Photo by Caitlin Abrams
the brothers behind Ball Park Cafe at the Minnesota State Fair
If ever there was a thermometer that could measure the reach of craft beer in Minnesota, it might just extend to last year’s State Fair. Not only was the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild exhibit a hit (so much so that it was targeted by armed robbers), craft beer became a novelty order for the first time, with the debut of S’mores Beer from Flat Earth Brewing Co., Blueberry Beer from Schell’s, and, of course, Mini Donut Beer from Lift Bridge. We’ve become so comfortable with the idea of craft beer that we’re happy to metaphorically deep-fry it and put it on a stick. That’s real love.
Let’s thank two brothers for cracking open the door and bringing high-quality suds to the Great Minnesota Get-Together. Dan and Dave Theisen own Ball Park Cafe, a spot with open-air seating on the west side of the food building. They won the space in 1999, and for a long while it was just a fun little sports bar. But in 2007, the fair switched from 3.2-percent beer to full-strength suds, which inspired the pair to bring better beer to the fair. In 2010, they debuted Craft Beer Territory, a special window at their café with eight taps. A few years later, they expanded to 20 lines dedicated to crafts.
Though they both have day jobs, Dan and Dave spend much of their year meeting with breweries and getting the right mix of brands at Ball Park (twist their arms, right?). At one such outing to the Lift Bridge taproom, Dan asked a game-changing question: If you can flavor beer with coffee, why can’t you flavor it with mini-donuts? Thus, Mini Donut Beer was born—and sold out on the first day of tapping. “When we said we’d release five kegs every day at noon, and the line wound around the block, we knew we were in trouble,” Dan says with a laugh. But don’t expect them to roll out a cheese curd beer any time soon. “We don’t want to be the gimmicky guys. We’re just concentrating on bringing in the best local beers and keeping it fresh.”
This year, Ball Park is adding Sweetland Orchard ciders on tap. “They’re a couple who threw it all in to farm and make something,” Dave says of the folks behind Webster-based Sweetland. “Showcasing them is what the State Fair is really all about.” To accompany all that great beer, Dan and Dave also raised the quality of their food offerings. Instead of starting out frozen and bagged, their ribs will be made fresh in the kitchen, then deep-fried. “The fair is always new, always changing, and we have to keep raising the bar,” Dave says. “It’s funny that people see us as these old vets, because we’re just in it to keep it as new as possible. I mean, come on, a day at the fair should be the best $12 you ever spend.”