Brew boom

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February 20, 2014
By: Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson
Number of tap rooms open in NE Mpls shows no signs of waning

Fifteen minutes after the doors opened for 612 Brew’s first anniversary party, co-founder Robert Kasak stood at the back of his tap room and surveyed the scene. It was packed to capacity already, buzzing with patrons sitting shoulder to shoulder at communal tables and pushed up around the bar.

“When we opened we had no idea how the tap room would do. It’s safe to say we far exceeded any expectations we had,” he said, chuckling.

Sometime during the last year tap rooms became the hottest trend in the Northeast nightlife scene. New Mayor Betsy Hodges chose 612 Brew to camp out at with her supporters while she waited for election results to come in. Dangerous Man had Lazerbeak and Mike Mictlan from the influential indie hip-hop group Doomtree play its packed one-year anniversary party in January, and Indeed Brewing had more than 6,000 people visit its outdoor bash during Art-A-Whirl back in May.

“It’s been crazy,” said Rob Miller, founder of Dangerous Man. “We love it because we’re busy and we’re able to brew a lot and constantly come up with new recipes, but at the same time there’s a lot of pressure on us to consistently have good beer. There’s no room for error.” 

Dangerous Man sold nearly three times more beer than Miller projected to in his first year.

Four out of the seven tap rooms that opened in Minneapolis since the famed “Surly Bill” passed in May 2010 have set up shop in Northeast. Three more breweries — Bauhaus Brew Labs, Fair State Brewing and Northgate Brewing — have confirmed they will be opening tap rooms in Northeast this year, and an additional two or three more are “in the pipeline,” according to Ward 1 City Council Member Kevin Reich. 

Why Northeast?

When Bauhaus opens sometime in 2014, it will be the fourth tap room to open in a six-block area spanning Northeast Park and Logan Park neighborhoods. While the area’s mixed population of artists, hipsters and working-class families seem tailored to a tap room’s target demographic, most Northeast breweries actively looked elsewhere for space in Minneapolis before deciding to open east of the Mississippi River. 

Ultimately it was Northeast’s abundance of properly zoned, affordably priced vacant industrial buildings leftover from its shipping and manufacturing prime decades ago that has attracted so many breweries.

“When Indeed first opened up in Northeast Minneapolis, it wasn’t because they were like ‘We know this is going to be the Mecca, and we’re going to be the first in,’” said 612 Brew’s Kasak. “We didn’t know, or plan this, it’s about the availability of properly zoned buildings. You can’t throw a stone in Northeast without hitting an industrial building.”

Neighborhood groups have welcomed the breweries, which have drawn more attention, foot traffic and tourists’ dollars to a traditionally blue-collar part of town. Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association (HNIA) has coordinated several meetings with all of the new breweries to discuss how to promote the burgeoning Northeast brewing district.

“We welcome them with open arms in the neighborhood,” said Doug Werner, secretary for HNIA. “They’ve been really respectful with hours, they’re not open until that 2 o’clock bar close. They’ve taken steps to ensure they’re responsible neighbors, which is cool.”

Growth and Saturation

Every brewery in Northeast is expanding: 

Indeed, the first brewery to open in Northeast after the Surly Bill passed, doubled its capacity after just five months, and is planning on doubling it again this year. 

Dangerous Man just added a walk-in cooler in its basement that will allow for up to 18 tap lines and potentially distribution to local bars later this year. 

Northgate is moving to a new facility in mid-late summer that is nearly ten times bigger than its current brewery.

Last month 612 Brew added two new fermenters and a new bright tank, increasing its capacity by 65 percent.

Sociable Cider Werks has purchased a canning and bottling line and is waiting for it to be delivered.

Such immediate, rapid expansion alongside the steady stream of newcomers opening soon inevitably prompts questions about market saturation. For now, nobody in the industry seems worried, because Portland, Denver and other similarly-sized, progressive cities have proven they can accommodate dozens of breweries. 

A January 2014 survey by the Oregon Brewer’s Guild found that there were 53 breweries operating in Portland, and the latest statistics compiled by the Brewer’s Association showed that craft beer accounted for only 6.5 percent of total beer sold in the United States in 2012, a 15 percent increase from 2011.

“We knew just by looking at other similar markets like the Pacific Northwest and Colorado that there was definitely room to enter the market, and looking at the amount of breweries in those places, Minnesota is still not even close to coming to that saturation point,” said Rachel Anderson, one of Indeed’s co-founders.

So for now the race is on to build up brand recognition and distribution infrastructure before the market bubble bursts. Despite the specter of intense competition looming, the craft brewing industry is incredibly supportive. 

“It’s almost beyond explaining, because we are all competitors, but at the same time, I call them all the time,” said Dangerous Man’s Miller. “I know Tom’s number by heart at Indeed, Adam at Northgate, 612 guys, it’s like, if anyone needs anything there’s no hesitation.”

“It’s legit, it’s not a façade,” added Kasak. “The porter we’re pouring right now was made with yeast Northgate gave us, because we gave them a bunch of growler caps when they ran out on a busy Saturday a while back.”

Instead of competing with each other, the new breweries see big, national brands like Miller, Coors, Budweiser and Michelob as the shared enemy. Nearly every brewer will invariably mention the maxim ‘a rising tide raises all boats,’ when market saturation is brought up, and with craft beer accounting for less than ten percent of the market share, there very well may be ample room for everyone to grow.

“In the end, we just all want to see each other make good beer. Making good beer is what it’s all about,” said Miller.