A fond farewell to the Four Firkins

The interior of the Oakdale branch, which will shutter after Friday.

The interior of the Oakdale branch, which will shutter after Friday.

It's the end of an era for the Minneapolis craft beer market. After seven years of specialty beer service, the Four Firkins will be closing.

Announced Tuesday via the store's blog, a sendoff will take place this weekend, with Friday being the last day of sale at the Oakdale location and the St. Louis Park flagship store ceasing operation after Saturday. No specifics about liquidation sales have been announced. Because of the sudden closure, all sales will be cash only, and gift cards are no longer redeemable.

Jason Alvey, an Australian transplant who cultivated a sommelier's taste for beer in the States, opened the original Four Firkins on Minnetonka Boulevard in St. Louis Park back in 2008 before moving the store to West 36th Street in 2011. The Oakdale expansion franchise was opened after a successful IndieGoGo campaign in September 2014.

The campaign details a plan to expand to five total locations, all the while acknowledging the creeping threat of chain liquor stores. "Together, we'll create a destination craft beer institution for Minnesota," Alvey wrote, "where the beer is always fresh and everybody knows your name."

While the blog post isn't specific about the reasons this dream went unrealized, Alvey blames "increased competition from big-box retailers and grocery stores as well as other factors (highway closures, Sunday sales laws)" that have rendered him and his staff "unable to continue to provide the high-quality, personalized retail experience we expect and our customers deserve."

To paraphrase the Strib's Chris Riemenschneider, Alvey and the Four Firkins were sharply ahead of the curve in the beer market. Their theory — that beer is something refined and worth curating and not simply some Cro-Magnon means to an end — was a refreshing and enlightened addition to Budweiser America that never spilled over into elitism.

The Four Firkins closing isn't a shame because there's no place else to buy beer. It's a shame because no other liquor store cared whether you enjoyed what you bought as much as the Four Firkins did.

The Firkins urged curiosity in the beer scene, nudging drinkers away from the comforts of sixers and macro pilsners, but the effort was ultimately in vain. Pitted in competition with both Joe Six-Pack and Trader Joe's, the Four Firkins lasted only seven years, and only 10 months with multiple locations, in their noble cause before ultimately succumbing.

While much of the discussion around the closure has gravitated around Firkins' invalidation of gift cards (which, according to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Biz Journal, is legal in cases of bankruptcy), the uncomplicated truth is that the Four Firkins will be missed. The staff there were forward-thinking in a way that the craft beer world rarely sees stemming from behind the cash register. Though Alvey made no mention of his plans going forward (interview requests were not returned at the time of publication), the hope is that he'll continue to be involved in the Minneapolis beer scene long after this Saturday's closing bell.