1. A city built for brewing
Brewing and breweries have been part of St. Paul since the beginning, thanks largely to favorable natural conditions and a ready-made market that helped found an industry with lasting economic and cultural effects.
Since its incorporation as a city more than 160 years ago, St. Paul has never been without an operating brewery.
Although the city was first settled in 1838 by Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant as a whiskey-trading outpost, beer became the beverage that defined it.
The city’s location on the bluffs along the Mississippi River was ideal for the early brewing industry, says Minnesota brewing historian Doug Hoverson.
Caves — both natural and man-made — in the city’s sandstone cliffs were perfect for fermenting lager beer, which required lower temperatures than ale. The river offered pioneer brewers a ready means of shipping in barley and hops, and shipping out their product.
It wasn’t just the city’s geography that made it a brewing hotspot. St. Paul’s predominantly Catholic, working-class immigrant population meant plenty of local demand for beer.
“The city was founded on alcohol,” said Sabine Meyer, a historian who has studied the city’s early drinking culture.
The other side of the Mississippi was a different story, she said. Minneapolis was founded primarily by Protestant New Englanders and was an early hub of temperance activism.
“St. Paul was anti-temperance to begin with,” Meyer said. But it also “defined itself in opposition to Minneapolis.”
St. Paul’s brewing industry was kick-started by a wave of German immigration beginning in the late 1840s. These Germans brought with them a fondness for lager beer, which quickly displaced ale as the brew of choice in St. Paul taverns.
“It was almost a craze,” Hoverson said. “Lager beer was really new to the country in the 1840s.”
In 1849, Bavarian immigrant Anthony Yoerg opened the city’s first commercial brewery near what is now the intersection of Eagle Parkway and Chestnut Street. Yoerg dug lagering caves into the soft sandstone behind his brewery, roughly where the Science Museum of Minnesota’s parking ramp is today.
In these early years, Yoerg had the market to himself. But not for long.
The mid-1850s saw a proliferation of small-scale breweries. By 1860, there were six in the city doing more than $500 each in annual sales, according to Hoverson’s book, “Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota.”
Schmidt and Hamm’s, the two breweries that would become synonymous with St. Paul’s brewing industry, were also founded around this time, but under names you probably wouldn’t recognize.
Christopher Stahlmann founded his Cave Brewery on West Seventh Street in 1855. Within five years, it was the largest in the state, Hoverson writes, producing 1,200 barrels annually. It would be bought by North Star Brewing Co. owner Jacob Schmidt in 1900, and combined under the name Jacob Schmidt Brewing Co., according to “Our History: Jacob Schmidt Brewing Co.”
Andrew Keller opened his Pittsburg Brewery — later Excelsior Brewery — near Phalen Creek about 1859, Hoverson writes. When Theodore Hamm took over the company in 1865, it was producing just 500 barrels a year, according to Jeri Engh’s history of Hamm’s. A little more than two decades later, its output had grown to 40,000 barrels.
By 1880, St. Paul was home to 11 breweries, while Minneapolis supported only three, according to Mary Lethert Wingerd’s 2001 book “Claiming the City: Politics, Faith, and the Power of Place in St. Paul.”
“The brewing industry was the only area of production in which St. Paul surpassed Minneapolis, and one of the city’s most important employers,” Wingerd writes.
The city’s breweries and taverns would become increasingly important to St. Paul’s economy.
In 1887, a statewide law increased the amount saloon owners paid city governments for their operating licenses. Known as the “high license” law, it drove many saloons out of business or underground, Meyer said. Many of those that survived did so by arranging for a brewery to pay their license fee in exchange for serving only that brewery’s beer.
These establishments were known as tied houses. Ward 6, a bar and restaurant that opened in 2012 on St. Paul’s East Side, is located in a former tied house operated by Hamm’s.
By 1905, the city of St. Paul was making $384,000 a year in saloon license fees — its second-largest source of revenue.
“This is a huge number. And to this number is attached political power. … The city is dependent on this source of income,” Meyer said. “It totally changes the position of saloon owners and brewers and the nature of the brewing industry.”
St. Paul’s brewing industry would continue to thrive during the next century, weathering Prohibition, changing tastes and waves of nationwide consolidation.
It remains a vibrant and important economic engine for the city, but one dominated by smaller, independent concerns who are writing a new chapter in a rich, compelling narrative.
2. Enter Prohibition … and the gangsters
The citizens, businesses, police and politicians of St. Paul flouted the 18th Amendment, creating an anything-goes atmosphere that led to the era of gangsters, speakeasies and civic corruption.
When temperance activist Carry Nation, famous for defacing saloons with her trademark hatchet, briefly visited St. Paul in 1903, she found little sympathy for her cause.
Nation stormed into a Wabasha Street tavern and chastised its patrons as “scoundrels” and “beasts,” according to an account in the St. Paul Globe.
“Aren’t you ashamed to be seen in here?” she hollered. “How dare you pass your time in this place? Oh! every one of you should be locked up!”
Nation’s tirade was interrupted by the bartender, who doused her with a seltzer bottle.
In stark contrast to Minneapolis, St. Paul had long been a stronghold of anti-temperance sentiment. Its prosperous breweries and hundreds of saloons were vital to the city’s economy, and alcohol was integral to the culture of its largely immigrant population, according to local historian Mary Lethert Wingerd.
That sentiment had not abated when Congress passed the 18th Amendment, outlawing “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.”
“Perhaps the single issue on which the citizens of St. Paul were in nearly unanimous agreement in 1920, was their opposition to the recently passed Eighteenth Amendment,” Wingerd writes in “Claiming the City.” “St. Paul residents responded to this economic and cultural assault in predictable fashion: they ignored it.”
A HISTORY OF LAWLESSNESS
Prohibition was only the latest of many attempts to rein in the alcohol trade in St. Paul. The city’s residents had a long tradition of defying them, says Sabine Meyer, a historian who studied the battle over temperance in Minnesota.
