Winterfest 2015 and Beyond: What’s On Tap at the Minnesota Brewers Guild

From a new executive director to a new format for the perennially popular Winterfest, the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild has big plans for 2015.

Winterfest 2014 at the Union Depot // Photo by JaneCrane Photography

Winterfest 2014 at the Union Depot // Photo by JaneCrane Photography

Winterfest, the 14th annual celebration of all things Minnesota beer, has a different look and feel in 2015. The long-running festival returns to Union Depot where last year the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild hosted 42 breweries and awarded the Great Snowshoe Award to Barley John’s Brew Pub, but with membership on the rise, the festival has split 2015’s 60 participating breweries between two nights to showcase all of the member breweries.

The two-night lineup makes the event more accessible to consumers, as tickets have sold out quickly over the past few years. It did lead to logistics challenges, though, such as needing to award two Great Snowshoes (one for each night), how to split the breweries between Friday and Saturday, and how customers will respond to the two-night events. “It’s hard to choose between your favorites,” event coordinator Amanda Buhman summarizes. “But it’s a good problem to have because of the strength of the scene.” From advance sales, it seems that customers have solved the latter—roughly half of attendees are planning to hit both nights and (presumably) every brewery.

Winterfest also marks Phil Platt’s first event as the new Executive Director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. Platt took over for Clint Roberts, who held the position from 2013–2014. The Guild’s primary role is to support the greater good of its members, which include high volume breweries like Summit, nanobreweries such as Sisyphus, and allied trade members that support the industry (like The Growler Magazine). It’s Platt’s job to balance the needs of the members and find common ground to foster the growth of a booming industry.

In the next year he hopes to update the Guild’s internal organization, increase membership, bring allied trades and brewers together, and to help push the Small BREW Act through Congress. One Simple Plan, the PR firm founded by Roberts, will continue operating what Platt calls “the fun stuff,” such as organizing Winterfest, Autumn Brew Review, and the Land of 10,000 Beers exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair.

Great Snowshoe Award // Photo by JaneCrane Photography

Great Snowshoe Award // Photo by JaneCrane Photography

Platt is a longtime beer fan, and has volunteered at Summit and Flat Earth, working brewery tours, pouring at festivals, checking IDs, and other tasks at all ends of the spectrum. In 2010, he even had the honor of accepting a Great Snowshoe Award on behalf of Flat Earth. “I used to volunteer at Winterfest when it was at the History Center,” he remembers. “[Flat Earth’s] beer won the Snowshoe, but Jeff Williamson wasn’t there because his wife was having a baby that night. Along with some other volunteers, we got to accept the award.”

Like many beer aficionados, it was a trip to Europe that solidified his interest in craft. In 2005 he scheduled a trip through England and Belgium that took him to cathedrals, monasteries, and breweries. In England he visited cathedral towns that also featured pubs on CAMRA’s Real Ale List. “It was kind of a spiritual trip,” he recalled,. Along with friends Dennis Skrade and Thom Nolan, who both play in the Brian Boru Irish Pipe Band, Platt even volunteered at the Robin Hood Beer & Cider Festival in Nottingham.

Platt’s most recent position, pre-Guild, was as Marketing and Membership Director for the University of Minnesota Campus Club, organizing events for various groups within the 1,400-person membership. Of course, there were beer events among those activities. He has also worked at membership driven non-profits such as TPT and MPR, which prepared him for working with the variety of voices that comprise Guild membership.

Phil Platt, executive director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild // Photo by Donna Weispfenning

Phil Platt, executive director of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild // Photo by Donna Weispfenning

So far Platt is taking the new position “one step at a time,” with guidance from Roberts. Among his plans, Platt hopes to fine tune membership groups, such as clarifying allied trade categories, adding a brewers-in-process designation, and eventually including another membership segment for beer enthusiasts. He sees the Guild as a perfect resource for breweries in planning as they find their way. “It’s like an onramp,” he says, noting there are a dozen near-ready breweries in the state and others in various stages.

While the Guild is an industry organization whose primary goals involve economy, growth, and reputation, he is not averse to jumping into the political arena. The Guild is firmly endorsing the Small BREW Act, an excise tax bill recently co-sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and it has chosen to remain neutral on the Sunday Sales debate—a potentially polarizing issue between industry forces. Overall, he notes, bringing the industry together on more topics is something he would like to achieve.

“The craft brewing industry touches so many other industries,” Platt says, referencing a recent email from a flooring company. “There are so many ways that Guild members are involved in the world.” It goes beyond agriculture, production, and distribution, and affects the entire community. As such, he would like to emphasize the giving back campaigns that many breweries support, either through neighborhood clean-ups, food drives, sports, art, and more. “I would like to highlight that on a regular basis because it is impressive.”

With only one month on the job,* Platt has personally met about two-thirds of the brewery members and is working to meet them all. Much like at his University job, connecting with people on a personal level is essential for success. For now, the role of Executive Director is still something he’s getting a feel for. Winterfest is a perfect opportunity to touch base with more members, sample their products, as well as meet fellow enthusiasts.

For festival-goers, Winterfest is the perfect opportunity to try some of Minnesota’s most adventurous beers. The Growler managed to sample a few of them in advance.

Next Page: Winterfest Beer Preview

Correction: Phil Platt has been on the job one month, not two months as originally stated. 

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