The answer is different for everyone, but for me, it comes down to a pattern of conscious missteps. One bad batch is forgivable. Any brewery can fall at the hand of an untrained bartender. But when the brewery knows they’re pumping out bad beer and continues to do it—or they act with a nonchalance that betrays the fact they don’t care about their customers—that’s a good reason to cut them out of your beer budget.
Too often, Minnesota breweries get written off by local drinkers for small, sometimes overblown, sleights. And this month, I did some work to reinvestigate some of the breweries I’ve been personally turned off of (for one reason or another). That’s not saying I dislike any of these breweries, just that they’re due for a re-evaluation by me. And possibly also you.
Boom Island Massive Nights Saison with orange and honey, 8.9% ABV, n/a IBU
The Racket staff loves to argue about whether or not the Hold Steady qualify as a local band, but I can say for certain that this beer named after the standout song from the band’s 2006 classic LP Boys and Girls in America is definitively Minnesotan. The “winter Saison” is brewed with a sticky sweet dose of local wildflower honey. Boom Island balances that off with some zesty orange, playing into the naturally floral esters of the Belgian yeast. At 8.9%, it is truly massive, though I’m not sure this is delicate, almost culinary, beer is what Craig Finn was referencing when he sang, “We kissed in your car and we drank from your purse.” Still fun!
MetroNOME Squeeze Play IPA IPA, 7.3% ABV, n/a IBU
This month, I finally got to Owamni, the nationally lauded decolonized restaurant on the shores of the Mississippi, and it was everything that I'd heard it would be. And what do you pair with elk meatloaf and corn-fried tepary beans? I opted for a goblet of Squeeze Play IPA from the newish St. Paul brewery MetroNOME.
Dubbed an “East Coast IPA” for its juiciness, Squeeze Play is far from hazy but with all those overt tropical notes the Vermont beers are known for. It played well off Owmani’s seasonal menu, which was heavy on game and preserved berries, like rosehip and blackberry. And it drank easy, enhancing the gut-busting meal of Native ingredients instead of overpowering them.
Bald Man Uptown Girl Vienna lager, 5.5% ABV, n/a IBU
I’ve had some not-great beers from Bald Man Brewing over the years, to the point where I questioned whether or not to stop in this last month when I found myself in Eagan. But I also believe in second chances, and this brewery is now six years into its tenure. Surely they can’t under-attenuate their beers forever?
I got myself a litmus beer to retest the waters. While the Billy Joel-referencing name was a red flag, the Uptown Girl Vienna Lager was a redemptive beer. Bready and crisp, it was everything you want in the style. It was perhaps a bit too sweet, but this is one of those can’t-hide-the-flaws beer, and it shone as an example of what this dad-rock-branded brewery by the outlets can provide if you give them the chance.
Fulton Cherry Sour Sour ale with cherries, 5.5% ABV, n/a IBU
Insight Doe Eyes was one of the first Minnesota beers I ever truly loved, but over the years, it’s lost a lot of luster. That brewery is on a much different path now, and the tart cherry sour has been lost in the churn. But with my first sip of Fulton’s new Cherry Sour, I felt a familiar tinge of excitement as I felt when I first tried Doe Eyes.
Cherry Sour is a shimmering beer. Brewed with Oregonian cherries, this Sour Ale carefully balances the tartness with sweetness and totally avoids the sickly syrup that so many cherry beers take on. Every sip punches the palate with big candy hands. Glory restored!
612Brew Amarillo by Morning Pale ale, 5.3% ABV, 36 IBU
Perhaps no brewery is more beleaguered, more mired in their erstwhile reputation than 612Brew. Once a bastion of a young local scene, the Northeast brewery has struggled to maintain relevance through the years, weathering changing tastes and brewer turnover, but just barely. And still, they plug along, releasing surprising beers every once in a while to pull you back in.
Amarillo by Morning is one of those beers. First released in Fall 2022, Amarillo by Morning just made its debut in 12-oz cans, meaning that a wider range of skeptics can take a chance on this Pale Ale with a pithy bite. Amarillo hops have a distinct orange aroma that's heavily present in this beer, giving it a zesty zip at the end of each sip. This is a fantastic everyday beer for hopheads, and yet so many will likely pass it over because of the logo on the can. Hopefully this blurb changes some minds.