brand and bottle
Posted by Abe Sauer on August 30, 2012 12:16 PM
"We were back in a booth by the horse barn."
That is how Surly Brewing owner Omar Ansari described to the Star Tribune his brand's first go at the state's iconic Minnesota State Fair, known locally as the "great get together." Since then, Surly has won numerous awards from such organizations as the Great American Beer Fest and Beer Advocate, the latter of which named it the Best Brewery In America not once but twice. The brand's Surly Fest event now sells out. Its local popularity and influence is so strong that a state bill aimed at loosening regulations on craft breweries was dubbed the "Surly Bill."
Ansari has since become the president of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. And Surly is back at this year's fair with 35 of its closest "friends" as Minnesota's craft brewery business booms at The Great Get Together.
It may not be a long distance literally, but psychologically, Surly's new location as part of the "Land of 10,000 Beers" promotion in the Agriculture Horticulture Building could not be further away. The new exhibit includes samples from 15 of the state's craft beer brands. Also, as education is half the battle of brand building, the exhibit includes promotions on craft brews such as "Malting 101: Why the Brewer Cares" and "The Art of the Cask." Some of the brands' brewers are even there to answer questions and mingle, creating an extraordinary brand building opportunity. In addition to Surly, popular state breweries like Summit, Steel Toe, Excelsior, Leech Lake and Fulton are also participating.
The Land of 10,000 Beers exhibit left few avenues for promotion unplumbed. In the fair location there were even children's activities such as "Color Sven the Brewer." The Guild is tweeting the whole affair.
Brandchannel spoke with Michael Agnew, certified cicerone at Minnesota based A Perfect Pint, about the trajectory and future for craft beer brands in Minnesota.
Brandchannel: What is primarily driving the explosion of craft breweries in Minnesota?
Michael Agnew: The explosion in Minnesota is part of the larger expansion that’s happening all over the country. People everywhere are more interested in local and boutique goods, even wine, cheese and other foods. They want to eat and drink things that have flavor and to feel connected to the producers in some way. It’s a wave. I think it’s the same in Minnesota. The number of people drinking good beer in the state has mushroomed in the last few years and things like beer festivals and frequent tasting events and beer dinners are spreading the word even further.
BC: What are the challenges facing MN craft brewery brands?
Agnew: I think the biggest challenge in the near term will be maintaining consistency and quality across the industry. As so many breweries come on line so quickly, brewers have to be making the highest-quality their primary goal. Minnesotans like to support local. Earlier that was easy. With only four or five breweries one could drink their beer even if it wasn’t great. With 40 or 50 to choose from the ones that aren’t so great are likely to fall off.
BC: Could it be long before Minnesota is better known than neighbor Wisconsin for beer?
Agnew: Wisconsin has almost three times the number of breweries that Minnesota does. Wisconsin is the beer juggernaut of the region still. And its scene is still growing. Minnesota is a long way yet from overtaking it. I think what could happen though is a couple of breweries building super-strong reputations nationally and expanding into larger regional players. Someone like Surly. The state could build its brand reputation based on a smaller number of breweries instead of scale.
By the look of the Guild's Facebook page, the exhibit could hardly be better attended. That suggests a jolly future for Minnesota's craft beer brands.
Next year, beer on a stick!