The Twin Cities have always had a strong art and food scene, so it’s no surprise to see Minneapolis-St. Paul making up for lost time beer-wise, as statewide alcohol rules are slowly relaxed and craft beer booms. Taprooms just became legal in 2011 and in the time since, the number of breweries in Minnesota has grown to over 30 within the core cities and inner-ring suburbs. It started in the center and has been growing outward, hitting small towns and large, with enough stops to warrant a full vacation instead of mere day trips. Recommended out of state stops that don’t make the list include Bent Paddle, Schell’s, Lift Bridge, and HammerHeart.
While pretty much all styles of beers are represented, from barrel-aged to sours, Belgians, real cask ale, gluten-free, and a growing cider scene, Twin Cities beers showcase an affinity for classic American craft styles, done clean, and with a love of the IPA—the more bitter, the better. Minnesota IPAs pull influence from West Coast and Pacific Northwest varieties but often integrate a little more malt backbone. There are also some fine stouts, pilsners, saisons, and more to be found.
It’s been a steady growth and, in fact, the current count along the cities’ two convenient train lines comes to 10, with many more stops scattered throughout the metro area. For brevity’s sake, we tried to pare the brewery list down to the best of the best.
Surly Brewing (Minneapolis): Surly is the loudest of the Minnesota breweries. And that’s a good thing, as they’ve raised awareness of craft brew since their 2005 founding, and helped to update some of the many outdated laws that restrict the industry. In December 2014 they opened their monument to craft beer, a $35 million “destination brewery” just off the Minneapolis-St. Paul border with two restaurants and lots of expensive brewing toys. They’re following the new brewery with a push into new markets.
Try: Surly Furious is their flagship IPA, and it’s the most popular Surly produces. Darkness imperial stout is an annual favorite and Todd the Axeman is a citrus-fueled West Coast IPA.
Summit Brewing (St. Paul): Established in 1986, Summit are the old timers in the room in this booming scene. The brewery is ranked the 28th largest craft brewery in the country and they’ve done so mostly by distributing through the Minnesota market for the past 29 years. Summit has developed the Twin Cities’ taste for hoppy beers with a distinct malt balance at their core.
Try: Extra Pale Ale has defined Minnesota’s palate. Their oatmeal stout is also fantastic.
Steel Toe (St. Louis Park): While Surly is the loud one, Steel Toe keep to themselves just 15 minutes from downtown Minneapolis in suburban St. Louis Park. With a Pacific Northwest influence (owner Jason Schoneman previously worked at Pelican Pub Brewery in Oregon), the beers are nuanced and well balanced, yet easily approachable and accordingly priced. The taproom is a basic industrial lot with a nice patio during the warmer months.
Try: Size 7 IPA is a Pacific Northwest meets Minnesota IPA with a floral impression followed by a biscuit finish.
Indeed Brewing (Minneapolis): Between Indeed and Dangerous Man (below), Northeast Minneapolis is the hub of the new wave of breweries. Style-wise, Indeed leads the pack with an adventurous and well defined flavor profile that matches their neighborhood vibe. The beers are either hopped up or infused with modern ingredients ranging from honey to lavender and more. They recently added a series of wild yeast beers.
Try: Midnight Ryder black IPA. It’s crazy hopped up, like their flagship APA Day Tripper, but with a roasty heart that’s still soft enough for year round consumption.
Dangerous Man (Minneapolis): Sometimes the best business plan is the one where they come to you. Dangerous Man is onsite only, eschewing liquor stores and bars to sell small batches of whatever they want to make. Founder Rob Miller has an impressive recipe book that gets experimental (peanut butter porter), classic (hefeweizen), and modern (DIPA), and of course there’s the ever popular Chocolate Milk Stout.
Try: Chocolate Milk Stout is their flagship that’s not a flagship. The chocolate shake-type flavors in this milk stout won a fan base on day one, complicating Miller’s plans for ever-rotating taps.
Fulton (Minneapolis): Fulton is a little brewery that could. After starting with a three-gallon homebrew kit, they’ve moved into digs just a block away from the Twins’ Target Field, and also opened a massive second production site. The taproom remains in the North Loop, just by the baseball field, and it offers a range of accessible and clean classic styles like blonde ale, IPA, pale ale, and more.
Try: In the winter, try Worthy Adversary imperial stout. In the summer, either saison, Ex Pat or Randonneur is worthy of attention.
In Minnesota a brewpub is a restaurant that brews its own beer and cannot, by law, distribute that beer elsewhere. That means to get this beer, you’ll have to visit the brewhouse.
Town Hall Brewery (Minneapolis): Established in 1997 and keeping Mike Hoops as brewmaster since 2000, Town Hall has a rotation of excellent beers that cross all ranges of styles. From the single-hopped Citra to their toasty Hope & King Scotch Ale and their annual barrel-aged week, the brewpub has a wealth of beer offerings and many GABF awards to prove it.
Barley John’s (New Brighton): This small brewpub a few miles north of downtown Minneapolis has been doing it all in a cramped space for 15 years. Like Town Hall, they feature award winning beers such as their annual Baltic porter Dark Knight.
Northbound Smokehouse (Minneapolis): A relative newbie founded by a former Town Hall employee, Northbound Smokehouse adds the element of smoke to many beers. It’s a neighborhood atmosphere with a lovely hop garden patio that’s tucked away into a residential pocket of south Minneapolis.
Often, a strong scene of tastemaker beer bars leads to an increase in local craft brewers. In Minnesota, it almost feels the opposite. While the bars listed here outdate the craft beer boom, the scene is growing and it’s easier than ever to find a stop with 20+ taps from local, national, and international makers.
The Happy Gnome (St. Paul): A leader of the pack, with great food and taps spread not just across the local scene, but some of the best beers from the world. They feature a regularly updated draft list sorted on the menu by flavor profiles, and also a top selection of whiskeys and scotch.
Republic-7 Corners (Minneapolis): Near the University of Minnesota and the soon to be new Vikings stadium, this restaurant was already a serious player in the game before last year’s upgrade that now sees a whopping 104 taps. Located across the street from Town Hall, it’s an easy intersection to get lost in.
Looking for a helpful staff that serves a taste of the Twin Cities that you can bring home? Look no further.
South Lyndale Liquors (Minneapolis): This is a massive store with ample beer, spirits, and wine on hand and a staff that knows the story behind them. It’s large enough to have a “big” feel, but still family owned and a member of the community. Dogs are welcome, for those who care about that kind of thing.
The Beer Dabbler (St. Paul): Not a bottle shop, but The Beer Dabbler (who also publishes local craft beer mag The Growler) is a one stop shop of craft beer merchandise. While the majority of the gear is Minnesota-themed, there is also merchandise from other breweries like Alaskan, Odell, and such. It’s a place to buy cribbage boards, original art, t-shirts, pint glasses, and a whole lot more.