A few years ago, the prospect of Stub and Herb's hosting a craft beer event was laughable. It was just another forgettable college bar.
But starting on Monday, the rejuvenated Minneapolis pub will be ground zero for the first ever Minnesota Craft Beer Week -- seven days of beer releases, beer contests and all-around beer geekery.
The turnaround at Stub and Herb's is reflected in the larger Twin Cities beer scene.
"There's been a dramatic switch in the past couple of years," said Mike Hoops, brewmaster for Town Hall Brewery, which is partnering with Stub and Herb's on Minnesota Craft Beer Week. A third University of Minnesota-area bar, Preston's Urban Pub, is also involved.
The climate for such an event couldn't be better. The Twin Cities is home to a growing number of boutique beer bars that are filling their tap lines with products from a red-hot contingent of metro-area breweries such as Surly, Lift Bridge and Fulton. These microbreweries have a feverish following that is only heightened by out-of-state brands anxious to enter our burgeoning market.
"Craft" beer, in case you've been sitting under a rock (or a pile of Budweiser cans), is beer made with an emphasis on quality rather than mass-market consumption. In the past two years, the craft market has grown, while sales at the big beer companies have dipped.
Minnesota Craft Beer Week is spearheaded by Jon Landers, the friendly tattooed bar manager who helped turn Stub and Herb's into a craft-beer haven. Landers toiled away at the U of M bar for years before new owners let him revamp the place in 2007. Today, the bar's 32 taps are filled with buzz-worthy beers and the place is a regular destination for local and national breweries to introduce their wares to the Twin Cities market.
Annual craft beer weeks are popping up across the country, from New York to Chicago to Seattle. One of the oldest occurs in San Francisco, where "the entire city erupts with events," Landers said. Minnesota's week coincides with the nationwide celebration, American Craft Beer Week.
To get the ball rolling, Landers wanted to partner with two other bars located near the U of M. Town Hall Brewery is in its 13th year as one of the metro area's most celebrated brewpubs. Like Stub and Herb's, Preston's recently reconfigured itself as a craft-focused establishment (don't worry, students, it still offers its famous liquor-filled fishbowls).
There's been some chatter in beer circles as to why more bars weren't included in the week's events (such as St. Paul's veteran beer outposts the Muddy Pig and Happy Gnome). From a logistical standpoint, Landers said he thought it best to start small and expand in the second year.
Another reason (and a good one, I think): Landers thought a centralized location would help foster a "responsible" week of drinking. Thus, he persuaded the Blue & White taxi company to offer discounted $3 rides among the three bars.
The best way to experience Minnesota Craft Beer Week is to buy a $3 "passport." The pocket-sized booklet contains the week's schedule and is also a place to collect stamps from the participating bars and liquor stores. The more stamps you collect, the better your chances of winning some cool beer swag on the final day. Proceeds from the cost of the passport will benefit Alzheimer's research, Landers said.
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