Minnesotan Brewers Thriving Thanks to Surly Bill
Minnesota’s brewing economy is on the rise, and it’s only the beginning.
It’s been two years since Gov. Mark Dayton signed the so-called “Surly Bill,” allowing Minnesota breweries to serve their beer on site. The legislation was in response to a then-proposed $20 million brewery from Surly Brewing Co., but the microbreweries and their fans have been the biggest beneficiaries. Neighborhood breweries, like Fulton Beer in Minneapolis, have been able to welcome thirsty Minnesotans into their homes for a drink in their taprooms.
Before passage of the bill, the brewing scene was comparatively bleak. Brian Hoffman, co-founder of Fulton Beer, says only a few breweries were producing quality beer and growth was stagnant. “In the five years or so before the passage of the law, less than 10 new breweries had opened their doors,” he says, noting that the small number didn’t reflect the increase in craft beer consumption in the state over the same five years.
Omar Ansari, president and founder of Surly Brewing Co., says the model for a successful brewery was different from today’s. “We had to sell a lot of our beer in restaurants, bars and liquor stores to make it,” he recalls.
Hoffman agrees. “Since the passage of the bill, there have been around 10 new breweries that either opened their doors or are currently working to make it happen,” Hoffman says. Although he doesn’t attribute the rapid growth entirely to the passage of the Surly Bill, he acknowledges the prospective revenue stream from taprooms made the economics of opening a brewery less frightening.
Ansari notes the recent opening of Indeed Brewing, the first Minnesota brewery built specifically with a taproom in mind. “It’s one of the first places conceptualized after the law change.”
Those that were already open have already seen a noticeable economic impact. Fulton has added eight employees, comprising brewing staff, business staff, taproom managers and bartenders. “We have been able to fund some considerable growth,” Hoffman boasts.
Best of all, removal of Minnesota’s draconian brewing laws allows the brewer to connect with the customer. “It’s a lot of fun for us to be able to get feedback on beers or styles folks would like to see brewed,” Hoffman says. “In the end, that’s why we do what we do. We love beer.”