The state of Minnesota beer
Summer is the official season of beer gardens, ale fests, and fair-weather homebrewers getting back into their favorite pastime, but with our craft beer culture booming and laws loosened (well, some of them), Twin Cities small breweries are still some of the best and most interesting places to drink around town. If you think the taproom experience means you'll be relegated to a dark corner in a musty old warehouse, think again. Most of these places opened with or have recently added modest to impressive outdoor seating, so whether you've never been or just haven't been in a while, don't fret. We've done all the hard work for you to present our guide to drinking in the new local breweries.
Dangerous Man Brewing
The location: Dangerous Man (name and logo inspired by the impressive Zeus-esque beard sported by owner and head brewer Rob Miller), housed in the historic Northeast Bank building in Sheridan, is squidged in among plenty of late-night action, thanks to the 331 Club, Mayslack's, the Knight Cap just down the street, and now that it's summer, a steady stream of Pedal Pubbers. This area has great art to see and great steaks to eat, but the major reason to plan a stop at Dangerous Man's taproom is that it's the only place you can get Dangerous Man beer. They emphasize small-batch brewing and super-fresh product, so you won't find DMB's brews on tap at any other bars or for sale in sixers at any stores, but it's so fan-damn-tastic you sort of understand why they keep it close to the chest.
The vibe: There are as many (if not more) bikes parked outside Dangerous Man's taproom as there are cars, which should give you a pretty good idea of the crowd inside. DMB's airy, artsy, wooded space, with its long communal tables and mismatched chairs, seems to draw in the fixed-gear types and curious couples coming in for an after-dinner drink. On weekdays (DMB is one of the only local taprooms open Tuesday through Saturday) it's predictably quieter, and the one already-unobtrusive big screen TV usually stays switched off unless a specific request is made. Mini clipboards stacked with menus from nearby restaurants such as the Anchor Fish and Chips, Element Pizza, and Maeve's Cafe are scattered around the taproom tables. They don't offer any nibbles onsite, but they're more than cool with you bringing in food from neighboring restaurants or cheapskating it and packing up whatever you have in the fridge. Think of it as a big indoor picnic with interesting premium beer and the pretty pierced people who pour it.
The beers: All DMB's beers are crafted reverently, reminiscent of the great beers of history. Miller's team is particularly deft at isolating and layering flavors, as exemplified in the murky-dark but surprisingly light-bodied Black Lager that's on tap. They tend to be more adventurous with flavors and ingredients than the other breweries, producing brews like a coconut milk stout and a toasted hemp brown ale, and do some pretty out-of-the-ordinary styles, such as the Baltic porter they put out a few months ago. DMB keeps four to six beers in rotation, and you can order them in a 10-ounce tulip glass or a 20-ounce big boy.
The location: Like many of the small breweries that have started popping up all over the metro, Fulton began with a few friends and many hours logged in a garage. But unlike any of its beer peers, Fulton went from a hobby homebrewing outfit to perhaps the most popular and ubiquitous mid-size craft brewery in Minneapolis in the space of just a year or two. The business quickly outgrew its original location, set up a new shop just a stone's throw from Target Field, and opened the city's first official taproom in spring 2012. More than a year later the owners are still adding to the facility and have announced plans to build an outdoor patio area with landscaping designed by Tangletown Gardens, which also teamed up with the brewery to offer CSA box pickup right from the taproom. Drop by for a drink, catch a little of the game on one of the taproom's many TVs, pick up all your fresh produce, and head home to make dinner. An excursion to this Warehouse District spot needn't be for special occasions only.
The vibe: From opening day to the end of the season, Fulton's taproom turns into a bar for Twins fans, but on away-game days you'll find a good mix of designers, modern mad men, and beer geeks from all walks of life. The interior, spare and steely, is conducive to wandering, mixing, and socializing — a great place to meet people and experience some now-familiar favorite beers straight from the source. Of all the taprooms, Fulton's seems to be the most consistently busy and as a response, they schedule food trucks to park in the front lot almost every day they're open. If there is a more perfect union than the one between an Hola Arepa flatbread and one of Fulton's refreshingly soapy beers, I don't know what it is.
