The Good, The Bad, and The Ribbon-Worthy: Tasting notes of 48 new drinks at the 2019 Minnesota State Fair

Photo by Tj Turner

The Growler’s review of the new beverages at the 2019 Minnesota State Fair was supported by underwriting partner Maltwerks, a Midwest malt house focused on genuine relationships in offering quality, locally produced, traceable malt. 

Cotton candy and toasted pumpkin seeds, lavender and passion fruit, Red Bull and White Claw—together at last. There’s no lack of innovation in this year’s new State Fair beverage lineup. Among the 53 newcomers (we were able to sample 48), some will rise to glory while others would be better off staying in their kegs until the Great Minnesota Get-Together wraps on September 2.

We sampled our way around the fairgrounds, following our tastebuds’ lead until we arrived at the top three beers in four categories that we devised—Fruit, Classics, Sugar, and Sparkling—and from those winners, crowned a Best In Show, purple-ribbon champ.

Let us know what you think of these beverages as you try them (tag us @growlermag). Happy drinking, Fairgoers!

 

Fruit Group

These beers employ an added measure of fruit to achieve acidity, sweetness, and Fair-appropriate flair. (15 entries)

Berry Go Round Sour by August Schell Brewing Company // Photo by Tj Turner

Blue Ribbon

Berry Go Round Sour – August Schell Brewing Company

An excellent berry beer. A beautiful deep magenta color, with a complex berry aroma. A sweet-sour tug of war wages throughout the sip, featuring prickly acids,  the smallest bit of horsey Brett funk, and just the right amount of tartness. Tons of depth and complexity and the same amount of unabashed fruity fun. (LuLu’s Public House)

Red Ribbon

Lemon Meringue Pie Ale – Lupulin Brewing Company

Tons of lemon oil flavor and crispy malt character to complete the illusion. Brewed with lemon peel, it has a hazy-orange color, a vanilla-cookie nose, and that same biscuity, yeasty flavor creeping up at the end. Not sweet at all with a clean finish. Twelve ounces of pure Fair fun. (The Hangar)

White Ribbon

Cherry Passion Fruit Tart Ale – Bent Paddle Brewing Company

This beer is not red, so don’t be alarmed when they give you a golden-colored cup. Like the Berry Go Round, the tartness of this one is on-point. Some interesting funky aroma leads to a sip full of rich stone fruit that finishes clean and tart. The fruit is present but not overbearing. (Ball Park Cafe)

 

Mighty Magenta Dragon Fruit IPA – Bent Brewstillery

Another strong State Fair beer from the Brewstillery. A bright purple color and a lighter body with nice fruit aromas leads to an extremely dry sip full of aromatic tropical fruit. It’s clean and subtle, it’s not sweet in the least and the hop character and fruit character blend wonderfully together. (Ball Park Cafe)

Lupulin’s Lemon Meringue Pie Ale // Photo by Tj Turner

Mango Star – Fulton Brewing

A beautiful, sweeter nose of mango fruit, but a dry body, clean and crisp with an earthy depth with hop bitterness taking over late. (LuLu’s Public House)

Mango Medusa Juice – Surly Brewing Company

Extremely bright fruit nose; a prickly acid on the sip, with a lively flavor all around. Wonderful puckery fruit character throughout. (Dino’s Gyros)

Kirby Pucker #34 Arnie Palmer – Eastlake Craft Brewery

Our favorite Fair beer ever from Eastlake. A very compelling Arnie Palmer riff, with some Lacto on the nose, a sweet attack that turns soft and nuanced on the sip. Lemony, with the tea tannin drying out the finish. Beautiful push/pull of tart and sweet. Really fun to drink. (Ball Park Cafe)

Rosa Fresca – Indeed Brewing Company

Smells reminiscent of cherry Kool-Aid but has clean and delicate floral notes throughout. Very dry, very floral, crushable hibiscus ale with a little tannin on the finish. Great for hot weather. (Ball Park Cafe)

Blood Orange Freewheeler – Sociable Cider Werks

Mild orange-meets-apple nose, tastes a ton like regular Freewheeler with some added citrus, which is exactly what it is. (LuLu’s Public House)

Prickly Pear IPA – Fulton Brewing

A technically sound ale that needed a little more fruit to achieve a perfect balance. It smells very fruity, but the sip is all hop-bitterness. Would have loved for that gorgeous fruit character from the nose to be more present on the sip. (Frontier Bar)

Bent Paddle Cherry Passion Fruit  Tart Ale (Left) alongside other beer offerings from Ball Park Cafe // Photo by Tj Turner

