It is June. This means that in the college sporting calendar, there is very little to talk about. July gives us the opportunity to preview the upcoming football season and then we are off and running until April when basketball season wraps up. Of course there will be recruiting news throughout the spring/summer, but right now there is very little to talk about.
So this means that it is time again for GN’s ranking of the top 10 breweries in the state.
This is actually the 3rd time I’ve put together this list (2020 and 2019). Instead of this being a re-rank, think of it as refining the list. Over time some breweries get better, some stagnate and some see enough change that they really fall off the map. This year’s list actually has 4 brand new entries while the top of the list stays relatively the same.
I frequently get a kick out of Facebook beer groups when someone asks for a recommendation and of the 100 comments that ensue there really is no consensus. It is typically 100 people giving 100 different breweries. People fall in love with certain places for various reasons. Some places have cool spaces or people, but very mediocre beer. Some have great beer but a lame location. So clearly this list is subjective. And even mediocre craft beer is better than most of the mass-distributed beer you’ll find at your local liquor store. But for me, these breweries stand out. They are trying new things, what they do make is really elite and they are enjoyable places to visit.
Over the past 12 months, even with the advent of this global pandemic, I have been able to check off several brand new breweries off the list. A summer trip to Duluth allowed me to hit up Fitgers, Ursa-Minor, Hoops, Lake Superior and Blacklist for the first time. Locally I made it to Wabasha, Bricksworth, Northbound (damn do they have good wings), Shakopee, Schram Haus, 3rd Act, and Elm Creek. Bringing my total list of MN breweries visited up to right around 90 out of approximately 200.
So with all of this in mind, here goes the 2021 ranking of Minnesota breweries.
10 - Junkyard
Address: 1416 1st Ave N, Moorhead
For some reason Junkyard keeps sliding down my list. Do they make really good beer, regardless of style? Yes they do. Do they have fantastic variety in what they release? Yup. Do they have some special release beers that are worth the effort to obtain? Absolutely.
So why have they gone from 3rd in 2019 to 6th in 2020 and now 10th in 2021 for me? I can’t really answer that.
In August I took a day trip to Junkyard to stand in line and hope I landed 2 bottles of Barrel Aged King Size, and it was worth the trip. I worked hard to procure bottles of their barrel aged Basement Business barleywines. Also, elite. And I’ve always loved their IPA variety.
These guys will post their weekly Twin Cities deliveries on Twitter and you can go out of your way to get a crowler or 3. I think I need to make more of an effort to have more Junkyard this year.
Beer Recs: Strange But Not a Stranger is a stout currently on tap that looks delicious. I’d also recommend Cashmere Sky or Can’t You Hear Me Knocking from their IPA list.
9 - Drastic Measures
Address: 101 Jefferson St S, Wadena
The first new name on the 2021 list. Drastic Measures is hitting beers out of the park, all styles. Barrel Aged Pistol Whip was amazing in January. Purplest Nurplest is a great sour that they’ve released a couple times now. Mbl Candy and Stupid Good have been outstanding IPAs.
Most everything DM puts out has been excellent, with a couple disappointing cans every once in a while.
This is a taproom that I’ve yet to visit and I’m including DM in this ranking due to their beer only. But a trip to Wadena is certainly in my future and I suspect it would only encourage me to move Drastic Measures up the list.
Beer Recs: Regulator is the first beer that jumps off their tap list for me. Clingerer, double fruited sour looks really fun as well.
8 - Stacked Deck
Address: 421 Cedar Street, Saint Paul
New brewery #2! To be honest, I visited Stacked Deck a couple years ago and was wholly unimpressed. Beer was fine, taproom was pretty slow and I didn’t think much of it. But over the last year I’ve picked up a handful of Stacked Deck beers and I am extremely impressed.
They are really diving into the market of smoothie style, fruited sours. A beer rep tried to tell me one day that Stacked Deck’s smoothie sours were just as good as Drekker. I laughed. And while they may not be quite as good, they are VERY close (and you can actually get a hold of them). I also picked up a couple of their IPA cans over the last several months, also...really damn good.
