Duluth – Happy hour came early for a theater full of business students at the University of Minnesota Duluth on Tuesday as local brewers shared stories of their success and the struggles behind the bubbles.
Representatives from Castle Danger, Ursa Minor, Bent Paddle and Hoops Brewing closed out the fifth annual UMD Entrepreneurship Conference, a daylong student-run event with a panel discussion that touched on inspiration, expansion and competition from nonbeer drinks like White Claw, the popular hard seltzer.
Here are excerpts from the conversation:
Ben Hugus, Ursa Minor Brewing CEO: “In our first year of business we brewed 79 beers. People ask, are you just throwing things at the wall? No, these are all very well thought about and argued over.”
Dave Hoops, Hoops Brewing owner and brewer: “Frankly, it’s pretty hard to make bad beer here; the water’s perfect. I just believe in something for everybody. After you’ve brewed 10,000 batches of beer it’s not that hard to come up with a good idea, but you’re not going to see me make gumdrop-jelly bean beers.”
Jamie MacFarlane, Castle Danger Brewery co-owner: “What the public wants to drink is what we’re going to brew, besides a hazy IPA [the crowd laughs] until someone convinces us otherwise.”
Laura Mullen, Bent Paddle Brewing co-founder: “Having classic European styles is so important — how can we take our own path on those but also listen to the consumers and the market we’re living in? It’s a really fascinating balance.”
MacFarlane: “One of the challenges of having a business is knowing when to hire someone for a position you’re doing yourself. I think that is one of the biggest struggles. And once we started casting people for the right jobs, that has been a huge part of our success.”
Hoops: “I know how to make beer, that part is easy. Running a business, trying to make a community beer hall that’s warm and inviting ... we’ll find out if we’re a success if we can keep on paying the bank.”
Mullen: “I think there is a bubble going on. Those that enjoy business will be the ones that stay because the brewing part is such a small amount of running the business side of things, and is that enjoyable for your family, your lifestyle?”
Hugus: “I think there’s room, and it matters what market you’re looking at — Portland, Seattle, Chicago vs. Duluth — and what your goals are.”
Hoops: “[Large brewers] missed the boat, they screwed up and lost a lot of market share. But now they’re getting back up. They’re buying breweries nonstop.”
Mullen: “There is a serious amount of liquids being consumed that isn’t beer [like hard seltzers] — that’s more of a concern for competition.”