Author: David

Ski-U-Mah! Finnegan’s Brews One (in time) for the Gophers (game)

Finnegan’s limited seasonal release Running with Axes is out just in time for this Saturday’s defense of Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

From the brewery:

“This weekend, the Minnesota Gophers will take on the Wisconsin Badgers in a fight to keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe right where it belongs. Football fans are certainly going to need a beer to calm the nerves and *fingers crossed* celebrate the win. That’s where FINNEGANS can help, with their “Running with Axes” beer, displaying the champion’s trophy in the hands of a Paul Bunyan-esque lumberjack. The IPA is brewed exclusively with Minnesota-grown Mighty Axe Hops, Maltwerks Malts grown in Detroit Lakes, MN, and is M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A strong with 6.8% ABV.”

The fetching plaid cans are available in stores now and will be available at TCF Bank Stadium for the game.


Review – Surly Frost Pack Newcomers

Mention Brut around this time of year and visions of iconic (and I use that term loosely) commercials and thoughts of endcaps full of personal care products bubble up in the brain. Apparently, the holidays are the one time a year people need to be reminded they might smell bad and should probably do something about that.

However, Brut – the green, long-necked bottle of seventh grade – is not what’s on topic here. Nor is Stetson, Preferred Stock or White Diamonds. I’m talking about Brut the style descriptor – usually of champagne/sparkling wine, but more recently used to describe a style of very dry, effervescent IPA. Surly has brewed their own version of this style, as well as (for the very first time) a genuine porter and put them in their winter variety twelve-pack. Please enjoy these tasting notes of warmth and celebration for your holiday season.


Surly Mortal Sun

American Porter

ABV – 5.5%

Aroma: Crisp and chocolatey with bitter coffee notes. You can tell it’s going to be dry right from the first whiff.

Appearance: Dark brown to black.   

Flavor: Dark chocolate and coffee. Very toasty body with sustained bitterness from start to finish.

Mouthfeel: Light on the palate and drinkable. This is not Darkness (i.e., heavy and sippable).

Overall Impression: If you don’t know what you’re getting from Surly by now, you haven’t been paying attention; a great representation of the style that is turned up to 11. 


Surly Liquid Stardust

Sparkling/Brut IPA

ABV – 7.0%

Aroma: Bitter and citrusy. Complex. 

Appearance: Between yellow and dark yellow. 

Flavor: There’s a lot to unpack here. Lemon peel slaps you in the face right away and the other fruity hop notes play underneath that banner – melon, mango and pineapple all popped out, but that lemon bitterness carried throughout. 

Mouthfeel: Not an understatement when they say incredibly crisp and dry. Very refreshing, but the bitterness makes you pace yourself. 

Overall Impression: I had to do a couple rounds of tasting to get a good impression of this one. This included stopping in the taproom and comparing it to the Brut IPA on tap there. There was a distinct difference between the two and I see why they chose to can this version. The multiple fruit undertones along with the bitterness make it a more interesting and tasty. 

Best Pilsner in the Midwest

Apologies to the Dayton brothers, but I’m calling us the Midwest for this one. I started with an idea, made difficult decisions and, admittedly, stood on the shoulders of others to choose seven beers from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Missouri to taste-test and crown one winner.

Why, though? Glad you asked.

In 2016, Paste magazine did a taste test of 62 of the best Pilsners from around the country and my interest was piqued because I could feasibly get my hands on the top two: Summit Keller Pils and Urban Chestnut Stammtisch. 1,2 I wanted to put them to the test myself, and so it began.


Beer Selections:

4 Hands Brewing City Wide Pils 
Urban Chestnut Stammtisch

A friend was headed to St. Louis at the right time, so I arranged to get some cans of Stammtisch and, since they were down there, some City Wide Pils from 4 Hands Brewing — a favorite brewery not distributed here.3

Ale Asylum 12oz Curl
Door County Clawhammer

I had sampled Ale Asylum’s 12oz Curl this spring and I was impressed. I asked Wisconsin beer authority, Chris Drosner (@WIbeerbaron) for a second opinion and to recommend another for the “competition”. He concurred with my opinion on 12oz Curl and offered-up Clawhammer as another.4

“Both are on the German side of the line,” Drosner told me, “but Claw is a little more robust, Curl a bit more delicate…”

Fair State Pils
Summit Dakota Soul
Summit Keller Pils

The Growler did the yeoman’s work of sifting through local Pilsners for me.5 Twenty-five local ones were taste-tested and judged by BJCP judges — probably wise to trust them. Their winner was Fair State Pils, also a choice of MNBeer staff who also chose to include Summit Dakota Soul.6,7

Other states were not ignored. Iowa and the Dakotas, it was concluded, don’t offer much in this style and Illinois? Well…that was a pool I simply didn’t want to wade into.


