Craft beer has become engrained in Minnesota culture. New breweries are always in the works, along with countless events highlighting the craft of beer. However, this wasn’t always the case. When the Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival, an outdoor, all-you-can-sample beer festival, started in 2010, Minnesota had fewer than a dozen breweries operating in the state. Now, just seven years later, the state boasts more than 120 breweries with little sign of growth slowing down.
“The original mission (of The Beer Dabbler) was to expose the budding craft beer market to a larger audience, and create a new community,” says Joe Alton, editor-in-chief of The Growler, sister company of the Beer Dabbler. “The Beer Dabbler was always meant to introduce people to what beer can be.”
While there are some beer drinkers that enjoy digging into the individual ingredients and processes that go into making their favorite beers, the industry of craft beer shouldn’t be limited to only those well-versed in the language of hops and malt. For many, the best thing about craft beer is that community ideology that surrounds the industry.
“Beer is part of our culture and community but it exists to augment the conversation, not necessarily to be the focus,” Alton says.
The Beer Dabbler was started with this idea in mind. Having hosted a series smaller outdoor tasting events in the warmer months of 2009, The Beer Dabbler threw its first Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival in 2010 at Mears Park in Lowertown St. Paul with just over 800 attendees and about 40 breweries (less than 10 local). Over the past seven years, the festival has grown to approximately 9,000 annual attendees, who this year will be able to sample more than 550 beers poured by more than 150 breweries on February 4th.
Sure, there are some remarkable beers on tap. Recent years have included heavy hitters Bent Paddle’s Double Shot Double Black, various versions Surly Darkness, and many other speciality casks from Minnesota and beyond. However at Beer Dabbler events, the focus isn’t necessarily about picking apart each aspect of a particular beer.
“There are 364 other days in the year to obsess over the nuances of your beer,” says Alton. “An outdoor beer festival in Minnesota in February is an opportunity to have fun and celebrate our spirit of the northern hardiness together.”
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman makes his way to the Dabbler each year, and last year the mayor declared February 6, 2016, “Beer Dabbler Day” in St. Paul.
“No one embraces winter more enthusiastically than Minnesotans, and the Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival is proof,” said Mayor Chris Coleman. “Not only is St. Paul home to one of the greatest craft beer tasting events in the country, but also the coldest.”
Hosting an outdoor beer festival in the middle of a Minnesota winter has its challenges. “We’ve had to prepare for the full gamut of Minnesota weather through the years,” says Matt Kenevan, founder of The Beer Dabbler and publisher The Growler. “One year it might be below zero, the next year it might be fifty degrees and you have to go buy ice for the beer. We’ve learned a lot and made adjustments through the years. We do our best to prepare for anything and hope festival goers do too.”
And that’s all part of the experience. There are many different events and festivals to attend with family and friends during the four or five beautiful months out of the year, but to tackle a beer event outdoors no matter the weather is something distinct to the Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival.
“It’s an antidote to cabin fever and hibernation,” Alton says. “It’s a chance to get outside in the winter months and enjoy a likeminded community. We’ve been in the cold and dark for months, and we finally have a chance to get out and party with friends and strangers alike.”
And the party doesn’t end at the beer—there is a host of things to do and see between samples. Festival goers will get the chance to catch live musical performances from DJ Shannon Blowtorch, Minnesota rockers The 4onthefloor, and the Afro-funk band ZULUZULUU. The Twin Cities Beer Choir will lead the crowd in traditional drinking songs, as they make there way around the festival grounds. Lunds & Byerlys are hosting a free artisan meat and cheese sampling inside the Warner Coliseum, where Dabblers can also sample wine and enjoy music programmed by Classical MPR. Outside, activities like the Silent Disco and the all-new American Brewer Warrior competition will be taking place to keep Dabblers entertained.
Over the years, the event has become a destination beer festival for many attendees, with tickets sold to people in 35 different states last year. It’s also a destination for brewers. In years past, high-profile brewers like Greg Koch (Stone Brewing) and John McDonald (Boulevard Brewing) traveled to witness the outdoor festival in the middle of a Minnesota winter.
With attendees from around the country, the Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival is also a chance for local breweries to make an impression on a wider audience. The festival will host nearly 100 breweries and cideries from Minnesota, and including many newcomers, such as Utepils Brewing, Wild Mind Artisan Ales, Broken Clock Brewing Co-op, and 2016 Kind-of-a-Big-Deal Best New Brewery winner, Modist Brewing.
At the end of the event, attendees vote for their favorite brewery of the festival to win the Lord Dabbler’s Cup award. Last summer’s Lord Dabbler’s Cup winner, Rhombus Guys Brewing, produced a special barrel-aged beer that will be the first keg tapped at the 2017 event. This year, festival organizers are adding The Beer Dazzler Award. This new award will be given out by The Growler editorial team for their favorite beer of the festival.
So, snag your tickets before it’s too late and bundle up. No matter if you’re new to the party, or a certified craft beer connoisseur, The Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival has something unique on tap for you.