“This was something St. Paulites were well-practiced in,” Meyer said. “The more the temperance advocates were doing, the more spite emerged within St. Paul against the movement.”
When the Minnesota Legislature in 1887 mandated higher license fees for saloon owners, the number of licensed bars in St. Paul fell from 763 to 361 in just a year. But that didn’t mean they were gone.
“Not all of them vanished,” Meyer said. “A lot of them went underground.”
This established an early speakeasy culture in the city that would fully flower during Prohibition, Meyer said, adding that enforcement efforts were lax.
The city would similarly flout a Sunday sales ban and mandated saloon closing times.
St. Paul’s tendency toward lawlessness was exacerbated with the appointment of Police Chief John O’Connor in 1900, says local crime historian Paul Maccabee. O’Connor made it known among the nation’s criminals that they were safe in St. Paul, as long as they promised to behave while in town.
“The civic corruption in St. Paul was simply extraordinary,” Maccabee said. “That system of corruption was in place long before Prohibition was passed.”
It was a dour, mustachioed Minnesota congressman named Andrew Volstead who drafted the legislation that would outlaw alcohol. Volstead “was about as colorful as the snow that each winter blanketed his hometown of Granite Falls,” writes Daniel Okrent in his 2010 history of Prohibition.
After failing to win re-election in 1922, Volstead took a job in St. Paul’s Federal Courts Building — now Landmark Center — as a lawyer for the Prohibition Enforcement Bureau, drawing up indictments against violators of the so-called Volstead Act.
Although it may not have halted the alcohol trade in St. Paul, the new law certainly changed it.
Many of the city’s breweries, including Hamm and Schmidt, began selling “near beer,” which contains less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume and was legal under the Volstead Act.
The brewing process for near beer is the same as for full-strength beer, but the alcohol is cooked off at the end.
“You have to make real beer to make near beer,” said Minnesota brewing historian Doug Hoverson. “You brew near beer not because you think you’re going to sell much of it, but because you want to keep your brewmaster employed.”
And it wasn’t unheard of for brewers to neglect that all-important last step and for barrels of full-strength beer to end up at local speakeasies, Maccabee says.
A tunnel between the Schmidt brewery and the home of an employee was used to smuggle illegal beer, according to Maccabee’s book, “John Dillinger Slept Here.”
Michael Gebhart, who succeeded John O’Connor as St. Paul’s police chief, estimated in 1922 that 75 percent of the city’s residents were making their own beer, wine or whiskey, according to a report Maccabee found in the St. Paul Dispatch.
Beer that was brewed and consumed at home was legal under the Volstead Act.
“You could go to just about any store and buy a can of malt, a box of hops,” Hoverson said. “It just so happened that the standard can of malt and the standard box of hops were the right size to be combined together” to make beer.
But if you didn’t feel like brewing your own, St. Paul had countless speakeasies where you could buy it.
Leon Gleckman, St. Paul’s “beer baron,” supplied the city’s clandestine bars — and many of its finest restaurants — with illegal alcohol, Maccabee said. Gleckman maintained an office in the posh St. Paul Hotel — right across the street from Volstead’s office in the Federal Courts Building.
Many of the Twin Cities’ most respectable citizens drank alcohol delivered by Gleckman’s outfit. And he used the considerable profits of his criminal enterprise to buy the loyalty of the city’s police force, judges and politicians.
“Everybody was complicit,” Maccabee said. “There was a permeable membrane between the underworld and the overworld — between the good guys and the bad guys.”
By the early 1930s, many Americans were clamoring for the repeal of the 18th Amendment and the re-legalization of alcohol. In 1933, newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt promised to do just that.
While this was good for the brewers, it was bad for the city’s criminals, who had come to depend on the illegal alcohol trade for revenue.
“When Prohibition was repealed, the gangsters were still here,”
Maccabee said. “They had to make money somehow, so they turned to bank robbery, extortion, racketeering.”
In 1933, nine months before it repealed the 18th Amendment, Congress passed a law that re-legalized 3.2 beer. St. Paul’s breweries were inundated with orders.
The infamous Barker-Karpis Gang, which called St. Paul home at the time, saw their own opportunity in this bonanza.
“All the breweries were doing a landslide business, and in St. Paul the Hamm plant was open twenty-four hours a day trying to keep up with orders,” Alvin Karpis wrote in his autobiography.
Karpis was confident the Hamm family “had quite a chunk of dough handy,” he wrote.
The Barker-Karpis Gang snatched William Hamm Jr., the brewery’s president, as he walked home for lunch one day in June 1933.
Hamm was released four days later after a $100,000 ransom was paid to the kidnappers — much of it ending up in the hands of local police complicit in the crime.
Following the success of the Hamm kidnapping, the Barker-Karpis Gang next targeted banking scion Edward Bremer, whose family also owned the Schmidt Brewery.
Carjacked by members of the gang in January 1934, Bremer was released after a $200,000 ransom was paid.
Karpis was declared Public Enemy No. 1 by the FBI and was eventually arrested.
These shocking abductions shook St. Paulites, Maccabee said, and led to the cleaning up of city hall and the police department.
“It was a very dangerous time,” Maccabee said. “We romanticize bootlegging as a, quote, ‘victimless crime,’ but a lot of people died.”
Prohibition was repealed in December 1933. The Hamm’s and Schmidt breweries would undertake enormous expansion projects during the next decades, eventually becoming the fifth- and seventh-largest U.S. brewers, respectively.
But the damage from Prohibition was irreversible at some of St. Paul’s smaller breweries, including its first — Yoerg Brewing Co., which folded in the 1950s.
The era of mega-breweries and mass-produced beer had dawned.
But St. Paul’s brewers would never regain the economic and political power they enjoyed in the years before Prohibition. New regulations prohibited them from owning saloons and placed new restrictions on how they sold their beer.
