Minneapolis event-organizing company, GetKnit Events
, is changing the way Twin Cities residents experience local businesses and attractions. On September 13, it pulled off its most ambitious and far-reaching experience yet: Rails & Ales, a self-guided tour of the breweries and brewpubs along the Green Line, from Target Field to Union Depot. Hundreds of participants sipped discounted brews, previewed special cask releases and rubbed shoulders with some of the most innovative brewers in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
For GetKnit founder Matt Plank, connecting Twin Citians with local business owners—preferably on a permanent basis—is the whole point. He and the company’s “core team” of paid employees, most of whom knew each other socially before GetKnit’s founding, are constantly looking for “ways that we [can pursue] our goal of community engagement while supporting local businesses in and around Minnesota,” says Plank.
Tickets for Rails & Ales sold out quickly, but a lucky group of several hundred attendees got their run of three establishments in Minneapolis and five in St. Paul, all within walking distance of the Green Line. (Though pedicabs were out in force to transport customers between stations and breweries, especially at farther-flung spots like Urban Growler
and Bang Brewing
.) Guests checked in at the Target Field, Stadium Village or Union Depot stations, where GetKnit staffers and volunteers handed out T-shirts, drink tokens (two per person, each good for a free pint) and “event passports” that listed participating breweries, their specials and Rails & Ales social media contests.
Other locally owned businesses got in on the act too. The Dubliner Pub, between the popular Raymond Avenue (Urban Growler and Bang) and Fairview Avenue (Burning Brothers) stops, ran all-day drink and food specials. Food trucks like Peeps Hot Box
posted up outside participating breweries, tempting customers with daily specials. And even independent vendors, like the woman selling vintage glassware outside Bang, profited from the early-afternoon crush on a beautiful Saturday.
Meanwhile, the brewers themselves relished the chance to mingle with enthusiastic craft beer fans. At the Mill District’s Day Block Brewing, for instance, the head brewer handed out free pints to anyone who correctly guessed the varieties of hops laid out on the table before him. Rails & Ales wrapped up at 6 p.m., but brewery owners have to be hoping that the day provided a permanent boost in visibility.
GetKnit draws inspiration from other tour companies and event organizers, says Plank, but with a twist. Aside from the focus on locally owned business, which is lacking in some areas of the industry, the company aims for “wildly original” events “that our participants likely couldn’t do anywhere but through GetKnit.” You might be able to spend an entire Saturday riding the Green Line between breweries, in other words, but you probably wouldn’t be able to mingle with head brewers, try specially brewed cask releases or enter social media contests for free events and swag.
And unlike more bare-bones tour and event operators, GetKnit organizes well-staffed, all-inclusive events that “allow participants to turn off their brains for a day...and not worry about anything,” says Plank. For Rails & Ales, GetKnit had at least one representative at every participating brewery, in addition to staff at check-in stations. The goal was to facilitate “safe and responsible” enjoyment while showcase the ease of using local transit and “how much is accessible right off of its grid.”
GetKnit also designs bespoke events for private groups. Plank cites a recent example in which a group of Latin American businesspeople came to the Twin Cities for meetings and sightseeing. Many had never been to Minnesota, so Plank’s team set about creating the "quintessential Minnesotan experience” that included a horse-drawn carriage tour of St. Anthony Main, a brewery tour and tasting, a hands-on cooking class featuring Jucy Lucy burgers and even private curling lessons.
For now, GetKnit organizes events in the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota. But Plank doesn’t rule out the possibility of expanding the model to other regions, possibly with the help of knowledgeable locals. A recent St. Croix Valley winery tour did cross the Wisconsin border, and “we are playing with other events that might do more extensive tours of other areas in our neighbor to the east,” he says.