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Taprooms Bring New Life To Greater Minnesota

By Kaomi Lee

Minnesota ranks thirteenth in the nation in craft breweries per capita. Its breweries bring in more than $2 billion dollars in economic impact each year. All of that is perhaps more incredible, given that the number of breweries has more than tripled since 2011. That's when state lawmakers signed legislation, dubbed the "Surly" bill, to allow breweries to open taprooms, where they could sell pints of the beer they make onsite.

Today, craft brewers say there are about 170 breweries across the state. Lauren Bennett McGinty, executive director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, said that the greatest opportunities for opening a new brewery exist outside the metro.

"A lot might not want to be your big-scale operation like Schell’s or Summit, but they can be big enough to satisfy the needs of some local bars, restaurants and people in their town, and we’re seeing a lot more popping up because of that," she said.

Local communities in greater Minnesota say they are seeing the effects, too. Businesses in downtown Hastings have experienced a spike in sales since Spiral Brewery opened less than a year ago, said Kristy Barse of the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce.

"They’re all saying their traffic is up and their sales are up," Barse added. She said that's being attributed, in part, to the brewery.

The breweries give local residents some place to congregate. Many of the owners interviewed for this story wanted to distinguish a brewery from a bar. Tracie Vranich, co-owner of Chapel Brewing, said that breweries are family and dog "friendly", and often operate under more limited hours than a bar. An increasing number of small cities and towns are courting breweries, often offering help with permits or other forms of assistance.

For many, going to a craft brewery is a new activity. Northfield resident Mark Polzin admitted he was more of a "Michelob Light drinker." But he noted he was also coming around to craft beer.

"It's like wine, you have to develop a taste for some of these beers," he said. "But these beers have a very good taste to them."

Discover more stories from Almanac's One Greater Minnesota reporting initiative.

This story was published February 19, 2019.

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