St. Paul, Minnesota is one of the state’s famed Twin Cities. As the smaller of the two siblings, St. Paul is often overlooked by tourists and even by locals who know that Minneapolis is the place to go for entertainment and overall fun. But St. Paul does have some things going for it besides being the seat of state government and one happens to be a large brewery that has been around since the 1980’s. I’m talking about Summit Brewing, one of the largest and oldest breweries and one of my many stops when I toured the breweries in the Twin Cities area.
Age and Expertise
Summit Brewing opened its doors in 1986 and while that may not sound very long ago for an American business, it is a big deal in the world of craft beer, as the vast majority of craft breweries presently in operation are less than 10 years old. I knew about Summit Brewing mainly due to its large size. It does, after all, produce in the neighborhood of 130,000 barrels annually and that is enough to place it among the nation’s largest breweries.
When a brewery is as large as Summit, everyone who is involved with beer on a significant level- whether they work in the industry, as a writer like me, or in some other capacity- is bound to be at least a little bit familiar with the beer. Summit Extra Pale Ale is the company’s flagship beer and I knew this product well, having tasted it more than once. I knew that Summit had an extensive portfolio and I knew that its beers were generally well- received by the craft beer public. I also knew that, with thirty years of experience, Summit obviously knew a thing or two about brewing beer and maintaining quality and consistency.
What I didn’t know about Summit Brewing was its past. On the tour, I discovered that the present- day brewing facility became Summit’s new home in 1998 and that the site was previously an abandoned oil tank farm. Summit Brewing sunk tens of millions of dollars into renovation, resulting in the large brewhouse and common areas that you see when you visit today.
To the Bar I Go
If you decide to take a tour at Summit Brewing, you will start and end the tour in the Beer Hall, right next to the bar. They present each person on the tour with four tasting chips, good for a small pour (approx. 7 oz.) of the beer of your choosing. Here are the beers I tried when I visited, listed in alphabetical order followed by the style and my Untappd rating on a 5 point scale:
- 30th Anniversary English Style Barleywine, barleywine, 4.25
- Horizon Red IPA, India Pale Ale, 3.50
- Oatmeal Stout, stout, 3.75
- True Brit IPA, India Pale Ale, 3.25
Overall Average Beer Rating: 3.69
I found most of the beers on the tour to be similar to other Summit beers I have tried over the years: Solid and eminently drinkable, but middle of the road overall. The exception to this rule was the 30th Anniversary English Style Barleywine. Easily the best beer I tried, this strong, fragrant beauty features flavors of sweet malt, caramel, and dark fruit with an alcohol kick of about 11.5 percent by volume that, while certainly noticeable, is not as potent- tasting as the numbers would lead you to believe.
St. Paul Entertains
Summit Brewing has been brewing and serving beer to Minnesota and surrounding states for quite some time and since I was already familiar with the brewery’s size and status, I made this one of my ‘must- visit’ breweries in the Twin Cities area. I often wondered what Summit would be like, given its large size and influence, and I pulled into the large parking lot filled with anticipation.
Summit has a large exterior and as you walk around to the entrance on the side, the first thing you see when you enter the building is the large beer hall. It features bench- style seating and immediately reminded me of a school cafeteria. The inside can hold a couple hundred people and they do allow children. I noticed that there are board games for entertainment, which is perfect for the kiddos and for the adults, many of whom will want to play a round or two of checkers, Sorry, Life, etc. and feel at home while they drink.
Tours are a good place to start at Summit Brewing. The massive fermenters are quite a sight to see, as are the sky- high stacks of cans, just waiting to be filled. Remember- Summit is a massive brewery so anything you are accustomed to seeing at your local brewery needs to be magnified several dozen times to put it into perspective.
One cool fact about Summit Brewing is that the tours, at present, are free of charge! In exchange for Summit’s generosity, they ask that you be equally generous by bringing along a canned or boxed food donation. The food is then given to Second Harvest Heartland. If you want to purchase beer outside of the tour time, you can do so during regular operating hours. The operational times are somewhat limited, but the beer prices are excellent. When I was there, a flight of four, 7 oz. samples was selling for only $7, which works out to just $4 per pint.
St. Paul is usually trapped in the shadow of the larger and better- known twin and most people don’t associate St. Paul with fun or entertainment, as each is amply supplied by Minneapolis. But Summit Brewing is one exception in this sibling rivalry- a spacious, laid back place where you can sip on a few cold ones and let your troubles melt away. It’s a cool place to hang and chill out in Minnesota’s capital city so pay a visit the next time you’re in the Twin Cities area. And tell them Great Beer Now sent you.