What a difference a law makes. When local brewery—cult brewery, superstar brewery—Surly spearheaded efforts to change Minnesota laws to allow small breweries to sell pints of beer onsite, I had all the reactions everyone had: Yeah! Let’s do that. It’s only common sense, it benefits start-up entrepreneurs, can’t see the harm, bring it! But I actually never foresaw the enormous changes that little law would lead to in our fair cities.
As I type this, there are six brewery taprooms up and running in the Twin Cities—Indeed, Fulton, Harriet, Staples Mill, Lift Bridge, and Excelsior, plus several more outstate. By the time this magazine reaches you, there may well be others, like if Roseville’s Pour Decisions throws open its doors; it’s licensed, approved, and ready to go. By the time you’re ringing in the New Year, there will likely be four more: Summit and Fytenburg Brewing in St. Paul, 612Brew in Minneapolis, and Steel Toe Brewing in St. Louis Park. In 2013, my best guess is we will see at least a half a dozen more, maybe even a dozen, as new breweries come online and established breweries work through the licensing process and build whatever they need to build (typically bathrooms).
Of course, this is nothing but great news for beer nuts, here and nationally: With every passing day, and every fresh tankful of beer, we get closer to defining something new, a distinct Minnesota take on beer, what some are calling a North Coast style. But if you’re not already a beer nut, do you care? What does this taproom boom mean for the average city dweller? A lot. I recently spent a week visiting all the local new taprooms, from Stillwater to Excelsior and back again, and as I went I felt like a tourist in my own city, tasting great beers, yes, but also being welcomed into new pockets of town I had never been in before and experiencing new aspects of communities I thought I knew. In Northeast, at Indeed Brewing Company, I eavesdropped on a table of university professors mourning the end of summer because their tinkering with the electric conversion of a vintage Volvo must come to an end. In Excelsior, I watched a trio of after-lunch-shift waitresses, still uniformed, gather over a pint brewed right by the people who handed it to them. In Minneapolis, at Fulton, I counted four baby strollers around one long table with a toddler conference beneath it. And if a sippy cup would spill, who cares? The floors were concrete. And if a baby should cry, who cares? The combination of big warehouse and busy taproom bar scene led to the sort of noise environment in which a loud cry vanished in the malt-scented air.
Every taproom I visited left me with an odd but nice new feeling. First, that the cities had become strangely, suddenly European, in a 1950s travel newsreel sort of way. (In the mountains of Switzerland, you’ll find the local shepherds finish every day with a pint of the local beer.) But also that the Twin Cities had taken on a certain aspect of Napa Valley—the task at hand, the job, the goal, the work, was to go somewhere and have a pint and relax. This is not how we work-ethic Minnesotans typically spend our free time. The work is painting the garage, the work is tramping through the historic site to better understand the massacre, the work is separate from the enjoying part of the day. When the task at hand is in fact to relax, enjoy, and appreciate a beer—that’s Napa Valley vacation thinking. And it’s a really delightful way to discover the cities anew. So here’s a clip-and-save guide to touring Minnesota’s new taproom scene. Dedicate a few afternoons this fall to visiting local taprooms and you may find yourself with a new way of seeing your cities: through a pint glass fired in the heat of an entrepreneurial beer boom and filled deliciously.
+ See Minnesota Brewery and Taproom Guide