The beers: You can get Lonely Blonde and Sweet Child of Vine at almost any bar or restaurant with a semi-decent beer list, but the taproom gives you the chance to preview what's coming up next — the beer you won't find in bottles and definitely can't get at the stadium. Past experimental batches have included an American barleywine brew called the Ambassador; Insurrection, a double dry-hopped cask ale; the Proverbial Buffalo, a mosaic-hopped farmhouse style; and the latest release on tap right now, Preservation, a mild ale with a low ABV percentage and a connection to the local organization Friends of the Mississippi River, a group that's committed to preserving (get it?) and improving the water quality of the old 'Sip.
The location: Don't be discouraged if you go up to Harriet's main entrance on Minnehaha Avenue and find that the door is locked. Remain calm; you can still get beer. The front entrance is just for tours and the tasting room, but if you follow the tinny sound of banjo pickin' and the wafting curls of pipe tobacco smoke around to the back of the building, you'll be led directly into the warm embrace of the Harriet taproom. When the weather is agreeable, the brewers throw open the big garage doors to reveal the small stage, bar, serving area, and massive brewing kettles inside.
The vibe: Of all the taprooms we visited, Harriet Brewing in Longfellow is perhaps the one that is best integrated into its surrounding neighborhood. It's open Wednesday through Saturday, and its seating ranges from picnic tables on the patio to a few high-top seats at the butt end of a bar to a big worn-in leather couch. The event schedule is active and varied, hosting everything from weekly jazz showcases, DJ nights, and cover bands to beer dinners and slam poetry readings. Food trucks are in regular attendance here, so count on food from AZ Canteen, Cajun 2 Geaux, Tollefson Family Pork, and Simply Steve's, among others. There's a psychedelic quality to much of the company's branding, the bright colors and kaleidoscopic lines of which seem to carry over into the interior decor, complete with paintings by local artists and a taxidermied mountain lion. The overall effect is a bit like spending the evening in the romper room of your parents' hardest-partying friends, who keep their kegerator full and have every Grateful Dead album on vinyl. It's kooky and unpretentious, and there's always something entertaining happening, even if it's just people-watching.
The beers: Harriet founder Jason Soward started out as a chemical engineer, and the brewery is often recognized as a precise interpreter of Belgian styles. They have four beers on tap in the taproom, all sold by the pint for $4 to $7 with some available for growler fills. The selection changes often, but they usually feature two seasonal beers (right now it's the fantastically fresh Woden Weizen, a hazily unfiltered Hefeweizen, and the sneaky, citrusy Sol Bock, a German-style maibock), as well as at least one of their flagship beers such as the West Side, a distinctive Belgian-style IPA, and something from the darker end of the spectrum.
Pour Decisions Brewing Company
The location: If you weren't specifically looking for Pour Decisions in Roseville, it's extremely unlikely that you'd just happen upon it, unless you're the kind of person who spends a lot of time in mostly empty industrial parks. But this lesser-known, newer brewery and taproom is worth a jaunt. Parking is ample, and there are a few picnic tables available for seating outside the taproom doors. If the Grumpy's behind Rosedale mall is your usual happy hour or Saturday afternoon spot, consider changing it up. Pour Decisions is less than a five-minute walk from their patio, but the beer is in another territory entirely.
The vibe: It may sound a little strange, but Pour Decisions Brewing is actually kid-friendly. Playing cards and other games are laid out for the taking, and you'll find free bags of potato chips and homemade sodas on tap in flavors such as raspberry-basil and apple hojicha that are even more impressive than some of the beers. There's also a changing table in the bathroom stocked with diapers of various sizes, a feature that I'm pretty sure few other breweries can boast. The 7,500-square-foot facility and taproom are run by co-founders and brewers Kristen England and B.J. Haun, both of whom have Ph.D.s in the hard sciences and started the brewery with an impressive array of awards for their homebrewing. Though there is clearly a lot of research and testing going on behind the scenes, Pour Decisions feels homey and laid-back, a perfectly lovely place to while away the afternoon over a game of cribbage and six-ounce sippers of their beers. Food trucks including Bacon Trolley, Saucy Burt's, and Simply Steve's roll up to the parking lot on Friday evenings, but if you're there on an off day and feeling peckish, they also sell some British snacks and candies in honor of one of the brewer's English mums. Like a prawn cocktail-flavored crisp with your Leipziger Gose? Oh, you've never had either? Then by all means sidle up to a barrel (which double as makeshift tables) or the bar and start asking questions. The staff here are excited to chat with people who are excited about beer.
