Nightlife: The year in beer: Taprooms change the landscape

  • Article by: MICHAEL RIETMULDER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 27, 2012 - 4:00 PM

The "Surly bill" paved the way for a host of smaller breweries that opened their doors to drinkers.

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The indeed Brewing taproom in northeast Minneapolis features a 37-foot bar and plenty of space for a big crowd.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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Every year a few hot new bars seem to stand above the rest. But nothing altered the Twin Cities pint-pouring complexion in 2012 more than the rise of the taproom.

Since the so-called Surly bill cleared the path for local breweries to sell on-site pints, six taprooms have sprouted up across the metro, from Stillwater's Lift Bridge (first in the state) to Excelsior Brewing's lakeside hideaway, to pioneering St. Paul microbrewer Summit, which finally opened one in September.

Beer geeks are going gaga.

"They feel a connection to either the people that make [the beer] or the stories behind it," said Tom Whisenand, co-founder of northeast Minneapolis' Indeed Brewing. "If anybody comes into our taproom on any given night, they're going to see one of the owners around or behind the bar."

Whisenand and his two partners opened their brewery/beer hall in August, 15 months after Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill. After Fulton and Harriet opened taprooms to fan fervor this spring, Whisenand said they decided to make theirs a larger part of the brewery.

"I'm not ashamed to say I think we built one of the most beautiful taprooms in the country," he said.

While Indeed's 2,600-square-foot space (including patio) -- replete with a shuffleboard table and lengthy wooden bar top -- upped the ante, most taprooms are modest kick-it spots carved into a corner of the brewery.

With its decidedly homier, garage vibe, Harriet's south Minneapolis digs have become a beer-fan favorite since opening in March.

"I basically moved my whole living room over to Harriet Brewing, because I was spending all my time over here brewing beer anyway," said owner Jason Sowards. "I thought I might as well bring my record player over here, make myself comfortable."

It made the growler-buying masses comfortable, too. While Sowards plans to spruce up the space over time, he said there's a legion of regulars who prefer the unpretentious environment just the way it is. "I'm like, 'Dude, you're sitting on a freakin' 5-gallon bucket turned upside-down! I think you'd be better off with a couch or a bar, or something!'"

What really separates Sowards' beer cave is his commitment to the arts. Sowards added a small stage for bands to serenade beer-swillers and regularly hosts art shows. Harriet recently partnered with the nearby Trylon Microcinema to stage events during its Sound Unseen festival.

With a new crop slated to open in the coming weeks and months, the Twin Cities could have twice as many taprooms by the end of spring. While suds heads have enjoyed having homey hubs to nerd out on IBU counts, Whisenand said the social aspect keeps him from feeling like he works in a "beer factory."

"Being able to be behind the bar and meeting customers, I've made good friends out of the taproom already," he said. "It's been amazing."

As for the namesake of the Surly bill, the Brooklyn Center brewery -- which pushed for the change in law so it could build a $20 million "destination brewery" -- identified a potential site near the University of Minnesota this fall. Now it's waiting on public funding for a pollution cleanup of the 8.3-acre industrial lot.

Forecast: Bad Weather

Under the same alternating proprietorship arrangement that allows Lucid and Badger Hill to share space and equipment, startup Bad Weather Brewing is moving into the same Minnetonka spot, forming a beery "Three's Company" of sorts (presumably there will be less sexual tension). Beer-schooled partners Zac Carpenter and Joe Giambruno plan to roll out Windvane, their year-round, hoppy red ale, early in the new year.

Sushi slowdown

Uptown sushi fans will have to wait a little longer for Origami West to move into its new urban space in the Mozaic building. Once eyeing a late December opening, Origami's Minnetonka outpost is now slated to relocate in late January or early February. It's good news for west metro dwellers, who have at least another month of sushi-and-sake savoring.

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