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

Related Articles

Casual Restaurants with Incredible Food

Why should the super-fancy places get all the critical love? See: St. Paul's Revival and Saint Dinette

Grand Cafe

Two hot chefs put their fresh take on the Kingfield neighborhood charmer


Stillwater’s best bottles
Edit ModuleShow Tags

About This Blog

TC Taste 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 TC Taste bloggers.

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

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Recent TC Taste Posts

Casual Restaurants with Incredible Food

Why should the super-fancy places get all the critical love? See: St. Paul's Revival and Saint Dinette

The Day of the Daiquiri

Raise a glass to summer and National Daiquiri Day with a cool twist on the cocktail—the Badaiquiri

Quick Bites: Sandwiches, Huge Flavors, and Cocktails

Two great eats, two stellar drinks: Esker Grove, LoLo in Hudson, the Original on 42nd, and Smith & Porter

Driscoll’s names Twin Cities No. 1 Raspberry-Loving Market in America

Driscoll’s, the leading brand of fresh, delicious berries, revealed today the Minneapolis - St. Paul metro area is the raspberry consumption capital of the country.

Rosemary Chicken Salad Stuffed Tomatoes Recipe

A fresh take on chicken salad packs easily for a picnic or potluck and offers a lighter option at backyard barbecues

Up Your 4th of July Party Game with This Edible Showstopper

Independence Day is almost upon us and it is the best excuse to break out the water balloons, invite a slew of neighbors over and feast before the fireworks.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Pryes Brewery Opens Taproom to Test Beer in Warm, Wooden Space

Elegant yet easygoing, Pryes’ new taproom lets visitors experience exclusive beers and locally made food in an inviting environment.

Vietnamese Marinated and Caramel Glazed Back Ribs Recipe

Bring the sweet and tangy taste of Asian cooking to your backyard grill

Bourbon, French fries, Pride, and Fried Chicken

Three must-eat dishes for this week

Mixed Berry Care & Handling

Summer is heating up! Take care of your ripe berries.

Maybe the city's most underrated restaurant, Heyday tries to figure out tipping

A 15-percent service fee supposedly takes care of tipping—but does it go to the server?

French fries, chocolate chip cookies, and a new twist on the iced latte

Three Twin Cities treats from the Lynhall, Sandcastle, and Meritage
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Celebrating Father's Day

This Father's Day, let's treat our dads to some special treats

Linguine in Creamy Basil-Avocado Sauce with Seared Scallops Recipe

The creamy richness of avocados makes for a perfect pasta sauce in this homemade restaurant-quality meal

Bites that guarantee that old summer feeling

Ice cream, coffee, and brandy—just because they make us happy
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags