There are few activities more perfect than sampling an unlimited amount of craft beer. Combine the infinite libations with foot-stomping music, cheese curds, and homebrewing workshops to make a recipe for a rip-roaring time. At the fourth annual St. Paul Summer Beer Fest on June 16, nearly 100 breweries came together at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds to serve up a heaping scoop of Midwest hospitality. While there were many suds from out of state that tickled the taste buds, the local beers truly outshone the rest. If you couldn’t make it out to the Fairgrounds, here are some of the best brews from the day’s events in ascending order.
7. Lift Bridge Brewery Blueberry Basil Cask Saison—Stillwater, MN
This beer makes the list out of its sheer creativity. The aroma was completely unique: the basil bringing a crisp, savory perfume while the blueberry was juicy and floral, but a bit overpowering. As far as taste, the blueberry was hardly present while the basil added a pleasant zest. The unique flavor profile makes this saison memorable and summery.
6. Anchor Brewing Summer Ale—San Francisco, CA
I usually hate wheat beers because they have this pungent aroma with a slimy mouthfeel. But Anchor Summer Ale is different. Made with malted wheat, Anchor Summer Ale is much less potent than its Heffeweizen and Kölsch cousins and thus much more drinkable on a steamy summer day. Great head retention with a slightly smoky taste, this ale was a delight to sample.
5. Town Hall Brewery Masala Mama IPA on NITRO—Minneapolis, MN
Before tasting the newest iteration of Masala Mama, I didn’t believe Town Hall could improve on their popular IPA. With its orange and fresh pine aromas from the hops, Masala Mama offers a perfect balance between citrus and bitter flavors that IPAs are known for. But when poured with Nitro beer gas (the same used for Guinness Draught), the texture resembles meringue. Now that Town Hall has two Minneapolis locations, I’ll be waiting to try this nitro experiment again.
4. Gray’s Brewing Company Oatmeal Stout—Janesville, WI
Oatmeal stouts are known for their unctuous mouthfeel and rich, dark malted flavor, which make it my favorite style. Gray’s strikes a great balance between roasted, bitter, and sweet flavors while still maintaining the stout’s characteristic texture.
3. Flat Earth Brewing Co. Cygnus X-1 S’mores Porter—St. Paul, MN
The brewers at Flat Earth are flavor magicians. The silky smooth Cygnus X-1 Porter (named for a song by Rush) is the perfect backdrop for the rich dessert flavors that Flat Earth loves to mix in their lusciously dark beer. With the S’mores Porter, I could smell the marshmallow—that vanilla sugary sweetness—playing off a roasted chocolate with a hint of honey for the graham cracker. At other festivals, Flat Earth has also brewed a Cherry Chocolate Cheesecake version that makes me hungry just thinking about it. The flavors are always spot-on.
2. Tonka Beer Co. Big Island Shandy—Excelsior, MN
The Big Island Shandy is the definition of summer. It’s crisp with a grapefruit sweetness and a touch of bitter to remind you that it’s still beer. In addition, this beer comes in a can, making the Big Island Shandy impervious getting skunky. The best part about this beer? All proceeds go toward cleansing Minnesota lakes of invasive species like zebra mussels. Good cause, great taste.
1. J.K.’s Scrumpy Organic Farmhouse Cider—Flushing, MI
Yes, a cider tops the list at a beer festival. But you have never tasted a hard cider like J.K.’s Scrumpy. With a USDA Organic certification, this cider is literally just juice and yeast. No sulfites, no additives for color or taste. And the result is an extremely juicy, sweet apple nectar. Bottle conditioned and fermented for almost a year, each bottle is an artisanal masterpiece.
©2012 Cristeta Boarini (text) and Cole Hansen (photos)
1265 Snelling Ave.