The bitter, the fruity and … the salty? The new State Fair beverages, reviewed

Jess Fleming/Pioneer Press/TNS
·11 min read

Well, it’s Saturday morning and I’m feeling slightly out-of-sorts after yet another year of sampling all of the State Fair’s new adult beverages in one day. The things I do for you!

Really, though, it’s become a favorite day for me and my friends, who leisurely wander the Fairgrounds, sharing beers safely by using little sample cups that I cart around in a backpack.

There’s a lot of creativity out there, and even when I don’t like a beer, I can appreciate the effort. This year’s drinks, of which there were 46 official newbies, included a lot of sweet stuff, per usual, with a particular emphasis on pineapple and other tropical fruits.

We did not drink any of the wine-based concoctions, because the ones we have tried in the past have been decidedly not our jam, and we don’t feel we can give them a fair (pun intended) shake. We also had exactly two of the many slushies on the list before we decided to not drink any more of those. If you like sweet drinks, you’ll have to check those out on your own.

Here are our thoughts on the new beers, helpfully grouped by location, and in the order we sampled them.

DINO’S GYROS

North side of Carnes Ave., between Nelson and Underwood

Baklava Cream Ale by Bent Brewstillery

Billed as containing notes of vanilla, honey, lemon and walnuts, we got almost none of that from this beer, except maybe vanilla. I think this taster’s comments sum things up nicely: “That tastes like corn flakes are mad at you.”

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5.5 percent; International Bittering Units (IBU): 20

Epic Yuzu by Surly Brewing Co.

If you like yuzu, the east Asian citrus fruit, you will like this. Tart, refreshing and just a really well-done fruit-infused beer. We liked that the ABV was nice and low. Perfect for day drinking and pairs great with Dino’s killer new food, tirokroketes, which are little cheese croquettes.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 4.5 percent; International Bittering Units (IBU): 20

Bomba Bull Frosé All Day Slushy

I wish that I had noticed that this overly sweet concoction had Red Bull in it before I ordered it. I hate Red Bull, and that fake-sugar-forward flavor really overwhemed anything else this had going on. One taster said it reminded him of sweet tarts. If you like sweet drinks and Red Bull, you will like this. If not, skip it.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 4.7 percent

MANCINI’S AL FRESCO

North side of Carnes Ave., between Nelson and Underwood St.

Lemon Razzicle Cream Ale by Indeed Brewing Company

This beer, which is supposed to be inspired by sorbet, had a distinct Hawaiian Punch nose and some off flavors that we couldn’t really place. A taster called it “melted popsicle beer” and I couldn’t really disagree.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5.5 percent; International Bittering Units (IBU): 15

BALL PARK CAFE

East side of Underwood St., between Dan Patch and Carnes Ave.

Chili Pineapple Express Sour by Pryes Brewing Company

This very pineapple-y sour really hit the mark for us, and several of us even filled our sample cup twice. Tajin chili-lime spice on the rim upped the delicious factor without making it too spicy.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 4.8 percent

COLD IPA by Bent Paddle Brewing

Cold IPAs, essentially cold-fermented lagers that are hopped like an IPA, are all the rage right now, and it’s easy to see why. This excellent example of the style has a nice, crisp, hoppy bitterness but is also seriously refreshing. If I could only have one beer at the Fair again, this would be it.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 6 percent

CROWD CONTROL by BlackStack Brewing

It seems like our group of tasters is sort of over the New England-style IPAs, but we weren’t mad at this one. Silky, fruity, cloudy and strong — this beer is not for those with a low tolerance for hops or alcohol.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 8 percent

CUCUMBER SUMMER by Indeed Brewing Company

Billed as an IPA with a little cucumber flavor, this knock-you-over-the-head cucumber-forward beer is definitely not as advertised. One of our tasters said, “that is like the worst part of the cucumber,” and I think that sums it up. Hard pass.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 6.5 percent

FAIR MULLET by Lupulin

The Fair new beverages list described this fairly typical NE IPA as “more mullet, more jean jacket and all party.” OK. It tastes fine if you like this style. The name is funny, we’ll give them that.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 6.5 percent

