Welcome to part 2 in our ‘10 Stories for 10 Years’ blog series: (Click here if you missed Part one)
By September 2009, we were on the cusp. The “what if?” questions became “why won’t this work?” which became “well then how?” After first dances with all of the beer distributors in town, we convinced Hohensteins to take us on. Whether it was seeing Karl the owner hop on a forklift to help out when they were down a person, Jim the General Manager on a first-name basis with all the beer buyers we visited, or the near-instant camaraderie we built with their sales team, everything just clicked. Hohensteins wasn’t the biggest distributor around by a long shot, but they were years ahead of anyone else around in the craft distribution scene, and still had the reach and operational prowess to scale up if things went well. And crucially, they were patient and willing to take the time to teach to four young guys with day jobs who didn’t know anything about the beer industry.
Four days after we signed our contract with Hohensteins, they hosted a Mississippi River boat cruise with their top bar, restaurant, and liquor store customers. Each brewery in their portfolio got to bring two beers to sample at a table on the boat. This was a golden opportunity to get our name -- and our beer -- in front of hundreds of potential customers all at once. The Harriet Island parking lot was filled with vans and company cars clad in graphics of legendary craft breweries like Left Hand, Boulder, and Bell’s. As we unloaded the igloo cooler full of samples out of the backseat of Ryan’s 2002 Ford Focus**, it occurred to us that the homebrew we would be pouring that afternoon was packaged in reused bottles originally filled by the very breweries sampling alongside us on the boat. We had no stickers, no keychains, no brochures. Our homebrew bottles didn’t even have labels. The only Fulton branding on the entire boat was an 8.5 x 11 print of our logo above our table and the two t-shirts Ryan and Pete were wearing that Chux Print had dropped off at Pete’s garage earlier that day.
Once the bottles were popped, we relaxed and started to have some fun. Within the first hour, word had spread around the boat, and we were hearing the same questions over and over again. “A new Minnesota brewery? Can I try the imperial stout?! When do you launch? How can I get your beer?” Despite our humble, naive, and last minute appearance, we had nailed it. Everyone wanted to know about the new Minneapolis brewery, and it didn’t hurt that they loved the beer, too. Now we just had to brew a batch larger than 10 gallons.
A week later, we were driving to Black River Falls to brew our first commercial batch of Sweet Child of Vine. Jim and Todd at Sand Creek Brewing had agreed to take us on. Better yet, they were willing to let us brew--apprentice, essentially--alongside them so that we could learn the ropes of a real commercial brewery before we had our own. This was how we brewed all of our beer for the first couple years. Every week, one or two of us (but one was always Pete), would drive the 2 hours to Sand Creek for brewday, usually on a Wednesday. Mash in was at 6:00 so if we hit the road later than 4:00 AM we were late. Back-to-back 20 barrel batches meant we wouldn’t be out for at least 12 hours, and that was if everything went well. Filling some extra firkins, helping with a filter run, or bullshitting with Jim and Todd only extended the day. Not long after we started, we realized we could save money by hauling kegs ourselves in Pete’s carpentry trailer. We couldn’t haul a full batch but it saved us paying for a few LTL pallets every week, though in hindsight the mental toll exacted by some of those midnight returns on wintry roads with an overloaded trailer may not have been worth it.
Despite the quick launch and experience that contract brewing gave us, we were aware of the downsides of contracting immediately. Every time we got to tell our story at a bar or a beer fest, it was the same conversation.
“We’re based out of a Southwest Minneapolis garage.”
“We’re contract brewing in Wisconsin right now.”
“Yes, but we actually do the brewing ourselves, we just don’t have our own brewery.”
“We plan to build our own brewery.”
“Sometime in the next 5 or 10 years, hopefully.”
We quickly got accustomed to being called names like “beer marketing company” or “fake brewers”, but it always stung. Some people called contact brewing “doing it the easy way” but it didn’t feel like it. To us, it was the only way. If we hadn’t had the option of contracting, we might have never started, or not until years later, anyway.
