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Minnesota Craft Beer: Best of 2018

January 3, 2019
Tap Traveler Post at Bobbing Bobber

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!

Best New Brewery / Waldmann Brewery & Wurstery

Waldmann ExteriorWhile they technically opened in November 2017 it was late enough that I consider them new. This award is fairly ironic for a brewery that’s located in the oldest commercial building in St. Paul! My first visit to Waldmann was during their Oktoberfest celebration and I fell in love with their cozy taproom and German style beers. The next time we’re in the middle of a major snowfall I plan to pull up a seat next to their fireplace and drink some of their dark malty goodness. I suggest you make plans to do the same.

Best Branding / La Doña Cervecería

La Doña InteriorI only visited La Doña Cervecería for one beer, but they left a lasting impression on me. Regulars to the craft beer scene know that taprooms can get a little stale. You usually expect concrete floors, community tables, reclaimed wood, metal, exposed ceilings, and those chairs that seem to be everywhere. While La Doña has some of those things they also add decorative concrete blocks, beautiful murals, plywood, and a healthy dose of vibrant colors throughout. It’s a breath of fresh air and I hope to visit again soon to see if the beer matches the creativity of their branding.

Best Patio / Lake Monster Brewing Company

Lake Monster PatioI’ve been visiting Lake Monster since they opened and it took me this long to realize that their patio was a real gem. It’s tucked into the gaps of the Vandalia Tower complex which provides a fantastic setting for craft beers on a Minnesota summer evening. What put them over the top this year was the greenery. In the past they’ve seemed almost purely industrial but the trees and bushes have matured enough to soften the edges. Also, their umbrella game is on point!

Best Destination / Junkyard Brewing Company

Junkyard Brewing ExteriorSome people say that the journey is the destination. Those people never drove Interstate 94 from the Twin Cities to Moorhead to drink some craft beer at Junkyard. Not only do they have some of the best beer in the state, they’ve got a killer taproom and a fantastic patio. They’ve also just expanded so there is no better time to visit. While you’re there you can hop across the border and visit Drekker which really makes the journey laughable in the face of the destination.

Best Vibe / Bang Brewing Company

Bang ExteriorI’ve given Bang three awards and I’ve only done this three times! It’s also the second time they’ve won Best Vibe. There may be a little recency bias at play here since my wife and I just visited and I fell in love with their taproom all over again. I always take out of town visitors to Bang and it’s primarily because they’ve created a vibe like none other and I’ve finally realized it’s their consistency that does it for me. I always get a great beer, my toes never stop tapping, and there is usually the perfect amount of people to create an energy that is unmatched.

Best Surprise / Able Seedhouse + Brewery

Able Seedhouse TaproomAble was the last brewery I visited in Northeast Minneapolis and it’s a damn shame. They’ve quickly become one of my go to breweries in the area. I love the minimalistic style, gorgeous brick building, and solid beers. I’m shocked these guys aren’t mentioned more often but maybe it’s better that way! It was one of my most visited breweries of the year and it’ll be a regular for me for some time to come. Next time you’re in Northeast, put Able on your agenda.

Best Food / Urban Growler Brewing Company

Urban Growler InteriorUrban Growler holds a special place in my heart as one of the first craft breweries my wife and I visited and their food and beer played a critical role in inspiring me to embark on this project. They were the first brewery to make me think that I was missing out on something special. Since they’ve opened, their menu has expanded and I’ve never been disappointed. It doesn’t hurt that their building is beautiful, the patio is great, and they make desserts with their beer!

Best Innovation / Wild Mind Artisan Ales

Wild Mind TapsWhile their beers aren’t for everyone you can’t deny they are innovative. I visited Wild Mind and I could count on one hand the beers on their tap list and now that same list is massive and daunting! They are constantly refreshing their selection and some of their beers are almost two years in the making! Sour beers are one of my favorite styles so this is a slam dunk for me but if you’re not too fond of them I still think I could find a couple of beers that would change your mind. For the extra adventurous consider joining their Forgotten Barrel Society which nets you ten members only bottles throughout the year as well as a whole host of other perks!

Best Individual Beer / HammerHeart (Hokan’s Fatherhood Edition)

HammerHeart Hokan's Fatherhood EditionI’ll never forget the second time I tasted Hokan’s Fatherhood Edition. The first time was when I visited the HammerHeart taproom and while I listed it as my favorite beer of the night I think it got lost in all the other great brews I had. The second time I got to enjoy it all on it’s own and it was a special moment! I’ve had a ridiculous amount of different beers at this point so for one to blow me away is a real testament to its quality. It’s simple to describe, they take their already great Hokan’s Brown Ale and add cold press from UP Coffee Roasters. Let it warm up slightly and it’s deliciously complex. Anything but simple!

Best Beer / Barrel Theory Beer Company

Barrel Theory BeerSimply put, if you like good beer you’ll like Barrel Theory. If you like IPAs, you’ll love them! That style generally makes up at least half of their selection and the beers that fill the gaps in the tap list have never disappointed. As far as quality of beer I think there are few places better to belly up to the bar and order a craft beer. They are one of the cornerstones of the Minnesota beer scene and I’d be hard pressed not to recommend them to anyone that asks what the best beer in the state is. With such high quality, these guys aren’t going anywhere.

Best Taproom / Bent Paddle Brewing

Bent Paddle is so great that they’ve revitalized a neglected Duluth neighborhood, and with their new taproom they’ve graduated from a brewery with great beer to a destination brewery with absolutely no downside. I’m not even sure where to start. They’ve got a magnificently long bar, a porch style patio, and several unique seating areas that mesh together in a truly cohesive package. Their attention to detail is unrivaled and I feel like they’ve really reset the bar for Minnesota taprooms. If you had visited their old space it’s really not a fair comparison. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t considered driving up to Duluth just to visit Bent Paddle! It’s that good.


Minnesota Craft Beer: Best of 2017

January 6, 2018
Wild Mind Artisan Ales Tap Traveler

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!

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Hoops Brewing Company

November 20, 2017

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.

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Gun Flint Tavern

November 8, 2017

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.

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Blacklist Artisan Ales

August 15, 2017

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.

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u4ic Brewing

August 11, 2017

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.

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Pryes Brewing Company

August 6, 2017

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.

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Wild Mind Artisan Ales

May 9, 2017

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.

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Goat Ridge Brewing Company

March 10, 2017

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.

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Forager Brewery

February 22, 2017

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.

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