Who and How:

All beers we sampled were purchased retail; no freebies in this round.8 Sampling was blind and included four individuals: one BJCP judge, myself, and two beer enthusiast friends.9 The methodology was loosely based on the BJCP scoring guidelines. Loosely, in that we awarded points in their five categories — Aroma, Appearance, Flavor, Mouthfeel and Overall Impression — adding up to 50 possible points. These were not judged to style alone; I’d hoped to get actual impressions of the beer versus focusing technical merit.


The Results:

7th: Door County Clawhammer


Flavor was there with this one, but our sample lacked carbonation and that ended up being it’s downfall. Unfortunate, because I like Door County. I’d try it again

“Too little carbonation. Decent balance…could be much better if the carb was there.”





6th: 4 Hands City Wide Pils


Another low-carbonation beer. Oxidation possibly present here too.

“Light Body, low carbonation”
“Probably would prefer shotgunning over drinking”






5th: Ale Asylum 12oz Curl


This one had the most interesting aroma. Overall, consensus said it was good, but could be better. Perhaps it’s not trying to take over the world, though.

“Flowers, honey and spice. Very complex aroma.”
“Nothing really stands out, but very drinkable.”
“Could easily drink 8-10 of these, possibly at a show at the Triple Rock”




4th: Fair State Pils


Probably the most widely-varied responses here. Aroma notes ranged from “faint” to “pond water”. Balance seemed to be there, but it seemed to be built for volume consumption.

“I want more Pils malt, it’s just too dry and bitter.”
“Less bready and more drinkable”
“Could easily drink 6 on a hot day and probably still ride a motorcycle.”




3rd: Urban Chestnut Stammtisch


This one seemed to be the best German Pils of the bunch — Spicy and clean. If you’re a fan of Schell’s Pils, this is likely your next-level beer.

“Not enough Pils malt for me. Bitterness & dryness.”
“Bolder than the others and dry. I like it.”
“Baseball game — i.e. the “nice” beer at a 1990s Twins Game”




2nd: Summit Keller Pils


All around solid. This one performed about as well as expected; pleased everyone without ruffling any feathers.

“Well-built and pleasant to drink.”
“Light, crisp, bready”
“Every feature is calculated and spot-on”





1st: Summit Dakota Soul


Acknowledging the risk of looking like we’re glad-handing Summit, first by including both their Pilsners and then placing them 1-2…this was indeed the clear winner. Drinkability became the deciding factor here.

“Very pleasant and good-drinking. Sign me up for a case.”
“Highly drinkable and flavorful.”




There you have it! Official opinions from people just like you. There are great Pilsners we did not review, so I encourage you to get out and try them. Pilsners (and lagers in general) have less room to hide imperfections and if someone can brew you a good one, that’s a good sign.  




1Summit’s other Pilsner at the time — aptly named ‘Pilsner’ — is no longer brewed but placed 13th. Surly’s ‘Merica came in at 16.
2The Paste tasting was repeated and more than doubled in size to 134 beers. Staggering. This was published on May 29th, 2018. As I type, that was two days ago, and of course the rankings changed. Both Keller Pils and Stammtisch made the top-tier but not as high as before. It just goes to show, never be surprised or dismayed by the myriad ways the universe will find to laugh at you.
3Considered: 4 Hands City Museum Pilsner – it’s good, but has tangerine in it. Refreshing, yes, but it was so different that we didn’t feel bad leaving it out of the rankings. And Schlafly – ? I really expected them to have made one. Alas…
4Considered: Lakefront Pils, Potosi Czech Style Pilsner
Honorable Mention Because I didn’t try it until after the taste test: 3 Sheeps Pils. This one should really have been included. Furthermore, Fresh Coast from 3 Sheeps — a session IPA — deserves all the attention it can get, but we aren’t discussing IPAs here.
5I still sampled some to be sure, but I’d like to thank all the judges and contributors to the article for saving me the time, money and effort of doing that all myself. Cheers! 
6I had polled the office staff here at MNBeer and considered my own experience of taste testing up to that point. Our recommendations weren’t limited to two, though…we had three. Fair State and Keller Pils, for sure, but the new entrant was Summit’s Dakota Soul — new this year and worthy of a shot. And this is MNBeer, right? Why not have three entrants from the home team? 
7Considered: Bent Paddle Venture Pils, Bauhaus Wonderstuff, Fulton Pils, Indeed B-Side Pils, Lake Monster Calhoun Claw, Schell’s Pils
Not considered because I have to draw the line somewhere, and I can’t both finish a taste-testing and continue to make tweaks every time a new release comes out or an award is earned: Steel Toe Pilsner, Beaver Island Check Pils, any of the other myriad Pilsners that have been released since I started this.
8Which meant there were LOTS of leftovers. I was the Johnny Appleseed of Pilsner beers this Memorial Day weekend.
9One was the friend who’d gotten all the St. Louis beers for me but really doesn’t care for Pilsners, and the other, a friend who will happily sample just about anything and can tell you a great story about Nate Anderson who drove a teal Ranger in high school and once got busted in the parking lot for throwing away his empties from Tommy Swanson’s party in the garbage can outside the school office. 