Despite the detractors, we went from an idea about starting a brewery to pouring our first pints of Sweet Child to the public in less than nine months. The first keg of Sweet Child of Vine was tapped at our launch party at the Happy Gnome, on October 28, 2009. The four of us came to the Gnome from our day jobs, not having any idea of what to expect, hoping at least a bunch of our family would show up. They did, along with friends, classmates, coworkers, curious beer buyers and beer geeks from across the metro who’d seen our launch announcement online. The Sweet Child pours were beautiful: great lacing on the glass, perfect clarity, Simcoe and Glacier aroma leaping from the glass. The first keg was gone quickly, and before the night was over, nine more were tapped. The Gnome had poured over a thousand pints of Sweet Child. Everyone seemed to love it -- even those who weren’t family! -- and we even made the 10:00 news. Just like that, we were in the brewing business -- asterisk or not.
*who doesn’t have an actual brewery of our own yet and we brew everything in Wisconsin, but it’s just for now and if you have a minute we’ll tell you about the big picture plan.
**Soon thereafter, the Focus was re-christened “The Fulton Focus” so it felt like we had a company car too.
It's raining. It's snowing. It's too hot. It's too cold. In the land of partly-cloudy we sure do enjoy our talk about the weather. And in that spirit we've crafted our newest beer: a Blood Orange Session Ale we're calling "Solar Vortex". Inspired by a yet-to-happen summer weather phenonenom (call it wishful thinking), it's dry, low in alcohol, and perfect for the summer ahead. Pick your 4packs of tallboys up beginning next week around the Metro.
As if brewing approachable, extraordinary beers 5 days a week wasn't enough already we're throwing our collective hats into the ring of the Hard Seltzer. And, if our experiences at Twin Cities Burger Battle and Grumpy's Art-A-Whirl party this past weeked are any indication of enthusiasm for this stuff, things are going to be quite fruity and fun this summer. Comprised of flavors including: Grapefruit, Berry, Blood Orange, and Lemon Lime there's sure to be a little something for everyone in this package. We spent nearly a year working on recipes, flavor combinations, new processes, packaging and identity work across all departments. We now can proudly say the fruits (pun definitely intended) of our labor are yours to enjoy.
We're happy to announce that Fulton's first shipment of Hard Seltzer Mixed 12packs has left the building! These party starters should be arriving in a liquor store near you within days for those living in the MSP metro (and spreading out from there). We hope you're ready to have more fun this summer. We certainly are.
We're crackin' cans for all four flavors beginning Thursday May 23rd in the Fulton Taproom. Make em' yours!
Class will be hosted by local Urban Cycling Coach, Jason Alvey.
Gain confidence and learn how the bike mechanics do it in a fun, relaxed atmosphere here at the Fulton Taproom. Jason spent over a decade working in bike shops and now enjoys teaching fellow cyclists the easiest ways to fix stuff. Bring your bike, your tools, enjoy a pint, and get your learn on!
Class will cover:
Become a more confident rider and leave your car at home more often.
****Maximum of 20 participants per session. Sign up today!
The excessive snow got in the way of your bike training this “spring.”
Or you’ve always wanted ride in the Fondo, but your block party-related FOMO wins out every time – can’t miss that first band.
Or maybe this is your first-ever organized ride and 40 (not to mention 100) miles just sounds excessive.
Whatever your reason, we have an all-new Fondo for you. At just 19 miles, it won’t take up your whole day. You’ll get back to the Fulton Brewery party HQ in time to grab a beer by the time the first band goes on – that is, depending on how much time you spend at Sea Salt, which is the halfway point of the ride. We’ll buy your first Fulton at Sea Salt (ticket included in your packet), and like all Fondo riders, you’ll get another one back at the block party.
