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Fulton Taproom Opening Draws 1,000-Plus Beer Fans

The grand opening of Fulton Beer's taproom attracted more than 1,000 craft beer fans, and the brewery said it will use the new taproom revenues to invest in continued growth.

Fulton Beer on Saturday opened Minneapolis' first "taproom," selling glasses of its beer to Twin Citians who have never before been able to buy pints directly from a commercial brewery.

Fulton President and co-founder Ryan Petz estimated that during the 10-hour event, "well over 1,000 people" circulated through the brewery, which is located in Minneapolis' Warehouse District, near Target Field.

Petz told Twin Cities Business on Monday that Fulton drained more than 10 kegs during the event. Glasses of beer were sold for $5 each.

Minnesota liquor laws previously prohibited commercial brewers from selling pints of beer on their premises. Brooklyn Center-based Surly Brewing Company led the charge to change the law, and Governor Mark Dayton signed the so-called "Surly Bill" into law last May, creating a new taproom license that allows the state's breweries that produce fewer than 250,000 barrels annually to sell pints on-site. Minneapolis subsequently passed an ordinance allowing for taprooms in the city. ("Brewpub licenses" have allowed smaller brewers, like Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, to sell their beer at their own restaurants, but they cannot distribute to liquor stores or exceed an annual 3,500-barrel cap.)

Fulton opened its Minneapolis brewery late last year; its beer had previously been contract brewed at The Sand Creek Brewing Company in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. The Minneapolis brewery now sells pints and 64-ounce growlers on-site.

For the next month, Fulton's taproom will be open from 3 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and noon to 10 p.m. on Saturdays. The hours will be expanded in conjunction with the Twins' season, and Fulton will be open five or six nights a week during the summer, Petz said.

Petz believes Minnesota's brewers have been held back by previous liquor laws. In state's like Colorado, brewers have been able to grow faster by generating taproom sales and then investing that revenue to grow their operations, he said.

The new taproom law is "a huge benefit," and Fulton intends to use its additional revenues to buy more tanks and other equipment, Petz said.

Fast-growing Fulton currently distributes to more than 300 liquor stores and roughly 200 bars in the Twin Cities, as well as a few in the Rochester area. It produced 3,200 barrels last year and is aiming for about 7,000 this year.

Fulton's brewers are also developing new recipes that will be available exclusively at the taproom, including an American pale ale that will be tapped in a few weeks, Petz said. The brewery will use the taproom to gauge interest in new beers and determine whether to distribute them to bars and retailers.

Two of Fulton's four co-founders quit their corporate jobs to work at the brewery full-time; the other two work at Fulton part-time. The company has hired two additional full-time employees and plans to add 10 more workers this year as taproom servers and brewers, Petz said.

Fulton's operation is the first of its kind in Minneapolis, although Lift Bridge Brewing Company recently opened the state's first taproom in Stillwater. Harriet Brewing intends to open a taproom in Minneapolis soon, as does newcomer Indeed Brewing Company.

Surly spearheaded the effort to change Minnesota's beer laws because it plans to open a $20 million "destination brewery," complete with a restaurant, bar, and event center. The company in August hired real estate advisory firm Tegra Group to assist in site selection, but it hasn't announced where the brewery will be located.