I really enjoy writing this article, but these awards get harder and harder every year! That’s mostly because there are so many great breweries in the state and partly due to some self imposed limits. Every award must go to a brewery I’ve visited in the calendar year and I won’t give a brewery the same award two years in a row. I also added a Best Innovation category to reward the breweries that are consistently pushing the envelope! I’ve visited almost 100 breweries in Minnesota and written posts about a healthy amount of them. If I’m missing your favorites I’d love to hear about them. Let’s get to it!
It’s that time of year again. Time to reflect upon the breweries that I visited in the past year and identify some of my favorites. Since this is the second time I’m doing these awards I added some ground rules. I’m only assigning an award to somewhere that I visited in 2017. If you don’t see one of your favorites then let please let me know. Rest assured that with the amount of breweries now in Minnesota there is a great chance I didn’t make it there. In an effort to shake things up, I decided to ensure there were no repeats from last year. Lastly, to recognize the best of the breweries that opened in 2017, there is a new category called Best New Brewery. Let’s get started!
When you backpack for 22 days you find yourself with a lot of time to think. If you’ve got nothing to drink except artificially sweetened water your mind inevitably wanders to beer. After completing our trek we had one last stretch to retrieve our car. With pavement pounding against our weary feet we had one criteria for our final evening: no walking. So we booked a room at the Suites Hotel in Canal Park, inhaled some pizza at the Old Chicago below, and strolled down the hall to our final destination. Hoops Brewing Company beckoned.
Earlier this spring I mentioned to my wife that this could be a good year to hike the entirety of the Superior Hiking Trail. A crazy suggestion, yet just a handful of months later we were pulling into Grand Marais with one sleep left between us and the trail. In the morning my parents were going to drop us off on the Canadian border and to temper our nerves we had planned our last meal at the aptly named Gun Flint Tavern.
Our bellies were full as we walked down Superior street with the early afternoon sun beating down on our heads. We’d just departed our favorite restaurant in Duluth, Va Bene Caffe, and now we were working up a thirst. After deftly avoiding some sidewalk construction our destination was before us. We peered into the open garage door across the exposed rail and got our first glimpse of Blacklist Artisan Ales.
We pulled off Highway 169 and descended into the Minnesota River Valley. I’m always surprised that the landscape changes so dramatically from the pastoral scenery of the surrounding area. Our windows were down to enjoy the warm summer air and after a small bend in the road our destination emerged from the forest. u4ic Brewing was now in sight.
New taprooms continue to open every month, and the summer is high season. When my brother-in-law mentioned he wanted to visit a taproom that “nobody had been to yet” I knew there were several to choose from. I told him that Pryes Brewing Company had just opened their new riverside taproom. A day later we were working up a thirst and cruising along the river road.
Flipping through my Instagram feed on a late March day I happened upon a post from Wild Mind Artisan Ales. It described their first bottle release event for their Golden Ho/rye/zon American Wild Ale. I made a mental note but promptly forgot about it. The day of the event I was grumbling at work about being cooped up during the unseasonably warm weather and searching for any excuse to get outside. Just like that the event popped back into my head and, after a quick call to my wife, we were off.
On a Saturday morning in early December, Samantha and I were sitting at a small table in New London’s Middle Fork Cafe. We were enjoying a small brunch in preparation for our the next taproom on our list and trading stories about our travels from the night before. The food was good but once I finished my sandwich the mind switched gears to beer. We paid and then took to the cold streets to arrive at our next stop, Goat Ridge Brewing Company, just as they opened at noon.
During our effort last year to complete our Northern Ale Guide we knew we’d have to make a trip or two to knock a bunch off the list. We set aside a weekend with our friends Megan and Mitch to hit the southeastern Minnesota breweries. So on an early October evening we started our journey at Rochester’s Forager Brewery.