Kirby Pucker #34 Preserved Lemon by Eastlake Craft Brewery

One of our tasters said this lovely sour was “the kind of lemony I wish a shandy was,” and I couldn’t agree more. 100 percent would seek out again.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5 percent

BLUE MACAROON, a collaboration by Modist Brewing and Forager Brewing

I’m just going to go ahead and list all the ingredients in this odd duck of a blue-colored beer: almonds, milk sugar, marshmallows, vanilla bean, lemon, coconut, pilsner malt and blue spirulina. It’s like they emptied the pantry into the brew pot and the result is vanilla-forward and just all-around yuck.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5.5 percent

RON GANT WAS OUT by Surly Brewing Co.

A nice, light, refreshing pale ale that tastes suspiciously like Surly Xtra Citra. I usually hate Citra hops but this beer manages to bring out their best quality. Get a big one.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5.5 percent

SIP HOP by Dual Citizen Brewing Company

West Coast IPAs, with all their clarity and straightforward bitterness, are back, and we’re here for it. This one has bitterness, but it’s also just a pleasant, crisp, grapefruity delight. Good stuff.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 6.5 percent

TRIPPLE ORANGE

True confession time: I love vanilla in baked goods, but I firmly believe it ruins every beer it touches. Despite that, this “beer,” which includes tangerines, cara cara and blood oranges, too, is kind of delicious? It would be good with an egg sandwich for breakfast. One of our tasters said, “I don’t know if it’s a good beer, but it’s a pleasant drink.”

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 7 percent

LULU’S PUBLIC HOUSE

West End Market, south of Schell’s Stage at Schiling Amphitheater

STRAWBERRY RHUBARB CIDER by Sociable Cider Werks

The tart-bitter strawberry-rhubarb pairing is on full display here and it’s lovely. A taster said, “It’s like carbonated juice. I’ll take it!” Me too.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 6.2 percent

ELECTRIK EMPRESS by August Schell Brewing Company

If you’re looking for a really special beer at the Minnesota State Fair, this is the one. At $10 for a short pour, it’s not priced for the faint of heart, but that didn’t stop a line from forming at this tucked-away spot on the northeast corner of the Lulu’s building. This beer spent a year slow-fermenting in a nearly century-old cypress wood lagering tank, then another year maturing atop of 6,600 pounds of plums. There’s a little of that funky, barnyard-y wild yeast flavor, but not enough to be off-putting. Overall, it’s just a super interesting, refreshing, fruity, pretty beer.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5.9 percent; International Bittering Units (IBU): 4

MN HONEY CHAMOMILE MEAD by Sociable Cider Werks

The Elektrik Empress was one of our favorites of the day, but this equally expensive concoction being poured from the same location won the prize for our most hated drink. There was a lot of cussing among the tasters, who all sipped before I did, and I have to admit that the bile-like smell was so off-putting that I had a hard time letting any of the liquid pass my lips. I finally sipped, and instantly regretted it. One of the few family friendly quotes from our tasters sums it up: “It tastes like my compost pile smells.”

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5.9 percent

GRAIN BELT LIM’ by Grain Belt

Tastes as expected, like Grain Belt with lime. A taster said, “This is the lawnmower beer I didn’t know I needed.”

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 4.7 percent

MANGO COASTER by Toppling Goliath

If I’m going to have a fruit-infused beer, I prefer it to be a hint of fruit. This is not that. The most accurate taster comment I have is this: “I think they forgot the beer.”

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5 percent

LULUNATIC by Surly Brewing Co.

Another West Coast IPA, this is a lovely example of the style. Bright and citrusy with a crisp, dry finish, we could throw back a few of these in the sunshine.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 7.2 percent; International Bittering Units (IBU): 50

BLUE BARN

West End Market

Hay-Z, a collaboration by The Freehouse and Lift Bridge Brewing Company

The best of the hazy (or New England) IPAs we tried. Lighter than most hazies, fruity but not sweet. Worth seeking out.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5.5 percent; International Bittering Units (IBU): 25

RC’s BBQ

North side of Dan Patch Ave., between Liggett and Chambers St.

