This post is sponsored by Fair State Brewing Cooperative.
“This home brew is so good you should work at a brewery,” you thought to yourself as you sipped a friend’s freshly fermented suds brewed in their garage. If this describes you, or if you’re the proud homebrewer in question, you’re in luck. Although it may seem like a pipe dream to open your own brewery, some local craft breweries are tapping into customer talent and building a better community — and beer list — in the process.
And it’s more than just home brewers who are getting elbow deep in wort (unfermented beer sugar liquid). At Fair State Brewing Cooperative, a membership gives beer lovers more than daily discounts, although they get those too. “We like to provide many opportunities for people to get involved in any way they want,” Evan Sallee, CEO and president said. “We have our volunteer group, Fair State Cooperates, an events team that helps educate customers at tastings and beer festivals, and our member design events that give an opportunity to have a say in the beers we make.”
In the two-plus years since Fair State’s opening, the brewery has experimented with a few different ways to incorporate members into the brewing process. “It’s been iterative,” Sallee explained, “to find the best way to bring people in while being practical with our brewing schedule.” The brew calendar is tight at Fair State’s current space on Central Avenue, but as soon as the new St. Paul brewing and distribution facility opens in early 2017, there will be more “collab-brew-tive” events.
Fair State Brewing Co-op membership brings plenty to the biergarten table for all kinds of beer lovers, from the most brew-savvy Top Notch Beer Nerds, to the creative-minded Enthusiastic Tipple Tasters, to the community-centric Avid Ale Supporters.
Top Notch Beer Nerds: Consider Kyle Schmidt, member number 627. The Northern Brewer employee won the Homebrew Challenge of 2016 with his pale lager by wooing the judges: Niko Tonks, the head brewer; Caleb Levar, a brewer; and Sallee. Now on tap as the Keller Blanc, an ode to its namesake Hallertau Blanc hops, Schmidt’s lager beat out 12 other entries to take the “best in show” title. He earned a brew day with the Fair State team, during which they upscaled his recipe to fit the brewery’s system. This proved to be both challenging and rewarding.
“My only goal was to make a beer worthy of the tap line, which was no small task, and to maybe be good enough to brew again,” Schmidt said. “Seeing your beer being poured in the Taproom, in addition to many of my favorite bars and restaurants all over town, is a very cool feeling. It makes me think that we met those goals.”
Keller Blanc made a sneak peek at September’s annual Co-Optoberfest before its official taproom release in October. Schmidt’s friends and family came out to celebrate his skill, enjoy a few pints, and toast his accomplishment. This well-balanced yet uniquely bitter brew is available in the taproom while supplies last.
Enthusiastic Tipple Tasters: The Member Design series is a beer designed by committee with delicious results. “If people want to brew something, they shouldn’t have to buy an expensive homebrew setup,” Tonks said. The process gives fledgling homebrewers, or just people who know what they like in a beer, the chance to collaboratively create a brew. The participants assemble, agreeing upon a style or styles before the meeting. When they arrive, Tonks acts as the paintbrush to their palate masterpiece. The results of the two gatherings thus far are concoctions Tonks describes as “big beers with adjunct additions.”
Member Design #1 is a Belgian golden strong with lemon zest, candied ginger, and peach puree. And who zested the lemons, you ask? Members, of course. The Member Design #2, a smoked Baltic porter with black peppercorns and maple syrup, proved particularly successful. The remaining beer will make a reappearance in Smorgasboard, a hodgepodge brew made up of 30 to 40 percent of this dark and mysterious beer along with a few other fan-favorite flavors. Look for bottles to be released on on draft and in 750-milliliter bottles on Dec. 8.
Avid Ale Supporters: Inspired by the zealous zesters of the Member Design #1, Fair State invited members to Lorence’s Berry Farm in Northfield in August to pick 300 pounds of raspberries. Scheduled for a January release, the aptly named U-Pick is a special sour ale that has been refermented on said member-plucked berries.
Similar to other breweries’ hop-picking events, Fair State’s farm trip will be an annual gathering. Unlike hops, however, raspberries are heavier, and therefore easier and more satisfying to collect — it takes less time to pick a quantity that can impart more flavor. And as a thank you, participants will get a 750-milliliter bottle to take home on the release date, Jan. 12 (another member benefit: early, guaranteed access to specialty bottled brews).
The opportunity to own a part of a brewery is a rarity in the Twin Cities. And the ability to be actively involved with a vibrant brewing community is even more special. At Fair State, member-owners help dictate which beers are on tap and the future of the brewery. As Schmidt described, “[Fair State Brewing Cooperative] expects that [members] will be the guiding force behind future success. It’s a powerful, inclusive path to making great craft beer.”
As the holiday season approaches and the gift list gets longer, it’s heartening to see options beyond the six-pack for the hard-to-buy-for craft beer aficionado. Whichever persona your friend or family member fits, they probably already have a novelty bottle opener or Spiegelau specialty glassware. The gift of a Fair State Co-op membership brings brewing opportunities and good fuzzy feelings galore.
Learn more about Fair State Brewing Cooperative membership here.