Here is the annual post you have all been waiting for. The 4th annual GopherNation ranking of Minnesota Breweries. That’s right...the 4th. One time I was even chatting with some of the staff at a Brewery for quite some time and this list came up. They were pleased with their ranking, so that was a big sigh of relief.
Publishing a list like this can be a little tricky for a couple of reasons. Did a brewery drop? I kind of have to say why I moved them down, but if they are still listed they are still an elite brewery. I’m finding that so many breweries are just getting better and better. It is getting harder to get the list down to just 10 than it was the first year I did this.
Secondly, it is just so subjective. Am I ranking based solely on quality of beer? Which obviously is subjective, but also would then lean heavily toward styles that I prefer. Am I ranking on the brewery experience? Am I ranking on convenience? Am I influenced by relationships I built at some places? Let’s be honest, I mostly like beers with cool labels.
This year I’m redefining a little to make this my 10 FAVORITE breweries. Do they all have elite beer? Yes, these breweries really do. And their quality is a notch above a large swath of breweries that are just fine.
Do they all provide a great brewery experience? Yes. Are they the “10 best?” I’d probably rank this slightly different if “best” was the criteria, but not much. The point is that I’m not trying to give you the 10 best breweries in the state, I’m giving you my 10 favorites.
If I’m bellied up to a brewery bar, strike up a conversation with someone next to me who is in town to check out our brewery scene, these are the breweries I would highly encourage them to visit.
What makes me qualified to publish such a list? I’m certainly no expert. What I have going for me is a lot of time and effort put into craft beer and breweries. My credentials include visiting just shy of 100 Minnesota Breweries (~140 total). And drinking a lot of craft beer, having checked in north of 1,400 beers since last publishing this list (the majority of them shared, not 1,400 full beers). The Gopher’s destination game in Boulder provided me the opportunity to hit up several breweries outside of Minnesota. Making me think more Gopher destination games with breweries associated is a great idea.
So take my list for what it is. These are my favorites. The criteria is an extremely subjective combination of beer quality, venue, location, the people and the overall vibe.
10 - Bricksworth
The one name to move up into the top 10 after Stacked Deck went under (RIP). Bricksworth opened in 2020, which...was not exactly ideal.
Bricksworth is completely separate from Blackstack, but it is all within the family. So you can imagine that their IPAs are fantastic. Their sours are consistently good and their Baker’s Pride Vol 1 stout was delicious.
Good balance of quality across various styles.
This place has the feel of a restaurant more than a “brewery.” But it is in a suburban commercial complex, so it is in line with expectations.
I’ve been on site for consumption several times. The staff has always been great, I love the pizza and more than once I’ve seen staff of other breweries bellying up. Which usually tells you something about the level of quality being put out by Bricksworth.
What do they do that’s ELITE?: The pizza is ELITE! Seriously, it’s really good.
Beer Recs: Dime Store Cowgirl pilsner right now as the days are warming up here. Cheer Up Buttercup is one of the best peanut butter cup stouts in the region. And I would get Wavy Boats DIPA in a heartbeat.
9 - Junkyard
I’ve been a little down on Junkyard for the past couple years. Their special release beers have been excellent and their bi-weekly Twin Cities deliveries have been great too. Just had lost the excitement over their deliveries. Likely a place I would frequent, were it closer.
Junkyard is worth a weekend brewery trip to Fargo/Moorhead. I highly recommend.
Consistently putting out good IPAs, tasty sours and special release stouts. Consistency is important and Junkyard checks that box.
What do they do that’s ELITE?: Their patio is elite. I was able to visit and really enjoy this brewery for the first time this spring and the vibe and atmosphere was fantastic. It may have been the 1 sunny and mostly warm spring day that we had over the months of March through May.
Beer Recs: Junkyard always (ALWAYS) has something new being distributed to the Twin Cities and in their taproom. I’ve never been disappointed with any IPA of theirs, with Vince Vega likely being my favorite. Their special release stouts and barrel aged barleywines have been great, though more of a challenge to acquire. Wicked Awesome Slurry was just distributed and worth a purchase.
8 - Drastic Measures
Owner and head brewer, Brett, is credited with introducing the hazy IPA to our great state. And he continues to knock those out of the park.
But I was able to make my first visit to the Wadena taproom this spring and had a fantastic time. Tried small pours of 7 different beers. And as much as I will rave about their IPAs, it was a couple of stouts that left the biggest impression.
What do they do that’s ELITE?: Their hazy IPAs.
Beer Recs: Stupid Good is...well...better than decent. Krispy, if you want a crisp German Lager. And Ill Intent might be better than Stupid Good. But you decide.
7 - Modist
As mentioned last year, if you are going to a Twins game, this is the pregame brewery to go to. The beer is close and easy walking distance to the stadium. Also a really nice place to go on a spring/summer weekend evening downtown. The entire North Loop is buzzing and Modist is a chill place to grab a good beer.
Recently released Tator Tot Hotdish was one of the best new IPAs I’ve had this year.
What do they do that’s ELITE?: Their vibe in the heart of the city. They also do a great job of knowing their place in their community and working to support it.
Beer Recs: TTHD (mentioned above).
6 - Blackstack
As stated every time I write this list out, Blackstack is one of my favorite breweries to visit. Some elite times had at Blackstack.
