Edit ModuleShow Tags

State Fair Recap: The Rise of Craft Beer and Death of the Stick

Why craft beer is driving huge sales and revenue, while food on a stick seems to be reaching its end.


Photos by Jason DeRusha

We know who the Queen of the Minnesota State Fair is, right? Sweet Martha. In 2015, her two locations generated $3.2 million in gross sales, before she paid her staff and bought her supplies. Who's the King of the fair? It might well be craft beer. And Dan Theisen from Ball Park Cafe.

I know what you're thinking, how can Ball Park Cafe be in the same breath as Sweet Martha's? My WCCO colleague Pat Kessler gets the data every year from the Minnesota State Fair showing gross sales and beverage sales. He gave me the full data to share with you. Ball Park Cafe made it into the million dollar club, grossing $1,046,017 in 2015, a 30% increase from 2014. The menu prices only went up 2%. So what happened? Beer. Ball Park sells more than 20 Minnesota craft beers, including the juggernaut—Lift Bridge's Mini Donut Beer.

From Pat's report: "For the first time, six of the top 10 grossing State Fair booths are beer vendors." They don't distinguish craft beer and regular beer, but I can make some educated guesses based on the list. Ball Park did almost $800,000 in beer sales in 2015. Cafe Caribe serves pretty traditional State Fair beer, a couple big Minnesota beers but mainly big beers at $837,305. The Craft Beer Guild did almost $700,000 in Minnesota beers, up 22% from 2014. The Giggle's craft beer patio behind the stand has finally exploded, in 2015 beer sales were up there 21% to $510,114.

Overall the beer and wine retailers are paying a huge amount to the State Fair in concession percentage. In 2015, the fair took in almost $1.6 million dollars just from beer and wine, up from $1.4 million, a 13.2% increase!

I know there's been some concern that the fair and brewers are going all-in on gimmicky beers, but it doesn't bother me. If you're a craft beer lover, you can find incredible beers like the Bent Paddle Hopmosa, with that hint of orange, and the Bent Brewstillers State Fair Great Sweat Together (they still have a keg of it at the brewery if you want to try it). But I enjoyed the Bad Weather Brewing Funnel Cake beer at Mancini's, and go ahead and get mad, but I enjoyed the Chocolate Chip Cookie Beer at Andy's Grill from Big Wood Brewery in White Bear Lake! 

Other trivia: the new guys are doing well in the West End Market. Lu Lu's Public House brought in $927,319 in 2015; Blue Barn made $720,981. Both were down from 2014, the debut year of West End, but expect those numbers to be up after this year's fair. And so much for food on a stick: of the 32 official new fair foods, only the Minnesota Corn Dog and Paneer on a Spear were on a stick. 

Bear in mind, not everyone gets rich at the fair. Nitro Ice Cream is one of 65 vendors netting between $100,000-$200,000 with $102,629 in 2015 (not bad for 12 days). 175 vendors made less than $100,000 and that's before paying staff and costs. In all, the fair's vendors made more than $42.5 million in 2015, a 9% increase from 2014.

Read more:
The Best and Worst New State Fair Foods
Inside the 2016 MN State Fair: Choosing the New Foods

Edit ModuleShow Tags

About This Blog

Minnesota Monthly's Taste Blog answers your restaurant and dining questions, dishes on latest discoveries, reflects on breaking news, and generally brings the plate to the page with a skilled crew of experts: Learn more about the Taste bloggers.

Have a food-related question? Email rhutton@mnmo.com

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Taste Blog

Toast the Royal Wedding with British-Gin Cocktails

As Britain’s Prince Harry and U.S.-actress Megan Markle tie the knot, raise a glass to the happy couple—and those close to you—with wedding-themed tipples

Bottoms-Up Cinnamon Caramel Pinwheels Recipe

With this fast version of a sticky bun, baking at home can be no muss, no fuss—and delicious

Leslie Bock's Newest Bar Wants to Save the Future

"We're attempting to show humans as messy and complicated."

Rosé All Day: The Best Tastings (Some Free)

More than 100 different rosé wines available to try—many for free

Wine Clubs: The Perfect Mother's Day Gift

Sip Better figures out your taste for wine and goes deep

Gavin Kaysen Takes Midwest Gold

A quick note on our 2018 James Beard Best Chef: Midwest

Sue Z.'s Charitable Check-In: May

This month, Sue Z. recommends supporting local student chefs with a dinner at Saint Dinette

Greek Yogurt Marinated Chicken Kebabs Recipe

Get fired up for grilling season with tender, flavorful chicken kebabs by meat guru Bruce Aidells and a marinade that also works well with other proteins

My Name Is Jason and I Used to Hate Brunch

Brunch has undergone a renaissance in the Twin Cities. Food critic Jason DeRusha picks his top spots for brunch this year.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags