October 15, 2014
On a recent, dreary December afternoon, I headed to Minneapolis’s Prospect Park neighborhood to visit Surly Brewing Company’s shiny new brewery complex.
The bright, open interior stood in stark contrast to the gloomy outdoors. As I sipped a snifter of “Eight” – an oat wine-style ale aged in rye whiskey barrels – I surveyed my surroundings: It was opening weekend, and the huge facility was swarming with what appeared to be the entire population of the Twin Cities.
This beer mecca is the culmination of years of planning — not to mention a huge grassroots movement — and to call it “highly anticipated” among locals would be a gross understatement. In fact, it’s been nearly four years since Surly, known for such irreverently named brews as Furious, Hell and Cynic, announced lofty plans to build a $20 million “destination brewery,” complete with a beer hall, restaurant and event center, among other amenities. It even required a change in Minnesota’s liquor laws — a practically impossible turn of events — to make the space a reality.
While I roamed around the brewery’s numerous floors, weaving around its bars, scoping out the built-in dance floor in its upstairs event space and peering over the ledges of its indoor and outdoor balconies, my thoughts shifted away from hops and malts and to the power of pent-up consumer demand. After all, that’s what the passage of the so-called “Surly bill,” and the subsequent opening of the new brewery, really boils down to.
In that sense, it serves as a valuable case study – for beer fans and non-beer-drinkers alike – about the ways in which consumer tastes can lead to swift and sweeping change. And it makes me wonder: If Minnesotans got this revved up about beer, what will be our next major consumer-driven movement?
P.S. If you happen to visit Surly’s brewery, check out the stunning Lift & Slide door from Fast Horse client Marvin Windows and Doors. That thing is huge – my picture below does it little justice – and it is sure to seamlessly connect the beer hall with the outdoors, come warmer months.