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Twin Cities Brew Boom Taps Into Placemaking, Entrepreneurship, Neighborhood Synergies

Revelers do the brew at Dangerous Man, courtesy Dangerous Man Brewing

612Brew, photo by Nick Kozel, zedfoto.com

The new Surly, courtesy HGA Architects

Deb Loch brewing at Urban Growler

Bang Brewing, courtesy minneapolis.eater.com

Courtesy Harriet Brewing

Sociable Cider Werks

Once upon a time, enthusiasm for innovative, neighborhood-oriented eateries, bars and clubs inspired Twin Citians to investigate low-profile areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and often inspired a neighborhood renaissance. The placemaking potential of public art and cultural institutions has also been well documented and celebrated. Lately, local brewing startups deserve credit as well.

Since the passage of the Minnesota Pint Law or "Surly Bill" in 2012, entrepreneurs have rapidly opened craft breweries with taprooms in neighborhoods throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul. Fulton Brewing may have been the first taproom to open, but Summit Brewery, which has been brewing since 1986 and is often credited with introducing microbrewing to the Twin Cities, also opened its taproom in 2012.

In 2013, 14 new craft breweries fired up fermenters and taproom operations. The City of St. Paul recently produced a video of St. Paul's beer boom. A dozen or so more breweries have—including Day Block Brewing Co. and The Freehouse on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis—or will open in 2014.

All are doing their part to turn neighborhoods into top-of-mind destinations. New taprooms planned just off the Green Line at Surly Brewing Company and Urban Growler Brewing promise to become neighborhood hubs that draw revelers by train, foot and bike. Bang Brewing, around the corner from Urban Growler, is already a Friday night hotspot.

Northeast craft breweries like Dangerous Man Brewing Company and 612Brew support local restaurants—and even nearby bars—by allowing in outside food and welcoming food trucks to their curbs. Brewing is at the forefront of East Lake Street’s transition from shopping district to bona fide cultural hub. From the Ward One councilman who advocates for the “Northeast Brew District” to the development cooperative that houses Minnesota’s first brewing coop, local leaders and entrepreneurs are facilitating the craft beer industry’s development, which is reinvigorating neighborhoods in the process.

Northeast: Beer making territory

Perhaps nowhere is the craft beer movement’s power more obvious than in Northeast Minneapolis. Indeed Brewing Company, the district’s largest, opened in 2012; Dangerous Man, 612Brew, Northgate Brewing, and even a cidery—Sociable Cider Werks—have followed. There are a half-dozen breweries within a mile of Central Avenue, with more in the works for this year and next.

In part, Northeast can thank its rich brewing heritage for the head start. The historic home of Grain Belt still bears the cultural imprimatur of the German immigrants who built it, and its old-school neighborhood watering holes—Nye’s, Mayslacks, Stanley’s, the 331 Club—do a brisk trade with new brews and old-timers alike. Beer is very much on locals’ minds, and the new arrivals are building on the sense of place that the old guard created long ago. Northeast is beer-making territory.

The City of Minneapolis embraces the area’s heritage and the history now being made. “It is an active goal of City Council personnel to make this area a brewery friendly place,” says Matt Wallace, Dangerous Man’s marketing guru.

According to Rachel Anderson, Indeed’s marketing director and co-founder, Ward One councilman Kevin Reich has tirelessly advocated for the local brewing industry. Reich was an early, vocal supporter of the Surly Bill. He also understands the placemaking power of branding, as he’s the biggest booster of the increasingly popular but still informal “Northeast Brew District” designation, which covers most of his jurisdiction.

Brewing neighborhood synergies

The region’s producers have taken notice. Although it helped that Jim Watkins lived right around the corner from the site he and Wade Thompson selected for Sociable Cider Werks, they were impressed with the district’s infrastructure, particularly its ample parking. Also important were such local assets as small industrial businesses, neighborhood eateries, and a high proportion of creative types who work from home and conduct meetings at local coffeehouses and breweries. “There’s a very interesting mix of old-school institutions and young, hip newcomers here,” says Watkins of Northeast.

