What makes a beer special?
Is it execution? Wow factor? Adherence to a trend? What are the details that make a beer stick in your mind long after you’ve drained the can? More often than not, it’s a combination of things. That’s the beauty of beer -- it appeals on many levels at the same time.
The true measure of a beer is balance. It’s maintaining a confluence of factors in harmony. One of those characteristics -- say hops or malt or even booziness -- may hold dominion over the others, but the key is maintaining the whole ecosystem. Here are the beers released in Minnesota that did it best this month.
Surly 60 Below Rye IPA
IPA, 6.5% ABV, n/a IBU
Though Surly doesn’t list an IBU for 60 Below, they advertise it as “assertively bitter,” which is a refreshing return to form for the formerly hop-crazed Prospect Park powerhouse. 60 Below is dry-hopped with experimental 06297 and Ekuanot hops, giving it that resinous, grassy bitterness that mid-2000s IPAs were known for. But the piles and piles of flaked rye and cararye are truly the most assertive elements. The rye in 60 Below oscillates between hard candy and freshly baked bread, depending on where you are in the sip. 60 Below is available only in the new Surly mixed 12 packs, although it's also on tap at the beer hall for a limited time.
Castle Danger White Pine Project IPA
IPA, 5.6% ABV, n/a IBU
Drink a pint, save a pine. That’s not the slogan for Castle Danger’s new seasonal IPA White Pine Project, but it could be. Sales of the juicy, resinous IPA support the reinstatement of the North Shore’s struggling white pine population. White Pine Project is appropriately piney, hearkening back to the West Coast IPA heyday while still preserving some softness in the head. It’s the kind of multi-session, serviceable IPA that you can stock your fridge with week in and week out without worrying about overkill. Think Steel Toe Size 7 with a mission, or Indeed Let It Ride with a flourish for Arbor Day.
Bent Paddle Valve Jockey: Doppelbock
Lager, 7.7% ABV, 16 IBU
Bent Paddle’s Valve Jockey series only launched in 2017, and it’s already become a pipeline of the Duluth brewery’s best beers. Released earlier this month, their Doppelbock is a gorgeous German classic with a molasses-colored body and a light bubblegum yeast flavor. The beer is sweet, teeming with caramel malt flavors. It’s the perfect brew for quelching the nose-running heat of a spicy dinner. Drink a frothy, overflowing stein of it while it’s still on shelves.
Lift Bridge/Goose Island Gray Duck
Baltic porter, 7.1% ABV, 29 IBU
Lift Bridge is celebrating 10 years of quality brewing with one of the biggest collaborations Minnesota has ever seen. The Stillwater stalwarts teamed up with Chicago’s Goose Island (an AB InBev brand, mind you) to make a beer neither brewery has ever made before: a roasty baltic porter called Gray Duck. Though the style is a wink at Chicago’s Polish heritage, the name is all Minnesota. Pouring with a dreamy mocha pillow of a head, the beer carries big, sensual wafts of aisin and vanilla. It’s a fantastic warmer of a beer, best enjoyed after digging your car out for the tenth time this week. Look for Gray Duck at Twin Cities-area bars like Red Cow (St. Paul), Town Hall Tap, and Grumpy’s (Roseville). Otherwise, you’ll need to head south to get a taste on tap at the brewery.
BlackStack Loud Pack
Double IPA, 8% ABV, n/a IBU
When BlackStack’s Local 755 NEIPA hit the canning line, it immediately captured the audience it’d been seeking in the brewery’s St. Paul taproom. Local 755 has been selling out in local liquor stores, so much so that the hopmasters at BlackStack have decided to double down on the haze craze with a double dry-hopped double IPA named Loud Pack. Loud Pack just hit shelves this past week, and bottle shops are already imposing strict limits on the highly touted 8% IPA. The beer is overrun with en vogue hops like El Dorado, Mosaic, and Galaxy, giving it that coveted squishy citrus taste and aroma. But that big-boy ABV doesn’t hide, parting the overwhelming hops with a boozy tickle. This beer is not for the light-hearted. Not by any measure.
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