The 4th Annual St. Paul Summer Beer Fest was held on June 16, 2012 at the International Bazaar section of the Minnesota State Fair grounds. This was the second year at that site. Everything appeared bigger and better than last year. The crowd was large, probably larger than last year. There also appeared to be a few more breweries there, with about 85. The food was much better this year with the Rusty Taco food truck, Holy Land Deli and Stanley's joining the regular fair food choices, such as cheese curds. The threatened rain did not appear and it was a great day for the fest.
For the third year in a row, the People's Choice award went to the Great Lakes Brewing Company of Cleveland, Ohio. This year they won with their Rally Drum Red Ale, a strongly hopped red ale that is generally only available at their brew pub. It was quite delicious.
There were some other beers I tried at the fest that I think deserve special note. First and foremost would be the Superior Trail IPA from Fitger's Brewhouse of Duluth, Minnesota. I think it was the finest IPA at the fest. Their Apricot Wheat was also a delicious balance of toasted wheat and apricot flavors. They are planning on opening a Minneapolis location soon, downtown, I believe in or near the Warehouse District.
If there was a best overall award, I would give it to the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery. They brought six different beers, all of consistently high quality. In particular, I really enjoyed their Marasala Mama IPA, which they brought on nitro, giving it an additional creamy element along with its good hoppy IPA taste. They also brought a nitro Parkway Java Porter that was one of the finest coffee porters I have ever tried.
Another notable beer was the Smoked Rye Whiskey Ale from the Mantorville Brewing Company of Mantorville, Minnesota. It was the most quaffable whiskey aged beer I have had, balancing whiskey barrel flavor with high drinkability. It is aged on whiskey barrel chips, rather than in old whiskey barrels themselves (I also really liked their refreshing Stagecoach Golden Ale).
The Tallgrass Brewing Company of Manhattan, Kansas continued their tradition of bringing a couple of firkins of their standard beers that they have specially infused for the fest. This year they had their Buffalo Sweat Stout infused with chocolate and strawberries. It was absolutely delicious, dessert like in its flavor, but more dry than sweet, with the flavor from the strawberries being subtle, but effective. They also brought their 8-Bit Pale Ale infused with peaches and cascade hops, a great drinker when the sun was out and hot.
The Keweenaw Brewing Company of Houghton, Michigan has a nice line-up of tasty and drinkable beers, I particularly liked their November Gale Pale Ale.
A new brewery to Minnesota, Third Street Brewhouse (out of Cold Spring, Minnesota), had three of their beers available for tasting. They are to roll out soon, but are not publicly available until late June/early July. If you like a tasty and well-done cream ale, make sure to try their Rise to the Top Cream Ale upon its release.
There were a lot of new breweries from Minnesota at the fest, and there are a ton of breweries set to open in the next year in the Twin Cities and across Minnesota. Next year's fest should also be very exciting and full of new offerings.
The House of Shandy, purveyors of Curious Traveller shandy, were handing out free fake mustaches:
Some ideas for really good summer drinking beers: Capital Brewery Island Wheat, Summit Summer Ale, Finnegan's Blonde Ale, Stagecoach Golden Ale, Flat Earth Brewing Hep Cat and Third Street Brewhouse Rise to the Top Cream Ale.
Another highlight of the weekend was getting to try Surly Brewing's Bandwagon West Coast Style IPA. This big, delicious, hoppy and flavorful IPA is only served at Target Field during Twins games. Target Field is a really great ball park, if you ever have the chance to take in a game there, don't miss it.
Other highlights of the trip were visiting the new location of the Four Firkins beer store in St. Louis Park, and again hitting my favorite beer store The Ale Jail in St. Paul (you will always find something here that you don't find anywhere else). Also, I went to Stub & Herb's on the East Bank Campus of the University of Minnesota, and they have a great line-up of craft beers on tap.