Local Suds: 5 Minnesota beers to try in February

Don't be fooled by the warmer temps. February is still a dark month for dark beers.

Don't be fooled by the warmer temps. February is still a dark month for dark beers. Caroline Royce

It’s hard to correctly tabulate the influence of Surly Darkness on the Minnesota brewing scene.

Like how Heady Topper and Stone IPA defined the taste of their respective coasts, Darkness has become the signature brew of Minnesota. It’s also become the litmus test for new breweries entering the scene. Want to prove your mettle? Brew an imperial stout and see how it stacks up against the once-annual Surly destination beer.

Now that Surly name-maker Todd Haug has left for Three Floyds, it’s still to be determined how breweries will rise to fill the void. But if the releases this last month are any indication, there are plenty looking to step up and become the next statewide flagship. Trouble is that Surly is also in that race, and their Darkness spinoff has really raised the stakes.

Surly Darkness 2016 Barrel-Aged
Imperial stout, 12% ABV, 85 IBU

Drinking this three-month-aged version of Darkness is like sipping a ghost. Todd Haug’s last beer at Surly was set to rye whiskey barrels for three months to mature into Surly’s most complicated, enduring beer. With a smokiness from the cured barrels, the dark, deep flavors of the beer emerge. Esters of raisin and toffee and dark fruit. A light tongue tickle of booze. All capped beneath a golden drip of wax.

Though the barrel-aged Darkness was a very limited release, there’s a chance that the high-dollar imperial stout is still kicking around at bottle shops in the Cities. If you’ve managed to get your hands on one, cellar it and wait for the death metal ghost of Surly’s figurehead to mature in the beer. It’s not a flavor you can cultivate in most brews.

Bemidji Barrel-Aged Double Porter
Imperial porter, 8% ABV, 45 IBU

Bemidji Brewing might be 216 miles removed from the Minneapolis beer rat race, but they’ve felt the obsidian waves of Darkness even up in their northern hamlet. Their new barrel-aged double porter is a fortified version of their already spicy, roasty winter warmer sent to cellar in Far North Spirits whiskey barrels. The result is a bolstered raisin/dark fruit flavor and just a little bit of woodiness that dares infringe on Darkness’s hallowed ground.

At 8% ABV, there isn’t a confrontational amount of booze in the formula, and a 750 mL bottle could disappear over dinner, which is something that most Baltic porters can’t claim. It’s just that the velveteen mocha froth at the top of a fresh pour is so seductive. Who wouldn’t want another glass to pair with their bowl of beef stew?

Inbound Russian Imperial Stout
Imperial stout, 10.5% ABV, 77 IBU

Released February 10, the third Inbound Brew Co bottle (following the Cranberry Orange Tart and Wild Rice Porter) is a rich and velvety Russian imperial that has obvious roots in Surly’s name-maker. Though a bit more bitter and boozy than Darkness, Russian Imperial Stout has a deep cacao nib aroma that underlines its status as a quality beer.

This last 12 months have been a steep maturation period for Inbound, and the upstart North Loop taproom finally feels like they’ve come along far enough to enter into the same realm as Surly. With a minimalist, almost American Psycho-esque label on the bottle, they’re competing in a different realm, but this is the beer that Inbound will use to argue its place among the top tier of Minnesota breweries.

HammerHeart Fimbulvetr
Wheat IPA, 9.4% ABV, 85 ABV

You’d expect Lino Lakes viking brewery HammerHeart to follow suit with this month’s Local Suds by upping the ante with a devilishly smoked Russian imperial. Instead, the suburban house of death metal has gone the other direction, releasing Fimbulvetr -- a well-hopped wheat IPA that scales back the smoke in favor of juiciness.

A sort of take on the New England IPA (like the aforementioned Heady Topper), the beer tastes fresh-squeezed and citra-forward. It’s not clouded with unflocculated yeast like a traditional Heady Topper, which is what makes it much more than a knock-off. Instead, the wheatiness of the malt and the very light smoke ester supplement an extremely clear body and a grapefruit finish. A curveball from HammerHeart, but a beer that’s right on pace with their high standard of quality.

Bad Weather Solar Wave
IPA, 5.4% ABV, 65 IBU
On February 9, St. Paul’s Bad Weather Brewing tapped a dream for co-founder Joe Giambruno. For a long time, Giambruno has wanted to get local beer web show Chop & Brew on premise to cook up a batch, and the stars finally aligned on C&B host Chip Walton’s birthday. Walton took a creative mandate and created what he calls a perfect “growler beer.”

Solar Wave is a brassy, clean-finishing IPA that leans towards a classic Czech pilsner. The body is gold like a bell, but there’s a big, sexy hop finish. The beer is designed to showcase BSG CraftBrewing’s new Idaho 7 hop. The hop itself adds a nice juiciness to the brew, but the pale malt build is what makes this a champion beer worth of its name.

See the episode where they brew the beer over at Chop & Brew. If you feel so inclined, you can repeat the brewing process with the homebrew recipe.

Brewers interested being featured in Local Suds should email [email protected].