The year 2017 saw somewhat of a national coming out party for Minneapolis.
While in-the-know foodies, art hounds, and outdoors enthusiasts have flocked to the city in recent years, the inclusion of Minneapolis in annual travel lists put out by The New York Times and Wall Street Journal catapulted the City of Lakes into the national spotlight.
No longer a hidden gem in “flyover country,” Minneapolis remains a bit underrated as a craft beer destination compared to stalwarts like San Diego, Portland, Denver, and Boston. But with Super Bowl organizers estimating nearly a million visitors for the game and surrounding festivities, its buzz as a beer town may also be on its way to peaking.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a ticket to the game – or just crazy enough to want to experience the hoopla – you’ll find that you can’t throw a stone without hitting a local tap. The question is where to begin. With 48 breweries in Minneapolis and St. Paul city limits and dozens more in the surrounding areas, figuring out where to best spend your time and thirst is no easy task.
Drinking from the Source
For many outside the state, Minneapolis is synonymous with Surly Brewing. Thanks to a lineup of aggressively hopped beer, and its legendary Darkness Russian Imperial Stout, Surly has attracted legions of followers across the country even though its distribution has only recently taken it outside of Minnesota.
The destination brewery lives up to the brand’s renown in every way.
Opened in 2014, the 50,000-square-foot Surly Brewery houses a production area and a contemporary take on the classic German beer hall, with two levels of drinking and dining space wrapped in a modern-meets-industrial aesthetic.
Communal-style tables fill the open main level floor, but if you want to sit at one, you’ll likely be waiting as the beer hall is constantly swarming with people. The good news is, you can order beer while you wait – and you’ll want to, as the dining menu offers some fantastic pairing options, including several house smoked meats.
Step up to the massive bar and you’ll find 24 beers on tap, from staples like Furious and Cynic to taproom exclusives like the Hop Shifter series of experimental IPAs, and depending on the day you’re there, coveted rarities such as their anniversary beers.
If Darkness is on tap, this is where you must begin. As Russian Imperial Stouts go, Surly’s famous offering is in a class of its own with a complex profile containing notes of chocolate, coffee, raisin, and toffee, along with an unmistakable dose of aromatic hops.
Save some tolerance because Surly is just a short ride away from the Northeast neighborhood (or as you may hear locals call it, “Nordeast”), where a bevy of exceptional breweries await.
Begin at Indeed Brewing Company, the original inhabitant of the brewery-dotted Arts District. While Surly carries the hype, well-informed beer geeks know Indeed offers just as much material worthy of excitement.
Housed in an old brick warehouse building, Indeed features two cozy taprooms that each make for a perfect spot to sit and sip on a frigid winter night.
Ease your outing along with the light, tropical, and tart Lucy Session Sour. Or keep rolling dark and boozy with the sweet, roasty, and big-bodied Rum King Imperial Stout, a favorite for the coldest of Minnesota nights.
Just blocks away, you’ll find Bauhaus Brew Labs and its off-kilter brand of German-inspired brews. The spirit of gemütlichkeit (German for good cheer or comfort) is always present in a lively taproom that features arcade machines to play as you quaff a pint of Wonderstuff Pilsner.
While Bauhaus’ year-round selections are familiar styles, their seasonal releases offer more unconventional fare. The latest, Uber Duber, is a refreshing Imperial Sparkling Ale with tropical hops and a warm, malty finish.
If sours are your thing, you won’t want to miss Fair State Brewing Cooperative’s compact taproom on Central Avenue, the main artery of Northeast. While they make excellent beer across a range of styles, the funky stuff is where they really shine.
Their flagship, Roselle, is soured with a house lactobacillus strain and infused with hibiscus flowers, resulting in a punch-colored beer that’s equally tart, fruity, and floral.
Great things happen when they put these sours in a barrel, as evidenced by Time Debt, a bourbon- and rye-whiskey barrel-fermented dark sour, and U-Pick, a barrel-fermented sour made with over 900 pounds of fresh strawberries.
For some excellent beer that can only be enjoyed at the source, slide over to Dangerous Man Brewing. Their brewers have a knack for versatility, resulting in a lineup capable of pleasing craft dabblers and connoisseurs alike.
