hot Box" Imperial Smoked Pepper Porter (hickory, smoked poblanos, dark fruit)," Shellman says that these brews are perfect for this season.
Doran says, "Indeed's Day Tripper is a hop lover's Pale Ale that stacks up with many of the world renowned ones being brewed on the west coast. It's the work of masterful brewers who know how to adjust water chemistry and doesn't shy away from using copious amounts of dank, resinous hops."
"Eschewing the 'session IPA' label, Indeed brewed their second seasonal beer, [DayPack Pale Ale], with an irresponsible amount of hops, balanced with a responsible amount of malt. The result: biscuity malt flavor punctuated by tropical fruit hop tones," Bryan Buser the company manager at Four Firkins.
Another Indeed brew that Buser recommends Sweet Yamma Jamma. "This is a beer for anyone who does(n't) like pumpkin beers. Yes, it's for you! Candied yams meet light spicing here, and it is incredibly easy to drink a few of these without being overpowered by holiday spice."
If you're looking for more of a winter brew Ferebee recommends Indeed's Rum King Barrel Aged Imperial Stout.
"As winter approaches, our palates often veer towards more complex, big, rich beers. This Imperial Stout is aged in rum barrels shipped from distilleries in South America, the Caribbean, & Peru. Time and patience is the key while this beer ages in the barrels for 6 to 12 months to bring out the rum and barrel flavors in this beer. This is an ideal beer to sip for blustery nights next to a fire," he says.
Beers from the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, whose brews often evoke consumer's feelings of belonging and home were a hit this season with our experts.
"It's not just the proximity of how close I live to this brewery; there is usually always a Growler [Rotation] in my fridge from these guys," Shellman confesses. "They win awards year after year at GABF and other festivals, and for good reason. They're adventurous with their beers (fruit infusions), along with masters of their craft from the Masala Mama IPA to the Hope & King Scotch Ale, and don't even get me started on their barrel-aged stuff. With so many breweries and taprooms opening, it's easy to overlook the guys who have been here for years. That would be a mistake. World-class staff. World-class beers."
Doran also recommends the Hope and King Scotch Ale which has "unrivaled caramel and toffee flavor with a hint of plum."
Another favorite from Minneapolis Town Hall was the Three Hour Tour, a Coconut Milk Stout. Ferebee explains, "Flavors of chocolate from the specialty malt, sweetness from the milk sugar addition, and fresh unsweetened coconut flakes combined in the brewing process gives this beer an impression you're drinking a liquid chocolate coconut candy bar. Perfect for dessert, and just about anytime is a good time for dessert, right?"
Two of our experts mentioned brews from Summit's Unchained series, a brewery located in St. Paul.
"Summit Harvest Fresh Hop [is] the latest from Summit's Unchained Series. Orange marmalade and grapefruit citrus with earthy pine and grass notes from the hops. This is a great showcase of both fresh hops as well as the toasted Caramel & Munich malts delivering a bready, sweet caramel and toffee malt backbone to round out the beer. Drink this beer right now and enjoy (while it lasts)," Shellman says.
"The latest in this brewer driven series, [Unchained #16 Herkulean Woods], features first time participant Christian Dixon brewing a big lager for fall," Wagner says. "Showcasing maple syrup and spruce tips, this is a malt driven beer, loads of caramel, and a velvety texture are balanced by a blueberry-like hop aroma, and floral notes of spruce. Perfect for campfire evenings."
Summit's Extra Pale Ale, which isn't part of the Unchained Series, was one of Larsen's seasonal favorites.
"With all the new craft beers today I really appreciate having a favorite to go back to," she says. "A perfect beer for all seasons, but this time of year I love it for its balanced malt backbone and to have with dinner or working out in the yard. This beer is refreshing and has just enough alcohol to make raking that much more enjoyable," Larsen adds.
Bauhaus Brew Labs is another German inspired brewery located in Minneapolis.
"I gravitate towards darker, more balanced [brews] this time of year. Bauhaus has a great line up, but the [Stargrazer] Schwarzbier is one that has made a lasting impression. With its light body and a nice hop aroma, this beer is an easy one to enjoy out on their patio under the string of lights," Larsen says.
