The 10 best beer experiences around the Twin Cities

As suds lovers converge for Saturday's Bockfest in New Ulm, we sample the greatest beer experiences in and around the metro area.

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Blue Max liquor store in Burnsville stocks 1,100 beers from around the world, including some really exotic stuff. A few varieties of the Russian import Baltika are shown.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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There's nothing funny or cute about it. There are no fake Homer Simpson purrs ("mmmmm!") when the lips hit the foam. And there are no frat-boy high-fives walking out of the liquor store.

For a lot of people, especially Minnesota people, beer is a hobby and a passion. Maybe even a lifestyle. That doesn't mean they're lushes/drunks/bozos. Most beer connoisseurs know how to handle their alcohol intake better than Larry King handles fluff interviews.

Truth is, you'd be hard-pressed to stereotype the average beer lover.

"I've always said that going to one of our events is like going to a Grateful Dead concert," said David Berg, president of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. "You see all kinds of people, old, young and in between. And they're often people you never think you'd see at one of these things."

Beer lovers can sometimes be as dedicated, detail-oriented and outright nerdy as wine enthusiasts. That fact was hit home two weeks ago at a "Beer 101 Dinner" at the Happy Gnome in St. Paul, where things such as yeast strains and IBUs (International Bitter Units) were discussed.

"I think beers are just as complex and beautiful as wines," said Adrian Ellsworth, 28, of St. Paul, who took his dad to the beer dinner for his birthday. "Sampling beer can be a lot of fun."

There you go: fun. If there's one thing beer lovers do have in common -- and one trait that maybe separates them from those wine snobs -- it's that they like to go out and have a good time.

1 BOCKFEST AT SCHELL'S BREWERY

It doesn't get much more Minnesotan than this. Held every winter in German Lenten tradition -- and in absolute defiance of the weather -- this daylong outdoor bash takes place at the brewery in the hills overlooking New Ulm. There are brats on the grill, an oom-pah band on stage and all the Schell's brands on tap. It's almost like a summer cookout, except for the fact that your fingers might break off. Part of the mystique is the brewery itself, opened in 1860. Schell's is the second-oldest family-owned beermaker in the United States. With a dedicated consumer base like this, it's no wonder it's still around.

When: Saturday. Web: www.schellsbrewery.com

2 CITY PAGES BEERFEST

Imagine a Home & Patio Show or those Byerly's free-sample days where all the hand-outs are beer. Mostly good beer, too. When you pay your $25 and walk into Beerfest -- held outside Calhoun Square in Uptown -- you're handed a small plastic cup that becomes your holy grail. Your crusade, in this case, is the 100 or so different beers to try. When: Next one is June 3.

3 SUMMIT BREWERY TOUR

For history or brewing lessons, there are better brewery tours. What's neat about Summit's excursions is they're run by volunteers (i.e., beer lovers) and aren't quite so serious. That, and you get three beer samples at the end instead of the usual two. Go online or call 651-265-7800 for more info. When: 1 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Web: www.summitbrewing.com

4 BUILD YOUR OWN SIX-PACK AT BLUE MAX

A rather nondescript strip-mall store in Burnsville hides the best-stocked beer coolers in town, with about 1,100 brands. To beer connoisseurs, though, that kind of selection can be downright cruel. If you can't decide between a hardcore Belgian beer, an exotic Middle Eastern brand or a new Colorado microbrew, you can get one of each for about $2 a bottle. (14640 10th Av. S., off Hwy 42.)

5 OKTOBERFEST AT GERMAN RESTAURANTS

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  • Jim Sebring assembles a couple six packs for a customer from the make-your-own-six-pack shelf at Blue Max.

  • Schell's Bockfest

    When: 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sat.

    Where: August Schell Brewery, 1860 Schell Rd., New Ulm.

    Info: 800-770-5020 or www.schell brewery.com.

    Bus ride: The Happy Gnome offers rides from St. Paul for $40 (breakfast included). Call 651-287-2018.

    TWIN CITIES FOOD & WINE EXPERIENCE

    When: 4-9 p.m. today, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sat, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.

    Where: Minneapolis Convention Center, 1301 2nd Av. S.

    Tickets: $60. 612-371-5857 or www.food wineshow.com.

    Do they have beer? Yes! The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild has a booth, and there's a European beer seminar (2:30 p.m. Sun., $20).

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