As Minnesota’s microbrewery boom ripples outward from the core cities, suburbs are responding with mixed degrees of enthusiasm — eager for a piece of the urban vibe but navigating around issues such as odor, noise and competition with their own municipal liquor stores.
Shakopee and Eagan last week became the latest of several suburbs to open more parts of town to small-batch breweries with taprooms where customers can sample beer. Plymouth is pursuing similar changes, and Edina’s city manager tested the waters with residents this year.
“Suburbs see it as way of becoming more popular, drawing people, having some kind of night life,” said Bartley Blume, whose Bent Brewstillery began operating in Roseville this year. “The cities already have that.”
Both Shakopee and Eagan made overtures to Brooklyn Center-based Surly when the craft brewer with a cultlike following was looking for a second site last year. “They indicated that their search area would be closer to the central cities and or first-ring cities,” said Eagan Community Development Director Jon Hohenstein. Surly chose Minneapolis’ Prospect Park neighborhood, where it’s investing $20 million to build a “destination brewery” with a bar and event center.
The craft-brewing business in Minnesota has exploded since a 2011 change in state law allowing taprooms that serve beer on the same site where it’s brewed. The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild has 45 member breweries, 10 more than a year ago and more than twice the number five years ago.
Suburbs generally have treated small-batch brewers like any other manufacturer, limiting them to industrial zones. Zoning changes mean they now could land in or near suburbs’ neighborhood retail strips, business parks and downtown business districts. Some cities are accommodating taprooms by relaxing rules requiring food sales at places that serve alcohol.
Zoning being revised
Now some suburbs are revising zoning and other rules before the next microbrewery plan comes along. “We didn’t want to be in a position of having someone ready to go and telling them it could take 10 to 12 weeks,” said Michael Leek, Shakopee’s community development director.
Not all communities are keen on luring would-be brewers. Apple Valley still points entrepreneurs toward industrial districts. “We don’t want to start zoning something that might not occur,” said Community Development Director Bruce Nordquist. It has had no takers so far.
And there’s a learning curve for communities that jump on the microbrewery bandwagon, getting their arms around a new breed of business that’s part manufacturing, part retail and part entertainment. One Shakopee council member asked about regulations to ensure products are not “moonshine.” An Eagan planning commissioner wanted to make sure his colleagues knew what a growler was (a glass or ceramic jug, usually 64 ounces, that transports beer).
Getting those and other questions answered was one reason Blume wound up in Roseville instead of in Arden Hills. He said the latter city was cooperative, but by the time it reviewed and approved its new rules, the property he wanted was rented to someone else. He’s sharing the facilities in Roseville with another small-batch brewery, hoping to eventually find his own spot someplace else.
“In this sort of business, once you’ve decided to do it, you want to get up and running as fast as you can,” Blume said. “Cities being proactive would definitely be a benefit.”
Some cities are finding it easier to do that because they’re modeling their rules on those in communities such as Excelsior that were among the first to approve microbreweries.
“We didn’t realize all the issues when we first started,” said Excelsior Brewing founder John Klick. “We were just guys starting a brewery who wanted to go into a cool town.”
No industrial zones in Excelsior
The situation in Excelsior was challenging because the city has no industrial zones and its downtown is very compact. “That’s what we were struggling with. How do you handle the manufacturing part?” said City Manager Kristi Luger.
“The odor thing was interesting,” said Klick of the city’s questions about unpleasant smells coming from the brewery. Klick and his partners compared it to a bakery or a coffeehouse. “It’s not like we were going to be refining oil,” he said.
Klick and his partners addressed other questions on noise from delivery trucks and outdoor storage areas for large drums of used grains.
It took several months for the city to work out zoning, liquor licensing and other regulations for Excelsior Brewing, which opened last year.
The city now is considering an expansion request that includes more interior production space and outside seating. But Excelsior has signaled it has no desire for more microbreweries, recently passing a rule that caps the number at one.
Questions about possible conflicts with its municipal liquor operations surfaced when the Anoka City Council discussed amending its zoning code to allow small-batch breweries, taprooms and brewpubs. Private liquor stores are not allowed in cities that have municipal stores.
Anoka’s city attorney told the council that he believed on-site sales of growlers by microbreweries would be allowed as isolated sales of just one product type. The council went on to approve the new rules in 2012.
City planners in Arden Hills used regulations in Excelsior and St. Louis Park, home of Steel Toe Brewing Co., to craft its ordinance for microbreweries and taprooms. Although Blume was unable to secure a site in Arden Hills, Mayor David Grant said the new rules position the city to respond to proposals yet to come.
“We’re not one to go out and try to encourage [a microbrewery],” Grant said. “But they seem to be out there and popular, and the taproom is an important business aspect for them as a distribution channel.”