Top 5 brewpubs in the Twin Cities

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Twin Cities top-5 brewpubs
The Twin Cities have a great and growing beer scene. I've spent the last year traveling the upper Midwest visiting breweries and tasting brews. I've been to about 130 and can say with some authority that the beers brewed in the Twin Cities are among the best in the region. We've got some great brewpubs, both in terms of the beer they brew and the food they serve. Though we don't have very many, here's a top 5 list of them. My ranking is based on the whole package: beer, food, and ambiance.

1. Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery

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New beers every week at Town Hall
Everything about the Town Hall Brewery works. The casual atmosphere makes it a great place to have a meal, a meeting, or just hang out for a pint. It's lively but not loud; you can enjoy the buzz (pun intended) and still carry on a conversation. And the patio is great in the summer. The menu offers a wide selection of standard brewpub fare. It's nothing fancy, but it's always well prepared. The real treat is of course the beer. Mike Hoops and his brew crew keep 10 house taps going all the time, plus at least one cask-conditioned beer. The year-round beers run the gamut from the light Dortmunder Lager to the dark-as-night Black H2O Oatmeal Stout. The other five taps are filled with an ever-changing array of specialty beers. A new beer is released at least once a week. Town Hall has one of the best brewery tours in the Cities: $7 gets you a glass, a pint, more beer in the basement, and a discounted meal when you're done.

2. Barley John's Brewpub

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Intimate dining at Barley John's
If you want good beer and good food in an intimate setting, Barley John's in New Brighton is the place. The tiny dining room only seats about 30, with room for maybe 10 more at the bar. There's plenty more seating on the patio, where a fire pit will keep you warm in the spring and fall. The menu is also small, but rich. It offers an assortment of pub food with a slightly upscale twist. Pizzas are grilled and feature tasty topping combinations like sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, chopped spinach, and basil, with goat cheese. Diners who want to go deep should try the tenderloin or the smoked pork chop. Barley John's beers fit the menu. Its list shifts seasonally, but notable brews include the hoppy Stockyard IPA and the chocolaty, weighty Old Eight Porter. And then there's the almondy Wild Brunette, which may be the most Minnesotan beer ever (it's made with wild rice). Don't miss the seasonal strong beers, Dark Knight Imperial Porter and Rosie's Old Ale, the latter topping out at around 15% alcohol.

3. Great Waters Brewing Co.

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Great Waters is the place to go for cask-conditioned beers
Great Waters in downtown St. Paul is the place to go for cask-conditioned ales. With four of them available at all times, these hand-pulled brews account for 50% of the pub's beer sales. Head brewer Bob DuVernois likes malt-forward beers. He prefers balance over shock value. While he makes a number of beers to satisfy the hopheads, the bitterness will always be supported on an ample bed of malt. The atmosphere at Great Waters suggests a European bistro, with high ceilings and an open floor crowded with tables. Outdoor seating is available in the summer months. The menu is varied and delicious, with entrees ranging from Minnesota standards like broiled walleye to more upscale and unique items such as grilled duck breast glazed in maple sauce and Pollo Caracas, a Venezuelan-influenced chicken dish. Great Waters' location makes it ideal for those on their way to events at the Xcel Center or Fitzgerald Theater.

4. Rock Bottom Brewery

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Ponzu Salmon at Rock Bottom
There's nothing wrong with Rock Bottom. I like the food, and it's a fine place to hang, but let's face it, the ambiance and menu are the same throughout the chain. In terms of those things, if you've been to one, you've pretty much been to them all. The one thing that does make each Rock Bottom unique is the beer. What many people don't know is that all but four of the beers on tap at Rock Bottom are the original creations of that store's brewer. Brewer Bob McKenzie came to the Minneapolis Rock Bottom from Granite City just this last summer. He brings a session beer mentality with him from his native Scotland. He is a fan of maltier beers, but this doesn't mean you won't find some hop-heavy pale ales or big, bold Belgians on tap. I had a fantastic Belgian ale infused with raisins on my last visit. McKenzie even plans to dabble in sour beers.

5. The Herkimer

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Mom's Mac & Cheese at the Herkimer
The Herkimer has a new brewer. When Mike Willaford stepped into the position over the summer, he took on what some might consider an unenviable task. The Lyn-Lake brewpub has long had a reputation among Twin City beer nerds for making beer that wasn't great. Willaford aims to change that. From the moment he pulled on his brewer's boots he set to work cleaning up the brewhouse and tweaking house recipes. He's added a few of his own as well, including re-creations of some long-lost German ale styles. He's got things moving in the right direction. The Herkimer feels like an arty sports bar. It has a sleek, modern look, but also has several TV screens and features an array of bar games like darts, pool, and shuffleboard. In decent weather you can test your skills on the beanbag tossing court next to their outdoor dining area. The food is an interesting blend of pub grub and home-style cooking. Fish & chips and the delicious Tres Tacos, three tacos filled with chicken, beef, and pork, share the menu with chicken fried steak and Mom's Mac & Cheese.

Cheers,
Michael Agnew
Certified Cicerone
A Perfect Pint

Previous coverage:

Top 10 dive bars in the Twin Cities

Top 10 late-night restaurants in the Twin Cities

Top 10 romantic restaurants in the Twin Cities

Top 10 bloody Marys in the Twin Cities

Top 10 margaritas in the Twin Cities

Top 10 macaroni & cheese dishes in the Twin Cities

Top 10 burgers in the Twin Cities

Top 10 sushi restaurants in the Twin Cities

Top 10 ice cream shops in the Twin Cities

Top 10 coffeehouses in the Twin Cities

Top 10 martinis in the Twin Cities

Top 10 hot dogs in the Twin Cities

Top 10 pizzerias in the Twin Cities


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23 comments
Anon
Anon

Great Waters doesn't belong on this list.  Beer is only ok and the food is awful.  Even Granite City is better.  

