Like the news of Dick Clark's death and Kim Kardashian's divorce, I saw it first on Twitter.

Fulton, one of the Twin Cities' most popular hometown breweries, was going to tap a brand-new beer -- a citrusy pale ale called the Ringer. The tweet said it would be available only in the brewery's taproom. So on that sunny Friday afternoon, I -- along with a couple hundred other beer nerds -- immediately ran down there.

A year ago, this would have been impossible. Before the Surly Bill was signed into law last May, Minnesota breweries were barred from selling pints on site. (Visitors could only go on tours and drink samples.) The legislation opened the floodgates for taprooms, which are basically bars inside of breweries.

Last November, the Lift Bridge brewery in Stillwater was the first to open a taproom in the Twin Cities area. Fulton followed in March, and Harriet Brewing shortly afterward. Harriet's Jason Sowards said pint sales during his taproom's first day in business rivaled a week's worth of growler and wholesale revenue.

"Thank God that law passed, so little guys like me can make it," he said.

Fulton beers can be found in more than 200 bars, but there's something special about drinking a brew at the brewery.

I liken it to sitting in the recording studio with your favorite musician -- imagine Kanye West giving you a peek at how he makes his magic.

At Fulton's taproom, you can be the first to taste a new beer like the Ringer (loved it), chat up the owners (they're much less egomaniacal than Kanye) and see the creative process at work (so that's how they dry-hop!).

Fulton co-founder Ryan Petz said the Minnesota brewery scene is just catching up to states like Colorado and Oregon, where taprooms are old news. "For years they've been so far ahead of us," he said. He recently took a craft-beer sojourn to the Rocky Mountain state to visit a half-dozen breweries. Back home, Petz got chills on the first day he opened Fulton's taproom.

"All of a sudden, what I saw in Colorado was finally happening here -- and we're a part of it," he said.

So the age of the taproom is finally here. Let's assess.



Where: 414 6th Av. N., Mpls. 612-333-3208.

Taproom style: Industrial warehouse -- but cozy. The Fulton boys have kept their garage-brew aesthetic, with kegs stacked to the ceiling. Only the essentials: shiny concrete bartop, plenty of tables and big windows looking onto the brewery floor.

Owner says: "The taproom gives us that home-brew feeling again," said Petz, one of four founders.

On tap: Four beers (all $5), including the label's big guns like Sweet Child of Vine and the Libertine. It's also a proving ground for new beers like the Ringer. If that big citrus brew continues to sell well here, they'll put it in bars.

Serving you beer: One of the owners or a wife (or grandpa). It's a family affair.

Eat this: No kitchen, no problem. The hottest trend in the restaurant scene -- food trucks -- goes hand-in-hand with the taproom craze. If the doors are open, one of the Twin Cities' best food trucks will be parked outside cooking something special. Fork in the Road made Fulton beer-cheese nachos a few weeks ago. Look for: Vellee Deli, Hola Arepa and Natedogs.

Patio: For now, you can hang out on the loading dock. This summer they hope to build a real patio on top of the parking lot (and use the loading dock as a live music stage).

Twins territory: Just two blocks from Target Field, the brewery is the place to be before and after games.

Hours: 3-10 p.m. Fri. and noon-10 p.m.Sat., plus open on all Twins home games.



Where: 3036 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls. 612-225-2184.

Taproom style: Bright and colorful -- as if your favorite art gallery had been turned into a bar. Besides the paintings on the walls, there are two tiled bartops fashioned after the sun and the moon (if you didn't know, Harriet is big on yogic philosophy).

Owner says: The taproom is a work in progress, Sowards said. "It's going to come together and look kind of crazy -- and that's the idea."

On tap: Six beers, including the brewery's flagship Belgian styles. Sowards plans to mix in his small-batch beers, too (think: dry-hopped and orange-peel variations).

Onstage: Bands perform every weekend on the new stage. Sowards' tastes run the gamut, from reggae to jazz to bluesy folk. He's working on a full light and sound system to make this a real-deal music venue.

Arty endeavors: Harriet co-owner Jesse Brödd's art adorns the walls (and the beer labels). Soon his work will be joined by pieces from "guest artists" who will rotate every month.

Patio plans: The garage doors open to a roped-off patio with plenty of seating (and hammerschlagen). Sowards will build a deck this summer, complete with trellis and hop gardens.

Eat this: Like Fulton, food trucks are parked outside most weekends.

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Fri. and 1-10 p.m. Sat., with more days coming soon.



Where: 1900 Tower Dr., Stillwater. 1-888-430-2337.

Taproom style: Rustic suburban. I imagined this Stillwater brewhouse on the scenic slopes of the St. Croix River. Nope, it's behind a Herberger's off Hwy. 36. No matter, the taproom is filled with handcrafted pine picnic tables and a beautiful bar (plus mini steel beams -- an ode to the real lift bridge).

Owner says: "The taproom is pretty mellow -- we want the beer to be the show," said Brad Glynn, one of five founders.

Taps: Six beers, from the regulars like Farm Girl Saison to limited-edition brews like Irish Coffee Stout and Spring Fling.

Order in: If the vintage popcorn machine doesn't fill you up, call for delivery. The bar has a trapper keeper of menus from surrounding restaurants. Locals swear by Grand Pizza.

Go on a tour: The weekend tours fill up quickly, so call ahead. You never know who might be joining you. (I had 21 Girl Scout leaders on mine.)

Drinking al fresco: The patio is basically a roped-off area in the parking lot. But they have bean bag courts!

Hours: 5-8 p.m. Thu. and Fri., 1-5 p.m. Sat.