Back From The Twin Cities

I’m back from the Twin Cities. What a weekend! It is the most bikeable city in the US but their beer scene is just a bit younger than here in Seattle. It was an intense week of biking, drinking, and interviewing brewers and I learned a lot. Lucky for you, most of what I learned was caught on tape and will make it into podcast form and those will start coming out next week, but I’ll tease a little bit here. They have some interesting beer laws that have impacted the way the beer scene has grown but a few cult beer heroes beat back the bureaucracy and have allowed taprooms to flourish. 

Just to list them all out, I visited the following breweries: Tin Whiskers, Flat Earth, Indeed, Lakes and Legends, Lake Monster, Burning Bros, Head Flyer, and Surly. I actually visited quite a few more and even doubled up on some of those, but those 8 are the ones where I got to visit with the owners, founders, and brewers and pick some brains over a beer. That’s a lot of breweries and it only represents a fraction of the ones I knew about when I booked the trip. Much like Seattle, breweries are opening fast! Unlike Seattle, changes in the landscape are fresh enough that people can remember some of the stuff that has changed. 


The Surly Beer Law

In 2011, Surly Brewery wanted to open a taproom. Surly Brewery is a powerhouse of the Twin Cities area. By the way, the Twin Cities are Minneapolis and neighboring St Paul, think Seattle and Tacoma but even closer together. Surly Brewery is like Elysian Brewery minus the heartbreak. Because of the archaic post-prohibition laws still bopping around in Minnesota, it simply wasn’t legal for a brewery like Surly, a production brewery that made beer to sell to bars and liquor stores, to have a tap room like what we are used to today. Back then, if you wanted to sell your own beer you could, but it had to be part of a brewpub and brewpubs had to have a full liquor license and a full working kitchen. If making and selling beers is hard enough, then running a full-blown restaurant is even harder, so this rule very effectively prevented breweries from trying to sell their own beer on site. Surly didn’t want anything to do with that, so they lobbied for what came to be known as the Surly Bill, a bill that would create a new, previously undiscovered license called the Taproom Licence.

These days we know and love taprooms, but back then this was new shit. Now breweries could, provided they actually brew on site and had no guest taps, sell their beer direct to consumers. None of the cider guest taps or brewing out of your garage and selling it wherever you built your tasting room was allowed. Still, this gave breweries access to high margin sales by cutting out the middlemen of bars and distributors and suddenly new breweries could start to open. During my trip, I talked almost entirely to breweries that opened because of the Surly Law so I was pretty excited when I got to conclude my trip with a visit to Surly itself to talk to their head brewer. 

The Most Bikeable City

bike racks in Minneapolis

Minneapolis is consistently rated the most bikeable city in the US. Even though Seattle ranks somewhere around 6th place which is commendable (Portland is usually 2nd), the differences are astounding. In Seattle, hills and rain are apparently used as excuses for cars to rule the road and only a shamefully small amount of attention is put into our bike infrastructure. In Minneapolis, even though the place becomes a frozen hellscape during the winter, they still manage to put bike lanes onto basically every road. You can see all over the city where an entire lane of car traffic was deleted to put in a bike lane with a large buffer on it. Bike paths, where pedestrians aren’t allowed to tread, weave throughout the lakes and rivers of the cities. At least 2 bridges cross the Mississippi River that cars aren't even allowed on giving those that power their own way with their own legs the best views and shortest routes around. I can think of two bridges here in Seattle that if you try to walk or bike across YOU DIE. Sure, the city has its fair share of worthless sharrows but for the most part, you can count on google maps to be able to give you a safe bike route from point A to point B. Unlike in Seattle where google maps have no problem sending you straight up a hill only to come right back down again. You will probably want to listen to me for that info, so I guess thanks Seattle for the job. And don’t even get me started on the bike parking they have there. Truly insane amounts of bike racks are available everywhere. Some breweries had parking for 100 bikes! Seattle Breweries, you are officially on notice.  

Enough of my raving. We have them beat here in some ways and they make us look like amateurs in others. To get the full scoop, you’ll just have to listen to next series of podcasts on Washington Beer Talk. You’ll be able to follow along with my journey through the old breweries of the Twin Cities as I learn all about the different laws and cultures that emerge as we all stumble through the craft beer revolution together.