3. Minnesota-Wisconsin border battles
The two states have differed over the decades on bar closing times, legal drinking age and Sunday sales, leading to a tradition of cross-border beer runs.
An issue that’s sure to come up during the 2016 session of the Minnesota Legislature is the push to legalize Sunday alcohol sales.
One of the state’s few remaining blue laws (it is also illegal to sell cars on Sundays), the Sunday alcohol sales ban is the subject of perennial attempts at repeal.
One of the consequences of the ban is that an unknown number of Minnesotans jump the border into Wisconsin — where it is legal to sell alcohol seven days a week — to buy their booze on Sunday.
This is a tradition that goes back several decades.
In 1953, Minnesota’s Legislature raised the state’s drinking age to 21. Meanwhile, over in Wisconsin, anyone older than 18 could legally buy beer.
Minnesota teenagers — especially those from St. Paul, it seems — began driving into Wisconsin to pick up a six-pack and sneak back across the border in the dead of night to “raise Cain,” Washington County Sheriff Reuben Granquist told the Pioneer Press at the time. He “declared open war” on these covert beer runs in June 1955.
“The situation got so bad here in Stillwater and Washington County,” Granquist told the St. Paul Dispatch, “that families and other groups could not use our park facilities for fear they would be set upon by these … drunken teen-agers, many of them from St. Paul.”
“One of my deputies picked up a 16-year-old girl from a decent St. Paul family who was walking down one park road, carrying a fifth of whisky in her hand and making indecent proposals to all the men and boys she met,” Granquist said.
A more serious consequence of teens taking advantage of Wisconsin’s lenient liquor laws were increasingly frequent fatal car accidents on border roads, law enforcement officials told reporters.
But Granquist’s “beer curtain,” as the newspapers called it, seems to have worked. Deputies camped out at bridge crossings along the Mississippi nabbed at least a dozen St. Paul youths that month as they were crossing the river with their contraband.
The fine for illegally possessing alcohol as a minor was $50.
Four years later, Minnesota’s Legislature passed a law that forced the state’s bars to close at 1 a.m. — an hour earlier than Wisconsin’s.
Predictably, many Minnesotans hopped in their cars at last call and drove across the Mississippi to continue their drinking in Hudson, Somerset or Prescott.
Law enforcement officials on both sides of the border decried the dangerous driving conditions created by drunken motorists, and Minnesota’s bar owners complained they were losing business to their Wisconsin competitors.
Several serious attempts were made to change Minnesota’s law, but they were all soundly defeated or killed in committee.
By 2003, attitudes appeared to have changed. An effort spearheaded by the Twin Cities tourism and hospitality lobby finally gained some traction.
“While there is no data on how many Minnesota patrons cross over to Wisconsin, bar owners and law enforcement officials said that on many nights, especially on weekends, the numbers are significant,” the Pioneer Press reported in 2003.
The newspaper also pointed out that studies on the safety effects of later closing times delivered mixed results.
In the end, a proposal that allowed bars to stay open an extra hour if they paid a fee gained approval. Revenue from these fees would fund extra law enforcement patrols of state roadways.
Hudson Police Chief Dick Trende was optimistic that the new law would make the roads safer.
“I think it will have some impact, but it’s hard to say at this point,” Trende told the Pioneer Press in June of that year. “So it’s wait and see.”
4. An upstart takes the place of giants
As St. Paul’s big traditional breweries began a slow decline, newcomer Summit Brewing Co. brought what many thought was an impossible dream to life, paving a new road in craft brewing.
When Mark Stutrud was thinking of opening a small brewery in the early 1980s, he ran the idea by the executive secretary of the Brewers’ Association of America.
“Please know that I am not encouraging you to do so,” read the reply, “because it is a long and hard road that you are planning to go down.”
That letter now hangs in the lobby outside Stutrud’s office at Summit Brewing Co.’s $46 million plant in St. Paul.
Stutrud founded Summit Brewing Co. on University Avenue in 1984. At the time, it was the only craft brewery in the Midwest.
In a local market dominated by light yellow lagers, Summit’s dark amber Extra Pale Ale raised eyebrows.
“There was nothing but skepticism,” Stutrud said. “When we started, people were saying, ‘Who the hell is going to drink this stuff?’ ”
Summit has grown to dominate the Minnesota craft beer market, and it laid much of the groundwork for the state’s current brewing boom.
“Certainly Summit has … blazed a trail for the brewers that are around today,” said Dan Schwarz, president of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. “I’m guessing Summit was one of the first craft beers many Minnesotans tried.”
Stutrud’s interest in beer developed while he was working — ironically, he admits — as a substance-abuse counselor for St. Mary’s Hospital in the early 1980s. An avid home brewer, he wondered if he could turn his hobby into a profession.
Stutrud began reading brewing industry trade journals and spent his vacations visiting the handful of microbreweries popping up on the coasts. He started cold-calling people such as Paul Hauwiller, a retired Schmidt master brewer, to gain insight into what it takes to run a successful brewery.
Hauwiller introduced Stutrud to Fred Thomasser, another former Schmidt master brewer, who would become a key adviser to Summit and a close friend of Stutrud’s. Stutrud gave the eulogy at Thomasser’s funeral in 2001.
Thomasser’s grandson Tom is now Summit’s chief operating officer.
“When Mark was first wanting to do this, there were a lot of people who said, ‘No way,’ ” Tom Thomasser said. “I think my grandfather really put his arm around Mark and said, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ ”
The following December, Stutrud’s career was nudged toward the brewing business when St. Mary’s restructured his position. Rather than be reassigned, he quit and enrolled in a brewing course at Chicago’s Siebel Institute of Technology.
By fall 1984, 31-year-old Stutrud had leased a former auto parts warehouse at 2264 University Ave. with the help of a $50,000 low-interest loan from St. Paul’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
He spent the next couple of years rounding up investors and tracking down the equipment he would need to brew and package his beer.