Review – Surly HeatSlayer

So much slay coming your way. HeatSlayer, a Kölsch-style ale featured in Surly’s seasonal variety pack, is available now. Surly is even throwing a party for it this Sunday the 27th where, for the price of admission, you can get unlimited food and pours of this new beer. They’re calling it Slay Day.

If that weren’t enough, thrash metal legends Slayer are coming through town this week on their farewell tour. I’ve heard music and beer go well together, so let’s review them both at the same time:


Surly HeatSlayer

Kölsch-style ale

ABV – 5.0%

Thursday, May 24 – Slayer @ The Armory in Minneapolis

Sunday, May 27th – Slay Day @ Surly Beer Garden

Aroma: Bready and crisp. Really no indication that Slayer’s been making music for nearly as long as I’ve been alive and this is their final tour.

Appearance: Pours a very light straw color and Tom Araya doesn’t really headbang anymore which is interesting to see. Still, the show will be worth it; I hear the Armory is a great venue and Gary Holt really does Jeff Hanneman justice.  

Flavor: Consistent with the Surly approach, this is as hoppy as this style should get, without being overpowering. This makes it a nice complement to the variety pack in that it fits the theme, but definitely stands out from the other members of the Big Four – Hell (Megadeth), Xtra Citra (Anthrax) and Furious (Metallica).

Mouthfeel: Fine, I guess, but why worry? This is absolutely the least important feature to consider when shotgunning beers before a metal show.

Overall Impression: This is good, but “Raining Blood” will always be their signature track. Personally, “South of Heaven” is my fave. And to think, neither of those were what earned them Grammys.

Slayer is done after this tour and HeatSlayer is exclusive to the variety pack so get on both now.


Review – Tin Whiskers Waveform

Hazy, juicy, funky, fruity, milkshake glitter.

These features don’t often interest me when it comes to beer, but they would make for an interesting My Little Pony. IT seems new releases lately are either riding the trend (who can blame them) or are shifting to lighter, summer-themed styles, so when I saw last week that Tin Whiskers had released Waveform, a West Coast IPA, my interest was piqued.

“Why now?” I thought.

“Why not?” my inner monologue continued. “You like this style, so stop asking questions.”

It seemed a break from the norm. Hazy IPAs are de rigueur [Tin Whiskers actually released their own – Distortion – not too long ago] and while I like Pilsners, Kölschs and hefeweizens, they aren’t my go-to styles. This release seemed to be speaking to me.

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I bought a four-pack of Waveform. Here’s my impression:

Tin Whiskers Waveform

West Coast IPA

ABV – 6.3%

IBU – 80

Aroma: Bright and citrusy hops up front. Not heavy, no indication they’ve used spicy or piney hops.

Appearance: Pours clear and light gold – a good sign based solely on my preferences.  

Flavor: Light, citrusy hops for a moment and then you’re hit with a hammer of piney, bitter hops. The Mosaic hops are noticeable but don’t dominate the way they can in other beers. This flavor lingers and you all but forget there was a citrus note at the beginning.

Mouthfeel: Clean and dry. No sweetness hanging around. This is surprisingly drinkable for being as hoppy as it is.

Overall Impression: Really a bold take on the West Coast IPA – which I would expect to be clear, dry and featuring hops with pine notes. This fits the bill and takes the hoppy part to the limit.

This is definitely my favorite IPA from Tin Whiskers, a spot formerly held by the previously mentioned Distortion. They’ve quietly been making some pretty solid new beers, in my opinion. Waveform is in stores and in the taproom right now, so enjoy it while it lasts.