Peaches & Cream Ale – Castle Danger Brewery

Some barnyard funk on the nose, underripe stone fruit on the sip, and some biscuity bready character at the end. None of that fleshy stone fruit sweetness you’d expect from a peach beer at the Fair. Our tasters would have much preferred the regular ol’ Cream Ale. (O’Gara’s at the Fair)

Nordic Strawberry Blonde Ale – Insight Brewing Company

The nose sets you up for more berries. The body is pretty restrained with just a subtle fruit character. Could have gone much bigger on the strawberry without making this beer unbalanced. A little shy for the context. (The Hangar)

Summer Luv’n Orange IPA – Bent Paddle Brewing Company

Aromas of sticky-sweet orange candy, and good citrus zest flavor on the beer, but the added sweetness detracts from the very good base beer. Our candy garnishes tasted awfully stale. (Andy’s Grille)

Slushy LuLu Limoncello – Sociable Cider Werks

Watery, weak. Flavor is muted, and entirely missing that limoncello tang. Some good citrus on the nose, but very mild throughout. (LuLu’s Public House)

Coco-Lime Wit – Fair State Brewing Cooperative

Pithy lime fruit, but hardly any coconut. High acid, disparate flavors. Not much drawing us in for more sips of this witbier. (Giggles’ Campfire Grill)

New beer selection at The Hangar // Photo by Tj Turner

Classics Group

These beers largely eschew the Fair craziness, and instead are brewed to the precepts of a classic beer style. (13 entries)

Sideshow Spritzer by Surly Brewing // Photo by Tj Turner

Sideshow Spritzer by Surly Brewing // Photo by Tj Turner

Blue Ribbon

Sideshow Spritzer – Surly Brewing Company

This one has everything we want in a Fair beer: some fruit, some pucker, some intriguing flavor. It’s refreshing, light, and crushable, a dried-out ale with tons of tropical bitter notes in a core of peach and mango fruit flavor. A really great vinous character creeps up at the end. Like the white wine companion to Surly Rosé. (Coasters)

Red Ribbon

Leinenkugel’s Hefeweizen – Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co.

There’s a compound called isoamyl acetate, which tastes like bananas, that you’ll often find in a classic hefeweizen. This hefe should be used as a teaching example—tons of overripe banana with the classic spicy clove note coming on late. A delicious and textbook example of the style. (Leinie Lodge)

White Ribbon

MN Haze – Lakes & Legends Brewing Company

Lakes & Legends makes very good Hazy IPAs, and this is yet another example. Opaque in color, bursting with orange on the nose, and earthier hop notes toward the finish. Bitterness is on the high-end for a Hazy IPA, but we don’t mind a little grip to combat the deluge of grease the Fair throws your way. (O’Gara’s at the Fair)

 

Elderflower Wheat Ale – Able Seedhouse + Brewery

Perhaps the most idiosyncratic beer at the Fair, and we really enjoyed it. A peppery profile surrounds tons of floral and spice notes. There are even some vegetal flavors at the end. The floral bitterness mixes well with local hops. Great with garlic fries. (Ball Park Cafe)

Hefeweizen from Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co // Photo by Tj Turner

Onesie, Twosie, LuLu Lucy – Surly Brewing Company

A very acidic, very dry, prickly IPA. Soft orange pith on the nose leads to a yeasty, hazy body. Nothing out of the box, just a standard Hazy. (LuLu’s Public House)

People Watcher – FINNEGANS Brew Co.

A straightforward Pilsner. Not much on the nose, but a fine crisp flavor and a clean finish. Cheers to regular-ass beer done well. (Warner Coliseum concessions)

Four Seam Screamer – Surly Brewing Company

It smells like a Surly, it tastes like Surly. A nice malt character with a patient bitterness. If you’ve had a Surly before, you’ve already had this beer. (Ball Park Cafe)

Crop Duster Lager – Fair State Brewing Cooperative

Bright gold, classic corny lager profile, with a good mix of spicy noble hop character with a little more citric bitterness toward the end. (The Hangar)

MN Haze by Lakes & Legends at O’Gara’s Pub // Photo by Tj Turner

Funnel Cloud F2 Ale – Bad Weather Brewing Company

We’re not much a fan of sugar-rimmed beers, but this is the rare example of that garnish adding something important. Without the sugar, it’s a pretty standard brown ale; with a taste of that sugar, it gets closer to that funnel cloud mandate, bringing out the sweet biscuity notes at the end. (Mancini’s al Fresco)

Great Minnesota Citra-gether IPA – 612Brew

An explosive citrus nose and a nice velvety hop quality on the sip. It’s a well-made, though somewhat Plain Jane citra IPA. (Coasters)

Mini-Sotan IPA – Summit Brewing Co.