Ferebee recommends Bauhaus Brew Labs' Wonderstuff Pilsner. "When I'm in the mood for something on the lighter side and want something to quench my thirst, lagers often come to mind. This Bohemian Style Pilsner adds a nice citrus hop aroma and flavor. I appreciate the idea of a classic style with a unique twist of late addition hops," Ferebee says.
"Bauhaus Brew Labs has shown they can teach an old yeast new tricks," Buser says about Bauhaus Brew Labs' Wagon Party. "They warm ferment a yeast normally fermented at colder temperatures, which develops a fruity apricot tone to compliment the husky grain underneath. It's refreshing and fortifying."
7. Bent Paddle
A brewing company jointly owned by two couples located near the water of Lake Superior in Duluth has caught the attention of our experts. "I am a seasonal drinker, and right now the season calls for spiced winter warmers, Imperial Stouts, and Barleywines," Shellman says. "However, I am one of those guys who drink iced coffee year round. I also tend to love a good pilsner year-round. Bent Paddle came on the scene a couple years ago and delivered us a gift with this beautiful Czech style pilsner. Grainy, graham-cracker malt base alongside spicy, grassy and subtle floral hop notes. [Bent Paddle's Venture Pilsner] pairs well with just about anything, even those unfortunate Vikings losses."
Larsen mentions the dark brew Bent Paddle 14° ESB, which she recommends to be enjoyed at a "cool cocktail hour." She adds that the brew, "stands well on its own but also pairs well with snacks such as crusty dark breads, cured meats and cheese. I appreciate how both the new and old hop aromas play so well together in this beer."
This brewing company that is quickly growing in the Minneapolis area offers a few beers this season that encompass the autumn flavors that many people are looking for.
"Surly has a reputation for being the hottest thing to come out of Minnesota since Paul Bunyan sprang from Zeus's head. Even if my mythology major didn't pan out, Surlyfest offers earthy rye malt tones and floral hop character for someone craving a beer tasting of autumn," Buser says.
"Furious is the iconic India Pale Ale that helped spark a Minnesota craft beer revolution. It's got bold caramel roasted malt complexity with a plenty of grapefruit flavored hops. A true testament to Furious' quality is that it's extreme in flavor but still quickly becoming a mainstream beer across the state," Doran says.
Other Beers of note: In this category are brews that were only recommended by one of our experts and beers that were from breweries that didn't receive any other recommendations.
Dangerous Man Chocolate Milk Stout - "This rich creamy treat somehow manages to be approachable and refreshing. It's the nuanced chocolate heavy Stout that appeals to novice beer drinkers and craft beer fanatics alike," Doran says.
Big Wood Bad Axe Imperial IPA - "One of the first offerings from Big Wood's Randomly Brewed Beer series, this hop bomb is back by popular demand. Loaded with Columbus and Centennial Hops, it satisfies that craving for a hop fix," Ferebee says.
Fulton Brewing Co. The Libertine - "Soon to be released in 4 packs for the first time, this perennial seasonal screams fall. Malt, specifically English Maris Otter, is featured as the big backbone, exceptionally balanced by the addition of rye. A deft use of hops, creates a big red ale that unlike most isn't very hoppy," Wagner says.
Olvalde Farm and Brewing Co.- Ode to a Russian Shipwright - "Soon to be released, this is another yearly release that fits perfectly in the transitional season of late fall to winter. Billed as an Imperial Stout Porter; dark fruit (think black cherry), roasted malt, and bittersweet chocolate meld with rye and spruce. The texture is chewy and robust, it's perfect for warming up on a cold evening. Joe Pond is a master of recreating and interpreting old world beers, this one is a 'tribute to the brewing legacy of Peter the Great,'" Wagner says.
Badger Hill Brewing Co, Traitor IPA - "Loads of dry hopping transforms this IPA into a tropical wonderland of tangerines and mangoes. I think the Traitor will become a hero in book four; he's too delish to kill off," Buser says.
What did these Minnesota beer geeks miss? Share your picks with MPR News.