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It would be hard to argue that Surly hasn't played a major role in reshaping the beer scene in the Twin Cities. Yet when asked about how his company has influenced the younger brewers, Ansari is in no hurry to take credit.
"The community helped us succeed," Ansari says. "We wouldn't have succeeded without people going to bars and saying 'Hey, why don't you have their beer?'"
A few weeks ago, Ansari was named the new president of The Minnesota Craft Brewer's Guild, the non-profit organization that represents local brewpubs such as Town Hall and Barley John's, as well as the old guard of Summit and Schell's.
Earlier this year, Schell's introduced Grain Belt Nordeast, a brown ale named after the neighborhood where the brand originated. The response has been beyond anything anyone expected. The beer sold out almost immediately, and Schell's has been scrambling to meet demand ever since.
"We always talked about the introduction of another beer in the Grain Belt family. We eventually put it together for this year, and we were obviously caught off-guard by the popularity," says Ted Marti, President of Schell's. "We've got a couple more tanks that are coming in a couple weeks, and then once those get up and online, we should be able to start backfilling our orders."
Over in St. Paul, Summit is also experiencing a boom in sales, bad economy be damned.
"We're doing very well. Our growth is better than what we anticipated," says Summit President Mark Stutrud. "We're spending $1.4 million on equipment this year. We're going to be pretty aggressive with our capital expenditures next year as well."
In Brooklyn Center, Ansari stands behind the bar in the Surly brewery's tasting room and slides across a glass of Bitter Brewer, a toasty pale ale with notes of citrus.
"Have you seen the documentary Beer Wars?" he asks. "I'm not sure why they included the woman who was launching the caffeinated beer. She wasn't really a craft brewer, which was the whole point of the movie, to talk about craft brewers. But she was just trying to do what the big guys do, only with caffeine. Such a stupid idea."
He heads to the back of the bar to rinse out his glass. "But I guess they're scared of craft brewers. They're trying to become us. You see some craft beer you've never heard of and see that it's brewed in St. Louis, then you know who really made it."
THE FOUR FIRKINS doesn't even carry Bud Lite. It's the first store in Minnesota devoted exclusively to craft beer.
The moment you walk in, the layout looks entirely unlike any other liquor store, with dark wooden shelves stocked with exotic beers labeled by style rather than manufacturer. Neatly hand-lettered signs identify the beer categories; posters by Surly label artist Adam Turman hang behind the counter.
As owner Jason Alvey puts it, The Four Firkins looks more like a "library of beer than a liquor store."
Alvey came up with the idea for the store while producing the beer podcast "What Ales Thee." Despite the success of the podcast, some said that his dream of an entire store devoted to craft beers was doomed from the start.
"A lot of folks told us that it couldn't be done," says Alvey. "Banks are not necessarily business owners, and they kept saying, 'If it's such a good idea, why isn't somebody already doing it?' Well, these stores do exist, just not here."
The craft-beer renaissance has come to the bar as well. There have always been beer-centric pubs in the Twin Cities, but in the past few years several taverns have tried to create a beer-snob Mecca. St. Paul's The Happy Gnome offers a selection of 70 rotating craft beers, with special events such as dinners that instruct diners how to pair beers with food.
Stub and Herbs has narrowed its focus from craft beers in general to specifically local craft beers. Along with Preston's Urban Pub and the Town Hall Brewery, Stub and Herbs helped launch the inaugural Minnesota Craft Beer Week last May, an event that celebrated both local and national microbreweries.
News of Minnesota Craft Brew Week reached many local fans thanks to Ryan Anderson's MNbeer.com website, the definitive news source for the Twin Cities beer community. The website is also home to an extensive collection of links to local breweries, bars, liquor stores, and more, making it a one-stop shop for local beer information.
"I always wanted a resource for all the craft-beer and home-brewing stuff out there and I didn't quite find it, so I decided to do it myself," says Anderson, discussing the origins of the roughly five-year-old website. "I was between jobs as a graphic designer and the beer thing just kind of took over for me. I've got about four or five other writers, and we kind of pass out news on home brewing, local beers, restaurants that serve good beers, that sort of thing."
Back at The Four Firkins, Alvey leans on the counter and explains why he's thrilled about Minneapolis' new growler ordinance, even though it might take sales away from his store.