Not so long ago, Minnesota was a backwater in terms of sought-after craft beers from outside the state. The high cost and messy bureaucracy of registering new brands, coupled with a perceived lack of market, often drove breweries to leap-frog Minnesota in favor of Wisconsin. The only option for beer-thirsty Minnesotans was to cross the St. Croix in search of these prized labels.
That is beginning to change. The recent realization that beer can be sold in the Land of Lakes has led a number of well-known regional and national craft brewers to introduce their year-round and specialty beers in Minnesota, many in just the last few months.
Oregon's Deschutes Brewery debuted here in April, choosing Minnesota before Wisconsin. From humble beginnings as a brewpub in the small town of Bend, it has become a national brand with distribution in 17 states. Two of their year-round beers are worth checking out. Mirror Pond is a balanced English-style pale ale with crisp bitterness and mild caramel malt. Black Butte Porter, long one of my favorite dark beers, has rich chocolate and oat flavors in a full-bodied beer that isn't overwhelming.
Odell Brewing Company was the second microbrewery to open in Colorado, now a destination state for beer lovers. They launched here in May with a week of events throughout the Twin Cities.
Their flagship 90-Shilling Ale is a smooth, malt-forward Scottish ale with rich caramel character and restrained bitterness. For something more adventurous, try Saboteur, a big, barrel-aged beast featuring copious chocolate and dried fruit flavors, with a leathery background of wild-yeast funkiness.
From east of the Mississippi
From Cleveland comes Great Lakes Brewing Company. When Great Lakes opened in 1988, it was the first microbrewery in Ohio. They stormed our state the same week as Odell, creating a dream week for local beer fans.
One of Great Lakes' best is Dortmunder Gold, an unassuming golden lager that displays a beautiful balance between sweet, grainy malt and spicy German hops. Hops lovers can try Commodore Perry India Pale Ale, a medium-bodied, well-hopped IPA with a dry, fruity finish.
Weyerbacher Brewing Co. from Easton, Penn., is one of the most recent new entries. Weyerbacher's founding mission was to produce easy-drinking, mainstream craft brews. The early popularity of their bigger, more complex beers led them instead to specialize in "full-flavored brews for discerning customers."
I recommend Merry Monks Tripel, a bone-dry and bitter Belgian-style ale with balancing sweet malt and loads of juicy fruitiness. It's less refined than some Belgian examples, but tasty nonetheless. Double Simcoe IPA screams citrus and pine from ample additions of Simcoe hops. It's a tad too bitter for me, but hopheads will love it.
From across the pond
Beers from England's Thornbridge Brewery have long been available here in cask versions. But this meant very limited availability in select metro bars. In June two of these fine beers arrived in bottles. The better of them is St. Petersburg, a velvety Imperial Stout displaying an inviting mix of chocolate, coffee, licorice and dried fruit.
Halcyon is a wet-hopped English IPA. The use of fresh hops instead of dried gives this beer a succulent fruity nose full of orange marmalade and passion fruit. Great while it's in your mouth, the beer is slightly marred by a long-lingering, grassy aftertaste.
These are just a few of the new beers available to Minnesotans. As the market grows, we can look forward to many more.
Michael Agnew is a certified cicerone (beer-world version of sommelier) and owner of A Perfect Pint. He conducts private and corporate beer tasting events in the Twin Cities, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.