If you ask 20 people about their favorite part of the Minnesota State Fair, there could easily be 20 different responses.
Each would, in some way, be a reflection of the state and its people. Butter busts, pepperoni chips, John Stamos, portraits of Prince made from corn kernels—all, for better or worse, tell a story about life in The Bold North™.
The same can be said for State Fair-exclusive beers, an annual draw for many who spend time stumbling down Dan Patch Ave. Breweries from around the state have been concocting unique takes on the nation’s favorite liquid for this year's rookie class, but unless you do something ill-advised, you can’t try all 25. To help figure out which should make your shortlist, I’ve created an infallible, proprietary system for determining how Minnesotan a beer is.
Each was awarded points based on its bona fides in essential Minnesotan categories like sports references, local ingredients, incorporation of State Fair foods, pandering to the crowd, and ability to stretch the bounds of logic for its inclusion in this list.
Of course, in any survey there’s a margin of error. This survey’s margin of error is equivalent to the number of combined championships won by the Vikings, Timberwolves, and Wild.
Just Not That Minnesotan
25—22 . Brewzo Lager (Lake Monster Brewing) / Spumoni Tsunami (Bad Weather Brewing) /Gaelic Dark & Stormy (Surly Brewing) / Orange Cream Ale (Castle Danger Brewing)
This tier is for beers that, outside of having been brewed in Minnesota, don’t rank well in this highly scientific system. Greek Ouzo, an anise-flavored aperitif, inspired Brewzo. Spumoni is inspired by Italian ice cream. And the Dark & Stormy has ginger in it, so Minnesotans might find it a tad on the spicy side.
21. Key Lime Pie (Lift Bridge Brewing)
No points for key limes, but there would be points if it was served with a garnish of marshmallows and called “salad.”
20 and 19. It Takes 2 to Tango and 3 to Mango (Starkeller Brewing/Schell’s) / Margarita-Style Kettle Sour (612Brew)
Those are two delicious-sounding sour beers, but they’re just not very Minnesotan. The names evoke something you’d order at the Mall of America Margaritaville while wearing Vikings-colored Zubaz. They did get me to say Mall of America, though. So, points.
Minnesotan By Way of the Midwest
18. Shandlot Pink Lemonade Shandy (Bauhaus Brew Labs)
This tier is dedicated to beers that aren’t Minnesotan but have some Midwestern credentials. The shandy popularity boom started in western Wisconsin, but that’s about as close as the Shandlot is getting to precious (arbitrary) points.
17. St. Pat’s Green Ale (Finnegans Brew Co.)
Green beer is a St. Patrick’s Day staple, so points for Midwestern-ness if only because Chicagoans love to dye shit green. Otherwise, green just reminds Minnesotans of the Packers, and that’s… [checks notes] bad.
Admittedly, It’s a Reach
16. Sociable Mimosa or Bellini (Sociable Cider Werks)
A mimosa made with Sociable’s Freewheeler cider doesn’t sound very Minnesotan, but there are hidden depths here. Alfred Hitchcock is credited with popularizing the mimosa as a brunch drink. One of the great Hitchcock actors was New Ulm’s Tippi Hedren. It’s not tater tot hot dish, but look at the section heading.
15. Passion Fruit Pils (Bent Paddle Brewing)
The description promises a “tropical experience.” It’s clearly not emblematic of a state that wants to rebrand as Winterfell Lite. However, points for two things. 1. The Venture Pils—the base for this beer—has a canoe paddle and a picture of the state on its can. 2. It’s not exactly purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, but it’s brewed with water from the Great Lakes.
14. LimeLight (The Freehouse)
Agave, lime, and salt? That sounds damn refreshing. Like the kind of beer Dad would drink while grilling walleye and telling you about how he met the Gear Daddies one time. So light you might have mistaken it for Tim Pawlenty’s platform.
13. Frontier Summer IPA (Fulton Brewing)
With most IPAs clamoring to be demarcated by coastal preference, Frontier Summer actually sounds like a Midwest IPA. The style defines itself by being the liquid embodiment of Minnesota nice: unassuming and a little bitter.
State Fair-Themed Points
12. Cake’d Up Celebration Beer (Mankato Brewery)
Cake? That’s not uniquely Minnesotan! Except this is a deep-fried cake-flavored beer. Minnesota didn’t invent deep-fried sweets. We’re not the only place that does it. But damn, do we love some deep-fried carbs. Tossing it in a beer just makes good on Pop’s assertion that “It’s all going to the same place anyhow.”
11. Caramel Corn Cream Ale (Finnegans Brew Co.)
It’s not quite as Minnesotan as last year’s Sweet Corn Ale from Lakes & Legends, but a beer brewed with tons of corn and given a sweet State Fair twist means you can smell the grandstand in your branded Solo cup.
10. Funnel Cake Cream Ale (Lakefront Brewery)
It gets a pass for coming from a Wisconsin brewery because, this side of spilling cheese curds in a Bud Light and using the Giant Slide as a beer flume, no beer screams State Fair this hard.
9. Raspberry Champow (Bent Brewstillery)
This team-up of white ale, red raspberries, and champagne-varietal grapes was brewed in collaboration with State Fair Gold Medal-winning homebrewer Mike Spores. It’s bringing the State Fair’s homebrew competition to life. We finally hit a level of Minnesotan-ness where Atmosphere’s “Pour Me Another” automatically plays every time you order a beer.
Ope, That’s Getting Pretty Minnesotan There Then
8 & 7. Horse Apple Ale (Excelsior Brewing Company) / Slipstream Black Currant Apple (Sociable Cider Werks)
The Northeast may be more closely associated with orchards and cider, but there’s nothing more Minnesotan than privately feeling you’ve been taken for granted. We birthed the Honeycrisp! Minnesota has excellent apples, naysayer. If you don’t believe that, you probably think Olympic hero T.J. Oshie is from Washington state. (Bonus points for eliciting a Warroad reference.)
6. St. Apple Malted Cider (Lakes & Legends Brewing)
See the above argument for ciders, then add spices from Minneapple Pie.
So Minnesotan It Calls Walter Mondale “Daddy”
5. Kirby Pucker #34 (East Lake Craft Brewery)
Points for pandering and a Minnesota sports reference, despite all the, uh… you know…
4. Juicy LuLuLucy (Surly Brewing)
This is not, in fact, a cheeseburger-flavored beer. It’s a hazy New England-style IPA. But lots of points for a pandering pun. Prince is the only thing Minnesotans talk about with more pride than the Lucy.
3. The Kloser IPA (Surly Brewing)
Big points for a #OneOfUs sports nod. Surly collaborated with former Twins pitcher Glen Perkins using one of the Minnesota native’s homebrew recipes. Craig Finn could write a song about this beer.
2. Helles Ya, You Betcha (Summit Brewing)
So many points to hand out here, it’s hard to know where to start. Points for a solid pun. Points for pandering. Points for letting Minnesotans pick the name. Double points for Minnesota-speak. Triple points for being a phrase you’re going to hear in the Grandstand during The B-52s. “You havin’ a good time?” “Helles ya, you betcha.”
1. Uffda Ale (Beaver Island Brewing Co.)
It’s tempting to swap No. 1 and No. 2 since Helles Ya is an objectively wonderful name. However, the infallible system doesn’t lie. This ale has all kinds of local connections with locally malted grains and actual lefse in the beer. Then it’s garnished with lingonberries and a crispy lefse chip. If you put this in a can, the whoosh of air when you crack it open would sound like “Uffda,” and then you’d hear “Here Comes a Regular” playing in the distance.