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Dave Hoops column: Are Minnesota beer markets saturated?

The last 15 years have supported brewery growth not seen since post-prohibition. ... It was a banner time for us and the beer-drinking public.

A beer being pulled.
Ingrid Johnson pulls a pint of Hoops Munich lager July 26 in Duluth. Columnist Dave Hoops does not believe the Twin Ports beer market is saturated yet.
Steve Kuchera / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune
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Pretty warm weather, which is a gift I hope holds. My editor, Katie, had a suggestion for an article I liked: Are the Minnesota and Twin Ports beer markets saturated? This is an interesting question. I need to break it out in pre-COVID vs. current COVID.

First, pre-COVID. Yes, not to mince words. Very saturated. The last 15 years have supported brewery growth not seen since post-prohibition. Great brewers, new ingredients, the public totally buying in on many new styles: low-alcohol, kettle sours, hazy IPAs and all kinds of fun-flavored beers. It was a banner time for us and the beer-drinking public. Fun.

Dave Hoops
Dave Hoops

The Twin Ports was flourishing with three large-production brewers, Castle Danger, Bent Paddle and Earth Rider, with smaller shops like Blacklist Brewing and Ursa Minor really bringing a top-shelf game. Brewpubs like Fitger's Brewhouse and Canal Park Brewing Co. also were making major contributions for the great beer culture Duluth is known for.

The years 2018-19 were great, then the pandemic — ouch. Was the market saturated? In the Twin Cities, in my opinion, yes, absolutely — over 120 breweries in the area.

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Here in the Twin Ports, not at all. There is good separation between the three largest breweries and smaller shops filling the gap nicely, with a couple great cideries and an awesome distillery to boot. Excellent choices for locals and tourists. I do believe that the future is bright in our area as we go forward.

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Unfortunately, beer sales in the U.S. and Minnesota were down during COVID. The Brewers Association , our supporting trade organization, has reported that over 30% of the breweries in America have closed permanently during the pandemic. Many of these closures were due to lack of cash reserves and the ensuing cash flow drying up during COVID.

Those of us that weathered the storm with backup-cash gymnastics and government help are looking at a new landscape of many, many choices for folks: non-alcoholic options (I’m a fan), lighter seltzers and new coffee and tea concoctions that are frankly exciting.

So, we brewers are in a new age of upping our game. In my case, I’m a believer in traditional styles that are not about chasing trends, but hey, I’m a bit old, so that should not surprise you readers I'm going with what has worked for nearly 1,000 years.

Is the market saturated? I do not think so at this point in our forward. We’re looking to recover from the devastation the last two years that every one of you had to handle and get to this point. I’m an optimist by nature, even though this time for my staff and my family has been very difficult. I think the Twin Ports makes the best beer in Minnesota.

Woman in a banana costume
Dressed in a banana costume, Earth Rider Brewery employee Traci Rutledge, of Duluth, holds a beer she prepared for a customer ahead of the North End Nightmare 5K on Oct. 22 in Superior.
Dan Williamson / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune

I think a year from now, next holiday season, we will be celebrating the truly passionate, talented, creative beers that are coming out of our area. I’ll go ahead and wish you all happy holidays as we just celebrated Halloween, the gateway to the Big Three.

Keep an eye on our local brewers’ websites and social media as we all are brewing “special” — not really, as all the beers are special — beers for the holidays.

Be well, everyone.

Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Write to him at  dave@hoopsbrewing.com .

Related Topics: DULUTHBREWERIESCRAFT BEER
Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge.
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