New generation reviving NE’s brewing tradition

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September 27, 2012 by Sarah M

// By Tim Sturrock //

With the recent launch of Indeed Brewing Company, the sweet scent of grain has returned to Northeast neighborhoods. By the end of the year, three other brewers plan it to join Indeed in reviving breweries in an area of Minneapolis known for brewing but somehow left without any commercial beer maker for years.

The Northeast brewing giants Grain Belt and Glueks employed generations of workers, dominated Northeast bar and taps and held huge economic and cultural sway over the area for decades, closing doors in 1964 and 1975 respectively after being hammered by national competition.

But this year at least some of that identity could be re-embraced in Northeast which is still known for its bars and character whilst building a reputation for art and youthfulness. And though history hasn’t always been kind to breweries in Northeast, some brewers are counting on the notion of history to boost their appeal.

“For us it just works in with how we are creating ourselves. We are proud that these great breweries were there,” said Ryan Libby, cofounder of the 612Brew Minneapolis brewery and taproom which will open in late fall. “We want to be part of that tradition. It’s important to us to bring back that tradition. We hope that Northeast turns into a sort of brewing district again. It is an art district already, and it can return to its past.”

612Brew is one of several breweries that cites new laws, the growing popularity of craft beer, and history as bringing in the new breweries Northeast.

612Brew will join Indeed Brewing Company, on 15th Avenue, which opened the doors to its brewery and taproom in early August. Dangerous Man Brewing Company’s taproom located on the colorful 13th Avenue has plans to launch in November in a former bank. Northgate Brewing’s brewery, which will sell kegs and growlers, on California Street, could open later this fall.

It’s easy to draw comparisons between this new wave of beer entrepreneurs and brewers of the past and it’s also notable that so many breweries failed in the previous century.

“If you look back say from 1890 to 1910 in Minneapolis, you had a whole a lot of breweries that were open for a year or two…I don’t think any of them were doing it because they loved the idea of a really great beer. They saw that breweries were expanding. They saw it as a money maker and thought they could beat Minneapolis Brewery or Glueks,” said Doug Hoverson, author of Land of Amber Waters, a history of beer brewing in Minnesota.

Still, there are more recent examples such as James Page Brewing Company which left Northeast in 2002 after suffering from debt. James Page, Grain Belt and Glueks are all now produced by former competitors.

Hoverson said some of the breweries are bound to struggle or fail, though the market will grow, and he expressed optimism that the appeal of craft beer will last.

“If you had said 20 years ago that we would be at a place on University Avenue and they would have 20 different taps, we would have laughed real hard and had another Miller Lite. And we would have mocked those snobs and asked why don’t they have champagne with their fries,” he said.

A century ago, the access to the river, high quality water, and the desire to turn a profit brought many breweries to the area that was nurtured by brand loyalty of immigrants, he said.

But times have changed and different forces are now driving breweries to Northeast.

While these days, an interest in the craft, the growing market, legal changes, the industrial space left by other erstwhile industries has contributed to the influx to Northeast, he said, adding that continued ethnic loyalties of some residents and the influx of “hipsters” and “Bohemians” will also enhance the market.

Adam Sjogren, co-founder of Northgate Brewing, said the importance of the neighborhood bar in Northeast and stories from his girlfriend’s family about the Grainbelt brewery were just some of the factors that led he and his business partner to locate in a former machine shop on California Street.

He said so many breweries establishing all at once will bring in competition, but also quality.

“If we were the only game in town, it would be nice from a business standpoint. It’s not going to push us to make the best beer possible and when you have good competition then it does,” he said.

Risk is one factor keeping Northgate starting small with no taproom, he said, noting that one in three small businesses fail in their first year.

Nathan Berndt, president of Indeed Brewing, said that Minneapolis still has relatively few breweries compared to a city like Portland-which has nearly 50 operating breweries, so there is room for growth.

Rachel Anderson, Indeed’s director of marketing, said that the history of the area is a plus to the brand.

“We were excited to revive that cultural around here-that brewing culture. People associate Northeast with that brewing history, and we want to latch on to that a little bit.”

And Sarah Bonvallet, co-owner of Dangerous Man, had another take, explaining that the breweries will return another old habit to the area that became history – when people drank locally-brewed beer.

“To me, we’re going to how it was originally was. As much as this is new, it’s actually old,” she said.

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