On a frigid Saturday in February 2006, four friends huddled around a small burner for warmth as they brewed their first batch of beer in a one-car garage in the Fulton neighborhood of Minneapolis.
It became a tradition for Jim Diley, Ryan Petz, Brian Hoffman, and Pete Grande, the co-founders of Fulton Beer. Two years and one garage later, the group will open Fulton Brewery — the first brewery in downtown Minneapolis — on Friday.
“It’s really exciting to be opening our doors in the neighborhood in which we live. It’s bringing our dream to fruition in a way,” Diley said. “We always said we wanted to build a brewery in Minneapolis.”
In the past year, the group partnered with several other local brewers, including Surly Brewing Co. founder Omar Ansari, to fight for a change in state law and city ordinances that prevented brewers from selling pints and growlers of their beer on-site.
Gov. Mark Dayton signed the so-called “Surly bill” into law this spring, allowing the Minneapolis City Council to pass ordinances allowing brewers to sell on location.
It opened the door for all local breweries. And although Surly was the face of the bill, Fulton beat them to the punch with its Warehouse District brewery. Surly, now based in Brooklyn Center, is still considering locations for its new facility.
The group’s operation quickly outgrew Diley’s one-car garage, and they upgraded to Grande’s two-car garage. They also created a makeshift 10-gallon nanobrewery from some half-kegs and an old bed frame.
The first time using the nanobrewery, Diley remembers nervously watching one of the keg’s taps leak beer onto its electrical wiring.
“We didn’t know if it was going to start on fire or what was going to happen,” he recalled.
After some upgrades, the machinery became the staple of Fulton Beer when it launched in 2009.
The company’s reputation has risen quickly since its first sale to the Happy Gnome in St. Paul on Oct. 28, 2009.
Fulton now sells to 120 bars and restaurants and started bottling its brew in late October.
“When we started, our business plan involved maintaining seven bars and buying enough back to make sure we had a couple kegs in our refrigerators,” Diley said.
‘Fulton Beer Day’
The opening of Fulton Brewery is the culmination of a chain of policies loosening restrictions on liquor laws in Minneapolis and Minnesota.
“I see a day in which one of the many reasons to come to Minneapolis is to go from brewery to brewery,” Mayor R.T. Rybak said.
Many City Council members feel the same way.
On Friday, Councilman Gary Schiff will propose the elimination of a city ordinance that prevents businesses within 300 feet of a church from selling alcohol.
It will allow more breweries to open in Minneapolis, Schiff said.
He’ll also make a motion that Friday, Nov. 18, 2011 be known as Fulton Beer Day across the city.
Some members of the council, including Elizabeth Glidden, remain more reserved about changing old ordinances.
“We need to err on the side of caution when removing these historical laws,” she said.
Still, Rybak said it’s good that these liquor laws are becoming more relaxed, and he hopes people are excited about the new brewery’s opening.
“In the name of building the economy, I hope everyone will make the sacrifice of drinking this phenomenal beer [Friday],” Rybak joked.
Homebrewers at heart
Diley stood Wednesday in what will eventually be the tap room at Fulton Brewery, pointing at a picture of the group hanging on the wall in Grande’s garage.
“It’s very surreal to think that two years ago, we hadn’t sold a pint, and now we’ve built a brewery, we’re selling beer out of it and now we’re about to open our doors to the public,” Diley said.
Some work remains to be done before it opens to the public 4 p.m., Friday, but Diley isn’t too concerned.
“We just want to keep brewing good beer, introducing people to craft beer and the rest will take care of itself,” Diley said. “It’s such an honor to be able to brew beer and have people respond in a positive way.”