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Food & Drink

What’s the Best Local Beer to Cook Your Brats in?

Stop using the Coors Light that's been sitting in your garage fridge and reach for one of these Minnesota beers instead.

Taste test time.

It's nearly Independence Day. You've got the long weekend off, if you’re lucky, and you're either hosting a barbecue or headed to one. The grill is clean; the propane is full. It's time to cook one of the greatest creations known to humanity—the bratwurst—a perfect food with that holy trinity of taste, texture, and pop. No meat eater turns down brat at the barbecue. It's one of the few things Germans have done well in their culinary history. (I said it!)

The preparation one takes upon acquiring brats from the store is a serious business. Do you brine? Do you throw the brats straight onto the grill? Do you boil them and be done with it? It's important to ponder these things to achieve maximum deliciousness. And like the grill, the beer used when boiling the brat can be a make or break situation for your guests. If you don't cook them correctly, these people may never acknowledge you again. 

Here’s where Scientist Matt comes in. Beer is essential for this process—it can take your brats from ordinary to extraordinary. Gone are the days of using the shit beer that comes in a 30-pack that your friend brought over for a house party last summer. It's time to utilize the incredible selection we’re so lucky to have in Minnesota and show you're smarter and better than the average griller. It's time to answer the question: What's the best Minnesota beer to cook your brats in?

The Methodology

I've selected eight beers to test: a wide variety from around the state, and a Colt 45. Why a Colt 45? I'm a simple man: I thought it'd be hilarious if the 40 turned out to be the best of all. Aside from everyone’s favorite beer to duct tape to both hands during college homecoming, the rest of the beers offer a unique alternative to your standard cheap light beer: 

  • Mankato Brewery's Mad Butcher IPA
  • Bent Paddle Brewing Company's 14 Degrees Amber Ale
  • Castle Danger Brewing's Castle Cream Ale
  • Summit Brewing Company's Twins Pils
  • Burning Brothers Brewing's Midway American Lager (Gluten-Free)
  • 56 Brewing's Dad's Basement Beer Lager
  • Surly's Darkness Russian Imperial Stout

To maximize the flavor potential, I’ve marinated one brat in each beer over a 24-hour period. Now, that’s a while, but things taste better brined over a long period of time. (Ever eaten a Thanksgiving turkey that went straight from store to oven?) If you're in a time crunch, at least let those babies soak for two to three hours, which most recipes recommend. 

Each brat will be cooked in their respective beer until it reaches 145°F . From there, all of the brats will be transferred to the grill until they’ve reached 160°F and have some solid grill marks. 

Some other things to note during this tasting process: I'll be using plain brats from Hy-Vee, along with the grocer’s plain white buns. Let me turn you on to something in case you don't know: The brats at Hy-Vee are the best, and they don't cost a bunch. Eight brats for $12. Get good brats! 

Another thing: I normally (and correctly) eat brats with spicy brown mustard and grilled onions. (I personally believe god didn't mean for ketchup to be put on anything off the grill… Heinz tricked you into thinking ketchup was a necessary condiment.) If you want relish or hot peppers, though, be my guest—however, during this taste test, I’m going condiment free. That way, I'll get that lovely full brat flavor. 

Simple enough? I agree. Let's dive into summer's greatest pleasure (aside from sunlight) and crown our brat king of Minnesota beers. 

Bent Paddle Brewing Company's 14 Degrees

  • Beer description: An amber ale with an ABV of 5.6%. Robust on the front end, mellow on the back end. Has an outstanding color and could be consumed at any time.
  • Beer cost: $11.49 per six pack (Total Wine)
  • Results: 5/5 - The brat tasted like it was pulled out of the can of beer. The flavor has a strong, sweet malty flavor that pops in your mouth after one bite. Exactly what a beer should do to a brat.

