Awards

Minnesota Craft Beer: Best of 2021

January 25, 2022
Tap Traveler Festin'

Last year I said that I took a “serious step back” when it came to craft beer. This year? Two steps forward and one step back. For the most part, everything was open but it’s still not quite the same. Oh, and we’re also still renovating that farmhouse (although the end is in sight). But we had a lot more beer adventures than we did the year prior, and I’m excited to share the best ones with you.

A quick reminder of the stipulations. Awards only go to breweries I visited in the calendar year and I don’t give a brewery the same award two years in a row.

Best New Brewery / Arbeiter

Arbeiter Brewhouse

Honestly, I could’ve given Arbeiter a bunch of awards. They were in the running for Best Taproom, Best Vibe, and Best Beer. There’s plenty of time for that, but this is the only time they’ll be eligible for Best New. What they’ve done to the old Harriet Brewing location is nothing short of astonishing. The taproom is bright and airy with attention to detail at every turn. The vibe is vibrant and relaxing and the beer is of an undeniable quality. Most breweries need at least a year before they fire on all cylinders–not them. With a world in desperate need of joy and delight, Arbeiter delivers.

Best Branding / Pryes

Pryes Taproom

The vintage look of the Pryes logo, with its filigrees and illustrative quality, evokes a bygone era of an idealized past. But branding isn’t only about a logo, it’s about the entire experience, one which they deliver in spades. COVID-19 has forced some changes—a patio build and a mezzanine level among others—but their brand hasn’t suffered. A brand is an individual’s collective experience with a company, and I can say that all my memories with Pryes have been wonderful.

Best Patio / Waldmann

Waldmann Patio

The patio at Waldmann is a hidden gem. Everyone talks about the building—an enigma in it’s own right—but the crushed rock wonderland is where it’s at. For shade lovers, there are long sturdy picnic tables with immense blue umbrellas. For sun worshippers, there are plenty of spots to grab it. Both combine to create an oasis in the city. Visit in the winter and experience their impressive heaters, set to forever change Minnesota winters. We ate lunch with the kids on Waldmann’s patio during the hottest day of the year. I plan to make it a tradition.

Best Destination / Portage

Portage Seating

If you haven’t driven up to Walker yet to visit Portage, put it in your calendar now. When their old taproom burned down they vowed to come back stronger than before. Dare I say they undersold what they would become? It’s one of the most beautiful taprooms I’ve ever been to. Their beer doesn’t disappoint either! The instant I turn off the road and see their cobalt blue building I get downright giddy. There is very few sure bets in this world, the trip to Portage is one of them.

Best Vibe / Wooden Ship

Wooden Ship Exterior

I’ve got a special affinity for small taprooms, and Wooden Ship hits the spot. They dropped into the Linden Hills neighborhood last year and thirsty locals flocked. They now have a watering hole to call their own. The vibe is quiet and conversational with a lively energy. Pick a balmy evening to take a walk around the lakes nearby and end by resting your lags on their fenced patio. There’s sure to be a food truck and plenty of delicious craft beer waiting for you.

Best Surprise / Jack Pine

Jack Pine Taps

I’d been to the old Jack Pine taproom, but their new location didn’t hit my radar until I was looking for a pit stop on the way up to central Minnesota. I’m glad we dropped in. Not only is their new building a gorgeous testament to Minnesota lake culture, but the beer exceeded all expectations. They had good beer before, but I don’t remember it being this good. The highlight was their Blueberry Pastry Sour, a liquid version of blueberry delight. Don’t sleep on Jack Pine, they’re doing great things up in Baxter.

Best Food / Bricksworth

Bricksworth Cozy Corner

Bricksworth was one of the breweries we went to the most last year. Sure, it’s the closest brewery to our home, but the wings are delicious and the pizza sublime. And like the previous winner’s of the Best Food award; I don’t have any photos of it because I’m too excited to bother with the camera. The wings have three standards (dry rub is our go to) and one rotating sauce and the pizza is a unique blend of Detroit, Chicago, and Tavern styles. It’s hard to choose a favorite, but we waffle between The Godfather Part II and Elote. It doesn’t hurt that Bricksworth beers are top tier either.

Best Innovation / Bang

Bang Beer Garden

Where other breweries take the well traveled path, Bang strikes their own course. The grain bin may seem like a gimmick but it’s an integral part of their ethos of sustainability and environmental stewardship—it’s the most efficient space to heat and cool. They embody that mindset in everything they do: a water efficient brew system, wind powered electricity, repurposed materials, returnable bottles, all organic ingredients, and no finings or mechanical filtering. The taproom is one of the best spaces to enjoy a pint. Their native prairie beer garden makes you forget you’re a stone’s throw from a massive industrial rail yard. Bang is a remarkable spot, a place I frequent when my mind needs a break from the stress of modern life.

Best Individual Beer / Modist (Esoteric Eclecticism)

Modist Taproom

I’ll admit that I was skeptical of the trend towards dry-hopping and oak-aging pilsners. “You’re missing the point!” I said. “It’s supposed to be uncomplicated!” I said. “You’re ruining it!” I said. What a fool I was. While killing some time before a Twin’s game my wife and I dropped into the Modist taproom. I caved in and ordered a pint of Esoteric Eclecticism (quite the mouthful), a double dry hopped oak-aged pilsner collab with Cerebral. It blew me away. These are nothing new in the beer world, Czechs have been oak-aging them and Italians dry-hopping them for hundreds of years. Sure it complicates the uncomplicated, but it tastes marvelous doing it.

