Four years ago, Matt Kenevan, a veteran sales executive at the Onion, was seeking a career change. Though the snarky, satirical newspaper where he worked isn’t exactly Goldman Sachs, he had wearied of “working for the man.” Phase two of his professional life would be guided by a pair of workplace principles: The ability to bring his dog and rock a pair of shorts.
“I might not be getting rich, but at least I’ve got those two things,” Kenevan quipped.
These days the 35-year-old has his fingers in local beer without actually brewing any. He produces two popular Twin Cities beer festivals. He publishes the Growler, a bimonthly microbrew magazine. He owns a St. Paul store that sells beer-related merchandise.
On Saturday, 7,500 tasters will take over the St. Paul Farmers Market for the bearded beer-businessman’s sold-out Beer Dabbler Winter Carnival (3-7:30 p.m., 290 5th St. E., St. Paul, 651-528-8752, www.thebeerdabbler.com).
Kenevan’s events didn’t always command crowds of this size. The Wisconsin native said he will never forget his first brew-sampling soirée under his holding company, Liquid 12 Festivals. The year was 2008, and Kenevan hoped to host 12 statewide festivals that summer, but rotten weather the day of his inaugural bash in a Burnsville parking lot put his plans into perspective. “It was horrible outside,” Kenevan recalled. “I didn’t even want to be there. … We might’ve had a couple hundred people, and I lost my ass on that one. It was like, ‘Welcome to the concept of beer festivals.’ ”
Kenevan said his festivals, which include the summertime Highland Fest Beer Dabbler in addition to this weekend’s event, are the “backbone” of his business. Now in its fourth year, Saturday’s frosty fête sells out annually and has seen attendance grow eight times larger than in year one.
Reflecting the recent growth of the local craft-beer community, this year’s winter Dabbler will have a designated all-Minnesota section (28 strong) among the more than 100 participating breweries. The event also features two stages of live music from Heiruspecs, the Chalice, Koo Koo Kanga Roo, Bloodnstuff and others, a stable of winter-braving food trucks, a silent disco and a homebrew contest.
As his festivals grew, Kenevan left his Onion gig last February to go all-in with his non-brewing beer biz. In March, he purchased the office space/storefront on West 7th Street that now houses his shop, his magazine and his office. With the Growler, Kenevan says he has an enviable problem: He can’t keep up with requests from vendors for copies of the free publication. “The feedback from the people has been beyond my wildest dream,” he said.
Next month the magazine will expand into Duluth.
Part of the Growler’s appeal, Kenevan said, is that it doesn’t nerd out with Beer Advocate intensity. In addition to suds-centric stories, the magazine runs food features, record reviews and a column by local rapper/writer Dessa. “It’s a lifestyle,” he said. “We wanted to make a magazine that is comfortable for everybody to read, whether you’re a beer geek, beer-curious or you don’t know anything about beer.”
Kenevan admits building his three-pronged business has been a challenge. But manning the Beer Dabbler shop in a knit cap and Indeed Brewing hoodie (no shorts in January) with his pooch pal Porter, he seems at peace with his lifestyle choice.
Hitting the Wall
Northgate Brewing looks to be the latest in the line of newbie breweries based in northeast Minneapolis to come to market. For the first time, Northgate’s Wall’s End will be available Monday at Grumpy’s Northeast, 4 miles from the brewery. The English brown ale will flow at half-price, as part of the bar’s “Minnesota Mondays” special and Northgate brass will be on hand doling out swag.
5 p.m. Mon., 2200 4th St. NE, Mpls.
Dive bar’s new owner
After incessant rumors, owners confirmed last week that iconic dive bar the C.C. Club (2600 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-874-7226) is being purchased by the neighboring folks at French Meadow Bakery. In the wake of community outcry, French Meadow co-owner Lynn Gordon pledged to preserve the Whittier neighborhood watering hole, noting it was predominantly the bar’s parking lot she coveted. Gordon separately mentioned that the organic cafe plans to add a wine bar come April.
Making the list
Two local craft-happy taverns recently received national nods, landing on Draft magazine’s list of America’s 100 best beer bars. St. Paul gastropub the Happy Gnome (498 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-287-2018, thehappygnome.com) and West Bank beer bastion Republic Seven Corners (221 Cedar Av. S., Mpls. 612-338-6146, www.republicmn.com) were the Twin Cities’ only representatives on the unranked roster. With 130 taps between them, Draft’s staff was likely impressed by their bountiful beer offerings.
Michael Rietmulder writes about bars and nightlife.