Almost as soon as the State Fair announced it would be on hiatus for 2020, food vendors from the Great Minnesota Get-Together got creative about ways to satisfy fairgoers’ cravings for their batty and battered foods-on-a-stick. Groups expressly dedicated to tracking Pronto Pup trucks statewide cropped up; a wildly popular drive-thru Food Parade was organized on the fairgrounds itself; Midtown Global Market created a (free!) home for walkable fare from its International Bazaar…
But what of the fair’s annual tradition of serving beer on a stick, in cups doodled with gophers in hats, rimmed with candy, and balancing skewers of snacks, hmmm? Minnesota’s brewers go all out each year to craft daddy sodas that we relish as much for their creativity as their ability to take the edge off the fair’s darker scenes (a freaked-out child puking on his shoes at the corner of Dan Patch while his annoyed parents stare into the middle distance, perhaps at Luigi’s Hot Dagos?).
Must our summer end without these highly specific brews, brimming with delightful concoctions clearly dreamt up after the witching hour? Thankfully, some of the Twin Cities’ craft brewers haven’t let COVID stand in the way of their (and our) liquid fair fulfillment. Though you won’t find these ales on the Fairgrounds this year, the local brewers have been kind enough to make their limited releases available from their taprooms or at liquor stores throughout what would be “fair season”… or until they’ve been drunk dry, of course.
Some of us snake our friend-gaggles through Machinery Hill, gawking at historical tractors as we go, ending up at Giggles’ Campfire Grill, where a dill-lightful beer from Tin Whiskers has beckoned since 2018. Until now, the brewery simply referred to the cult-favorite brew as, well, what it is: a dill pickle kolsch, or a “really big dill.” At the fair, cups came garnished with a honkin' cube of havarti and a pickle speared on a stick (of course), both of which made us want to find an even bigger Bloody Mary befitting the crisp and herby ale.
Fast forward to this year’s rendition and you’ll find Tin Whiskers has taken the beer a little more seriously. The 2020 version joins their Spark Series, and was brewed with fresh dill and cucumbers from Minnesota’s Hang Family Farm, plus acidulated malt they say helps mimic a classic pickle brine flavor. It weighs in at a perfectly quaffable 4.5% ABV and 20 IBUs… plus a salad’s worth of dill, which weirdly, Cicerones and brewers don’t have a measurement for?
Oh, and they finally gave the baby a name: Deep Space Brine. Find tallboy four-packs of Deep Space Brine in liquor stores now, and enjoy tap pours and crowlers of the limited release in Tin Whiskers’ taproom until it's gone.
Farther afield in Stillwater, Lift Bridge Brewing Company has refused to let fans of their iconic fair beers fall into despair. For the past eight years, their Mini Donut Beer has been a Ball Park Cafe classic. Beer aficionados may proclaim an affinity for the American amber ale's just-right interplay of sweet and malt (sure!) but whomst among us isn’t a sucker for a well-balanced beer with a cinnamon sugar mini doughnut rim? Same goes for Lift Bridge’s other smash hit fair exclusive: their Key Lime Pie Beer. Introduced in 2018 at Cafe Caribe, this citrus ale has a squeeze of key lime, a little bit of sweet from a hint of lactose, and biscuity-golden notes that may go unnoticed after licking its organic coconut palm sugar rim.
It's such ratcheted-up details that lead us to wait in long lines to drink opposite-Hamm’s once a year, folks. Lift Bridge knows this, and has been kind enough to bring the beers themselves into their taproom in Stillwater, since Cafe Caribe and the Ball Park Cafe won’t be pouring this year. From August 27 through September 7 (yes, the original State Fair dates), visitors to the brewery's taproom can enjoy draught pours of both beers. No word on whether they'll be doing up those rims all fancy in the taproom, or if they’ll be pouring into plastic fair-branded cups.
In addition to the above trio of tried-and-true favorites, Pryes Brewing had been working on a brand new beer for the state fair in collaboration with the Freehouse. “Pryes Winning Cobbler” (5.2% ABV, 21 IBUs) is a rich, blueberry pastry ale created as a nod to all those bakers (if not Marjorie Johnson herself) strutting their stuff across the fairgrounds. Before the big shindig got zilched, the plan was to serve it out of the Blue Barn.
The limited release collaboration was brewed with real blueberries, vanilla, and lactose, and will be available at all Blue Plate Restaurants and in Pryes Brewing’s taproom starting on August 27. Though these settings are leaps and bounds away from Dan Patch, one glance at the beer’s nifty packaging puts drinkers in that fair mindset, as little corn dogs, pies, and horse heads hover above a photo of folks enjoying themselves at the real Blue Barn. Tallboy four-packs of Pryes Winning Cobbler will hit select liquor stores September 7, so you can bring those faux-midway feels into your own home.
And should nothing about these beers sound at all appealing to you: That's fine, too! In turn, we promise we won't drag you to the fair to try these out with us this year. Deal?