Very light. The low-cal, low-carb thing is the point of this beer, but we’re not really the target market for that message. Perfectly crafted, like all Summits, but not much to write home about in the end. (International Bazaar)

Canoe Paddler Kölsch – Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co.

Did we drink this beer? We’re not sure. We thought we did, but we forgot about it the second we tasted it. No flaws but no highlights. (Leinie Lodge)

Toasted Pumpkin Seed Ale – Third Street Brewhouse

It sure smells like pepitas, but a husky, peanutty, buttery sip wasn’t compelling in the least. Our question: Why was toasted pumpkin seeds the flavor target for a beer? Questionable. (Giggles’ Campfire Grill)

Group sampling of the Dreamsicle Hard Soda Malt // Photo by Tj Turner

Sugar Group

These beverages highlight sugar in some form—honey, lactose, ice cream, etc.—to make something like a dessert in a glass. Includes shandies, milkshake IPAs, meads, and hard sodas. (11 entries)    

Photo by Tj Turner

Blue Ribbon

The Great Minnesota Handshake – Indeed Brewing Company and The Freehouse

Lactose beers are so ubiquitous that it’s rare one would make such an impression on our tasters. This one was exceptional: bright, tart berry flavor, pastry notes from the vanilla and malt, a creamy texture, and a lingering sweetness. Lots of strong flavors that meld harmoniously. Delicious. (Blue Barn)

Red Ribbon

MN Brew Together Orange Dreamsicle IPA – Modist and Barrel Theory

And the runner-up milkshake IPA was nearly as good. Nice vanilla aroma and a zippy orange zest flavor lead to a creaminess on the finish. It hits the mandate of the name, without being too sweet. Very well executed. (Ball Park Cafe)

White Ribbon

Honey Bee Lavender Honey Mead – Sociable Cider Werks

A very sugary aroma with a little bit of malolactic character, this mead is floral through-and-through. A full-throated lavender flavor, the carbonation is just right and the body is substantial without being cloying. Perfect for cooling down some spicy food. (LuLu’s Public House)

 

MN Brew Together Dreamsicle IPA alongside more new beers debuting at Ball Park Cafe // Photo by Tj Turner

Dreamsicle Hard Malt – Bravazzi Hard Italian Soda

We weren’t expecting much, and were bowled over with what we got. Thick and fluffy, frosty-textured, tastes exactly like a dreamsicle. Can’t detect the alcohol in the least, but damn, we inhaled it. (Coasters)

The Shandlot Mixed Berry Shandy – Bauhaus Brew Labs

We’ve loved all of Bauhaus’ previous Fair shandies, and this was no different. Great berry flavor, easy-going, lots of berry tannin. Tastes fresh. (Ball Park Cafe)

Lemon Drop Shandy – Tin Whiskers Brewing Company

Perhaps the most interesting new beer of the 2019 Fair. This “shandy” is actually brewed with lemon and honey, instead of being mixed with lemonade later. Well-balanced, it has a substantial weight to the body with a restrained sweetness. Really nice. (Giggles’ Campfire Grill)

Sparkling Honey Hive – Sociable Cider Werks

It smells odd, like bread yeast and ethanol. The sip is better, refreshing and delicate in a Welch’s white grape kind of way, but the alcohol is a little too present. (Giggles’ Campfire Grill)

Cotton Candy Milkshake IPA – Big Wood Brewery

Bright pink, sugary rim. A mellow, off-dry IPA with some sugary notes. Didn’t really nail the novelty factor. Very nondescript, surprisingly. (Hideaway Speakeasy)

Honey Bee Lavender Honey Mead from Sociable Cider Werks at Lulu’s Public House // Photo by Tj Turner

Orange Push-Up Pop – Fulton Brewing

Another lactose beer that didn’t quite wow us. Dank citrus flavors, somewhat disjointed body, and the sugary rim didn’t help matters. (Café Caribe)

Berry Manilow – Utepils Brewing

Way too sweet. Bursting with berry sweetness, but also sugar sweetness. Not enough acids to bring it back into balance. (Dino’s Gyros)

Red Wine Sorvino – Cannon River Winery

This is just a scoop of gelato in some very basic red wine. Don’t get this. Please. (Mancini’s al Fresco)

A range of new Bubble Troubles at the Hideaway in the Grandstand // Photo by Tj Turner

Sparkling Group

These beverages use wine, sparkling wine, or hard seltzer as the base for effervescent, low-proof cocktails. (9 entries)

White Claw Red Bull Slushie // Photo by Tj Turner

White Claw Red Bull Slushie // Photo by Tj Turner

Blue Ribbon

White Claw Red Bull Slushie

The absolute surprise of the Fair. We thought we’d hate every sip of this seeming-abomination, but as it turns out Black Cherry White Claw and Coconut Berry Red Bull are fine bedfellows for a slushie. It’s sky-blue in color, tastes like a hard ICEE, and is just stupid, unabashed fun. “I’ll finish the hell out of this,” said one taster, before he did just that, in a heartbeat. (O’Gara’s at the Fair)

