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The Best Midwestern Beers I Had This Winter

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That’s right, it’s MNW talking about craft beer. Feel free to click on to something else. Maybe there’s basketball coverage later.

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I had a busy day, and somehow beer nosed its way into almost everything. (I’m drinking an Utepils Glocal Belgian IPA as I write this, in case you’re curious.)

Maybe it was swinging through Hastings, where Spiral Brewery has put out a delightful IPA, Downward Spiral, that I tried for the first time last weekend. As someone who grew up not far from Hastings, worked at a local financial institution for a few years, and saw that town grow, hit its capacity, and contract again, it’s nice to try a local beer with a very central location to the town’s history.

Maybe it was heading to a happy hour with an old teacher at the CC Club in Uptown Minneapolis, where we pounded a few Grain Belts and wondered if Paul Westerberg had done coke off the counters in the bathrooms—that looked like they hadn’t been cleaned since the 1980s.

Maybe it was a friend’s birthday party at Blackstack Brewing in Saint Paul, on the tracks where Midway neighborhood meets South St. Anthony, and I had a heavenly Berliner Weisse that had so many different fruits in the title that I’m almost concerned they were hiding the fact that rat parts were, in fact, what actually gave it its flavor. (It wasn’t, I don’t think, and the beer was excellent, as was the wife’s Farmhouse IPA.)

This, along with my attendance (allegedly—it’s pretty fuzzy) for the fourth consecutive year at the Twin Cities Winter Beer Dabbler in February, had me thinking about the great breweries I’ve visited and the interesting beers I’ve tried over the seemingly interminable winter. I’ve had work trips to Milwaukee, Madison, and River Falls; Fargo, Grand Forks, and Bismarck; Ames, Des Moines, and Iowa City; to say nothing of the great state of Minnesota, and surely there’s been some things that stand out.

Iowa

  • Double Blackberry Berliner Weisse (Big Grove Brewing Co., ): I mean...basically what it sounds like. I had this with Stew in Iowa City, along with a...red IPA? maybe?...that I don’t remember. But this one...man, you don’t forget that fruity flavor. Yum. And a gorgeous taproom on the east bank of the river, just south of downtown Iowa City. Company sucked, though.
  • Saison Des Mwines (Confluence Brewing Co., Des Moines): I am including this one because if someone can explain my tasting note, I’d like you to follow me around and be my beer shrink (you gotta buy your own): “Tart gives way to...almost a Bath & Body lotion made into a beer? A lot going on here. Tart out front, fades to spicy oak/vanilla(?) flavor.”
    I have no idea what that means.
  • Passe Pale Ale (515 Brewing Co., Des Moines): Located a little ways outside downtown, but definitely worth the trip for the cozy brewery feel and great explanations the staff gave me on Passe, which they described as one of those “gateway” pale ales.
  • Sodbuster Stout (Olde Main Brewing, Ames): A pretty standard stout, but a nice warmer with bit of that coffee-ish feel. Feel free to shame me for being in Ames and not shouting out nearby Alluvial or Torrent, but I always seem to be there on Mondays, not later in the week when they’re open. Oops. Plus the Monday night bartender at Olde Main is pretty great.

Minnesota

  • UPick: 2018 (Fair State Brewing Co., Minneapolis): Am I biased because I am an owner at this cooperative brewery? Yes. Moving on. (This beer is still fantastic, as are all Fair State’s sours. Holy shit I love that place.)
  • Bowsaw (Fair State): OK shut up, I’m a shill and I don’t care. This was a kvass, a beer that I’ve never had before. It’s a Slavic beer made from rye bread, apparently, and this stuff...smoky, sour, low ABV so I could drink a bunch... One of my favorites.
  • Wine Barrel Dayton (Dual Citizen Brewing Co., St. Paul): Saisons and farmhouse ales have really grown on me in the last year, and this one was an example of why, I think. Brewers have incorporated really creative twists on saisons, like the Dual Citizen wine barrel saison—it tasted like a glass of wine, but with the spiciness of a farmhouse. Rich and flavorful. Really cool brewery, too, right off the Raymond stop on the Green Line, with some Minnesota United FC touches ahead of the opening of Allianz Field.
  • Cygnus X-1 and related porters (Flat Earth Brewery, St. Paul): I don’t actually want you to go try Flat Earth—about to be St. Paul Brewing Co.—because it’s the best-kept secret on the East Side. For over a month over the winter they infuse it with a different flavor each week and sell growlers of it. Seriously, don’t go. The beer is too good, and you don’t deserve it.
  • Sheepshead Ale (Brau Bros., Marshall, MN): I stop in Marshall every time I drive to Brookings or Sioux Falls—more than you’d think—because damn, is Brau Bros. good. Sheepshead is a solid, drinkable IPA with some rye in there, I think, that makes it a little darker but well-balanced.

