Minnesota's vast array of breweries and beers is easy to get lost in. Faced with the ever-expanding list of options, more and more drinkers in the North Star State are settling for whatever's local and easy.
But beer drinking is at its most enjoyable when it's nomadic and experimental. That's the spirit of Minnesota's brewing scene. This year, it's time to move past your neighborhood pub's most popular tap lines and put away the list-making highlights in favor of some lesser-known suds. Here are the Minnesota beers to leave behind this New Year and what you should be drinking instead.
1. Surly Furious
Drink this instead: Bent Paddle Bent Hop
Surly Furious is a certifiably world-class beer. It's a flagship not only for the recently expanded Surly Brewing Co. but also for the entire state of Minnesota, as the robustly hopped American IPA is often the very first pint handed to out-of-towners who want to taste the best of what Minnesota's 111 breweries have to offer. The beer's so good that it's easy to stop exploring right there — especially considering that any bar worth its liquor license has it on tap. Furious is a good beginning, but it's a really unfortunate place to end. Staying in the same style, Duluth's Bent Paddle has a take on the American IPA that's just as deserving of your palate. Bent Hop (as well as Harness and the limited Daypack) show how Bent Paddle is harnessing the hop with a bit more finesse than their metal-obsessed friends in Prospect Park. Unlike Furious, which annihilates the palate with its forceful hop component, Bent Hop is maltier and more balanced, finishing with a slight tea flavor. Paddle responsibly.
Also try: Tin Whiskers Flip Switch IPA, any of Surly's other IPAs (Abrasive, Overrated!, Todd the Axe Man, and Wet), or, you know, any of these (except for that No. 1).<!——EndFragment——>
2. Fulton Lonely Blonde
Drink this instead: Steel Toe Provider
Despite an objectionable name and a corresponding pervy product description, Fulton's take on the American blonde ale has endeared itself to the drinking population of the Gopher State. It's a lake house beer from one of the Twin Cities' most consistent distributors, and its place in a Minnesotan's koozie isn't likely to be usurped by anything that doesn't offer the same pleasant crushability. But, in the suburb of St. Louis Park, Steel Toe is quietly turning itself into one of the best breweries in Minnesota, and their version of the American blonde may not come by the can, but you might as well expand your serving size while you're expanding your horizons. Provider's smooth-drinkin' body betrays the fact that it's unfiltered and delicately hopped, giving it a rounder taste than the more popular Lonely Blonde while still providing the optimal refreshment that people flock to Fulton for.
Also try: Excelsior Big Island Blond, Bent Brewstillery Nordic Blond, Finnegans Blonde Ale
3. Summit EPA
Drink this instead: Bent Brewstillery Moar
For many Minnesotans, Summit EPA is the first bitter beer that ever took a foothold in the fridge. The nearly ubiquitous flagship from St. Paul's Summit is the only true "extra pale ale" on the market, and served with an icy chill, there are few Minnesota beers more refreshing than this briskly hopped English IPA. Likewise, Bent Brewstillery's Moar is the only true "historical pale ale" on the market, and when you're searching for alternatives to Summit's malt-balanced version of the pale ale, Moar subs in perfectly. Moar is technically a Scottish session IPA, clocking in at 4.4 percent ABV, and comes with a citrus, tangerine nose that EPA lacks. Of course, the Roseville combination brewery/distillery's competitor to EPA is much harder to find — Beer Advocate erroneously lists it as retired — but if you're looking to diversify your English-style pale ales, it's the next move you should make after sampling Summit.
Also try: Lift Bridge Crosscut, Flat Earth Angry Planet, Lucid Air
4. Lift Bridge Farm Girl Saison
Drink this instead: Boom Island Saison
Farm Girl suffers from the same porno fantasy nomenclature as Lonely Blond, but the clove/coriander-heavy farmhouse ale out of Stillwater is by far the most visible saison on the market in Minnesota. The hazy, straw-scented Belgian matches well with cuisine that calls for it, but Minneapolis' Boom Island specializes in brewing beers that really capture the brightness of a true Belgian. Their saison is far less spicy and comes with a much frothier, lingering head. Both are siblings of Belgian yeast. Basically, Boom Island is Duvel and Lift Bridge is Leffe. Farm Girl is a great intro for anyone looking to test the mettle of saisons, but traditionalists should find their way to Boom Island's portfolio for their glorious, golden orange saison.
Also try: Surly CynicAle, Olvalde Farms Brynhildr's Gift, Urban Growler Pumpkin Saison
5. Grain Belt Premium
Drink this instead: Third Street Minnesota Gold Lager
Treason! I know I've opined the greatness of Grain Belt before, but new year, new me. The Friendly Beer's big claim to fame is that it's made from "perfect drinking water," which basically means that it's brewed from the waters of our state's 10,000 lakes. Cold Spring's Third Street Brewhouse have matched the New Ulm megabrewer with their Minnesota Golden Lager, which is similarly brewed with good ol' foolio H2O. Like Grain Belt, Third Street's adjunct lager is crisp and made for high-volume sessions, though it outpaces Premium at a heartier 4.9 percent ABV (GBP is 4.6 percent). Minnesota Gold doesn't have the hipster cache of GBP, but it does have a fuller, less apple-y taste and a cloudy body that betrays its craft pedigree. Once it gets wider distribution in the Twin Cities, Minnesota Gold's grain-forward, pale taste, and ineffable finish could help it unseat Grain Belt as the top tailgate beer in the North Star State. At $11.99 for a 12-pack of tallboys, it's got the price tag to pry you away from an old standby.
Also try: Mankato Kato Lager, Schell's 89.3 The Current Kolsch, uh, Hamm's?