Red Ribbon

Very Berry Frozen Hard Seltzer – The Freehouse

Another very enjoyable seltzer slushie (I’ll take ‘Sentences I never thought I’d type’ for $1,000, Alex). Not too sweet, wonderful texture, bursting with berry flavor, smooth and creamy, can’t taste the alcohol at all. But it’s fresh and fruity and delightful. (Blue Barn)

White Ribbon

Northstar Frosé Blanc – wine by Round Lake Winery

This blend of fruit puree and juice still featured a really nice wine quality to the flavor. Tropical and still a little fizzy-tasting, it was one of the best wine beverages we tasted all day. (Giggles’ Campfire Grille)

 

Very Berry Slushie by Freehouse at Blue Barn // Photo by Tj Turner

Country Rosé Spritzer – wine by Alexis Bailly Vineyard

Sweet, Kool-aidy, very berry nose, tastes far more like sangria than a spritzer. It really needs a second flavor to give it some lift—maybe mint? lemongrass?—and a little better carbonation for that spritzy effect. (Blue Barn)

Summer Sunset Frosé – wine by Round Lake Winery

We get strawberry on the nose, with an acidic, punchy, berry flavor throughout. Tastes very much like the industrial-mix strawberry smoothie you’d buy at the swimming pool. (Giggles’ Campfire Grill)

Lavender Lemonade Bubble Trouble – wine by Cannon River Winery

We really liked the original Bubble Trouble they debuted last year (Mobster Mule), but were pretty nonplussed by this new variation. It had decent floral flavor but we didn’t love the dried lavender shaken on top when we were picking it out of our teeth later in the day. (Hideaway Speakeasy)

Northstar Frosé Blanch (Right) at Giggles’ Campfire Grill along with Summer Sunset Frosé Photo by Tj Turner

Pomegranate Bubbly Mojito – wine by Cannon River Winery

Nice cooling mint notes with the pomegranate, but otherwise, pretty unremarkable. (Hideaway Speakeasy)

Strawberries and Mint Bubbly Mojito – wine by Cannon River Winery

Oh so sweet. Sugary, artificial-tasting, and toothachey. (Hideaway Speakeasy)

Cherry Firework Hard Seltzer – Lift Bridge Brewing Company

Smells like cherry limeade, but the less said about the medicinal, maraschino-like flavor of the sip, the better. (Ball Park Cafe)

Sampling the State Fair’s new selections // Photo by Tj Turner

Editors Choice for Returning Favorites

We’re glad to see these five beverages back on the menu for another year.

Dill Pickle Kölsch – Tin Whiskers Brewery

A Kölsch-style beer infused with fresh dill and cucumber from the Saint Paul Farmers’ Market and garnished with a dill pickle and a cube of Havarti dill cheese. 4.7% ABV. (Giggles’ Campfire Grill)

Frozen Grain Belt Blu or Schell’s Sangria Toppers – August Schell Brewing Co.

These mainstay beers that once debuted at the Minnesota State Fair are frozen into a foam and floated atop any Schell’s beer. 4.8% ABV. (Schell’s Pavilion, West End)

Mobster Mule Bubble Trouble – Cannon River Winery

Sparkling Edelweiss wine, ginger beer, and sweet lime. (Hideaway Speakeasy)

Grapefruit Ode IPA – Castle Danger Brewery

Ode IPA infused with grapefruit, featuring tropical flavors and aromas and citrus notes. 7.0% ABV. (O’Gara’s at the Fair)

Mini Donut Beer – Lift Bridge Brewing Company

A sweeter beer with a malty base and flavors reminiscent of a fresh State Fair mini donut. Each glass is served rimmed with cinnamon sugar. 5.0% ABV. (Ball Park Cafe)

Finalizing notes and ratings after sampling our way through the Fair // Photo by Tj Turner

Correction: The name of Utepils’ specialty beer was updated to Berry Manilow from the originally announced name, Raspberry Beret.


Maltwerks is a Midwest malt house focused on genuine relationships in offering quality, locally produced, traceable malt. Maltwerks maintains close relationships with local farmers so brewers know exactly what barley was used and the characteristics they can expect. Maltwerks is a partner in globally sourced commodities and carries a wide variety of spices and botanicals for diversity in craft brewing.

A Blind Tasting beer festival

Taste & Rate 48 Minnesota Oktoberfests

Sept. 20, 2019 | 5:30–9pm
Upper Landing Park
Tickets: GA $40 | DD $20