Local Suds: 5 Minnesota beers to try in January

This January's gonna be dark.

This January's gonna be dark. Jerard Fagerberg

Shades of black. It’s a great theme for the socio-political climate of January 2017, and Minnesota beermakers have responded in kind with a series of obsidian beers.

It’s long been said that darkness has a richer and more complex depth than lightness, but Minnesota brewers have taken that to delicious ends in January. Winter beers are, of course, darker in nature, but this line of beers provides very literal evidence. From tropical to smoky to piney, these brews embody the breadth of possibilities in the ebony waves at this end of the beer spectrum.

Bonus: All of these beers will insulate you for the coming of winter’s worst. Pick these beers up and fridge them for when the polar vortex comes out of remission.

Bauhaus Beechballer

Imperial altbier, 8.3% ABV, 48 IBU

Bauhaus’s Over the Charts series is just kicking off, but their Sky-Ten! double IPA was a hit for the usually sessionable Northeast brew lab, and now the second in that series is here. Beechballer is a double German altbier that rocks a hearty 8.3% ABV and a healthy lacquering of malt. The sweetness seems overpowering until the end of the sip where the bouquet for floral hops comes in and cleans the palate.

According to the coinciding promotional video, Beechballer is perfect for keeping warm during winter athletic endeavors, but the big booze factor might prevent that from being true. In fact, the subtle smoke flavor from the beer’s namesake beech wood-smoked malt make it more suited for sipping around a fire and dreaming about appropriate volleyball weather. Beechballer is now available on a limited basis in 750 mL bottles.

Summit India-Style Black Ale
Black ale, 6.8% ABV, 60 IBU

When Summit announced its 2017 beer line late last year, the immediate buzz was over the return of the incredible Keller Pils (previously a one-off Unchained Series release). Lost in that buzz was the excitement over a new seasonal release: India-Style Black Ale. The latter has dropped, and it’s exciting for beer fans of the harsher end of the beer spectrum.

Leading with a quadrangle of bravo, chinook, equinox, and denali hops, the beer is all IPA from the head, but a chocolatey undercurrent carries the beer through the swallow. For a black ale, it’s fairly amber, leaning heavily on the toffee notes instead of coffee or roastiness. India-Style Black Ale follows last month’s re-release of the Anniversary Double IPA, filling out the St. Paul industry leader’s ever-growing IPA portfolio.

Barley John's Dark Knight
Imperial porter, 12% ABV, 60 IBU

Here’s something you might not know about Barley John’s Dark Knight imperial porter -- with a 100% RateBeer rating, it’s one of the top five beers on the site. It boasts an enviable 95 rating on BeerAdvocate. Now, the numerically lauded barrel-aged porter is making its production debut in tallboys across Minnesota.

Debuting back in July, this robust, chocolatey porter was aged for a year in 45th Parallel bourbon barrels before being canned and distributed. An unapologetic Batman reference, Dark Knight's harshly boozy porter embodies the stiff resolution of Bruce Wayne’s alter ego. It’s understandable why this extremely bourbon-y caramel-backed beer is popular among beer nerds -- its sheer novelty factor is through the roof -- but for fans of the finely crafted and challenging beers of the Great White North, Dark Knight satisfies. Be careful with the 16 oz serving, though; it’s probably not a good measure of a single serving.

Schell's Tropical Stout
Stout, 5.9% ABV, 30 IBU

Nothing about Schell’s new Tropical Stout screams “tropical.” Beyond the obvious Caribbean-averse style, it comes packaged in a cardboard six holder with a beige label printed up in the no-frills, blue collar style of the New Ulm brewer’s experimental Stag Series line. The 10th in that series, Tropical Stout is a totally off-the-map style that could send first timers to their beer encyclopedias to discover exactly what they’re about to get into.

Without any hint of fruit, Tropical Stout pours a sleek black with a heavy mocha aroma. The one tropical element is the extremely latent rum character in the swallow, though the major characteristics are the beer’s smoothness and roasty flavors. There’s an almost brown-sugar-like quality to the beer -- something that comes from the style's roots as an export-style stout in the post-colonial tropics. A truly etymological choice of beer to brew, Tropical Stout deserves major props for pushing the fun-loving spirit of the Stag Series to a new hemisphere.

Fair State U-Pick
Fruit beer, 5.5% ABV, 23 IBU

On the lighter side of the beer spectrum is the latest from co-op brewery Fair State. U-Pick is a
A hugely effervescent raspberry sour created with 280 lbs of berries hand-picked by Fair State member-owners and friends back in August. The result is liquid Pop Rocks -- a fizzy double-fermented sour that overloads on tart.

U-Pick is available on tap at the Northeast taproom right now, but the big celebration will come on January 28 when it joins fellow newcomers Bricoleur #4 (see my previous write-up on the first in the line) and Raspberry Roselle as the latest 750 mL offerings in Fair State’s coolers. U-Pick certainly has the best story of the bunch, but it’s also unique in its glorious unification of wild yeast and hand-picked fruit.

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