A group of friends raise their pint glasses at the Rare Beer Picnic

10 Essential Beer Festivals

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A group of friends raise their pints at the Rare Beer Picnic

10 Essential Beer Festivals

By Louis Livingston-Garcia

Minnesota’s vibrant beer festival scene has offered everything from chicken wing pairings to frozen beer lines over the years. (That still didn’t stop hearty Minnesotans.) Since they’re spread throughout the state, beer festivals are also a perfect excuse to experience a new part of Minnesota for a weekend.

Here are some options built around everything from barrel-aged bottles to specific beer styles, in order of when they typically happen throughout the year. We also threw in a few cider festivals since Minnesota’s scene is so strong and similar in how it sometimes uses hops and other flavor-expanding fruit.

A couple friends hang out in the cold at Winter Beer Dabbler

Winter Beer Dabbler 2022 / Hunter Meyer

Winter Beer Dabbler | St. Paul | Feb. 25

Polar Vortex? No big deal! Frozen beer lines? We’ll make do. This might be the most quintessential Minnesota beer fest if you’re going for tried-and-true winter vibes. It certainly helps that you can warm up near trashcan fires, and a silent disco keeps those joints moving, but the fun with this fest is that it can be snowy and still happen. Just make sure you’ve got a good winter coat and proper boots.

The Beer Dabbler puts on other top-tier fests as well, including the Pride Beer Dabbler on June 23 and Wine Dabbler on June 25. In year’s past, the former has featured unique beers for the fest – some with edible glitter.

A poker gets plunged into a beer at Schell's BockFest

A poker gets plunged into a beer at Schell's BockFest 

Schell’s BockFest | New Ulm | March 4

While you won’t find any beer other than Schell’s here, this fest more than makes up for lack of variety with substance. Schell’s sprawling campus is iconic — like being transported high atop a hill in Germany – and their bock beer is a wonderful interpretation of a malty -Old World style. You can even get it poked with a hot metal rod to caramelize the beer, which is a nice touch.

Schell’s hosts one of Minnesota’s biggest Oktoberfests in the fall as well, firmly grasping New Ulm’s German roots with plenty of lederhosen, dirndl, pretzels and giant steins of its signature amber-colored, malt-forward beverage. Make a day of it by also swinging by such beloved local standbys as Kaiserhoff, Domeier’s and New Ulm’s iconic Hermann the German statue.

Minnesota Craft Beer Festival

Minnesota Craft Beer Festival | Minneapolis | April 1

With over 110 breweries in attendance, you’re sure to find something you enjoy at this beer fest. Even better? If you want to try some heavy hitters outside of Minnesota, there are plenty of popular breweries in attendance. Breweries like Chicago’s Hop Butcher, California’s Russian River and Colorado’s Weldwerks are all in attendance, in addition to a variety of Minnesota breweries like Omni, Insight, Lakes & Legends and more. A perfect combo of familiar and popular breweries you’d normally have to fly to.

A tasting glass from Tapped and Corked 

Tapped and Corked

Tapped and Corked | Brainerd | April 15

Brainerd is located on the Mississippi River and surrounded by more than 400 lakes if you venture out of the city a little bit. Toss in a few locations from the infamous film “Fargo” and you’ve got quite a unique setting for a beer festival. More than 200 beers are poured at Tapped and Corked from mostly local breweries like Jack Pine and Roundhouse in addition to national brands. You’ll also find wine, pre-mixed cocktails and seltzers. And this one is truly local; the fest helps raise funds for Brainerd Area Athletics.

Hopped Up Caribou Beer Festival

Hopped Up Caribou Beer Festival

Hopped Up Caribou Beer Fest | Lutsen | July 7-9

If you want a brew with a view, you can’t do better than this 10-year-old festival. Located near Lake Superior, the Sawtooth Mountains and Superior Hiking Trail, this is definitely a destination beer fest. In addition to several breweries pouring a variety of beers, you’ll enjoy live music. And did we mention the scenery?