PITT BOSS, a collaboration between Bauhaus Brew Labs and Animales BBQ

This blonde ale is fermented on smoked peaches from Animales. Not going to lie — we were all nervous about this one, but it definitely blew us away. The smoke is there, but not overpowering, and it’s peachy without tasting like the syrup from a can of them. It would go great with any of the barbecue here.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5 percent

THE HIDEAWAY SPEAKEASY

The Veranda, northwest section of Grandstand upper level

HIDEAWAY SUNSET by Bent Brewstillery

We had an argument about this tequila sunrise-inspired beer that went like this: I said, “Maybe it’s good if you don’t like beer?” and a taster shot back, “Is it, though?” I guess I’ll let you be the judge. Be warned, though: It’s sweet.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 6 percent; International Bittering Units (IBU): 10

COASTERS

Southeast corner of Carnes Ave. and Liggett St.

Arnold Palmer Spiked Slushy

I took one sip and started singing, “I believe in Crystal Light, ‘cause I believe in me!” Also, I hate Crystal Light. This ended our slushy sampling.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5 percent

WALKING ON SUNSHINE WATERMELON BLONDE ALE by Bald Man Brewing

Nondescript, fruity beer. A little Watermelon vegetal flavor. Overall, just fine if fruit-spiked blondes are your thing.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 4.4 percent

THE FRONTIER

South side of Carnes Ave., between Liggett and Nelson St.

TUMBLEWEED HAZY IPA by Fulton Brewing

Another hour, another hazy. This one is … more bitter than the others, which is sort of matching my feelings about hazy IPAs at this point.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5.5 percent

CAFE CARIBE

South side of Carnes Ave. between Chambers and Nelson St.

Piña Colager by Bauhaus Brew Labs

Hmmm, a fruit-flavored lager! That’s a new one! We got lots of pineapple flavor, but not much coconut. Still, overall, it was something we would totally drink again.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 4.5 percent; International Bittering Units (IBU): 12

THE HANGAR

Northeast corner of Underwood St. and Murphy Ave.

CHERRY LIMEADE BLONDE by Lupulin

It’s possible that I’m getting loopy by this point, but I think this beer is kinda crushable! Others thought it had a bit of a soapy flavor, but I wasn’t getting that.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5 percent

GREEN CARAMEL APPLE SOUR by Mankato Brewery

So often, when a beer is billed as tasting like something, it totally does not. This one does. Green apple, check. Caramel, check. It’s pretty good.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 4.5 percent

HANGAR HONEY by Third Street Brewhouse

We didn’t hate this. We didn’t love it, either. It was kind of sweet and nondescript. One taster put it thusly: “I wouldn’t go out of my way for it, but for State Fair beer, it’s good.”

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 4.8 percent

PINEAPPLE UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE’D UP by Mankato Brewery

This was definitely our least favorite of the pineapple beers. Too much vanilla. Too sweet. We could only handle a sip each.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5 percent; International Bittering Units (IBU): 15

GIGGLE’S CAMPFIRE GRILL

Southeast corner of Lee Ave. and Cooper St.

OLIVE LAGER by Insight Brewing

This take on the Midwest Martini (a light beer with olives floating in it) was probably the most anticipated by our tasters, which is why it was such a disappointment that there was just wayyyy too much olive flavor in it. Seriously almost like drinking alcoholic olive brine.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5 percent; International Bittering Units (IBU): 15

O’GARA’S AT THE FAIR

Southwest corner of Dan Patch Ave. and Cosgrove St.

MANGO MIRACULUM by Pryes Brewing

This was way better than Toppling Goliath’s mango monstrosity. It was more beer, blessedly less mango. If you like mango, get this.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 6.4 percent

TOOTSIE HOP by Lakes & Legends Brewing Company

Not sure what else to say except that this tastes like a Tootsie Pop. So … nailed it? I could never drink a whole one, but to each their own.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 7.2 percent

INTERNATIONAL BAZAAR

ALL DAY A-FAIR by Summit Brewing Company

Yes, we ended our night with a very responsible non-alcohohlic beer. And while we appreciate there being options for the non-drinkers among us, this kinda missed the mark for us. It had a kind of eau de Lysol going on, and not enough beer flavor. We didn’t get any of the promised melon, apricot or pear aromas either.

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