“It’s a totally different world than it was back then,” Stutrud said. “Back in the early ’80s, there were very few companies in the U.S. that would fabricate smaller-scale brewing equipment. A lot of the folks who started early on were retrofitting dairy equipment.”
He shipped a 45-year-old brewhouse over from Germany and bought secondhand kegging equipment from Schmidt.
Even finding necessary raw materials, such as hops and malt, proved a challenge. Most U.S. suppliers were doing business only with the likes of Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Co.
The first keg of Extra Pale Ale that rolled off the line in September 1986 didn’t go very far — Johnny’s Bar across the street was the first Twin Cities watering hole to have Summit on tap. Johnny’s was one of about 10 metro bars and restaurants that Stutrud counted as customers at the time.
“We started with draft beer only,” Stutrud said. “Consumer behavior changes more readily (in bars and restaurants). That’s where new trends emerge. People aren’t too experimental at the liquor store.”
With a brewery small enough to legally self-distribute beer to customers, Stutrud and two of his four employees hauled kegs around the metro in a box truck. By the end of that first year, the company signed nearly 75 draft accounts.
Into its second year, Summit had begun branching out beyond the Twin Cities, contracting with wholesalers to ship its beer as far as Duluth and Rochester in Minnesota and Fargo, N.D.
The company also began bottling its beer. Here again, size proved to be a stumbling block — no manufacturer would produce bottles in the quantities Summit needed.
Stutrud struck a deal with Anchor Glass Container in Shakopee to buy
leftover bottles it manufactured for Miller Brewing.
The brewery operated on a shoestring early on, burdened by debt and high overhead costs.
“The first five years were brutal,” Stutrud said. “It was nothing but survival.”
A NEW PLANT
In his initial business plan, Stutrud aimed to produce 25,000 barrels a year by 2001. Summit passed this milestone in the mid-1990s. Ninety percent of the company’s sales were still in the Twin Cities.
By then, Stutrud had expanded the brewery five times, but it was still bumping up against the limits of its production capacity, and Summit was having trouble filling orders.
“If we had stayed on University Avenue and stayed small, we probably wouldn’t exist anymore,” Stutrud said. “People get tired of the fact that they want your beer and they can’t get it.”
Stutrud turned to the St. Paul Port Authority for help. The Port Authority had recently opened the 40-acre Crosby Lake Business Park, one of its first brownfield cleanup projects.
For a dollar, Summit bought 4.24 acres of land about three blocks south of West Seventh Street, overlooking the Mississippi River. The company spent $12 million to build a new brewery — the first entirely new brewery built in St. Paul since the 1930s.
In 1998, the company’s last year on University Avenue, Summit produced 34,000 barrels of beer. Its capacity at the Crosby Lake plant was nearly double that.
Meanwhile, St. Paul’s other breweries were suffering from a nationwide contraction in the industry. Between 1997 and 2002, the new owners of the city’s iconic Schmidt and Hamm’s plants would close them both.
Aside from a couple of brewpubs that had recently popped up, Summit was the only brewery still operating in St. Paul.
“Which is kind of frightening when you think about it,” Stutrud said. “It was pretty lonely.”
After moving into its Crosby Lake facility, Summit continued to invest in increasing its production capacity incrementally, spending between $1 million and $2 million a year. After 15 years, it had grown from 60,000 barrels a year to 120,000.
The company took advantage of its position as the sole remaining brewery in town.
“We seized that moment to secure as many tap lines as we could,” Thomasser said. “We were selling every drop we could make.”
But the company was once again running into supply problems. In 2012, work began on an $8 million expansion of its fermentation cellar.
The following year, Summit bought an additional 3.5 acres and a vacant building behind its existing plant. The company moved its offices into this new facility and spent $4 million to install a canning line.
The canning line opened up several markets for Summit, Thomasser said. Most stadiums, for example, don’t allow vendors to sell glass bottles. Many golf courses and beaches had been off-limits, too.
The canning line also protects the company against fluctuations in the price and availability of glass bottles, Stutrud said.
Summit now employs nearly 100 people, and Stutrud expects the brewery to produce 134,000 barrels by the end of 2015.
Its beer is shipped to nearly 2,000 bars and restaurants and several thousand liquor stores in 14 states, but 72 percent of its sales are still concentrated in the Twin Cities metro area. Thomasser estimates Summit’s share of its hometown market is nearly 3 percent — a formidable figure for a craft brewery, he said.
Stutrud has graduated from upstart to elder statesman in the Minnesota brewing scene, offering advice and practical help to the legion of new breweries popping up around the state. Many of these new entrants are staffed, at least in part, by Summit alumni.
“If you look at the newer brewers in the Twin Cities, many of them did a year or two at Summit,” local brewing historian Doug Hoverson said. “They were the training center for the entire region.”
This list includes Todd Haug, head brewer at more recent local craft beer favorite Surly.
Some of the first people to drink Stutrud’s beer now have grown children who are drinking it.
“It’s important to stay relevant in that way,” Stutrud said. “To be able to cross generations isn’t an easy thing to do.”
5. Tapping into a new era
A hard-fought law passed in 2011 changed the brewing scene dramatically, allowing small brewers to sell their beer on site. It’s a boom that seems to just keep growing.
After the loss of Hamm’s and Schmidt and years of Summit being the only operating brewery in town, things began to change in 2011. And St. Paul now has nearly a dozen craft breweries with several more being planned.
This unprecedented brewing boom in the Twin Cities and beyond largely owes its existence to a 2011 Minnesota law that allows breweries that produce fewer than 250,000 barrels a year to sell their beer by the glass at an on-site taproom.
“Taprooms … are fairly common across the United States,” said Dan Schwarz, co-founder of Lift Bridge Brewing in Stillwater and president of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. “There is a clear advantage to people coming out to where the beer is made, talking to the people who make it and trying it right at the source.”
There are also advantages for the brewer’s bottom line. The margins on beer sold at the brewery are higher than on suds sold through a wholesaler.
