The Toast: 2013 State Fair Edition

Banner for the Toast: Drinking Well in the Upper Midwest

All right, so we’ve tackled the new eats at the 2013 State Fair. Your man at Toast HQ was there, consuming calories in solid, rather than liquid, form for once. But we’ll be battered and fried on a stick if we don’t let you know something more about where to drink at the Fair. So, cheers to bellying up at the Great Minnesota Get-Together!

(Note: location numbers refer to the official State Fair Map.)

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Thoughts on the Two Beers You’ve Probably Already Heard About

Lift Bridge’s Mini-Donut Beer has been so popular this year, they’re now tapping only four kegs a day starting at noon. Our collective verdict was mixed and it had to do with context. When we taste the new food items, we have restaurants, markets, and trucks all over town serving as ready precedents. So what’s to think of beer striving to be pastry flavored? Lift Bridge made it with a healthy dose of whimsy, reverse engineering to brew for an unserious environment.

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

So it’s certain to pale against beer brought in from the year-round, or otherwise seriously produced, offerings from other breweries. The Toast agrees it didn’t have enough body, and the cinnamon sugar rim on the glass wasn’t compelling, but you won’t be seeing it bottled on shelves next to Farm Girl, so who’s to complain? We’d be more than happy if they gave it another try next year, perhaps as part of a multibrewery contest to see who make the best State Fair-themed beer. Any other brewers up for the challenge? (Ball Park Cafe, T-25)

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

On the other end of the fairgrounds, you might be able to taste the Summit State Fair IPA. Last Thursday, we formed the middle of a 30-deep line when the keg was tapped at 1pm sharp. We received our beer at 1:08 and that day’s half-barrel keg was finished at 1:17.

It’s built to showcase Minnesota ingredients: wild rice from McGregor, Cascade hops from Hugo, and honey from St. Paul. But mostly it’s Summit’s preferred style on display (this IPA comes fast on the heels of “Another IPA“). It’s an orange-red brew with piercing hop citrus, and, just as Louie the Loon noted, a nice cleanser for your grease-weakened palate. A fine effort, but one close to the chest. So where Lift Bridge went mildly off the rails, perhaps Summit should use their next Fair beer to let loose. (International Bazaar, U-30)

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Two Great Beers You Could Drink Instead

In no time, your local bottle shop will be awash in Oktoberfests and Altbiers. Sadly, that also means the return of pumpkin beer, a perennial favorite for “seasonal beer most likely to disappoint.” That’s why we were happy to find that Third Street Brewhouse played away from danger with Jack’d Up. It’s pumpkin, properly restrained. The flavor adds personality to the body without wholly defining it. The baking spice flavor is soft, maybe even too weak, but better safe than sorry. We’ll be seeking it out in a month or so, along with Excelsior Bitteschlappe, a confident brown ale with some engaging sweet malt on the body and a whisper-quiet finish. (Ball Park Cafe, T-25)

Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table
Kate NG Sommers / Heavy Table

Minnesota Wine

The Toast is an avid supporter of the Midwest wine industry. Only one week prior to our Fair excursion, we had been judging the International Cold Climate Wine Competition [PDF], where the best in regional wine was on display. So we were puzzled by the “dry & rich” wine flight ($10) from Minnesota Wine Country (Underwood St., across from Agriculture-Horticulture Building, R-28).

All three of the wines in the flight were scoffed at by our tasting group. Frontenac is a grape that doesn’t make great still wine, and a foxy tang subsumed the Edelweiss. Cannon River’s Mill Street Red was the best of the three, though tasting it after the Frontenac diminished the effect. Instead, taste Cannon River’s wine by the glass at O’Gara’s, where five of their bottles are being poured (Dan Patch and Cosgrove, W-16)

To not include a Marquette — the region’s finest red wine grape — in the dry flight was a missed opportunity to showcase the promise of regional reds. Gladly, the off-dry flight was a hit. It’s much easier to balance the acidic grapes of the Midwest by leaving residual sugars in the wine. The “light & citrus” flight contained three white wines that were fruity, varying degrees of sweet, easygoing, and perfect for the heat.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Made For Mixing

Now we’re NOT suggesting you smuggle in a flask with you, because that’s against the rules. But since there’s no hard alcohol available, we were left extrapolating our favorite non-alcoholic drinks into fantasy cocktails, like:

Bourbon and Spring Grove Soda’s Lemon Sour  — In fact, we’ve already picked some up and made that combo happen. (Nelson St., P-28)

Rum and Piña Colada at Manny’s Torta’s — Served in a hollowed-out pineapple husk, no one who’s sipped on this dreamy pineapple-coconut concoction hasn’t wished for a touch of Bacardi. (Food Building, T-26)

Vodka and Fresh Mango Juice at Holy Land Deli — Only $4 for a giant cup of that sweet nectar. A touch of good citrus vodka would make for quite the classy proto-Screwdriver. Also, their Middle Eastern lemonade screams out for some coconut arrack. (International Bazaar, U-31)

Two Other Locations To Drink Beer

Multiple different stands around the Fair have essentially the same beer menu. So we were overjoyed to see the extensive craft taps at Giggle’s Campfire Grill (Cooper St. and Lee Ave., V-12) included Keweenaw, Millstream and Clown Shoes. Make sure to time your visit during one of the lumberjack shows. Knocking back a Clown Shoes Clementine, a most refreshing Belgian white ale, in the shade while watching a logrolling battle was one of the most enjoyable 30 minutes of our day.

And, of course, you can’t miss out on a flight of local beer ($8) at the MN Craft Brewers Guild: six different options of four-beer flights, roughly grouped by style. (Agriculture-Horticulture Building, T-28)


And a couple more N.A. Drinks

If there’s any better value at the Fair than the $1.50 for a large cup of apple cider from Pine Tree Apple Orchard of White Bear Lake, it’s the $1 for the frozen pouch of the same. While you’re there, grab some honey lemonade from the Minnesota Honey Producers Association across the hall. (Agriculture-Horticulture Building, T-28)

The horchata at El Sol (weak, vaguely nutty) and the vietnamese iced-coffee at Chinatown Minnesota (syrupy, cloying) aren’t worth your time. (Food Building, T-26)

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

And for your morning coffee fix, we still recommend the Farmers Union Coffee Shop, even after their new iced mint latte soaked us in a heavy, medicinal cream. Stick to the classics and you’ll be happy with the results. (Dan Patch Ave., V-23)

What say you, fairgoers? Any other drinks worth a look?


  1. Carrie Ann

    Maybe it’s because I was already drinking a Steel Toe Size 7 when my friend offered me a sip of the Mini Donut beer, but it was one of the worst things I’ve tasted in recent memory. To me, it was like taking a weak brown ale and adding a half-shot of Captain Morgan, then a half-shot of vanilla vodka, then topping with the sugar rim. It had an artificial sweetener and rubbing alcohol aftertaste and it made me shudder. I am baffled that anyone can stomach this stuff.

    Ahem, that said, I love Lift Bridge in general and I do appreciate them trying for something. But personally, I prefer the idea of the Summit State Fair IPA that, while perhaps not ambitious, is actually drinkable and a quality product over a beer with no value beyond the gimmick.

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