The 2014 Vita.mn Six-Pack

Our panel of beer experts — and Vita.mn readers — assembled the six best Minnesota brews available right now. It’s on sale exclusively at Surdyk’s.

MICHAEL RIETMULDER | PHOTOS BY AARON LAVINSKY
Updated 11/7/2014

Five beer geeks crammed into a couple of corner tables at the Happy Gnome in September to drink and nerd out about beer. Pints were finished. “Token black ale” jokes were made. Over multiple rounds and general BS-ing, the second annual Vita.mn Six-Pack emerged.

Every year (since last year), Vita.mn gathers a bunch of beer smarties to honor Minnesota brews that stand out among their peers. In 2013, we inaugurated a ’Sota Suds Hall of Fame of iconic and game-changing beers: Summit EPA, Grain Belt Premium, Schell’s Pils, Bent Paddle Black Ale, Steel Toe Size 7 and Surly Furious. This year, we selected a “best on the shelf” sixer drawing on multiple styles.

Six-Pack rules: The beers had to be widely and currently available in stores (we still love ya, brewpubs and limited releases). Last year’s Hall of Fame beers were retired from consideration. The panel also had the option of enshrining any of this year’s winners into the Hall.

Without further ado, we present the 2014 Vita.mn Six-Pack, which you can totally buy at Surdyk’s in Minneapolis right now.

 

Lager: Schell’s Firebrick

It took about a minute for the panel to settle on this Minnesota staple. “I’m crazy about Schell’s Firebrick,” gushed Michael Agnew, the state’s most celebrated cicerone. High praise from a guy who hit up 200-plus Midwest breweries for his latest book. The Vienna lager debuted in 1998 — when some of today’s craft brewers were dealing with acne instead of experimental hops — as part of the 154-year-old Schell’s winter Snowstorm series. But Firebrick, which has a malty sweetness and brims with baking spices, was too good to be confined to sweater weather and is now available year-round. This unanimous fave was the only beer elected to the Vita.mn beer Hall of Fame class of 2014.

 

Stout, porter or dark ale: Steel Toe Dissent

“If you’re talking Minnesota in November, you’ve got to have something really big,” reasoned Growler editor Joe Alton. After lamenting the few quality packaged Minnesota porters (besides Summit’s Great Northern Porter), the panel settled on Steel Toe Dissent as the front-runner. “I had [Steel Toe] in the ‘Dear Lord, we need to get them on somewhere’ category,” beer scribe and historian Doug Hoverson said. This oat-laced export stout of sorts is fortifying yet drinkable — big but not too big, with a wealth of roasty, mocha characters that unfurl as it warms. Another example of why Steel Toe brewer Jason Schoneman is one of the best around.

 

IPA/APA: Summit Saga

Being the land of 10,000 IPAs, Minnesota needed another India pale ale like it needs a disappointing Vikings season. But when St. Paul’s stud brewery rolled out Saga, its answer to West Coast IPAs, in 2012, it quickly became a fan favorite. “Within two years it’s over 16 percent of our production, which is phenomenal,” Summit founder Mark Stutrud said earlier this year. Maybe IPA is not a style known for balance, but Saga’s bouquet of tropical fruit flavors gives hop heads what they crave, while a faintly grainy malt bill plays an Oscar-worthy supporting role.

 

Belgian or classic European: Bent Paddle 14° ESB

In less than two years, Duluth’s Bent Paddle Brewing Co. has emerged as one of Minnesota’s elite. The North Shore rock stars unleashed another hit this year with this extra special bitter. “It’s enough different from Fuller ESB to not be a clone,” said Hoverson, referencing the benchmark ESB. “It’s got a little bit more hop to it, but it’s got such a good character on its own.” Bent Paddle’s rendition of a British ale boasts sweeping caramel-y, nutty qualities and won gold at this year’s Great American Beer Festival. The bottom line: “It really is fucking good,” Alton said.

 

Wild card: Brau Brothers Moo Joos

Brau Brothers, born in small-town Lucan, Minn., scored big with this oatmeal milk stout. While in-your-face Russian imperials and barrel-aged behemoths are all the rage, Moo Joos brings big-time depth without bolstering its booziness. “One of the things that struck me while going through this list is how many breweries start with ‘B,’ ” Hoverson cracked. “It’s alliteration,” the Growler’s Alton quipped. Ahem, guys? Coffee and cocoa flavors commingle in this silky standout stout that helped establish its rural Minnesota maker.

 

Vita.mn Reader vote: Lift Bridge Hop Dish

“Lift Bridge is making incredibly consistent beer and making a lot of beer that’s still underrated, even though they’re one of the third, fourth or fifth forefathers of beer around here,” Alton said. Truth. As blogger and beer activist Andrew Schmitt noted, “Farm Girl built that brewery.” But Vita.mn readers looked past the six-year-old Stillwater brewery’s flagship saison for this hop-walloping IPA (see the full reader vote, next page). A seven-hop combo gives this brew a citrus burst with a lingering piney-ness, while a strong (but not quite Furious strong) malt bill holds its own. “I’d rather drink Hop Dish than Farm Girl,” Hoverson proclaimed.

 

The Vita.mn Six-Pack

Contents: Schell’s Firebrick, Brau Brothers Moo Joos, Steel Toe Dissent, Lift Bridge Hop Dish, Bent Paddle 14° ESB, Summit Saga.

Where: Exclusively on sale at Surdyk’s Liquor & Cheese Shop, 303 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls.

Price: $10.99.

Info: 612-379-3232 or www.surdyks.com.

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