“The reality of it is that it’s the most profitable way to sell your product,” said Franco Claseman, co-owner of Flat Earth Brewing Co., now in part of the former Hamm’s site in St. Paul. “Instead of selling a keg to a bar for $100, I’m making three or four times that selling it by the pint.”
But the law was not without controversy. It required the partial dismantling of a regulatory system that had been in place for more than 75 years.
Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, states were allowed to construct their own legal framework to regulate the alcohol trade. Minnesota adopted a system that divided the industry into three tiers: manufacturers, distributors and retailers. No single entity could be engaged in more than one of these tiers.
A brewer could no longer operate a bar, a bar owner could not brew beer, and so on. This system was put in place to reduce the concentration of power within the brewing industry.
An early exception to the three-tier system was the brewpub. Essentially a miniature brewery within a restaurant, brewpubs were allowed to produce their own beer as long as it was sold and consumed on the premises. They are also allowed to sell beer from other breweries. Since 2003, brewpubs in Minnesota have been allowed to sell half-gallon growlers for patrons to take home.
During the 2011 legislative session, Surly Brewing Co. founder Omar Ansari undertook a very public campaign to create further exceptions.
Fewer than five years after opening his Brooklyn Center brewery in a former abrasives factory owned by his family, Ansari could see that Surly was quickly outgrowing the space.
“We didn’t want to just build another, bigger brewery,” he said. Ansari envisioned a “destination brewery,” with an attached restaurant and bar.
“The challenge was that to make this happen we had to change the law,” he said.
After asking around, Ansari learned he wasn’t the first Minnesota brewer to float this idea. The heads of the state’s two biggest beer companies had been working on similar legislation for a couple of years.
Summit founder Mark Stutrud and Schell’s President Ted Marti were tired of giving away free beer at festivals and other events they held at their breweries.
Stutrud and Marti were working with the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, which represents bars, restaurants and liquor stores, and the Minnesota Beer Wholesalers Association, which represents distributors, to develop a proposal that would allow them to sell their own beer by the glass under a handful of conditions.
But Ansari was hoping to get a full liquor license.
“What he wanted to accomplish was pretty significantly different than what Mark and I wanted to accomplish,” Marti said.
Ansari used social media to rally Surly fans to his cause. Affectionately known as “Surly Nation,” they called and emailed their legislators in support of Ansari’s proposal.
But it spooked many of the stakeholders Marti and Stutrud had courted. The Licensed Beverage Association and the Wholesalers Association lobbied against Ansari’s proposal at the Capitol.
After weeks of negotiations, they arrived at a proposal everyone could live with.
“I think what eventually evolved was a fair compromise,” Marti said.
The new law allows small and mid-sized breweries to sell only their own beer at the location where it is produced. They cannot sell another brewery’s beer, nor can they sell wine or liquor.
In July 2011, St. Paul became the first city in Minnesota to change its laws to allow brewers to open taprooms. However, it was Minneapolis that saw much of the early development.
“St. Paul got a slower start for some reason,” Claseman said. “Most of the new taprooms started over in Minneapolis.”
Nonetheless, St. Paul’s brewing scene has since taken off. And Minnesota is quickly becoming a premier “beer tourism” destination.
“I think Minnesota’s craft beer scene is better off for having taprooms,” Schwarz said. “There are certainly more breweries in the state. … There was a gap in the market.”
6. A haven for DIY brewers
The city has been home to beer industry giants, microbrewery trailblazers, a boom of craft brewers — and also businesses that cater to the homebrew crowd.
When Congress repealed Prohibition in 1933, it missed something important: The new law did not allow Americans to brew their own beer at home.
“This doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening,” said local brewing historian Doug Hoverson. “But it was a very underground type of thing.”
It wasn’t until 1979 that Congress corrected this oversight, legalizing homebrewing.
These days, St. Paul is full of do-it-yourself brewers. In addition to boasting the award-winning St. Paul Homebrewing Club, the city is also home to a pair of businesses that allow drinkers to also be brewers.
As a college student at Macalester in the early 1990s, Chris Farley wasn’t a beer drinker. That changed when he decided to spend his junior year in Scotland.
“I was a teetotaling vegetarian when I went over there,” Farley said. “When I came back, I was just a vegetarian.”
Farley now owns Northern Brewer on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue, the largest homebrew-supply company in the United States. Northern Brewer ships everything from hops to kettles and does so to beer enthusiasts all over the world.
The Twin Cities craft beer scene was in its infancy when Farley graduated in 1993. Already hoping to break into the brewing industry, he landed a job at Minneapolis’ James Page Brewing Co., selling homebrew supplies.
After six months at James Page, Farley decided to strike out on his own. He borrowed $8,000 from friends and leased a building at the corner of Grand and Lexington avenues.
It didn’t take long to develop a following. People began wandering in, looking for brewing supplies, before the store was even open.
With in-store sales humming, Farley began taking mail orders — first through a catalog, then online.
“I think one of the things that has really helped the hobby grow is the Internet,” Farley said.
But he was quickly outgrowing his tiny storefront. When a hardware store at the other end of the block went out of business in about 2000, Farley moved into that building. In this new space, the store has flourished.
In 2013, Farley bought his biggest competitor, St. Louis Park-based Midwest Supply.
“There’s a really great homebrewing scene in the Twin Cities,” Farley said. “I think the presence of some really good shops in the area has helped grow the hobby.”
And with the hobby has grown his business. Farley says his sales have seen steady double-digit growth every year for the past decade.
Lately, though, that growth has leveled off, possibly because of the boom in brewpubs and taprooms.
“If we’re competing for people’s craft beer dollars, that might be a factor,” Farley said.
You won’t find many beer snobs at Vine Park Brewing Co. on St. Paul’s West Seventh Street, owner Andy Grage says.
“Our customers haven’t necessarily been craft beer drinkers,” he said. “I’ll bet you one-third of them order a Miller Lite when they go out with their friends.”
