It’s known for foods on-a-stick, but the Minnesota State Fair has another culinary tradition those of us ages 21 and older can over-indulge in each summer: drinking craft beer!
Throughout the fairgrounds, fair-goers stroll beer in one hand and portable food dished up on a stick in the other.
Whether you are a craft-beer connoisseur or just enjoy tasting new brews, there are two things you must do at the Minnesota State Fair.
First, learn about Minnesota’s craft beer scene.
Did you know Minnesota is home to 96 craft breweries and brewpubs?
I didn’t until I visited the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild’s “Land of 10,000 Beers” exhibit inside the Agriculture Horticulture building.
Interested in beer travel? This exhibit was great for finding a brewcation destination. A huge map of Minnesota pinpointed where the state’s craft breweries and brewpubs can be found.
After reading about Minnesota’s booming beer industry, it was time to taste it. For $10 and an ID check, I purchased a ticket for a flight of local brews. Each beer flight consisted of four beers of a particular trait — dark, light, sweet, or hoppy — from around the state.
I took a taste of Minnesota’s dark beers including Sidhe Dark Moon Rising (St. Paul), Great Waters Brown Trout Brown (St. Paul), LynLake Sideburns Milk Stout (Minneapolis), and Mankato Brewery‘s Leaf Raker Nut Brown Ale.
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Then, drink beers you’ll only find at the State Fair!
Not only is the Minnesota State Fair teeming with local brews, there are specialty craft beers available only at the Great Minnesota Get-Together.
Each year Minnesota’s creative beer brewers create unique beverages specifically for the state fair. This year’s fair featured 19 of these exclusive brews, and 11 were new in 2016.
Many of these beers and ciders were inspired by state-fair food such as funnel cake, doughnuts, s’mores, sweet corn, and chocolate chip cookies.
Combining two Minnesota State Fair culinary traditions — craft beer and chocolate chip cookies — was the new Chocolate Chip Cookie Beer. Brewed by Big Wood Brewery in White Bear Lake, this sweet and malty brew had subtle vanilla and chocolate hints. The mini semi-sweet chocolate chips rimming the cup was a fun touch!
Funnel Cloud, brewed at Bad Weather Brewing Company in St. Paul, was another of the new brews. As you probably guessed, the inspiration was the ultimate fair food — funnel cakes! I’m disappointed I didn’t get to try this one because this copper-colored ale with toasted bread, caramel, and vanilla flavors sounds delicious.
At the Minnesota State Fair, you can’t miss the mouth-watering smell of mini donuts. Since I’ve also been to Stillwater, where the Lift Bridge Mini Donut Beer is brewed, I had to try it. The tan-colored beer actually reminded me of a doughnut’s flavor. I enjoyed that the cup was rimmed with cinnamon sugar, adding to the enticingly sweet aroma.
My favorite of the special State Fair beverages was the Caramel Apple Pi Cider, a cider-beer blend of apples and barley malts from Minneapolis brewpub the Freehouse. The caramel apple flavor tasted like I was sipping summer goodbye and welcoming crisp autumn air and cider mill visits with open arms.
Don’t forget to revel in the State Fair kitsch.
Though some beer purists will argue that the fair’s specialty beers have gotten too gimmicky since Lift Bridge introduced Mini Donut in 2013, I say revel in it. At an event where you can eat deep-fried cookie dough, Twinkies, candy bars, and even mac-n-cheese in past years on a stick, why not?
We don’t always need to take our beverages so seriously, do we? But, if you fall into the beer-purist camp, there were new beers at the 2016 Minnesota State Fair for you, too.
St. Paul’s leading brewer, Summit Brewing Company, left the State-Fair gimmicks to how their beer is served. As I mentioned, food on a stick is HUGE. So, in addition to 12 and 20 oz. cups of the brewery’s beers, you could also order a flight of Summit on a Stick. A paddle with three holes to hold beer featured the new brew — Hop Merger White IPA.
The hoppy, golden IPA featured a fruity and floral aroma and wheat, bread crust, and light cracker flavors. It was an easy sipper by the International Bazaar Stage, where I watched the most adorable kids performing Mexican folk dances.
Though the food still reigns king, I found the specialty Minnesota State Fair beer is reason to visit the largest state fair (by daily attendance). If you want to try some truly unique craft beers, mark your calendars now!
The Minnesota State Fair returns Aug. 24 through Sept. 4, 2017. Which of these beers do you hope to try next summer?
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Disclosure: I’d like to thank the Roseville Visitors Association for inviting me to cover the Minnesota State Fair. My admission to the fair for two days (a $26 value) was comped, but I paid for all of my beer. I was not otherwise compensated for this post. As always, all opinions are my own.