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More MN breweries deserve the spotlight

May 24, 2019

The Star Tribune’s 2019 Ultimate Minnesota Beer Bracket has come and gone and… it’s something. Two Harbors’ Castle Danger has won the fan vote for favorite brewery two years in a row now. This vote accomplishes two things: it shows how silly these brackets are, and also reveals how the Twin Cities viewpoint doesn’t do Minnesota’s beer scene justice.

I’ve been drinking Castle Danger beer since they first opened, thanks to a buddy living in Duluth. Let’s make something clear: they make good, clean beer. It makes sense that beer drinkers like their approachable style. Year-round offering Castle Cream Ale is an easy-drinking beer. It’s palatable for a lot of people.

But the whole point of craft beer is to go beyond such styles, to push the envelope.

Which is why, to be fair, every brewery Castle Danger beat can stake a claim as the best in the state. Lift Bridge has the best, most consistent non-adjunct barrel-aged stout in the state. Indeed, though it scrapped my precious sweet potato ale, provides an eclectic mix of beers on its roster. Summit still – after years in the Minnesota beer game – makes the best lagers in the state. Keller Pils is always in my fridge. And Bent Paddle not only has its stable of flagships, but it isn’t afraid to really take advantage of taproom one-offs in its new space.

But let’s not to belabor the issue of brackets and popularity contests, who is the best in the 16 nominated by over 9,000 voters? Or at least, who would I choose?

I would have to go with Fair State. It’s very rare to find a brewery that can make a hyped style like a hazy IPA very well, sours that have spent time in oak, and also lagers. Most people probably don’t think about that very often. Fair State is a rarity in not only the Minnesota beer market, but the national beer scene.

After that, it’s a matter of preference, but it is a shame Barrel Theory went against Fair State. Barrel Theory is known for its hazy IPAs, but its Rage Quit pilsner is one of the best pilsners made in the state. Not only that, but its barrel-aged stouts and adjunct stouts have really hit their stride of late.

Not having a Rochester brewery is too bad as well. At this point nobody can deny Forager is one of the best breweries in the state. Whether or not you like barrel-aged stouts rife in adjuncts like vanilla or coconut, the fact of the matter is that people flew in from Texas and California for the brewery’s latest bottle release.

There’s an argument to be made that Castle Danger may be on the “too typical” spectrum of beer, but that Forager is on the other end of that in the extreme, for better or worse. I think it’s for the better, as it’s unique and top-tier beer for Minnesota.

Like popular Instagram accounts in the Twin Cities showcasing craft beer, brackets like this cater to a population of beer drinkers that don’t necessarily understand the scene in full. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s not the whole story of Minnesota beer.

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