Author: Jeremy Zoss

Autumn Brew Review Recap 2017

An oldie but a goodie. Abr 2006.

By now, everyone who attended the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild Autumn Brew Review should be feeling (more or less) completely recovered. But if not, we can’t blame you. As with every year at ABR, a nearly endless treasure trove of must-have beers were on display, and you could be forgiven for trying to sample just a few too many of the best brews the state has to offer.

There’s something a little strange about writing up the ABR experience, as I’ve done many years in a row for various outlets. I’ve never had anything short of a great time at the Guild’s flagship event, and this year was no different. However, veterans of ABR may have noticed a few differences this year. The layout was different, with Minnesota breweries claiming the outer ring of the event space at the historic Grain Belt brewery, and the national brands more tightly clustered together in the center rows. This was the reverse of the historical layout, and illustrated how large the local brewing scene has grown. The ratio of local to national brands has definitely tipped in favor of the hometown breweries, with many previous national exhibitors nowhere to be seen this year. And finally, perhaps because of a slightly expanded space, or perhaps because there are more beer festivals than ever, the event didn’t seem as completely packed as year’s past. Once an event that reliably sold out in minutes, there were tickets for ABR still available the day before the event.

Of course, the turnout was still very strong, and many of the most popular booths still had impressively long lines for their timed releases. I chose to wait in few of those lines, and still had no trouble sampling impressive beers from all around the event grounds. A few of my standouts:

  • August Schell Lunar Interference: I’m a sucker for the Schell’s Berliner Weiss series, and this was one of the richest, most layered releases yet. Rich, chocolatey, fruity, and complex. The best beer I tried at the event, and I can’t wait to grab a bottle.
  • Badger Hill Tripel Abbey Ale: Belgians are typically not my jam, but this one really worked for me. Smooth, rich, and drinkable. Badger Hill always zigs when you expect them to zag.
  • Barrel Theory DDH Rain Drops: I haven’t tried the standard version of Rain Drops yet, but this double dry hopped version was the best NE IPA I had at ABR, easily.
  • Foxhole Old Snaggletooth: A lovely, drinkable old ale. This was the first beer I’ve tried from Foxhole, and it suggested that a road trip to Willmar may be in order.

I did not have a chance to check out 10K Brewing, who took home the audience choices for both Best Brewery and Best Beer with Loonar Uprising. I guess I’ll have to make a point to check them out next year, when they return as reigning champions. I’m already looking forward to it.

We Came, We Saw, We Dabbled


It’s largely been a mild and dry winter, but in recent weeks the weather has reminded us that yes, we do still live in Minnesota. Cold and snow have returned to make commutes difficult, delay school start times and cause us to break out the shovels. But, it seems, winter decided to give us a little reprieve on Saturdayto let us enjoy the Winter Carnival Beer Dabbler. With temperatures hovering in the mid-30s, it was quite pleasant to be outside during Saturday’s massive outdoor beer festival (with proper layering).

The Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival has grown a lot since its debut seven years ago, said Joe Alton of The Beer Dabbler and The Growler Magazine. “There were less than 10 breweries in the state when we hosted our first Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival in Lowertown,” he said. “There were approximately 1200 people in attendance. This past Saturday we hosted 146 breweries and almost 10,000 guests.”

That number makes The Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival easily one of the biggest beer festivals in the state. “The Beer Dabbler is absolutely 100% the biggest winter beer fest in the state,” said Alton. “We’re also fairly sure the Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival is the largest single-session beer festival in the state and very well could be the largest.”

You might think that the sheer number of attendees at The Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival would make it feel crowded. It did not. Lines at many booths were long, but all moved consistently. If the line at one brewery was too long, you could simply jump to another booth with a shorter line and almost always have a new beer in your sampler glass. The crowd was in high spirits from the start of the event to the end, with nary a complaint heard about the lines. In fact, the only lines that anyone even joked about being too long were those for the bathroom.

Despite this guy's best efforts, the porta potties were fully stocked with toilet paper...

Despite this guy’s best efforts, the porta potties were fully stocked with toilet paper…

“The most difficult thing about organizing an event of this size is scaling up the amenities,” said Alton. “There are some formulas and equations we’ve created to help predict the number of porta potties we’ll need or how much beer and food to have ready for each guest, but it really comes down to the trials and errors that has come with years of experience in hosting this event.”

The years of experience came through. The Dabbler crew assembled an impressive selection of breweries from around the country, spanning an area so large it would be easy to miss entire sections of the festival. Most breweries appeared not to bring the ultra-rare releases that show up at Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild events, but there were still many hard-to-find and exciting beers to try. Surly brought its taproom-only Surly Pils, Summit offered a cask of Saga IPA with Citra hops. Bent Paddle had its recently released Double Shot Double Black, a beer that likely helped propel it to winning the 2016 Lord Dabbler’s Cup.

Even with big name breweries at every turn, the story of the day was smaller breweries. “I keep hearing really good things about Birches on the Lake,” said Alton. “Two or three people mentioned to me they liked what they had tasted from Rhombus Guys Brewing. [Ed. Their pizza is awesome… can’t wait to try the beer.] But alas, I didn’t get time to stop and visit many breweries.” This writer wanted to highlight exactly those two breweries. Birches on the Lake was pouring a style I’d never seen before – a chocolate golden ale that poured a lovely golden color, yet tasted strongly of rich chocolate. I’ve never had a beer like it, which is something I haven’t said in a long time. From Grand Forks, North Dakota, Rhombus Guys featured a stellar coffee stout and a porter that was equally good. These two breweries definitely came onto my radar as ones to watch.


Other personal standout beers for me included Ballast Point’s Pineapple Sculpin, Boulevard’s The Calling IPA and Collaboration #5 Tropical Pale Ale and Insight’s Dank IPA. The Dabbler’s Joe Alton highlighted Fulton’s Eleven OG IPA, Rush River’s new hard cider, Bent Paddle’s Double Shot Double Black and Dangerous Man’s Cabernet Barrel-Aged Belgian Dark Strong, which was tapped to kick off the fest. Of course, with so many breweries present, there were certainly dozens of other amazing beers I didn’t even have a chance to try.

I’m looking forward to the return of warmer weather soon, but it’s good to know that there are events like the Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival every year to lessen the sting when winter inevitably rolls back around.