Top 5 brewpubs in the Twin Cities

The Twin Cities have a great and growing beer scene. I've spent the last year traveling the upper Midwest visiting breweries and tasting brews. I've been to about 130 and can say with some authority that the beers brewed in the Twin Cities are among the best in the region. We've got some great brewpubs, both in terms of the beer they brew and the food they serve. Though we don't have very many, here's a top 5 list of them. My ranking is based on the whole package: beer, food, and ambiance.

1. Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery

New beers every week at Town Hall
New beers every week at Town Hall

Everything about the Town Hall Brewery works. The casual atmosphere makes it a great place to have a meal, a meeting, or just hang out for a pint. It's lively but not loud; you can enjoy the buzz (pun intended) and still carry on a conversation. And the patio is great in the summer. The menu offers a wide selection of standard brewpub fare. It's nothing fancy, but it's always well prepared. The real treat is of course the beer. Mike Hoops and his brew crew keep 10 house taps going all the time, plus at least one cask-conditioned beer. The year-round beers run the gamut from the light Dortmunder Lager to the dark-as-night Black H2O Oatmeal Stout. The other five taps are filled with an ever-changing array of specialty beers. A new beer is released at least once a week. Town Hall has one of the best brewery tours in the Cities: $7 gets you a glass, a pint, more beer in the basement, and a discounted meal when you're done.

2. Barley John's Brewpub

If you want good beer and good food in an intimate setting, Barley John's in New Brighton is the place. The tiny dining room only seats about 30, with room for maybe 10 more at the bar. There's plenty more seating on the patio, where a fire pit will keep you warm in the spring and fall. The menu is also small, but rich. It offers an assortment of pub food with a slightly upscale twist. Pizzas are grilled and feature tasty topping combinations like sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, chopped spinach, and basil, with goat cheese. Diners who want to go deep should try the tenderloin or the smoked pork chop. Barley John's beers fit the menu. Its list shifts seasonally, but notable brews include the hoppy Stockyard IPA and the chocolaty, weighty Old Eight Porter. And then there's the almondy Wild Brunette, which may be the most Minnesotan beer ever (it's made with wild rice). Don't miss the seasonal strong beers, Dark Knight Imperial Porter and Rosie's Old Ale, the latter topping out at around 15% alcohol.

3. Great Waters Brewing Co.

Great Waters in downtown St. Paul is the place to go for cask-conditioned ales. With four of them available at all times, these hand-pulled brews account for 50% of the pub's beer sales. Head brewer Bob DuVernois likes malt-forward beers. He prefers balance over shock value. While he makes a number of beers to satisfy the hopheads, the bitterness will always be supported on an ample bed of malt. The atmosphere at Great Waters suggests a European bistro, with high ceilings and an open floor crowded with tables. Outdoor seating is available in the summer months. The menu is varied and delicious, with entrees ranging from Minnesota standards like broiled walleye to more upscale and unique items such as grilled duck breast glazed in maple sauce and Pollo Caracas, a Venezuelan-influenced chicken dish. Great Waters' location makes it ideal for those on their way to events at the Xcel Center or Fitzgerald Theater.

4. Rock Bottom Brewery

There's nothing wrong with Rock Bottom. I like the food, and it's a fine place to hang, but let's face it, the ambiance and menu are the same throughout the chain. In terms of those things, if you've been to one, you've pretty much been to them all. The one thing that does make each Rock Bottom unique is the beer. What many people don't know is that all but four of the beers on tap at Rock Bottom are the original creations of that store's brewer. Brewer Bob McKenzie came to the Minneapolis Rock Bottom from Granite City just this last summer. He brings a session beer mentality with him from his native Scotland. He is a fan of maltier beers, but this doesn't mean you won't find some hop-heavy pale ales or big, bold Belgians on tap. I had a fantastic Belgian ale infused with raisins on my last visit. McKenzie even plans to dabble in sour beers.

5. The Herkimer

The Herkimer has a new brewer. When Mike Willaford stepped into the position over the summer, he took on what some might consider an unenviable task. The Lyn-Lake brewpub has long had a reputation among Twin City beer nerds for making beer that wasn't great. Willaford aims to change that. From the moment he pulled on his brewer's boots he set to work cleaning up the brewhouse and tweaking house recipes. He's added a few of his own as well, including re-creations of some long-lost German ale styles. He's got things moving in the right direction. The Herkimer feels like an arty sports bar. It has a sleek, modern look, but also has several TV screens and features an array of bar games like darts, pool, and shuffleboard. In decent weather you can test your skills on the beanbag tossing court next to their outdoor dining area. The food is an interesting blend of pub grub and home-style cooking. Fish & chips and the delicious Tres Tacos, three tacos filled with chicken, beef, and pork, share the menu with chicken fried steak and Mom's Mac & Cheese.

Cheers, Michael Agnew Certified Cicerone A Perfect Pint

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Top 10 bloody Marys in the Twin Cities

Top 10 margaritas in the Twin Cities

Top 10 macaroni & cheese dishes in the Twin Cities

Top 10 burgers in the Twin Cities

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All of these lists are available on City Pages' new Best of the Twin Cities app. Click here to see it in action.
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