As the craft beer revolution progresses in places like downtown Minneapolis, St. Paul, or even Brooklyn Park, the ripples made by the waves of change are finally making their way to Wright County.
Home brewing has become increasingly popular. Aisles in off-sale stores once populated by brand-name offshoots are now stocked with beers brewed in places like Mankato, Duluth or Stillwater. And, finally, Wright County is even home to its first (of hopefully man) taprooms.
Some of the men behind that revolution, and those that are hoping to keep it going, sat down for a roundtable discussion recently to discuss the current state of beer in Wright County, and it’s promising future.
Three of them were men hoping to get “hopping” (pun intended) in Hanover soon. Mike Dumas, Eric Sargent and James Anderle are the men behind LuPine Brewery, which is currently making small batches of craft beer from a site in St. Cloud.
The trio is hoping to construct a taproom in Hanover near the banks of the Crow River, along the bend where County Road 19 meets up with County Road 20.
“About two years ago, I had the notion to start my own business. The question was, what kind?” Dumas said. “Eric and I had a home brewing background, and the advice is always ‘Go with what you know.’ Well, we know beer.”
The crew has been working with the City of Hanover, the Tobacco and Trade Bureau and both Wright and Hennepin County for the past two years. They’ve also enlisted the help of Albertville attorney Jeffrey O’Brien, who represents a slew of downtown and regional breweries thanks to his expertise in the so-called “Surly Law,” which opened the doors for taprooms in Minnesota.
Another of O’Brien’s clients is Andy “Pugs” Hayes, brewer and proprietor of Hayes Public House in Buffalo. Hayes has been a pioneer, of sorts, opening one of the first “suburban” taprooms on the west side of the Twin Cities and using his background in restaurant management and business management to create a successful hot spot in Buffalo’s historic downtown.
“You need a lot of help along the way, and I just happened to be able to work with a lot of good people,” Pugs said.
Hayes’ family owned an operated a business in downtown Monticello for years, before selling it and another bar it invested in off when Pugs was a teen. But, knowing the industry was in his blood, Pugs set out to start his own, until his mom asked one poignant questions.
“Why focus on food, is what she asked,” Pugs said. “I didn’t have an answer. So when doors kind of opened for this sort of place, we decided on a pub-style taproom. After all, even with the experience I didn’t know a lot about food. But I knew beer. So it’s like Mike said, I went with what I knew.”
A lot of things have to fall into place for a location like Hayes’ Public House. Pugs credits downtown Buffalo for a new, exciting atmosphere that puts an emphasis on the historic portion of the city, unlike Monticello, which he said wasn’t as supportive of a new downtown business in his case.
“They had a bar/restaurant there, so they felt south on Highway 25, where they have a lot going on, was the place to be. I think this sort of place fits this mold better,” he said.
And, as O’Brien added, a landlord or land owner, that’s supportive of a brewery or taproom certainly helps.
“Every community is in the place now where it has to look at its ordinances and amend them, to see if this is a direction they want to go or not,” O’Brien said. “Albertville and St. Michael are both doing that right now. Otsego has been approached by a couple of different possible owners.”
Like coffee houses, breweries and taprooms are flooding the market. In Colorado, for example, a city like Boulder, which has about 100,000 people, already has more than a dozen.
But the owners of Hayes and LuPine aren’t worried about saturation.
“It’s good beer,” Sargent said. “People are going to drink it where it’s good. So it’s like anything else. You have to have a solid product to make it. No one’s really going to say there’s too many of them.”
Hoping to follow in the footsteps of people like Sargent, Dumas and Hayes is Chris Magnussen of St. Michael. A home brewer and head of a beer tasting and brewing club, Magnussen is hoping to take his love of hops into business in St. Michael … a move that has spearheaded that community’s discussion about possible taprooms at the government level.
“It’s a plan that’s, really, in development right now. I’m about two years behind these guys,” Magnussen said, pointing to his colleagues. “But it’s encouraging to hear they went through the same things I’m going through, and that I can learn from them along the way.”
That was one of the things Mark Stutrud, owner of St. Paul’s Summit Brewing Company, was hoping could happen, O’Brien said.
“There needs to be that competition, but it’s with a soft ‘c.’ Mark realized that people need to work together if they’re going to make it. And it’s a remarkable thing to see. If someone’s equipment fails, he can call 10 other guys, and two of them will be there that day with a part to help him get brewing again. It’s just that kind of community,” he said.
And on the outside, looking in, is Hanover Wine and Spirits owner Dan Larson. A full-time worker for a utility company during the day, Larson took his love of beer and spirits to a storefront, which became Hanover’s first true shop. Larson started the venture with friend and fellow Hanover resident Chadd Perkins, a veteran and full-time worker who also wanted to follow his passion of owning a small business.
“I started with all the big beers, but I wanted to dabble in the craft beer scene a bit because that’s what I like,” Larson said. “Soon, I’m carrying 600 different beers in the store, because people recognize that this is a place they can get small batch beers. And, really, I’m letting the bigger guys sell the Coors Light and the Michelob Light, because it works for [us] to have a variety and let people try new things. So my hope is, someday, I’m selling these guys’ beers in my store. Because that’s what it’s about, is supporting your fellow small business owner. Our business just happens to be beer.”