Rare Beer Picnic in Moorhead

Rare Beer Picnic

Rare Beer Picnic | Moorhead | July 15

Junkyard was one of the early darlings of trendy craft beer styles like milkshake IPAs and peanut butter stouts. It has rapidly expanded since its opening in 2013, and hosts a personal favorite: Rare Beer Picnic. The event is laid back and literally held in a park with picnic tables waiting for you to sit down and enjoy a wide variety of beer from a select group of breweries like Modist, Forager and BlackStack. Not only that, but the “rare” in the name means plenty of barrel-aged stouts and other hard-to-find beers that usually cost quite a bit to acquire. If there’s a special beer you missed in the state, chances are it might be here, along with hazy IPAs, fruited sours, and small-batch infusions of special ingredients.

A group of friends at All Pints North

All Pints North  / Krivit Photography

All Pints North | Duluth | July 29

All Pints North is not only a fan favorite, but a brewer favorite; people really love being at a festival located on the shore of Lake Superior. The fest offers not only beer, but cider, seltzer and non-alcoholic options — a wide range of drinks for everyone. There are usually more than 100 businesses pouring beers at this fest, so if there’s a brewery you’ve always wanted to try, this might be the fest for you. It also has live music, with proceeds going to support the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, a nonprofit devoted to developing Minnesota’s craft beer industry.

St. Cloud Craft Beer & Ciderfest

St. Cloud Craft Beer & Ciderfest 

St. Cloud Craft Beer & Ciderfest | St. Cloud | Sept. 9

A mix of hard cider and beer highlight this fall festival. Not only do you get the unlimited samples and collectible beer sample glass, but there’s a people’s choice pick for the favorite beer at the fest. St. Cloud also has some noteworthy breweries to visit like Pantown and Beaver Island, and Bad Habit is in nearby St. Joseph, making this a fun weekend destination.

A band plays Surly Darkness Day

One of the many bands at Surly Darkness Day 

Surly Darkness Day | Minneapolis | October

If you drink Surly, you probably know the brewery likes to weave heavy metal into everything: the beer, the branding and their Darkness Day event. This major Minnesota beer event began at the original brewery (where the metal theme was tested to the limit after a dumpster was set on fire) before taking place in Somerset, Wisconsin, with live music, fire eaters, and a miniature beer fest that changed into a free-for-all featuring cases upon cases of Darkness and its barrel-aged variants. Surly founder Omar Ansari rode on the back of a golf cart the next day to serve up a keg of Surly Coffee Bender for those able to get out of their tents early enough. It’s a party.

Last year’s event took place in October, bringing the festival back to Minnesota after a brief hiatus, so you can expect it to return around the same time this year with plenty of heavy metal permeating the air.

Minnesota Ciderfest

Minnesota Ciderfest

Minnesota Ciderfest | Minneapolis-St. Paul | October

The Honeycrisp — one of the country’s best-selling apples — happens to hail from Minnesota, so it only makes sense that the state also has a top-tier cider festival. The Minnesota Cider Guild’s Ciderfest is hosted in different locations around the Twin Cities metro each year, but no matter where it is, you will find local and regional ciders in addition to educational sessions. The fest is often held on a farm, too, giving it a unique vibe where you can hang out with the trees that provided some of the hard cider apples.

Louis Livingston-Garcia

Louis Livingston-Garcia has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in Japanese language and education from the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh. He has written for newspapers in Kodiak Island, Alaska, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. His written work has been featured in many publications including Growler Magazine, Heavy Table, City Pages, 507 Magazine, Official Xbox Magazine, Game Informer, GamesRadar, October, and more. He has professionally photographed Kodiak bears in the wild, Minnesota United FC soccer matches, and countless breweries. If he isn’t traveling around the world with his wife, he is most likely playing video games or reading with his cat, Miyamoto (yes, named after the creator of Super Mario Bros.), in his lap, and a beer nearby.