North Dakota

  • Mystery Fruit Gose (Half Brothers Brewing Co., Grand Forks): My Untappd note to myself was “Burns the damn tastebuds off my tongue.” That is, indeed, my kind of sour beer. Brewery’s on the main drag of bars in Grand Forks (parallel to the Red River), same street as Rhombus Guys Brewing.
  • Bend the Railz Scottish Ale (Edwinton Brewing Co., Bismarck): Just a solid Scotch ale, and not one that made me feel like I’d just eaten a loaf of bread. Good raisin and caramel flavors, and the brewery—in an old train station just south of the North Dakota State Capitol—was sure cool, too.
  • Haze Craze Session IPA (Fargo Brewing Co.): I’m not a huge session guy...but this one is an FBC season that’s worth it. Juicy, crisp, and pairs well with trying to stay sober while playing Wednesday night trivia solo (I took third, thank you).

wisconsin

  • Honees Honees Golden Ale (Oliphant Brewing, Somerset): A peanut butter-and-honey golden ale, this is a winner for both me and the wife when we head to her family’s cabin. The brewery itself is off the main drag of downtown, tucked behind a liquor store but with a cool taproom that’s open-air in the summer and shows movies and video games on an old projector in the back. And the beer has mellow from what I remember—not as overpoweringly sweet, and more balanced peanut, sweetness, and gentle hops.
  • Cleary’s Dry Irish Stout (Swinging Bridge Brewing, River Falls): The western half of that shit state is truly better, by virtue of being almost-Minnesota. Anyways, Swinging Bridge is a cool, intimate brewery, and they play the hits well—this is a roasty, smoky stout that isn’t too filling.
  • I was drinking some 10% beer at Black Husky in Milwaukee and don’t remember what it was—go there for the beer, stay there for the adorable doggos the owners, bartenders, and patrons bring in. 13/10.
  • Midnite Sun Cream Ale (Viking Brewpub, Stoughton): The brewery has a goddamn Viking ship in it. And the cream ale’s easy-drinking and still packs a punch. Stoughton’s a fun little Norske town.
  • Platinum Barnacle Oyster Gose (Company Brewing Co., Milwaukee): It is a gose. With oyster. It is amazing, and you are wrong, do not ‘at’ me.

Poll

Would you drink an oyster gose?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    Yes—as always, MNW, your grace and judgment are beyond compare
    (30 votes)
  • 49%
    No, but I generally hate fun and probably dislike the coaching style of Bill Carmody, too
    (29 votes)
59 votes total Vote Now

BONUS! Greater Carbondale, IL

  • Smokin’ Hot Blonde (Route 51 Brewing, Elkville): Just check out this brewery. This one’s a jalapeno ale, which is oddly refreshing and no doubt would have its smoky flavor pair really well with their barbecue. But just visit the space, too.
  • Belgian Saison (Molly’s Pint Brewpub, Murphysboro): I’m bringing this up for two reasons. First, because I was really impressed at the beer scene in Southern Illinois. It’s spread out, sure, but Molly’s in particular was awesome and community-oriented. SECOND! MORE IMPORTANTLY! They recommend serving this beer with a PICKLE in it. A fucking PICKLE! Claimed it was some kind of Flemish tradition. Thankfully they didn’t shame me for passing on a gross pickle ruining their amazing saison.

Poll

Would you put a pickle in a saison?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Yes!
    (11 votes)
  • 30%
    Fuck no.
    (23 votes)
  • 54%
    is this a sex question
    (41 votes)
75 votes total Vote Now

Anyway, here’s your beer thread/open thread for the day until someone actually decides to publish something of merit on spring football or the NCAA Tournament or something the rest of you actually care about. Tell us what you’ve enjoyed lately. Anything from Busch Light to Kentucky Breakfast Stout is acceptable, as long as it’s not Old Style.