When the Surly Bill became law last May, it opened the floodgates for Minnesota taprooms -- basically bars inside of breweries.
Last November, the Lift Bridge brewery in Stillwater was the first in the Twin Cities area to open a taproom. Fulton followed in March and Harriet Brewing shortly afterward. Harriet's Jason Sowards said pint sales during his taproom's first day in business rivaled a week's worth of growler and wholesale revenue. "Thank God that law passed, so little guys like me can make it," he said.
OK, so the age of the taproom is here. Let's assess.
Taproom style: Industrial warehouse -- but cozy. The Fulton boys have kept their garage-brew aesthetic, with kegs stacked to the ceiling. Only the essentials: shiny concrete bartop, plenty of tables and big windows looking onto the brewery floor.
Owner says: "The taproom gives us that home-brew feeling again," said co-founder Ryan Petz.
On tap: Four beers (all $5), including big guns Sweet Child of Vine and the Libertine. It's also a proving ground for new beers like the Ringer. Serving you beer: One of the owners or a wife (or grandpa). It's a family affair.
Eat this: Food trucks go hand-in-hand with the taproom craze. If the doors are open, one of the Twin Cities' best food trucks will be parked outside cooking something special. Fork in the Road made Fulton beer-cheese nachos a few weeks ago.
Patio: For now, you can hang out on the loading dock. This summer they hope to build a real patio on top of the parking lot and use the loading dock as a live music stage.
Twins territory: Two blocks from Target Field, the brewery is the place to be before and after games.
Hours: 3-10 p.m. Fri. and noon-10 p.m. Sat., plus open on all Twins home game days.
Taproom style: Bright and colorful -- as if your favorite art gallery were turned into a bar. Besides the paintings on the walls, there are two tiled bartops fashioned after the sun and the moon (if you didn't know, Harriet is big on yogic philosophy).
Owner says: The taproom is a work in progress, Sowards said. "It's going to come together and look kind of crazy -- and that's the idea."
On tap: Six beers, including the brewery's flagship Belgian styles. Sowards plans to mix in his small-batch beers, too (think: dry-hopped and orange-peel variations).
Onstage: Bands perform every weekend on the new stage, running the gamut from reggae to jazz to bluesy folk. Sowards is working on making this a real-deal music venue.
Arty endeavors: Art by Harriet co-owner Jesse Brödd adorns the walls (and the beer labels). Soon his work will be joined by pieces from guest artists, rotating every month.
Patio: Currently, the garage doors open to a roped-off patio that has plenty of seating (and hammerschlagen). Sowards will build a deck this summer, complete with trellis and hop gardens.
Food trucks: Every weekend.
Hours: 4-10 p.m. Fri. and 1-10 p.m. Sat., with more days coming soon.
Taproom style: Rustic suburban. I imagined this Stillwater brewhouse on the scenic slopes of the St. Croix River. Nope, it's behind a Herberger's off Hwy. 36. No matter, the taproom is filled with handcrafted pine picnic tables and a beautiful bar.
Co-owner says: "The taproom is pretty mellow -- we want the beer to be the show," said Brad Glynn.
On tap: Six beers, from the regulars like Farm Girl Saison to limited-edition brews like Irish Coffee Stout and Spring Fling.
Order in: The bar has a trapper keeper of menus from surrounding restaurants. Locals swear by Grand Pizza.
Patio: The patio is basically a roped-off area in the parking lot. But they have bean bag courts!
Hours: 5-8 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 1-5 p.m. Sat.