The Peanut Butter Porter has been celebrated by both kinds of drinkers ever since the taproom opened, but these days Dangerous Man is exciting patrons with its unique series of Milkshake IPAs. Their latest is a smooth and slightly tart Boysenberry edition. If you try it and like it, grab a crowler, as you won’t be able to get your hands on any once you step out the door.
St. Paul's New Toys
Checking out the hottest new brewery in the Twin Cities requires a short trip across the Mississippi River. Barrel Theory Brewing is bringing beer lovers to Lowertown St. Paul in droves thanks to a constantly refreshing menu that includes Northeast-style IPAs good enough to stand alongside some of those out east.
The brewery was started by a couple Surly expats, their experience shows in the calibration of their beer. The names of the beers rival the enjoyability of the beers themselves, as cultural homages abound with monikers like Shooter McGavin and Pullover Starter Jacket.
Is drinking an amusingly-named beer more fun? It is when it’s the incredibly crushable Rain Drops Northeast IPA with Mosaic and Citra hops, or its even better double dry-hopped twin. And while their IPAs receive the most hype, you’d be remiss to overlook the dark side, with fantastic selections like Mugatu Vanilla Stout and its just-the-right-amount-of-sweetness.
There are many breweries serving interesting, quality product all over town, but with limited time, you’ll be well-served starting your exploration there.
If meat is specialty 1A at Butcher and the Boar, bourbon is specialty 1B.”
Best Spots for Beer and a Meal
Perhaps the greatest driver of buzz over Minneapolis is the scorching restaurant scene. Take a look at James Beard Awards going back a few years and you’ll find a surprising amount of recognition for a mid-size metropolis. There’s no shortage of writing on the local culinary highlights, so for our purposes I’ll focus on places that make beer a centerpiece of the menu.
There are few more perfect bedfellows for beer than sausage. At Butcher and the Boar in Downtown Minneapolis, delectable encased meats are made in-house – and they’re just the first course of meat candy.
A well-curated lineup of thirty taps ensures there’s something perfect to pair with links like a pinto bean chorizo or wild boar, and the massive main portions, be it a Tabasco-molasses smoked beef long rib or a smoked Berkshire pork chop that might be the best you’ve ever tasted.
After drinking one of the current barrel-aged beers with your meal, dessert is the stuff that went into the barrel first: bourbon. If meat is specialty 1A at Butcher and the Boar, bourbon is specialty 1B. Their fantastic selection spans over 60 bottles, which would make your decision daunting if it weren’t for the ability to order flights.
Staying on the more upscale side of the culinary spectrum, The Happy Gnome in St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill is the kind of neighborhood spot that people drive across town to enjoy. Everything about the place is seemingly geared toward comfort, from its cozy interior to its gastropub fare. But beer clearly takes priority.
The lineup of 89 drafts changes so frequently they don’t even try to list them on their website. Nearly every style of beer is represented, with thoughtful selection of national, regional, and local breweries, and an effort to feature rare offerings on a regular basis.
Beer events are a constant here, from tap takeovers to an annual firkin fest. So, naturally, they’ve put together something special for the big game. Their week-long 1st Round Draft Picks event promises the best of Minnesota beer, with specialty, and rare offerings aplenty.
All that emphasis on beer could easily overshadow the food. But it doesn’t. As with the suds, the focus is on fresh and local, with a diverse menu that changes just about daily.
Order the crack fries with cheese dip for a hedonistic experience.”
Visitors from parts of the Midwest may recognize HopCat, a recent and welcome addition to Downtown. The small chain has the big beer bar concept nailed, with an 80-deep tap list that literally changes by the hour.
The range of beer is always diverse in style and origin, but there’s also a real emphasis on local, with a minimum of 30 Minnesota taps at all times.
The food at HopCat is over the plate for a beer bar, but the sandwiches I’ve tried have been pretty on-point. Order the crack fries, their claim to fame, and you'll see the name is apt. Order the crack fries with cheese dip for a hedonistic experience.
It should come as no surprise that a place called HopCat is throwing its own major beer event during Super Bowl week. And their partner-in-crime is none other than Surly. Surly Bowl Lll boasts a fitting 52-tap takeover – the largest variety of Surly beers ever assembled.
With only a few days in town, this may seem like a lot to hit. But regardless of how you slice and dice your stops, you’ll experience the best of the city’s top-flight beer scene.
And then you’ll be one of the people singing the praises of Minneapolis.