Beer Recs: One of the Astronaut sours or Dungeon Master’s Guide are the two I’d grab if I was bellying up at their bar this week.
7 - Falling Knife
Address: 783 Harding Street NE #100, Minneapolis
The last new name on the list and the highest ranked. I’m actually tempted to put them above Modist at #6. Falling Knife was on my honorable mention list and they moved up into the top 10 for me over the last year. Open throughout the fall and winter while being very good at taking proper precautions, I was a frequent visitor to FK.
Excellent stouts are what stand out for me with Falling Knife. But some excellent IPAs, crushable fruited wheats and they had a fantastic barrel aged barleywine last year. So you get some variety that just so happens to be high quality.
Located in the old Northgate facility, I think FK has the chops to keep that venue going for years to come.
Beer Recs: Rotational Gaze is brand new and and IPA I’d jump on right now. Reverse Centaur is a fun pistachio/vanilla stout. DDH L-Bombs is still my favorite IPA from FK.
6 - Modist
Address: 505 N 3rd St, Minneapolis, MN 55401
If I’m going to a Twins game, this is THE brewery I hit up before walking into the stadium. But Modist is worth the trip to the North Loop any day of the week. Steadily moving up the list in all three rankings, Modist is just steadily making better beer.
Beer Recs: The stout collab they just did with Barrel Theory was very good, though might be hard to find. On tap, I would try their IPA collab with Blackstack and Fair State.
5 - Blackstack
Address: 755 Prior Ave N, St Paul
One of my favorite breweries to visit, and I do so frequently. Blackstack was where I was in the spring of 2020 on the final day bars/restaurants could be open. Sat with a couple friends until the Governor’s deadline hit and we had to leave.
But what about their beer? They make great IPAs. And really they make triple IPAs like nobody else. I also really (REALLY) enjoyed Side of Ranch, a pilsner they did alongside Bricksworth. I mention the Fair State Pils, but Side of Ranch is maybe the best local pils I’ve ever had (it’s just no frequently available).
Awesome facility, great beer. My complaint would be the inconsistency of their sours and typically disappointing stouts. But did I mention they make great IPAs?
Beer Recs: Local 755 is the best flagship IPA in the market. Currently they also have a Double 755 on tap and if you’re feeling adventurous I would suggest trying any of their triple IPAs.
4 - Fair State
Address: 2506A Central Ave NE, Minneapolis
Last year I used two words that I wouldn’t hesitate to use again when talking about Fair State. Consistency and quality are perfect words to describe this Northeast brewery. Fair State is in the part of town where you can hit one of about 13 breweries if you put on a blindfold and threw a rock. But they stand out in Northest.
Over the last year+ they have branched out into making brewed cocktails. Beer base with other ingredients to make a have a similar taste to an Old Fashioned or other common cocktails. But their stouts, lagers, sours and IPAs are always outstanding.
A couple years ago with friends were sharing a number of highly rated and popular IPAs from Treehouse and Trillium out east. Fair State’s Double Spirit Foul (which was just released and is on tap) was as good if not better than the east coast giants.
Always doing fun collaborations with brewers from all over the country, Fair State is a fixture among the best MN breweries.
Beer Recs: Double Spirit Foul! Also their Fair State Pils is one of the best pilsners in the state. During this hot stretch of weather, I have purchased more than one 4-pack of this.
3 - Back Channel Brewing
Address: 4787 Shoreline Drive, Spring Park MN, 55384
Back Channel was unranked in the 2019 list, leapt to #3 in 2020 and while it remains third this year, it is closing the gap. If Back Channel was 10 or 15 minutes closer to downtown, I have zero doubt that they would be exponentially more popular. As it stands their large outdoor seating, with Lake Minnetonka water access is already crazy during the summer months. More popularity would perhaps be a bad thing for those of us who enjoy visiting the facility.
Around Christmas they released a beer called Fuck That Guy which was easily the best IPA I’ve had in the last 12 months. You’ll find summer, crushable fruited wheats (The Empress). Their barrel aged stout program is growing in volume and quality. Part of what makes a great brewery experience is finding beers that meet the needs of everyone in your party. Your snobby beer nerd friends and your casual “just want a beer with friends” people will all be happy here.
