Christmas is officially past, and New Years is just days away, which means it’s time for our annual reflection on our favorite breweries of the year (or — perhaps more accurately — the beers that got us through 2020). No thanks to COVID-19, there were significantly fewer Ale Adventures than we’d hoped for this year. Even so, we did manage to fit in a couple trips between self-imposed quarantines and government-mandated stay-at-home orders. We also scored a free mini-fridge that someone had left for free at the end of their driveway for our own growing collection of beverages to imbibe at home. So, maybe 2020 wasn’t a total bust after all! Anyways, we digress. Here are our Top 5 Favorite Breweries of 2020:
1. Earth Rider Brewery
One of the trips we did manage to make this year was a 4th of July weekend trip to Duluth, MN and Superior, WI — together known as the Twin Ports. One of our favorite stops was a re-visit to Earth Rider Brewery in Superior. We’d first visited Earth Rider two years before during a fall trip up the North Shore. The Cedar Lounge taproom was cozy and the beer enjoyable, we thought at the time, but nothing in particular stood out to us one way or another. As months passed, however, we would hear a lot of people rave about Earth Rider Brewery, and — by the time July rolled around — we were eager to visit again.
Maybe it was the patriotism in the 4th of July air, but our summer visit was vastly different and vividly memorable. With coronavirus in play, the Cedar Lounge this time around was closed for indoor service. Instead, we laid out a blanket in the large, grassy beer garden and enjoyed live music from local legend Charlie Parr as a cool breeze blew in from nearby Lake Superior. It was blissfully relaxing and enjoyable and still stands as one of the highlights of our entire year! We enjoyed our time at Earth Rider Brewery that day so much, in fact, that we ended up visiting again the next two days as well! Not only was the environment great, but the beer was great as well. In contrast to the mostly warm-season beers our first visit, Earth Rider’s summer quenchers really stood out to us, especially The Duluth Coffee Pale Ale, Raspbecrush Tart Wheat Ale and Tap Shack Caribbean Lager. Adam still holds that the Caribbean Lager was the best beer he had all year!
July’s visit to Earth Rider Brewery was a wonderful respite from the realities of COVID-19 and a taste of what we can hopefully look forward to again in summers to come.
2. Falling Knife Brewing Co.
A first impression can go a long ways (a life lesson in general), and Falling Knife Brewing Company’s strong debut in 2019 set the tone for everything they’ve done since. Opening up in the defunct Northgate Brewing space in NE Minneapolis, we — admittedly — wondered if the woes that had befallen the previous brewery would befall the new one. As it turns out, our fears were entirely unfounded. Everything about Falling Knife — from beer to service to branding and promotion — has been excellent since day one. It’s no wonder they were nominated City Pages Best New Brewery of 2020!
Whether visiting the taproom for a drink or stopping by the liquor store to pick something up, we’ve always known we can find something to enjoy. Some of our favorite Falling Knife Beers this year have been Verbal Tip New England IPA, Raspberry Cyclone Fruit Beer and Freischutz German Pilsner. We also have to give Falling Knife a shoutout for their fantastic can design and marketing! Simple, yet eye-catching and attractive, the cans even come with stickers! Brilliant!
3. Oliphant Brewing
In a nearly treasonous display towards Minnesota craft breweries, Oliphant Brewing is the second Wisconsin brewery to make our list of favorite breweries this year. A name we’ve heard mentioned more and more within the local Minnesota craft beer community, Oliphant has earned its stripes for creative beer styles and combinations (though, depending on who you talk to, Oliphant was ahead of the game well before other notable breweries in the northern Midwest began to play); their fruited sours and berliners in particular are highly sought-after.
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(If Reel above does now show, click here to see a short video of our visit to Oliphant Brewing)
The Somerset, WI taproom is tight but cozy, itself featuring some neat history (as shared by The Growler here); it’s definitely worth a stop before or after (or before and after) tubing the nearby Apple River. Some of our favorite beers that got us through 2020 (and accompanied our Apple River floats) are Super Squishy Fruited Sour (blackberry, raspberry, coconut, sea salt, vanilla, & lactose), 2Cloned2GetStoned Key Lime Sour (lactose, sea salt and key limes) and Honees Honees Golden Ale (honey, lactose, peanut butter flavor and caramel color).
We definitely recommend a visit to Somerset for the full Oliphant Brewery experience. Otherwise, keep an eye out for their beer in liquor stores; you can’t go wrong.
4. Lupulin Brewing Co.
Lupulin Brewing Company in Big Lake holds a special place in our hearts. To be entirely honest, we didn’t love the strip-mall brewery our first couple times visiting several years back. Ourselves relatively new to craft beer at the time, our tastebuds hadn’t yet found an appreciation for Lupulin’s hop-heavy lineup. But we found ourselves going back and trying beers outside of our comfort zone, gradually developing a taste and appreciation for staples like the Hooey IPA and Blissful Ignorance DIPA.
Today, some of our favorite beers are limited beers from Lupulin like the Sophistry series, Fruitsmack series and CoHoperation series! Lupulin’s menu has also grown more diverse than it was during our first few visits — their CPB Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter, Imperial Truffle variations, cream ales, lagers, barrel-aged and sours (under the Scribbled Lines name) are all fantastic.
For consistent, delicious beer we don’t look too much farther than Lupulin Brewing Co. in Big Lake, MN. Fortunately, our mini-fridge from someone else’s driveway has been fairly well stocked with plenty this year.
5. Starkeller Brewery
One of our favorite breweries we visited in 2020 was the Starkeller taproom in New Ulm, MN. We visited over the summer on a surprise, several-stop brewery tour Adam had planned out for Katie. The sour program of August Schell Brewing Company, Starkeller was built nearby in 2017 to accommodate the wild yeasts and mixed cultures being used for Schell’s Berliner Weisse beers.
The building, we found, is rather deceiving in nature; the exterior is an unassuming warehouse located in an industrial area. The interior, however, is a beautiful, rustic space rich with German history. We were entirely blown away! Katie especially loved the fruity, acidic, champagne-like Berliner Weisse sours. They definitely cater to a specific taste. For those like Adam who prefer more approachable beers, sister-brewery Schell’s beers are also available.
For an entirely unique taproom and beer experience, Starkeller stands out as one of our favorites of the year and — for that reason — makes our list of Top 5 Favorite Breweries of 2020.