Top Beers of 2009

[***I wrote this in January 2010 for my workplace  – Fast Horse ***]

There’s no better time than the holidays to sit back and have a good beer. Except perhaps during hot summer evenings, football games in the fall, spring afternoons when it’s 51 degrees (but feels like 85), at the end of any bicycle ride, and every Friday and Saturday evening throughout the year. In any case, there’s no time like the present to look back at some memorable local beers and to look forward to a malty, hoppy, fully fermented 2010.

It’s no small task to select my top five Minnesota beers. The Minnesota beer scene has exploded in foamy, beautiful mess the past couple years. A number of upstart breweries are pushing the envelope of extreme beer, while others are carving out a traditional niche. In no particular order, the following beers are five of my favorites. Some were new in 2009, some have been around the block.

1. Surly Smoke (Brooklyn Center, MN) It’s hard to know where to start with Surly. They’ve shredded our taste buds with Furious, blackened our teeth with Darkness, hurt our brains with Cynic, and we liked it. I enjoyed the Thanksgiving-time seasonal, Smoke. It’s a Baltic Porter that uses smoked malt and is fermented with lager yeast. It’s then aged in oak barrels for a few months. It’s like drinking coffee that you roasted in the campfire and then dropped in some bitter chocolate.

2.August Schell MaiFest(New Ulm, MN)Schell’s can always find a reason to celebrate. They will release a special anniversary beer, a Hopfenmalz, in honor of their 150th anniversary in 2010. They hold Bockfest— an annual frigid, early February festival in New Ulm, and they produce a winter seasonal (Snowstorm), an Oktoberfest, and others. My favorite this year was the Maifest Maibock. It’s a big (7.2% abv) blonde and hoppy doppelbock that grabs you by the horns. It’s a deep-gold color with a bready malt presence, but the hops take control and don’t let go. Spring can’t come soon enough.

3. Fulton Sweet Child of Vine (Minneapolis, MN) Hailing from the Fulton neighborhood of southwest Minneapolis, Fulton Beer was new to the scene in 2009. They’ve released one beer, an IPA with something to say. Sweet Child of Vine is packs the aroma and bite of Simcoe and Glacier hops in an attractive package. It’s copper colored with a solid malt foundation, but it’s really about the hops. They dry-hop with more Glacier hops to lend a bold hop clarity. Fulton has more beers on the way in 2010. I’m looking forward to the Libertine: a complex red ale that leverages an impressive lineup of British malts, including Maris Otter and malted rye.

4. Brau Brothers Pilz(Lucan, Minnesota) I know that extreme times call for extreme beers, but there’s something great about a beer that shows restraint and gives a nod to tradition. The Brau Brothers deliver a measured pilsner—Pilz— that gives your brain a chance to recall the Czech brewing traditions but works equally well when you’re mowing the lawn. Brau brought in yeast from Bohemia to make a pilsner that’s clean and bright. When I finally make the trip to dusty Lucan, the first one I’m having is the Pilz.

5. Flat Earth Belgian Style Pale Ale (St. Paul, MN) When the bottle label has a picture of a German Shepard chomping on a waffle, you know you’re in for a treat. This beer pours with a nice tall head and delivers a set of spicy Belgian flavors. It brings a slightly sweet toffee malt and minimal hops. It’s refreshing way to mix up your beer styles. The Belgian flavors of pepper, cloves, banana, etc., aren’t for everyone, but they give your tongue something to think about.

6. Worth Brewing Company –  Oatmeal Stout. (Northwood, IA) You didn’t think that I’d actually stop at five, did you? Worth Brewing Company is located just over the border in Northwood, Iowa, but it’s earned a place on my list. The oatmeal stout is ultra-creamy with a pleasant malt presence. It not a “burnt toast” stout; it’s a restrained roast that hits you where you like it. Glacier hops balance out the sweetness to make a very enjoyable beer. The Worth taproom is a solid destination. The brewhouse is a historic former bank building with a long history and impressive woodwork, but the atmosphere is laid-back and fun. You can watch the Twins in the summer and get a pizza delivered to the brewery.

There are so many beers and breweries I left out. Town Hall brewery and the Herkimer always have something good on tap. Consider this list a start. 2010 looks to be a big year on the Minnesota beer scene. There are new breweries opening up: Lucid, 612 Brew, and others. I’ll be brewing up some beers that currently exist only in dreams. I’m getting thirsty already.

Cheers to you from Fast Horse! May your 2010 be happy, healthy, and soaked with local beer.


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