One complaint I have often had of Blackstack is their inconsistency or lack of blowing me away with a great stout. Their rum barrel aged Black is Beautiful was the first great stout they made and they’ve since followed it up with BA In The Pocket in 2021 and Crunch Time this spring. Crunch Time was really great and I can no longer continue this complaint.
What do they do that’s ELITE?: Their brewery space is one of my absolute favorites. It is spacious, it is an old canning factory and the vibe is always elite at Blackstack.
Beer Recs: DDH Dad Jokes, their annual Father’s Day release and one of their best IPAs. Fugazi Italian Pils is one of my favorite local pilsners.
5 - Falling Knife
Absolutely one of my favorite breweries to go to. Have I been in their building north of 20 times this calendar year? Yes. Yes I have. And I’ll be there many more times. I’m often surprised that more people aren’t talking about FK and how good it has become.
Last year I first mentioned the stouts. They’ve gotten better. I referenced their IPAs, they continue to get better. They might make the best barrel aged barleywines in the state (Fair State may have something to say about that, but they are elite). And this is where I finally began to fall in love with lagers and pilsners.
But better yet, the staff and people here are great.
If you haven’t been, this is the 1 place on the list I strongly urge you to visit. It’s location is not hard to get to, they beer is great and there’s zero chance you don’t enjoy yourself.
What do they do that’s ELITE?: Their parties! I was there for New Year’s Eve, it was great. They occasionally have a Saturday party with a few local bands and special beers on tap. July 16th is the next one. Several bands, some new release beers and it will be a great time. Their parties really are elite.
Beer Recs: Yes, nearly all of them. But if I have to be specific...Tomm’s Lager, Dark Match imperial stout, Permanent For Now IPA.
4 - Fair State
Just always quality, regardless of style. What really struck me this year were two stouts they did that had nothing added to them. No adjuncts. Do I love stouts with vanilla, caramel, chocolate, coconut, coffee (a little), etc? Yes. But do I also love a non-adjunct stout? Yes, especially if it’s barrel aged. This past year Fair State distributed cans of You Can Have The Crown, a non-adjunct stout that was great. And in the tap room was More is More, a barrel aged non-adjunct that was a collaboration with Pulpit Rock in Iowa. Was blown away with both.
Oh and I love their IPAs and lagers and barleywines.
What do they do that’s ELITE?: Non-Adjunct Stouts! If anyone is listening can we get Giantsbane back?
Beer Recs: Spirit Foul IPA (and Double Spirit Foul), Fair State Pils. You Can Have the Crown...if you can find it in stores still.
3 - Barrel Theory
This past weekend was the 5th anniversary for Barrel Theory. And since day 1 they were one of, if not the, best brewery in the area. I was there on Friday and Sunday this weekend to consume their special release anniversary stouts. And if I had to call out my all-time favorite beer, it would probably be their barrel aged Ice Cream Social from somewhere around 2018/19.
A brewery that makes great IPAs, great barrel aged stouts that really bring out the barrel and their sours are consistently some of the best while not being overly fruited.
What do they do that’s ELITE?: Barrel aged beers.
Beer Recs: DDH Shooter McGavin is one of my favorite IPAs they’ve done. Jaged Little Pils and Distorted Lullaby are also great choices.
2 - Forager
Some love for southern Minnesota and a really great destination brewery. Forager is interesting because often what they have on tap is going to be markedly different than what you will see at most other breweries on this list. On the one hand, this is not ideal. On the other, what you order is always great.
Would I prefer more of their Push Pops on the tap list? Yup. Is it rare that you find a good stout on the menu? It is. But I was there in early December, disappointed with the tap list, and ordered a brown ale and some other style I don’t typically order. And of course it was incredibly well done and a great beer.
So Forager does have a fantastic stout program, their IPAs are as good as anybody else, their sours and farmhouse ales are elite too. You just have have to order something you don’t typically order when you are there.
What do they do that’s ELITE?: Farmhouse Ales and anything in their mixed fermenting program. They nail these styles better than anybody else in the region.
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 - Back Channel Brewing
Located in Spring Park and the only brewery that is specifically on Lake Minnetonka. Back Channel has a beautiful location, patio and boat slips for Minnetonka boaters to pull up and have some fantastic beers.
This brewery is just the total package to me. I love their beers. The people (staff and ownership) are really great. The patio throughout the summer and into the fall is as good as you’ll find anywhere.
The problem? They are about 30 minutes from downtown Minneapolis. If you live in the SE burbs, a trip to BC can be an hour or more. For those who live on the west side? This is your destination for great beer. For those of you not on the west side? You need to make arrangements to take an afternoon to experience Back Channel. This brewery is a solid 35 min drive for me, and I am there frequently. It is worth it.
I mentioned this last year but Back Channel covertly names all of their beers after Minnesota people. The Gant Lifter is named after Kent Hrbek, for those of you old enough to remember that pivotal moment of the ‘91 World Series. Alfred’s Blonde Ale is after Tippi Hedren who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and was born in New Ulm. Some names are hard to figure out, some are pretty obvious. But it is part of the fun.
What do they do that’s ELITE?: Their patio is elite. A sunny, weekend afternoon at Back Channel is a lot of fun.
Beer Recs: Maître d’ IPA and The Empress if you want a great patio beer. Dinkytown Don is not only a Gopher-centric name, but a solid Hefeweizen. Currently no stouts on the tap list, but that my change within a day or two.
That’s it, that is the 2022 list. Feel free to tell me what I’ve missed or which breweries I absolutely have to check out.