When Indeed Brewing Company opened their doors and joined the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild (MCBG) in 2012, the Guild’s membership consisted of about 20 breweries. Today, as Indeed co-founder Tom Whisenand gets ready to assume the role of president of the Guild’s board of directors, that number is pushing 100. As the industry has rapidly grown and matured in recent years, so, too, have the Guild’s areas of focus—a trend that will continue in 2016.
The MCBG has been promoting the state’s brewing industry by sponsoring festivals and special events that showcase Minnesota brewers, striving to educate the public about craft beer, and lobbying for legislative changes on behalf of its members since 2000.
“The growth of our industry is a challenge for the Guild but also an opportunity,” Whisenand says.
Last week, the MCBG announced several new leadership roles on its board including Whisenand’s, who succeeds Dan Schwarz, co-founder and CEO of Lift Bridge Brewing, who served as president for the past two years.
The past two years of Guild initiatives have been mostly concerned with increasing the public’s access to, and awareness of, Minnesota craft beer. Both Schwarz and Whisenand pointed to the success of the Land of 10,000 Beers exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair, their work with the Minneapolis Convention Center on the Craft Bar and Lounge, and the Stone Arch Restaurant, which will feature a Guild-curated beer list when it opens later this year in Terminal 1 at the MSP airport. The Guild also continued their tradition of hosting beer tasting festivals that feature Minnesota breweries and brewpubs alongside national brands. On the legislative side, they helped push bills at the state level that allow taprooms to be open and sell growlers on Sundays.
With Minnesota craft beer now widely available around the state, the board’s new members are refocusing their sights on educating member breweries and helping them ensure the beer they’re putting out is of the highest quality.
Sarah Bonvallet, co-owner and creative director of Dangerous Man Brewing, will assume the role of secretary and says a big reason she wanted to get more involved with the board was to help the Guild offer more professional development opportunities for its members.
“We have grown exponentially and the needs of members have changed,” Bonvallet says. “I want to see the Guild focus on bringing tangible value to its members. More education and professional development opportunities benefit us all, from the consumer, to the brewer, to the server.”
Laura Mullen, co-founder and vice president of outreach and events at Bent Paddle Brewing, will assume the role of vice president on the board and says the strongest craft beer states also have the strongest guilds.
“When members meet for committee meetings or educational seminars, pour at our festivals, or participate in the Guild’s State Fair exhibit, you can see a clear union of people that believe in making great beer and support what other Minnesota craft brewers are doing,” she says. “This activity and continuing connections helps keep the Guild vibrant and strong and ultimately leads to more people discovering and enjoying Minnesota-made craft beer.”
Mullen says she’s excited to help further the growth of Minnesota’s craft beer industry and echoed Bonvallet’s sentiments about providing education opportunities to Guild members, “especially as it relates to beer flavor and quality control.”
Ryan Petz, co-founder and president of Fulton Brewing, will serve as a new board member. He also thinks education around quality control should be a key area of focus.
“Minnesota’s brewing industry has come a long way just in the seven years I’ve been in the industry, but I believe we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of what our brewing scene is capable of,” he says. “As a board member, I’d like the Guild to take an active role in setting the quality and consistency bar ever higher, so that Minnesota’s breweries are recognized as among that nation’s best.”
Turning their attention toward St. Paul, Bonvallet says she’d like to see the Guild develop short- and long-term plans for addressing legislative changes that could help the industry grow even more. Whisenand says they’re continuing to further relationships with legislators and industry groups with an eye toward making Minnesota’s beer laws more favorable to craft brewers, but is measured in his description of the Guild’s plans for the coming session.
“The Guild is not pursuing anything specific right now, nor do we have a plan for any specific changes,” he says. “If you talk to brewers, all of them have various things that they would like to see changed. Over the next year I expect that we will try to narrow down what the industry really wants to see changed and consider pursuing those changes, but our approach to it will be very measured and diplomatic. We have really worked hard to essentially get a seat at the table with the organizations and individuals that have influence on beer laws, and we want to work with those folks in a collaborative way.”
The Guild’s work in building strong relationships doesn’t end at the state capitol, either.
“The true role of the Guild is to connect the breweries in the industry and the other businesses that touch that industry, to create conversations and open discourse to gain diverse insight on topics,” Mullen says. “When members are involved and contributing ideas regarding the industry, it creates a Guild with direction and purpose.”
Outgoing Guild board members include: Omar Ansari, founder and president of Surly Brewing Co.; Dan Justesen, co-founder and president of Utepils Brewing; and Frank Kaszuba, brewer at Fitger’s Brewhouse. Pete Rifakes, owner of Town Hall Brewery, will continue to serve as treasurer, and Jace Marti, brewmaster of August Schell Brewing, will also remain on the board.
In addition to these regular changes on the board (members serve two-year terms and vote annually on leadership roles), the growth of the Guild’s membership also contributed to a change in how they’re staffed. Phil Platt was hired as the Guild’s executive director in January 2015, but the position was eliminated in late December. Since then, Schwarz says they’ve been working to transition Platt’s previous duties to board member leaders as well as One Simple Plan, a public relations and marketing firm the Guild works with. As its membership has grown, Schwarz says the Guild has also had more members step up and volunteer their time and resources to help support Guild initiatives.