Duluth’s Bent Paddle Brewing hasn’t stopped growing since its 2013 launch.

In the years that followed, it grew out of its first taproom, became one of the 10 largest breweries in Minnesota and reached outstate markets.

Now, the Lincoln Park brewery has plans to expand into the rest of its Michigan Street warehouse space after another tenant relocates, making way for the company to ramp up production in the future. But expansion gives the brewery pause, as it nears Minnesota’s growler sales cap.

“We’re just … bursting at the seams,” co-founder Laura Mullen said. She, along with her husband, Colin, and another couple, Bryon and Karen Tonnis, started the brewery in the 1912 W. Michigan St. building. They later purchased the warehouse in 2017.

They grew out of the warehouse space, and in 2018, moved the taproom across the street to a building at 1832 W. Michigan St.

Bent Paddle co-founder Laura Mullen poses in the firm’s Lincoln Park brewery Thursday. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Bent Paddle co-founder Laura Mullen poses in the firm’s Lincoln Park brewery Thursday. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Brewery operations remained in about 10,000 square feet of the warehouse, while another tenant, flooring company Hank’s Specialties, remained in the other approximately 10,000 square feet.

Hank’s has plans to move out midsummer when its lease is up. Bent Paddle will then take over the remainder of space, Mullen said.

After renovations that include tearing down a wall, Bent Paddle will have around 20,000 square feet to work with inside the warehouse. It will move its packaging operations to the new space, making room for brewing tanks and giving staff more room to work, Mullen said.

Beer has to ferment in tanks for two to four weeks, so adding room for more tanks ensures a brewery can continue growing, Mullen said.

Positioning itself for future expansion comes as Bent Paddle approaches the state-set growler sales cap. Breweries that produce more than 20,000 barrels of beer annually must cease selling growlers.

Andrew Spilde works by tanks of brewing beer at Bent Paddle Thursday. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Andrew Spilde works by tanks of brewing beer at Bent Paddle Thursday. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

The brewery made 17,000 barrels last year and is likely to hit its beer production cap in the next year or two.

“This is kind of awkwardly timed,” Mullen said.

At Bent Paddle, growlers account for a little less than $500,000 in revenue annually, she said. Other revenue sources, like expanding into new markets, couldn’t replace growler sales if they’re lost, she said.

“We’re taking … another leap of faith (by hoping) that our business will keep growing,” she said.

It’s a law that’s impacted northern Minnesota before. Last fall, Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors lost its ability to sell growlers — a product that made up around 30% of its taproom sales.

Mullen said they will continue pushing for changes to the growler law this legislative session.

The brewery is also expanding where it sells beer. It recently reached the eastern Wisconsin market, which includes Madison and Milwaukee. Mullen said people there are familiar with the brand, as they’ve seen it when traveling to Minnesota.

“(We’re) doing a good job of exporting beer (made) from the great waters of Lake Superior,” she said. It distributes across Minnesota and North Dakota as well.

Signs displaying some of the types of beer Bent Paddle produces hang in the company’s Lincoln Park taproom. The brewery produces seven types of beer year-round and about 13 more seasonally.  (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Signs displaying some of the types of beer Bent Paddle produces hang in the company’s Lincoln Park taproom. The brewery produces seven types of beer year-round and about 13 more seasonally. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

The company also has a new flagship beer in the works, “Classic," described as smooth and creamy.

“It’s the beer that tastes like beer,” Mullen said.

Classic will have its own taproom handle and will be around for a while. Customers can expect to start seeing it on shelves and on tap in April, she said.

“Everyone over here is excited,” Mullen said.

Save the date

What: Festiversary, a beer festival block party celebrating Bent Paddle's seven-year anniversary

When: May 9

More info: Check Bent Paddle's social media for updates