July 2017 was a dark time for Minnesota craft beer.
With the annual National Homebrewers Convention in Minneapolis, the American Homebrewers Association spat in the face of the host state, neglecting to nominate even one Minnesota beer to their Best Beers in America list.
The AHA’s ranking—published in their magazine Zymurgy—is as authoritative as it gets in the beer world, and the omission stung, even if we all knew we’d reclaim our Big Dick Energy before long.
Surly Todd the Axe Man (T23), Surly Furious (T30), and Summit EPA (T43) were all named among the winners, marking the first three-beer finish for Minnesota in the poll’s 17-year history. Surly was also dubbed the 14th Top Brewery in America (its best-ever showing) after sitting out the list last year.
Let’s pause here to say: hell yeah.
HomeBrewCon being hosted in the Twin Cities last year surely helped grease the voters, but this was a redemptive year for Minnesota any way you slice the number. Tying for 23 means that Todd the Axe Man jumped up 19 places from its previous appearance (T42 in 2016). Same goes for Summit EPA, whose 43rd finish comes seven years after their last selection (T43 in 2011). Coming in at 30th might not seem like a big triumph for Best Beer stalwart Furious, but the ranking puts them on par with Russian River Pliny the Younger and New Holland Dragon’s Milk. You can’t get a much stronger endorsement than that.
Overall, the Best Beers in America turns over less than a Great Pyrenees with spina bifida. Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale (2018’s winner) and Russian River Pliny the Elder are all but guaranteed to finish in the top two slots. Some combination of Sierra Nevada/Dogfish Head/Ballast Point will round out the middle. New beers are almost always returners that fell of the the list the year before.
But data-savvy beer people will notice that the coming and goings of this year’s list have a lot of implications as to where the AHA’s voters are headed.
New England IPAs (Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing, Creature Comforts Tropicália, and Old Nation M-43) had a boom year. Colorado came strong with WeldWerks and Odd13 making overdue debut appearances. Orval, which won Top Import, cracked the ranking as the only non-domestic. On the other side, top exclusions include Firestone Walker Double Jack, Lagunitas IPA, and Oskar Blues Ten Fidy. Despite claiming 4th in the Top Breweries list, New Belgium didn’t have a single Top 50 beer.
As beer tastes and consumer behaviors shift, the AHA’s voters continually adjust. This year’s 50 Best Beers in America list did right by a brief injustice, but who knows what may come next year when they reconvene.