It became official in April that Surly Brewing Co. would build a $20 million “destination brewery” in southeast Minneapolis to open in 2014, but fans of the craft brewer won’t have to wait long to enjoy a cold Hell or Furious in a taproom.
Anxious after the yearslong process to change Minnesota law under the “Surly Bill” and then find a site for the brewery, Surly President Omar Ansari is now taking advantage of the law he helped spearhead by converting the modest tasting room at the current Brooklyn Center brewery into a full-fledged taproom.
Ansari’s effort got the backing of the Brooklyn Center City Council Monday, when it voted unanimously to approve a taproom license for the 1961-vintage industrial building at 4811 Dusharme Drive now available under the Surly Bill — thus for the first time allowing the brewery to sell its product by the glass in its own taproom.
Before the bill, Minnesota breweries were not allowed to serve pints of their beer on-site because of a “three-tier” system that strictly separated the roles of alcohol manufacturers, distributors and retailers. But now brewers can apply for a license to do just that, as long as their municipality offers it.
It could be argued that Ansari’s brewery tours at the Brooklyn Center facility — especially the free tastings that followed in a 1,350-square-foot common area within the industrial building — were one of the original sparks that led to the local craft brewing craze.
Now, with a city license and special-use permit in hand, Ansari and taproom manager Linda Haug say they are getting ready to “slap a coat of paint” on the tasting room and make other modest improvements in preparation for its debut as a functioning taproom.
Its final hurdle is a pending determination by the Metropolitan Council on whether it will be subject to additional sewer access charges.
For the most part, “we’re pretty much going to leave the tasting room ‘as is,’ so those who have gone on the brewery tours will feel comfortable coming back, and kind of knowing what to do,” Ansari said. “The way the state law was written, a craft brewer can only have one taproom open at a time, and so this is something we’re going to have open until the new brewery is ready.”
Haug added: “We’re making very long-term decisions for the new brewery, and at first we thought it wouldn’t make much sense to put any effort into this place, But it’s taking just a little bit longer than we thought to set up the new operation,” so the decision was made to go ahead with the Brooklyn Center taproom.
Since 2007, Surly has been offering two to four free tours per week on Fridays and Saturdays, averaging around 100-150 people per tour. At the end of the events, each tour-goer has been entitled to five complimentary small samples of Surly’s line of brews, with all staffing provided by volunteers.
Under the plans approved Monday, the transformed taproom will be open from 3-10 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, and on weekends from noon to 10 p.m., partly to avoid conflicting with traffic generated by the beer manufacturing operations.
And it will no longer be staffed with volunteers, but by paid servers who will be doling out 8-, 10- and 16-ounce glasses of Surly brews and collecting payments.
The taproom will include nine 24-inch cafe-style tables and a stainless-steel drink rail along the perimeter of the interior wall, making for seating between 37-48 customers. The accompanying parking lot layout shows up to 50 spaces available, along with 19 off-site spaces.
“Things never seem to go as quickly as you’d like them to when you’re dealing with projects like this,” Ansari said. “But the folks at Brooklyn Center have really helped us along. We need to get this one last [Met Council] thing done and we’ll finally be part of the taproom revolution.”
Haug, whose husband, Todd, is Surly’s head brewer, said the experience of setting up a taproom now will serve as a valuable dry run for when the new facility opens in 2014.
“It will be a lot of fun finally having a taproom, just getting people into the space,” she said. “The momentum behind the craft beer phenomenon is so strong now, it’ll be great to have those fans coming to Brooklyn Center, maybe from out-of-town, and knowing that there will be set hours when they will be welcomed into the brewery.”
Don Jacobson is a freelance writer in St. Paul.