Want a Gopher connection to this brewery? Every single one of their beers is named after a person with some sort of ties to Minnesota. The Fullback barleywine? That would be Bronco Nagursky. The Great 8 double IPA? Gopher hockey legend John Mayasich. Their annual barrel aged stout is Soviet Slayer, which I think you hockey fans can figure out who that is referencing. Alan Paige, Kevin Garnet, Kent Hrbek, duck duck grey duck, actors, politicians, business community legends and many other Minnesota related people are on their tap list. Part of the fun is trying to figure out who they are named after. Good luck getting a straight answer from the staff, you may get clues but you have to figure it out on your own (usually).
The beer is great, the location is elite and the people are fantastic. If you take anything away from this entire list, hear this...Back Channel is worth the drive and you should absolutely visit.
Beer Recs: Right now. On a hot, summer day I would get Gerry Rig (a gose style beer), The Empress or whatever pilsner is on tap. But realistically I’d get Homer Dome and Island Digs because they’d be new to me.
2 - Forager
Address: 1005 6th Street NW, Rochester
Really this should be a 1a and 1b situation for the top of this list. But I’m sticking with Forager is #2, for now. The cream of the crop in Rochester is a brewery that is always making really fun beers. Do they make great stouts and IPAs? Absolutely. But do they also have a great mixed culture program and make some noteworthy farmhouse ales and saisons? You betcha. The following sentence from their website pretty much sums up what you can expect to see on their tap list.
Our beers are crafted like dreams, spontaneously creative and unrestricted, coupled with elements within our physical reality.
Also, they probably have the best kitchen of any Minnesota brewpub.
As a side note, Forager doesn’t technically distribute. But they did open up a Wisconsin brewery called Humble Forager to distribute cans around Minnesota. Many of these are the same or similar recipes to some of the great beers Forager has been known for. You should buy these.
Beer Recs: The recommendation here is to try something new. Try a style you wouldn’t normally order. Honestly, I’d get their Golden Girls lager if I were there right now. Would also recommend any of their Methode’ Push Pops.
1 - Barrel Theory
Address: 248 East 7th Street, Saint Paul
The gap between Barrel Theory and everybody else used to be wider in my mind. But this is the first time that I’d publicly say that they may have plateaued a bit. To me the mark of a great brewery is being able to do multiple styles really well. And Barrel Theory still does everything really well. Their IPAs are probably the best in the state, their stouts are amazing and they make great sours without having to go down the road of super smoothie/fruity. They do the smoothie/fruity, of course, but more traditional sours are also readily available.
This past year I had a couple beers of theirs that I absolutely LOVED and then a couple that were good, but a little disappointing. Hence the comment about the gap is closing. But they do remain atop my list. Even if the gap is closing, they are still amazing and an awesome place to visit. I made MANY trips to Barrel Theory over the last 12 months to pick up crowlers/bottles to-go.
Beer Recs: After spending the entire pandemic with their taproom closed, they are now offering barrel aged stouts on tap daily. Which is great news. And they’ve released some new IPAs that have been rather good. If I were there today I would get the BA Stout of the Day and Oxford Comma (I haven’t had this IPA yet). If I were with a friend who needed a rec, I’d strongly urge them to get DDH Rain Drops.
- Bricksworth - Started this year by the son of the Blackstack owner. Brickworth got started right at the end of 2020 and despite being so young I was dangerously close to putting them into my top 10. Not only is their beer excellent, but they are specializing in Detroit style brick-oven pizzas that are really amazing. I cannot overstate just how good their pizza is. The south metro’s brewery scene went up a notch when Bricksworth opened up.
- Dangerous Man - after being on the list the last 2 years, DM fell off. For me, just too many beers that missed. The building is one of my favorite facilities in the metro, but the beer is just hit or miss. Some beers over the last year or two have been outstanding, some have been extremely disappointing.
I think that about covers it for 2021. The 2020 year of limited access to breweries did not slow down consumption. I anticipate getting out to many breweries this summer and fall to make up for lost time around people with good beer.
I hope you get to do the same.