Review: Minnesota State Fair New Beers, 2018 Edition

Our food critic recommends the State Fair beers worth trying (and tells you which ones to skip)

The beer at the State Fair has never been better. Seriously! It’s crazy good. Instead of my food categorization of “eat, maybe, don’t,” this list will read as “for sure drink, drink, and don’t drink.” The middle level is still good!

For what it’s worth, beer is big business at the Minnesota State Fair. In 2017, beer vendors brought in $11.3 million. The fair is really Minnesota’s largest tap room; bear in mind that many Minnesotans never get a chance to go to a craft brewery. The explosion in craft beer goes in two directions here: the gimmick beer and the true craft beer. Sometimes the Venn diagram overlaps.

Blue Ribbon Winners (Drink these!)

Surly Juicy LuLuLucy (LuLu’s in West End)

Hazy, juicy, northeastern-style IPA with a burst of citrus popping through an intense hoppiness. 6.7% ABV, 40 IBUs

Castle Danger Orange Cream Ale (O’Garas)

Castle Danger’s Cream Ale is quickly becoming a Minnesota favorite, and this version of it with a bump of orange only makes it better. 5% ABV, brewed in Two Harbors, Minnesota

Lakes & Legends St. Apple Malted Cider (O’Garas)

Crisp, tasty cider up front that finishes with a solid nose and flavor of Minneapple Pie! Surprising, fun, refreshing—a winner. 4.9% ABV, brewed in Minneapolis

Bent Paddle Brewing Passion Fruit Pils (Ball Park Cafe)

Bent Paddle’s Venture Pils is infused with passion fruit for a tart and tropical experience. 5.0% ABV, 38 IBUs, brewed in Duluth by Bent Paddle Brewing

Bauhaus the Shandlot Pink Lemon Shandy (Ball Park Cafe)

This pink, lemony concoction is a classic summery brew infused with strawberries and hibiscus. 4.5% ABV, 15 IBUs, brewed in Minneapolis by Bauhaus Brew Labs

LimeLight (Blue Barn)

The crisp and refreshing LimeLight has a slight agave sweetness, partnered with a citrusy punch of lime and a hint of sea salt to create a balanced, drinkable brew. 5.4% ABV, brewed in Minneapolis by the Freehouse

Pink Ribbon Runners Up (Still good! Go for it!)

Surly’s Gaelic Dark & Stormy (O’Gara’s)

The hottest trend in beer is the beer that tastes like a cocktail. This one works: a deep golden ale brewed with lime and spicy ginger. Refreshing! Summery! 5% ABV, 15 IBUs, brewed in Minneapolis


St. Pat’s Green Ale (O’Gara’s)

Thumbs up for the branding and the hilarity: Come on, O’Gara’s has to have a green beer! Finnegans creates a rock solid light ale—nothing noteworthy, but the color is perfect, and the beer is solid. 4.6% ABV, 22 IBUs, brewed in Minneapolis

Surly The Kloser IPA (Ball Park Cafe)

Hey, Glen Perkins is a pretty darn good homebrewer. This is the former Twins pitcher’s recipe, modified a bit by Surly to scale it up. It’s a citrus and hop bomb that for me finished a little dank, but that’s how a baseball closer wraps up the final out, isn’t it? 5ABV, 64 IBUs, brewed in Minneapolis

Uffda Ale (Giggles’)

My main issue with this beer was the little chunk of crispy lefse: What do you do with it? If it falls in the beer, it’s gross. If I eat it first, then what’s the point? Anyway, this is a very serviceable ale beer. If you want one of the fun beers at Giggles’, I’d get the Dill Pickle beer instead. 4.7% ABV, 21 IBUs, brewed in St. Cloud

Strawberry Mint Fro-Lé (Blue Barn)
I liked this more than I expected, as I was afraid I was going to get a big mouthful of zima malt beverage flavor. Nope. It’s a perfect summer dink—frozen strawberry lemonade with a hint of mint and a fresh mint leaf on top. 5% ABV, made by the Blue Barn

Spumoni Tsunami (Mancini’s)
This is a solid beer, but it didn’t give me strawberry or vanilla—it’s just a nice lager. 4.8% ABV, 10 IBUs, brewed in St. Paul

Participation Ribbons (I didn’t love these)

Eastlake Craft Brewery Kirby Pucker #34 (Ball Park Cafe)

This second in a series of State Fair exclusives undergoes a second fermentation with lactobacillus. It’s brewed with a classic Minnesota combination of strawberries and rhubarb. 4.0% ABV, 3 IBUs, brewed in Minneapolis

Lift Bridge Key Lime Pie (Cafe Caribe)
This beer was fine. But I didn’t get any lime; it just reminded me of a slightly too-sweet light beer. 4.5% ABV, 13 IBUs, brewed in Stillwater