Watkins loves that Northeast doesn’t always follow a 9-to-5 schedule. Many of Sociable’s regulars, he says, spend mornings with their laptops at Spyhouse Coffee, just down the street, then pack up and head to Sociable for afternoon meetings or early happy hours. The establishment’s placemaking power extends beyond its base of regular patrons, too. Construction related to the brewing industry in the neighborhood, says Watkins, has created sizable new accounts for local packaging companies, electricians, builders, and so forth.

Dangerous Man founder Rob Miller, formerly a produce manager for Whole Foods, agrees and is especially enthusiastic about the natural synergy between local restaurants—which may or may not have liquor licenses—and breweries like his. “We allow outside food to be brought into Dangerous Man,” he says, which “has been a huge community builder. Restaurants already in place maintain their established residency while benefiting from our presence.” Take-out boxes from Anchor Fish & Chips, which sits kitty-corner to Miller’s brewery, are ubiquitous in its taproom. Meanwhile, nearby 612Brew partners with Tandoor, a local Indian restaurant, to bring food into its taproom.

Attracting weekend beer warriors

In the two years since the first “modern” breweries opened in the neighborhood, such reciprocal relationships have paid massive dividends. “We’re on the far end of 13th Avenue, an already popular street for bars and restaurants,” says Wallace, “and we’ve noticed an increase in traffic on the weekends.”

As the area raises its profile, more of these patrons are outsiders. Sociable’s Watkins notices an influx of non-Northeasters—suburbanites included—who devote entire Saturday afternoons to “brewery-hopping” in the area. Indeed’s Anderson adds that, “We get a lot of bikers in the summer, as well as a trend of people hopping from taproom to taproom in Northeast.”

612Brew, whose young owners all have business or customer service backgrounds, caters to these “weekend warriors” with low-alcohol session beers that bridge the gap between flavor-deprived macrobrews and the hop-forward, chewy beers that can intimidate novices. Although they take longer to brew, 612 has also expanded its selection of lighter, more drinkable lagers to appeal to visitors who aren’t sure about those heavy ales.

The entrepreneurs who run these businesses are ambitious, but all recognize that they’re part of a larger community. Indeed, for instance, takes collaboration with other local businesses seriously. It’s one of the biggest patrons of Northeast-based community organizations and charities, and recently released “Burr Grinder,” a special-edition beer made in collaboration with nearby Dogwood Coffee.

“We do our own thing as businesses,” says Anderson, “but there is a friendly camaraderie between us” that makes collaborations easy and rewarding. Indeed was initially drawn to Northeast by the district’s supply of old warehouses and storefronts suitable for breweries, but “we kind of fell in love with” the area’s entrepreneurial, community-focused scene, she says.

Cooperative brewing

Minnesota’s first cooperative brewery, Fair State Brewing Cooperative, answers to hundreds of member-investors who fund its operations and shape its growth. It’s the second tenant at the NorthEast Investment Cooperative’s flagship property on high-visibility corner of Central Avenue, and expects to open a taproom there soon.

Unlike other breweries in town, Fair State will serve as a hub for amateur brewers looking to practice their craft—and patronize the adjacent bike shop, bakery and other NEIC businesses. Perhaps more importantly, its cooperative ownership structure gives dozens of Twin Cities’ residents a stake in its success, and that of the surrounding neighborhood.

With more on the line, member-owners aren’t likely drop by a couple times per month for a pint—they’ll be around on a daily or weekly basis, walking or biking through the neighborhood and patronizing nearby suppliers and businesses. Members also enjoy exclusive happy hour discounts, financial rewards for referring new members, voting rights and pro-rated shares of the co-op’s annual profits.

