Minnesota is known for its hockey. But the hockey stick-like growth chart representing craft beer sales in the state last year may make it more synonymous with quality beer.

While craft beer sales nationally were up about 6% last year according to the Association of Brewers, an article in the March issue of Twin Cities Business Magazine states year-over-year craft beer growth in Minnesota was a staggering 74.5% in 2008 thanks in part to strong efforts by several local breweries like Flat Earth, Lift Bridge and Surly.

Despite the tremendous uptick in the craft beer category, the state’s two largest brewers, Summit and August Schell, only saw relatively modest sales increases last year. This was in part due to rising commodity prices for ingredients, and because a more significant portion of their distribution is tied to local restaurant and bar sales (and in this economy, people are opting to save some money by eating and drinking at home). From the article:

“Bob DuVernois, head brewer at Great Waters Brewing Company, a brewpub in St. Paul, says Great Waters sales are slightly down from January 2008 to January 2009, but it doesn’t seem to trouble him. ‘In general, people aren’t going out so much, but they are still going out—they’re just going out more economically,’ he says. Consumers are buying more local beer due in part to the rising ‘eat local’ movement, which places importance on eating and drinking food grown and produced near the end-users table, he says.”

I think all around, good news for craft brewers in the state, as well as craft beer drinkers that are likely going to be rewarded with more and more new offerings as the market matures. You have to think major craft brewers outside of the region like DFH or Stone are taking notice of the huge opportunity here.