We came, we saw, we drank. After a whirlwind tour of the new adult beverages at the 2017 Minnesota State Fair, here are some of our key takeaways:
It’s A Great Year for Regular Beer
Bent Paddle Mosaic Kanū (Ball Park Cafe) is exactly the light and floral session beer you want to wash down a couple-three orders of onion rings. We also made sure to try WarPigs Lazurite IPA (Ball Park Cafe), a collaboration between Munster, Indiana’s 3 Floyds Brewing Co. and the Danish microbrewery Mikkeller, a supremely juicy and delicious IPA that drinks like a burst of hop sunshine.
We ended our tour at the Minnesota Craft Brewers’ Guild’s Land of 10,000 Beers (Ag-Hort Building), sampling the Blue Ribbon Flight. These standouts, chosen by the Better Beer Society, represent some of the best beer being made in Minnesota. On opening day, that flight was Bent Paddle’s Cold Press Black, Indeed’s B-Side Pils, Town Hall Brewery’s Three Hour Tour, and Dangerous Man’s Peanut Butter Porter—all exemplary.
Rough Year for New Gimmicky Beers
Schell’s Red Light and Blu (Schell’s Pavilion, West End) takes the frozen sangria and frozen Grain Belt Blu we loved so much in years’ past, and watered it down with a dose of Grain Belt Light. Stick with the single-flavor beer slushies.
The Ordinary Mary (LuLu’s Public House) was billed as a mix of uncarbonated beer by Insight Brewing and bloody mary mix. Except the bartender told us ours was “a mix of Sam Adams and Summit” that had been poured a while ago, and left to go flat. (We contacted Insight, who assured us that it is being made with their beer, so perhaps some wires got crossed at LuLu’s on day one.) Still, the result is a michelada that tastes more like bloody mix than beer.
And however you feel about the Coaster’s Beer Malt (Coaster’s) is likely dependent on whether you like beer more than milkshakes. Boulder Beer’s Chocolate Shake Porter is the base—and it’s a beer that already tastes like a milkshake, so this malt is sweet-on-sweet. And that might be your jam, but remember, there are also legitimately world-class milkshakes over in the Dairy Building.
Drink Your Vegetables
We’re not fans of animals fats mingling in our beer (who needs an oil slick forming on their ale?) So if we went back for another Barley John’s Dill Pickle Ale (Giggle’s Campfire Grill), and we probably will, we’ll ask our bartender to ditch the havarti cube garnish and just leave us with the cornichon. The beer itself is heavy on the dill aroma, with a tiny yet patient horseradish note throughout. Drink this one fast, people. If it gets too warm, the savory notes start to take over hard.
The Insight Brewing Duke of Cuke (LuLu’s Public House) strikes a spa-water profile with dry and refreshing sip of melon-meets-cucumber-meets-perfume. We like the first 90 percent of this beer, but the finish leaves you with the taste of cucumber seeds and peels, more vegetal than fresh cucumber sweetness.
This year’s berry beers are subtle and wonderful, each in their own way. Summit Lazy Sipper (Summit On A Stick, Int’l Bazaar) offers only the faintest hint of the promised strawberry on the finish. But that subtlety was refreshing after a day of celebrating excess. We found ourselves ordering a couple rounds of this beautifully crafted blonde ale.
612Brew’s Lingonberry Lager (Coaster’s) had loads of berry aroma, a light and relatively dry body, with a tart-verging-on-sour berry note to the mid-palate, and a clean finish. It tastes far more like beer than berries, and we crushed it in no time flat.
Sociable Cider Werks Raspberry Apple (Giggle’s Campfire Grill) strikes a nice figure, with a gorgeous red shade and a monster raspberry floating in the glass. Berries bring tannin and a little bit of tartness more than big berry flavor to this decent, dry apple cider.
The Rest of the Fruits
Dueling lemon beers found their way to the Fair this year. Bad Weather Lemon Sunshine (Mancini’s Al Fresco) was said to be inspired by limoncello, but wasn’t as sweet as we expected. The beer is a crispy, dry Blonde Ale made with lemons. It’s tasty, bright, and the lemon imparts a subtle pithy tartness. It’s just not very limencello-y.
For something a little sweeter, we found Bauhaus’ “The Shandlot” Shandy (Ball Park Cafe) is just about the best craft shandy you could ask for.
We’ve been fans of Eastlake Brewery’s Kirby Pucker series of sours—#6 with lemon and ginger, and #7 with cherries and blood orange immediately come to mind as favorites—but we were less fond of #34 with grilled peaches (Ball Park Cafe.) It does have some nice stone fruit flavor, but a persistent savory bacon note kept us from finishing a full pint.
Bent Brewstillery’s Hungarian Cherry Wheat strikes a heavy and medicinal cherry profile. We much preferred their 2016 Fair beer, The Great Sweat, a juicy West Coast IPA that Bent is now canning.
Want more beer? Check out The Growler’s Complete Guide to Beer at the 2017 Minnesota State Fair and plan out your day at the fair.
Note: Each beer was judged on a very non-scientific scale of attributes including presentation, overall quality, execution of concept, and State Fair-ness (the quality of a beer being appropriate for its surroundings). All judgments are solely those of Editor-in-Chief Joseph Alton and Senior Editor John Garland.