Sunday, August 28, 2016

A visit to the Minnesota State Fair - Beer Edition 2016

Two years ago, unbeknownst to myself at the time, a legend was born.

It was a different time back then: I was not even married for a month, I was still living in Duluth, I still drove a Dodge Durango, and it would be another year before I would become a full-time graduate student. I'm talking about my Minnesota State Fair - Beer Edition 2014 Post that I put together one afternoon two years ago. I didn't know it at the time, but it went to to become one of my most viewed posts of 2014 and the feedback I got from it was excellent. So last year when the State Fair came around, I got a couple emails asking if there would be a State Fair 2015 Beer Edition Post, but I had other commitments at the time so I was unable to go.

This year is different because the legend has returned. That's right, it's the Minnesota State Fair 2016 Beer Edition Post. It's back and bigger and better than ever before!

As proud as I was of my last State Fair post, I didn't get to try out some beers that I was looking forward to and I kicked myself for not getting around to finding them. This time around, instead of going in the early afternoon like I did last time, I decided to wake up bright and early and get there right when the gates opened. With a bottle of water and a can of Red Bull, I was determined to try out as many beers as possible.

Name: Excelsior Maple Bacon Brown
Style: Brown Ale
ABV: 5.3%
Found at: Giggles Campfire Grill 

Served with a piece of cold bacon, which thankfully wasn't raw. It's got a good chocolate malt and roasty profile with a light smokiness and, of course, bacon. Maybe it's just me, but the beer also had an oily palate characteristic which may have been caused by bacon and that kind of ruined it for me. In any case, it's a solid brown ale but it definitely could've gone without the bacon. Don't get me wrong, like bacon and all, but this whole cult of personality surrounding bacon needs to go away. Yes, it's the State Fair and all but, seriously, gross!

Excelsior Maple Bacon Brown - 4/10

Name: Lakes and Legends Sweet Corn Summer Ale 
Style: Cream Ale
ABV: 5.1%
Found at: O'Gara's at The Fair

A cream ale made with locally made Untiedt's Sweet Corn. This had a solid pale malt and light floral hop profile. The sweet corn used actually gave it a nice light sweetness that accompanied the rest of the flavor profile quite well. Simply put, it was the perfect kind of beer for that day and dare I reminded me of New Glarus' Spotted Cow.

I may have been a critic of Lakes & Legends before, but they knocked it out of the park with this one right here. If anyone from Lakes & Legends is reading this, please make this available outside of the State Fair!

Lakes and Legends Sweet Corn Summer Ale - 9/10

Name: Summit Hop Merger White IPA
Style: White IPA
ABV: 6.5%
Found at: Summit on a Stick Booth

To my knowledge, this is the first White IPA Summit has ever done, unless they did a Taproom-Only or Unchained release at some point. This one had a nice citrus hop profile with some light Belgian undertones and just a light hint of a clove-like zing, along with a bittersweet finish. Much like the Sweet Corn Summer Ale, this beer could potentially be a nice seller for Summit if it weren't just only available at the State Fair. For the time being, try this out while you can because you won't be disappointed.

Summit Hop Merger White IPA - 9/10

Name: Schell's Grain Belt Frozen BLU
Style: Fruit Beer
ABV: 4.8%
Found at: Schell's Pavallion at Lulu's Public House

This is one that I actually missed two years ago and I kicked myself for not trying it. This is nothing more than Grain Belt infused with blueberries and it has a rather fruity & slightly tart finish. It's also served with a semi-frozen slush/foam of the same beer. In other words, Liquid Frozen BLUE with semi-frozen...Frozen BLU on top. It's nothing special, but it's damn refreshing when consumed and that's what they were going for. This may be more of a novelty, but it's a good one at that.

Schell's Grain Belt Frozen BLU - 8/10

Name: Bad Weather Funnel Cloud
Style: Amber Ale
ABV: 5.2%
Found at: Mancini's al Fresco

Inspired by the Funnel Cake food served at the State Fair. This one has a solid chocolate malt profile with some mild vanilla notes, accompanied by some very light citrus/floral hoppiness with just a touch of yeasts. It really doesn't remind me too much of an actual funnel cake but it's a solid and drinkable amber ale.

Bad Weather Funnel Cloud - 8/10

Name: Big Wood Chocolate Chip Cookie Beer
Style: Blonde Ale
ABV: 5.2%
Found at: Andy's Grille

Three years ago when Lift Bridge's Mini-Donut beer was unveiled, there was a line around the block. That wasn't the case this year, but it did inspire other breweries to come up with their own spin on State Fair Classics. This beer is served with mini-chocolate chips along one side of the rim of the glass. Much like the mini donut beer, it's quite yeast forward in flavor with a touch of floral hops but when consumed with the chocolate chips, it does taste somewhat like a chocolate chip cookie.

However, by itself it's nothing special and I feel that they got lazy with this. If you want to impress me, I suggest making this same exact beer but using Sweet Martha's Cookies. Hey if breweries can make beers with chocolate cake or ice cream, then there's no reason why we can't use cookies!

Big Wood Chocolate Chip Cookie Beer - 7/10

Name: Bent Brewstillery Sweat Together IPA
Style: India Pale Ale
ABV: 7.3%
Found at: Ball Park Cafe

This beer was apparently made in collaboration with a State Fair winner in homebrewing for 2015, so they are giving us a West Coast-style IPA and it is a very good one at that! Rich citrus hops permeate throughout the palate with a nice caramel malt backbone keeping things in balance without making the flavor too bright for its own good, with a bitter hop finish.

It may be a bit higher in alcohol content, but this one is definitely worth checking out. I believe their words for this beer was "It's strong enough to help you brave the crowds, but not strong enough to place you on the bench all day people watching." It was something along those lines, but point being that you most certainly must check this out.

Bent Brewstillery Sweat Together IPA - 9/10

Name: Bent Paddle Hopmosa
Style: India Pale Ale
ABV: 6.2%
Found at: Ball Park Cafe

This is Bent Paddle's Bent Hop Golden IPA, but infused with actual oranges and all I have to say, Wow! They took an already great IPA, and gave it a sweet citrus spin. You've got a nice citrus hoppiness upfront with some caramel malts, but there's an encompassing orange juice sweetness that is reminiscent of a mimosa that finished with a bittersweet citra finish.

Out of all the beers at the fair, this was by far my favorite. Again, it's rather sad that this is only a State Fair-exclusive beer because I would imagine Bent Paddle could make a killing off of this. Oh well, for the time being, just swing by the Ball Park Cafe and get a pint (or two) of this.

Bent Paddle Hopmosa - 9.5/10

So overall....

Best Beer - Bent Paddle Hopmosa. They took an already great beer and somehow made it 10 times better. I would love to see this in canned or bottled form someday

Worst Beer - Excelsior Maple Bacon Brown. This is proof that adding bacon to something doesn't make it beer. It was decent tasting but the grease/oil on the palate from the bacon made it hard for me to enjoy it.

All and all, I enjoyed this State Fair outing much more than the one 2 years ago. On top of that, I got to try out a lot more beers this time around than I did before and I feel much prouder of this post than the one I did two years ago. At the time of writing this, there's just over a week left for the Minnesota State Fair, so make your way out there and use this as your guide.


- Nick

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