The route’s a gorgeous one too. We’ll roll out from the Fulton NE brewery and follow West River Parkway along the Mississippi River all the way to Minnehaha Park. On the way there, we’ll have the parkway all to ourselves, as we’ve worked with Minneapolis Parks to close it to all traffic for the morning. On the way back, we’ll follow the same route except the Parkway will be re-opened to normal traffic, so rules of the road and the adjacent pathways are the name of the game here. It’s our most chill, most fun Fondo ever. Sign up today and join us on May 4th!
It's game time! Help your favorite watering hole make it to the championship. Which championship? Well, glad you asked. We're talking about the 1st Annual Fulton Foamy Sixteen of course. The bar/restaurant that serves the most Fulton during each time period advances through the bracket. During the college basketball semi final games on April 6th, Fulton will be hanging out at both of the semifinalist's accounts with swag, high fives, and raffle tickets. The semifinalist account that serves the most servings of Fulton from April 4th until the cutoff on April 6th will be the winner, and a pair of tickets to the championship game on April 8th will be raffled off to a customer at that account. This is week one and the match ups are below. Follow @fultonbeer on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for updates on the brackets.
No purchase necessary to win.
The first ever pint of Fulton was poured at The Happy Gnome on October 28th, 2009. To commemorate our 10th anniversary, over the course of 2019 we'll be publishing a series of 10 stories from the last 10 years in our blog and newsletter. Welcome to Part 1.
IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS HOMEBREW
Starting a brewery was not the original plan. That came later.
First it was a Mr Beer homebrew kit; a gift. Then an experimental brew over a long cabin weekend with inconclusive results. An invitation over birthday beers at Gluek’s Bar. The first “real” brew day on a -13 degree day in February 2007. The first sips a few weeks later gave the first hint: we can make beer. Good beer!
The next two years whipped by. The Saturday morning trips to Northern Brewer and Midwest Supplies, and the slightly later Saturday morning trip to pick up the hose clamps you forgot. Moving from a kitchen stovetop and carboys in the basement to a single turkey burner and a modified half barrel keg in a one car garage to a 3-vessel 10 gallon all-grain system with pumps and programmable temperature control in a two car garage.
Somewhere everywhere along the way we were drinking beers — possibly homebrews or possibly another craft beer in bottles that hopefully didn’t have the dreadful (to a homebrewer) pressure sensitive labels that are impossible to remove when it’s time to clean your bottles for reuse. And over those beers someone first spoke the words “wouldn’t it be cool if we started our own brewery someday? An actual brewery, not just a home brewery?” This was a novel conversation that made the four of us unique from exactly zero other homebrewers who had ever brewed a good beer. The differences in our case ended up being timing, a little bit of luck, and a deep well of persistence tinged with a healthy hint of ignorance.
At that time, we thought one of the hardest parts was gauging how good our beer actually was. And, even if it was objectively good, would that mean it would actually sell? Sure, there are open competitions that judge beers on their fundamental merit — but winning gold medals for homebrew recipes is far from a guaranteed recipe for commercial success in the marketplace against the Goliath international breweries and the well-established regional craft breweries.
On the other hand, our families and friends continually told us how good our beer was. The problem, though, is that friends and family feedback is not exactly a high bar of professional critique. You have your family, who are Minnesota Nice and just want to participate in the appearance of success — so they’ll tell you it’s great beer, regardless of how it actually tastes. Then there are your friends, who have been consuming reasonable volumes of your beer and are both a) inebriated enough to be disqualified from any professional gravitas they might have otherwise carried (and likely had none to being with) and b) not going to criticize the hand that’s feeding them free beer.
So there was an objectively problem. But we carried on nonetheless.
One recipe, “Wagging Tail Pale Ale,” — an early version of what would only much later become our third year-round beer “The Ringer” — was a particular favorite. We poured through a lot of 5 gallon cornie kegs of that in 2007-08, and as we got closer to launching the business we were convinced that it would be our solo launch beer. The beer got better and better over time, and even though we didn’t launch with it initially, thankfully the name got better too.
