Fulton Beer Poised to Open Mpls. Brewery in Sept.

The four co-owners aim to produce at least 4,700 barrels their first year-3,200 at the new brewery and more than 1,200 at a Wisconsin brewery that will contract brew and bottle Fulton's beer.

Fulton Beer is on track to open a brewery in Minneapolis' warehouse district this fall.

The company's four co-owners, who started brewing beer in one of their garages, began leasing space at 414 Sixth Avenue North-just a few blocks from Target Field-about six months ago. The interior is in the process of being demolished, and equipment will be ready for installation this summer.

The goal is to have the 6,000-square-foot brewery up and running by September, said co-owner Brian Hoffman. About one-third of the necessary financing will come from private funding-the company has raised about 90 percent of its goal to date-and the rest will be covered by a “sizeable” Small Business Administration loan that Fulton recently received.

For the past couple of years, Fulton has been contract brewing draft beer at The Sand Creek Brewing Company in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Last year, it produced just over 1,200 barrels-and those barrels were distributed to Twin Cities-area restaurants and bars, Hoffman said.

The four business partners plan to move all of that draft brewing to the new location and increase production quite a bit; they aim to make close to 3,200 barrels within their first year there.

Meanwhile, Sand Creek will still contract brew-more than 1,200 barrels in 2011-but all of it will start being bottled, which will enable the four to offer their brew to liquor store patrons in addition to restaurants and bars. (As excited as they are about their new brewery, it doesn't offer quite enough space for a bottling line.)

Hoffman sees lots of growth possibilities and acknowledges that he'd love to have an on-site bar that's open part-time, maybe just for happy hours and before Twins games. But he also anticipates some challenges, mostly with regard to Minnesota's liquor laws.

Commercial packaging breweries like Fulton-those that produce beer to be distributed to bars and restaurants-are not currently permitted to sell beer on the premises, with one exception: Growlers can be sold on site if a brewery produces less than 3,500 barrels annually. But some breweries, including Fulton, would like to be able to sell beer commercially and on the premises regardless of the amount of beer they brew.

Fulton President and co-founder Ryan Petz points out that 3,500 barrels is about the point when breweries can start to break even. He thinks it's unfortunate that those that make it to that point are penalized by not being able to continue selling growlers. “It's like: 'Congratulations on making it this far; now we're going to make it harder for you again,'” he said.

Petz and Hoffman said that Fulton fully supports legislation that another local craft brewer-Brooklyn Center-based Surly Brewing Company-has been pushing for. That legislation would allow the state's larger brewers to sell a limitless amount of beer on-site and to local restaurants, bars, and liquor stores.

“It's a wonderful thing for small, start-up breweries” to be able to sell beer on-site, Hoffman said. “It would really help your bottom line and it gives you customer interaction.”

Hoffman, who works as a clinical scientist for Boston Scientific, and his business partners-Ryan Petz, Jim Diley, and Peter Grande-haven't quit their day jobs and haven't yet decided if they will when their dream of running a brewery finally becomes a reality.

Fulton produces The Lonely Blonde (an American blonde ale), Sweet Child of Vine (an India Pale Ale), The Worthy Adversary (a Russian imperial stout that's Hoffman's current favorite), and The Libertine (an imperial red ale).