Burning Brothers Brewing Midway (Gluten-Free)

  • Beer description: A lager with an ABV of 5%. Light and smooth—you wouldn't know the difference if it was gluten-free or not. 
  • Beer cost: $13.49 per four pack (Total Wine)
  • Results: 1/5 - No beer taste was identified. Exactly like a plain brat to me, so much so that I worried I somehow forgot to marinate it. I didn’t! It just didn’t do anything. But hey: Still a great Hy-Vee Brat we’ve got here.

Castle Danger Cream Ale 

  • Beer description: A cream ale with an ABV of 5.3%. A spectacular beer in color, consistency, and flavor. Very smooth with just a touch of texture. 
  • Beer cost: $10.49 per six pack (Total Wine)
  • Results: 2.5/5 - I love this beer with all my heart, and I had high hopes for its brat-ification, but this seemed like a borderline waste of a great beer. Slight hints of cream ale flavor. Stick to drinking it. 

G. Heileman Brewing Co. Colt 45

  • Beer description: Malt liquor with an ABV of 5.6%. So legendary that Afroman's best song is named after it. A quintessential beer for the person that says, "I don't care what it tastes like, I just want alcohol."
  • Beer cost: Anywhere between $3 and $5 per 40 oz bottle.
  • Results: 2.5/5 - Tasty and sweet. The theory I’m presenting is that spending 50 cents more can yield you a better tasting beer brat. The Colt 45 can absolutely be tasted, especially the sweetness of the beer. I wouldn’t seek this out ever again, but if for some reason you've got one sitting in your fridge, go to town.

56 Brewing's Dad Basement Beer 

  • Beer description: A lager with an ABV of 3.9%. Light and balanced, with a rich color. This beer is appropriately named and should be loved by dads everywhere. 
  • Beer cost: $9.99 per four pack (Total Wine)
  • Results: 2/5 - Not all that dissimilar to Midway and Colt 45 as far as taste goes. Just didn't retain enough beer flavor in the end. Let Dad drink this one instead.

Mankato Brewery's Mad Butcher

  • Beer description: An IPA with an ABV of 6.8%. A hoppy flavor, and a smell they should use in a candle. Easily drinkable and a standout IPA.
  • Beer cost: $8.99 per six pack (Total Wine)
  • Results: 3/5 - If you were blindfolded and had to sniff each brat, you’d easily find the Mad Butcher in this lineup. The bitter hop smell is presented and accounted for, but not enough of that great, crisp IPA flavor was retained. Good for the price.

Summit Twins 

  • Beer description: A German-style pilsner with an ABV of 5.1%. Hoppier than your usual pilsner, but in a great way. Crushable during hot baseball games, which is why it was created. Don't get a Miller Lite, get this. 
  • Beer cost: $15.99 per 12-pack (Total Wine)
  • Results: 4/5 - Have you ever been at an outside sporting event, grabbed a draft beer early on, then forgot to drink it so now it’s warm? And while that may sound gross, it’s perfect in the brat. Unlike the other lagers, this pilsner sticks around for the party. This beer was created for cooking brats in it.

Surly Darkness

  • Beer description: A Russian imperial stout with an ABV of 12%. Darker and blacker than Hades' soul. A stout lover’s dream and my grandpa's worst nightmare.
  • Beer cost: $13.99 per 750 ml bottle (Sal's Beverage World)
  • Results: 5/5 - If you love stouts and want to taste beer in your brat, this is it. It’s a potent beer, and the brats absorb every ounce of it. If you don't like stouts, you'll hate it as much as we hate (alleged!) union-busting. 

The Winner

Based on my expert, scientifically proven methods, the winner here is Bent Paddle's 14 Degree Amber Ale. It bestows an excellent flavor that never leaves the brat. It’s not too much for the non-beer drinkers and just enough for the hardcore beer heads. Surly's Darkness would scare most of my family members; the Summit Twins Pilsner wasn't quite flavorful enough. 
Disagree with this designation? Fine, great—you do a 24-hour marinade on a bunch of brats and eat eight of them over the course of an afternoon and get back to me.

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