It wasn’t until very close to our target launch date — less than 3 months — that we were convinced to come out with an IPA instead of a pale ale. As we sampled Wagging Tail to more and more of the local industry figures, we kept getting similar variations of this response: “This is nice. Have you ever thought of making an IPA? This is kind of a hops market.”
We had actually thought of an IPA, if only for a minute or two. Sweet Child of Vine was a name that came before a recipe, thanks to a fortuitously timed radio play of a certain G’n’R song on a brew day. The beer we later brewed to fit the name fell into place the second time we ever brewed it. It was almost perfect.
So we thought we had the beer figured out. But that wasn’t the hard part (not that there was an easy part). In 2009, locally brewed beer felt like it was on the cusp in Minnesota, but it was not yet a big thing. A whopping 12 breweries were in operation in the state — or, one for every 440,000 people. To make things more difficult, Minnesota regulations made an already challenging business even moreso, compared to more beer-progressive states. Taprooms wouldn’t become legal in Minnesota until 2011. There were zero production packaging / distributing breweries in Minneapolis at that time and even if there had been it was illegal for them to sell growlers.
But — though we didn’t know the extent of it at the time — we were riding the crest of a major wave. Our state was ready for modern beer laws, and we were in prime position to push them along.
If the sky is the limit then we've proudly hit that limit. 10 years ago while brewing in our garage we would have never imagined being able to enjoy a MN craft beer in-flight (let alone one of our own beers). But, as of this past Friday March 1st Fulton's Lonely Blonde is now available on Sun Country flights.
So many destinations, so little time. One thing is for sure, we're headed somewhere warm soon for Spring Break. Vegas anyone?
Minnesota's favorite American Blonde Ale 5 miles up in the air? Yep, we'll drink to that.
It's weeks like this that serve as a not-so-subtle reminder that we're residents of the North. Though the extreme weather might be occassional, the extraordinary beer is consistent.
Speaking of extraordinary beer...are you ready for the big game? We are. And so are many of our retail partners that have stocked up on Fulton 12 packs (of 12oz bottles) for February. You'll find special pricing on Lonely Blonde, Sweet Child of Vine, and Standard Lager across the metro all month. Your fave local store run out of Fulton!?!? Ask 'em for more!
At Fulton we're true believers of "love at first sight". And when we saw the menu for the annual Valentines Day dinner w/ Fulton at Republic we fell head over heels all over again with one of our favorite beer bars in town. What's even better this year is that they're extending the menu thru Saturday the 16th giving you 3 days to pick from. Each of the 4 courses comes with a clever pairing of a unique Fulton beer, including a first taste of our latest Mixed Fermentation beer: Culture Project 3 (pictured above). Tickets are finite and available right here. Menu below:
Prix Fixe Menu with Fulton Beer Pairings
Trio of Cheese
Shepherd’s Way Sogn, Shepherd’s Way Big Woods Blue, Four Fat Fowl Brie
(Fulton Culture Project 3)
Caramelized Carrot Soup
Balsamic reduction, grilled baguette
Seared Duck Breast
Rainbow pave, truffled demi glace
Cocoa, crushed Oreo’s, creme chantilly
(Fulton Cognac BA Worthy Adversary)
Sometimes it takes a little bit of hope to get into a healthy head space this time of year. Spending all week below zero, we've been constantly reminding ourselves that there's spring days, bike rides, and block parties ahead. Another big motivator for us is anticipating meeting riders at our weekly Early-bird registration drive nights in February. Each Wednesday come on down to the Fulton taproom anytime from 4-8pm, sign up for the Fondo at the lowest price, and get yourself a free beer right then and there. Can't make it out? That's ok too. You can sign up for $39.95 right here through 2/28/19.
Whlie you're signing yourself up for one of MN's biggest bike rides of the year, make sure you're going to be riding in style with the 2019 Fulton Gran Fondo jersey. Both men's AND women's sizes this year and made by our friends at Twin Six. Pre-order yours right here.