The Central Corridor’s brew boom

The Central Corridor spanning Minneapolis and St. Paul, where the Green Line light rail opens June 14, is also sprouting new craft beer outposts. Burning Brothers Brewing, Minnesota’s first gluten-free brewery, recently opened near the intersection of Thomas and Fairview Avenues, in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood.

Burning Brothers, founded by Renaissance Festival fire-breathers Dane Breimhorst and Thom Foss, was initially conceived as a Celiac-friendly production brewery, complete with a contamination-free canning line. Like Northeast, the Central Corridor had plenty of suitable, expansive spaces (the facility is 5,000 square feet) for brewing. But popular demand has already necessitated the opening of a taproom.

Bang Brewing is doing a brisk trade out of its silo-like building in the Creative Enterprise Zone of St. Anthony Park. Just around the corner from Bang, Urban Growler, the first woman-owned and -operated microbrewery in Minnesota, opens this summer and will include a restaurant.

Co-owners Deb Loch (a former biomedical engineer at Medtronic) and Jill Pavlak (who worked at Blue Plate Restaurant Company), found themselves frustrated by the local (and national) industry’s overwhelmingly white-male demographic, and resolved to appeal to women who love beer. The results will include low-to-moderate alcohol beers, session drinking, and decorative touches like purse racks and low chairs. Longer-term, they’ll also be working with community gardens in the area to source ingredients for their beers. Plans are in the works for a tasting/appetizer menu out of the small kitchen—the “come for a beer, stay for a bite” setup that works for myriad neighborhood pubs across the Cities.

Then there’s Surly. The Westgate brownfield on which Surly’s building a new taproom/brewery won out over nearly three-dozen potential sites across the metro. The area’s infrastructure, from the Green Line to an adjacent bikeway/walking path, and existing hospitality businesses, proved irresistible. Inside, the taproom will pay homage to European beer gardens and serve food from an in-house kitchen.

Finding and enhancing a South Minneapolis location

Further south, the bustling intersection of Lake, Minnehaha and Hiawatha already sports a collection of neighborhood watering holes, eateries, and performance venues. Now, Harriet Brewing Company is there, as well. Housed in a repurposed industrial space that retains an unpolished, even gritty feel, Harriet Brewing has an artist-in-residence: Jesse Brodd, a well-known local designer, is responsible for the brewery’s label art and many of the paintings that hang on the taproom walls.

Live music is also a staple of the brewery, which takes its status as an evening gathering space seriously. To celebrate Harriet’s two-year anniversary, the owners kept the doors open for 12 days straight in mid-March, welcoming spoken-word performers, standup comedians, bluegrass artists, and local singer-songwriters to mark the occasion.

With existing cultural assets like In the Heart of the Beast Theater, the Hub Bike Co-Op and Peace Coffee’s retail location already in place, the area was a natural fit for Harriet. Since the brewery’s opening, the neighborhood has sprouted new eateries and seen a marked increase in foot and bike traffic, especially at night. Harriet might not be the sole reason for this transformation, but is clearly responsible for drawing new visitors to the area and creating an engaging streetscape.

Boom…or bust?

Last year, some 10 breweries also expanded or announced plans to grow—many to double the amount of beer produced annually. Boom Island Brewing Co. on Washington Avenue moved to a spot five times larger and will soon have a taproom. Bauhaus Brew Labs, in Northeast, is set to open this summer and launched a Kickstarter campaign to solicit ideas for the build out (which may include a stage and sound system for the house band Viva Kneievel). Other craft breweries expanding include Indeed, Town Hall, Summit and Fulton.

The rapid craft brewing renaissance has some observers wondering if or when the local market will reach a saturation point, or experience a disruptive shakeout that forces multiple breweries out of business.

“We’re not even close to the point of saturation,” argues Sociable’s Watkins. “There’s still room here for a lot of neighborhood brewpubs.”

Brian Martucci is The Line’s Innovation and Jobs Editor.

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