Vine Park is one of about 10 brew-on-the-premises operations in the United States, Grage estimates. Popular in Canada, these businesses allow drinkers to brew their own beer without investing in the necessary equipment.
Customers can brew their own recipe or pick one from a list of about 60 Grage has assembled. They spend an hour at one of Vine Park’s six kettles, mixing and boiling 16 gallons of water and malt, then adding the hops. After boiling, the customers pump the wort out of the kettle to cool and add their yeast. After that, the customer leaves and Grage and his staff take over.
They move the beer to a fermentation cellar, where it stays for a week. It then spends another week in a cooler, which halts fermentation. The Vine Park staff then kegs and carbonates the beer.
“When the customer comes back two weeks later, their beer is in a keg,” Grage said. “It’s cold, carbonated and ready to drink.”
The customer can take the keg home or split it up into 22-ounce bottles — 72 of them.
And it’s not just beer: Vine Park customers can also make their own wine.
“It’s a foreign concept to people, so a lot of them have a hard time wrapping their heads around it,” Grage said. “We are the only brewery of our kind in the Midwest.”
Vine Park was founded on West Seventh Street by local entrepreneur David Thompson in the mid-1990s. It was in the building that now houses a Dunn Bros. coffee shop and Burger Moe’s.
Thompson hired Grage, who was then working at Northern Brewer, in 1996 to run the brew-on-the-premises operation. Thompson opened a brewpub next door a couple of years later. Grage moved Vine Park to its current location shortly after the Xcel Energy Center opened.
Business began to pick up in the late 1990s.
“Back then, good beer wasn’t everywhere,” Grage said. “So, if you were someone who liked good beer, you didn’t have a whole lot of options.”
But the most recent wave of craft beer fervor has taken a bite out of sales.
“This recent boom in craft beer doesn’t necessarily help me,” Grage said. “People who enjoy going out and enjoy good beer, they have a lot of choices of where to spend their money.”
7. See the city’s sudsy history on a bus tour
The Minnesota Historical Society traces 160 years of beer-making in St. Paul on tours that sell faster than beer.
St. Paulites have been brewing beer for more than 160 years.
That’s a lot to cover in just three hours, but the Minnesota Historical Society’s bus tour of the city’s brewing history offers a thorough overview.
Among the dozens of tours the organization hosts each summer, this is one of the most popular, said Aleah Vinick, program specialist with the historical society. Capped at 40 people, the July, August and September tours sold out. Tickets for the tour in April 2016 sold out in November. Tickets for subsequent tours will be available in early 2016.
“Tours that deal with drinking are always really popular,” Vinick said, adding that complimentary samples probably don’t hurt. “My feeling is that people want a little something extra when they commit to sitting on a bus with a bunch of other people. They want something a little more sensory.”
The tour is based largely on Doug Hoverson’s 2007 book, “Land of Amber Waters: The History of Brewing in Minnesota.” Hoverson led the tour during its inaugural 2013 season but turned it over to local actor Dave Silvester in 2014.
Silvester, a longtime home brewer and beer enthusiast, started working with the historical society in 1989 as a re-enactor at Fort Snelling. He’s well-acquainted with Hoverson’s research and has traveled to libraries around the state to give society-sponsored lectures based on his book.
Beginning at the Summit brewery, the bus tour’s circuitous route traces St. Paul’s sudsy past, from German immigrants fermenting their lagers in sandstone caves, through our more recent love affair with craft brews.
Though some of the information Silvester rattles off might be a review for local history buffs, there are plenty of little surprises along the way.
After pausing outside the former Schmidt brewery on West Seventh Street, the tour makes half-hour stops at Flat Earth Brewing Co., which operates out of the old Hamm’s Brewery complex on the East Side, and Great Waters Brewing Co. in downtown’s Hamm Building.
At each stop, Silvester hands off the group to brewery employees, who speak to the industry’s more recent history and show tour-goers around their historic sites.
On the drive back to Summit, where the group catches the regularly scheduled 3 p.m. brewery tour, Silvester pops in a DVD of old Hamm’s commercials.
Silvester says he sees beer fans of all ages and interest levels on the tour, many with their own stories about St. Paul’s brewing industry.
Ed Ryan of Edina describes himself as more of a wine drinker but said the tour boosted his pride in the Twin Cities.
“The average person probably has only a vague idea about it,” Ryan said of St. Paul’s brewing history. “There are other things to see in the Twin Cities, but this is one element that’s pretty darn cool.”
The success of the brewing history tour prompted Vinick to create a tour of St. Paul’s distilling history, too. The first one was in April, and the second was in August. Both quickly sold out.
A big part of the growing craft-beer scene is taprooms, little bars inside breweries where you can grab a pint of beer or a growler
We like visiting taprooms because they give us an idea of the brewery’s personality and allow us to sample a variety of their beers before deciding on a favorite. It’s a fun trend, and one we’ve been happy to help you explore.
Here’s a list of taprooms in the east metro, and one in Western Wisconsin. This list should give you an idea of what to expect at the taproom and a few beers we liked at each.
Note: ABV means alcohol by volume. American pilsners from big breweries hover in the 5 percent range. Light beers from those same breweries are usually a percentage point lower.
This sleek, spacious taproom in a former auto repair garage on St. Paul’s West Seventh Street celebrated its grand opening earlier this month, and we got a preview. There is a lot of wood and metal in the space, along with a giant mural, done by the same artist who makes Bad Weather’s unique labels. The brewery got its start sharing space with a few other breweries in Minnetonka but decided it was time to get its own space. There’s a patio out front, with glass garage doors that open to the outside, and a sizeable private event space, too.
Beers to try: The team is working on lots of taproom-only beers, but until we can try them, we definitely recommend the brewery’s flagship beers, especially the Firefly Rye Pale Ale (5.5 percent ABV), which combines spicy rye with plenty of fruity hops.
