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Fair State is opening a second brewery, this one in St. Paul

An artist's rendering of the new Fair State location in St. Paul

An artist's rendering of the new Fair State location in St. Paul Courtesy of Fair State

Northeast brewing cooperative Fair State has had “MSP STP” emblazoned on its logo for all of its two-year existence, and a deal signed earlier this year will make the designation official: Fair State Brewing Cooperative will soon be the first brewery to operate in both of the Twin Cities simultaneously.

The news was announced last night at a meeting of the brewery’s member-owners. Fair State is expanding its brewing operation into a second location in the Midway area of St. Paul.

The new facility, which is situated in Midway Distribution Center at 2700 Ellis Ave., is a nearly 42,000-square-foot blank slate for the skyrocketing Fair State. The new site could increase the brewer’s production from approximately 1,500 barrels to over 7,000.

The expansion is similar to Fulton’s two-brewery arrangement in that Fair State will use the warehouse mostly to fulfill distribution needs. Per Minnesota law, breweries cannot have more than one taproom.

Still, Fair State has plans beyond brewing for the expansion. Artist's renderings show a patio and sampling room that could be used as host space for member-owner events and parties. There have also been talks of utilizing the massive roof space for a hop garden -- though Tonks admits his imagination may just be running wild with all the new possibilities.

The operation on Central Avenue in Northeast will continue to service the on-site taproom. Canning and commercial brewing will be moved off premise, giving the cramped craft brewer some much needed breathing room.

Head brewer Niko Tonks stands in the new Fair State facility in St. Paul.

Head brewer Niko Tonks stands in the new Fair State facility in St. Paul. Jerard Fagerberg

“We got to a breaking point where we couldn’t live saying no to everyone all the time anymore,” says head brewer Niko Tonks. “We were completely overmatched. Running out of beer constantly. Orders outpacing production.”

About half of Fair State’s 2,000-square-foot Central Avenue brewery is dedicated to actual beermaking, with fermenters and souring barrels taking up residence in the building’s rear and basement. Tonks and his partners Evan Sallee and Matt Hauck knew that a space so small wouldn’t sustain them forever. Last winter, the real estate search got serious.

“It took us a while to come to the conclusion that we had to do this,” Tonks says. “We ran through basically every permutation imaginable for expanding in the current spot. We were like, ‘What can we do? Can we put tanks in the parking lot?’”

There was a worry that the expansion could alienate some of Fair State’s members, but so far, Tonks has only seen indications to the contrary. The production increase won’t even put Fair State in the top 10 beermakers by volume in the North Star State, so it’s not like they’re selling out wholesale.

“We do our best to maintain our presence in our neighborhood in Northeast, and that’s still the face of the company,” he says. “The impression that we’ve gotten from our membership so far is that people are psyched. They’re excited to be a part of something that’s growing.”

Only flagships like Roselle, Pils, Du Pounde, and a new hopped lager and seasonals like Hefeweizen will be put into production at the Midway location. Meanwhile, at the original brewery, taplines will become more experimental and feature more one-offs and rotating batches.

“That brewery will continue on as a pilot plant,” Tonks explains. “We’ll be able to actually test batch things so that this new facility can focus on doing larger quantities of a smaller amount of beers.”

Construction on the Midway building should begin immediately, though the timeline after that is less clear. Fair State will partition the building into two spaces -- one 28,000-square-foot area for the brewery, and one 15,000-square-foot area they’ll sublease. Brewing equipment is still being delivered from Canada, and once that’s situated, Tonks hopes to be brewing by early next year.

“What we learned the first time around is that, when you set dates, those dates vanish,” Tonks clarifies. “We’ll be doing really well if you see beer outta here in first quarter 2017.”

Tonks admits that most of the boons of opening a second facility are unsexy, but with the prospect of building a second brewery in two years on the docket, he’s grateful for stability. Sure, the clear height and access to trucking routes are nice, but there’s one benefit that looms larger than all others.

“We’re thinking in the long term instead of just putting Band-Aids all over everything,” Tonks says. “The best thing about it is that we’re pretty confident we’ll never have to move again.”