It’s not hard to find good beer in the Twin Cities.
And, while we already have over 100 breweries in and around the metro, there are plenty more to come: St. Paul’s Full Stack, and Birch’s in the Market House Collaborative are expected to come online within the next few months.
We even have a dedicated beer magazine (the Twin Cities are also full of very literate beer drinkers) full of stories, news, events, etc. all related to beer and brewing. And, because we simply can’t sud enough, we buy tickets to multiple festivals, including the Beer Dabbler‘s growing number of outdoor extravaganzas.
But there are so many breweries, and so many concentrated into certain neighborhoods around the Twin Cities, that some have talked of an oversaturated market; talked about the “beer bubble bursting” and raining on the pint parade.
Which means they probably don’t drink a whole lot of beer.
But it hasn’t seemed to matter. These hop havens have proven to be somewhat critic-proof: No matter the location, the styles served, or the choice of decor, they’re all fairly popular. They’re busy. They’re packed: It’s often hard to find a seat when you drop in for after-work happy hour, or out on a Saturday night.
Sure, we’ve lost a couple along the way. Harriet is the trailblazer we’ll miss most, and NorthGate didn’t quite make the cut. But that’s about it. And not only does the number of breweries opening dwarf the number of breweries that have closed, or that might be struggling even, there is no indication that enthusiasm for craft beer is waning – or that price-per-pint is exceeding demand.
As Tommy, longtime bartender and beer enthusiast in St. Paul tells us, “There’s no bubble that’s going to burst, unless people just stop drinking in general. Breweries and taprooms aren’t a separate entity unto themselves, they’ve just become a new way to go out to the bar. A taproom is, for many people, synonymous with bar. And more attractive, even, as they know what they’re going to get.”
“Other beer enthusiasts enjoying a product they know they like, which only continues to improve. And, even better, it comes right from the source. It’s much more attractive than the usual bar scene in the Twin Cities that may or may not have what you’re looking for.”
Perhaps we take it for granted: Our offices lie in the heart of what has become the Northeast Minneapolis Brewing District. Bauhaus and their fantastic patio (and their Short Pants, perhaps the ultimate hot-weather brew), is a stone’s throw away. 612’s taproom sits just below the coffee shop where we get our cold press in the morning.
Note: It’s not always easy to choose between a cup of coffee or a cold beer when they’re offered in the same building. Thankfully they don’t open their doors until 4 – otherwise it would make it much harder to concentrate. Also, the Europeans do it all the time. Helps with the creative flow. Beer is the nectar of the gods in Germany and we happen to agree.
Able is just a little bit further. Around the corner is Dangerous Man and Indeed is the same distance in the other direction. Heading east, we find Insight and Headflyer. At the border between St. Paul and Minneapolis, we find Bang, Urban Growler, Dual Citizen, and big dog Surly.
In Midway, there’s Lake Monster, Burning Brothers (the only gluten-free brewery around), and Blackstack.
(The whole list can be found here: The land of 10,000 breweries)
There truly is something for everyone.
“Beer is still the ‘everyman’ drink,” Tommy says. “It’s still a more-affordable and more utilitarian way to get a buzz than say, learning what I would have to learn to really enjoy the wine in the same way. Or waiting how long to get a good craft cocktail. Beer is the drink of people looking for a good time with friends without any pretense.”
Though it wouldn’t be accurate in the slightest to say that “beer” as a concept hasn’t changed drastically in the last 10 years. Long gone are the days when Bud Light and Leinenkugel’s were the standard (and sometimes only) choice for beer in bars and liquor stores. Even Summit, the OG brewery that was crafting microbrews before many Millennials were even alive, has been forced to make room for all the new kids on the block.
Tommy shrugs. “We also demand better – better options and variety, better product, better experience.”
“I remember when I would drink nothing but Summit EPA,” Eric, a home brewer from Roseville, laughs. “Because it was literally the only thing on the menu that wasn’t a macrobrew produced in Milwaukee or St. Louis.”
He pauses for a moment. “Though I do still love my Hamm’s.”
“St. Paul pride!” Tommy says, raising his glass.
The brewing history in the Twin Cities goes back well over a hundred years; before the differences between “macro” and “micro” brew were a necessary, or even possible, distinction. St. Paul’s earliest breweries, like Yoerg (which is making something of comeback, read about that here: yoergbeer.com), and Jacob Schmidt (who’s palatial brewery is now home to artists lofts and a coming-soon food hall) and, yes, of course, Hamm’s, catered only to the locals before expanding nationwide decades later.
The German and Czech immigrant populations of the late 1800’s were our first beer enthusiasts – even the children drank beer, as low-alcohol “near beer” was the safer alternative to tainted drinking water. But while that history doesn’t always get reflected in this new line of breweries and brews, and creative innovation is often the key to success and standing out in the crowd –
(“Can you imagine a key lime pie beer in 1865? Or doing a seasonal with pumpkin and notes of cinnamon and banana to offer the hardworking farmers of the Minnesota prairie?” Tommy laughs. “Or the notion of beer pairings at all?”)
– there’s also a healthy respect for the past in the Twin Cities brewing landscape. Not only is the Yoerg brewing history being revived, and there’s life again in the massive Hamm’s complex in the form of Flat Earth Brewing, Waldmann Brewery, housed in what started as a beer bar back in the 1850’s before losing its way over the years, has made history the entire focus of its operation; it’s a living museum where you can leave with a buzz.
(And, added bonus, Waldmann sits just behind one of our other St. Paul favorites, Bad Weather Brewing. A two-for-one in the best way possible.)
And beer, at the end of the day, is still just beer. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, be it with a shandy on the beach, a stout by the fire, a sour that reminds you of the first time you ate Warheads in second grade, or anything that falls between in one of our countless taprooms across Minnesota, its remains, as Tommy describes, the “everyman/woman” way to get a buzz.
And no matter what the story, the practice, the gimmick, or the gamble that gets people through the door and onto a barstool, one thing remains clear (and has remained clear for over 100 years): Whether the glass is half full or half empty, its an exciting time to have one in hand.