The beers: PDBC's underdog mission is to introduce the Twin Cities to some of the less common beer styles through an eco-friendly process, and it seems that the stranger the brew, the better they do. Their flagship beers are the Pubstitute, a Scottish session ale that proved a little too watery for our taste, and the Patersbier, a crisp, perfumey golden ale that is excellent for day-drinking. But the ones that left a far more indelible impression were the oddballs. Infidelity, a cheekily marketed, dark and hoppy Burton ale, was full of herbs and mystery — a beer that will easily tempt you into cheating on your old standby order; the Hau Ruck, a surprisingly low ABV German-style that started out chocolatey sweet but balanced itself out with a sour finish; and finally the Scytheman, a Polish brew that ended up being the biggest surprise and runaway winner of the bunch. Though it has all the smoky, meaty intensity of a porter, this beer pours crystal clear and drinks almost like a spicy, bready cider. Wholly unique and most definitely not a poor decision.
The location: Even from the intersection of Central and Broadway in the Arts District of Northeast, you still wouldn't know that 612 is there. Thankfully there's a glowing red light atop the Broadway Building that acts a beacon to the brewery, and as you wind down behind it, the sheer size and ambition of the operation are revealed — first in the monolithic-looking patio and mini amphitheater and then in the high-ceilinged, mural-decorated taproom. An ideal Central Avenue bar crawl should include dinner and drinks at Sen Yai Sen Lek, a stop for samples at 612, country karaoke at the Vegas Lounge, and dancing at Lush.
The vibe: Maybe it was the multiple stretch limos attempting to navigate the parking lot or the Mötley Crüe blaring outside (courtesy of the Heavy Metal Grill food truck, which sells an item called "my ex-husbands nutz"), but 612 feels raucous, slick, and almost pristine in its newness. If it weren't for the fact that it's actually housed in an old building, 612 Brew's taproom would almost feel factory-made. That's not to say it doesn't have character, it's just much more like drinking in a full-blown, Target Center-adjacent bar than some of the other local taprooms.
The beers: While the other breweries may have one sessionable ale or a lighter lager, 612 Brew's focus is on the lower-alcohol styles. You can order them by the pint or in flights served on an ingenious little paddle that allows servers to fill all the glasses simultaneously. The paddle also makes a handy portable table, which you might need during the extra-busy periods. There's the Six, an American pale ale; the assertive Zero Hour, a treacly black ale; and the citrusy, rye-forward Rated R. But the beer we liked best might not be to everyone's taste, kind of like the fruity-flavored vodkas that give all the fabulous ones out there a bad reputation. The Mary-Ann, a German-style beer brewed with 25 pounds of fresh ginger, did a better job of waking us up than our mug of morning coffee. It's so spicy, so fresh, and it opens up your sinuses to help you experience the next wave of flavors that develop as the beer goes down.
Steel Toe Brewing
The location: Located in an office park that seems incongruous with its decidedly blue collar-sounding name, Steel Toe Brewing in St. Louis Park has one of the smallest taprooms on the list but also offers some of the biggest beers of the bunch. There's not much else of note nearby, but it's only a five-minute drive from Park Tavern, so if you're planning a group outing any time soon, consider an evening of bowling followed by good beer. People will like it much more than a scavenger hunt or some other team-building thing you think sounds like a good idea, we promise.
