The 2016 Minnesota State Fair featured at least 10 new fair-exclusive beers. I’ll just come right out and admit that a Mouth Trap cheese curd value bucket pretty much destroyed my ability to put back that many brews. That, and I had to save room for – GASP – tried-and-true Minnesota beers that weren’t new to the fair this year.
Upon our arrival at the State Fair West End area, we made a beeline for Schell’s Red Citrus Sangria lager. The geniuses at Minnesota’s oldest brewery basically won the State Fair beer game in 2014 when they unveiled a blueberry-infused beer topped with a frozen foam head, Grain Belt Blu. Well, they did it again. This time, they infused a lager with all of the flavors of your favorite red wine punch. Then, topped it with slushy beer foam. ? ? ?
It’s safe to say I am a Bent Paddle fan girl, so I couldn’t wait to try the Hopmosa, the signature Bent Hop IPA infused with oranges. A ton of them. Like, hopefully enough that the farmer who grew them is enjoying a nice retirement about now. The initial sweet orange flavor reminds me of Hi-C and like a true 90s kid, I can’t resist. Prior to my trip to the fair, I read some reviews saying there was no discernible difference between hop bitterness and orange bitterness. Joke’s on them because I don’t care – I LOVE IT. Bitter orange peel. Bitter hop. It’s all good to me right now because I’m on a bitter kick.
When it comes to the ever-growing gimmicky set of State Fair beers, I think three things determine success or failure.
1. Is the base beer good?
2. Does the beer actually remind you of the iconic State Fair food it’s mimicking? (Bonus points if you actually like that food. If you don’t like sweet corn, why would you like Sweet Corn Ale?)
3. Do the accouterments enhance or diminish the quality of the beer? (I’m looking at you…Maple Bacon Brown….)
For all of these reasons, I have to say: If you want a great beer – forget the shtick. Get you to the Land of 10,000 Craft Beers and savor everything this great state has to offer. Flights here are reasonably priced and well curated for all types of palettes from craft beer newbies to total hopheads. A trip to the fair is not complete without one of these cardboard treasures.
We opted for the Cicerone’s Choice because it offered the most flavor variety and some beers we hadn’t drank recently including Town Hall Brewery’s 3-Hour Tour, Fulton 300 Mosaic IPA, Fair State’s Hefeweizen and Dangerous Man’s legendary Peanut Butter Porter. I couldn’t keep my lips off of the 3-Hour Tour, a very light-bodied coconut milk stout.
Last, but not least: Don’t miss Bent Brewstillery’s Sweat Together IPA (Available at Ballpark Cafe, aka Craft Brew Territory), this is an easily sessionable IPA meant to be crushed on the hottest days of the Great Minnesota Get Together.
Did you try a beer I missed? Let me know in the comments.