It was cloudy with a temperature in the mid 60s — perfect running weather. Not quite so ideal for beer-drinking. Still, 150 people gathered in the parking lot at Harriet Brewing in south Minneapolis.

Their mission was simple: Run 5 kilometers, then get a beer.

It's part of the MN Brewery Running Series, which pairs craft breweries with casual runs through the adjoining neighborhoods. In its fourth year, the series has a mailing list of more than 4,500 people who partake in one or more of the 30 planned events.

Speed is not the issue — unless you really, really want that beer. There's no time clock clicking away at the finish line.

"You can sprint, you can run, you can walk or you can crawl," series co-founder Morgan Jappe announced to the crowd as they lined up at the starting line.

A handful of runners at the front of the pack sped off quickly, but the bulk of the participants were content to start out at an easy jog. The pace pleased Nate Herrington, Jappe's partner. Having the runners take the time to experience parts of town they're not familiar with is one his primary goals.

And Harriet Brewing, located on Minnehaha Avenue a block off Lake Street, fit the mold perfectly.

"Not many people think of East Lake Street as a place to go running," he said. "But this is a beautiful neighborhood."

Trotting down sidewalks while heeding volunteer marshals monitoring traffic and cheering them on, the runners made their way down E. 32nd Street to the Mississippi River and then looped back on E. 33rd. Some of the runners were accompanied by dogs, while others pushed strollers.

"The tone of the runs is comfortable and casual," Jappe said. "It's all about having fun."

Each person who completed the course got a beer. (Sorry, kids; you don't need to be 21 to participate, but you do have to be of age to get a wristband entitling you to a post-race brew.) Of course, the runners could buy more beer after they had the one that came with the run. In fact, the breweries encourage it. Many of them piggyback off the runs, bringing in food trucks, live music and other events for the post-run celebration.

Tracy Walker of Minneapolis knows the drill. This was her fifth beer run of the summer.

"I'm new to the area and thought this would be a great way to meet people and learn about places to go on weekends," she said. "I love all the people, and it's fun. I love that it's not a timed race; you go for a run and then you hang out with the other runners and drink beer."

Herrington and Jappe avoid calling the event a race and insist that they are not race organizers.

"There are some fine race organizers in town," Herrington said. "I've run in many of their events. We're not competing with them."

It's not just that there's no timer. The length of the course isn't certified, either.

"It's 5K-ish," is how Jappe put it. "It might be a hair long one time and a little short the next. It depends on the terrain. Nate and I test all the courses. They're close" to the designated 3.1 miles.

There is a starting time, but that's just as relaxed as everything else.

"If someone comes a few minutes late, that's OK," Jappe said. "We just give them a course map and send them out."

A perfect fit

Jappe and Herrington were naturals to start the running series. "We both love running," Jappe said. "And we both love drinking beer."

Their timing was good, too. By starting in 2012, they caught the craft beer trend at the peak of its expansion. The series grew quickly, and is still growing. Two additional runs have been added since the summer started.

"And we're getting calls from breweries" about adding even more, Herrington said.

Asked if the primary draw is the running or the beer, he said that it depends on the participant. "Although we do have a half-K run," which translates to about two blocks. "That one," he conceded, "is more about the beer."

The runs typically reach capacity a week to 10 days in advance (to register, go to, with the number of runners — ranging from 75 to 400 — determined by the size of the brewery that is hosting that event. The runs are held on looped or out-and-back courses that start and end at the breweries.

Two dozen breweries take turns serving as hosts. Most of the events are held on Saturdays (usually starting at 11 a.m. or noon), but with 30 runs to squeeze onto the calendar, a few spill over to weeknights (with a 6 p.m. start). New this summer is that some of the runs are being held outside the Twin Cities, with events in Duluth, Mankato and Cold Spring.

Even though the organizers preach moderation — "We want you to have fun today without hurting tomorrow," Jappe cautioned the runners as they massed at the starting line — anytime ardent runners get together, it's inevitable that some of them will end up racing. As runners, Jappe and Herrington understand that, so they acknowledge the top competitors with a prize, of sorts.

Instead of just a mug of beer, the first man and first woman to cross the finish line each get a growler. "But they're encouraged to share" with the other participants, Jappe said.

The growler winners on this day turned out to be a couple, Joseph and Kenna Brandt, who grew up in St. Louis Park and now live in West Virginia, where he attends medical school. In town to visit their families, they had let it be known that they were interested in running a 5K while they were home, and Kenna Brandt's stepmother had stumbled on the website for the brewery running series.

"I didn't realize that there was a prize," Kenna Brandt said, eyeing the growler she'd just been handed with a mixture of surprise and gratitude.

Part of the $30 race fee goes to charity. The recipients of this year's contributions are Bolder Options, which helps at-risk youths in the state; People for Parks, a Minneapolis organization that supports the city's parks, and Brewing a Better Forest, a group of Twin Cities craft beer aficionados who serve as volunteer arborists.

"We believe in sharing with the community," Herrington said. "It's part of our personal values, but I think it should be part of every business model to give something back."

As for the runners, well, most of them were more focused on having someone give them a beer. They figured that they had earned it. Sonja Moseley of Maple Grove had done the math on the number of calories she was about to consume vs. the number she'd just burned off by running.

"This is a guilt-free beer," she announced.

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392