The vibe: Compared to the commissioned artwork and architectural nuances present in most of the other taprooms, Steel Toe feels downright austere. But the no-gimmicks, no-frills environment means beer takes precedence, and the crowd is never obnoxious. Head brewer Jason Schoneman, a transplant from Pacific City, Oregon, designed and built much of the taproom himself and embodies Steel Toe's straightforward, self-sufficient "find a stool and grab yourself a pint" attitude. Food trucks including House of Hunger, Gastrotruck, and Tot Boss all stop by on occasion, but the brewery is cool with you getting Pizza Lucé delivered right to your seat if you're hungry.
The beers: There are eight on tap, with four mainstays including Provider Ale — aromatic, unfiltered, and easy-drinking; Rainmaker Double Red Ale, a simultaneously bitter and malty, complex copper brew; the Size 7 IPA, an underappreciated hop-slapper in a town where we like our IBUs toward the higher end of the scale; and Dissent Dark Ale, a rich, oatmeal-y and chewy dark brew. Four more limited release and seasonal beers round out the selection. Right now it's Lunker, an English barleywine ale that always seems to clean up at competitions, and a barrel-aged Wee Heavy. Growlers are available for purchase and re-filling right from the taproom. After tasting these beers and chatting up the brewers, it's hard to leave with just one.
The location: Yet another on the list of small breweries that chose the Northeast area, appropriately steeped in beer history, to make its home. The old brick Solar Arts building near 15th Avenue and Monroe sits on an active train line, so if you're planning to drink on Indeed's patio you'll need to work out a rhythm of stopping and starting conversations based on the traffic. Frequenters of Darby's know the drill. Indeed may be responsible for bringing back the notion that it's cool — nay, preferable — to drink beer out of an aluminum can even when you're not on a plane, at a backyard barbecue, or seeing a show at the Hexagon, but there's something even more enjoyable and uncompromising about these beers when poured directly from the tap, and that's reason enough to visit.
The vibe: More quaint than 612 and just slightly less hipsterish than Dangerous Man, Indeed seems to draw the most eclectic crowd of the newer Northeast breweries. On one early weekend night we entered a bizarro world of role reversal where groups of young people flocked to play shuffleboard and a trio of older gents took a break from huddling over their iPhones to step out for a smoke. The taproom itself is cozy and includes lots of little nods to beer culture in the decor, and the branding, populated by monocle-wearing bears and pipe-smoking walruses, is playful and vaguely nostalgic. The room manages to duplicate the feeling of an artist's studio open house that happens to serve excellent beer and food from favorite trucks such as Foxy Falafel, Potter's Pasties, and Vellee Deli most Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
The beers: Indeed's head brewer, Josh Bischoff, who honed his skills as many of our best local brewers do at Town Hall Brewery before striking out on his own, makes bold choices in his brewing but sticks mainly to American styles. Most locals will be familiar with the floral, bitter, curiously balanced Daytripper American pale ale and the resinous, lightly roasted Midnight Ryder, an American black ale, but Indeed's seasonals are also outstanding. Now that it's really warm out, the Shenanigans — a cloudy, dry, wheat summer ale — is a can't-miss. Indeed's beers are all available in 10-ounce, 16-ounce, and 20-ounce pours, so you can try a few with friends or find a favorite and stick with it.
These are just a few of the taprooms open for business. We didn't even get to some of the exceptional outer-ring ones like Lift Bridge in Stillwater or Excelsior in Excelsior, and several more are in the works. Surely you've heard about the new destination brewery/taproom/theme park that Surly is building in Prospect Park, and there are more flying under the radar like HammerHeart Brewing in Lino Lakes, which plans to open its taproom later this year. There are so many options for craft beer in these parts, it seems that the breweries coming down the pipeline are looking to diversify the scene and open with more specific missions than just brewing great beer. Burning Brothers Brewing is planning a 5,000-square-foot facility in the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul, where they'll produce a lineup of entirely gluten-free beers. Urban Growler is set to open in St. Anthony Park this fall and aims to make craft beer more accessible and approachable to everyone, particularly women. Finally, Bang Brewing, which already has plans for a taproom at its South St. Anthony Park property, is working to maintain a minuscule ecological footprint while producing high-impact beers. So even though summer is a great time to be a beer drinker in the Twin Cities, there are plenty of folks ensuring that it will still be beer o'clock when the seasons change.
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