Bent Brewstillery’s Raspberry Champow (Ball Park Cafe)
This is the recipe from 2017 Minnesota State Fair Homebrew Gold-Medal Winner Mike Spores. Bent Brewstillery made the white ale with red raspberries and champagne-varietal grapes. It’s fun—bright red and super fruity—but I found it too tart, with an off-putting finish. 5% ABV, 25 IBUs, brewed in Roseville

Other New Beers (I haven’t tried these yet)

Brewzo Lager (Dino’s Gyros)
Inspired by Greek ouzo, this pilsner is infused with a touch of licorice and served with a sugar-spiced rim. Herbal ouzo flavors mingle with floral hops and a crisp malt flavor for a refreshing brew. 5.4% ABV, 40 IBUs, brewed in St. Paul by Lake Monster Brewing

Cake’d Up Celebration Beer (The Hanger, a new building in the former Pet Center on Machinery Hill)
This deep-fried cake-flavored beer is a lightly hopped ale featuring a distinct vanilla aroma with a sweet, cake-like finish. 5.0% ABV, 20 IBUs, brewed in North Mankato by Mankato Brewery
At The Hangar, located on the northeast corner of Murphy Avenue and Underwood Street

Caramel Corn Cream Ale (The Grandstand)
A generous amount of corn in the brewing process gives this beer a pleasant caramel flavor. Fermenting at a uniquely higher temperature also gives way to a harmony between the hops and light-and-toasty caramel malts. 5.4% ABV, 20 IBUs, brewed in Minneapolis by Finnegans Brew Co.
At Hildebrand Concessions, located in the Grandstand concert venue

Mobster Mule Bubble Trouble (The Hideaway Speakeasy)
This twist on a classic cocktail uses sparkling Edelweiss wine, ginger beer
, and sweet lime to create a perfectly refreshing drink. 10% ABV, wine made in Cannon Falls by Cannon River Winery
At The Hideaway Speakeasy, located in the Veranda, Grandstand upper level, northwest section

Frontier Summer IPA (Frontier Bar)
A perfect choice for a hot day at the fair, this full-bodied crisp and hoppy IPA is not overly bitter but light and approachable. 5.5% ABV, 35 IBUs, brewed in Minneapolis by Fulton Brewing
At Frontier Bar, located on the south side of Carnes Avenue between Liggett and Nelson streets

Funnel Cake Cream Ale (Coasters)
Reminiscent of a State Fair classic, this lightly hopped cream ale is bright and refreshing with a sweet finish. Flavors give the beer a taste of gooey dough with a crispy crust, apple pie filling, and a dusting of powdered sugar. 4.7% ABV, brewed in Milwaukee by Lakefront Brewery

Margarita-Style Kettle Sour Ale (Coasters)
Reminiscent of a classic margarita, this ale is a blend of soured and clean beer brewed with lime zest and salt aged in tequila-soaked barrel stoves. 5.0% ABV, 5 IBUs, brewed in Minneapolis by 612Brew
At Coasters, located on the southeast corner of Carnes Avenue and Liggett Street

Helles Ya, You Betcha (Shanghaied Henri’s & Summit)
This light, refreshing Helles-style lager offers flavors of tangerine and fresh blood orange for a clean mouthfeel and a hint of sourdough crust. 4.2% ABV, brewed in St. Paul by Summit Brewing Co., proud sponsor of the International Bazaar Stage
At Shanghaied Henri’s and the Summit Booth, located at the International Bazaar

Horse Apple Ale (The Coliseum)
Brewed with pressed apple cider, this beer is the perfect kick-off to crisp Minnesota fall weather. 5.7% ABV, 8 IBUs, brewed in Excelsior by Excelsior Brewing Company
At Aldo’s, Sabino’s Pizza Pies, Swine & Spuds and Snack House, located in the Warner Coliseum


It Takes 2 to Tango and 3 to Mango (Schell’s Pavillion)
This beer is a traditionally brewed, mixed culture Berliner Weisse aged for one year in 80-year-old cypress wood lagering tanks and then aged an additional three months on mangos. It has a bright, fruity flavor of ripe mangos on top of a refreshingly tart and dry lemony acidity. 5.5% ABV, 5 IBUs, brewed in New Ulm at Starkeller Brewing
At the Schell’s Pavilion, located at West End Market, south of Schilling Amphitheater

Slipstream Black Currant Apple (LuLu’s Public House)
Freshly pressed Midwestern apples fermented to a light bubbly effervescence then sweetened with floral and black currant berries for a flavor that is clean, crisp, and fruity. 5.9% ABV, brewed in Minneapolis by Sociable Cider Werks
At LuLu’s Public House, located at West End Market, south of the Schell’s Stage at Schilling Amphitheater

Sociable Mimosa or Bellini (LuLu’s Public House)
Orange juice puree is mixed with Sociable Cider Werks Freewheeler to make a refreshing mimosa or bellini. 5.9% ABV, brewed in Minneapolis by Sociable Cider Werks
At LuLu’s Public House, located at West End Market, south of the Schell’s Stage at Schilling Amphitheater