Bad Weather Brewing: 414 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; badweatherbrewery.com; 3-10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 3-midnight Friday, noon-midnight Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Sunday
Housed in an old grain silo in the industrial area near University Avenue and Minnesota 280, Bang is tiny but cool.
The 100 percent organic brewery is also bent on reuse and recycling — most of its metallic, yurt-like cylinder is made from reclaimed materials.
Beers to try: Neat (4.9 percent ABV) is a crisp, clear, very bitter but also very drinkable brew. We took home a few growlers of the Minn (4.6 percent ABV), which they call a mild ale. We could actually taste the malt and the hops. It was balanced, crisp and complex. Nice (6.5 percent ABV), a smoky yet crisp American stout, is sure to please fans of dark beer.
Bang Brewing: 2320 Capp Road, St. Paul; bangbrewing.com; 4-10 p.m. Friday, 2-8 p.m. Saturday.
The beers at this boozy suburban oasis are creative and on-trend, with taproom-only sour beers and excellent seasonals. The company is also a distillery, and it’s worth seeking out their 114-proof Gunner Ghost Gin, brewed with more than a dozen botanicals and a hint of ghost pepper. Trust us, it’s fantastic. If the rules for taprooms get changed in the Legislature as owner Bartley Blume is hoping, you’ll also be able to try Bent’s spirits — which will include whiskey — in that taproom. Right now, cocktail rooms are allowed at distilleries and taprooms at breweries, but it’s not legal to sell both in one facility.
Beers to try: The spicy, deep-dark El Guerreo (8.3 percent ABV), flavored with espresso, chiles and local honey, or the flagship Nordic Blonde (5.7 percent ABV), an easy-drinking beer that is anything but boring — it curiously and successfully blends a traditional blonde with an amber style for a balanced brew with a slightly tangy finish.
Bent Brewstillery: 1744 Terrace Drive, Roseville; 844-879-2368; bentbrewstillery.com; 4-10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 2:30-11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, noon-7 p.m. Sunday.
This cheekily named brewery has a shtick, but don’t be fooled by the silly beer names (like Morning Wood, its coffee stout). The brews are good.
The downtown White Bear Lake taproom sports giant, heavy stools made from two-by-fours (don’t repeat our mistake and wear a skirt with tights or you might get a splinter), exposed brick walls and sawed-off growlers as light fixtures.
Beers to try: Jack Savage American Pale (5.3 percent ABV) has a piney finish and might be our favorite local pale ale. We also really liked taproom-only beers like the subtle Northern Belle peach saison (5.4 percent ABV) and the Nitro Udder Stout (4.5 percent ABV), a smoky, creamy, good-on-a-cold-day beer.
Big Wood Brewery: 2222 Fourth St., White Bear Lake; 612-360-2986; bigwoodbrewery.com; 4-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 3-11 p.m. Friday, 1-11 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.
Fire-eating pals Dane Breimhorst, left, and Thom Foss were inspired to start brewing after Breimhorst was diagnosed with celiac disease. They couldn’t find a gluten-free beer they liked, so they decided to make one. The crisp, clean American Pale Ale, American Pyro (4.6 percent ABV) is the beer that started it all, but the brewery now offers a few more choices.
The taproom is cozy with a separate room for fermenters and other brewery equipment. Patrons are asked to wash their hands before entering that separate room, which has a few couches in it, to avoid gluten contamination.
Burning Brothers: 1750 W. Thomas Ave., St. Paul; 651-444-8882; burnbrosbrew.com; 4-9 p.m. Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday, 2-10 p.m. Saturday, 2-6 p.m. Sunday.
After Summit, Flat Earth is the craft brewery that’s been in St. Paul the longest. The brewery moved from its spot south of Highland Park to the historic Hamm’s Brewery on the East Side in 2014, but it didn’t have a taproom until August. (It did offer samples and sell growlers, though.) The taproom is technically located off to the side of the cool, open sample room, but after you order a beer, lounging in the front room is encouraged. That this super-cool building is being refurbished by Flat Earth and used for its original purpose is a boon to St. Paul and especially East Side residents.
Beers to try: Belgian-style Pale Ale (5.2 percent ABV), a super-complex, malty, spicy, moderately hopped beer that really defies category. If there’s a certain crispness to the air, the Mummy Train Pumpkin Ale (5.2 percent ABV) is less sweet than others in its category and actually tastes of pumpkin.
Flat Earth Brewing: 688 E. Minnehaha Ave., St. Paul; 651-698-1945; flatearthbrewing.com; 3:30-8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 3:30-11 p.m. Friday, noon-11 p.m. Saturday, noon-6:30 p.m. Sunday.
Hammerheart’s backwoods-cabin-meets-Nordic-nook somehow still feels sophisticated, despite the antlers used for tap handles.
The beers, most of which use smoked grains, match the decor. They’re complex, mostly dark and highly drinkable.
There’s also a rustic outdoor patio where locals crowd around barrels made into tables, sipping snifters of deep-hued liquid.
Beers to try: Surtyr’s Flame Smoked IPA (7 percent ABV) has a subtle smoke flavor that’s balanced by some citrusy hops. It goes down easy despite its relatively high alcohol content. Our absolute favorite Hammerheart beer, though, is the bourbon-barrel-aged Dublin Raid (7 percent ABV), which is sweet, smoky and smooth. If you like bourbon, this beer is for you. We’re still thinking about it.
Hammerheart Brewing: 7785 Lake Drive, Lino Lakes; hammerheartbrewing.com; 2-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Sunday.
Hiding inside a boxy former gymnastics gym in a Stillwater business park, the Lift Bridge Brewery taproom is a surprisingly warm, inviting space with a small bar.
Try a flight, served on a wood paddle, to decide your favorite beer at this community gathering spot.
The brewery equipment is walled off from the public, but there’s a window where you can see what’s happening inside.
