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Go Buy Some Surly on a Sunday

July 15, 2017

By Dan Wade, July 15, 2017

Blue laws vary wildly around America and cover things beyond just when and where alcohol can be purchased. Many states ban car dealerships from being open on Sundays, a few restrict when and if people can hunt on Sundays, and New Jersey even had a law banning the singing of bawdy songs on Sundays; social norms are changing, but at wildly different rates nationwide.

Minnesota has relatively few blue laws. Car dealerships must be closed for both sales and service, and no off-premise liquor may be sold on Sundays. Full stop. The former is a bit of a hassle since it’d be nice to be able to get an oil change on Sunday, but since oil changes are seldom imminently necessary, waiting until next weekend isn’t a big deal.

The latter, too, is hardly a fate worse than death, but the choice facing Minnesotans needing something stronger than tap water on a Sunday – Drive across the border to Wisconsin or go without – was more than just a casual inconvenience.  Plenty of people make a ritual out of their Sunday trips to Hudson, Superior, Danbury, or Dresser, but if you just need a bottle of wine for an unexpected dinner party, it’s hardly worth going an hour out of your way to cross the border, grab a reasonably priced merlot, and then head to wherever you were actually planning on going.

That’s why this July weekend represents not only freedom from the British for Minnesotans, but also freedom from the ban on Sunday alcohol sales. July 2nd marked the first Sunday Minnesotans could buy alcohol from a store since the state was admitted to the union in 1858. Put another way, there have been over 8000 Sundays since a Minnesotan picked up a six pack of beer on his or her way home from church, which is remarkable given how often the Minnesota Vikings drive their fans to drink.

So while there are plenty of beers ideal for drinking this long weekend, here are a few specific options for Minnesotans you can finally buy this Sunday in order to celebrate.

Summit's Extra Pale Ale is the gateway to a love of craft beer for many Minnesotans.”

Yoerg Steam Lager
One of the very first commercial breweries in the region, Yoerg was founded in 1848, a full decade before Minnesota was granted statehood. The brewery lasted a century, but ceased production in 1952 because of rising barley costs, which made their beers much more expensive than their rivals. In 2016, using the same recipe as before, Yoerg restarted production, and will be opening a taproom on St. Paul’s West Side later in 2017.

The Steam Lager is the brewery’s flagship offering, making it a strong option for Sunday consumption owing to its historical roots. It’s sweeter than many lagers, but not in an unpleasant way; it doesn’t cloy or feel syrupy, it’s simply a little maltier than even most craft lagers.

Grain Belt Premium
The Grain Belt brand is one of the most iconic in Minnesota, owing largely to the massive illuminated sign on the bank of the Mississippi river in downtown Minneapolis, but there’s more to this suggestion than just a visual vestige of the 1940s.

The Grain Belt Premium recipe has changed hands a few times, but currently resides with the August Schell Brewing Company, one of the oldest continuously run brewing companies in the US and one of an even smaller group that has been family owned for its entire history. Add in the fact that Schell’s is located in outstate Minnesota rather than the Twin Cities and Premium becomes an option that represents both Minnesota’s beer history and its present.

Summit EPA
Extra Pale Ales are one of the new hot styles, as they’re more accessible than IPAs, but still boast enough flavor to appeal to those who do want some complexity in their beer. That distinction – new hotness – might be a bit bemusing to the folks at Summit, who have been brewing EPA since 1986, even after the American Brewers Association advised them to quit before they even started. Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, Anchor Steam, and the like all rightfully get cited as some of the grandfathers of craft beer, but Summit is one of the OGs as well – and I don’t mean original gravity.

EPA is as ubiquitous in Minnesota bars as pull tabs and meat raffles, which may lead some to underrate it, but it’s one of the 25 best Pale Ales per BeerGraphs data, and people who don’t encounter is frequently tend to rate it more highly than Minnesotan do. EPA is the gateway to a love of craft beer for many Minnesotans, and a great beer in its own right, making it a solid Sunday sipper.

Michael Kiser / Good Beer HuntingPlenty of Surly to choose from, but if you can, get the Axe Man.

Surly Todd the Axe Man
This spot could have easily gone to another of Surly’s stellar IPAs – Furious – but there’s simply no way to talk about iconic Minnesota beers without having at least one of Surly’s offerings on the list. The brewery has done so much to advance Minnesotan beer by both reputation and legislation that it could close its doors tomorrow and remain a mammoth figure in the beer community.

Todd the Axe Man gets the nod here for a few reasons, not the least of which is an homage to the Axe Man himself, Todd Haug, the brewer who helped make Surly the powerhouse it is today. The beer was recently named on of the 50 best IPAs in the United States, and it’s a bit of a more traditional IPA than Furious is, since its sweetness comes from its more tropical hop profile rather than Furious’ surprisingly malty backbone.

Milk and Honey Heirloom Cider
While Loon Juice’s Honeycrisp cider has the benefit of being both named after the state bird and made from one of the many apples discovered/invented at the University of Minnesota, Milk and Honey’s annual Heirloom release is too good an example of the booming cider culture in Minnesota to pass up. This cider features the actual flavor of apples rather than settling for the one-note sweetness that is all too common in many American ciders.

It makes sense that Minnesota would produce excellent ciders, given the aforementioned U of M’s hand in bringing so many new apples to market and the wet climate conducive to growing them, but the rapid growth of the industry and the brewers’ willingness to experiment with hops, other fruits, and varietal mixes has been a pleasant surprise. Yes, a cider may be a bit of a cop-out on a beer list, but there aren’t many other states that could make a viable claim to cider being an integral part of their craft brewing culture, so it makes the list this time.

It’ll be hard to go wrong on Sunday as long as you’re drinking local. The future is bright for Minnesota beers with the likes of Insight Brewing Co., Modist Brewing Co., and Fulton Brewing pushing out creative offerings on top of their strong basic lines, but it’s hard to imagine them existing without the groundwork laid by Summit, Surly, Schell’s, and numerous other local trailblazers.

So this Sunday, walk proudly into your local liquor store, grab whatever sounds good, and raise a glass to the generations of Minnesotans who couldn’t do what you have just done. Just don’t plan on getting your oil changed afterwards. 

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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