Surly will be opening their own brewpub in the next few years.  Liftbridge has opened a tap room but no food yet.  Fitgers (in Duluth) is fantastic and so is the Boathouse in Ely.  Maybe the list should have been expanded to the Greater MN area.

Michael
Michael

I will respectfully disagree about Granite City. The food is good, but the beer is inconsistent and sometimes sketchy. They also don't actually brew there (ferment only), so I didn't want to include it as a brewpub. As a brewery and not a brewpub, Lift Bridge cannot serve food. Their space will remain just a tap room. I agree about Fitger's. Perhaps the best brewery in the state in my view. However, the assignment was top 10 Twin Cities. So there you have it.

Julie
Julie

check out www.pubquest.com for every craft brewery in the area (and the entire U.S. and Canada

Paigewilcox
Paigewilcox

I'm a fan of the Herkimer's food, beer, atmosphere and amazing staff, but I've been there a bunch and have never seen a pool table or darts? Has the critic actually ever been to the herkimer?

Oscar
Oscar

There is def no pool table at the Herk. Unless this just happened over the last month...which i highly doubt. And unless they got rid of shuffleboard(which i'll cry if they did) there isnt even room for a pool table. I havent even seen darts to be completely honest.

Cory Williamson
Cory Williamson

This list just reaffirms my thinking that there aren't enough brewpubs in the Twin Cities. We should be pushing 15-20 by now for how much the craft beer scene has blossomed in the last 10-15 years. Maybe it's the laws, or maybe we haven't begun to see the peak of craft beer in Minnesota.

Melissa Summers
Melissa Summers

I'm pretty excited about the Smokehouse Brewpub that's opening in South Minneapolis sometime in the next year.  They're going to brew their own beer AND smoke their own meats.  It's going to be in a great location just off the light rail on 38th St.

Zip100473
Zip100473

I think the laws prohibiting bottle sales of brewpub beer could be somewhat of a deterrent. We can change this! Call your senators and congressmen. Put pressure on them to support all craftbeer businesses. Another issue is the fact you cannot be a proprietor of a brewery and have a brewpub as well.

Michael
Michael

We're far from the peak. In fact, I'd say we're just getting started and working hard to catch up. I know of at least two brewpubs in the making. There are probably others sneaking around out there. And new breweries are popping up all the time. It's really hard to keep up with.

dankbrewer
dankbrewer

You all should definitely hit up Barley John's.  Although it's out of the way for some, it's well worth a visit.  Amazing burgers, and appetizers.  They tend to their own garden in back, hops growing up trellis's along the patio, fire pits.   It's like you walk into a tavern up north, but they serve fantastic beer, and gourmet food!  

no looking back
no looking back

As far as Herkimer goes, say what you will about the beer, its the best place in uptown to shoot pool and play darts!

Janna
Janna

I would disagree with the food at Great Waters, as vehemently as it disagreed with me last February when I got a bout of food poisoning from some fish they served in their Valentine's Day beer pairing dinner.  Also, I've been going there for years and the menu has not seemed to change.

Zip100473
Zip100473

I would agree that the menu is unchanged. I think your food experience is unique. I have always been really pleased with my food prep there. I'll admit I find Town Hall more appealing.

Dickydo's
Dickydo's

ugh. herkimer made the list? might as well add granite city.

Michael
Michael

Been to Herkimer in the last couple months?

amiller92
amiller92

I've only been to Kerkimer once, but the experience left me very much not wanting to go back.  The food was okay, as was the beer, but for whatever reason, the place just smelled terrible.  Brewing can be a smelling and unappealing process, and they hadn't managed to contain the odors to keep them separate from the dining space.  It was nauseating. 

Melissa Summers
Melissa Summers

Disappointed to see a chain on the list, but maybe you needed it to get the list up to five.  I can think of a ton of good beer places in the twin cities, but those are the only brewpubs I know of in the TC area.  Fitger's in Duluth is excellent.  I'll give the Herkimer another shot; I've actively avoided it for years after multiple disappointments with the beers, food, and service.

D.Cowell
D.Cowell

While Rock Bottom may be a chain, the brewers are given free reign to brew what they want (This may soon be changing if rumors are true). The Minneapolis location has had some rather noteworthy head brewers over the years, the current in no exception.

Michael
Michael

Four of the beers are standard across the chain, but even those are actually very good. I have no complaints about them. The rest are up to the individual brewer as long as certain vague styles (dark, wheat, etc.) are represented.

Michael
Michael

As I said in the piece, the food is standardized across the Rock Bottom chain. Save for four, the beer is not. Some of the best brewpub beers I have had as I travel the region have been at Rock Bottom. The brewers at our local store are darned good.

The Herkimer isn't perfect yet, but things are definitely moving in the right direction. Mike has even instituted a rigorous training for the front of house staff so that they actually know something about the beer they are serving.

Zip100473
Zip100473

Town Hall is a wonderful place for Beer Geeks and Non-Beer Geeks alike. I have taken my whole family there. They loved the experience and the food. Espically the Artichoke dip with pita chips, wonderful. I personally love the West Bank Pub Ale. Its incredibly flavorful for a pale, with a nice hop backbone. Not to mention the lower ABV so you can pace yourself. Great Waters is also great in the spring/summer with the Patio. I wish the seasonals we a bit more exciting. Food it top notch. I love the Wild Rice burger. Also as a note... Both places offer a "mug club". Its nice if you frequent!

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