Our Downtown MPLS neighbors at Parallel are turning 1! They're celebrating with a good, old-fashioned Latte Art Throwdown. Join us for an evening of friendly competition, cool folks, hot coffees, and $1 Fulton Beer. Doors open for signups at 6:00p and the competition starts at 7:00p. Throw downs are fun to watch, even if you don’t know anything about latte art or coffee (the $1 beers help out too). Not yet convinced? Find out more on the event site.
It's your fault Fulton is here, today, on the cusp of our 10th anniversary year. To say that we wouldn't have made it this long without your continued support is a gross understatement. People have been at the center of everything we do and make here at Fulton since day one. That focus and commitment to our people, our communities, and the quality craft beers we make for you never wavers. As we wind down the last full week of 2018, we can't help but feel an incredible sense of gratitude. So, thank you. All of you (you know who you are).
What's a bit of introspection and looking-back if not for a great opportunity to do the complete opposite and get starry-eyed for the future? Right? In doing such we present to you (above) the 2019 Fulton Brewing Brand Calendar in all it's tentative splendor. For those following along with Fulton over the years you'll quickly notice how much newness we have planned for everyone next year. Coffee, fruit, mixed packs, and our first Radler all play supporting roles in what's about to be an extremely tasty year ahead. But we think one of the most exciting things of note is our brand extension of Minnesota's favorite American Blonde Ale...
What happens when you take your favorite thing and give it a twist? Pure, refreshing, awesomeness is what happens. We took your go-to beer and added the perfect amount of grapefruit to give it just enough citrusy goodness to leave you wanting more. Like the classic version, it's smooth, easy-drinking, and nearly perfect for any occasion. After months of testing and keeping secrets we've got our sights happily locked on April for a launch (just in time for warmer months ahead). Stay tuned!
It's the season of traditions! With one weekend left to party we're joining up with our pals Madre Cacti and Sam Cassidy to bring you the 2nd annual Rolling Xmas Revue. It's a night of good times, good tunes, buds, and beers all benefiting another good friend of many, Mr. Aaron "HIX" Lee. It's all going down at Terminal Bar this Saturday at 8.
There's no room for "It's a school night, I can't go" excuses when it comes to next Monday's NYE party at The Hook and Ladder Theater. The night features snacks, a champagne toast, (Fulton) beers, and live music from 2 of the Midwest's finest. Tickets are still available and you can get yours right here.
On Sunday December 2nd we joined hundreds of Minnesota's finest at Circus Juventas for the first Growler Magazine Kind Of A Big Deal Awards ceremony. Whereas in year's past the awards were given in a less formal (but more personal) setting, this year's ceremony was an incredibly organized celebration of craft here in MN. It was a party not to miss, certainly.
Blonde for the win! For two years running Fulton's Lonely Blonde has won the "American Blonde Ale" category. Minnesota, thank you. Our most recognizable and widely available beer is that way because of you.
Introducing two new (limited) variations of our beloved 300 Mosaic IPA. Better than the original? Well, that is left to individual preference but we're confident that you'll enjoy both and will find them incredible cousins to their not so distant cousin. Find both the Mango and Brut versions in our new 300 Mixed 4pack of tallboys available now.
Whether you have been forgetting to go shopping or you were waiting for the last minute on purpose, we've got you covered. Last Call is back! Come check out the wares of nearly 20 MN makers at the Food Building the Saturday before Christmas. With local foods by our friends at Lowry Hill Meats and beers by us (duh), you're destined to have your fave shopping experience of the year. The fun begins at 3. Be there.
Registration for the 2019 Fulton Gran Fondo is open! We kicked off early bird registration for next year's event last week and you can sign up online for the lowest price of $39.95 from now through the end of February. Want to ride with us? Get yourself registered right here.
Ride in style with us this year wearing the 2019 Fulton Gran Fondo jersey. And ladies, you spoke and we listened. For the first time ever we're offering this limited design in both Women's and Mens sizes. Order yours in advance of the big day right here.