Upside-down beer barrels and long picnic tables are filled with locals most nights. Occasionally, there are events at the taproom. Check the brewery website for a calendar.
Beers to try: The Farm Girl Saison (6 percent ABV) is a pale, smooth, citrusy, slightly spicy Belgian beer that works well in any season. A good bet for the colder months is the Chestnut Hill brown ale (6.5 percent ABV), a nutty, roasted malt affair that manages to be rich but not too heavy.
Lift Bridge Brewery: 1900 Tower Drive, Stillwater; 888-430-2337; liftbridgebrewery.com; 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, noon-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.
This storefront brewery in historic downtown Stillwater is cranking out some crazy-flavored beers, including one based on flavors from Nelson’s ice cream parlor. The vibe is very neighborhoody, with a long bar, a patio facing the river and occasional live music.
The brewery, which has been open for just about a year now, serves what they call a “rock-star flight,” which includes all the beers they have on tap, which was 10 when we were there.
Beers to try: The Summer Hop Spasm IPA (6.2 percent ABV) is super-flavorful and drinkable for a beer that contains six kinds of hops. The Maple Island Bock (6.6 percent ABV) would make a really good breakfast beer. It contains local maple syrup and is quite sweet and creamy.
Maple Island Brewing: 225 Main St. N., Stillwater; 651-430-0044; mapleislandbrewing.com; noon-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Sunday.
Don’t let its Hudson, Wis., strip-mall home fool you: This is some serious beer.
Also, after you walk through the front door, it’s easy to forget your location: The bar is long, and the farm-salvaged decorations are tasteful. There are big, wooden booths, board games and cards aplenty, and they even have a popcorn maker.
We drank our way through the menu of beers and didn’t hit one we didn’t like. They’re all full of flavor and really well-balanced.
Beers to try: Our favorite was the Pitchfork Pale (4.9 percent ABV), brewed with Warrior Hops that give it a citrusy, slightly bitter flavor we could savor all day long. The hoppy and crisp Straw German Pilsner (4.6 percent ABV) is also worth a try. It’s a good reminder that pilsners can have flavor, too.
Pitchfork Brewing: 709 Rodeo Circle, Hudson, Wis.; 715-245-3675; pitchforkbrewing.com; 3-8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 3-10 p.m. Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Sunday.
Founded in 1986, old-man Summit, not to be left out of the craft-brewing groundswell, has opened the Ratskeller at its St. Paul brewery on Friday and Saturday nights and sells beer by the pint and flight.
The Ratskeller, German for “council room,” doubles as a community room and company lunchroom.
Not surprisingly, the taproom at the biggest brewery of the bunch feels more sterile and less intimate than taprooms at smaller producers. Still, Summit’s refined lineup of beers are local favorites.
Sometimes, the brewery offers special beers from its pilot brewing system, and it taps a cask beer each week. Get there early, though, because the cask — beer served without additional carbonation — sells out fast.
Beers to try: Oatmeal Stout (5.1 percent ABV) is thick, rich and smooth. It’s available only on tap in select locations, and it’s worth a trip to the taproom to try it if you’ve never had it. Hopvale (4.7 percent ABV), the brewery’s organic ale, is citrusy, slightly hoppy, and really, really drinkable.
Summit: 910 Montreal Circle, St. Paul; 651-265-7800; summitbrewing.com; 4-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
This St. Paul brewery, the first in either downtown, is owned by three engineers who obviously like the clean, industrial aesthetic. The space they’re in, in the Rossmor Building in downtown St. Paul, has giant, floor-to-ceiling windows, and the taproom is open-concept, meaning you can see the brewing operation. The guys are serious about the formulas behind their beers, which range from IPA to wheat to stout. Game-playing neighbors are regulars here, and it gets quite busy on weekends.
Beers to try: Already a Twin Cities favorite, Wheatstone Bridge (5.4 percent ABV), the brewery’s wheat beer brewed with honey and chamomile, is a little sweet, with hints of apricot, and is great for drinking on a sunny day.
Tin Whiskers: 125 E. Ninth St., St. Paul; 651-330-4734; twbrewing.com; 4-10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 3-11 p.m. Friday, noon-11 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
Deb Loch and Jill Pavlak combined their restaurant and home-brewing experience and opened a taproom that serves good beer and good food. The married couple’s gorgeous, spacious brewery, located in a former horse stable for the city of St. Paul, is almost always packed with beer lovers. In the warmer months, the patio is the place to be.
Beers to try: Anything from the Plow-to-Pint series, in which Loch uses ingredients like lemongrass, blueberry or rhubarb, sourced from local farms, to great effect. The Cowbell Cream Ale (5.2 percent ABV) is what the brewer of the couple, Loch, says she uses to convert nonbelievers into drinking craft beer. It’s a light, clean thirst-quencher that still packs plenty of flavor.
Urban Growler: 2325 Endicott St., St. Paul; 651-340-5793; urbangrowlerbrewing.com; 3-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, noon-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon-8 p.m. Sunday.
The temporary taproom in the upstairs space that will eventually house all brewing equipment at Wabasha Brewing opened a few months ago, and it’s already filled on the weekends with neighborhood regulars.
The tiny space at the back of the building houses a small bar, the top of which is made from a recycled maple wood bowling lane, a little sitting area with a couch and some chairs, a few hightops and a rail at the back of the room.
The bigger downstairs taproom, which is much larger and will have a connected patio, is under construction.
Beers to try: Our go-to beer here is the West Side Popper (6.3 percent ABV), a sweet cream ale infused with jalapenos, which give a grassy freshness and just a bit of heat. We were also impressed with the Lawnmower Porter (4.9 percent ABV), an answer to the question of what fans of dark beer drink when it’s sweltering outside. It’s chocolatey with coffee notes, but still light and quaffable enough to quench your thirst.
Wabasha Brewing Co.: 429 Wabasha St. S., St. Paul; 612-719-6059; wabashabrewing.com; 3-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday (growler sales only).