Best Beer / Schell’s

Schell's Brewery & Maypole

When you’re the second oldest family-brewery in America, you know you’re doing something right. Schell’s is not a trend chaser, and that’s alright. They stick to well crafted German beers—like I like it. I don’t think there was a time this past year where a Schell’s beer wasn’t in our fridge. Firebrick is one of the all time greats and their Oktoberfest is one of the finest out there. They also happened to have my favorite State Fair beer with their Oaktoberfest, an oak-aged Märzen. Any time of year, Schell’s is money well spent.

Best Taproom / Bauhaus

Bauhaus Taproom

One of the main things I look for in a brewery is a unique taproom. Bauhaus has got one of the finest. An early 1900s metal foundry is where they call home—turns out it’s the perfect place for a brewery. The glass ceiling soars above, bathing the entire room in warm natural light. A craft beer cathedral. Their patio spills from two massive garage doors adding even more space for the mind to wander. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a train or two buzzing by, amping up the energy. If it’s gemütlichkeit you seek, Bauhaus is the place to be.

Editorial

A Craft Beer Lover’s Denver Discovery

December 7, 2021
New Terrain Taproom

We build our lives around travel. On a given year we plan at least two trips. The pandemic forced us to cancel a large one last summer and made winter trips pointless. We are lucky that we can keep our sacrifices small. The older I get the longer (and colder) winters feel. Travel of any kind helps knock me out of funks I get into as the temperatures are frigid. This year came with extra stressors: the pandemic, a new child, a full home renovation, and no outlet to relax. With restrictions lifted and vaccinations completed our feeling was the nation was back on the table. “What about Denver?” my wife asked. Denver it was.

Continue Reading…

Lazy Monk Brewing

December 3, 2021

“There is a brewery down the street, we can wait there” I said to my wife. The pandemic had thrown a wrench at my habitual planning. Some friends had planned a trip to Eau Claire, Wisconsin to check out a few local breweries. We were meeting them at their second stop, but we discovered children were no longer allowed in their taproom. “Can we walk, or do we have to drive?” she replied. Our son Arlo was starting to fuss, annoyed at the lack of motion. “We can walk, I’ll get the stroller” I said. Onward to Lazy Monk Brewing.

Continue Reading…

Outstate Brewing Company

June 25, 2021

“I think it’s back here” I said. Gravel crunched beneath our car’s wheels as we rolled towards an industrial corner of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. “Where are you taking us?” my wife questioned. For as good as Google Maps is, there are times when scouting your destination draws dead. According to street view we were in the right place, but also according to street view it was a dead end. “There it is!” I spotted a gray wooden sign pointing our way. A riverside patio awaited us at Outstate Brewing Company.

Continue Reading…

Copper Trail Brewing

June 21, 2021

The first brewery we took our daughter Ellen to was Copper Trail Brewing. She was a week old. Any parents reading know that you can’t drive too long until they get hungry. One of our stops lined up with Alexandria and the brewery wasn’t far off the highway. The old location was in strip mall, nothing remarkable but warm and inviting. When I saw pictures of their new taproom downtown we wanted to return. This time we had two newborns: our son Arlo and his cousin Henry.

Continue Reading…

22 Northmen Brewing Company

June 8, 2021

“We’re going to have to stop soon” I said to my wife, my eyes darting into the rear view. When I was a boy scout we learned you should hike at the slowest person’s pace. Another adage could be that you can only road trip at the pace of the weakest bladder – our potty-trained toddler dictated our stops. My wife flipped her visor and peered into the mirror. “Yah, she’s squirming and he’s waking up” she responded. “What about there?” She pointed to a billboard for 22 Northmen Brewing Company. Kismet.

Continue Reading…

Surly Brewing Co.

June 3, 2021

When you are parents of a toddler, you take advantage of the rare night alone. We were one month away from welcoming another little one so those nights were about to get rarer. Pair that with the pandemic and you can understand our headspace. It was likely that a late night in June would be the last chance we’d have to spend a night together. It’s was a date night at Surly Brewing Co.

Continue Reading…

Portage Brewing Company

June 1, 2021

I stepped out of the car, the sun beating on my skin. The mask added a few extra degrees of heat to my bearded face. As my wife wrestled my daughter out of her car seat, I gazed across the street at our destination. A brilliant blue building rising from the street, with a glimpse of Leech Lake on the horizon. It took close to four hours in the car – an eternity with a crabby toddler – but we’d made it. It was time for craft beer from Portage Brewing Company.

Continue Reading…
Awards

Minnesota Craft Beer: Best of 2020

May 10, 2021
Tap Traveler Drinking

What a crazy year for craft beer – and every other aspect of our lives. I took a serious step back in 2020. Between COVID-19 limiting travel opportunities, the birth of my son, a growing daughter, and starting a full renovation of a circa 1870s farmhouse, beer took a back seat. Yet I still had great craft beer memories and writing these awards can be cathartic. Let’s go!

A quick reminder of the stipulations. Every award must go to a brewery that I visited in the calendar year. I won’t give a brewery the same award two years in a row. If I’m missing one of your favorites I’d love to hear about it.

Continue Reading…

Fort Point Ferry Building

June 19, 2020

“It’s not open yet, thirty more minutes.” I said. “Let’s grab something inside.” My wife and I were standing outside San Francisco’s Ferry Building. It was our last morning in the city. Most of our trips end with an early rise and a mad dash to the airport. I prefer leaving in the middle of the day. You get a proper goodbye and one last chance to see something you missed. On that morning we took the California street cable car from Nob Hill to the Embarcadero. I stood on the front right corner of the car – in complete bliss – like a dog with his head out the window. My plan was to ride the euphoria into craft beer. Fort Point would make me wait.

Continue Reading…