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Dave Hoops column: What's to explain the blossoming beer business?

Dave Hoops

DULUTH — Beer is fun and comfortable, and I love to talk about it.

I just returned to Duluth after spending a few days in Denver judging beer at the Great American Beer Festival, the largest beer competition in the world. An award from there is, as I like to say, the equivalent of receiving an Academy Award for brewers.

Our region was well represented. Earth Rider Brewery won a gold medal for its Duluth Coffee Company Pale Ale, as well as Ursa Minor Brewing’s Scotch Ale winning a bronze. Only four brewers in Minnesota won medals in this competition (pretty awesome for the Twin Ports). With more than 9,500 entries, this is not really surprising. This fact got me thinking about just how big of a deal beer and small breweries have become in the United States.

When I moved to Minnesota in 1999, there were four or five breweries selling beer. Now there are almost 200. In the Denver city limits alone, there are more than 80. Consider these numbers with the fact that there are more than 120 different styles. The numbers don’t lie — it’s the greatest time in history to be a beer drinker.

Almost everyone I speak with has an opinion about how we have arrived at this point. Is it the never-before-offered ingredients, the hundreds of brands on the shelf, the media covering beer like never before? It could be, but often I find myself thinking about you, the reader and beer drinker. It seems lost in the hyperbole that beer consumers have changed dramatically in the past 10 years. Younger people have embraced beer; women’s purchase percentages have risen, and with more styles being offered, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Six-Pack have been able to purchase beers locally made that fit into the national brand profiles that may have been their go-tos in the past.

Beer drinkers are interested in learning about styles and quality as never before. I know from personal experience with many years behind the bar at craft breweries that the questions and conversations have evolved greatly. And what’s great about that? The thirst for better and better beer is alive and well. Folks have many choices, and beer has always (for hundreds of years at least) been here and continues to expand and entice.

I, for one, am very excited about the next 10 years in beer. I usually save my predictions for the January column each year but a few teasers:

• Beer laws in Minnesota will continue to move toward the status quo in other states.

• New styles and lower alcohol offerings will continue to grow.

• Breweries will help to recharge and excite communities through collaboration, family friendly experiences and civic support at a never-before-seen level.

This next point is a fun one. In Duluth, the partnerships between small businesses in many categories, such as small plate food pop-ups, bakers, fruit growers, coffee roasters, silkscreen and signage companies, local musicians and events are the norm for local breweries, cideries and distillers. This integration and collaboration among local businesses is exciting and fun — a great part of our community.

As we move forward, sustainability will become one of our big challenges, with human resources and changing customer habits. I hope brewers can continue to up the bar on the experience, quality, variety and the continued promise of now and the future being the best time in history to be a beer drinker.

I want to thank you all for the notes and emails that I’ve been sent with your comments and thoughts.

Please weigh in with any questions or thoughts about the growth of beer.