The State of American Craft Beer – Minnesota

Flag of Minnesota.svg

With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.

For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. We’ve reached our 23rd state on the list, The North Star State, Minnesota. The official state motto being “L’Etoile du Nord” or The Star of the North, so too is it’s official nickname. We always thought it was the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but that’s a license plate thing apparently. And there are actually over 15,000 lakes… don’t cha know.

Minnesota ranks 21st in total population (roughly 5.5 million), is ranked 31st in population density and houses 105 craft breweries as of 2015 (double the 52 they had in 2013) who are represented by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. The state ranks 16th in total breweries and 14th in breweries per capita as of 2015, according to the Brewers Association.

MN Craft Beer Sales

History

Consistent with most every other state we’ve covered in the mid-west/plains states, Minnesota’s brewing heritage coincides with the influx and establishment of German settlements in the mid-1800’s. The state’s first known brewery was established in St. Paul by Bavarian born Anthony Yoerg and his son, in 1849.

Breweries all over the Twin Cities opened in the 1850’s and the state hit a pre-prohibition peak of 112 by 1887. In 1860, August Schell opened in New Ulm what has become the second oldest family-owned brewery in America (after Yuengling), which is now the largest in the state. While they’re known for their traditional German styles, they also own the popular Grain Belt line of beers including Premium and Nordeast and have expanded their classic styles to meet new craft beer trends.

The iconic Grain Belt sign next to the Hennepin Bridge - Courtesy of Trevor Barker

Along with Schell, Cold Spring Brewing – in the city of the same name, is one of the few to have survived since its inception in 1874. The brewery has reinvented itself over the past 20 years and while they still primarily produce everyday lagers and ales, they’ve also diversified into contract brewing and energy drinks.

With the advent of railroads and pasteurization, the best financed brewers excelled in the 1890’s and consolidated (primarily in the Twin Cities area) with 50+ brewers disappearing as prohibition loomed. Only 10 brewers stayed open through prohibition, producing non-alcoholic products.

One of the largest breweries to survive Prohibition was that of Theodore Hamm, whose beer was once brewed at 5 different locations in the 50’s and 60’s (St. Paul, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Houston) and is still brewed today by MillerCoors. Their former brewery in St. Paul lay abandoned for 16 years until Flat Earth Brewing took over the space in 2013.

There were 4 brewers remaining in the state prior to Summit Brewing opening their doors in 1986. They became the first new brewer in the state since Prohibition and are currently the 2nd largest in the state. They dominated the craft landscape in Minnesota until passage of The Surly Bill in 2011, allowing brewers to sell their beer on the same premises as the brewery. It was put in motion by Surly Brewing, who wanted to build a “Destination Brewery,” and with passage of the bill were able to complete it in 2014. Now Surly is a brewery upon which we could write a completely separate article about, so to sum it up, check out their huge brewery/taproom and try to find their Bender Ale, Todd the Axeman IPA or Darkness RIS.

Since passage of the Surly Bill, the number of brewers in the state has exploded from 35 in 2011 to over 105 in 2016. While on-site growler sales were legalized in 2015, liquor stores have been closed on Sundays for 158 years. Sunday growler and craft tap sales are now legal as well.

Lastly, know that as a former resident of the state, I attempted to be as unbiased as I could with the list below. Trying to select a proportional number of breweries for the state was hard, as the quality of the craftsmanship is quite impressive considering the relatively unknown nature of the state’s craft beer outside the region. Brewers in MN have won 62 GABF medals, impressive considering half of them have been earned since 2010.

 

10 Minnesota Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out 

Bent Paddle Brewing (Duluth) – Opened by two sets of craft beer couples who have been brewing for years in the Twin Cities, Bent Paddle has been up and running since May 2013. They’ve already twice won medals at GABF for their 14° ESB, distribute primarily in cans, and are known for their focus on quality water and sustainability.

Dangerous Man Brewing (NE Minneapolis) – Since their arrival in the Sheridan neighborhood in 2013, Dangerous Man has been one of the state’s most poorly kept secrets. With a focus purely on their constantly rotating 13 taps of small batch delights, Fair Statewith no distribution, they’ve managed to craft over 100 unique styles including their Chocolate and Coconut Milk Stouts, Peanut Butter Porter and delicious IPAs.

Fair State Brewing Cooperative (NE Minneapolis) – Another relative newcomer, Minnesota’s first co-op brewer has already created over 70 styles of beer since opening in 2014. Focusing primarily on saison/farmhouse styles, as well as sessionable ales, Fair State brings a democratically creative approach to the Twin Cities scene.

Fitgers Brewhouse (Duluth) – Opening in 1995 at the location of the first brewery in Duluth, the Fitgers name has been a part local brewing lore since 1882. Their beers have won a multitude of awards including 3 GABF medals for styles as varied as Framboise, Saison and Dopplebock.

Fulton Brewing (2 Minneapolis locations)– In a town with so many newcomers, Fulton – opened since 2009, is a stalwart in the Twin Cities. Known for their popular Batch 300 IPA and their Russian Imperial Stouts, this garage brewer-turned multi-brewery operation, showed local brewers how home brewers can build a craft empire.

Indeed Brewing (NE Minneapolis) – In a little under 4 years, this diverse and adventurous brewer has already conjured 90 styles. Beyond the creativity of their popular Midnight Ryder Black IPA and impressive Rum King Imperial Stout, their “Indeed We Can” initiative puts 100% of Wednesday night proceeds toward a different non-profit each week.

Lift Bridge Brewing (Stillwater) – In operation since 2008, originally contract brewing with Flat Earth Brewing, Lift Bridge set up shop permanently in Stillwater two years later. Between their tasty Hop Dish IPA, popular Milk Stouts and delectable Barrel-Aged Silhouette RIS you’ll always find something tasty in your hand from these established Northern brewers.

Steel Toe Brewing (St. Louis Park) – Known for their Size 4, 7 and 11 IPAs (Session IPA, IPA and Double IPA), Steel Toe prides itself in it’s small operation in TownHall-Brew-LogoSuburban Minneapolis since 2011. With all the hard work that their name represents, they’ve already been rewarded with two GABF medals for the Size 4 and their Wee Heavy Scotch Ale.

Town Hall Brewery (Minneapolis) – Situated between downtown and the West Bank of the University of Minnesota campus, Town Hall, a fixture since 1997, evokes a bygone era with their 36 foot mahogany bar and a plethora of single malt scotches. Since their founding they’ve created over 500 unique brews and have netted more GABF awards (15) than any other brewer in the state

Wabasha Brewing (St. Paul) – West St. Paul’s first craft brewery opened in March of 2015, much to the delight of a neighborhood ready for fresh suds. Known for their IPAs and Cream Ales (especially their West Side Popper Jalapeño Cream Ale) Wabasha is brewing up some unique offerings and are already in the process of doubling their capacity.

 

 

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