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Doin’ Beers: 5 Minnesota Beers to Drink in June

I want you for the American Adjunct Lager War.

Nissa Mitchell

Last July, fresh off of my first Doin’ Beers column, I attempted to do something special: I attempted to pick five Minnesota beers that were quintessentially American. You know, Fourth of July beers, beers that one might drink on, say, July 4th. Naturally, the resulting column was published on… July 5th.

This year, I decided I’d get it published in June to prevent such a faux pas. And, because every sequel has to amp things up for fear of losing the audience to more original and worthwhile ideas, I decided I’d take a cue from our Founding Fathers. I decided I’d start a war—a war to crown the best American adjunct lager our great state has to offer. And, I’d do it in those trendy Teku glasses you’re seeing more of these days.

I know what you’re thinking. “Who the hell does she think she is, walking around ranking beers?” “Why can’t we all just get along?” and “What the fuck is an American adjunct lager?” To these questions I say:

  1. I’m the beer columnist for a website that wrote about license plates that say “PEE"—I do what I want;
  2. People who disagree with me cannot be allowed to remain oblivious of how wrong they are, and are cordially invited to die mad about it if they desire; and
  3. An American adjunct lager is an American lager brewed with “adjuncts” (typically corn, rice, or both). They became popular following prohibition due to lower costs and a desire to rub our freedom in the faces of those poor German bastards and their obsession with “purity” which, as history has shown us, is a rather dangerous character flaw.

So, as much as I don’t think ranking beers is productive, and folks should drink what they like and be glad to find joy in life, I’m going to do it anyway. Just this once. For Minnesota. For America. For Freedom.

5. Grain Belt Beer: Premium

American lager / 4.6% ABV / ?? IBU

Look, I can see you’re angry already. You have every right to be. Fifth place? “The ‘Friendly’ Beer” is only the fifth-best American adjunct lager in Minnesota?!" I know. I share your pain. I haven’t been able to look at my print of the Grain Belt sign (by @setadriftart, purchased at a lovely event at @padraigsbrewing) for the last couple weeks due to my shame.

Early on, I decided I’d try this month’s beers back to back so I could experience the differences between them. After all, when it comes to this style (water but better, American-style), minute differences are the name of the game—often so minute you can only perceive them if you try them in close succession. Still, my brand loyalty, my college nostalgia, my belief in what Schell’s has done saving the brand... all of it predisposed me to believe it would take the crown. But it didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love the shit out of this beer. It smells like clean biscuit malt, while the flavor is mostly corn, and the carbonation leaves it very effervescent—dare I say champagne-like? It’s very refreshing, and very good. It’s just not the best. Please forgive me.

Nissa Mitchell

4. Miller Brewing Company: Hamm’s

American lager / 4.7% ABV / ?? IBU

Let's get this out of the way: Hamm’s is not made in Minnesota. It should not even be on this list. However, it used to be made in Minnesota, and it continues to advertise this fact, even keeping the “From the Land of Sky Blue Waters” tagline right there on the can. And besides, do we Minnesotans cease to be Minnesotans if we move out of state? Do we cease to be Minnesotans if we’re adopted by a major multi-national brewing conglomerate that has a history of crushing all their competition in a capitalistic death spiral that benefits only those at the top? Nay, I say! Nay. We are forever marked by the star of the north whether we like it or not.

Even still, it is a deep personal outrage to me that Hamm’s beat out Premium Grain Belt. Hamm’s has a very slight peppery noble hop funk on top of the normal biscuit and corn for the style, and I find it enchanting. It makes me forget—very briefly—that I’ve given my money to Molson Coors. And, even when I come back to my senses, I find myself saying, “But I can fix him.”

Nissa Mitchell

3. Little Thistle Brewing Co.: The Doug

American lager / 4.5% ABV / 19 IBU

“Micro” breweries brewing “macro” beers is one of my favorite trends to come out of the last five years of beer culture. The macro folks have resources to make these beers that smaller breweries just don’t have. They have entire science divisions, and facilities that will only ever brew the same beer over and over and over for maximum control. Even then, they’ll blend batches to ensure uniformity and consistency batch-to-batch so that when you open up another case, you find the same exact taste. So, a smaller brewery tying up their equipment and working to create something remotely similar is actually a significant endeavor—a real “flex” if you will.

The Doug is a great example of what craft breweries can do, and proof that you don’t have to be a huge multinational conglomerate to do it. It’s lightly sweet with a mild bite, and reminds me a bit of breakfast cereals, somewhere between Cheerios and Corn Chex. And the packaging? Peak “it’s beer, drink it.” I love a brewery that knows what it’s doing and executes on it.

Nissa Mitchell

2. Schell’s Brewery: Deer Brand

“Pre-prohibition” American lager / 4.7% ABV / ?? IBU

Schell’s calls this one a “Pre-Prohibition American Lager,” and sure, that works. However, with a grain bill that’s advertised as 70% barley and 30% corn, we’ve got ourselves a twofer.

When breweries call out the fact a lager is a “pre-prohibition” lager, that generally means you’ll find a beer that’s a little closer to its original European counterpart than those brewed after prohibition. And in this case, that’s spot on. Deer Brand is a bit closer to a traditional German lager than your big-name American adjunct lagers. It has slightly more hop character, and a slight funk that I attribute to the yeast. The result is something truly wonderful that doesn’t get nearly enough love. Before I wrote this column, I would just pass over it at the store. I will not make that mistake ever again.

Side note: A few years ago, Schell’s took on brewing another similar pre-prohibition lager: Hauenstein (“the Beer with a little character”), which also originated in New Ulm. If I had more space on this list, it would have been on here as well. You’d be doing yourself a favor if you picked it up (I’ve seen it mostly at Ombibulous).

Nissa Mitchell

1. Falling Knife Brewing Company: Tomm’s

American lager / 4.8% ABV / ?? IBU

Another year, and another opportunity to write about Tomm’s in June. Normally, I try not to cover a beer twice. But… well… it’s just the best American adjunct lager in Minnesota. No ifs, ands, or buts. Everything I said about Tomm’s in my first go-round remains true. It’s a fantastic beer to drink “by a lake after riding around it above the posted speed limit while shouting, ‘Bike goes zoom!’” But that doesn’t quite do it justice.

Tomm’s has slightly more to it than the other lagers on this list; a fact that 4.8% ABV (the highest on this list) likely has something to do with. The flavor skews toward corn, with light malt and a creamy body. It’s not as carbonated as some traditional American lagers, but if I had to guess why, it’s because there’s more to show off. What little hop character is there is very mild, but balances things out nicely. I don’t know what else I could possibly ask for from an American adjunct lager.

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