On the eve of The Growler magazine launch party, Matt Kenevan — known locally for his outdoor Beer Dabbler craft brew festivals — looks down at his left hand. Two of the fingers are wrapped in gauze to prevent swelling. A third finger suffered from a severed tendon and 25 stitches. “I made 225 magazine display boxes, and laser engraved each one. My hand went through a table saw. So I literally have put my blood, sweat, and tears into this magazine,” he says. “It’s slowed me down. I would say there hasn’t been a week in the last few months that I haven’t put in 80 hours.” The next morning Kenevan and his team would distribute the first issue of The Growler, a free magazine focused on Minnesotan interest stories — think camping, biking, cooking — and how they relate to beer. The Growler had an initial print run of 20,000 and will be available, for free, every two months at about 300 locations in the Twin Cities. Among other features, each issue will feature a story about restaurants and beer written by a contributor from The Heavy Table.
Kenevan moved from Madison to the Twin Cities nearly a decade ago, thanks to his job in advertising sales at The Onion. “One of my first meetings for the Onion was with someone from Finnegans.” During that meeting, he was asked what The Onion would do for the local community. Kenevan took some time to brainstorm and came back with an idea: Brewing for a Cause. It would be a small-scale quarterly beer festival with proceeds benefiting a slew of local charities. “It became a lot of work and I didn’t have the time for it with my job at The Onion. So, I took a break from it. Then a couple years later, The Onion sold to a new owner and I started working on an exit strategy. That strategy was to grow the beer festival to a business.”
“In February of this year I decided it was time to make a move,” he says. “We had a solid following with our beer festivals and we felt that with 20,000 followers it was time to do something else. The beer festival business is becoming saturated and I needed to diversify so that once the festival bubble pops, we’re not just wondering what else we can do. We came up with the concept of The Growler, and here we are today.” Now Kenevan is on the verge of a beer trifecta: The Beer Dabbler events, coupled with The Growler publication, and soon a storefront at 1095 W. 7th St. in St. Paul that will sell craft beer merchandise.
He needed a physical space to run all three operations. Early in his search he discovered it would be too expensive, even for his staff of three people. “So I looked for buildings and found this hidden gem,” he says, referring to his converted motorcycle shop on W. 7th in Saint Paul. “It had the storage, the office space, and the character. Plus it had an area up front for a retail store.”
A wall of cubbies built on a lime green wall will one day be filled with T-shirts. On top of those will be a line of all glassware from breweries. “We’ll probably work with about 50 breweries to carry their merchandise. We won’t carry the trinkets. We’ll carry good looking shirts, classy stuff you’ll like wearing in public. We’re also working with a dozen local artists to create screen-printed art,” he says. “The merchandise will always be revolving — we want to keep it fresh. We’re not going to have 100 shirts; we’ll have a few in each size. When that style sells out, we’ll move on to find a different brewery. We don’t wan 200 of the same shirts walking around town.”
Kenevan can almost pinpoint an exact time he discovered a fondness for beer. “I’m from Wisconsin. So that happens when you’re about 13 years old.” He grew up in Beaver Dam, about 30 miles north of Madison. “In my younger days, my local brewery was Miller Brewing Company. There was also the Great Dane Pub in Madison. But at the time, it was just a fancy brewpub to me.” He met his wife after moving to Minnesota. She worked for Summit at the time and introduced him to their beer. “Before you know it, that’s what I liked,” he says.
He transitioned beyond the Miller Light, but is hesitant to call himself a beer snob. “I’ll still have a Miller Light occasionally. Maybe when I’m ice fishing. I like to try all beers, and whatever anyone else is drinking is OK by me.” He sees a new regime of beer enthusiasts rapidly growing in Minnesota. In fact, he and the team at The Growler coined a name for this regime, calling the group “Craft Curious.”
“Today, people don’t need to know a lot about craft beer, whereas 10 years ago, if you were really into craft beer, you were probably snobby about it. I think it’s becoming OK to be curious.” His advice for the newbies is simple. “Come to a craft beer festival and sample everything. My dad doesn’t really drink. If he does, it’s not beer. After his first beer festival he walked up to me, held out his hand, and there were five beer bottle caps in there that he loved.”