This year’s Winterfest, hosted by the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, was another success.

Thanks to lack of foresight and a busy work schedule at the time, I wasn’t able to score a ticket when they went on sale a few months ago. But thankfully my buddy Ryan had an extra to share, of which I was very appreciative. You inevitably bump into all kinds of familiar faces at these events, so it was also nice to chat with several of the brewers, Alvey from The Four Firkins, and fellow beer blogger friends like Shawn and Mike at The Beer Genome Project.

After learning that Flat Earth’s Grand Design Porter, a s’more-infused version of their Cygnus X-1, was the recipient of this year’s Snowshoe Award for best-in-show, I was pretty disappointed it wasn’t one of the beers I tried during the evening. But alas, despite my best efforts, it’s tough to sample them all.

My top beers from the evening:

Surly 1 – 4
Fine, call me a card-carrying Surly fanboy. Guilty as charged. I was at the front of the line at Darkness Day this year. I drove around town for hours trying to locate a four pack of their Hell when it was released in cans last summer. And I even clothe my three month old daughter in Surly onesies*. But objectively speaking, there’s no denying Surly’s line-up of anniversary beers were some of the most memorable of the night.

Surly Bourbon One was unreal, a bourbon barrel-aged doppelbock that was likely my favorite beer of the evening. Surly Two, an oak-aged cranberry stout, was tart and surprisingly refreshing. A version of Surly Three called Jesus Juice was a braggot aged in pinot noir barrels, as impressive as I remember from ABR. And the final beer, their soon-to-be-released Four, was a freeze distilled double espresso milk stout, predictably heavy on the coffee notes and pretty boozy.  

Schell’s Hopfenmalz
I really liked this beer, brewed to commemorate Schell’s 150th anniversary. Totally different than most of the complicated, fruit-infused stuff I was drinking at the event, but a very sessionable, hoppy amber lager that was a welcome change of pace. Thankfully, this is now readily available in bottles at your neighborhood craft beer store.

Minneapolis Town Hall Coconut Raspberry Festivus
This year’s Festivus, a mocha stout made with chocolate and coffee, is already an incredible beer. Add real coconut and raspberry, and you approach the divine. Sort of reminded me of their Three Hour Tour, a coconut milk stout, but the raspberry adds some nice fruity undertones. Very well done.

Fitger’s Blitzen Blueberry Chocolate Porter
Amazing offering. The Bayfield blueberries were incredibly pronounced, yet balanced with the rich chocolate notes of the beer. Like a dessert in a glass. 

And of course, the not so memorable:

Cold Spring John Henry 3 Lick Spiker Ale
Not sure if it was the fact this beer tasted more like a watery porter, or if the volunteers manning their table underwhelmed me with their clearly disinterested attitude. I guess I might be pissed too if someone woke me up. But either way, the beer was a pretty poor interpretation of a bourbon oak-aged imperial stout.

Lift Bridge Biscotti Float
Why mess with what’s already a really nice Belgian ale by adding a dollop of ice cream that had the consistency of pancake mix? Points for trying something a little different, but the flavors weren’t working for me. The ice cream seemed to somehow bring out the alcohol component a little too much, making it a boozy sundae.