Changing the Face of Breweries, One Member at a Time
by Liz Scholz, founding member of Fair State Brewing Cooperative
You might feel you’re falling behind on breweries in the Twin Cities—with giant concrete warehouses being converted into new, artisanal IPA dispensaries seemingly every week. You wouldn’t be wrong. But among the sea of delicious flagship beers is a brewery that is changing the face of microbreweries not only in Minnesota, but across the entire United States. If you’re a craft beer lover, and I know you are, you want to see Minnesota grow in craft beer fame like Colorado, Oregon, or California. It’s why we fight for better legislation, wait in line to visit newly opened taprooms, and fill a growler on the way out the door. While each great new brewery brings us a step closer to our goal, one of the biggest steps – a leap even – is the soon-to-be Fair State Brewing Cooperative.
Like children, each brewery has something special about it that makes it a beloved part of the ever-growing family. For Fair State it is the fact that it is a cooperatively owned brewery, not unlike your local member-owned grocery co-ops. There are only a handful of co-op breweries in the United States and even fewer co-op brewpubs. Fair State will be the first in Minnesota and the Midwest. Like at your co-op, you can become a member who literally own shares of the brewery and maybe even a piece of history.
The three men behind the brewery – D. Evan Sallee, Niko Tonks, and Matthew Hauck – met in college, playing rugby and brewing beer. As homebrewers are wont to do, they talked about opening their own brewery for years, until one fateful and somewhat foggy night when the dream became a little more real. None of the three had started a brewery co-op before, but they longed to return to the Twin Cities and do so. The timing was right. Minnesota has beneficial craft beer co-op legislation and the law changes, including those allowing on-site taprooms, worked in their favor. Now with the right timing and right ideas, Fair State is off and running. Catch it if you can.
As civilian beer lovers, we rarely are privy to the details of starting a brewery – fundraising and investments, growth plans, the process of choosing and refining beer recipes. We follow blogs and local beer websites, awaiting the arrival of our favorite seasonal beer like Surly Pentagram, obsessively checking Twitter for the most up-to-date details. With Fair State’s model, you could be a member at $200 for a single membership of one share or $300 for household membership also of one share or an investor, with one or more votes and a say in the brewery. If you’re really serious about it, go in as a member of the board of directors and run the organization.
Sallee, a homebrewer himself, knows that harnessing the innovative and financial powers of homebrewers is more effective than just having them sit in your bar or casually scan your social media posts. “Homebrewers are really the creative engine behind the craft beer movement these days,” he said. “Almost nothing gets done that hasn’t been done by a homebrewer somewhere first. Our cooperative will allow us to bring creativity to the brewhouse an order of magnitude greater than anyone else is doing.” Sallee explains that the co-op’s member-owners will have an active hand in choosing brews and an even greater sense of ownership over the brewery as a whole.
In the modern history of craft beer, we’ve idolized brewers and brewery owners as leaders in creative and strategic thought. They are doing what we have always wanted to and they are killing it. We know, we drink their beer. Fair State is helping lead the shift to more deeply involve the people who support the breweries. The co-op brewery cannot thrive without its members – their preferences, their skills, their dreams. While many homebrewers fantasize about starting a brewery, most don’t. Fair State is helping to make it a reality for them with the supportive power of a membership and like-minded people making decisions together. As their self-coined Twitter hashtag says, “#CollectivePerspective.”
So let’s talk beers. Fair State’s philosophy is proudly and deeply entrenched in German-style drinking and session-style beers. What does “session” mean? These are less intense beers that can be consumed in high numbers in one drinking “session,” compared to slogging through a night of one Russian imperial stout after the other, resulting in a full tummy, overwhelmed palate, and groggy head. It’s craft beer’s way of achieving “drinkability” without compromising artisan taste or flavor. Session beers tend to be lighter in alcohol content, and the alcohol by volume of Fair State’s session beers may be low enough to allow some shelf space in grocery stores, making it a great Sunday beer alternative to trekking into Wisconsin.
The plan is to brew four year-round beers and “as many seasonal beers as possible,” says Tonks, the head brewer. The core quartet: a west-coast style IPA altered slightly throughout the year with different hop strains; a session “hoplager” based on the traditional German style lager but dry-hopped; a schwarzbier (“think ‘black pilsner'”); and a session stout somewhere between a dry Irish and an oatmeal, on nitro tap wherever possible. The seasonal beers are still in the works and while specifics would be tantalizing, they have to leave something up to the imagination. A seasoned brewer, Tonks reassures us that though Fair State “tend[s] to prefer session-strength for every day drinking…we’re not scared of the big stuff by any means.”
While the brewery site has not been finalized and will not be announced until fall, there is talk of a location in Northeast, Seward/Longfellow, or possibly the Central Corridor, all co-op-friendly neighborhoods close to bike routes and other breweries. Two things that are sure:
1) The site will be large enough to accommodate expansion and, more importantly, a taproom will be open from the very beginning.
2) You’ll be able to get a taste of the good stuff there while rubbing elbows with the creators, investors and other members. After all, their tag line is “drink like you own the place,” because the members quite literally do.
The perfect pairing with a progressive brewery is cutting edge design. Fair State’s logo and branding elements come from Little and Company, a Minneapolis design firm. With its sleek and simple look, the design is beautiful yet inviting, perfect for the cans the beer will come in. Tonks explains, “They are a superior package – lighter, easier to ship, easier to recycle, fast to get cold, welcome where glass isn’t, and completely light-proof” to avoid that skunky beer taste. Beyond this, they have more design real estate than a conventional bottle and, Tonks said, “We plan on using every square inch at our disposal.”
Craft beer is no longer simply about good taste. It’s about having the best receptacle and brand experience to make what it stands for resonate with you, the drinker. At Fair State, the drinker gets a say in more than just their consumer decision. Hauck explains this is the central ethos behind the brewery. “I want Fair State to be a center for community in Minneapolis. A center for the beer community and also for socially conscious citizens, for social entrepreneurs, and for bikers. We want to really connect with people and be a place where people and ideas come together.”