The state's first brewing cooperative setting up shop in Northeast
Courtesy of Fair State The three main players behind Fair State, from L-R: Haugh, Sallee and Tonks
Cooperative business practices are about as Minnesotan as flannel and craft beer, so it's no surprise that construction on the state's first member-owned brewery and taproom, Fair State Brewing, is now underway.
Citing inspiration from Austin, Texas's Black Star beer co-op, CEO D. Evan Sallee, COO Matthew Hauck, and Head Brewer Niko Tonks aim to bring the community driven practices of food cooperatives to our booming beer industry. "Cooperatives are huge here," says Sallee, "and around the state, everyone's kind of familiar with them."
Unlike other local breweries that have sourced start-up capital via crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter, Fair State Brewing is actually a unique legal entity.
"In the Kickstarter model, whoever pays in at the beginning doesn't actually own anything," explains Sallee, "our members get a piece of ownership of the actual company."
That share of ownership entitles members to exclusive happy-hour prices at the Fair State taproom, voting rights for the company's board of directors, recipe input, and even a potential annual dividends-return check, once the brewery is in the black.
"We wanted to bridge the gap between home-brewer, craft beer drinker, and the brewery in a more fundamental way," says Sallee.
Evan Sallee Fair State's eventual address at 2605 Central Ave NE
Lofty-minded business practices aside, Fair State still has to produce interesting beers, and they've currently got a roster of four mainstays to entice folks to their new location, just north of Lowry and Central in Northeast. There's a distinct emphasis on session-able, low-alcohol beers in this initial run, which is not a coincidence according to Sallee. "We want to create beer that brings people together," he says, "To me, that has always been really delicious beer of moderate alcohol content."
Fair State is leading that charge with a 4.7% beer they call the "Hoplager," an attempt to fuse German-style pilsner malts with a more hop-forward flavor drawn from American Pale Ales. There's also another German-style lager, called the "Schwarzbier," a nod to the Black Lagers from the Vaterland, and a Guiness-esque Dry Irish Stout, all clocking in at 5% ABV or less.
While session beers haven't caught on quite as much up here in the land of long, frigid winters and hearty constitutions, Sallee says it's reflective of the tastes of the owners, as well as a component of Fair State's mission. Inspired by the public houses and beer halls of the old world, Fair State hopes their more modestly sized beers will encourage a communal drinking behavior. "One of the things that we want to bring to the market is that you can have very flavorful beer without necessarily needing all the alcohol."
Potential members with a hankering for big brews shouldn't turn away just yet though. Fair State plans on having a variety of seasonals to cater to all tastes.
"We're not going to shy away from ever doing large beers, we plan on doing some barrel-aged beers and some sours," says Sallee, "The great thing about the taproom is that we have the flexibility to brew some of those more robust beers."
In addition to those rotating taps, their fourth flagship beer, the West Coast IPA, should appeal to hop-junkies. Using a rotating hop profile for their recipe, the beer ends up somewhere around 6.4% ABV and promises "intense citrus, pine, and tropical flavors."
With an eventual capacity in the range of 1500 to 2000 barrels per year, Fair State Cooperative should have more than enough beer to keep their taproom happy, and plans on expanding to limited run bottling and even canning within their first year. With their distinctive members-only perks and close proximity to Minneapolis' quickly growing beer district, Fair State could be 2014's big success story. In fact, if there's a catch standing in their way, it's the $200 membership fee. But with 125 members already on board, and counting, Fair State just might be the first MN beer co-op, as opposed to the only.